Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Swimming to Europe by Way of Cueta (Sebta), Morocco

Here is an article from Radio Netherlands Africa about people from Sub-Saharan Africa seeking refuge in Cueta/Sebta as a step towards reaching Europe.


Swimming Towards the Future
Published on : 27 December 2011 - 2:51pm | By RNW Africa Desk

The refugee camp in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in Morocco, has been facing severe overcrowding during the last couple of weeks. Again. Africans have found yet another way to get in – by swimming around the border fence. Large numbers of people make the attempt at the same time to reduce the chances of being caught.

By Lex Rietman

Dusk is falling at Ceuta refugee camp. The sun is setting early on this winter day, but there is just enough light to enjoy the view over this fortified Spanish city on Morocco’s northern coast. The town is spread out below us, with the Strait of Gibraltar to the left. On the other side of the water, the last rays of sunshine bathe the rock of Gibraltar in a golden glow. That’s where the prosperity of Europe begins – a corny Hollywood movie couldn’t have done it better.

Crisis or no crisis, Europe still embodies the hopes and dreams of millions of Africans. For the residents of the Temporary Immigrant Housing Centre (CETI) – the official name of this compound on the mountain just outside town – only half the dream has come true. After all, Ceuta is Europe but then again, it isn’t. Across the water, on the Spanish mainland, is where the Schengen area begins. There, you are free to travel, with no internal border controls. But reaching Ceuta is nevertheless a big step towards realizing the dream.

Reinforced border

In recent years, Ceuta has been turned into an almost impregnable fortress. Six years ago, hundreds of Africans managed to force their way into the city from Morocco. The European Union has responded by spending millions of euros on border reinforcement. What is more, for a few years Morocco has been actively cooperating in the fight against illegal immigration. In return, Rabat has negotiated favourable trade conditions with the EU.

All these measures, however, don’t discourage the African refugees. Ibrahim Traore, a 21-year-old Cameroonian, has been in Ceuta for two weeks now. “Around 100 of us jumped into the sea on the Moroccan side – 78 of us made it,” he says. “I was very lucky, because I managed to get here after only three months of waiting in Morocco. On the other side of the border hundreds, maybe thousands of people like me are hiding in the mountains, waiting for a chance. Some have been waiting years.” Anyone unfortunate enough to be caught by the Moroccan police is deported to Mauritania, 3,000 kilometres to the south.

Speed record
“Four months and eleven days.” With astonishing accuracy, 26-year-old Cédric from Chad tells us how long he has been in Ceuta. He must have set some kind of speed record, because he left his village “on 12 March 2011”. Cédric also arrived in the Spanish enclave across the sea, but not by swimming. With six other people, he bought a Zodiac dinghy and they managed to reach the Ceuta coast. When asked whether he is doing alright in the refugee centre, he says: “Yes, I’ve got nothing to complain about, though I do get bored occasionally.”

CETI isn’t a normal refugee centre. The centres on the Spanish mainland are detention centres under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry. The poor facilities and harsh treatment of immigrants regularly prompt sharp criticism by humanitarian organisations.

Sense of dignity

But like Melilla, the other Spanish enclave in Morocco, Ceuta has an open refugee centre. Residents receive an ID card and are free to go wherever they want within the enclave. Director Carlos Bengoetchea stresses the psychological importance of this approach: “It gives them a sense of dignity and of being legally protected,” he says. “Finally they have become a person again, often after years of travelling without documents, at the mercy of corrupt policemen.”

In the centre, refugees can take computer, language and cooking lessons, and it has a small, but much-used gym. The original gym was bigger, but is now being used as a dorm, out of necessity. Today, the centre is home to 700 refugees, 200 more than it was officially built to house.

Even so, there’s a relaxed atmosphere in the compound. “The question is for how long,” says Carlos Bengoetchea. “We’ll have to wait and see what Prime Minister Rajoy’s new right-wing government decides to do with the centre. Judging from his party’s tough stance on immigrants, it doesn’t look good.”

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Moroccan Clementine Production up 6% - Export Season Begins

Here is an article from on the beginning of the citrus export season in Morocco. We already have some in our grocery store here in the US.
Citrus production Morocco increases by 6%

The export season in Morocco has started. The season, which runs from November till the end of June, holds good promise. Sufficient rain fell during the last year (the citrus production is 70% dependent on water from reservoirs and 30% of sub-soil wate and the quantity of the production has increased by 1200 HA new plantings. According to the ministry of Agriculture the citrus production this year increases by 6% compared to the previous season, a quantity of 1,86 million tons.

The production of oranges is estimated at 975,000 tons, which is 52.3% of the total citrus production. It is expected that 496,000 tons of the variety Moroc Late (44%) and 375,000 tons (35.5%) of the Navel will be produced. The small citrus is also important in the total with a quantity of 764,000 tons, of which 509,000 tons are clementines. The new varieties, such as Nour, Nules and Afourer are estimated at 95,000, 84,000 and 43,000 tons respectively. Souss remains the most important region for the production of citrus fruit. This season a total production of 744,000 tons is expected, which is 40% of the country total. The region Souss is followed by El-Gharb with 336,000 tons, Tadla (272,000 tons), Oriental (269,000 tons), Haouz (140,000 tons) and Loukkos (35,000 tons).

According to Aspam the increase in the supply will result in an 8% increase in export. Nevertheless Morocco only exported 110,000 tons (mainly clementines) up to 1 December against 160,000 tons in the same period last year. This delay does not cause anxiety according to Ahmed Derrab, general secretary of Aspam. Also not when the traditional markets as a result of the crisis ascertain a decrease in demand. Various other contacts have strengthened in the meantime, such as those with North America, which now already obtains 12% of the export, just as the contacts with the new markets in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Lithuania. The Moroccan producers look more and more to Asia, especially China, where the citrus is available in the supermarkets in Shanghai.

The general secretary also mentions that on the traditional market itself there is enough to correct "Markets like Great Britain, Germany and the Benelux have been neglected. This is because they are selling areas where Spain causes problems for us and where we could not interfere because of the lack in the growth of production" Ahmed Derrab says. He also points out that there should be more invested in the Russian market, which bought half of the Moroccan export in 2010/2011.

This season the export is expected to be 1.3 million tons, of which 200,000 tons are clementines. The remaining quantity has already been booked by the local market, where the direct consumption by private citizens is very large and profits good because other products such as apples and bananas are very expensive. Nevertheless professionals complain about the taxes levied by the wholesale market without any reason. Also the condition of the logistics is also a reason to complain. To they add there is a bottleneck between the non-structured markets and the increase of the number of agents. "Contrary to what is believed the large distribution in Morocco does not take more than 15,000 tons in total annually" Ahmed says.

Aspam mentions that demand for the current year is present, but that they hope that this will increase, especially the demand for the variety Moroc Late. The big question is what prices will do. The clementine is expected to be somewhere between 0.49 and 0.81/kg and the orange between 0.25 and 0.57/kg. Morocco expects a citrus production of more than 2.9 million tons in 2020.

Publication date: 12/20/2011
Author: Gerard Lindhout

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

More Moroccan Women Proposing to Men for Marriage

Here is an article from Al-Arabiya, on the rising tendency of Moroccan women to express their intentions of marriage directly to Moroccan men.
More Moroccan Women Propose to Men

Tuesday, 20 December 2011
By Khadija al-Fathi
Al Arabiya Casablanca

In conservative societies, it is always expected of men to take the initiative as far as marriage proposals are concerned and girls who decide to reverse the situation are likely to be criticized for breaking a long-standing tradition. The remarkable rise in the number of women proposing to men in Morocco has shed more light on the phenomenon and drove many to analyze the reasons for its prevalence.

“I proposed to my husband,” Naeema al-Mansouri told Al Arabiya.
Mansouri recounted the time she met the woman that later became her mother-in-law and offered to marry her son.

“We were in a wedding and I met her there. Another woman asked her how her son was and she said he found a job and was looking for a wife. I told her that I can make a good wife for her son and that I am good at cooking and household chores.”

The woman, Mansouri added, told her that she likes her and that she has no problem with her marrying her son, but said he has to decide when he gets to see her.

“I met him and he liked me. He said he would marry me provided that we live with his mother who would feel lonely if we lived away from her. I agreed and now she is like a mother to me.”

Hend, a woman in her thirties, first proposed to her future husband jokingly.
“I told him I am willing to bring a bunch of flowers and ask him to marry me,” she told Al Arabiya.

Hend added that he asked her whether she was serious and she told him that “the man who refuses to divorce his wife when she asks for it is not a man and so is the man who refuses to marry a woman when she asks for it.”

“Of course I am a man,” he replied then went to visit her parents with their family.

Hassan al-Haithami, editor-in-chief of the Justice and Development Party’s website, does not mind marrying a woman who proposes to him as long as she has all the traits he needs in a wife.

“There is nothing wrong with a woman asking a man to marry her. These are feelings and you cannot control them and decide who says what. There is nothing insulting for a woman to do that. In fact, I find it very brave,” he told Al Arabiya.

Rukaia Zayed, a housewife and a mother of four, disagreed to this breach of traditions.

“If a woman proposes to my and he agreed, I will disown him forever,” she told Al Arabiya.

Zayed explained that in this case she will discover what a weak personality her son has and how indifferent he is to the social and family norms in which he was brought up.

For sociologist and university professor Abdul Samad al-Dialmi, the rise in the number of women proposing to men is part of a female campaign to promote the principles of gender equality.

“Moroccan women are proving that they will not surrender to spinsterhood and that she has the right to tell a man if she likes him and wants to marry him because they are equal,” he told Al Arabiya.

Dialmi objected to regarding this action on the part of women as too daring and argued that society has to admit that this is one of women’s rights.
Abdul Razek al-Jay, professor of Sunna at Rabat University and member of the Scientific Circle for Islamic Studies, said that men are usually the ones who propose to women because this is what tradition has always dictated, yet there is nothing wrong with it from the religious point of view.

“Prophet Mohamed’s first wife Khadija was the one who proposed to him, yet this has not been part of the Sunnah because it is not socially common,” he told Al Arabiya.

Jay explained that Islam is the religion of equality and that is why it is the woman’s right to propose to a man if she finds in him the traits she seeks.
“The only problem would be if the woman proposes to the man because of how rich or handsome he is and without paying attention to his morals. She will in this case have fallen into the trap of imitating Mexican and Turkish soap operas that have lately invaded the Arab world,” he concluded.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Global,Quality Education for Moroccans in Morocco?

Here is an article from the Chronicle of Higher Eduction on a newish educational initiative, the International University of Rabat. The article came out a few months ago, but it seems more interesting than the recent coverage of events in Morocco.

In Morocco, Visions of a Silicon Valley Campus
By Ursula Lindsey

Rabat, Morocco

Noureddine Mouaddib left Morocco to pursue his university studies in France over 30 years ago. He became a professor of computer science at the University of Nantes and a member of the French national council for higher education and research.

Yet Mr. Mouaddib's thoughts turned often to his native country, where, he says, emigration has remained unavoidable for those who want to pursue higher education. "In the global South, as soon as you graduate from high school, you wonder: Where will I go? Canada, France?" he says. "If you look at world rankings, there isn't a single internationally visible university in Africa, with the exception of South Africa."

Yet even as more and more young people in the region aspire to a good higher education, opportunities such as the ones he enjoyed have shrunk, he says. "Moroccan students and African students from modest backgrounds are no longer able to come to France or Europe to study. ... The door's been closed. With what they ask to get a visa—it's impossible."

It was those realizations that led him, in 2005, to envisage the creation of the first global research university in Morocco.

Mr. Mouaddib undertook a feasibility study and began talking with government officials, colleagues, and members of his country's diaspora about the need to create an internationally oriented, R&D-driven university in Morocco.

This September the International University of Rabat, here in the capital city, is set to welcome its first 200 students.

"Rather than young people traveling toward knowledge"—and finding their path littered with obstacles—Mr. Mouaddib says, "we'll move knowledge toward them."

The university is a public-private partnership. Mohammed VI, the Moroccan king, donated the 20 hectares—about 50 acres—in a new technology park on the outskirts of the city. Classes, which this fall are being held in temporary offices, will move there next year, and the campus should be completed by 2015. The university plans to have 280 faculty members and 5,000 students by 2020.

Two pension funds, one French-run, the other operated by the Moroccan government, are the two main investors, contributing over a third of the university's planned five-year budget of 1.12 billion Moroccan dirhams (about $130-million).
Moroccan Context

The curriculum has been conceived to complement government development plans and with emerging sectors in the Moroccan economy in mind.

The country is in a construction boom. In recent years, Moroccan authorities have begun major infrastructure developments focused on transportation, tourism and affordable housing. The government is also committed to developing local sources of alternative energy; plans are to have about 40 percent of the country's energy be wind- and solar-generated by 2020.

The new university has responded accordingly. "Many students can't find the degrees they want in Morocco," Mr. Mouaddib acknowledges. "We are focusing on disciplines that are new and that respond to national development needs."

In addition to business, political science, and information technology, Rabat will offer programs in renewable energy; railway, naval, automobile, and aerospace engineering (several airplane manufacturers have set up facilities in Morocco recently); and architecture and design.

Fifteen faculty members are in place for this fall, and the university plans to hire 20 more for next year, and to continue increasing the faculty ranks year by year.

The number of university students in Morocco has risen steadily over the past decade, to more than 300,000 today, and is projected to as much as double by 2015. Yet public universities here remain largely focused on humanities and social-science degrees that, critics say, give graduates no marketable skills. Morocco has only nine engineers per 10,000 people (compared with 40 in Jordan and 130 in France). The government has not yet met its goal of devoting 1 percent of gross domestic product to research and development.

Mr. Mouaddib says his standing in the academic community and decades-old network of contacts helped him get his project going quickly.

The university's faculty has been largely drawn from the Moroccan and North African diaspora. It was "something personal I wanted to do," says Mokhtar Ghambou, a professor of literature at Yale University, of his decision to help shape the Moroccan university's core humanities component. "At a certain point you feel nostalgia. You start to wonder, What can I do for my native country? To think about what you can contribute."

Many of the scholarly recruits have helped structure partnerships between Rabat and their own colleges, and have brought corporate research sponsors to the new university. Mr. Ghambou himself hopes to divide his time between Yale and Rabat.
International Orientation

In the new university's name, "the word 'international' is not rhetorical," says Mr. Ghambou. "This is a unique project. People are joining from all over the world."

Marcia C. Inhorn, a professor of anthropology and international affairs and chair of the Council of Middle East Studies at Yale, visited Rabat last year in a delegation led by Mr. Ghambou.

As part of its mission to promote understanding of the contemporary Middle East, she says via e-mail, the council is looking to collaborate with "promising partner institutions" in the Middle East and North Africa. Yale hopes to engage in student and faculty exchanges with the university in Rabat, she adds.

"Moroccan-American relations are being strengthened as well, and [the Council of Middle East Studies] wants to be a part of this hopeful moment," she writes. "Yale is currently in a major process of internationalization/globalization, and the Middle East is near the top of its lists of priority areas."

Most of Rabat's partnerships are with major French universities—not surprising, given Morocco's historic links to France. The goal is to "combine the French and U.S. systems, pick the good things from both," says Mohammed Cherkaoui, a professor of mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, who will lead the Moroccan university's engineering department.

Rabat hopes to offer dual degrees with many of its foreign academic partners. Students will be required to spend two semesters abroad, and instruction is to be in both French and English.

The new university's other defining characteristic is a focus on applied research.

Morocco's ministry of energy will finance a five-million-euro (about $6.5-million) project to increase the efficiency of solar cells, says Mr. Cherkaoui, who adds that the university will make research on renewable energy "part of its identity." Rabat's corporate research partners include the engineering giant Siemens AG, the media company Vivendi, and the aerospace company Thales Group.

Alongside government and corporate-backed research and development, says Mr. Mouaddib, the university will focus on "niche" research.

"We won't produce super-high-tech products," he explains. "We'll work on products that meet the needs of the local, of the African, market. In other words, inexpensive innovations."

The engineering department has already patented three alternative-energy devices. Designed to produce power for domestic use, they are a wind turbine that will function even with very weak breezes; a light panel that shuts off automatically when it detects other sources of light; and a solar-powered water heater.

There is demand for such devices in Morocco and other African countries, where many rural areas remain off the electrical grid, says Mr. Cherkaoui. In fact, Rabat is already negotiating their commercial mass production.
Regional Ambition

The university hopes that at least 20 percent of its student body will come from sub-Saharan Africa. And it wants to offer opportunities to deserving student of limited means. It will give academic scholarships, covering the approximately $7,500 yearly tuition, to a fifth of its students, as well as help them get bank loans to cover living expenses.

Dina El Khawaga, the Ford Foundation's program officer for higher education in the Middle East and North Africa, says the university has the potential to create a "more human and more egalitarian face to the internationalization of education in Africa."

But even South African universities—by far the best in the continent—haven't had an easy time attracting students from other African countries, she notes. Rabat's administrators will have to address a number of questions: "Will they offer remedial classes? Who says Morocco will facilitate visas for students? Will scholarships be available to non-Moroccan students? What kind of institutional partnerships will allow them to reach this 20 percent [target of sub-Saharan African students]? When you are in a Dar el-Salam high school [in Senegal], what will encourage you to get up and go to Morocco?"

"Theres a whole strategy that needs to be put into place," says Ms. El Khawaga, sounding a cautious but still optimistic note."I'm really dreaming that this will be a nice initiative by a non-oil country to make a research hub in the next decade. But we have to be patient. Our expectations have to be low."

Mr. Mouaddib's vision is nothing if not ambitious. He envisages his new university as a catalyst for national and regional development and innovation, the center of a North African Silicon Valley. "Morocco can be a regional leader." he says, "given its potential, its position, its stability."

Monday, November 28, 2011

Moroccan Elections are not the "model" for Arab Spring as the West Claims

Here is an opinion piece from the CSM offering some insight on Morocco's elections.
Morocco elections aren't a model for the Arab Spring as West claims

Contrary to the West's view, Morocco's parliamentary elections this weekend didn't signal a bold step toward democracy. They showed just how far the country has to go to achieve real reforms – and how much more power the king must give up.

By Ellen Lust / November 28, 2011

Rabat, Morocco

As the world turned its attention to the massive and sustained demonstrations in Egypt last week, much smaller but nevertheless significant protests took place in Morocco leading up to Friday’s parliamentary elections. As the country prepared for the first elections since King Mohammed VI implemented reforms last summer to give that body more power, thousands of Moroccans took to the streets in Casablanca, Rabat, and Tangier, calling for regime change.

The demonstrations highlight the wide gap between the West’s vision of Morocco as a leading example of how to transition into democracy, and the average Moroccan’s view of a regime reluctant to release power.

The West has been veritably giddy about King Mohammed VI’s “progressive” democratic reforms – implemented to head off Arab Spring turmoil and appease protesters. American Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton heralded the constitutional reforms that paved the way for this Friday’s elections as an “important step toward democratic reform” by a “longstanding friend, partner, and ally of the United States.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy, too, commended the king for embarking on a “path to democracy."

Yet viewed from within, the constitutional reforms passed in July look very different. Under the new constitution, the king loses his “sacred status” and appoints a prime minister from the majority party in parliament. But the king has not loosened his grip on ultimate power, maintaining control over the religious establishment, the military, and all security matters. He can also implement “emergency law” and maintains veto power over all minister appointments. All laws must still be confirmed by the king.

Independent voices from the opposition were not involved in the reform process this summer. The ultimate demands of the February 20 Movement for Change movement were not met. Rather, the king relied on the political parties that have historically supported his monarchy to pass the initial reform.

Indeed, the 98.5 percent approval rate in the July 1 constitutional referendum highlighted how little had changed. If anything, the extraordinary rate reflected the authoritarian rule of the king’s father, Hassan II, more than the democratic reform of the “progressive” king.

Still, Friday’s elections showed signs of progress. Voter turnout was up from 37 percent in the last elections to 45 percent. And the moderate Islamist PJD (Justice and Development Party) – the former opposition party – earned unprecedented success, coming out on top with 107 of the parliament’s 395 seats. These developments suggest real reform may be possible. But there is a long way to go.

Parties played old political games. A pre-electoral alliance of eight ideologically diverse parties, from Islamists to conservatives, is better understood as a vehicle for political ambition than of ideologically driven, vibrant political parties. The counter-alliance prompted many to see the parties as dividing spoils before elections, with little regard for the voters. They were engaged primarily in a quest to be close to the center of power, not a struggle for change.

Citizens were largely disengaged. When the campaign season opened Nov. 12 there was little sign of the upcoming polls. Earlier this month, as I walked Rabat’s brightly decorated streets, crowded with people celebrating the end of Eid, only headlines unveiling party platforms and political intrigues hinted at impending elections.

Campaigns did gather some momentum as the election approached, but not because people believed they would change Morocco’s political future. Rather, many hoped to take advantage of the electoral season to draw candidates’ attention (and resources) to local problems. Others hoped to benefit more directly – and often financially – from mobilizing the “electoral market.”

Few believe the new parliament will solve the many problems plaguing nearly 35 million Moroccans, where 1 in 3 young, urban males are unemployed and poverty is widespread.

A large part of the struggle over Morocco’s democratic future is not taking place within the elections, but outside them. A broad-ranging opposition coalition, from small leftist parties to the Feb. 20 movement, which arose at the beginning of regional Arab uprisings, and the popular, outlawed Islamist Al Adl Wa Al Ihssane group, called for a boycott. They hoped to use elections to call for real change.

And although voter turnout remained strong, their movement had an effect.

Campaign pamphlets and speeches frontlined calls for dignity, social justice, and fighting corruption, all brought to the fore in last spring’s demonstrations. Demonstrators, while small in number, made surprisingly strident calls for a change in regime, often drawing greater attention than the election rallies.

Perhaps most important, the parties reminded observers that the changes that followed last spring appeared more dramatic to the King’s Western allies than they did to most Moroccans.

Morocco’s problems remain unsolved, fueling widespread discontent and continued demand for reform. In the new Arab world, sluggish, half-hearted reforms of the last two decades no longer appease the people, in Morocco or elsewhere. Friday’s elections, and a parliament led by the moderate Islamist PJD party, may be a step forward in democratic reform. But, to make this hope a reality, the king still needs to take significant steps toward relinquishing power.

Ellen Lust is an associate professor of political science at Yale University specializing in Middle East politics.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

هل ستضعف الانتخابات في المغرب الاحتجاجات الشعبية؟ Will Moroccan Elections Subdue Popular Protests?

Here is an article from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website about the upcoming elections. The article is also available in Arabic.
There is also an recent call by Human Rights Watch asking Moroccan authorities to stop harassing people calling for boycott of the elections. That can be accessed here.

Will Morocco’s Elections Subdue Popular Protests?

November 22, 2011 Maati Monjib

Morocco’s legislative elections on Friday will be met with an apathetic electorate—signaled by the reduced number of registered voters: despite population growth and a change in the voting age from 21 to 18, the number of registered voters has dropped by over two million to 13 million since 2003. The constitutional amendments announced in June do not alter the balance of power between parliament and the king, nor do they reform the electoral law that limits the ability of large national parties to win a majority of seats. For once, however, the identity of the party that will emerge victorious from the elections has become of interest to the public , as the outcome of the elections will influence the future of the popular movements pushing for change outside the institutional context.

Morocco’s February 20 popular demonstrations created a new political reality by bringing together hundreds of thousands of citizens: for the first time since the ascension of Mohammed VI to the throne, the country situated itself with the two principals face to face with one another: the street and the palace. Organized by a Facebook-based network of Moroccan youth that formed after the fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia, this pro-democracy movement demanded an end to corruption and autocracy, the dissolution of the government’s “elected” institutions, fair elections unsupervised by the Interior Ministry, and the establishment of a parliamentary monarchy in which the king reigns, but does not rule. Demonstrators did not criticize the king himself except in isolated cases—a decision intended to guard against violent police reactions and keep from alienating supporters of a constitutional monarchy. Instead, the king’s closest counselors, like Fouad El Himma (his most influential advisor) and Mounir Majidi (who is called “the Rami Makhlouf” of Morocco) were the primary targets of the street’s anger.
In his first response to the protests on March 9, the king promised demonstrators far-reaching constitutional reform that gave executive powers to the prime minister, who would be officially given the title “the head of government”; judicial reform and greater public freedoms were also pledged. The February 20th Movement has since perceived these assurances as an attempt to stall for time, claiming they still fall short of the street’s demands.

The new constitution—which was carefully drafted at every stage by the king and his closest aides—is vaguer than the previous one, especially regarding the distribution of power between the king and the government. If interpreted in isolation, some articles give the impression that Morocco is on the verge of becoming a genuinely constitutional monarchy in which the executive branch rules and parliament legislates. This possible interpretation makes the November 25 elections politically significant: the constitution requires that the king choose a member of the winning party as “head of government”—consequently, who the victorious party will be is now of greater interest than in previous elections.

With that, however, so as to ensure a preferable outcome the palace has pushed the loyalist “administrative parties” (those established or sponsored by the Interior Ministry—e.g., the Authenticity and Modernity party, known as PAM; the RNI, a liberal party; and the Popular Movement) to form an electoral alliance with smaller organizations: a confederation called “G-8,” after the global economic organization. Among other things, this royalist alliance aims to outmaneuver the Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD), as it rides the coattails of Ennahda’s victory in Tunisia. And although the PJD is more conservative than Ennahda (and thus, less likely to secure secularist votes), it aims to garner around 70 of parliament’s 395 seats—emerging from the elections as the majority party.

But the regime has not shown any sign that the elections, which are framed by the new constitution, will truly be different from those prior. The outlined electoral system does not introduce any fundamental changes to the 2002 law and consequently still relies on districting that undermines national political parties in favor of local powerbrokers, who have no qualms about buying votes en masse. They also enjoy the protection of the state and palace because their demands are specifically local or sectoral, rather than political, in nature. Furthermore, the Interior Ministry is still in charge of organizing these elections, despite its atrocious track record of tampering with results. It was even allowed to set the conditions guiding electoral advertising in official media outlets—a task that should have been given to the High Authority for Audio-Visual Communication (HACA), which has the experience and resources to undertake this role and had been declared an “autonomous institution” under the new constitution. Rather the Interior Ministry took the opportunity to ban any calls for boycott of the elections even though several political parties—such as the United Socialist party (PSU) and the Democratic Socialist Vanguard Party (PADS) as well as many supporters of the February 20th Movement—will boycott the election.

Further, local observers have drawn attention to the fact that a number of candidates who the security agencies consider to be regime opponents have been banned from the race; Judge Jaafar Hassoun, former head of the Marrakesh administrative tribunal, is the most prominent example. Local authorities rejected Hassoun’s nomination on the PJD slate in his hometown on the basis that he had been fired from the judiciary less than a year earlier. However, in the summer 2010, Hassoun was also prevented from running in a judicial election on the grounds that he had been removed from his position. The justifications are, of course, contradictory, and the real reason behind the ban is that Hassoun has demonstrated a rare independent streak that has led the Ministry of Justice to swiftly remove him from his post on unsubstantiated corruption charges and without compensation.

Because of these limitations, the largest groups within the February 20th Movement announced they will boycott the elections. They organized nationwide demonstrations on Sunday and demanded an “end to corruption and autocracy,” reasserting that the official reforms announced do not in any way change the nature of the “absolute monarchy.” They emphasized that the proposals were intended to buy time and undermine the momentum of the pro-democracy youth movement, and there is already some discussion on how to prepare for a “million-man march” on the first anniversary of the protest: February 20, 2012.

As Sunday’s events demonstrate, street politics are likely to continue, and these groups are still able to organize protests in a number of different cities. But the outcome of the elections will affect the movement’s spread. The worst case scenario would be for the PJD to come out as victorious, with one of its leaders named head of the government, as such an outcome would restore credibility to the king’s reforms and the PJD would be unable to push for any core reforms once within the system. A PJD-led government would also have sway with the street, which could curb the popular momentum that the youth movement still enjoys. It is the only party which has stated that it will actually rule if it wins the voters’ trust, and that it will not simply follow the orders given by the king’s advisors or influential security officials. This relatively hard line on the monarchy’s control over decision-making is what pushed some secular activists and supporters of the February 20th Movement, such as the well-known businessman Karim Tazi, to announce they will vote for the PJD.

In contrast, the triumph of the G-8 coalition and the appointment of one of its leaders as prime minister would be the best opportunity the regime could give to those demanding further reform: it would demonstrate more clearly the limits of the proposed constitution—and remobilize the Moroccan street.

Maati Monjib is a political analyst and historian at University of Mohammed V-Rabat. He is the editor of Islamists versus Secularists in Morocco: Amsterdam, IKV, 2009.

This article was translated from Arabic.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thousands in Rabat Call for Boycott of Upcoming Elections

Here is an short piece from the AP on the continued calls for election boycotts in Morocco.

Thousands call for Morocco election boycott

(AP) – 46 minutes ago

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Thousands of Moroccans from the pro-democracy movement braved pouring rain and high winds in the capital to make a final call to boycott upcoming elections.

At least 3,000 people marched through downtown Rabat on Sunday, chanting slogans against the elections. It was the largest of these weekly demonstrations by activists in months.

Early elections are being held Friday in the North African kingdom as part of government reform efforts responding to pro-democracy demonstrations earlier this year.

Protesters, however, maintain that the political system is corrupt and elections are pointless when the king and his court hold the real power. Past parliamentary elections in Morocco were marred by low turnouts.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Boarding School in Ain Leuh Provides Education to Girls in Rural Morocco

Here is the article from the AFP about a school in the mountains near Ifrane providing educational opportunities to needy girls from rural areas.

Mountain boarding school gives hope to Moroccan girls

By Omar Brouksy (AFP) – 21 hours ago

AIN LEUH, Morocco — In the heart of the snowbound Atlas mountains in central Morocco, a boarding school takes in young girls from isolated villages in a bid to fight poverty and illiteracy.

There are more than 300 such schools in Morocco, with another 30 planned for construction next year. They are now both home and class to almost 16,700 girls, who are often living far from their families. More than 70 percent of them come from a rural background, according to official figures.

"The criteria for admission to the dormitory? They are simple and clear: poverty and remoteness. A committee studies requests and the girls are swiftly selected on the basis of these two criteria," said Souad Arkani, the headmistress of the establishment in the village of Ain Leuh.

The dormitory has taken in 35 young women, just a little way from the school they attend each day.

Despite landmark changes in the family code known as Mudawana, pushed through by King Mohammed VI in 2004 against tough opposition from religious conservatives, many women are still second-class citizens in the north African country. In conservative rural zones, only one out of every two girls finishes middle school and only two out of every 10 goes to high school.

The king promoted the boarding schools -- for both boys and girls -- soon after he took power, in 1999.

"My parents live a few dozen kilometres from here. But thanks to this home, I'm doing my studies in good conditions because I'm looked after and the school is just nearby," Khadija, 19, told AFP.

"They are taken in hand, with a precise programme from morning to evening: breakfast, going to the nearby school, lunch at 12:30 pm, studies and, finally, lights out at 10:00 pm," Arkani said.

The boarding school is financed and jointly run by the ministry of social development and a local non-governmental organisation, the Islamic Association of Charity (AIB).

Ain Leuh is located in the province of Ifrane, 300 kilometres (185 miles) east of the capital Rabat, at the heart of mountains covered with cedar trees where it often snows in winter.

"From November, it begins to get very cold because the region is mountainous. The girls stay in the home all week, but they can spend the weekend with their relatives or close family," Arkani said.

To see her parents, Khadija must first take a "big taxi" (a collective taxi) for several dozen kilometres. Then she needs to walk down a track for at least an hour to get home.

When he encouraged these boarding schools, the king stated that he wanted to make up for the lack of infrastructure in rural regions, but according to some of the staff at Ain Leuh, inaugurated by Mohammed VI in 2003, the means are limited and help from any quarter is welcome.

"Local communities, the ministry (of social development) and our association participate in the finance, but we have to struggle to balance our budget," said Mohamed Bouyamlal, vice-president of the AIB.

"We have to make choices which are sometimes difficult and choose the strict minimum, which is to say food," he added.

The headmistress only earns 1,200 dirhams a month (106 euros / 148 dollars), which is less than the national minimum wage of about 125 euros.

But in spite of the difficulties, the results are promising. The schools say their success rate in graduating girls runs between 80 and 100 percent, and more than half the boarders end up following university studies.

Overall, the rate of illiteracy among rural women has dropped from 64 percent in 2006 to 40 percent in 2011, according to official figures.

And the rate at which girls drop out of school in rural areas has fallen from 14 percent in 2006 to 10 percent in 2010, thanks to this programme. School is by law compulsory in Morocco until the age of 15.

Apart from the studies, Ain Leuh offers otherwise isolated girls a new social network, to exchange views and open their minds.

"When I arrived from my distant home in the country, I was very shy," said Souad, one of the students. "The home has broadened my horizons and I have realised I can be autonomous and independent."

"I have ambitions and I see my future differently," she added proudly. "I want to be a mathematics teacher."

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Morocco Needs a New Social Contract to Promote Stability

Here is an article from The Nation on the need for a social contract in Morocco that addresses problems in a way that can support sustainable social peace.

Morocco needs a new social contract to promote stability

Lahcen Achy
Nov 3, 2011

The social package implemented by the Moroccan government in the first few months of the year has cast a shadow over the preparation of next year's budget. The budget deficit is expected to be around 6 per cent of GDP by the end of the current fiscal year, a level unprecedented in the last decade.

The Moroccan government - in an attempt to preserve social peace and avoid any escalation in the protest movement sparked by the Arab Spring - increased civil servants' wages by about $70 (Dh260) a month, announced plans to hire more than 4,000 unemployed college graduates and doubled subsidies to preserve the price stability of fuel and basic consumer goods whose prices have risen considerably on the world market.

The worsening of the budget deficit in Morocco comes at a time of scarce liquidity in local banks and public dissatisfaction with the privatisation process, which has played a key role in the country's economy over the last few years by allowing the sale of public assets to keep pace with high public spending. The high interest rates on loans in international financial markets, due to the sovereign debt crisis and the repercussions of the Arab Spring, have seriously reduced the government's margin for manoeuvre.

The postponement of the budget law's approval ahead of critical legislative elections scheduled for the end of November reveals Morocco's vulnerability to structural imbalances. The country needs frank and transparent dialogue among the various stakeholders to come up with a social contract that ensures stability and balances current social demands and future economic growth goals. This requires an ambitious, yet realistic development strategy whose implementation may take years.

Policymakers need to focus on three structural distortions. First, Morocco suffers from a large trade deficit: it imports almost twice as much as it exports. This situation reflects the inability of Moroccan producers to compete globally and the inefficiency of economic policies that have failed to develop the local industrial sector and bolster its potential to compete in foreign markets. Morocco has grown accustomed to covering its increasing trade deficit with income from the tourism industry and remittances from emigrants, but these will both pose a challenge for the Moroccan economy over the coming years.

Despite their high resilience during the past decade, the long-term sustainability of remittances should not be taken for granted. New waves of emigrants are critical to support the continued growth of remittances. But policy barriers to Moroccans' traditional destinations have been increasing. The inability, so far, of the European Union's member states to develop a common migration policy has seriously impeded legal migration flows to Europe.

The ageing of former emigrants and the migration of entire families tend to cause a decline in remittances. New generations, born abroad, continue to remit, but less so than their parents' generation. Most of them have acquired the citizenship of their host countries and have different consumption and remitting habits.

More educated emigrants also tend to remit less and instead use their savings to invest in real estate in their country of residence.

And in the current climate, Europe's slow economic growth, high unemployment and austerity measures to reduce public deficits are likely to affect remittances negatively.

Morocco faces a second structural distortion because it will not be able to build a strong and competitive economy without a skilled and well-trained labour force. The government needs to allocate more human and financial resources to its adult literacy strategy to increase its efficiency and extend its coverage. Policymakers need to remove barriers to participation in literacy programmes and adapt their content and time schedules to fit the needs and desires of recipients.

The third structural weakness is that despite Morocco's efforts over the past decade, poverty rates have remained persistently high, particularly in rural zones, and inequality has been on an upwards trend. The poorest 10 per cent of the population accounts for 2.7 per cent of total consumption. At the other extreme, the richest 10 per cent makes up one-third of total consumption.

Consumption and income inequality are only part of the story, as inequality of ownership is even worse. Data on the distribution of agricultural land indicate that 5 per cent of farmers own one-third of all land.

Policymakers need to reinforce public redistribution policies to reduce inequality among individuals and territories. They should fight tax evasion, implement a more progressive taxation system and increase taxes on property and wealth. They also need to cancel full tax exemptions that benefit the entire agricultural sector, regardless of the size of a particular business and the income it generates. This exemption, which has been in force since the mid-1980s, is socially unfair and economically inefficient.

The next government, which will enjoy greater powers under the new constitution, should establish its priorities to ensure a balance between immediate popular demands and the requirements for economic growth based on human capital and the stimulation of investment, and to establish an equitable tax system to ensure a sustainable social peace.

Lahcen Achy is a senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Thousands Protest in Morocco Calling for Election Boycotts

Here is an article from Reuters with information on the protests that took place today in Rabat and other places in Morocco.
Moroccans protest polls, violence in the capital
Sun Oct 23, 2011 10:38pm GMT

* Thousands call for boycott of Nov 25 polls

* Police beat, kick protesters in in Rabat

* King Mohammed promised fair and transparent polls

By Souhail Karam

RABAT, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Thousands of Moroccans demonstrated in cities across the country on Sunday, calling for a boycott of early parliamentary polls next month whose outcome will be key to the future of reforms crafted by the royal palace.

The protests are the latest in a series of regular peaceful demonstrations by the youth-led opposition February 20 Movement, inspired by uprisings that ousted leaders in Tunisia and Egypt to demand a parliamentary monarchy and punishment for officials accused of graft.

In the capital Rabat, a Reuters reporter saw dozens of riot police with truncheons beating and kicking protesters who had gathered in front of the parliament building at the end of a march by around 3,000 people.

A local elected official in the country's biggest city, Casablanca, said about 8,000 people took part in a similar protest there. Several thousand took part in protests in other cities including Fes and Tangier.

"These nationwide protests were held around the common theme of calling for a boycott of November 25 parliamentary polls," said Omar Radi, an activist from February 20 Movement's local committee in Rabat.

"It is obvious that the polls will bring to power the same figures who have for years been plundering the wealth of the country and holding hostage the future of the Moroccan population," he added.

King Mohammed has promised in recent speeches that the elections will be fair and transparent. The main opposition Justice and Development Party (PJD) has decried laws recently passed for the polls as doing too little to prevent vote-buying.

Under reforms approved in a July referendum, King Mohammed will hand over some powers to elected officials but will retain a decisive say over strategic decisions. The new government will draft laws enshrining a new constitution.

In March the 48-year-old monarch, reacting swiftly to protests inspired by the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, promised to reduce his powers through changes in the constitution. The parliamentary poll was brought forward from September 2012.

But protesters in Rabat, joined for the first time this week by hundreds of jobless graduates, chanted "The elections are a charade, you will not fool us this time."

"Money and power must be separated," read a placard carried by the protesters, while many brandished pictures of the body of Muammar Gaddafi, the slain deposed leader of Libya, with the caption: "This is what happens to despots."

The charter drawn up by the king won near-unanimous support in a July referendum that critics said was itself far too hasty to allow proper debate.

Parliamentary elections have been held in Morocco for almost 50 years in what was widely perceived as window-dressing for the kingdom's Western allies. The king and a secretive court elite named the government and set key policies.

Their grip on power was helped by high illiteracy rates, an ingrained deference to a dynasty that claims descent from the Prophet Mohammad, and control over the media.

The interior ministry has used a mixture of repression and divide-and-rule tactics to tame political dissent. This has led many Moroccans to lose interest in politics: turnout at the last parliamentary polls was officially 37 percent. (Editing by Tim Pearce)

© Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved

Friday, October 21, 2011

Morocco's Rejection of Irish Pototoes

Everything has gone global, even our potatoes. Here is an article from the BBC on the rejection of a shipment of Irish potatoes by Moroccan authorities and the problems it caused for farmers in Northern Ireland.
18 October 2011 Last updated at 13:53 ET

Committee grilled on 'embarrassing' potato rejection

The Department of Agriculture has been answering questions as to why a shipment of Northern Ireland potatoes was rejected by Morocco.

It is estimated the refusal to admit the seed potatoes could have cost local farmers over £500,000.

The 1,200 tonne shipment from Warrenpoint in January 2010 was rejected because of skin blemishes.

The chairman of the agriculture committee called the entire episode "embarrassing".

The committee discussed the matter at the assembly on Tuesday.

With annual shipments of up to 7,000 tonnes, Morocco is a valuable market for Northern Ireland seed potatoes.

Department of Agriculture officials inspected the potatoes before they left Northern Ireland, but the Moroccan authorities said too many of the potatoes had a skin blemish called silver scurf.

But spokesman Alan McCartney said the Department of Agriculture inspectors did their job properly by declaring the cargo fit for export.

"Our senior inspector, who was in Morocco the following week, inspected the consignment of potatoes and found them all largely to be within tolerance and that was despite the time lag there had been from the last inspection over in Warrenpoint dock," he said.

But the chairman of the agriculture committee, Paul Frew, said it had caused considerable damage to Northern Ireland's reputation.

"We cannot even put a figure on the damage it has done with regards to relationships, with regards to our credibility throughout the world," he said.

"At a time when the agriculture minister is trying to promote agri-foods , trying to push exports in this country, we have this embarrassment hanging over our heads."

The Department of Agriculture has rejected the committee's calls for the farmers to be compensated. It said there is no scheme for doing so.

The committee will now take the issue up with the Agriculture Minister, Michelle O'Neill.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Moroccan Cab Driver In the U.S. is a Dispenser of Wisdom

Here is an article from the San Francisco Chronicle about Si Sulayman Cherif, a Maghrebi who drives a cab in the Bay Area. Its quite humorous.

Cab driver has learned volumes about human nature

Edward Guthmann, Special to The Chronicle
Monday, October 10, 2011

Sulaymaan Cherif looks at the guest book he keeps in his cab. Cherif says he enjoys dispensing advice. "There is no difference between me and Dr. Phil," he says.
View Larger Image

Cab driving is his trade, but the way Sulaymaan Cherif approaches his work, he's also a life coach and dispenser of wisdom.

Cherif, 43, emigrated from Morocco in 1996. Divorced, he lives alone in a Richmond District apartment where he served Moroccan mint tea and bread while discussing his job and his life.

I recommend everybody to drive a cab because it's very fun job. You have so many experience. You learn from people, and what you learn from people you teach other people. It's like a circle.

I have a guest book in my cab. When I have a good conversation with somebody, and they're nice and say they like me, they start writing in my book.

You advise people, people advise you. Somebody gets in your cab, they cry. Having a problem with their parents, their boyfriend, their husband. You have a communication. You are like in the doctor office.

A woman ask me, "What can I do? I am spending 10 years with my boyfriend. And right now he want to leave me because he doesn't like to get married with me." I tell her, "If he doesn't like to get married today, I don't think he's going to marry you five years after."

I tell her, "There is no difference between me and Dr. Phil. Only difference, Dr. Phil has a studio and camera."

I'm from Casablanca. It's my city, where I born. I have three older brothers and two sisters. I am the baby of the family. My dad got married when he was very old. He died at 105, in 1984. He lived through six kings in Morocco.

I moved to United States in 1996 and lived two years in Fresno. I moved to San Francisco in 1998. To be cabdriver, you took a class for one week and they give you a certificate. You learn, like, the names of the hotels, the locations of the hotels. Museums, hospitals, cross streets.

When you get a certificate, back then, you take a written test at Hall of Justice to get a license to drive a taxi in San Francisco. When you pass that test, you are recognized from the city as a cabdriver.

In the beginning, driving a cab was hard. The good part is, most San Francisco people are very helpful. They tell you which way to go, shortcuts. They don't scream on you. They say, "It's OK, you will learn." Back then, there is no GPS.

I work for Luxor Cab. I share a cab with my friend; we have a lease. We trade shifts and when you finish your shift, you have to put the gas. You return your waybill to the company, and if there's any problem with a customer, you have to report it.

Once I pick up a guy with his girlfriend and he's drunk. His girlfriend is telling him how he treating his mom kind of badly. "Your mom, she's nice to you." I take them to Leavenworth and Filbert.

One week later I pick him up. He get in my cab alone; now he is not drunk. I say, "Leavenworth and Filbert?" "How do you know?" I tell him, "You have an Asian girlfriend?" He say, "What! You know everything about me?"

I tell him, "Last week you were drunk and I pick you up from 16th and Valencia. You have a very nice girl. You have to take care of her. And more than that, you have to be more nice to your mom!"

The fare was $12, and he gave me $20. He say, "You give me a good advice. Thank you very much."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Imams in Morocco Protest Government Controls Over Their Preaching

Here is an article from the Washington Post on a recent protest by imams in Morocco to have the freedom from government control over their sermons (khutab). It seems as if changes in Morocco continue to unfold. Slow and steady wins the race.
Moroccans mosque imams protest tight government controls on preaching

By Associated Press, Updated: Monday, October 10, 8:50 AM

RABAT, Morocco — Dozens of preachers from mosques across Morocco protested Monday in the capital over tight controls on their preaching, the first time such a demonstration has been allowed to go forward.

The small protest was significant because Morocco keeps a very close watch on the nation’s mosques to guard against extremist thought like that of al-Qaida.

Imams are given prepared sermons to read during weekly Friday prayers and are not permitted to deviate from the text.

Police attempted to disperse the protest in front of the parliament, tussling with the imams and briefly detaining three of them. The protest of around 50 imams dressed in traditional long robes and skull caps was eventually allowed to proceed away from the parliament on Rabat’s main boulevard.

“The imams of the mosques demand freedom, dignity, justice and their full rights,” said one of the banners held by the protesters.

Protests by imams are unprecedented in this North African kingdom, where King Mohammed VI is the final arbiter on all matters of religion in the country.

Imams attempted to protest in June and were quickly attacked and dispersed by police, shocking many in this country of 32 million.

“We want liberty and dignity,” said Ait Lashgar Hussein, a preacher for the last 28 years in the city of Marrakech. “I am just demanding my rights.”

Many of the imams say they have been threatened and intimidated by police since the June attempted demonstration.

The imams said their demands included higher salaries, permission to give their own sermons and to be consulted on matters of religion and law.

The king’s preeminent role in religious affairs is enshrined in the new constitution and is seen as a bulwark against the extremist thought found elsewhere in North Africa.

The protesters also carried a Moroccan flag and pictures of the king to show their support. They blamed the minister of religious affairs for their dissatisfaction.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Eating Morocco: Wolfert and Lahlou Offer Two Directions for Moroccan Cuisine

Here is an article from the NYTimes on two well-known cooks of Moroccan food and their differing approaches; one could be termed "classic," and the other "new-age." la baas bi him, as long as it tastes like Morocco, right? There are some recipes on the NYT page if you're interested

Two Directions for Moroccan Cuisine

Published: October 4, 2011

MOURAD LAHLOU and Paula Wolfert would not seem to have much in common. He is the 43-year-old chef of Aziza in San Francisco, his arms decorated with tattoos that signify “strength” in Arabic, a son of Casablanca, Morocco, who works wonders with spices and preserved lemons, sous-vide and meat glue.

She is a 73-year-old daughter of Brooklyn, an industrious ex-hippie and renowned culinary anthropologist in Sonoma, Calif., whose favorite kitchen tool is an unglazed clay pot.

But for more than 40 years, both have been immersed in the flavors, aromas and techniques of the Moroccan kitchen. And now each has written an authoritative, enticing cookbook — from diametrically opposed perspectives.

Ms. Wolfert, the outsider, is the stickler for authenticity and tradition.

“He has made this incredible jump,” Ms. Wolfert said of the food at Aziza. “But his food is not the Moroccan cooking I know. He took steps that only he could take.”

Mr. Lahlou, the native son, is the activist for change and modernity. “We started from the same point in time in Morocco, but she looks backward, and I look forward,” he said.

As much as he respects Ms. Wolfert’s work, Mr. Lahlou said that her depiction of Morocco may have kept Americans — and even Moroccans themselves — from tasting its true potential.

Ms. Wolfert’s new book, “The Food of Morocco” (Ecco), is a magisterial rework of the book that put her on the map in 1973, “Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco.” After its publication, she lived in Morocco for several more years, then moved on to study other Mediterranean cuisines.

“I didn’t think there was any ‘Son of Couscous’ to be done,” she said.

Mr. Lahlou’s book, “Mourad: New Moroccan” (Artisan), is a more personal, idiosyncratic work that flows mostly from two small rooms: his family’s kitchen in Marrakesh and his own in San Francisco. It perfectly illustrates his mission: to use the tools of the modern chef to rethink Moroccan food from the ground up.

“Why are we still cooking the vegetables so much? Why does the meat have to be so dry?” he asked, referring to the traditional slow-cooking methods that make the most of less-than-sparkling ingredients. “Why can’t we enjoy the flavor of the meat and use less spices? Everything starts to taste the same.”

The native food culture of Morocco was that of the Berbers who lived there, on the northwest edge of the Sahara; later, successive bastings in Arab, Persian, Spanish, Turkish and French influence made the cuisine rich and complex.

“Lamb with honey and prunes, chicken with olives, couscous,” said Mr. Mourad, who came to the United States as a college student in 1986. “The first time I went back, I was stoked to eat,” he said. “It was amazing the first day, but then it became apparent to me that there was not going to be anything else.”

The food of Morocco, Mr. Lahlou said, is extraordinary but has become stuck in a few narrow ruts.

“Changing the herb garnish on a tagine is still considered daring,” he said. “Cooks are afraid to change the way things have always been done.”

And, he said, the old-school dishes do not reflect modern Moroccan reality; now there are high-quality ingredients, ample refrigeration and skilled cooks with access to food media, the Internet and foreign travel.

“The Morocco I was born into was very poor and very rural,” he said. At that time, Ms. Wolfert said, about 80 percent of the population lived outside major cities; electricity, running water and cooking stoves were rare. Today, that proportion has been reversed, and Moroccans, many of whom speak French and English fluently along with Arabic, have become sophisticated food consumers.

Mr. Lahlou’s book is a persuasive attempt to engage cooks with this modern Morocco. The first seven chapters are devoted to tradition (one is called “Dude, Preserved Lemons”); the rest, to the recipes that he has served at Aziza, like artichokes and saffron-braised onions in cumin broth, or beef cheeks with carrot jam and harissa emulsion.

(Ms. Wolfert, the purist, does not even consider harissa to be Moroccan — it is Tunisian, she said — although it is now ubiquitous on Moroccan tables, like ketchup.)

The sweet earthy spices, velvety textures, complex braises and tangy flavor sparks of Morocco are only the starting point for Mr. Lahlou’s cuisine.

“I came from that culture, so what is intriguing to me is what else is out there,” he said.

That is just what Ms. Wolfert was looking for in the late 1950s, when she left the United States to live abroad as a 19-year-old literary-feminist beatnik.

“I was young, and excited about words, and Jack Kerouac told me I had great legs,” she said. She was drawn to Morocco, along with many young Europeans and Americans, by the country’s enlightened reputation and cheap cost of living after it won independence from France in 1956.

In 1968, when Mr. Lahlou was born in Casablanca, Ms. Wolfert was living outside Tangier, around the corner from the American writer Paul Bowles, and was a suddenly single mother of two small children (her husband having left her for a Swedish painter he met during the student strikes in Paris). She sated her restlessness in the kitchen, where the cook, Fatima, taught her to grind spices, preserve lemons in salt and strip the stalks of freshly cut wheat to prepare the berries for the mill.

“The work of feeding one family was all-consuming,” Ms. Wolfert said.

Eventually, her interest led to the childhood home of the Moroccan consul general to the United States, where she was tutored by his mother and her brigade of cooks, and where she began the revolutionary act of writing down how the traditional dishes were made.

“There was no tradition of sharing recipes in Morocco,” said Mr. Lahlou, describing the significance of Ms. Wolfert’s work. “Cooking jobs were very valuable, literally handed down from generation to generation, and they were not about to give their secrets away.”

In 1973, she published the book that introduced a generation of food-loving bohemians to Moroccan cuisine. The fragrant recipes and evocative photograph of Ms. Wolfert in a soft green caftan, with vendors in a dusty marketplace, put a thousand tagines onto American tables.

At the time, Mr. Lahlou was 5, the constant companion of his family’s chief food supplier: his grandfather, who did the daily shopping. (Mr. Lahlou’s father had also left his wife and children, a situation that was considered so tragic that others spoiled the young Mr. Lahlou with food and attention to make up for it, he said.) He, his brother and his mother, Aziza, lived with her extended family in a compound that encompassed grandparents, cousins and aunts — but only one kitchen.

Like most Moroccan boys, he was never taught to cook. But, he said, he was immersed in food as the family spent an hour at breakfast debating what to have for lunch, and another hour at lunch debating the relative merits of eggplant, okra and peppers with dinner.

As a college student in San Francisco, he began cooking as a way to manage homesickness, and followed his older brother into a job as a waiter at Mamounia in the Richmond district, one of the first upscale Moroccan restaurants in the United States.

When the brothers decided to open a restaurant instead of proceeding to graduate school, he said, backers assumed that belly dancers and waiters with pointy-toed slippers would be prominently featured. He refused.

“I wasn’t going to open a Moroccan Disneyland, and I wasn’t going to make Moroccan ’70s hotel food,” he said.

From there, he said, he developed a style on his own that, in the book, reads like a very hyphenated, modern cuisine, as much American as Moroccan.

In their new books, both authors push beyond what Americans think they know about Moroccan food. For example, bread, not couscous, is the everyday and much-loved staple of Moroccan tables. (Mr. Lahlou said that his family went through eight loaves a day.) Tagines are never spooned over couscous, but scooped up with bread: in cities, with bits pulled from yeast-risen loaves, but among the Berbers, with round flatbreads baked on griddles.

The Berbers use an unusual leavening method that gives a warm, earthy aroma to the loaves: a mix of semolina flour, water and garlic cloves that quickly ferments into a pungent starter. The recipe provided by Ms. Wolfert requires three kinds of flour and takes two days, but is richly rewarding in flavor.

Mr. Lahlou, on the other hand, has invented entirely new breads like harissa-spiked rolls, grilled semolina flatbreads and delicate lacy pancakes (beghrir) made with almond flour. In Mr. Lahlou’s family, only his mother is considered expert at making beghrir, and as a traditional Moroccan cook, she did not share her recipe even with her son. So he worked for years to develop a foolproof method for Aziza’s pastry chef, the pancakes dripping with melted butter and honey.

Many of the skills of the traditional kitchen — how to roll couscous, how to slow-preserve meat in the desert, how to make the paper-thin pastry dough called warqa — are disappearing fast, the authors agree.

They also agree that the daily lives of Moroccan cooks are better without such labor-intensive practices. But there is a fundamental conflict between them: the traditions that Ms. Wolfert has gone to such pains to record are the very ones that Mr. Lahlou is trying to change.

“Moroccan women now are the equivalent of American housewives in the 1950s: they want to use the pressure cooker to make tagines, they want to go to the supermarket,” Ms. Wolfert said. “I don’t want to tell them they have to go back into the kitchen, but something is being lost. I’m out to preserve what I can still find."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Arab Spring" Disrupts Moroccan Tourism

Here is an article about the affect of the "Arab Spring" on the tourism industry in Morocco.
It seems that turmoil in one "Arab" country causes Western tourists to hesitate to visit them all. There is a benefit however in learning to become less dependent on tourist dollars and all of the strings attached to those dollars.
'Arab Spring' hits Moroccan tourism


By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat – 30/09/11

It has been a tough year for tourism in Morocco. The Arab Spring, the Marrakech bombing, the economic slowdown and the fact that Ramadan coincided with August all took a heavy toll on the sector, Tourism Minister Yasser Znagui said last week.

The sector growth dropped by 6% in the first half of the year compared with the same period last year. Znagui admitted that the growth was weak but added that it was higher than the global average of 4.5%.

Despite a downward trend, Morocco fared better this year than other North African countries. Tunisia witnessed a decrease in tourist arrivals by more than a third, and Egyptian tourism fell by 60%.

"Morocco is the only tourist destination in the region that came away with its head held high in 2011 despite a difficult situation marked in particular by the Arab revolutions," the tourism minister said on September 21st at Top Resa, France's biggest tourism fair.

Sociologist Amine Mrabti echoed the sentiment. The Arab world is perceived as a uniform whole by Westerners, he said, and events in one country affect the others on all levels.

Many industry insiders were disappointed with the figures. Ramadan, the beginning of the school year and regional turmoil have impacted tourism, said travel agent Mohamed Charrati.

"A lot of people opted to postpone their travels," he said. "We've coped so far, but we fear the worst. Officials must come up with effective and fast solutions to support us and turn things around."

Domestic tourism should be encouraged by means of attractive offers, said economist Moha Zaki, and Morocco's strategy on advertising in foreign countries should be reconsidered.

The tourism ministry vowed to ramp up its advertising campaign. The focal point will be the country's diversity, with various aspects to be promoted to potential visitors: the seaside, rural Morocco, ecotourism, mountains, the desert and so on. The campaign will target the traditional markets of Western Europe.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Last Storytellers: An Anthology of Moroccan Stories

Here is an book review from the National on The Last Storytellers: An Anthology of Moroccan Stories. This book hopes to capture Moroccan oral folktales before they are forgotten.

The Last Storytellers: An anthology of Moroccan stories

Noori Passela
Sep 23, 2011

As with some other literary traditions, the decline of oral storytelling can be traced to the rise of social media.

While the BBC correspondent Richard Hamilton laments this trend in his introduction to this compilation of Moroccan tales, his woe is thankfully temporary. Instead, The Last Storytellers is a celebration of literature, an anthology of 36 stories rescued from the dwindling numbers of Morocco's hlaykia or paid storytellers.

Considering that many readers are only likely to be acquainted with One Thousand and One Nights, these lesser-known stories offer a new, refreshing insight into the Oriental literary tradition.

They range from expeditions featuring a bold hero and an elusive princess to be won over (The Gazelle with the Golden Horns) to the more symbolic and moral (The Birth of the Sahara). Interestingly, there are also many that border on scandal, using a repertoire of love, lust and betrayal to shock (The Eyes of Ben'Adi). Dramatic fare all around, but with entertainment being the sole purpose, this is hardly a let-down. Instead, this is addictive material.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Moroccan Youths Lack Religious Knowledge?

Here is an article from that argues that there is a knowledge gap in Moroccan youth's understanding of religion (i.e., Islam). Yet, the article really only gives examples of a lack of knowledge about Moroccan religious institutions. I don't know if the two can be equated.
Moroccan youths lack religious knowledge, survey finds


Moroccan young people struggle to find a balance between their religious convictions and modern practices.

By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat - 07/09/11

Moroccan authorities need to re-visit the way religious knowledge is presented to young people to nurture a better understanding of faith, a recent study concluded.

Moroccan youths lack religious knowledge and have limited confidence in state religious institutions, according to the survey carried out by the Moroccan Centre for Contemporary Studies and Research (CMERC).

To reach the conclusion, the centre conducted two surveys among young people aged 15 to 35 in twelve regions.

The problem lies in the way religious knowledge is passed on to young people to enable them to live out their faith in total harmony with their beliefs and behaviour, said CMERC chief Mustapha El Khalfi. He added that violence was not apparent in young people's conduct.

Few of the people interviewed were able to identify the rites adopted by the kingdom or remembered the name of the Minister of Habous and Islamic Affairs. Young people do not join religious movements and associations, which shows a lack of communication with youths, according to the study.

The mosque and the family constitute the main sources of religious education for young people, with television and the internet used as a last resort. Over 40% of the respondents said that they derived their knowledge from imams, while 23% learn from families.

A broad national dialogue is required to discuss the nature of public youth policy, Khalfi said.

The state and religious scholars need to re-think what they say and adapt to the needs of the current age, argued Mohamed Chantoufi, a teacher of Islamic education.

"We need to ban the traditional methods and be innovative in our communication," he added.

Among the new methods are appealing television programmes with new faces to lure people instead of satellite channels, which often send fundamentalist messages, the scholar added.

According to the survey, Moroccan youths have a particular interest in Middle Eastern preachers.

Egyptian Mohamed Hassan tops the list, followed by Amr Khalid and Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

Given the conservative nature of Moroccan society, religion still has a social role to play, and a great many young people live a life of contradiction between their concept of religion and their daily behaviour, explained sociologist Samira Kassimi.

"I know a lot of young people who don't pray, but who are convinced that it's their duty and they hope that one day they'll have the faith to do it regularly," young teacher Saad Moutaraji told Magharebia. "Many others do it, but at the same time they remain completely open and tolerant."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Saudi Women Fear Entrance of Moroccan Maids in Their Country

Here is an article from Arab News, It is a follow up of the last piece we posted. It seems that recent moves to facilitate the recruitment of Moroccan women to work in Saudi Arabia is causing alarm amongst some women in Saudi because of stereotypes of Moroccan women being "magicians, man-stealers and pliant." It is both an amusing and sad commentary on the state of things.

Moroccan maids may ‘spell’ trouble, warn some women

Published: Sep 14, 2011 23:04 Updated: Sep 14, 2011 23:04

RIYADH: Saudi women have voiced reservations against recruiting domestic helpers from Morocco as suggested by the chairman of the Saudi recruitment committee.

This is due to an old belief that Moroccan women use black magic to lure men to marry them. Some Saudi women urged the Shoura Council to intervene, while others threatened to quit their jobs to look after their homes if housemaids from the country were brought in.

Najla, a 32-year-old teacher at a private school, said she felt threatened by the news, pointing out that Moroccan women are known for being pliant and willing to adjust to varying situations, and this posed a threat to a working wife who is not at home most of the day.

Raja is a housewife who hopes the move falls through. She said Moroccan women are known for their black magic and could use it in Saudi homes. “It is better to be safe than sorry,” Raja said.

“It all depends on the upbringing of the man,” said Nuha, a physician and mother of three young children. She expressed support for the initiative to bring in Moroccan workers and pointed out that any threat can come from workers of any nationality and not only one.

Sawsan, a 40-year-old housewife, sees no harm in the initiative as she believes Saudi women should have confidence in themselves. “If a woman knows how to keep her husband satisfied, nothing can threaten her home.”

Sameer, a divorced businessman, believes that “black magic” is the key phrase frightening people. “However, other nationalities, as we have experienced in the Kingdom, use black magic to control families.”

“I am against having a live-in domestic helper in general,” said Majed, a single lawyer, adding that having a stranger live in anyone’s home is not healthy and can cause many problems, especially in marriages. “It is like bringing in an alien seed and planting it in your garden. No one can predict the outcome.”

Umm Fahad, a 27-year-old mother of three, has worked with a Moroccan maid for seven years, and she thought it was the best experience.

“She was so clean, quiet and kind, and since she left I have been suffering with workers of other nationalities,” she said, adding that at least the maid spoke the same language and understood Saudi traditions.

On the other hand, PR manager Abdullah saw no harm in recruiting from Morocco provided that a minimum age for workers is set and that watchdogs control visa allocations closely to prevent any foul play.

Moneera, a single journalist, saw no point to the fuss surrounding this issue. “Many families have recruited Moroccan domestic workers for many years now and there might have been minor complaints about them, like any other nationality.”

“It is a ridiculous fear that is without base,” said marriage counselor and psychoanalyst Hany Al-Ghamdi, pointing out that if a man has no respect for his family, nothing will stop him from having an affair and that any concerns about nationality are invalid. It is a misconception, Al-Ghamdi points out, to stereotype in this way based on nationality.

“If there is to be a reasonable analysis, we should ask why Moroccan women know how to attract and keep their men,” said Al-Ghamdi, suggesting that Saudi women who feel threatened should take a closer look at themselves.

“There is no black magic in a relationship between a man and woman. But there is the magic of love, caring and tolerance,” said Al-Ghamdi, adding that some women do not know how to understand their men and show tolerance toward them.

Tolerance, according to Al-Ghamdi, means being able to overcome problems and disputes and show love and femininity.

Moroccan women, in his opinion, are feminine by default. “They feel and express their femininity and surrender to their husbands, which is in their nature, while other women might look at it as degrading,” said Al-Ghamdi, adding that marriages involving Moroccan women in the Kingdom are not a trend that could threaten Saudi women.

Teaching love, Al-Ghamdi believes, is one way to reduce Saudi women’s fear of being threatened by other women.

“Aisha, the wife of Prophet (peace be upon him), was the first to open a ‘school for women.’ She was teaching women about even the most intimate details of their lives with their husbands.

We need more of this teaching, instead of the rigid curriculum we are teaching girls in schools,” said Al-Ghamdi, stressing that even Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said “there is no alternative for love but to marry.”

In his opinion this is a clear sign that there is love before marriage or at least strong admiration and desire, on which homes should be built to dispel any such threats.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Moroccan Women on Their Way to Work as Maids in Saudi Arabia

Here is a piece from Arab News about the establishment of new recruitment companies to facilitate the importation of Moroccan women to work as maids in Saudi Arabia.

Anyone familiar with the general treatment maids receive in Saudi and the way Saudis view Moroccan women will find little to feel encouraged about with this new development. Let us pray that the women will actually be treated humanely and not forced into other less honorable professions.

Moroccan maids on their way

Published: Sep 9, 2011 22:22 Updated: Sep 9, 2011 22:22

RIYADH: The recruitment companies that are to be established soon will be licensed to bring in housemaids from Morocco, East Asia and South Africa, Al-Watan Arabic newspaper reported Friday quoting Saad Al-Baddah, chairman of the recruitment committee at the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Al-Baddah added a caveat to the recruitment process of housemaids from Morocco saying that immediate employment of Moroccan maids could prove an issue as there were no official recruitment offices in Morocco to process the papers of prospective domestic helps.

He, however, said there could be a way around the problem with the citizens being given work visas to bring housemaids from Morocco on their own.

The chairman warned Saudi citizens against contacting any offices claiming to be able to send housemaids from Morocco to the Kingdom.

“They are all fake. You should not heed the false claims of these fake offices,” Al-Baddah warned prospective employers.

The spokesman of the Labor Ministry, Hattab Al-Anzi, said the recruitment offices would grant citizens work visas for housemaids from Morocco.

“It is now the responsibility of the citizen to look for authorized private recruitment offices to bring workers from Morocco,” he said.

The spokesman said the new recruitment companies to be established soon would be licensed to import housemaids from Morocco.