Morocco Modern History

By | January 31, 2023

Morocco is a country located in Northern Africa. With the capital city of Rabat, Morocco has a population of 36,910,571 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. Independent Morocco is strongly influenced by King Hassan II’s long reign, 1961–1999. He ruled with a hard hand, but also skillfully played on the Moroccan nationalist sentiments, including through the invasion of Western Sahara in 1975. A limited reform program was initiated in the 1990s. The pace of change increased after King Mohammed VI’s takeover of power in 1999, but the new king also maintained a strong grip on the country and placed friends and allies in positions of power. During the 2000s, the fight against poverty and the growing Islamist opposition became increasingly important problems.

One year after independence in 1956, Sultan Mohammed bin Youssuf assumed the royal title as Mohammed V. The Rifbers opposed the king but were brutally oppressed by military forces led by Crown Prince Hassan.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Morocco. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The Crown Prince succeeded his father in 1961 under the name Hassan II, 31 years old. The first parliamentary elections in 1963 ended in a deadlock between a royal coalition and the opposition. After the election, opposition politicians were arrested and many of them were tortured and sentenced to death. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Morocco.

Social discontent led to unrest and in 1965 the king declared a state of emergency and took all power in his hands. On two occasions, 1971 and 1972, the king was subjected to attempted assault by senior officers. In 1972, a new constitution was adopted, but elections were not held until 1977. Until then, the king ruled unanimously, but there were frequent clashes between police and protesters.

“Large Morocco”

Foreign policy was oriented towards Morocco’s independence from the West, but was in constant conflict with its neighbors. In the first years after independence, the Kingdom had spoken of restoring a historic “Storm Morocco”, not least to appease opposition nationalists. Morocco claimed the entire Spanish Sahara (present-day Western Sahara) and Mauritania, plus northern Mali and western Algeria, in addition to coastal areas in present-day Morocco that were still controlled by the colonial powers.

Spain departed Tarfaya farthest south to Morocco in 1958 and surrendered in 1969 the area around the city of Sidi Ifni on the Atlantic coast, but retained the northern cities of Ceuta and Melilla. The demands of Mali were quickly forgotten, but in 1963 King Hassan invaded the Tindouf area in western Algeria, triggering a brief war before Morocco was forced to retire. Morocco also reluctantly acknowledged Mauritania in 1969, nine years after the country’s independence from France.

The original and most ambitious expansion ideas were thus erased, but the government continued to insist on its right to the Spanish Sahara. King Hassan’s campaign to annex the area was strongly supported by public opinion, including all major opposition parties. In November 1975, the King staged “the green march,” in which 350,000 Moroccan civilians made a symbolic march toward the border with Spanish Sahara.

Annexation of Western Sahara

Spain was then in crisis because its dictator, General Franco, was dying. Following an agreement between Morocco, Mauritania and Spain, all Spanish troops left Spanish Sahara in February 1976 – the area has since been known as Western Sahara. Morocco annexed the north, while Mauritania took control of the south, but the arrangement was not recognized by the outside world.

The Western Sahara Liberation Movement Polisario, which had fought against Spain for independence, was now strongly supported by Algeria to continue fighting Morocco and Mauritania. In 1979 Mauritania withdrew from Western Sahara, Morocco then annexed the southern part as well.

The conflict over Western Sahara from the mid-1970s placed a lid on Morocco’s domestic political contradictions. Initially, the nation stood united and the king had gained wide popularity. But the war hit the Treasury and in the early 1980s the economic problems were acute. The government cut public spending, including subsidies on basic foodstuffs, while unemployment rose. Hundreds of people were killed in 1984 when government troops fired protesters protesting price increases.

The political climate hardened during the 1980s, and the government committed serious abuses. Arrested activists were tortured and beaten. Some political prisoners could be kept isolated for decades under inhumane conditions, in secret camps in the desert and mountains. Many died and hundreds of Western Saharans and Moroccans “disappeared” without a trace. The death penalty was regularly punished for political crimes.


Support for Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara remained strong in the country, despite the economic problems, but the war led to an increasingly difficult international position. The question soon came to devour most of Morocco’s foreign policy energy. The fighting in Western Sahara lasted throughout the 1980s, but a UN-negotiated ceasefire came into force in 1991 (see Foreign Policy and Defense and Western Sahara).

Unemployment, social injustice and political repression led to protests, riots and strikes in the early 1990s. In 1991, the Conservative Independence Party (Istiqlal) and the Left Party Socialist Socialist Union (USFP in French abbreviation) launched a joint campaign to divide political power. King Hassan had let go of hundreds of political prisoners, many of whom had been “lost” since the 1970s. The king also began teasing liberalization. A new constitution was adopted in 1992 and the following year the first election was held in nine years. Royal faithful middle-right parties won a reassuring majority.

The constitution was changed again in 1996 and a two-chamber parliament was set up, where the lower house would be elected in general elections. When the first election was held under this constitution in 1997, the opposition, dominated by the USFP and Istiqlal, moved strongly forward. For the first time since independence, the opposition leader was then taken away: the USFP leader and formerly imprisoned human rights activist Abderrahman Youssoufi was appointed prime minister. Youssoufi’s coalition coalition had limited influence, but it was still a big step forward for Morocco.

New King

King Hassan II passed away in July 1999 and was succeeded by his 36-year-old son Mohammed. The new king presented himself as a supporter of political and social reforms. In a symbolically important gesture, he dismissed the powerful Minister of the Interior Driss Basri, who for decades has been King Hassan’s right-hand man and led the severe repression against Western Saharan independence activists and Islamist opposition, among others. In another gesture, Islamist leader Abdessalam Yassine, leader of the Islamist group Justice and Mercy (al-Adl wa al-Ihsan), who has been in house arrest since 1989, was released. A total of about 8,000 prisoners were released, many of whom were Islamists, while over 30,000 received their sentences reduced. Several well-known dissidents and their relatives were allowed to return to Morocco.

According to foreign observers, the first parliamentary election under Mohammed VI’s rule in 2002 was free from the cheating that had occurred five years earlier. USFP and Istiqlal again became the largest parties, but the biggest success was the moderate Islamic Justice and Development Party (PJD), which received almost five times more seats than before, despite the fact that the party did not run in all constituencies. However, the Islamists were left outside the new government.

Following the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, Morocco cooperated closely with the United States in the search for suspected terrorists. Hundreds of Moroccan Islamists were arrested and unregistered mosques were closed. In May 2003, Casablanca was shaken by several coordinated suicide bombings, targeting foreign interests and Moroccan Jews. Forty-five people were killed, including twelve suicide bombers, all of whom were Moroccans. Shortly after the bombing, Parliament passed a far-reaching law against terrorism. At least 3,000 suspects were arrested in the following months, and a year after the attacks, more than 900 people were sentenced in a series of trials. Police chasing militant Islamists continued to escalate. Many were jailed without trial.

In the 2007 election, USFP lost a lot and Istiqlal became the largest party, followed by PJD. Voting was the lowest so far: only 37 percent nationally. Despite this, the election itself was considered to have been largely correct, although voting and other irregularities occurred in several areas. A four-party coalition was formed under the leadership of Istiqlal. The former leading opposition parties Istiqlal and USFP thus further deepened their cooperation with the royal house and its “palace parties”, which facilitated for the Islamic PJD to finally shoulder the mantle as Morocco’s dominant opposition party. Despite this, the Islamists chose to downplay their criticism of the regime, hoping to emerge as a responsible and capable party.

New party formation

In 2008, the Moroccan party landscape was shaken. Just before the 2007 election, Fouad Ali al-Himma, a good friend of the king, had left his post at the Interior Ministry. He then began to gather followers around him, both regime loyalists and former oppositionists. In 2008, they formed the Party for Authenticity and Modernity (PAM). The new party presented itself as liberal and hostile to the Islamists in the PJD, but also as a modern alternative to secular USFP and Istiqlal. Several smaller groups were laid off in the organization when it was formed, and in the following months, many politicians from the old royalist movements changed party affiliation to PAM. In this way, more than 50 seats in the lower house could be taken over in a short time without even having participated in the election. PAM thus became Morocco’s largest party,

In 2008, King Mohammed presented plans for a decentralization reform that would help give Western Sahara autonomy under Moroccan rule, instead of a referendum on independence.

Morocco was hit by increasing social unrest in the late 00s, often originating from rising world market prices for oil and food. Clashes between Moroccans and Sahrawi erupted in Western Sahara’s largest city of El Aaiún in the winter of 2010, linked both to social problems and to the unresolved conflict over the status of the territory (see Western Sahara: History and Current Politics).

At the end of the 1990s, it was clear that King Mohammed VI did not intend to implement more profound reforms of the political system. The pace of political liberalization that began after his 1999 accession had slowed and the regime seemed to want to stop and “melt” the changes that had taken place.

Morocco Modern History