History & Politics
The arrival of Islam
Rock carvings in the High Atlas and finds of stone, copper and bronze provide evidence of nomadic hunter-gatherers in Morocco from around 4000BC. The development of agriculture and livestock created settled communities. The people of the region became known as the Berbers (from the Greek for ‘barbarian’).
The Roman period
By the second century BC, Moroccon colonies came under Roman influence. The Romans called the people here the ‘Maures’, hence this part of Africa was known as ‘Mauritania’. Much of the region remained under Roman rule until AD429, when the Germanic Vandals invaded North Africa from Spain.
Around 1100BC, Phoenician merchants (from modern-day Lebanon/Syria) set up stations along the Moroccon coast, trading in Saharan gold, oils, fish, dyes, timber and ivory. They brought their skills in agriculture, metalwork and crafts.
But it was the Arab conquest of the 8th century AD which provided Morocco’s future identity. Within 100 years of the Prophet Mohammed’s death (AD632), Arab armies swept across the Middle East, Asia and North Africa. They brought Islam, its social code, system of law and language.
Morocco was briefly under the Muslim Empire/Caliphate. But having absorbed Islam, the country's Berbers regained their independence in AD740.
The rise and fall of Muslim dynasties
Once Islam had arrived, Morocco was ruled by various dynasties, starting with the Idrissids (in the ninth century). The Almoravids of the 11th century (a confederation of Berber tribes) created modern-day Morocco, uniting the northwest of the country to the vast Berber and Saharan hinterland. Their empire stretched from the Atlantic to eastern Algeria and from West Africa to Spain.
The Almoravids were overthrown by the Almohads (Berber tribes from the High Atlas) who ruled the empire in the 12th and 13th centuries. Architecture from this period can still be seen (for example, the Bab Agnaou gate in Marrakesh, shown in the photo). The Merinids ruled in the 13th–15th centuries, followed by the Wattasids (15th–16th), Saadians (16th) and finally the Alouites, rulers from the 17th century to the present day.
With the French controlling Algeria from 1830, Morocco increasingly found itself isolated from the Islamic world and subject to European pressure. This culminated in the Treaty of Fès, which established Morocco as a French Protectorate in 1912, with Spain controlling certain areas in the north and southwest (as well as Western Sahara).
Protecting the Jews
Mohammed V protected all 300,000 of his Jewish subjects in Morocco from deportation to occupied France.
During World War II, Moroccan divisions distinguished themselves in battle against Nazi Germany. After the war, Mohammed V led popular demands for independence, which finally came in 1956. Spain also ceded control of its mainland areas (except for Ceuta on the Strait of Gibraltar and Melilla on the Mediterranean coast) and Western Sahara in 1976 (though Morocco’s claim is disputed by separatists of this region.)
Mohammed V’s successors have been keen to modernise Morocco, with political reform introduced by Hassan II in the 1990s.
The present king, Mohammed VI (Hassan’s son), rules Morocco as a constitutional monarch, sharing power with a parliament of two legislative Houses. King Mohammed VI is leading further constitutional change, devolving more power to parliament, the courts and regional councils.