Saturday, February 26, 2011

Revising the West's Low Expectations of Moroccans, Libyans and other Arab Peoples

Here is a piece from the Guardian on the soft-bigotry of low expectations towards the people of Libya and Morocco in terms of their will to participate in the making of their own futures. Our prayers go out to the people of Libya.

An end to this soft bigotry against the Arab world

The west must revise its low expectations as Moroccans and other Arab peoples speak their minds

o Issandr El Amrani
o The Guardian, Tuesday 22 February 2011

There is a phrase coined in 2004 by Michael Gerson, a speechwriter for George W Bush best-known for having come up with "axis of evil", that I've always liked. In a speech about education, he bemoaned "the soft bigotry of lowered expectations" that he believed existed against disadvantaged children.

For several decades, there has been a soft bigotry of lowered expectations in the west and among Arab elites about the Arab world. The prevalent thinking about this region of over 300 million souls is that it offered no fertile ground for democracy, either because democracy risked bringing political forces hostile to western interests or because democracy is not a value that has much currency in the region. Many regimes understood this, and played a double game of decrying their societies' "immaturity" while encouraging anti-democratic tendencies such as populism and, at times, a reactionary social conservatism. After the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, no one will buy this any more – and nor should they about two more north African countries: Libya and Morocco.

Over the last few days, Muammar Gaddafi has waged a vicious battle over his compatriots, hiring foreign mercenaries to take out protesters. Gaddafi, in power since 1969, is best known in the west for his eccentricity, from the voluptuous nurse that accompanies him everywhere to his habit of setting up a bedouin tent during state visits abroad. The focus on such personal foibles, as well as Libya's alleged role in the Lockerbie bombing, has dominated the portrayal of the country. For most people around the world, Libya was Gaddafi.

It turns out there are another 6 million Libyans, many of whom are now rebelling against the Gaddafi family, and that at least 200 have died in the last few days fighting for their freedom. Libya is the Arab world's North Korea, a near-totalitarian nightmare and an insult to common decency. And as Pyongyang is protected by China, so Tripoli is being given cover by Tony Blair, BP and academics-turned-consultants like Anthony Giddens and Benjamin Barber. The idea is that it was best to try to help countries like Libya "reform", even if the reforms in question tended to be mostly about making the place more business-friendly.

The same rationale of lowered expectations can also hold for much more liberal and open Arab societies, For 15 years, Morocco has been considered the "best student" in an Arab class of deadenders. Next to Algeria's traumatised society, Tunisia's police state or Libya's sheer hell, who could disagree? Morocco has made great strides since the 90s in terms of human rights, notably holding the Arab world's first (if somewhat flawed) national reconciliation process and passing progressive laws on women's rights.

But for the last few years something has been increasingly rotten in the kingdom of Morocco. Advances for press freedom made in the 90s have been reversed. A political transition that had been made possible in the late 90s by a historic reconciliation between the opposition and the palace has stalled. A fragile economy has been hampered by a predatory royal holding that creates monopolies for itself.

More and more Moroccans want something akin to what they see in Britain or Spain: a constitutional monarchy where the king is head of state but does not interfere in government. Like the protests elsewhere in the region, the peaceful demonstrations that have taken place in eight cities are about dignity. Moroccans, like other Arabs, are tired of being subjects: they want to be citizens.

They would also like solidarity from the outside world, and to be seen as more than an exotic tourist destination. Outside the palm groves of Marrakech is a university where students are frequently beaten up by police; not far from Tangier's glitzy casbah are young Moroccans who have to bribe their way to a menial job. Their voices deserve to be heard, and concentrating all power in the hands of one man – even one as popular as King Mohammed VI – is no model for 21st-century governance.

In both Libya and Morocco, citizens are speaking their mind. It is not surprising that Libyans are angry, nor that they are being violently suppressed: they represent the death knell for Gaddafi's grotesque regime. And it is not surprising that Moroccans, despite police intimidation and incitement by some pro-regime media, have broken their wall of fear and asked for the regime's promises of reforms to be implemented. No matter how different their situations, they ask for the same thing: dignity and the world's recognition of shared humanity. Libyans are not condemned to be ruled by Gaddafis for eternity; Moroccans do not have to settle for an absolute monarchy, no matter how enlightened. Encouraged by their neighbours' example, they have higher expectations for their future, and so should you.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Is It Just the Beginning ? Feb 20 Protests in Morocco

Here is an article from TIME magazine with an assessment of the protests in Morocco.

Protests in Morocco: Just Don't Call It a Revolution

By Lisa Abend / Rabat Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011

Convened via Facebook and Twitter, thousands of demonstrators gathered in the square outside Rabat's El Had gate on Sunday. Shouting the now familiar slogans — "Down with dictatorship!" "End the corruption!" "We want change!" — they slowly marched down the city's central artery before coming to a halt at Morocco's Parliament building. There, as security forces maintained a watchful distance, young men brandishing megaphones and middle-aged women in djellabas drove the protest to a fever pitch, calling for Parliament to step down and vowing not to desist in their efforts until their demands were met. "This is our Tahrir Square," said protester Zineb el Rhazoui, her fist pumping the air. Then, about six hours after they had begun, she and the other demonstrators went home.

In the drama playing out across North Africa and the Middle East, Morocco, it seems, is going off script. The country suffers from deeply entrenched corruption, an official unemployment rate close to 10% (unofficial rates are suspected to be much higher), some of the greatest discrepancies of wealth in the Arab world and a notably restricted press. But although protests convulsed dozens of Moroccan cities on Sunday, collapsing into looting and vandalism in a few places like Tangier and Marrakech and turning violent in Al Houceima, where five people were killed, no one was calling for outright revolution. Revolution, after all, would mean overturning the country's supreme ruler. And no one, at least publicly, wants to depose King Mohammed VI.

"Why should they? He seems so benevolent in comparison," says Stuart Schaar, who is emeritus professor of Middle Eastern history at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and is currently teaching in Rabat. Schaar is talking about Mohammed VI's father, the tyrant Hassan II, whose 38 years in power are referred to as the "years of lead" for the former King's harsh crackdown on trade unionists, intellectuals, Marxists, rebellious soldiers and other political enemies. "This is a guy who had people disappeared, who threw people out of helicopters," adds Schaar. "So Moroccans now are relieved with what they have."

But it's not only the specter of Hassan II that makes Mohammed VI look good to many Moroccans. In the 12 years since he assumed power, the King has instituted a number of reforms, including adapting the Family Law to improve women's rights, appointing a commission to investigate the state's crimes during the years of lead, and allowing limited forms of political protest — as long as no one criticizes the monarch or his family.

Critics dismiss the changes as window dressing, charging that the monarchy has done only enough to keep conditions tolerable. "The King had the possibility of creating a real model of democratic reform," says Driss Ksikes, editor of Economia Review and former editor of Tel Quel, a weekly magazine that was shut down by Mohammed VI's government on several occasions for breaking press taboos, including investigating the royal family's finances. "He didn't do it. There is not enough justice, not enough transparency. But there is enough appearance of reform to keep the lid on things."

Many Moroccans, however, appreciate the King's activities. "He's always inaugurating a new business or a new road," Rabat student Ibrahim Zelinkouz said on Sunday. "You feel like he's working for Morocco, like he cares about us." But that didn't stop Zelinkouz from joining the protest, which was directed at Morocco's government, not its leader. "The problem is those guys," he said, gesturing toward Parliament. "They don't come here to work. They come here to sleep."

Despite his near absolute power, many Moroccans view the King separately from the rest of government — not just Parliament, but also the notorious Makzhen, or palace elite, who control vast amounts of the nation's wealth and pull the political strings behind the scenes. Parliament, which is not truly representative since some parties have their seats restricted or are banned outright, exists primarily to rubber-stamp the palace's initiatives. "There are two kinds of regime in the Arab world," says Youssef Raissooni, president of the Rabat branch of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights. "Dictatorial, and dictatorial wearing a democratic mask. In Morocco, we're the latter, thanks to the Makzhen."

But at Sunday's protest, which brought an estimated 37,000 people into the streets nationwide, according to government estimates, there were already tentative signs of change. In a country in which the King is not only "executive monarch" but also the supreme religious leader, it can be dangerous to criticize almost anything associated with him. Which is why journalist Ali Amar was encouraged by the chants in favor of constitutional reform, a banner that declared "We refuse a regime that loots the nation's wealth" and another that called for the government to step down. "That's a first," he said. "Before, no one would have dared say that. Egypt has created a new context for us."

Although the demonstrations across the country were largely peaceful, there was no shortage of signs that Morocco has a long way to go on the road to democracy. In the days leading up to the protests, many activists had their Facebook accounts hacked. "I went on and my whole page was empty," says protest organizer Mohammed Elaoudi. "And my Gmail account was blocked." The night before the marches, three activists appeared on state television to declare — erroneously, and possibly under pressure — that the protests had been canceled. (A hasty Facebook campaign corrected the false information.) Trains between Casablanca and Rabat were shut down for several hours. And foreign journalists covering the protests were tailed, with rather pitiful obviousness, by intelligence agents — at a rally of young people, a suit and a tendency to loiter around the edges of conversations are not the best camouflage.

On Sunday, rumors swirled on Twitter that the King would use an investiture speech the next day to acknowledge the protesters' demands. That didn't happen: his only reference to events was to note that he "would not cede to demagoguery and improvisation." But late on Morocco's "day of dignity," as demonstrators began to peel off into the warm Rabat afternoon, no one seemed disappointed that the protests there lacked the dramatic outcome of those elsewhere in the Arab world. "Just as it did in Egypt and Tunisia, something has been broken open in people's minds here," said activist Mohamed Hafid. "This is just the beginning."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Morocco's Day of Dignity Protests

Here is an article from the Nation written by Lalla Laila Lalami about the protests that took place all across Morocco today calling for a significant reduction to the King's powers and an end to rampant corruption by elites in the country.

Rocking the Casbah: Morocco's Day of Dignity
Laila Lalami
February 20, 2011

In spite of the Moroccan government's campaign—through its official media, its ministers and its allies—to discredit the February 20 movement, peaceful protests took place today throughout the country. Thousands of protesters gathered simultaneously in Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier, Tetuan, Beni Mellal, Kenitra, Agadir, Marrakech, Essaouira and in other, smaller cities such as Bouarfa, Sefrou, Bejaad and Jerada.
About the Author

As I explained in an earlier post, the campaign against the movement included accusations that it was led by agents of the Polisario Front; by atheists and other assorted non-Muslims; by republican revolutionaries; by Moroccans living comfortably abroad; or by people who are disorganized, unclear about their demands and leaderless. But even before the democracy protests got underway today, it was clear that the tide was turning and that the virulent government campaign had only served to bring about support from a wide cross-section of Moroccan society.

Thus, Abdellah Hammoudi, the well-known and widely respected Professor of Anthropology at Princeton, wrote a letter expressing his support for the peaceful march, which, he said, is “the only way we have left to demand the kind of reforms that can solve the problems of our country.” A group of independent journalists—including such household names as Aboubakr Jamai, Ali Amar, Ali Anouzla, Nadia Lamlili, Ahmed Reda Benchemsi, Driss Ksikes and Kenza Sefrioui—signed a petition in favor of the movement and calling on the government to allow local reporters to cover the events. The majority of business leaders remained studiously quiet, but Karim Tazi, now the president of the Banque Alimentaire, was among the protesters in Rabat. “We are at a historical moment,” he said, “and we must not miss it.”

Support also came from people who are associated with the monarchy. Hicham Alaoui, the rebellious crown prince of Morocco, gave an interview to France24 in which he, too, expressed his admiration and support of the movement. The historian Hassan Aourid, a former spokesperson for the palace, also declared himself in favor of a constitutional monarchy, giving the example of Great Britain as a good model.

Today, the peaceful protests that took place throughout the kingdom put the lie to all the accusations that the pro-government forces had been spreading. No one held signs demanding the ouster of the king or offering support to the Polisario Front or any other foreign entity. Instead, protesters denounced corruption and oppression, and demanded democracy and freedom: “Yes to a parliamentary democracy.” “In favor of a democratic constitution.” “Accountability for thieves / of money and dignity.” “The king reigns, but doesn’t govern.” My personal favorite was the multicolored banner that quoted the famed lines of the Algerian poet Tahar Djaout: “If you speak, you die. If you stay silent, you die. So speak, and die.” (You can view some of the signs here.)

The influence of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings could be felt in some of the slogans. “The people want / a change in the constitution,” the crowd chanted. And while socio-economic concerns were definitely on people’s minds, the demands focused on the larger issue of power for the people: “Bread, liberty, dignity, humanity.” Lastly, some of the chants indicated that people feel that a threshold may have been crossed: “Either today or tomorrow, change is coming.”

The February 20 movement was started by a group of young activists, who have used social media to organize simultaneous protests throughout the country, thus proving to the old guard that they are serious about change. Their demands may be attacked, but their presence and their seriousness cannot be denied. This new generation of Moroccans wants dignity—and that is only possible in a true democracy.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Feb 20th Protests in Morocco Will Test Regime's Claim to Liberalism

Here is an article from the Guardian about the protests planned for tomorrow in cities across Morocco.

Morocco protests will test regime's claims to liberalism

Facebook groups are calling the country's youth on to the streets of cities including Casablanca, Marrakech, Rabat and Tangier on Sunday to demand constitutional reform and proper democracy

Giles Tremlett in Rabat
Friday 18 February 2011 12.38 GMT

On 1 February, Issan Nadir tipped petrol on his clothes and set fire to himself outside the education ministry in the Moroccan capital of Rabat. It was yet another desperate act of self-immolation in a region where the example set by Muhammad Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit seller who sparked a wave of revolution, has been imitated from Mauritania to Saudi Arabia.

The flames were doused before Nadir, a 27-year-old volunteer teacher demanding a paid job, could do as much damage to himself as Bouazizi. Video footage seen by the Guardian shows firefighters frantically putting out flames in front of the ministry.

After a week in Rabat's Ibn Sina hospital, Nadir is recovering in his home town of Safi. "He doesn't want to see anyone," says his friend and fellow protester Hafid Libi."If they don't do anything, there may be more of the same."

Nadir is not the only protester to have set fire to himself. Last week 26-year-old Mourad Raho died in Benguerir, 36 miles north of Marrakech. Five similar attempts have been reported in recent weeks.

Popular demonstrations called for this Sunday will be a test of both public upset with the regime led by King Mohammed VI and how far Morocco – which claims to be more liberal than its north African neighbours – is prepared to tolerate protest.

Nadir's fellow protesters were outside the ministry again last week, together with a thousand employed teachers demanding better pay. A fire engine stood by, just in case. Police looked on, but allowed the ritualistic protests by those seeking government jobs – which are a regular part of Rabat life – to continue.

Protests, however, are nothing new. A small but wealthy ruling elite claims the 20 or more legal demonstrations held every day make Morocco immune to the regime-ousting rage of Tunisia or Egypt. Moroccans can let off steam, they argue, so they will not overthrow an executive monarchy that claims religious legitimacy and four centuries of dynastic continuity.

They also claim King Mohammed carried out Morocco's revolution himself by bringing in reforms and greater freedoms when he came to the throne 12 years ago, including improved women's rights and an investigation into repression carried out under his father, Hassan II.

"Our monarchy is one of the oldest in the world and the king is the Commander of the Believers; there is a large consensus around this system, as well as around the personality of the king," says Braham Fassi Fihri, president of Rabat's Amadeus thinktank.

But where some see a Moroccan "exception", others see complacency, arrogance and shrinking freedoms. "You still have safety valves, but the regime is trying to shut them down," says Abubakr Jamai, former editor of the defunct Le Journal newspaper. "Tunisian society was relatively egalitarian. In Morocco the difference in wealth is obscene. You can imagine what would happen if people took to the streets."

A more radical kind of protest fire is burning on Facebook. Three separate groups have sprouted up, calling the country's youth out on to the streets of 20 major cities, including Casablanca, Marrakech, Rabat and Tangier on Sunday to demand constitutional reform and proper democracy.

"We are mostly between 23 and 25 years old," explained Osama el-Khlifi, one of the originators.In his baseball cap and short, straggly beard, the 23-year-old police officer's son explained that the main things that united campaigners were their youth and determination. "We include Islamists, liberals and leftwingers," he said.

"After Tunisia we began to debate on Facebook whether we should follow other peoples and call a youth demonstration," explained Khlifi, an unemployed computer technician from Salé, near Rabat. The group wants the constitution changed so they can have "real government, a real parliament and real justice".Khlifi insists their target is not the untouchable monarch, but the makhzen – the powerful, wealthy, and often hated power structure surrounding him. The demonstrator's manifesto includes a carefully worded demand for the king's role in a future constitution to be of a "natural size".

"The impact of this is huge. People are now debating the monarchy and its powers," said one campaigner who will be marching in Marrakech. But with illiteracy rates at 44%, he fears most Moroccans do not even know what a constitution is. "They want to keep people in ignorance," he said.

Officially, the powers that be are not worried,though they doubled subsidies on basic foodstuffs this week. "Morocco is a country that has engaged, for a long time now, in an irreversible process of democracy and openness on liberties," government spokesman Khalid Naciri told journalists. "It does not bother us that citizens express themselves freely, as long as this happens in full respect of our country's immutable values and supreme and vital interests." Moroccans all know that those "immutable values" are meant to include the monarchy.

Morocco has a parliament, but the king and his councillors maintain vast powers. His wealth, estimated at $2.5bn (£1.5bn), puts him seventh on the Forbes list of richest royals. And some of the freedoms he brought at his accession in 1999 are waning.

"There are no independent newspapers left now," said Ali Anouzla, former editor of al-Jarida al-Oula, who was taken to court for reporting on the king's health before his newspaper closed. Morocco has expelled the Arab-language news channel al-Jazeera.– a vital witness to trouble in Egypt and Tunisia. Civil society is, by the region's standards, active.

Morocco also shares some of the key trends that fanned the flames of revolution in Tunisia and Egypt. They include a young, Facebook-savvy population, free to gather information on the internet and confronted by endemic corruption and what some call hogra, or humiliation by the state.

Questions about Tunisia or Egypt make those who routinely protest in Rabat's streets, including thousands of unemployed graduates, nervous. "This is a social protest, not a political one," insisted graduate Souad, after she and others marched to the outer gates of King Mohammed's palace compound, the mechouar, to demand jobs last week.

Police beat protesters when they got this close to the monarch's seat in January. This time they avoided violence – perhaps wary of provoking scenes that led to revolution elsewhere. But Souad and her friends were still edgy. "Can you prove you are a journalist?" they asked. They were worried they might be talking to a secret police officer.

Osama el-Khlifi is already the subject of a campaign of harassment, with late-night threatening calls to his home. His father has been warned that his son may be arrested and pro-regime media have claimed he is everything from an anarchist to a drunk, gay agent of neighbouring Algeria or an apostate. "I am worried I will be targeted by radical Islamists," he says. Half a dozen campaigners were interrogated by police, and released, on Thursday for handing out flyers in Marrakech, Kenitra and Casablanca.

The protests are meant to be peaceful and Khlifi hopes the government will not react violently. "We are not afraid, we will go out and we will demonstrate," he said.

So will the protests be like those in Egypt or Tunisia?

"My personal view is that Morocco may stand as an exception," says political scientist Mohamed Daadaoui, a Morocco specialist at Oklahoma City University. "That doesn't mean we won't see demonstrations, just that they will be smaller."

With protesters themselves calling for peaceful evolution rather than revolution, the regime is being invited to take the initiative. "The king has to act, or the consequences could be dire," warned one young marcher.

Those campaigning for change save their bile for the makhzen and the elite families from Fes, including that of the prime minister, Abbas El Fassi, whose fingers are in major pies from the government to the big banks.

Corruption is rampant in courts, business and health services, according to Transparency Maroc. But while Mohammed VI proclaims he wants corruption dealt with, WikiLeaks files show cronyism reaches into the heart of his palace. Diplomatic cables feature one former US ambassador to Rabat condemning "the appalling greed of those close to King Mohammed VI".

"Major institutions and processes of the Moroccan state are used by the palace to coerce and solicit bribes in the real estate sector," one senior Moroccan businessman complained to US diplomats, adding that the royal family's own holding company regularly coerced developers. Three people control the major real estate deals in Morocco, he told the Americans. They included the king, his friend Fouad El Himma, who heads the Party of Authenticity and Modernity, and the man in charge of the king's secretariat, Mohamed Mounir al-Majidi.

The impact of Sunday's protest will be measured in turnout and police reaction. Around 20,000 of Morocco's 3 million Facebook users have joined the protest groups– which have names such as Youth For Democracy or Liberty And Democracy Now. A further 250,000 people have viewed a YouTube video backing them. Human rights groups, an Islamist youth group and some trade unions have offered support – as has the king's cousin, the "red prince", Moulay Hicham.

An important boost would be the presence of Justice and Spirituality, the non-violent Islamist social movement that is Morocco's biggest organised group, claiming well over 200,000 well-disciplined members, many of them students or young graduates. The sufi group, potentially the regime's most powerful opponent, has put out a statement which coincides with many of the 20 February aims.

"We are not the instigators of February 20, but we are with the youth," said Nadya Yassine, daughter of the group's founder, in an interview with the Guardian. Yassine likens the style of the movement, which abhors Saudi-style Salafism, to that of the leftwing liberation theology that swept through Catholic Latin America in the 1970s. WikiLeaks documents show that US diplomats who met the group did not see it turning violent.

Yassine holds up the examples of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development party and Europe's Christian Democrats as proof that religion and democracy can mix. Were Morocco to have a genuine democracy, she says, Justice and Spirituality would join the political fray. "We are for multi-partyism and elections," she said.

In fact, those are principles that Justice and Spirituality was preaching long before other Islamist movements in the region decided that democracy was the way forward. It is also the one group in Morocco that has been prepared to raise questions about the king's role, with Yassine herself currently involved in a court case that could see her receive a five-year prison term for breaking that taboo.But will their people protest on Sunday?

"If we have the guarantee that the demonstration will be peaceful and that there will be no harm to people or goods then we support Moroccan youth," Yassine said. "I am talking about the demonstrators, not the police. There can be no guarantee with the makhzen.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Moroccan Bookstore Plans to Strengthen Arab Publishing Industry

Not to change the subject from all the anticipation of 20 Feb protests, but here is an article from Deutsche Welle's website about a bookshop in Tangier that is trying to bolster Arabic book publishing.
As for the protests,we pray for the best outcome for the Moroccan people.

Literature | 15.02.2011
Moroccan bookshop boosts independence from European publishing

In Morocco, European literature is well established. Now, an influential bookstore in Tangier plans to strengthen the Arab publishing industry and help Arab authors go international.

The role call of famous European writers connected with the modest Tangier bookshop, La Librairie des Colonnes, is impressive: Jean Genet, Joe Orton, Samuel Beckett, Marguerite Yourcenar, Patricia Highsmith and Paul Bowles, to name a few.

However, the shop is not content to only supply the northern Moroccan city with the best of books from France, Spain and the UK, but also hopes to revitalize a literary review, plan new translations into Arabic, and create links between the main centers of Arabic publishing around the Mediterranean.

According to La Librairie's manager, Simon-Pierre Hamelin, the bookshop's European connections will continue, but there is a sense of urgency to its new mission: encouraging Arabic publishing.

"The bookshop has been refurbished thanks to the bibliophile Pierre Berge," he told Deutsche Welle. "We have a wonderful shop and an unparalleled opportunity to push Arab publishing into the modern era."

New distribution paths

Although the sale of books off its shelves will remain an important concern, this smart urban intellectual center is putting in place a structure that will allow books published in Beirut, Algiers or Cairo to be distributed in Morocco and other Arab countries.

"It's all matter of creating connections and persuading distributors to step into unknown territory," added Hamelin.

According to Abdeslam Kadiri, who helps run La Libraire des Colonnes, the team has already created links with publishers and distributors throughout the Arab world at a series of book fairs.

"We believe in human relationships, so we're in direct communication with editors of Arab publishing houses," he said. "We're trying to have direct links so that everyone benefits, from the writer to the end customer. We want to remove the intermediaries and to import directly. That is better than going through the Internet."

Culture center with tradition

Moroccan architect Khalil Benani, an avid reader and customer at La Librairie des Colonnes, says that Tangier is the ideal location for the bookshop.

"Tangier has always had a nucleus of intellectuals and writers," he said. "This is where they have always met. Now we can come to readings, debates and find newly published books on sale. The boost to Arab publishing is a bold and positive move."

The old Librairie des Colonnes, long in need of refurbishment, was a bit of an institution and set the tone for intellectuals in Tangier. It is located on the main thoroughfare that has cut through the city for over 60 years. Opened in 1949 as an outpost of the French publisher Editions Gallimard, the shop on Boulevard Pasteur came to be associated with the long list of writers who made the city of the Straits of Gibraltar their home either permanently or for a short time.

The connection with France worked both ways, also adding luster to Maghreb novelists associated with the well-stocked shelves. Mohamed Mrabet, for example, was the first Moroccan writer to be published by Gallimard and was translated into 14 languages.

Today, the books on the shelves are largely in French, as they were when the shop was opened. Its management was taken over in 1974 by Tangier local Rachel Muyal, who spent the next 25 years ensuring that no customer left without a good book tucked under their arm.

Independence for Arab publishing

La Librairie's manager Simon-Pierre Hamelin is hopeful that revitalizing the literary review Nejma (Star, in English) and having it published in Beirut will show that Arabic publishing can become international.

"At the moment, most Arabic books with international reach are published in France or the United States," he said. "We want to make Arabic publishing independent and profitable."

One potential beneficiary of this new approach is the young Moroccan writer Abdellah Taia, who emigrated to Frace. He has edited the current issue of Nejma and recently became the first Arab writer to win the Prix de Flore, a prestigious French literary award.

"I would like to see a properly functioning Arab book industry where affordable books in Arabic are circulating freely not only those imported from third countries," he said.

Cultural exchange

Well-known Tangerine writer Tahar Ben Jalloun is confident that La Librairie will do just that.

"Hopefully this private initiative will show the way forward," he said. "With readings and regular signings, we expect that books will find their proper place and bring a real cultural exchange between Arab countries."

Simon-Pierre Hamelin's first plan is to have the works of French writer Jean Genet translated into Arabic.

"Genet is well known in the Arab world but he hasn't been translated," said Hamelin. "Using our quarterly literary review, Nejma, as a launch pad, we're planning future issues published in Beirut and Algiers. It's a means of communicating directly across the Mediterranean basin in Arabic and cutting out the need to involve France or the United States."

Author: Sylvia Smith
Editor: Kate Bowen

Monday, February 14, 2011

Moroccan Local Sugar Harvest Behind Schedule

Here is an article
from Reuters Africa about Morocco not being able to reach targets for internal sugar production. This may be more troublesome than the Feb 20th protests for a country that needs 1.2 million tons of sugar each year. Ya Latif!

Morocco sugar harvest plan behind schedule -Cosumar

* Plan to boost local sugar consumption hits snags

* Morocco imports at least 60 pct of sugar needs

* Cosumar upbeat on 2011 harvest

By Souhail Karam

RABAT, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Morocco's sole sugar refiner, Cosumar (CSMR.CS: Quote), said it had been unable to meet interim targets in a plan to raise the supply of local beet and cane to cover 55 percent of domestic sugar demand by 2013.

In replies to emailed questions, Cosumar blamed bad weather conditions over the previous two campaigns for the potential delay.

"Exceptional events ... (have led to) the loss of farms and have prevented us from achieving the goals set for sugar production from local cultivation, and of which the cover ratio has been at around 36 percent," Cosumar said.

Cosumar, with the support of the Moroccan government, has been investing 3.6 billion dirhams ($434.7 million) to improve farming and processing in an attempt to reach the 55 percent target.

Unprecedented amounts of rainfall over the previous two crop years damaged beet and cane farms, although considerably boosting water resources for a farming activity that relies largely on irrigation.

The annual refined sugar needs of the country of 32 million amount to around 1.2 million tonnes, most of it produced from raw sugar imports from Brazil that are refined by Cosumar.

In 2010, Cosumar's white sugar production from local harvests reached 409,000 tonnes, including 336,000 tonnes from beet and 73,000 tonnes from cane, it added. In previous statements, Cosumar said domestic sugar production in 2009 reached 410,000 tonnes.

Cosumar said its level of white sugar stocks could cover domestic needs until the start of the next local harvest, typically in June or July when sugar concentration in the beet plant hits a peak.

Cosumar also said positive indicators such as rainfall affecting this year's planting led it to expect a promising outcome for the domestic harvest in 2011. It declined to give projections.

Brazil supplied practically 100 percent of Morocco's imported sugar, Cosumar said. (Editing by Jane Baird)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Morocco Pressured to Step Up Reforms

Here is an article about how events in Egypt and Tunisia put pressure on the government in Morocco to implement reforms. May all of our countries get beyond cosmetic appearances of freedom. Ameen.

Morocco pressured to step up reforms

(AFP) – 2 days ago

RABAT — Emboldened by the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, demands for political reforms are now mounting in Morocco, touching even the country's monarchy.

"Many believe that a constitutional reform, allowing Morocco to benefit from more modern institutions, is necessary," economist and analyst Driss Benali said of a phenomenon that might ultimately decrease the monarch's power.

The voices include those from one of Morocco's leading Islamist movements, Justice and Charity, which has called for "urgent democratic change."

"It is unjust that the country's riches should be monopolised by a minority," the movement, which is banned but tolerated here, wrote on its website.

Morocco is a country of stark economic inequalities, sharing some of the ingredients that exploded into massive revolts in nearby Tunisia; "A young, largely idle population facing problems of lack of training, employment and prospects and a fairly closed political horizon," said economist Najib Akesbi.

"Corruption and nepotism" are two other realities, Akesbi said, noting Morocco ranks 85th in the corruption perceptions index of watchdog Transparency International -- well below Tunisia's ranking of 59th.

So far, this country of 32 million has yet to experience the massive demonstrations now convulsing some Arab countries. But Moroccans in major cities have closely followed the popular uprisings of fellow north Africans in Tunisia and Egypt via Al Jazeera.

More recently, a group of young Moroccans have issued a call via Facebook to stage peaceful protests for "a major political reform" on February 20. The movement, which claims several thousand followers, is only part of a mushrooming Cybernet debate here on chances of change.

Morocco "will probably not be an exception" to the protest movements now afoot in the Arab world, Prince Moulay Hicham, cousin of King Mohammed VI, told foreign media in interviews.

The 46-year-old, third in line to the throne, is nicknamed the "red prince" because of his criticism of Morocco's monarchy.

Visiting European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule urged Moroccan authorities to deepen reforms, particularly poverty eradication measures.

Moroccan officials have maintained subsidies on key staples like flour, sugar and butane gas. Price hikes of such basics helped spark revolt in other Arab countries.

"Moroccan society is not sheltered from what is happening elsewhere," analyst Benali said. "Rather than suffer events, it is better to anticipate them and embark on reforms."

Benali believes Morocco has one advantage over its Arab peers -- "the legitimacy of the monarchy."

Mohammed, who became king in 1999, "is not jaded" by too many years in power, Benali said, outlining a scenario in which Rabat could eventually evolve by stages into a system in which "the king will end up reigning without governing."

For its part Justice and Charity, which claims up to 200,000 supporters, does not challenge the legitimacy of the monarchy, but refuses to recognise Mohammed's role as "commander of the believers."

"It's an Islamism that is anti-establishment that is pushing for peaceful change," said Islam expert Mohamed Darif of Justice and Charity. "It doesn't talk about abolishing the monarchy."

More "integrated" Islamist movements also exist, he added, such as the Justice and Development party, which counts among the parliamentary opposition.

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Banned "Islamist" Political Party Says It's Time for Change in Morocco

Here is an article from Reuters Africa about the banned political party, al-Adl wa Ihsaan Justice and Spirituality ( the article translates their name as Justice and Charity), calling for change in Morocco. The article refers to them as "Islamist" but this word has ceased having any significant meaning. Does it mean a practicing Muslim with political ambitions, or something else? This group has always been calling for a change to the monarchy system but seems willing to use current events to bolster their platform.
Banned Islamists say time for change in Morocco
Mon Feb 7, 2011 4:44pm GMT

Justice and Charity party sets ultimatum for change

* Demands "a democratic constitution"

* Says Morocco is following Ben Ali's policies

RABAT, Feb 7 (Reuters) - The banned Islamist group Justice and Charity, believed to be Morocco's biggest opposition force, has said "autocracy" will be swept away unless the country pursues deep democratic reform.

Authoritarian Arab leaders are watching carefully for signs of unrest spreading through the region after revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. Credit rating agencies Standard & Poor's and Fitch have said Morocco is the least likely Maghreb state to be affected by the wave of popular unrest.

The group of Sufi inspiration is believed to have 200,000 members, most of whom are university students, and is active mainly in the poor districts of some cities. Banned from politics, its avowed aim is to achieve a peaceful transition to a pluralist political system inspired by Islam.

In a statement posted on its website late on Sunday, Justice and Charity said the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia left "no place today for distortions ... and empty, false promises.

"The gap between the ruler and the ruled has widened and confidence is lost.

"The solution is either a deep and urgent democratic reform that ends autocracy and responds to the needs and demands of the people, or the people take the initiative and (it) erupt peacefully ... to sweep autocracy away," it said.

A group on social networking website Facebook has gathered hundreds of followers for a Feb. 20 protest meant to restore "the dignity of the Moroccan people and (press) for democratic and constitutional reform and the dissolution of parliament".

Moroccan officials could not be reached for comment. The government says Morocco is irreversibly committed to democracy and that efforts to alleviate poverty and create jobs have made progress under King Mohammed.


State-controlled television in Morocco has reported the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt with restraint, but many cafes have been tuning in to the Qatar-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera, which has covered the uprisings extensively in real time.

Moroccan media, including the official MAP news agency, have reported few attempts at self-immolation, apparently inspired by the fruit seller public suicide triggered the Tunisian protests. No one was reported to have died in these attempts.

Justice and Charity rose to prominence after its spiritual leader, Abdesslam Yassine, demanded thorough reform in letters sent first to the late King Hassan in 1974 and then to his son and heir King Mohammed after his enthronement in 1999.

Yassine disputes the Moroccan monarchs' eligibility for the religious title of Commander of the Faithful. He was put under house arrest for several years under King Hassan, but King Mohammed lifted the restriction shortly after coming to power.

The monarch, one of the youngest Arab rulers, has shown a greater sense of initiative than his father in trying to address the social and economic needs of the 32 million population.

Official data shows GDP per capita rose 41 percent between his enthronement in 1999 and 2009.

Morocco is officially a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. But the constitution empowers the king to dissolve the legislature, impose a state of emergency and have a key say on the appointment of sensitive government portfolios including the prime minister.

Justice and Charity said the constitution should be replaced by "a democratic one to mark a break with all aspects of autocracy ... and monopolization of authority and national wealth and preserves the human dignity of the Moroccan citizen".

It also demanded an end of what it called the "Benalisation" of politics and the economy in Morocco, a reference to the authoritarian rule and nepotism of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, ousted last month after 23 years in power. (Reporting by Souhail Karam; editing by Paul Taylor)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Tunisian Experiece Means Political Evolution in Morocco

Here is an article from the Daily Star newspaper out of Lebanon. It is written by Si Aboubakr Jamai, the rebel Moroccan journalist. He thinks that the events in Tunisia (and now Egypt) are a wake up call to the elites of Morocco,that will lead not necessarily to revolution, but a political evolution.

The Tunisian experience is likely to mean evolution in Morocco

By Aboubakr Jamai
Commentary by
Thursday, February 03, 2011

Does the ouster of the regime of Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali in Tunisia herald a similar revolution, or perhaps just evolution, in Morocco? Similar evolution maybe not, but changes most probably.

The Tunisian example was a wake-up call for a country, Morocco, whose social problems are even deeper than those of its neighbor to the east. Despite a relatively robust level of economic growth rate during the last 10 years and greater investments in infrastructure, both inequality and poverty rates are still unhealthily high in Morocco. While Tunisia ranked 81 in the last human development index ranking, Morocco stands at a much lower 114. Youth unemployment in urban areas is higher in Morocco than it is in Tunisia. Riots have broken out periodically during the last four years with a whole city, Sidi Ifni, erupting in June 2008.

While it is hard to disentangle the causes of the Ben Ali regime’s downfall, it is safe to say that the near absence of credible social intermediaries led to an unsustainable build-up in pressure that brought about the social, and ultimately the political, explosion that we recently witnessed. There were no sufficiently independent political parties, workers unions, and media or NGOs to channel the anger of the Tunisian people.

One reason why Morocco has not witnessed a Tunisia-like people’s revolution is that despite its social ills, the country still has these security valves. The key word here is “still.” Morocco is considered freer than most other Arab countries. But the kingdom’s independent political and social forces that allow for the modicum of political and civil liberties that Moroccans enjoy are increasingly being battered by the behavior of a hegemonic monarchy.

This process has been dubbed the phenomenon of “Benalization.” Until recently, Ben Ali’s Tunisia seemed to be stable and enjoyed Western support, mainly from the U.S. and France, despite its egregious record on human rights, its harsh authoritarianism and the predatory economic habits of the Tunisian elite. As a consequence, the power elites in Morocco read a particular message in this: Why, they wondered, liberalize when all that was asked of them was to fight Islamists, open up their national markets to Western companies, and promote the rights of women?

Two recent evolutions in Morocco illustrate this trend in “Benalization”: the advent of the Authenticity and Modernity Party and the monarchy’s predatory economic practices. The Authenticity and Modernity Party was formed in August 2008 by Fouad Ali al-Himma, a former deputy interior minister and a close friend of the king, Mohammad VI. One of the State Department cables on Morocco published by WikiLeaks shows how the palace ordered the Interior Ministry to intervene in favor of candidates from the Authenticity and Modernity Party, to the detriment of candidates from the Islamist party, the Party of Justice and Development. While far from exerting the same type of total control over the political scene as Ben Ali’s ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally, Himma’s Authenticity and Modernity Party is on its way to dominating Moroccan politics by exploiting state resources and relying on palace support.

The monarchy’s business voracity bears a striking resemblance to the Ben Ali family’s tight grip on the Tunisian economy. Under the pretext of forming powerful conglomerates to protect the Moroccan economy in an ultra-competitive global environment, the king’s businessmen have gone on an expansion spree. Siger, King Mohammad’s holding company, controls the biggest bank, the biggest insurance company and one of the three telecom operators.

Here again the leaked State Department cables shed a disturbing light on the king’s business practices. The chief executive officer of ONA, another of the king’s holding companies, is quoted as telling American diplomats that “major investment decisions are made by three individuals: Fouad al-Himma, the former deputy interior minister who now heads the Party of Authenticity and Modernity, Mohammad Mounir al-Majidi, who is the head of the king’s private secretariat, and the king himself.”

In the same cable, “one of Morocco’s leading business entrepreneurs” laments “that major institutions and processes of the Moroccan state are being used by the palace to coerce and solicit bribes in the country’s real-estate sector.”

Even more worrying, the king’s business deals sometimes undermine the monarchy’s legitimacy. Being the commander of the faithful is the much vaunted pillar of the king’s legitimacy. It is said to unify Morocco under the same religious authority that keeps the Islamists in check. Yet recent revelations show how the king has invested in casinos in Macao and in Morocco proper, namely in Al-Jadida. He also invested in the brewing company, Brasseries du Maroc. This is hardly likely to ingratiate him to conservative Muslims.

These political blunders worry the social groups usually allied with the monarchy. They expose a lack of acumen that might endanger the country’s stability, especially in light of what happened in Tunisia. Preventing a revolution is a matter of survival for the Tunisian or Moroccan elites. If the people revolt in Morocco, the chances that the country will end up with a much bloodier and more protracted revolutionary period are high given the depth of social and economic inequalities. Accordingly, there is a greater incentive today to reignite an incremental but credible democratization process, leading to a true democratic constitutional monarchy.

Aboubakr Jamai is the former publisher of Le Journal Hebdomadaire in Casablanca. This commentary first appeared at, an online newsletter that publishes views of Middle Eastern and Islamic issues.