North Africa's Arabian Arcadia
The berbers are the original inhabitants of Morocco. Over the centuries many other cultures have arrived, including the Phoenicians in 12th century BC, followed by the Carthiginians. In the second century BC, the Romans controlled North Africa. The Vandals arrived in 429 AD followed by the Byzantines. The first Arabs came from the west in 682 AD. In 1578, a struggle between Arabs and Europeans reached a climax at the battle of Ksar Kbir , which saw Portugal defeated by Sultan Abdul Malik, of the Saadian dynasty. This was the start of an illustrious period of Moroccan history, during which the the arts, sciences and economy all flourished. After the Saadians and then the Alawites, Morocco came under the influence of Spain and then France. By 1912, at the Treaty of Fez, the Sultan was deposed and the country was controlled by the French. The Treaty also ensured that the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla remained Spanish. An independence movement began almost immediately, but it was not until 1956 that Morocco eventually achieved independence. The first modern independent Head of State was Sultan Mohammad V, who later changed his title to King. His son Hassan II, who succeeded him in 1961, held a grip on the country until he died in 1999. Most of the opposition to Hassan came initially from the left-wing USFP, but in the 1990s, Islamic groups have made political headway too. Both forms of opposition shared, for different reasons, a dislike of Hassan’s autocratic rule and his consistent alignment of Morocco with the West. The 1990s also saw the introduction of a new constitution and the holding of elections, most of which have produced inconclusive results. The September 2002 election repeated previous results, except that under proportional representation, no less than 22 parties are represented in the assembly. The premier, Driss Jettou, excluded Islamists from his cabinet, confining it to members of his own USFP and Istiqlal. Hassan's son, King Mohammed VI, replaced his father after his death. He seemed keen to adopt a more open way of working, but in the early years of his rule, few changes have been made. The ‘inner cabinet’ system of decision-making continues as before. Moroccan foreign policy remains pro-western, with ties to the USA and Europe, especially France and Spain. Closer to home, despite some political differences, Morocco remains a member of the Union of the Arab Maghreb.