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History of Morocco
 
 
 

Early History

The coastal regions of present-day Morocco shared in an early Neolithic culture that was common to the whole Mediterranean littoral. Archaeological remains point to the domestication of cattle and the cultivation of crops in the region during that period. Eight thousand years ago, south of the great mountain ranges in what is now the Sahara Desert, a vast savanna supported Neolithic hunters and herders whose culture flourished until the region began to desiccate as a result of climatic changes after 4000 BC. The Berbers entered Moroccan history toward the end of the second millennium BC, when they made initial contact with oasis
dwellers on the steppe who may have been the remnants of the earlier savanna people.

Phoenician traders, who had penetrated the western Mediterranean before the twelfth century BC, set up depots for salt and ore along the coast and up the rivers of the territory that is now Morocco. Later, Carthage developed commercial relations with the Berber tribes of the interior and paid them an annual tribute to ensure their cooperation in the exploitation of raw materials.

By the fifth century BC, Carthage had extended its hegemony across much of North Africa. By the second century BC, several large, although loosely administered, Berber kingdoms had emerged. The Berber kings ruled in the shadow of Carthage and Rome, often as satellites. After the fall of Carthage, the area was annexed to the Roman Empire in AD 40. Rome controlled the vast, ill-defined territory through alliances with the tribes rather than through military occupation, expanding its authority only to those areas that were economically useful or that could be defended without additional manpower. Hence, Roman administration never extended outside the restricted area of the coastal plain and valleys.

Christianity was introduced in the second century and gained converts in the towns and among slaves and Berber farmers. By the end of the fourth century, the Romanised areas had been Christianised, and inroads had been made as well among the Berber tribes, who sometimes converted en masse. But schismatic and heretical movements also developed, usually as forms of political protest. The area had a substantial Jewish population as well.

The Coming of Islam

Islamic influence began in Morocco in the seventh century AD. Arab conquerors converted the indigenous Berber population to Islam, but Berber tribes retained their customary laws. The Arabs abhorred the Berbers as barbarians, while the Berbers often saw the Arabs as only an arrogant and brutal soldiery bent on collecting taxes. Once established as Muslims, the Berbers shaped Islam in their own image and embraced schismatic Muslim sects, which, in many cases, were simply folk religion barely disguised as Islam, as their way of breaking from Arab control.

The eleventh and twelfth centuries witnessed the founding of several great Berber dynasties led by religious reformers and each based on a tribal confederation that dominated the Maghrib (also seen as Maghreb; refers to North Africa west of Egypt) and Spain for more than 200 years. The Berber dynasties (Almoravids, Almohads, and Merinids) gave the Berber people some measure of collective identity and political unity under a native regime for the first time in their history, and they created the idea of an “imperial Maghrib” under Berber aegis that survived in some form from dynasty to dynasty. But ultimately each of the Berber dynasties proved to be a political failure because none managed to create an integrated society out of a social landscape dominated by tribes that prized their autonomy and individual identity.

In 1559 the region fell to successive Arab tribes claiming descent from the Prophet Muhammad: first the Saads, who ruled for about 100 years, and then the Alawis, who founded a dynasty that has remained in power since the seventeenth century. Despite the weakness of its authority, the Alawite dynasty distinguished itself in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by maintaining Morocco’s independence while other states in the region succumbed to Turkish, French, or British domination. However, in the latter part of the nineteenth century Morocco’s weakness and instability invited European intervention to protect threatened investments and to demand economic concessions. The first years of the twentieth century witnessed a rush of diplomatic
maneuvering through which the European powers and France in particular furthered their interests in North Africa. Disputes over Moroccan sovereignty were links in the chain of events that led to World War I.

French Influence

At a conference held in Algeciras, Spain, in 1906, 12 European nations and the United States reaffirmed their respect for Moroccan independence. The protocols of the Algeciras Conference provided that every nation would have equal access to Morocco, but they could not alter the reality that the international community had sanctioned the preeminence of French influence there. In the first decade of the twentieth century, French forces progressively occupied Morocco, and the 1912 Treaty of Fès turned most of Morocco into a French
protectorate. Spain was given control of pieces of Morocco in the far north and south and of the Spanish Sahara (now Western Sahara). Tangier received special international status. From a strictly legal point of view, the treaty did not deprive Morocco of its status as a sovereign state. Theoretically, the sultan remained the sole source of sovereignty. He reigned, but he did not rule.

Under the protectorate, French civil servants allied themselves with the French settlers (colons) and with their supporters in France to prevent any moves in the direction of Moroccan autonomy. As pacification proceeded, the French government promoted economic development, particularly the exploitation of Morocco’s mineral wealth, the creation of a modern transportation system, and the development of a modern agriculture sector geared to the French market. Tens of thousands of colons entered Morocco and bought up large amounts of the rich agricultural land. Interest groups that formed among these elements continually pressured France to increase its control over Morocco.


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