oa Africa Insight - Country profiles - Morocco, Western Sahara, Ceuta and Melilla

Volume 16, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0256-2804



The Jeziret al Maghreb or ""Island of the West"" is the westernmost limit of the Arab and Islamic world. Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco make up the three countries known as the Maghreb. Separated from Spain by the narrow Strait of Gibraltar, Morocco is also the African country closest to Europe. The Kingdom of Morocco is one of three remaining monarchies in Africa - the other two being Lesotho and Swaziland. The kingdom has a multi-party political system dominated by a king whose policies have generally been conservative, with foreign relations orientated towards the West. King Hassan's reign has been marked by vigorous campaigning to regain territories which had been controlled by Morocco's Muslim dynasties in ancient times. Moroccans take pride in the country's role as the centre of medieval empires - based on cities like Fez, Meknes and Marrakesh - which at various times controlled northwestern Africa as well as Spain. Spain, notably Cordoba and Granada, was Muslim territory from the early 8th century until Granada fell to Charles the Great in 1492. The original Berber (Moor) inhabitants of Morocco were conquered by the Arabs at the beginning of the 8th century and converted to Islam. As Muslim power declined towards the end -of the 15th century the Portuguese captured several Moroccan ports, including Tangier and Ceuta, while Spain secured a foothold in Melilla in 1496. Portugal ceded Ceuta to Spain in 1580. In 1860 Ifni enclave to the south on the Atlantic coast became Spanish and in 1884 Spain also annexed the desert land of Rio de Oro (the future Western Sahara).

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