Berbers inhabited Morocco at the end of the 2d millennium B.C. In Roman times Morocco was roughly coextensive with the province of Mauretania Tingitania. In the 3d cent. A.D. four bishoprics were created in the province. Jewish colonies were also established during Roman rule. The Vandals were the earliest (5th cent.) of barbarian peoples to take the area as the Roman Empire declined.
The Arabs first swept into Morocco c.685, bringing with them Islam. Christianity was all but extirpated, but the Jewish colonies by and large retained their religion. Many Moroccans served in the Arab forces that invaded Spain in the early 8th cent. Later, Berber-Arab conflict fragmented the region.
Morocco became an independent state in 788 under the royal line founded by Idris I. After 900 the country again broke into small tribal states. Warfare between the Fatimids of Tunisia and the Umayyads of Spain for control of the region intensified the already-existing political anarchy, which ended only when the Almoravids overran (c.1062) Morocco and established a kingdom stretching from Spain to Senegal. The Almohads, who succeeded (c.1174) the Almoravids, at first ruled both Morocco and Spain, but the Merinid dynasty (1259–1550), after some triumphs, was limited to Morocco. Rarely, however, was the country completely unified, and conflict between Arabs and Berbers was incessant.
Spain and Portugal, after expelling the Moors (i.e., persons from Morocco) from the Iberian Peninsula, attacked the Moroccan coast. Beginning with the capture of Ceuta in 1415, Portugal took all the chief ports except Melilla and Larache, both of which fell to Spain. The Christian threat stimulated the growth of resistance under religious leaders, one of whom established (1554) the Saadian, or first Sherifian, dynasty. At the battle of Ksar el Kebir (1578) the Saadian king decisively defeated Portugal. The present ruling dynasty, the Alawite, or second Sherifian, dynasty, came to power in 1660 and recaptured many European-held strongholds. Morocco, like the other Barbary States, was, from the 17th to the 19th cent., a base for pirates preying upon the Mediterranean trade.
In the 19th cent. the strategic importance and economic potential of Morocco excited the interest of the European powers. France, after beginning war with Algeria, defeated (1844) Sultan Abd ar-Rahman, who had aided the Algerians. Spain invaded in 1860. In 1880 the major European nations and the United States decided at the Madrid Conference to preserve the territorial integrity of Morocco and to maintain equal trade opportunities for all.
Political and commercial rivalries soon disrupted this cordial arrangement and brought on several international crises. France sought to gain Spanish and British support against the opposition of Germany. Thus, in 1904, France concluded a secret treaty with Spain to partition Morocco and secretly agreed with Great Britain (the Entente Cordiale) not to oppose British aims in Egypt in exchange for a free hand in Morocco. In 1905, after France had asked the sultan of Morocco for a protectorate, Germany moved quickly: Emperor William II visited Tangier and declared support for Morocco's integrity. At German insistence the Algeciras Conference (Jan.–Mar., 1906) was called to consider the Moroccan question. The principles of the Madrid Conference were readopted and German investments were assured protection, but French and Spanish interests were given marked recognition by the decision to allow France to patrol the border with Algeria and to allow France and Spain to police Morocco.
Under the claim of effecting pacification, the French steadily annexed territory. In 1908 friction arose at Casablanca, under French occupation, when the German consul gave refuge to deserters from the French Foreign Legion. This dispute was settled by the Hague Tribunal. Shortly afterward in a coup Abd al-Aziz IV was unseated and his brother, Abd al-Hafid, installed on the throne. He had difficulty maintaining order and received help from France and Spain, especially in a revolt that broke out in 1911. In this situation the appearance of the German warship Panther at Agadir on July 1, 1911, was interpreted by the French as a threat of war and speeded a final adjustment of imperial rivalries.
On Nov. 4, 1911, Germany agreed to a French protectorate in Morocco in exchange for the cession of French territory in equatorial Africa. Finally, at Fès (Mar. 30, 1912), the sultan agreed to a French protectorate, and on Nov. 27 a Franco-Spanish agreement divided Morocco into four administrative zones—French Morocco, nine-tenths of the country, a protectorate with Rabat as capital; a Spanish protectorate, which included Spanish Morocco, with its capital at Tétouan; a Southern Protectorate of Morocco, administered as part of the Spanish Sahara; and the international zone of Tangier. The French protectorate was placed under the rule of General Lyautey, who remained in office until 1925.
A strong threat to European rule was posed (1921–26) by the revolt (the Rif War) of Abd el-Krim. In 1934 a group of young Moroccans presented a plan for reform, marking the beginning of the nationalist movement. In 1937 the French crushed a nationalist revolt. Francisco Franco's successful revolt against the republican government of Spain began in Spanish Morocco in 1936.
During World War II, French Morocco remained officially loyal to the Vichy government after the fall of France in 1940. On Nov. 8, 1942, Allied forces landed at all the major cities of Morocco and Algeria; on Nov. 11, all resistance ended (see North Africa, campaigns in). In Jan., 1943, Allied leaders met at Casablanca. During the war an independence party, the Istiqlal, was formed. After the war the nationalist movement gained strength and received the active support of the sultan, Sidi Muhammad, who demanded a unitary state and the departure of the French and Spanish. Vast numbers of Jews emigrated to the newly formed state of Israel in the early 1950s, although a small number remained.
Faced with growing nationalist agitation, the French outlawed (1952) the Istiqlal and in Aug., 1953, deposed and exiled Sidi Muhammad. These measures proved ineffective, and under the pressure of rebellion in Algeria and disorders in Morocco, the French were compelled (1955) to restore Sidi Muhammad. In Mar., 1956, France relinquished its rights in Morocco; in April the Spanish surrendered their protectorate; in October Tangier was given to Morocco by international agreement. Spain ceded the Southern Protectorate in 1958.
The sultan became (1957) King Muhammad V (Sidi Muhammad) and soon embarked on a foreign policy of "positive neutrality," which included support for the Muslim rebels in Algeria. After the king's death (Feb., 1961), his son Hassan II ascended the throne. He soon enacted a new constitution that established a bicameral parliament. Border hostilities with Algeria in 1963 cost both sides many lives; final agreement on the border was reached in 1970.
In June, 1965, following a political crisis that threatened to undermine the monarchy, King Hassan declared a state of emergency and took over both executive and legislative powers. The country returned to a modified form of parliamentary democracy in 1970, with a revised constitution that strengthened the king's authority. Opposition groups, later called the National Front, rejected the constitution and boycotted legislative elections. An attempt on Hassan's life by military leaders took place on July 10, 1971. Hassan announced a new constitution in Feb., 1972, which lessened the king's powers. In August another assassination attempt took place, when the airplane carrying King Hassan was strafed on its way back from France. The king continued to rule in isolation and maintained relative order through a policy of suppression.
In 1974, Morocco pressed its claim to sovereignty over Spanish Sahara, and in Nov., 1975, Hassan lead the "Green March" of over 300,000 unarmed Moroccans to the disputed region. In 1976, Spain relinquished control of the area, ceding it to Morocco and Mauritania as Western Sahara. However, the Polisario Front, a group of Western Saharan guerrillas with Algerian and Libyan backing, fought for independence for the territory. Morocco took over Mauritania's portion of Western Sahara in 1979 and continued to battle the Polisario throughout the 1980s. In 1983, when Morocco experienced political and economic troubles, Hassan canceled legislative elections.
Normalization of relations between Morocco and Algeria in 1988 cut off Algerian support for the rebels, and in 1991 the Polisario and Morocco agreed to a cease-fire. A UN-sponsored referendum to decide the territory's permanent status was ordered for the early 1990s. Disputes regarding who would be permitted to vote delayed any referendum into the 21st cent., during which time the region was integrated administratively into Morocco. Constitutional amendments in 1996 established a bicameral legislature, and elections the following year led to the first government (1998) in which opposition parties were dominant.
King Hassan died in 1999 and was succeeded by his son Crown Prince Sidi Mohammed, as Muhammad VI. Initially extremely popular, the new king revealed himself to be a strong advocate of social change and economic improvement, but the monarchy nonetheless remained the unquestioned center of power in the country. In July, 2002, Morocco occupied an uninhabited islet off Ceuta that is claimed by Spain, drawing international attention to the disputed Spanish enclaves along Morocco's Mediterranean coast. After Spanish forces removed the Moroccans, both sides agreed to leave the islet unoccupied. The Moroccan elections of 2002 and 2007 returned the governing coalition to power, though the Socialist Union of People's Forces was supplanted as the dominant party by the conservative, nationalist Independence party in 2007. The visit of the Spanish king to Ceuta and Mellila in 2007 soured Moroccan-Spanish relations.
In Feb., 2011, there were proreform demonstrations in several of Morocco's cities; the following month, the king pledged that there would be constitutional reforms. The reforms approved in a referendum in July included transferring some of the king's governing powers to the prime minister and parliament and making Berber an official language, but the king retained his foreign policy, military, and religious primacy. The unusually high turnout and vote in favor of the changes led those who criticized the reforms as inadequate to question the credibility of the referendum. In the November parliamentary elections the moderately Islamist Justice and Development party (PJD) won the largest bloc of seats, and PJD leader Abdelilah Benkirane became prime minister of the broad coalition government formed in Jan., 2012. In July the Independence party withdrew from the government, objecting to proposed subsidy and pension reforms. A new government was formed in October, with the National Rally of Independents replacing the Independence party; although Benkirane remained prime minister, the new cabinet reduced the influence of the PJD.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.