Skip to main content
Morocco's new King Mohammed VI sits in a horse-drawn red carriage, on his way to preside over his first Moslem prayers at the Ahl Fez Mosque July 30, since taking the throne last week. According to tradition, the first Friday (after being crowned) the king presides over prayers as a symbol that the king is carrying out his role as the Commander of the Faithful.JB/AA

Progress and missed opportunities: Morocco enters its third decade under King Mohammed VI

Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI will celebrate 21 years on the throne in July 2020. Over the last two decades, the king has spearheaded positive civil and political reforms, as well as formidable foreign policy and infrastructural changes. Most recently, the regime took swift and effective measures to control the initial spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. Yet, deeply rooted socioeconomic and political challenges have fueled growing popular disillusionment with the regime and triggered numerous strikes and protests in recent years. Two decades on, regret and missed opportunities are multiplying, as Moroccans look back on the reign of a monarch many had hoped would bring about deep political reform and eradicate social inequality.

This policy briefing closely evaluates the major achievements and challenges that came out of Morocco’s first two decades under King Mohammed VI. First, it overviews the noteworthy foreign policy achievements, large-scale infrastructural developments, important civil reforms, and limited political transformation undertaken by the monarch. Second, it examines the lack of deep political reform and socioeconomic growth that continues to plague the kingdom. Finally, it contends that the regime should preemptively introduce genuine and targeted reforms in order to improve political and socioeconomic conditions and prevent popular discontent from boiling over into violence.

Key Recommendations:

  • Promote genuine political change: The Moroccan regime should bring about concrete political opening by minimizing interference in government affairs and by effectively dividing tasks between the monarchy and the government.
  • Reduce social inequality for vulnerable groups: The regime should raise funds (by reforming the taxation system) to improve the living conditions of rural populations and to enhance education and welfare for vulnerable groups.


In 2019, the Arab Barometer found that 70 percent of Moroccans between the ages of 18 and 29 had thought about emigrating,1 while 49 percent supported rapid political change on the domestic front — the latter percentage being the highest of all Arab countries polled.2 Such figures — along with chronic protests, a countrywide boycott, critical chants and rap songs, and expressions of discontent on social media — point to an increasing sense of popular disillusionment with the regime. The growing frustration of a wide group of Moroccans comes at an interesting time in the country’s political history. King Mohammed VI will celebrate 21 years on the throne on July 30, 2020 — in the midst of a pandemic that has pushed the country into mandatory lockdown, left many without wages, and led to a reported rise in police violence.3

Under Mohammed VI, Morocco has undergone important political and economic reforms while facing considerable challenges. During the first five years of the king’s reign, the regime allowed fairer elections, decreased media censure, acknowledged the human rights violations committed during the reign of the late King Hassan II (1961-1999), and pursued economic development programs. Other achievements include strengthening the country’s foreign policy by diversifying its alliance base and upgrading its infrastructure through large-scale projects. In response to the 2011 uprisings, the regime introduced reforms that marginally limited its powers (i.e., requiring that the prime minister come from the party with the largest share of votes, and reducing the number of diplomatic and high administrative posts that could be nominated directly by the monarch).4 Furthermore, an Islamist party — the Justice and Development Party (PJD) — entered the government for the first time in the country’s history.

However, despite these achievements, Morocco remains plagued by socioeconomic challenges. The country suffers from high unemployment rates, poverty, social inequality, mediocre healthcare and education, a persistent urban-rural divide, and towering public debt. Furthermore, the economy relies on oil imports and unstable agricultural and tourism sectors. In the last decade, protests triggered by economic hardship have faced increased repression from the regime, which fears rising instability. In fact, since the 2011 uprisings, the regime has faced great security concerns due to the emergence of the Islamic State (IS) in neighboring countries and the Hirak movement in the historically rebellious Rif region. Two decades on, the reform process seems to have collapsed altogether.

Overall, continuous economic hardship and political restrictions will increase popular frustration and fuel further protests. Yet, the king — who remains the most powerful political actor in the country — can still deescalate this volatile situation, as the regime has not yet resorted to brutal violence. To avoid chaos, the regime should focus on: (1) bringing about concrete political opening by limiting interference in government affairs and by effectively dividing tasks between the monarchy and the government; and (2) reducing social inequality by reforming the taxation system, thereby raising funds to improve the living conditions of rural populations and to enhance education and welfare.

Achievements and challenges

Since Mohammed VI succeeded to the throne in 1999, Morocco has undergone noteworthy changes in terms of foreign policy, infrastructural development, and civil reform. However, concrete political reform continues to lag behind past promises, and socioeconomic challenges persist despite minor advances.

Foreign policy re-direction

Morocco has taken significant strides in foreign policy by diversifying its alliance base to pursue economic and diplomatic interests.5 Under the current king, the country has rejoined the African Union (AU), developed stronger ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), improved relations with Europe, and strengthened its position as an international ally in fighting terrorism and irregular migration.6

To maintain trade relations and continue to receive bilateral aid from Europe — Morocco’s largest trading partner and donor — the regime has often had to accept trade restrictions and human rights criticism from the European Union (EU). Indeed, the EU accounted for 59.4 percent of Morocco’s trade in 2017 (i.e., 64.6 percent of its exports and 56.5 percent of its imports).7At least 73 percent of Morocco’s inward foreign direct investment (FDI) stocks in 2019 came from European countries.8

Under Mohammed VI, there has been a conscious effort to reduce this influence, and Moroccan decision-makers have striven to diversify the country’s support base by strengthening ties with GCC countries and developing new relationships with non-traditional partners, such as China and Russia.9 Most striking has been the kingdom’s re-direction toward sub-Saharan Africa.

Indeed, Mohammed VI has championed greater presence within the African continent, a move that positions the kingdom as the West’s gateway to Africa, thereby allowing it to enhance its international standing, shore up regional support, and improve its economy. Morocco rejoined the AU in 2017, more than three decades after leaving it.10 Since then, the regime has demonstrated its interest in joining the Economic Community of West African States,11 which invited Morocco to a recent summit.12 The king has personally worked to build ties with sub-Saharan countries; he has made numerous visits to various states and signed nearly 1,000 agreements for economic, political, and security deals.13

Through the king’s efforts, Moroccan companies have increased cooperation with sub-Saharan Africa in banking, telecommunications, insurance, and manufacturing. In fact, according to the African Development Bank, 85 percent of the kingdom’s FDI went to sub-Saharan states in 2018.14  Moroccan-African trade is also growing — it increased by 68 percent between 2008 and 2018 (see Figure 1),15 while Moroccan exports to western Africa tripled during the same period.16 Beyond boosting the kingdom’s economy and diversifying its alliance base, Morocco’s ties to sub-Saharan countries will further benefit its relationship with the EU by promoting Morocco-EU-African trade.

Figure 1

Security player

In terms of regional security, instability has grown in North Africa and the Sahel over the last decade, allowing Morocco to rise as a key counterterrorism player. Recent protests in Algeria, Sudan, and Egypt have highlighted Morocco as a zone of stability in an otherwise struggling region and as a safe ally for Western actors. Meanwhile, the kingdom’s willingness to contain terrorist activity in Libya and Mali has strengthened its position as an actor that can help with counterterrorism efforts in the region.

Furthermore, Morocco has faced fewer terrorist attacks than neighboring Tunisia, Algeria, Spain, Italy, and France, a fact that may be attributed to its effective cybersecurity and counterterrorism forces (see Figure 2).17   Indeed, Moroccan authorities maintain a network of close to 50,000 auxiliary agents that are placed in neighborhoods to inform on residents.18 Counter-terrorist forces are usually able to dismantle cells before terrorist activity or planning takes place. According to the authorities, they foiled 352 attacks and dismantled over 170 cells between 2002 and 2017; 19 many of these were reportedly linked to ISIS.20 Morocco’s control of terrorist activity within its own borders and in other countries has made the regime an indispensable ally to the EU and United States, thereby balancing out its dependence on their financial support.

Figure 2 21

In addition to providing the United States and EU with intelligence on terrorist cells, Moroccan counter-terrorist forces have stopped plots before they unfurled on European soil — notably in France in 2015 and Spain in 2017.22 They also foiled attacks on U.S. and British ships in the Strait of Gibraltar in 2002.23 The regime has also allowed the United States to carry out military training in Morocco through the annual African Lion exercise.24 In return, Morocco has received support from both the EU and United States (notably through the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership) to train its forces and target radicalization at the population level.25 Furthermore, there has been much U.S. and EU support for Morocco’s soft power approach to countering radicalization through programs that train local, African, and European imams.26 The success of such programs has strengthened Morocco’s international position.

Infrastructural developments and needs

The regime’s infrastructural development plan over the past two decades started with a push for mass electrification 27 before improving the country’s motorway infrastructure. The regime then focused on launching a renewable energy megaproject. These costly developments will attract greater investment and tourism inflow and will eventually reduce Morocco’s reliance on energy imports.

A groundbreaking achievement during Mohammed VI’s reign was the construction of the country’s first mega solar power complex, Noor, which saw investments of around $9 billion.28 Once complete, the complex will be the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant, 29 able to power a city twice the size of Marrakech at peak capacity.30 Most of Noor’s phases are already on stream, and construction is underway for the final phase.31  The aim is for 42 percent of Morocco’s electrical power to come from renewable sources by 2020, and 52 percent by 2030.32 This is feasible given that 35 percent of the country’s electricity came from renewable sources in 2018.33

There has also been significant improvement to the country’s motorway network under the current king, with the network’s length having increased from around 400 kilometers in 1999 to 1,831 kilometers in 2016.34 As a result, 60 percent of the population (mostly in urban areas) now has direct access to the highway network,35 which connects 18 airports and 37 commercial ports (13 of which are dedicated to foreign trade).36

Furthermore, after close to 16 years of planning and construction,37 Morocco inaugurated Al Boraq, its first high-speed rail service, in November 2018. In its first phase, Al Boraq currently spans close to 350 kilometers, connecting Casablanca and Tangiers and reducing the travel time between them from five hours to two hours. Eventually, the high-speed rail service will extend to 1,500 kilometers throughout the country.38 The project received significant criticism domestically, with major objections concerning its cost of more than $2 billion. 39 Such a budget was deemed exorbitant by certain associations and political figures, given that Morocco has yet to tackle issues of weak welfare provision, healthcare, and education.

Persistent socioeconomic woes

Many macroeconomic and social indicators point to an improved socioeconomic landscape in Morocco. Since Mohammed VI’s ascension to the throne, the country’s per capita income (constant dollars over time) has increased from $1,963 in 1999 to $3,361 in 2018,40 and exports have tripled.41 At the social level, the primary school enrollment rate increased by over 27 points between 1999 and 2018,42 the poverty headcount ratio at the national poverty line decreased from 15.3 percent in 2000 to 4.8 percent in 2013,43 life expectancy increased by over eight years between 1999 and 2018, 44 and unemployment decreased from 13.9 percent in 1999 to 9 percent in 2019.45 The economy was boosted by a strong revival of the tourism sector — indeed, the number of tourists visiting the kingdom has tripled over the past 20 years46— and it has greatly benefited from the growth of specific industries (such as automotive and aerospace).47

However, according to the World Bank, nearly a quarter of Moroccans are poor or at risk of poverty,48 and the gap between the highest and lowest socioeconomic classes is wide, pointing to great inequality. Morocco’s Gini index is 40.9 percent, meaning it has barely improved since 1998.49 This is the highest number in North Africa (excluding Libya, which is in the throes of civil war), followed by Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt.50

Indeed, while poverty has decreased countrywide, it is still prevalent in rural areas. Poverty rates among the rural population were twice as high as at the national level in 2018; in fact, the rural population accounted for 79.4 percent of poor people in the country.51 In 2014, close to 1.2 million rural inhabitants lived under the poverty line, compared to 225,000 urban inhabitants, while 19.4 percent of the rural population was considered vulnerable compared to 7.9 percent of the urban population, according to official sources.52 These numbers show a wide center-periphery wealth divide and indicate the state’s failure to close the gap.

Furthermore, Morocco’s economy remains largely dependent on agricultural activity, which makes it vulnerable to poor harvests and environmental shocks. The agricultural sector, which accounted for approximately 39 percent of total employment in 2018,53 is highly volatile compared to the rest of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.54 It remains dependent on weather conditions, meaning that any rainfall deficit or excess impacts production. Moreover, Morocco’s reliance on oil imports hurts its economy every time oil prices peak. The country also has a high level of public debt, which reached $76.8 billion in June 2019.55 While Morocco’s GDP has improved, its annual growth has been too small to enhance standards of living or meet society’s expectations; at an average annual rate of 4 percent, it is considered low for emerging markets.56

Youth unemployment also remains a pressing problem in Morocco, where around 16.6 percent of the population is made up of young people (ages 15 to 24).57 In 2019, the country had a youth unemployment rate of 22 percent nationally and 40.3 percent in urban areas.58 Lower unemployment rates in rural areas (in 2018, 178,000 people in rural areas versus 990,000 people in urban areas were unemployed)59 do not indicate better economic conditions. Rather, they can be attributed to the educated urban population’s reticence to accept undesired positions. Indeed, evidence gathered from field research shows that educated youths in urban areas queue for desired jobs, with many preferring public sector jobs that meet their expectations as university graduates.60 Within the urban middle class, even those who are employed face difficulties, as public sector workers struggle to cover basic expenses due to low wages. Overall, Morocco’s lower middle class continues to face significant economic hardship. This is exacerbated by mediocre public healthcare and education, which lead some people to pay high prices in private clinics and schools.

Freedoms and rights

Undeniable progress was made in terms of women’s rights during the first five years of Mohammed VI’s reign. In 2004, the king reformed the family code to raise the minimum marriage age to 18 years and to grant women the right to self-guardianship, child custody, and divorce;61 these were significant changes, despite some caveats.62 In addition, polygamy laws were modified to require the approval of the existing wife (or wives).63 However, further reforms have yet to take place, namely relating to inheritance laws, the legalization of abortion, and the abolishment of the death penalty.

On the political front, the current king’s reign has been marked by far less brutal repression than his predecessor’s. The electoral process is also more transparent than it was 20 years ago, with less evidence of rigged elections and regime interference. The 2011 uprisings resulted in granting some political freedoms, including partial empowerment of the legislative branch and free and fair parliamentary elections. The latter were won by the PJD, allowing them to enter government after having been kept out for decades.

In relative terms, when comparing a non-absolute authoritarian monarchy like Morocco to an absolute monarchy like Saudi Arabia, it is clear that the former is faring better in terms of human rights and political freedoms. However, when comparing Morocco to a constitutional monarchy like Spain, the former does not fare as well (see Figures 3 and 4). The structures and institutions that facilitate political opening exist in Morocco, but the transition remains restricted from the top. 

Figure 3 and 4

Indeed, over 20 years, the current regime has favored limited liberalization over deep change. Mohammed VI has avoided the very reforms many had hoped he would introduce relating to freedom of expression, censure of the press, and regime interference in government affairs and formation.64

Over the past 20 years, the kingdom’s Freedom House rating of “Partly Free” has not changed.65 In fact, the last episode of significant political opening took place under Hassan II, shortly before his death.66 Moreover, repression seems to have increased following the 2011 uprisings, including heightened judicial harassment of dissidents.67 In 2012, one year after the constitutional referendum, the authorities repressed protests organized by the February 20 movement, which had emphasized the wider opposition’s dissatisfaction with what they deemed to be cosmetic reforms.68

The 2016-2018 protests, which took place in the historically marginalized Rif region,69 were also met with repression. These protests, triggered by the death of a fishmonger crushed by a garbage truck, gained countrywide traction.70 Organizers spoke out against government corruption, economic hardship, and tough living conditions. Around 150 protesters were arrested, and movement organizers were given long prison terms.71 Following the Rif protests, demonstrations triggered by economic hardship in Errachidia and Jrada were also repressed.72 In 2019, police forces used water cannons and batons to disperse smaller-scale demonstrations organized by specific groups (teachers, students, etc.).73

The period following the 2011 uprisings has also been marked by greater regime interference in government affairs, despite promises to ensure a more robust and independent legislative branch.74 While the legislative branch is partially more empowered, elected officials do not possess the power to govern the country or implement deep reform without the regime’s permission and cooperation; effective power rests with the monarchy. Indeed, the monarch is the highest political, military, security, and religious authority, appointing key ministers (such as defense and interior), secretaries of state, and governors, among others.

Furthermore, palace-aligned parties — such as the National Rally for Independents (RNI), the Constitutional Union (UC), and the Popular Movement (MP) — interfere in government affairs and formation, as demonstrated in the aftermath of the 2016 legislative elections. The PJD — which had won a historic 125 out of 395 parliamentary seats75 — needed to enter into a coalition with other parties.76 However, the RNI (which won 37 seats)77 formed a bloc with the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), the UC, and the MP (all parties with minor results) to increase its influence in government.78 While the RNI refused to join the coalition without these parties, then-Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane rejected the USFP’s participation (as it had won only 20 seats).79 This resulted in a five-month deadlock that led the monarch to ask Benkirane to step down in March 2017 and to appoint current Prime Minister Saâdeddine El Othmani in his place.80 El Othmani formed a coalition with the palace-aligned parties within a week,81 thereby diminishing the PJD’s influence in government and creating divisions within the party.

Other promises made during the 2011 uprisings for greater political freedoms (of press, speech, and organization)82 did not come through. In fact, the regime has refined its tactics of controlling the media and its image. For example, business figures close to the palace control various media outlets, which spread pro-regime propaganda.83 The regime rewards loyal outlets while taking to court journalists who have been critical (in these cases, courts often rule in the regime’s favor).84

Individuals criticizing the regime via social media have also faced repression. Two famous YouTubers were arrested toward the end of 2019 for criticizing the king.85 That same year, three Moroccan rappers released “Long Live the People,” a viral track criticizing the state and the king, which included the lyrics: “Bullets will not suffice … I’m the hurt one … the Moroccan citizen … who fought for independence but never felt it … Who took our money? … Who was it that took the phosphates?”86 As the song gained popularity within the country and internationally, one of the rappers, Gnawi, was sentenced to a year in jail for insulting the police on social media.87

Outlook and recommendations

As economic hardship persists for marginalized communities and popular frustration grows due to persistent social inequality, discontent will increase and protests will multiply. The revolution in neighboring Algeria,88 no matter its outcome, will only embolden Moroccans to express dissent. While this piece does not aim to predict the timeline for a tipping point, tensions are bound to boil over if the kingdom’s socioeconomic and political conditions do not improve.


The regime can still deescalate this volatile situation, despite growing expressions of popular discontent and increased protests. Indeed, it has not yet crossed over to brutal repression, and the opposition is too fragmented to mobilize the population. The regime still has time and space to rebuild its social contract with the people. o do so, it must introduce genuine reforms that would: (1) bring about concrete political opening by empowering the legislative branch, and (2) reduce social inequality by improving the living conditions of rural populations and prioritizing education and welfare.

Opening the political sphere

Authoritarian learning 89 goes both ways; as regimes modify their behavior based on what they have learned from opposition events at home and abroad, so do opposition actors. Just as the Moroccan regime has developed a successful pattern of containing opposition through a combination of promised and cosmetic reforms and repression, so have opposition actors and the wider population learned from regime behavior and grown disillusioned with its failure to deliver on a number of promises. These span from as far back as 1956, when King Mohammed V promised various political groups 90 a constitution that he never passed, to as recently as the 2011 uprisings, when the current king promised a new era of reform but implemented little change.

If current grievances were to boil over and fragmented opposition actors were to unify, further pledges from the regime may not suffice to contain an eventual uprising. It is therefore in the best interest of the monarchy to act preemptively, before the tipping point, by introducing genuine reforms and change. A good start would be for the regime to strengthen the legislative branch and grant the prime minister greater powers, thereby paving the way for more individual freedoms. This recommendation would not require the monarchy to step away from power, but rather to be involved in the political sphere in such a way that allows the legislative branch to fulfill its constitutional role.

First, the monarchy should stop palace-aligned parties from interfering in government formation and affairs. Although the RNI-led initiative that resulted in a deadlock in forming the new government in 2016 and the subsequent ousting of Benkirane did not violate the text of any constitutional articles,91 these actions did not respect the spirit of the constitution.

Second, the monarchy and the government need to agree on an effective division of tasks. There are fields in which the monarchy has been extraordinarily successful and which it should continue to oversee — most notably foreign policy, international business initiatives, and the development of business-oriented infrastructure. However, the legislative branch should take charge of affairs related to domestic politics and the economy and be given more control over public funds, in order to carry out successful socioeconomic and political reforms.

Targeting social inequality

To tackle social inequality, the regime should focus on three key aspects: (1) reducing the gap between rural and urban populations; (2) increasing the literacy rate for affected groups; and (3) raising more funds to make these changes possible.

To address the urban-rural divide in the short term, more funds should be allocated to rural areas that lack infrastructure and electricity, and which have not benefited from the same massive improvements as urban areas. The regime should focus on upgrading and adding to roads in rural areas, as well as building schools and health clinics in remote villages.

For a long-term solution, the regime must work toward reducing illiteracy, especially among the segments of the population most affected (in this case, women and rural inhabitants). To address this issue successfully, the regime must allocate funds to: (1) encourage and enable families to send their children to school and prevent dropout, and (2) allow illiterate adults to access literacy courses. Major obstacles to childhood education include poverty and distance. The regime must reinforce the public school system with more financial and human resources, give poor families cash incentives to keep their children in school, and set up more schools in remote villages. To reduce adult illiteracy, the regime must allocate funding to literacy courses, provide more courses across the kingdom, and encourage private employers to allow illiterate employees to attend such trainings.

To make these costly changes, the regime must raise more funds, especially as high public debt and dependency on oil imports have limited available state funding. There are several ways to do this, including: improving the tax collection system; spending less on megaprojects; reducing subsidies; and reforming the country’s taxation policy. Although the last option may generate significant political pushback from the higher income groups, it is the most straightforward option, given the regime’s propensity to develop large-scale projects, the cuts already made to the subsidy system following the 2011 uprisings, and the economic implications of the ongoing coronavirus crisis. The country’s income taxation policy is currently progressive to 38 percent for six different income groups.92 People in the highest income group (the sixth one) earn over 180,000 dirhams per month, or close to $18,500. This policy can be reformed to include a seventh income group that would be taxed at a higher percentage. For example, people who earn more than 500,000 dirhams per month (around $55,000) could be taxed at a rate of 44 percent. Higher taxes should also be collected on property and wealth.


King Mohammed VI’s twenty-first year on the throne marks around a decade since the 2011 uprisings reached Morocco, and a decade since the king promised political opening and change that would meet the demands of the protest movement.93 This symbolic date may explain the growing dissatisfaction with the regime among the media, the opposition, and the population. However, it has not all been bad — far from it. The king has introduced important changes in terms of foreign policy, infrastructure, and women’s rights. In the beginning of the king’s reign, the regime allowed some political opening and committed to increasing economic development. Following the 2011 uprisings, the regime introduced reforms that marginally limited its powers and allowed an Islamist party to lead the government for the first time in the country’s history.

Yet, so much more could and should be done to open the political sphere and address massive inequality. With protests rocking neighboring Algeria, as well as Lebanon and Iraq, and with persistent economic hardship and political restrictions fueling popular frustrations, protests are bound to increase. The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic (due to disrupted trade flows, reduced tourism, a potential European crisis, and increased public spending) will only exacerbate Morocco’s economic hardship.

To keep tensions from boiling over, the regime should focus on: (1) bringing about concrete political opening by minimizing interference in government affairs and by effectively dividing tasks between the monarchy and the government; and (2) reducing social inequality by reforming the taxation system, thereby raising funds to improve the living conditions of rural populations and to enhance education and welfare. Such changes would improve the country’s political and socioeconomic landscapes and would make it, in the monarch’s own words, “a country that accommodates all its sons and daughters; a country in which all citizens — without exception — enjoy the same rights and have the same obligations, in an environment where freedom and human dignity prevail.”94


  1. Arab Barometer, “Arab Barometer V: Morocco Country Report,” June 2019,
  2. “Could Morocco see the next uprising, after Sudan and Algeria?,” BBC News Africa, June 27, 2019,
  3. Yasmina Abouzzohour, “ COVID in the Maghreb: Responses and Impacts,” Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS), POMEPS Studies 39, April 2020, 51-55,
  4. Constitution of the Kingdom of Morocco 2011, art. 47, 49, and 91.
  5. Mohamed Karim Boukhssass, “Yasmina Abouzzohour: al-Maghrib ‘abbara biwuduh ’anahu la yumkin ’an yakuna tahta wisayati ’ahadin wa la yumkin ’ibtizazuhu limawaqifihi,” [Morocco has clearly stated that it cannot be under the guardianship of anyone and cannot be blackmailed for its positions], Al Ayam no. 840 (February 14–20, 2019),
  6. Yasmina Abouzzohour and Beatriz Tomé-Alonso, “Moroccan foreign policy after the Arab Spring: a turn for the Islamists or persistence of royal leadership?,” The Journal of North African Studies 24, no. 3 (2019): 444–67,
  7. “Morocco Trade Picture,” European Commission, accessed May 21, 2020,
  8. Author’s calculations based on data from “Recettes des investissements directs étrangers au Maroc: Repartition par pays et organisme financier” [Receipts from foreign direct investments in Morocco: Breakdown by country and financial institution], Office des Changes, accessed June 26, 2020, The countries included in the author’s calculations are the following: Ireland, France, Denmark, Spain, Luxembourg, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, Malta, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Poland, Austria, Norway, and Sweden.
  9.  Ibid; “Full Text of Royal Speech on Throne Day,”, accessed May 20, 2020,
  10. Nizar Manek, “Morocco Rejoins African Union Three Decades After Withdrawal,” Bloomberg, January 31, 2017,
  11. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is a political and economic bloc made up of 15 West African states.
  12. “Morocco Participates in ECOWAS Counterterrorism Summit,” Morocco World News, September 14, 2019,
  13. “HM the King Delivers Speech to Nation on 44th Anniversary of Green March,” Agence Marocaine de Presse, accessed May 20, 2020,
  14. “Banking on ECOWAS: Why Morocco is cosying up to sub-Saharan Africa,” The Economist, July 19, 2018,
  15. “Moroccan-Sub-Saharan Trade Increased by 9.1% in 2016: Foreign Exchange Office,” Morocco World News, July 15, 2017,
  16. “Banking on ECOWAS.”
  17. Morocco has faced three major terrorist events during the reign of the current king: the 2003 Casablanca bombings, which resulted in 45 deaths; the 2011 Marrakech Argana bombing, which resulted in the death of 17 people, many of whom were tourists; and the 2018 murders of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Maren Ueland, two tourists decapitated by terrorists near Imlil.
  18. Thomas Renard, ed., “Returnees in the Maghreb: Comparing Policies on Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters in Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia,” Egmont Institute, Egmont Paper no. 107, April 2019, 30,
  19. Note that it is unclear how Moroccan authorities defined “cell,” and how structured these broken-up cells were.
  20. “Plus de 170 cellules terroristes démantelées et plus de 352 projets “destructeurs” déjoués depuis 2002 au Maroc” [More than 170 terrorist cells dismantled and more than 352 “destructive” projects foiled since 2002 in Morocco], Maroc Diplomatique, October 20, 2017,; Mohammed Amine Benabou, “US Embassy in Morocco Upgrades Security Alert for Terror Risk,” Morocco World News, April 3, 2019,
  21. The Global Terrorism Index systematically ranks 163 countries based on the impact of terrorism. Specifically, it measures data linked to terrorist activities since 2000. The index scores countries yearly, based on four factors: the total number of terrorist incidents in a given year; the total number of fatalities caused by terrorism in a given year; the total number of injuries caused by terrorism in a given year; and the approximate level of total property damage from terrorist incidents in a given year. See: “Global Terrorism Index 2019: Measuring the impact of terrorism,” Institute for Economics & Peace, 2019,
  22. Thierry Oberlé, “Le Maroc a aidé la France à dépister les terroristes de Saint-Denis” [Morocco helped France track terrorists in Saint-Denis], Le Figaro, November 21, 2015,; Victor Fortunato, “Espagne/Maroc : démantèlement d’une «cellule djihadiste» qui préparait des attaques” [Spain/Morocco: The dismantling of a ‘jihadist cell’ that was preparing attacks], Le Parisien, September 6, 2017,
  23. Douglas Frantz, “U.S. Enlists Morocco’s Help To Counter Terrorist Plots,” The New York Times, June 24, 2002,
  24. “African Lion,” United States Africa Command, accessed January 20, 2020,
  25. Clive Williams, “Counterterrorism cooperation in the Maghreb: Morocco looks beyond Marrakech,” The Strategist, December 12, 2018,; Silvia Colombo and Benedetta Voltolini, “‘Business as Usual’ in EU Democracy Promotion Towards Morocco? Assessing the Limits of the EU’s Approach towards the Mediterranean after the Arab Uprisings,” L’Europe en Formation 1, no. 371 (2014): 41–57,; “U.S. Relations with Morocco,” U.S. Department of State Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Bilateral Relations Fact Sheet, October 4, 2019,
  26. Salim Hmimnat, “Morocco’s Religious ‘Soft Power’ in Africa As a Strategy Supporting Morocco’s Expansion in Africa,” MIPA, June 2018,; Benjamin Bruce, “Morocco on the Road to European Islam,” Oasis 28, March 27, 2019,; Mohammed El-Katiri, “The institutionalisation of religious affairs: religious reform in Morocco,The Journal of North African Studies 18, no. 1 (August 14, 2012): 53–69,
  27. World Bank Statistical Database, “Access to electricity, rural (% of rural population), Access to electricity, urban (% of urban population),” accessed September 30, 2019,
  28. Hamza Hamouchene, “The Ouarzazate solar plant in Morocco: Triumphal ‘Green’ capitalism and the privatization of nature,” Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt, March 25, 2016,; Reuters, “Vast Moroccan Solar Power Plant is Hard Act for Africa to Follow,” Fortune, November 5, 2016,
  29. Tarik Bouhal et al., “Technical feasibility of a sustainable Concentrated Solar Power in Morocco through an energy analysis,” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 81, no. 1 (January 2018): 1087–95,
  30. “Morocco Reaps Benefits of King’s Energy Farsightedness,” The North Africa Post, July 16, 2019,
  31. “Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex,” Power Technology, accessed April 28, 2020,
  32. The World Bank, “Implementation Completion and Results Report on a Loan in the Amount of US$200 Million, Loan Number 80880-MA, and a Clean Technology Fund Loan in the Amount of US$97 Million, Loan Number TF010916, to the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy for the Ouarzazate Concentrated Solar Power Project ( P122028 ),” Report No. ICR00004271, March 31, 2018,
  33. Tarek Bazza, “35% of Moroccan Electricity Came from Renewable Sources in 2018,” Morocco World News, January 10, 2019,
  34. “Chiffres clés: Dates clés” [Key figures: Key dates], Autoroutes du Maroc, accessed May 20, 2020,
  35. Agence France-Presse, “20 ans de règne. L’analyse de 2 conseillers du roi et de 2 anciens ministres” [20 years of reign. Analysis of two king’s advisers and two former ministers], Les Inspirations Éco, July 31, 2019,
  36.  Ibid; Agence Ecofin, “Maroc : 20 ans de règne de Mohammed VI en 10 chiffres clés” [Morocco: 20 years of Mohammed VI’s reign in 10 key figures], July 28, 2019,
  37. The feasibility studies for the high-speed rail began in 2003 and the Tangier-Kenitra route was identified the following year as one of the first that would be constructed. In 2007, the Moroccan National Railways Office (ONCF) signed preliminary agreements to manage the project. Financing was finalized in 2010, and construction began in 2011. The first trainset arrived to Tangier in 2015. Testing of the trains at revenue speeds began in 2017, the same year that track construction was completed. In January 2018, the electrical system was energized, and the control facility came online the following month. Construction of the stations was completed in mid-2018, and the service was inaugurated in November 2018.
  38. “La LGV en chiffres” [The high-speed rail in numbers], Libération, November 16, 2018,
  39. Ahlam Ben Saga, “Politician Omar Balafrej Says LGV Train is Not a Priority for Morocco,” Morocco World News, November 15, 2018,; David W. Smith, “Morocco’s €1.8 billion TGV project splits opinion,” Construction Shows, October 31, 2011,
  40.  World Bank Statistical Database, “GDP per capita (constant 2010 US$) - Morocco,” accessed January 4, 2020,
  41. World Bank Statistical Database, “Exports of goods and services (constant 2010 US$) - Morocco,” accessed January 4, 2020,
  42. World Bank Statistical Database, “Adjusted net enrolment rate, primary (% of primary school age children) - Morocco,” accessed September 25, 2019,
  43. World Bank Statistical Database, “Poverty headcount ratio at national poverty lines (% of population) - Morocco,” accessed September 25, 2019,
  44. World Bank Statistical Database, “Life expectancy at birth, total (years) - Morocco,” accessed September 25, 2019,
  45. World Bank Statistical Database, “Unemployment, total (% of total labor force) (modeled ILO estimate) - Morocco,” accessed September 25, 2019,
  46. United Nations Data, “Arrivals of non resident tourists/visitors, departures and tourism expenditure in the country and in other countries,” accessed May 4, 2020,
  47. Safaa Kasraoui, “Morocco’s Aeronautics Industry: 10 Years of Growth,” Morocco World News, October 26, 2019,; Said Temsamani, “Morocco Among Top Most Promising Markets For Automotive Industry,” Eurasia Review, October 26, 2018,
  48. Marie Anne Chambonnier, “Macro Poverty Outlook: Morocco,” The World Bank, 2019,
  49. The Gini index measures the distribution of income across income percentiles in a population. A higher score indicates greater inequality. “Gini Coefficient by Country 2020,” World Population Review, accessed May 20, 2020,; World Bank Statistical Database, “GINI index (World Bank estimate) - Morocco,” accessed May 21, 2020,
  50. “Gini Coefficient by Country 2020.”
  51. The World Bank, “Morocco Digital and Climate Smart Agriculture Program (P170419): Program Information Document (PID),” Report No. PIDC190843, July 28, 2019,
  52. According to the High Commission for Planning, a vulnerable household is one whose expenditure per capita is between the national threshold of relative poverty and 1.5 times this threshold. See Safae El Badi, “Tableau De Bord Social,” Ministry of Economy and Finance, July 2019, 48,
  53. Danish Trade Union Development Agency, “Labour Market Profile 2018: Morocco,” Labour Market Profile, January 2018,; “The World Factbook - Morocco,” Central Intelligence Agency, accessed May 5, 2020,
  54. “Challenges remain for Morocco's agribusiness despite positive developments,” Bizcommunity, September 28, 2016,
  55. “Morocco Government Debt: % of GDP,” CEIC Data, accessed December 16, 2019,
  56. World Bank Statistical Database, “GDP Growth (annual %) - Morocco,” accessed September 19, 2019,
  57. “The World Factbook - Morocco.”
  58. World Bank Statistical Database, “Unemployment, youth total (% of total labor force ages 15-24) (modeled ILO estimate) - Morocco,” accessed September 25, 2019,; Katya Schwenk, “Despite Accelerated Growth, Unemployment Persists in Morocco,” Morocco World News, June 5, 2019,
  59. El Badi, “Tableau De Bord Social,” 30.
  60. The International Labour Office and International Fund for Agricultural Development, “Morocco: Young women’s employment and empowerment in the rural economy,” Country Brief, April 6, 2018, 3,
  61. Family Code (Moudawana) of the Kingdom of Morocco 2004, pmbl. 2, 3, and 6 and art. 171 and 218.
  62. There are some caveats to consider. The official age for marriage was set to 18 years, unless a judge decides a minor is mature enough to be married (Family Code 2004, pmbl. 3). Women, in compliance with Islamic law, can retain custody of their children after divorce if they remain unmarried; if they remarry, the children only remain with their mothers until they are seven years old (Family Code 2004, art. 175).
  63. Family Code 2004, pmbl. 4.
  64. Craig R. Whitney, “Popular New King Has a Goal: A Modern Morocco,” The New York Times, November 12, 1999,
  65. “Freedom in the World 2018: Morocco,” Freedom House, accessed September 4, 2019,; “Freedom in the World Comparative and Historical Data: Country and Territory Ratings and Statuses, 1973–2020,” Freedom House, accessed May 21, 2020,
  66. This was when King Hassan II invited the long-time socialist opposition actor and human rights lawyer Abderrahmane Youssoufi to form a government — the “Gouvernement d’Alternance,” or Government of Alternance — in which Youssoufi had enough power as prime minister to introduce some reforms.
  67. Yasmina Abouzzohour, “Morocco’s sharp turn toward repression,” MIPA, January 8, 2020,
  68. Mounia Bennani-Chraïbi and Mohamed Jeghllaly, “The Protest Dynamics of Casablanca’s February 20th Movement,” Revue française de science politique 62, no. 5 (2012): 867–94,
  69. The Rif region experienced a tribal rebellion (1958–59) against the regime’s economic and political marginalization, which later developed separatist goals. The rebellion was repressed by the military, as per the orders of then-Crown Prince Hassan II. The region was also home to the 1984 Rif riots, which were triggered by economic hardship and escalated in reaction to the regime’s immediate repression.
  70. El Maarouf Moulay Driss and Taieb Belghazi, “The event of death: Reflections on the dynamics of emotions and embodied resistance in the Moroccan contexts of hirak (movement) and la hirak ((non)movement),” Cultural Studies 33, no. 4 (2019): 632–56,
  71. “Morocco arrests 150 during Rif protests,” Middle East Monitor, June 29, 2017,; Ahmed Eljechtimi, “Moroccan court upholds prison sentences against Rif protesters,” Reuters, April 6, 2019,
  72. Abdelillah Essatte, “Protests of Morocco’s Margins: The Credibility Gap,” MIPA, August 2018,; “Maroc : de violents affrontements à Errachidia, des policiers blessés (vidéo)” [Morocco: Violent clashes in Errachidia, injured policemen (video)],, March 8, 2019,,54708.html; Ilhem Rachidi, “In Morocco, Hotbeds of Protest Are Not Being Extinguished,” Orient XXI, April 17, 2018,,2408.
  73. “Morocco: Hundreds of teachers protest in demand for higher wages,” Middle East Monitor, October 7, 2019,; Reuters, “Thousands of Moroccan teachers protest over pay,” France 24, March 24, 2019,; “Moroccan police crack down on protesting teachers,” Al Jazeera, February 20, 2019,
  74. “Texte intégral du discours adressé par SM le Roi à la Nation,” [Full text of the speech addressed by His Majesty the King to the Nation],, accessed May 20, 2020,égral-du-discours-adressé-par-sm-le-roi-la-nation.
  75. Yasmina Abouzzohour, “The Persistent Rural Failure of Morocco’s Justice and Development Party,” POMEPS, POMEPS Studies 27, September 2017, 12,
  76. The PJD had to enter into a coalition with other parties because it needed a majority in parliament to form a government.
  77. Abouzzohour, “The Persistent Rural Failure,” 14; Association TAFRA, “Résultats des élections législatives marocaines de 2016, listes locales et nationales" [Results of the 2016 Moroccan legislative elections, local and national lists], 2019,
  78. Abouzzohour and Tomé-Alonso, “Moroccan foreign policy after the Arab Spring,” 446–50.
  79. Samia Errazzouki, “Months without government puts Moroccan public spending at risk: lawmakers,” Reuters, March 8, 2017,
  80. Abouzzohour and Tomé-Alonso, “Moroccan foreign policy after the Arab Spring,” 446–50.
  81. Youssef Igrouane, “Saad Eddine Othmani Announces end of Deadlock, Formation of Government,” Morocco World News, March 25, 2017,
  82. “Texte intégral du discours adressé par SM le Roi à la Nation.”  
  83. Abdelfettah Benchenna, Driss Ksikes, and Dominique Marchetti, “The media in Morocco: a highly political economy, the case of the paper and on-line press since the early 1990s,” The Journal of North African Studies 22, no. 3 (2017): 386–410,
  84.  Reporters Sans Frontières, “Monarchy’s red lines gag Morocco’s independent media,” September 17, 2015,
  85. “Le youtubeur « Moul Hanout » écope de trois ans de prison ferme” [YouTuber “Moul Hanout” receives a three-year prison sentence], le Desk, January 9, 2020,; Amine Saadani, “« Vous n’êtes qu’un roi symbolique » : un youtubeur marocain poursuivi pour avoir critiqué Mohammed VI” [‘You are only a symbolic king’: Moroccan YouTuber prosecuted for having criticized Mohammed VI], Middle East Eye, December 5, 2019,
  86. “Weld l'Griya 09 ft. LZ3ER , GNAWI – ‘Ash al-sh’ab [Long live the people] (Prod by 88.YounG),” posted by Weld L’Griya 09, October 29, 2019, The referenced lyrics were translated by the author from the original Moroccan Arabic: “Magha yakfikkum m‘ana qartas … Ana al-maqasah … Ana al-muwatin al-Maghribi … Ana li jibt al-’Istiqlal ’u ‘amri bih ma hesit … Shkoum li kla fina al-mal … Shkoun tahen al-fosfat …”
  87. Kaothar Oudrhiri, “Condamnation du rappeur Gnawi : la scène rap préfère regarder ailleurs” [Rapper Gnawi condemned: rap scene prefers to look elsewhere], TelQuel, November 27, 2019, See also Michael Safi, “Moroccan rapper jailed for one year over track about corruption,” The Guardian, November 25, 2019,
  88. As of the writing of this piece, Algeria’s Hirak movement had paused the protests due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The protests will likely continue once the outbreak is under control.
  89. Steven Heydemann and Reinoud Leenders, “Authoritarian Learning and Authoritarian Resilience: Regime Responses to the ‘Arab Awakening,’” Globalizations 8, no. 5 (2011): 647–53,
  90. Most notably, the groups that demanded a constitution were the National Union of Popular Forces, the Istiqlal Party, and the Union of Moroccan Workers.
  91. Constitution of the Kingdom of Morocco 2011, art. 47.
  92. “Taxes: Income Tax,” Moroccan Investment Development Agency, accessed May 21, 2020
  93. “Full text of the speech addressed by His Majesty the King to the Nation.”
  94. “HM the King Delivers a Speech to the Nation on Occasion of Throne Day (Full Text),”, accessed May 20, 2020,
Get daily updates from Brookings