Overview of Casablanca

History of Casablanca

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Legend says that it was Hercules who created Morocco when he opened the Strait of Gibraltar. Historians offer a more supported beginning with the Berbers settling the area 300,000 years ago. During the Mesolithic ages the geography of Morocco supported game and forests as more of a savanna than today's arid landscape.

Phoenician and Carthaginian influenced development, until domination by the Romans in the 5th century. Rome's rule was through alliances with the tribes rather than through military occupation. The reign of Juba II Emperor Augustus brought about the creation of northern Morocco as 12 colonies and three colonias: Iulia Constantia Zilil, Iulia Valentia Banasa and Iulia Campestris Babba. Relics from this time can still be observed in Morocco, including the site at Volubilis. The region remained a part of the Roman Empire until 429 AD as the Vandals overran the area and Roman administrative presence came to an end.

The Vandals, Visigoths, and then Byzantine Greeks took over the area in rapid succession. The mountains offered isolated protection and the Berber society remained mostly untouched. Christianity was introduced in the 2nd century and gained converts in the towns and among slaves and Berber farmers. By the end of the 4th century, Romanized areas had been Christianized and greater integration between the Berber tribes and developing areas was being reached. In addition, a Jewish population developed.

Arab rule came in the 7th century. This brought greater civilization and Islam as the region became part of the Islamic Empire. Clashes between Arabs and Berbers were frequent as the Berbers were characterized as barbarians and the Berbers saw the Arabs as arrogant and brutal. In 740 there was a Berber revolted against Arab rule. Beginning in western Morocco, it spread quickly across the region. Though the rebellion eventually died out, Arab rulers found it difficult to re-impose Arab rule. The Berbers were free to shape Islam in their own image and maintain a degree of independence. In fact, Morocco is considered the "wild west" of the Islamic world and is a haven for dissidents, rebels and refugees from the empire.

Morocco reached its height under a series of Berber dynasties during the 11th and 12th centuries. Berber dynasties include: Almoravids, Almohads, Marinids and Wattasids. However, none of the dynasties were able to create a truly integrated society.

Morocco has a unique tie with the United States as it was the first to recognize it as an independent nation in 1777. On December 20, 1777, Morocco's Sultan Mohammed III declared that the American merchant ships would be under the protection of the sultanate and should enjoy safe passage. The Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship stands as the U.S.'s oldest non-broken friendship treaty.

The kingdom developed under Ismail Ibn Sharif from 1672 to 1727. They raised opposition of local tribes and began to create a unified state. The kingdom was better unified under Muhammad III from 1757 to 1790, but this unity did not survive his death.

Morocco fell under the influence of the European powers in 1822-1859. Moroccan were forced to recognize the French Protectorate through the Treaty of Fez, signed on December 3, 1912. At the same time, the Rif area of northern Morocco submitted to Spain. Greater infrastructure was created in trading paths despite Berber opposition.

The tie with the United States was reinforced in Morocco's assistance to the Americans in both World War I and World War II. Nationalists hoped that an Allied victory would help Morocco find independence. Independence was desired as demonstrated in 1944 as the independence party Istiqla-l was founded and supported by the Sultan Muhammad V. The party was banned in 1953, but this did not stop France from eventually granting Morocco independence on March 2, 1956. This led to an exodus of the Judeo-Berber speaking population.

Mohammed V continued to build a modern governmental structure under a constitutional monarchy. Mohammed V assumed the title of king on March 3, 1961. In May of that year, legislative elections took place for the first time. The royalist coalition secured a small plurality of seats, but political upheaval in June 1965 resulted in Hassan II assuming full legislative and executive powers under a "state of exception". This remained in effect until 1970. In July 1971 and August 1972 there were attempts at military coups.

Algeria received independence from France in 1962. Border skirmishes in the Tindouf area of south-western Algeria escalated in 1963 to the "Sand War". Morocco attempted to claim areas for Greater Morocco, but was forced to retreat with no border adjustments. The situation remains unfriendly as the border remains closed.

The struggle over Western Sahara has roots back to the 11th century. In August 1974, Spain formally acknowledged the 1966 United Nations (UN) resolution calling for a referendum on the future status of Western Sahara and requested that a plebiscite be conducted under UN supervision. The UN found that an overwhelming majority of the Saharan people desired independence and the case made it's way to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. They ruled that despite historical "ties of allegiance" between Morocco and the tribes of Western Sahara, there was no legal justification for departing from the UN position on self-determination. Spain intended to surrender political control of Western Sahara, leading to a meeting between Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania. In early 1976, Spain ceded Western Sahara administration's to Morocco and Mauritania with Morocco assuming control over the northern two-thirds of the territory and conceded the remaining portion in the south to Mauritania. An assembly of Saharan tribal leaders duly acknowledged Moroccan sovereignty. The Polisario (Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement working for the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco) disputed these agreements and fought back. In August 1979, Mauritania renounced its claim to Western Sahara and signed a peace treaty with the Polisario. Morocco annexed the entire territory and built a 2,500-kilometer sand berm in 1985. The two sides battled on until 1988 when Morocco and the Polisario Front finally agreed on a United Nations (UN) peace plan including a cease-fire and settlement plan went into effect in 1991. Despite this positive progress, the agreement has not been upheld.

Political reforms in the 1990s led to the development of a bicameral legislature. The death of King Hassan II in 1999 led to the rule of liberal-minded Crown Prince Sidi Mohammed. He assumed the title of Mohammed VI and enacted successive reforms to modernize Morocco. The country's human rights record has improved with the freeing of political prisoners and compensation for families of missing political activists. In honor of the birth of a son and heir to the throne in May 2003 the king released more political prisoners. The rights of women have also improved with reforms of the family code In 2004.

In September 2002, new legislative elections were held and declared free and fair. The Socialist Union of Popular Forces (Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires — USFP) led in the voting.

Morocco maintains a moderate stance with strong ties to the West. It was one of the first Arab and Islamic states to denounce the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. In June 2004 the United States designated Morocco a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally in recognition of its efforts to thwart international terrorism. On January 1, 2006, a comprehensive bilateral free trade agreement between the United States and Morocco took effect.


Today's Casablanca was settled by Berbers in the 7th century BC. As a port city, it became important to the Phoenicians, and later, the Romans. Known as "Anfa", it was developed as an independent country of emerging importance. The port became a haven for pirates, leading to it being targeted by the Portuguese. They attacked the growing town and destroyed it in 1468. Upon these ruins, the Portuguese built a military fortress in 1515. They named the town Casa Branca, meaning "white house".

The region was incorporated into Spain between 1580 and 1640. Eventually, it again fell into Portuguese ownership. A 1755 earthquake changed this as the European nations abandoned the area. An estimated 10,000 people in the Morocco area lost their lives.

The abandoned city was taken over by sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah in 1756 and reconstructed. He held the city until 1790 and gave the city an Arabic translation of the Spanish "Casa Blanca" to ad-Dar al-Bayda.

The 19th century brought greater growth and a boom in population as the city became a major supplier of wool to the textile industry in Britain. The British formed a close relationship with the area and began importing Morocco's now famous national drink, gunpowder tea. By the 1860s, there were around 5,000 residents. By the 1880s, there were 10,000.

In 1906 the French arrived, conquering the area. They colonized the region - not entirely peacefully. Residents attacked the French, and riots ensued. French troops were brought in to restore order, but the town was damaged in the process. By 1910 French colonization was formalized and by 1921 there were 110,000 people in the city. This time is depicted in the legendary 1942 film of the same name, "Casablanca". The film highlights the city's colonial status and the power struggle between competing European powers. At this time, Europeans formed almost half the population.

French rule continued to be rocky. During the 1940s and 1950s there were multiple anti-French uprisings, notably a bomb attack on Christmas Day in 1953.

The city was an important strategic port during World War II. The Casablanca Conference in 1943 is where Churchill and Roosevelt discussed the progress of the war. Moroccan hoped that support of the allies would pave the way for their own independence. They opened their borders to US forces and an American air base was created. Unfortunately, their participation in WWII did little to gain allied support for Moroccan independence. The people continued to petition for their freedom and on March 2, 1956 Morocco gained independence from France.

Terrorist activity has been an issue in the city. On May 16, 2003, 33 civilians were killed and more than 100 people were injured when Casablanca was hit by a multiple suicide bomb attacks, accredited to al-Qaeda. Suicide bombings occurred again in early 2007 at an internet cafe, during a police raid, and in the downtown area. More recently, the effects of the reform in the Arab world in 2011 has been felt in Morocco. Protests took place in December 2011 as thousands of people demonstrated in Hay Mohammadi, a low-income suburb of Casablanca, desiring more significant political reforms.

The city has continued to be an important port and entry point into the country. Though not valued for it's tourism trade as Marrakesh, the city is trying to unite it's industrial power with it's historic past to bring in visitors. As the largest city and economic capital of Morocco, the city is preparing for the future.

Update 10/01/2012

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