Morocco shows the most marked ecological diversity of any of the North African countries, consisting of the Rif and Atlas mountain chains, the fertile coastal and interior plains situated between Marrakesh and Fez, the semiarid pre-Sahara of the south, and the Sahara region. With a population of thirty-five million as of 2017, Morocco is a constitutional monarchy that has both an Islamic and a Mediterranean identity. From 788, about a century after the Arab conquests of North Africa, a succession of Moroccan Muslim dynasties ruled Morocco and—for certain periods—Spain (al-Andalus) as well. Unlike the other regions of North Africa, the region today known as Morocco resisted Ottoman domination. From the 16th century onward, the combination of Ottoman pressure and Iberian incursions contributed to building a distinct Moroccan identity. Many regard the dynasty of the Fez-born Sa’adian Sultan, Ahmad al-Mansur (r. 1578–1603), as a golden age because of his importance to both North Africa and the Middle East. Morocco’s ruling ‘Alawi dynasty (1666–present) bases its legitimacy on descent from the Prophet Muhammad and the periodic renewal of a covenant (Arabic, bay’ah) between the ruler and the people, as represented by a combination of community leaders (the umma) and Islamic scholars. Present-day Morocco has a small Christian community, mostly foreign residents. The country’s Jewish population has dwindled from a peak of 300,000 in the mid-20th century to under three thousand persons as of 2014. Morocco’s most recent constitution (July 2011) is unique in the Arab world for recognizing Berber (Tamazight) as an official language together with Arabic and French. The constitution also recognizes the country’s Jewish heritage as well as its Muslim heritage; it is the only constitution in the Arab world to do so. Despite of progressive European encroachment in the late 19th century, Morocco remained formally independent until 1912, when it became a “protectorate,” or colony, of both France and Spain. Morocco regained its independence in 1956 from France. Colonization was progressive, with France not “pacifying” the entire country until 1933 and the Spanish regions until slightly later. Most of the country was under French colonial rule, but Spain assumed control over Morocco’s northern region, including the Rif, Ifni in the south (ceded to Morocco in 1969), and the Sahara, assimilated into Morocco in 1975.
Present-day Morocco is known in Arabic as al-mamlaka al-maghribiyya (literally, “the Western Kingdom.” North Africa in general is known in Arabic as al-maghrib, “the West,” and the term is also used in French). It is helpful to begin any study of Morocco by understanding the history and geography of North Africa as a whole. Abun-Nasr 1975 is the standard point of departure, but Naylor 2010 and Miller 2013 offer up-to-date alternatives. For readers of French, Abitbol 2009 makes excellent use of Jewish, Arab, and European sources. Terrasse 2005 offers insight into original sources. Brignon, et al. 1968, prepared in the wake of Morocco’s independence, is an unusual collaboration of French and Moroccan scholars establishing a shared history, and Laroui 2008 offers an insightful account of French historiography on Morocco. Mouline 2009 offers an authoritative reading of how Moroccan ruler Ahmad al-Mansur forged the basis of Moroccan political and religious identity at a time of powerful threats of encroachment from both European powers and the Ottoman Empire. See also the separate Oxford Bibliographies articles North Africa to 600 and North Africa from 600 to 1800.
Abitbol, Michel. Histoire du Maroc. Paris: Librairie Académique Perrin, 2009.
Born in Morocco, the author is a distinguished historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and writes about the country from the Phoenician era to the present, using Muslim, Jewish, and European sources.
Abun-Nasr, Jamil M. A History of the Maghrib. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1975.
Remains a significant and carefully documented point of departure for understanding the region’s history.
Brignon, Jean, AbdelAziz Amine, Brahim Boutalib, et al. Histoire du Maroc. Paris: Hatier, 1968.
Following Morocco’s independence in 1956, French and Moroccan scholars collaborated to prepare a history of the country for use in advanced secondary education. The result is fascinating both as an authoritative postcolonial historiography and as a highly readable history of Morocco from Antiquity to the present, lavishly illustrated and containing examples of original texts.
Laroui, Abdallah. The History of the Maghrib: An Interpretive Essay. Translated from the French by Ralph Mannheim. New York: American Council of Learned Societies E-Book, 2008.
Laroui, a Moroccan scholar, offers one of the first postcolonial histories of North Africa that in its French original (1970) gained a wide audience beyond North African specialists. Originally published in English by Princeton University Press in 1976.
Miller, Susan Gilson. A History of Modern Morocco. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
“Modern” Morocco for Miller means 1860 to the present. An outstanding, thoroughly documented point of departure for understanding Morocco.
Mouline, Nabil. Le Califat imaginaire d’Ahmad al-Mansur. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2009.
Ahmad al-Mansur (r. 1578–1603) was one of Morocco’s most important rulers, known throughout Europe and the Muslim-majority world. The “imagined” caliphate of Mouline’s title echoes political scientist Benedict Anderson’s notion of “imagined community.” Al-Mansur forged much of the ideology and practice that continues to legitimate Moroccan rule today. This is an important book that fuses original sources with modern anthropology.
Naylor, Philip. North Africa: A History from Antiquity to the Present. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010.
A concise, comprehensive history of the region.
Terrasse, Henri. Histoire du Maroc des origines à l’établissement du Protectorat français. Casablanca, Morocco: Éditions Frontispice, 2005.
Terrasse (b. 1895–d. 1971) was a leading historian of Morocco. This two-volume study represents the best of colonial-era history and respects traditional Moroccan historiography. It remains a useful introduction and contains extensive references to primary and secondary sources. Originally published in Casablanca by Éditions Atlantides in 1949.
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