Maroc

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  • Exotic, ancient, mystical, colourful, challenging: Morocco is an intoxicating country that has long attracted writers, poets, artists and dreamers, and convinced countless visitors to stay for good. The narrow labyrinthine streets and walled medinas of ancient imperial cities, the overwhelming bustle of colourful markets, the endless undulating sand dunes and palm-fringed oases of the Sahara, the dramatic peaks and remote kasbahs of the Atlas Mountains, the whitewashed, wind-battered ramparts of Essaouira, the mosques, the beaches, the camels, the Roman ruins, the piles of vibrant spices and Berber carpets… Morocco is endlessly interesting and undeniably photogenic.

    Archaeological evidence found in Sidi Abdel-Rahman places early human ancestors—the hominin species Homo erectus—in Morocco at least 200,000 years ago. What is now the arid Sahara Desert was, at different prehistoric times, a fertile savanna supporting the variety of flora and large herds of mammals that allowed hunter-gatherer communities to develop. Human fossils, rock carvings, stone tools and other artifacts found throughout Morocco and the rest of Africa chart the evolution of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, and describe the region’s prehistory as it transitioned through the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods.

    During the 6th and 5th millennia BC, early Neolithic culture and technology spread throughout North Africa and saw the transition from a sole reliance on hunting and gathering to the domestication of animals (mostly cattle) and a pastoral economy that would dominate well into the classical period. There is evidence that this new pastoral economy and other cultural and technological influences were gradually integrated into the existing Neolithic-of-Caspian culture, rather than superseding it. People continued to hunt to supplement their pastoral activities, and the lack of local metallic ores (other than iron) saw the continuation of stone technology for tools, weapons and everyday objects, with the absence of a Bronze Age as seen elsewhere. The bulk of the prehistoric rock carvings found in the southern foothills of North Africa’s Atlas Mountains are attributed to the Neolithic-of-Caspian tradition, with artworks covering abstract art and decoration, hunting scenes and wild animals. The savanna fauna detailed in the many rock carvings includes elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, giraffes and giant buffalo, in the area that would become the desiccated Sahara Desert after a dramatic climate shift took place approximately 5,000 years ago. North Africa’s increasingly arid climate forced human migration from the Sahara and aided the development of major North African cities and societies, including the great Ancient Egyptian civilization that developed along the fertile Nile River valley.

    The region known by the ancient Arabs as Al-Maghreb— ‘the west’ in Arabic—comprises the Atlas Mountains and the coastal plains of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Moorish Spain (Andalusia) was once part of the Maghreb, and Libya, Mauritania and Western Sahara are now generally considered part of the region. The indigenous peoples known as the Berbers—or Imazighen (singular Amazigh), as they are known in Berber language—can trace their ancestry back to the Paleolithic era and have inhabited the Maghreb countries for over 5,000 years. By the 8th century BC, wealthy Phoenician traders from present-day Lebanon had arrived and begun establishing trade ports along the North African coast, including Carthage in present-day Tunisia, which by the 4th century BC had become one of the richest cities in the Mediterranean. By the 2nd century BC, Romans had destroyed Carthage and begun their occupation of North Africa. During the 1st century AD, the Romans established colonies in present-day Morocco, at Lixus and Volubilis. However, by the 3rd century AD Rome had relinquished control of Morocco to local tribes. Local peoples then withstood encounters with the Vandals and Byzantines, before North Africa was conquered by Arabs in the 7th century AD. The Maghreb became part of the Islamic world, with present-day Morocco as its western-most extremity. The Arab conquest spread the religion of Islam and the Arabic language to the peoples of the Maghreb; however, the indigenous Berbers embraced Islamisation while still maintaining their own cultural identities and traditions. By the late 8th century the first Moroccan state had been established with Fes as its capital, beginning a period of imperial dynasties that would continue until the 19th century.

    In 1830, France occupied neighbouring Algeria and both French and Spanish forces began the process of colonising North Africa. By 1912, the Treaty of Fes had proclaimed Morocco a protectorate of France, with Morocco’s sultan remaining as a nominal leader, thus ending a thousand years of Moroccan independence. Morocco’s time spent as a French protectorate (1912–1956) imparted a strong French influence that lingers today in the country’s culture, architecture and legal/political systems. Morocco gained independence from France in 1956, by which time the French had developed agriculture, industry and communications based on its already-tested colonial model; had established a new administrative capital in the Atlantic coast city of Rabat; and had developed the port of Casablanca into a bustling centre of commerce and culture.

    Post-independence, the sultan established a new government with representation from the country’s indigenous population and Arab Moroccans. With assistance from previous French government ministers the changeover was smooth, until 1959 when the Moroccan government effectively split into two factions, one favouring traditional political values and the other pushing for a shift towards republican-tinged socialism. The 1960s and 70s saw the establishment of a parliament and new constitution, under the rule of King Hassan II. Tensions had been rising due to several years of bad crop harvests and a struggling economy, leading to the 1981 Casablanca riots. Throughout the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, the government was forced to keep a close eye on Islamic extremists and insurgent groups in order to avoid the same violent uprising that had befallen the Algerian government.

    King Hassan II had by the end of the 1990s become the Arab world’s longest surviving monarch, and was responsible for enacting many liberalizing reforms to Morocco’s political and legal systems. Upon Hassan’s death in 1999, his son Muhammad VI succeeded him to the throne. The government’s proposed political and social reforms, especially concerning the position of women, were immediately met with controversy and large public demonstrations from conservative religious groups. But by 2011, public pro-democracy rallies were sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, forcing King Muhammad to commit to further political reforms that lessened royal control and strengthened the role of the government and judiciary.

    Today, Morocco is a stable and relatively liberal country, with a good quality of life for the majority and high political and legal status for women. Morocco’s combination of ancient culture, complex history, and the fusion of indigenous, Islamic and European influences gives the country its unique identity. If a mix of vibrant culture, intriguing history, ancient ruins and walled cities, stunning, stark landscapes and the hospitality of a good-natured people is what you’re after, then Morocco should be top of your travel wish list

  • Muslim 99% (official religion; comprised of Sunni Muslim 99.9%, Shia Muslim <0.1%); Other 1% (including Christian, Jewish and Bahá'í)

    Like the other countries of the Maghreb (Algeria, Tunisia and Libya) that were conquered by Arabs in the 7th century, Morocco has a very strong Islamic base—99% of the country’s population are observant Muslims

    Freedom of religion is protected by Moroccan law, but even so, there are still very few non-Muslims. Islam is the official state religion as proclaimed by the king, and the ruling royal family claims direct ancestral lineage to the prophet Muhammad. Sufism, a mystical/philosophical branch of Islam, has followers within Morocco, but virtually all Moroccans are Sunni Muslim, with less than 0.1% of the Muslim population being Shia Muslim

    As elsewhere in the Muslim world, Moroccans are expected to honor the Five Pillars of Islam; which are 1) Declaration of faith (Shahadah); 2) Prayer (Salat) five times a day; 3) Fasting (Sawm) from sunrise to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan; 4) Giving (Zakat) a portion of income to the poor; and 5) Pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca (in Saudi Arabia) at least once in a lifetime

    Morocco has a large population for its land size, with more than half of people now living in urban areas. The majority of the population lives to the west and north of the Atlas Mountains, with the heart of Berber culture being in the highlands of the Rif and Atlas Mountains

    Rabat is Morocco’s capital and seat of government; Casablanca is its largest city and most important commercial centre; Fes its religious and cultural heart; and Marrakech its major cultural tourist hub. Despite the strong influence of Islam, Morocco is a fairly progressive nation with influence of Western culture and liberalism evident in Morocco’s urban centres

    Islam stresses modesty in behaviour and dress, and as such, both men and women will dress accordingly, with many women wearing a head scarf covering the hair and neck, and loose-fitting attire covering the body from the wrists to the ankles. The Kaftan and the Djelleba are two kinds of long, flowing garment worn by men and women in the Maghreb countries. In major cities, however, you will see many younger people wearing more relaxed attire along with Western fashions

    Generally speaking, in Morocco a woman’s domain is the home and a man’s, the street. Moroccan women usually receive guests and socialise in the home, whereas the street sidewalk café and souk (market/bazaar) are the major social hubs for Moroccan men

    Nearly all Moroccans are Muslim. Religion plays a very important role in the lives of all Moroccans and as guests to this country, we must respect the beliefs and customs and respond sensitively

    Women and men should dress conservatively, especially in the walled cities (medinas) and rural areas. Short pants, sleeveless tops, or any garments that are tight or revealing are unacceptable

    Overt public displays of affection are discouraged

    When entering a mosque always remove your shoes, and women must wear a shawl or scarf over their head

    The holy month of Ramadan is a time of prayer and sacrifice for Muslims, during which people abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset. Travelers visiting Morocco during the month of Ramadan should show respect to locals by not eating, drinking, smoking or kissing in the streets during daylight hours

    People are generally very polite and, as anywhere on your travels, should always be treated with respect and patience

    Ask permission if you wish to photograph people

    The usual rules of modest courtesy apply: dressing modestly, refraining from public displays of affection and showing respect—especially towards the monarchy, elders, religious clergy and the government

    Ras as-Sana is the Muslim New Year, the first day of the new year in the lunar Islamic calendar

    Mouloud celebrates the birth of the Prophet Mohammed

    The holy month of Ramadan is a time of prayer and sacrifice for Muslims, during which people abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset. Travelers visiting Morocco during the month of Ramadan should be aware that some restaurants, shops and other businesses may be closed, and visitors should show respect to locals observing Ramadan by not publicly eating, drinking, smoking or kissing during daylight hours. Ramadan falls in the 9th month of the lunar Islamic calendar

    Eid-al-Fitr is the breaking of the fast at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, a time for celebration. People gather with loved ones to share special feasts, and children generally receive new clothing, small gifts and money from relatives

    Eid-al-Hajj (aka Eid-al-Adha) is another important Islamic holiday, marking the end of the Hajj (Mecca pilgrimage season) and the start of the Feast of the Sacrifice

    Fes hosts the internationally acclaimed World Festival of Sacred Music each year, bringing together the world’s best devotional music and arts performance (May-June)

    Agadir hosts the Timitar Festival, a huge celebration of Berber music and culture with styles ranging from traditional folk to contemporary (June)

    Marrakech hosts the National Festival of Popular Arts, a weeklong celebration of Moroccan arts, music and culture (June/July)

    Essaouira hosts the annual Gnaoua World Music Festival, a four-day celebration of world, jazz, rock and pop music and the culture of Morocco’s Gnawa ethnic group (June)

    Various other festivals are found throughout the year, based on religious observances, local arts, music and culture, and celebrations of the seasonal harvests

    Secular public holidays are New Year’s Day (1 Jan); Independence Manifesto (11 Jan); Labour Day (1 May); Feast of the Throne (30 Jul); Allegiance of Oued Eddahab (14 Aug); Anniversary of the King’s and People’s Revolution (20 Aug); Young People’s Day (celebrating the birth of King Mohammad VI, 21 Aug); Anniversary of the Green March (6 Nov); and Independence Day (18 Nov)

    Total population is 32,521,000 (2012 estimate), growing at a rate of 1.02%

    The median age is 28.1 years; with 26.7% aged 0-14 and 6.3% aged 65+

    Sex ratio is 0.97 males to 1 female

    The urban population is 57% (2011), with average annual rate of urbanisation at 1.62%

    The natural barriers formed by the Sahara Desert and Atlas Mountains have played a huge role in the distribution of Morocco’s human settlements, and have given space for a unique culture to develop over the millennia. Moroccan culture, language and religion is most visibly shaped by Arab, French and indigenous Berber influences

    The vast majority of Morocco’s population is composed of Arabs, indigenous Berbers (Imazighen, singular Amazigh) or people of mixed Arab-Berber ancestry

    Some communities of the Arabic-speaking, Middle Eastern nomadic Bedouin people still herd animals and live traditionally in the Moroccan Sahara

    The balance of the population includes those from neighboring North African countries, European immigrants mostly from Spain and France, a small Jewish population and sub-Saharan Africans who have migrated or whose ancestors were brought to Morocco as slaves and labourers

    Arab-Berber (99%); Other (1%).

  • Djebel Sahro

    Major factors influencing Morocco’s climate are its mountain ranges, desert and coastline.

    Morocco’s prevailing climate is strongly influenced by elevation, with the Rif and High Atlas Mountains experiencing significantly higher precipitation and creating a noticeable rain shadow effect. Snow is common at elevations above 2,000 m (6,500 ft).

    South of the Anti-Atlas Mountains, semiarid conditions give way to the true desert conditions of the Sahara. A hot, dry and dusty wind called the Chergui (or Sharqi) blows across the Sahara each year in late spring or summer, sweeping over the mountains and penetrating the lowlands and even coastal cities. Similar to the Sirocco wind that blows across the Sahara and over northeastern Africa and southern Europe, the powerful Chergui dramatically increases temperatures and can cause extensive damage to crops.

    Coastal and northern Morocco experiences a typical Mediterranean climate of hot dry summers and wet mild winters. Rainfall is low, and gradually decreases moving north to south, although torrential downpours occasionally cause damaging flooding. Coastal breezes from the Mediterranean and Atlantic oceans effects temperatures in the coastal lowlands, resulting in noticeably cooler summers and warmer winters than further inland.

    In Marrakech, average daily temperatures range from a minimum of 5.2°C (41°F) to a maximum of 17.4°C (63°F) in January, to a minimum of 20.1°C (68°F) to a maximum of 37.9°C (100°F) in July.

    In Casablanca, average daily temperatures range from a minimum of 7.2°C (45°F) to a maximum of 17.1°C (63°F) in January, to a minimum of 20.1°C (68°F) to a maximum of 26.2°C (79°F) in July.

    If you are visiting Morocco in December and January it is important to bring warm clothes, and be prepared for a variety of temperatures. Also, not all hotels and restaurants have heating and you’ll often find it’s colder inside than outside.

    On Mt Toubkal, the weather is unpredictable, however is likely to be very cold and windy. It is important that you are prepared.

    The Strait of Gibraltar and Mediterranean Sea to the north; Algeria to the east and south; Western Sahara to the southwest; the North Atlantic Ocean to the west

    446,550 sq km / 172,414 sq mi (58th largest country in the world), divided into 15 administrative regions

    Morocco is ranked 81 out of 178 countries (with an improving trend) on the Environmental Performance Index (2014), which quantifies and benchmarks performance of government environmental policies and outcomes

    Environmental issues include desertification, soil erosion and land degradation caused by overgrazing and farming, sewage contamination of water supplies, reservoir siltation and oil pollution of coastal waters.

    Natural hazards include earthquakes in the geologically unstable northern mountains and periodic droughts

    Morocco is a signatory to various international environmental and conservation agreements

    As with climate, vegetation and wildlife in Morocco’s non-desert areas resembles the Mediterranean. The more humid mountain regions support extensive forests of oak, fir and cedar that are similar to those found on the Iberian Peninsula. Forests of juniper, aleppo pine and conifers are found in the drier mountain areas, and there are extensive forests of cork and eucalyptus trees near the capital of Rabat. Vast forests of Morocco’s native argan trees are found in the highlands south of Essaouira, with the kernel of each argan nut containing a small quantity of rich argan oil, prized worldwide for its many culinary and cosmetic uses

    Vast tracts of the arid interior plains are covered with small trees, shrubs and grasses, and although the desert areas east of the Atlas Mountains are largely free from vegetation, date palms have been heavily cultivated around Saharan oases since having been introduced to North Africa as early as 2,000 BC

    Morocco is, unfortunately, no longer known for a huge diversity of wildlife. In the time of the Romans, the region was home to large game including lions and elephants. Gazelles can still be seen in the southern wilds, wild sheep and foxes in the Atlas region, and the protected Barbary macaque in the forests of the Middle Atlas

    What Morocco lacks in animal diversity, however, it makes up for in birdlife. Visitors can hope to see storks, flamingoes, pelican, egrets, swans, ostriches, boobies, petrels, divers, shearwaters, terns, parrots and falcons

    Morocco is a country of great natural beauty, dominated by desert, mountains and coastline. Most of Morocco lies at relatively high elevation, with the country divided by two major mountain chains: the Rif Mountains to the north, and the Atlas Mountains running southwest-northeast through the centre. Throughout history, the Sahara Desert and Atlas Mountains have provided significant barriers to the movement of people, goods and ideas. The bulk of Morocco’s population lives to the north or west of the Atlas Mountains, which insulate the country from the vast Sahara

    The Sahara is the world’s largest desert (excluding the Arctic and Antarctica), covering almost all of northern Africa. The Sahara’s expanse of undulating sand dunes, ridges and oases is one of Earth’s most iconic images. Several rivers and wadis (ephemeral streams) flow from the Atlas Mountains to irrigate the Moroccan Sahara, in particular, the Draa River. While the Sahara is largely uninhabited by humans, ground water from the Draa River and other sources is crucial in supporting desert flora and fauna

    The Atlas Mountains form the spine of the Maghreb countries, rising in the port of Agadir in Morocco’s southwest and stretching some 2,000 km (1,200 mi) across Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, extending to the Tunisian capital of Tunis. In contrast to the vast sandy expanse of the Sahara, the mountain regions receive sufficient rainfall to make the plains, plateaus and forests of the Atlas a fertile home for the Berber people. Morocco’s western portion of the Atlas Mountains is divided into the Middle Atlas, High Atlas and Anti-Atlas. Morocco’s highest peak, Mount Toubkal (4,167 m / 13,671 ft), is found in the High Atlas—a region that attracts trekkers, hikers, mountaineers and skiers to its fertile valleys, forested slopes and snowcapped peaks

    The Rif Mountains follow the line of the Mediterranean coast from Tangier to near the Moroccan-Algerian border, separating the northern coastal lowlands from central and southern Morocco. The Rif is an extension of the Baetic System that includes southern Spain’s Sierra Nevada. The range has several snowcapped peaks, including its highest point, Mount Tidirhine (2,456 m / 8,059 ft)

    Morocco’s coastline is fairly regular and provides few natural harbours. The presence of rocky offshore reefs and sandbars has historically made marine navigation of the country’s coasts difficult

    The Draa is Morocco’s longest river, and although its upper course is usually dry, the river provides the important riverine oases of Ouarzazate and Zagora

    The Sebou River, Morocco’s largest river by water volume, rises in the Middle Atlas as the Guigou River and flows northward to Fes before turning westward and flowing to the town of Mehdya, where it drains into the Atlantic. The Sebou creates a large alluvial basin that runs in a rough line from Rabat to Fes, including the agriculturally productive Gharb plain region. Another productive region is the alluvial basin formed by the Sous River, fed by headstreams flowing from the High Atlas and sheltered from the Sahara Middle Atlas

    Immediately north of the Moroccan port city of Tangier, the Strait of Gibraltar marks the point where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea, and separates Africa from Europe. Separated by only 14.3 km (8.9 mi) at the strait’s narrowest point, the European mainland can be seen from Tangier on a clear day

    Medina of Fez (1981) Despite not being Morocco’s capital (Rabat) or largest city (Casablanca), the ancient imperial city of Fes was once the capital and has retained its position as the cultural and spiritual heart of the country throughout the centuries. Founded in the late 8th century, the city flourished under the Marinid Dynasty that ruled Morocco during the 13th–15th centuries. The city’s medina is one of the largest car-free public spaces in the world, with its narrow cobblestoned streets configured into labyrinths that were designed to disorient invaders. Within its ancient walls are mosques, palaces, souks, hammams, schools, riads, fortresses and ramparts, and the world’s oldest university. The medina of Fes is today celebrated as one of the Arab world’s best-preserved and most extensive ancient towns.

    Medina of Marrakesh (1985) Founded in 1070 AD, Marrakech was for a long time the centre of Moroccan culture, politics and commerce, and its medina preserves crucial aspects of the country’s human history. Within Marrakech’s medina walls are impressive examples of ancient Moroccan architecture including palaces and grand residences, tombs, monumental ramparts, minarets, walls and gates, the fortified Kasbah, the Ben Youssef madrasa college and the incredible Jamaa el Fna—a market square by day, open-air theatre by night

    Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou (1987) Southern Morocco’s most iconic architectural features are its Ksar—fortified adobe villages set against a dazzling backdrop of the Atlas Mountains and the sandy expanse of the Sahara Desert. Individual residences are grouped together within defensive walls, supported by reinforcing corner towers, with everything built from distinctive earthen adobe. The World Heritage Listed ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou in Ouarzazate province is a prime example of this fortified earthen village that southern Morocco is famous for

    Historic City of Meknes (1996) The city of Meknes is another of the four imperial cities (Fes, Marrakech, Meknes and Rabat); modest compared to nearby Fes, but very worthy of a visit for its rich history and unique urban fabric. Founded in the 11th century, Meknes is famous for its skillful blending of Islamic and European architectural styles. The sultan Moulay Ismail, the notoriously tyrannical founder of the Alawite Dynasty, made Meknes his capital in the 17th century. The sultan was responsible for developing Meknes into a stunning Moorish-style city filled with palaces, mosques and hammams, encircled by high defensive walls fitted with ornate doors.

    Archaeological Site of Volubilis (1997) During the 1st century AD, the Romans established colonies in present-day Morocco, at Lixus and Volubilis. What make the archaeological site of Volubilis so impressive is not just the hallmark remnants of Roman architecture, but the way the site uniquely illustrates the interaction between European, African and Arab culture, at what was one of the Roman Empire’s furthest outposts. Occupied for ten centuries, the 42-hectare site upon which the Romans built Volubilis contains architectural and archaeological evidence spanning from prehistoric times to the arrival of Arabs in the 7th century

    Medina of Tétouan (formerly known as Titawin) (1997) Set into the steep slopes of Mount Dersa, Tétouan is another of Morocco’s ancient towns and is one that was particularly important to the Arab-Muslim world from the 8th century onwards, thanks to its position as the main connection point between Morocco and Andalusia. At the heart of Tétouan is a small medina that is thought to be Morocco’s most complete and least disturbed by later influence. A 5km long historic wall punctuated with seven entry gates surrounds the medina, and the layout of the medina includes mosques, open squares and public buildings, each displaying an obvious Andalusian influence

    Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador) (2001) The charming Atlantic coast town of Essaouira is an extraordinary example of contemporary European military architecture built in a North African context. Built in the late 18th century, the medina of Essaouira was designed by a French architect who was heavily influenced by European military engineering, and the town strongly resembles a European town from the same era. The medina of Essaouira is defined by its distinctive ramparts, bastions and other defensive architecture, with the entire town being enclosed within a defensive wall. Essaouira’s iconic white washed and wind-battered defensive architecture and the town’s trademark relaxed pace make it one of Morocco’s most intriguing destinations

    Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida) (2004) The fortified city of Mazagan was built by the Portuguese in the early 16th century, with its well-preserved fortress standing today as a unique example of Renaissance military design built in an Atlantic North African context. Although the city was rehabilitated in the mid-19th century and renamed El Jadida (“the new”), original structures built by the Portuguese remain, including defensive ramparts and bastions, the cistern, and an outstanding late Gothic-style Catholic church.

    Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City: a Shared Heritage (2012) One of Morocco’s four ancient imperial cities, the Heritage Listed capital of Rabat encompasses the older parts of the city dating back to the 12th century, as well as the ambitious new town constructed by the French during the protectorate era. The oldest parts of Rabat include the Hassan Mosque and defensive ramparts and gates dating to the Almohad Caliphate, but it is the skillful fusion of traditional Arab-Muslim design and modern European city planning that makes Rabat extraordinary.

  • World Youth Adventures can tailor make a school expedition to Morocco to your school’s budget and curriculum requirements.

    Talk to us about your next school expedition, or if you need some ideas check out the trips below.


  • Capital City:  Rabat
    Time zone:  Morocco observes UTC/GMT
    Language:  Arabic (official), Tamazight (official)
    Currency:  Moroccan Dirham
    Highest Mountain:  Mount Toubkal
    Highest Mountain Elevation:  4,167 m / 13,671 ft
    Solid red flag with a green pentagram (five-pointed star) placed in the centre. The pentagram is a stylised representation of the magical Seal of Sulayman (King Solomon), and the five points of the star also symbolise the Five Pillars of Islam. Red and green are traditional colours used in many Arab flags.