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US Marine Corps Sgt. Thomas A. Beltran (left) along with a Moroccan soldier, load ammunition prior to a live fire practice in Tifnit, Morocco. (US Marine Corps photo/Master Sgt. Grady T. Fontana)

SSR Country Snapshot: Morocco

Morocco is a post-authoritarian state.  Security sector reforms started in 1999.


SSR Snapshot: Table of Contents

1. SSR Summary

2. Key Dates

3. Central SSR Programs/Activities

4. Key Funding Commitments

5. Major International Donors

6. Major Civil Society Stakeholders

7. Key Domestic Government Actors

8. Central Challenges

9. For More Information


1. SSR Summary

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy in Northern Africa, bordering the North Altantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, separated from Spain by the Strait of Gibraltar in the North. Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, elected on 29 November 2011, and the chief of state, King Mohammed VI, lead the government.

Moroccan politics has been a process of cautious modernization since the political reforms in the 1990s, accelerated with the induction of Mohammed VI as King. Morocco experienced protests in 2011 and 2012 calling for further political reforms in light of the Arab Spring. The King won a large victory in 2011 in a referendum on the constitution, which further devolved executive power from the King to the Prime Minister and legislative branches. However, rallies and demonstrations continue to occur every so often.

Security reforms are part of a wider set of political changes in Morocco. The primary challenge is moving past the history of oppressive authoritarian regimes in the North African state and managing the calls for greater reforms from the Arab Spring. The political power of the military, as a product of actions post-independence, acts as a subtle tool of the government. While civilian authorities have been effective in checking the power of the military, there are no effective mechanisms for the government to curb abuse and/or corruption amongst security personnel (ARI, 2012). However, the Ministry of the Interior has stepped up its investigations into abuses at different levels of administration — though the data is not currently available (ARI, 2012).

The international counter-terrorism agenda is an important factor in the security policies of Morocco, due in part to international and domestic events.  Al Qaeda terrorists of Moroccan nationality were behind the 2004 Madrid train bombings, as well as were behind attacks within Morocco, including a bombing aimed at tourists in Marrakesh in April 2011. A great deal of the international security initiatives focus on targeting terrorism within Morocco and the North African region, which have prompted counter-terrorism work in multiple security agencies and greater cooperation with other governments. This has included coordination with the EU as well as across Northern Africa.

Progress in the past two decades has been significant. Morocco has made considerable progress in truth and reconciliation efforts via the Equality and Reconciliation Authority (IER) and supporting human rights through the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH). A large part of this progress is thanks to the strong civil society engagement in political reforms and the widespread legitimacy of the monarchy. Many international and domestic NGOs were engaged in reforms in the 1990s and early 2000s and continue to be important stakeholders in the process that actively engage the wider public. Additionally, King Mohammed VI engages in political reforms that ensure his political survival, but also achieve consensus with the opposition (ARI, 2012).

The status of the Western-Sahara provinces has been a major issue for Moroccan security forces. Recent developments have indicated that Morocco is supporting plans for autonomy in the region, working as part of a plan for “regionalization” in the provinces (UNSC, 2012). The willingness for autonomy has helped ease some of the stress between Morocco and its immediate neighbours.

Overall, SSR is part of wider political reforms and thus not put to any specific timeline. The reforms aim to improve the lives of citizens and stabilize the Moroccan political system, but not at the price of political power of the government and monarch.  Despite this, reform is likely to continue at a gradual pace, though subject to future events and trends.

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2. Key Dates:

  • Failed coup attempts by the Moroccan Military, 1971 and 1972
  • Beginning of reforms by King Hassan II (and later King Mohammed VI) in 1998-1999
  • King of Morocco forms the Equity and Reconciliation Commission in 2006

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3. Central SSR Programs/Activities:

Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP)The United States and governments of North Africa (Algeria, Morocco, Libya, and Tunsia) are working towards a coordinated partnership to combat terrorism within the region. The countries in the partnership provide a political and geographical bridge between Europe and the Middle East. The US funds and support come from several US government departments, including the Departments of Defense, State, and the Agency for International Development. The focus of the program is on strengthening state capacity in the partnerships to combat and counter terrorism.

EU Neighbourhood Policies: The EU Neighbourhood Policies are not directly focused on SSR, but do have some funding for good governance and human rights support. Additionally, the European funds support for the Moroccan state since the Madrid bombings by Moroccan nationals in 2005.

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4. Key Funding Commitments:

  • US$3,000,000 from the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs for the Morocco program (INL, 2013)
  • €580,500,000 from the EU as the total budget for the bilateral agreement of the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI, 2011-2013)

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5. Major International Donors:

US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL)The Morocco program of the INL supports law enforcement, border control, judicial reform, and counter radicalization within Morocco.

European Union (EU)The EU supports Morocco as part of the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (EPNI). While not directly focused on SSR, this partnership does include policy reform, security cooperation, institutional support, and assistance with human rights efforts.

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6. Major Civil Society Stakeholders:

Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH)The AMDH is a non-governmental organization that advocates the adoption of human rights within Morocco. AMDH has been active since 1979, but has only been able to effectively join in public debates in the democratized atmosphere since 1999.

Human Rights WatchThe Human Rights Watch has been an important organization for monitoring human rights abuses within Morocco. While many of their reports focus on the wider issues of security and human rights abuses, they also examine violations within industries located in Morocco.

Amnesty InternationalAmnesty International is one of the most active international non-governmental organizations involved with monitoring and promoting human rights within Morocco.

Party of Justice and Development (PJD)The PJD is a political party within the Moroccan legislative parliament that focusses on promoting reforms in the judicial and law enforcement. Working alongside international NGOs, they have created a strong civil society that monitors human rights abuses by police, security forces, and prisons within Morocco. They also focus on trying to promote the continuing process of democratization within Moroccan politics. 

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7. Key Domestic Government Actors:

National Council for Human Rights (CNDH)Adapted from the Consultative Council on Human Rights (CCDH), the (independent) council investigates human rights abuses in Morocco. The CNDH has been successful in providing policy recommendations to the government, which have been readily used for political reforms within the country.

Royal Moroccan Armed ForcesThe Royal Moroccan Armed Forces were founded after Moroccan independence.

Equality and Reconciliation Authority (IER)The IER is a truth and reconciliation commission tasked with investigating abuses during Morocco’s authoritarian regime (1955-1999). Alongside the CNDH, it issues compensation to the thousands of victims of previous regimes in addition to recommending policy reforms to the government.

Direction Générale de la Sûreté Nationale (DGSN)The DGSN is the civil police force in Morocco of approximately 45,000 personnel. Reforms within the past ten years have focused on increasing the “citizen-friendly” aspect of the police, increase transparency, and citizen security. Additionally, the King recently endorsed the hiring of female police officers (Mattes, 2009: 151-2).

Auxiliary ForcesThese military forces are responsible for security in the border regions of Morocco. Recent reforms have striven to increase efficiency in addition to repairing the forces’ public image after bouts of excessive violence and reports of drug use by personnel (Mattes, 2009: 154)

Royal GendarmerieThe Royal Gendarmerie consists of approximately 22,000 personnel. It acts as a military group tasked with police duties and loyal to the King of Morocco. Since recent attacks, it’s role has been updated to include anti-terrorism duties (Mattes, 2009)

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8. Central Challenges:

Authoritarian History: Morocco has only recently emerged from a despotic rule, during which thousands of citizens were “disappeared” under the previous monarchs.

International and Domestic Terrorism: Several terrorist attacks have occurred within Morocco, in addition to Moroccan nationals perpetrating terrorist attacks abroad.

Western Sahara Provinces: Morocco has long laid claim to the Western Sahara territories at the southern end of the country. This has resulted in significant tensions between Morocco and its North African neighbours.

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9. For More Information:

Kodmani, B., and M. Chartouni-Dubarry. 2009. “The Security Sector in Arab Countries: Can It Be Reformed?” IDS Bulletin 40 (2): 96–104.

Kodmani and Chartouni-Dubarry provide a regional context for SSR and show that, comparatively, Morocco is a positive case study in the effectiveness of SSR in the presence of civil society and political legitimacy.

Mattes, Hanspeter. 2009. “Morocco: Reforms in the Security Sector But No ‘SSR’.” In Security Sector Reform in Challenging Environments, 143–63. 7th ed. DCAF Yearbook Series. Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF).

This paper goes over many important factors of SSR in Morocco and argues that, because the reforms are political, they do not constitute real SSR initiatives. Nevertheless, they do show the progress to date and the challenges facing the future.

Saaf, Abdalla. 2012. “Democratic Governance of Security in Morocco.” Arab Reform Initiative.

This paper looks through at the history of Morocco before, during, after independence, and during the current reforms. It helps explain many of the historical factors that constrain current behaviour in security institutions in Morocco.

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If you notice any information that needs to be updated in this SSR Country Snapshot, please let us know at [email protected].