People of Morocco Berbers and Arabs

People of Morocco


Morocco is a country whose indigenous population, predominantly Berber, has mixed with Arab emigrants from successive waves of Islamic conquest. Today, Berber dialects are still spoken by over 30% of Moroccans. The large Jewish (500,000 people) and foreign (over 500,000 Europeans under the French protectorate) settlements have virtually disappeared: only 6,000 Jews and barely 50,000 foreigners remain. Distributed fairly evenly throughout the country, except in the arid south, the inhabitants were concentrated on the coasts as urbanization developed, fueled by the rural exodus and a high birth rate.

The urban population rate rose from 10 per cent in 1926 to 55 per cent in 1998; more than one-third of city dwellers are concentrated in a small strip of land along the Atlantic coast, from Casablanca to Kenitra. Casablanca is, along with Algiers, the largest city in the Maghreb. This area concentrates 60% of Moroccan industry, mainly in Casablanca, which has the largest port complex in Morocco. Important phosphate processing plants, the country’s main source of wealth, have also been set up on the coast between Safi and Jorf el-Asfar, while extraction is carried out in the center of the country (Khouribga, Benguerir) and in the Sahara (Bou Craa). A number of small and medium-sized towns have also developed along the main trade routes.


Population growth has been declining since the 1980s, but it is still sustained at an annual rate of 1.5 percent (compared to 3 percent previously). The number of inhabitants has almost tripled in 30 years, from 5 million at the beginning of the 20th century to 10 million in 1954 and 28.3 million in 2000. The population is therefore very young: 28% of Moroccans are under 15 years old. Unemployment affects 20 percent of the 5 million working population, particularly young people (including 300,000 unemployed graduates, who are highly contentious) and women (30 percent of the working population), whose legal situation, which has remained marked by conservatism, was slightly improved in 1993.

This population, which emigrated heavily to Europe between the 1970s and 1980s (more than 2 million Moroccans reside abroad, nearly half of them in France), is therefore suffering from great social and economic frustration and has continued to emigrate illegally since the closure of European borders. However, Moroccan emigrants remain very attached to their country, and their foreign exchange earnings, at 18 billion dirhams, exceed the combined earnings from phosphates and tourism.

The illiteracy rate (50%) is the highest in the Maghreb. Education is poorly adapted, and schooling, even at the primary level, is not yet complete, especially in rural areas. High social inequalities, which are increasingly unacceptable, and the general standard of living, which is lower than in Algeria and Tunisia, are considered factors of instability.

For more information, see the articles Physical Geography of Morocco and Economic Activities of Morocco.

People of Morocco population is heterogeneous and composed of different ethnic groups:

Berbers: Morocco’s population consists of nearly 34 million people, most of whom live along the northern coastal strip and northwest of the Atlas Mountains. Morocco’s original population – like those of Tunisia, Algeria, and many other nation-states in North Africa, are Berbers. They settled in the region of today’s kingdom some 6,000 years ago and still live today as semi-nomads or arable farmers in the country’s mountainous regions.

Arabs: Besides the Berbers, mainly Arabs live in Morocco, who came to the country in various waves of immigration and partly assimilated the existing population. Today’s Arabs live mostly in large cities.

Gnawa: There is also a black minority of people in Morocco – the so-called Gnawa or Haratin. Their arrival dates back to slavery in the 11th century.

Europeans: Furthermore, there are about 60,000 to 100,000 foreigners living in the country, who mostly come from Spain or France.

Berbers in Morocco:

peopel of Morocco

The ethnic designation for Berber seems to be a foreign designation of traders and conquerors rather than a proper designation for people or language. Borrowed from the Latin barbaric, the Greek barbarous, or the Arabic Barbar, Berber usually stood for the barbarian population of North Africa-from the Nile to the Atlantic coast.

We should not see the Berber people of Morocco ethnic group as a homogeneous group with one language and culture. In Morocco alone, there are several different language groups of the Afro-Asiatic Berber language with furthermore very many sub-language groups and dialects. The Berber language passed on within the family alone. Learning the Berber language in school is not possible.

Arabs in Morocco – Origin, Power and Cultural Achievements

people of Morocco

Only about one-fifth of Moroccans are of Arab descent; the remaining four-fifths are Berbers. However, exact dates are difficult to determine, as mixing with the Arab population and the Arabization measures of the post-colonial period have pushed back the culture and language of the Berbers.

More than 1000 years ago, Bedouin tribes conquered vast areas of North Africa and Asia from the Arabian Peninsula. As part of this spread of Islam in the eighth century, Arab troops conquered the region. From then on, they were the main force for the cultural development of the country. Today, their palaces and mosques are among the most imposing buildings in Morocco.

Even though the Berbers in the interior were largely able to maintain their cultural identity, the Arabs brought them Islam, which 99 percent of Moroccans profess today.

Haratin people of Morocco – name meaning and language:

The Haratin have freed slaves who have black skin due to their origin in southern Africa. Haratin (singular: Hartani) is an ambiguous term used to describe oasis farmers, especially throughout the Arabophone region of the Sahara and Sahel, who were dependent on a nomadic lord. This lord owned the plantations, fields, and palm oases in which the Haratin had to work – quite similar to a feudal relationship.

In Morocco today, Haratin lives mainly in the south of the country – near the border regions with Western Sahara and Mauritania. They have primarily adopted Arabic as their language and have thus consciously chosen not to use the Berber language.

Haratin is still subject to prejudice and discrimination (but this is mainly in Mauritania). Simply because of their skin color and indeterminate origin – apart from immigration as slaves, almost nothing is known about this – they are stigmatized with a unique character and also like to be “lumped together” with the Gnawa.

Gnawa in Morocco – Beliefs:

Moroccan peopel

The Gnawa are also an ethnic minority of former slaves south of the Sahara. They differ from the Haratin especially in their beliefs: according to their origin, the Gnawa combine beliefs of Islam with pre-Islamic practices of sub-Saharan Africa, especially from the old Mali empire. In broad terms, this involves spirit powers that can take possession of people if special ritual practices are not performed against them.

These include above all music and dances, for which the Gnawa and their music are internationally famous. An international Gnawa music festival takes place annually in Essaouira. At the festival itself, the journey of the religion from tradition to modernity can be experienced very clearly.

Spaniards and French in Morocco:

Approximately 60,000 to 100,000 foreigners still live in Morocco – most of them from Spain and France. After, the country got independence in 1956 from the two former protectorate powers.

Spain and France, and the sovereign state of Morocco were proclaimed. Some of the French and Spanish who used to work in the administration has remained in the country.


Among the Maghreb countries, Morocco is distinguished by the high altitude of its mountains and the relative extent of its plains. The High Atlas Mountains are the highest point in North Africa, but the cultivable flat areas are much more extensive than in Algeria or Tunisia. There are three main groups of landforms: the mountains, the plains and plateaus to the north of the mountains, and the arid plateaus to the east and south. The mountains themselves are formed of two sets that differ in their genesis and morphology.

1.1. THE RIF

At its northern end, the Rif has a very complex structure, alpine type. It is a relatively low mountain, generally having less than 2000 m of altitude, but with rather vigorous forms because of the depression of the valleys. It is dominated by limestone or sandstone peaks. The fluidity of the materials, predominantly schistose and marly, the power of tectonic movements, overlapping layers in the Tertiary, vertical uplift in the Villafranchian (2,452 m at Tidirhine), and the proximity of the seabed combine to promote the development of intense erosion. The Rif chain falls sharply on the Mediterranean.


To the north of the mountains lie plains and plateaus of low to medium altitude, open to the Mediterranean and especially to the Atlantic; they correspond to an ancient basement outcropping or buried under the sediments (Moroccan Meseta) and resulting from the peneplanation phases that followed the Hercynian folds. The deformations of the Tertiary and Villafranchian ages have raised the central plateau (or Ulmes massif) above 1600 m. Two areas of high plateaus rise above 1,000 m: the Moroccan Meseta between the High and Middle Atlas; the lands that extend the Tell of Oran.

This ensemble presents three different aspects: fragments of ancient massifs such as the Moroccan Central Plateau, sedimentary plateaus where the sedimentary cover has not been removed by erosion (such as the Phosphate, Gantour, Chiadma, and Haha plateaus, the Causse of the Middle Atlas) and alluvial plains such as the Gharb (a subsidence basin filled in during the recent Quaternary by the alluvial deposits of the Sebou River), the Haouz, the Chaouïa, the Sous.

To the north, the Saïs plateau corresponds to a slab of lacustrine limestone deposited in the Villafranchian. These quiet or slightly hilly areas are well suited to agricultural activities, especially since they enjoy a Mediterranean climate. From Tangier to the mouth of the Draa, the Atlantic coast is bordered by a succession of plains more or less vast. The very long coastline (3,500 km) is narrow and steep on the Mediterranean. Towards the coast, a strip of dunes is particularly suitable for market gardening.

The massifs have never been an insurmountable obstacle (men have always used their passages and their passes). In the north, the Taza gap, between the Rif and the Middle Atlas, was the natural corridor for invasions from the east, while population movements from south to north were not stopped by the mountains.


The various massifs of the Atlas have a simpler structure, corresponding to vertical movements or regular folding. The axial bulge underwent various phases of folding before being lifted by large movements in the Villafranchian.


The Middle Atlas is a set of limestone mountains oriented SW / NSE, flanked by high plateaus (Causses medium-atlas) and separated by vast basins. It owes its Jurassic aspects to the rigidity and the porosity of its limestones of Mesozoic age, responsible for the development of karstic phenomena, as well as to the general order, tabular in the west, folded in the east (Bou Naceur, 3 354 m, Bou Iblane, 3 190 m). Its Auvergne aspects are related to the volcanic cones and flows of the quaternary. It abruptly dominates the Moulouya plain to the east, while it is preceded to the west by high limestone plateaus, the middle-atlas causes.


At the southern end of the country, the Anti-Atlas, extended by the Jebel Sagho, is an ancient massif (Precambrian) raised; it is connected to the High Atlas by an ancient volcano (Jebel Siroua). A large bulge of the Saharan basement brings it to 2 531 m, causing the release of a relief of Appalachian type with parallel ridges of quartzite, sandstone and limestone.


The High Atlas is an imposing chain, limestone or schistose, extending from south-west to north-east on 700 km and having many peaks higher than 3 000 m (Toubkal, 4 165 m, highest peak of North Africa); the crossing is made difficult by the encasement of the valleys and the high altitude of the passes. In the Western High Atlas, the Hercynian structure gives an appearance of heaviness to the summit parts, even where the Quaternary glaciations have sharpened the forms. It has been fractured, leveled, and lifted several times.

These summits rise above plateaus which dominate, by gigantic cliffs, the valleys, string of small basins, and wild gorges. The central High Atlas owes its tabular appearance to the thick layers of Jurassic and Cretaceous limestone (4,071 m at M’Goun). The Ayachi Jebel still looks good, with its 3 751 m. Beyond, the eastern High Atlas breaks down into low ranges, enclosing plains such as that of Tamlet.


To the south of the mountains are spread out immense calm and monotonous stretches corresponding to the old Saharan base. In eastern Morocco, the relief is made up of high plateaus with an altitude of over 1,000 m. Saharan Morocco is mainly formed of vast stony hamadas extending from the Atlas to Mauritania. Descending from the High Atlas, the valley of the Oued Draa reaches the ocean. The Rheris and the Ziz form the Saoura after having watered the oases of Tafilalet.


Given its location and its latitude, Morocco has a certain bioclimatic variety. The protection of two cells of stable tropical air (Azores and Sahara anticyclones) maintains the country, during a large part of the year, in a situation of good dry weather, cut off from torrid invasions of Chergi (east winds). In winter, the retreat of high pressure systems gives way to pulses of polar air that can bring snow to the plains up to the Rharb (exceptionally), in the mountains up to the Anti-Atlas, beyond 1 500 m.

In northern Morocco, north of the Agadir-Oujda line, the climate is the Mediterranean, with a dry tendency, with mild and humid but short winters and a very long hot and dry season. In Marrakech, the average maximum temperature is 38°C in July and August and 18°C in January. In Rabat, it is only 28°C maximum in July and August, but 17°C maximum in January. Rainfall is uneven (200 to 800 mm in the plains), but it allows for a variety of crops. An average of 500 mm of rain falls in Rabat, mainly in winter.

This total drops to 241 mm in Marrakech. In the mountains, this same Mediterranean climate is modified by altitude. South of the mountains, on the other hand, the climate is dry subtropical: sub-arid in eastern Morocco, sheltered from the west winds by the mountainous screen of the Middle Atlas and Eastern High Atlas, and frankly Saharan in southern Morocco, with some rare winter rains and a very long drought. The average rainfall, less than 100 or 50 mm, only allows very extensive livestock farming; there is no agriculture possible without irrigation.


It is the duration and the rigor of the summer aridity which order the distribution of the bioclimatic domains. The natural vegetation is obviously related to the two major climatic types. In the Mediterranean climate, mainly characterized by dry forests (holm oak, cork oak, cedar, pine) or steppes (jujube tree, dwarf palm). In the Saharan climate, it is extremely thin.


The humid domain, where rainfall exceeds 800 mm, includes the Rif-Middle Atlas axis, where, in its natural state, cedar, fir, holm oak (with local stands of deciduous oak, zeean or tauzin), and cork oak forests follow one another from top to bottom. Above 1,500 m, the snow cover can last two months.


The subhumid domain, between 800 and 500 mm, concerns the Pre-Rif and the Atlantic plains up to the level of Casablanca: it is the sector of the great dry cereal crop (bour crop), alternating autumn and spring crops on fertile soils: black tirs, red hamri, grey dhess, while, on the sands (rmel), the only great cork oak forest of the Moroccan plains has been maintained in the Mamora.


In the semi-arid domain, between 500 and 300 mm (Saïs, Atlantic plains, from the Chaouïa to the High Atlas, northern part of the Oriental), the hazards of dry farming are already very high. From Essaouira to Ifni, the argan tree, a relic tree, is a prominent feature of the landscape.


The semi-arid domain (from 300 to 100 mm) is represented, north of the Atlas, by the Haouz basin. Towards the south, it quickly passes to the Saharan domain, with the hamadas, vast tabular surfaces, often covered with regs, fluvial outwash, or disintegration cover, while, in the depressions, the wind accumulates the sand in barkhans. The only erg that is located in Morocco, the Erg Chebbi, still seems modest compared to the immense sandy expanses of the Algerian Sahara.

Decalogue of do’s and don’ts

  • As in any country where the culture is different, it is necessary to adapt to the local lifestyle. If you manage to integrate well in the country, the success of the trip is assured. If you show respect for Moroccan customs, you will have much to gain. For this reason, we have drawn up a decalogue of tips for good behavior in the country.
  • Eat with the right hand. If you have to share a table with Moroccans, remember that in their culture the left hand is considered impure, as it is used for intimate hygiene. This rule is valid when there is no cutlery and you are eating in the traditional Moroccan way.
  • Accept invitations to tea. This is the best way to sympathize with Moroccans. But be careful as it is often used as a ploy to sell you something from the store and you could find yourself in an embarrassing situation. You need to be very tactful about this
  • Take off your shoes when entering a house. One of the customs in Morocco is to enter houses without shoes, so check if the tenants’ shoes are at the entrance. It is best to ask the owner of the house to remove your shoes, as Moroccan houses are usually full of carpets and it may be annoying to step on them with your shoes.
  • Do not try to enter the mosques. There are only a few mosques in the whole country where non-Muslims are allowed to enter. Find out and make sure before entering a mosque that the mosque allows access to people of Morocco other religions, as is the case with the
  • Do not take photographs of a person without first asking permission. In some areas of Morocco, they are often offended if a photograph was taken without permission, especially if the photograph is of a woman or even a child.
  • Do not give money to child beggars. Not even pens or candy. Although it is very fashionable among tourists to give candy, pens and money to children, this is VERY HARMFUL behavior for them, as it is a way of encouraging them to skip school and instead beg in the streets. Education is free in the country and all children should be in school, but many of them, seeing that they can get money and goodies quickly outside of school, drop out of school to chase tourists.
  • Don’t discuss topics related to the king or religion. Try not to talk about politics or religion, or drugs.
  • Don’t wear provocative clothes. Especially if you are a woman and you are going to visit the surroundings of sacred places (temples, mosques …). It is advisable to dress discreetly so as not to offend. Moroccans are not used to women being lightly dressed, and this can cause many stares and uncomfortable situations.
  • Photographing border checkpoints, military, police or airport facilities. This is strictly prohibited by law
  • Bargain if you are really interested in the product, otherwise the seller may take it as an offense.

And if you book your Morocco desert tours with us, we will give you advice in person about these and other customs of Morocco, helping you if an embarrassing and fortuitous situation occurs.