Leader: King Hassan
Economy: GNP per capita $860 per year.
Monetary unit: dirham
Main exports: phosphates, citrus fruits
People: 21 million
Health: infant mortality 100 per thousand live births
Culture: religion overwhelmingly Islamic with Christian and Jewish minorities
Languages: Arab is the official language, but there is a large Berber-speaking minority. French and Spanish widely spoken.
Source: State of the World’s Children 1984
Photo: United Nations
European civilisation owes a lot to Morocco. The arts and sciences flourished in North Africa and were imported to Europe through the Arab invasion of Spain in 711.
Visitors find Morocco a romantic place, an image fostered by tales of Beau Geste, the foreign legion, and the cinema classic Casablanca. But the romance hides the reality of a nation which has made little social progress over the centuries. Over half the population is involved in petty agriculture and the rural standard of living is minimal. Most teenagers are illiterate and malnutrition is a major problem.
Yet Morocco is a wealthy country with the economic potential to provide its people with a good standard of living. It is rich in agriculture and minerals, being by far the world’s leading exporter of phosphate rock for use in fertilisers.
The paradox is partly explained by the actions of an insecure and parvenu monarchy, whose number one priority is to forge a secure power base to ensure its continued existence rather than improve living standards.
After gaining independence in 1956 from France and Spain) who had divided Morocco into separate protectorates, the sultan designated himself King Mohammed V, with the full trappings of monarchical power. On his death in 1961, the present king, Hassan, took over.
Since then, the nation has suffered five years of royal dictatorship, several failed military coups and widespread political repression. A populist attempt to defuse internal tension led to the well-publicised ‘Green March’ by 300,000 unarmed Moroccans in 1975 to occupy the Spanish (or Western) Sahara, then about to be relinquished by Spain.
Ignoring the wishes of the Western Saharans, who sought independence, and rejecting international condemnation, the Moroccans went on to annex the whole of the Western Sahara.
But King Hassan’s territorial ambitions may yet prove his undoing. Morocco’s army has been unable to defeat the Polisario Liberation Front, the local guerrilla movement backed by Algeria and Libya. Morocco nearly went to war with Algeria over the issue.
Hassan’s pro-Western stance has brought him considerable military and economic aid from the US. Despite this, increased expenditure on the stalemated guerrilla war has forced cuts in other sectors of the economy, resulting in food riots and strikes in recent years.
The beleaguered monarch’s attempt to control dissent by permitting a tightly controlled parliamentary system looks doomed to failure. Opposition spokesman have found themselves imprisoned for being too outspoken, but still they speak out.
Ironically, it could be all the schemes and intrigues the king has used to keep himself in power that lead to his eventual downfall. But nobody is betting on it. With 23 years on the throne, Hassan is one of the world’s longest serving rulers.