Sunday, August 30, 2009

Moroccans Queue up for Ramadan Night Prayers

More Ramadan in Morocco for you. Here is an article on the special night prayers, Taraweeh and how Moroccans come out of the spiritual woodwork to attend them.

Moroccans queue up to hear taraweeh recited by talented imams


By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat — 28/08/09

[Abdelhak Senna /AFP/Getty Images] The taraweeh prayers are a powerful draw for Moroccans during Ramadan.

Morocco's mosques are packed this Ramadan, particularly for the night-time taraweeh prayers, with some worshippers trekking far to hear the Qur'an recited by imams with the most powerful voices.

Thousands from nearby towns converge after iftar at the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca alone, to hear Omar Qazabri, a young imam known for his recitations' power and precision.

"I feel my whole body vibrating with the power of his voice," said Rabat resident Hakim Bembaroudi, who this year plans to visit Casablanca at least five times to pray at the Hassan II Mosque. "He creates an atmosphere of holiness, while other imams don't manage to create this feeling."

With an eye to the queues of worshippers that turn out for such successes, Lahcen Moudaoui, a lecturer in Islam, said that readings of the Qur'an must be included in the training for imams proposed by the Ministry of Habous and Islamic Affairs.

"I believe that more and more young imams are trying to perfect their skills in all areas," said the professor. "The reason for the massive turn-out for some imams and not for others lies in their voice and their excellent declamation, since there's no preaching during the taraweeh."

Regardless of the presiding imam, the taraweeh itself is especially important to many Moroccans. Even the less devout may show up at the mosque once a year, just for this occasion.

"The taraweeh prayer is highly valued by young people, even those who have never prayed before, because it enables them to attain the spirituality and holiness that Muslims look for during Ramadan," said student Bahja Mouhieddinne, who never misses a single evening.

"I know some young people who only pray during Ramadan," added Mouhieddinne. "They feel an internal sense of satisfaction in an atmosphere of spirituality."

MP Abdelbari Zemzemi weighed in on the Moroccan devotion to taraweeh and the practice of travelling to hear particularly gifted imams.

"Islam does not encourage people to travel to mosques far from home, because all mosques are good," said Zemzemi, also an imam. "However, the phenomenon can be explained by the satisfaction one can find by visiting certain imams who excel at reciting the Qur'an."

While acknowledging that not all imams in Morocco are talented at leading the taraweeh prayers, owing to the nature of their recitations, he is critical of those who only pray during Ramadan.

"That's hypocrisy," Zemzemi said.

But for his part, sociologist Ali Chaâbani told Magharebia that "you cannot brand those who only pray during Ramadan as hypocrites".

"There's no requirement to perform the taraweeh prayer," said Chaâbani. "There's no group calling for this practice, nor are there posters to promote it ... It's a religious and purely voluntary matter, so it's difficult to talk of hypocrisy."

According to Chaâbani, Moroccans typically have a deep-rooted faith, even when it is not readily apparent in their daily lives.

"The atmosphere during Ramadan in Morocco, which also includes prayer, has strong links with social tradition," said the sociologist. "Moroccans are used to the taraweeh prayer … today's adult male is the same person who, a few years ago, was going with his parents to the mosque."

"Most people derive spiritual release from joining the masses of faithful worshippers, and from hearing the Qu'ran being read well," he added.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Morocco Sends Preachers to Europe for Ramadan

It is the month of Ramadan - Alhamdulilah- which is why the posting is a little less. Here is an article from al-arabiya on how the Moroccan government sends Muslim "preachers" to serve Moroccan communities in Europe. There could be a lot of pros and cons to this program, but let us attempt to give things the benefit of the doubt during this blessed month.


Ramadan initiative aimed at protecting Moroccans abroad
Morocco sends preachers to Europe for Ramadan

RABAT (Hassan al-Ashraf)

Morocco's Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs has sent a delegation of preachers to Europe as part of a plan to encourage moderate Islam and preserve cultural identity in its expatriate communities during the holy month of Ramadan.

" In comparison to other Arab countries, Morocco has a unique experience regarding the image of Islam in general and the practice of Islam in Morocco in particular "
Rashid Moqtader, religious researcherThe campaign, now in its second year, aims to protect Moroccans in Europe from extremist Islamist trends that spread hatred and incite violence as well as promoting a moderate vision of Islam, said religious researcher Dr. Rashid Moqtader.

"The preachers sent to Europe are chosen by the local scholarly councils and approved by the Supreme Council of Ulema and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs," he told Al Arabiya. "Their mission is to teach Moroccan communities in Europe Islam as is it is practiced in Morocco."

The campaign also aims to highlight the role of Morocco in the reformation of religious discourse inside and outside the country.

"In comparison to other Arab countries, Morocco has a unique experience regarding the image of Islam in general and the practice of Islam in Morocco in particular," he added.

The delegation will work on helping communities in Europe to preserve their national and religious identity, said Dr. Ahmed Boukili, expert on Islamic thought and civilization.

" There are many attempts at erasing the identity of Moroccans in Europe and gradually reducing them to a sheer ethnic minority "
Ahmed Boukili, Islamic expert"There are many attempts at erasing the identity of Moroccans in Europe and gradually reducing them to a sheer ethnic minority," he told Al Arabiya. "This necessitates forging a new religious politics to guide these communities towards the preservation of their heritage."

Boukili called upon government officials in charge of religious affairs to study the possibility of establishing a national university for preachers.

"Morocco is going through a crisis as far as preaching is concerned. This university will graduate preachers qualified to reform the religious discourse and cater to the demands of Moroccans living abroad."

Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar and is a time of prayer and fasting.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Demands Rise for Moroccan Argan Oil

Let's avoid the "hard" news for a little longer.
Here is a piece from the Global News Blog of the Christian Science Monitor on Argan Oil and the increase in demand it is witnessing.

Morocco: Demands rise on argan tree

By Lindsey Arkley | Contributor 08.17.09
• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

ESSAOUIRA, MOROCCO – For centuries, the Berber people of south-west Morocco have used oil from a tree endemic to the region as a staple food and in traditional medicines.

In recent years, there’s been increasing demand for oil from the argan tree in Western countries, where it’s used by gourmet chefs, and by cosmetic companies which claim it has antiaging and restorative properties. Now the Moroccan government is hoping to triple production of argan oil by 2020, from the current level of around 100 tons a year.

It’s hoped that poor rural women in particular would benefit from expansion of the argan oil industry in an arid region with few industries and employment prospects. The trouble is, the slow-growing argan tree is already listed as an endangered species, presenting scientists with a huge challenge to avert over-exploitation.

Argan oil comes from the two to three kernels found inside the pit of the oval-shaped green fruit of the tree. Traditionally, it is women who crack the pit, lightly roast the kernels, then pound and knead the resulting paste to extract the oil.

Using traditional methods, 2 pints of oil requires about 220 lbs. of fruit, and up to about 20 hours of work in one of about 25 women’s cooperatives set up in the region since 1996. Some of the co-ops have introduced a degree of mechanization that reduces the amount of manual labor required.

Others, however, such as the Marjana Cooperative near the Atlantic coastal city of Essaouira, prefer to maintain traditional methods to maximize employment. As the Marjana Co-op’s production rose from 1.5 tons in 2006 to 3.4 tons last year, the number of women employed full time almost doubled to nearly 50 workers.

For many women, it is their first paid job, and they can earn up to about $280 a month – a good sum in a region where many people live below the poverty line.

The Marjana Co-op, which was set up by a parents’ organization so that the women could work while their children are at school, also provides basic literacy and numeracy classes between shifts to those who need it.

“It is important that those of us who have had a good education help the other women in this way,” says sales assistant Ghizlane Zakkar, who studied for four years for a law degree, but can’t find work as a lawyer. Raising literacy levels is also seen as an important part of spreading the message among the Berber women about preserving argan trees for future generations, Ms. Zakkar says.

In 1998, UNESCO declared almost 10,000 square miles of southwest Morocco, including the whole argan-growing region, to be a special “biosphere reserve.”

Besides the argan tree’s various human uses, UNESCO noted, it also acted as a buffer against northern expansion of the Sahara Desert – a role that remains just as critical today.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ready-made Ramadan Dishes - A Moroccan Debate

Here is an article from about the month of Ramadan, which is due to start next week God willing. I have noticed that rarely speaks about Ramadan as if it has any religious or spiritual significance. Their articles tend to be about Ramadan TV programming or like the one below, which is about store-bought vs. homemade Moroccan Ramadan deserts. Wow.


Moroccans debate young people's taste for ready-made Ramadan dishes

By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Casablanca – 14/08/09

As Ramadan approaches, many Moroccan women are gearing up to give this special month a fitting culinary reception.

Preparations usually start several days ahead, beginning with traditional Ramadan dishes like the ubiquitous "sellou" and "chebbakia" that grace Moroccan tables during the month.

These are very old traditions, although in recent years many young women have chosen to buy ready-made products rather than spend hours preparing them.

"It is absolutely essential to have a few traditional dishes on the table during Ramadan," said Salima Karouachi, a young assistant manager. "But it's not necessary to prepare them at home, given that you can buy everything at the market."

Karouachi said she used to make everything herself. She enjoyed the preparations as part of the spirit of Ramadan. But she had to spend hours in the kitchen preparing food after she came home from work, an approach she called "impractical".

"Then I realised it's much easier to buy the finished item, provided you can be sure it's clean," she said.

Karouachi is not alone. The younger generation, the generation of fast food and the fast pace, prefers to get the dishes ready-made. But that does not go down well with the older generation. Older women are usually ready to criticise the trend.

"Even if one has money, it is still a fundamental duty for the woman to prepare Ramadan dishes at home," said Hadda Oualidi, 54, a public sector worker and mother of four. "For the sellou (a sweet made of flour, sugar, almonds, sesame and butter), for example, you need to select good ingredients, then wash and sort through them before mixing them together."

"How can you tell if what you're buying is clean and has all the ingredients?" Oualidi said of the practice of buying ready-made dishes. "I can't believe how lazy girls are these days."

But working women cannot do all this work in the kitchen and still have time to rest and take care of themselves, said Touria Bekkali, a teacher. "So they try to prepare small dishes such as briouates and msemen so that they can freeze them and bring them out when needed, with a minimum of fuss."

Hadda, while considering herself one of Morocco's more traditional women, opts for the cook-and-freeze solution. She said she starts preparations for Ramadan weeks ahead, making dishes and freezing them so she can just warm them up during the holiday.

"I think [ready-made] dishes have damaging health effects," she said, "But these women don't realise it."

Sociologist Fatiha Bahiji said it is only natural that Moroccan society should change, even in terms of Ramadan eating habits, given that the country is undergoing fundamental transformations.

"Today, a number of dishes have worked their way onto Moroccan tables, such as fish and other little delicacies," she said. "It's natural for working women to turn to others for help when they feel they can't keep up."

Whether they have traditional or modern tastes, Moroccans are eager to start the holy month. All those interviewed agreed that whether they prepare the dishes or buy them ready-made does not matter; what matters is the spirit of Ramadan.

In working-class districts, stores will be open throughout Ramadan to sell chebbakia, sellou, dates, pastilla, msemen, baghrir and much more.

"The profits increase considerably during the month of Ramadan," said Fatna Moussaidi, who sells baghrir, msemen and pastilles. She even delivers the dishes to her clients, who she says are mostly young working women.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Report from Moroccan Royal Think Tank

Here is a commentary that was posted on the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace's website in response to a report by the Moroccan Royal Think Tank. Its refreshing to think that there is such a thing as a Royal Think Tank. But as the commentator points out, they stop short of pointing at the elephant in the room.

Morocco’s Royal Think Tank Issues Report on Economic Crisis: Diagnosis Right, Therapy Wrong!

Lahcen Achy Web Commentary, August 7, 2009

Morocco has so far managed to limit the impact of the international financial crisis on its economy. Real challenges facing the country existed long before the crisis, however, and are likely to persist beyond recovery. A report recently published by the royal think tank, the Royal Institute for Strategic Studies (IRES), has identified three key findings. According to IRES, the challenges facing Morocco emanate primarily from a lack of leadership at the decision-making level, inconsistent economic policies, and the absence of effective governmental communication. Though the diagnosis is accurate, the proposed recommendations fail to address the real roots of the problem.

For the first time, the Royal Institute for Strategic Studies (IRES) took a decisive stance regarding the challenges facing the Kingdom by publishing this first report assessing the impact of the international financial and economic crisis on Morocco and future public policy challenges. The public has long been awaiting such a step as IRES had been criticized in the press for its resounding silence on the issue up till now.

The royal think tank has identified the key issues that impede policy making in Morocco, and revealed the risks and critical socio-economic challenges that must be addressed.

The report identifies the channels through which the international crisis has impacted the Moroccan economy—trade, tourism, remittances, and foreign direct investment—and underlines five potential risks that Morocco might face in the case of prolonged global recession. Those risks include the exhaustion of foreign exchange reserves; decline in budgetary room to finance government programs; a slowdown in domestic demand; and increased unemployment and poverty. These changes in turn would impact social stability and expose the financial sector to the adverse effects of default by insolvent households and firms.

The report suggests a four-part road map for Morocco’s future policies. The first part recommends strengthening social cohesion through democracy, good governance, and the reinforcement of social safety by more efficient and effective social policies. The second part―improving governance by rationalizing and effectively implementing economic and social policy―requires leadership and the development of an effective communication strategy that allows the people to understand both the gains and the sacrifices involved.

The third part recommends strengthening Morocco’s competitiveness by modernizing its productive sectors and improving product diversification and technology. Finally, the fourth part focuses on regional integration—with Europe as the priority, along with the reinforcement of economic links with sub-Saharan Africa, and a conditional and selective orientation toward the Maghreb.

Although the report’s analysis is not particularly new, it endorses many of the findings of academics, journalists, and international organizations on both the conduct and the performance of public policy in Morocco. The World Bank’s 2007 Investment Climate Assessment, for example, identified the lack of leadership and institutional organization as key deficits, concluding that the real problem in Morocco is not so much about what to do but about how to do it.

The establishment of a new parallel structure would not answer the urgent need for empowering the executive and legislative institutions that are already in place, but lack the power to effectively fulfill their functions.

The IRES report suggests creating a “coordination entity” tasked with ensuring coherence and consistency among government bodies and programs. However, there is a risk that such an entity would only add to an already complex bureaucracy. Ensuring coherence and providing leadership is a key task of any prime minister, while monitoring and assessing government programs and their implementation falls under the purview of parliament. An ad hoc coordination office would only interfere with the role of existing institutions, creating an extra layer in a complicated and dysfunctional landscape.

The real challenge in Morocco is not to create a new ad hoc institution but to provide sufficient authority to the prime minister and parliament so they can discharge their existing responsibilities effectively. The prime minister cannot explain the tradeoffs implied in policy decisions to the public if he is not empowered to make those decisions. And parliament cannot play its monitoring role if the prime minister, the person accountable for decisions, is not actually the decision maker. The problems revealed by the report are caused by an excessive concentration of power, the lack of democratic governance, and ineffective political participation. There is, therefore, no real need for new institutions, but existing institutions must become more effective. This is particularly essential at a time of rising economic and social challenges.

In short, the royal think tank has identified the key issues that impede policy making in Morocco, and revealed the risks and critical socio-economic challenges that must be addressed. It has also gone one step further, by acknowledging the need for more democracy, transparent intergovernmental communication, and better control of economic policies. However, it fails to follow to its logical conclusion―the need for more democracy, and effective and accountable institutions. The establishment of a new parallel structure would not answer the urgent need for empowering the executive and legislative institutions that are already in place, but lack the power to effectively fulfill their functions.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Spain - Morocco Tomato Affair

Here is an short article about(delicious)Moroccan tomatoes and how they are causing a controversy in the world of import/export. It seems as if neither Moroccan people nor Moroccan produce are wanted in the European Union.



28/07/2009 13:09

Growers from all main Spanish tomato producing regions (Andalusia, Murcia, Valencia and the Canary Islands) joined in the Tomato Committee of FEPEX (the Spanish fruits-veg exporters' federation) accuse Moroccan exporters of not paying all requested import taxes for the tomato volumes they've traded in the EU, while the European Commission is blamed of failing to take action over this situation, thus threatening the future of Europe's tomato sector.

Actually, FEPEX - that will submit the complaint to the European Ombudsman - argues in a statement that the missing import taxes has meant a 24.1 million euros loss for Europe, as well as serious cuts in the price of tomatoes of European origin when the Moroccan season could supply cheaper products.

The federation asks the European Ombudsman to make sure that the EC takes action against Moroccan “fraudulent” exports, which don’t respect Morocco's Agreement of Association with Europe, they say.

Moroccan tomato imports to the EU have considerably increased in recent times, improving from 191,310 tonnes in 2004 to 305,542 tonnes last year, according to FEPEX data.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cactus Commerce Boosts Morocco

Here is an article from the BBC's Middle East News Page about the cactus plant in Morocco, and the its many versatile uses. Apparently the hindiya vendors on the streets of Morocco who sell the fruit for half a dirham don't know how much money is to be had using the plant for cosmetic and medicinal purposes. Look out argan oil, now you've got some competition.


Cactus commerce boosts Morocco

By Sylvia Smith
BBC News, Sbouya, Morocco

It is just after dawn in the hills above the Moroccan hamlet of Sbouya and a group of women are walking through the thousands of cactus plants dotted about on the hillside, picking ripe fruits whenever they spot the tell-tale red hue.

But these woman are not simply scraping a living out of the soil.

The cactus, previously eaten as a fruit or used for animal feed, is creating a minor economic miracle in the region thanks to new health and cosmetic products being extracted from the ubiquitous plant.

This prickly pocket of the semi-arid south of the country around the town of Sidi Ifni is known as Morocco's cactus capital.

It is blessed with the right climate for the 45,000 hectares (111,000 acres) of land that is being used to produce prodigious numbers of succulent Barbary figs.

Every local family has its own plot and, with backing from the Ministry of Agriculture, the scheme to transform small scale production into a significant industry industry is under way.

Some 12m dirhams ($1.5m) have been pledged to build a state-of-the-art factory that will help local farmers process the ripe fruits.

The move is expected to help workers keep pace with the requirements of the French cosmetics industry which is using the cactus in increasing numbers of products.


Izana Marzouqi, a 55-year-old member of the Aknari cooperative, says people from the region grew up with the cactus and did not realise its true benefit.

"Demand for cactus products has grown and that it is because the plant is said to help with high blood pressure and cancer. The co-operative I belong to earns a lot of money selling oil from the seeds to make anti-ageing face cream."

Each member of the Aknari cooperative can pick between 30 and 50 pallets of the fruits in a morning during the season which lasts from July to December.

Many of them also work in the factory a short distance away where the fruit is peeled and then the pulp is separated and used to make jam.

The seeds which are ground to produce an oil are the most lucrative part of the plant.

The oil is used in more than 40 cosmetic products, and sells at a very high price as a pure skin oil.

It takes approximately a tonne of the tiny seeds to make a litre of oil.

Parts of the stem are ground into a powder, the flowers flavour vinegar and the pulp of the fruit has been found to lower cholesterol. Nowadays very little is left over for animal feed.

Cactus brand

Keltoum Hammadi, who runs the Aknari co-operative, says that some of the processes are secret.

"In the cosmetics industry rivals never let the competition know their sources.


"All I can say is that we are working with a number of European laboratories to develop the use of the cactus for slimming."

Keltoum Achahour, manager of Saharacactus in the Sidi Ifni area, explains that her company is collaborating on other new products.

"We are a sort of umbrella for a number of women's cooperatives," she explains.

"By forming a group and incorporating we can protect the cactus, create a brand and ensure we get a fair share of the vast sums of money that the international cosmetics industry spends on research and development."

Exact figures are hard to come by, with each cooperative having its own speciality.

Their activities range from making soap to pickling leaves cut into strips, from packing top quality fresh fruits for use within Morocco, to selling on the road side from buckets to lorries that roll up in town early in the morning.

Consequently the exact size of the industry remains difficult to measure.

Boost for women

At present only 20% of the fruits grown for commercial use is processed in the region.

The vast majority is still bought in bulk by outsiders who cream off the highest profit.

They can buy a box for between 20 and 30 dirhams and sell it on for 100 dirhams.
Women preparing barbery figs
The figs are being used to produce a wide range of products

But with greater financial involvement from the government, it is expected that within two years more than 75% of the production will be processed by the townspeople of Ait Baamram.

The industry is expected to grow by more 20% next year alone.

More than half of the land suitable for cactus production has yet to be involved in any commercial activity and with 9,000 plants per hectare (or acre) there is still a lot of room for expansion.

It is also an industry that has won women a lot of freedom.

Sayka Hafida, a member of the Aknari cooperative, says that her life has been transformed by this organic, naturally occurring plant.

"We still use the cactus leftovers for animal feed and we eat the fruit when it is fresh, and dry it for times when the plants don't produce.

"But I could never have imagined that I could get such a good income from it. You don't have to be educated to work in the factories.

"Our children are feeling the benefits. There is much more money around and it is women who are earning it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Moroccan Monarchy Refuses to be the Subject of Opinion Polls

Here is a short Associated Press article that says a lot about the state of things in Morocco.

Moroccan magazines banned for poll on king

August 2, 2009 By The Associated Press HASSAN ALAOUI (Associated Press Writer)

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Moroccan authorities banned two magazines from newsstands this weekend after they published a poll about the 10-year reign of King Mohammed VI.

The official MAP news agency said the independent weeklies, Tel Quel, a French-language publication, and Nichane, an Arabic-language magazine, were seized for failing to respect the 1958 press code.

Communications Minister Khalid Naciri told The Associated Press on Sunday that the poll, carried out in conjunction with the French daily Le Monde, was at issue.

"Any publication, be it foreign or Moroccan, that publishes the poll will be banned," the minister said. "Monarchy cannot be the subject of opinion polls and those who practice this sport are aware of the consequences."

Only the current issues of the two magazines were banned, MAP reported.

The magazines were banned even thought the poll results were reportedly favorable.

But the king, like the state religion Islam and Morocco's claim to the disputed Western Sahara territory, are all sensitive topics in this North African kingdom and are not subject to debate.

The 45-year-old Mohammed VI celebrated 10 years on the throne last week. He acceded to the throne after the death of his father King Hassan II, who had ruled for 38 years.

The two magazines have a history of problems with Moroccan authorities. Both were seized in 2007 when they published editorials deemed libelous against the king.

In addition, Nichane's former editor, Driss Ksikes, and journalist Sanae Al Aji received three-year suspended jail sentences in January 2007 for publishing an article deemed defamatory to Islam. The magazine was then banned for two months.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.