U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: MOROCCO, NOVEMBER 1994
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Official Name: Kingdom of Morocco
Area: 446,550 sq. km. (172,413 sq. mi.); slightly larger
Cities: Capital--Rabat (pop. 1.2 million in urban
prefecture of Rabat-Sale). Other cities--Casablanca (3
million), Marrakech, Fez, Tangier.
Terrain: Coastal plain, mountains, desert. Climate:
Mediterranean, becoming more extreme in the interior.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Moroccan(s).
Population (est.): 28 million.
Annual growth rate (est.): 2.2%.
Ethnic groups: Arab-Berber 99%. Religions: Muslim,
Christian 1%, Jewish 0.2%.
Languages: Arabic (official), several Berber dialects;
French is often the language of business, government, and
Education: Years compulsory--7. Literacy--43%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--53/1,000. Life expectancy--
66 years male, 69 years female.
Work force (7.4 million): Agriculture--50%. Services--26%.
Type: Constitutional monarchy.
Constitution: September 1992.
Independence: March 2, 1956.
Branches: Executive--king (chief of state), prime minister
(head of government). Legislative--unicameral legislature
(6-yr. term). Judicial--Supreme Court.
Political parties: Socialist Union of Popular Forces
(USFP), Istiqlal (independence) Party (PI), Popular Movement
(MP), National Popular Movement (MNP), National Rally of
Independents (RNI), Constitutional Union Party (UC),
National Democratic Party (PND), Party of Progress and
Socialism (PPS), Organization for Democratic and Popular
Suffrage: Universal over 20.
GDP (1992): $27.7 billion.
Per capita GDP: $1,030.
Natural resources: Phosphates, fish, manganese, lead,
Agriculture (18% of GDP): Products--barley, wheat, citrus
fruits, wine, vegetables, olives, livestock, fishing.
Industry (34% of GDP): Types--phosphate mining,
manufacturing and handicrafts, construction and public
Trade (1992): Exports--$4.7 billion: food and beverages
28%, semiprocessed goods 25%, consumer goods 26%, phosphates
8%. Major markets--EU 62%, India 7%, Japan 5%, U.S. 2%.
Imports--$7.6 billion: capital goods 27%, semiprocessed
goods 16%, raw materials 12%, fuel and lubricants 15%, food
and beverages 13%, consumer goods 9%. Major suppliers--EU
54%, U.S. 6%, Canada 3%, Japan 2%.
Official exchange rate (October 1994): 8.6 Dirham
Most Moroccans are Sunni Muslims of Arab, Berber, or mixed
Arab-Berber stock. The Arabs invaded Morocco in the 7th and
11th centuries and established their culture there.
Morocco's Jewish minority numbers about 7,000. Most of the
100,000 foreign residents are French or Spanish; many are
teachers or technicians.
Arabic is the official and principal language, but French is
widely used in government and commerce, except in the
northern zone, where Spanish is spoken. In rural areas, any
of three Berber dialects--which are not mutually
Most people live west of the Atlas Mountains, a range which
insulates the country from the Sahara Desert. Casa-blanca
is the center of commerce and industry and the leading port;
Rabat is the seat of government; Tangier is the gateway to
Morocco from Spain and also a major port; "Arab" Fez is the
cultural and religious center; and "Berber" Marrakech is a
major tourist center.
Education is free and compulsory through primary school.
Education now surpasses national defense as the largest item
in the government's budget. Of Morocco's several
universities, the most important is Muhammad V University in
Rabat. Its students study medicine, law, liberal arts, and
the sciences. Most university students benefit from
government stipends. In Fez, Morocco's religious capital,
students from around the world study Islamic law and
theology at Karaouine University, which is more than 1,000
Morocco's strategic location has shaped its history.
Beginning with the Phoenicians, many foreigners have come to
this area, some to trade or settle, others as invaders
sweeping the land and dominating it. Romans, Vandals,
Visigoths, and Byzantine Greeks successively ruled the area.
Arab forces began occupying Morocco in the seventh century
A.D., bringing with them Arab civilization and Islam. Other
invasions followed. The Alaouite dynasty, which has ruled
Morocco since 1649, claims descent from the Prophet
Morocco's location and resources led to early competition
among European powers in Africa, beginning with successful
Portu-guese efforts to control the Atlantic coast in the
15th century. France showed a strong interest in Morocco as
early as 1830. Following recognition by the United Kingdom
in 1904 of France's "sphere of influence" in Morocco, the
Algeciras Conference (1906) formalized France's "special
position" and entrusted policing of Morocco to France and
Spain jointly. The Treaty of Fez (1912) made Morocco a
protectorate of France. By the same treaty, Spain assumed
the role of protecting power over the northern and southern
The first nationalist political parties based their
arguments for Moroccan independence on such World War II
declarations as the Atlantic Charter (a joint statement
issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister
Winston Churchill that sets forth, among other things, the
right of all people to choose the form of government under
which they will live). A manifesto of the Istiqlal
(Independence) Party in 1944 was one of the earliest public
demands for independence. That party subsequently provided
most of the leadership for the nationalist movement.
France's exile of the highly respected Sultan Muhammad V in
1953 and his replacement by the unpopular Muhammad Ben
Aarafa, whose reign was perceived as illegitimate, sparked
active opposition to the French protectorate. France
allowed Muhammad V to return in 1955; negotiations leading
to independence began the following year.
The Kingdom of Morocco recovered its political independence
from France on March 2, 1956. By agreements with Spain in
1956 and 1958, Moroccan control over certain Spanish-ruled
areas was restored (see box, p. 2). On October 29, 1956,
the signing of the Tangier Protocol politically reintegrated
the former international zone. Spain, however, retained
control over the small enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in the
north and the enclave of Ifni in the south. Ifni became
part of Morocco in 1969.
After the death of his father, Muhammad V, King Hassan II
succeeded to the throne on March 3, 1961. He recognized the
Royal Charter proclaimed by his father on May 8, 1958, which
outlined steps toward establishing a constitutional
A constitution providing for representative government under
a strong monarchy was approved by referendum on December 7,
1962. Elections were held in 1963. In June 1965, following
student riots and civil unrest, the king invoked article 35
of the constitution and declared a "state of exception." He
assumed all legislative and executive powers and named a new
government not based on political parties. In July 1970,
King Hassan submitted to referendum a new constitution
providing for an even stronger monarchy. Its approval and
the subsequent elections formally ended the 1965 "state of
An unsuccessful coup on July 10, 1971, organized by senior
military officers at Skhirat, was followed by Morocco's
third constitution, approved by popular referendum in early
1972. The new constitution kept King Hassan's powers
intact but enlarged from one-third to two-thirds the number
of directly elected parliamentary representatives.
In August 1972, after a second coup attempt by Moroccan Air
Force dissidents and the King's powerful Interior Minister
General Oufkir, relations between the opposition and the
Crown deteriorated, due to disagreement on opposition
participation in elections. The king subsequently appointed
a series of nonpolitical cabinets responsible only to him.
Stemming from cooperation on the Sahara issue (see box),
rapprochement between the king and the opposition began in
mid-1974 and led to elections for local councils, with
opposition party participation, in November 1976.
Parliamentary elections, deferred because of tensions with
Spain and Algeria over the Sahara dispute, were held in
1977, resulting in a two-thirds majority for the government-
backed independent candidates and their allies, the Istiqlal
and the Popular Movement. The Constitutional Union finished
first in local elections in June 1983 and parliamentary
elections in 1984.
The King is head of state, and his son, the Crown Prince, is
heir apparent. Under the 1992 constitution, a prime
minister appointed by the King is head of government. Of
the 333-seat unicameral parliament, two-thirds of the
members are chosen directly by universal adult suffrage; the
remaining one-third is indirectly elected by community
councils and business, labor, artisan, and farmer groups.
The parliament's powers, though limited, were expanded by
the 1992 constitution and include budgetary matters,
approving bills presented by the King and establishing ad
hoc commissions of inquiry to investigate actions by the
The highest court in the independent judicial structure is
the Supreme Court, the judges of which are appointed by the
King. Each province is headed by a governor appointed by
the King. Morocco has divided the former Spanish Sahara
into four provinces (see box).
Principal Government Officials
Chief of State--King Hassan II
Prime Minister--Abdellatif Filali
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation--
Ambassador to the United States--Mohamed Benaissa
Ambassador to the United Nations--Ahmed Senoussi
Morocco maintains an embassy in the United States at 1601
21st Street NW., Washington, D.C. 20009 (tel. 202-462-7979).
The pro-government RNI and UC parties won the largest number
of seats in local elections in 1992. In 1993,
parliamentary elections gave 50% of the vote to the six
parties of the previous governing coalition but the two
largest opposition parties, the Istiqlal and USFP, which ran
common candidates, received the highest individual party
vote totals. Together they took 41% of the seats contested
(four smaller parties and independents won the remainder).
These elections demonstrated a significant increase in the
opposition's representation. The expansion of parliament's
authority under the September 1992 constitution was another
indicator of Morocco's political liberalization.
The most prominent political parties are:
-- The Istiqlal (PI), Morocco's oldest political party, was
founded in 1944 and helped lead the fight for independence
from French and Spanish colonial domination. The party
retains its strongly nationalistic philosophy and also is
among the most active on pan-Arab issues.
-- The Union of Socialist Popular Forces (USFP),
established in 1974, is to the left of the Istiqlal, and its
leaders present it as being in the tradition of the social
democratic parties in Europe. It is strong in urban
centers, among organized labor, and among youth groups.
-- The Berber-based Popular Movement (MP) and breakaway
National Popular Movement (MNP) have as their main issue the
promotion and protection of Berber culture and interests.
-- The National Rally of Independents (RNI) was founded in
1977 by then Prime Minister Ahmed Osman, who continues to
lead the party.
-- The Center Right Constitutional Union Party (UC), was
founded in April 1983. Its president is former Prime
Minister Maati Bouabid.
-- The National Democratic Party (PND) was formed in 1981
when it broke off from the RNI. Led by former cabinet
member Arsalane El Jadidi, it is principally rural based.
-- The Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS) is the latest
label for the small Moroccan communist party. Although
tolerated, the party has been officially illegal at various
times since its founding in 1943, the latest from 1969 to
late 1974. The party bases its main support in urban areas
and among younger, disaffected elements of society, and is
led by Secretary General Ali Yata.
-- The Organization for Democratic and Popular Action
(OADP), has traditionally adopted strongly leftist positions
on most domestic issues. However, like all the other
Moroccan parties, it strongly sup-ports Morocco's claim of
sovereignty over the Western Sahara. Party Secretary
General Mohammed Ben Said leads the formation.
The Moroccan economy is becoming increasingly diversified.
Morocco has the largest phosphate reserves in the world.
Other mineral resources include copper, fluorine, lead,
barite, iron, and anthracite. It has a diverse agricultural
(including fishing) sector, a large tourist industry, a
growing manufacturing sector (especially clothing), and
considerable inflows of funds from Moroccans working abroad.
The export of phosphates and its derivatives account for
more than a quarter of Moroccan exports. Morocco is
increasing production of phosphoric acid and fertilizers.
About one-third of the Moroccan manufacturing sector is
related to phosphates and one-third to agriculture with
virtually all of the remaining third divided between
textiles, clothing, and metalworking. The clothing sector,
in particular, has shown consistently strong growth over the
last few years as foreign companies established large-scale
operations geared toward exporting garments to Europe.
Agriculture plays a leading role in the Moroccan economy,
generating between 15 and 20% of GDP (depending on the
harvest) and employing about 40% of the work force. Morocco
is a net exporter of fruits and vegetables, and a net
importer of cereals; over 90% of agriculture is rain-fed.
Fishing is also important to Morocco, employing more than
100,000 people, including the canning and packing
industries, and accounting for $520 million of exports in
The Moroccan Government has pursued an economic reform
program supported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
and the World Bank since the early 1980s. It has restrained
spending, revised the tax system, reformed the banking
system, followed appropriate monetary policies, lifted
import restrictions, lowered tariffs, and liberalized the
foreign exchange regime. Over the last decade, the reforms
have contributed to rising per capita incomes, lower
inflation, and narrower fiscal and current account deficits.
Nonetheless, population growth, rural-urban migration, and
higher labor force participation rates (particularly among
women) are contributing to rising urban unemployment, in
spite of generally strong economic growth and job creation.
The rapid increase in secondary and university (but not
primary) enrollments in the 1980s exceeded the economy's
capacity to create jobs, resulting in rising unemployment
rates for graduates, which are about 33% for high school
graduates and 11% for university graduates.
As part of its IMF program, the Moroccan Government has
reduced its budget deficit. The central bank operates as an
independent entity, and, following economic reform measures,
has been remarkably successful in restoring domestic and
international confidence in the value of the kingdom's
currency. The government has made the dirham convertible
for an increasing number of transactions over the last few
years. The central bank sets the exchange rate for the
dirham against a basket of currencies of its principal
trading partners. The rate against the basket has been
steady since a 9% devaluation in May 1990, with changes
against the dollar being due to movement of the dollar
against major European currencies.
The Moroccan Government actively encourages foreign
investment. It has opened virtually all sectors (other than
those reserved for the state such as air transport and
public utilities) to foreign investment. The government
also has made a number of regulatory changes designed to
improve the investment climate in recent years, including
tax breaks, streamlined approval procedures, and access to
foreign exchange for the repatriation of dividends and
Since Morocco attained independence, its foreign policy has
been sympathetic to the West. Long-term goals are to
strengthen its influence in the Arab world and Africa and to
maintain its close relations with Europe and the United
States. It is a member of the UN and some of its
specialized and related agencies, including the
International Monetary Fund (IMF). Morocco served a two-
year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security
Council from January 1992 to December 1993. It also belongs
to the Arab League; Arab Maghreb Union (UMA); Organization
of the Islamic Conference (OIC); INTELSAT; and Non-Aligned
The major issue in Morocco's foreign relations is its claim
to the Western Sahara relinquished by Spain in 1976. This
has involved the country in a costly war against the
Polisario forces seeking creation of an independent Saharan
Republic. Since September 1991, Moroccan and Polisario
forces have observed
a cease-fire, established under the UN Secretary General's
plan to hold a referendum in the Western Sahara in order to
resolve the dispute. No date has been set for holding the
referendum because of differences between the two parties
over voter eligibility, although identification of potential
voters by the UN has begun. The U.S. Government fully
supports the efforts of the UN Secretary General to work
with the parties to overcome these differences.
In 1984, Morocco signed a Treaty of Union with Libya,
primarily aimed at ensuring a cessation of Libyan support
for the Polisario. This disturbed some of Morocco's
traditional friends, including the United States. Morocco
described the union as a limited tactical alliance, and the
King terminated the agreement in mid-1986.
Morocco adheres to sanctions imposed by the UN Security
Council on Libya in April 1992 in the wake of the Pan Am 103
bombing. Relations between Morocco and Algeria have
improved in recent years, as reflected in the 1988
resumption of diplomatic relations and in King Hassan's 1992
ratification of the long-pending border agreement with
Morocco continues to play a significant role in the search
for peace in the Middle East, participating in the
multilateral phase of the peace talks and urging Arab
moderation in the bilateral phase. King Hassan is Acting
Chairman of the Arab League until the next regular Arab
League Summit and Chairman of the Organization of the
Islamic Conference's (OIC) Jerusalem committee. In 1986, he
took the daring step of inviting then-Israeli Prime Minister
Peres for talks, becoming the second Arab leader to do so.
Following the September 1993 signing of the Israeli-
Palestinian Declaration of Principles, Morocco's economic
ties and political contacts with Israel accelerated. In
September 1994, Morocco and Israel announced the opening of
liaison offices in each other's countries.
Morocco has expanded its regional role. In May 1989, the
King hosted the Casablanca summit which reintegrated Egypt
into the Arab fold and endorsed a moderate Palestinian
approach to the peace process. In February 1989, Morocco
played a leading role in the formation of the Arab Maghreb
Union (UMA) made up of Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania,
and Morocco. The UMA's formation owed much to the May 1988
restoration of diplomatic relations between Morocco and
Algeria after a 13-year hiatus.
Morocco has close relations with Saudi Arabia and the
Persian Gulf states, which have provided Morocco with
substantial amounts of financial assistance. Morocco was
the first Arab state to condemn Iraq's invasion of Kuwait
and sent troops to help defend Saudi Arabia. Morocco
the UN Security Council-imposed sanctions on Iraq. Morocco
remains active in African affairs, contributing troops to
the UN peace-keeping force in Somalia in 1992. The
Moroccans have worked to promote reconciliation between the
Angolan Government and UNITA.
Moroccans are proud to have recognized the Government of the
United States in 1777. Formal U.S. relations with Morocco
date from 1787, when the two nations negotiated a Treaty of
Peace and Friendship. Renegotiated in 1836, it is still in
force, constituting the longest unbroken treaty relationship
in U.S. history.
U.S.-Moroccan relations are characterized by mutual respect
and friendship. They were strengthened by King Hassan's
visits to the United States in March 1963, February 1967,
November 1978, and May and October 1982, and September 1991.
The U.S. and Morocco share key foreign policy objectives,
such as promoting regional peace and development. Morocco's
strategic location on the Strait of Gibraltar, its moderate
and constructive positions on Middle East issues, its
religious tolerance, and its past opposition to communist
aggression are factors contributing to harmonious bilateral
U.S. objectives include maintaining cordial and cooperative
relations; promoting respect for human rights and continued-
democratization; supporting Moroccan efforts to develop an
increasingly effective administration; and aiding its
domestic, social, and economic progress.
In addition to U.S. Navy port visits, Morocco has granted
rights of transit through its airfields for U.S. forces and
conducts joint exercises with various U.S. Armed Forces.
The recently completed $225-million Voice of America (VOA)
transmitter in Morocco will be the world's largest VOA
Since independence, more than $1.5 billion in U.S. grants
and loans has been provided to Morocco. Total U.S. economic
and military assistance (foreign military funds, economic
support funds, development assistance, and PL 480 loans) to
Morocco has averaged around $100 million annually. The
assistance programs are aimed at increasing the food supply,
improving food distribution, reducing population growth,
improving health care, promoting the private sector, and
assisting Morocco in meeting its legitimate defense needs.
The Peace Corps has been active in Morocco for more than 30
years, and its program is among the largest in the world,
with 100-140 volunteers in 1994. Peace Corps volunteers are
involved in English language instruction, medical and
veterinary care, sanitation, and environmental education.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Marc C. Ginsberg
Deputy Chief of Mission--Gary Usrey
Director, AID Mission--Michael Farbman
Public Affairs Officer--Richard Peterson
Consul General, Casablanca--Anne O. Cary
The U.S. embassy in Morocco is located at 2 Avenue de
Marrakech, Rabat (tel. 212 (7) 76-22-65.
The Western Sahara, scene of a decade-long conflict between
the Polisario and Morocco, comprises 267,028 square
kilometers (102,703 sq. mi.)--an area about the size of
Colorado--of wasteland and desert, bordered on the north by
Morocco, on the west by the Atlantic Ocean, on the east and
south by Mauritania, and for a few kilometers on the east by
Algeria. From 1904 until 1975, Spain occupied the entire
territory, which is divided into a northern portion, the
Saguia el Hamra, and the southern two-thirds, known as Rio
de Oro. Calls for the decolonization of these territories
began in the 1960s, first from the surrounding nations and
then from the United Nations.
The discovery of phosphates in Bou Craa in the Saguia el
Hamra heightened demands for Spanish withdrawal from the
territory. Morocco's occupation after Spain's 1975
withdrawal led to long-term armed conflict between Morocco
and the Polisario, an independence movement based in the
region of Tindouf, Algeria.
Morocco's claim to sovereignty over the Western Sahara is
based largely on the historical argument of traditional
loyalty of the Saharan tribal leaders to the Moroccan sultan
as spiritual leader and ruler. The International Court of
Justice, to which the issue was referred, delivered its
opinion in 1975 that while historical ties exist between the
inhabitants of the Western Sahara and Morocco, they are
insufficient to establish Moroccan sovereignty.
The Polisario claims to represent the aspirations of the
Western Saharan inhabitants for independence. Algeria
claims none of the territory for itself but maintains that a
popular referendum on self-determination should determine
the territory's future status. In 1969, the Polisario Front
(Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and
Rio de Oro) was formed to combat Spanish colonization.
After the Spanish left and the Moroccans and, initially, the
Mauritanians moved in, the Polisario turned its guerrilla
operations against them.
In November 1975, 350,000 unarmed Moroccan citizens staged
what came to be called the "Green March" into the Western
Sahara. The march was designed to both demonstrate and
strengthen Moroccan claims to the territory. On November 9,
1975, King Hassan requested that the marchers withdraw. On
November 14, Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania announced a
tripartite agreement for an interim administration under
which Spain agreed to share administrative authority with
Morocco and Mauritania, leaving aside the question of
sovereignty. With the establishment of a Moroccan and
Mauritanian presence throughout the territory, however,
Spain's role in the administration of the Western Sahara
ceased altogether. Mauritania withdrew from the territory
in 1978 after several defeats by the Polisario.
Mauritania signed a peace treaty with the Polisario in
Algiers in 1979 renouncing all claims and vacating the
territory. Thereupon, Moroccan troops occupied the vacated
region, and tribal leaders pledged allegiance to King
Hassan. Later, local elections and the election of
representatives to the National Assembly took place and
Morocco proclaimed the area reintegrated into Morocco. It
has since built fortifications that control about three-
fourths of the Western Sahara and protect the economic and
population centers, including the phosphate mine at Bou
At the Organization of African Unity (OAU) summit in June
1981, King Hassan announced his willingness to hold a
referendum in the Western Sahara. He took this decision, he
explained, in deference to African and other leaders who had
urged him to permit a referendum as the accepted way to
settle such issues. Subsequent meetings of an OAU
Implementation Committee proposed a cease-fire, a UN peace-
keeping force, and an interim administration to assist with
an OAU-UN-supervised referendum on the issue of independence
Domestically, King Hassan's agreement in 1981 to hold a
referendum evoked criticism from Morocco's socialist party
(USFP), leading to the arrest and conviction at that time of
USFP leaders for actions considered detrimental to national
security and public order.
In 1984, the OAU seated a delegation of the Sahara
Democratic Arab Republic (SDAR), the shadow government of
the Polisario; consequently, Morocco withdrew from the OAU.
In late August 1988, Moroccan and Polisario representatives,
meeting separately with UN officials, agreed on a peace plan
proposed by UN Secretary General Perez de Cuellar. A UN-
brokered cease-fire and project for a referendum went into
effect on September 6, 1991, between Morocco and the
Polisario. The referendum, which aims at determining
whether the region will choose integration with Morocco or
independence, was originally scheduled for 1992 but has yet
to be held because of differences between the two parties
regarding the details of implementation.
The United States has consistently supported efforts to end
the war through negotiations between the concerned parties
leading to a cease-fire and referendum. While recognizing
Morocco's administrative control of the Western Sahara, the
United States has not endorsed Morocco's claims of
sovereignty there. It is the U.S. position that a political
solution to the Western Sahara should take into account the
views of its inhabitants. (###)
Climate and clothing: Morocco has wide daily variations in
temperature. The coastal climate, though temperate, is
damp. Wear clothing suitable for the eastern U.S.
Customs and currency: Passports are required. U.S. tourists
do not need visas for visits of 3 months or less. Dirhams
may not be imported or exported. All currency or travelers
checks must be declared upon entry.
Health: Although not meeting U.S. standards, public health
is improving steadily. Eat prepared fruits and vegetables
and drink bottled water, which is widely available, when
traveling outside the main cities.
Telecommunications: Local and international telephone and
telegraph service is available. A working knowledge of
French or Arabic is essential. Morocco is on Greenwich mean
time (five standard time zones ahead of eastern standard
time); and remains on GMT throughout the year.
Transportation: Direct flights are available from New York.
Adequate public transportation by air, rail, and bus is
available to and from principal cities. The highway system
is good, and directions are clearly marked.
Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau
of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication --
Washington, DC -- 20520. Managing Editor: Peter Knecht
Department of State Publication 7954
Background Notes Series --This material is in the public
domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of
this source is appreciated.
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, US Government
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.
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