Morocco at a glance
Full Name:  Kingdom of Morocco
Capital:  Rabat
Area:  446,550 square kilometres
Population(m):  32.9 (2013)
Head of state:  King Mohammed VI (since 30 July 1999)
Currency:  Moroccan dirham (MAD) 
Religions:  Muslim 98.7 per cent; Christian 1.1 per cent; Jewish 0.2 per cent
Languages:  Arabic (official); Berber dialects; French
International organisations: Maghreb Arab Union, IAEA, IMF, UN, WTO

Morocco is bordered by Algeria to the east and the non-self-governing territory of the Western Sahara, over which it claims sovereignty, to the south. The administrative capital is Rabat, while the commercial capital – and largest town in the Maghreb region – is Casablanca.

Morocco gained independence in 1956, having been a Franco-Spanish protectorate since 1912. The Alawi dynasty that had ruled the kingdom since the mid-17th century was restored and King Mohammed V assumed the throne. King Hassan II succeeded King Mohammed V in 1961, and the first general elections were held two years later.

King Hassan II was succeeded by his son King Mohammed VI in July 1999. King Mohammed VI’s accession was seen as a turning point for the kingdom. A gradual liberalisation and reform process began and exiled dissidents were able to return to the country. Efforts are being made to address the kingdom’s greatest issue, that of poverty and unemployment.

A Justice & Reconciliation Commission was set up in late 2003 to look into human rights abuses and the use of torture under King Hassan II, announcing its findings in 2005. Political reform, however, has moved far slower than economic reform.

Morocco is locked in a dispute over the status of the Western Sahara region in the south, which is a UN-designated non-self-governing territory. Morocco gained control of the region in 1975 when Madrid withdrew from what had been the Spanish Sahara.

But in 1973 the Polisario movement was formed, calling for an independent state. Algerian-backed Polisario forces and government military have been involved in clashes ever since, despite a UN-backed ceasefire in 1991 and the UN’s subsequent efforts to reach a solution through its Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (Minurso).

Efforts to hold a referendum have been frustrated by Rabat’s reluctance to engage in the process and the Polisario’s objection to the movement of people to the region from the rump of Morocco in what they see as a blatant move by Rabat to swing any potential vote.

The relation is now thawing, however, and there is hope that an agreement between the two countries can be reached.

Government

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral legislature. Members are elected to the 325-seat Assembly of Representatives (lower house) for five-year terms, with 295 of them elected to multi-seat constituencies and 30 from women-only national lists. Representatives to the 270-seat Assembly of Councillors (upper house) are elected for nine-year terms by a mixture of local councils, professional chambers and wage-earners. The number of constituencies was increased from 91 to 95 prior to the 2007 elections, the second in the reign of Mohammed VI.

Since independence, Morocco has been characterised by a multi-party system that makes it difficult for a single party to govern alone. The country has 26 political parties and coalition governments have been the norm. Genuine executive power lies largely with the monarch, who is head of state, military chief and religious leader.

The 2007 elections were the first to be monitored by foreign observers, who concluded that they were largely free and fair, but voter turnout was the lowest in the kingdom’s history. This was largely attributed to the population’s frustration with the crown-dominated political system.

The Socialist Union of People’s Forces (USFP) – the largest party in the outgoing government – lost almost 25 per cent of its seats. USFP was replaced as the largest party by Istiqlal, its coalition partner. Istiqlal leader Abbas el-Fassi was made Prime Minister on 19 September 2007. The pro-government, liberal People’s Movement and Constitutional Union parties were the main gainers in the elections. The representation of the opposition Islamist Justice & Development Party, which had been tipped as a possible winner, increased only modestly.

Last elections to the Assembly of Representatives: 7 September 2007

Next elections: September 2012

Result of last elections

Leading parties at last elections (turnout 37 per cent):

Independence Party (Istiqlal) 494,256 votes, 10.7%, 52 seats (change +4)

Justice & Development Party (PJD) 503,396 votes, 10.9%, 46 seats (+4)

People’s Movement (MP) 426,849 votes, 9.3%, 41 seats (+14)

National Rally of Independents (RNI) 447,244 votes, 9.7%, 39 seats (-4)

Socialist Union of People’s Forces (USFP) 408,945 votes, 8.9%, 38 seats (-12)

Constitutional Union (UC) 335,116 votes, 7.3%, 27 seats (+11)

Party of Progress & Socialism (PPS) 248,103 votes, 5.4%, 17 seats (+6)

National Democratic Party / Al-Ahd (PND/Al-Ahd) 253,816 votes, 5.5%, 14 seats (-3)

Click here for government ministries information

Economy

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Morocco’s economy is ranked 61 in the world and it is underpinned by agriculture, tourism and remittances from abroad. Agriculture is a major driving force of the economy and the sector employs around 40 per cent of the Moroccan workforce.

The global economic crisis did not hit Morocco as badly as other nations due to the limited exposure the country has on the world markets. Although exports, tourism income, remittances and direct foreign investment into the country all declined during 2009, with the slowdown in Morocco’s main trading partner, Europe.

Morocco has low public debt, low inflation and a stable financial system. GDP growth is expected to be around 3.2 per cent in 2010 and 4.5 per cent in 2011.

The Moroccan government has launched a number of initiatives designed to decrease youth unemployment, which is high. This has been a moderate success with the kingdom’s actual unemployment rate down 1 per cent in 2010 to 9 per cent. Schemes to improve infrastructure have also been initiated as well as a drive to increase tourism. Government has developed a national agricultural strategy (Plan Maroc Vert) for the period of 2008 – 2015 aimed at increasing productivity in the country’s agriculture sector.

Oil & gas

Morocco has proven reserves of just 2 million barrels of oil and 43 billion cubic feet of gas, making it by far the largest hydrocarbons importer in the North Africa region. Although a number of international companies have exploration contracts in the kingdom, no significant discoveries have been made. The kingdom relies on imported oil for 62 per cent of its energy consumption, with coal imports making up another 30 per cent. Gas comes largely from its neighbour Algeria.

As a result there is a dearth of major oil and gas projects in the North African state with most being small exploration blocks scattered around the country. However there are two major oil and gas projects currently being developed in Morocco.

The UAE’s International Petroleum Investment Company’s (IPIC) plans to build the $5bn Jorf Lasfar Refinery south of Casablanca. The refinery will have 200,000 barrels a day (b/d) of capacity on completion.

In order to diversify energy supplies a $3bn, 5 billion-cubic-metre-a-year liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal is also being planned by Moroccan oil refiner Societe Anonyme Marocaine de l’Industrie de Raffinage (Samir). The regasification terminal will mean that natural gas will account for around 20 per cent of Morocco’s energy supply.

Power & water

Rapid population growth is pushing the issue of Rabat’s energy deficit up the agenda. Energy consumption almost tripled from 4.6 million tonnes of oil equivalent (TOE) in 1980 to 12.2 million TOE in 2005, while electricity consumption has increased from 4,460 gigawatt hours (GWh) to 18,000 GWh over the same period. Annual electricity demand is growing by an estimated 8-10 per cent a year.

Due to an extreme shortage of gas, Morocco’s power utility Office National de l’Electricite (One) is to launch a major independent power project (IPP), Al Wahda Combined Cycle Power Plant, at Safi, halfway between Casablanca and Agadir on the kingdom’s west coast. The coal-fired thermal power plant will be the kingdom’s second IPP after Jorf Lasfar. When it comes on stream, the plant will produce 27 per cent of Morocco’s annual energy demand with an output of 1320 MW.

Morocco has also initiated an ambitious strategy to boost the share of renewable energies in the kingdom’s power sector to satisfy increasing domestic demand.

The target is to develop 2,000MW wind, 2,000MW hydroelectric and 2,000MW solar installed capacity by 2020, which is expected to represent 42 per cent of the total power generation capacity.

Industry & technology

The kingdom is the world’s largest exporter of phosphates, a sector being developed by state company Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP). A number of international companies, including Brazil’s Bunge, have signed partnerships with OCP. A study is also under way into the kingdom’s uranium potential and in late 2007, France’s Areva signed a headline agreement with OCP for the extraction of uranium from phosphates.

Tangier Mediterranean Special Agency (TMSA) is currently constructing second deep water port complex in Tangier. The first contained terminal opened in 2007 and became fully operational by the end of 2008. A second terminal, due to be operational in 2012, will increase the port’s container capacity from 3.5 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) to 8.5 million TEU.

The kingdom is also becoming a centre for offshoring, with its flagship offshoring zone being CasaNearshore. The kingdom now has around 50 per cent of the total offshore French speaking call centres based in the country. The sector employs around 18,000 people.