In one of the most unlikely Cinderella stories, Morocco is on the edge of glory. They entered the World Cup ranked 22 in the world and they are now two games away from winning the trophy after snuffing out titans — ninth ranked Portugal and seventh ranked Spain. As they make their way past the Iberian Peninsula, they face the 2018 champs and fourth ranked France next in the World Cup semi-final tomorrow. Along the way, they have become the darlings of the African, Middle East and Muslim world. But the whole Arab world rooting for Morocco has highlighted a question: are Moroccans Arab?
Are Moroccans Arab?
The intra-Middle East debate can be seen in memes like this:
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Some Moroccans feel like they aren’t Arab, and aren’t super happy about being categorized that way. Others do identify as Arab and welcome the support from their regional neighbors. The answer to that question is a bit more complicated than a simple yes or no.
Morocco is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country located in North Africa, just south of Spain. It has been occupied by many different groups over the centuries including the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Berbers, Europeans and Africans. As a result of these influences, there is no single “Moroccan ethnicity” as the population is comprised of people from a variety of backgrounds.
Demographics of Morocco
The largest ethnic group in Morocco is Arab-Berber which makes up about 99% of its population. The remaining 1% consists mostly of Europeans (mainly French) and sub-Saharan African immigrants. The Arab-Berber group can be further divided into two distinct ethnicities: Arabs and Berbers (also known as Amazigh).
The ethnic demographics of Morocco is as follows:
Arabized Berbers: 24%
The Arabs are descended from nomadic tribes that migrated from Arabia to North Africa in the 7th century CE when Islam first arrived in the region. They have had a major influence on its language (Arabic), culture, cuisine and religious practices.
The Berbers are an indigenous people who have lived in North Africa since before recorded history began. They live mainly in rural areas where they practice traditional lifestyles such as farming or animal husbandry. They speak their own language called Tamazight or “Berberish” which is considered to be a dialect of Arabic by some linguists but not all agree with this classification.
The official languages of Morocco are Arabic and Berberish, with roughly 92% of the country speaking Moroccan Arabic and 26% speaking Berberish.
But to truly understand the cultural identity of Morocco, it’s important to take a look at the country’s history.
The Roots of Arab Culture in Morocco
Morocco has been influenced by both Arabic and Berber cultures for centuries, but the Arabization process began in earnest when the Arab-Muslim armies arrived in the 8th century. This period marked the beginning of an influx of Arabic language, art, architecture, and literature into Morocco. In fact, many aspects of Moroccan culture today—including its music, cuisine, and even its name—are derived from this era.
The Legacy of French Colonialism
In 1912, France took control of much of what is now modern-day Morocco. While France ruled over Morocco for almost five decades, it left behind a lasting legacy that can still be seen today. French influence can be felt throughout Moroccan culture—from its language (which is still heavily influenced by French) to its government and educational system. French colonialism also had an impact on religion in Morocco; not only did it bring Christianity to some parts of the country (although it remains largely Islamic), but it also opened up Muslim communities to new interpretations of Islam that weren’t as prevalent before colonialism.
Modern Moroccan Identity
Today, many Moroccans identify themselves as both Arab and Berber—a reflection of their country’s history and cultural evolution over time. But while they may identify with both cultures equally, Moroccans continue to maintain their own unique sense of identity that sets them apart from other countries in North Africa and beyond. Whether they are speaking Arabic or Berber or French (or all three!), participating in traditional festivals like Mawlid al-Nabi or celebrating modern holidays like New Year’s Day, Moroccans remain proud custodians of their rich cultural heritage despite its diverse origins.
Moroccan culture is an amalgamation of influences from all over the world, but at its core lies a vibrant mix of Berber and Arabic traditions that have been shaped by centuries worth of foreign rule and contact with other cultures. So yes, in some ways Moroccans are certainly considered Arabs—but they are so much more than just that. From the music they listen to and the food they eat to their religious beliefs and political views, Moroccans have carved out their own unique identity that makes them stand out from other countries in North Africa and beyond.
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