History of Morocco
Whether you’re exploring the ruins of Volubilis, strolling through the streets of an ancient medina, shopping for spices in a centuries-old souk or following a chain of pack mules up to a remote Berber village, you can’t escape the power of Moroccan history. In the valleys of the High Atlas, the descendents of the country’s original nomadic inhabitants still live in a remarkably similar style to their ancient ancestors. Architecture in urban areas often carries traces of the Roman and Islamic occupations that helped shape modern Morocco.
The country’s history is inextricably tied up with the story of the Berber mountain tribes, who repelled the Ancient Roman colonialists with a campaign of ongoing harassment, and later survived through a cycle of rising and falling Islamic dynasties. The brief French occupation of Morocco during the early 20th century was aggressively contested by the largely Berber Istiqlal (independence) party and control was eventually ceded to a line of Moroccan kings. Throughout the latter part of the century the country was troubled by heavy-borrowing and rumoured government corruption, which led to increasing poverty and civil discontent.
Since King Mohammed VI was enthroned in 1999, however, Morocco has instituted sweeping political and economic changes. Although poverty is still widespread and unemployment remains high, initiatives to attract foreign investment and tourism are bringing new opportunities to urban areas.
The human rights record is markedly improved from the previous regime, and today ranks among the cleanest across Africa and the Middle East. Women have benefitted from education initiatives, a new legal code that protects their rights to both divorce and custody, and new protections for Berber (Amazigh) culture including the introduction of Tamazight (written Berber) in schools.
The country's first municipal elections in 2002 were hailed as a step towards democratisation, but Islamist and other political factions are closely monitored, as is the news media. Further political progress was made during the Arab Spring, which saw thousands of civil rights protestors take to the streets of Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier and Marrakech to demand a new constitution and a change in government. Their peaceful tactics paid off: in spring 2011, the King announced his intention to stamp out corruption and reform the Moroccan constitution. Immediate changes included handing more executive authority to the prime minister and parliament and making Berber an official national language alongside Arabic. Elections were held to cement the changes, and the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party are currently in power.
Morocco is predominantly Muslim with Jewish, Christian and Hindu minorities.
Morocco's population and culture is a blend of religious and cultural traditions, encompassing Berber, Arab, African, Mediterranean and Jewish influences. Greetings involve a handshake and friendly inquiries after health, happiness and family, and no business is discussed until after these pleasantries. Friends may tack on a cheek air-kiss or two. Moroccan chattiness makes everyday interactions more pleasant, if longer; patience and extroversion are assets. In the souks, vendors to call out to customers, joking and striking up conversations before bargaining begins. When offered tea, it's polite to at least take a sip.
Although casual gear is widely acceptable, wearing any clothing that reveals arms or legs is disrespectful. Swimsuits, shorts, sleeveless tops and clingy clothing should be confined to the beach or poolside for both men and women. Women travelling alone can expect help and friendship, but will avoid undue attention if they cover up, ideally in local garb. Sexual relations outside marriage (including homosexual conduct) are theoretically punishable by law, but this is rarely enforced. Smoking is widespread, though laws prohibit smoking in enclosed public spaces. Drinking alcohol in view of a mosque is highly disrespectful and alcohol licences are expensive, but alcohol is often served discreetly indoors or on terraces.
Language in Morocco
The official language is Arabic. Berber languages are not officially recognised even though it is the language of the country's first inhabitants, who form a majority. French is widely spoken throughout the country, except in the northern regions where Spanish is more predominant. English is also understood, particularly in the north and major tourist destinations like Marrakech.
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