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People, Languages & Religions in Morocco


Morocco is the fourth most populous Arab country, after Egypt, Sudan and Algeria. Most Moroccans are of Arab, Berber, or mixed Arab-Berber stock. About three-quarters of all present-day Moroccans are of Berber descent, while Arabs form the second largest ethnic group. The Arabs invaded Morocco in the seventh century and established their culture there. Morocco's Jewish minority has decreased significantly and numbers about 7,000. Prior to mass emigration, Morocco was home to more Jews than any other Muslim country in the world. The Jewish community of Morocco, which dates back more than 2,000 years, has experienced various waves of both tolerance and discrimination. The worst outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence occurred during the Middle Ages, when Jews were massacred in Fez in 1033 and in Marrakech in 1232. Following the establishment of the French protectorate in 1912, Jews began to enjoy greater equality. There is a European expatriate population of 100,000, mainly of French or Spanish descent; many are teachers or technicians and more and more retirees, especially in Marrakech.

There is no significant genetic difference between Moroccan Arabs and Moroccan non-Arabs (i.e. Berbers). Thus, it is likely that Arabisation was mainly a cultural process without genetic replacement. However, and according to the European Journal of Human Genetics, North-Western Africans were genetically closer to Iberians and to other Europeans than to sub-Saharan Africans.


Morocco's official language is classical Arabic. The country's distinctive Arabic dialect is called Moroccan Arabic. Approximately 12 million (40% of the population), mostly in rural areas, speak Berber – which exists in Morocco in three different dialects (Tarifit, Tashelhiyt and Tamazight) – either as a first language or bilingually with the spoken Arabic dialect. French, which remains Morocco's unofficial second language, is taught universally and still serves as Morocco's primary language of commerce and economics. It also is widely used in education and government. About 20,000 Moroccans in the northern part of the country speak Spanish as a second language in parallel with Tarifit. English, while still far behind French and Spanish in terms of number of speakers, is rapidly becoming the third foreign language of choice among educated youth (after Arabic and French). As a result of national education reforms entering into force in late 2002, English will be taught in all public schools from the fourth year on. French however, will remain the second foreign language because of Morocco's close economic and social links with other French-speaking countries and especially France.


More than 99% of Moroccans are Sunni Muslims. The activity of other sects (chiefly Sufi) has diminished since independence. Islam was officially declared the state religion in 1961, but full religious freedom is accorded Christians and Jews. Most of the country's practising Christians are part of the foreign community, with a majority of them affiliated with the Roman Catholic church. Rabat and Casablanca have small Protestant communities. There are only about 7,000 Jews in the country, also mostly in the Casablanca and Rabat urban areas. There are small numbers of Baha'is and Hindus.

Under the leadership of King Mohammed VI (since 1999), the government has generally encouraged and promoted tolerance and respect among religions. For instance, in 1998 the government created a department for the study of comparative religions at the University of Rabat. However, it is illegal to attempt to convert any Muslim to another faith and traditional Islamic law requires punishment for Muslims who convert.





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