Located in the northwest corner of Africa just south of Spain, Morocco is a diverse country with a long history and rich culture. Home to the indigenous Berber people for thousands of years, Morocco has been at the crossroads of empires throughout history: Rome, the Arab Islamic Empire, and European powers in the “Scramble for Africa.” Join Active Minds as we tell the story of the Kingdom of Morocco, including current issues and future challenges.

Key Lecture Points

  • Located in northwest Africa, a mere 8 miles away from Europe across the Straits of Gibraltar and with coastline on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, Morocco is at a historic crossroads of trade and empire.  Its colorful history has made the country a thriving multicultural hub of remarkable beauty.
  • The indigenous people of Morocco and much of northwest Africa are the Amazigh, referred to by outsiders as the Berbers. Over time, the area that today is Morocco was incorporated into empires, including those of the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians and the Romans.
  • In the 8th Century, via the route from Arabia to Europe along the Mediterranean Coast which Arabs called The Maghreb (Arabic for “the West”), Morocco was incorporated into the Arab Muslim Umayyad Empire.  Since that time, Morocco has come to be an ethnic mix of Arab and Berber peoples with Sunni Islam the dominant religious presence.
  • With the waning of the Arab Umayyad Empire, in the 17th Century Morocco came under the control of a regional Arab Dynasty, the Alawites, who remain the monarchical rulers of modern Morocco.  In the 19th Century, however, Morocco was occupied (like almost all of Africa in this era) by European powers. By the 20th Century, France and Spain had established protectorates over areas that are today Morocco.  The present-day legacy of this era includes two Spanish enclave cities on the African continent, as well as the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
  • After a brief rule of Morocco by the German-occupied Vichy France (the subject of the famous movie Casablanca, filmed in Hollywood during the actual occupation), Morocco was a landing spot of the Allied forces in 1942, the beginning of the pushback against Nazism in Africa and the eventual independence of Morocco in 1951.
  •  Since independence, Morocco has continued to be ruled by an Alawite monarch (currently King Mohammed VI, who ascended to the throne in 1999).  In the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring protests, the King acquiesced to a modification of the Moroccan Constitution that empowered a democratically elected legislature.
  • In 2020, the Moroccan government recognized the nation of Israel, part of the so-called “Abraham Accords”, negotiated by Jared Kushner, son-in-law of then US President Donald Trump.  In exchange, the US recognized the sovereignty of Morocco over the territory of Western Sahara, formerly a Spanish protectorate, but since the 1970s a matter of dispute.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever travelled to Morocco?  If so, what were the most notable elements of your visit?  If not, what would you most like to see in a visit to Morocco?
  • How do you think the recent recognition by the US of Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara is likely to be received in the world and in the region?
  • Why do you think that Morocco has such a significant representation in popular culture in the US?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Pennell, C.R. Morocco: From Empire to Independence. ONEWorld Press, 2012.  242 pages.  Beginning with Morocco's incorporation into the Roman Empire, this book charts the country's uneasy passage to the 21st century and reflects on the nation of citizens that is emerging from a diverse population of Arabs, Berbers, and Africans.
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  • Zunes, Steven and Jacob Mundy.  Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution. Syracuse University Press, 2022. 400 pages.  This book examines the origins, evolution, and resilience of the Western Sahara conflict, deploying a diverse array of sources and firsthand knowledge of the region gained from multiple research visits.
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  • Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky. Ecco Press, 2005.  348 pages.  Originally published in 1949, this work of fiction set in Morocco depicts the alienation of two New York expatriates exploring the region.  Bowles novel was named one of the best English language novels of the 20th Century.
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