A city made famous by the 1942 film “Casablanca” is the scene, or part of, this month’s “Trucking Around the World” feature about the North African country of Morocco. On a recent visit to the country, which sits about 4,000 miles due east across the Atlantic Ocean from Charleston, South Carolina, I visited this ancient and historical region and was surprised to see almost as many modern trucks running around as there were “vintage” (old) models. There are lots of the usual Scandinavian, Dutch and German rigs in Morocco, either registered there or just visiting, which have come across on the ferry through the Strait of Gibraltar, which is only nine miles from Europe (Spain) to Morocco. There were even a few U.S. trucks seen, but they were not photographed (most of them were mainly firefighting apparatus).
The history of Morocco dates all the way back to about 1,000 BC when the Phoenicians arrived and began trading on a huge scale. They established many trading posts in all directions and then founded Carthage, which today is in neighboring Tunisia. The Romans took Carthage in 146 BC, as their power and influence grew in the whole of the North Africa region. Roman rule continued until 285 AD and then it suddenly ended after 300 years of occupation. Around the year 705 the Arabs were in control, and after many years of hostilities, they introduced Islam. After that, over the next several centuries, control of the country went through several dynasties, tribes, rulers and sultans.
France began to have an interest in Morocco around 1830 for two reasons: they liked the geography of the country (having ports on two oceans), and had Algeria as a colony and wanted to secure its border with Morocco. After a forced treaty was signed in 1912, France and Spain became Protectorate governors of the apportioned colonies. This “treaty” heralded the beginning of hostility to the Spanish and French, followed with a number of rebellions in different parts of the country. This went on until WWII, when a Manifesto of Independence was drawn up, only to be rejected by the resident French General. As animosity grew, the Sultan, Mohammed V, was exiled to Madagascar in 1954. This action sparked more violence against the Protectorate, culminating in the Sultans return a year later. Independence for Morocco followed, with the country becoming a constitutional monarchy with Mohammed V as King in 1956.
Today, Morocco is a multi-lingual country with the bulk of the population speaking modern standard Arabic and Berber Arabic. The years of French and Spanish rule are still apparent, with both languages still being spoken. English, although lagging well behind French, is becoming more popular, and is seen as a prestigious second foreign language to learn. The country is still a monarchy, and it is ruled by Mohammed VI, who managed to survive the “Arab Spring” in 2011, when many sitting rulers in that region were ousted from power amid political protests. The Royal Family live in Rabat, the capital of Morocco.
Morocco is located in Northern Africa and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Algeria to the east, and the Western Sahara to the south. It is one of only three nations (along with Spain and France) to have both Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines. A large part of Morocco is mountainous. The Atlas Mountains are located mainly in the center and the south of the country, while the Rif Mountains are in the north. Algeria borders Morocco to the east and southeast, though the border between the two countries has been closed since 1994. Most of the southeast portion of the country is in the Sahara Desert and, as such, is sparsely-populated and unproductive, economically. Morocco claims that the Western Sahara is part of its territory, and refers to it as its Southern Provinces. While Morocco’s capital city is Rabat, its largest city is its main port, Casablanca. Other notable cities include Marrakesh, Ouarzazate, Fes, Nador and Tangier.
As you can imagine, with 45 years of French rule, the French influence could not fail to be evident in Morocco. Most things, including improvements in education, agriculture and creating a modern transportation system, were all part of the French agenda. Playing to a captive audience, many French cars, trucks and buses were imported into the country. Two years after Morocco declared their independence, the French Berliet company opened a manufacturing plant in Casablanca, building trucks and buses. When Renault acquired Berliet/Citroen in 1974, the plant in Casablanca was retained and is still active today. Loyalty to French engineering is still evident in Morocco, with many French manufactured vehicles – old and new – seen operating throughout the country. All the European truck manufacturers are present in Morocco, as well, and the market there is growing steadily for their products. The current trend is to import CKD (Completely Knocked Down) kits and assemble them in Morocco, which avoids many taxes, when compared to buying a fully-assembled truck.
With a big focus on tourism, the ancient capital of Marrakesh is becoming more modern every day, while keeping its old traditions and attractions, as well. The narrow streets in the old part, the huge market place and souk are still the most visited places in the country of Morocco. Construction of new hotels, business centers and huge shopping malls around the city is also helping the country to be more attractive to tourists. With a population of about 33 million, there is a lot going on in this not-so-big country, which is a little larger than the state of California, which has around 39 million people, in comparison.
There is a cloud hanging over this part of the world, which is dangerous to visit. Morocco, at the moment, is a country classed as a high-risk location for terrorism. You cannot blame the country, but you can blame the radical element, and it is always the decent people of the country who suffer most, which is what the terrorists want.
So, if you were thinking about taking a vacation to Morocco, you might want to rethink that and wait. Hopefully, this diverse and historical country, with its varying climates and geography, will work out its political and social issues and once again be a country that is safe, fun and interesting to visit.