Morocco is a North African country that has a coastline on both the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It has borders with Western Sahara to the south, Algeria to the east and the Spanish North African territories of Ceuta and Melilla on the Mediterranean coast in the north. It is just across the Strait of Gibraltar from Gibraltar.
Ethnically speaking, Morocco is composed mainly of Arabs and Berbers or a mixture of the two. Sizeable numbers of Berbers live mainly in the country’s mountainous regions, long areas of refuge where they have preserved their language and culture. Some segments of the population are descendants of refugees from Spain and Portugal who fled from the Reconquista, the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, that spanned until the 15th century.
Morocco’s long struggle for independence from France ended in 1956. The internationalized city of Tangier was turned over to the new country that same year. Morocco annexed much of the Western Sahara, a former territory of Spain, in 1975.
Gradual political reforms in the 1990s resulted in the establishment of a bicameral legislature in 1997, although the King still possesses the actual political power. The press is mostly state controlled, even though there are free newspapers, and clampdowns have occurred following criticism of the authorities or articles concerning the Western Sahara situation.
The foreign policy of independent Morocco has often differed from that of its Arab neighbors. Throughout the Cold War, Morocco generally sided with the Western European powers and the United States rather than with the Eastern bloc, whereas other Arab states usually chose neutral or pro-Soviet positions.
The major resources of the Moroccan economy are agriculture, phosphates, tourism and textiles.
Critical development challenges include lingering widespread corruption and improving the education system.
The biggest event on the Moroccan calendar is the month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast during the day time and break the fast at sunset. Most restaurants are closed for lunch (with the exception of those catering specifically to tourists) and things generally slow down. Traveling during this time is entirely possible, and the restrictions don’t apply to non-Muslims, but it’s respectful to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking in public during the fast. However, outside tourist “trap” areas it may be difficult to find any food at all all day. Surprisingly this applies even to cities like Casablanca. At the end of the month is the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, when practically everything closes for as long as a week and transport is packed as everybody heads back home. Although alcohol consumption is not prohibited for tourists during Ramadan, only a few restaurants and bars serve alcohol. In addition, alcohol can be purchased in a supermarket if a tourist shows their passport to the staff (Moroccans are not allowed to buy or consume alcohol during the holy month).