Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Morocco: Address Unfair Convictions in Mass Terror

This is not meant to be a pick on the Moroccan government blog, but there are some serious issues that need to be addressed. Here is a Reuters Alert written by Human Rights Watch about the Unfair Convictions of non-violent people being accused of terrorism in Morocco. Keep Hope Alive!

Morocco: Address Unfair Convictions in Mass Terror Trial
29 Dec 2009 17:13:02 GMT

Source: Human Rights Watch

(New York) - The Moroccan court currently hearing the appeal of 35 people convicted on terrorism-related charges should address allegations that confessions were falsified or obtained through torture and other violations of their right to a fair trial, Human Rights Watch and Adala, a Moroccan organization working for judicial independence, said today.
The defendants include a television journalist and five senior members of political parties that profess their commitment to nonviolence and democracy, among them two party presidents. These men came to be known as the six "political" detainees in the case.
Interior Minister Chekib Benmoussa announced the arrests with much fanfare in a televised news conference on February 20, 2008. The case attracted immediate interest because it was the first time Morocco had accused leaders of moderate Islamist parties of links to terrorism. The 35 were accused of plotting attacks to destabilize the state. The alleged ringleader is Abdelkader Belliraj, a 52-year-old Moroccan-born resident of Belgium with dual nationality.
"King Mohamed VI gave a major speech on August 20 in favor of judicial reform, urging what he called ‘consolidating the guarantees of judicial independence,'" said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch. "The Belliraj trial is a major test of whether the courts have gotten the message."
On July 28, 2009, a Rabat court convicted all 35 defendants of forming a terrorist group, plotting attacks, and committing robberies and other crimes to finance their operations. The sentences ranged from suspended prison sentences to life in prison. The formal charges, some from the penal code and others from the 2003 anti-terrorism law (Law 03-03 of May 29, 2003), included "harming the interior security of the state," "forming an armed group to attack public property," "forming a criminal group to perpetrate terrorist attacks," possession of illegal arms and explosives, forging documents, and laundering money.

Mostapha Mouâtassim, president of al-Badil al-Hadhari (the Civilized Alternative) party and the best known of the accused, told the press that the implication of the six political figures, none of whom has a prior criminal record, was a ploy by those in power to destroy or undermine the political parties whose members were implicated. On February 20, 2008, two days after Mouâtassim's arrest, Prime Minister Abbas al-Fassi outlawed al-Badil al-Hadhari, a moderate Islamist party that had participated in the 2007 legislative elections.
The affair also aroused attention because the charge sheet attributed so few concrete acts to what the interior minister had described as a major, well-funded terrorist network with links to al Qaeda. The alleged acts were limited to one assassination attempt in 1996, a couple of armed robberies, and several vehicle thefts - all before 2001. At the trial, the defendants vigorously disputed the evidence, which largely consisted of their purported confessions to crimes allegedly committed years earlier. Many said the statements had been falsified or obtained under torture.
A collective of families of the six "political" defendants echoed Mouâtassim's view that the authorities had falsely implicated the men for political reasons. Saâd eddine Al-Othmani, then-secretary-general of the Justice and Development Party, the most prominent of the implicated parties, said the "political" defendants were "all known for moderation, rejection of violence and extremism, and for working within the framework of institutions and established national principles." He added, "We are sure that there is some sort of an error...and we hope it will be corrected."
The other 28 co-accused included 26 relatively little known men from various cities in Morocco, and two Moroccans who resided in Belgium. The defendants have all been in detention now for nearly two years, except for two facing lighter charges to whom the court granted provisional liberty.
"There is a need to examine violations of the defendants' rights in the original trial and to ensure that justice is delivered for each of them," Whitson said. "Evidence obtained through abusive methods should be rejected."
Background on the Trial and the Appeal
The political defendants are:

* Mostapha Mouâtassim, president of al-Badil al-Hadhari;
* Mohamed Amine Regala, deputy chief of al-Badil al-Hadhari;
* Mohamed Merouani, president of al-Oumma party, a moderate Islamist party that had applied for but not received legal status;
* Al-Abadelah Maelainin, a member of the national council of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), an Islamist party that holds more seats in the chamber of deputies than all but one other party;
* Hamid Nejibi, a member of the national council of the Unified Socialist Party (PSU); and
* Abdelhafidh Sriti, a journalist with al-Manar television, the network belonging to the Lebanese Hezbollah movement.

On the basis of a confession that Belliraj later said he was tortured into signing, the Rabat court sentenced him to life in prison not only for his role in the terror network he allegedly co-founded in 1992, but also for committing six politically motivated murders in Belgium in the late 1980s. Belgian authorities had never charged Belliraj with these crimes, although they had questioned him a number of times over the years.
The court of first instance sentenced five of the "political" defendants to prison terms of between 20 and 25 years and the sixth, Nejibi, to a two-year term.
The appeals hearing began on October 26 before the appeals division of the Rabat Court of Appeals. Under Moroccan law, the appeals court is empowered to review issues of both procedure and fact in the case before it and can overturn verdicts or modify the sentences imposed by lower courts.
Human Rights Watch and Adala observed several sessions of the trial in first instance, which began in October 2008. To the knowledge of both these groups, domestic and international observers encountered no obstacles to attending the proceedings.
On September 19, 2009, Human Rights Watch and Adala jointly wrote to Justice Minister Abdelouahab Radi expressing concern about procedural irregularities that appeared to compromise the right of the defendants to a fair trial. Moroccan authorities did not respond.
Human Rights Watch and Adala have examined the court's 603-page judgment, made public in late September, and concluded that it does not allay the concerns expressed in the letter.

Concerns About the Court Proceedings
In a case that rests mainly on statements the defendants supposedly made to the police (les procès verbaux devant la police judiciaire), the court made no effort to determine whether those statements had been illegally coerced, despite many defendants' contentions that their statements either were falsified or were made under torture.
Defense lawyers told Human Rights Watch that the defense had raised the allegations of torture at various stages of the proceedings, both orally and in written memorandums they submitted to the court. The court in its written judgment acknowledged that some of the defendants had told the investigating judge of being tortured but said they had not formally asked the investigating judge to initiate inquiries or medical examinations to determine whether the defendants had indeed been tortured.
All of the defendants repudiated their police statements during the trial, most alleging that they had been tortured or their statements falsified. According to the written judgment, approximately two-thirds of them had already done so when they appeared before Investigating Judge Abdelkader Chentouf, many explaining to the judge that they had made or signed the statements under torture or duress.
Several defendants petitioned the investigating judge or the trial court, or both, to order an investigation into their claims of torture, including medical examinations, to verify those claims. When the investigating judge refused to act on their requests to investigate, the defense appealed, only to have an appeals chamber uphold the investigating judge's refusal. The trial court, with Judge Abdelaziz Benchekroun presiding, declined requests to revisit this decision.
One key piece of evidence at the trial was the detailed statement of Belliraj himself to the police, which directly implicated the six "political" defendants, among others. Belliraj initially confirmed his police statement to the investigating judge, Chentouf, but later repudiated it, saying that his interrogators had tortured him into signing a "confession" containing false declarations that he had not made.
At trial - as the written judgment notes - Belliraj proclaimed his innocence and explained that he had initially confirmed his statement before Chentouf because one of his torturers was present in the judge's chambers. The defense asked Judge Benchekroun to summon the investigating judge to answer questions about that hearing, but Benchekroun declined to do so. The court ordered no inquiry into Belliraj's allegation that the police had abducted him, held him incommunicado for one month, and tortured him, or into the allegations of torture raised by other defendants, both before the investigating and trial judges.
The court convicted Belliraj on charges related to both the terror network and the killings in Belgium based on his statement to the police. The court also used Belliraj's statement to the police as evidence against the other defendants, including the six "political" defendants.
The court has a duty to diligently examine allegations of torture whenever the defense raises them in the course of the trial, both to determine the admissibility of the central evidence in the case and to respond to allegations that officials had committed acts of torture, a crime punishable under Moroccan law.
Morocco's duty under international law is very clear - any evidence obtained by torture cannot be used. Moroccan law also affirms this duty, in article 293 of the Code of Penal Procedure (CPP), which states that "no statement obtained through violence or coercion shall be admitted into evidence." The CPP also states that if a defendant or his lawyer requests a medical examination, the investigating judge cannot refuse without providing a reason (article 88(4)). Torture, moreover, is a crime under Moroccan law; a complaint of torture constitutes evidence of a possible crime that neither the investigating judge nor the trial judge can presume to be unfounded. The court must investigate.
The fairness of the trial was fundamentally compromised by the court's failure to investigate the torture allegations before it admitted into evidence the contested police statements that formed the backbone of the prosecution's case, Human Rights Watch and Adala said.
In an effort to call into question the voluntariness of the statements obtained by the police, defense lawyer Abderrahim Jamaï pointed at trial to what he said was a suspicious consistency in the style and substance of those statements, given the widely diverse backgrounds of the defendants. The court was also reminded that two of the defendants residing abroad and a third whose native tongue is Amazigh (Berber) had signed their police statements even though they cannot read standard Arabic and needed interpreters in court in order to follow the proceedings.
Concerns About Arrest Dates and Pre-Charge Detention

Several defendants alleged to the court that the security services had arrested them well before the dates in the police log and held them as long as a month, well beyond the 12-day time limit that Moroccan law places on garde-Ã -vue, or pre-charge, detention in terrorism cases. During that time, relatives of the defendants said, authorities refused to disclose to the families the whereabouts of the defendants, in violation of Moroccan law.
The defendants said it was during this period of prolonged incommunicado detention that police obtained from them the statements used to convict them. Among these defendants are Belliraj, who says he was held for a month in secret detention after being abducted on a street in Marrakesh; Ahmed Khouchiâ of Kenitra, who said he was held incommunicado for three weeks, and Mokhtar Lokman of Salé, who said he was held incommunicado for two-and-a-half weeks. The court sentenced Khouchiâ to eight years in prison and Lokman to 15.
Concerns about Refusal to Allow Defense Lawyers to Photocopy Case Files
Chentouf refused to allow the lawyers to photocopy the case files before he questioned the defendants. He justified this by referring to the code of penal procedure's article 139, which provides that the court shall make the case files available to the defense but does not specify a right to photocopy them. However, the nearly universal practice in Morocco is for investigating judges to permit lawyers to copy the files promptly. In this complex trial, it was particularly important to the preparation of the defense for the lawyers to bring the jailed defendants the case files so they could review the statements attributed by the police to themselves and to their many co-defendants. Moreover, it would have been burdensome for the lawyers to have to travel repeatedly to the office of the investigative judge in order to be able to see the contents of an enormous file, especially with a large number of lawyers working on the file who could not all peruse it at the same time.
Article 14(3)(b) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees that in the determination of any criminal charge, any accused shall be entitled "to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing."
In protest, some defendants refused to submit to questioning by the investigating judge until they could view the case files. The judge responded by conveying to the trial court those defendants' police statements "as is," as if the defendants had not contested them.
Chentouf's prohibition on photocopying the case files became even more contentious when the six "political" defendants finally saw their police statements once the investigative phase ended and declared that their statements had been falsified. Each said that while in police custody, after each had read and signed multi-page statement, the police presented him with a stack of what the police said were photocopies of his statement. Each of the six said he then signed all of the "photocopies" without reading each one - only to discover later that the version that ended up in the case file differed in content from the original in ways that made it more incriminating than the original and more consistent with the statements of co-defendants.
In its written judgment, the court said it saw no reason to doubt the authenticity of the statements by the six that were in the case files. Moreover, the court said, there was already sufficient and consistent incriminating evidence against them in the police statements made by the other defendants, notably those who had subsequently confirmed their statements before the investigating judge.
Concerns about Display of Seized Weapons
The principal evidence against the defendants, beyond their police statements, were two caches of arms allegedly found by police in the Nador and Casablanca regions, which the police statements of some of the defendants linked to them. Belliraj in his police statement spoke of the weapons but before the investigating judge said that they had been intended for sale or delivery to Islamist militants in Algeria and not for use in Morocco. Then at trial, like all of the defendants, he denied having any links to these weapons.
Several defense lawyers said that in the session of the trial devoted to the physical evidence, the weapons were not unsealed in the presence of the defendants, as required by Morocco's code of penal procedure, but displayed on a table, already unsealed. The representative of the prosecutor's office acknowledged during the trial that the prosecution had opened the seals on enclosures holding the weapons in the absence of the defense. The lawyers protested and asked the judge to exclude these weapons as evidence.
The lawyers also asked the judge to summon a weapons expert who could answer questions about the weapons and their putative relation to the robberies and attempted assassination mentioned in the charge sheet, but the judge refused.
One of the guns was allegedly used in an attempt on the life of a Moroccan of Jewish faith, Baby Azenkout, in Casablanca in 1996. Azenkout testified at the Belliraj trial that he had not seen his assailant. The defense team pointed out that the contemporary eyewitness descriptions of the assailant did not match any of the defendants on trial. The main evidence linking some of the defendants to this crime came from the contested confessions.

Similarly, it was the defendants' "confessions" rather than material evidence that implicated them in the other grave criminal act listed in the charge sheet, the 1994 robbery of the Makro shopping center in Casablanca. The defense pointed out that authorities had already announced in 1994 the arrest of the perpetrators, suspected jihadists, and they had long since been tried and convicted. The lawyers argued in court that it was implausible, on the basis of contested confessions, to link the defendants to a 14-year-old robbery that the authorities had supposedly solved at the time.
The Court's Reasoning
The court's reasoning for its guilty verdict against all 35 defendants (charges against a 36th defendant were dropped after the investigative stage) is that their statements to the police, which some did not contest to the investigating judge though all did at the trial, provided coherent and convincing evidence of the guilt of all.

Whatever the probative value of the statements by a minority of defendants who confirmed their statements before the investigating judge, the court failed to give due weight to allegations of the serious violations that compromised the defendants' right to a fair trial: most important, that the police allegedly tortured many of the defendants to make and sign statements that falsely incriminated themselves and others; that the police held them in garde à vue detention well beyond the 12 days allowed by law; and that the arms caches were handled in a way that compromised its probative value.
The appeals court can ensure that justice is done only by fully addressing all of the irregularities from the arrest of the suspects in early 2008 until the conclusion of the trial in first instance in July 2009, irregularities that compromised the defendants' right to a fair trial.
List of Defendants in "Belliraj" Case and the Sentences Handed Down by the Court of First Instance:
Abdelkader Belliraj, life in prison
Abellatif al-Bekhti, 30 years
Abdessamed Bennouh, 30 years
Jamal al-Bey, 30 years,
Lahoussine Brigache, 30 years
Redouane al-Khalidi, 30 years
Abdallah ar-Ramache, 30 years
Mohamed al-Youssoufi, 30 years
Mohamed el-Merouani, 25 years

Moustapha Moutassim, 25 years
Mohamed Amine Regala, 25 years
Al-Abadelah Maelainen, 20 years
Abdalhafidh Sriti, 20 years
Abd al-Ghali Chighanou, 15 years
Mokhtar Lokman, 15 years
Abderrahim Nadhi, 10 years
Abderrahim Abu ar-Rakha, 10 years
Hassan Kalam, 8 years
Slah Belliraj, 8 years
Ahmed Khouchiâ, 8 years
Samir Lihi, 8 years
Moustapha at-Touhami, 8 years
Bouchâab Rachdi, 6 years
Mohamed Azzergui, 5 years
Mansour Belghiche, 5 years
Adel Benaïem, 5 years

Mohamed Chaâbaoui, 5 years
Jamaleddine Abdessamed, 3 years
Abdelazim at-Taqi al-Amrani, 3 years
Larbi Chine, 2 years
Ibrahim Maya, 2 years
Abdellatif Bouthrouaien, 2 years
Hamid Nejibi, 2 years
Mohamed Abrouq, 1 year suspended
Ali Saïdi, 1 year suspended
Abdelaziz Brigache, charges dropped

Monday, December 28, 2009

Moroccan Farmers Make the Desert Bloom

Here is an article from Voice of America about organic farming in a drought prone regent near Marrakech. Viva Sustainable Development!

Moroccan Villagers Make Their Desert Bloom

International aid paid for a water pump and aid workers trained the farmers in fertilizing and irrigation

Solana Pyne | Hart Chaou, Morocco 09 December 2009

The edge of the Sahara desert seems an unlikely spot for an organic farm, but that didn't stop a group of poor villagers in the village of Hart Chaou, 300 kilometers southeast of Marrakesh, from planting one. The Moroccan community farm could be a model for other drought-prone regions.

This fertile valley, hundreds of kilometers east of Marrakesh, looked very different three years ago. Instead of this organic farm, the land here had been claimed by the desert. The farmers that work it today lived precariously.

"Before, we were oppressed by periods of drought," farmer Mohamed Ait Lamine said. "Even if you wanted to work the land-- if you wanted to do things--there was no water. People lived on the edge of death."

During the frequent droughts, Mohamed Ait Lamine and others left their families to look for work on construction sites in cities far away.

"Then, there was barely enough food, just barely enough. It wasn't like now," farmer Brahim Baiach said.

Two years ago, international donors put up money to drill a well. The Moroccan government donated land. And 30 of Hart Chaou's poorest families brought a cornucopia out of the ground.

"Last year, I sold 400 to 500 kilos of green peas," Lamine said. We thank God."

"Tomatoes, watermelon, potatoes, carrots, turnips, peppers -- we've got all vegetables here," Baiach said.

The land had been divided into plots and distributed to residents who had no arable soil of their own.

Foreign aid paid for the pump that brings up the water and fills this reservoir. The farmers themselves pay to keep it running. Their new irrigation method has cut water usage by half.

"In the past, we worked in a haphazard way, without any techniques. We worked as our fathers did," Lamine said.

Now, the farmers plant their crops closer together and run water through narrow trenches. The technique was taught by aid workers who also showed the farmers how to fertilize with compost or manure.

"What we're doing now is better. Now we have real techniques," farmer Saddik Ait Abdelouahed said.

The methods they learned here are already being used in other regions, but it's not simple.

Lahcen Khallouki is President of Hart Chaou's Development Association. "It can be replicated, but the first thing is to have the space," he said. "Without land, one cannot do anything. Also, it's necessary to have a fund for the management of the land."

And farmers who can make the desert bloom.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

More of the Same : Morocco Puts Aminatou Under House Arrest

Here's the Latest from the Western Saharan drama - a Reuters article about Aminatou Haidar placement under house arrest by Moroccan authorities.

W.Sahara activist is under Moroccan house arrest
Thu Dec 24, 2009 5:55pm IST

By Zakia Abdennebi and Lamine Chikhi

RABAT/TINDOUF (Reuters) - Western Sahara independence activist Aminatou Haidar said Moroccan police had surrounded her house and kept her under house arrest since her return to her desert homeland after a hunger strike in Spain.

She vowed to step up her struggle for human rights in the former Spanish territory despite what she called Moroccan repression.

Moroccan officials said Rabat was committed to respecting human rights in Western Sahara and elsewhere in the country. They declined to comment further on Haidar's case.

A tract of desert the size of Britain which has lucrative phosphate reserves and potentially offshore oil, Western Sahara is the scene of Africa's longest-running territorial dispute.

Last week, Haidar, a 43-year-old mother-of-two ended a month-long hunger strike in a Spanish airport in protest at Rabat's refusal to let her back into Western Sahara unless she declared her loyalty to the Moroccan king.

Morocco let her return home after the United States, Spain and other countries intervened.

Haidar's fasting focused international attention on Western Sahara's dispute in a way rarely seen in the 35 years since Morocco annexed the territory after Spain pulled out.

"The siege in continuing. I'm under house arrest. Family members and neighbours have problems visiting me. Shops in my neighbourhood are suffering from the siege," Haidar told Reuters by telephone from Rabat late on Wednesday.

Reuters reporters travelled to Laayoune, Western Sahara's main city, to interview her at her home but security forces blocked access. Other journalists have also been prevented from meeting Haidar.


"I have the courage of my conviction to carry on with the defence of the cause of self-determination of the Sahrawi people. I will never waver despite the threats of jail, abduction, torture and exile," she added.

She accused Morocco of having a "carrot-and-the stick" policy towards Algeria-based Polisario Front and the Sahrawis in the territory.

"Morocco represses the Sahrawi population while it is negotiating with the Polisario Front," added Haidar.

Morocco said it is ready to resume negotiations with the Polisario on a deal on the future of the territory. Rabat has offered autonomy.

The Polisario, which seeks an independent state in the territory, also wants the talks to resume but it insists that Rabat halts what it called its widespread abuses of human rights in Western Sahara.

Haidar has become of "symbol of a nation" for Sahrawis in Western Sahara as well as in refugee camps in the Algerian southwestern area of Tindouf.

"She is our Mandela, our Gandhi," 37-year-old Gani Minatou told Reuters while she was making sweet tea inside her tent in a refugee camp.

Many Sahrawis see her hunger strike as breathing a new life into their cause.

"Before Aminatou, the cause reached a deadlock. There was no hope for a solution. But Aminatou's action put back the Western Sahara's issue at the top of the international agenda," Sahrawi journalist based in Tindouf El Bachir El Dhif told Reuters.

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tasting the Honey of Fez

I don't know about you but I could use a little break from serious matters and discussions. Here is an article,from the New York Times from a while back about good Raw Moroccan honey to be found in Fez.

Fez, Morocco: Wild Honey

Published: February 4, 2007

The car-free, donkey-full ancient medina in the Moroccan city of Fez is confusing, stark and exotic. It’s the kind of place where you find men squatting on stone streets tending bunches of mint, peeling wild artichokes, peddling bottles of fresh rose water and buckets of preserved lemons. They may even be balancing bouquets of goats’ legs — hair and all — bundled up for sale as if they were daffodils. Like street signs, price tags are optional.

But honey? Unlike most items for sale in Fez, honey has both a price tag and signage. This isn’t just any honey, mind you. This is mythic, rare honey from feral bees, the really wild stuff.

To find this wild honey paradise, enter the medina through Ain Zliten Square. Hang a left onto the Tala Kebira (the main drag leading into the market). Walk about four brisk minutes. Make another left just before Coin Berbère, an antiques store. There, through the arch, will be the sun-bleached courtyard of Fondouk Kaat Smen with three purveyors of honey.

To my taste, the best merchant is baby-faced Nafis Hicham, who sells oil, butter and honey as his family has for three generations. In his blue-and-white Fezian-tiled stall, Mr. Hicham measures out his wares with ancient brass weights. If you don’t speak Arabic, he can accommodate you in French, and will happily escort you to the back of the store, which is packed with blue plastic urns of 17 varieties of honey. On a recent visit, I tried to persuade him to dole out tastes of his three wild varieties. He showed photos of his wild honey sources in the Atlas Mountains. Forget prissy little domesticated bee boxes. One of the photos depicted a hive that looked like a Cotswold thatched cottage and seemed almost as large.

Mr. Hicham explained that very few people wear protective gear, as many hunters have developed immunity and can withstand 20 or 30 stings while harvesting. He added that wild honey is a miracle cure for just about anything. Carob honey helps digestion. Caper honey is good for colds and flu. He knows about the tamer honeys as well: Lavender? Good for stress. Thyme? Good for low blood pressure. Who knew?

When he finally let me taste, I was crazy about the carob, which was gritty and intensely caramel-like. The cedar was earthy, the caper delicate and floral. Healthful or not, drizzled on plump figs, they were all delicious and at $10 a kilo a real global bargain.

You can find Nafis Hicham at Tala Kebira, Fondouk Kaat Smen 81; (212) 535634-269.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Morocco Yields to International Pressure - Aminatou Haidar Returns Home to Western Sahara

Alhamdulilah. Aminatou Haidar is back at home in the Western Sahara. Here is an article from Reuters Africa about what her silent victory over Moroccan officials means.


Morocco yields to pressure, activist back home
Sat Dec 19, 2009 8:32am GMT

By Lamine Ghanmi

RABAT (Reuters) - A Western Sahara independence activist returned home on Friday after a hunger strike at a Spanish airport, defusing a diplomatic spat between Spain and Morocco and potentially strengthening separatist campaigners.

Aminatou Haidar went on hunger strike 32 days ago after Moroccan authorities refused her entry when she returned home from a trip abroad, confiscated her passport and put her on a flight to Lanzarote, one of Spain's Canary Islands.

After returning to Western Sahara's capital Laayoune on a special flight, Haidar said she had made no concession to Morocco to obtain the right to return.

"There were no conditions. My positions cannot be sold at auction," she told French television channel France 24 by telephone, speaking through an interpreter.

Rabat had initially refused to accept Haidar, who is campaigning for Western Sahara's independence from Morocco, back unless she swore loyalty to King Mohammed. The king's father took control of most of Western Sahara in 1975 after Spanish colonial forces withdrew from the territory.

A Moroccan analyst said Rabat let Haidar return to her desert homeland after international pressure and could now be forced to make concessions to the independence movement.

"Morocco gave in to the pressure in Spain, Europe and the United States. It accepted her return after they pushed themselves in a corner by stressing they would not let her back," said Ali Anzoula, an editor of the daily Al Jarida al Oula.

Anzoula, who writes about the Western Sahara conflict, said the Polisario Front may seek to win more concessions from Rabat in future rounds of U.S. sponsored peace talks, such as a U.N. role in monitoring human rights issue in the territory.

The Moroccan government says Haidar was allowed back home out of "the country's tolerance and generosity" and after several states intervened on her behalf.

France, the United States and several other Western states worked to help Haidar return home.


Left-leaning Spanish daily El Pais also said the crisis would weaken Rabat's stand in negotiations with Polisario over the future of the territory.

"Morocco has seriously weakened the credibility of its proposal of the autonomy of Western Sahara with its treatment of Haidar," wrote El Pais in reference to Morocco's offer to give Western Sahara autonomy rather independence as claimed by Algerian-backed Polisario Front.

As Haidar's health deteriorated, her hunger strike became an embarrassment for both Rabat and Madrid, which rely on each other to help fight illegal immigration and drug trafficking.

Human rights groups abroad said her case showed Morocco's pledges to improve its human rights record were hollow. Media and the opposition accused Spain's government of incompetence by allowing the Moroccans to send her to Spain.

"The Spanish government has handled this crisis badly, but much worse has been the behaviour of the regime in Rabat which caused the problem by violating her human rights," said the right-leaning Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

Taoufik Bouachrine, editor of Morocco's leading Akhbar al Youm al Maghribia daily, said the hunger strike "stained" Morocco's human rights image abroad.

"Morocco's government leaders failed to understand that the most sacrosanct issue now in the world is the respect of human rights. They put Morocco's sovereignty first and collided with its main partners abroad on the rights question," he said.

But for sympathisers of the Polisario Front in Western Sahara, there was no doubt that Haidar won a battle against Rabat's government.

"Her return is a great victory and by her coming back she had defeated Morocco's campaign to prevent her from living in her homeland," said Mohamed Moutawakeel, a member of the Sahrawi rights group Codesa which is chaired by Haidar.

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Community Museum Records Real Moroccan Life

Here is an interesting article from The National about a project being done through the Hassan II University in Mohammedia to put the oral histories of living Moroccans in a museum.

Museum records ups and downs of Moroccan life

John Thorne, Foreign Correspondent

* Last Updated: December 13. 2009 8:11PM UAE / December 13. 2009 4:11PM GMT

BEN M’SIK, MOROCCO // It is a bright cold day in Ben M’sik, a ragged Casablancan suburb, and Nourdine Daif is late for his neighbour’s funeral.

A station wagon is idling beside his telephone kiosk, but Mr Daif, 53, is deep in conversation with Wafaa Afkir, a student researcher from the university across the road.

“I want future generations to know what happened to my forefathers,” he says. “And to me.”

Ms Afkir’s pen flies across her notepad. Soon, Mr Daif’s memories of life in Ben M’sik will join those of other residents in an oral history project for the Ben M’sik Community Museum, part of the local campus of the Université Hassan II Mohammedia.

The museum is the first in Morocco to examine the ups and downs of contemporary life, a tricky undertaking in a society with a strong taboo against airing one’s problems in public.

“We’re not interested only in artefacts displayed behind glass,” said Samir el Azhar, an English and American Studies professor at the university who is heading the project. “We want people’s stories of their own experiences in Ben M’sik.”

In most cases, that experience is migration. For decades, waves of rural poor have landed in Ben M’sik and other Casablanca suburbs, seeking a better life.

“Ben M’sik represents the dream of Casablanca,” said Youssef el Dafali, 29, a student researcher whose parents came to the neighbourhood from the crumbled red hills of the Draa Valley, hundreds of kilometres to the south. “Come here and make money.”

A century ago Casablanca was a modest collection of white houses inside brick ramparts beside the Atlantic. But the city’s destiny changed overnight when France took control of Morocco in 1912 and chose Casablanca as the country’s main port.

The harbour was enlarged and a modern city of long, straight boulevards and piecrust facades soon dwarfed the old medina.

As migrants streamed in from the countryside, Casablanca gave the French language the word bidonville – “slum” – coined from the labourers’ shanties made from flattened tin drums, or bidons.

Most workers never intended to stay in Casablanca, but the bidonvilles evolved into the scruffy working-class neighbourhoods that ring the city today. Since Morocco gained independence in 1956, Casablanca has ballooned to about four million inhabitants as the country has sought to become a business and commercial hub for North Africa.

By the 1980s, overpopulation, unemployment and the rising cost of living turned Casablanca into a pressure cooker. In 1981, the city exploded in riots that human rights groups say ended in clashes with security forces that killed hundreds.

Since then, the state has graced Ben M’sik with apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, a cultural centre and the university campus. But the neighbourhood remains a grey zone between city and country.

The larger boulevards are flanked by anonymous housing blocks. Elsewhere, the bloody hides of sheep slaughtered for Eid are piled for sale in carts beside a woodlot and horse-carriages clatter down the streets. Old men hawk meagre collections of junk and trinkets: watches, rings, shoes.

For Mr el Azhar and his researchers, these scenes show strands of rural culture twining together.

“Anyone coming to Ben M’sik brought with him the songs, proverbs and customs of his region,” he said. “The museum is meant to make people aware of that heritage, to make them proud of it.”

With help from Kennesaw State University in the United States and a grant from the US state department, Mr el Azhar’s researchers collected about 80 folk stories and have begun conducting interviews.

The idea is to combine the findings in a multimedia exhibit, planned to go public by next September. The project will incorporate sound and video, using recording gear due to arrive from the United States. Meanwhile, a new wing of the university is going up that will house the museum, giving it direct access outside the campus walls. “Sometimes there’s a social barrier,” said Youssef el Fadali, the student researcher. “We have to reach out to people and make them understand that this is their museum, their stories.”

Mr Daif has absorbed that message already. Ignoring the waiting station wagon, he continues recounting his life to Ms Afkir.

He is a large bearded man who grew up in the neighbourhood. She is a slight girl in a headscarf whose fair skin and high, rounded cheeks suggest her Amazigh, or Berber, roots.

“Relations between people are pretty good, although sometimes kids get into drugs, which causes friction,” Mr Daif says. “But now mentalities are changing, more people are working better jobs.”

Ms Akfir concludes her questions, but Mr Daif has more stories he wants presented in the museum.

“In 1981, the army fired on demonstrators,” he says in response to a question from The National. “They buried the bodies together in a pit near the fire brigade station.”

Afterwards, he was scooped up by police and jailed until 1992, he said, a case reviewed by a truth commission set up by King Mohamed VI in 2004 to look into human rights abuses during the reign of his father, Hassan II.

Suddenly, voices beckon from the station wagon.

“I really must go,” says Mr Daif, grasping the crutch he has used since a car crash in 1993. “Even if I hadn’t known him, I’d still go to the funeral. He was my neighbour.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Not Bowing to the Moroccan King

I generally don't post on consecutive days, but this letter posted in the Guardian is quite a read. Let's not pretend the Western Sahara issue is clear cut, this is just one of many voices.

Comment is free

We will not bow to this Moroccan king

Hunger striker Aminatou Haidar must have justice. Begging Morocco's rotten monarch won't bring it

Paul Laverty and Ken Loach
Thursday 10 December 2009 21.30 GMT

A woman from Western Sahara, Aminatou Haidar, lies on the floor at Lanzarote airport on hunger strike and near death. She was refused entry to her own country because she refused to write "Moroccan" on her departure card. She is denied access to her two children in her home town of El Ayoun, under Moroccan control. The international court of justice has declared that Western Saharans have the right to self-determination. The country is illegally occupied by Morocco. Yet Haidar was stripped of her passport and arbitrarily dumped on a plane to Spain.

We were asked to add our names to a letter signed by many brilliant writers, artists, politicians and trade unionists addressed to the King of Spain, urging him to intercede with King Mohammed VI of Morocco so that somehow Haidar's life can be saved. While we respect the goodwill of all, understand that we are all desperate to avoid a tragedy, and indeed hope in our heart of hearts it succeeds, we believe it is less than satisfactory. This initiative does highlight, however, one essential fact: King Mohammed is the figure with real power in Morocco. The letter, in essence, pleads with the King of Spain to plead with the King of Morocco to do us all a "favour" and sort out this mess. If only, and good luck.

It is time for some clarity and less tugging of the forelock. Mohammed VI is estimated to be worth $2bn by Forbes magazine, and judged the eighth richest monarch in the world. According to the Wikipedia entry, Mohammed and his family have vast commercial interests in mining, food processing, retail and financial services. In addition, the palace's daily operating budget is astronomical. Irrespective of Mohammed's great personal fortune, and his huge influence over the country's political institutions Morocco is a state that has signed international treaties with binding obligations. By ignoring these international standards, human rights law and the international court of justice, Mohammed VI is behaving like some medieval despot.

Mohammed VI's foreign policy is crude and stinks to high heaven. The subtext to any challenge is to threaten Spain with unleashing untold numbers of desperate, impoverished Moroccans across the straits into Europe. Or worse, to stop co-operating on questions of "terrorism". In other words, turning a blind eye to Islamic fundamentalists.

The king is a hypocrite. In June 2000 he received an honorary degree from The George Washington University "for his promotion of democracy in Morocco". He should be stripped of this honour. In a speech on 4 November he stated that "one is either a patriot or a traitor" thereby condemning all who refuse to accept Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara and backing repression over peaceful resistance.

Mohammed VI's officials demand, as a condition of return of her passport, that Aminatou Haidar apologise to the king for the temerity of describing her homeland as Western Sahara instead of Morocco on a form. This, from a woman who was tortured and disappeared for four years in a secret detention camp. She was blindfolded, gagged, beaten, inflicted with electric shocks, and threatened with rape. If Mohammed VI had an ounce of humanity, he would beg for her forgiveness.

The great tragedy is that, while many parts of the Muslim world are steeped in violence and desperation, and while many parts of the African continent are blood-soaked, in the middle of all this, is Aminatou Haidar, a frail figure committed to non violent resistance.

We hope there will be an alternative letter presented to Mohammed VI, before Haidar dies, signed by citizens the world over (including the elected prime minister of Spain, Mr Zapatero), demanding the king and his government respect international law and join the civilised world.

As we think of this little man in his big palace, by his phone – all it would take is one call to give Haidar back her passport and allow her to join her two heartbroken children – we are reminded of ancient Roman emperors holding out a thumb to decide captives' fate. While Mohammed VI may feel all-powerful in his luxurious surroundings, if he had one flicker of imagination and a sense of history, he would realise that if he allows Haidar to die, her crystal spirit of peaceful resistance will dwarf his shallow-minded cruelty wherever he goes for the rest of his life. If there is any justice, he will be treated as George Bush was by the shoe thrower of Baghdad, and become a Royal Persona Non Grata to the civilised world. We do not plead favours as conjured up in private by two kings. We demand justice, as human beings.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Religious Freedom in Morocco

Here is an article from Radio Netherlands about the state of religious freedom in Morocco. There is a precedent in Islam to support freedom of religion, i.e., the "There is no compulsion in religion" verse that is found in the second chapter of the Qur'an. Yet apostasy is considered in Islam, as it is in other religions, as a highly unfavorable occurrence.

But let us be honest about the (intentionally) serpent like tactics of Christian missionaries in Muslim countries. Often, they manipulate the poverty, illiteracy, and naivety of the people, and make equations of Christianity with material things(stoves, jobs, etc) or with progress and modernity. How infrequent is the conversion discussion actually about theology.

Should it be held against Morocco that it actively works to protect the Islamic integrity of its population? We must remember that the King's authority rests on his claim to be a religious authority and a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS), so he definitely has a good reason to try to keep Morocco as Muslim as possible.


Right to religious freedom under fire in Morocco
Published on : 9 December 2009 - 3:12pm | By RNW English section

A group of five foreigners, was arrested last week in Morocco on suspicion of proselytising. The Christian missionaries - two South Africans, two Swiss and one Guatemalan - were expelled from the country for holding "undeclared meetings", said police. This is not the first such incident. Proselytising (attempting to change someone's religious or political beliefs) is a crime in Morocco, even though the constitution guarantees individual freedom.

By Mohamed Amezian

Mohamad Reda Benkhaldoun, member of parliament for Morocco’s main opposition party, says the geopolitical location of Morocco between Africa and Europe makes it accessible to all ideas and movements. However, this regularly leads to friction. In theory, freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution and Islamic Sharia laws, but the MP says there are limitations:

"When missionaries proselytise among Moroccans, particularly among young people who have no resistance to certain ideas, the state has an obligation to take the necessary steps to prevent a sort of legal destabilisation of the Islamic faith in Morocco."

Social cohesion
Professor Mohamed Darif has found that Morocco not only penalises missionary zeal, but also has a long history of punishing Moroccan citizens for changing their religious beliefs. In the 1960s and 1980s a number of converts to the Bahá'í faith was convicted. Morocco recently broke off diplomatic relations with Iran because of its alleged “spreading of the Shiite doctrine” among Moroccans. The government denies it wants to limit individual freedoms, and says it only wants to safeguard "social cohesion".


Notably, the constitutional guarantee of individual freedoms is negated and contradicted by that same constitution. The king is the “Commander of the faithful”. As such, he is the protector of Islam but also of people of other faiths living in Morocco, including Jews and Christians. This means Morocco is not a secular state, as explicitly confirmed by King Mohammed VI (in the Spanish paper El Pais in January 2005). Mohamed Darif, an expert on political Islam, said the king’s message was loud and clear:

"Freedom of religion can be openly and fiercely discussed in the framework of a secular state which draws a clear line between religion and politics. However, in a non-secular state the subject is approached with great reserve".

Morocco often sends messages of religious tolerance to the West, and a not particularly perceptive tourist travelling through Morocco may arrive at the conclusion that is indeed the case in the country. However, human rights activists, independent journalists and Islamists often face repression under the guise of maintaining the unity of Sunni doctrine, or the prevention of social unrest.

In the past month, a plea for the right to be an atheist seriously embarrassed the Moroccan government. A group of young journalists announced they wanted to hold an ‘open’ breakfast in a recreational park. The police and security services were quick to intervene. The Moroccan organiser of the event, a young woman working for a French-language magazine was arrested and was deported to France shortly afterwards. She now lives in Paris.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Morocco Wants an Apology

Here is a short piece from the Guardian about the "problem" Morocco is having with Western Sahara activist Aminatou Haidar. God help her.


Morocco: Deal for hunger striker's return is delayed

Associated Press
The Observer, Sunday 6 December 2009

Spain's deputy prime minister, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, has said it is in negotiations with Morocco over the return of a prominent Western Sahara independence activist who has been on hunger strike for 20 days.

Aminatou Haidar has been camped at Lanzarote airport since 14 November, when Morocco stripped her of her passport and flew her out after she refused to acknowledge Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony. Late on Friday an agreement appeared to have been reached and the 43-year-old boarded a jet to return, but Morocco denied it landing rights minutes before take-off, her lawyer said.

Last night Morocco stated that Haidar will not be allowed back unless she makes a formal apology to the king.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Billion Euros to Improve Universities in Morocco

Here is a article from Global Arab Network about "emergency" measures being taken to improve the quality Moroccan universities. Let us pray that someone is also working on making jobs for all the graduates too. Ameen.


Education Reform in Morocco: €1.1bn to improve universities

Thursday, 03 December 2009 12:48

As part of a four-year "emergency plan" to overhaul the education sector, the Moroccan government has signed DH12.6bn (€1.1bn) in new agreements to improve the quality of its universities. This extra investment comes as the country seeks to meet its UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

At the beginning of October, HM King Mohamed IV oversaw the signing of 17 agreements between the government and universities to improve the higher education sector, ranging from hiring additional lecturers and raising teaching credentials to expanding general infrastructure. The moves come as the number of students in the science and engineering fields is expected to double by 2012, along with the number of those passing the baccalaureate exam after high school.

Enhancing the research reputation of Moroccan universities is another goal of the higher education reforms. "These contracts will commit the universities to taking the necessary steps to improve performance, promote high-quality teaching and develop scientific research, with a view to enabling Moroccan universities take their rightful place on the international stage," local press reported Mohamed Marzak, the president of Cadi Ayyad University, as saying. The government has targeted accrediting 92% of its universities as research institutions by 2012, compared to 69% in 2008.

These agreements are part of the National Education Emergency Support Programme 2009-12, launched in March 2009 to address the short-term needs of the education sector. This emergency plan raised the age of compulsory primary education to 15 with an eye to eventually increase it to 18. Over the next two years, 15,300 schools will be upgraded, while 300 existing boarding schools will receive water and electricity. "The goal [of the emergency plan] is to make schools more attractive, in order to restore people's confidence in Moroccan schools and help them fulfil their purpose," the minister of education, Ahmed Akhchichine, told OBG.

The four-year DH31bn (€2.7bn) emergency programme is being partially financed by a number of grants and loans from international organisations. In November, Morocco received a combined €13m in loans from the French Development Agency, the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, the World Bank, the European Commission and the Moroccan Ministry of Education.

While spending on education has hitherto been relatively high (5% of GDP and 24% of government expenditures in recent years), change has been slow in coming. A royally designated "decade of education" was kicked off in Morocco in 1999 with the publishing of the National Charter for Education and Training, a road map to sector reform. As a result, literacy for men aged 15-24 has risen from 84% in 1990 to 87% in 2008, according the World Bank, while the percentage of all students completing primary school rose from 82% to 87% over the same period.

However, the system has faltered in other areas, with only 15% of students passing the baccalaureate exam to enter university. In its 2007 Middle East and North Africa development report, the World Bank gave the Moroccan education system low marks. "Morocco needs to speed up its reform effort, with a special focus on reducing adult literacy and improving access to post-compulsory education," wrote the World Bank. Gender parity also remains a challenge, with a 1:0.87 male-to-female ratio in tertiary education in 2004 and 60% of the adult female population illiterate, one of the highest rates in the Arab world. Local press has reported that only 16.5% of girls in rural areas attend school, compared to 60% nationwide.

The emergency programme should help Morocco make significant headway towards meeting some of its UN Millennium Development Goals by the target date of 2015. In its 2007 progress report, the UN indicated that for Morocco the goal of universal primary education was "possible to achieve if some changes are made." The Ministry of Education believes that the emergency programme should help boost overall enrolment from 6.3m students to 6.5m within two years.

Unlike the National Charter, which lacked funding and coordination, the emergency programme appears to be a well-financed, focused plan to reform the education sector. The programme's budget reflects an impressive 23% increase in education spending from 2008, indicating that tangible results may soon be seen.

Global Arab Network

This article is published in partnership with Oxford Business Group

Monday, November 30, 2009

Eid Al Kbir in a Berber Village

This article is nice because it gives an intimate description of the Eid that just passed in a rural Berber village in Morocco.


Celebrating Eid Al-Adha in a traditional Berber village

Eid Al Adha from aida alami on Vimeo.

Aida Alami lives in Casablanca and writes for Le Journal Hebdomadaire, a French-language Moroccan magazine. She describes celebrations during the Eid Al-Adha holiday that concludes the hajj.

Two days after Americans feasted on turkey, Moroccans chowed down on lamb.

This weekend was one of the most important celebrations for Muslim people around the globe. For centuries, people annually sacrifice a sheep to follow a hallowed tradition. In Morocco, even people who cannot afford to buy meat most of the year save up to be able to buy a sheep.

This tradition is based on making some sort of sacrifice to show God a full commitment. The legend says that God had asked the prophet Ibrahim, known as Abraham in English-speaking Judeo-Christian culture, to prove his full dedication by sacrificing his only son: Ismael.

Even if it was the hardest decision he had ever made, according to the tradition, Ibrahim ultimately decided to show his loyalty to God and kill his son. After he thought he had done so, God spoke to him and revealed that instead, he killed a sheep and saved the son. Muslims use this story to illustrate willingness to make a great sacrifice to show allegiance to God.

Since then, Muslims commemorate what they see as a miracle by sacrificing a sheep at the same time every year.

In the Berber village of Azimime, located in the south of Morocco almost 40 miles from Marrakesh, a family celebrated Eid Al-Adha in a typical festive way. Like every other year, the women wake up first, around 6 a.m., to make special foods for breakfast.

Kids and adults put on nice clothes bought for the occasion. Neighbors walk around the village to wish each other a happy holiday and stop for a cup of tea. After the men slaughter the sheep, the women start cooking all its parts. The first meal is a barbecue with all kinds of meat: liver, heart and so on. The families get together to celebrate and eat. The Eid celebration sometimes last three days — until all the meat is eaten.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Paying for the Eid Sheep in Morocco

Mabrook al `Awashir! It only seems right to post a story about the Eid. Eid Al-Kbir in Morocco sure beats anything I've ever seen in the US. Here is an article about Moroccans buying sheep for the Eid even if it is beyond their means.

Moroccans ignore high costs to honour Eid al-Adha rites


Saturday marks the start of Eid al-Adha in Morocco, a religious and cultural occasion that preserves long-cherished rituals and Prophetic tradition.

By Imane Belhaj for Magharebia in Casablanca – 27/11/09

Despite tough financial times, many Moroccan families will still adhere to an ancient ritual when Eid begins on Saturday (November 28th). The Adha feast calls for the sacrifice of a sheep, but honouring the custom can prove costly.

Like many Moroccans, Ibrahim, aged 54, has been setting aside hundreds of dirhams from recent paychecks to be able to afford a sheep. He is determined to participate in the sacrificial rite to please his wife, three children and mother. There is no possibility of forsaking the practice because of the cost.

At the sheep market in Casablanca, Malika evaluates her choices. She will not leave until she gets the ram that her family deserves, regardless of how much it costs: a healthy and horned ram, as dictated by the Sharia. Her husband has to pay for just the right animal, so she will not feel embarrassed by an inferior selection.

"People do nothing these days except watch the sheep that are brought into the neighbourhood," Malika tells Magharebia. "They weigh them just by looking at them from their windows and can price them even better than the vendors."

Malika is determined to buy a ram that will dignify her among her neighbours.

Some Moroccans let their relatives do the slaughter and the cooking. Each year for Eid al-Adha, Samira heads to Mohammedia to celebrate with her husband's parents.

"We spend three days there and it is an event for a family reunion, as many family members, whether single or married, come home," Samira noted. After the celebration, she and her husband return with bags of left-over meat.

But whether one stays at home or lets relatives perform the ritual slaughter, housewife So'ad says, prices are higher this year – well above the budgets of most families. Some sheep cost as much as a small calf.

So'ad blames "greedy" livestock breeders for the annual price spike. Brokers, or shanaka, contribute to the exorbitant cost, she argues. These wily operators intercept sheep farmers on their way to the market, buy their livestock and then raise the price to make a re-sale profit.

"People shouldn't complain," secretary Hoda countered. "Peasants need the extra cash in return for their efforts in raising their livestock." Besides, she added, "the event calls for some sacrifice".

Earlier this month, the Moroccan government tried to reassure the public by explaining that prices for sheep may vary depending on the quality and the age of the animal, the vendor's location and how close to Eid the animal is purchased.

The official explanation did little to persuade Nabil Mohamady. The Casablanca resident tells Magharebia that prices make little sense, especially when last season's heavy rains led to fertile pastures, an abundant harvest and good-quality livestock.

With the price of a sheep at least 3,000 dirhams, loans are becoming a common practice. Banks offer tempting packages to lure in the biggest number of clients.

Mostapha applied for a bank loan, as he does every year. His company lends him the money to buy the sacrificial sheep and allows him to repay the funds in ten monthly instalments. Such financing options allow even those with limited incomes to enjoy holiday traditions.

Even with changing social conditions, some Eid customs remain unshakable, such as the tradition of setting up neighbourhood communal fires, where young men cook the heads for a small fee.

Some households insist on handling the slaughtering themselves, a skill mastered after years of practice. Most people, however, choose to seek the help of ritual butchers, who roam districts in search of clients. They are often accompanied by young helpers eager to make extra money by assisting in the skinning process.

"Slaughtering fees are constantly on the rise," Ibrahim complains. "It climbed from 50 dirhams per sheep to 150 within a span of 3 years. That is quite overpriced. Slaughterers take advantage of the fact that people have no choice but to purchase their services at whatever price they name."

Rachid does not care much for the feast preparations. Like many of his friends and their wives, Rachid decided to leave on a vacation to enjoy the holidays in Marrakech or Agadir, where rated hotels offer competitive packages for the holiday.

Rachid's avoidance of the tradition typifies a new trend. Indeed, Eid al-Adha is already starting to lose its social and religious value, with the wealthy seeking to dodge it, while the poor striving hard to be able to afford the sacrifice, sociology professor Ali Fdaili argues.

"Things should be the other way round; the affluent should be buying the sacrifice to give away to the poor," he tells Magharebia.

Economic conditions play a role in changing behaviour patterns, no matter how deeply-entrenched they may be, confirmed social analyst Mostapha Rajeh. Compassion for the needy, which constitutes the basis of the customs and traditions of the feast, has become threatened.

Still, there are those who adhere to the meaning of the feast. Sa'id, who lives alone in Casablanca, has a good job which enables him to afford a sacrifice. He prefers, however, to offer the money to a needy family living in an older district of the city. The day of the feast, he fixes a small meal and shares it with a few friends.

"It's a laudable Prophetic tradition that drives us to think about people who might not have had a morsel of meat throughout the year and are eagerly awaiting the occasion. I feel such a relief when I help some poor family buy a sacrifice because I know that is going to make everyone in the family happy," Sa'id says.

"This is the true spirit of solidarity that Islam urges."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lack of (Foreign) Funding Threatening Moroccan Farm Reforms

Here is an article from Reuters about attempts to implement farm reforms in Morocco, and how Morocco is looking to secure Gulf money in order to do this. Unfortunately, the small farm method,which is better for the environment and poor farmers may have to be sacrificed in order to bring in the big money.

Morocco says no funding threat to key farm reforms

Fri Nov 20, 2009 2:01pm GMT

By Amena Bakr and Zakia Abdennebi

SKHIRAT, Morocco (Reuters) - Morocco has the resources to press ahead with farm sector reform, even if many foreign investors are unwilling to commit for now, industry officials said.

Foreign investment in the north African country had fallen by a third in September compared to a year earlier, according to government figures, as the global banking crisis made investors loath to venture into new markets,

Morocco has said it needs to muster 150 billion dirhams to upgrade and diversify agriculture, which suffers from droughts and poor yields.

A 10-year farm reform drive seeks to replace cereals, which account for 75 percent of Morocco's arable land of 7.5 million hectares, with more lucrative crops such as olives and boost food exports as trade barriers fall.

Gulf Arab investors should be ideal partners for the plan as their countries need to secure food supplies after prices rose sharply.

Yet big inward investment deals have been largely absent.

At a two-day conference near the Moroccan capital Rabat, local officials sought to convince Gulf investors that heavy bureaucracy and complex land ownership rules, long seen as decisive obstacles, are a thing of the past.

The charm offensive has worked in some cases -- Saudi Arabia's Tabuk Agriculture Development Co. said it planned to invest about $10 million in Moroccan olive farming early next year. It started looking at opportunities in Morocco in 2008.

And an Abu Dhabi-based private sector investment firm told Reuters this week it had signed a contract to lease up to 700,000 hectares of farmland in southern Morocco and would invest 30 million euros.

Commitments so far are relatively small but Moroccan industry officials are staying upbeat, saying foreign investment is very welcome but not essential for its farm reform plan to succeed.

"There is already a commitment from (Moroccan) state and financial institutions," Tarik Berkia, a managing director at Moroccan bank Credit Agricole, told Reuters.

"The money is there. If there are big scale projects, we could call upon foreign funds. That does not mean foreign money is not welcome."

He said there was keen interest in farm projects from French, Australian, Spanish and Italian investors.

Some Gulf investors at the conference said they were starting to sit up and take notice of Morocco's farm sector.

"All the world is worried about food security and Gulf countries are investing in Sudan and Western Asia," said Ali Hamid al-Missifri, first executive manager at Qatar International Islamic Bank. "I think there's now an opportunity to go to Morocco -- it's a very important agricultural country."

Other delegates said they were still put off by Moroccan red tape and the relatively small size of farm units generally on offer.

"I'm not coming here to invest in small land," said Saad al Swat, chief executive of Tabuk Agriculture Development Co. "We're not talking about 500 or 700 hectares. Our farm in Saudi is 35,000 hectares... With a small farm, nobody is going to notice your input in the economy."

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Moroccan Police Use Demand For "Prior Permission" to Stop Visits to Sahrawi Activists

Here is a press release recently posted by Human Rights Watch about the treatment of Sahrawi activists by Moroccan authorities. They won't stop until somebody in the West tells them to stop. And let us not overlook the recent expulsion of Sahrawi activist Aminatou Haidar by Morocco to Spain where she is not being permitted to leave.

Morocco/Western Sahara: Reverse New Rule on Sahrawi Activists’ Contacts
Police Use Demand for Prior Permission to Break Up Visits by Foreigners

November 16, 2009

"A country that prides itself on openness is now telling some citizens that they can't decide who may visit them...This is an unacceptable restriction on the right of association and the right to privacy."
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director

(New York) - Morocco is taking another regressive step on human rights by blocking "unauthorized" visits by foreigners to the homes of Sahrawi activists in Western Sahara, Human Rights Watch said today.

Since October 19, 2009, police have interrupted five such visits by Spanish journalists and human rights lawyers, telling them in each case that these visits they require prior clearance from the authorities.

This practice, which has no apparent basis in Moroccan law, represents a new restriction on the rights of Sahrawis and of visitors to the region. Previously, plainclothes police generally did not interfere when foreigners entered the homes of known Sahrawi activists, although they often openly monitored such visits from a distance.

"A country that prides itself on openness is now telling some citizens that they can't decide who may visit them," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "This is an unacceptable restriction on the right of association and the right to privacy."

Restrictions on visits to the homes of Sahrawi activists coincide with a visibly tougher posture by Moroccan authorities toward those who advocate self-determination for the contested Western Sahara. Morocco has exercised de facto rule over the former Spanish colony since 1975 and considers it an integral part of Morocco. Other states have not formally recognized this claim.

Seven Sahrawis have been in detention since returning October 8 from a visit to the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria that are administered by the Polisario Front. The Polisario is a pro-independence movement that contests Moroccan sovereignty and demands a referendum on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. Moroccan authorities accused the detainees of harming "external state security" and referred their cases to a military court, a rare and ominous development for civilian defendants.

King Mohammed VI himself has signaled the new tone toward Sahrawis who favor a vote on self-determination and who, effectively, question Morocco's claim of sovereignty over Western Sahara.

"One is either a patriot, or a traitor," the king declared on November 6, the 34th anniversary of Morocco's "Green March" to take control of the region. "Is there a country that would tolerate a handful of lawless people exploiting democracy and human rights in order to conspire with the enemy against its sovereignty, unity and vital interests?"

The foreign visitors who were forced to leave the homes of Sahrawis in the recent incidents were Spanish journalists and lawyers who traveled to Western Sahara to observe the trials of Sahrawis and to collect human rights information.

In the most recent incident, on November 12, Luis Mangrané Cuevas, a lawyer representing the General Council of the Spanish Bar Associations (Consejo General de la Abogacía Española, CGAE) tried to visit Sultana Khaya, vice president of the Forum for the Future of Sahrawi Women, at her home in Boujdour. Mangrané had come to the region in order to observe the trial of Sahrawi activist Hassana Alouate.

Police intercepted him near Khaya's house and said he would need authorization to enter. At the police station they told him he could meet with Khaya instead in a café. But when the two sat down in a café to talk, policemen arrived, ordered Mangrané to leave Boujdour and escorted him to a taxi station, where he boarded a taxi to El-Ayoun.

The details of the four previous incidents are as follows:

On November 10, at about 7:30 p.m., Mangrané and Dolores Travieso Darias, another Spanish lawyer sent by the GCAE to observe a trial, visited Hassan Duihi at his home in El-Ayoun. About 30 minutes later, plainclothes police came to the door and told Duihi, a member of the Sahrawi Associaton of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations (ASVDH) who frequently receives foreign visitors, to ask the two lawyers to leave his home and return to their hotel. The police told Duihi that he must obtain prior clearance from the police for any foreigners he wants to have visit him at home.

On November 3, at about 9:10 p.m., six plainclothes policemen came to the home of El-Ghalia Djimi, vice-president of the ASVDH, in El-Ayoun, during a visit by two Spanish lawyers. The lawyers, Ines Miranda and Araceli Fernàndez de Córdoba Cantizano, were in town to observe the trial of Sahrawi activist Cheikh Amidane, on behalf of the International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara, which is based in Spain. The police told the lawyers they had to get permission to visit homes from the Communications Ministry and ordered them to leave the house. Djimi had been receiving for years at her home foreign visitors interested in human rights without first notifying the authorities. Officials have now told her that she must get permission from them in advance when she wishes to have foreign visitors.

On October 22, plainclothes police told two Spanish journalists, Beatriz Mesa of Radio Cope and El Periodico and Erena Calvo of Ser Radio and El Mundo daily, to leave the home of Sidi Mohamed Daddache, president of the Committee to Support Self-Determination in Western Sahara (CODAPSO), in El-Ayoun. Both reporters are based in Morocco and accredited by Moroccan authorities.

On October 19, plainclothes police came to the El-Ayoun home of Hmad Hammad, vice president of CODAPSO, and ordered Ruth Sebastien Garcia and Simplico del Rosario Garcia to leave. The two Spanish lawyers had come to El-Ayoun in order to attend the trial earlier that day of Sahrawi student activist Mohamed Berkane.

On three research missions between 2005 and 2007, representatives of Human Rights Watch visited many private homes in El-Ayoun and Smara, including those of Sahrawi activists. While plainclothes police frequently were visible observing the homes from a distance, they did not interrupt these visits.

"Human rights activists, like everyone else, should be free to receive and visit whom they wish, without getting permission," said Stork. "Authorities who restrict that right look like they are trying to cut off the flow of information about their own practices."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Moroccan Carpet Confidential

Here is an article on the rug trade in Morocco and how the women who make the rugs rarely see the big bucks that tourists pay for them. Just another reason to bargain a bit harder next time you're in the souq.


Moroccan carpet confidential

Rural women weavers struggle to earn a fair price for their intricate rugs.

By Erik German - GlobalPost
Published: November 13, 2009 06:20 ET
Updated: November 13, 2009 17:16 ET

KOURKOUDA, Morocco — It takes more than 20 pounds of raw wool and 60 days of handwork to fashion one of Morocco’s famous carpets. The weavers in this village say it’s hardly worth the effort.

“You can’t give a damn about carpets anymore,” said Rakia Nid Lchguer, 57, who, like many weavers in this country’s remote south, spent a decade perfecting her art, beginning at age 6. “The market barely repays the cost of the wool,” she said.

Morocco’s vibrant rugs come in a variety of styles — from flat-woven hanbels to the fuzzy creations crafted by Nid Lchguer and her neighbors. The pieces fetch hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars on carpet shop floors in Marakesh, Fez and abroad.

The rug stores are as common to Moroccan cities as bright lights on Broadway, and the haggling done inside is a visitor’s rite of passage. Hours can pass with merchants sipping tea, trading fibs with tourists about what the final price will be. Overpayment is the norm.

Yet middlemen ensure that little of that money finds it way back to villages like Kourkouda. While the World Bank estimates Moroccans make an average of $6 per day, in these arid hills south of the Atlas Mountains, that figure seems optimistic.

Seated on the cement floor of a home where she raised seven children, Nid Lchguer said immediate needs have sometimes forced her to sell a finished carpet for as little as $40. The raw materials cost her $33, she said.

While talking, she cleaned tufts of raw, ivory-colored wool by scraping it between two steel brushes. Her neighbor, Fadma Hassi, 65, stopped spinning yarn nearby and said, “That’s if you get to sell it.”

This time, the women have been lucky. Someone ordered on commission a plush carpet with roughly the same footprint as an American twin bed. With the help of a third neighbor, the weavers will split $50 three ways in exchange for an amount of labor that seems alien in a mechanized age.

The rug’s warp alone — a continuous string forming the piece’s vertical threads on the loom — will require hand-spinning a piece of yarn the length of 10 football fields. Among other tasks in the coming weeks, the women will hand-tie more than 100,000 knots no bigger than this lower-case o.

Not all Morocco’s carpets are crafted from hand-spun wool in isolated homes. Some weavers work in small cooperatives, others in factories. Some get their wool pre-spun at the market, others even buy synthetics. But the artisans — the overwhelming majority of whom are women — share similar problems.

“The money is not going to these ladies, for sure,” said Bouchra Hamelin of Al Akhawayn University, who teaches free marketing classes to Moroccan weavers and other artisans. “They don’t know how to write, how to read. They don’t have access to the internet so they don’t have access to customers.”

Instead, Hamelin said, men with trucks have access to the weavers. A middleman tours isolated villages and souks, buys low, drives to the cities, then sells high. “He is the person making the money,” she said.

Women in some villages have formed cooperatives in a bid to bypass middlemen. An association of 88 weavers in Anzal, about 35 miles from Kourkouda, have been marketing their wares directly to tourists since 2007. Like all the weavers interviewed for this story, they speak a local language called Tachelhit, which predates Arabic’s arrival to the region.

Even leaders of the group acknowledge that sales haven’t been stellar. The association’s treasurer, Zahara Ait Ali, said she’s only sold four carpets since the group was formed — a typical number, group members said — for a total of about $300. Still, she said, working through an association is better than going to the souk alone and haggling with a carpet dealer.

“The professionals in Marrakesh, the people who work in the bazaars, they try to drive the prices down,” she said. “In our region no one will speak out about low prices.” It’s hard to tell precisely how much of a cut the middlemen are taking. After all, concealing the wholesale price is the essence of the game. But a brief encounter with a traveling rug merchant named Mohammed Ait Tar offered a clue. Flagged down on a rutted mountain track, he showed off a load of carpets jammed to the ceiling of his tiny, diesel Citroen Berlingo.

He pulled out one plush, coffee-table sized carpet from a stack of rugs he said were woven nearby. What he did next underscored the warm hospitality visitors often encounter in this region, and also hinted at how little the piece must have cost him.

“Here,” he said. “A gift.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

International Congress on Ottoman Rule in the Mediterannean held in Rabat Nov 12-14

Morocco was the only Country in North Africa that resisted Ottoman rule. So, its kind of ironic that a congress on Ottoman rule in the Mediterranean is being held in Rabat right now. If you are there, go have a look-see. Here is the article explaining the conference.

Congress on Ottoman's Mediterranean to be held in Morocco
An international congress on Western Mediterranean under Ottoman ruling will be held on 12-14 November in Moroccon capital of Rabat.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009 11:35

World Bulletin / News Desk

An international congress on Western Mediterranean under Ottoman ruling will be held on 12-14 November in Moroccon capital of Rabat.

The OIC Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA, Istanbul) and the Royal Institute for Research on the History of Morocco (IRRHM, Rabat) are jointly organising an International Congress on "The Maghreb and the Western Mediterranean during the Ottoman Period".

The congress aims to promote research on the history of the Maghreb and the Western Mediterranean region during the period of the Ottoman State by exploring the existing and new directions of research and offering scholars and specialists an opportunity to present their findings and share information, IRCICA said on website.

"The period will be covered comprehensively, to generate a forum of study and academic discussion on its various aspects. The Ottoman presence in part of the region under study had varying degrees and spheres of impacts on all of the region.

"Thus the theme will cover the relations between the Ottoman State and the Maghreb and Western Mediterranean region with regard to the effects of developments relating to the central state, the provinces, and the neighbouring countries, reciprocally; economic, social, cultural and educational developments, press and publications," IRCICA said.

An important aspect of the congress is that it will also address issues relating to historiography and the state of research on the history of the region during the Ottoman period.

The languages of the congress will be Arabic, Turkish, English and French. Simultaneous translation will be provided.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Corner of the Desert Called Home - but is it Morocco or Not?

Please excuse us if we ignore all of the big celebrity visits to Morocco and post this article from Le Monde Diplomatique's English Edition about a Saharan artist, Aziza Brahim, who sings poems written by her grandmother in Hassaniya Arabic about the struggle for Saharan autonomy. ( I think there is a typo in the article. Her grandmother's name is most likely Bint Mabruk and not Mint Mabruk) If you click on the link, there is video.

From Sahara exile to future freedom

A corner of the desert called home

Aziza Brahim, the Sahrawi singer, relays to the world the sorrows and the protest of her people. But her work is not just political: she sings, too, of love and life

by Colin Murphy

Three images of Aziza Brahim come to my mind: cross-legged on the floor of an adobe house in the Sahara, swathed in a traditional melfa, talking politics; legs dangling over the stage of the extraordinary Roman amphitheatre in Merida, Spain, singing to an accidental audience of daytripping tourists; and in foul temper and hoarse voice over lunch in London, a late night behind her and a nerve-inducing concert ahead.
Aziza Brahim sings La Sensación Del Tanque in Merida, Spain

Let’s start with the last image: Aziza Brahim, whose short album Mi Canto topped the World Music chart on the influential earlier this year, was in London at the behest of the city’s annual African Music Festival. Backstage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall later that day, a procession of eager young aficionados sought a few minutes with Brahim. Their enthusiasm was not simply for her music, however; some seemed barely acquainted with it. What they proclaimed was passion for her cause.

Brahim rewarded them, from the stage, with the concise proclamations of her politics that introduced each song. She carried a flag onstage with her, and spoke of a homeland enriched with the blood of the fallen. After the concert she talked business, in private, with representatives from a couple of small World Music labels.

That was this summer. So was the impromptu visit to Merida, a pit-stop on the long drive north, from an open-air concert in Seville, to her hometown of León. The day was hot, and Merida offered a timely break from the languor of the road. Brahim walked alone into the vast, empty Roman auditorium and swung herself onto the stage, perching at the centre, in its heart. She started to sing, and the auditorium filled with a song of war, of family and of the desert. She brought to the ancient Roman theatre a music whose antecedents had perhaps once been heard at the southern fringes of the Roman Empire. There were no proclamations of politics, and she returned to the road, refreshed.
Coming home

In October, after a summer of successful concerts across Spain and elsewhere in Europe, Aziza Brahim took a break. She flew to Algiers and then took an internal Algerian flight to Tindouf, in the west, near the border with Morocco. She was collected there by a friend, and they drove south, in a jeep. They passed through a military checkpoint that indicated they were leaving Algeria, though they were not near the international border, and then through another checkpoint, apparently unmanned, that signalled they were entering new territory. They left the road and drove across the desert, and arrived shortly at a house of rough cement-and-adobe walls with an iron sheeting roof and light radiating from small windows, low to the ground. It was three in the morning.

The steel door to the house opened with the approach of the engine, and children streamed out, followed by their parents. Inside, a long, low table was laid with plates of dates and biscuits, and music played on an old stereo powered by a car battery. Brahim greeted everyone, and introduced her sleepy three-year-old daughter: cousin, niece and granddaughter to the people who crowded around. A party started, and finished just before dawn with the family strewn on cushions and carpets throughout the house. Aziza Brahim was home.

When Aziza Brahim speaks of her pueblo, this is what she means: her people, who live here, in the Hammada of the Sahara. Brahim was born here 34 years ago. But when she speaks of her patria, she does not mean this place. She means another corner of the desert, some hundreds of kilometres to the west: one that is less arid, and far more developed; and one that is not within Algeria, but is – currently – within Morocco.

Aziza Brahim’s people are the Sahrawis of Western Sahara; Western Sahara was once known as Spanish Sahara and is today – depending on who you listen to – either a province or a colony of Morocco. Morocco claims historical, pre-colonial sovereignty over the territory (which has rich phosphate deposits and fishing waters) and has occupied it since the Spanish withdrawal in 1975; but the Sahrawis’ claim on their land is vindicated by an International Court of Justice ruling from 1975, stating that the territory has the right to self-determination.
Moroccan offensive

Following that ruling, King Hassan II of Morocco mobilised 350,000 people to march south into Western Sahara in an ostensibly peaceful conquest, known as the Green March; at the same time, but more discreetly, he sent in the army. Many of the Sahrawis fled east, across the Algerian border, where they congregated in refugee camps. Morocco fought the Sahrawi liberation army, the Polisario Front, till 1991 when a ceasefire was agreed pending a referendum on the territory’s status. United Nations peacekeepers came in to supervise the referendum; they are still there; the referendum has still not happened. Morocco has successfully stalled.

The refugee camps have become institutionalised, and are home to the Polisario government in exile. There is a basic administration in the refugee camps, some paltry free enterprise, and almost no formal employment. The Sahrawis survive thanks to humanitarian aid and remittances from the diaspora, like Brahim.

Returning home is a luxury Brahim does not afford herself often: this was the first visit in three years. She spent the week almost entirely around the family home; they danced at night to Mauritanian pop, shopped for melfas, brewed and drank endless small glasses of mint tea, and got to know each other’s young children who played together, barefoot, in the dust. One of the older children transferred a MP3 copy of one of Brahim’s songs to her mobile phone, and it was soon jumping from phone to phone around the camp, via bluetooth.

One afternoon during the week, Brahim brought us next door, to the home of her grandmother, Ljadra Mint Mabruk. Brahim’s grandfather had died earlier this year and her grandmother was in mourning. She was unable to leave the house or receive male visitors. Instead, she hung a muslin curtain across her room, and allowed us sit with Brahim on one side, while she talked to us from the other. Her silhouette was visible through the curtain, jabbing with her finger or waving her arms when she talked of her granddaughter’s music.

Ljadra Mint Mabruk is one of the most renowned Sahrawi poets. Known as “the poet of the rifle”, her war poems have become anthems of the Sahrawi struggle – anthems to which her granddaughter has given new voice, and new rhythm: many of Brahim’s songs are versions of her grandmother’s poems, performed in a fusion of traditional Sahrawi singing and western blues-rock. Brahim’s signature song, La Sensación del Tanque (the feeling of the tank), is a poem by her grandmother that describes the feeling of climbing into a captured Moroccan tank, imagining what had taken place inside it.

Composed orally in Hassaniya, the Arabic dialect spoken by the Sahrawis, Ljadra Mint Mabruk’s work has been little published and less translated (Brahim sings them in Hassaniya). One untitled poem, translated into Spanish by the Sahrawi writer Bahia MH Awah, concludes with the following lines: “We will show them that the Sahara is not Agadir/ Nor Casablanca/ It is simply the Sahara/ A people that aspires to their freedom/ And has pursued it across a century.”
Fighting through poetry

“I never thought that my poetry would be put to blues or rock”, said Ljadra Mint Mabruk (through Brahim’s translation). “They put them on the radio or on the television now, though I never thought of these things when I wrote them. Of course, the circumstances in which they were written limited their impact, but my intention when I wrote them was that they could be listened to wherever. I want what I write to reach as many people as possible.”

“She always wanted to fight through her natural medium, poetry”, said Brahim of her grandmother. That fight is one Brahim continues, relentlessly. “While my people are oppressed, and condemned to live in refugee camps, I am not going to stop”, she said. “I am going to try and bring the sorrows and protest of my people everywhere I go. I am very proud to be Sahrawi, to represent my cause.”

For now, Brahim represents that cause from a base in León, using her music to promote the cause even as the cause helps draw attention to the music. For Salek Baba Hassena, the minister for co-operation in the Polisario government, Brahim is well placed as a spokesperson.

“She represents the generations who were born, grew up and were educated here in the camps”, he said. “She represents the stages of exile and of the first years of the camps – the hardest years, the years of the war – and she has also lived through the stage since 1991, following the ceasefire, awaiting the referendum. And I hope she will live through the stage of liberty and independence.” From exile to future freedom, he said, her modernised Sahrawi music “encompasses these different stages”.

That freedom, he said, was “inevitable”. “The day of victory is certain. We are sure that this day will arrive – perhaps not soon, but it is guaranteed to come.”

I asked Brahim what she would do when that day arrived. “When my country is free, I will return and live there with my people”, she said, “and sing to them of other things: of daily life, of love and loves lost; of things I can’t sing of today, because they don’t mean anything to me, for now.”

Yet even though, for now, her music is intimately bound up with politics, Brahim is too complex a musician, and too ambitious a singer, for her music to be the slave to a cause. Politics, for her, is ultimately about her people, and her family: as on that hot afternoon in Merida, it transcends the specificity of their struggle; the lament becomes uplifting.

And if a nationalist music is characteristic of modernity, Brahim is in other ways post-modern: she has multiple identities that allow her to slip seamlessly between the starkly different worlds through which her family and her music take her. These are the different images of Aziza Brahim. Any one of them is merely a snapshot. The thing that unites them is her song.