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

Saturday, October 9, 2010

9 Moroccan Stowaways Found in Shipping Container in Montreal Are Seeking Refugee Status

This is quite a story. It is just a relief that they survived the journey, Alhamdulilah. Here is the article from the CBC.

Stowaways arrested in Montreal speak out

Last Updated: Friday, October 8, 2010 | 8:05 PM ET
The Canadian Press

The stowaways were found hiding in a ship that docked at the Port of Montreal.The stowaways were found hiding in a ship that docked at the Port of Montreal. (CBC)A group of Moroccan nationals spent seven days hiding inside a cold shipping container, being ferried by a cargo vessel to an unknown destination.

And by the time they emerged from their dark, dank hiding place, they were surprised to learn they were approaching Canada.

Those scant details emerged as testimony at Immigration and Refugee Board hearings Friday, a day after Canadian authorities raided a ship and arrested the men inside.

"I got on a boat, I didn't even know where it was going," one young man explained through an Arab-French interpreter. "I thought the ship was going to Spain or Italy."

Most of the nine people nabbed at the Port of Montreal immediately applied for refugee status; they were all ordered detained while customs officials tried to confirm their identities.

While such hearings before the Immigration and Refugee Board are normally held behind closed doors, a commissioner hearing the cases accepted a request from journalists to report the details on the condition that they not name the claimants.

Seven of stowaways appeared before the board Friday.

Stowaways suffered harrowing ordeal, lawyer says

Among those who testified were two young men who explained that they spent nearly a week hidden in a shipping container aboard the Swiss-owned MSC Lugano.

They had no official papers with them. They said they snuck onto the ship and didn't receive any help from anyone. They insisted they had no idea where they were going.

They said they simply assumed they'd be headed somewhere in Europe when they boarded in Casablanca, Morocco.

Canadian border officials learned, in interviews with the men, that the group had spent about four days hatching their plan before hopping aboard the cargo ship.

The men initially claimed to be of Iraqi descent and gave fake names before later admitting they were from Morocco.

One young stowaway was using asthma medication Friday to offset the effects of the stale air in the container. The only other possessions with him were a cellphone and keys to a motorcycle. He told IRB officials he hadn't slept in seven nights when they first questioned him.

The baby-faced young man confessed that he'd once spent eight months in jail. He said he wanted to leave his country for a better life elsewhere.

"My goal was to work to help my family," he said in his brief remarks Friday.

Montreal lawyer Jamal Fraygui, who represented two of the men, said his clients had been through a harrowing ordeal. He called their initial contact with Canadian authorities a "terrifying welcome" as the men were questioned in the most "inhuman" conditions, on the ship at 3 a.m.

"My client is collaborating with authorities and he's prepared to furnish documents to prove his identity," Fraygui said. "You can see from the evidence presented … that it was not really a structured ring, it was residents of a neighbourhood that decided to take the risk."

Two others who have not claimed refugee status will have detention review hearings on Tuesday in Montreal.

Canada tries to shake reputation as choice landing for stowaways

Refugee hearings could take some time. IRB spokesman Robert Gervais said that, under the refugee-claims process, the men's case might only be heard in several months "or maybe a year from now."

The group's arrest made headlines Thursday. Such cases are generating particular interest as the Harper government promises a legislative crackdown on immigration queue-jumping.

Canada once held a reputation as a leading destination for illegal stowaways but the country doesn't routinely appear on lists anymore from the International Maritime Shipping Organization.

The organization says Italy is now the hot destination for illegal migrants seeking an easy port of entry.

Montreal and Halifax were regular destinations for Romanian migrants in the late 1990s.
© The Canadian Press, 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Nichane, Morocco's Largest Arabic Newsweekly Folds Under State Pressure

To be honest, we are too "conservative" to really mourn the passing of Nichane, the Arabic language newsweekly that was indirectly forced to close by the Moroccan government. But we do mourn the further loss of open public discussions and the continuing polarization of all the "sides."

But free thought is not the sole possession of the secular liberals and as long as "modern" and "progressive" are forced to mean "devoid of any manifestation of Islam that makes me feel judged or uncomfortable," this cat and mouse game will not end. Or how about we try a game of (truly)live and (truly)let live?

Now off of the soapbox and on to the article from the Atlantic about the economic boycott against Nichane.

Morocco's Largest Arabic Newsweekly to Fold Under State Pressure

Oct 1 2010, 2:00 PM
by Max FIsher

The publisher of Nichane, the most widely read Arabic-language newsweekly in Morocco, is set to announce today that the provocative publication will close its doors due to insurmountable pressure from the country's restrictive monarchy. While the Moroccan government does not directly control media, it often pressures critical or counterculture outlets, particularly Nichane, by imposing fines, imprisoning journalists, destroying thousands of print copies, and sometimes sending police to shut down publication altogether. Nichane ultimately succumbed to a years-long advertising boycott led by the Omnium Nord-Africain Group, a massive holding company that dominates much of the Moroccan economy and is run by the royal family.

Ahmed Benchemsi, the award-winning Moroccan journalist who publishes Nichane and has written for Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times, says that advertising companies never tried to keep the boycott a secret. "They tell our advertising agents, 'We had received a direct order not to give you advertisements,'" he said. Because Moroccan businesses must deal frequently with the state-run ONA Group, none were willing to violate the boycott. Without advertising revenue, Benchemsi says he had no choice. "It's a matter of survival."

Benchemsi also publishes TelQuel, the country's most-read French-language newsweekly. Nichane was launched in 2006 as an Arabic version of TelQuel, which has generated international attention since its 2001 launch for its liberal secular ideology and its editorial mix of sex, religion, and political criticism. TelQuel and Nichane earned their wide readerships by provoking conversation in a society with many taboos and by pushing boundaries in a region not known for free speech. The magazines, which flaunt bold covers that could be called lewd even by American standards, confront controversial subject head-on, and spare criticism of no one, will look immediately familiar to anyone who has ever read a New York City tabloid.

Nichane provoked the monarchy's ire with such cover stories as "Sex and Homosexuality in Islamic Culture," "Inside Moroccan Secret Services," and "How Moroccans Joke About Islam, Sex, and the Monarchy." Benchemsi himself was briefly imprisoned in 2007 after publishing an editorial questioning King Mohammed VI's leadership. In December 2009, Moroccan police destroyed 100,000 copies of Nichane in retaliation for printing the first-ever approval poll of King Mohammed VI. Run jointly with Le Monde and professional polling firms, the survey reported 91 percent approval, which Benchemsi swears is legitimate. However, despite even the high approval, state officials announced that the poll was an insult and a crime because the king is above polling.

TelQuel, though also targeted by the advertising boycott, will continue to publish. Because many French-language advertisers are based outside of Morocco, the boycott has had a limited effect on TelQuel, which Benchemsi says remains profitable. I asked him whether Nichane's closing will cause him to reconsider the editorial policies that contributed to the newsweekly's demise. "When you see your colleagues harassed, when you're harassed yourself, when you have to close a newspaper, I have to tell you its painful," he answered. "Before writing anything you have to think about it twice. We are more careful now than we were four years ago." But, he added, "Of course we're still critical, we're still independent."

When asked why the government did not simply shut his doors, Benchemsi replied, "You know, Morocco is not North Korea. They can't just do whatever they want. They have to preserve some kind of facade. Appearances of a free press are preserved." Morocco is widely perceived in the West as one of the Arab world's freest for journalism and speech, and Benchemsi readily concedes there is truth to this. The country has attracted significant foreign investment on this image, including the World Economic Forum (known for its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland), which will convene in Morocco later this month.

As the Moroccan government cracks down on press freedoms, it risks repelling some of the foreign investment capital that has helped to keep it one of North Africa's stablest nations. But this is not only a Moroccan concern. In the Arab world, journalists are increasingly the vanguard of liberal, secular grassroots movements. The U.S. has struggled for years to steer Arab societies away from militant religious conservatism, something that authoritarian regimes have utterly failed to do. Unlike the autocracies that try to oppress conservative movements, which usually only inflames them, liberal grassroots replace them entirely by offering young Arab people a different way to look at the world and their place in it. The U.S. understands this, which is why it has dumped over $500 million into Al-Hurra, a liberal secular Arabic TV station that is watched by virtually no one. Meanwhile, legitimate, influential, and widely read liberal secular outlets like Nichane are closing because they cannot stand up to the state on their own. It's unlikely that anyone at the U.S. State Department will nudge Morocco to ask that the advertising boycott be lifted. That's too bad, because after nearly a decade of sacrificing U.S. lives and resources, it would be a nearly cost-free opportunity for to further our generation-long mission of establishing strong relations in the Arab world.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Deteriorating Situation for Sub-Saharan Migrants in Morocco

Here is a piece from the Doctors without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) website about the work they have been doing to help migrants abused by Moroccan authorities in recent raids.

MSF raises concern over the medical condition of migrants after mass expulsions by the Moroccan police


“Our team has witnessed the direct impact of these mass raids and expulsions on the medical condition and mental health of the migrants,” said Jorge Martin, MSF’s head of mission in Morocco.

Morocco - Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is deeply concerned about the deterioration of the medical and humanitarian situation of sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco after the intensification of raids and mass expulsions carried out recently by Moroccan police forces. Hundreds of migrants, including women and children, were deported to the no-man’s-land at the border between Morocco and Algeria and abandoned there during the night without food and water.

Police operations took place between August 19 and September 10 in cities throughout Morocco including Oujda, Al-Hoceima, Nador, Tangiers, Rabat, Casablanca and Fez. In many of the raids, police forces used bulldozers – and in Nador used helicopters – and destroyed migrants’ tents and houses.

An estimated 600 to 700 migrants were arrested during the raids and taken to the border between Morocco and Algeria. There, migrants were left to fend for themselves, without food or water. Among them were pregnant women, women with children and people with medical problems or with injuries directly or indirectly related to the police raids. They faced the choice of returning to Oujda on foot or trying to cross to the Algerian side of the border. Abandoned there in the middle of the night, they were at risk of being attacked and robbed by the bandits and smugglers who operate in the area. Those who have managed to reach the city of Oujda are completely destitute, without money, shelter or personal belongings.

“Our team has witnessed the direct impact of these mass raids and expulsions on the medical condition and mental health of the migrants,” said Jorge Martin, MSF’s head of mission in Morocco. “We provided medical support to a woman who had given birth to her child just six days before. She was arrested by the police forces and spent five days in a police cell with her newborn child. Then she was taken back to the border. She has managed to come back to Oujda, but is now suffering from acute gastrointestinal syndrome.”

During the past few weeks, MSF teams have seen an alarming increase in patients with medical problems related to incidents of violence. Of the 186 patients who have received medical care from MSF, 103 had lesions and injuries directly or indirectly linked to the violence during the arrests. The harsh living conditions and the lack of proper shelter have also contributed to the increase in medical problems. Almost half of the migrants who sought medical care from MSF teams had medical symptoms linked to the difficult and insanitary conditions in which they are living. Eighteen percent had skin infections, ten percent had respiratory infections and 11 percent had digestive problems.

“This intensification of restrictive measures to control migration in Morocco has a direct impact on the health and the dignity of migrants and refugees,” says Jorge Martin. Mass raids and expulsions to the border increase their vulnerability and put them at greater risk. MSF calls on the Moroccan authorities to adhere to their obligations under national and international law when implementing measures to control migration. The authorities must respect the dignity and integrity of migrants and avoid exposing them to a situation of greater vulnerability and insecurity. As stipulated in Moroccan law, pregnant women, children and other vulnerable groups of migrants must not be expelled to the border.

MSF has been working in Morocco since 2000, carrying out healthcare projects in Tangiers, Casablanca, Rabat and Oujda, providing sub-Saharan migrants with medical and humanitarian assistance and advocating for better access to healthcare and respect for migrants’ human dignity. Currently, MSF is running a project in Oujda providing medical and psychological care to migrants and refugees.