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In 2006 the African nation of Morocco celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence. Today it is a land with a rich culture, in thanks to its strategic location and very long history.
While the deserts of North Africa may not seem inviting, the land was likely far less arid and the earliest settlers likely arrived as early as 7000 BC. The local Berber people later established contact with the early Phoenicians and Greeks who traded in the Mediterranean Ocean.
The area was known as Mauretania during the Classical Age and was part of the Roman Empire, until its decline when various Germanic tribes including the Vandals and the Visigoths settled here. The Byzantines retook the region but maintained only loose control.
In the 7th century the Islamic forces from the east conquered the area, and this led to a power struggle between various groups that would last for several centuries. The powerful Alaouite Dynasty gained control of Morocco following a long series of Civil Wars. Under their leadership Morocco was the first nation to recognize the United States in 1777.
The region's location at the northern tip of Africa at the Straits of Gibraltar attracted various powers for centuries. At the beginning of the 20th century the region fell into the sphere of influence of the French, and this caused a crisis in 1905 that almost started a war between France and Germany. This would remain one of the many causes of the First World War. In 1912 the second crisis in the region resulted in most of the country of Morocco becoming a protectorate of France, with Spain assuming similar status with the other two Saharan zones.
In World War II American forces landed in Vichy French controlled Morocco, and this was the site of the first conflict between American and Axis forces during the war. Following the war Morocco finally regained its independence, with France officially relinquishing its protection in 1956.