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).