Morocco (Arabic: المغرب al-Maghrib ; Berber”Amerruk”), officially the Kingdom of Morococ] is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of over 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², including the disputed region of the Western Sahara, mostly administered by Morocco as the Southern Provinces. Morocco is part of the Maghreb region, in addition to Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania, and Libya, with which it shares cultural, historical and linguistic ties. Despite being situated in Africa, Morocco remains the only African state not to be a member of the African Union due to its unilateral withdrawal on November 12, 1984 over the issue of Western Sahara’s admission as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1982.
Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. The King of Morocco holds vast executive and legislative powers, including the power to dissolve the parliament. Executive power is exercised by the government but the king’s decisions usually overwrite those of the government if there is a contradiction. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament, the Assembly of Representatives and the Assembly of Councillors.
The king can also issue decrees called dahirs which have the force of law. The latest Parliamentary elections were held in November 25, 2011, and were considered by some neutral observers to be mostly free and fair. Voter turnout in these elections was estimated to be 43% of registered voters, but only about 25% of Moroccan adult citizens actually voted. The rest either chose not to vote or they were not registered as voters, thus not allowed to vote. The political capital of Morocco is Rabat, although the largest city is Casablanca; other major cities include Marrakesh, Tetouan, Tangier, Salé, Fes, Agadir, Meknes, Oujda, Kenitra, and Nador.
The Moroccan economy is generally diverse but very fragile as the country imports all of its needed petroleum and natural gas from abroad and doesn’t have any truly strong industrial base. Morocco has about 70% of the world’s phosphorus reserves and is the largest exporter. Other key economic sectors of the country include textile industry, fruit produce, and tourism. Morocco’s foreign debt is estimated at about $20 billion.
About 40% of Moroccans can’t read or write, and the country has high levels of extreme poverty and health care deprivation. The unemployment rates under the highly educated as well as the unskilled are very high and cause consistent social unrest in many cities and villages. In 2011, the UN’s Human Development Index ranked Morocco as the 130th most developed country in the world, a very poor ranking.
Almost all Moroccans speak either Berber or Moroccan Arabic as mother tongues. Many Moroccans master both languages at native-speaker level. Both languages are present in every city and town of the country and have regional dialects and accents. Hassaniya Arabic, sometimes considered as a variety of Moroccan Arabic, is spoken in the southern provinces (Western Sahara) in the country by a small population.
Morocco has the first university ever built in the world, which is El-Qarawiyin University. It was built in the city of Fez in 859 AD and is still functioning.
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