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new internationalist
issue 259 - September 1994

Country profile: Morocco

Where is Morocco? 'Believe me,' said one human-rights activist, 'Morocco is not as beautiful as it looks. The tourist brochures tell only part of the story.' Situated less than 15 kilometres from the southernmost tip of Europe, Morocco is a land of physical diversity: dramatic mountain ranges and idyllic beaches, fertile plains and dusty deserts.

But there are other contrasts. The five-star lifestyle of the tourist hotels and the Moroccan élite jar alongside the poverty which afflicts over half of the population. The traditional way of life coexists uneasily with the modern. The bustling, hustling cities are a world away from a countryside that seems to be standing still.

Morocco remained autonomous until the early twentieth century and then suffered a spell as a French colony (from 1912) before winning independence in 1956.

It has been ruled with an iron rod since 1962 by King Hassan II, who has much in common with medieval English kings. His authority is semi-religious - he claims direct descent from the Prophet (Mohammed) - and he moves his lavish court from place to place. He is popularly believed to have charismatic powers, and has shown a hunger for conquest. In 1975 Morocco invaded Western Sahara, home of the Sahrawi people. It has remained there ever since, despite pressure from the UN and the tenacious resistance of the Sahrawi's Polisario Liberation Front.

The King retains a firm grip on power, in spite of urban riots in protest at economic reforms imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). His position has been reinforced by the use of arbitrary arrest, torture and disappearance for those who speak out too loudly. Despite some moves towards constitutional democracy, the human-rights situation remains poor.

The Moroccans in the cities display an entrepreneurial passion and ingenuity which suggest that given the chance, the country could be an economic powerhouse. Yet it continues to suffer difficulties, compounded by human-made problems like debt and the IMF's 'structural adjustment' - as well as natural ones. The country is prone to drought which can have a devastating impact because agriculture employs some 40 per cent of the work force. The situation may worsen as Morocco's potential advantages - such as closeness to Europe and cheap labour - may fail to deliver more trade and investment given Western Europe's growing links with Eastern Europe.

As well as export earnings from phosphate mining, fruit and vegetables and textiles, Morocco enjoys significant revenue from tourism. From a hippy Mecca in the 1960s, the country is now the destination for more than one-and-a-half million tourists a year.

Tourists often suffer the resentment of the Moroccans, most visibly being besieged by 'guides' at the entrance to every kasbah in the country. Such resentment and hidden unemployment may soon boil over.

Peter Madden


LEADER: King Hassan II

ECONOMY: GNP per capita US $1,030 (US $22,240).
Monetary unit: Dirham
Main exports: Fertilizers, fruit, grains, fish, textiles.
Main imports: Oil, wheat, chemicals, machinery

PEOPLE: 26.3 million, 70% under 25 years old, 50% urban.

HEALTH: Infant mortality 50 per 1,000 live births (US 9 per 1,000).

CULTURE: Mainly Arab, one-third are Berbers
Religion: Mainly Muslim. Christian and Jewish minorities. Freedom of worship guaranteed under the constitution.
Languages: Arabic (official) is the most widely spoken, also French, Spanish and various Berber dialects.

Sources The State of the World's Children 1994, UNICEF; Human Development Report 1994, UNDP; World Bank World Development Report 1993; Morocco Centre for Export Promotion Morocco in Figures 1994.

Last profiled in December 1984



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INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Disparity between urban and rural areas.

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LITERACY [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
50% for adults. Low but improving.

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SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
High dependence on European market and on IMF.

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FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Political dissent repressed; iron rule by king.

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POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Islamic tradition.

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LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
63 years; improving (US 76 years).

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Right wing monarchy; elections allegedly rigged.


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New Internationalist issue 259 magazine cover This article is from the September 1994 issue of New Internationalist.
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