Morocco Facts
Area:    458,730 sq. km.
Capital:    Rabat
Total Population:    29,347,000 (source: U.S. Census bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Moroccan Berbers have no significant risks for rebellion in the near future, despite their history of violent uprising as recently as the 1980s. Political protest has continued at fairly low levels throughout the 1980s and 1990s, consisting primarily of verbal and symbolic protests. The Mouvement Populaire and the Mouvement National Populaire, Berber political parties, continue to be the main expressions of Berber grievances through conventional means. The partial liberalization of Morocco will continue to provide opportunities for Berber protest.

Analytic Summary

The settlement of Morocco began under Phoenician rule and accelerated under Roman, Vandal, Byzantine and Arab rule. The Arab invasion of the seventh century brought about the Arabization and, eventually, the conversion of the Berbers to Sunni Islam. However, Berbers of Morocco are the descendants of the prehistoric Caspian culture of North Africa. The de-Berberization of North Africa began with the Punic invasion. The Berbers, as well as many other North African Muslims, retain some of their prehistoric observance of saintly cults. (This is known as Maraboutic Islam.)

Most Arab Moroccans would be better described as Arabized Berbers. The process of assimilation began with the seventh century Arab invasion and took place mostly in the cities and costal regions. As is true in other North African countries, the principle determinant of ethnicity in Morocco is language. Berber speakers are concentrated in the mountainous regions of Morocco, in the Rif, Middle Atlas, High Atlas and Anti Atlas regions. Even today, assimilation and intermarriage continue to occur.

Moroccan Berbers are divided into several tribes which speak one of three principle dialects of the Berber language which are: Rifi of the Rif; Tamazight of the Middle Atlas, the central High Atlas and the Sahara; and Tashilhit of the High Atlas and the Anti Atlas. The Moroccan Berber tribes are also divided into three regional groups: the Rifians of the North; the Shluh of the southeast; and the Berraber in the center of the country and the Sahara.

Despite their conversion to Islam, the Berbers resisted Arab and other foreign rule whenever possible. At various times they were able to maintain autonomous states (TRADITN = 1), the most recent of which was established in the Rif region under French colonial rule but was not recognized by the Moroccan government when the Kingdom gained independence in 1957. This resulted in two unsuccessful Berber uprisings during the first three years of Moroccan rule (REB55X = 4). Berber discontent was formalized in 1958 with the establishment of the "Mouvement Populaire," an explicitly Berber political party. The party was a member of the ruling coalition in the Moroccan legislature from 1984 to 1993, at which time the King appointed a non-partisan government, but this is mitigated by the fact that for all practical purposes, the King's authority is generally greater than that of the legislature. There was also a Berber revolt in 1973 in the Atlas (REB70X = 4) and another in the 1980s in the Rif. Moroccan Berbers continue to have a fairly strong group identity (COHES9X = 3), despite some tribal cleavages, and are territorially concentrated (GROUPCON = 3).

Politically, the Berbers in Morocco seem to have and exercise the same rights as other Moroccans and are well represented in the government. Berbers do face some political repression, especially regarding associations right (POLDIS01-03 = 1) as well as economic difficulties (ECDIS01-03 = 1), but have seen an improvement in their cultural demands with the rehabilitation of Tamzight in Moroccan society.

A primary cause of discontent seems to be economic deprivation and the feeling that the Moroccan government is ignoring their problems. Moroccan Berbers make up the majority of the poorest classes in Morocco, and Berber regions have traditionally not seen the development aid coastal and urban Arabized region have (ECDIS00 = 2). Economic grievances continue to be important in Berber protests. In recent years, the exploitation of oil resources in traditional Berber areas (with the appropriation of Berber lands and the distribution of oil profits away from Berber development) intensified these complaints. The accession of King Mohammed VI, who has made economic opportunity for Moroccan poor a cornerstone of his domestic policy, may improve the economic lot of Moroccan Berbers. Some policies aimed at improving economic conditions for Berbers have been implemented in recent years (ECDIS01-03 = 1).

In addition to economic grievances, the most salient grievances for most Moroccan Berbers are cultural. The Berber language, Tamazight, is not taught in schools and does not have official language status. Limited language reforms introduced by the Moroccan government in the early 1990s – including broadcasting around 20 minutes a day in Tamazight and establishing several Berber cultural institutes – did not satisfied Berber activists. The King has decided to rehabilitate Tamzight (Berber language) as a component of the Moroccan identity; and promised that it will be taught by 2008 in all primary and secondary schools in Morocco

Moroccan Berbers have increasingly linked themselves with Berbers in other North African states, such as Tunisia and Algeria, and also with people of Berber descent in the Canary Islands. World Berber Congresses have been held since the late 1990s with the express purpose of promoting Berber cultural rights within the various states. Moroccan Berber groups have been active in these congresses.


Gellner, Ernest & Charles Micaud (eds.) Arabs and Berbers: From Tribe to Nation in North Africa, Lexington: Lexington Books, 1972.

Gurr, Ted R. Minorities At Risk, United States Institute of Peace, 1993.

Nelson, Harold D. (ed.) Morocco: A Country Study, The American University, 1985.

Zartman, I. William (ed.) The Political Economy of Morocco, New York: Praeger, 1987.

Zartman, I. William & William Mark Habeeb (eds.) Polity and Society in Contemporary North Africa, Boulder: Westview, 1993.

The Christian Science Monitor, 1990-1994.

Keesing's Contemporary Archive, Keesing's Record of World Events, 1990-1994.

Lexus/Nexus, All news files, 1990-2003.

U.S. Department of State Documents 1990-1994.

The Washington Post, 1990-1994.


This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.