Morocco Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The nation of Morocco seems to be very ethnically homogenous, but how accurate is that? In this lesson we'll talk about ethnicity in Morocco and see how this reflects the nation's history.


Africa, as a continent, is notable for an incredible amount of ethnic diversity. Many African nations boast over 100 distinct ethnic groups within their national borders alone. And then we've got Morocco. Officially, Morocco is one of the most ethnically homogenous nations in the world, with 99% of the population belonging to the same ethnic group. Why? Located on the northwest coast of the continent, Morocco has been a crossroads of world cultures for centuries, so why doesn't their national diversity seem to reflect this? Maybe Morocco deserves a closer look.


Arab-Berber Ethnicity in Morocco

99% of Moroccans identify with a single ethnicity. So, what is it? We call it the Arab-Berber ethnic group. Off the bat- you may begin to suspect that this is going to be more complex than originally thought. After all, this label features a hyphen. Never trust a hyphen. In reality, the Arab-Berber ethnicity is a broad term applied by people across northwestern Africa to refer to people of mixed Arabian and Berber ancestry, which in reality encompasses a variety of ethnic groups and subgroups.

Berber Ethnic Heritage

Let's break this hyphenated ethnic label down into its various components. The Berbers were the diverse indigenous people of Northern Africa for millennia, before the arrival of merchants and armies from the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century. The Berbers, or Imazighen as they are called in the dominant Berber language, are believed to have spread west from the Nile Valley as early as 2000 BCE. There were dozens of Berber ethnic groups, as well as dozens of Berber languages, so this was just a broad term for a diverse group of somewhat-related people. In fact, to this day the Berber language of Tamazight is an official language of Morocco, and the Berber languages of Tachelhit and Tarifit are widely spoken across the country.

Berbers in a Medieval European manuscript

Arab Ethnic Heritage

Now, how about the other half of the Arab-Berber ethnic category? Arab ethnicities are based on people of the Arabian Peninsula. Like Berber, this term is somewhat deceptive, and historically covers a diverse range of related, but not homogenous, people. If we want to be really specific, the Banu Hilal and Sulaym tribes of Saudi Arabia are those to whom most modern Moroccans can trace their Arabic ancestry. So, how'd they get there? Following the death of Muhammad in the 7th century, Islamic powers in the Arabian Peninsula organized and formed a mighty Islamic Empire called a Caliphate. This Caliphate stretched quickly into North Africa, conquering nearly all of it by the end of the century.

Arabs first entered Morocco between the 6th and 7th centuries

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