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.