Monday, April 25, 2011
Here is an article from Reuters Africa on the recent protests that took place across Morocco.
Thousands of protesters demand 'A New Morocco'
Sun Apr 24, 2011 5:04pm GMT
By Souhail Karam
CASABLANCA, Morocco, April 24 (Reuters) - Thousands took to the streets of Morocco on Sunday in peaceful demonstrations to demand sweeping reforms and an end to political detention, the third day of mass protests since they began in February.
Desperate to avoid the turmoil that toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, authorities have already announced some changes to placate demands that King Mohammed cede more powers and limit the monarchy's extensive business influence.
Some 10,000 people joined the protest in Casablanca, the largest city in one of the West's staunchest Arab allies. Marchers in the capital Rabat also denounced corruption and torture as well as unemployment, very high among youths.
Policing has been low-key for protests by the February 20 Movement, named after the date of its first march, particularly compared to the turmoil elsewhere in North Africa.
"This is more about the young ones than it is about us," said Redouane Mellouk, who had brought his 8 year-old son Mohamed Amine, carrying a placard demanding "A New Morocco".
"Our parents could not talk to us about political issues. They were too afraid. This must change," said Mellouk.
Although levels of popular anger have risen, ratings agencies assess Morocco as the country in the region least likely to become embroiled in the type of unrest that toppled Tunisian and Egyptian regimes and led to the conflict in Libya.
In Rabat, several thousand people marched through poor districts with high levels of unemployment and away from the centre, where the previous monthly demonstrations have been held. There was no sign of trouble.
A 74 year-old man in Casablanca who gave his name only as Ahmed said Morocco's youths were right to protest.
"Look at them. They are educated and like most young educated Moroccans, they are idle," he said. "Everything in this country is done through privileges. You need an uncle or a relative somewhere to get somewhere."
Morocco is 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 decisive say in government appointments.
King Mohammed last month announced constitutional reforms to give up some of his powers and make the judiciary independent, but protesters want more.
There is also resentment at the royal family's business interests through its holding company SNI.
One of the banners waved by the Casablanca marchers depicted the King's holdings as an octopus with tentacles stretching out to subsidiary companies. "Either money or power," it said.
Islamists also joined in the protests, demanding the release of all political prisoners. Authorities freed 92 political prisoners, most of whom were members of the Islamist Salafist Jihad group, earlier this month.
In Rabat, the wife of Islamist Bouchta Charef, who has said he was tortured in prison while accused of terrorism, called for all Islamists to be freed.
"They have made my children homeless," Zehour Dabdoubu told Reuters. "Every month I move from one house to another. I'm persecuted because people think I am the wife of a terrorist."
The banned Islamist opposition group Al Adl Wal Ihsane has maintained a low profile at the February 20 demonstrations, but said it supports them.
"It's excellent what's happening in Morocco. It's a quiet revolution," Nadia Yassine, daughter of the movement's founder, told Reuters by telephone. "We're moving slowly but surely."
(Additional reporting by Zakia Abdennebi and Barbara Lewis in Rabat; Writing by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)
© Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Here is an interesting editorial on the Moroccan Monarchy from the Economist magazine. ________________
Morocco's monarchy Reform or fall
Has the king’s promise of reform come in the nick of time—or not?
Apr 20th 2011 | CAIRO | from the print edition
WHEN a protest movement sprang up in Morocco on February 20th King Muhammad VI chose to ignore it. The next day he spoke of speeding up reforms, but ignored calls for radical change. This infuriated pro-democracy campaigners, who promised to protest again. But then, on March 9th, he suddenly changed tack, calling for a drastic overhaul of the constitution, echoing the protesters’ main demand. Parliament and the courts, he said, would become more independent. Power would be devolved to regional councils. The prime minister would have more clout. And the Berbers, known as Amazigh, would have more rights too.
Overnight, Morocco’s generally malleable political leaders and newspaper editors, who had at first rubbished the demand for a new constitution as subversive, became the keenest of reformers. They hailed the appointment of a committee headed by a leading lawyer to produce a draft by June, for endorsement in a referendum in September, as a sign that Morocco would undergo a “peaceful revolution”.
The king’s allies abroad rushed to congratulate him. Alain Juppé, France’s foreign minister, called his speech “courageous and visionary”. Hillary Clinton, the American secretary of state, praised his proposals, saying that Morocco was “on the road to achieving democratic change.” A recent tour of the country by Britain’s Prince Charles “confirmed that Morocco is stable”, according to the prime minister, Abbas el-Fassi. The promise of constitutional reform has been widely welcomed by Moroccans and may, for a while, avert the turmoil that has engulfed much of the region. But protesters have continued to take to the streets in big numbers every weekend since March 20th. Many say that a constitutional commission appointed by the king is bound to reaffirm his executive power. A Spanish- or British-style monarchy is not yet, they sigh, in the offing.
Though most of the protesters express respect for the person of the king, criticism of the manner in which his monarchy operates has grown. Too much power is said to be concentrated in his palace circle. Complaints are growing that the royal family owns too much of the country. The National Investment Company, known by its French initials, SNI, is said to control Morocco’s biggest bank, insurance company, dairy and cooking-oil firms, as well as a large acreage of real estate—and is now often castigated for its anti-competitive practices. The denigrators even carp at the king’s cultural policies and call for the Mawazine festival, an annual musical extravaganza held in the capital, Rabat, to be cancelled on the grounds of excessive cost.
Such outright criticism of the monarchy, which has become widespread, itself marks a small revolution. The protesters have also taken on the main political parties, whose leaders have previously tended slavishly to echo whatever the king says. This in turn has forced some of those leaders to become more critical. Journalists who had been exiled or kept out of print by the government in recent years have resurfaced online, with websites sympathetic to the protesters. In one dramatic case online journalists have aired a litany of corruption allegations against Moncef Belkhayat, the minister of youth and sports, challenging him to answer questions about the dispensing of government contracts. He has denied the charges, but such scrutiny is unprecedented.
Citizens’ initiatives are sprouting, with local councils and firms accused of corruption and overcharging for municipal services. The king’s constitutional initiative may lead to the institutional breakthrough many hoped for at the start of his reign in 1999. But if it stalls, a wave of even angrier protest may well erupt in September. So the next few months will be critical to the king’s survival.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Here is an article from Margharabia.com about an Islamic spirituality festival going on now in Fez. An Arabic version of the article can be found here. Here is a link to the festival page if you are blessed to be "in town."
Fez hosts fifth Sufi festival
An annual Sufi celebration enables visitors to explore Morocco's spiritual riches.
By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat – 20/04/11
The Fez Festival of Sufi Culture has entered its fifth year. The eight-day event, which runs through April 23rd, offers lovers of this culture a great variety of exhibitions, performances, round-tables and Sufi evenings.
"This is an opportunity for experts to lead the thinking on what this heritage has to offer at the very heart of modern society," event chairman Faouzi Skalli explained.
According to organisers, the festival aims to help Moroccans rediscover the artistic, intellectual and spiritual riches of their own culture and send out a positive image of Islam internationally, with the universal language of openness and peace which is a central aspect of Sufism.
The event also aims to reinforce Morocco's place in intercultural dialogue, building a bridge between the East and the West.
This year's festival centres on female figures in Sufism. It was inaugurated by Moroccan diva Karima Skalli, whose performance held the audience spellbound, and featured Spanish group Al Kawtar.
According to Faouzi Skalli, this year's choice of theme was no accident; he said that Sufism's spiritual romanticism, whether expressed by men or women, has given women an essential symbolic significance. This role is the precursor of the natural recognition of the importance of their place and their role at the heart of society.
Women, he added, have a calling to participate in spreading the message of peace and tolerance.
Over the past four years, the festival has enjoyed obvious success because there are many followers of the culture in Morocco, both men and women, expert on Sufism Karim Jamali said. Sufism enables man to rediscover his spiritual dimension in a modern materialistic world and to move towards real fulfilment, he added.
"Sufi chant immerses us in our distant past and soothes our spirits," said student Hakima Srariri, who is a fan of Sufi culture. "The festival has become a must event for those who follow Sufi culture and who meet every year in the spiritual capital."
She emphasised that "this culture must be promoted, because it preaches a number of noble values such as tolerance and the acceptance of differences".
"It's my parents who imbued me with the spirit of Sufism, which has helped me a great deal through life," added Srariri, who studied every detail of the programme, particularly the samaa evenings, together with her parents.
Jamila Chamoumi, a Moroccan woman living in Italy, has been coming back to her home country annually for three years to attend the festival. She spoke to Magharebia about the benefits of Sufism in the world which has experienced a global crisis of values.
"I sincerely feel that Sufism is a real educational science. It guides us towards the profound outcomes of its ethical rules," Chamoumi said. "I'm keen to instil the spirit of Sufism into my children, so that they will be tolerant and open to others."
"This is all about transforming oneself, leading to improved relations with society," she added. "The festival is an opportunity for me to recharge my intellectual and spiritual batteries."
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Here is an article from Al-Arabiya News about government officials going to rural areas to officially recognize marriages that took place outside the domains of Moroccan bureaucratic hoop-jumping.
Moroccans to register traditional marriages
Friday, 15 April 2011
By NADIA IDRISS MAYEN
Al Arabiya with Agencies
Moroccans will be required to register traditional marriages from 2014 when the planned legislation will take effect, in a report issued by the government.
The Ministry of Justice wants to document official statistics on marriage contracts under the new Family Code. The code will be applicable to all Moroccans. There is little information available on how many Moroccans living in remote areas are married due to the cumbersome registration process and bureaucratic delays.
The government unveiled an action plan based on bringing judicial services to remote areas in a bid to provide legal services, especially for the uneducated.
In 2010, in the outskirts of the city of Marrakech, a court proceeding took place in a tent in the village of Tighdoine in the suburbs of El Haouz. Couples were invited to register their marriages. The mobile tent traveled between remote villages to allow couples in far-flung places to get registered.
On the first day of the proceedings, more than 20 couples came to document and certify their marriages for the first time in their lives. In one case, a judge interrogated a woman in her eighties who wanted her marriage with her deceased husband recognized despite his death years ago.
One woman, Nasima, talked to Al Arabiya about the advantages of documenting a legal contract of marriage. “I am here to legalize my marriage for [the sake of] myself and my children,” she said.
This registration drive saw the number of documented marriages reach more than 13,900. Authorities hope they will see similar results elsewhere.
Mohammed Minyani, a judge who conducts the registration in villages, said: “A marriage has to be in the presence of a group of witnesses as it enables them to certify their contracts, which will provide relief from any administrative difficulties they might face.”
Observers in Morocco criticize the slow pace of the judicial system but the ministry of justice hopes the mobile courts will redress their complaints.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Alhamdulilah. Free at last. Great news from Maghreb , the release of the prisoners is attributed to the street protests. Keep up the good work Ya Shabab! Here is the article from Reuters Africa.
Morocco frees 92 political prisoners after protests
Thu Apr 14, 2011 4:20pm GMT
* Pardon comes after biggest street protests in decades
* Preacher sentenced over Casablanca attack among the freed
By Souhail Karam
RABAT, April 14 (Reuters) - Morocco freed 92 political prisoners on Thursday, including a prominent anti-corruption activist and a controversial preacher, under a pardon issued by the king following street protests demanding democratic reform.
The pardon also commuted to limited prison terms death penalties for five others and life imprisonments for 37 others, officials from the National Council for Human Rights said.
Prison terms for 53 others were also reduced.
The majority of those freed or whose sentences were reduced were members of the Islamist Salafist Jihad group.
Mohamed Sebbar, appointed secretary general of the Council by King Mohammed in March, said the pardon was a prelude to a thorough review of the cases of political prisoners in Morocco.
Those freed included preacher Mohammed Fizazi, who was sentenced in 2003 to 30 years in jail after he was convicted of inspiring 12 suicide bombers to kill 33 people in Casablanca earlier that year, in Morocco's deadliest bomb attack.
Local human right groups have said hundreds, including Salafist Jihad sympathisers, were jailed after the attack in politically motivated trials, often without solid evidence.
Last month, King Mohammed announced constitutional reform to give up some of his sweeping powers and make the judiciary independent in Morocco, a staunch ally of the West.
It came after a youth-led movement called February 20 spearheaded some of the biggest anti-establishment protests in decades in the North African country, with demands that included the release of political prisoners.
"This pardon indicates that the king has once again picked up the streets' message," political analyst Ahmed el-Bouz said.
Five people who were jailed in 2009 after a court convicted them of plotting terrorist attacks in the country and who were among those freed were present at Thursday's news conference, including prominent figures of two moderate Islamist parties.
"I would like to thank the youth of February 20 Movement," Mustapha Mouatassim, one of them, said.
Abdelhafid Sriti, a correspondent of Hizbollah's al-Manar television channel in Morocco, was another released prisoner.
Mostly-veiled female relatives broke into tears and chanted "God is Greatest" when the group was brought to the Council venue in black cars.
One woman, Houria Amer, wept in disappointment when she realised that her husband Luqman Mokhtar, who was also jailed in 2009, was not among them.
"They have all been jailed unfairly under the same sham case. How can they free some and leave others in prison?" she told Reuters.
Corruption whistleblower and human right activist Chakib El-Khiari, jailed for three years in 2009 after accusing high-ranking officials of involvement in drug trafficking, was among those pardoned and freed.
Human rights group Amnesty International has said Khiari was a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for his anti-corruption statements and human rights activities.
According to U.S. diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks in December, corruption is prevalent at all levels of society and has become "much more institutionalised with King Mohammed".
The government earlier this month promised to protect corruption whistleblowers. (Additional reporting by Zakia Abdennebi, Editing by Gareth Jones)
© Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Here is a piece from popmatters.com about the newly released documentary film "Stolen," that talks about the uncomfortable reality of modern day slavery in the Western Sahara and other places in North Africa.
'Stolen': Seeing More Possibilities
By Cynthia Fuchs 5 April 2011
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
You can’t change these ideas until you get out and see other possibilities.
“Is it true my white grandmother beat you as a child?” asks 15-year-old Leil, Her mother, Fetim, looks at her hard, still chewing her lunch. They sit at a table, a TV behind them, as well as a doorway, open onto a bright white daylight. Leil continues, “Violeta already knows,” as the camera cuts to filmmaker Violeta Ayala, seated across from them. Her face turns cloudy as she listens: “You’ll be in trouble, by saying that we were beaten,” cautions Fetim. Again, the camera shows her instructing her daughter, “It’s always been that slaves are beaten from a young age.”
The scene breaks here, as Leil gets up to welcome a younger sibling inside, through that bright-lit doorway. And the film, Stolen, has changed. Before this moment, as Ayala has narrated, the documentary was observing preparations for a family reunion. Fetim had come to a refugee camp in the Algerian desert as a child some 30 years ago, leaving behind her Moroccan mother Embarka and her siblings. At first, Ayala says, she and Dan Fallshaw meant to film Spanish-speaking refugees in the Western Sahara, and felt lucky to have access to a family about to reunite, thanks to a program initiated in 2004 by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees that brings Moroccan family members to the camp for five-day visits. With some 27,000 on the waiting list, the fact that Fetim and Embarka have been selected seems miraculous.
And yet: this story is now reframed, as Ayala and Fallshaw learn that their subjects are not only refugees, but also slaves. The filmmakers can’t begin to guess at the complications that follow from this discovery.
Stolen—screening 5 April at Stranger Than Fiction, a co-presentation with the African Film Festival, and followed by a Q&A with Ayala and Fallshaw—charts their efforts to understand what they find. Their questions elicit astonishing and also cryptic stories, as Fetim and Leil, as well as Fetim’s cousin Matala, sort through what is safe to tell “the foreigners.” The storytelling process, as it unfolds on camera, is at once fascinating and alarming, as it becomes clear that saying “too much” is more costly for Fetim than her Australian visitors anticipate.
At the same time, the filmmakers’ parts in the process are also complex, as they are increasingly responsible for what they’re filming—whether by paying for part of the celebration for Embarka’s visit or by documenting stories told by Fetim and her family, descriptions of the system of slavery still in place in the camps and elsewhere. As the film reports, the Polisario Liberation Front, a nationalist organization backed by Algeria, have been fighting with Morocco over the Western Sahara for the last 34 years. Neither the Moroccan government nor the Polisario wants such stories documented. And yet, with at least 2 million black people living in slavery in North Africa, Stolen insists, telling such stories is only a first step.
Indeed, Fetim’s initial revelation that she has a “white mother,” Deido, surprises Ayala, who wonders how they ended “up together, with so much racism in the past?” Deido explains, sort of. “Saharan people are not all the same,” she says, her interview shot as she sits before a striking red tent wall. “Some of them buy black people and own them, others free them, but keep them as their family. We don’t talk about this anymore.”
Still, Ayala and Fallshaw find that some black Africans do talk about this, but only when they are alone together, and for a brief time, in front of the “foreigners.” The film pieces together bits of conversations, a fragmented structure that results from the filmmaking process per se, as the Polisario and then the Moroccans try to confiscate and at last steal their tapes. The effect of the fragments is to the point, however, as the stories are shared and whispered, then covered over or repressed, as experiences are acknowledged and then denied, as autonomy is named—in the form of “liberation,” as Deido says she has granted to Fetim—and then rescinded, when papers are withheld and daily life continues as such.
As Ayala and Fallshaw tell it—their own voiceovers working in tandem, finishing each other’s sentences—they’re struck by Fetim’s submission to Deido, her performance of chores and her lack of independence. Further, though no one will “speak about this,” they also discover that Embarka belonged to Deido’s father, and that she bore him several children. “Deido’s father fucked her,” says Fetim’s friend Jueda after Fetim becomes so unnerved by the conversation that she leaves the room. “That’s how the white girl Fatma was born,” Fatma being Fetim’s sister, still living with Embarka in Morocco.
A friend of Leil, Tizlam, is also outspoken concerning what it means to be a slave. “You’re just scratching the surface,” she says, her face at once poised and fierce in dim shadows. “They come and take the children and the parents can’t say anything, they have no rights.” Her grandmother concurs, and they seem willing to speak, though they don’t seem to expect a change. “There is no law for us,” Tizlam says, “What we want is for this not to exist. It should be erased, it should be from the past, not the present or the future.” Ayala and Fallshaw describe their growing concern, not only for their own safety but also for “all the people who trusted us with their stories.”
Their worries are well founded, as they are detained by the Polisario. The filmmakers bury their tapes in the desert—an apt and awful metaphor for the experiences they’ve heard about—and then escape to Paris, where they pursue the story, hoping to recover their material and make public what they’ve witnessed. A phone call with Leil reveals, however, that their own ambitions and hopes don’t matter much: Leil cries, “Trying to do good, you did bad. Now the police are all over us.” As Ayala ponders this notion in voiceover, that “without intending to, we got Leila and Fetim in a lot of trouble,” the film structure makes clear the problem: she’s in a hotel room, at a distance. None of us can know what Leil and Fetim are experiencing—off camera.
The film traces how Ayala and Fallshaw come to know the ongoing complexities of slavery. As it is denied by most North African regimes (in Mauritania, Mali, and Senegal, as well as Algeria and Morocco) and described here by Ursula Aboubacar, the Deputy Director of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, as “a cultural issue that is existing.” That is, as Aboubacar puts it, the UN can only “combat” the practice by bringing it to the attention of local police forces, the Polisario included. Ayala is horrified by the lack of power wielded by the UN, or anyone else, it seems. Indeed, as Tizlam has said, “There is no law for us.”
The documentary makes this case forcefully. In addition to assembling interviews that officials and others have tried to keep quiet, it includes footage of a screening and audience responses in Sydney. The ethical questions here impossibly tangled: even after Fetim, Leil, and Deido withdraw their consent to appear in the film, Alaya and Fallshaw include not only their interviews, but also footage of Fetim at the film’s premiere (the Polisario, a note explains, “flew Fetim to Sydney to protest at the film’s premiere,” along with her husband). Her objections have led to other repressions, as the Swedish public broadcaster SVT-UR has pulled the movie from its schedule. While the truth remains elusive off-camera, Stolen insists that still more needs to be exposed, that documentation is indeed only a first step.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Here is an short piece from the Arab News Digest of the UAE newspaper The National about calls to abolish the practice of kissing the King's hand. This should be the least of people's concerns regarding what needs to change about the Moroccan government, but it is a nice distraction. ___________________________________
Royal Moroccan protocol under review
"Media sources said that the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, might introduce fundamental changes to the royal protocol. An essential part is the habit of kissing the monarch's hand by citizens. The royal court, it is said, will issue a communiqué to finally and officially abolish this practice," reported Mahmoud Maarfouf in the London-based newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.
Earlier, officials had called for a simpler and more practical royal protocol at a time when the role of the monarchy is under discussion within a constitutional reform framework, as Mohammed VI highlighted last month.
The Moroccan newspaper Al Osboa said that official sources from the royal palace confirmed that some customs were outdated. It is expected to release a statement on the matter shortly.
The minister of state and deputy prime minister Mohammed el Yazghi agreed, adding that there is no reason not to propose a new set of protocols that are acceptable to both king and country.
Kissing the king's hand was the subject of a special dossier published on Saturday by the Al Ittihad al Ishtiraki newspaper, an affiliate to the Socialist Union Party, where it called for new protocols that cancel outdated practices. They should keep up with the evolution of society, but without disrespecting Moroccans' esteem for the person of the king, said Moulay Ismail Alaoui, a senior official at the Party of Progress and Socialism.
Saturday, April 2, 2011
Here is an article from Magharebia.com concerning recent protests by journalists working for state run media in Morocco. They believe that being able to do honest reporting needs to be apart of the reforms that everyone is speaking about.
Moroccan state media urges greater freedom
State press workers hope that the Moroccan king's promises of reforms will translate into enhanced media liberties.
By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat – 01/04/11
As part of the reform process initiated by King Mohammed VI, Moroccan state television channels started broadcasting political debates, allowing greater openness to scrutinise the king's initiatives.
"People are watching political programmes more often, whereas before, most weren't interested in them because of what was said on them," teacher Zohra Belaid said. "We hope that this trend towards freedom of speech and expression will continue to develop on all levels."
Some experts and members of the public, however, doubt that the change is noticeable and call for altering the editorial policy of state channels.
Journalists staged sit-ins across the kingdom to demand freedom of expression and greater independence from the authorities. For them, political change must also involve reform of the state media, changes in editorial policy and the departure of those currently in charge.
It is impossible to imagine democracy in Morocco without far-reaching media reform, according to National Moroccan Press Syndicate (SNPM) chief Younes Moujahid. He said that the national debate about constitutional reform must be managed by credible and free media institutions.
The state audio-visual sector has long been stagnant and it's time to do something about this state of affairs, according to Mohamed Wafi, head of the union of TV channel 2M workers.
"Given the competition posed by satellite channels, and in order to restore viewers' confidence, the national channels must be reformed to address current expectations and needs," said Wafi, whose union staged a sit-in in Casablanca on March 18th.
Moroccans want to watch uncensored, high-quality shows with programming tailored to their needs, said Mohamed Abbassi, Secretary-General of the Democratic Audio-Visual Media Union. According to him, the aim is to earn viewers' loyalty through a new approach based on freedom of expression.
Meanwhile, Communications Minister Khalid Naciri said at a March 24th press briefing that the way in which the media is run is among the major areas of reform initiated in Morocco. He underlined that the issues raised within the state media would be dealt with as part of the agenda for the reforms under way, some of which relate to management, governance and organisational and legal aspects.
"The managing bodies of media institutions are listening to the demands that have been made, which they are considering in a positive light with a view to implementing the necessary solutions to them," he said.
Political analyst Samir Machouli argued that state media had a major problem in terms of credibility and must use ethical standards and present a diversity of viewpoints.
"The state media is discredited because of the censorship practised with regard to several topics, especially politics," he said.
"The winds of change are blowing, provided that the transformation continues, as this new era needs very strong media that reflects what is going on in society," Machouli concluded.