Strategically situated with both Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines, but with a rugged mountainous interior, Morocco stayed independent for centuries while developing a rich culture blended from Arab, Berber, European and African influences.
Since the beginning of history there have been Berbers in North Africa and they were already well established when the Phoenicians made their first incursions in 1200 BC. Their origins are uncertain but thought to be Euro-Asiatic, The generic name Berbers, was imposed on them by the Arabs meaning those who were not Arabs.
The history of Morocco spans over 12 centuries with the Idrisid dynasty first unifying the country in 780, representing the first Islamic state in Africa independent from the Arab Empire.
Various dynasty’s followed – the Almoravid and Almohad dynasty’s dominated Maghreb and Muslim Spain, the Reconquista ended the Almohad rule in Iberia and many Muslims and Jews migrated to Morocco, and the Saadi dynasty consolidated power to fight off Portuguese and Ottoman invaders.
The Ahmad al-Mansur reign brought new wealth and prestige to the Sultanate, and initiated an invasion of the Songhay Empire (Southern Empire), however managing the territories across the Sahara desert proved difficult.
After the death of al-Mansur the country was divided among his sons, and in 1666 the Sultanate was reunited by the Alaouite dynasty, who have ruled the house of Morocco ever since.
In the 20th century, while other states in the region succumbed to European interest, the Alaouite dynasty distinguished itself by maintaining Moroccan independence. With his Black Guard, Ismail Ibn Sharif drove the English from Tangier in 1684, and the Spanish from Larache in 1689.
In 1912, after the First Moroccan Crisis, or the Tangier Crisis when Germany, resenting France’s increasing dominance in Morocco called for an ‘open door’ policy, and the Agadir Crisis, or Second Moroccan Crisis when the deployment of a German gunboat to the port of Agadir sparked international tension, the Treaty of Fes was signed giving up the sovereignty of Morocco to the French and effectively dividing Morocco into a French and Spanish protectorate.
In 1956, after 44 years of occupation Morocco regained independence from France as the Kingdom of Morocco, when Sultan Mohammed became king. His son, Hassan II, who ruled for 38 years, succeeded him in 1961.
Hassan II played a prominent role in the search for peace in the Middle East given the large number of Israelis of Moroccan origin, but was criticised for suppressing domestic oppression. A truth commission, set up to investigate human rights violations during Hassan’s reign, confirmed nearly 10,000 cases, ranging from death in detention to forced exile.
After his death in 1999, his son succeeded him and became King Mohammed VI, who is known as the ‘Moderniser’. There has been some social and economic liberalisation, but the monarch has retained sweeping powers.