Overview | Government

This series of profiles of foreign nations is part of the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The profiles offer brief, summarized information on a country's historical background, geography, society, economy, transportation and telecommunications, government and politics, and national security. Derived from The Library of Congress.


Political Overview: Morocco is a constitutional monarchy led by King Mohammad VI, who succeeded his father, King Hassan II, in 1999. Despite the creation of an elected bicameral parliament with somewhat expanded powers in the constitution of 1996, the king continues to hold the ultimate authority.

Constitution: Morocco’s first constitution was adopted in March 1962. It has been revised in 1970, 1972, 1992, and, most recently, in September 1996. The latest version established a bicameral legislature.

Branches of Government: The government has three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The executive branch comprises the king, a hereditary monarch who serves as head of state, and the prime minister, who is appointed by the king following elections to serve as head of government. The king appoints the cabinet ministers on the recommendation of the prime minister and presides over the Council of Ministers. He has the power to dismiss the ministers, dissolve parliament, call for new elections, and issue decrees. The king also serves as head of the armed forces, head of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, which appoints Supreme Court judges, and chief religious leader.

The king’s authority exceeds that of the legislative and judicial branches, although the 1996 constitution included measures to increase the legislative branch’s influence. Reflecting the impact of that document, the legislative branch now has a bicameral parliament, consisting of the Chamber of Representatives (lower house) and the Chamber of Counselors (upper house). The 325 members of the Chamber of Representatives are elected to six-year terms by direct, universal suffrage. The 270 members of the House of Counselors are elected indirectly by local councils, professional organizations, and labor syndicates, whose members are popularly elected. Counselors serve nine-year terms; one-third of the counselors stand for election every three years. Parliament’s still rather limited powers include responsibility for budgetary matters and the right to approve bills, question government ministers, and establish commissions of inquiry to investigate government actions. Parliament holds the government accountable through the ability of the Chamber of Representatives to force it to resign through a vote of no confidence and through the ability of the Chamber of Counselors to adopt a motion of censure.

According to the constitution, Morocco has an independent judiciary headed by the Supreme Court, but in practice the judiciary is subject to executive influence and corruption. Morocco’s common law court system has four levels: communal and district courts, courts of first instance, appeals courts, and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has five chambers: constitutional, penal, administrative, social, and civil. The constitutional chamber is authorized to review legislative measures. The Supreme Council of the Judiciary, headed by the king, appoints Supreme Court judges. Other courts include administrative courts, commercial courts, and a military tribunal.

Administrative Divisions: Morocco is divided administratively into 16 regions, three of which lie entirely or partially within the disputed Western Sahara. The 16 regions are subdivided into 41 provinces and 25 prefectures.

Provincial and Local Government: Walis, or governors, appointed by the king and regional councils are responsible for managing the country’s 16 regions. Each province has a local government consisting of a centrally appointed governor and an assembly elected by municipal councils. These provincial governments handle local responsibilities delegated to them by the central government such as rural investment and some social services. Each municipality has a mayor and an elected municipal council, which are responsible for basic services involving public health and safety. Local governments lack autonomy from the central government, which is responsible for taxation and budgeting at all levels of public administration. However, in recent years the central government has been trying to boost the authority of local governments.

Judicial and Legal System: Morocco’s legal system combines Islamic law, or sharia, with French and Spanish civil law. Morocco nominally maintains an independent judiciary, but in the view of independent observers, the autonomy of the judicial branch is impaired by corruption and executive influence. By law Moroccans are entitled to a fair public trial, but actual practice sometimes falls short in terms of representation, pre-trial detention, and the admissibility of evidence, particularly in terrorism-related cases. Since 2003 family courts apply Islamic law in cases involving Muslims.

Electoral System: Morocco has universal suffrage beginning at age 18. Parliamentary and municipal elections were last held in 2002 and 2003, respectively.

Politics and Political Parties: A large number of political parties are active in Morocco. After the latest parliamentary elections held on September 27, 2002, the five most successful parties, in order of the number of seats won, were the following: the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (Union Socialiste des Forces PopulairesUSFP), Istiqlal (Independence) Party (Parti d' IndépendancePI), Justice and Development Party (Parti de la Justice et du DéveloppementPJD), National Rally of Independents (Rassemblement National des IndépendantsRNI), and Popular Movement (Mouvement PopulaireMP).

Mass Media: The government owns many key media outlets, including Moroccan radio and television. Moroccans have access to approximately 2,000 domestic and foreign publications. The Moroccan press agency, Maghreb Arab Press, and one Arabic daily newspaper, Al-Anbaa, are official organs of the government. One additional Arabic daily newspaper, Assahra Al Maghribia, and one French-language daily newspaper, Le Matin, are semi-official organs of the government. Although journalists continue to practice self-censorship, opposition dailies have begun to explore social and political issues that would have been considered out of bounds until recently. However, the media continue to exercise caution when discussing government corruption, human rights, and Morocco’s policy toward Western Sahara. Radio Méditerranée Internationale (Medi-1), a joint French/Moroccan broadcaster, also practices self-censorship. According to the most recent available information, Morocco has 27 AM radio stations, 25 FM radio stations, 6 shortwave stations, and 35 television stations.

Foreign Relations: Morocco pursues a moderate foreign policy without notable controversy, except for its claim of sovereignty over Western Sahara. This claim is not recognized internationally, although Morocco continues to administer Western Sahara and has built a protective berm around three-quarters of its territory. Morocco’s stance on Western Sahara is an irritant in its relations with Algeria, which supports the Polisario Front, a Western Sahara independence group. Morocco enjoys friendly relations with the United States, the European Union (EU), and the Persian Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia.

The United States has maintained relations with Morocco since 1787; a friendship treaty was renegotiated in 1836. No bilateral relationship between the United States and another nation has lasted longer. In recognition of Morocco’s efforts to thwart international terrorism, the United States designated Morocco a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally in June 2004. Although Morocco has cracked down on domestic terrorism, it opposed United States-led military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. A comprehensive bilateral free-trade agreement between the United States and Morocco went into effect on January 1, 2006. The EU’s predecessor organization, the European Community, established relations with Morocco in 1960. Current relations between Europe and Morocco are based on the comprehensive EU-Morocco Association Agreement, which entered into force on March 1, 2000.

Moroccan foreign policy is primarily oriented toward the Maghreb region—consisting of Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia—through Morocco’s membership in the Arab Maghreb Union. Morocco is linked to the Arab world through membership in the Arab League and also to Africa, although Morocco is no longer a member of the African Union. Morocco left the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the African Union’s predecessor organization, in 1984 following a dispute over the status of Western Sahara. In October 2000, Morocco severed all diplomatic ties with Israel out of protest over Israel’s settlement policy. Prior to the rupture, Morocco and Israel had maintained bilateral liaison offices since September 1994. Morocco is a long-standing advocate of a negotiated settlement to the Arab-Israeli dispute.

Membership in International Organizations: Morocco is a member of the following international organizations: African Development Bank (AfDB), Agency for the French-Speaking Community (ACCT), Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (ABEDA), Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD), Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), Arab Monetary Fund (AMF), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Group of 77, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/World Bank (IBRD), International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), International Criminal Court (ICCt, signatory), International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), International Development Association (IDA), International Finance Corporation (IFC), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), International Labor Organization (ILO), International Maritime Organization (IMO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Olympic Committee (IOC), International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (ICRM), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Islamic Development Bank (IDB), League of Arab States (LAS), Nonaligned Movement (NAM), Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), United Nations (UN), Universal Postal Union (UPU), World Confederation of Labor (WCL), World Customs Organization (WCO), World Health Organization (WHO), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), World Meteorological Organization (WMO), World Tourism Organization (WtoO), and World Trade Organization (WTO).

Major International Treaties: Morocco is a signatory to international agreements on the non-proliferation of biological weapons, chemical weapons, and nuclear weapons as well as various international agreements on civil aviation, customs cooperation, human rights, and intellectual property. Notable agreements on the environment include the following: biodiversity, climate change (including the Kyoto Protocol), desertification, endangered species, hazardous wastes, marine dumping, ozone layer protection, ship pollution, wetlands, and whaling.


Armed Forces Overview: Morocco’s military consists of 196,300 active-duty personnel and 150,000 reserves. The active-duty troops are assigned to the various services: army, 175,000; navy, 7,800; and air force, 13,500. In addition, Morocco has 50,000 active-duty paramilitary personnel.

Foreign Military Relations: In June 2004, the United States designated Morocco a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally in recognition of Morocco’s efforts to combat international terrorism. As a result of the designation, the U.S. military gained access to Moroccan military ports and bases in exchange for U.S. financial assistance to the Moroccan military. Such assistance under the U.S. Financial Military Financing program totaled US$10 million in fiscal year 2004 and was expected to reach US$15.1 million in fiscal year 2005.

External Threat: Morocco faces an external threat from the Polisario Front (PF), which opposes Morocco’s administration of Western Sahara. The PF, whose membership is estimated at 3,000–6,000, enjoys the support of neighboring Algeria.

Defense Budget: In 2003 Morocco’s defense budget was US$2.3 billion, about 5 percent of gross domestic product.

Major Military Units: The Moroccan army has two commands: one responsible for the northern zone, or Morocco proper, and the other for the southern zone, or Western Sahara. These commands control three mechanized infantry brigades, one light security brigade, two paratroop brigades, and eight mechanized or motorized infantry regiments. Independent units include one armored battalion, two cavalry battalions, 39 infantry battalions, one mountain infantry battalion, two paratroop battalions, three motorized (camel corps) battalions, nine artillery battalions, seven engineering battalions, one air defense group, and seven commando units. The 1,500-member Royal Guard has one battalion and one cavalry squadron. The navy, including a marine force, is deployed from five bases at Casablanca, Agadir, Al Hoceima, Dakhla, and Tangier. The air force has operational bases in Rabat-Salé, Meknès, Kenitra, and Sidi Slimane and a training base in Marrakech.

Major Military Equipment: The army is equipped with 744 main battle tanks, 100 light tanks, 324 reconnaissance vehicles, 115 armored infantry fighter vehicles, 740 armored personnel carriers, 185 towed artillery, 227 self-propelled artillery, 40 multiple rocket launchers, 1,470 mortars, 720 antitank guided weapons, an unspecified number of rocket launchers, 350 recoilless launchers, 36 antitank guns, 477 air defense guns, 107 surface-to-air missiles, and unspecified numbers of surveillance and unmanned aerial vehicles. The navy inventory includes two frigates, four missile craft, 23 patrol craft, four amphibious vehicles, and four support craft. Naval aviation has two helicopters. The Moroccan air force has 95 combat aircraft and 24 armed helicopters.

Military Service: Most enlisted personnel serve voluntarily, although conscription is authorized for up to 18 months beginning at age 18. Army reserves are required to serve until age 50.

Paramilitary Forces: Morocco’s 50,000 paramilitary personnel serve in the Royal Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie Royale—GR), Auxiliary Forces, Customs, and Coast Guard.

Foreign Military Forces: Since 1991 a small United Nations (UN) mission, called the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), has monitored a cease-fire between Morocco and the Polisario Liberation Front in Western Sahara but has failed to hold a referendum on self-determination. Currently, 27 troops and 203 military observers staff MINURSO.

Military Forces Abroad: Morocco currently participates in United Nations peacekeeping missions in the following locations: Bosnia (about 800 personnel), Democratic Republic of Congo (805), Ivory Coast (734), and Serbia/Montenegro (279).

Police: The General Office of National Security (Direction Générale de la Sûreté Nationale—DGSN) is a national civilian police force divided into 37 local districts, subordinate to the Ministry of Interior. The Royal Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie Royale—GR), a paramilitary force that is formally part of the armed forces, augments the DGSN, serving as the country’s main rural police unit while the DGSN concentrates primarily on urban areas. The DGSN, Royal Gendarmerie, and other Moroccan security organizations face allegations of human rights abuses.

Internal Threat: The Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain—GICM), which is affiliated with al Qaeda, poses a threat to domestic security, according to the U.S. Department of State. The GICM was implicated in the bombing of commuter trains in Madrid, Spain, in March 2004. Islamist militants responsible for a terrorist attack in Casablanca in May 2003 belonged to another group called Salafiya Jihadiya. Following the incident, Morocco arrested several thousand Islamist militants and sentenced nearly 1,000 for terrorism-related activities. The government also took a variety of measures to tighten security and crack down on potential terrorists.

Terrorism: On May 16, 2003, a cell of Islamist terrorists belonging to a group calling itself Salafiya Jihadiya bombed a series of Jewish targets in Casablanca; 45 people, including 12 suicide bombers, died in the incidents. Indicating that terrorism is a continuing threat, in June 2002 the press reported that Morocco had foiled an al Qaeda conspiracy to attack British and U.S. Navy vessels in the Strait of Gibraltar with explosives-laden dinghies. Morocco arrested three Saudi Arabian nationals in connection with the planned terrorist strike, which appears to have been modeled after al Qaeda’s raid on a U.S. Navy ship off Yemen in 2000. Following the Casablanca bombings in 2003, Morocco began to crack down on Islamist militants, including both Salafiya Jihadiya and the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain—GICM). In late 2005, Morocco dismantled several al Qaeda-affiliated cells that had been plotting attacks in the country. Altogether, Morocco has arrested 3,000 suspects, about 1,000 of whom were jailed on terrorism charges, since the Casablanca bombings. The United States has recognized Morocco’s support for the war on terrorism by designating Morocco as a non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally.

Human Rights: Morocco’s human rights record is mixed. On the positive side of the ledger, Morocco’s most recent elections—for the lower chamber of parliament in September 2002 and for local government councils in September 2003—were widely regarded as free and fair. Freedom of the press is considerable, although many journalists practice self-censorship and discussion of the monarchy is not permitted. Freedom of religion is generally observed, with some limitations. Although Islam is the official state religion, Moroccans are permitted to practice other faiths. However, restrictions apply to Christian proselytizing and political activities under the rubric of Islam. On the negative side, in view of the dominant role of the king in politics, Moroccans lack the ability to change their government. Following the Islamist terrorist attack in Casablanca in May 2003, human rights groups alleged that Morocco mistreated and even tortured detainees. Other human rights issues include violence and discrimination against women, child labor, and human trafficking. In 2005 the Moroccan parliament took steps to improve the status of women and children.

Index for Morocco:
Overview | Government


Country profiles index | What's new | Rainforests | Madagascar