Saturday, May 30, 2009

Breaking the Moroccan Media Embargo on News from the Western Sahara

Here is an article from ANSAmed, a Mediterranean focused press agency about the Western Saharan TV station RASD-TV, trying to get its message past Moroccan censors.



(by Laura De Santi) (ANSAmed)
- ALGIERS - The Polisario Front, which for over 30 years has continued to fight for independence for the Sahrawi people in the Western Sahara has not showed any signs of surrender. While they have not ruled out a return to arms if negotiations fail yet again, they have now launched a media battle with the first Sahrawi TV station, RASD-TV. The new station aims ''to break the media embargo imposed by Morocco'' and ''show the suffering of the Sahrawi people to the world''.

Inaugurated by the self-proclaimed President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (RASD), Mohamed Abdelaziz, RASD-TV broadcasts from Chahid El Hafed. The station's headquarters has just been completed in one of the five refugee camps in Tindouf in the Algerian Sahara, where about 150,000 Sahrawi people have lived since 1975, after fleeing during the occupation of the former Spanish colony by Morocco. RASD TV ''can be seen in the Maghreb, including Morocco, and throughout Africa, as well as in Western Europe and the Middle East,'' said the station's manager, Mohamed Salem Ahmed Laabeid, to ANSAmed. After press agency SPS, ''this new means of information aims to demonstrate the Sahrawi cause to the world,'' added Laabeid, ''to break the media embargo imposed by Morocco and to provide a realistic view of the serious ongoing situation in the occupied territories.''

News, reports on life in refugee camps, interviews, and historical documentaries will be broadcast daily via satellite and digital cable. An archive of past videos will also be on the Internet, including the self-proclamation of the RASD on February 27 1976, and commercials in favour of the Sahrawi people's cause, with appearances by celebrities such as Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Pedro Almodovar, and Manu Chao. This new ''media weapon will defend the just cause of the Sahrawi people until the inalienable rights of self-determination and independence are obtained,'' underlined the RASD President.

The RASD is a member of the African Union (of which only Morocco is not a member) and is currently recognised by almost 90 countries, but by no Western states. In the view of the UN, which has been in the region since 1991 with MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in the Western Sahara) to monitor the ceasefire with Rabat, the Western Sahara is ''not an autonomous territory''. Numerous UN resolutions have reiterated the right of the Sahrawi people's independence, but there have been few tangible developments due to Morocco's close Western allies, most notably France and the United States. Negotiations led by the UN, at a standstill since March 2008, should resume in the coming month in an attempt to resolve an issue that continues to divide the Maghreb.

Rabat is willing to grant broad autonomy to the Sahrawi people, but only while remaining under its sovereignty. The Polisario Front, which is backed by Algeria, continues to call for a referendum of independence. If the fifth round of negotiations fails, Sahrawi authorities have already announced that ''we will have no other alternative than to resume the war''. (ANSAmed).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Scent Notes : (Expensive) Morocco Inspired Perfume

Here is an article from the New York Times on a new perfume called L'eau de Tarocco that is supposed to be the scent version of a traditional Moroccan fruit dish known in Arabic as laymun bel qerfa.


Scent Notes | L’Eau de Tarocco by Diptyque

By Chandler Burr
l'Eau de Tarocco by Diptyque

Perhaps the most impoverished way of conceiving of a perfume (or of describing one) is listing its raw materials. It’s like experiencing Ravel’s “Pavane” by reading the sheet music, or smelling James Heeley’s Menthe Fraîche by looking at its lab formula.

There is one exception. When a perfumer creates a crystalline fragrance using a transparent technique to execute a simple concept, the raw materials illuminate the result. This is the case with the sublime l’Eau de Tarocco, which Diptyque launched this month, crafted by the Ravel of perfumers, Olivier Pescheux.

Pescheux, working with Diptyque’s creative director, Myriam Badault, began with the most elemental of concepts. In Morocco, Pescheux had eaten a simple traditional dish, carpaccio d’orange, a thinly sliced orange sprinkled with rose water, cinnamon and a touch of saffron. Pescheux and Badault decided he would build an olfactory carpaccio d’orange.

He began by choosing the Calabrian orange variety Tarocco. The expression of most oranges (citrus perfume raw materials are always oils expressed — pressed — from their peels) differs markedly from the taste of their flesh, which is generally fruitier and more floral. Tarocco’s particularity is that its expressed oil and its fruit match almost perfectly.

Pescheux works in Paris for the scent-maker Givaudan, which produces an extremely high quality of unadulterated raw materials that it designates Orpur. Pescheux selected Givaudan’s Orpur Tarocco first. To it, he added Orpur essences of Sri Lankan cinnamon bark and Laotian turmeric, and a distillation of ginger for bite. Orpur Bulgarian rose for the carpaccio’s rose water. Hedione high-cis (found in jasmine) for its airy floral quality. The molecule Magnolan, which gives both white flowers and a rose touch, and which Pescheux built in to form a bridge linking Hedione to the Bulgarian rose. To polish, he put in Texas cedar essence for the foundation, Somalian olibanum (the incense you smell in a Russian Orthodox church) for mystery, and two Givaudan captive molecules, Cosmone, for powder, richness and softness, and Serenolide, for a dry texture to “carry” the incense.

L’Eau de Tarocco’s is a short formula, only 23 raw materials.

What is interesting about the resulting perfume is that it is supposed to be the fourth in Pescheux’s new and increasingly extraordinary Diptyque eaux de colognes collection. (They are becoming as good as Jean-Claude Ellena’s new eaux de cologne collection for Hermès.) The cologne genre — pale, fleeting, one-dimensional, antiquated watercolors of lemon and grapefruit — is uninteresting. With Pescheux and Ellena, we are seeing a fundamental reworking of the category. Tarocco is an astonishingly perfect piece of scent work, an equilibrium of palely spiced fresh air moving through a dusky orange grove. It effortlessly transcends its genre. It is less watercolor, more oil painting, peaceful as a Buddha, elegant as linen, fresh as grass cooling in the evening.

l’Eau de Tarocco by Diptyque
(5 stars; transcendent) | $98 for 100 ml at

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

US Supplying Morocco with Weapons

I don't know if there is any good "spin" that could be put on this news.
It is what it is, the further strengthening of an authoritarian state.
Here is the article from the Philadelphia Bulletin.

Obama To Provide Weapons To Lebanon, Morocco

By David Bedein, Middle East Correspondent
Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jerusalem — The United States plans to send an unprecedented array of offensive military systems to Lebanon and to Morocco.

The Obama administration has approved the delivery of missiles, artillery and main battle tanks to the Lebanese Army. This would mark the first offensive systems to Lebanon since the 1980s.

Meanwhile, on May 22, Vice President Joseph Biden visited Beirut and announced the administration was preparing to deliver a range of offensive military platforms to Lebanon.

Since 2006, the United States has relayed $410 million in military aid to Lebanon. Most of the aid has gone for Humvee combat vehicles, light ammunition and training.

Meanwhile, Morocco requested a U.S.-origin G-550 aircraft from Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation.

This marked the second Moroccan request for U.S. aircraft since 2007. The first request by Morocco was for 24 F-16 Block 52+ aircraft in a $2.4 billion deal.

A Pentagon agency said Morocco has requested one Gulfstream G-550 transport aircraft, one spare BR700-710C4-11 GmbH engine, aircraft ferry services, spare and repair parts, as well as training and logistics.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Gnawa Music of Morocco

This article from Afropop Worldwide seems to be a rare treat. It talks about the Gnawa, their spiritual music, collective history in Morocco, as well as race and slavery in Morocco in general.

The Gnawa Music of Morocco
By Dr. Chouki El Hamel

Dr. Chouki El Hamel received his doctorate from the University of Paris-Sorbonne in January 1993. His training in France at the Centre de Recherches Africaines was in precolonial African History. His interest has focused on the spread and the growth of Islamic culture and the evolution of Islamic institutions in Africa. His research is evidenced in his published articles and a book concerning intellectual life in precolonial Islamic West Africa. He taught courses in African History at North Carolina State University in Raleigh and at Duke University from 1994 to 2001. In 2001-2002 he was a scholar in residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City and in 2002 he joined the History Department at Arizona State University. He is currently finishing his book entitled "Ethnicity, “Race/Color “and Gender in Moroccan Slavery." He contributed this essay to Afropop Worldwide for the program African Slaves in Islamic Lands.

Westerners who have visited Morocco have likely encountered Gnawa musicians. In the coastal Atlantic town of Essaouira, where an annual festival of Gnawa music takes place, and in Marrakesh, at its spectacular central square called Jamaa el-Fna. The colorful gowns and caps of Gnawa musicians, covered with cowry shells, coupled with the distinct sound of their instruments - metallic castanets, heavy drums and a three-stringed bass lute (guembri) – provide both visual and audio confirmation of the Gnawa presence.

Some of the best known genres of music to all Moroccans come from the classical Andalusian legacy, and reflect Morocco's historic relationship with Spain. Andalusian music is recognized as a national music and is repeatedly featured on national audio-visual media. By contrast, the Sephardic music and folksongs from the Jewish communities in Morocco are unfortunately vanishing because Morocco lost its Jewish population to help create the state of Israel. Another important but often neglected genre of music is that of the Gnawa, who came from West Africa to Morocco by way of migration, both voluntary and forced. Although the Gnawa are now fully integrated in Moroccan society, the Gnawa still remain a cultural and a social distinctiveness.

The term Gnawa has three important meanings. First, it refers to black people who were enslaved in West Africa. It is commonly believed that Gnawa of Morocco were originally black slaves and who over time had become free under various historical circumstances. Historians believe that the Gnawa population originated from black West Africa - from Senegal to Chad and from Mali in the north to Nigeria in the south. Many of these enslaved people are thought to come from Old Ghana (a kingdom north of Mali) in the 11th through the 13th century. These enslaved groups were called “Gnawa.” There is also some historical evidence that a large enslaved population came from the great market of Djenne in Mali, and that Gnawi is a slight deformation of Jennawi. The term Gnawa is thus a color designation. It historically means “the black people.”

Second, it defines both a religious/spiritual order of a traditionally Black Muslim group. The Gnawa are traditionally a mystic order which marks their exclusiveness within Islam and the religious and spiritual components of Gnawa practice incorporates references to their origin and their enslavement.

Third, it denotes the style of music associated with this order. The ancestral memory (turath) of the displaced and enslaved people that were brought to Morocco is preserved mainly in their songs and dances.

Not all blacks in Morocco were slaves that originated from black West Africa. Some blacks were actually native to southern Morocco. Some sources suggest that groups of black people were indigenous of the Draa valley. They were sedentary agriculturists. With the advance of the Romans into the Moroccan interior in the 3rd century B.C.E., the Berbers, who inhabited the coastal areas of the Maghreb of North Africa, may have been forced to move towards the south and competed with the blacks inhabitants in the oases of the Draa, entering into an interdependent or clientele relationship with the Blacks, with the Berbers assuming the patron role.

Etymologically speaking, the meaning of Gnawa likely derives from the Berber word aguinaw, which is connected with skin color. It means “black man” in contrast with the white Berber. This word could be itself the origin of the name Guinea because akal n-iguinamen in Berber means the “land of the black men” just like the Arabic term bilad as-sudan, which means, “land of the black people.” The term was also adopted by the Portuguese and appeared mainly as “Guinea” on European maps dating from the 14th century.

Arabic sources indicate that there was a steady flow of human trafficking across the Saharan desert from the 10th to the 19th centuries. Since the Almoravid dynasty in the 11th century, enslavement, conscription and trade brought people from West Africa (mainly from the area of present-day Mali, Burkina Fasso and Senegal) to the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia). These enslaved groups were usually called `abid or sudan, both Arabic words, or else haratin or gnawa, Berber words. We can thus name among the ancestors of the black Moroccans of today the Soninke, the Bambara, the Mossi, the Fulani, and the Hausa. Archival sources indicate the use of blacks in the armies of the Makhzen, the central authority of Morocco, and in many cases, entire garrisons consisted solely of black soldiers. Many dynasties relied on black soldiers to maintain their power.

The first ruling dynasty in Morocco to use a large number of black slaves in the army during the Islamic era was the Almoravids (al-Murabitun). During the Almoravids, the ruler Yusuf Ibn Tashfin “bought a body of black slaves and sent them to al-Andalus.” With the additional troops provided through the slave trade, Almoravids defeated Alfonso VI of Castile in 1086 A.D. at the crucial battle of Zallaqa (near Badajoz). Arabic sources indicate that 4000 black soldiers participated in this famous battle. During the succeeding Almohad dynasty, the rulers had a private garrison of black soldiers, who also served as royal guards and during the rule of Muhammad an-Nasir, around 1200 A.D., their numbers reached 30,000. During this dynasty, the recruitment of enslaved blacks in the government became institutionalized, known as `Abid al-Makhzen, meaning “servants to the government.”

A third dynasty that used a large army of blacks was the Sa‘dis, who under the rule of Mawlay al-Mansur, invaded the Songhay Empire (in present day Mali) in 1591 A.D., which allowed them direct access to acquiring more black slaves for military purposes. In the late 17th century, Mawlay Isma`il gave orders to enslave all blacks including free black people to create his own army. Of course an act completely against the Islamic law, but he did it anyway.

In addition to the conscription of the blacks in the army, enslaved Black West Africans were assigned numerous occupations, including tasks in the home, farm, mines, oases, and ports. In many towns, slaves were primarily women who performed domestic labor or were concubines to the affluent class, while rural slaves were mainly male and worked in farming. Gradually, enslaved black people were freed either by manumission, by running away, or because their masters were forced to grant them freedom under different circumstances. After many generations, these freed black slaves eventually formed their own families and communities, such as those of the Gnawa mystic order.

Elements of pre-Islamic West African animism such as the belief in the spirit world are fundamental to the Gnawa order. For the Gnawa, the spirit world is inhabited by ancestral spirits who, among other spiritual creatures, can be used for either good or evil purposes. Ancestors are believed to act as intermediaries between the living and the supreme god, and the Gnawa communicate with their ancestors through prayer and sacrifice. The spirit world is also invoked through special ceremonies, constituted by drumming, clapping, the sound of the castanets, and dances, all designed to enlist the aid of ancestral saints to protect human beings from evil spirits and other predicaments, such as helping persons recover from an illness or a misfortune. These rites often involve spectacular trances through which contact with and appeal to ancestral spirits may be gained.

Even while adopting Islam, Gnawa did not totally abandon their animist traditions but rather continued to observe ritual possession. They combined Islamic tradition with pre-Islamic African traditions, whether local or sub-Saharan West African. After their conversion to Islam, while probably still in their country of origin, the Gnawa adopted Bilal as their ancestor and saint patron. Bilal was the first black person to convert to Islam and to become a companion of the Prophet Muhammad. Claiming Bilal as a patrilineal figure was not only to emphasize the nobility of belonging to Bilal but also an attempt to legitimize their identity in Islamic terms.

Historically, as a racial minority, the Gnawa suffered much discrimination and injustice at the hands of the Arab-Berber majority within the regions that the Gnawa inhabit. Conscious of their difference and their blackness, they chose Bilal a black man as agnate. Bilal was a special man. Originally from Ethiopia, he was born into slavery. He converted to Islam while still in captivity and was tortured for his conversion by his master Umayya b. Khalaf. When Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, a very close friend to the Prophet Muhammad, heard about the valor of Bilal, he bought him and set him free in the name of Islam. Bilal became the personal servant/assistant of the Prophet. He was also the first muezzin—meaning “caller to prayer”—of the newly established Islamic community in Medina. This special relationship with the Prophet brought Bilal a special Baraka (a divine blessing). The Gnawa have constructed their Islamic identity by emphasizing a privileged status among Muslims - they converted to Islam even before Quraysh, the tribe to whom Muhammad belonged. Hence, it is not surprising to find the name of Bilal in many Gnawa songs. Additionally, to honor their spiritual and emotional link with Bilal and Islam, the Gnawa built a unique shrine in Essaouira dedicated to Bilal: the Zawiya Sidna Bilal, a place to celebrate their culture. Bilal is the symbol of the dialectic between Diaspora and homeland.

The Gnawa are a diasporic culture and one finds artistic and spiritual parallels between the Gnawa order and other spiritual black groups in Africa such as the bori in Nigeria and the stambouli in Tunisia, the sambani in Libya, the bilali in Algeria, and also outside Africa as in the case of the vodoun religion practiced in Caribbean countries (vodoun is a mix of Roman Catholic ritual elements and traditional rituals from Dahomey). The similarities in the artistic, spiritual and scriptural (e.g. related to Abrahamic written traditions) representations seem to reflect a shared experience of many African diasporic groups. The belief in possession and trance is crucial to Gnawa religious life. Music has served a patterned function in this belief and it is intrinsically linked to the Gnawa religious rituals and to their specific historic and cultural memories. It is their specific historic and cultural memories celebrated and invoked in songs, dances and musical chants that the Gnawa claim to provide access to the spiritual realm.

The Gnawa have influenced other Berber/Arab mystic orders or brotherhoods, as in the case of the Issawiya (16th century) and Hamdushiya (17th century). These brotherhoods added new elements to the usual sufi devotional rituals, such as trances and contacts with spirits, most likely influenced by contact with the Gnawa order. But these Zawaya and other sufi Berber or Arabic orders have been far more socially accepted within the regions where they are found than that of the Gnawa. The Gnawa, as a spiritual order within Moroccan Islamic society, was marginalized and is still marginal. Through their musical ceremonies and trances, they claim to cure insanity and free people from malign influences. They believe that God is too powerful for bi-lateral communication and direct manifestation and thus God can only be reached through spiritual manifestations in our world. Hence, the Gnawa are generally not considered a mystic order proper because they do not seek the conventional personal union with the divine but rather contact with the spirit world which acts as an intermediary through which contact with the divine may be accomplished.

The Gnawa have found legitimacy for their cultural distinctiveness within the regions and societies they inhabit even given their unusual and often marginalized religious rites, ceremonies, and musical practices. The images conveyed in their songs construct a coherent representation of displacement, dispossession, deprivation, misery and nostalgia for a land and a former life kept alive through their unique musical and ceremonial practices. The historical experience of the Gnawa sketched in this essay is very similar to those found in all forced diasporas. Through their ceremonies, their songs and gatherings, these people made restitution not of an "imagined community" but a real one to reconcile a fragmented past. The Gnawa provide a fascinating story of how they re/constructed their identity against a broken cultural continuity.

The Gnawa have, over many generations, productively negotiated their forced presence in Morocco to create acceptance and group solidarity. Unlike the conventional question in Black America, "Who are we?," the Gnawa ask, "Who have we become?” Similar to the model of “creolization” – the integration of freed black slaves into the French cultural landscape of the American state of Louisiana , the Gnawa have created a model of their own creolization and integration into the Moroccan social landscape. This is one of the most crucial and striking differences between blacks in America and blacks in Morocco.

Over the past fifty years in North Africa, Gnawa music, like the blues in America, has spread and attracted practitioners from other ethnic groups, in this case Berber and Arab. Although most present-day Gnawa musicians are metisse and speak Arabic and Berber, some West African religious words and phrases do survive even though their meaning is lost. In Morocco, Gnawa music is found mainly where black people live in a relatively large number; large enough to form a distinctive community like the ones in Marrakech and Essaouira. These two cities are known historically to have had slave markets connected to the trans-Saharan slave trade.

Gnawa people have created a distinct space in Moroccan society. They play a social and spiritual role and in recent decades have become well-known public performers. Public, non-ceremonial performances outside the Gnawa mystic order is a recent development. In order to survive, the Gnawa have turned the mystical aspect of their music into a musical art. In the 1970’s, when the only popular music available was the Middle Eastern type, some Moroccan artists start to look into other Moroccan traditions. Some of the best examples are Nass al-Ghiwan who were inspired by the Gnawa mystic order to create an original Moroccan pop music. One of the members of the band was Abd er-Rahman Paco who was himself a Gnawa master musician from Essaouira. Gnawa music has engendered a popular style of pop music for mere entertainment such as Nass al-Ghiwan and Jil-Jilala. These two bands were the most listened to in Morocco in the 70’s and 80’s. In the 90’s, other groups emerged such as Nass Marrakech who blend traditional music with new songs that connect with contemporary themes and audiences. Yet, for the Gnawa, their music is primarily spiritual and used for healing purposes.

However, curiously, Gnawa music, similar to jazz in America, is not recognized as a national music. The national Moroccan music is the Andalusian music, which developed, in "Muslim" and came to with the expulsion of the Moors in 1502 A.D.. Gnawa music has inspired the development of popular Moroccan music in general and is analogically similar to the African-American spirituals, gospels, and eventually the genre known as “the blues,” also founded by former slaves. Gnawa music provides a perspective through which we may view the history of blacks in . It is a medium to discover and recover the African roots that still live on in Morocco.

Recently, Western musicians interested in African traditional music, have “discovered” the music of the Gnawa. As a result, many collaborations have ensued with famous jazz artists such as Randy Weston. The Gnawa are modernizing their style to make it more secular and with more commercial appeal. With these recent developments and their appeal to tourists, the Moroccan government in 1997established The Gnawa and World Music Festival in Essaouira.

Q&A with Banning Eyre

B.E: What do we know about slavery in Morocco before the Arabs came, even before the Romans came?

Chouki el Hamel: There was always slavery. Berbers were slaving blacks. Blacks were also enslaving other people. But before the coming of the Arabs, black West Africa was not perceived like a huge pool of slaves. It did not have great slave markets. That was a development that came with the Islamization of Africa. So with the Islamization of Africa there was an increase of the trans-Saharan trade. It is the conquest, actually, that stimulated this need for black soldiers. So there was a huge demand for enslaved people from West Africa. And why? It is because, legally, you can slave only people perceived to be “pagan.” And the area that was perceived to be “pagan” was the area of the Sudan and beyond that.

The race question came during the Crusades where Europe emerged as a strong power, and basically, the enslaved people who came from areas in Europe were diminishing. So the Arabs and Berbers dynasties that ruled North Africa turned, of course, south. And then slowly it became color slavery. So that is why I have said that in many dynasties, that ruled Morocco for instance, they relied on black soldiers. And during Mawlay Isma`il, it went even further because he enslaved all blacks, including the free ones, including the Muslims. That is an act that is actually outright illegal in Islam, but he did it. But the muftis, judges and scholars of Islam in Fez were against that. They went against the voices that had influence on the society, they were sometimes killed. We have evidence that one of them was killed. His name is Gassus. He was a very strong voice against the enslavement black Muslims.

B.E: How, ultimately, did slavery disappear from Morocco?

Chouki el Hamel: I don't know of any text that formerly and officially abolished slavery. Slavery just went away with the coming of the colonization in 1912. Slowly, and gradually, slavery just died. It stopped existing because it was no longer needed. For instance, I'll give you just one example. In the south of Morocco, until recently under colonialism, the black people, especially Haratin in the southern oases, in the area of Aqqa or Tata, blacks did not own land. The Berbers owned the land. Some were not slaves, but they worked as sharecroppers. And they were called khammasin. They worked as farmers on the land that belonged to the Berbers, and they got a fifth of the harvest. But they never owned the land. And it is through colonization, when the capitalist system was introduced, and cash was introduced, some of these black people who worked as sharecroppers went to Europe. They were able to have enough cash to buy the land. So it was through colonialism and the general capitalist system that these people who were marginalized, who were not entitled to own land, they suddenly had cash. And cash of course is power. So they bought land, and this has created a social mobility in the south of Morocco.

B.E: When Afropop Worldwide went to Morocco in 2004, we found the very first two CDs by Nass el Ghiwan. They were just bootlegs, but rare stuff?

Chouki el Hamel: Nass el Ghiwan emerged, actually, from very poor neighborhoods. Their songs were what we call engaged, engaged for social causes. They were singing basically for the voiceless people. They represented them, their oppression and their misery and also subjects that were taboos. Some of them actually suffered for that. They went to jail because of that. They really reflect the cultural legacy in a way of the Gnawa. Because of the times, when there were Egyptian songs playing on the radio all the time, and these people came along, and said, we have to look at Moroccan traditions, what is authentic. And they looked into the Gnawa. And some members of Nass al-Ghiwan and Jil-Jilala were actually Gnawa.

B.E: They were widely influential also. I remember interviewing Khaled in Algeria, and him saying that Nass el Ghiwan really inspired him when he was young. To hear this local sound elevated to this level of high popularity. That's an interesting collateral effect that you would not necessarily predict?

Chouki el Hamel: And now, there is a step even further, because we have westerners involved, right? You have a lot of jazz and even popular music artists they come and collaborate with the Gnawa. Randy Weston comes to mind, but he is not the first one. Dizzy Gillespie went to Tunisia, right? So they all look for this, the African roots. Even in the early sixties. They were aware of this Diaspora. I think the artists were onto something. The artists, they are pioneers in making the other Diaspora actually known to the world. By the “other Diaspora,” I am talking about the internal African Diaspora, which is the Diaspora of black Africans in North Africa and the Mediterranean.

B.E: So it was not so much historians and writers who led the way on this. It was musicians?

Chouki el Hamel: If you like, hearing music is more powerful, more influential, than reading books sometimes.

…Just the same, if books are your cup of tea, here’s Chouki el Hamel’s Selected Bibliography:

Abu, Madyan, and Vincent J. Cornell. The way of Abu Madyan : doctrinal and poetic works of Abu Madyan Shuayb ibn al-Husayn al-Ansari (c. 509/1115-16-594/1198), Golden palm series. Cambridge, U.K.: Islamic Texts Society, 1996.

Brunel, Rene. Essai sur la confrérie religieuse des 'Aissaouas au Maroc: Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1926.

Diène, Doudou. La Chaîne et le lien : une vision de la traite négrière, Mémoire des peuples. Paris: Editions Unesco, 1998.

Diouf, Sylviane. Servants of Allah : African Muslims enslaved in the Americas. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

El Hamel, Chouki, “Blacks and Slavery in Morocco: The Question of the Haratin at the End of the Seventeenth Century,” in Disaporic Africa. A Reader, ed. by Michael Gomez, New York University Press, 2006.

Ennaji, Mohammed. Serving the master : slavery and society in nineteenth-century Morocco. 1st ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Laroui, Abd Allah. The history of the Maghrib : an interpretive essay. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977.

Pâques, Viviana. L'Arbre cosmique dans la pensée populaire et dans la vie quotidienne du Nord-Ouest africain, etc, [Université de Paris. Travaux et mémoires de l'Institut d'Ethnologie. no. 70.]: pp. 702. pl. XVII. Paris, 1964.

Pâques, Viviana. La religion des esclaves : recherches sur la confrérie marocaine des Gnawa. Bergamo: Moretti & Vitali, 1991.

Willis, John Ralph, ed. Slaves and Slavery in Muslim Africa. Vol. 1: Islam and the Ideology of Slavery. Totowa, N.J: Frank Cass, 1985.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Deadly Stampede at Mawazine Music Festival in Rabat

Soon, we hope to post some more positive news coming out of Morocco. Here is an article from the BBC about the recent Mawazine Music Festival that took place in Rabat and the deaths that took place there yesterday.


Deadly stampede at Rabat festival

At least 11 people are reported to have died in the Moroccan capital Rabat, after being crushed in a stampede at the Mawazine world music festival.

About 40 other people are thought to have been injured when a wire fence collapsed.

The incident happened on Saturday night, when some 70,000 spectators were packed into the Hay Nahda stadium to see Moroccan singer Abdelaziz Stati.

This year's festival has also featured Kylie Minogue, Khaled and Alicia Keys.

Analysts say the nine-day-long Mawazine festival is one of several events aimed at promoting Morocco's image as a modern, tolerant nation.

But some of the country's Islamist politicians have denounced the concerts as encouraging immoral behaviour.

Hurry to leave

People enter the Ibn Sina hospital in the capital Rabat, 24th May
Seven people are still thought to be in hospital after the incident

The festival was drawing to a close when the stampede occurred.

Shortly after midnight on Sunday morning, thousands of spectators hurried to leave and a wire fence toppled over.

According to police, five women, four men and two children died in the ensuing crush.

Rescuers helped to pull out survivors and transport the injured to hospital, where seven people remain under observation, according to the French news agency AFP.

Deadly crowd stampedes in Africa are usually associated with sports events, according to the BBC's North Africa correspondent Rana Jawad.

But this is the second known incident of its kind in the region; in 2007 a stampede at a concert in Tunisia killed seven people.

Friday, May 22, 2009

French People of Moroccan Ancestry "Returning" To Morocco and Nigerian Immigrants Trying to Leave

Here are two different articles dealing with movement in,out, and around Morocco. One, from the Wall Street Journal, presents the case of French citizens of Moroccan background who have better job prospects in Morocco than they do in France and the other, from This Day Online, is about Nigerian immigrants who are sometimes held against their will in Morocco as a part of human smuggling operations and who hope to return to Nigeria.


* MAY 22, 2009

In France, Immigrant Offspring Return to Ancestral Homelands


PARIS -- Nawal El Kahlaoui grew up near Paris as the daughter of a mechanic who left Morocco to seek a better life in France. But after finishing her university studies here, Ms. Kahlaoui moved back to Morocco to find work.

"I love Morocco, as the country gave me a chance," says the 35-year-old retail consultant in Casablanca. "It's a land of opportunity."

A growing number of well-educated French people of immigrant backgrounds are returning to their parents' homelands. There are no official figures on the number of "returnees," and government officials, scholars and employment agencies say the number is small. Still, this gradual U-turn reflects a relative decline in the desirability of life in parts of Europe, compared with some developing countries.

Mass immigration to France started in the 1960s, as the economy grew strongly, creating jobs. In addition to migrants from southern Europe, workers came from France's former colonies, in particular Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

As France's economy slowed in subsequent decades, however, unemployment rose, and hasn't dipped below 7% for the past quarter of a century. In recent years, the jobless rate for immigrants has been around twice that of non-immigrants. Now that France is in recession, the first jobs to go are often those filled by minorities.

Most of the French "returnees" are of Moroccan background, according to people who have studied the phenomenon, though there is also a trickle to other former French colonies, such as Algeria and Vietnam. In 2002, Rabat set up a "Ministry for the Overseas Moroccan Community," to encourage émigrés to return and invest their skills in their native land.

Morocco is also becoming more open and prosperous. Overhauls under King Mohammad VI, who ascended to the throne in 1999, have improved freedom of expression and women's rights. In addition, the country has formed free-trade agreements with the U.S. and the European Union. The economy expanded at an average of more than 4% from 2000 to 2008, and even this year is expected to post growth higher than that. While a large number of rural poor keep Morocco relatively low in international measures of economic prosperity, city life can be good for better-off residents.

Life can be better than in France. Surveys show that in France, applicants for a job have around a third the chance of getting a reply if their name sounds Arab or African as they do with a more traditional French name.

But no one knows the exact extent of inequality: The French Republic's doctrine that everyone is equal has so far ruled out the collection of statistics on race and religion. As a result, unlike in the U.S., there are no detailed data on how many French people are black, Arab or Asian -- and how they fare in education and work.

Opponents say that such an ethnic census would divide society by validating the existence of groups based on race and religion.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, acknowledging the problem, said before his 2007 election that he wanted better ways to measure discrimination, and in December he appointed a commissioner for diversity. Algerian-born Yazid Sabeg recently published a report in which he recommended that people be allowed to identify -- but not in a mandatory way -- which ethnic group they belong to on official documents.

"We need to measure the negative situation that is the result of different appearances," Mr. Sabeg said in a recent interview in his office on Paris's Left Bank. "It's very important for France to get out of its fantasy that there is no discrimination."

A French education is highly valued in former colonies, and salaries are good relative to the cost of living.

In Morocco, former émigrés are very welcome. Big European companies have been actively recruiting French-educated staff for their units there over the past three or four years, says Jamal Belahrach, president of the North African operations of job agency Manpower. The recruits find they can rise faster in their careers than they would have in France -- and are surprised to find a country different from the one their parents left. "There's a generation who didn't see Morocco in the past, and now sees the modern Morocco," he says.

Barka Biye's parents had moved to France from Morocco when she was just two months old. Ms. Biye graduated in law from the University of Paris, and then worked for several years in insurance. In 2007, she decided to look for a job in Morocco. She found one with a French insurance company in Casablanca in just two weeks.

"I thought I could play my part in the evolution of a country going through big changes," she says. "Morocco is expanding fast, and the companies who set up there want managers educated in Europe and at the same time capable of understanding the country's culture."

When Ms. El Kahlaoui was job-hunting in the late 1990s, she had trouble finding an interesting job, even though she held an undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of Paris and another in marketing from ESSEC, an elite business school.

When she asked a university careers adviser why she was having so much trouble, the woman gave her some advice: "She told me I had to change my name and address," says Ms. El Kahlaoui. The problem: Her name and address told potential employers she was from a typical North African immigrant background.

In Casablanca, Ms. El Kahlaoui started off working for French pharmaceuticals company Pierre Fabre and then German cosmetics group Beiersdorf before joining a small retail consultancy.

She says she's happy in Morocco, but being there makes her feel very French. "I will come back ," she says, "but only when the system can generally accept people like me.


Morocco: Sordid Lifestyles of Nigerian Illegal Immigrants


Chinwe Ochu who was in Rabat, Morocco recently tells the sordid life of Nigerian illegal immigrants in that country which revolves around drugs, rape, begging, tribal gangsterism, murder and other criminal activities. She also encountered one of the Nigerians who wants to go back home

Her spoken English is good. She would not strike you as someone who would abandon her studies in the university for an illegal stay abroad. I met Joy Peters, a 22 year-old secondary school graduate from Ememuri, Edo State at the Nigerian Embassy in Rabat, Morocco. She had given herself up for repatriation to Nigeria after her dreadful stay in Morocco.

Through a friend, she had met a man named 'Baba London' in Benin City, “who promised to take her to Spain to help his wife out in her boutique business.” According to her, the recklessness of the whole arrangement was that she did not know Baba London from Adam and did not ask the necessary questions; neither did she pay him any fees for the travel.

“My father is late and I normally help my mother in the farm. I am the last in the family. So I wanted to put one or two things together so that I can provide more money for us.” Two days after the meeting, she set off with him; in addition to two other girls from Edo State on the journey. “I did not know him. I didn't ask him any questions. He never told me that we were going to Morocco.”

She described to THISDAY the horrendous journey: to Morocco: “I left Nigeria on February 3, 2009. When we (ten of us) were going, we passed through the desert with a Maburro jeep. On our way, we met other people in Algeria and then we got to Morocco and stopped. We got to Morocco in April. It was a long journey. We took the desert road from Issalha to Wahkla to Oran to Algeria, because we faced deportation to Tisawhati. So, we spent almost three months on the road.”
When I asked what sustained them on the journey, she said: “He bought some food items; we were eating Geisha, bread and some juice on the way. We were three girls form Benin that Baba London took. I don't know where all the girls are right now because I was locked up immediately we got to Rabat, Morocco.

“I told him that this was not the Europe that we agreed upon and he said that I should not worry that from Morocco, we will pass through the sea to Europe. I became scared and told him that my mother was not aware of me leaving the house. I now told him that I am going back to Nigeria and he insisted that I should stay there and later I will be in Europe. I said no because I have heard stories that people used to die in the sea. That got me scared.”

Joy continued: “When he wanted to go back to Nigeria he handed me over to his friend, an Edo man named Ason, who was maltreating me. He said that he had spent six years in Morocco. That first night, he was nice. Then everything changed. I later found out that he does not have a work. He begs for a living. A lot of young Nigerian men beg for alms in Morocco to feed. He smokes Hashish and marijuana and comes back very drunk. He raped me all night and will invite his friends too. He said that he attended Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma and that he was an Eye cultist. That if I scream, he will cut me in pieces. When I refuse, he will beat me mercilessly and say that I do not respect his friends. He ties me up every time he goes out, hands and feet with shoe laces. It was really painful. When he comes back from his begging, he will bring the little food stuff he brought and I will cook just like his wife.”

Joy alleged that she made several attempts to escape Ason's grip, but she was not successful. “Once, I ran away and met an Igbo man who said that he does not want to get involved with these boys because they are dangerous; and he returned me to him.”
All indications pointed to the fact that she was sold to the said Ason as a sex slave. It was then Ason's responsibility to make contacts with other 'buyers' from Spain, who will in turn pay so much money for Joy. Just like the slave trade. Joy would overhear some men bargaining prices for her. She escaped when Ason forgot to lock the door one day and ran to an Ivorian woman in the neighbourhood, who equally begs for a living. She accommodated her until she was strong enough to go to the Nigerian Embassy.

According to her, at the Embassy, she is not even safe since the Ason has friends everywhere and would inform him of her whereabouts. “He will wait for me at the corner till he gets me. I have made him loose some money because no one has bought me already.”

Commenting on the present state of affairs, Mrs. Amina Garba, a Councillor at the Nigerian Embassy in Rabat, Morocco said the situation of Nigerian illegal immigrants in Morocco is really shameful and pathetic. She said the number of Nigerian citizens in the country is not definite due to the high incidence of unregistered arrivals. Garba said most of them are wanted people back in Nigeria. According to her, they are mostly felons who escaped the law from their various states in Nigeria and traveled through the desert road to North Africa.

“The unemployed Nigerians here beg for alms to feed themselves. They go to public places like the mosques, supermarkets carrying their babies and wearing tattered clothes. It's a difficult situation for us here. Most of them come here and continue with their various nefarious activities. They are hardened criminals. They normally demand what they call “passage money” from new Nigerian settlers into their neighbourhood. Failure to provide such fees often results in bloodshed.”

Another situation has reared its ugly head amongst the illegal Nigerian immigrants' community in Morocco-tribalism. Garba explained that “these Nigerians in Morocco have “houses,” according to tribes. Each tribe has a chairman that coordinates the group. Sometimes they have tribal wars amongst themselves that result in violence and bloodshed. Each and every house has own mafia and perpetuates violence. Recently, an Esan man killed an Igbo man over a dispute of 20 dirams (Moroccan currency).

“He was subsequently arrested and sentenced to twenty years in prison. The Igbos, instead of leaving the matter as it is, started their revenge scheme by kidnapping all Edo people that they could lay their hands on, raping, maiming and killing them.
“Reports have it that in Ouchda (a border town between Morocco and Algeria); there is an Igbo man called the 'National Lord'. He arranges for the kidnap of a large number of female illegal immigrants whom he locks up in rooms. While being raped, these women are videotaped and the videos sent to their relatives in Europe demanding ransom for their release. He is said to be rich and bribes his way out of prosecution,” Garba told THISDAY.

When asked what the Embassy is doing about this 'National Lord' and other nefarious Nigerians, Garba said “When the embassy sought more information on the said 'National Lord', nobody wanted anything to do with the investigation. Nobody wanted to reveal anything.”

The Councillor said that the Consular issue is the Embassy's most daunting challenge. She said that “if only the Nigerians can live peacefully amongst themselves . . . The Moroccan police sometimes say that they have let some Nigerians that are illegal immigrants go because they look poor and harassed. What they are bothered about is for them not to disrupt public peace.”
According to her, statistics have it that in the Casablanca prison, Nigerians are the second largest in number after the Moroccans- totaling over 100. Of this number, 60 are for drug-related offences, while the others are jailed for murder, maiming and violence of all sorts.

At the end of the day, Joy entreated to be taken back home to Nigeria, saying that she wanted to go back to school. “I wouldn't wish for what I went through for my enemy”, she said.

Is it not high time Nigerians stopped bringing shame to this great country and work for the common good of Nigeria? Although we might be lacking in basic infrastructure for a normal living, engaging in disgraceful conduct outside the shore of this country will contribute to the negative perception that pervades the average hardworking innocent Nigerian worldwide. Or are we not re- branding anymore?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Don't Touch My Child : Sexual Abuse in Morocco

Here is a short article about pedophilia in Morocco, and a group that is trying to address the issue. It seems as if the government is trying to downplay the connection between pedophilia and sex tourism but from my experience in Morocco, this is believed to be one of the main forces driving the rise in cases.

Moroccan group reports 'staggering' rise in child sex abuse

19 hours ago

RABAT (AFP) — A campaigning group reported a "staggering" rise in the number of sexual assaults on children in Morocco, in its annual report issued Tuesday.

The Touche pas a mon enfant (Don't touch my child) group said it had recorded 306 such cases in 2008, six times more than the number recorded by another rights group for the first half of 2007.

But it added: "The cases declared by the families of the victims... only make up a tiny percentage of the abuse committed."

That was partly explained by the taboo nature of the issue in Morocco's conservative society, it added.

"Sexual assaults are, in Morocco, as in a lot of other societies, surrounded by a veil of almost-total silence," it said.

Even the victims and their families often dared not speak out.

Family Affairs Minister Nouzha Skalli suggested that the rise in figures indicated not so much an increase in abuse but a greater willingness to speak out.

"Paedophilia has always existed in Morocco," she told AFP.

"The fact that it is being brought to light by the media and NGOs... in no way means a direct rise in the number of victims of pedophilia."

But Najat Anwar, the founder and president of "Don't touch my child" said the rise in the 2008 figures was down to an increase in sexual tourism, fueled by the development of the Internet.

The group also said that light sentences issued by the courts against offenders was doing nothing to discourage such crimes.

It called for a greater commitment by the authorities, including tougher laws targeting such practices.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Morocco's Economy and Weathering the Global Financial Storm

Here is a good article from the Associated Press about how the main industries in Morocco are trying to deal with the global financial crisis. I think the reassurances that the government will step in to help people if things get too bad should be taken with a grain of salt, but besides that, it is very informative.


Morocco sheds jobs but hangs on in financial storm

By ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU – 1 day ago

SALE, Morocco (AP) — Clamor fills the factory as workers bent over their industrial sewing machines stitch together women's garments at galloping speed. Yet the vast workshop is only half full, its blank benches a testimony to how the global financial meltdown swings back at the developing world.

Morocco's diverse, open economy has served as a model to poorer nations in Africa and the Arab world, but it has also left the country exposed to global downturn as trade with the rich world shrinks. And many are now watching whether the ripple effects of international finance could turn nasty in a developing nation like this north African kingdom with strong political and migration ties to Europe.

Moroccan authorities fear some 20,000 jobs are being cut in the textile industry, about 10 percent of the national total. Others have vanished in the tourism industry, the backbone of the coastal country's economy. Carmaker Nissan froze plans for a car plant promising thousands more positions. Remittances are down, too, as Moroccans working in Europe face layoffs.

"We're worried more cuts will follow," said Naima Arour, shouting to make herself heard over the hammering of her sewing machine. "Without work, we starve here," she said, barely lifting her eyes from the collars she was hastily fixing to women's blouses.

The government is keeping a close watch on at-risk sectors and intervening to keep joblessness down and maintain stability. Unauthorized groups critical of Morocco's tolerant, Western-friendly liberal economy, including those on the Islamist fringes, recruit massively in the country's slums, where idle youth are a fertile target for extremists.

There are no unemployment benefits in Morocco. And the firing of one employee usually directly affects a whole family, rippling fast through the economy in working-class towns like Sale, where much of the country's textile industry lies.

Abdelhai Bessa, Arour's employer, says a sense of pride and habits of social and Muslim solidarity usually prevent Moroccan managers from firing staff until absolutely necessary. But he's already laid off more than 600 of the 2,000 people he employed.

"We're very dependent on international trends," said Bessa, a former unionized railway engineer who started his textile business from scratch in the 1990s and reached US$15 million in revenue last year, surfing on a decade of outsourcing to market Morocco's cheap labor to Europe.

His firm works primarily for upscale retailers in Britain, where consumers have been particularly hard hit by the financial crisis. Orders have dropped 85 percent for menswear and fancy children's dresses. One of his main customers went broke in December.

The Moroccan government, which unlike many Arab states has no oil revenues, heavily relies on foreign trade to sustain its projected 5.8 percent GDP growth in 2009, from a gross domestic product of US$90.5 billion last year. It says it carefully monitors which sectors are taking blows.

"When warning lights turn orange, we intervene," Ahmed Reda Chami, Morocco's industry and commerce minister, told The Associated Press.

Authorities have spent 1 billion dirham (nearly US$100 million) on a support package, whose measures include canceling some payroll taxes and offering government guarantees to companies seeking bank loans.

"If lights were to turn red, we could do much more," said Chami, who with seven other Cabinet ministers and several top business leaders is part of a "Strategic Watch Committee" set up by the government to follow the unfolding effects of world recession.

The government is racing to start unemployment benefits. While official unemployment is at a low 2.8 percent in the country of 34 million, it is estimated at 20 percent in urban areas.

Massive rainfall this year in this often arid north African country has led to a boom in agriculture, helping to compensate shrinking industry and tourism revenues, the minister said.

Small farmers and urban poor have seen much less wealth come their way in recent years than those in the tourist and service sectors. Many have grown wary of their country's modernization and opening to the West, and the authorized opposition Islamists are now the second-biggest force in parliament.

The government knows it can't let its policies backfire and insists the social effects of the slowdown are limited for now. "But we're not an isolated island, so of course we're cautious," said Chami.

Tourism managers say they've begun to feel a slump in popular destinations like the sunny southern town of Marrakech, and the Central Bank is worried remittances are falling from Europe, where many Moroccans go for work.

One of the biggest signs of downturn came from Nissan. The Japanese car marker and its French partner Renault had planned to invest 600 million euros ($794 million) to build a huge car factory in Tangiers. The project, which was slated to create 6,000 jobs and deliver 200,000 cars yearly starting in 2010, is part of a Moroccan flagship program to develop "Tanger Med," a new deep-water port aiming to become one of the Mediterranean's biggest.

But Nissan announced recently it was freezing its part of the investment because of worldwide difficulties in the car industry. Thierry Moulonguet, the executive vice president and CFO of Renault-Nissan, said that despite "drastic revisions" of its investment plans, Renault has decided to go forward with the Tanger Med factory on its own. Production will likely be downgraded and postponed until 2011, he said.

"The current difficulties absolutely don't challenge the attractiveness of the country," he said.

Renault's new, low-cost Logan cars were due to be built in Tangiers and sold to developing nations. Now they're also becoming a hit in wealthier countries amid crisis-hit consumers. Renault estimates the combined cost of wages and labor taxes in Morocco are about 40 percent less than in China, or about nine times cheaper than in France.

Authorities want to think the same thing. The tourism ministry has launched an advertising campaign in France that boasts "Moroccotherapy," the idea that gloomy Europeans can get a quick fix of sunny cultural diversity by taking a discounted two-hour flight to Moroccan resorts.

Bessa, the textile manager, is convinced that Morocco, with its tight-knit society and history of state intervention, is better resisting the onslaught than others. He says European retail customers are warning him they'll need his factory more when activity picks up, because so many Chinese firms — which had grabbed most of the ultra-low cost textile outsourcing — are going down the drain.

"It's going very difficult in Morocco," Bessa said. But when the global recession eventually ends, "those of us who weathered the storm will be in a very strong position."

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Locating the Moroccan Middle Class

Here is an article from about controversy over who actually makes up the Moroccan middle class.


Middle class statistics spur debate in Morocco


A recent government study in Morocco is stirring up controversy over the definition of "middle class".

By Sarah Touahri for Magharebia in Casablanca – 14/05/09

The state of the middle class is under review in Morocco, with experts debating the criteria used to define it, its size as a percentage of the population, and the quality of life it offers. Questionable numbers published in a recent High Commission for Planning (HCP) study have further fuelled this heated discussion.

The HCP study, released May 6th, shows that the middle class in Morocco accounts for 53% of the population, compared with 34% for the lower class and 13% for the upper class. Some 59% of the urban population belongs to the middle class, compared with 45% in rural areas.

Twenty-eight per cent of middle class households have an income greater than the national average of 5,308 dirhams per month, 42% belong to the intermediate category with income between the median and the national average, and 30% are in the lower category with income below the national median of 3,500 dirhams, explained High Commissioner for Planning Ahmed Lahlimi.

These statistics have stimulated a vigorous debate. Many have said that in the current period marked by the steady erosion of spending power and the negative effects of the international economic crisis on the labour market, the figure of 53% of Moroccans belonging to the middle class is an exaggeration. Others feel the definition of the middle class is incorrect and should be changed to give a clearer picture of the situation.

"The cost of living has increased so much over the past ten years that the middle class has been crushed, and many of them have started to disappear," explained economist Jamil Mellakhi. "A few years ago, someone earning 3,000 dirhams could provide their family with a decent standard of living; that is no longer the case today."

Mellakhi added that a household income of 3,500 to 5,000 dirhams per month could not be used as the defining characteristic of the middle class.

Several members of the public struck a similar note.

"Teachers, for example, belonged to the middle class in the 1980s. A primary school teacher would earn enough on their own to cover family expenditures and live comfortably," said Souhaila Kawtari, herself a teacher. "Over the past few years, things have changed. You can no longer say that teachers belong to the middle class."

Lahlimi explained that the definition of the middle class used for Morocco draws just as much on social self-classification by heads of household as it does on the objective criteria of income and living standards.

Self-evaluation does have its limitations. The results obtained from this approach are clearly skewed by cultural factors: the dominant culture is based around the idea of a happy medium, which means that both rich and poor like to identify themselves as middle class, Lahlimi added.

"So among the richest 20% of the population, 75% consider themselves to be middle class; meanwhile the figure is 37% for the poorest 20% of the population."

Sociologist Samira Brami agreed. Moroccans, she said, by virtue of their upbringing, are imbued with a spirit of resignation; hence, even poor people consider themselves from the middle class. "Similarly, the way of life changes from town to town. Someone living in Oujda will not have the same standard of living as someone in Casablanca. Other criteria come into play: leisure activities, comparisons, education, etc."

The prime minister's cabinet stated that the government is currently working on ways to provide support to the middle class, through controlling costs (housing, health, staple goods), encouraging employment to increase the number of wage earners within families, supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, and improving public transport and rural development policies.

This content was commissioned for

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Has 40 Years of Migration Helped Morocco?

There are a lot of things in the news right now about economic deals Morocco is entering in regarding power plants, fishing, cell phones, etc and big resorts that are going to be built in the country. This article taken from Radio Netherlands website seems a bit more interesting, it is looking at how 40 years of out migration from Morocco has affected the country.


Has 40 years of migration helped Morocco?

By Philip Smet*


Forty years ago saw the beginning of a stream of migration from Morocco to the Netherlands. The so-called "guest workers" wanted to earn money for their families at home. Today, around three million Moroccans live outside the country. In total they send more than three billion euros to the area they come from every year. Has it helped?

Fouad Haji from Rotterdam was born forty years ago in the Rif Mountains, the area along the Mediterranean coast from which many Moroccan men have left for Europe. They were later followed by their families. This is how Mr Haji, now a Rotterdam councillor, came to the Netherlands at the age of 13. He still visits his homeland regularly and is very critical about what migration has done for his country.
"In the first instance you would say migration has done a lot for the people of the Rif Mountains. You see beautiful, large newly-built houses. The people who stayed behind can depend on receiving financial support," says Mr Haji, who has just returned from a conference in Morocco, at which this very problem was discussed.

"But the disadvantage is that Rabat thinks that these people can look after themselves. The government leaves the region to fend for itself. All attention is focused on other regions in the country. That is annoying. If you look at the democratisation process, the level of education, depth of investment, industry and healthcare, then the Rif Mountains is still a deprived area. More than 60 percent of the money in Morocco is earned there, but it is not invested there. That annoys me."

In the year Mr Haji's was born, 1969, Morocco and the Netherlands reached an agreement on migration. Belgium, France, and Germany had already done so long before. The Moroccan government stimulated the migration of labour from the impoverished Rif Mountains to the wealthy European continent. Rabat hoped this would tame the rebellious region. As a result of the economic crisis in the 1970s, many of the Moroccan migrants did not return to the region. Many families followed the men. Today around three million Moroccans live outside the country, a large proportion of them born outside Morocco. In spite of the increasing integration there are substantial social problems surrounding the Moroccan community in these countries.

There are around a million Moroccans in France and roughly 380,000 in the Netherlands. There are also Moroccans in Spain, Germany, Italy, and in the Gulf States and North America nowadays as well. In total they send around 3.5 billion euros to their mother country via official channels every year, says Morocco researcher Paolo de Mas. Mr De Mas has been studying Morocco for more than 30 years and until recently was managing director of the Dutch Morocco Institute in Rabat. In addition another two billion euros come into the country in cash every year, he estimates.

Mr de Mas sees that the Rif Mountains has benefited little from the billions of euros that have come in from abroad. Banks may have opened branches in towns in the Rif Mountains, but they invest the money outside the region. Even migrant Moroccans do the same, says Mr de Mas:
"In the beginning they transfer money to their families, build them a new house in their village. That is always the first phase. Then they look to see whether they can do more to improve the standard of living. But once they have bought agricultural land and put in a few water wells, they invest their money in property such as hotels or apartments in the more prosperous parts of Morocco. The reality is that in the Rif Mountains for instance there is limited room for investment."

It is clear that the money from abroad is an important economic factor for the whole of the country. But according to Mr de Mas, the family abroad also has a huge influence culturally and politically:
"When you look at lifestyle, the migrant regions have undergone a complete transformation in the last forty years. Morocco has been bombarded by external ideas, norms and values. For example on the age of marriage, on sex, but also on democracy, consumption levels, music. It is impossible to separate the increasing fundamentalism or conservatism from the enormous financial, moral and psychological influence from the West."

In Rotterdam, councillor Fouad Haji is glad that Western ideas on democracy are getting through to the Rif Mountains. He thinks it's up to the people who live there to do something about their situation. He is critical, but optimistic.
"People now understand that they can put pressure on the authorities via the media and politics and by organising themselves and taking to the streets. They couldn't do that before. And they understand that they can exert pressure by withholding the money that is sent to them. That you can use it to put the regime under pressure."

* rnw translation (nc)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Delivering Medical Care in Taroudant,Morocco

Here is an article coming out of the US Military's 24 hour media machine to keep us in touch with some of what they are doing in the world. It seems like this is an effort to "win hearts and minds" of Moroccans with some much needed humanitarian care, similar to what missionaries do. Take from the article what you will.


AL Delivers Medical Care to Moroccan Citizens, Livestock

U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe Public Affairs RSS

Story by Master Sgt. Grady Fontana
Date: 05.12.2009
Posted: 05.12.2009 12:42

TAROUDANT, Morocco - More than 600 Moroccans from here and surrounding villages converged for humanitarian assistance being offered by U.S. and Moroccan service members participating in Exercise AFRICAN LION 2009.

Thirty eight U.S. and 46 Moroccan military personnel, and nine civilian medical professionals provided medical, dental and veterinarian care to all who showed up.

The majority of U.S. service members were from the Utah National Guard, state partner to Morocco under the National Guard State Partnership Program, although, care was also provided by 4th Dental Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group. This humanitarian assistance is just one of five being conducted in different communities throughout Morocco and runs concurrent with the bilateral military training.

The medical and dental care was conducted at the Omar El Khayam primary school, as classrooms were converted to patient rooms and hallways into waiting rooms. The school entrance was plastered with people waiting for a chance to receive medical or dental services.

"We have specialists from several fields here including gynecology, cardiology, internal medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics and ophthalmology," said Army Col. Peter P. Taillac, physician, Utah Medical Command, Utah Army National Guard. "So we're seeing a broad spectrum of cases."

Hundreds of Moroccans, mostly women and children, waited long lines for a chance to see a doctor or dentist. Once they reached the front desk, they were triaged to the appropriate specialty.

For most, they don't have access to regular medical care. Some have chronic medical problems, yet have never been treated before or have received intermittent treatment in the past and now their ailment have become advanced, according to Taillac, a native of Salt Lake City.

So, along with U.S. and Moroccan service members, some local community physicians were part of the staff who were providing medical care. These physicians plan to follow up on those who many need follow-on treatment.

"We have a chance to see them and provide some medical advice and initial medical treatment that will be followed up by community physicians," said Taillac.

In the school library, U.S. and Moroccan military dentist established a dental exam room and provided tooth extractions and restorative care.

"So far, we've seen mostly children and adults with moderate to severe cavities," said Army Maj. David J. Coates, a dentist with Utah Army National Guard. "Not much different than any population in the world who doesn't have access to dental care."

According to Coates, a native of South Jordan, Utah, his staff is matched one for one by the Moroccan staff. This allows for bi-lateral training and increases interoperability.

Additionally, for the first time in AFRICAN LION, the U.S. and Moroccan service members incorporated veterinarian services. More than 400 sheep, goats and horses were treated with medication at a location about just outside of the school.

"The animals are getting de-worm medication, vitamins, and anti-bacteria medication," said Army Staff Sgt. Kyle D. Gaerte, Utah National Guard. The treatment helps prevent internal and bacterial parasites, and the flu, a respiratory virus.

The U.S. and Moroccan militaries decided to include the veterinarian care because they knew that for a lot of Moroccans, their animals are their livelihood. Helping their animals helps Moroccans achieve a better quality of life.

"The animals, in a lot of cases, are their [Moroccans] main source of income," said Gaerte, a native of Woods Cross, Utah. "If they don't keep them healthy, there's no way they can make a living for their families."

This humanitarian assistance is just one of five being conducted in different communities throughout Morocco and runs concurrent with the bilateral military training between U.S. and Morocco.

"I really enjoy the opportunity to meet the Moroccan people up close like this," said Taillac. "It's our mission in Utah to interface regularly with Moroccan people, being our partner-in-peace country. It's a country that we anticipate building a long term relationship with over the years, and we will continue coming back [for AFRICAN LION]."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Clash in Athens at building taken over by Moroccan and Algerian Migrants

This is one of those heartbreaking, but only too real stories about the prejudice and harsh conditions immigrants face in Europe. Here is an article from the Associated Press about the ongoing situation of mostly Moroccan and Algerian immigrants living in an abandoned courthouse in Athens. The BBC also had this short update.

Clashes at Athens building taken over by migrants

By ELENA BECATOROS – 1 day ago

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Far-right protesters tried to storm an old courthouse in central Athens Saturday where hundreds of illegal immigrants have lived for months amid piles of fetid rubbish and human waste without electricity, running water or sanitation.

The group of several dozen people hurled rocks and firecrackers at the eight-story building from the street and nearby buildings, while those living inside threw back slabs of masonry and bricks. At least three people were hurt in the clashes, two of them with head injuries.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades, and a tense standoff followed. Some immigrants accused the police of ailing to protect them and said they would stand guard around the building throughout the night because of fears of further attacks.

The attack followed an anti-immigrant demonstration by the far-right Chrisi Avgi, or Golden Dawn group. Scores of protesters waved banners reading "foreigners means crime" and "we have become foreigners in our own country."

"We didn't do anything. Why do they treat us like this?" questioned Fouad, a 33-year-old Moroccan immigrant living in the building. "The police did nothing. ... Here in Greece, human rights don't exist."

Left-wing and immigrants' rights groups staged a counter-demonstration nearby, and riot police kept the two sides apart.

Greece is on a main smuggling route for immigrants heading to Europe, with tens of thousands entering the country every year. Authorities say the Greece needs help to cope because it stands on Europe's eastern frontier.

Thousands of the new arrivals head to the cities in search of work. But with the global financial crisis beginning to bite in Greece, both immigrants and aid groups say jobs are becoming scarcer, leaving many unable to pay for even basic necessities. Although Greece has not yet faced major layoffs, the economy is slowing and unemployment jumped to 9.4 percent in January.

Aid workers said Saturday that conditions at the courthouse had been allowed to spiral out of control and turn into a public health hazard. The building is owned by an insurance fund and has been vacant since 2000.

"It's a lot worst now," said Maurice, a 22-year-old Algerian living among the estimated 500 squatters, mostly men from Morocco and Algeria, inside the old Appeals Court building. "We live in misery."

He, like all the other squatters willing to speak, would only give his first name for fear of trouble from the authorities.

"It is an epidemiological time bomb in the center of Athens," said Nikitas Kanakis, head of the Greek section of the medical aid group Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World), which set up a mobile medical unit outside the building Friday.

The immigrants live amid piles of rubbish and human waste in former judges' offices. Several men share a room, with most using cardboard covered with the occasional blanket to sleep on.

With no sanitation, they use empty offices, the roof and even the corridors as toilets. But the stench emanating from the building is so strong that it wafts across the street, a few hundred yards (meters) away from tourist hotels.

The immigrants began cleaning up the worst of the rotting garbage in the building this week, removing dozens of bags of trash.

It is unclear when the first immigrants broke in, but many say they have been there for months, even a year. Medecins du Monde said the situation came to their attention in the last few days. They believe diseases such as hepatitis are rife, while many of those seeking their help were suffering from skin complaints such as scabies.

"It's clear that we don't have the means to cover the massive health issues that this place has," said Yiannis Mouzalas of Medecins du Monde. He said authorities must help to sanitize and clean the building, and that they had been irresponsible in allowing the situation to become so severe.

"We consider it's not possible for this situation to have been created without (their) knowledge," he said. "We are afraid that they have chosen irresponsibility so that the problem is solved by the police and through racism."

Athens Deputy Mayor Eleftherios Skiadas told media that City Hall has no jurisdiction over abandoned private buildings.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"Thou Shalt Not Speak My Language" - A Review of Abdelfettah's Kilito's Book on Arabic and Translation

How about a break from politics and the economy with a little literature? Here is a review of Abdelfettah Kilito's book, Thou Shalt Not Speak My Language that ran on The National's website.

Prison-house of language

Abdelfattah Kilito’s new book explores Arabic literature’s long, tortured relationship with translation. Meditating on the perils and possibilities of multilingualism, Kanishk Tharoor reads across the divide.

Thou Shalt Not Speak My Language

Abdelfattah Kilito
Translated by Wail S Hassan
Syracuse University Press

In the much-quoted 2002 Arab Human Development Report, literature stood as a barometer for stagnation and cupidity in the Arab world. According to the UN-sponsored study, there was a paucity of new, dynamic writing on the market, where “religious books and educational publications that are limited in their creative content” held sway. Moreover, dialogue between the sacred realm of the Arab language and the world outside was meagre. The report noted that “the figures for translated books are also discouraging. The Arab world translates about 330 books annually, one fifth of the number that Greece translates. The cumulative total of translated books since the Caliph Ma’mun’s time is about 100,000, almost the average that Spain translates in one year.” Published in the bellicose early years of the now winded “war on terror”, the report’s blizzard of statistics have since been challenged. (Spain, for example, translates less than 10,000 books each year.) But at the time the report provided damning evidence for critics of the Arab world: open societies required an open exchange of literatures.

But translation, particularly in the world of Arabic letters, has never been an innocent or simple process. In his slim, energetic work Thou Shalt Not Speak My Language, the Moroccan scholar Abdelfattah Kilito burrows into the age-old problem of the translation of Arabic literature. The book, itself translated from Arabic, privileges anecdote over argument, drifting playfully through the centuries to explore the relationship between the Arab and the foreign. Kilito indulges in a wide panoramic view, taking into account writings of numerous periods and styles, including ninth century theoretical musings on Persian-Arabic translation, various accounts of Arab travel writing (including Ibn Battuta’s famous journey to China), and passages from 20th century crime novels. This disparate material is shaped by the premise that there is something essentially unsound and compromised about the very act of translation, and that foreigners have yet to treat Arabic literature with appropriate sensitivity and care.

Arabic occupies a rather lonely place in the landscape of world languages. With the possible exceptions of Chinese and Tamil, no other major modern idiom enjoys such a long, unbroken scriptural history. Classical Arabic remains intelligible to much of the literate Arab world, while most other modern languages only emerged in their current written form in the last 600 years. Modern Greek is gobbledygook compared to its ancient predecessor; French is the ruins of a ravaged Roman Gaul; English is the flighty, Latinised step-child of earthy Anglo-Saxon; Hindi (and Urdu) are the mongrel beasts of Mughal army camps in South Asia. Arabic in the 21st century looks into the mirror of its antiquity and sees a familiar reflection. Its continuity can be threaded through the centuries, endowing contemporaries with both a deep sense of the coherence of Arab linguistic traditions and the burden of their legacy.

At the same time, the Arabic language has always been surrounded by others. From the days of the first caliphs, Arab intellectual history was framed by interaction with other languages. Kilito – echoing fairly conventional wisdom – places the high noon of Arab thought and writing in the period between the seventh and 13th centuries. As Arab forces gobbled up the lands of the Persian and Byzantine empires, Arab scholars absorbed Persian and Greek texts. Translation here was principally one-way, from ancient languages like Greek, Persian and Syriac into Arabic. It was guided by the arrogant but understandable assumption that those seeking knowledge should now do so in Arabic; at its peak the caliphate was the real heir of both the Mediterranean power of Rome and the universal pretensions of Persian kingship. Much has been written and said in recent years about how the accumulated lore of other lands stirred a cauldron of intellectual ferment in the Arab world, and about how the eventual flowering of the Renaissance in southern and western Europe rested on the soil of Arab knowledge. In this period, Arabic indisputably surpassed its regional competitors as the principal vehicle – and engine – of scholarly innovation.

But while numerous philosophical, historical and scientific works crossed into Arabic, barely any poetry made the same journey. As early as al Jahiz, the ninth century Afro-Arab writer, Arab scholars had already begun to argue that while it was possible to translate philosophy, the same could not be said of literature. In fluent close readings, Kilito shows how al Jahiz distinguished between the two; the “universality” of philosophy allowed it to be shared across tongues, while the “particularity” of poetry confined it to its language. How can schemes of alliteration, rhythm, and word play be made sufficiently legible in the parallel universe of another language? Poetry in its very nature resists the estranging force of translation.

Al Jahiz maintained a fundamental distrust of translation and the translator, and he suggested multilingualism was a form of failure: “Whenever we find [the translator] speaking two languages, we know that he has mistreated both of them, for each one of the two languages pulls at the other, takes from it, and opposes it.” Some echo of this belief is present in the possible association between the modern verb to translate, tarjam, and the root verb rajam, which means, among other things, to throw an object through space (as in stoning, but also as in shooting stars and, by association, spell casting); in this sense the practise of translation, or tarjamah, may carry a subconscious connotation of arbitrariness, unreliability, or transgression.

Kilito himself seems to share in this distrust, but his own suspicion grows from more modern, political roots in the inversion of power relations with Europe and in the experience of colonialism. Breached and looted, Arabic has been invaded by the west. The problem now is not one of translating into Arabic, but of the implications of translation from Arabic. “The fundamental change for us in the modern age,” Kilito says, “is that the process of reading and writing is always attended with potential translation, the possibility of transfer into other literatures, something that never occurred to the ancients, who conceived of translation only within Arabic literature.” Classical Arab poets never considered the world of letters beyond their own. Their contemporary counterparts have no option but to do so.

Europeans since the 19th century have had none of al Jahiz’s qualms about translation, and have eagerly studied and translated works from Arabic; Kilito’s roaming explorations spring in part from his disquiet at how foreigners have misappropriated Arab writing. He is particularly startled by the insistence of the French Orientalist Charles Pellat – who devoted much of his career to the study of al Jahiz – that all Arab literature “produces a sense of boredom”. European interpreters of Arab writing, Kilito says, find it “boring unless it bears a family resemblance to European literature.”

The translation of Arab literature into western languages yokes it to western sensibilities and conventions. As Kilito muses, “Who can read an Arab poet or novelist today without establishing a relationship between him and his European peers? We Arabs have invented a special way of reading: we read an Arabic text while thinking about the possibility of transferring it into a European language.” That long thread of Arab language and culture unravels under the heat of the European gaze. “Woe to the writers for whom we find no European counterparts: we simply turn away from them, leaving them in a dark, abandoned isthmus, a passage without mirrors to reflect their shadow or save them from loss and deathlike abandon.”

Of course, the sins of translation are not simply those of Europeans. Though he laments the fate of these marooned Arab writers, Kilito opens the book with his own account of the pitfalls of cross-cultural translation. Invited to give a lecture in France on al Hamadhani’s maqamat (a 10th century collection of stories written in rhymed prose), Kilito describes his struggle to find a way to make the genre comprehensible to a contemporary European audience. The only European contemporary to al Hamadhani, he finds, is an obscure female German poet named Roswitha, who wrote dialogues in verse. He declines to make this connection – it strikes him as absurd, for who in his audience will have heard of Roswitha – but in his lecture he does equate the maqamat with the picaresque novels popular in Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries.

“In other words,” he writes, “I translated the maqamat, not in the sense of transferring them from one language to another, but presented them as though they were picaresque novels, I translated them into a different genre, a different literature.”

The celebrated 12th century philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Kilito writes, was another victim of the traps of translation. His fine commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics won him even the respect of Dante, who placed him alongside Plato and Aristotle in Limbo. But his treatise on Aristotle’s Poetics remains an embarrassment of literary muddling. Ibn Rushd grappled with subjects of which he knew nothing (the Greek theatrical genres of “comedy” and “tragedy”) which in the translation provided him had been rendered in the terms of Arabic poetry (“satire” and “panegyric”). Kilito calls this blunder a “sterile misunderstanding” that failed to open “new horizons” while bordering precipitously on farce. Legions of other Arab scholars have mourned the botched job as a missed opportunity for the mingling of Greco-Roman and Arab literary traditions. But was that ever possible? One can almost imagine al Jahiz grumbling in the background: I told you so.

Whatever uncertainties Kilito himself holds about the possibility of translations, they are not – like those of al Jahiz – seeming observations of fact. Instead, they were forged in the furnace of recent Arab-European history and, more importantly perhaps, in the memory of colonisation by the French, who were far more aggressive in their use of language as a pacifying and “civilising” tool than the British. However poignant within their own context, Kilito’s doubts about multilingualism carry a whiff of the parochial about them. While discussing al Jahiz, Kilito argues that “to speak a language is to turn to a side. Language is tied to a location on the map or a given space. To speak this or that language is to be on the right or the left ... and since [the bilingual] looks in two directions, he is two-faced.” This is a real dilemma for al Jahiz and for Kilito (albeit slightly less so). But it forgets that multilingualism in much of the world is (and was) a comfortable, untortured fact of life. Language is not always wedded to geographical and political loyalties. That Kilito suggests it is says much about a common Arab and European understanding of language: not the caliphate-era vision of language spread boundlessly by the sword and the book, but a vision of a fissured landscape of languages, each guarded by its own political project, its own nation. To accept this view of the world is to succumb to that false cliché produced by the era of the modern European nation-state: a language is but “a dialect with an army.”

We can forgive Kilito, perched as he is in Rabat, on the joined frontiers of Arab and European history. Just as poetry (in al Jahiz’s view) could not be lifted from its original language and dropped into another, Kilito’s misgivings about multilingualism should not be translated out of their own context. His book should be understood as a commentary on the Arab experience of translation, not on translation in general.

In fairness, Kilito takes great pains always to cushion the sharp edges of his arguments. He disassembles the Orientalist view of Arab literature without resorting to the disheartening thunder (and fog) of post-colonial jargon. He even questions his own doubts about translation, spying an unsettling chauvinism in his jealous guardianship of Arabic from the European interloper. At all times, he uses a light touch, relying frequently on implication and allusion, leaving much unresolved and open to conjecture. Such a drifting, almost whimsical style may frustrate readers who need the anchor of a systematically and clearly articulated argument. Kilito does not guide, but instead charms you into his floating adventure.

Kanishk Tharoor, an associate editor at openDemocracy, is a frequent contributor to The Review.