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Morocco – country overview

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy in which there exist an elected parliament but in which the king still holds most of the real executive power. That is, Morocco’s king is not just a symbolic monarch (like the kings of Spain, the UK or Japan) but he also does rule the country.

But neither is Morocco an absolute monarchy. With the arrival of the current king in 1999, a slow process of transition to democracy started. This process has brought advances that were only a dream a few years ago such as the virtual equality of rights between men and women and the most daring and naughty press of the Arab countries that has broken one by one every taboo (hot topics such as the Fortune of the King or the sexual life of Moroccans are the common coin in the most progressive publications).

After the “Arab protests”
Then, in December 2010, when this process of transition was starting to stagnate, something unpredictable occurred: the already known as “Arab world protests” broke out. Tunes, Egypt, Yemen, Syria… The contagious effect seemed to spare no country. “Morocco might be the next one”, people started to say. And, then, all of a sudden: the Moroccan king goes live on television making the announcement that not even his most staunch opponents were hoping: he, the king, would give up his government powers to the people via a new democratic constitution soon-to-be drawn up.

The consequences of this announcement are enormous. Morocco has become now one of the leading Arab countries in the race to democracy. And what’s more, ulike Tunes or Egypt were the beginning of the transition has required overthrowing the ruling regime, in Morocco the change has been started by the regime itself.

The “Spain” of the Arab world
Political pundits now compare Morocco to the post-Franco’s Spain. When the Spanish dictator died, his successor, the king of Spain was forced to give up all his actual power to an elected parliament and remained only as a symbolic king. Such tender transition may definitively confirm Morocco as the apple of the foreign investors’ eyes. Indeed, the first reaction to the king’s announcement was a sharp rise of the Casablanca stock market.

Beginnings
In the year 788 AD, Morocco first appears as a distinct political entity as the Idrisid dynasty unifies the country. It was the first state in Africa to be at once Muslim and independent from the Arab empire which had initially brought that religion to the area.

Al-Andalus
During the Almoravid dynasty, the kingdom comprises a large portion of North Africa and almost half of Spain and Portugal. That southern European area that was Muslim for centuries was known as Al-Andalus. However, all things come to an end, and eight centuries after the arrival of the Arabs, the Catholic Monarchs conquest back the last Muslim territories in Spain. It was 1492 and with Christianization comes a drastic expulsion of all Muslims and Jews from Spain. Many of them migrated to Morocco and still today it is possible to find the remains of that Hispanic heritage.

Old keys
There are families in Morocco that still have Hispanic-sounding surnames. And in cities such as Tetouan, a few families have transmitted generation after generation the keys to the house that, centuries ago, they had to abandon back in Spain.

The current dynasty
Many other Arab and Berber dynasties followed each other as rulers of Morocco, the last and current one being the Arab dynasty of the Alaouites. This dynasty came to power in 1664 and under its reign Morocco remained surprisingly autonomous while its neighboring countries were dominated by Ottoman and European empires.

The Protectorate
However, in 1912, Morocco had to finally surrender to a foreign colonial rule. Known as Spanish-French Protectorate, this regime divided the country into a Spanish-ruled area (the north and the Sahara desert), a French-Ruled one (the south).
In 1956, after 44 years of foreign occupation, Morocco becomes independent.

International Tangier
In addition to the dual protectorate, a little portion of the country, the northern coastal city of Tangier, was attributed a very original status: it became an international city. This peculiar situation soon drew in the mixture of diplomats and spies, artists and writers, bohemians and millionaires that created the “legend of Tangier”. Indeed, for a few decades everything could happen in the city, and half a century later the international-days nostalgia still pervades the city. To visualize how Tangier felt at the time, it may be useful to know that the film “Casablanca” was actually inspired by the city of Tangier and that it was only later that a studio executive decided that “Casablanca” sounded more commercial and changed the name.

After the independence
Since 1956, three kings have ruled: Mohammed V, up to 1961, who was a beloved king due to its central role in the independence struggle; Hassan II, up to 1999, who was evenly admired for his political genius and feared for his cruel means; and the current king, Mohammed VI, the instigator of the current transition to democracy.

Morocco today
During the reign of Mohammed VI, a new mood of optimism and pride to be Moroccan is building up. The savings that were kept in offshore accounts now flow back to the country, the Moroccan expatriates in Europe come back home to buy holiday houses and open up small businesses. At the same time, the country has become a major tourist destination (jumping recently to the 26th position in the worldwide league table) and foreign investment has been growing steadily for the last 10 years. The icing on this cake of optimism has been the announcement of democratic transition made by the king in mars 2011. Yes, Morocco is certainly on the right track. Will be all the expectations met?

Which is the language spoken in Morocco? That’s easier asked than answered. These are the languages making up the linguistic melting pot:

Moroccan Arabic: the street
The every-day talk is mainly made in Moroccan Arabic. This language is a local dialect of the standard Arabic (the international Arabic). Apart from the Berber and some people from the most Francophile families, this is the first language of Moroccans.

Standard Arabic: the formal
Standard Arabic is not normally spoken in any Arab country and yet it is frequently used in all of them. It is a sort of formal international language that allows all Arabs to understand each other (it is, for example, the language of Al Yazira) but that no Arab would ever think to use with friends or family. Press publications, TV broadcasts, legal papers, and formal public speaking are all made in this language.

Berber: mother tongue of some
Part of the Moroccans, the Berber people, has this language as mother tongue. However, to the rest of Moroccans this language is as incomprehensible as to the foreign visitor.

French: the prestigious
Almost the entire upper class speaks French and many of them are perfect bilinguals. French has been the prestige language since the time of the French Protectorate when it was the official language of the country. In addition to the affluent, most people with university education will speak good French. Among other reasons because, still today, French is the tuition language in scientific and technical degree programs.

Spanish: the North
The second most-spoken European language is Spanish. This heritage comes from the time of the Spanish Protectorate and so it is spoken mainly in the north of the country. Although Spanish has not been as well preserved as French in today’s Morocco, there are still many fluent speakers in the northern cities such as Tetouan, Tangier, Asilah or Chawen.

English: the cool
English is growing fast in Morocco. And while this is true for almost the entire world, the difference here is that Moroccans are so good at languages that in a matter of years decently-fluent speakers are popping out all over. The Moroccan youth is particularly fond of English and it has certainly displaced French as the cool language to “possess”.

Ease to learn languages
Moroccans’ ease to learn languages is awesome, especially when it comes to pronunciation. For example, it is not difficult to come across some guy in the street that will say to you the only two phrases he knows in your language sounding so much like a native speaker that you will doubt for a moment whether he actually comes from your country.