Morocco is an ancient Arab-Berber state (about a third of its 111/2 million inhabitants still speak Berber dialects, mostly in the mountain areas), which, unlike Algeria and Tunisia, never came under Turkish rule. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, the Berber Almoravid and Almohad dynasties not only ruled over Morocco and much of Spain but reached out across the Mauritanian desert to Senegal (E). In the 15th century the Spaniards finally ousted the Moors from Spain, and later seized Ceuta and Melilla - now known as the Spanish presidios. But Morocco remained at least nominally independent until 1912, when its sultan had to accept a French protectorate over most of the country, a Spanish protectorate over zones in the north and the desert south, and an international régime for Tangier. Spain was confirmed in possession of the Ifni enclave (pop. 52,000), which it had held since 1860. Both French and Spaniards had to contend with periodic uprisings, especially in the mountains, but the country was gradually brought under control, and 500,000 Europeans settled (many have now left).
Growing nationalist feeling became centred on the sultan, and the French deposed him in 1953; Spain won Moslem good will by dissociating itself from this. Guerrilla resistance developed in 1955, and France restored the sultan. In 1956 Morocco became independent.
The Spanish zones and Tangier have reverted to Moroccan rule, but in 1961 Spain still held Ifni, Ceuta (pop. 60,000) and Melilla (85,000). American air bases, built in Morocco while France still ruled, remained after independence, but their diminishing value seemed to have made a negotiated settlement of their fate in 1959 relatively easy.
Morocco has not shown much concern with Spanish Sahara ( Rio de Oro and Saguia el Hamra), a large desert area with only 8,000 inhabitants; but it has claimed Ifni, Ceuta and Melilla, and in 1960 it protested when France granted independence to Mauritania, which it claims as historically Moroccan territory. Some of Mauritania's 600,000 people, largely Moorish pastoralists, seek unity with Morocco, but its first independent government preferred membership of the French community, and found friends among the ex- French African republics to the south. The dispute over Mauritania embittered Franco-Moroccan relations, already strained by the Algerian war. Moroccans resent French plans to develop the iron ore near Fort Gouraud, and they also claim Tindouf, the iron ore source in the Algerian Sahara.