Most Moroccans are either Berbers or have Berber ancestry. Yet 60% speak Arabic as their mother tongue and think of themselves as Arabs. Arabic culture and language have influenced Moroccans ever since the first Arab conquests in the late 7th century. Morocco has been the seat of successive North African empires. The Alaouite dynasty of King Mohammad VI was founded in 1631.
Since independence in 1956, the government has made Arabic the language of primary and secondary education, rather than French. Nevertheless, French continues to be widely used in higher education and society at large.
Moroccan Arabs are generally open, hospitable, and friendly people. They love to visit in cafes and in their homes, and they know how to throw a party – especially for the religious festivals. Their Islam is generally conservative and moderate.
Morocco consists of rugged mountains, coastal plains, and desert. Arabs live mostly west of the mountains, and Berber-speakers mostly live in the mountains.
Since many Moroccan Arabs live in either poor rural areas or in crowded cities, poverty and unemployment are major challenges. Health care is inadequate, and the rates of both infant and maternal mortality remain high. Though employment numbers have improved steadily, unemployment is still highest among college graduates aged 24-35 (17%).
The economy has grown in the last decade as economic policies have liberalized. The service sector accounts for half of Morocco’s GDP, and industry is an additional quarter. Recent growth has come from tourism, telecoms, information technology, and textiles.
Though Morocco enjoys a fairly strong amount of freedom of speech, criticism of the king is still rare. And despite a surface sense of religious openness, the government closely monitors mosques, controls what is preached, and tries to control the form of Islam nationwide. Though officially a parliamentary monarchy, many Moroccans feel like they are living in a police state.
It is very difficult to accurately assess the number of Moroccan Christians. Informed estimates vary from 2,000 to 5,000 Arab and Berber believers. There are a number of informal networks of underground house churches. There are also many foreign workers in the country with varying levels of involvement with and connection to Moroccan believers.
The Scriptures, the Jesus Film, and many other resources are available in Moroccan and in Standard Arabic, and there is finally a Bible in colloquial Arabic. Several media ministries that have had a lot of response from Morocco over the years speak of dozens of house churches and thousands of believers. These have come through media, spread around the country, and include both Arab and Berber groups.
Persecution is normally not violent, but the government keeps a close eye on believers and churches. Most Moroccan believers don’t have freedom to practice their faith openly. The greatest opposition usually comes from family and community members.