The Kingdom of Morocco is the most westerly of the North African countries known as the Maghreb – the “Arab West”. It has Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines, a rugged mountain interior and a history of independence not shared by its neighbours.
Its rich culture is a blend of Arab, Berber, European and African influences.
Morocco was a French protectorate from 1912 to 1956, when Sultan Mohammed became king. He was succeeded in 1961 by his son, Hassan II, who ruled for 38 years and played a prominent role in the search for peace in the Middle East. He also ruthlessly suppressed domestic opposition.
King: Mohammed VI
Groomed for “kingship”, as his late father King Hassan II referred to his upbringing, Mohammed VI became monarch in 1999.
He initiated political and economic changes and an investigation into human rights abuses during his father’s rule.
The king says the fight against poverty is a priority, earning him the name “guardian of the poor”.
A key reform has been the Mudawana, a law which grants more rights to women. The king has said it is in line with Koranic principles, but religious conservatives have opposed it.
Prime minister: Abdelilah Benkirane
Abdelilah Benkirane’s moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) emerged as the biggest party in parliamentary elections in November 2011.
In accordance with Morocco’s new constitution, King Mohammed was obliged to choose a prime minister from the party that won the most seats.
Mr Benkirane leads a broad coalition, in which his party holds the top positions but governs in tandem with conservative monarchists, liberals, socialists and former communists.
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The broadcast media are either dominated by the state or reflect the official line. However, the private press has succeeded in breaking taboos over some sensitive topics, including allegations of high-level corruption.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders notes that “religion, the king and the monarchy in general, the country and territorial integrity cannot be questioned.”
The government owns, or has a stake in, RTM and 2M, Morocco’s main TV networks. Satellite dishes are widely used, giving access to French and pan-Arab stations.
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7th and 8th Centuries AD – Arab invasion; Idris founds the first major Muslim dynasty.
10-17th Centuries – Dynasties and religious movements come and go, including the Almoravid movement which at its peak controlled Morocco and parts of present-day Algeria and Spain.
1904 – France and Spain carve out zones of influence.
1912 – Morocco becomes a French protectorate under the Treaty of Fez.
1956 – End of French protectorate after unrest and strong nationalist sentiment. Spain keeps its two coastal enclaves. Sultan Mohammed becomes king in 1957.
1961 – Death of King Mohammed; King Hassan II comes to power.
1998 – Morocco’s first opposition-led government comes to power.
1999 – King Hassan II is succeeded by his son, Mohammed VI.
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