Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Morocco: Address Unfair Convictions in Mass Terror

This is not meant to be a pick on the Moroccan government blog, but there are some serious issues that need to be addressed. Here is a Reuters Alert written by Human Rights Watch about the Unfair Convictions of non-violent people being accused of terrorism in Morocco. Keep Hope Alive!

Morocco: Address Unfair Convictions in Mass Terror Trial
29 Dec 2009 17:13:02 GMT

Source: Human Rights Watch

(New York) - The Moroccan court currently hearing the appeal of 35 people convicted on terrorism-related charges should address allegations that confessions were falsified or obtained through torture and other violations of their right to a fair trial, Human Rights Watch and Adala, a Moroccan organization working for judicial independence, said today.
The defendants include a television journalist and five senior members of political parties that profess their commitment to nonviolence and democracy, among them two party presidents. These men came to be known as the six "political" detainees in the case.
Interior Minister Chekib Benmoussa announced the arrests with much fanfare in a televised news conference on February 20, 2008. The case attracted immediate interest because it was the first time Morocco had accused leaders of moderate Islamist parties of links to terrorism. The 35 were accused of plotting attacks to destabilize the state. The alleged ringleader is Abdelkader Belliraj, a 52-year-old Moroccan-born resident of Belgium with dual nationality.
"King Mohamed VI gave a major speech on August 20 in favor of judicial reform, urging what he called ‘consolidating the guarantees of judicial independence,'" said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch. "The Belliraj trial is a major test of whether the courts have gotten the message."
On July 28, 2009, a Rabat court convicted all 35 defendants of forming a terrorist group, plotting attacks, and committing robberies and other crimes to finance their operations. The sentences ranged from suspended prison sentences to life in prison. The formal charges, some from the penal code and others from the 2003 anti-terrorism law (Law 03-03 of May 29, 2003), included "harming the interior security of the state," "forming an armed group to attack public property," "forming a criminal group to perpetrate terrorist attacks," possession of illegal arms and explosives, forging documents, and laundering money.

Mostapha Mouâtassim, president of al-Badil al-Hadhari (the Civilized Alternative) party and the best known of the accused, told the press that the implication of the six political figures, none of whom has a prior criminal record, was a ploy by those in power to destroy or undermine the political parties whose members were implicated. On February 20, 2008, two days after Mouâtassim's arrest, Prime Minister Abbas al-Fassi outlawed al-Badil al-Hadhari, a moderate Islamist party that had participated in the 2007 legislative elections.
The affair also aroused attention because the charge sheet attributed so few concrete acts to what the interior minister had described as a major, well-funded terrorist network with links to al Qaeda. The alleged acts were limited to one assassination attempt in 1996, a couple of armed robberies, and several vehicle thefts - all before 2001. At the trial, the defendants vigorously disputed the evidence, which largely consisted of their purported confessions to crimes allegedly committed years earlier. Many said the statements had been falsified or obtained under torture.
A collective of families of the six "political" defendants echoed Mouâtassim's view that the authorities had falsely implicated the men for political reasons. Saâd eddine Al-Othmani, then-secretary-general of the Justice and Development Party, the most prominent of the implicated parties, said the "political" defendants were "all known for moderation, rejection of violence and extremism, and for working within the framework of institutions and established national principles." He added, "We are sure that there is some sort of an error...and we hope it will be corrected."
The other 28 co-accused included 26 relatively little known men from various cities in Morocco, and two Moroccans who resided in Belgium. The defendants have all been in detention now for nearly two years, except for two facing lighter charges to whom the court granted provisional liberty.
"There is a need to examine violations of the defendants' rights in the original trial and to ensure that justice is delivered for each of them," Whitson said. "Evidence obtained through abusive methods should be rejected."
Background on the Trial and the Appeal
The political defendants are:

* Mostapha Mouâtassim, president of al-Badil al-Hadhari;
* Mohamed Amine Regala, deputy chief of al-Badil al-Hadhari;
* Mohamed Merouani, president of al-Oumma party, a moderate Islamist party that had applied for but not received legal status;
* Al-Abadelah Maelainin, a member of the national council of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), an Islamist party that holds more seats in the chamber of deputies than all but one other party;
* Hamid Nejibi, a member of the national council of the Unified Socialist Party (PSU); and
* Abdelhafidh Sriti, a journalist with al-Manar television, the network belonging to the Lebanese Hezbollah movement.

On the basis of a confession that Belliraj later said he was tortured into signing, the Rabat court sentenced him to life in prison not only for his role in the terror network he allegedly co-founded in 1992, but also for committing six politically motivated murders in Belgium in the late 1980s. Belgian authorities had never charged Belliraj with these crimes, although they had questioned him a number of times over the years.
The court of first instance sentenced five of the "political" defendants to prison terms of between 20 and 25 years and the sixth, Nejibi, to a two-year term.
The appeals hearing began on October 26 before the appeals division of the Rabat Court of Appeals. Under Moroccan law, the appeals court is empowered to review issues of both procedure and fact in the case before it and can overturn verdicts or modify the sentences imposed by lower courts.
Human Rights Watch and Adala observed several sessions of the trial in first instance, which began in October 2008. To the knowledge of both these groups, domestic and international observers encountered no obstacles to attending the proceedings.
On September 19, 2009, Human Rights Watch and Adala jointly wrote to Justice Minister Abdelouahab Radi expressing concern about procedural irregularities that appeared to compromise the right of the defendants to a fair trial. Moroccan authorities did not respond.
Human Rights Watch and Adala have examined the court's 603-page judgment, made public in late September, and concluded that it does not allay the concerns expressed in the letter.

Concerns About the Court Proceedings
In a case that rests mainly on statements the defendants supposedly made to the police (les procès verbaux devant la police judiciaire), the court made no effort to determine whether those statements had been illegally coerced, despite many defendants' contentions that their statements either were falsified or were made under torture.
Defense lawyers told Human Rights Watch that the defense had raised the allegations of torture at various stages of the proceedings, both orally and in written memorandums they submitted to the court. The court in its written judgment acknowledged that some of the defendants had told the investigating judge of being tortured but said they had not formally asked the investigating judge to initiate inquiries or medical examinations to determine whether the defendants had indeed been tortured.
All of the defendants repudiated their police statements during the trial, most alleging that they had been tortured or their statements falsified. According to the written judgment, approximately two-thirds of them had already done so when they appeared before Investigating Judge Abdelkader Chentouf, many explaining to the judge that they had made or signed the statements under torture or duress.
Several defendants petitioned the investigating judge or the trial court, or both, to order an investigation into their claims of torture, including medical examinations, to verify those claims. When the investigating judge refused to act on their requests to investigate, the defense appealed, only to have an appeals chamber uphold the investigating judge's refusal. The trial court, with Judge Abdelaziz Benchekroun presiding, declined requests to revisit this decision.
One key piece of evidence at the trial was the detailed statement of Belliraj himself to the police, which directly implicated the six "political" defendants, among others. Belliraj initially confirmed his police statement to the investigating judge, Chentouf, but later repudiated it, saying that his interrogators had tortured him into signing a "confession" containing false declarations that he had not made.
At trial - as the written judgment notes - Belliraj proclaimed his innocence and explained that he had initially confirmed his statement before Chentouf because one of his torturers was present in the judge's chambers. The defense asked Judge Benchekroun to summon the investigating judge to answer questions about that hearing, but Benchekroun declined to do so. The court ordered no inquiry into Belliraj's allegation that the police had abducted him, held him incommunicado for one month, and tortured him, or into the allegations of torture raised by other defendants, both before the investigating and trial judges.
The court convicted Belliraj on charges related to both the terror network and the killings in Belgium based on his statement to the police. The court also used Belliraj's statement to the police as evidence against the other defendants, including the six "political" defendants.
The court has a duty to diligently examine allegations of torture whenever the defense raises them in the course of the trial, both to determine the admissibility of the central evidence in the case and to respond to allegations that officials had committed acts of torture, a crime punishable under Moroccan law.
Morocco's duty under international law is very clear - any evidence obtained by torture cannot be used. Moroccan law also affirms this duty, in article 293 of the Code of Penal Procedure (CPP), which states that "no statement obtained through violence or coercion shall be admitted into evidence." The CPP also states that if a defendant or his lawyer requests a medical examination, the investigating judge cannot refuse without providing a reason (article 88(4)). Torture, moreover, is a crime under Moroccan law; a complaint of torture constitutes evidence of a possible crime that neither the investigating judge nor the trial judge can presume to be unfounded. The court must investigate.
The fairness of the trial was fundamentally compromised by the court's failure to investigate the torture allegations before it admitted into evidence the contested police statements that formed the backbone of the prosecution's case, Human Rights Watch and Adala said.
In an effort to call into question the voluntariness of the statements obtained by the police, defense lawyer Abderrahim Jamaï pointed at trial to what he said was a suspicious consistency in the style and substance of those statements, given the widely diverse backgrounds of the defendants. The court was also reminded that two of the defendants residing abroad and a third whose native tongue is Amazigh (Berber) had signed their police statements even though they cannot read standard Arabic and needed interpreters in court in order to follow the proceedings.
Concerns About Arrest Dates and Pre-Charge Detention

Several defendants alleged to the court that the security services had arrested them well before the dates in the police log and held them as long as a month, well beyond the 12-day time limit that Moroccan law places on garde-Ã -vue, or pre-charge, detention in terrorism cases. During that time, relatives of the defendants said, authorities refused to disclose to the families the whereabouts of the defendants, in violation of Moroccan law.
The defendants said it was during this period of prolonged incommunicado detention that police obtained from them the statements used to convict them. Among these defendants are Belliraj, who says he was held for a month in secret detention after being abducted on a street in Marrakesh; Ahmed Khouchiâ of Kenitra, who said he was held incommunicado for three weeks, and Mokhtar Lokman of Salé, who said he was held incommunicado for two-and-a-half weeks. The court sentenced Khouchiâ to eight years in prison and Lokman to 15.
Concerns about Refusal to Allow Defense Lawyers to Photocopy Case Files
Chentouf refused to allow the lawyers to photocopy the case files before he questioned the defendants. He justified this by referring to the code of penal procedure's article 139, which provides that the court shall make the case files available to the defense but does not specify a right to photocopy them. However, the nearly universal practice in Morocco is for investigating judges to permit lawyers to copy the files promptly. In this complex trial, it was particularly important to the preparation of the defense for the lawyers to bring the jailed defendants the case files so they could review the statements attributed by the police to themselves and to their many co-defendants. Moreover, it would have been burdensome for the lawyers to have to travel repeatedly to the office of the investigative judge in order to be able to see the contents of an enormous file, especially with a large number of lawyers working on the file who could not all peruse it at the same time.
Article 14(3)(b) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees that in the determination of any criminal charge, any accused shall be entitled "to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing."
In protest, some defendants refused to submit to questioning by the investigating judge until they could view the case files. The judge responded by conveying to the trial court those defendants' police statements "as is," as if the defendants had not contested them.
Chentouf's prohibition on photocopying the case files became even more contentious when the six "political" defendants finally saw their police statements once the investigative phase ended and declared that their statements had been falsified. Each said that while in police custody, after each had read and signed multi-page statement, the police presented him with a stack of what the police said were photocopies of his statement. Each of the six said he then signed all of the "photocopies" without reading each one - only to discover later that the version that ended up in the case file differed in content from the original in ways that made it more incriminating than the original and more consistent with the statements of co-defendants.
In its written judgment, the court said it saw no reason to doubt the authenticity of the statements by the six that were in the case files. Moreover, the court said, there was already sufficient and consistent incriminating evidence against them in the police statements made by the other defendants, notably those who had subsequently confirmed their statements before the investigating judge.
Concerns about Display of Seized Weapons
The principal evidence against the defendants, beyond their police statements, were two caches of arms allegedly found by police in the Nador and Casablanca regions, which the police statements of some of the defendants linked to them. Belliraj in his police statement spoke of the weapons but before the investigating judge said that they had been intended for sale or delivery to Islamist militants in Algeria and not for use in Morocco. Then at trial, like all of the defendants, he denied having any links to these weapons.
Several defense lawyers said that in the session of the trial devoted to the physical evidence, the weapons were not unsealed in the presence of the defendants, as required by Morocco's code of penal procedure, but displayed on a table, already unsealed. The representative of the prosecutor's office acknowledged during the trial that the prosecution had opened the seals on enclosures holding the weapons in the absence of the defense. The lawyers protested and asked the judge to exclude these weapons as evidence.
The lawyers also asked the judge to summon a weapons expert who could answer questions about the weapons and their putative relation to the robberies and attempted assassination mentioned in the charge sheet, but the judge refused.
One of the guns was allegedly used in an attempt on the life of a Moroccan of Jewish faith, Baby Azenkout, in Casablanca in 1996. Azenkout testified at the Belliraj trial that he had not seen his assailant. The defense team pointed out that the contemporary eyewitness descriptions of the assailant did not match any of the defendants on trial. The main evidence linking some of the defendants to this crime came from the contested confessions.

Similarly, it was the defendants' "confessions" rather than material evidence that implicated them in the other grave criminal act listed in the charge sheet, the 1994 robbery of the Makro shopping center in Casablanca. The defense pointed out that authorities had already announced in 1994 the arrest of the perpetrators, suspected jihadists, and they had long since been tried and convicted. The lawyers argued in court that it was implausible, on the basis of contested confessions, to link the defendants to a 14-year-old robbery that the authorities had supposedly solved at the time.
The Court's Reasoning
The court's reasoning for its guilty verdict against all 35 defendants (charges against a 36th defendant were dropped after the investigative stage) is that their statements to the police, which some did not contest to the investigating judge though all did at the trial, provided coherent and convincing evidence of the guilt of all.

Whatever the probative value of the statements by a minority of defendants who confirmed their statements before the investigating judge, the court failed to give due weight to allegations of the serious violations that compromised the defendants' right to a fair trial: most important, that the police allegedly tortured many of the defendants to make and sign statements that falsely incriminated themselves and others; that the police held them in garde à vue detention well beyond the 12 days allowed by law; and that the arms caches were handled in a way that compromised its probative value.
The appeals court can ensure that justice is done only by fully addressing all of the irregularities from the arrest of the suspects in early 2008 until the conclusion of the trial in first instance in July 2009, irregularities that compromised the defendants' right to a fair trial.
List of Defendants in "Belliraj" Case and the Sentences Handed Down by the Court of First Instance:
Abdelkader Belliraj, life in prison
Abellatif al-Bekhti, 30 years
Abdessamed Bennouh, 30 years
Jamal al-Bey, 30 years,
Lahoussine Brigache, 30 years
Redouane al-Khalidi, 30 years
Abdallah ar-Ramache, 30 years
Mohamed al-Youssoufi, 30 years
Mohamed el-Merouani, 25 years

Moustapha Moutassim, 25 years
Mohamed Amine Regala, 25 years
Al-Abadelah Maelainen, 20 years
Abdalhafidh Sriti, 20 years
Abd al-Ghali Chighanou, 15 years
Mokhtar Lokman, 15 years
Abderrahim Nadhi, 10 years
Abderrahim Abu ar-Rakha, 10 years
Hassan Kalam, 8 years
Slah Belliraj, 8 years
Ahmed Khouchiâ, 8 years
Samir Lihi, 8 years
Moustapha at-Touhami, 8 years
Bouchâab Rachdi, 6 years
Mohamed Azzergui, 5 years
Mansour Belghiche, 5 years
Adel Benaïem, 5 years

Mohamed Chaâbaoui, 5 years
Jamaleddine Abdessamed, 3 years
Abdelazim at-Taqi al-Amrani, 3 years
Larbi Chine, 2 years
Ibrahim Maya, 2 years
Abdellatif Bouthrouaien, 2 years
Hamid Nejibi, 2 years
Mohamed Abrouq, 1 year suspended
Ali Saïdi, 1 year suspended
Abdelaziz Brigache, charges dropped

Monday, December 28, 2009

Moroccan Farmers Make the Desert Bloom

Here is an article from Voice of America about organic farming in a drought prone regent near Marrakech. Viva Sustainable Development!

Moroccan Villagers Make Their Desert Bloom

International aid paid for a water pump and aid workers trained the farmers in fertilizing and irrigation

Solana Pyne | Hart Chaou, Morocco 09 December 2009

The edge of the Sahara desert seems an unlikely spot for an organic farm, but that didn't stop a group of poor villagers in the village of Hart Chaou, 300 kilometers southeast of Marrakesh, from planting one. The Moroccan community farm could be a model for other drought-prone regions.

This fertile valley, hundreds of kilometers east of Marrakesh, looked very different three years ago. Instead of this organic farm, the land here had been claimed by the desert. The farmers that work it today lived precariously.

"Before, we were oppressed by periods of drought," farmer Mohamed Ait Lamine said. "Even if you wanted to work the land-- if you wanted to do things--there was no water. People lived on the edge of death."

During the frequent droughts, Mohamed Ait Lamine and others left their families to look for work on construction sites in cities far away.

"Then, there was barely enough food, just barely enough. It wasn't like now," farmer Brahim Baiach said.

Two years ago, international donors put up money to drill a well. The Moroccan government donated land. And 30 of Hart Chaou's poorest families brought a cornucopia out of the ground.

"Last year, I sold 400 to 500 kilos of green peas," Lamine said. We thank God."

"Tomatoes, watermelon, potatoes, carrots, turnips, peppers -- we've got all vegetables here," Baiach said.

The land had been divided into plots and distributed to residents who had no arable soil of their own.

Foreign aid paid for the pump that brings up the water and fills this reservoir. The farmers themselves pay to keep it running. Their new irrigation method has cut water usage by half.

"In the past, we worked in a haphazard way, without any techniques. We worked as our fathers did," Lamine said.

Now, the farmers plant their crops closer together and run water through narrow trenches. The technique was taught by aid workers who also showed the farmers how to fertilize with compost or manure.

"What we're doing now is better. Now we have real techniques," farmer Saddik Ait Abdelouahed said.

The methods they learned here are already being used in other regions, but it's not simple.

Lahcen Khallouki is President of Hart Chaou's Development Association. "It can be replicated, but the first thing is to have the space," he said. "Without land, one cannot do anything. Also, it's necessary to have a fund for the management of the land."

And farmers who can make the desert bloom.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

More of the Same : Morocco Puts Aminatou Under House Arrest

Here's the Latest from the Western Saharan drama - a Reuters article about Aminatou Haidar placement under house arrest by Moroccan authorities.

W.Sahara activist is under Moroccan house arrest
Thu Dec 24, 2009 5:55pm IST

By Zakia Abdennebi and Lamine Chikhi

RABAT/TINDOUF (Reuters) - Western Sahara independence activist Aminatou Haidar said Moroccan police had surrounded her house and kept her under house arrest since her return to her desert homeland after a hunger strike in Spain.

She vowed to step up her struggle for human rights in the former Spanish territory despite what she called Moroccan repression.

Moroccan officials said Rabat was committed to respecting human rights in Western Sahara and elsewhere in the country. They declined to comment further on Haidar's case.

A tract of desert the size of Britain which has lucrative phosphate reserves and potentially offshore oil, Western Sahara is the scene of Africa's longest-running territorial dispute.

Last week, Haidar, a 43-year-old mother-of-two ended a month-long hunger strike in a Spanish airport in protest at Rabat's refusal to let her back into Western Sahara unless she declared her loyalty to the Moroccan king.

Morocco let her return home after the United States, Spain and other countries intervened.

Haidar's fasting focused international attention on Western Sahara's dispute in a way rarely seen in the 35 years since Morocco annexed the territory after Spain pulled out.

"The siege in continuing. I'm under house arrest. Family members and neighbours have problems visiting me. Shops in my neighbourhood are suffering from the siege," Haidar told Reuters by telephone from Rabat late on Wednesday.

Reuters reporters travelled to Laayoune, Western Sahara's main city, to interview her at her home but security forces blocked access. Other journalists have also been prevented from meeting Haidar.


"I have the courage of my conviction to carry on with the defence of the cause of self-determination of the Sahrawi people. I will never waver despite the threats of jail, abduction, torture and exile," she added.

She accused Morocco of having a "carrot-and-the stick" policy towards Algeria-based Polisario Front and the Sahrawis in the territory.

"Morocco represses the Sahrawi population while it is negotiating with the Polisario Front," added Haidar.

Morocco said it is ready to resume negotiations with the Polisario on a deal on the future of the territory. Rabat has offered autonomy.

The Polisario, which seeks an independent state in the territory, also wants the talks to resume but it insists that Rabat halts what it called its widespread abuses of human rights in Western Sahara.

Haidar has become of "symbol of a nation" for Sahrawis in Western Sahara as well as in refugee camps in the Algerian southwestern area of Tindouf.

"She is our Mandela, our Gandhi," 37-year-old Gani Minatou told Reuters while she was making sweet tea inside her tent in a refugee camp.

Many Sahrawis see her hunger strike as breathing a new life into their cause.

"Before Aminatou, the cause reached a deadlock. There was no hope for a solution. But Aminatou's action put back the Western Sahara's issue at the top of the international agenda," Sahrawi journalist based in Tindouf El Bachir El Dhif told Reuters.

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tasting the Honey of Fez

I don't know about you but I could use a little break from serious matters and discussions. Here is an article,from the New York Times from a while back about good Raw Moroccan honey to be found in Fez.

Fez, Morocco: Wild Honey

Published: February 4, 2007

The car-free, donkey-full ancient medina in the Moroccan city of Fez is confusing, stark and exotic. It’s the kind of place where you find men squatting on stone streets tending bunches of mint, peeling wild artichokes, peddling bottles of fresh rose water and buckets of preserved lemons. They may even be balancing bouquets of goats’ legs — hair and all — bundled up for sale as if they were daffodils. Like street signs, price tags are optional.

But honey? Unlike most items for sale in Fez, honey has both a price tag and signage. This isn’t just any honey, mind you. This is mythic, rare honey from feral bees, the really wild stuff.

To find this wild honey paradise, enter the medina through Ain Zliten Square. Hang a left onto the Tala Kebira (the main drag leading into the market). Walk about four brisk minutes. Make another left just before Coin Berbère, an antiques store. There, through the arch, will be the sun-bleached courtyard of Fondouk Kaat Smen with three purveyors of honey.

To my taste, the best merchant is baby-faced Nafis Hicham, who sells oil, butter and honey as his family has for three generations. In his blue-and-white Fezian-tiled stall, Mr. Hicham measures out his wares with ancient brass weights. If you don’t speak Arabic, he can accommodate you in French, and will happily escort you to the back of the store, which is packed with blue plastic urns of 17 varieties of honey. On a recent visit, I tried to persuade him to dole out tastes of his three wild varieties. He showed photos of his wild honey sources in the Atlas Mountains. Forget prissy little domesticated bee boxes. One of the photos depicted a hive that looked like a Cotswold thatched cottage and seemed almost as large.

Mr. Hicham explained that very few people wear protective gear, as many hunters have developed immunity and can withstand 20 or 30 stings while harvesting. He added that wild honey is a miracle cure for just about anything. Carob honey helps digestion. Caper honey is good for colds and flu. He knows about the tamer honeys as well: Lavender? Good for stress. Thyme? Good for low blood pressure. Who knew?

When he finally let me taste, I was crazy about the carob, which was gritty and intensely caramel-like. The cedar was earthy, the caper delicate and floral. Healthful or not, drizzled on plump figs, they were all delicious and at $10 a kilo a real global bargain.

You can find Nafis Hicham at Tala Kebira, Fondouk Kaat Smen 81; (212) 535634-269.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Morocco Yields to International Pressure - Aminatou Haidar Returns Home to Western Sahara

Alhamdulilah. Aminatou Haidar is back at home in the Western Sahara. Here is an article from Reuters Africa about what her silent victory over Moroccan officials means.


Morocco yields to pressure, activist back home
Sat Dec 19, 2009 8:32am GMT

By Lamine Ghanmi

RABAT (Reuters) - A Western Sahara independence activist returned home on Friday after a hunger strike at a Spanish airport, defusing a diplomatic spat between Spain and Morocco and potentially strengthening separatist campaigners.

Aminatou Haidar went on hunger strike 32 days ago after Moroccan authorities refused her entry when she returned home from a trip abroad, confiscated her passport and put her on a flight to Lanzarote, one of Spain's Canary Islands.

After returning to Western Sahara's capital Laayoune on a special flight, Haidar said she had made no concession to Morocco to obtain the right to return.

"There were no conditions. My positions cannot be sold at auction," she told French television channel France 24 by telephone, speaking through an interpreter.

Rabat had initially refused to accept Haidar, who is campaigning for Western Sahara's independence from Morocco, back unless she swore loyalty to King Mohammed. The king's father took control of most of Western Sahara in 1975 after Spanish colonial forces withdrew from the territory.

A Moroccan analyst said Rabat let Haidar return to her desert homeland after international pressure and could now be forced to make concessions to the independence movement.

"Morocco gave in to the pressure in Spain, Europe and the United States. It accepted her return after they pushed themselves in a corner by stressing they would not let her back," said Ali Anzoula, an editor of the daily Al Jarida al Oula.

Anzoula, who writes about the Western Sahara conflict, said the Polisario Front may seek to win more concessions from Rabat in future rounds of U.S. sponsored peace talks, such as a U.N. role in monitoring human rights issue in the territory.

The Moroccan government says Haidar was allowed back home out of "the country's tolerance and generosity" and after several states intervened on her behalf.

France, the United States and several other Western states worked to help Haidar return home.


Left-leaning Spanish daily El Pais also said the crisis would weaken Rabat's stand in negotiations with Polisario over the future of the territory.

"Morocco has seriously weakened the credibility of its proposal of the autonomy of Western Sahara with its treatment of Haidar," wrote El Pais in reference to Morocco's offer to give Western Sahara autonomy rather independence as claimed by Algerian-backed Polisario Front.

As Haidar's health deteriorated, her hunger strike became an embarrassment for both Rabat and Madrid, which rely on each other to help fight illegal immigration and drug trafficking.

Human rights groups abroad said her case showed Morocco's pledges to improve its human rights record were hollow. Media and the opposition accused Spain's government of incompetence by allowing the Moroccans to send her to Spain.

"The Spanish government has handled this crisis badly, but much worse has been the behaviour of the regime in Rabat which caused the problem by violating her human rights," said the right-leaning Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

Taoufik Bouachrine, editor of Morocco's leading Akhbar al Youm al Maghribia daily, said the hunger strike "stained" Morocco's human rights image abroad.

"Morocco's government leaders failed to understand that the most sacrosanct issue now in the world is the respect of human rights. They put Morocco's sovereignty first and collided with its main partners abroad on the rights question," he said.

But for sympathisers of the Polisario Front in Western Sahara, there was no doubt that Haidar won a battle against Rabat's government.

"Her return is a great victory and by her coming back she had defeated Morocco's campaign to prevent her from living in her homeland," said Mohamed Moutawakeel, a member of the Sahrawi rights group Codesa which is chaired by Haidar.

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Community Museum Records Real Moroccan Life

Here is an interesting article from The National about a project being done through the Hassan II University in Mohammedia to put the oral histories of living Moroccans in a museum.

Museum records ups and downs of Moroccan life

John Thorne, Foreign Correspondent

* Last Updated: December 13. 2009 8:11PM UAE / December 13. 2009 4:11PM GMT

BEN M’SIK, MOROCCO // It is a bright cold day in Ben M’sik, a ragged Casablancan suburb, and Nourdine Daif is late for his neighbour’s funeral.

A station wagon is idling beside his telephone kiosk, but Mr Daif, 53, is deep in conversation with Wafaa Afkir, a student researcher from the university across the road.

“I want future generations to know what happened to my forefathers,” he says. “And to me.”

Ms Afkir’s pen flies across her notepad. Soon, Mr Daif’s memories of life in Ben M’sik will join those of other residents in an oral history project for the Ben M’sik Community Museum, part of the local campus of the Université Hassan II Mohammedia.

The museum is the first in Morocco to examine the ups and downs of contemporary life, a tricky undertaking in a society with a strong taboo against airing one’s problems in public.

“We’re not interested only in artefacts displayed behind glass,” said Samir el Azhar, an English and American Studies professor at the university who is heading the project. “We want people’s stories of their own experiences in Ben M’sik.”

In most cases, that experience is migration. For decades, waves of rural poor have landed in Ben M’sik and other Casablanca suburbs, seeking a better life.

“Ben M’sik represents the dream of Casablanca,” said Youssef el Dafali, 29, a student researcher whose parents came to the neighbourhood from the crumbled red hills of the Draa Valley, hundreds of kilometres to the south. “Come here and make money.”

A century ago Casablanca was a modest collection of white houses inside brick ramparts beside the Atlantic. But the city’s destiny changed overnight when France took control of Morocco in 1912 and chose Casablanca as the country’s main port.

The harbour was enlarged and a modern city of long, straight boulevards and piecrust facades soon dwarfed the old medina.

As migrants streamed in from the countryside, Casablanca gave the French language the word bidonville – “slum” – coined from the labourers’ shanties made from flattened tin drums, or bidons.

Most workers never intended to stay in Casablanca, but the bidonvilles evolved into the scruffy working-class neighbourhoods that ring the city today. Since Morocco gained independence in 1956, Casablanca has ballooned to about four million inhabitants as the country has sought to become a business and commercial hub for North Africa.

By the 1980s, overpopulation, unemployment and the rising cost of living turned Casablanca into a pressure cooker. In 1981, the city exploded in riots that human rights groups say ended in clashes with security forces that killed hundreds.

Since then, the state has graced Ben M’sik with apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, a cultural centre and the university campus. But the neighbourhood remains a grey zone between city and country.

The larger boulevards are flanked by anonymous housing blocks. Elsewhere, the bloody hides of sheep slaughtered for Eid are piled for sale in carts beside a woodlot and horse-carriages clatter down the streets. Old men hawk meagre collections of junk and trinkets: watches, rings, shoes.

For Mr el Azhar and his researchers, these scenes show strands of rural culture twining together.

“Anyone coming to Ben M’sik brought with him the songs, proverbs and customs of his region,” he said. “The museum is meant to make people aware of that heritage, to make them proud of it.”

With help from Kennesaw State University in the United States and a grant from the US state department, Mr el Azhar’s researchers collected about 80 folk stories and have begun conducting interviews.

The idea is to combine the findings in a multimedia exhibit, planned to go public by next September. The project will incorporate sound and video, using recording gear due to arrive from the United States. Meanwhile, a new wing of the university is going up that will house the museum, giving it direct access outside the campus walls. “Sometimes there’s a social barrier,” said Youssef el Fadali, the student researcher. “We have to reach out to people and make them understand that this is their museum, their stories.”

Mr Daif has absorbed that message already. Ignoring the waiting station wagon, he continues recounting his life to Ms Afkir.

He is a large bearded man who grew up in the neighbourhood. She is a slight girl in a headscarf whose fair skin and high, rounded cheeks suggest her Amazigh, or Berber, roots.

“Relations between people are pretty good, although sometimes kids get into drugs, which causes friction,” Mr Daif says. “But now mentalities are changing, more people are working better jobs.”

Ms Akfir concludes her questions, but Mr Daif has more stories he wants presented in the museum.

“In 1981, the army fired on demonstrators,” he says in response to a question from The National. “They buried the bodies together in a pit near the fire brigade station.”

Afterwards, he was scooped up by police and jailed until 1992, he said, a case reviewed by a truth commission set up by King Mohamed VI in 2004 to look into human rights abuses during the reign of his father, Hassan II.

Suddenly, voices beckon from the station wagon.

“I really must go,” says Mr Daif, grasping the crutch he has used since a car crash in 1993. “Even if I hadn’t known him, I’d still go to the funeral. He was my neighbour.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Not Bowing to the Moroccan King

I generally don't post on consecutive days, but this letter posted in the Guardian is quite a read. Let's not pretend the Western Sahara issue is clear cut, this is just one of many voices.

Comment is free

We will not bow to this Moroccan king

Hunger striker Aminatou Haidar must have justice. Begging Morocco's rotten monarch won't bring it

Paul Laverty and Ken Loach
Thursday 10 December 2009 21.30 GMT

A woman from Western Sahara, Aminatou Haidar, lies on the floor at Lanzarote airport on hunger strike and near death. She was refused entry to her own country because she refused to write "Moroccan" on her departure card. She is denied access to her two children in her home town of El Ayoun, under Moroccan control. The international court of justice has declared that Western Saharans have the right to self-determination. The country is illegally occupied by Morocco. Yet Haidar was stripped of her passport and arbitrarily dumped on a plane to Spain.

We were asked to add our names to a letter signed by many brilliant writers, artists, politicians and trade unionists addressed to the King of Spain, urging him to intercede with King Mohammed VI of Morocco so that somehow Haidar's life can be saved. While we respect the goodwill of all, understand that we are all desperate to avoid a tragedy, and indeed hope in our heart of hearts it succeeds, we believe it is less than satisfactory. This initiative does highlight, however, one essential fact: King Mohammed is the figure with real power in Morocco. The letter, in essence, pleads with the King of Spain to plead with the King of Morocco to do us all a "favour" and sort out this mess. If only, and good luck.

It is time for some clarity and less tugging of the forelock. Mohammed VI is estimated to be worth $2bn by Forbes magazine, and judged the eighth richest monarch in the world. According to the Wikipedia entry, Mohammed and his family have vast commercial interests in mining, food processing, retail and financial services. In addition, the palace's daily operating budget is astronomical. Irrespective of Mohammed's great personal fortune, and his huge influence over the country's political institutions Morocco is a state that has signed international treaties with binding obligations. By ignoring these international standards, human rights law and the international court of justice, Mohammed VI is behaving like some medieval despot.

Mohammed VI's foreign policy is crude and stinks to high heaven. The subtext to any challenge is to threaten Spain with unleashing untold numbers of desperate, impoverished Moroccans across the straits into Europe. Or worse, to stop co-operating on questions of "terrorism". In other words, turning a blind eye to Islamic fundamentalists.

The king is a hypocrite. In June 2000 he received an honorary degree from The George Washington University "for his promotion of democracy in Morocco". He should be stripped of this honour. In a speech on 4 November he stated that "one is either a patriot or a traitor" thereby condemning all who refuse to accept Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara and backing repression over peaceful resistance.

Mohammed VI's officials demand, as a condition of return of her passport, that Aminatou Haidar apologise to the king for the temerity of describing her homeland as Western Sahara instead of Morocco on a form. This, from a woman who was tortured and disappeared for four years in a secret detention camp. She was blindfolded, gagged, beaten, inflicted with electric shocks, and threatened with rape. If Mohammed VI had an ounce of humanity, he would beg for her forgiveness.

The great tragedy is that, while many parts of the Muslim world are steeped in violence and desperation, and while many parts of the African continent are blood-soaked, in the middle of all this, is Aminatou Haidar, a frail figure committed to non violent resistance.

We hope there will be an alternative letter presented to Mohammed VI, before Haidar dies, signed by citizens the world over (including the elected prime minister of Spain, Mr Zapatero), demanding the king and his government respect international law and join the civilised world.

As we think of this little man in his big palace, by his phone – all it would take is one call to give Haidar back her passport and allow her to join her two heartbroken children – we are reminded of ancient Roman emperors holding out a thumb to decide captives' fate. While Mohammed VI may feel all-powerful in his luxurious surroundings, if he had one flicker of imagination and a sense of history, he would realise that if he allows Haidar to die, her crystal spirit of peaceful resistance will dwarf his shallow-minded cruelty wherever he goes for the rest of his life. If there is any justice, he will be treated as George Bush was by the shoe thrower of Baghdad, and become a Royal Persona Non Grata to the civilised world. We do not plead favours as conjured up in private by two kings. We demand justice, as human beings.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Religious Freedom in Morocco

Here is an article from Radio Netherlands about the state of religious freedom in Morocco. There is a precedent in Islam to support freedom of religion, i.e., the "There is no compulsion in religion" verse that is found in the second chapter of the Qur'an. Yet apostasy is considered in Islam, as it is in other religions, as a highly unfavorable occurrence.

But let us be honest about the (intentionally) serpent like tactics of Christian missionaries in Muslim countries. Often, they manipulate the poverty, illiteracy, and naivety of the people, and make equations of Christianity with material things(stoves, jobs, etc) or with progress and modernity. How infrequent is the conversion discussion actually about theology.

Should it be held against Morocco that it actively works to protect the Islamic integrity of its population? We must remember that the King's authority rests on his claim to be a religious authority and a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS), so he definitely has a good reason to try to keep Morocco as Muslim as possible.


Right to religious freedom under fire in Morocco
Published on : 9 December 2009 - 3:12pm | By RNW English section

A group of five foreigners, was arrested last week in Morocco on suspicion of proselytising. The Christian missionaries - two South Africans, two Swiss and one Guatemalan - were expelled from the country for holding "undeclared meetings", said police. This is not the first such incident. Proselytising (attempting to change someone's religious or political beliefs) is a crime in Morocco, even though the constitution guarantees individual freedom.

By Mohamed Amezian

Mohamad Reda Benkhaldoun, member of parliament for Morocco’s main opposition party, says the geopolitical location of Morocco between Africa and Europe makes it accessible to all ideas and movements. However, this regularly leads to friction. In theory, freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution and Islamic Sharia laws, but the MP says there are limitations:

"When missionaries proselytise among Moroccans, particularly among young people who have no resistance to certain ideas, the state has an obligation to take the necessary steps to prevent a sort of legal destabilisation of the Islamic faith in Morocco."

Social cohesion
Professor Mohamed Darif has found that Morocco not only penalises missionary zeal, but also has a long history of punishing Moroccan citizens for changing their religious beliefs. In the 1960s and 1980s a number of converts to the Bahá'í faith was convicted. Morocco recently broke off diplomatic relations with Iran because of its alleged “spreading of the Shiite doctrine” among Moroccans. The government denies it wants to limit individual freedoms, and says it only wants to safeguard "social cohesion".


Notably, the constitutional guarantee of individual freedoms is negated and contradicted by that same constitution. The king is the “Commander of the faithful”. As such, he is the protector of Islam but also of people of other faiths living in Morocco, including Jews and Christians. This means Morocco is not a secular state, as explicitly confirmed by King Mohammed VI (in the Spanish paper El Pais in January 2005). Mohamed Darif, an expert on political Islam, said the king’s message was loud and clear:

"Freedom of religion can be openly and fiercely discussed in the framework of a secular state which draws a clear line between religion and politics. However, in a non-secular state the subject is approached with great reserve".

Morocco often sends messages of religious tolerance to the West, and a not particularly perceptive tourist travelling through Morocco may arrive at the conclusion that is indeed the case in the country. However, human rights activists, independent journalists and Islamists often face repression under the guise of maintaining the unity of Sunni doctrine, or the prevention of social unrest.

In the past month, a plea for the right to be an atheist seriously embarrassed the Moroccan government. A group of young journalists announced they wanted to hold an ‘open’ breakfast in a recreational park. The police and security services were quick to intervene. The Moroccan organiser of the event, a young woman working for a French-language magazine was arrested and was deported to France shortly afterwards. She now lives in Paris.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Morocco Wants an Apology

Here is a short piece from the Guardian about the "problem" Morocco is having with Western Sahara activist Aminatou Haidar. God help her.


Morocco: Deal for hunger striker's return is delayed

Associated Press
The Observer, Sunday 6 December 2009

Spain's deputy prime minister, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, has said it is in negotiations with Morocco over the return of a prominent Western Sahara independence activist who has been on hunger strike for 20 days.

Aminatou Haidar has been camped at Lanzarote airport since 14 November, when Morocco stripped her of her passport and flew her out after she refused to acknowledge Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony. Late on Friday an agreement appeared to have been reached and the 43-year-old boarded a jet to return, but Morocco denied it landing rights minutes before take-off, her lawyer said.

Last night Morocco stated that Haidar will not be allowed back unless she makes a formal apology to the king.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Billion Euros to Improve Universities in Morocco

Here is a article from Global Arab Network about "emergency" measures being taken to improve the quality Moroccan universities. Let us pray that someone is also working on making jobs for all the graduates too. Ameen.


Education Reform in Morocco: €1.1bn to improve universities

Thursday, 03 December 2009 12:48

As part of a four-year "emergency plan" to overhaul the education sector, the Moroccan government has signed DH12.6bn (€1.1bn) in new agreements to improve the quality of its universities. This extra investment comes as the country seeks to meet its UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

At the beginning of October, HM King Mohamed IV oversaw the signing of 17 agreements between the government and universities to improve the higher education sector, ranging from hiring additional lecturers and raising teaching credentials to expanding general infrastructure. The moves come as the number of students in the science and engineering fields is expected to double by 2012, along with the number of those passing the baccalaureate exam after high school.

Enhancing the research reputation of Moroccan universities is another goal of the higher education reforms. "These contracts will commit the universities to taking the necessary steps to improve performance, promote high-quality teaching and develop scientific research, with a view to enabling Moroccan universities take their rightful place on the international stage," local press reported Mohamed Marzak, the president of Cadi Ayyad University, as saying. The government has targeted accrediting 92% of its universities as research institutions by 2012, compared to 69% in 2008.

These agreements are part of the National Education Emergency Support Programme 2009-12, launched in March 2009 to address the short-term needs of the education sector. This emergency plan raised the age of compulsory primary education to 15 with an eye to eventually increase it to 18. Over the next two years, 15,300 schools will be upgraded, while 300 existing boarding schools will receive water and electricity. "The goal [of the emergency plan] is to make schools more attractive, in order to restore people's confidence in Moroccan schools and help them fulfil their purpose," the minister of education, Ahmed Akhchichine, told OBG.

The four-year DH31bn (€2.7bn) emergency programme is being partially financed by a number of grants and loans from international organisations. In November, Morocco received a combined €13m in loans from the French Development Agency, the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, the World Bank, the European Commission and the Moroccan Ministry of Education.

While spending on education has hitherto been relatively high (5% of GDP and 24% of government expenditures in recent years), change has been slow in coming. A royally designated "decade of education" was kicked off in Morocco in 1999 with the publishing of the National Charter for Education and Training, a road map to sector reform. As a result, literacy for men aged 15-24 has risen from 84% in 1990 to 87% in 2008, according the World Bank, while the percentage of all students completing primary school rose from 82% to 87% over the same period.

However, the system has faltered in other areas, with only 15% of students passing the baccalaureate exam to enter university. In its 2007 Middle East and North Africa development report, the World Bank gave the Moroccan education system low marks. "Morocco needs to speed up its reform effort, with a special focus on reducing adult literacy and improving access to post-compulsory education," wrote the World Bank. Gender parity also remains a challenge, with a 1:0.87 male-to-female ratio in tertiary education in 2004 and 60% of the adult female population illiterate, one of the highest rates in the Arab world. Local press has reported that only 16.5% of girls in rural areas attend school, compared to 60% nationwide.

The emergency programme should help Morocco make significant headway towards meeting some of its UN Millennium Development Goals by the target date of 2015. In its 2007 progress report, the UN indicated that for Morocco the goal of universal primary education was "possible to achieve if some changes are made." The Ministry of Education believes that the emergency programme should help boost overall enrolment from 6.3m students to 6.5m within two years.

Unlike the National Charter, which lacked funding and coordination, the emergency programme appears to be a well-financed, focused plan to reform the education sector. The programme's budget reflects an impressive 23% increase in education spending from 2008, indicating that tangible results may soon be seen.

Global Arab Network

This article is published in partnership with Oxford Business Group