Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wedding of Prince Moulay Ismail

I am not much into celebrity watching, but here is an article about the recent wedding of a cousin of king M6. Quite interesting dynamics. Interesting phrase being used to describe the royal family, "show their attachment to their ancient traditions." Humm.

Wedding of Prince Moulay Ismail of Morocco
September 29th, 2009

Prince Moulay Ismail of Morocco celebrated on Saturday, along with the royal Family, his marriage to Miss Anissa Lehmkuhl. Festivities started on Friday with the traditional marriage ceremony at the Royal Place of Rabat in the presence of King Mohammed VI, the Royal Family and the bride’s family.

This was followed by a private party hosted by the King and his wife, Lalla Salma, in their private residence, Dar Essalam. The wedding ceremony took place on Saturday at Moulay Abdullah’s residence, some 1800 guests came to greet the young prince and his bride. Among those guests were Cécilia Attias (ex-wife of French President Sarkozy), Sheikh Khalid Ben Talal of Saudi Arabia (cousin of the groom), a son of Zaid Ben Soltan of the UEA, ambassadors of Germany and France, and some other Moroccan and foreign personalities.

Earlier this week, a statement published by Maghreb Arab Press, from the Ministry of Royal Household, announced Moulay Ismail’s engagement, and explained that the marriage would be in total accordance with the traditions observed by the Cherifan Royal Family. In fact Moulay Ismail’s wedding was another opportunity for the Morrocan Royals to show their attachment to their ancient traditions.

Prince Moulay Ismail is the youngest son of the Late Prince Moulay Abdullah, the younger brother of the Late King Hassan II. He studied at the Al Akhawayn University in Morocco before he start a successful career as a businessman who owns some very successful projects both within and outside Morocco. Miss Anissa Lehmkuhl is originally from a German-Muslim family, her parents Omar and Amina Lehmkuhl converted to Islam when her father worked at the German Embassy as a military attaché to the Embassy.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Morocco's Extraordinary Donkeys

Eid Mubarak!

This is completely off topic, but here is an article from the travel section of the Smithsonian magazine on the donkeys of the Fez medina. And yes she is talking about the ones that walk on all fours. It is a rather long article to be about donkeys.(Hashik!) I am just pasting the first of it here. Please click on the link for the full article. (And to read the amusing comments of some Moroccans to the story).

Morocco's Extraordinary Donkeys

The author returns to Fez to explore the stubborn animal's central role in the life of this desert kingdom

By Susan Orlean
Photographs by Eric Sander
Smithsonian magazine, September 2009

The donkey I couldn't forget was coming around a corner in the walled city of Fez, Morocco, with six color televisions strapped to his back. If I could tell you the exact intersection where I saw him, I would do so, but pinpointing a location in Fez is a formidable challenge, a little like noting GPS coordinates in a spider web. I might be able to be more precise about where I saw the donkey if I knew how to extrapolate location using the position of the sun, but I don't. Moreover, there wasn't any sun to be seen and barely a sliver of sky, because leaning in all around me were the sheer walls of the medina—the old walled portion of Fez—where the buildings are so packed and stacked together that they seem to have been carved out of a single huge stone rather than constructed individually, clustered so tightly that they blot out the shrieking blue and silver of the Moroccan sky.

The best I can do is to say that the donkey and I met at the intersection of one path that was about as wide as a bathmat and another that was slightly larger—call it a bath sheet. The Koran actually specifies the ideal width of a road—seven cubits, or the width of three mules—but I would wager that some of Fez's paths fall below Koranic standards. They were laid out in the late eighth century by Idriss I, founder of the dynasty that spread Islam in Morocco, and they are so narrow that bumping into another person or a pushcart is no accident; it is simply the way you move forward, your progress more like a pinball than a pedestrian, bouncing from one fixed object to the next, brushing by a man chiseling names into grave markers only to slam into a drum maker stretching goat skin on a drying rack, then to carom off a southbound porter hauling luggage in a wire cart.

In the case of my meeting the donkey, the collision was low-impact. The donkey was small. His shoulders were about waist-high, no higher; his chest was narrow; his legs straight; his hooves quite delicate, about the size of a teacup. He—or she, perhaps—was donkey-colored, that is, a soft mouse gray, with a light-colored muzzle and dark brown fur bristling out of its ears. The televisions, however, were big—boxy tabletop sets, not portables. Four were loaded on the donkey's back, secured in a crazy jumble by a tangle of plastic twine and bungee cords. The remaining two were attached to the donkey's flanks, one on each side, like panniers on a bicycle. The donkey stood squarely under this staggering load. He walked along steadily, making the turn crisply and then continuing up the smaller path, which was so steep that it had little stone stairs every yard or two where the gain was especially abrupt. I caught only a glimpse of his face as he passed, but it was utterly endearing, all at once serene and weary and determined. There may have been a man walking beside him, but I was too transfixed by the sight of the donkey to remember.

This encounter was a decade ago, on my first trip to Fez, and even amid the dazzle of images and sounds you are struck with in Morocco—the green hills splattered with red poppies, the gorgeous tiled patterning on every surface, the keening call from the mosques, the swirl of Arabic lettering everywhere—the donkey was what stayed with me. It was that stoic expression, of course. But even more, it was seeing, in that moment, the astonishing commingling of past and present—the timeless little animal, the medieval city and the pile of electronics—that made me believe that it was possible for time to simultaneously move forward and stand still. In Fez, at least, that seems to be true.

Just a mile outside Casablanca's Mohammed V Airport, on the side of a four-lane high-speed roadway, underneath a billboard for a cellular service provider, a dark-brown donkey ambled along, four huge sacks filled to bursting strapped to a makeshift harness on its back. I had been back in Morocco for less than an hour. My recollection already felt concrete—that there were donkeys everywhere in the country, that they operated like little pistons, moving people and things to and fro, defying the wave of modernity that was washing gently over the country—and that the television donkey of Fez had not been just an odd and singular anecdote.

On my first trip to Morocco, I had seen the television donkey and then countless more, trudging through Fez with loads of groceries, propane tanks, sacks of spices, bolts of fabrics, construction material. When my trip was over and I returned home, I realized I had fallen in love with donkeys in general, with the plain tenderness of their faces and their attitude of patient resignation and even their occasionally baffling, intractable moods. In the United States, most donkeys are kept as pets and their pessimism seems almost comical. In Morocco, I knew that the look of resignation was often coupled with a bleaker look of fatigue and sometimes despair, because they are work animals, worked hard and sometimes thanklessly. But seeing them as something so purposeful—not a novelty in a tourist setting but an integral part of Moroccan daily life—made me love them even more, as flea-bitten and saddle-sore and scrawny as some of them were.

The medina in Fez may well be the largest urbanized area in the world impassable to cars and trucks, where anything that a human being can't carry or push in a handcart is conveyed by a donkey, a horse or a mule. If you need lumber and rebar to add a new room to your house in the medina, a donkey will carry it in for you. If you have a heart attack while building the new room on your house, a donkey might well serve as your ambulance and carry you out. If you realize your new room didn't solve the overcrowding in your house and you decide to move to a bigger house, donkeys will carry your belongings and furniture from your old house to your new one. Your garbage is picked up by donkeys; your food supplies are delivered to the medina's stores and restaurants by mule; when you decide to decamp from the tangle of the medina, donkeys might carry your luggage out or carry it back in when you decide to return. In Fez, it has always been thus, and so it will always be. No car is small enough or nimble enough to squeeze through the medina's byways; most motorbikes cannot make it up the steep, slippery alleys. The medina is now a World Heritage site. Its roads can never be widened, and they will never be changed; the donkeys might carry in computers and flat-screen televisions and satellite dishes and video equipment, but they will never be replaced.

I am not the first American woman to be fascinated by the working animals of the medina. In 1927, Amy Bend Bishop, wife of eccentric, wealthy gallery owner Cortlandt Field Bishop, passed through Fez on a grand tour of Europe and the Mediterranean, and was intrigued by the 40,000 donkeys and mules working at the time. She was also disturbed by their poor condition, and she donated $8,000—the equivalent of at least $100,000 today—to establish a free veterinary service in Fez. The service was named the American Fondouk—"fondouk" is Arabic for inn—and after a stint in temporary quarters the clinic opened up in a whitewashed compound built around a shaded courtyard on the Route de Taza, a busy highway just outside the medina, where it has operated ever since. The Fondouk has become well known in Fez, even among the animals. Dozens of times creatures have shown up at the Fondouk's massive front gate, unaccompanied, needing help; just days before I arrived, for instance, a donkey having some sort of neurological crisis stumbled in on its own. It is possible that these wanderers were left at the door by their owners before the Fondouk opened in the early morning, but Fez and Morocco and the American Fondouk all seem to be magical places, and after spending even a few hours in Fez, the idea that animals find their own way to the Fondouk's shady courtyard doesn't seem unlikely at all.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Morocco's Make-believe Reforms

The moon of Ramadan is waning and every one is excited for the Eid. This article, from the Guardian UK Comment is Free blog. is slightly off topic, but welcomed. Finally someone from the West is willing to speak about the mirage of reform and liberties being touted by the Moroccan government.
Eid Mubarak to all !


Make-believe reforms in Morocco

Morocco's monarchy has yielded little, if any, political freedom. It must realise democracy and security are not mutually exclusive

Intissar Fakir,
Thursday 17 September 2009 18.30 BST

Although the Obama administration has yet to unveil a clear democracy promotion strategy for the Middle East, several regimes there are trumpeting their reform efforts to remind Congress that whatever the White House does, it should keep the foreign aid flowing. The textbook case in this sunshine offensive is Morocco. Under King Mohammed VI, a savvy young autocrat, the Moroccan monarchy has launched a sophisticated public relations campaign to convince westerners that the country is freer and more modern than ever.

Morocco excels at deflecting western criticism, insisting that liberal reforms would empower violent Islamic radicals who threaten the state. The claim takes in even those who should know better. "Under pressure from Islamic radicalism," Stephen Erlanger and Souad Mekhennet wrote recently in the New York Times, "King Mohammed VI has slowed the pace of change." The latest cover of the Washington Diplomat sports a profile of Aziz Mekouar, Morocco's ambassador to the US, heralding the monarchy's successes in squaring tradition with modernity.

Strangely, the reporters never ask about their fellow journalists in Morocco. According to Reporters Without Borders, since Mohammed came to the throne, Moroccan journalists have been sentenced to a total of 25 years in prison and $2.8m in fines, endured undocumented physical assaults, had their licences revoked and seen their equipment confiscated on charges of defaming the monarchy or jeopardising state security.

Last March, the managing editor and publishing director of the daily Arabic newspaper al-Jarida al-Oula were fined $24,190 and sentenced to two months in jail on charges of "defaming and insulting the judiciary" for covering a scandal involving a member of the ruling family. In another case last year, the same paper was ordered to halt publication of testimony on repression under the rule of the late King Hassan II.

In early August, the palace banned the country's most independent magazine, Telquel, for conducting a survey with French daily Le Monde on the king's first decade in power. The results were overwhelmingly positive, but the Ministry of Communications nonetheless declared that the monarchy should not be subject to debate, and the issue never appeared.

Reporters, editors and commentators are still thrown in jail for any offence, perceived or real. And as at Telquel, many of those the regime targets do not even sympathise with Islamist agendas.

Ironically, the radicalism that plagues Morocco is a product of the palace itself. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Mohammed's father, Hassan II, embarked on an initiative to Islamise Morocco. Seeking both to solidify his image as Commander of the Faithful and to weaken the secular left-leaning opposition forces that had gained support in the 60s and 70s, Hassan led a relentless effort to remake education and popular culture, infusing school curriculums with radical Salafi teachings.

The monarchy sought to divert attention from the sad reality of daily life by associating all secular thinking with colonialism and western domination – a powerful charge for a country that lived under French rule for nearly five decades – engaging the population in a search for lost identity. More imagined than real, the new identity focused on the religious character of the state: a Sunni, Salafi Morocco.

These efforts have succeeded, and all too well. As is the case in Saudi Arabia, the monarchy now faces an Islamist threat it is increasingly unable or unwilling to contain. The precise extent of the threat has never been clear, but Islamism is undeniably on the rise. While Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has inflicted less damage in Morocco than it has in Algeria and Mauritania, it remains a palpable threat.

But there are critical differences between AQIM and nonviolent local Moroccan Islamist movements seeking a legitimate say in the politics of their own countries. Across the Middle East, terrorism remains a convenient excuse for leaders to maintain control of civil institutions, while ignoring – and even compounding – problems that will ultimately be much more threatening to them.

In the next few months, Morocco will pretend to enact much-anticipated judicial reforms. As with the monarchy's other promises, including a relaxation of restrictions on the media, implementation of anti-corruption measures and separation of government powers, these initiatives will amount mostly to cosmetic changes. In truth, the judiciary is unlikely ever to be independent from the monarchy.

And the monarchy has yielded little, if any, political freedom. In the local elections in June, the (supposed) opposition Party for Modernity and Authenticity won an overwhelming majority of votes, and a critical stake in the country's municipal councils. But party leader Fouad al-Himma is a favourite and schoolmate of the king. He and his party will never pose a serious challenge to the government.

Despite what the autocrats say, democracy and security are not mutually exclusive in North Africa. On the contrary, to control the spread of extremism, the government will need to pursue liberal reforms to give people a voice.

As he welcomes Middle Eastern leaders to the White House in the coming months, President Obama will find no easy answers to these problems. But he can depart from past policy by choosing his words carefully, and refusing to praise countries like Morocco as shining examples of political reform even as they commit grievous injustices.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Spanish Enclave in Northern Morocco Approves Eid as Official Holiday

Here is an article from World Bulletin, which comes out of Turkey, Melilla, the city still colonized by the Spanish in Northern Morocco is going to officially acknowledge the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha or Eid Al Kabir as it is called which is celebrated by probably 50% of the population of the city. Well that is something to look forward to in a few months. One small step for decolonization.

Spain approves Islamic Eid as Official Holiday for First Time

A Spanish enclave in Northern Morocco approved the Muslim holiday, Eid el-Kebir, as an official public holiday for first time since 1492 in Spain, reports said.

Monday, 14 September 2009 13:38

World Bulletin / News Desk

A Spanish enclave in Northern Morocco approved the Muslim holiday, Eid el-Kebir, as an official public holiday for first time since 1492 in Spain, reports said.

Melilla will celebrate the Eid on November 17, 2010.

This is the first time since 1492 and the "Reconquista" of the Moorish kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula by the Catholic Monarchs, a non-Catholic feast will be officially a public holiday in a Spanish city, El Pais said.

The Muslim associations of Melilla obtained from local authorities that the Eid el-Kebir is recorded in the calendar 2010 of holidays.

The date of November 17 has been arrested and will be submitted on September 30 to the Ministry of Labor in Madrid, following approval by the government Council in Melilla.

Melilla has about 40,000 Muslims, slightly more than half the population. The city had so far nine Catholic religious holidays, but no Muslim, according to El Pais.

Ceuta, another Spanish enclave in northern Morocco, will soon follow the path of Melilla, the paper added.

The Eid commemorates the permission granted by Ala to Abraham, that instead of scarifying his own son, he could sacrifice a lamb instead.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Morocco Sends Emergency Aid to Burkina Faso and Niger

I know that this article is from the national Moroccan news agency, Maghreb Arab Presse, but it brings some attention to an important problem in another part of Africa, and that is the flooding taking place all along the Western coast. Alhamdulilah that the Moroccan government is sending some relief supplies.

Morocco sends emergency humanitarian aid to Burkina Faso and Niger

Rabat - Morocco has decided to send emergency humanitarian aid to Burkina Faso and Niger following the huge floods that have recently hit the two countries, the Foreign Ministry announced on Sunday.

The ministry said in statement the move, decided by HM King Mohammed VI, is part of effective solidarity and brotherly relations uniting the Kingdom and the two countries.

The aid comprises hundreds of tents, thousands of blankets and tonnes of medicines.

To this end, an airlift was set up, it said, adding that a first batch of aid was sent Sunday morning to Niamey and Ouagadougou, with other batches programmed in the course of the day.

The Kingdom expressed full support for the populations of the two countries and voiced hope they will get back to normal living conditions as soon as possible.

Last modification 09/13/2009 04:11 PM.
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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Passing the Ramadan Days in Morocco

It is still Ramadan. Here is an article about adjustments Moroccan make to their day for Ramadan.

Moroccans adjust lifestyles to fit Ramadan traditions


Ramadan brings about changes to schedules and habits, and many Moroccans end up adjusting their lives to enjoy the month more completely.

by Imane Belhaj for Magharebia in Casablanca – 04/09/09

Ramadan seems to bring changes to nearly everything in Morocco, from mealtimes to prayer schedules to people's personalities.

Young people in particular can find Ramadan a time of flux, with opportunities in everything from spirituality to business. Said, a young entrepreneur engaged in selling pre-made pizza crusts, is one of those locked in the latter kind of challenge.

"I like doing this kind of work because it makes the time fly," says Said, who each day rides his motorcycle to Maarif, a densely populated Casablanca commercial district, where he sells huge quantities of the pre-baked crusts.

"Ramadan really is generous," adds the young diploma-holder in hotel and restaurant management, who says that moonlighting in the pizza crust business "helps me prepare for opening my own small Moroccan dessert and appetizer shop".

Ramadan offers more spiritual challenges to other young people. Among them is 14-year-old Omar, who says the baking heat made his first day of fasting particularly hard. He spent most of his time watching TV, but couldn't concentrate. So he's spending Ramadan sleeping late, to help pass the time.

"It's not right," says his mother, Naima. "But I can't stop him from sleeping late. I'm afraid he'll stop fasting altogether, even though it's now his duty at his age, as it is for all Muslims."

Young people aren't the only ones affected by the Ramadan schedule shake-up. Retirees also adjust to new routines, but not all of them can agree on how to pass the time.

"The fasting hours are really long this summer," says Majeed, a senior who usually spends at least part of his day outside, locked in an intense and often raucous game of dominoes with colleagues and neighbours.

"People, especially the ones who don't work like myself, can't just stay at home counting the hours and minutes until iftar time," adds the retiree. "That would be really hard. Meanwhile, time passes quickly when we play."

But Majeed's peer, Mohammed, believes there's a lot more to Ramadan than playing cards or dominoes.

"I wake up a little bit late because I only sleep after the dawn prayers," said Mohammed. "Then I go to the market to buy the necessary ingredients for iftar. After that, I go to the mosque, and spend the rest of the time reading the Qur'an."

Moroccans formed a Facebook group to appeal to fasters and non-fasters during Ramadan.

Regardless of their age, most Moroccans seem to agree that Ramadan is also a month for TV. Many people seem to keep a tight grip on the remote control, jumping from one satellite channel to another until iftar, and even afterwards, especially if they skip the taraweeh prayers.

But not everyone is willing to miss out on taraweeh. Rachid is one of them.

"They're an indispensable part of Ramadan," he says. "After prayers, I spend all night with friends, until dawn, when we head to the mosque. Then we go to bed, and don't wake up before the noon adhan."

In addition, some people prefer sport to channel-surfing during Ramadan. Men spend more of their work-out time outdoors during the holy month. About an hour before the sunset adhan, many people go to the riverbank or other green areas away from the crowded streets. They walk or run, while groups of friends exercise, sweating heavily without regard for thirst or fatigue.

"Walking or running is very useful," said exercise enthusiast Idriss, who adds: "I try not to exert too much effort, so I don't wear myself out."

Along with Ramadan's typical changes, modern technology has added a wild card. The decision by some people to skip fasting, for example, has a new wrinkle: a Facebook page created by several Moroccans to encourage a "quiet discussion" between fasters and non-fasters.

According to the group's founding members, fasting or not fasting is an individual choice for which no one should be criticised. The group's 431 members rally to the slogan, "Fasting and non-fasting people in Ramadan: We are all Moroccans."

In his introduction to the group, member Najib Shaouki calls for a dialogue between fasters and non-fasters that doesn't delve into religious sermons or criticisms.

The group was also founded to call attention to the fact that Moroccans who don't fast don't want to be persecuted for what they see as a personal choice. Under Moroccan law, eating in public during daylight hours is forbidden during Ramadan, and those who consume food in broad daylight fear public repercussions and even violence.

The group has generated varied reactions from Facebook users, from those who highlight fasting's status as a pillar of Islam to those who see not fasting as a matter of personal freedom.

Overindulgence in seasonal treats can cause a variety of health problems.

Amidst the debate about the pros and cons of not eating, doctors warn that excessive iftar indulgence, as well as failing to eat the right way, can cause Moroccans a lot of gastrointestinal problems.

"[E]xcessive eating usually has negative consequences for one's health," says Dr. Abdelhamid Sallaoui. "Fasting doesn't mean blending all types of food at the time of iftar; instead, we should deal cautiously with the stomach."

Fasting is also a factor in the workplace during Ramadan. Employees are divided between those who see their job as a way to kill time until iftar, and those who are grouchy and nervous because they haven't had their morning coffee or cigarettes.

"The behaviour changes are imposed by a psychological need for certain materials to enter the human body," says Ali Fadhily, a sociology professor. "Abstaining from these things causes some sort of disorder in people, especially smokers or coffee drinkers."

"When these habits are lost, many people lose control over their behaviour and their daily dealings with others, or even with themselves," he adds.

On the street too, fasting may lead to problems. In Morocco, this is called tarmadina, or getting angry for trivial reasons. Squabbles and even fist-fights can result.

"This is completely forbidden, and it ruins the fasting of Muslims, who should embrace tolerance and good manners," says imam Saadedine Najeh.

Najeh says people should focus more on the religious aspects of Ramadan, and not just refraining from drinking and eating.

"It's a … training in the values of tolerance, mercy, and solidarity between the rich and poor," he says. "Therefore, we should receive it with joy, charity and piety; not make it an excuse for hateful behaviours and shameful practices. Nor is it a month of laziness, sleep or play; rather, it is the biggest motivator for quitting bad habits and embracing virtues."

Friday, September 4, 2009

Reading and Writing Berber in Morocco

Here is an article from the BBC about the Berber language in higher education in Morocco. I have a few problems with the premise of the article(as usual). I am not so quick to draw a line between Berbers and Arabs when so much of Moroccan history has been about the mixture of these two " identities," and also because i feel as if secular and Christian missionary motives (which both tend to be Islamophobic) like sticking their finger in this cultural and religious "rift."


Trail-blazing for Morocco's Berber speakers

Aischa Bardoun

By Sylvia Smith
BBC News, Agadir

Aischa Bardoun sees herself as a trail-blazer. She is one of the first Moroccans to get a masters degree in the Amazigh language, spoken by the country's Berber majority.

"We are very excited," she says.

"We studied the older texts that were passed down orally, but we are also writing new literature to reflect the current situation for Berbers in Morocco. It's really ground-breaking."

Although Berbers were Morocco's first inhabitants and account for some 60% of Morocco's population, they faced widespread discrimination and it is only now that the language is required to be taught in public school.

Some students feel having a degree in the language will help get a job. Unfortunately that is not necessarily the case
Ahmed Sabir
University of Ibn Zohr

Their academic qualifications may not help them much on the jobs market, but the availability of a further degree in a subject that was once virtually outlawed in their North African country underscores Berber success in gaining official acceptance of the language.

As well as the University of Ibn Zohr offering degrees in Amazigh, an umbrella term for the three dialects of Berber that are spoken in Morocco, the previously oral-only language has moved further into the mainstream with the creation of a Royal Institute of Amazigh language and culture.


Ms Bardoun and her classmates are all big fans of the doyenne of Moroccan Amazigh singers Raissa Talbensirt.

In her late 50s, Ms Talbensirt speaks only Tashelheit, the local dialect, but was a huge hit at the annual Berber festival, Timitar, attended by tens of thousands of young people.

She can neither read nor write but composes traditional music with local musicians.

"I am glad that the music is being carried forward by the new generation," she says.

"They listen on iPods and watch video clips on their computers, but it all helps our cause."

New alphabet

Although many Amazigh are illiterate, the government has put in place measures to assist schools to teach the written form of the language.

The Royal Institute of Amazigh has overseen the creation of an alphabet based partly on the mystical signs and symbols of the Tuareg found inscribed on tombs and monuments.

This written form is expected to have a unifying effect.

It is essentially a new form of the language which, it is hoped, all Moroccan Berbers will speak and understand.

It has also raised unrealistic hopes according to Ahmed Sabir, Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ibn Zohr.

"We were very oversubscribed when we started accepting applications for our Amazigh courses," he explains.

"Some students feel having a degree in the language will help get a job. Unfortunately that is not necessarily the case."

Fears of extremism

But while many Berbers, until recently excluded from jobs in education and government, make up Morocco's underclass, there are also the super-rich who have made fortunes in business.

Many live in the commercial capital, Casablanca, and in the past funded Berber activist groups.

According to Gerd Becker, a German cultural consultant living just outside Agadir, the main reason for the recent change of heart over Berber status stems from the government's desire to provide an alternative model to the radical Wahabi form of Islam.

"There was a danger of the country being taken over by fundamentalism," he says.

"The Amazigh culture offers a ready-made, more liberal identity that many Moroccans already identify with."

Although most Berbers are Muslim, some are Jewish or even Christian and with Amazigh stretching across northern Africa from Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Niger and Mali to Morocco, it is language that holds the rather disparate elements together.

And while Arabic remains the official language of the country, when it comes to music, young Moroccans either listen to Western music, or to rap in Amazigh.

Foreign language

Fatman, lead singer with the Agdir-based hip-hop band rap2bled says that the Berber language is being used to pass on messages about drug use and unemployment.

"My parents couldn't read a newspaper or understand the television because they were in Arabic," he says.

"Now we have our own television channel and magazines in Berber. We feel much closer now to people in the Rif and Atlas Mountains."

But for intellectuals and activists, this is just the beginning.

Abullah Aourik, an artist and publisher of a magazine in Amazigh, wants to see Berber replace Arabic as the official language of the country.

"We think it would be appropriate to change part of our constitution so that Arabic is no longer required for legal documents or for any official communication," he insists.

"Most Moroccans grow up speaking Berber - why should they be at a disadvantage in having to use classical Arabic which is a foreign language whenever they brush up against bureaucracy?"

The government may not be ready yet to entertain this idea which seems far-fetched to even the majority of the Amazigh themselves, but the teaching of Amazigh in public schools and at university level could in the future lead to it being recognised as a national language - as it already is in Algeria, Mali and Niger.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Chinese Imports hurt Moroccan Shoe Repair shops

This article from Middle East Online is not about Ramadan, but about the fledgling shoe repair business in Morocco due to competition from Chinese imports.

‘Made in China’ sinks Morocco shoe repair shops

Shoe repair shops are struggling to survive increasing tide of cheap shoes made in China.

By Saad Guerraoui – CASABLANCA

Abdel Salam Jawhari, a 73-year-old owner of a shoe repair shop in Casablanca’s upmarket Hassan I Avenue, has just turned down a posh female customer despite going through difficult times because of her sarcasm.

He insists the future is bleak for this profession which he has been practising for 62 years, blaming it on Chinese products flooding the domestic shoe market.

The flood of Chinese products has increased since China's entry into the World Trade Organization in late 2001, a development which has had a negative outcome on Morocco’s textile and manufacturing industries.

Jawhari said clients run away when they “are told the price of repairing their shoes” that can go up to 80 Moroccan dirhams (10 US dollars).

“Why would you bother yourself repairing your shoes whereas you can buy brand new ones for less that their repair cost?” Asked Jawhari.

Jawhari stressed that raw materials and machinery “are all imported from Europe, particularly Germany for their good quality, which reflect the repair costs.”

Many shops across Morocco’s industrial capital sell beautifully-designed shoes for as little as Dh70 (7 US dollars), but the quality is quite poor.

Jawhari recalls this profession was dominated by foreigners and Jews until the 1960s when Moroccans started to take over.

He highlights the golden years when he used to make between Dh900 a day and employ 3 to 4 people. Today, he hardly makes Dh150 a day, which is barley enough to cover the shop’s increasing expenses and bills.

“Today, we repaired only three shoes and there are other days where it goes dead,” he sighed

He thanks God his married son, the only employee left in the shop, lives with him. Otherwise, he would have closed a long time ago like many other shoe repair shops which could not withstand the Chinese tide.

Jawhari proudly shows his scars from accidents, which did not stop him from carrying on his job despite not being covered by the social security.

“Only old customers keep coming in. The new generation is fussy and thinks I have got Moses baton to repair the unrepairable,” he said with laughter.

Dr. Saad Guerraoui , Senior Editor