The win came after a polished performance by the North African side, one of the pre-tournament favourites but whose only success in the continental championship came 43 years ago.
Youssef En-Nesyri slotted home for the only goal in the first half having been set up by a brilliantly crafted, defence-splitting pass by Nordin Amrabat.
The pair continued to combine and threaten throughout the game and Morocco could have added one or two more to secure a more decisive victory.
A strong counter-attacking run by Morocco fullback Achraf Hakimi almost led to a second goal in the 34th minute as Amrabat played a smart dummy to allow En-Nesyri a shot.
The tall striker from Leganes, however, hit his effort straight at Ivory Coast goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo.
Just before that, a mistake by Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou almost allowed the Ivorians to equalise. He came out to clear but allowed the ball to spill, only for Serey Die to hit the side netting.
Morocco managed to snuff out the danger of Ivorian striker Nicolas Pepe, but found substitute Wilfried Bony a handful to deal with.
Bony’s aerial strength set up two half chances as the Ivorians surprisingly left Wilfried Zaha on the bench.
Pepe, fresh from a goal-filled season in Ligue 1, eventually did get an effort on target with an acrobatic bicycle kick in the last minute but Bounou made a good stop to keep Morocco’s lead intact.
Morocco is the first team through from Group D, which contains three former champions in Morocco, Ivory Coast and South Africa, hence its “group of death” tag. It joins host Egypt, Nigeria and Algeria as the teams to have qualified so far for the last 16.
Renard’s Morocco beat and eliminated Ivory Coast at the 2017 African Cup.
Renard coached Ivory Coast to the 2015 title before moving on to Morocco and the Frenchman is seeking a third title with a third different team having also won with Zambia in 2012.
Morocco probably should have won by two or three goals on the balance of play at Al Salam Stadium in Cairo.