Thursday, February 26, 2009

Overeducated and Underemployed in Morocco

Anyone familiar with Morocco , has heard stories such as those in this BBC article entitled, "Moroccan Graduates Face Bleak Prospects" about the epidemic problem of highly educated but unemployed people whose lives seem to have been put on hold.

Moroccan graduates face bleak prospects

Protestors outside the parliament in Rabat

By James Copnall
BBC News, Rabat

Morocco has an unusual problem - the more educated you are, the harder it seems to be to get a job.

The overall unemployment rate is officially less than 10% - but the rate for graduates soars above this, and has sometimes been double.

Every day frustrated and highly educated young people gather outside parliament in the capital Rabat to shout out their frustration.

"I'm 35, I have a PhD in physics, and I can't get a job," complains Ali.

"I'm very old, I'm not married, I don't have my own house, I don't have anything.

"I'm thinking of leaving this country, because here I am nothing."


Sometimes the protestors are chased away by riot police wielding truncheons.

The government is worried about the problem, and has set up a number of schemes to help graduates to find work.

Life in Morocco is very hard. There is no light here, no light
Ali, physics graduate

One of them, known as moukawalati, aims to give government-backed loans to budding young entrepreneurs.

There are success stories.

Merieme, a 25-year-old woman, is the owner of a printing business.

Several gleaming new machines hum in the background as she explains how the scheme helped her to develop her business plan and convinced the bank to lend her money.

But Merieme's experience is far from universal.

Initially the target was to help 30,000 business people, and create 90,000 jobs.

Yet so far only 1,400 loans have been given out, and the government has had to scale back its targets.


The head of the state body that runs the scheme, Kamal Hafid, admitted to the BBC mistakes had been made.

But he said one of the main problems - with consequences stretching far beyond moukawalati - is that Morocco's school system is out of sync with today's job market.

Kamal Hafid, head of the state body that runs a scheme to get graduates into work
Kamal Hafid says Morocco's schools are out of sync with the job market

"The educational system must get better - that's obvious to everyone today," he said.

"But it will take time, there is a lot of work to be done.

"And we need to develop entrepreneurial spirit here in Morocco too."

Many of the unemployed graduates marching up and down outside parliament have turned down work in the private sector.

They want the security of a state job.

But as Mr Hafid points out, the state can only hope to create 15,000 new jobs a year, while in good times the private sector can produce up to 300,000.

Illegal migration

Nevertheless, the private sector often feels Moroccan graduates are poorly suited to the modern economy.

There are fears too about how the international financial crisis may affect Morocco.

There is a serious concern that young people here are an easy prey for extremists
Professor Lahcen Haddad

All this is having serious effects.

"There is a concern about illegal migration among young people, and about drugs," says university professor Lahcen Haddad.

"There is also a very serious concern about a lot of people being easy prey for extremists."

In 2003 11 young men blew themselves up in the economic capital Casablanca, killing themselves and 34 others.

Moroccans were also among those who carried out the Madrid bombings, and hundreds have fought in Iraq.

Typically these people have less formal education than the graduates demonstrating outside parliament.

Double-edged sword

Roughly half of Moroccans are illiterate - a shocking state of affairs in a country that is one of the most developed in Africa.

Morocco has a demographic problem too. It is estimated that more than a quarter of a million young people will come onto the job market every year - and there is little chance all of them will find work.

"It is a double-edged sword," according to Mr Haddad.

Moroccan physics graduate Ali outside Morocco's parliamen
Ali, 35, has a PhD in physics yet can't get a job

"Either Morocco can tap into that, use it as an opportunity and then the Moroccan economy will take off, because you are using that human capital to be more productive.

"Or it can be socially very costly, because here you have all these people of working age, but many of them are unemployed, with all the social consequences this brings."

The government is certainly aware of the potential risks, and says it is doing all it can.

But the unemployed graduates protesting outside parliament see this as just one more empty promise.

"I'm a pessimist now," says Ali.

"Life in Morocco is very hard. There is no light here, no light."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Moroccan Toads , Moroccan Tide - Environmentalists working in Morocco

I've come across these two rather interesting sites both dealing with an environmental matter in Morocco. One is concerned with studying an endangered toad and the other about the use of the clothing detergent Tide in Morocco and how this must be affecting the groundwater.

Below is a short portion of the Tide article, click on the link above for the full version :

On the 30th May 2008, almost 10 months ago, colleague and good friend of mine decided to write to Alan G. Lafley, Chairman of Procter & Gamble .

My friend had just returned from Morocco where he had been shocked by the overwhelming presence of Tide washing products in most of the rural areas he had visited. He shared one observation that is rather common place in the Maghreb: many inhabitants wash clothing directly in the streams of the back country.

With Tide washing powder available everywhere in nearby markets, the obvious question that sprung to his mind was whether the products had been adapted to the local environment. In fact, Moroccans use the word "Tide" in a generic manner to describe a "detergent". This is telling of the product's importance the country.

Morocco suffers from water scarcity and overall poor water quality. The Government has a very informative website that depicts a comprehensive portrait of the country's water resources (in French and Arabic) .

Yet, many Moroccans are using one of Procter & Gamble's leading brands: "Tide". They do so directly in the streams. An estimated 90 percent of wastewater in developing countries similar to Morocco is still discharged directly into rivers and streams without any waste treatment processing[1].

Many streams in Morocco show very little quantities of dissolved oxygen, especially when of industrial or agricultural origin. Authorities also report that water quality in many lakes, basins, and reservoirs show increasing signs of eutrophication . It is proven that this situation usually originates from inputs of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from human activities such as farming, washing, and industrial processes.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Upcoming Fez Festival of Sufi Culture

From the French language Moroccan newspaper, Le Matin, an article about the upcoming 3rd annual Fez Festival on Sufi Culture

Below is a short summary in English provided by the folks at Sufi News and Sufism World Report .

3rd Fez Festival of Sufi Culture, on April 18th-April 25th 2009

"Sufism is a culture extremely present and rich in Morocco. Due to its diversity generating great emotion, it has always accompanied us in our traditions and customs, enabling a true perception of Islam", said Faouzi Skali, President of the Festival.

The theme of this third edition allows us to ask questions about the role of Sufism in the contemporary world, including:

"How to link spirituality with business, environmental, social action?"

"How spirituality and Sufism can become actors of human development?"

The festival will try to answer these questions by highlighting the artistic richness that Sufism inspires in painting, calligraphy, singing, music, films, books, exhibitions ...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tijani Zawiya in Fes and its Many West African Visitors

Here is an article from the BBC about the Zawiya of Shaykh Tijani in Fes. It is one of the many oases of peace one can take a meditative rest while in the bustling Fes medina.

Moroccan shrine unites Africans

By James Copnall
BBC News, Fez

Zaouia, the religous centre fo the Tijani brotherhood in Fez
Muslims from across West Africa worship at the tomb of Sheikh Tijani

The 12-centuries-old city of Fez is known as Morocco's spiritual capital, but it also has huge relevance for millions of West Africans.

They come in droves - from Senegal, Mali, Niger and Nigeria - to worship at the tomb of a North African holy man, Sheikh Ahmed Tijani.

Senegalese men in flowing twilight blue Boubous mingle with Moroccans in hooded Djellabas at the impressive gate of the Zaouia, or religious centre for the Tijani brotherhood, in the narrow and winding streets of Fez's old town.

Sheikh Tijani, who was born in Ain Madhi in what is now Algeria, is reputed to have learnt the Koran by heart by the age of seven, and given his first fatwa (religious instruction) at 15.

He founded the Sufi brotherhood at the end of the 18th Century - using the Gregorian calendar - or towards the start of the 13th Islamic century.

Muslims flocked to hear the teachings of the holy man, who had spent long periods meditating in the Sahara Desert.

The Moroccan sultan of the time, Moulay Slimane, supported Sheikh Tijani, aiding his rise.

All sorts

Tijani disciples from neighbouring countries spread the word and now there are millions of his followers in West Africa.

Zoubir Tijani, Fez
Zoubir Tijani says the shrine attracts more than 12 nationalities

"I have visited many African countries, and there are villages and towns where you don't expect to find even a sign of civilisation, but you find a Koranic school and other buildings put up by the Tijanis," says Zoubir Tijani, a descendent of Sheikh Tijani, who looks after his mausoleum.

"Secondly, our brotherhood sticks very closely to the Koran.

"Sheikh Tijani said if you hear me say something which contradicts what the prophet says, you must ignore it.

"This message appeals to people, so if you go into the Zaouia now you will find more than 12 nationalities.

"In this brotherhood you find all sorts - ordinary people and ministers."

The former Senegalese Prime Minister, Moustapha Niasse, comes from a famous Tijani family, and Hissen Habre, the former dictator of Chad, is a Tijani.

Zoubir Tijani brushed away suggestions that Mr Habre, who is accused of numerous human rights abuses, had clearly found it difficult to follow the Tijani message of peace.

Senegalese community

Tijanis, both well known and anonymous, come to Fez to pray at Sheikh Tijani's tomb, often on their way to Mecca, explains Abdellatif Begdouri Achkari, a Tijani, and a senior member of Morocco's Islamic affairs ministry.

Abdellatif Begdouri Achkari of Morocco's Islamic Affairs Ministry
Abdellatif Begdouri Achkari says the links are spiritual, not political

"Islam came to West Africa from Morocco, so it's normal there is such a strong spiritual relationship," he said.

"Sheikh Ahmed Tijani is a great figure in Morocco, and the links we have with people from other countries are not political, they are spiritual."

Round the corner from the Zaouia, Sheikh Tijani's last resting place, a small community of Senegalese people live.

Samba Thiam moved here nine years ago, thanks to his faith.

He rents a room in a traditional two-storey Fez house, and helps other Tijanis who come to pray at the grave of the Sheikh.

"I came here because of the Zaouia of Sheikh Tijani," he says in halting French mixed with words of Wolof and exuberant English.

"I live here near the Zaouia to welcome and help the disciples. They come from all countries in the world, and there are lots of them - sometimes we have as many as 30 in a week."

'Big advantage'

Later he and other Senegalese, two of whom have come from France, sit down for lunch in the Senegalese style, using their hands to eat from a common dish.

Senegalese student Habib Diallo
Moroccans respect us because we are disciples of Sheikh Tijani
Habib Diallo, Senegalese student

Many of these pilgrims contribute to the upkeep of the Zaouia.

"Disciples of the Tijani brotherhood provide everything that is necessary here - they pay for water and electricity, carpets, everything that is needed," explains Zoubir Tijani.

"They aren't obliged to, but they do it to make everyone feel at ease."

Habib Diallo, a Senegalese student in Fez, is a regular visitor to the Zaouia.

He and other Senegalese meet on Thursday evenings to chant Allah's name, to prepare themselves for the Friday prayer.

He says the fact so many Senegalese are Tijanis has contributed to the close relationship his country has with Morocco.

"The Moroccans respect us because we are disciples of Sheikh Ahmed Tijani," he says. "It's a very big advantage.

"Everyone knows there is a very nice relationship between Senegal and Morocco, and Sheikh Ahmed Tijani is at the centre of that."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thieves Target 14th Century World Heritage Site Madrasa in Fez

It is alarming how casual this theft was taken, but I suppose that people feel as if there are more pressing problems than the preservation of medieval buildings. Here is the link,

The Art Newspaper: Thieves target 14th-century Islamic building

February 13, 2009 – 8:26 am

Experts express concern at the lack of action by Moroccan authorities

By Lucian Harris | From Conservation | Posted: 11.2.09

LONDON. Last August, thieves broke into the 14th-century Sbaiyin madrassa in the Moroccan city of Fez, stealing a decorated marble fountain plaque and carved wooden beams. The removal of the beams, which were sawn off, caused the collapse of the building’s upper gallery. The Sbaiyin madrassa and the adjoining Sahrij madrassa had already been listed by the World Monuments Fund (WMF) as one of the world’s 100 most endangered buildings. A few days later, in broad daylight, the thieves returned in a brazen attempt to steal the slender marble columns that they had already removed and cut into portable sections when they were disturbed by neighbours and fled.

Although the theft was reported to the police and the ministry of culture, three months passed before the ministry of Islamic affairs—the owner of the complex—or Bonnie Kaplan, an American scholar and structural engineer who has spent eight years trying to launch a restoration project, were informed of the robbery.

“It was only in October when I returned from the United States to check on the condition of the complex and learned of the theft, that it has been possible to determine what was taken,” says Ms Kaplan, who has subsequently appealed in the press for help in locating the stolen fragments. “I can’t understand why Interpol can’t get involved”, she says. “Rabat is a well known transit point for looted antiquities, but so far we have no leads.”

The Sbaiyin and Sahrij madrassas, built in 1321 and 1323, are among the finest of the Muslim seminaries founded by the Merinids, a Berber dynasty who ruled much of the Maghreb (North Africa and Southern Spain) from the 13th century to the 15th century. In 1271 they made Fez their capital and built a new administrative centre.

The distinctive Hispano-Moorish style of Islamic architecture that evolved under Merinid patronage reached its apogee in the madrassas of Fez and the Sbaiyin, and Sahrij madrassas are among six built between 1321 and 1357, securing the city’s status as an important centre of Islamic learning. The Merinid city, known today as Fez el-Jdid, is distinct from the earlier medina, known as Fez el-Bali, which was made a Unesco world heritage site in 1981.

Ms Kaplan is clearly frustrated at the bureaucratic hurdles and apathy with which she has had to contend in her efforts to get the project off the ground. After eight years, the emergency structural intervention has not yet been carried out and she is still waiting to get the project fully validated by the Moroccan authorities.

“When I arrived in Fez in 2000 I discovered the madrassa in a poor state of repair, with the last restoration work having been carried out around 1915 when they were listed as important monuments by the French protectorate,” says Ms Kaplan. “My first agenda was to raise international awareness and luckily I managed to get the complex listed on the 2004 WMF list.”

“We received $75,000 from American Express as well as a grant from the Getty Foundation. In total we raised $150,000 for emergency structural intervention and a feasibility study to show the Moroccan government how we would restore and manage the building in the future,” said Ms Kaplan. “However the ten month study ended up taking 27 months and was only finished last year.”

“The Getty Foundation and WMF money can only be managed by a non-profit organisation, which in this case was Icomos Morocco [an international organisation dedicated to the conservation of historic monuments and sites],” says Ms Kaplan. She soon discovered that the stipulations did little to create a dynamic basis for overcoming the already labyrinthine bureaucracy in Morocco. “The recipient is supposed to show commitment to the project by not accepting any funding from the donor so there is no financial incentive to facilitate the project,” she said.

Another point of contention has been whether the Sahrij madrassa should continue to be used by students. “I have been told that I should get them out of there, but the unoccupied Sbaiyin madrassa has fallen into far greater disrepair so I believe that the best solution is to educate the students to look after the building,” says Ms Kaplan.

In recent years there have been a number of initiatives to restore Fez’s historical buildings, with some structures sponsored by the Moroccan government, which, for a time, encouraged a large influx of foreigners to buy old properties in the medina. Ms Kaplan says, however, that the conservation of historic buildings remains a low priority. “Morocco still has hardly any cultural education,” she says. “The architecture school in Rabat only has one module on Moroccan architecture.”