Morocco is the 25th-largest country in Africa and has a geographic area of 446,550 sq km. The kingdom has 2363 km of land borders, shared with Algeria, Mauritania, and the small enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which are located on Morocco’s north-eastern coast but are under Spanish control. It also has a 1835-km-long coast, most of which is located on the Atlantic but a portion of which, east of the Gibraltar Strait in the north-east of the kingdom, is on the Mediterranean Sea.
The country’s political capital is Rabat, one of four historic imperial cities, along with Marrakech, Fez and Meknes. It is located on the northern Atlantic coast. However, the largest city by far, as well as the business and economic capital, is Casablanca, located 85 km from Rabat, which was a minor fishing town until the early 20th century.
Most of the country’s largest cities are located in northern coastal plains, where the bulk of agricultural activity also takes place. Inland from these is the Atlas Mountain range, which is made up of three sub-ranges: the Anti-Atlas, the High Atlas and the Middle Atlas. Morocco’s highest mountain is Jebel Toubkal, at 4165 metres above sea level, located in the High Atlas, near the city of Marrakech. The north-east of the country is home to another mountain range, the Rif. In the south is the Moroccan portion of the Sahara Desert.
The country’s climate varies substantially from region to region, with southern desert parts of the country much hotter and drier than mountainous and coastal areas. The capital has a Mediterranean climate, with temperatures varying from average daily highs of 17°C in January to 28°C in August. Rainfall here varies from no rain in the summer months of June, July, August and September, to an average eight days of rain in December.
In Marrakech, the largest southern city, temperatures are much hotter, ranging from average daily highs of 19°C in January, to 37°C in August and September. February, March, November and December see the most rain in the city, with each month receiving an average of three days.
The kingdom’s economy has traditionally been dominated by agriculture. This made economic growth highly volatile, as farming and especially the cultivation of cereals are largely dependent on rainfall rather than irrigation, meaning that yearly variations in precipitation can give rise to large swings in agricultural and economic output.
However, while the agriculture sector remains the largest employer in the kingdom, its contribution to GDP has been falling, to around 13% in 2017. Rainfall nevertheless continues to exert a significant influence on overall growth.
The importance of traditional manufacturing activities such as textile production has also been falling in recent years, as export-oriented, higher-value-added industries such as car assembly and aeronautics have taken off; the motor vehicle industry has been the largest export sector since the middle of the current decade. The mining sector is also important, representing 10% of the country’s GDP.
The kingdom’s economy is closely tied to the eurozone, with Western Europe acting as its main trade partner and leading source of tourism revenue, remittances from emigrant communities and foreign direct investment (FDI). Within Europe, former colonial power Spain is Morocco’s primary trade partner, both in terms of imports and exports.
Gulf Arab countries – mainly Saudi Arabia and the UAE – are also important trade partners, especially regarding sources of FDI and financial aid, and the kingdom is also strengthening economic ties with China, not least through a recent decision to abolish visa requirements for Chinese tourists.
Morocco has large, well-developed phosphate reserves. Indeed the phosphate reserves of Morocco, including those located in the Moroccan/Western Sahara, are by far the biggest in the world, accounting for 50bn of the 70bn tonnes of international mine reserves, according to the US Geological Survey. The kingdom is also the third-largest producer of phosphate rock internationally, at 27m tonnes annually, and the world’s primary exporter, with a market share of 33%, according to Aziz Rabbah, minister of energy, mining and sustainable development. Phosphate production in the kingdom is entirely managed by the state-owned OCP Group (formerly known as the Office Chérifien des Phosphates).
Unlike oil- and gas-rich neighbour Algeria, Morocco has discovered little in the way of domestic hydrocarbons resources to date, leaving it overwhelmingly reliant on energy imports. However, UK firm Sound Energy made a gas discovery in the Tendrara region of eastern Morocco 2016, and in September 2018 was awarded a gas production concession in the area, offering tentative hope that domestic production could be increased in the medium term (see Energy chapter).
The country also receives high amounts of solar irradiation, in particular in southern desert areas in which large amounts of undeveloped space are available, making it a strong candidate for the development of solar energy. Recent years have seen the construction and launch of a number of major solar projects (see Energy chapter), among them the Noor series of solar power plants.
Language & Ethnicity
While Morocco is an Arab country – it is a member of the Arab League, and Arabic is one of its two official languages, as well as the main language of instruction – it is the least Arabised country in North Africa and perhaps the Arab world. Around half of the population, located primarily in rural and mountainous areas, are thought to speak one of three Berber, or Amazigh, languages, which were the native languages of the region before the Arab conquest. Almost all Moroccans can also speak Moroccan Arabic, however. Amazigh – a standardised Berber language – was made an official language by royal decree in 2011.
Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) – a standardised, lingua franca version based on classical Quranic Arabic – is the formal language of most school education, government and news media. The version of Arabic spoken colloquially by most Moroccans, known as darija, differs greatly from MSA; as with other forms of colloquial Arabic, its grammar is simpler, and in addition its vocabulary is heavily influenced by Berber languages, French and Spanish.
French is the language of instruction of some technical and scientific school and university courses, as well as being used by many print media outlets, in particular more business- and economic-focused publications. It is also widely spoken, in particular among the business elite. Spanish is the second language in the north-eastern parts that were under Spanish rather than French colonial control prior to independence.
Religion has played a key role in the kingdom’s political history. As stated in the kingdom’s constitution, Islam is the official state religion, and the Moroccan population is overwhelmingly Muslim. Most Moroccans follow the Maliki school of Sunni Islam (one of four such schools), which is predominant in much of north-west Africa. The king is considered to be an ancestor of the Prophet Muhammed. He has the status of Amir Al Mu’minin, or Commander of the Faithful, essentially making him Morocco’s religious leader. The kingdom was formerly home to a substantial Jewish population, but most Moroccan Jews emigrated in the early second half of the 20th century, mainly to France. The second-largest religion is Christianity, although Christians constitute less than 1% of the population.
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