Monday, August 30, 2010

Saudi Arabia Refuses Moroccan Women Visas for Umra Fearing Prostitution

We dont usually post pieces from blogs but there are no good news pieces in English on the Saudi ban on Moroccan woman obtaining visas for Umra ( the "lesser" pilgrimage). This is a reprehensible, hypocritical move by the government of Saudi Arabia that should be protested. Here is the Guardian blog piece. We have also pasted an Arabic language article from Aljazeera that gives more detail .

Saudi ban on Moroccan women is a stereotype too far
In banning Moroccan women from a pilgrimage in case they are prostitutes, Saudi Arabia is failing in its Islamic duties

Nesrine Malik, Sunday 29 August 2010 13.00 BST
We all like to stereotype. Whether it's about different regions in a country or other countries, we all indulge in a bit of reductionism and comic typecasting. The British laugh at the French, Europeans poke fun at Americans and it is all reciprocated in (mostly) harmless badinage.

In the Arab world, we have our memes too: the Sudanese are lazy, the Egyptians are jokers, the Lebanese are flamboyant, etc. Arabic TV is replete with comedy shows that paint wide brush-strokes (in some cases, quite literally, as actors are "blacked up" to act the roles of African Arabs) at the expense of different Arab nationalities.

Although this sometimes crosses the line firmly into the territory of the distasteful (it's not a very politically correct environment in general), it is usually accepted in good humour. The region is very much still in the Mind Your Language phase.

Recently, however, two Gulf countries – Kuwait and Saudi Arabia – have provoked Morocco's ire. The Kuwaiti channel, al-Watan, has apologised to Moroccans for the animated comedy series Bu Qatada and Bu Nabeel, which sparked outrage for its improper depiction of Moroccan women as scheming witches plotting to ensnare rich Kuwaiti husbands by casting spells on them.

Last month, in another, rather under-reported incident, Saudi Arabia banned Moroccan women "of a certain age" from umra (the lesser pilgrimage), for fear they would abuse theirs visas "for other purposes" even when they are accompanied by male relatives.

This is a reference to an underground sex industry that is believed to be staffed by Arab women smuggled in from the Maghreb and north Africa. Short of calling all Moroccan women prostitutes and their men pimps, there is little more that could have been done to summarily insult the nation. The implication that Moroccans will exploit a visa for a sacred religious ritual to trade and facilitate sexual favours only serves to rub more salt into the wound.

The francophone Maghreb, especially Morocco, is stereotyped by wealthier and more outwardly conservative Arab nations as louche in cultural disposition and morally lax through poverty.

Morocco, of course, is a popular destination for Gulf tourists – ostensibly because it is perceived to be morally lax and poor enough to accommodate demands that would not be met elsewhere. In 2007, in order to regulate marriages, a law was passed in Morocco obliging married Saudi men to have notified their Saudi wives first before entering into marriage with Moroccan women. These local second wives usually acquire demi-monde status as their husbands then abandon them, only returning for conjugal visits.

Instead of diverting resources to investigate and tackle the problem within Saudi Arabia, the blame and responsibility for the problem has been placed squarely on the shoulders of Moroccan women. This, if I may indulge in a little generalisation myself, is a characteristic way of dealing with issues that touch on morality. Sweep under the carpet, blame the other, and if all else fails, ban something.

Moroccan political parties have entreated parliament to intervene. Leaving aside the effrontery, Saudi Arabia has a duty to facilitate pilgrimages to Mecca for all Muslims worldwide. I would therefore suggest, in order to mitigate the problem and in the spirit of slanderous generalisation, that Saudi men be banned from Morocco, lest they use their tourist visas for "other purposes".

سفارة الرياض تؤكد تطبيق الضوابط
الفتيات المغربيات ممنوعات من العمرة

القنصلية السعودية بالرباط بررت قرارها بـ"صغر سن" الفتيات المتقدمات للحصول على التأشيرة، واحتمال وجود نوايا أخرى غير العمرة (الجزيرة-أرشيف)

الجزيرة نت-الرباط

أثار رفض المصالح القنصلية السعودية بالمغرب منح تأشيرة العمرة لقريبات المعتمرين استياء كبيرا في الشارع المغربي، بسبب ما اعتبر أنه محاكمة لنوايا المعتمرات واتهامهن بطريقة غير مباشرة باتخاذ العمرة مطية لأهداف أخرى.

وقد حرم هذا القرار مئات من الراغبات في العمرة من التوجه إلى الديار المقدسة، رغم أنهن مرافقات بآبائهن أو أقاربهن، كما أن بعضهن تعودن التوجه إلى العمرة كل شهر رمضان.

وبررت الجهات القنصلية بسفارة المملكة العربية السعودية قرارها بـ"صغر سن" الفتيات المتقدمات للحصول على التأشيرة، و"احتمال وجود نوايا أخرى غير العمرة"، وهو الأمر الذي أثار حفيظة كثيرين رأوا في القرار اتهاما لشرف هؤلاء الفتيات.

واعتبر فريق حزب العدالة والتنمية الإسلامي بالبرلمان أن ما قامت به المصالح القنصلية السعودية يمثل "إهانة" للفتيات المغربيات الشريفات"، و"حطا من كرامة المرأة المغربية".

حق ديني
وطالب الحزب وزارة الخارجية المغربية بالتدخل عاجلا، لوقف "الشطط" في التعامل مع الفتيات المغربيات، ووضع حد لما سماه "الجروح البليغة" التي تركها القرار في نفوس عائلات هؤلاء الفتيات.

وقال رئيس فريق حزب العدالة والتنمية في البرلمان مصطفى الرميد إن حزبه تلقى شكاوى من مواطنين مغاربة، رفضت ملفات بناتهم، لمرافقتهم إلى العمرة بسبب ما اعتبره، محاولة "لتعميم صورة سيئة عن المرأة المغربية".

وعبر الرميد في تصريح للجزيرة نت عن رفضه للقرار السعودي، الذي "يحرم المرأة المغربية من حقها الديني" في العمرة، معتبرا أن حالات بعض الآباء المغاربة الذين عادوا من العمرة دون بناتهم هي حالات نادرة ومعزولة ولا يمكن تعميمها، ولا اتخاذها ذريعة لحرمان شريحة واسعة من النساء والبنات من التوجه إلى الأراضي المقدسة.

ضوابظ تنظيمية
في المقابل نفت سفارة المملكة العربية السعودية بالمغرب ما سمته بـ"التعامل بالنوايا" في موضوع منح التأشيرة، نافية في نفس الوقت وجود أي "تمييز" في منحها بين الرجال والنساء.

واعتبرت السفارة في بيان لها، أن ما يحسم في موضوع الحصول على التأشيرة من عدمه هو الخضوع للشروط والضوابط التنظيمية، وهو ما تطبقه جميع سفارات المملكة العربية السعودية في العالم، كما جاء في البيان.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Morocco Sends Humanitarian Aid to Pakistan

Ramadan is a time when we are encouraged to be more generous than usual.
Moroccan government is setting a good example by sending aid to flood ravaged Pakistan.
Here is the short article on


Morocco sends humanitarian aid to flood-hit Pakistan

Source: Maghreb Arabe Presse (MAP)

Date: 11 Aug 2010

Kenitra - Upon instructions of HM King Mohammed VI, Morocco sent humanitarian aid to flood-stricken populations in Pakistan.

A plane carrying 12 tonnes of humanitarian aid took off on Wednesday morning from Kenitra (40km north of Rabat).

The deadly floods which hit the south of Pakistan over the past two weeks have claimed no less than 1,600 lives and left 15 million stricken.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Morocco to Close 1,250 Mosques for Repairs

Here is an article from the BBC about the Moroccan government's announcement that it is closing 1,250 mosques for repairs after the deadly collapse of the mosque in Meknes earlier in the year. Interesting timing for this news, just as we start of the month of Ramadan.
Awashirokom Mabrooka! Ramadan Mubarak ! A Blessed Ramadan to all!

Morocco to close 1,250 'unsafe' mosques

Morocco's government says it will close 1,256 mosques deemed unsafe to avoid a repeat of the collapse of a minaret in February that killed 41 people.

The ministry of religious affairs said more than 500 mosques would be completely demolished and rebuilt.

The ministry said makeshift rooms and tents would be provided for prayers.

King Mohammed ordered all the country's mosques to be examined after the centuries-old minaret of a mosque in Meknes fell over during Friday prayers.

The accident prompted widespread public criticism of the authorities over the apparent lack of maintenance of religious sites.

The religious affairs ministry said that after inspecting 19,205 of the country's nearly 48,000 mosques, it had been decided to completely close 6.5% and partially close 416, or 2.2%.

It said $325m had been set aside for the improvement works, including the demolition and rebuilding of 513 mosques.

The mosque in Meknes, whose historic city is on Unesco's World Heritage list, is among those being rebuilt.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

US Immigration Bust of a Moroccan Family

Here is a piece from WNYC that looks at one Moroccan family's experience trying to live without papers in the US, and failing at this endeavor. It has all of the usual drama of fake marriages and payouts for greencards. It is the children who are innocently mixed up in all of the nonsense. You can listen to the story if you click on the link.

Deportations Before Reform: Anatomy of an Immigration Bust
Tuesday, August 03, 2010
By Marianne McCune

The men and women who knock on illegal immigrants’ doors and take them away in handcuffs are members of what are called fugitive operations teams. They often meet up before dawn in some dim parking lot near the homes of the immigrants they're looking for.

The job of fugitive operations teams is to find and arrest "fugitive aliens," or people who've officially been told to leave the U.S., but have not. As lawmakers continue to debate immigration reform, President Barack Obama is pushing for a path to citizenship for people who are here illegally. But at the same time, the Department of Homeland Security is deporting more immigrants than ever –- around 400,000 a year. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says its priority is to deport those who’ve committed serious crimes. But more than half of the immigrants arrested do not have convictions. And among those who do, many of the crimes are minor. Critics say the government is breaking up families for crimes that should be forgivable and that people should be given a chance to make amends.

On a Tuesday morning earlier this year, Fugitive Operations supervisor Darren Williams met his colleagues from the New York office at a Queens diner. By 5:30 a.m., they were gathered around team leader Raul Concha to get briefed on the plan.

"All right, this morning we’re going to be going after three targets," Concha told the team. First on the list: a Moroccan couple living in East Elmhurst, Queens, Abe and Fatima (they asked that WNYC leave out their last names for fear that talking to the media would somehow count against them in immigration court). Concha told the group that Abe and Fatima were both convicted felons. Their crime: immigration fraud.

As Darren Williams leads half a dozen fugitive operations vehicles toward Abe and Fatima’s apartment building, he prepares to meet the individuals behind the case descriptions. "Everyone has a story," Williams says. "Everyone has their own individual story that’s unique to them. And I listen. I’m not going to say I believe every story. But I do listen to the stories.”

Abe and Fatima’s story has many layers, but we’ll start with their crime: marriage fraud. When Fatima moved to the U.S. to be with Abe, he was working legally and waiting for a green card, but the green card fell through. By that time Fatima was pregnant with their first child. The two had been married in a mosque, but there was no official record. So when an American friend offered to get Fatima a green card by becoming her legal husband, they went for it. And they got caught: Fatima, for the fake marriage, Abe for paying off the friend.

When it was time to begin court proceedings, the couple had a one-month old baby. The prosecutors offered what Abe thought was a pretty good deal. He says they told him, “the deal is plead guilty, no jail time.” So they did. What they didn’t know was that marriage fraud is a felony and under current immigration law, a conviction means an automatic order of deportation, regardless of the circumstances. “Every lawyer we go to, they say, 'you know it was a big mistake to plead guilty,'” Abe says.

After two years on probation, the two were officially told to leave the U.S. By that time they already had two American children, and they chose to stay. And that’s how, almost a decade later, Abe and Fatima ended up a target of a fugitive operations team.

Last spring, at six in the morning, the agents gather in front of their building. The landlord lets them in, they head upstairs, press the bell on the couple’s apartment and Fatima appears. She's wearing jeans, a white sweatshirt and a tangle of morning hair.

”So, six o’clock in the morning, I’m trying to do my breakfast, I open,” Fatima says. She says she’d been expecting this day for years. “I say good morning, come on in!”

She went immediately to wake Abe up. “I told her, so we’re leaving? She told me, yes, I think we’re leaving,“ Abe says.

That morning, the two were are calm. But, to Abe and Fatima, the idea of going back to Morocco is horrifying. This next layer of their story will give you an idea why. Fatima says she grew up in a lower class, traditional family in Morocco, under the rule of her father and six brothers. She couldn’t choose her own clothes, watch television or listen to music. When she tried to learn guitar, she says her father came in and broke it. “Because I have no right,” she says. “He told me, 'why? You gonna go play in the bars?'”

When she was in her 20s, Fatima moved to France, but she was under her brother’s strict command. She says she dreamed of coming to the U.S. "For me it’s freedom," Fatima says. She believed it's a place where a woman "can have all her rights, she can do whatever she wants.”

Abe was already living in the U.S. at the time. He was separated from his first wife –- a Haitian-American –- and he says he was longing to start a family with someone more like him. So when his cousin in France told him about Fatima, he courted her over the phone.

Fatima says the first time she talked to Abe, he told her he trusted the cousin who’d said good things about her. And Abe remembers telling her, “Listen, I’m not trying to have a girlfriend, or pass time with you. If you are willing to put your hand in my hand and walk together, I would love to get married with you and run a family together.”

Fatima’s recalls thinking, “Wow, that’s the perfect man for me! I’m going to go to America. I’m going to be free and I’m going to raise my kids different than I was raised in Morocco.”

On the pretense of visiting family friends, Fatima made two secret trips to see Abe. And on the second, they got married on the way home from the airport. When Abe told his family, they disapproved of his choice, so he cut off ties with them. And when Fatima called her brother, she says he was very upset. “He threatened me,” she says. She says he told her if he saw her again, he would kill her. Being from Morocco himself, Abe says he knows how it is. “For them it’s like a black spot on the family honor.”

Before immigration agents entered Abe and Fatima’s home, they didn’t know the couple had children. After 10 minutes of explaining to the couple what’s going on, team leader Raul Concha comes out to the stairs to explain to Williams that there are two girls in the apartment, ages 9 and 12.

“We’re going to leave the mother here,” Concha says. “And I’m going to bring the husband with us.” They take Abe downstairs –- away from his family –- before they handcuff him.

"We try to make it as smooth as possible for everyone concerned,” Williams whispers.

As her husband is led out the building’s front door, Fatima follows him to the bend in the stairs, finally losing hold of her calm and letting tears pour down her cheeks. As he leads Abe out into the morning, Concha assures her he’ll be fine.

“It’s a tough job,” Concha says later, “But we enjoy it. It’s our daily routine.”

In the car on the way back to immigration headquarters at 26 Federal Plaza, Williams says there are stories that move him. “I’m human,” he says. “There are situations that are heart-wrenching. Anytime you deal with kids it’s touching. Anytime.”

But when asked whether he thinks it’s unfair, as advocates charge, to deport people who’ve been here 10 or 20 years, paying taxes and raising American children, Williams argues that there are wait-lists across the world for would-be immigrants to come to the U.S. legally.

Fugitive Operations Officer Darren Williams (Photo by Marianne McCune)

"Is it fair to have individuals who are here illegally jump over those folks who’ve been waiting all this time?” Williams says “I don’t think so! What would you tell all those family members out there that are waiting?”

At 26 Federal Plaza, Abe is fingerprinted and photographed, but Williams has discretion over whether or not to detain him. And because Abe is the sole-breadwinner and does not seem likely to runaway Williams sends him home. However, he’ll have to wear an electronic ankle bracelet and report weekly to immigration officials. Fatima has only to report once a month.

Sitting on their couch some weeks later, the two say they’re making a last-ditch effort to re-open their cases, anything to delay being sent home to Morocco.

"I do this mistake. It’s a big mistake,” Fatima admits. “It’s a crime! So I’m paying for it.” But she says she cannot go back to Morocco.

Until now, the couple had never told their children they were here illegally. But the older daughter, Selma, says she figured it out when she heard them say deportation in Arabic. “Because sometimes, to be honest, I eavesdrop on what they’re saying on the phone in Arabic,” she says. When she heard the word "deportation," she says she ran to look it up in the dictionary. “I just kept it to myself until they told us.”

Selma says she hasn’t told a single friend. “I’m 12. I don’t know about this stuff yet,” she says. “I’m not old enough to go through this yet. So it’s a little weird.”

All their lives, Abe says, these girls have been asking about Morocco: "What is our family? Who we have in our family? What is Morocco, how is Morocco?"

Now Selma says, “I don’t think I have any family in Morocco. So we don’t know who we’re going to live with and we don’t know who’s going to take care of us.”

"Where is home? Back home where?” Abe asks repeatedly. “Those girls have a right to a life, a basic life, that they will not have at all back home.”

There are many more layers to this story, but under current immigration law, none are relevant. Abe and Fatima are fugitive aliens. They lost their right to stay in the U.S. when they were convicted of immigration fraud. And as lawmakers debate immigration reform, some are likely to push for more discretion for immigration judges, especially when American children are involved.

As things stand, Abe and Fatima are likely to be deported. And they’ll have to decide whether or not to take their American daughters with them.