History of Morocco

History of Morocco

In this article, we shall discuss the history of Morocco, with particularly attention to events in the recent decades. The discussion on history will focus heavily on the political history of Morocco, and how historical events relate to the current political situation in the country. We will discuss the history of King Muhammad V, Hassan II, and the current King Mohammed VI. We will also examine as well as the international relations with Morocco’s history.

Morocco is a country in North Africa. The country has seen many different external political power, such as the Roman Empire, then Vandals, as well as the Byzantium empire. It was not until the 600s that the rise of Islam led Muslim militaries to go into various parts of North Africa such as Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. And while the initial Islamic forces were defeated in the 660s, they attempted to establish their presence in the country again in the late 600s, and by the year 698, “Arab forces had recaptured the Byzantine footholds on the North African coast” (White, Kingdom of Morocco). Then, in the beginning years of the next century, the “Arabo-Islamic power had spread back into Morocco, across the Strait of Gibralter, and on to the Iberian Peninsula” (White, Kingdom of Morocco, page 456).

From this point, there were many dynasty groups that had some power in Morocco. Among these groups were “the Idrissids, who founded Fez in the 780s; the Almoravids, who established Marakech in the eleventh century; the Almohads, who reigned during the fall of Muslim Spain; the Merenids; the Wattasids, and the Saadians. The scope of the empires was truly astounding. At its height in 1100, for example, the Almoravid state reached from northern present-day Mauritania, east to Algiers, and north into Spain to include Zaragosa” (456). However, in the following centuries, we saw the rise of Christian powers in Europe, and in North Africa. The, the Ottoman Empire began its territorial expansion in the 1500s. However, following the transformation the Ottoman Empire, where they were becoming weaker internally and as a military power, European states such as Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, and others were colonizing territories in Africa and elsewhere. And it was France that, in the 1800s, after going into Algeria in 1830, that they officially took control of Morocco in 1912 through the Treaty of Fez (White, Kingdom of Morocco).

But along with French colonialism, Spain was also interested in parts of Northern Morocco. During their rule in Northern Morocco, military resistance movement domed under Abd al-Krim Al-Khattabi, who was able to lead a force to beat Spanish forces in 1921 at Anoual, and then establish the Rifian Republic. however, it was when France decided to aid Spain in the mid-1920s that they were able to defeat the resistance. However, it was not without significant controversy, as the colonialists (which at the time included Francisco Franco) used mustard gas in their actions (White, Kingdom of Morocco).

Morocco and French Colonialism

During this period of Morocco, the French government looked to control the politics and economics of the country. Namely, the government looked to find local leaders who they could work with in order to promote their own agenda. And this is what happened. Namely, “The French colonial presence in Rabat retained the basic structure of the sultan’s government. The administration of Marshall Lyautey ruled through a policy of co-option; Mulay Hafid signed official decrees in his own name, thereby remaining as the ostensible authority…” (White, Kingdom of Morocco: 457). However, the French government did not act in the same with with Morocco as it was doing in neighboring Algeria; Algeria was much more directly ruled compared to Morocco. In fact, “colonialism in Morocco left domestic institutions relatively intact. The traditionally privileged classes were preserved, especially the commercially dominant Arab bourgeoise in the cities of Fez and in in southern Sousse, as well as Berbal tribal notables” (White, Kingdom of Morocco, 457). This differed greatly from Algeria, where the government took over many aspects of Algerian society, and significantly altering the social, political, and economic landscape of the country. Again, it is not that they did not do that in Morocco, but it was not at the level of their direct rule in Algeria.

Nationalism in the History of Morocco

However, while the situation was not as direct in Morocco, this does not mean that no nationalist movements formed; in fact, there were many anti-colonialist movements in the country during those decades prior to independence. There were many sectors of society involved in the anti-coloniast movement. This included political leaders, students, laborers, as well as lower and middle economic classes. Throughout the early 1930s, the movement increased in activity. Part of this was due to a dahir or decree that granted “a separate system of customary-law tribunals in Berber-populated parts of the country. It was part of a French effort to isolate the rural areas from the growing nationalism in urban areas” (White, 459). In fact, France (and other colonial powers) often tried to do this since governing areas separately was their way to minimize unified nationalism political movements. In response, many leaders tried to organize into a unified political entity, and did so with the National Action Bloc in 1932, and from here, work to demand autonomy from France. And while they continued to press on these issue, the French did not give in, and they also ended the party in 1937, which in turn led to the formation of Istiqlal (Independence), a main political party, in 1943.

Istiqlal was an important nationalist movement within the history of Morocco. In fact, they continued to gain support throughout the country (White). Then, as France continued to try to repress the group, they continued to get stronger, working with the Monarchy, with the attempt of freeing Morocco from French colonialism (White). 

And, following the devastating effects of World War II, the French government, trying to hold onto Algeria (and in a war with Algerian resistance forces), attempted to replace the Monarchy in attempts to quell protests. In fact, “[i]n August 1953, they sent Muhammad V and his family–including his son, Hassan–into exile in Madagascar and replaced him with a more docile relative” White, page, 460). However, this was a mistaken for France, as “Muhammad V became a martyr in the eyes of the population, and the nationalist movement was catalyzed into an all-out fight for independence” (White, 460). 

The attempts by French leaders to keep the situation in Morocco under control did not work, and, along with their struggles in Algeria, it was becoming evident that they are losing their hold on Morocco. Then, in 1956, Morocco established independence from France (White, Kingdom of Morocco).

History of Morocco: Post-Independence

There were a couple of key political actors following the independence from France. However, no one was more powerful or influence than the King. The King had an elevated status in the history of Morocco, with the King being seen has having baraka or divine blessings (White). This support for the King based on baraka is still as present today in Morocco. Following Moroccan independence, any political alliance that existed between the King and political organizations and parties was short lived.  Because of the competition for power between the King and the Istiqlal party, “[t]ension between the conservative and radical wings of the party reached a breaking point in 1959 , when Prime Minister Abdallah Ibrahim of the Istiqlal joined a group of secular intellectuals and trade unionists to form a new let-wing party, the National Union of Popular Forces (UNFP), closely allied with the large Moroccan Workers Union (UMT) (White, 460-461). This division helped the King immensely, as he was able to better consolidate power, given the fracturing of opposition (White). Then, in May of 1960, the King got rid of government, placing himself as the prime minister of Morocco, and appointing his son Hassan to serve as his deputy in government (White). Then, shortly after, the King died in 1961 following a surgery procedure, and his son, Hassan, came to power (White). 

Hassan II and the History of Morocco

Hassan II wasted no time ensuring that he would be the leader of Morocco. To him, Morocco’s monarchy should be the one with sole authority, and political parties, if they were to exist at all, should be there to help the King (White). Shortly after this, Hassan II set up a constitution that was passed in December of 1962. This constitution, while have elements of it support political rights, was largely set up to state the king’s power in the country. In the 1962 Moroccan constitution, “the king was given the authority to dissolve the legislature and exercise unlimited emergency power” (White, page 461).

While he allowed parties to form, in 1963, he urged the creation of political parties that backed the King. However, they were unable to gain majority, and in the following years, protests and riots were breaking out against the government. Thus, in 1965, King Hassan took over full control of the country (White).

Looking at the political history of Morocco, it was evident that Hassan II was a very authoritarian figure. Following his full control of the state, and repression of political parties, he also took additional measures to ensure that his monarchy would not be challenged. For example, “[t]hroughout the late 1960s, the police seized newspapers and made many arrests, and sanctioned political activity virtually disappeared” (White, 461). 

However, because of strong pushback and frustrations in civil society, the King did introduce a reform to the previous constitution, one that would be voted on by the Moroccan public.  Then, following the constitutional referendum also came national elections for parliament (White). The King, while not have a majority, continued to still have the key controls of power in Morocco. However, this was upsetting to not only member of civil society, and opposition parties, but also some within the military ranks. In fact, Hassan II faced two attempted military coups, the first taking place in July 1971, and the second in August of 1972 (White). 

Following these coups, not only did he try to minimize any potential threats within his ranks or within society at large, but he also brought forth another constitution. However, political rights were no more granted than before (White). And again, he seemed to survive another potential coup in 1981. In fact, he would continue to quell public dissent, and minimize political voice until his death in 1999.

King Muhammad VI

No discussion on the history of Morocco would be complete without analyzing the rule of the current King, Muhammad VI. Following Hassan II’s death, Muhammad VI came to power, and began speaking about ideas such as human rights and increased political participation in Moroccan society (White, 2013). In addition, he also won favor among Moroccans for announcing a commission that would look into human rights abuses possibly committed under his father’s regime.

Muhammad VI, in line with his father, continued to expand his influence in Western Sahara, and also further built his relations with Europe and the United States. Muhammad VI has been one of the closest allies to Western European countries, as well as America. For example, not only does the King have extensive trade relations with Europe, but he has also been a prime ally on anti-terrorism, particularly after the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks in the United States.

Morocco itself has dealt with a series of terror attacks. For example, there were a series of bombs in Casablanca in 2003. As a response to this, King Muhammad VI said that the attacks marked the “end of the era of leniency” (White, 2013: 468) and from then on, has been adamant about anti-terror measures in Morocco, even though human rights activists have come at the expense of civil liberties.

Women’s Rights Under Muhammad VI

One of the most noted positive developments under the King in the history of Morocco has been his work on advancing women’s rights in society. In late 2003, he introduced his family law reform to the Moroccan government. In 2004, he worked to reform existing family law, or the Muddawanna. This reform process was years in the making, and was a contentious issue between progressive liberals and secularists in the country. In fact, the demands for women’s rights in the history of Morocco spans decades. For example, 

In the early 1950s, on the eve of attaining independence from France, Allal al-Fasi, the head of Morocco’s leading nationalist party, the Istiqlal, and the leader of the reform wing of Morocco’s neo-Salafists, proposed a comprehensive set of social, economic, and legal reforms designed to reconcile Islamic principles with the requirements of the 20th century. In order to weaken the strength of the extended family in rural, tribal areas, and to strengthen the immediate family nucleus in urban areas, al-Fasi recommended a num- ber of steps that would strengthen women’s standing within the marital bond. On the extremely contentious issue of polygamy, al-Fasi was a radical, recommending its complete abolition, believing that any effort to achieve a compromise would be ex- ploited by the country’s still-powerful tribes.19 His relatively modern approach re- flected the views of a whole generation of Moroccan nationalists, including those within his own family. His cousin Malika, the only female to sign the 1944 national- ist manifesto demanding independence, was especially involved in the independence movement and served as a model of emulation and a patron to subsequent generations of female activists (Maddy-Weitzmann, 2005: 399).

However, attempts at women’s rights continued throughout the years. Scholars argue that in the 1990s, Morocco had an increase of human rights discussions and political openness around this time. These sorts of moves continued under Muhammad VI, particularly early in his tenure. Then, after coming to power, the King not only stopped the royal harem (that was in place before him), but he also spoke about the importance of of brining women into the public sphere (Maddy-Weitzman, 2005). 

Then, “[o]n March 12, 2000, the boulevards of Rabat and Casablanca were the scenes of two competing mass marches. The Rabat event, in favor of the government — and World Bank — sponsored Plan d’action national pour l’intégration de la femme au développement, was organized by a coalition of women’s and liberal political groupings and parties, coincided with International Women’s Day (March 8), and drew 40-50,000 persons” (Maddy-Weitzman, 2005: 393).

This new law introduced a series of changes with regards to increased women’s rights. Namely, “[t]he new law reduced the ability of men to treat their wives as property. It required a man to inform his wife that he was seeking a divorce, and it stipulated that he must get the permission of a judge before taking a second wife. The legal age for marriage was increased from fifteen to eighteen” (White, 2013: 469). The law also gave women additional divorce rights, and also ranked the parental rights of the children (in a divorce) first to the mother, then father, and then the mother’s mother (Maddy-Weitzman, 2005: 405). Unfortunately, many rights violations against women continue to take place (White), and critics of the law have argued that there could have been many more rights provisions in the document. They also argue that the law does not reflect the reality on the ground.



Maddy-Weitzman, B. (2005). Women, Islam, and the Moroccan State: The Struggle over the Personal Status Law. Middle East Journal, Vol. 59, No. 3, Summer 2015, pages 393-410.

White, G (2013). Chapter 15: The Kingdom of Morocco. In The Government and Politics of the Middle East and North Africa. Edited by Mark Gasiorowski, pages 456-485.

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