Morocco, officially called the Kingdom of Morocco, occupies an area of 446,550km2 with 1,835 km f coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. The Strait of Gibraltar separates Morocco from Spain and it is bordered by Algeria on the east and the Western Sahara on the south, a territory whose possession continues to be disputed.
The majority of Morocco's 34 million inhabitants live in the cities and villages in the Atlas Mountains and the Saharan land. One half of the labor force is employed in the agricultural sector. Annual population growth is 3.3%.
While Arabic is the official language, one third of the population speaks one of several Berber dialects. French is often taught as a second language and is used frequently in commerce and administration.
After Morocco gained independence in 1956, Rabat became its capital city now with a population of 1.73 million. However Casablanca remains the principal economic center with a population of 3.2 million. Fes, the third largest city, also numbers more than 1 million inhabitants followed by Marrakesh, a premier touristic destination, Agadir and Tanger.
The Berbers represent the longest standing inhabitants of Morocco having never formed any formal state or union but maintaining an organization of independent tribes. However, very early in history various peoples settled in this region due to its commercially strategic location offering access to the interior of Africa. This wave of settlers began with the Phoenicians (who during this same era furnished King Solomon with materials for the Temple of Jerusalem) and then the Carthaginians and finally the Romans from the 1st to the 5th centuries. It was in this context that Christianity spread to Morocco in a somewhat superficial manner having its only real impact among the larger cities. In the 5th Century, following the fall of the Roman Empire, the Byzantines took the place of the Romans in Morocco.
At the end of the 7th Century AD Arab soldiers and propagators of Islam invaded the region of Morocco and thereby converted the Berbers and established a base for their conquest of Spain to make headway into Europe. Morocco at this time was not yet a state but was rather just a part of the vast Muslim Empire that was controlled from Middle East, first from Damascus and later from Bagdad. Power in this region passed through several sovereign dynasties of Muslim Berbers (most notably the Almoravides, the Almohades and the Merinides) but not one of them was successful at unifying the country politically. This period of history corresponded however with the height of this extremely sophisticated civilization to which the gems of Fes and Marrakech still today testify.
In the 16th Century the Morocco we know today was born out of the succession of power of two Arab dynasties: the Saadites and above all the Alawites from 1650 to present. This last dynasty succeeded at establishing a Moroccan State by imposing its power on the various regions and controlling the borders. In addition to being direct descendants of the Prophet Mohamed, successive Alawite kings bore the prestigious title 'commander of the believers' thus reinforcing their authority.
However this first period of Moroccan nationalism was interrupted by the colonial expansion of European countries at the end of the 19th Century. In 1912 Morocco was divided between Spain and France with France gaining the larger share where it exercised its influence over its 'protectorate'. For 45 years (1912 to 1956) Morocco experienced an unprecedented rate of development while suffering under political, racial and cultural domination as well as intense economic exploitation.
In 1956, Morocco obtained independence with relatively little cost, under the leadership of King Mohamed V, father of modern day Morocco, who was quickly succeeded by his son Hassan II (1961-1999). Hassan II, with a firm authoritative hand, formed the Morocco we know today: a constitutional monarchy that grants wide spread power to the king. At his death in 1999, his son Mohamed VI came to power. At the start of the 21st Century, the new king is tackling many political issues including human rights and democracy after denouncing the authoritarian methods used under the reign of his father.
Internationally the situation of Western Sahara remains problematic. This former Spanish colony located south of Morocco was annexed under the order of Hassan II in 1975. However the international community does not recognize Morocco's sovereignty over this territory. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the liberation army of Western Sahara (The Polisario) is financed by Algeria thus creating tensions between the two countries.
In a speech given 30 July 2009 on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of his accession to the throne, Mohamed VI committed himself to continue his policy of reforms while also outlining what had been achieved in the last ten years. No spectacular announcements, but a call to redouble efforts in carrying on to completion projects already underway, notably in education and social development. The king also emphasised that ''good public management'' is indispensable to ''the consolidation of an economic climate favourable to investment and development.''
The regime seems undermined by its desire to preserve a precarious religous balance. Having launched a campaign against Shiite Muslim missionaries (the country is 99% Sunni), from 2009 the authorities also engaged in a ruthless policy of repression against Christians (see below) which greatly tarnished the image of tolerance of the kingdom.
Inspired by revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, thousands of demonstrators marched February 20 2011 in different cities to demand a thorough reform of the Moroccan political system. They seek a parliamentary system in which the king would be king, but without holding the executive power, a sort of constitutional monarchy like in Spain or the UK. Ten days before another protest, King Mohammed VI announced (March 10) a process of constitutional reform. He spoke again of this in a speech to the nation on June 17. July 1 Moroccans voted in a referendum on constitutional reform, it was approved by 98% of voters.
The powers of the prime minister and parliament are to be strengthened, but without the political and religious supremacy of the sovereign being called into question.
Freedom of belief, however, finds no place in this new constitution: it sticks to the concept of "free exercise of a religion" already existing, Islam remains the state religion. For his part, Mohammed VI retains his authority in religious matters as a "descendant of the Prophet" and "Commander of the Faithful", including the power to issue fatwas.
The Christian Community
According to estimates by the Interior Minister, 800 Moroccans have converted to Christianity.
There are frequent crack downs on proselytism conducted by non Muslims. Article 220 of the Moroccan Penal Code permits criminal action to be taken against anyone who is found responsible of upsetting the faith of a Muslim or converting him or her. Anyone found guilty of this is subject to a variable fine and up to 3 years in prison. Christian Missionaries must work discretely. On November 28, 2006 an expatriate Christian was fined 500 dirhams ($50) and given a 6 month jail sentence for trying to convert a Muslim to the Christian faith. The prison sentence was suspended and the person in question left the country of his own volition.
Citizens who convert often risk social ostracism and a small number of these believers have been subject to short periods of interrogation or detention by the authorities. They can be accused of treason or of illegal relations with foreign missions. At times the believers are even refused their passports. In general the government confiscates Bibles in Arabic and refuses to grant licenses for their importation or sale; and this without any law officially prohibiting the Bible etc.In March 2009, five Christians were expelled from Morocco. The minister of internal affairs cited ''proselytism'' as the reason. This unusual police intervention, in the middle of a private meeting (authorised by the Constitution on Morocco), was the starting point of a religious repression against the Christians which intensified between December 2009 and mid-2010. It has attracted international criticism. During the first six months of 2010 more than 130 foreign Christians were expelled including several French and Swiss families. This persecution also touched some mixed couples (where one partner is Moroccan), one Spanish, one from Lebanon and one from Switzerland. The non-Moroccan partner was expelled overnight despite their family situation.
These expulsions of foreigners are based on non-proven accusations of ''proselytism''. The Moroccan Constitution guaranties freedom of belief, but any attempt to convert a Moroccan to another religion is a crime (punishable under article 220 of criminal law).The crackdown also affects Moroccan believers themselves, victims of harassment by the police (arrests, interrogation etc). It is no wonder that Morocco has slipped in the persecution index published in January 2011 by the Christian Association ''Open Doors'', which specializes in defending the Church and Christians oppressed in the world: the Kingdom rose from 37th to 31st place. "Open Doors" stresses that the previously relatively tolerant government has expelled 150 expatriate Christians "for allegedly proselytizing, while at the same time Muslim leaders made inflammatory statements against the local Christians, proclaiming that Christians are committing 'moral rape' and 'religious terrorism.'"