Morocco now has a more liberal monarch but continues its illegal occupation of Western Sahara
Morocco is the most mountainous country of North Africa. The two main chains are the Er Rif, along the Mediterranean coast, and the Atlas Mountains which dominate the country from north-east to south-west. Most people live in the lowlands that lie between these two chains and the Atlantic coast. Morocco also controls the desert area of Western Sahara to the south.
Morocco's people are largely Arabized Berbers, but around one-third are less-assimilated Berbers, most of whom live in the mountains and whose language, Amazigh, was given official recognition in 1994.
Morocco remains one of the poorest Arab countries. Around half the population are illiterate and more than 10% of children do not enrol in primary school. In the rural areas more than one-third of the population lacks access to safe water. Even in urban areas there are high levels of poverty, and unemployment in 2009 was 9%. As a result, many Moroccans have chosen to emigrate clandestinely, making the perilous 15-kilometre sea-crossing to Spain. Around 1.7 million Moroccans now live overseas, chiefly in France and Spain; their remittances in 2008 were $6.7 billion—the largest source of foreign exchange.
Agriculture and fishing employs about half the labour force. Most of the land is in the hands of smaller farmers growing cereals, potatoes, and other staples. Since they lack irrigation they have to rely on fairly erratic rainfall. The tenth of the arable land that is irrigated is mostly in larger farms which grow citrus fruits, grapes, and other export crops. Meanwhile, especially during drought years, much of the country's cereal needs have to be imported.
One of Morocco's main priorities is to improve the irrigation network—taking water from the areas of good rainfall to those regularly hit by drought. A new canal was opened in 1999 to take water from Guerdane in the east to the south of the country to irrigate citrus crops.
Many of the smaller farmers in the mountains also raise cattle, sheep, and goats. Morocco's fishing industry is a major supplier of sardines to the EU, though catches have fallen due to over-fishing.
Morocco's main industrial enterprises are state-owned and linked to phosphates. With Western Sahara, Morocco has three-quarters of the world's reserves, and is the third largest producer. The other major export industry is textiles, which expanded rapidly in the 1980s, though is now facing intense foreign competition. Many other smaller enterprises produce high-quality leather goods, rugs, and carpets.
Of the service industries, one of the most important is tourism. Around four million visitors arrive each year and provide employment to 6% of the labour force. Earnings have been falling, however, and many of Morocco's tourist facilities are in need of a facelift. The government is aiming to build new resorts and increase hotel capacity to around ten million beds.
Morocco's king really rules
Morocco is a constitutional monarchy. There is an elected legislative assembly. But it only has limited powers. The king acts like an executive president, appointing both the government and prime minister and presiding over the cabinet. From 1961 Morocco was ruled by King Hassan II—whose autocratic rule resulted in thousands of arbitrary arrests and disappearances.