Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

History of Morocco

History of Morocco
Francisco Franco (left), Spain’s Chief of State, is greeting Sultan Mohamed V of Morocco. The Sultan came to Madrid to discuss details of Spain’s formal recognition of the independence and “full sovereignty” of Morocco and the abolition of the 44-year-old Spanish protectorate. //Photo Corbis


The Moroccan Kingdom enjoys a geographic location that enabled it to play prestigious historic, civil, cultural and scientific roles over time. This country was a bridge for civilizations between north, south, east and west of the earth.

Fanack dives in this section into Morocco’s history from present to past. By this, we attempt to get through the conclusive events that laid out this country’s present and identity from a historian’s perspective.

Post-Independence Morocco (2020 - 1956)

After succeeding his father King Hassam II mid-1999, Mohamed VI released the political prisoners and allowed the exiled to return to their country. Furthermore, he dismissed the minister of interior Idriss Basri. By 2004, political pressures over human rights violations intensified, forcing the young king to establish the Equity and Reconciliation Commission.To read more, click here.

In February 1961, King Hassan II succeeded his father Muhammad V. In addition to changing the Alaouite dynasty into a royalty, King Hassan created a new position for himself: he became the Amir al-Mu’minin (Prince of believers). During a reign that lasted for 38 years, King Hassan oppressed his opponents and exiled some of them.

During the French occupation, Mohammed V’ Sultan Yousef, who succeeded his father, was considered as a symbol for the new national movement that anchored his legitimacy. After changing the title to “King” in 1956, Mohammed V won in the struggle over authority after independence.
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From the Independence to the Sharifian Dynasties (1956 - 1554)

Authority remained an inherited quality passed by genealogical descent from the founder of the Alaouite dynasty Moulay al-Cherif and his son Moulay al-Rashid (1666 -1672) who seized power when the Saadi dynasty disintegrated in half a century of civil war. Both dynasties claimed their legitimacy ultimately from descent from the Prophet Muhammad. Despite the Saadi collapse, the skeleton of a central power survived in Marrakesh. The idea of sharifian descent became a principal source of legitimacy.

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The Spanish, Marinids, Almohads and the Fatimids (1559 - 972)

The Marinids Dynasty’s power was at its prime during the reign of Sultan Abu Inan Faris, who died strangled by his vizier. As a result, a prolonged conflict erupted between sultans and viziers. In the end, the Marinids became weak, and their dynasty began deteriorating. The Banu Wattas tribe monopolized the position of vizier and, in 1472, one of them declared himself Sultan.

After the fall of Granada (1492), the Spanish took Melilla in the far north-east in 1497, Peñon de Alhucemas and two nearby islets in 1559, and Peñon de Vélez in the west in 1564. The Portuguese seized control of the Atlantic coast by occupying Arguin (in modern Mauritania, 1499), Anfa (modern Casablanca, 1458), Agadir (1505), Safi (1507), Azemmour (1513), and Mazagan (al-Jedida) (1515).

The Banu Marin was a Berber tribe in the Almohad army. As Almohad power faltered, they occupied Meknes in 1245. By 1269, Banu Marin had conquered most of what would become Morocco. Unlike the Almoravids or Almohads, the Marinids were not a reformist religious movement. Instead, they befriended the scholars and emphasized religious orthodoxy and scholarship.

At the start of the 11th century, the Moroccan statelets were united by the first of two great Moroccan Muslim empires; Almoravids or Almohads. For the next two centuries north-west Africa was united by emerging political movements.

At the end of the 9th century, a new heterodoxy entered north-west Africa, this time directly from the east, in the form of the Shiite Fatimids who founded a new dynasty based in Tunisia.

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From the Fatimids to the Coming of Islam (972 - 704)

The Sunni Abbasids replaced the Umayyads and ruled from Baghdad. Fez became a destination for migrants from Andalusia and Kairouan and this added to its wealth and intellectual sophistication.

The most important movement was Shiite and was centred near Volubilis, where Idris ibn Abdullah, who was descended from Ali and Fatima’s son Hasan, found refuge. He built a small settlement on the banks of the River Fez. After he was murdered, his son (Idris II) succeeded him and ruled over an area from the Rif Mountains to Sous, then he died in 828.

The Amazigh commander, Tariq ibn Ziyad, the governor of Tangier, led the first Muslim army, which was also largely Amazign, across the Strait of Gibraltar in 715. However, many Amazigh resented the way the Arab elite behaved, treating the Berbers unequally.

The real Islamic conquest of north-west Africa was launched during the era of the Umayyad Caliphate. Uqba ibn Nafi founded a new base at Kairouan. In 704, a new province was established at Kairouan. Musa bin Nusayr, the first governor, launched the real conquest of north-west Africa. By 710, he had taken Ceuta and Tangier.

Under the Roman Empire, Morocco had been an outpost. In the early years of the Islamic empire, it was greatly affected by the major political events in the Islamic east, particularly the ideological and religious schisms.

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The Vandals and the Byzantines (704 - 429)

Late in the 4th century the Germanic Vandals attacked the borders of the Roman Empire. They crossed Europe into Spain, and in 429 invaded North Africa.

Vandal rule did not last long in the areas they conquered. The Roman Empire was rebuilt and attempted to reimpose its control over North Africa. However, the far north-west was peripheral: Byzantine occupation was limited to Ceuta and Tangier.

Mauritania Tingitana was one of the Roman provinces along the north coast of Africa. However, the Roman control did not extend far into the continent. This control was marked by a string of military strongholds stretching inland from the Atlantic coast at Salé. The border was a network of forts and tunnels that protected the areas under direct Roman control.

By the third millennium BC, the Sahara expanded, splitting the Maghreb off from sub-Saharan Africa, and connecting it to the Mediterranean basin. By the end of the first millennium BCE, the climatic conditions in Morocco were roughly those of today.

The first indigenous kingdoms were that of the Mauri, a tribal federation in the 4th century BCE, and the Maesulians, in the 3rd century BCE, between the River Moulouya and the present-day city of Constantine.

After the 8th century BCE, Phoenicians from Tyre, in what is now southern Lebanon, moved into the western Mediterranean and established a line of coastal settlements. Carthage, in Tunisia, was the most important, and in Morocco there were settlements at Rusaddir (now Melilla) and Lixus, near present-day Larache in the 7th century BCE.

There are some physical remains of the early inhabitants of Morocco, dating back to 12,000 BCE where the Oranian culture in western Morocco once existed.

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Further Reading

Below are the publications by acclaimed journalists and academics concerning the history of Morocco section of this country file: