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CASABLANCA, MOROCCO

Casablanca, means in Spanish whitehouse, is a city in western Morocco, located on the Atlantic Ocean. It is the capital of the Greater Casablanca region.

With a population of 3.1 million (3.85 million in the "greater Casablanca" (September 2005 census, unofficially up to 6 million according to inhabitants), Casablanca is Morocco's largest city as well as its chief port. It's also the biggest city in the Maghreb and the sixth biggest city in the entire continent of Africa. With a majority of the modern economic sector being based in the Casablanca region, and the Casablanca area being dominant in industrial and service sector activity, it is often and justifiably referred to as the economic capital, although Morocco's political capital is Rabat. It is also the primary naval base for the Royal Moroccan Navy.

Casablanca is the leading city hosting headquarters and main industrial facilities for the leading Moroccan and international companies based in Morocco. Industrial statistics show Casablanca retains its historic position as the main industrial zone of the country. The Port of Casablanca is considered as Morocco's chief port and as one of the largest artificial ports in the world. It is also the largest port of the Maghreb and North Africa.

The area which is today Casablanca was settled by Berbers by at least the 7th century. A small independent kingdom, in the area then named Anfa, arose in the area around that time in response to Arab Muslim rule, and continued until it was conquered by the Almoravids in 1068.

During 14th century, under the Merinids, Anfa rose in importance as a port. In the early 15th century, the town became an independent state once again, and emerged as a safe harbour for pirates and privateers, leading to it being targeted by the Portuguese, who destroyed the town in 1468.

The Portuguese used the ruins of Anfa to build a military fortress in 1515. The town that grew up around it was called "Casabranca", meaning "White House" in Portuguese.

Between 1580-1640 was part of Spain, and later part of Portugal again. They eventually abandoned the area completely in 1755 following an earthquake which destroyed most of the town.

The town was finally reconstructed by sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah (1756-1790), the grandson of Moulay Ismail and ally of George Washington. The town was called Dar el Beida (white house) in Arabic and Casa Blanca in Spanish.

In the 19th century, the area's population began to grow as Casablanca became a major supplier of wool to the booming textile industry in Britain and shipping traffic increased (the British, in return, began importing Morocco's now famous national drink, gunpowder tea). By the 1860s, there were around 5,000 residents, and the population grew to around 10,000 by the late 1880s. Casablanca remained a modestly-sized port, with a population reaching around 12,000 within a few years of the French conquest and arrival of French colonialists in the town, at first administrators within a sovereign sultanate, in 1906. By 1921, this was to rise to 110,000, largely through the development of bidonvilles.

The area which is today Casablanca was settled by Berbers by at least the 7th century BC.

It was used as a port by the Phoenicians and later the Romans.
A small independent kingdom, in the area then named Anfa, arose around late Roman time in response to Arab Muslim rule, and continued until it was conquered by the Almoravids in 1068.

During the 14th century, under the Merinids, Anfa rose in importance as a port. In the early 15th century, the town became an independent state once again, and emerged as a safe harbour for pirates and privateers, leading to it being targeted by the Portuguese, who destroyed the town in 1468.

The Portuguese used the ruins of Anfa to build a military fortress in 1515. The town that grew up around it was called "Casa Branca", meaning "white house" in Portuguese.

Between 1580 and 1640 Casablanca was part of Spain, and later it became part of Portugal again. The Europeans eventually abandoned the area completely in 1755 following an earthquake which destroyed most of the town. See: 1755 Lisbon Earthquake.

The town was finally reconstructed by sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah (1756–1790), the grandson of Moulay Ismail and ally of George Washington with the help of Spaniards from the nearby emporium. The town was called ad-Dār al-Bayḍāʼ, the Arabic translation of the Spanish Casa Blanca, meaning "white house".

In the 19th century, the area's population began to grow as it became a major supplier of wool to the booming textile industry in Britain and shipping traffic increased (the British, in return, began importing Morocco's now famous national drink, gunpowder tea). By the 1860s, there were around 5,000 residents, and the population grew to around 10,000 by the late 1880s. Casablanca remained a modestly sized port, with a population reaching around 12,000 within a few years of the French conquest and arrival of French colonialists in the town, at first administrators within a sovereign sultanate, in 1906. By 1921, this was to rise to 110,000, largely through the development of bidonvilles.
In June 1907, the French attempted to build a light railway near the port and passing through a graveyard. Residents attacked the French, and riots ensued. French troops were landed in order to restore order, which was achieved only after severe damage to the town. The French then took control of Casablanca. This effectively began the process of colonization, although French control of Casablanca was not formalised until 1910.

The famous 1942 film Casablanca underlined the city's colonial status at the time—depicting it as the scene of a power struggle between competing European powers, carried out with little reference to the local population. The film's cosmopolitan cast of characters (American, French, German, Czech, Norwegian, Bulgarian, Russian and some other nationalities) includes only a single (uncredited) local character, "Abdul" the doorman whose role is marginal.

Europeans formed almost half the population. During the 1940s and 1950s, Casablanca was a major centre of anti-French rioting. A bomb attack on Christmas Day of 1953 caused many casualties.
Casablanca was an important strategic port during World War II and hosted the Casablanca Conference in 1943, in which Churchill and Roosevelt discussed the progress of the war. Casablanca was the site of a large American air base, which was the staging area for all American aircraft for the European Theater of Operations during World War II.
Morocco gained independence from France on March 2, 1956.

In 1930, Casablanca hosted a Grand Prix. The race was held at the new Anfa Racecourse. In 1958, the race was held at Ain-Diab circuit - (see Moroccan Grand Prix). In 1983, Casablanca hosted the Mediterranean Games.

The city is now developing a tourism industry. Casablanca has become the economic and business capital of Morocco, while Rabat is the political capital.

In March 2000, women's groups organized demonstrations in Casablanca proposing reforms to the legal status of women in the country. Forty thousand women attended, calling for a ban on polygamy and the introduction of divorce law (divorce being a purely religious procedure at that time). Although the counter-demonstration attracted half a million participants, the movement for change started in 2000 was influential on King Mohammed VI, and he enacted a new Mudawana, or family law, in early 2004, meeting some of the demands of women's rights activists.

On May 16, 2003, 33 civilians were killed and more than 100 people were injured when Casablanca was hit by a multiple suicide bomb attack carried out by Moroccans and claimed by some to have been linked to al-Qaeda.

A string of suicide bombings struck the city in early 2007. A suspected militant blew himself up at a Casablanca internet cafe on March 11, 2007. On April 10, three suicide bombers blew themselves up during a police raid of their safe house. Two days later, police set up barricades around the city and detained two more men who had escaped the raid. On April 14, two brothers blew themselves up in downtown Casablanca, one near the American Consulate, and one a few blocks away near the American Language Center. Only one person was injured aside from the bombers, but the Consulate was closed for more than a month.

As calls for reform spread through the Arab world in 2011, Moroccans joined in, but concessions by the ruler led to acceptance. However, in December thousands of people demonstrated in several parts of the city, especially the city center near la fontaine, desiring more significant political reforms.




July 2004

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