Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Last Pasha (Traitor) of Marrakech

Here is an article from the BBC on T'hami el-Glaoui, a Moroccan who worked with the French against Moroccan independence. It speaks about the state of his former palace and work that is being done to rehab it.


Reviving the last Pasha of Marrakech

The fortunes of the once glamorous Telouet castle may be turning

The castle of the last Pasha of Marrakech in the High Atlas mountains of Morocco is finally getting a face-lift after more than 50 years of neglect, as the BBC's Bojan Kveder discovered.

The Kasbah of Telouet, built not more than 100 years ago, has been crumbling into the reddish dust of the valley since 1956, the year Morocco won independence from France and T'hami el-Glaoui fell from grace with the king.

He is considered a traitor to this day for siding with the French colonisers and helping to topple two sultans.

At the time of his death in 1956, the Lord of the Atlas was the most powerful man in Morocco and one of the wealthiest men in the world.

Now, the remote village of Telouet is only accessible by a side road branching off from the trans-Atlas highway running from Marrakech to Ouarzazate.

Getting there is a feat in itself. Before embarking on the journey from Marrakech, I combed the city for a travel agency organizing trips there, to no avail. Whoever I asked would respond with shrugging shoulders and a look of consternation mixed with embarrassment.

"Why Telouet? Tourists don't go there. You have so many attractive places to choose from," was the standard reaction.

Finally I managed to find a hole-in-the wall agency with two banged-up 4x4's through my hotel, but the bargaining went on for more than a day.

This castle entrance has seen better days
The road from Marrakech snakes through lush green valleys interspersed with brown mud-brick Berber villages that look exactly as they did centuries ago, except for a few satellite dishes on their flat roofs.

But as the altitude changes, the landscape becomes barren and forbidding - green is replaced by a uniform ochre and red. The ascent culminates in the Tizi-n-Tichka mountain pass, the highest in the Atlas at 2,500 metres, where the air is thin and people are nervous.

When you finally rattle to a stop in Telouet after innumerable hairpin bends, enormous potholes, and a mouthful of dust, what strikes you is the eerie stillness of the place, occasionally interrupted by the flapping of a vulture's wings.

The Kasbah still stands proudly, perched on top of hill like a latter-day Dracula's castle, exuding an air of both dilapidated elegance and deathly hopelessness.

Unclaimed skeletons

Gone are the days when the severed heads of foes of the Glaoua clan were displayed on spikes on the ramparts, or when the dungeon was brimming with real or imagined criminals waiting to be ransomed on barely life-sustaining rations.

But an air of faded glory, conspicuous wealth and savage brutality permeates the Kasbah's quarters like the incessant hot breeze blowing through their empty corridors.

Parts of the interior of the castle have already been restored
What I did not expect to find was a group of workmen renovating part of the interior that has miraculously survived the decades of decrepitude and disgrace.

The contrast between the near-rubble of one part of the castle and the elaborately renovated stucco pillars, mosaics, ceiling panels and Moorish doorways was stark. For the time-being only the central reception rooms have been refurbished, but the rest will soon follow.

I asked the guardian of the Kasbah who was footing the bill for the construction work. "T'hami's family", Hamid the guardian replied curtly, without wishing to delve into more detail.

I asked if I could visit the dungeon. "No, it's been filled with bricks and walled up," Hamid replied.

"Why? Too many unclaimed skeletons?"

"The ceiling might cave in," he answered dryly.

Others in the village outside were not willing to discuss the subject either.

"Oh yes, he was the great lord of this place," M'hamed the waiter at a nearby tea tent told me sarcastically. "Great lord of the south. But look at the place now, where's the great lord now? What's left?"

M'hamed, an indigo turban on his head, is dark skinned, like many people living in the little shanty town in the shadow of the Kasbah.

The Kasbah overlooks the village of Telouet
They are descendants of hundreds of el-Glaoui's slaves, who built their humble abodes around the castle after their master's fortunes declined.

I wondered what all this actually meant - is the Pasha of Marrakech being unofficially rehabilitated, more than 50 years since his demise and three kings later, by the grandson of the ruler he betrayed?

Because of T'hami el-Glaoui, French political jargon has become enriched by the verb Glaouise, which stands for "betrayed", and Moroccans know this all too well.

Red light district

Born in 1879 to the caid - or baron - of Telouet and his Ethiopian concubine, el-Glaoui's fortunes rose in 1893 when he and his brother saved the sultan from a blizzard and starvation after he got stuck in the mountains on a tax-gathering expedition.

As a token of appreciation the ruler presented the brothers with a 77-mm Krupp cannon, which was then used to subdue rival warlords in the area.

T'hami sided with the encroaching French at the start of the 20th Century, for which he was rewarded by being given a free hand in "pacifying" the south, as well as a sizable slice of the area's economic pie - the olive and saffron trade, salt and mineral mines.

He is also said to have had a cut in the income of Marrakech's "Quartier Reserve", or red light district.

El-Glaoui was Pasha of Marrakech from 1912, when the French protectorate was established, to 1956.

No Sir

He also had a sprawling palace in Marrakech, the Dar el-Glaoui, where he held lavish banquets and entertained the likes of Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin.

In 1953 he attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Churchill's invitation, hoping to be knighted. He presented the new queen with spectacular gifts, which were refused.

The knighthood never happened.

The once impressive ramparts have fallen into disrepair
That year el-Glaoui turned his attentions closer to home - he conspired with the French to overthrow Sultan Muhammad V and install an alternative less receptive to the growing independence movement.

The move cost him and his family dearly, as the sultan returned in 1955, when the French realized that Morocco was descending into chaos and granted it independence the next year.

The same year el-Glaoui died a broken man, betrayed by the French whose rule he propped up so meticulously.

Because of his opposition to the independence movement and role in overthrowing the reigning monarch, his property was seized by the state and his Kasbah fell into disrepair.

More than half a century later, I was followed around the Kasbah's terracotta paradise by the guardian's son Ahmed and his moth-eaten dog.

"Why did you bring the dog in?" I asked.

"Why not?"

I reminded him of the local saying: "When a dog enters a Moroccan house, the angels fly away."

"No angels here," Ahmed replied. "If ever there were any, they're long gone now".

Monday, June 7, 2010

Saving Moroccan Trees

Here is an article on an effort to save trees in Morocco from the National newspaper out of the UAE.

Saving Moroccan trees for those who need them

John Thorne, Foreign Correspondent

* Last Updated: May 30. 2010 10:52AM UAE / May 30. 2010 6:52AM GMT

IDIKEL FOREST, MOROCCO // It was a damp, drizzly afternoon in the forest of Idikel, in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains, and two men were counting the rings in the stump of a purloined cedar.

“One hundred … 110 … I make it at least 120 years old,” said Mustapha Hafid, a state forestry agent.

Beside him, Mustapha Allaoui, a conservationist campaigner from the nearby village of Tikajouine, sighed with frustration.

A war of sorts is raging in the Idikel forest. On one side are impoverished villagers, mainly from Tikajouine, who illegally harvest valuable cedar wood. On the other are their conservation-minded neighbours, who are struggling to stop the logging they say endangers the village’s future.

“Our lives are linked to the forest,” Mr Allaoui said. “If it disappears, we’ll have to move to the city.”

For decades, rural poor from across Morocco have fled to big cities from villages like Tikajouine, low on prospects and high on unemployment.

There are houses of pounded earth crowding a stream that rushes out of the mountains, a tangle of dirt roads, a mosque, a primary school and not much else.

Below the village are fields of wheat and potatoes. Towering above it are the mountainsides where Tikajouine’s 4,200 inhabitants graze sheep and collect firewood for cooking and heating.

They belong to the Ait Hnini, one of dozens of tribes of Amazigh, or Berbers, who have lived in North Africa since before the start of recorded history.

The Atlas Mountains were often part of the “bled siba”, or land of dissidence, a term for regions periodically outside the control of Morocco’s rulers until France colonised the country from 1912. The area around Tikajouine was not fully subjugated until the 1920s.

By then, Morocco’s forests had been placed under state management. Today, the law reserves 80 per cent of proceeds from state sales of timber for use by local municipalities, Mr Hafid, the forestry agent, said.

However, in recent years farmers from Tikajouine and other villages have begun stealing into the Idikel forest by night, sawing down cedar trees and selling the valuable wood to black market traffickers. In the morning there are only stumps, mule tracks and chips of red-blond wood.

Mr Hafid patrols the forest’s 4,700 hectares with a fellow forestry agent, a dog and a white 4 x 4.

“I can’t arrest people, but I can serve them with fines up to 10,000 Moroccan dirhams [Dh4,000],” he said. “Unfortunately, the courts don’t always follow through, and I can’t be everywhere at once.”

That is why some locals in Tikajouine have stepped into the gap.

“I was born in the forest,” said Said Ait Aziz, a member with Mr Allaoui of the conservationist Idikel Association. “I grew up leading my family’s sheep under the trees.”

For years Mr Ait Aziz has documented the theft of trees and campaigned for their protection. One night in 2008, he narrowly escaped a fire in his house he believes was set by vengeful woodsmen.

Last year, Mr Ait Aziz began working as a part-time night watchman in the forest through a pilot programme financed by the state forestry agency. Funding ended in February, but conservationists say the effort has already made a difference.

“A few years ago, the woodsmen were stealing 20 to 30 trees a day,” Mr Allaoui said. “The situation today is a clear improvement.”

According to Mr Hafid, only 79 trees were felled illegally last year. The Idikel Association has requested state permission to create a woodsmen’s collective to gather deadfall and dying trees for sale, which is legal.

“The municipality has done nothing for the community,” Ali Ouaadi, the group’s president, said. “With a collective, everyone benefits legally from the forest.”

But the proposal has drawn opposition from the municipality president, Said el Kortoubi, one of several officials whose approval is required. “The forest simply isn’t big enough to support a collective. It might work for a year or so, but it doesn’t have a future,” he said.

For many woodsmen, the main issue is money. “I make 10,000 dirhams a month,” said Bou Maksou, 27, a woodsman who asked to be identified only by the part of the forest where he often works. “I can’t earn that from a collective.”

Night was falling on Tikajouine, and Bou Maksou was sitting in a cafe with the chief of his logging crew at a meeting with The National arranged by human rights workers. A naked bulb cast a sickly light on the men.

“I worked as a shepherd in the forest and I saw what was going on there, and I fell into the trap,” said Bou Maksou, who began stealing trees eight years ago. “I don’t want to keep living like this, without a wife, without children, without normal employment.”

The crew chief glanced at his watch and the two men rose. “It’s getting late,” he said. “We need to get to the forest.”

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Seven Moroccans Onboard the Gaza Flotilla

It seems that there were some Moroccans on the Flotilla that was taking humanitarian aid to Gaza and got attacked by Israel.
Here is a short article from the Moroccan state press. Viva Palestine!

Israel's Attack against Humanitarian Fleet
Seven Moroccans to be Evacuated to Jordan

Rabat - Upon high instructions of HM King Mohammed VI, the Foreign Ministry conducted the necessary investigations and the appropriate contacts to identify and assist the Moroccan citizens who participated in the Gaza-bound humanitarian fleet which was attacked by the Israeli army, a statement of the Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

This action has led to the identification of seven Moroccan citizens, among other nationalities. All of them will be evacuated to Amman very shortly, thanks to cooperation between the two kingdoms of Morocco and Jordan, the statement added.