Living in Morocco?
Upon independence in 1956, a constitutional monarchy was established in Morocco. Reforms in the 1990s led to the establishment of a bicameral legislature, which first met in 1997. Upon the death of King Hassan in July 1999, his son, Mohammed VI, became the king of Morocco.
Protests also took place in Morocco during the Arab Spring, but they remained mostly peaceful, and resulted in King Mohammed VI responding with a reform program which included a new constitution and early elections. In July 2011, this new constitution passed by popular referendum. Twenty reforms were included in the referendum; however, so far, parliament has only voted two of the reforms into law. More power was given to the prime minister and parliament, but ultimate authority still lies with the monarch.
The Western Sahara is a disputed territory to the south of Morocco. Although the UN does not recognize Western Sahara as a Moroccan possession, Morocco exercises de facto administrative control over much of this area. The Polisario Front, a national liberation movement run by the nomadic Sahrawi people, controls about one-third of the territory. Negotiations led by the UN between Morocco and the Polisario Front have remained at a stalemate since the 1990s. In April 2013, Morocco cancelled its joint military exercises with the US because the US decided to back UN monitoring of human rights in Western Sahara, which Morocco claimed violated its sovereignty.
Morocco is separated into 15 administrative divisions (not including Western Sahara). Each of these is further divided into provinces and urban prefectures, each of which is ruled by a governor appointed by the king. In October 2013, the King appointed 19 new ministers following a four-party coalition deal made by Prime Minister Abdelila Benkirane.
Many different cultures, Berber, Arab, Spanish, and French, have all left their mark on Morocco through the centuries. Islam, however, is the central tenant of Moroccan culture, and permeates all aspects of everyday life in the country, especially during the holy month of Ramadan.
Most of Morocco’s major cities are composed of an old town (medina) and new town (villes nouvelles). During the French colonial period, the new towns were constructed outside of the old city walls, leaving the culturally rich medinas largely untouched. Here you can wind your way through the twisting streets of the souk, where traditional crafts, food, and other items are sold. In the summer, art and music festivals are held in many cities, such as the well-known World Sacred Music Festival in Fès.
Morocco celebrates 13 official holidays. Islamic holidays in Morocco include Eid al-Fiṭr, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Aḍḥā (the Festival of Sacrifice) and the Prophet’s birthday. Independence Day, Throne Day, and the king’s birthday are among the national holidays.
Social life in Morocco is centered on the home and family. One thing that may take a bit of getting used to for expats (especially for expats from Europe and North America,) is that the group is generally valued over the individual in Morocco.
Although Moroccan society is very conservative and religious, it is one of the more moderate and peaceful countries in the region. Its ongoing program of social, economic and political reforms makes it an attractive choice for many expats. Despite the progress Morocco has made, administrative matters generally take longer to get done in Morocco than you may be used to from your home country, so a good deal of patience is necessary.
Morocco may be more liberal than some other Muslim countries, but there are still several things expats should be aware of. Homosexuality is criminalized in Morocco, as are sexual relations outside of marriage. Women should wear loose-fitting clothing that covers most of the body, although headscarves are generally unnecessary.
Islam and Ramadan
While in Morocco, it is important to respect the local customs and traditions. Please note that unless they are major tourist destinations, most mosques are off-limits to non-Muslims. Devout Muslims must pray five times a day, at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and nightfall. The exact times depend on the movement of the sun and are listed in the local newspaper. On Fridays, the weekly prayer takes place at midday, and shops and businesses close during this time.
Ramadan is the Islamic holy month. It falls at a different time each year, as its dates are based on the lunar calendar. During this time, practicing Muslims must fast during the day, which means they cannot eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum. After the sun sets each evening, a big feast is eaten together as a family, and at the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr celebrations last for several days.
During Ramadan, the pace of everyday life slows down. Opening hours will vary, and restaurants often remain closed during the day for lack of customers. Non-Muslim expats are not expected to fast, but it is respectful not to eat and drink in public during Ramadan.
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