Saturday, December 25, 2010

Buying Up Morocco: The Grab for Morocco's Traditional Houses

Here are two articles, one from the Wall Street Journal, and the other from the New York Times. The first discusses the phenomena of Westerners buying traditional homes in the old city of Fes (Fez), the other is actually a kind of "how to" to those interested in purchasing a house in al-Maghreb. There is good reason to pay attention to this trend, which is steadily pricing Moroccans out of their own culture and remaking it into the Oriental idea of vacationing Westerners.
* DECEMBER 24, 2010

Finding Your Own Place in Fes

"On holiday?" asked the young man, toweling down after a steam in the neighborhood hamam. "You should come and live here in Morocco, it's the best place to be, peaceful and the sun always shines."

I hesitated to agree, but then I'd just been prodded, pummeled and scrubbed by a one-eyed, monolingual masseur with an impish grin and long bushy beard who soon made me regret that I hadn't learned the Arabic word for "gently." By the time my tormentor had brought a second glass of sweet mint tea and the therapeutic effects of his robust rub down began to engender a warm, fuzzy glow, my outlook mellowed.

As I strolled back through the feast for the senses that is the Fes medina, watching the fading sun bathe countless minarets in golden light, it was easy to see why a growing number of westerners are setting up home in Morocco's spiritual and cultural capital.

"I was looking for somewhere culturally very different and this place just seemed extraordinary. Fes has this kind of essence about it, it grabs you and holds you," says Mike Richardson, a former London maître d' who moved to Fes four years ago. Mr. Richardson now runs the Café Clock, which has developed as a social hub for the expat community and hip young Fassi, as the city's inhabitants are known. It serves up exhibitions of Arab calligraphy, live Gnawa music and cross-cultural cuisine including the notorious camel burger.
[Fez1] Fes Medina

Menzeh room with zellige tiles and hand-carved plaster, colored with original pigments.

Dating back to the 8th century, the old city of Fes is the Arab world's largest intact medina and is believed to be the biggest car-free urban area on the planet. Clustered around the great Al-Qarawinyn mosque, this tangle of tiny alleys, dark tunnels and exuberant souks was long viewed by Europeans as a remote and exotic destination. Ryanair's opening of direct, low-cost flights a few years ago to over a dozen cities on the other side of the Mediterranean has made Fes accessible. With an abundance of affordable traditional courtyard-houses, Fes suddenly found favor with westerners seeking a place in the sun.

"There was a gold rush," says David Amster, the American director of the Arabic Language Institute in Fes. "It got way out of control. Some people bought houses after only being in the city for three hours," adds Mr. Amster, who has lived in the medina since 1996. "It was like meeting somebody in a discotheque; you talk for a while and then wake up married, a mistake. Fes doesn't suit everybody … if you're interested in partying or fun in the sun, Fes is not the place."

Instead, Fes is a time capsule. Despite the countless satellite dishes clinging to the flat rooftops and the souks selling cell phones, Paul Bowles's description of 1950s Fes as "a medieval city functioning in the 20th century," still holds resonance. Lose yourself in the maze of medina lanes and you pass traders and artisans working in tiny storefronts: carpenters knocking together gaudy bridal thrones around the Nejjarine square; metal workers hammering at copper plates in the Seffarine; dazzling displays of olives, spices and citrus alongside baskets of live snails and the occasional camel's head in the R'cif food market.

Before Morocco won its independence in 1956, Fes was a divided city. Arabs mostly lived in the old medina, Fes el Bali, and its 13th-century offshoot Fes Jdid, which also enclosed the Jewish quarter or mellah. Europeans inhabited the broad avenues of the Ville Nouvelle, built outside the city walls after France took control of the country in 1912. As the French departed, rich and middle-class Moroccans abandoned the medina to move into their spacious apartments and plush colonial villas.

Many of the dars and riads—elegant traditional homes built around patios, fountains and gardens—were divided up among poor families. They could enjoy carved cedar-wood ceilings and walls adorned with intricate mosaics of zellige tiles even though they were squeezed into single, sometimes squalid, rooms. Many such families now aspire to sell their homes to outsiders.

"They dream of selling this place so they can move into modern apartments in the new suburbs," explains Hafid El Amrani, whose restoration company is working on an early 19th-century dar currently inhabited by seven families. "Ideally, they'll find somebody who will buy the whole place for €220,000, perhaps to turn it into a guest house."

The work is being financed by a government fund that is helping poor local families restore historic homes in the medina. Mr. Amster says over 500 of the 9,000 courtyard houses (they are called a riad when the central patio includes a garden, a dar if not) have been restored and taken over by outsiders—either foreigners or Moroccans from outside the medina—to be used as vacation homes, boutique hotels or full-time residences.

Mr. Amster's own website offers advice on how to buy and restore a house, from the bureaucratic requirements for bringing funds into Morocco to tips on negotiating a good price with local craftsmen (

"When I first came to Fes, there were no other foreigners living in the medina," says Mr. Amster, who has since restored three traditional homes. "I came here to teach, but it was very difficult to find a place to rent in the medina, so I bought a massriya (an independent apartment within a traditional house). It needed some work and lots of patience, but you could see from the beginning that it was stunning."

The upsurge of interest in traditional homes has been a boon for the carpenters, painters, tile makers and other craftsmen of the medina whose skills were in danger of dying out. Although the recession has taken some of the fizz out of the Fes real estate market, locals complain that prices are still up to three times what they were before boom. Bargain hunters can still pick up a small dar ripe for renovation for less than €30,000 or a riad with guest-house potential for €150,000.

Many adopted Fassi look with concern at Marrakech, claiming that the much greater influx of foreign residents and tourists there has changed the nature of the southern city.

"Fes is not a pleasure ground like Marrakech, which is getting hen parties and stag parties. I just don't think Fes is ever going to have that sort of thing going on," says Mr. Richardson, the café owner. "The people coming here are looking for a more intellectual pursuit; they want it to be authentic. Anyway, the medina is big enough to swallow us all."

International Real Estate
House Hunting in ... Morocco

Published: December 1, 2010


In Tangier, a Traditional Riad

$772,000 (6.5 MILLION DIRHAMS)

This traditional Moroccan home with interior courtyard, called a riad, is in the medina, or old city. It has three stories and 400 square meters of space (about 4,300 square feet, at 10.76 square feet to the square meter).

The house is entered through a wooden door that dates to the 1890s. A renovation took place about five years ago; the walls and floors are new, as well as the mechanical and electrical systems, though antique details like decorative tiles, and wooden doorjambs and frames, are original.

The ground floor has a small foyer with an adjacent storage room; a kitchen, with no cabinetry and a few appliances; and a bedroom and bath.

The second story has a wraparound interior balcony that overlooks the courtyard. There are two bedrooms on this level, as well as the living room and an office.

The third floor has two more bedrooms, one with an en-suite bath. This floor has access to the two-story roof terrace. The lower level of the terrace is open to the elements; the upper level is covered and has views of the medina.

The property also has 160 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor, currently being used as a souvenir shop. Boutiques and cafes are within walking distance; the airport is about 30 minutes away by taxi.


The financial crisis has had a relatively minor effect on Tangier’s market; the lower end has in fact remained robust, said Robert Shaw, marketing director of Elite Moroccan Properties, based in England. He attributed this to Morocco’s growing middle class and the government’s efforts to improve infrastructure within the city.

As for luxury homes, he said, prices have fallen 10 to 20 percent.

In addition, there are fewer foreign buyers today than a few years ago, said Reinald Beck, the listing agent for the property featured here and director of the New Real Estate agency in Tangier. Over all, housing prices vary widely according to location and condition, Mr. Beck said. Within the medina, the site of this house, prices range from $60 to $70 a square foot, for homes in need of renovation, to $95 to $112 a square foot for restored homes. This house has an asking price of around $167 a square foot, above average because of its central location. But price negotiation is a common practice here, Mr. Beck said.

In newer parts of town, apartments designed for Westerners cost anywhere from $109 to $218 a square foot. Newly built luxury apartments and villas — a small portion of the market — sell for $185 to $205 a square foot, down from $240 a square foot before the financial downturn.


Traditionally, the majority of foreign buyers in Tangier are from France and Spain, Mr. Beck said; there are also buyers from Asia, Britain, Europe and America.

Foreign buyers in Tangier tend to be “more adventurous” than those who seek properties in Marrakesh, which has more development, Mr. Shaw said. “A buyer has to see beyond the city as it is at the moment,” he said. “It’s actively being transformed from a poorer, less visually stimulating city into a city that will be a serious reference point on the entrance to the Mediterranean in 10 years’ time.”


There are no restrictions on foreign buyers of residential properties in Morocco, said Loic Raboteau, the joint head of the French and North Africa Law Department at the International Property Law Center in Britain. But foreigners are prohibited from buying agricultural land.

Purchase-side costs are 7 to 8 percent. This includes notary fees, which run 0.5 to 1 percent; a 1 percent land registry tax; a 3 percent stamp duty; and a 0.5 percent transfer tax. Real estate agent fees are 6 percent and are typically split between buyer and seller, though this fee is often negotiated, Mr. Beck said.

The use of a lawyer is recommended; fees are approximately 1 percent of the purchase price, Mr. Raboteau said.

Most buyers pay in cash, Mr. Beck said, though financing of up to 50 percent is available to foreigners. Interest rates are about 5.2 percent.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"The Mosque," A Movie by Moroccan Filmmaker Daoud Aoulad-Syad

Here is a review of the film The Mosque , that came out earlier this year and that has been doing the rounds of film festivals. It was made by award winning Moroccan director Daoud Aoulad-Syad. The premise is quite interesting. Here is another link to the Doha Tribeca Film Festival site where you can see a clip from the film.


Festival films, critics picks: Morocco's 'The Mosque'

Moroccan director Daoud Aoulad-Syad's excellent entry into the Cairo International Film Festival could be called a sequel. Syad's previous entry won Best Arab Film in the 31st year of the CIFF.

Festival films, critics picks: Morocco's 'The Mosque'

"Waiting for Pasolini" told the story of group of Moroccan villagers who find their town overtaken by an Italian film crew exploiting the pastoral setting for a film about the Bible. As the title suggests, the film's characters spend a lot of time on the lookout for a cipher named "Pasolini." As the title also suggests--with its echo of Samuel Beckett's absurdist masterpiece, "Waiting for Godot"--the drama is in the waiting, not the arrival.

"The Mosque" takes place in the southeastern rural Moroccan town of Zagora, where, some time past, a filmmaker named Daoud (played, briefly, by the filmmaker himself) had made a movie that the villagers refer to simply as "Pasolini." The town has mostly profited from the movie; its inhabitants seem to be largely still buoyed by their roles, with the town leader proudly calling the opening ceremony of a film festival taking place there "a great day for this small town."

But the results are not all positive. A large set was built for "Pasolini" on land rented out by a local farmer named Moha. When the movie wrapped, Moha expected to get his land back, but the villagers refused to demolish the set mosque, which now sits squarely on his land with its back facing his house, the exposed beams and flimsy, impermanent material adding insult to his financial misery.

The mosque prevents Moha from farming most of his land; he is unable to arrange the circumcision of his young son (and much drama is evoked from this simple combination of advancing age advancing toward the knife) and is very unsuccessful in getting any of the villagers to agree to tear down the mosque. In his appeals, Moha is challenged by bureaucracy, and by religion; a local imam tells him that having the mosque on his land is good luck, will secure his fortune in heaven, and that to demolish it would bring, well, quite the opposite.

Moha is a religious man. One scene, in which he stops in the middle of the desert to perform ablutions with sand and pray, seems to support his opponents' argument that a mosque belongs anywhere, but Moha remains stalwart in both his assertion that the mosque is fraudulent and in his own piety, at one point even declaring that everyone is against him but God.

In a superficial reading of the plot, what seems to be a dispute about religion is mostly a dispute about land and power; deeper, it is a movie about how the penetrative force of cinema and television has changed our perception of what is real and what is manufactured.

The imam of the fake mosque played the imam in the movie. He vamps for tourists in the costume of a Roman general, also from "Pasolini." He conspires with an invading politician, trading votes for the promise of a job in Marrakesh, and runs the film's real hero (and Moha's only ally), an imam named Sellam who is considered the village loon by most neighbors, out of town to live in exile in the cemetery. The imam is fake, a swindler, but with every passing day the religious building he works in grows more and more real.

In one pivotal scene, Moha and Sellam rent a bulldozer to do the job themselves but are forced into a standoff with a group of mourning villagers using the mosque for a funeral. Douad expertly fractures the audience's sympathies, which at that moment are not with the buffoonish Moha and Sellam, but with the genuinely grieving villagers--Douad offers close ups of the women's faces in still shock as their wailing is interrupted by the bulldozer's growl, and the coffin in the procession is child sized.

At times, "The Mosque" is disarmingly quiet and still; much is said outside of the dialogue. In one scene, Moha and his wife chat in front of a still life composed of a hanging slaughtered goat and a satellite dish. The implications are obvious--television and cinema are spreading their influence to even the most remote corners of the globe, and with that comes enlightenment and some material wealth, but also the loss of customs, of naiveté, and, in Moha's case, sometimes the loss of material wealth.

But, rather than just presenting this dichotomy--as true as it is--"The Mosque' seems mostly concerned with the ambiguities that such abrupt and sweeping changes engender. Moha's wife is asked, at one point, if the dress she is wearing--the normal style of the village--is her own, or a costume leftover from "Pasolini." When a TV crew comes to film Zagora's local folk music group, the members are commanded by the town leader to clean their clothes, trim their beards, and carry their knives. The mosque appears to be about as fake, or real, as those who go to pray in it.

"The Mosque" illustrates the ambiguities it plumbs with delicate, precise and varying shots. Some are from the perspective of an actor in the film--the imam as he walks around the village collecting money to paint the mosque--and impart the feeling of the camera being embedded in the village, rather than snaking around the periphery. Douad favors close ups, and the results--with the subject often looking directly or just beyond the camera--are at times chilling because of how quickly they direct an uncomfortable, as if ill-begotten, familiarity with the villagers.

When the TV crew arrives, the villagers commence their half-charade. Their new "real life" is one that involves cameras, exposed daggers, and cleaned slippers--one that is half real, half pageantry.

"The truth is above everything," says Sellam to Moha. But Sellam, in taking this solo position, has given up his job, his community, and, in some practical way, his sanity. In the new Zagora, those who survive best are the true believers

Jenna Krajeski
Al-Masry Al-Youm

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Morocco Liberalizes Policy on Giving Children Amazigh (Berber) Names

Here is a piece from Human Right Watch by way of ReliefWeb. Since April the Moroccan government has allowed people to give their children Amazigh names that are "Moroccan in nature." They have an interesting way of defining this if you read through the piece.

Morocco/Western Sahara: More Freedom to Name Their Children

Source: Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Date: 14 Dec 2010

State Recognizing More Amazigh, or Berber Names, but Choice Still Restricted

(New York, December 14, 2010) – A government directive liberalizing Morocco's policy on recognizing Amazigh, or Berber, given names for newborns is having positive results, Human Rights Watch said today.

In April 2010, the Ministry of Interior issued a directive that for the first time defined Amazigh names as meeting the legal prerequisite of being "Moroccan in nature." In the eight months since, there have been fewer complaints from citizens that local bureaus of the Civil Registry have refused to register Amazigh given names, several Amazigh rights activists told Human Rights Watch. However, the general requirement that parents choose names that are deemed "Moroccan in nature" continues to limit parents' choices and create administrative obstacles and should be eased, Human Rights Watch said.

"By explicitly recognizing Amazigh names as Moroccan, the government has eased a noxious restriction on the right of parents to choose their children's names," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "This move shows greater respect and recognition for Morocco's ethnically and culturally diverse population."

Some members of Morocco's Amazigh population have in recent years grown increasingly assertive in demanding official recognition of their culture and Tamazight language. The Moroccan state responded by creating a Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture in 2001 and initiating elementary school instruction and programs on state television in Tamazight.

However, the Civil Registry's refusal to register many newborns whose parents had given them Amazigh first names remained a sore point for Amazigh activists. This was all the more true since the ostensible grounds for the rejection was that these names were not "Moroccan," in contrast to accepted Arab-Islamic names, even though the Amazigh are indigenous to the country while Arabs migrated to it centuries ago.

While the directive (circulaire in French, daouriya in Arabic) reaffirms that the Civil Registry may accept only names that are "Moroccan in character," it instructs clerks of the agency to "guide, convince, dialogue and show flexibility toward the citizenry," and, "before refusing a name, research and investigate and take into consideration the decisions by the High Commission of the Civil Registry and the courts."

The High Commission, consisting of the kingdom's official historian and representatives of the Justice and Interior Ministries, rules on the legality of those first names that the Civil Registry has refused or hesitated to accept. For example, a list of names issued by the Commission shows that in its meeting on June 24, 2005, the Amazigh name "Sifaw" was among those it rejected and the Amazigh name "Mira" among those it accepted.

The April 2010 Directive

The Interior Ministry sent its Directive D-3220, dated April 9, to regional, provincial, local, and district governments, all of which house branches of the Civil Registry, where citizens register births, deaths, and marriages.

Directive D-3220 interprets the law that governs the choice and registration of first names, Law 37-99 on the Civil Registry, adopted on October 3, 2002. Article 21 of that law requires that a given name have "a Moroccan character and must be neither a name of a family nor a name composed of more than two first names, nor the name of a city, village or tribe, and must not constitute an affront to good morals or the public order."

Directive D-3220 refers to "the right of citizens in choosing names for their children" and the need to prevent violations of that right and to "avert conflicts that might occur between clerks at the Civil Registry and citizens."

The directive elaborates on the procedures that the Civil Registry should follow when confronted with an unfamiliar name. It also makes public for the first time a two-part official definition of "Moroccan" as it relates to given names. The first part of the definition says:

Moroccan in character means the characteristics of the Moroccan society, from its north to its south and from its west to its east. The personal name has to be in use in Morocco to the point where it has become frequent; that is, to the point where holding that name has entered into custom, so the name sounds foreign neither to the Moroccan ear nor to the Moroccan milieu, with all its constituent parts. It is, thus, a name that is widespread, to the point that there is no discomfort or difficulty in recognizing it.

The second part says that given names must also come from one of the following five categories:

(1) Arab names that have been used in Morocco for a long time;

(2) "Attributes of Allah" (asmaa' Allah al-husna), as long as they are preceded by "'Abd" [meaning "servant of"] and not just by "el-" [for example, 'Abd el-Karim but not el-Karim];

(3) Amazigh names, whose meaning might vary from one region to another;

(4) Names that have become common in recent years in Morocco and whose pronunciation in Arabic is clear and origins are Islamic; and

(5) Hebrew names for Moroccan Jews.

The directive also refers to existing lists of first names, many of them Amazigh in origin, that the High Commission of the Civil Registry had approved or rejected prior to the promulgation of Law 37-99. The directive states that civil registries may consult those lists, with their "approved" and "refused" names, but that these determinations are not legally binding.

Continuing Administrative Resistance: Case Studies

There are no publicly available statistics on the frequency with which Moroccan authorities have prevented parents from registering the given name of their choice. However, anecdotal evidence collected from Amazigh rights activists in Morocco suggests that administrative obstacles to the recording of Amazigh names were more frequent prior to the issuance of directive D-3220. But even before the Ministry of Interior issued the directive, Civil Registry bureaus accepted some Amazigh names, either right away or after the parents campaigned against or appealed their initial rejection.

Human Rights Watch documented the rejection of Amazigh names in a letter sent to the Interior Ministry on June 16, 2009, to which the government did not reply.

The stakes surrounding the registration of a name are not limited to personal or cultural expression. When the Civil Registry refuses to register an infant because of an objection to his or her given name, that infant is without legal status. The parents may face obstacles in getting public services, such as when applying for a passport for the child or seeking reimbursement for medical costs from state insurance plans. To avoid such problems as well as conflicts with the administration, some parents register an Arab-Islamic name rather than the Amazigh name they would otherwise choose, several Amazigh activists told Human Rights Watch.

While Directive D-3220 includes Amazigh names among those that may be considered "Moroccan in character" and instructs Civil Registry personnel to interact constructively with parents, the directive maintains a number of restrictions on the right of Moroccans to choose names for their children. They still face rejection if the clerk at the local Civil Registry bureau is unfamiliar with the Amazigh name they have chosen, or considers it difficult to pronounce or insufficiently familiar. This has occurred, for example, when a name is uncommon in one region but more popular in others.

Administrators at the local level continue to challenge some Amazigh names, as shown by a number of recent cases described to Human Rights Watch. While parents who persist seem to succeed in most cases, the procedure remains stressful and burdensome for families who, to exercise the basic right of naming their child, find themselves called upon to collect and submit additional documentation, make extra visits to the administration, enlist the support of nongovernmental organizations, or initiate a court case or media campaign.

Examples of names that were refused:

• Yuba (Agadir): On October 21, 2010, Mohamed Elouihyoui and his wife, Rouqiya Bogarn, tried to register the name "Yuba" for their son, born October 9, at the Civil Registry in the el-Houda neighborhood of the southern city of Agadir. Elouihyoui said that the clerk on duty refused on the grounds that it was not a permitted name. Elouihyoui returned more than once during the 30-day period for registering a newborn. Although he invoked Directive D-3220 and explained that Yuba is the name of an ancient Amazigh king, the clerk persisted in refusing to register the baby under that name. The parents have initiated the judicial procedure necessary to register a newborn's name once the 30-day period has passed. As of December 8, Yuba remains unregistered, his father told Human Rights Watch.

• Simane (Sidi Slimane): Aziza Boulwiha, from the city of Sidi Slimane, northeast of Rabat, gave birth to a girl on November 12, 2010. Three days later, her husband, Marzou Salh, visited the Civil Registry in the city's first arrondissement to inquire if he could register a newborn under the Amazigh name Simane, which means "two souls." The clerk said no since Simane did not appear on a list he had consulted, Salh told Human Rights Watch. The father said he then submitted Directive D-3220 along with documents showing earlier cases where Simane had been approved. On November 22, his wife went to register the name, but the Civil Registry again refused, explaining that Simane was not a sufficiently common name. The clerk proposed instead the name "Imane" – faith in Arabic – but the parents refused. Salh enlisted an Amazigh organization to contact the administration. In late November, according to Salh, the Civil Registry agreed to register Simane but also had him sign a statement that he assumed all the legal consequences of choosing this name.

• Mazilia (Lille, France): The Moroccan consulate in Lille, northern France, refused in July 2010 to allow a Moroccan émigré, Lhoussain Azergui of Roubaix, and his wife, Abda al-Kasri, a French citizen, to register the name "Mazilia Tara" for their daugher who was born December 10, 2009. Shortly after the baby's birth Azergui had registered her at the French civil registry. The official at the Moroccan consulate accepted "Tara," an Amazigh name that the same consulate had first rejected in 2006 but later accepted after Tara's parents produced the Moroccan registration document of another girl named "Tara." However, the official told Azergui that "Mazilia" was shown as a name that was "refused" on a list he had consulted.

Mazilia is one of 11 names marked as "refused" from a list of 40 given names that the High Committee on the Civil Registry ruled on during a session on July 5, 2006. That list is among those that the Interior Ministry circulated to Civil Registry bureaus.

Azergui told Human Rights Watch that he wrote a letter of protest to Moroccan authorities but has not heard back, and has not tried again to register his daughter. Azergui and al-Kasri had a similar problem when they tried to register their older daughter, Numidia Tin-Ass, on March 6, 2007, at the consulate in Lille. The clerk on duty, after consulting a list in Azergui's presence, accepted "Numidia" but not "Tin-Ass," promising to accept the latter if Azergui could produce the birth certificate of another Moroccan girl with this name. In December of that year, Azergui and his wife received a letter from the Moroccan consulate inviting him to register their daughter under the full name they had chosen.

Mazilia is the name of a dynasty of an ancient Amazigh kingdom.

• Simane (Kenitra): Rafii Seddiq of Kenitra, a city northeast of Rabat, went to a local bureau of the Civil Registry two weeks after the birth of his daughter on April 4, 2010. The clerk on duty refused the name and advised Seddiq and his wife, Hind Jabari, to choose a more common name. Seddiq told Human Rights Watch that Simane is more common in the Sousse region in southern Morocco than in the northern region, where he currently resides. Later the same day, Seddiq returned to the Civil Registry, brandishing a copy of Directive D-3220, and explained the meaning of "Simane." This time, the clerk registered the name.

• Massilya (Témara): One week after the birth of his daughter on November 3, 2010, Jamal Eddarhor went to the civil registry in Témara, a Rabat suburb, to register her as "Massilya," the name chosen by him and his wife, Samira Heri. This ancient and uncommon Amazigh name means "goddess of the sea." The clerk on duty responded that he did not know whether the name was acceptable and asked the parents to choose another. When Eddarhor refused, the clerk asked him to check with the préfecture of Temara to see whether the name could be registered. The préfecture said they could not respond but proposed that he submit his request in writing to the Civil Registry. The parents complied and received a favorable reply three days later. They registered their daughter's name on November 29.

International Law Supports Parents' Right

The purpose of requiring a "Moroccan character," Directive D-3220 states, is "to preserve our Moroccan identity, our authenticity, and our traditions that are founded on a firm basis."

But such an objective does not an constitute an adequate justification for infringing on the freedom of parents to name their children as they choose, Human Rights Watch said, noting that many of the names that are challenged constitute an expression of the parents' ethnic or cultural identity.

The internationally recognized rights to individual and cultural expression, as well as the right to privacy, and the duty of states to respect the rights of minorities, limit the power of the state to refuse names to exceptional and narrowly defined circumstances.

In the 1994 case of Coeriel et al v Netherlands, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled:

Article 17 [of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)] provides, inter alia, that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home, or correspondence. The Committee considers that the notion of privacy refers to the sphere of a person's life in which he or she can freely express his or her identity.... [This] includes the protection against arbitrary or unlawful interference with the right to choose and change one's own name. [emphasis added].

A 2010 ruling by the same Committee in Raihman v Latvia stated that the imposition of a "Latvian-sounding name" on a member of the Russian Jewish minority in that country was a violation of the Covenant. Moreover, the ICCPR's article 27 states, "In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of the group, to enjoy their own culture..." This right under article 27 extends to the freedom of choice when naming one's own children with minority names.

"Morocco should reform its law to limit strictly the government's role in the name-regulating business," Whitson said. "Unless a first name is patently offensive or objectionable or harmful to the interests of the child, authorities have no business curbing the right of parents to make this very personal choice."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Danger and Illness for Coal Miners in Morocco

Here is an article from Euronews on the plight of coal miners at illegal mines in Jerada, Morocco, close to the border with Algeria. It's worth clicking on the link to watch the video that accompanies the story.
Death in Morocco

03/12 17:36 CET

The landscape is scattered with coal mines and death rules in the mines around Jerada in Morocco. A donkey driver leads us to one of the mines in the east of Morocco. The hills around Jerada are full of hand-worked insecure mines. The miners are angry. There are increasing numbers of accidents, organised crime networks keep prices low, local authorities look the other way, ignoring desperately dangerous working conditions. Officially these coal mines were closed ten years ago – but the hills around Jerada are an antheap of illegal mining activities.

At the foot of this deadly hill, Maymoun, a miner, told us about the accidents: “In 15 days we had three deaths, one crushed foot, one crushed leg: completely crushed. So three deaths and two victims with broken bones. There’s nowhere else to work. It’s deadly here. People are tired. Exhausted.”

Working conditions are out of the Middle Ages. Miners use their bare hands, a rope, an old tyre… and their brute strength to carry the coal to the surface. How many men are risking their lives here? The miners estimate that in total, between one and three thousand people making a living out of these illegal mines. The mines go down to 30 metres underground. (With these primitive working methods, it takes two months to dig a hole that deep in this hard rock.) Then the horizontal galleries are dug, up to 80 metres long. Down there, they work in pairs, or threes. Or up to 7 or 8 on a team, using the most simple tools: a small hammer and chisel.

Hicham, a mine worker, told us: “We take our lives in our hands every time we go down there. Your courage, that’s the only safety you have. Down there you crawl on your shoulders…”

Fettah, a mine worker, said: “The galleries down there, they’re barely 45 centimetres high.”

Hicham, said: “Safety is in God’s hands: if it comes down on your head, you’re finished. If it comes down just beside, you’re saved!”

Mohammed, a mine worker said: “Once, there was a guy with a smashed head. We picked his brain up like this, and then we put it in a bag and we sewed it up before we buried him.”

Those who don’t die underground, risk death above: the miners have silicosis, a lung disease caused by inhaling silicone which leads to a slow and painful death.

To provide a minimum of air, the team leader uses a compressor to pump air through hosepipes. Ramadan explained:“The further they get down the gallery, the less they can breathe, and then they can’t go any further. So they come back because there’s no air. But with the compressor we can send them some air, that’s the machine there, the compressor.”

Mohammed said: “It’s difficult to breath down there, it’s Hell because you get suffocated by toxic gases.”

According to these miners, total production is around a 100 tonnes a day. The coal is used in furnaces, for heating, and running Turkish baths… The main buyers are local, but some lorries go to Casablanca, 650 kilometres away.

Idriss is a walking miracle. He survived a serious accident but had to pay his own medical expenses. Officially these expenses were reimbursed by the Social Security systembut in reality, he has never seen the money. He says the corrupt bosses who control the coal business pocketed the cash themselves: “I was digging and the mountain collapsed. They took me to Oujda. The operation was expensive; 500 euros. With medicines and the splint, I had to pay 900 euros.”

He says that if you aren’t in with the bosses here, you’re lost.

Jerada, near the Algerian frontier, owes its existence and its nickname, “The Anthracite Capital” to the old mines. But the electricity plant in Jerada uses coal from South Africa.

It’s a question of profit: the local coal mines, opened in 1927, are worked out. That’s why they were closed in 2001, and thousands of miners were thrown out of work. The region is blighted by unemployment, there are no other jobs here for ex-miners and unqualified youngsters.

North east of this scorpion-infested valley is the Algerian frontier. The poverty here has transformed this region into bandit country. An Eldorado for smugglers. Alcohol, illegal immigrants, and petrol are all smuggled. There are very few legal petrol stations, and many are closed. Everyone fills up at the roadside. Petrol containers cross the border in ordinary cars, and if a smuggler gets stopped by the police, the affair is often easily settled… with bakshish.

Back in Jerada, efforts are being made to improve the area: investments in roads, public services, and solar energy. But the construction of a thermo-solar plant hasn’t resulted in many jobs.

It is suspected that the miners of Jerada even let teenagers work in the mines. We met Mohammed and Hicham who told us they were very young when they started working at the mines.

Mohammed told us: “I’ve been working here since I was ten, since I was little, just a kid. There are children working down there. Yes, here. Children of ten, twelve years old.”

Hicham said: “I started working here eight years ago. I’ve been working here since I was twelve.”

According to how much strength they have, the miners work shifts of anything between five and twelve hours at a time. Only the above-ground team eat in daylight. The others eat in the coal-dust down in the mines.

As night falls, the call to prayer echoes around the streets of Jerada. Suddenly we hear wheelbarrows coming. One after another, women and children arrive. These are the poorest of the poor who have been out gathering coal chips from around the mines. “I have nothing left to lose,” says one of them. “My husand left me and I have to feed my children. And here it is cold at night. Very cold.”

Copyright © 2010 euronews

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Two Moroccan Authors Short-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction

Two Moroccan authors have been short-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. We find out in March insha'Allah if either BenSalem Himmich or Mohammed Achaari take home the prize. Here is an article from Reuters on the authors shortlisted for the prize.

Torture and tragedy top Arabic Fiction Award list

LONDON | Thu Dec 9, 2010 3:21pm GMT

LONDON (Reuters) - Six authors nominated for the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction on Thursday tackle issues ranging from corruption to immigration and religious extremism in a politically charged shortlist.

Moroccan poet Mohammed Achaari is nominated for "The Arch and the Butterfly," in which a father receives a letter from al Qaeda informing him that his son, who he believed was studying in Paris, had died fighting Western forces in Afghanistan.

Saudi novelist Raja Alem, shortlisted for "The Dove's Necklace," explores the "sordid underbelly" of life in the holy city of Mecca, said the organisers of the annual award, funded by the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy.

It is also supported by the Booker Prize Foundation, the charity behind the Man Booker Prize for English language fiction, and by the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

Two Egyptian authors write about Arabs who go to live abroad -- Khalid al-Bari's "An Oriental Dance" follows a young Egyptian man who marries an older British woman and moves with her to England, while U.S.-based Miral al-Tahawy's "Brooklyn Heights" describes the experiences of Arab immigrants in New York.

Morocco's Bensalem Himmich imagines an innocent man's experience of extraordinary rendition in "My Tormentor," and Sudan's Amir Taj al-Sir's "The Hunter of the Chrysalises" tells of a former intelligence agent who comes under police scrutiny.

The shortlisted writers each receive $10,000 (6,300 pounds) and the winner, announced in Abu Dhabi on March 14, 2011, wins another $50,000 and a likely boost in sales in Arab countries and internationally.

The winning book is also translated into English.

The previous three winners of the award are "Sunset Oasis" by Bahaa Taher (Egypt), "Azazel" by Youssef Ziedan (Egypt) and "Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles" by Abdo Khal (Saudi Arabia).

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Heavy Flooding and Rain in Morocco Affects Thousands

Here is the Reuters Africa article on the flooding that began a few days ago. Under it is posted an article updating the situation from Relief Net on efforts to assist those people effected by the flooding.

Heavy rain and floods kill 30 in Morocco
Tue Nov 30, 2010 5:18pm GMT

RABAT (Reuters) - At least 30 people have been killed in Morocco after heavy rain and floods, official sources said on Tuesday.

The official MAP news agency said 24 people died when a bus carrying them was swept away by a flooding river in the Atlantic coastal town of Bouznika, south of the capital Rabat.

Four people, including three from the same family, died when heavy rain brought down their homes near the central city of Khenifra and in Sale, near Rabat, MAP said.

A young girl drowned on Tuesday in Tiflet, east of Rabat, when she was swept away while trying to cross a bridge. In the north, one man drowned and rescue services were looking for seven other people swept away by a river in flood.

In Casablanca, schools were ordered to shut on Tuesday after Morocco's biggest city and business centre received a record 18 cm (7 inches) of rain overnight.

The head of Morocco's state-run weather service, Abdellah Masqat, told 2M television the heavy rain would continue until Thursday.

News footage from state television station Al-Maghribia showed suburbs of Casablanca submerged.

Flag carrier Royal Air Maroc said flights were disrupted from the country's main airport in Casablanca because flooding on highways and railway tracks prevented some passengers reaching the airport.

In the capital Rabat, people formed long queues in front of a rare working ATM machine after communication systems of some banks were put out of action.

"The lines are down because of the rain. We can't process any operation for the moment," said an employee at a branch of Attijariwafa Bank in downtown Rabat.

© Thomson Reuters 2010 All rights reserved

Morocco: Flash floods -

Source: International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)

Date: 05 Dec 2010

CHF 195,002 (USD 200,266 or EUR 149,312) has been allocated from the IFRC's Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to support the Moroccan National Society in delivering immediate assistance to some 4,000 beneficiaries. Unearmarked funds to repay DREF are encouraged.

Summary: Since 29 November flash floods triggered by torrential rain have killed 32 people, several others have been injured and the search is continuing to locate other missing persons. Also many thousands are left homeless.

Many thousands of families are living in public halls. In total, estimates of the number of families affected in the 11 governorates is put at around 15,000 families. According to the Red Crescent local branches at Mohammadyeh governorates more than 4,000 families are affected and in need for direct assistance.

This operation is expected to be implemented over 6 months, and will therefore be completed by 5 June 2011; a Final Report will be made available three months after the end of the operation (by 5 September 2011).

Friday, November 26, 2010

"Morocco and Europe : Six Centuries in the Eye of the Other" Exhibit on Tour

Here is a short piece from the official mouthpiece of the Moroccan government on an Exhibition that has just opened at the national library in Rabat. It is touring several countries and is supposed to make it to New York City eventually.
We are also posting info on the exhibition itself from its website.

Prince Moulay Rachid inaugurates exhibition on six centuries of Moroccan, European history

Rabat - Prince Moulay Rachid inaugurated, on Wednesday, the touring exhibition of "Morocco and Europe, six centuries in the eye of the other", held at Morocco's national library (BNRM) under the patronage of HM King Mohammed VI

On this occasion, Prince Moulay Rachid visited the exhibition's shelves which include documents, books, engravings, paintings, jewelry, and other items relating the history of Morocco with Europe from the end of the 15th century up to now.

Produced by the Moroccan-Jewish Cultural Center (CCJM) and the Council of the Moroccan Community Abroad (CCME), this exhibition, which achieved much success in Brussels, will be open for the Moroccan public till December 31.

It will later on tour other countries mainly France, Netherlands and Spain.

Last modification 11/26/2010 11:22 AM.
©MAP-All right reserved

The project of organizing an exhibition on relations between Morocco and Europe has been germinating in the Center of Judeo-Moroccan Culture (CCJM) for some years. It has now taken on particular relevance following the agreement signed on October 13 2008 between Morocco and the European Union. Though relating solely to trade, this agreement does provide a starting point for reflecting on the ebb and flow of relations between Europe and Morocco in historical terms.

The project described below supports an approach aimed at sustaining reflection on the processes of exchange and of promoting intercultural dialogue, revealing values shared by Morocco and Europe
Looking back at the deployment in time and space of exchanges and influences between Morocco and Europe enables better understanding of this singular story whereby Morocco is the only Muslim country in partnership with Europe to this day. Through the tracks left by diplomats, travelers, painters, writers, craftsmen and populations overall, the history of relations between Morocco and Europe permits better awareness of the sources of today’s two-way influences and at the same time improving awareness of the realities of emigration and altering perception of it.

The exhibition also provides realization of a Moroccan identity which though open to the world nevertheless retains its specific character. This identity expresses itself today, for example, in the productions of contemporary Moroccan artists and in the Moroccans’ recognized ability in both the commercial and cultural domains.

Through its links with the past, the exhibition aims to eliminate the clichés of the present, thereby developing better awareness of relations between Morocco and Europe so as to encourage mutual respect and dialogue from one shore of the Mediterranean to the other...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Divorced Moroccan Women to Recieve Financial Support from the Government صندوق مغربي يمنح النفقة للمطلقات

This is great news for women and children ( and society as a whole) in Morocco. Hopefully it pulls some women out of the trials and disgrace of desperation. This article from Al-Magharebia reports that the Moroccan government will start providing support for divorced women if their ex-husbands disappear or are unable to provide such support. We post the article in English and Arabic (Please excuse some of the formatting issues).

Moroccan divorcees to receive nafaqa from government fund


A long-awaited financial assistance programme for Moroccan female divorcees begins in 2011.

By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat – 18/11/10

Seven years after Morocco's Moudawana, or Family Code, authorised financial help for divorced women, the Family Solidarity Fund will finally take effect on January 1st, 2011.

The House of Representatives on Thursday (November 4th) unanimously passed a bill authorising payment of alimony (nafaqa) to women and minor children if the ex-spouse defaults.

Justice Minister Mohamed Naciri told legislators that the fund aims to promote family solidarity and social cohesion. Some 500 million dirhams allocated for 2011 will be available for immediate disbursement.

Moroccan women without income often struggle because judicial decrees on alimony are slow to be enforced. Left on their own and with children in tow, these divorced women have to get by without any help.

Samira R. is 34 years old. Divorced at the age of 22, and left with a newborn daughter, she has been unable to get the courts to enforce the nafaqa ruling.

"My ex-husband has gone into hiding so that he doesn't have to pay anything. The courts haven't been able to track him down, even though he's a trader and can cater to the needs of his only daughter," she said.

For twelve years, Samira has been working as a maid so that her daughter Nora, a first-year secondary school student, can "continue with her studies and extricate herself from the vulnerable position they are living in". In January, Samira will be able to apply for money from the family court that issued the alimony ruling.

Under the new law, destitute divorced mothers and their children will be eligible for support after two months of non-payment, in cases where the alimony decree cannot be enforced, and "where the husband is absent".

Court-ordered alimony must be strictly enforced, because in some cases, the father has the wherewithal to pay but is not "sufficiently" compelled to perform this duty, MP and lawyer Fatima Moustaghfir told Magharebia. She said that the creation of the fund is a brave step, but should not encourage fathers to shirk their obligations.

"The marriage contract must include clear articles concerning the rights of both parties," she said, adding that taking action before marriage avoids needless problems and divorce.

Although there is a reconciliation procedure that spouses can resort to prior to divorce, it is difficult for judges to implement it properly, given the high number of divorce cases that are heard every day, the MP explained.

"The essential requirement for marriage is continuity. If it is dysfunctional from the beginning, the only result can be social problems. Both spouses must be compatible in every respect," she said.

صندوق مغربي يمنح النفقة للمطلقات

يدخل برنامج للمساعدة المالية للمطلقات المغربيات طال انتظاره حيز التنفيذ في 2011.

سهام علي من الرباط لمغاربية – 18/11/10

سبع سنوات بعد سماح المدونة المغربية أو قانون الأسرة بمنح المساعدة المالية لفائدة المطلقات، يدخل صندوق التضامن الأسري حيز التنفيذ في فاتح يناير 2011.

وصادق مجلس النواب الخميس 4 نوفمبر بالإجماع على مشروع قانون يسمح بدفع النفقة للنساء والأطفال القاصرين في حالة تخلّف الزوج السابق عن الدفع.

وزير العدل محمد الناصري قال للمشرعين إن الصندوق يهدف إلى تعزيز التضامن الأسري والتماسك الاجتماعي. وتم رصد حوالي 500 مليون درهم لسنة 2011 ستكون متاحة للصرف الفوري.

وعادة ما تعاني النساء المغربيات بدون دخل لأن الأوامر القضائية حول النفقة تأخذ وقتًا قبل دخول حيز التنفيذ. وفي ضوء هذا الوضع، يكون على المطلقات المتروكات لحالهن مع أطفالهن تدبر أمورهن دون أية مساعدة.

سميرة ر. تبلغ 34 عامًا. وهي تطلقت في سن 22 عامًا وتُركت مع طفلتها الرضيعة، ولم تكن قادرة على دفع المحاكم لتطبيق حكم النفقة.

وقالت "زوجي السابق اختبأ لكي لا يضطر لدفع أي شيء. لم تتمكن المحاكم من تقفي أثره رغم أنه تاجر وبإمكانه تلبية مصاريف ابنته الوحيدة".

وتعمل سميرة طوال اثنتى عشرة سنة كخادمة لكي تتمكن ابنتها نورا، وهي الآن تلميذة في السنة الأولى ثانوي، من "مواصلة تعليمها وإنقاذ نفسها من هذا الوضع الهش الذي تعيشان فيه". وفي يناير، بإمكان سميرة طلب المال من محكمة الأسرة التي أصدرت حكم النفقة.

وبموجب القانون الجديد، فإن المطلقات وأطفالهن مؤهلون للاستفادة من الدعم من شهرين من عدم الأداء، وفي الحالات التي لا يمكن فيها تطبيق أحكام النفقة و"عندما يكون الزوج غائبًا".

ويجب تطبيق أحكام النفقة الصادرة عن المحكمة بحذافيرها لأنه في بعض الحالات يكون الأب قادرًا على دفع النفقة لكن لا يُجبر "بشكل كاف" للقيام بهذا الواجب حسب قول البرلمانية والمحامية فاطمة مستغفر لمغاربية. وقالت إن تأسيس الصندوق خطوة جريئة لكنها لا ينبغي أن تشجع الآباء على التملص من التزاماتهم.

وأوضحت "عقد الزواج يجب أن يتضمن بنودًا صريحة تبين حقوق كلا الطرفين"، مضيفة أن اتخاذ إجراءات قبل الزواج ستحول دون الوقوع في مشاكل غير ضرورية وفي الطلاق.

وبالرغم من وجود مسطرة صلح يمكن أن يلجأ إليها الزوجان قبل الطلاق، يصعب على القضاة تطبيقها بشكل سليم بالنظر إلى الأعداد الكبيرة لقضايا الطلاق التي تبت فيها المحاكم كل يوم حسب البرلمانية.

وختمت بالقول "الشرط الرئيسي للزواج هو الاستمرارية. إذا كان هناك خلل من البداية فإن النتيجة الوحيدة التي قد تنشأ هي المشاكل الاجتماعية. فيجب أن يكون الزوجان متوافقين في كافة الجوانب"

Monday, November 15, 2010

Eid Al Adha in A Moroccan Berber Village

In keeping with the times, here is an article on Eid al Adha (3id elKbir) in a Moroccan Village. The article from the Huffington Post is from last year's celebration but worth a read.There are also some nice photos we have embedded in this post.
Eid Mubarak! عواشر مبروكة

Sacrificial Sheep: Eid Al Adha In A Moroccan Berber Village

By Aida Alami
Moroccan Freelance Writer.
Posted: November 29, 2009 03:22 PM

Eid Al Adha Slideshow 1 from aida alami on Vimeo.

This past Saturday, we decided to spend Eid Al Adha, the Muslim holiday where people sacrifice a sheep, in the country side. We visited a little Berber village a few miles south of Marrakesh.

This is a tradition that has existed for centuries and Muslims all over the world celebrate it once a year. According to the Muslim history, the tradition started when God asked the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) to prove his full dedication by sacrificing his only son: Ismael. It was extremely hard for Ibrahim to make a choice but he ultimately decided to show his loyalty to God and to kill his son. After he did so, God spoke to him and revealed to him that he instead had a sheep killed and that his son Ismael was alive because the willingness to sacrifice his son was enough of a proof of commitment .

Since then, Muslims commemorate this miracle by killing a sheep. Some of it is given to poor people but most families get together to celebrate and eat.

In Azimime, the village that we picked to spend the holiday, the mood was pretty festive. We arrived there at around 9:30 a.m. Women had woken early to make a delicious breakfast and to start preparing for the day. People were moving around the village, walking into their neighbors' houses to wish them a happy holiday. We received a very warm welcome from the villagers who rarely had outsiders visit them. Omar and his family invited us into their home, made us tea and after we were done, took us around the village so we could see people slaughtering their sheep, following the Muslim tradition.

Everyone was welcoming, offered us tea and wanted us to spend the night. In each home, a butcher came in to help with the slaughtering. Once it was done, the sheep was cut into pieces and every part was used to cook. First, we ate the liver, but did not get a chance to eat the head and other parts because they were going to cook on the fire the entire night.

We tried, in our pictures, to capture the tradition. The following slide-show takes us through a day with the villagers and their families on this holy day.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Aminatou Haidar's Opinion on Motives Behind Morocco's Raid on Western Saharan Camp

Everyone has an opinion about what is going on in the Western Sahara. Here is a piece from the BBC with Aminatou Haidar's opinion about the recent violence.

Morocco 'raided Western Sahara camp to sabotage talks'

A prominent human rights campaigner has told the BBC she believes the clearing of a protest camp in Western Sahara by Moroccan forces could be classed as a crime against humanity.

Aminatou Haidar, nicknamed the "Gandhi of Sahara", said Morocco was deliberately escalating the clashes.

It was a tactic to block UN-sponsored talks on the territory, which was annexed by Morocco in 1975, she said.

At least eight people died in the violence on Monday.

Moroccan authorities have not reacted to Ms Haidar's comments - Morocco's London embassy told the BBC it was not entitled to comment on recent events in Western Sahara.

The region's pro-independence movement, the Polisario Front, said 11 people had been killed.

The Gadaym Izik camp was set up about a month ago outside Laayoune, the capital of the disputed territory, as a protest by displaced Sahrawi people about their living conditions. It was home to more than 12,000 people.

Polisario said Moroccan troops used live ammunition, tear gas and water cannon against thousands of people at the camp.

It overshadowed the negotiations between the two sides in New York, which ended on Tuesday with no breakthrough.


Ms Haidar, who is in Portugal meeting local supporters of the Sahrawi people's campaign for self-determination, said it was not by chance that the violence had escalated when they did.

"Why is it that Morocco, which sits at the negotiating table, massacres the Sahrawi people on the eve of negotiations?" she told the BBC.

"This was well-studied, planned and calculated because the protest camp was there for already a month."

Polisario says at least 11 people died in the raid and more than 700 people were wounded and many others are missing.

The official Moroccan news agency says eight members of the security forces died.

Last year Ms Haidar came to international prominence when she went on hunger strike at Lanzarote airport after she was expelled to Spain's Canary Islands by the Moroccan authorities.

She had been trying to return to Western Sahara and refused to define herself as Moroccan on an official form.

Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, is the scene of one of Africa's longest-running territorial disputes.

The phosphate-rich territory was annexed by Morocco after Spanish settlers left in 1975. Polisario fought a guerrilla war against Morocco until the UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991.

Rabat now offers to grant it autonomy, while Polisario is demanding a referendum on full independence.

The talks between both sites have been deadlocked for year.

The two sides have now agreed to meet again next month and in the New Year.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Moroccan Forces Raid Protest Camp in Laayoune

Here is an article from National Public Radio about the riots in Laayoune. Is the Sahara Moroccan? Good question.
5 Moroccan Troops, 1 Civilian Killed In W. Sahara

by The Associated Press

RABAT, Morocco November 8, 2010, 06:58 pm ET

Moroccan forces raided a protest camp in the disputed territory of Western Sahara on Monday and unrest spread to a nearby city, with buildings ablaze and rioters roaming the streets. Five Moroccan security officials and one demonstrator were killed, reports said.

Moroccan officials moved into the camp at dawn, reportedly using tear gas and pressure hoses to dismantle it. Once unrest reached the city of Laayoune, Spanish National Television showed black smoke pouring from at least four tall buildings and an explosion that sent flames into the air.

The chaotic scenes capped weeks of simmering tension in Western Sahara, where a local independence movement called the Polisario Front is locked in a conflict with Morocco, which claims the territory.

The unrest also came hours before the reopening of informal U.N.-sponsored talks Monday in Manhasset, New York, between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which long waged a guerrilla war on Morocco in a bid to gain independence for the desert region and its native Saharawi people.

The 35-year conflict over the impoverished territory has dragged on, despite United Nations' attempts to resolve it. Today, thousands of Saharawis live in Polisario-run refugee camps in Algeria, forced out of their homeland by the dispute.

The latest tensions started in mid-October, when some residents of Laayoune set up the Gdim Izik tent camp 10 kilometers (six miles) east of the city to protest poor living conditions. Monday's operation to dismantle it took less than an hour, according to Moroccan radio.

"It was a very forceful intervention," Galia Djimi, a Moroccan human rights activist in Laayoune, told The Associated Press. "People have been beaten. There are injured people."

The British charity group Sandblast described the operation as "brutal." It said the camp "reportedly came under a barrage of tear gas, flames and high temperature pressure hoses."

The Moroccan governor of Laayoune, Mohamed Guelmous, told TV Channel 2M that troops were met with a barrage of incendiary devices when they entered the camp to arrest people he called troublemakers.

Morocco annexed the territory after Spain gave it up in 1975. Today, Morocco refers to the Western Sahara, thought to be rich with minerals, as its "southern provinces." In a bid to settle the dispute, Morocco has proposed autonomy for the territory.

Morocco's official MAP news agency said five security officials were killed Monday — four in the operation at the camp, and one stabbed to death elsewhere — and said about two dozen others were hospitalized.

One protester died and hundreds of native Saharawis were allegedly injured, according to a statement by the Western Sahara government in exile carried by the Sahara Press Service. The government in exile is run by the Polisario Front.

Yet Moroccan officials insisted no civilians were killed in the raid, and the exact death toll was unclear.

The spokesman for the group that set up the camp, Brahim Ahmed, claimed camp residents had killed numerous members of the Moroccan security forces — as many as to 16, he said — by stoning them or running them over with cars. He said an unknown number of camp residents were killed.

Such claims have often varied widely in the conflict, and media access was limited. An AP photographer and several other journalists were prevented from boarding a plane to the area by an official of Moroccan airline Royal Air Maroc.

Schools and offices in Laayoune were closed Monday, and a cloud of black smoke rose above the city. An official in Laayoune told the AP that the local TV station and an office handling regional investments were set ablaze.

Video of the Laayoune protests on the site of the major Spanish radio station showed streets filled with what appeared to be Saharawi men — many with their faces wrapped in cloth according to local custom. They moved chaotically through a street, some waving a Polisario flag, others carrying sticks and bottles.

There was no evidence in the video to match an account of the Laayoune protests carried by the official Moroccan news agency which said that demonstrators waved Moroccan flags, carried portraits of King Mohammed VI and shouted "The Sahara is Moroccan."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Morocco Increases Pressure on Spain over Disputed Enclave

Here is an feature article from Reuters Africa about Morocco becoming more aggressive in its call for Spain to end its colonization of Melilla.

FEATURE-Morocco ups pressure on Spain over disputed enclave
Wed Nov 3, 2010 2:00pm GMT

* Morocco says centuries-old Spanish rule should end
* Protests,angry rhetoric show growing assertiveness
* Local Moroccans say Spanish presence is their livelihood

By Lamine Ghanmi

BENI ANSAR, Morocco, Nov 3 (Reuters) - When Spanish police with snarling dogs raided the market where she sells aluminium pots and pans, Najia Berbish, a Moroccan mother of five, hurriedly packed up her wares.

"Piety has deserted the hearts of these Christians," she spat while gesticulating towards the police officers who were shouting out orders in Spanish at traders rushing to get away.

About an hour later, the police are gone and business is resuming at the illegal flea market in Melilla, a tiny Spanish enclave on the North African coast that adjoins Moroccan territory.

The drama and disruption of the police raid is something Berbish has learned to live with because she has no choice. "We are earning a decent living with the Spaniards. Does Morocco gives us something better now?" she asked.

This is the ebb and flow of daily life in Melilla, a spot where Europe and Africa, the rich world and the poor, rub up against each other in a way that is vibrant and chaotic and, increasingly, a source of diplomatic friction.
France and Spain used to rule Morocco through colonial protectorates. These ended over 50 years ago but Spain has retained Melilla and a second enclave called Ceuta. Morocco argues they should be under its sovereignty.

Tension flared this year when Morocco angrily accused Spanish police of using violence against Moroccan traders passing through Melilla.

It was their worst row since 2002, when Spain and Morocco had a brief and bloodless military confrontation over a tiny disputed island known to Spaniards as Perejil, or Parsley.

Since then the repaired relationship between Madrid and Rabat has become crucial for the rest of the Europe in stemming the flow of illegal immigrants and containing Islamist militants -- all of which could be jeopardised by a renewed dispute.

But more than that, this year's row appeared to signal a new resolve from Morocco's leaders to, eventually at least, end Spanish sovereignty over the territories.


Morocco's growing confidence plays a role.

Since the reformist king Mohamed VI came to the throne in 1999, gross domestic product has gone up from about $35 billion to $145 billion now, multinational firms have made Morocco their regional base and a trade pact has been signed with Europe.
"Spain controls Morocco's Mediterranean front through its control of Ceuta and Melilla and other isles. This is not acceptable any more," said Mohamed Merabet, head of the Ashourouk Center, a Moroccan think tank.

Spain's argument is that Melilla and Ceuta are not colonial possessions because they were Spanish settlements many centuries before Morocco existed. In any case, Madrid says the row over Melilla has now been smoothed over.

"Relations between the countries are at a good level," then Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told reporters during a visit to the Moroccan city of Marrakesh in October, shortly before he was removed from the post.

Policymakers in Madrid know too that the Spanish presence is an economic lifeline for a poor part of Morocco that the government in Rabat cannot yet afford to cut. That is because Melilla functions like a vast duty free warehouse.

Every day about 30,000 Moroccans file through the nearby Moroccan settlement of Beni Ansar to border checkpoints and into the enclave. Once there, they buy as much as they can carry -- usually clothes, shoes, toilet paper, cleaning products -- and file back out of Melilla.

They then sell the goods at markets and pavement stalls throughout Morocco. It is a profitable business because, with no tax or customs duty to pay, goods in Melilla cost about half the price charged in Morocco.

Spanish customs officers patrolling the border generally let Moroccans through with their goods as long as they are not moving industrial quantities, which is why most of the packages are piled high on bicycles or carried on peoples' backs.

The income from trading with Melilla is badly needed. Gross domestic product per capita in Spain is $33,600. That compares to Morocco, where the figure is $4,700.

The streets of central Melilla look like they could have been transplanted from Madrid or Barcelona. In the Moroccan villages nearby, many people live in hovels built of mud.

"I thank Allah each day for earning some 300 dirhams," said Ahmed Salmouni, who was carrying clothes and other goods out of Melilla on his bicycle. The amount he takes home each day is the equivalent of about $37.

"I prefer that the Spaniards stay. Our conditions with the Nsara are better than they are with Morocco," he said, using an Arabic word for Christians.

But while traders queue daily to get through the barbed wire border fence and into Melilla, a short distance away other Moroccans are pursuing a different agenda.

One day last month in the no-man's land between the enclave and Beni Ansar about 200 anti-Spanish protesters waved Moroccan flags and chanted: "Melilla is Moroccan."

The demonstration, to mark the 513th anniversary of Spanish rule, was just one of a series of protests in the past few months outside Melilla which reveal the growing assertiveness of those in Morocco who want Spain to leave.

Though Moroccan officials, in public at least, keep a distance, it is clear where the government's sympathies lie.

"We can mobilise hundreds of thousands of demonstrators for this anniversary," a senior Moroccan police officer, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters at the demonstration.
"But the protest was small because we do not want to frighten the Spaniards at this stage," he said.

Back in Morocco's capital, those politicians who back the protests also acknowledge the need to give people living around Melilla a better livelihood.

They point to a government plan to invest $17 billion over the next 12 years in the development of Morocco's north, including the areas around Melilla and Ceuta.

Chebel Malainine, a senior official from Prime Minister Abass el Fassi's Istiqlal party, said this kind of development is the beginning of the end for Spanish rule.

"Morocco has begun ... to prepare the conditions for freeing the territories," he said. (Editing by Giles Elgood)

© Thomson Reuters 2010 All rights reserved

Friday, October 29, 2010

Morocco Suspends Al-Jazeera's Operations

Al-Jazeera's Moroccan operations have been suspended by the Moroccan authorities. Here is an article from Al-Jazeera's English language website that offers an analysis of the situation.

Morocco curbs Al Jazeera operations

"Failure to follow rules of responsible journalism" cited by kingdom for withdrawing staff's press accreditations.
Last Modified: 29 Oct 2010 19:40 GMT

Morocco has suspended Al Jazeera's operations in the country by withdrawing the press accreditations of the network's staff based there.

The Moroccan communications ministry said in a statement on Friday that the sanctions followed "numerous failures in following the rules of serious and responsible journalism".

A government official who declined to be named said the authorities took exception "to the way Al Jazeera handles the issues of Islamists and Western Sahara".

The Moroccan statement, which was reported by the official MAP news agency, said Al Jazeera's broadcasts had "seriously distorted Morocco's image and manifestly damaged its interests, most notably its territorial integrity".

Al Jazeera had showed a "determination to only broadcast from our country negative facts and phenomena in a deliberate effort to minimise Morocco's efforts in all aspects of development and to knowing belittle its achievements and progress on democracy", the statement said.

Separatist movement

A former Spanish colony, Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco in 1975. The move was violently opposed by separatist Polisario fighters until the UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991.

Polisario wants a UN-organised referendum that would give the Sahrawi people three choices: attachment to Morocco, independence or autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.

Morocco backs the option of broad autonomy for the territory, but rejects any notion of independence for Western Sahara.

"It's a very surprising decision from the government, especially because there was no legal background. It's just a very administrative and political decision," Vincent Brossel of Reporters without Borders told Al Jazeera from Paris.

He said that RSF "suspect that this decision is linked to the way your channel has been covering different issues, especially the Western Sahara, and I think it's mainly because you open your microphone to all sides, and not only the government's side".

"I think it's mainly because you are doing your job, which is quite unfair."

The government recently prevented a Spanish journalist from travelling to the Western Sahara, Brossel noted.

"It's unfortunately a sort of new trend in Morocco. When foreign media is doing its job, you can be in trouble".

Strained relations

In July 2008, Al Jazeera's Morocco bureau chief at the time, Hassan al Rashidi, was convicted for what the government called "disseminating false information".

Rachidi was charged with reporting that people were killed in clashes with security forces in the southwestern port city of Sidi Ifni on June 7 during a protest over poverty and rising unemployment.

Moroccan authorities rejected the reports of deaths, saying that 48 people were injured, including 28 police officers.

Although Al Jazeera reported the government's denial, the Rabat chief prosecutor’s office ordered an inquiry to determine how the false information was disseminated.

Rachidi was interrogated by the judiciary police for four hours and was charged on June 14 with publishing false information and conspiracy. Minutes later, the Moroccan communication ministry withdrew his media accreditation.

Rachidi avoided jail time but was fined nearly $7,000. The Moroccan government did not give any reason for this latest decision.

The trial and the confiscation of Rachidi's press accreditation further damaged the already strained relations between Morocco and the channel.

In May 2008, Morocco suspended Al Jazeera's daily television news bulletin covering the Maghreb countries [Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania] from its studios in Rabat.

The decision, according to Khalid Naciri, the Moroccan communication minister and spokesman for the government, was due to technical and legal issues.

More than 2,000 alleged political activists have been arrested and sentenced in Morocco since the Casablanca bombings of May 16, 2003.

Monday, October 25, 2010

King Muhammad VI Inaugurates Photo Exhibit in Casablanca on Moroccan Mosques

Here is an article from the Maghreb Arab Presse about a new photo exhibit by AbdelAdim Peter Sanders on Moroccan Mosques that has just recently gone up in Casablanca.

HM the King inaugurates in Casablanca photograph exhibition of 'Moroccan mosques throughout history'
Casablanca - HM King Mohammed VI, Commander of the Faithful, inaugurated, on Friday, a photograph exhibition organized in Casablanca's multimedia library, under the theme "Moroccan Mosques throughout history."

- The exhibition brings together 70 unpublished photographs of the artist Abdeladim Peter Sanders depicting various facets of the mosques' architectural heritage.

Initiated by the Endowments and Islamic Affairs Ministry, this exhibition, with a strong artistic and civilizational dimension, brings together 70 unpublished photographs featuring the British artist Abdeladim Peter Sanders' work, which depicts the various facets of the Moroccan mosques' unique architectural heritage.

This exhibition will enable the public discover the remarkable richness of the mosques’ artistic architecture and the special place that Moroccans give to these monuments throughout history.

This exhibition gives an overview of the civilizational, aesthetic and artistic aspects of these religious buildings, dating from the Idrisids dynasty to the Alaouite dynasty, a fact which has endowed Morocco with a large number of religious monuments, notably the Hassan II Mosque.

The photograph exhibition on the Moroccan mosques is one of the leading cultural and artistic activities organized in Casablanca’s multimedia library, which was inaugurated last April by HM the King, Commander of the Faithful.

As an area for exchange and debate, the multimedia library aims to contribute to promoting cultural activities in Casablanca and enhancing the city’s intellectual influence.

On this occasion, the Minister of Endowments and Islamic Affairs Ahmed Toufiq presented to HM the King a book published by his Department under the title "Moroccan mosques throughout history." Similarly, the visual artist Abdellah Hariri presented to the Sovereign one of his works.

Last modification 10/22/2010 03:22 PM.
©MAP-All right reserved

Friday, October 22, 2010

Spain Needs Moroccan Women for the Strawberry Season

It seems as if Moroccan women are often called upon to use their bodies for someone else's benefit. Here is an article from about Moroccan women going to Spain to plant fruit.In general these women are given contracts to work for a few months in Spain. Married women with children are chosen because it is assumed that they will return to their families when the planting is done.

Spain: Moroccan Workers Needed for Strawberry Season

The planting of strawberries that will begin in the province of Huelva will require foreign workers despite high profile campaigns by La Junta de Andalucía to encourage the training of local workers.

Government deputy in Huelva, Manuel Bago, announced the quota of almost one thousand contracts after meeting with the Committee on Migration Flows, the Andalusian Federation of Municipalities and Provinces, employers and unions. 700 Moroccan women will travel to Huelva, as they are needed, to plant strawberries, and another 264, also Moroccan, for the raspberry harvest, which will begin in the up-coming weeks.

The economic crisis and high unemployment in Andalucía might suggest that local workers would return to the fields and easily cover the 9,000 workers which are required for planting of the 6,500 hectares in Huelva. But no, the strawberry entrepreneurs are not going to take any chances.

Publication date: 10/21/2010
Author: Maria Jaramillo

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Moroccans Excel in Mathematics

Here is an article from the GlobalPost about the teaching of Mathematics in Morocco.

Morocco excels in mathematics
By Aida Alami- Special to Globalpost
October 7, 2010 11:19 ET

CASABLANCA, Morocco — Moroccans pride themselves on a tradition of excellence in teaching mathematics.

Indeed, for decades, the North African country has chalked up high achievement in math — a discipline that does not require lots of material means and relies instead on the students' mental abilities to deal with abstract concepts.

“An ambition to succeed came with the independence [from France in 1956]. Mathematics because they were so difficult and theoretical, fascinated people,” explained Abdelghani Zrikem, a retired math professor. “People can study maths anywhere and anytime. It doesn’t require any mean or actual conception.”

Thousands of Moroccan students — mostly males — are pursuing a scientific education in some of the most prestigious schools in the world.

For instance, Ali Aouad, 20, started his second year at the world famous Ecole Polythechnique de Paris, reputed for recruiting the finest students in the world and for its extremely difficult admission process. Morocco's academic curriculums are very similar to the ones in France, because Morocco was under a French protectorate from 1912 to 1956.

Morocco is the second nationality most represented in the Grandes Ecoles (name given to the elite schools in France) after China, according to the most recent statistics released by the SCEI, an organization that keeps track of admissions in engineering schools in France. At the University Les Mines — another prestigious engineering school — five times more Moroccan students are admitted than their Tunisian neighbors.

Getting into these schools is extremely competitive. After two years in preparatory schools that provide an intensive training for a nationwide test, tens of thousands of students compete for only a few hundred spots at the top schools.

Karim Arji is an engineer based in Marrakesh. He first went to high school in the French school of Marrakesh before attending a Moroccan preparatory school that allowed him to be admitted at L’ESTP in Paris in 1996. The abrupt switch from the French to the Moroccan system meant that Arji was in faster paced courses and was surrounded by students more advanced in mathematics.

“The students from the Moroccan high schools had a particular easiness with maths. There are concepts in maths that are completely abstract and impossible to explain but they had this ability to instantaneously solve a problem,” said Arji. “They had studied chapters in high school that were already very advanced.

However, he also noted that Moroccan students were still somewhat behind in other areas such as languages and social sciences, which lowered their chances to succeed in university.

But the golden age of mathematics in Morocco has long ended, according to Zrikem. For half a century, generations of Moroccans were trained under the Bourbaki influence, a collective of mathematicians in France that revolutionized the discipline in the 1960s and 1970s. But Zrikem insists that Morocco no longer provides the necessary means for the new generations to prosper and he said that a great deal of potential is wasted.

“One of the main problems started when the Moroccan school system went back to teaching everything in Arabic. The students no longer have access to great works in French or English and the professors were not given the means to write books in Arabic that the students can work with,” he said. “The books they now use are badly written and the quality of the teaching has also degraded.”

He also argued that the excellence in math is often of no use in the country and that those who are particularly gifted have the choice to either study abroad or to seek a career in engineering.

“In Morocco, there is no research financed. A lot of great talents do not pursue careers in mathematics but rather use their skills to practically apply them in other fields,” explained Zrikem.

Aouad is the vice president of the AMGE-Caravanne (Association des Marocains aux Grandes Ecoles), an association of Moroccan students who attends the elite schools in France. One of their goals is to meet with students in Morocco in order to stimulate their ambition and help them make wise choices.

“A professor in Paris once told me that although the Moroccan students had a particular ease in maths, they were not so much interested in the beauty of the knowledge, but seeing it more as a mean to be admitted into a school,” Aouad said.

Zrikem is pretty pessimistic about the possibilities for great mathematicians to grow in the country.

“Our level is very low because we have been failing at stimulating the students,” he said. “These days, students go to class, work on their math books, get out of class and throw them away because they’re not interested much in it.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Former Centers of Torture to Become Cultural Centers in Morocco

Here is a short article from Agence France Press by way of the Lebanon Daily Star about the rehab of old centers of torture for more civilized purposes.

From centers of torture to culture in Morocco

By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Friday, September 17, 2010

RABAT: Morocco launched a program to restore former secret detention centers on Wednesday as it seeks to deal with the legacy of past human rights abuses, state sources said.

During former head of state King Hassan II’s reign (1961 – 1999), these centers became notorious as sites where dissidents opposed to the king were detained and tortured.

According to an agreement by the Culture Ministry and the Consultative Council of Human Rights, the centers will be transformed into places of “preservation and rehabilitation of the [victims’] memory” and cultural centers.

The EU has granted more than $6.5 million for the project over the next five years, with the aim of encouraging “Morocco’s reconciliation with its past,” a culture ministry official said. Since 2004, a number of torture victims have been compensated by the Equity and Reconciliation Committee. – AFP