Wednesday, April 29, 2009

El Ghanassy Chooses to Play for Morocco

Some people might actually be interested in sports, here is a short article from about Yassin El Ghanassy and the Moroccan Olympic team.


Yassin El Ghanassy Opts For Morocco

The KAA Gent striker’s father has indicated that his son has chosen to represent the North African country over Belgium.
29 Apr 2009 11:13:47

Yassin El Ghannassy has finally come to a decision regarding his international future. The player has been highly solicited by the Belgian FA who would like him to take advantage of his dual citizenship by deciding to represent the country of his birth.

It was previously believed by the majority of the Moroccan media that the La Louviere product was actually leaning towards “Les Diables Rouges” but he has responded favourably to being included in the expanded roster list of the Moroccan Olympic team which will attempt to qualify for 2009 Mediterranean games in Pescara, Italy.

“Yassin has chosen to take part in the Olympic challenge with the [Atlas] Lions,” said his father when contacted by

Other players that have committed their future to the North African country are Ayoub Ahmani Sorensen, Omar El Kaddouri, and Driss El Fettouhi.

Rami Ayari,

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

LA Times Book Review of Laila Lalami's "Secret Son"

For those of us who have yet to read Laila Lalami's latest novel, Secret Son, The Los Angeles Times just published this review.



'Secret Son: A Novel' by Laila Lalami

A poor young man in Morocco makes the shocking discovery that his father isn't dead as he has always thought.

By Bernadette Murphy
April 28, 2009

Laila Lalami's new novel, "Secret Son," brings readers into the down-and-out sections of Casablanca, Morocco, to follow the travails of Youssef El Mekki, a young man trying to rise above the abject poverty into which he was born. Youssef knows certain things about himself: He knows his father, whom he doesn't remember, was a respected fourth-grade teacher who died while hanging lights for a religious feast, falling three floors and breaking his neck. He knows his mother is an orphan and thus the two of them must make their hardscrabble way together with no extended family to help.

He knows he is poor with few opportunities, but he's working hard to make the best of whatever chances he has by studying hard. Though not religious, he knows that the government is never going to help him and his fellow slum-dwellers in Hay An Najat, the poverty-steeped neighborhood where he resides in a shack of a home, but that Al Hizb ("The Party" that rallies for Muslim fundamentalism) is there with food and tents after devastating floods, promising "Power to the people through God, with God, and by God."

All the truths of Youssef's life will be challenged as the narrative winds its way, delivering both blows and windfalls from mektub (fate), that element that can't help but "split someone's life in a Before and After." The biggest revelation is that Youssef's father is not dead, but is actually Nabil Amrani, a respected, powerful and wealthy man. Youssef wonders what his life would be like if his father were to claim him, the secret product of an encounter with a household servant. "His existence until that moment had been nothing more than a role. . . . If he could be Youssef Amrani, he would not have to play any part at all. He could be, at long last, himself."

Feeling his pain

To the author's credit, Youssef's longing for his father and desire to circumvent somehow the dead-end constraints that class has placed on his life are palpable and draw readers into his experience. We follow along as Youssef pursues his father, and delight with him when his father takes him under his wing -- that is, until mektub intervenes yet again.

Lalami's previous book, "Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits," was a mélange of poignant vignettes that gave readers visceral access to life in Morocco, especially among those who would risk their lives to immigrate illegally to Spain. By narrating the disparate linked stories from each character's point of view, she provided insight into the woes and aspirations that motivated them. The collection benefited greatly from the ensemble approach, with each person's tale adding depth and resonance to the others.

In this novel, her shifting point-of-view technique is less effective. With "Secret Son," the main story focuses on Youssef and his father, and the lion's share of the narration comes from Youssef's perspective. But the author also includes occasional side stories, including tales from Nabil (the wealthy father), Rachida (Youssef's mother) and Amal (Youssef's half sister and the sole legitimate heir, who's studying at UCLA). Two of the book's most crucial scenes are told twice. For example, when Youssef confronts his father about his paternity, we encounter Youssef's point of view and Nabil's. This shifting perspective pulls readers away from the tension and intrigue surrounding Youssef.

Puzzling choices

At key moments, Youssef makes choices that seem to come out of the blue. When faced with a burgeoning protest and whether to join in, the author tells us, "His allegiance came to him in a flash." Though real-life decisions may come in flashes, there's usually some logic underpinning them. Without fully understanding how or why Youssef experiences dramatic changes of heart, readers are left wondering just how well we know him. This motivational vagueness becomes especially awkward toward the end of the book when Youssef makes a choice that will forever mark his life, and readers may feel as if there's no solid reason behind it. Likewise, the novel's trajectory poses a stumbling block. What starts out as a story of a son's longing for his father shifts by the end into another arc without ever fully resolving the father issue.

All of which speak to the differences between linked stories and novels. Lalami's book of stories was written with such heart and verve, and felt credible throughout. The constraints of a novel like this, in which one central story is dominant, and the expectations readers bring to it are different. That said, Lalami's depiction of Moroccan life in "Secret Son," illuminating the social, political, religious and poverty issues facing its citizens -- especially its still-hopeful young -- is both sensitive and startling.

Murphy has written three books of narrative nonfiction and is completing a novel, "Grace Notes."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Real Estate Crisis Aids Slum Clearance in Morocco

Sometimes a bad wind can blow something good your way. The following article is from Reuters about how the real estate crisis is turning developers' attentions in Morocco to participating in the government plan to build affordable housing for former slum dwellers. From what I have seen, they do make the new apartments super-tiny though and kind of life-less. In the US we are just moving away from the disastrous experiment of "public- housing," but it seems as if Morocco will experiment with it for a while.

Real estate downturn boosts Morocco slum clearance
Fri Apr 24, 2009 8:04am EDT

By Tom Pfeiffer and Zakia Abdennebi

SIDI MOUMEN, Morocco, April 24 (Reuters) - A slumping world real estate market has given new impetus to Morocco's plans to demolish its shanty towns, where decades of state neglect have bred despair and religious extremism.

As demand for luxury homes and tourist facilities falls in the wake of the global financial crisis, Morocco's property firms are making the most of a state-backed scheme to rehouse 4 million slum dwellers in new flats.

Developers are offered cut-price land if they sell some floors of their apartment blocks to slum families below the market price. The families receive grants to help them pay.

Thirty towns have been cleared of slum areas since 2004 and 50,000 shacks were destroyed last year, Housing Minister Taoufiq Hejira said in January. He is aiming for similar numbers in 2009.

Zahidi Elarbi, a member of a voluntary development association in the Casablanca suburb of Sidi Moumen, said about half the residents of its most notorious slums -- Thoma and Douar Esquila -- have been rehoused.

"Sidi Moumen has completely changed, although there is still a severe lack of services," said Zahidi.

Poverty and joblessness were still a serious problem, he said, "but better to be idle in a new apartment than a slum".

King Mohammed has announced the construction of 130,000 social housing units worth $1.83 billion by 2012 and several firms including Morocco's biggest real estate developer Addoha have announced a new focus on low-income housing.

The north African country's biggest building materials manufacturer, Lafarge Ciments, says demand for its cement is likely to grow this year thanks to the social housing projects.


The scheme was launched after 14 young men from the slums set off bombs in the centre of Casablanca in May 2003, killing 45 people including themselves.

It was a shock for a country proud of its social stability and showed the growing influence of radical Islamic preachers in neighbourhoods abandoned by the state.

Most of the bombers were from Sidi Moumen, home to thousands of breeze-block shacks with metal roofs held down by rocks.

Barefoot children hop between stagnant puddles in narrow alleyways, past sheep and cows picking over piles of rubbish. Young men feed and clothe their families by shining shoes or selling offal, fruit and herbs from carts and recycling scrap metal.

Winter floods send rats scurrying through living rooms and in summer the sun beats down on the corrugated iron roofs, turning homes into ovens.

Several unofficial mosques opened in Sidi Moumen in the 1990s, some with radical imams who organised vigilante squads to patrol the slums and punish crime and immoral behaviour.

The mosques were closed or demolished after the 2003 attacks, when the state tightened control over religious preaching.

More radicalised youths from Sidi Moumen blew themselves up in 2007, killing a police officer, and for many Moroccans Sidi Moumen is still a byword for extremism.

"When a bus passes by with Sidi Moumen marked as its destination, passers-by sometimes shout 'Boom!'," said former resident Saida Fikri.

Young men from the slums say the police still avoid their neighbourhoods and basic services are still lacking.


Whereas promises to rehouse the slum dwellers were once dismissed as a bad joke, today there is guarded optimism.

Fikri teamed up with another slum dweller to buy two floors of an apartment block on an estate on the edge of Casablanca. They paid 70,000 dirhams ($8,000) of which the state gave back 30,000.

The stigma attached to Sidi Moumen's slums made it impossible for Fikri's family to improve their lot, she said. Her brother, a policeman, applied for a visa to travel abroad but never received it, she believes because of the address on his identity card.

"With an address like that, my children could never find work," she said.

French colonialists coined the term "bidonville" (shanty town) in Morocco almost a century ago when Casablanca construction workers threw up shacks as temporary accommodation.

Slums can be found anywhere in Morocco's northern towns, near motorways, railways and supermarket car parks, in the shadow of luxury villas and on the Atlantic seafront in the capital, Rabat.

Previous eradication programmes failed as officials kept turning a blind eye to illegal building in return for a cash bribe.

Entire neighbourhoods mushroomed without proper planning including Lahraouiyine in Casablanca, nicknamed "The Chechens" for its chaotic, bombed-out appearance.

Police made 118 arrests this year in a crackdown on corruption, influence-peddling and unauthorised building in Lahraouiyine.

Today, many slum-dwellers are reluctant to leave, fearing the new apartments are too small for their large families or demanding compensation for the land they are vacating.

Some born and raised there are daunted by the anonymous apartment blocks, where friendships and support networks needed to survive poverty must be rebuilt from scratch.

"I'm not saying it's all peace and love around here," said jobless electrician Aziz Dhahabi, 25. "But if someone falls ill, he gets all the solidarity and support he needs from his neighbours. That's not something you find elsewhere." (Writing by Tom Pfeiffer; editing by Andrew Dobbie)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Moroccan Royal Court : Behind the Scenes Drama

This latest post may be considered more gossip and innuendo than news, but it speaks about an aspect of Moroccan royal life that rarely gets discussed publicly. Yet, who knows how much of it is true. Here is an article that ran in the Independent a few years ago about the death of a man named Hicham Mandari and his role in stirring controversy in and about the royal palace.


Death on the Costa lifts veil on Morocco's royal court

Hicham Mandari went from favourite son of King Hassan to hunted pariah. Elizabeth Nash reports on his assassination amid tales of medieval-style palace dramas involving concubines and treachery

When Spanish police first came upon the body of Hicham Mandari lying face down in a garage between Mijas and Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol with a bullet in his head, they thought him just one more victim of a revenge attack among gangsters, typical of the region. Or they said they did. But the death of the young Moroccan has involved the secret services of four countries and turned a spotlight upon the secretive, sometimes menacing world of the Moroccan royal court.

When Spanish police first came upon the body of Hicham Mandari lying face down in a garage between Mijas and Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol with a bullet in his head, they thought him just one more victim of a revenge attack among gangsters, typical of the region. Or they said they did. But the death of the young Moroccan has involved the secret services of four countries and turned a spotlight upon the secretive, sometimes menacing world of the Moroccan royal court.

Mandari's body was found around midnight on 4 August, but it was not until 11 days later that police confirmed the death and ventured that the assassination by a single 9mm bullet shot upwards from the back of the neck bore the hallmark of a professional contract killing. The crime was "the work of common delinquents, very probably French or Moroccan acting under contract", police said. But under contract from whom? "We are becoming aware that the victim had created a long list of enemies," a source said with more than the usual circumlocutory caution in the days that followed.

Witnesses said the victim, aged 33, was hunted down to the spot where he died by a person with Arab features. Some testified to having seen Mandari in the streets accompanied by three "Arabs or Maghrebis". Others swore they saw two men flee the scene to jump into a van driven by a third man.

"The only thing we know for sure," confided a baffled police source, "is that Mandari was killed the day he arrived in Spain. Effectively, he headed directly to his rendezvous with death."

He had already survived three assassination attempts - the last in Paris in April 2003 sent him to hospital with three bullets in his body. He came out stuffed with cortisone and with a serious injury to his right leg. More than a month after his death, no further leads have appeared, and the circumstances of his death have become more mysterious.

Investigations have partially uncovered a tale of alleged currency forgery, blackmail and corruption surrounding the court of the late Moroccan king, Hassan II, where Mandari was once a trusted courtier.

The tables turned brutally against the ertswhile golden boy of the Moroccan jetset, who went so far as to declare himself King Hassan II's lovechild, and whom the authorities in Rabat came to dismiss as a dangerous delinquent and fantasist. From favourite son to hunted pariah, Mandari went on the run while threatening to spill the beans on palace dramas involving concubines and secret treachery that would shatter the modern image today's Moroccan royals have been trying to project.

While Spanish authorities kept quiet over the identity of the body in the carpark, French secret services tracked down a Frenchman of Algerian origin who had provided Mandari with a false Italian driving licence in the name of Ben Al Asan Ala Laoui Icam. The man apparently saw Mandari just before he took the flight to Malaga on the afternoon of 4 August. "I'm going to Spain for a couple of days perhaps to Italy," Mandari told him over a coffee, and in an unprecedented gesture, gave his accomplice his address book and a mobile phone. Moroccan, Bahreini and Saudi security services have since become involved.

Spain later complained that the French dragged their feet for five days before revealing the man's real name. Hopes of getting a lead from his notebook were dashed. "He did everything in code," police said.

One story for the murder was that Madari had made a romantic tryst with a young woman with whom he was infatuated and on whom he lavished money. She is said to be a senior member of the Moroccan hierarchy who was on holiday in Marbella just down the coast. Another hypothesis, suggested by al-Jazeera television, was that Mandari was heading for the Spanish costa in pursuit of a business opportunity: he planned to acquire a local radio station to beam broadcasts in favour of Moroccan democracy to his compatriots across the Mediterranean.

The Spanish newspaper El Pais indicated that Mandari had given the Moroccan authorities ample grounds to wish him out of the way: "It is logical to give priority to a suspected act of revenge of Moroccan origin, since Mandari constantly made threats against Rabat." But a French security source, quoted by the Paris-based Libération, was more circumspect: "Since we're dealing with an individual implicated in so many shady activities and who had so many enemies, it's necessary to look in all possible directions."

The scene was the perfect choice for such a crime. The Costa del Sol, hangout for rich gangsters from everywhere, has become so used anonymous contract killings that it became dubbed the Costa del Plomo - the Coast of Lead. Here, far from prying eyes, whether they be the forces of law and order or rival gangs, criminal networks mastermind lucrative drug, money-laundering and revenge deals.

Spain's sun-bleached, palm tree-lined, gangland paradise is not so far from the environment in which Mandari grew up and from which he was expelled when he turned against his powerful protectors in 1999.

"A future chronicler of Morocco's ruling dynasty should mark the name of Hicham Mandari as that of the man who pierced the thick walls of the royal palace and revealed the secrets of a monarchy of divine right made mortal by the human, too human, frailties of the reigning family," wrote Le Monde.

Brought up by his mother, Sheherazade Mandari, née Fechtali, the young Hicham grew up in the 1980s under the protection of Hafid Benhachem, a future national security director, whose two sons became his boyhood friends. Never short of money, the trio used to tear round Rabat on a moped and frequent the capital's smartest disco, the Jefferson.

Hicham then eloped with Hayat Filali, the daughter of a senior royal official. The couple were caught, but instead of being punished, received the blessing of the king to marry. This happy outcome was arranged by Hayat's aunt, Farida Cherkaoui, the king's favourite concubine.

She further arranged that Mandari join the court as a member of the security department, which was headed by Mohamed Mediouri, who happened to be in love with King Hassan's wife, who was known as "mother of the princes". (When the king died in 1999, Mediouri married her and they still live together in Versailles and Marakech.)

Mandari lost no time in winning over the women of the harem by showing them with gifts. He brought telephones and computers for the king's concubines, who were kept in seclusion and attended by white-robed servants.

By the late 1990s, King Hassan, though weakened with age, still terrorised his subjects through the arbitrary use of arrest, torture or secret prisons. But within the ochre-washed palace walls, he could not control the avarice among his own servants, who - fearful of their status after the king's death - plundered silverware, paintings, carpets and furniture.

Mandari, through his accomplices in the harem and other courtiers, gained access to the palace strongbox, where he helped himself to several of the king's blank cheques. These he used to strip the king's accounts of several hundred million dollars, plus crown jewels and secret documents, including an inventory of royal possessions abroad - or at least that is what he intimated later, in a brazen attempt to blackmail the royal house.

He was confronted one day by a court official who had been asked by a Luxembourg bank to authenticate the royal signature on a huge cheque. Warned by court spies of the king's wrath, Mandari fled abroad with his wife and their baby daughter.

"His majesty entrusted me with an inquiry into the thefts," King Hassan's Interior Minister, Driss Basri, told Le Monde. "I think Mandari had in his possession three or four state secrets." Mr Basri made this confession after falling out with Hassan's son Mohammed and fleeing to exile in Paris.

Mandari left Paris for Brussels, Frankfurt and finally reached the US, where he launched accusations against the Moroccan crown. On 6 June, 1999, he took out an advertisement in The Washington Post addressed to the king, in which he declared he was "a victim of lies" and demanded "a royal pardon". He went on: "You must understand, Majesty, that for my defence and those close to me, I have prepared dossiers containing information ... damaging to your image throughout the world." A fortnight later, he narrowly escaped being kidnapped in Florida.

King Hassan died in July 1999 and was succeeded by Mohammed, who sought to cover up the scandal and extradite the former courtier to Morocco. Mandari was arrested in the US in connection with the circulation of falsified Bahrein dinars to the value of €350m (£238m), fabricated in Argentina, and spent three years fighting his extradition. He was freed in 2002 and extradited to France, in a brokered deal under which France promised not to hand him over to Morocco.

In 2003, his wife left him and returned home, whereupon Mandari prounced himself Hassan's love child by Farida Cherkaoui and hence brother to the reigning monarch. Ms Cherkaoui has subsequently gone to ground. At this point he was arrested on charges of blackmailing the president of the Morocco's Foreign Trade Bank, Othman Benjelloun, one of the richest men in Morocco. Freed on bail in January 2004, Mandari was now fearing for his life.

Mandari planned to call a press conference in the glitzy pleasure resort of Marbella on the eve of his death, to lay bare "the blackest pages of corruption of the kingdom now ruled by Hassan's son Mohammed ... and call upon democratic forces to fight for a state of law", according to Madrid's La Razon newspaper.

Mandari's opposition movement, the National Council of Free Moroccans, was dismissed by the Moroccan weekly Le Journal in July, just days before his death, as "a still-born fraud composed of two fanatics". Moroccan authorities were none the less alarmed when he asked the well-known left-wing Spanish lawyer Cristine Almeida to help him obtain a resident's permit.

Mandari told Le Journal in his last interview that he "planned a press campaign particularly damaging to Morocco". He also hinted at scandal in France: "I know all the French ministers," he said. "I know Chirac very well. I called [the Interior Minister] Dominique de Villepin but he has been told not to talk to me. I know lots of things about other politicians too."

The dissident Moroccan writer Ali Lmrabet described Mandari as "the man who knew too much". He "gave the impression of knowing many people in the palace", and would show to anyone interested a photocopy of a Moroccan diplomatic passport in which he is described as "special adviser to Hassan II", Mr Lmrabet wrote in the Spanish El Mundo daily.

Mandari was like an orchid, a friend recalled: "Beautiful to look at, but rooted in mud." Whoever crushed this exotic bloom, few in the Moroccan royal court will mourn his passing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Morocco Expects Fine 2009 Harvest

It must be remembered that Morocco's economy is highly dependent on agriculture.
Here is a recent article that appeared on Middle East Online about this years harvest. It seems as if all of that heavy rain has brought a great benefit.


Morocco expects fine 2009 harvest

Agriculture Minister vows to speed up implementation of ambitious Green Morocco Plan launched in 2008.

RABAT - Good rains will produce a bumper cereal crop in Morocco this year, with an expected 102 million quintals (10.2 million metric tons) due to be harvested, Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhenouch said Tuesday.

"The 2009 harvest will be abundant, even excellent," Akhenouch said at the opening of the north African country's second agricultural congress in the central town of Meknes. "This is very good news all Moroccans have been waiting for."

Akhenouch also vowed to speed up implementation of an ambitious farm plan the government launched in 2008, investing some 12 billion dirhams (about one billion euros / 1.4 billion dollars) in the first year.

Investments in the scheme, known as the Green Morocco Plan, have targeted animal breeding along with cereal, fruit and olive production.

In the future, the country is counting on receiving 10 billion dirhams yearly in national and foreign investments in agricultural production to assure food security for all, King Mohammed VI said in a message to participants.

"The Green Plan is aimed at eradicating poverty in the rural world," Ahmed Hajjaji, head of the Agency for Agricultural Development (ADA), said on the sidelines of the congress.

Poverty remains a key issue in Morocco, where police clashed with demonstrators protesting high food prices in 2007. Members of the Moroccan Human Rights Association were detained when they organised the rallies.

The Green Plan aims to almost triple Morocco's gross domestic income from agriculture to 100 billion dirhams (nine billion euros) a year by 2020, compared to the current 38 billion dirhams.

It allows for regions to specialise their production depending on their soil and climate, with cereals and citrus fruit in the verdant north, red meat in central Morocco, olives in the south and goat and camel's cheese in the Sahara.

The ADA is responsible for implementing the Green Plan, under which Morocco has been divided into 16 agricultural sectors, with 1,500 priority projects identified.

Attended by Moroccan farmers and members of the food industry, the conference came on the eve of an international agriculture fair, also in Meknes.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Forbidden Yet Tolerated Wine of Morocco

There have been a lot of articles out there about Morocco's high wine production. It is news because technically Morocco is supposed to be a country of Muslims. But Western media seems to be quite naive about the varying degrees of faith and practice of Islamic values in the kingdom. Here is an article from the Independent on Muslim leaders in the country speaking out on alcohol production and use in Morocco.


Moroccan imams demand crackdown on drink

In a country that sells 40 million bottles of wine a year, religious authorities target Muslims who flout the alcohol ban

By Elizabeth Nash

Sunday, 19 April 2009

The Islamic world has long had mixed feelings about wine: Muslims are supposed to abstain, but countries from North Africa to the eastern Mediterranean and beyond have for centuries cultivated vineyards. And today, wines from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and even Syria are flourishing, with sales and quality improving every year despite opposition from conservatives. In Morocco, production exceeds 40 million bottles a year, challenges Bordeaux for quality, and generates some €45m a year for the Rabat exchequer.

But Morocco's conservative Islamists are fighting hard to curb the country's enthusiasm for the fermented grape, causing a painful tug of interests as the Muslim kingdom strives to open up to the West. Stringent laws ban the sale of alcohol to Muslims, but you can buy wine in any Moroccan supermarket. The drinks section is separate from the main area, but always bustles with activity as people openly leave with bottles clinking in their hands. "Morocco is a free country, and everyone can buy what they want," one supermarket manager said.

As the country prospers, and welcomes millions of European visitors, it discreetly flouts the booze ban. In restaurants, Moroccans enjoy drinking wine with their meals. But curtains are drawn on the windows, bottles are kept from view and glasses may be tinted to disguise their contents. If police visit, Muslim diners are advised to say they're consuming soft drinks.

Islamists in the Justice and Development Party (PJD), who have a sizeable parliamentary presence, want to stop this easygoing approach, and enforce the ban on alcohol sales to Muslims imposed more than 50 years ago by French colonial rulers. The party's MPs propose to ban advertisements and promotional festivals for alcoholic drinks on pain of huge fines or imprisonment. The government recently introduced a drink-driving law, acknowledging for the first time that alcohol abuse exists.

But hardliners are combating a dynamic industry that flourishes amid the palm trees and high desert plains around Meknes, on the northern fringe of the Atlas mountains. Wine-making provides jobs for thousands, and produces wines enjoyed by more than seven million foreign visitors a year. The Phoenicians planted vineyards here 2,500 years ago; then came the Romans who founded the nearby capital, Volubilis, exported wine to Rome and created mosaic floors for their villas with scenes of Bacchanalia.

Les Celliers in Meknes, Morocco's biggest winemaker by far, developed vineyards abandoned by the French after independence in 1956. A local entrepreneur, Brahim Zniber, bought the vines, extended them to more than 5,000 acres, and made a fortune. He now plans to create Morocco's first "wine therapy" spa resort, with grape-based creams and lotions.

Les Celliers, complete with chateau, produces everything from plonk to a champagne-like sparkler, Pearl of the South, and a high-end claret, Chateau Roslane, aged in a vaulted cellar packed with oak barrels imported from France. The winery sells 27 million bottles a year. Just two million bottles are sent to Europe or the US, which – even accounting for thirsty Western tourists – means huge quantities slip down Moroccan throats.

Two years ago, Meknes hosted a French-style wine festival, half-heartedly endorsed by the town's PJD mayor, Aboubakr Belkoura, which caused outrage among conservative Islamists. "Morocco is a tourist destination and it makes sense to produce and sell wine," says Mr Belkoura, who stepped down as mayor in January under pressure from his party.

But Mohammed Raouandi of Morocco's High Council of Ulemas, or religious scholars, insists that Islam clearly forbids drinking alcohol. "If a Muslim drinks, the government can punish him," Mr Raouandi said recently, "and afterwards he will be punished by God." Nowhere in the Koran, however, is alcohol expressly forbidden.

Some reconcile the conflict as best they can: "I'm a practising Muslim and I would never drink alcohol," said one chateau employee. "But there are 6,000 people here who have jobs, who live comfortably because wine exists."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Morocco's Phosphate Company Posts Record Profit

Sometimes it is hard to remember how wealthy Morocco really is, especially when one witnesses the poverty of the streets. But in terms of agriculture, phosphates, and now even, natural gas, Morocco has a lot going for it in terms of natural resources. If only some of that money could reach the masses. Here is an article from Reuters on Morocco's national phosphate company announcing record profit this past year.


Morocco's OCP profit soars 9 times on prices rise

04.15.09, 02:17 PM EDT

CASABLANCA, April 15 (Reuters) - Morocco's Office Cherifien de Phosphate (OCP), the world's leading phosphate exporter, posted a 9 times net profit increase to 23.4 billion Moroccan Dirham ($2.8 billion) last year mainly on higher prices, its chief executive said on Wednesday.

'The 2008 year was an exceptional year for us,' Mustafa Terrab told reporters and market analysts during a results presentation.

OCP has 45.5 percent of the world lime phosphate market, 49 percent of the phosphoric acid market and 12 percent of fertilisers, according to company data.

Its sales jumped to 60.14 billion dirhams in 2008 from 28.9 billion the previous year, though it cut the volume of phosphate and fertilisers sold to 23.71 million tonnes from 27.93 million as part of a strategy to influence market prices.

'We use our dominant position to influence the market without wrecking its long-term fundamentals,' Terrab added.

He said the company's earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) rose 390 percent from to 32.9 billion.

As a result, OCP granted 2.9 billion dirhams as dividends to its shareholders -- all of them state bodies.

Its results benefitted from phosphate prices which soared to an average of $115 per tonne from $50 the previous year and $40 in 2006, according to OCP figures.

(Reporting by Lamine Ghanmi; Editing by David Holmes)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Photo Exhibit on the Jewish People of Southern Morocco

Here is an article about an exhibit running through September at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, Holland.

Jews from Morocco featured at Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam

by: Maud Swinnen
Updated: 13/Apr/2009 10:12

In 2008, Dutch photographer Pauline Prior visited the region to photograph what remains of Morocco’s Jewish heritage, and documented Jewish life in Casablanca today.

AMSTERDAM (EJP)--- An exhibition featuring photos of the Jews of southern Morocco will open on Thursday 23 April at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam.
Fatima Elatik, leader of the Amsterdam district council of Zeeburg, will open this exhibition of photos by Elias Harrus and Pauline Prior, taken first in the 1950s, just before Jews in Morocco emigrated en masse to Israel.

In 2008, Dutch photographer Pauline Prior visited the region to photograph what remains of Morocco’s Jewish heritage, and documented Jewish life in Casablanca today.

In his photos, Elias Harrus (1919-2008) depicted the everyday life of the Jews of southern Morocco in the years preceding their mass exodus to Israel.

For centuries they had lived side by side with the Berbers of the region. Harrus was fascinated by these people, with whom he felt an intimate bond as a Moroccan Jew.

His photos have an intensity that only an insider can achieve.

Harrus was closely involved in the welfare of the Moroccan Jewish community, as is also shown by his photos of pupils at Alliance Israélite Universelle schools.

He worked for this international Jewish organisation, dedicated to the emancipation of Jews in Muslim countries, throughout his life.

In 2008, the Jewish Historical Museum commissioned Dutch photographer Pauline Prior to visit Morocco and to photograph the remains that testify to the centuries of Jewish life in the Atlas mountains and the Sahara.

Prior also visited Casablanca, where a small Jewish community maintains the characteristic Moroccan Jewish traditions. These ancient customs are also kept up in the countries in which Moroccan Jews have settled.

Prior photographed hillula ceremonies and celebrations in both Morocco and Israel marking the anniversary of the death of saints, deceaseda rabbis with reputed powers of intercession.

The photos and film fragments in the exhibition tell the tale of the emigration of the Jews of Morocco to Israel and the factors that led to the end of the long sojourn of the Jews among the Berbers.

The exhibition presents the history of the Jews of southern Morocco. The Jews of northern Morocco, beyond the Atlas mountains, are a different story. There, where Arab culture dominates, other historical factors determined the course of events.

The museum’s education department invited a group of children from Dutch families with Moroccan roots to film the reactions and stories of their relatives upon seeing the photos taken by Elias Harrus and Pauline Prior.

An extensive programme of activities is planned to accompany the exhibition, including a Mimuna event on 26 April, about the traditional Moroccan Jewish conclusion to Passover.

The exhibition Morocco: Photos by Elias Harrus and Pauline Prior will run from 24 April – 18 September 2009 at the Jewish Historical Museum, Nieuwe Amstelstraat 1, Amsterdam, Holland.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"Leaving Tangier" by Tahar Ben Jelloun, A Book Review

Here is a book review, of Leaving Tangier by Tahar Ben Jelloun
that ran in the Washington Post. According to the review, the book seems to speak to all of the crazy desperation that is palpable amongst Moroccan youth.


Living Far From Home

By Dennis Drabelle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 8, 2009; Page C04


By Tahar Ben Jelloun

Translated from the French by Linda Coverdale

Penguin. 275 pp. Paperback, $15

At one point in this short but ambitious novel, a character philosophizes about those "on the margins of society," including "an American writer who'd lived [in Tangier] for several years with an illiterate Moroccan boy, while his wife had set up house with a peasant woman." There's irony in that allusion to expat novelists Paul and Jane Bowles, who came to Morocco to find themselves: The same dream impels many of the characters in "Leaving Tangier" to ditch Morocco for Spain.

The author himself, Tahar Ben Jelloun, moved from Fez to France in 1961. He seems to know the many ways in which people-smuggling can be done and, more important, how the uprooting affects those who submit to it and those who take them in. The story of Azel, Jelloun's main character, is fairly typical: He has a university degree but no way of parlaying it into a good job. Long praised by his mother as "the handsomest boy in Tangier," he decides to make good on that asset. After meeting Miguel, a rich older Spaniard who visits Morocco regularly, Azel becomes gay for pay, the pay being that Miguel will take care of the young man if he can find his way to Spain.

That he does, at first faring well enough as Miguel's paramour: The surrounding luxury is easy to get used to, and, in bed with Miguel, Azel closes his eyes and tries to conjure up women who have pleased him. But Miguel has repeatedly been double-crossed by previous lovers, and he punishes Azel prospectively by humiliating him in front of their friends. For his part, Azel comes to realize he has overestimated his ability to be who he's not.

As the novel heads toward a brutal climax (but not the one you might expect), Jelloun weaves in the stories of other emigrants: Azel's sister, who embarks on a joyous affair with a seemingly flawless young Turk, only to find out she's badly mistaken; a small-time Moroccan-Spanish gangster; a Cameroonian who draws upon world literature to comment on the action. The novel ends with a surrealistic paean to the combined pain and hope of sending oneself into exile. Artful and compassionate, "Leaving Tangier" evokes a milieu of self-exile and great expectations in relatively few pages.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Force Feeding Morocco : EU and US Free Trade Schemes

This article from the English language version of Le Monde Diplomatique explains some the logic behind the Free trade agreements Morocco has gone into with the EU and the US and what they will mean for the average and working-poor farmer. Also, think about what it will mean for the quality and overall healthiness of Moroccan food.


Social and ecological cost of Morocco’s agribusiness policy

Why Morocco’s Food is not Secure
by Cécile Raimbeau

In 1996, in the wake of the Euro-Mediterranean Conference in Barcelona, Morocco signed a partnership agreement with the European Union which came into effect in 2000. It’s officially based on the principle of reciprocity. It specifies free access to EU markets for Moroccan manufactured goods in exchange for Morocco progressively dismantling its tariff scheme for European industrial goods. The liberalisation of the market in services is a key part of the mechanism, which aims to establish a free-trade zone by 2012. “When the agreement on services has been signed, we will have taken an important step forward,” said Bruno Dethomas, head of the EU delegation, at the close of the first phase of negotiations in Rabat in late February.

For the moment, Moroccan agricultural goods imported into the EU are subject to reduced or zero-rated customs duty and minimal entry tariffs, though subject to strict quotas and time limits. “While reciprocity is being imposed for industrial goods, an exception is being made for agriculture,” observes Professor Najib Akesbi, an economist at the Hassan II Agronomic and Veterinarian Institute. “In other words, free trade where Morocco hasn’t much chance of competing with Europe and protectionism where it’s competitive.”

Morocco’s agreement with the United States is resolutely free trade, including in the area of agriculture. It was ratified in January 2005, triggering a countdown that will lead to the opening of the Moroccan market to more competitive, subsidised American products. The agreement was concluded after 13 months of negotiations behind closed doors, which put paid to any public or parliamentary debate. Civil society organisations’ call for a rally in support of freedom of information provoked a crackdown by the authorities.

And yet, pursuing a free trade policy risks increasing the country’s food dependence, hitting the country’s poorest peasants hardest. The cereal sector is set to decline progressively in the face of European and American competition, not least as a result of agriculture minister Aziz Akhannouch’s “Green Morocco” plan, announced in April 2008, which has set the policy for the next 10 years and prioritises export crops such as tomatoes and strawberries.

The first phase of the plan, which targets “the aggressive development of high-value-added, high-productivity agriculture” depends on the construction of a “modern agricultural sector”. This is made difficult by the problem of land availability and its division in very small parcels. It aims to aggregate land holdings under a system in which small- and medium-sized farmers are linked by contract to “high-performance operators”. Though described as innovative, the system more closely resembles a feudal system, according to Professor Akesbi.

It’s true that the second phase of the plan provides for support for small-scale agriculture. But with just one-seventh of the funding of the first phase, there’s a risk it will amount to no more than a few social investments schemes to enable the 70% of peasants with very small landholdings to keep their heads above water. As for the challenge of water resource management, the proposed response is privatisation throughout large irrigated areas.