Land & People, Religion Language and Climate of Morocco
Located on the western shoulder of North Africa, Morocco's coastline borders both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. On the southern side of the strategic Straits of Gibraltar, the country is a mixture of high mountains, desert plateaux and rich coastal plains.
Morocco shares its boarders with Algeria to the east and Western Sahara to the south. There are also two small Spanish colonies at Ceuta and Melilla on the Mediterranean coast. Morocco lies across the Strait of Gibraltar on the Mediterranean and looks out on the Atlantic from the northwest shoulder of Africa.
Most people live west of the Atlas Mountains, a range that insulates the country from the Sahara Desert. Casablanca is the center of commerce and industry and the leading port; Rabat is the seat of government; Tangier is the gateway to Spain and also a major port; "Arab" Fes is the cultural and religious center; and "Berber" Marrakech is a major tourist center. The Atlantic coast is bordered by a fertile plain, while the Mediterranean seaboard is mountainous.
Algeria is to the east and Mauritania to the south. On the Atlantic coast there is a fertile plain. The Mediterranean coast is mountainous. The Atlas Mountains, running northeastward from the south to the Algerian frontier, average 11,000 ft (3,353 m) in elevation.
Morocco has a youthful population, with some 32.6% under the age of 15 in 2004. However, the growth rate has slowed from a 2.4% high in the 1980s to 1.6% in 2004. Morocco's population was 32.2m in mid-2004. There is also a significant Moroccan population abroad, some 1.7m in 2002, most of whom live in Spain or France. The expatriate European population, once large in cities such as Tangier, was down to around 60,000 in 2003.
One-third of the population is Berber. Pressure for Berber linguistic and cultural rights has led to the broadcasting of programmes in Tamazight and the establishment of the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture in 2001.
Moroccans are predominantly Sunni Muslims of Arab, Berber, or mixed Arab-Berber ancestry. More than 99.5 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim. The Arabs brought Islam, along with Arabic language and culture, to the region from the Arabian Peninsula during the Muslim conquests of the 7th century. Today, there remains a Jewish community of approximately 5,000, and a largely expatriate Christian population of 5,000, who enjoy religious freedom and full civil rights.
Casablanca and Marrakech have tiny communities of Jews. Religiously coherent, Morocco nevertheless faces the challenge of political Islam.
Morocco is also home to a 300-500-person Baha’i community which, in recent years, has been able to worship free from government interference.
Islamist parties are banned or, as with the Party of Justice and Development (PJD), given conditional authority (PJD has 47 seats in the nation's 295-seat assembly). Salafia Jihadia, an Islamist party, organized the Casablanca suicide bombings in 2003. Islamists were behind similar bombings in Casablanca in March and April 2007.
Arabic is Morocco's official language, but French is widely taught and serves as the primary language of commerce and government. Moroccan colloquial Arabic is composed of a unique combination of Arabic, Berber and French dialects.
Along with Arabic, about 10 million Moroccans, predominantly in rural areas, also speak one of the three Moroccan Berber dialects (Tarifit, Tashelhit, and Tamazight). Spanish is also used in the northern part of the country. English is rapidly becoming the foreign language of choice among educated youth and is offered in all public schools from the fourth year on.
The climate is largely Mediterranean, becoming more arid and extreme inland. In contrast, the Atlas Mountains of the north, which rise to a high point with the 4165 metre Jbel Toubkal, provide a milder climate, wooded valleys and rivers. Morocco has important reserves of phosphates, iron ore, manganese, lead and zinc. According to official 1998 estimates, land use is divided up between 20.12% arable land, 2.05% permanent crops and 77.83% others.
The population of Morocco is concentrated in the coastal region and the mountains, where rainfall is most plentiful. In parts of the Rif Mts. in the northeast some 40 in. (102 cm) of rain fall each year.
There are no important rivers in the country, but dams on several coastal streams are used for irrigation and hydroelectric power.
At a glance:
- Location: Northern Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, between Algeria and Western Sahara. Area: 446,550 sq. km. (172,413 sq. mi.) slightly larger than California. (The disputed territory of Western Sahara comprises another 267,028 sq. km or 102,703 sq. mi.).
- Cities: Rabat (capital), Casablanca, Marrakech, Fes, Meknes, Tangier.
- Border countries: Algeria 1,559 km, Western Sahara 443 km, Spain (Ceuta) 6.3 km, Spain (Melilla) 9.6 km.
- Coastline: 1,835km
- Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm, Contiguous zone: 24 nm, Exclusive economic zone: 200 nm, Continental shelf: 200 m depth or to the depth of exploitation.
- Terrain: Coastal plains, mountains, desert.
- Climate: Mediterranean to more extreme in the interior and south.
- Land use: Arable land 19%; permanent crops 2%; other 79%. Population (2007): 33,757,175. (The population of disputed territory Western Sahara is 350,000.)
- Annual growth rate (2007): 1.528%. Birth rate (2007 est.)--21.64 births/1,000 population; death rate (2007 est.)--5.54 deaths/1,000 population.
- Ethnic groups: Arab-Berber 99%.
- Religions: Muslim 99.99%, Jewish population estimated at 4,000 people, Christian population estimated at less than 1,000.
- Languages: Arabic (official), several Berber dialects; French functions as the language of business, government, and diplomacy.
- Education: Years compulsory--9. Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write)--total population 51.7%; female 39.4% (2003 est.).
- Health: Infant mortality rate (2007 est.)--38.85/1,000. Life expectancy at birth (2007 est.)--total population 71.22 yrs., male 68.88 yrs., female 73.67 yrs.
- Work force (2006): 11.25 million.
- Unemployment rate (2006 est.): 7.7%.