Morocco is a gateway to Africa and the Arab world. A meeting point for civilizations and continents situated on the northwest tip of Africa, contemporary Morocco, with its nearly 35 million people, is a fusion of Arab, European, and African cultural influences. Here, visitors have the opportunity to experience life in a Muslim country while exploring the distinct society and traditions of the Maghreb. Whether enjoying a croissant and mint tea at a café, visiting Amazigh (Berber) villages or wandering through the medinas and their souqs, each experience in Morocco offers rich insight into its remarkable culture. With its striking topography, vibrant culture, and distinctive history, Morocco is an ideal destination for cross-cultural interchange and learning.
Morocco's physical landscape is as varied as its culture, ranging from sun-scorched deserts to temperate coastal plains, mountain peaks to sandy beaches. Visitors can even ski on the snowy slopes of the Atlas Mountains in winter. A mild, Mediterranean climate predominates in most parts of the country, with hot, sunny summers, and cool, damp winters.
Islam heavily influences daily life in Morocco. From the fast of Ramadan to the five daily calls to prayer, it is a significant force in virtually all aspects of Moroccan life. It has been the dominant religion in the region for nearly fourteen hundred years and the official religion of the modern state since Morocco regained its independence in 1956. The population is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, adhering to the moderate Maliki school of Islamic law.
Moroccan Islam has attracted considerable attention from scholars for its openness to democratic reforms (support for multiparty democracy, human rights, women's rights, and acceptance of liberalism in government). American anthropology as a field has been strongly influenced by fieldwork carried out in Morocco by preeminent scholars such as Clifford Geertz, Lawrence Rosen, Paul Rabinow, Vincent Crapanzano, Daisy Dwyer, and others. The diversity of the hybrid cultural variants in the country is fascinating, not only in religious practice but also in music, folklore, rituals, architecture, and ethnic interactions. The new emphasis on Amazigh (Berber) culture is another area of increasing interest in many fields as well.
Morocco is one of the most politically stable countries in the Arab world, and a long-time ally of the United States. It is accessible to visitors, with a thriving tourist industry and a generally friendly attitude towards foreigners. Governed as a constitutional monarchy, the current head of state is King Mohammed VI, who ascended the throne in 1999. His reign has been marked by political and social reform, economic liberalization, and an increasingly active role in international politics.
Rapid urbanization is changing the appearance and character of contemporary Morocco, with over half of the population now residing in cities. Casablanca, situated on the Atlantic coast, is the country's economic capital and its largest city, with a population of nearly four million. Rabat, the nation's capital and its second-largest city, is located about sixty miles to the north. Other major urban areas include the popular tourist destinations of Fez, Marrakesh, Tangier, and Agadir.
AMIDEAST’s programs are based in Rabat, Morocco’s cosmopolitan capital. Situated at the confluence of the Bou Regreg River and Atlantic Ocean, Rabat is a relaxed yet stately metropolis of 1.7 million people. Steeped in history, Rabat is one of Morocco’s four imperial cities. Its medina (old city) is easy to navigate and includes housing as well as shops and traditional craftsmen plying their trades. The modern city, dating to the early 20th century, has wide, pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined boulevards and many green spaces, and houses the political and administrative offices of Morocco’s government as well as its parliament, supreme court, and Royal Palace. Settled in the third century BC, Rabat subsequently was ruled by the Romans, Berbers, Arabs, and lastly the French before Morocco’s independence in 1956.
In addition to government offices, Rabat is home to Morocco’s most prestigious academic institutions and numerous non-governmental and international organizations, including ISESCO (the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). Mohammed V University was Morocco’s first modern university, and other institutions such as the Hassan II Institute of Agronomy and Veterinary Sciences, the National School of Administration, and the Applied Statistics Institute are also located in Rabat. A recent addition to Rabat’s research and cultural institutions is the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture.
Rabat’s waterfront is undergoing a total makeover with construction of a marina, apartment and commercial complexes, and a landscaped walkway along the riverside. A light rail system under construction will link Rabat with Salé, its twin city across the river, and run to Madinat al-Irfan (City of Knowledge, or university quarter). With tens of thousands of students and a vibrant cultural life, Rabat is an exciting place to live and study.