• Morocco’s area of 446,550 square kilometres (722,550 sq km including the Western Sahara) makes it slightly smaller than France or Spain, slightly larger than California. The population of just over 32 million compares with just eight million at independence in 1956.

Nearly 99 percent of Moroccans are Muslim, with 1 percent Christian and a tiny minority (an estimated 6000 people) Jewish. The literacy rate is 56.1 percent (68.9 percent for men, 43.9 percent for women).

The main languages are Arabic, Berber (Tarfit, Tamazight and Tashelhaït) and French. English is increasingly spoken by young people, especially in tourist areas.

• Morocco gained independence from French and Spanish rule on March 2, 1956. The head of state is King Mohammed VI, who succeeded his father Hassan II on July 30, 1999. The government is chosen from an elected legislature and is currently run by Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane of the moderate Islamist PJD (Party of Justice and Development). The main opposition parties are the Istiqlal (Independence) Party, Morocco’s oldest political group, and the RNI (National Rally of Independents).

Such is the importance of date palms in the Moroccan south that oases are traditionally measured by the number of their palms rather than their population, and it was once illegal to sell a date tree, a historically vital source of food.

Despite the beauty of zellij work in medersas and fountains across the country, it is thought that there is at least one flaw in every mosaic due to the Islamic belief that only Allah can create perfection.

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