Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Five Moroccan Writers/Poets make the Beirut 39

Let us ignore the nonsense of the Tunisian elections and look instead of at the winners of Beirut39. Its a project to find the 39 best Arab writers and poets under the age of 39. This year five Moroccans have been chosen amongst the group. Below is a portion of the press release explaining Beirut39 and then below that is a short story written by one of the chosen Moroccan writers whose name is Abdelkader Benali.

PRESS RELEASE: As part of Beirut 'World Capital of the Book' festivities, Hay Festival announces the complete list of the 'Beirut39' Project at the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair. 'Beirut39' will celebrate the best 39 Arab writers under 40 in Beirut in a festival on 15-18 April 2010. An anthology featuring the authors will be published simultaneously in English and Arabic by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc and Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing.

The 39 writers that have been selected to be part of the Beirut39 project are:

Abdullah Thabit (Saudi Arabia, 1973), Abdelaziz Errachidi (Morocco, 1978), Abdelkader Benali (Morocco/The Netherlands, 1975), Abderrahim Elkhassar (Morocco, 1975), Abderrazak Boukebba (Algeria, 1977), Abdellah Taia (Morocco, 1973), Adania Shibli (Palestine, 1974), Ahmad Saadawi (Iraq, 1973), Ahmad Yamani (Egypt, 1970), Ala Hlehel (Palestine, 1974), Yahya Amqassim (Saudi Arabia, 1971), Bassim al Ansar (Iraq, 1970), Dima Wannous (Syria, 1982), Faiza Guene (Algeria/France, 1985), Hala Kawtharani (Lebanon, 1977), Hamdy el Gazzar (Egypt, 1970), Hussein al Abri (Oman, 1972), Hussein Jelaad (Jordan, 1970), Hyam Yared (Lebanon, 1975), Islam Samhan (Jordan, 1982), Joumana Haddad (Lebanon, 1970), Kamel Riahi (Tunisia, 1974), Mansour El Souwaim (Sudan, 1970), Mansoura Ez Eldin (Egypt, 1976), Mohammad Hassan Alwan (Saudi Arabia, 1979), Mohammad Salah Al Azab (Egypt, 1981), Nagat Ali (Egypt, 1975), Najwa Binshatwan (Lybia, 1970), Najwan Darwish (Palestine, 1978), Nazem El Sayed (Lebanon, 1975), Rabee Jaber (Lebanon, 1972), Randa Jarrar (Palestine/Egypt/USA, 1978), Rosa Yassin Hassan (Syria, 1974), Samar Yezbek (Syria, 1970), Samer Abou Hawwash (Palestine, 1972), Wajdi al Ahdal (Yemen, 1973), Yassin Adnan (Morocco, 1970), Youssef Rakha (Egypt, 1976) and Zaki Baydoun (Lebanon, 1981).

Beirut39 is a Hay Festival project which aims to select and celebrate 39 of the most interesting Arab writers under the age of 40 as a part of the Beirut World Capital festivities 2009/10.



From May the Sun Shine Tomorrowby AbdelKader Benali

Translated from the Dutch by Susan Massotty


Malik Ben weighed 300 pounds on the day he decided to have his name removed from the Yellow Pages. Lugging all that weight around day after day had gotten to be a chore, which is what prompted his second resolution: to go on a diet.

Malik had dark features. Black hair, which took on a reddish sheen-a kind of auburn he rather liked-whenever he spent too much time in the sun. Brown eyes, the same shade of brown as in the paintings of the old Dutch masters. Pupils that sometimes glowed with visionary intensity. Tawny, leathery skin, tough as birch bark, which served as a visual reminder of his parents-children of high deserts and mountains, where rattlesnakes slithered across the sun-baked soil and goats leapt from ledge to ledge. It was the kind of skin that would still be firm in old age. Malik used his hands a lot when he talked. He was delighted when his hands assumed the leading role halfway through a conversation and did the talking for him. They'd been made for the job. Hadn't the Spanish Lady told him so?

Malik Ben was a healer. He healed people who were no longer in touch with their true, authentic selves. He referred to himself as an "authenticity healer." His job was to help people recover their lost souls. It was a task he had taken upon himself. In the past, poets had been entrusted with the soul's welfare. But since no one believed in poets anymore, Malik had felt compelled to assume this responsibility.

Thanks to his verbal skills, Malik made contact with others quickly and easily. But he was also a good listener-a quality his clients valued even more. It was his listening skills that paid the bills.

Malik's office was in the heart of Amsterdam, in the basement of a nineteenth-century town house a stone's throw away from Leidseplein. Callers were obliged to ring a bell that jangled loudly. Even before they stepped inside, Malik could tell what was on their minds by the expression on their faces.

Land was expensive in Amsterdam, so every inch of space was put to optimal use. Malik's cubbyhole couldn't have measured more than 80 or 90 square feet, but it served his needs: his occupation didn't require a whole lot of space. The elm trees lining the street added an air of majesty, though the roots had gradually pushed up through the paving and cracked the sidewalk in several places. Drivers and pedestrians had never been heard to complain. The gnarled roots had a certain charm. People were used to them. Every once in a while somebody tripped over one, but it was usually a tourist, who scrambled to his feet and went on his way without noticing the beauty of the street.

Malik, down in his basement, stared all day long at shoes-sneakers, boots, pumps and high heels-as they strolled, stumbled and scurried past. He never tired of the scene. Sometimes the shoe-wearers came inside and were given a face and a name. They shook Malik's hand, sat down and told their stories.


Malik Ben's services were listed in the Yellow Pages under "Entertainment," though it was hardly an apt description of his work. They'd stuck him in that category because they hadn't been able to come up with a better alternative. The deed had been done before Malik had realized what had happened. "It's like putting a hobble on the wrong leg of a donkey," his father would no doubt have said. Malik didn't worry about it, since most of his clients found their way to his office through word of mouth anyway. Being listed in the Yellow Pages showed that he took himself seriously, and that's all that mattered.

He'd wanted to be listed under "Alternative Medicine," but the Yellow Pages people had flatly refused. His other suggestions, such as "Alternative Therapy," "Psychological Counselling," "Spiritual Guidance" and "Career Consultancy," had likewise been vetoed. The Yellow Pages had a monopoly on headings. If you didn't fit under one of their headings, you didn't exist.

Practitioners of alternative medicine were required to hand over proof, such as a diploma, a certificate or an official letter stating that they belonged to a professional organization or association. But Malik couldn't produce a certificate and wasn't a member of anything, which is why he found himself listed in the Yellow Pages among the clowns, the contortionists and the male strippers, who entertained their female audiences with enviable cocksureness. In sheer desperation, the Yellow Pages people had placed Malik in a handy catchall. He hadn't even bothered to argue, but had simply gone forth to do good.

He was frequently asked at parties to explain his chosen line of work. "What do you actually heal?" It was then that he discovered that people had been given tongues to make life difficult. Your body might be in perfect shape and your cheeks cleanly shaved, but your tongue got so twisted up that nothing came out right. His few well-meaning stabs invariably trailed off into incoherent babble. His usual eloquence let him down just when he needed it the most. What he wanted to say, with studied casualness, was, "I try to restore the self-confidence of successful people who have lost their nerve." But it never came out casually. His tongue refused to cooperate. Instead, he usually said something like, "What's wrong with wanting to give people back their self-confidence?" It sounded defensive. It sounded like a counter-attack. And that had nothing to do with entertainment, much less clowns.

Faced with such a cryptic explanation, people usually looked at Malik as if he were the one who needed help. At that point, he would resort to an even simpler explanation. "I'm a kind of mental coach. I give my clients a psychological boost." That's how low he'd stoop in an effort to appear open and intelligible.

It takes a lot of energy to make yourself completely understood at parties. When Malik could bear the puzzled looks no longer, he'd make use of his last option: he'd slip quietly away. On the way home he'd feel empty and misunderstood, but the feeling never lasted long. Walking past his office was all it took to restore him to his usual good spirits.

Malik never felt sorry for himself. After all, he'd launched his career at the right time. With the grace of a skater, he danced across the slippery ice of an economic upturn. In the two hundred years since the Industrial Revolution and Hegel, there had never been a period in which human authenticity had been so sorely tried. The rat race and rampant consumerism had taken their toll. The winds of spirituality had swept in, cold and implacable, yet at the same time powerful, mysterious and irresistible. Malik knew that there was nothing new under the sun, but others marvelled at the New Age. He realized then that the writing was on the wall. It was a sign that people no longer knew what they were doing. And so he felt entitled to speak up.

Statisticians worked night and day like busy bees, gathering statistics to prove that humanity was in dire straits. Malik loved statistics. He rocked himself to sleep with statistics: his grade-point averages in school, his monthly profits, the average tax burden in the countries of the European Union, the rate of absenteeism among office workers in metropolitan areas.

Even without the help of statisticians, Malik would have noticed that a fundamental change had occurred. More and more people seemed to wonder who they were and to fall apart under pressure. As a result they lost touch with their inner selves. Or so the theory went. To make matters worse, some of them never managed to reconnect. They remained lost souls, forever in search of their identity. In Malik's opinion the human soul had more to do with personality than with religion. He didn't want his clients to misunderstand him on this point.

If anyone doubted his diagnoses-and therefore the need for his services-he pointed to the news reports in the media. One glance at the front page of the daily papers was enough to convince anyone of the seriousness of the situation. Presidents were losing control of the images they created of themselves. Not because the oil fields were drying up, but because they themselves were. Malik always smiled fiendishly as he perused the headlines. The more sensational the news, the better-his livelihood depended on it.

Malik knew why he had been able to adapt so quickly to the spirit of the times. He was the kind of person who learned from experience. And experience had taught him that it was better to blend in than to stick out. Nonconformity was charming in small doses, but too much was fatal. People who flaunted their differences were shunned; people who adapted were subtly rewarded. Malik didn't know all the ins and outs of this subliminal game, but he enjoyed playing it. Natural forces seemed to be at work, and Malik was instinctively drawn to natural things.

If he hadn't identified so strongly with the age in which he lived, Malik wouldn't have been able to rake in quite as much money. He imitated everyone he came into contact with, including absolute idiots. He unconsciously adjusted the tone and pitch of his voice to match that of the person he was talking to, even if it was someone he barely knew or didn't even like. It wasn't that he didn't respect other people. His profession, after all, required total commitment. Irony was taboo. The sharpest criticism could be communicated silently.

His desk was neat and tidy. It was cleaned twice a week by a small, smiling Colombian named Chiquita. That's what she called herself at any rate, though he had no idea if it was her real name. He loved his desk. He cherished its smooth surface, its elegant size and shape. One day he asked Chiquita if she knew Juan. It was a stupid question, since it assumed that everyone in the world knew everyone else. She laughed, because Malik was always bombarding her with questions she couldn't answer. He knew his desk would never be cleaned if Chiquita weren't around to do it.

In fact, she meant more to him than he did to her. When he no longer needed her services, she'd quickly find herself a new employer. He, however, would soon be working in a pigsty. Besides, Chiquita was one of the few persons he talked to outside of his work.

A picture of the Vatican adorned his desk. He kept it as a reminder of a weekend he once spent in Rome. Chiquita was a devout Catholic, so she always dusted the picture and polished the frame until it gleamed. She'd never been to Rome and didn't have the faintest idea of what went on in the Vatican, but the Pope's residence clearly had a special place in her heart.

The picture represented something else altogether to Malik. He thought of it as the perfect symbol of how slowly things change: an event that seems like a major upheaval today is actually just a blip on the human landscape. The picture comforted him and gave him the courage to go on with his work, which obliged him to get up early in the morning and to exercise an infinite amount of patience.



Like Malik's parents, the Spanish Lady and her husband had been refugees. Refugees with a small "r," an "r" that tried to make itself as small and inconspicuous as possible. Their story wasn't exactly grand either, and when urged to tell it, they looked positively embarrassed. They began to stutter so much that nobody ever made them finish the story. Beneath it lay a deep dark secret they didn't want anyone to know. He remembered the words of the Spanish Lady: "We were all orphaned by the Civil War. We all had to fend for ourselves. There was no need to shout it from the rooftops."

This more or less fit in with what Malik's parents had always told him: "People everywhere are sometimes forced to flee for their lives. We weren't the only ones." Years ago, long before the refugee question had become a burning issue with an even greater news value than floods and famines, Malik's father had seen a group of refugees on the eight o'clock news and had pointed out, with brutal honesty, which ones he thought were going to make it. Apparently he had an eye for that kind of thing.

The Spanish Lady had amassed a fortune in her host country, just as Malik's parents had. They'd made the most of their opportunities and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. No one had ever thought that Malik's father would one day be so rich that he'd never again have to worry about money. This was the same man who'd been welcomed to Holland by a clergyman who'd thrust a pair of underpants into his hands and then assigned him to a hastily built barracks. "You've got to strike while the iron's hot," his father always said, "and not get discouraged when times are tough. Remember, you can always get a bowl of soup from the Salvation Army." It was his father's mantra, and it sounded good, the way he said it. His father had saved the underpants. "They're a sacred relic," he said. "One whiff of those underpants and I'm reminded of my first few weeks in this country. The same feeling of despair comes over me. And that's good, because it gives me energy."

Malik's parents had arrived here with only two plastic bags, which contained their entire belongings. Holland had thrown open its borders to people whose voices had been silenced in other parts of the world, to people who longed for freedom and came to this country or to similarly welcoming countries to lick their wounds. They wanted to live their lives in peaceful surroundings, in places such as Ommoord, Poggibonsi, Sint-Niklaas or Aarhus. Holland was the oasis Malik's parents had been longing for.

"We made the right choice," his father concluded soon after his arrival. "We'll get along fine in this country."

"The toilets are dirty," his mother said.

"Dirty toilets, clean kitchens-isn't that how the saying goes?"

"I don't know and I don't care."

His father had felt at home right from the start. Before long his parents moved into a rented apartment in a working-class neighborhood. His father had promptly paid a visit to City Hall, the Chamber of Commerce and the Red Cross: to City Hall to register as a new resident, to the Chamber of Commerce to request a registration number for his future business and to the Red Cross to get a list of the most frequently occurring accidents and viruses in the Netherlands. He came home and told his wife that she should never stand on a ladder, since ladder-related incidents accounted for 80% of all home accidents. He visited the local churches, tasted the soup at the Salvation Army ("because you never know when you might need it") and took his wife in to taste it too ("this has got to be rock bottom").

Melissa Ben had wanted to go to Switzerland because it had mountains, chocolate and neutrality. Switzerland was a country that didn't belong to anything, much as she and her husband no longer belonged anywhere either. That was how she looked at things. She had a strictly dualistic view of the world. People were either rooted or uprooted, secure or adrift, starry-eyed or down-to-earth. To Melissa, there was nothing in between.

In the eyes of Roxander Ben, however, his adopted country could do no wrong. While Holland was admittedly infected with the revolutionary spirit of the times, it never seemed to progress beyond the flower-power stage. Soon after his arrival, the whole country suddenly seemed to go searching for its identity, only to find a ready set of hippie credos, hippie gurus and hippie manifestos. Not even this could shake his father's faith. Holland in the 1970s was a land of peace and harmony, where opportunity knocked on every door and the soup was rich and creamy.

The difference between Malik's mother and father was never more apparent than in the way they dealt with strangers. One evening his father came home with a woman he'd bumped into on the sidewalk. They'd struck up a conversation, and he'd decided to introduce her to his wife. The moment Melissa Ben caught sight of her husband, fumbling with his keys outside the door, she hid behind the drapes, terrified of the unexpected stranger who was about to enter her private domain: an apartment without decent drapes, without books, without memories, without anything you could point to and say, "Look, that's ours. That's who we are." A home, in fact, without the slightest bit of hominess.

The last thing she wanted was to be confronted with the hussy in tight jeans who was standing on her threshold. A woman who was bound to think she was ridiculous in her strange caftan. A woman who would look down on her and start flirting openly with her husband because she knew she could get away with it. Besides, the apartment still reeked of the spicy dish she'd prepared for her husband's supper. Melissa Ben hated to cook.

Roxander stepped inside and called her name, but she didn't answer.

"My wife is shy," he announced to the sophisticated creature at his side. It was a blatant lie, but lying was second nature to him. He promised over and over again to tell the truth, yet when push came to shove, he always lied. He liked to joke about it: "Truth brings the world closer to you. Lying brings you closer to the world."

Don't make things worse than they already are, she thought. Don't drag my name through the mud in front of strangers! But he did make things worse. He loved making things worse. He invited the Dutch woman to sit down and told her that his wife would be back soon, without saying where she'd gone, but implying that she'd just slipped out for a moment.

"Unfortunately, all I can offer you to drink is tea," he said.

"I'd love some tea!" the woman cooed.

Melissa-still behind the drapes-balled her fists. What a suck-up, she thought.


Roxander offered the woman some of Melissa's homemade cookies. His guest seemed to feel completely at ease. She had a soft, inquisitive voice. She thought the tea was delicious, the cookies even more so.

"If that woman had been the least bit sensitive," Melissa said to Malik years later, "she never would have sat down." As it was, his mother had been made to feel ridiculous.

"There's something I'd like to show you," Malik's father said to his guest. He trotted off and came back with a roll of toilet paper. "In my country," he said, "we don't have toilet paper. It's such a wonderful invention, and yet it's so wasteful! Incredible, isn't it? Imagine inventing a fantastic product like this that costs next to nothing to produce, yet commands a price that verges on the hysterical. Just think of all the trees!"

The woman laughed. "So what did you wipe your heinie with?"

"Your 'heinie'? What's that?"

"Your rear end."

He laughed. "With a sharp pebble or a sheet of newspaper. Preferably yesterday's paper, but it depended on the news. A good-sized pebble is the best. A little poking and prodding never hurt anyone. " The two of them laughed.

He's definitely making things worse, Melissa thought. It's getting worse by the minute. Now he's dragged my country's reputation through the mud, and all to please a woman.

The visitor told Roxander that she was impressed by the Regime of No Color-the regime that ruled the country from which he and Melissa had fled.

"There isn't an ounce of truth in what you've been told," Roxander said. "The Regime of No Color has destroyed my country. Look at me. What's a strong, healthy man like me doing here? I didn't leave my country because I hated it."

"Maybe you left because you wanted to tell the story of your country."

"Boy, have you got your head in the clouds! My country doesn't have a story to tell. All it has is poverty and despair. Our TV broadcasts the same crap day after day."

"You must be exaggerating."

"Me, exaggerate? Who's the one who's exaggerating-the person who calls a spade a spade or the person who admires the emperor's new clothes?"

"You've picked up our language pretty fast."

Malik's father realized that talking to this woman had been a mistake. "An animal doesn't abandon its territory without reason. The territory itself must have changed in some way, wouldn't you agree? For example, the animal no longer feels safe, or isn't able to find enough to eat. Anyway, I can tell you why this animal," he said, pointing to himself, "left its territory. I was chased out of it, because I was a spy who refused to give his prized possession to the wolves."


"So this is where you've been."

Those were the first words Roxander Ben uttered to his wife when he found her behind the drapes. Two hazel eyes, anxious but hostile, stared back at him. "I see you've been playing hide-and-seek," he said. "We waited for you all evening."

She looked at him. "You don't have a clue, do you?" she said. She strode over to the table, snatched up the roll of toilet paper and waved it angrily in his face.

"You can put that back in the cupboard," he said. "Show-and-tell is over. You missed all the fun. She was impressed, she had a good laugh, and she was confused. Just like I wanted her to be."

"I didn't miss a single word. You came waltzing in here with a strange woman. You made our country seem ridiculous by claiming we didn't have toilet paper, and you made it sound as if we escaped from hell. What on earth will she think of us?"

"I've got a plan. But in order for us to carry it out, you'll have to put on those high heels I bought you last week."

"The red ones? What for?"

"We're going to make a baby. Who else can we tell the story of our lives to except our own child?"

"You want us to do it now . . . this instant?"

"No, when the clock strikes hickory, dickory, dock. I'm going to take a shower, and after I've dried myself off, we can get started. It'll be this century's greatest project. It'll be the best baby ever. We'll show the regime that we haven't been beat!"

If Roxander Ben hadn't added that last sentence, in which he turned the birth of their child into an act of resistance against the regime, Melissa Ben would no doubt have slapped him or cursed him or even bitten off his ear. But she was prepared to do anything to defy the regime. So she put on her red high heels.

Melissa missed her homeland too much to settle easily into a new country. She had specialized in the geology and morphology of mountains. Her country was located in the middle of a high mountain range, and she'd written her master's thesis on the transitional zone between mid-sized and high mountains. Holland didn't have a single mountain, but that didn't stop her from thinking up research projects that she'd give her eyeteeth to implement. Dutch geologists invariably ended up working for the oil industry, and one of the oil companies did in fact have an opening for a geologist. They were anxious to hire her, because they were looking for someone to do field work in the country ruled by the Regime of No Color. They promised to give her a Dutch passport so she could go in and out of the country without getting into trouble with the authorities. The oil companies worked hand in glove with the regime. Melissa rejected the offer. The very thought of it made her blood boil.

Roxander begged her to reconsider. "Once the oil starts to flow, we'll be swimming in the stuff. In money, I mean."

"I don't want to be swimming in money, not at my country's expense."


"Oil is oil," he said. "Nobody asks where the gasoline comes from when they fill their tank. We can use that money to send our child to a good school, to put decent clothes on its back. Can't you set aside your principles for once? We're poor. We can't afford to have principles."

"You're such a bastard," she said. "You're asking me to sacrifice everything I ever stood for."

"I may be a bastard, but at least I'm an honest one," he said. "I'm not going to sugar-coat this for you. The next few years are going to be tough. If you don't take that job, someone else will. I don't intend to be made a laughingstock forever. The only thing you need to sacrifice is your inability to face reality."

"You smooth-talking bastard! There's nothing left of the ideals you used to spout so often. Peace. Truth. Justice. They don't mean a thing to you anymore."

Roxander grabbed his wife by the throat. "I don't ever want to hear those words again," he said. "I've had it up to here with words like that. Those words have been our downfall. Words are indestructible. They never change. People do. Our entire country went chasing after a few simple words, and look what it got us: corruption, manipulation, mutual distrust and a pack of lies."

For weeks Melissa was besieged with phone calls from the oil company. "The answer is no," she said. And again: "The answer is no!" They raised the salary. "The answer is no." They threw in bonuses, added more vacation days, upped her chances of promotion. "The answer is no." Roxander could have strangled her. Instead he watched as Melissa destroyed their one chance to live a life of relative ease.

"The answer is no!"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Riots in the Slums of Algeria - Morocco's Neighbor

There are borders between Morocco and Algeria that are still undefined. So, it's okay if we let a little news from Algeria seep onto this blog. Here is an article from Aljazeera's English page about ongoing riots over living conditions in Algeria's slums. Keep Hope Alive.


Algiers police fire on slum protest

People living in a slum district of the Algerian capital have taken to the streets for a second day to protest against job and housing shortages.

Residents of the Diar Echams area, frustrated over high unemployment and inadequate housing, clashed with police on Wednesday having started their protest on Monday night.

The police said at least 11 officers were hurt, although no figure of civilian casualties was given.

Protesters had used high ground above the suburb to throw bricks, stones and petrol bombs at police in riot gear as they attempted to enter the area late on Tuesday, sources aid.

Some residents of the shantytown are demanding that the city authorities include them on a list of those eligible for re-housing.

About 400 policemen in riot gear used tear gas and an armoured vehicle to break up the demonstration.

Tense stand-off

One officer was seriously hurt during an unsuccessful attempt to clear the protesters from a road they had been blocking, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.

Residents said they were protesting against squalid conditions in the suburb [AFP]

Police sources said several other officers had been hurt.

There was a lull on Tuesday evening after the police's failed assault, but the protesters and police remained in a stand-off on opposite sides of a road.

Residents said they were protesting against their squalid living conditions in the working class suburb.

According to accounts in the Algerian press, up to 10 people live in a single room or in shacks.

Algiers has a heavy security presence due to ongoing skirmishes between armed groups and government forces.

'Alarm bell'

After more than a decade of conflict between security forces and armed groups, the violence has subsided sharply in the past few years.

"The unrest in Diar Echams is just an alarm bell"

Mohamed Lagab, political analyst
Many people in the former French colony of 35 million have now switched their focus to bread-and-butter issues, expressing frustration at the lack of jobs and housing.

"The current government has failed to solve social problems," Mohamed Lagab, an Algerian political analyst, said.

"The unrest in Diar Echams is just an alarm bell."

The government has spent billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues on projects to improve living standards and this year announced it would spend a further $150 billion on modernising the economy and creating jobs.

Algeria, an Opec member, is the world's fourth biggest exporter of natural gas.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Moroccan Court Imprisons Editor

Driss Chahtan holds his daughter while being taken to prison. (Abdelwahid Mahir)

Here is an article from Committee to Protect Journalists about the imprisonment of a journalist in Morocco for whatever the government says that he did wrong, because that's just how it is. They say that he lied about the king's health.

In Morocco, Editor Imprisoned, Court Shutters Paper

New York, October 16, 2009—The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly condemns the decision of a Rabat court Thursday to imprison the managing editor of Al-Michaal newspaper for one year.

A Rabat misdemeanor court sentenced Driss Chahtan to a year in jail and Al-Michaal journalists Mostafa Hiran and Rashid Mahameed to three months in prison ‎and‎ a 5,000 dirham (US$655) fine each for “intentionally publishing false information” in a number of articles about King Mohamed VI’s health, local journalists ‎told CPJ.‎ The paper’s lawyers walked out of the hearing on October 8 to protest procedural violations and the court's failure to abide by basic standards for a fair trial, they said.

Immediately after the court ruling, around two dozen policemen stormed the Casablanca-based offices of Al-Michaal and arrested Chahtan, journalists told CPJ. Lahbib Mohamed Haji, one of the newspaper’s lawyers told CPJ‎ that the arrest violated the country's penal code, saying that the public prosecutor “had no legal basis to request the imprisonment after the ‎court issued its decision.” Haji said he has appealed the ruling. Neither Hiran nor Mahameed have been detained.

“These jail terms are part of a disturbing trend of repression of critical journalism in Morocco,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “The government has failed to keep its repeated promise to reform restrictive press legislation and a politicized judiciary. We call on the appeals court to overturn these convictions. Meanwhile our colleague should be released on bail.”

Al-Michaal’s articles on the king’s health were published in early September. A few days before, staffers at the independent daily Al-Jarida al-Oula were interrogated by police for publishing on the same topic. Editor Ali Anouzla and journalist Bochra Daou have been ordered to appear at the Rabat misdemeanor court on October 21, journalists told CPJ.

Cases against independent newspapers have been rising over the past few months. On Wednesday, a Casablanca administrative court backed the September 29 arbitrary order by the Ministry of Interior to close the daily Akhbar al-Youm, after the newspaper published a cartoon about the wedding of Prince Moulay Ismail, the cousin of the king, in its September 26-27 weekend edition.

Right after Akhbar al-Youm published the cartoon, the Ministry of Interior issued a statement accusing the independent daily of a “blatant disrespect to a member of the royal family” during a “private wedding ceremony organized by the royal family.” Editor Taoufik Bouachrine and cartoonist Kalid Kadar have to appear before a Casablanca court to face criminal defamation charges on October 23, journalists told CPJ.

On September 29, police prevented staffers of Akhbar al-Youm from entering their offices in Casablanca, which stopped publication of the newspaper. “This is a shocking and absurd case of abuse of power,” human rights lawyer Abderrahim Jamai told CPJ. Under the Moroccan Press Law, the Ministry of Interior has no legal authority to shutter a newspaper. Article 77 goes only so far as to authorize the ministry to ban a single issue of a periodical deemed disrespectful to the royal family, lawyers told CPJ.

In late July, CPJ sent a letter to King Mohamed VI expressing disappointment with the continued use of the courts to suppress freedom of expression and impose excessive fines on critical journalists in Morocco.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Morocco Child Maid Abuse Sentence 'lenient'

This is one of those good news/bad news article. The "good' news is that someone is actually being held accountable for abusing child maids in Morocco, the bad news it that the charge is lenient and its affect over the entire situation probably minuscule. Keep Hope Alive!


Morocco abuse sentence 'lenient'

Moroccan human rights groups are to appeal against the sentence imposed on a woman at the centre of a high-profile abuse case, saying it was too lenient.

The judge's wife was given three years in jail for torturing her 11-year-old maid, Zineb Chetite.

The court heard medical reports listing how the girl had at times been burnt with oil and an iron, had had her head shaved and was beaten with a stick.

The case has highlighted the plight of maids in Morocco and abroad.

Details of the woman's name have not been released, although she is known to be from an affluent family and the wife of a Moroccan judge.

Reports say she was sentenced to three-years in prison and fined 100,000 dirhams ($13,000; £8,150) for the torture and abuse of the young domestic servant.

'Stolen childhood'

Several human rights organisations say they are to appeal against the sentence on behalf of the estimated 80,000 child workers in Morocco, who are forced into such work by their families because of poverty.

"The sentence does not reflect the scale of the atrocities committed, because the little girl was locked up in a cellar," says Najia Adib of Don't Touch My Children.

"We're going to appeal because we feel the victim's childhood was stolen."

Zineb Chetite had to be taken to hospital earlier this year after a series of abuses, which included being burnt, beaten and suffering injuries to her genitalia, medical reports say.

The head of the Moroccan Human Rights Centre, Dr Khaled al-Sharqawi, told the BBC that the sentence was lenient as the court had not taken into consideration the maid's age, and the fact she was a defenceless child away from home.

The group is also demanding that the woman's husband be charged with abuse. It says he was spared legal action because of his position.

In September, a number of Moroccan non-governmental organisations appealed to the government to implement changes to the law, to prevent children younger than 15 from being employed as domestic servants.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Legendary Mamounia Hotel in Marrakech Re-Opens

Ordinarily one would not consider the opening of a luxury hotel relevant news, but, here is an article about the grand re-opening of the Mamounia Hotel in Marrakech.

I actually had the chance to stay at this hotel a few years ago just before it closed for remodeling and it was definitely a side of Moroccan life or wealthy Westerners in Morocco-life that I had never seen before. One man told me that it was the best hotel on the continent of Africa. Wow.

I spent most every day marveling at the abundance and convincing the staff that I actually "belonged" there because they were not use to having guests who wore hijab or who spoke Arabic with them. Sometimes I had to use French or English just to be convincing. That is not to say that I ever want to return there ( nor could I afford the tab on my own anyway). So much luxury surrounded by people struggling just to feed themselves does not seem like a peaceful vacation to me.

Legendary Mamounia Hotel Reopens in Marrakech

By Alfred de Montesquiou, Associated Press Writer

MARRAKECH, Morocco — Winston Churchill invited Franklin Roosevelt here to relax following strategic talks during World War II, and Alfred Hitchcock shot some of The Man Who Knew Too Much in the hotel's lobby — which has also been a haunt of the Rolling Stones, Charlie Chaplin, Sharon Stone and many other Hollywood stars for nearly a century.

Now, after a three-year, $176 million makeover, the Mamounia is opening again for business in the oasis gardens of Marrakech in southern Morocco.

A top interior designer has refurbished its rooms in Art Deco and Arabo-Andalusian styles, star-studded chefs have opened restaurants, and a sprawling spa has been added to the 20-acre gardens of palm and olive trees to lure once again the rich and the famous to this legendary hotel set inside the Medieval ramparts of a world heritage site.

"There is only three golden rules about a palace of this standing," says Jacques Garcia, the star French decorator who led restoration efforts: "Elegance, elegance, and elegance."

Built in 1923 when Morocco was a French protectorate, the Mamounia merges the sober lines of Art Deco architecture with the intricacies of traditional arabesque decorations. The hotel has long been considered the masterpiece of this fusion of styles, unique to a handful of Moroccan buildings.

Its great marble hall leads to shaded courtyards where the trickle of small fountains echoes amid multicolored tiling of rare refinement. The pool house copies a 17th-century princely pavilion. Here sculptures in the Moroccan Zellige mosaic style are carved all over the plaster walls, overlooking a 600-square-foot swimming pool filtered with ozone. Colonnades and corridors reminiscent of the Alhambra palace in Spain lead to the Churchill bar, complete with black and white photos of jazzmen, a panther-dotted carpet and red leather seating.

"It's a very rare balance," Garcia said as he toured the hotel ahead of its reopening to the public on Tuesday, Sept. 29. Restoring such a place is like touching a myth, he said. "The goal is to come back to the sources of that myth," he said, "and give the impression that every thing here is a masterpiece."

To help him do so, Garcia relied on old photographs from the original buildings, and leaned heavily on Marrakech craftsmen, who have largely kept alive age-old painting, woodcarving and decoration techniques.

"Morocco is probably the only place in the world where artisans can still paint a ceiling exactly like the original 16th-century one," said Garcia.

The Mamounia is so emblematic of Morocco that many people in the North African country and beyond consider the hotel a national heritage — one of the very finest examples of Arabic craftsmanship and an embodiment of Moroccan art.

Before the renovation, many tourists flocking to Marrakech would try to pop in for a cup of mint tea and a chance glimpse at the building, even if they couldn't afford to rent a room. Now the hotel will be more tightly sealed, but Didier Piquot, the manager, says outsiders can still visit if they make a booking at the restaurants.

"The Mamounia is to Marrakech what the Louvres is to Paris, everybody comes to see it," also Garcia said. "Only here, some can stay. It's like spending a night at the museum."

Yet Prince Mamoun, the son of an 18th-century Moroccan king who received the oasis from his father and gave his name to the Mamounia gardens, would probably be astonished at the level of modern luxury brought to this museum-like setting.

At the 27,000-square-foot spa, patrons can lie on white couches on a platform propped by gilded columns over the indoor pool. Deeper underground, the marbled hammam, or Turkish bath, comes with a high-tech power gym, set amid red leather sofas and black ceramic walls that lead to whirlpool baths, saunas, a beauty parlor run by the Shiseido cosmetics brand and a high-end Paris coiffeur.

"I don't think many European spas could rival, and in the U.S. there are probably less than a dozen of this quality," said Marianne Nielsen, the Danish spa manager. The difference is that the Mamounia has also incorporated traditional techniques, like orange-flower lotions or massage creams based on Morocco's unique Argan oil, she said.

In the garden of olive trees, palm groves and jasmine bushes, a man on a vintage tricycle distributes ice cream cones. Alleys of finely groomed sand lead to the clay-court tennis grounds, while the pathway to the Moroccan restaurant has been paved, so that women in stiletto shoes don't damage their heels when they walk to the dining room. Inside the main building, the hotel also offers cuisine created by two chefs each with Michelin two-star restaurants in France and in Italy.

Most of the 136 rooms and 71 suits, meanwhile, overlook the gardens and 12th-century ochre walls circling Marrakech, an international tourism magnet listed as a world heritage site by the United Nations' UNESCO agency for learning and culture.

And beyond the southern Moroccan desert town, the view stretches to the snowcapped peaks of the Atlas mountain range, a sight Churchill found so soothing he returned time and again to the Mamounia to paint from his room's balcony. One such view painted in 1935, Sunset Over the Atlas Mountains, was auctioned in New York for $350,000 last year. Another painting he made of Marrakech in 1948 and later offered to President Harry Truman fetched $950,000.

With a staff of 770, or four per room on average, the Mamounia's luxury comes at a price: $776 to $10,350, depending on the size of the suite and the season — spring and autumn are the most sought after, though it is usually sunny all year round in Marrakech.

Despite the steep fees, and the long plane rides required to get here, the Mamounia is so renowned that Piquot, its French manager, is confident the hotel will fill up fast — especially with longtime patrons curious to see what happened with the three-year makeover.

"Even among the most mythical hotels, this one is exceptional," said Piquot, who in the past oversaw places as illustrious as the Ritz in Paris and the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong.

He said people come here for a type of luxury that can't be duplicated. Because of its setting and because it is owned locally rather than by an international chain, the Mamounia doesn't compete with other five-, six-, or seven-star hotels, Piquot said.

In fact, it hasn't even sought any star. "In all humility, we're not in the competition," he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

France suspends Morocco Arrest Warrants : the Ben Barka Case

For those of you who are interested in political intrigue, this latest article from Reuters on the ben Barka case in Morocco.


France suspends Moroccan kidnap arrest warrants
Sat Oct 3, 2009 9:48am GMT

By Thierry Leveque

PARIS (Reuters) - France issued international arrest warrants for four Moroccans over the 1965 abduction of an opponent to Morocco's then King Hassan II on Friday, but later suspended them, citing a request for information from Interpol.

A French justice ministry spokesman said earlier on Friday that four arrest warrants were sent to Interpol, the international police organisation, and would be issued worldwide.

The head of Morocco's Royal Gendarmerie and a former intelligence chief were among the suspects being sought.

Mehdi ben Barka, a hero for the international left, was kidnapped in broad daylight in front of the smart Lipp restaurant in the heart of Paris and his fate remains unknown. French investigators believe he was tortured and killed.

The case has been a cause celebre for Moroccan advocates of greater political freedom in the kingdom, but it remains politically sensitive in Rabat, where the late Hassan's son Mohammed succeeded him as king in 1999.

Hours after the justice ministry announcement, the Paris prosecutor's office said it was suspending the issuance of the international arrest warrants because Interpol was seeking additional information from the judge overseeing the case.

"In effect, Interpol has requested more information so that the arrest warrants can be implemented. Without these precisions, they cannot be," the prosecutor's office said.

The information requested would allow the individuals targeted to be identified, it said.

But there were suspicions that the shifting stance might reflect efforts to avoid political strains given that the event has already embarrassed France and Morocco for decades.

Maurice Buttin, 80, the ben Barka family lawyer in France since 1965, said: "The prosecutor's office is blocking the situation again. This shows how things work in France."

Those targeted were: Hosni Benslimane, head of the powerful Adarak el Malaki, or Royal Gendarmerie, for more than four decades; Abdelkader Kadiri, a former head of intelligence; and Miloud Tounsi and Abdelhak Achaachi, two ex-agents.

A murder investigation into the case has been open in France since 1975 and detectives say they have evidence that the abduction was carried out by French criminals acting on orders from Moroccan intelligence officers.

During King Hassan's 38-year reign, dissidents were routinely jailed, tortured or killed.

Human rights activists accuse the French authorities of turning a blind eye to such abuses and of deliberately dragging their feet in the ben Barka affair to avoid damaging ties with Morocco, a former French colony.

The reform-minded King Mohammed is credited with turning Morocco into a more tolerant state, but the monarchy and the security services remain untouchable.

The four arrest warrants date back to 2007, when they were issued by a French investigating magistrate. The warrants immediately caused diplomatic tensions, with newly elected President Nicolas Sarkozy on a visit to Morocco at the time.

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

Saturday, October 3, 2009

$30 Million to Deliver Weapons to Royal Moroccan Air Force

Just trying to keep it real. Here is an Associated Press article from the Boston Globe about a recent purchase of military paraphernalia for the Moroccan Air Force. I honestly just wonder on whom do they plan to use all of this weaponry. I also wonder how some people quiet their consciences enough to sleep at night. Many questions.


ORLANDO, Fla.—Defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. said Thursday it has inked a $30 million contract to deliver precision targeting systems to the Royal Moroccan Air Force.

The contract includes integration support, product spares and logistics support.

The Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods will fly on the Royal Moroccan Air Force's newly purchased F-16 block 50 aircraft.

Packaged in a single lightweight pod, the Sniper ATP's enhanced image clarity provides long-range positive identification of targets and real-time targeting, Lockheed Martin said in a statement.

The Royal Moroccan Air Force will take delivery of the pods over the next two years.