Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ramadan in America with Moroccan Immigrant, Karim Moukrime

Here is a piece from the Springfield News-Leader about Muslims in America fasting Ramadan. It highlights one specific Moroccan immigrant, Si Karim Moukrime.
Ramadan: Faith through prayer and fasting
Americans adjust personal schedules for Ramadan; in other nations, communities switch day and night.

Jul. 30, 2011 |
Written by
Linda Leicht

Monday morning, hours before the sun comes up, Muslims around the country will arise to eat and pray. It is the first day of Ramadan, and once the sun rises most Muslims will begin fasting -- refraining from eating, drinking, smoking, sex and any other wordly temptation -- until the sun sets again that night.

Karim Moukrime is looking forward to it. "All Muslims look forward to Ramadan," he insists.

A native of Morocco, Moukrime has loved Ramadan since he was a little boy when the entire family and community would observe the cycle of fasting and eating, with days and nights switched, special foods served and gatherings planned.

He also loves the prayers and the renewed emphasis on reading the Quran and living a good life.

"We try to be the best people we can be for the sake of God," he says. During this time, Muslims believe that the doors of heaven are opened, while the doors of hell are closed and Satan is chained.

"Ramadan is the holy month when the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him," Moukrime explains.

Daylight fasting

Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, required of every Muslim.

Throughout the month, which will conclude Aug. 31, Muslims will not eat or drink even a sip of water during the daylight hours.

With daylight lasting as long as 14 hours at this time of year and temperatures soaring into the three-digit range, that can be a challenge.

So Moukrime will start his day about 3:30 a.m., about three hours before the sunrise. Then, he will prepare food -- suhoor, drink as much as he can, and will pray. He will then crawl back into bed to rest until he has to get up to teach his 10:30 a.m. Arabic class as Missouri State University.

While most countries with a majority Muslim population will adjust schedules during Ramadan, living in the United States means activities continue as usual.

For Moukrime, that means teaching classes, attending meetings, going to the store and other daily duties. But he makes sure that he stays cool and gets plenty of rest.

"Naps are good," he says. "Naps are very good."

In the evening, he will try to relax until sundown, when he will eat iftar -- breakfast. He will start with water and have some harira, a tomato lentil soup that is traditional in Morocco, and maybe a small selilou -- a pastry his mother made for Ramadan with crushed almonds, flour, sesame, sugar and spices. He points out that it is important not to overindulge after a long day of fasting. Later, he will eat a more substantial meal.

A few times a week, the members of the Islamic Center in Springfield will meet together for Iftar. With a diverse membership, representing a variety of countries and cultures, the food is always interesting, says Moukrime. And the community will celebrate Eid al Fitr when Ramadan ends.

"Ramadan mode"

Dr. Bill Bayazed, an internist at St. John's Hospital and a native of Syria, remembers the excitement of staying up all night during Ramadan and sleeping all day, but in the United States that is not usually possible.

"I remember when we were kids we could not wait for Ramadan," Bayazed says. "It brought up such feelings of joy and happiness. ... It was so much fun."

The community would "switch into Ramadan mode," with each community participating in its traditions and rituals.

"The whole community goes into this ritual," he explains. "You go to prayer early, before sunrise. People stay up all night."

Both men are clear about one thing, that observing Ramadan is an important part of their faith journey.

"It's all about your relationship with Allah," says Bayazed. "Whether you do that with your heart, your body or your work. It is about your devotion to Allah, to God."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Young Moroccans Unlikely to Stop Pushing for Democratic Change

Here is an article from the New York Times on the Moroccan youth movements dissatisfaction with what some believe to have been a move towards democracy in the country.

Morocco's Democratic Changes Fail to Appease All

Published: July 20, 2011

RABAT, MOROCCO — A stressed middle-aged woman in a taxi in Casablanca looked with disdain at thousands of protesters on a main avenue. “We are fed up with them,” she told the driver. “Can’t they just leave us in peace. They wanted a new constitution. They got it. What else do they want?

“They are fighting for our rights,” he replied. “I hope they keep on marching until our health and education systems are fixed and corruption, the biggest ill of this country, is gone.”

A landslide vote in a July 1 referendum paved the way for a new constitution, introducing more freedoms and gender equality. The constitution was approved by 98 percent of those who voted, winning King Mohammed VI congratulations from world leaders, including President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But critics dispute the validity of the referendum, saying that only 13 million of 20 million eligible Moroccans were registered to vote. They also say the constitution fails to enshrine significant separations of powers within the government.

Leading democracy activists including the February 20 Movement for Change, which began on Facebook and has carried out a series of rallies in major cities, have rejected the outcome and pledged to continue to fight for the establishment of a fully democratic state.

Abdeslam Maghraoui, a political science professor at Duke University in North Carolina specializing in North Africa, said the referendum was a short-term fix for Morocco’s problems.

“It seems that the monarchy and its supporters have managed to pull together a hasty and contested constitutional referendum,” he said. “This will give the monarch a few weeks or months to claim a political victory.”

Mr. Maghraoui said irregularities in the voting process and opposition from large segments of civil society, the main Islamist movement and some political parties had delegitimized the process.

“I would not be surprised at all if we go back to an atmosphere of crisis and possibly violence before the end of the year,” he said.

When the February 20 movement started organizing, shortly after the fall of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, the Moroccan regime activated an extensive propaganda campaign to paint protesters as enemies of the state manipulated by the Western Sahara liberation movement, Polisario.

Still, the movement, linking human rights activists, small leftist parties, youth activists and a banned Islamist party, Justice and Charity, mobilized thousands of people in more than 50 cities and it has since organized marches every Sunday, countrywide.

Its most significant victory has been to raise awareness among Morocco’s politically disengaged youth, who for the first time decided to get involved. Two weeks after taking to the streets, the movement gained ground when the king, in a speech on March 9, promised significant constitutional changes and the introduction of more personal liberties. He then appointed a commission to draft a new constitution, which he unveiled on June 17.

Still, the king’s call to Moroccans, citing the Koran, to vote for the charter was perceived by opponents as an improper interference in the process.

Mehdi Soufiani, a 24-year-old law school student in Rabat, said: “The king is an arbitrator. He shouldn’t have influenced the voters, making the vote about his popularity and not about whether the constitutional changes are what the country needs.”

In July, an organization of Moroccan students in France, Cap Democracy Morocco, which advocates the establishment of democratic institutions, organized a three-day workshop in Rabat that invited young people and scholars to a discussion titled, “Thinking Democracy After February 20.”

Younes Benmoumen, a 24-year-old graduate of the Paris Institute of Political Studies and president of the association, called the referendum a plebiscite on the king and the constitutional changes only cosmetic.

“There is a complete absence of a democratic spirit in the constitutional reform process,” Mr. Benmoumen said, “and no actions were taken to show a willingness of the regime to change.”

During a debate at the Cap Democracy workshop, many raised concerns that the movement had failed to assemble crowds as large as in Tunisia and Egypt and said it risked running out of steam and dying out.

Fouad Abdelmoumni, a member of the Coalition for Parliamentary Monarchy, a group of parties and activists that supports February 20, told young people at the workshop: “A push for radical change in society is only starting to bloom. It will not easily happen. Protesters are going to need to show endurance and patience because the road is still long.”

Najib Akesbi, an economist who teaches at the Institute of Agronomy in Rabat, predicted that the coming legislative elections would send people into the streets again. He said the referendum vote was flawed by coercive pressures from imams and local government officials, vote rigging and one-sided broadcast media coverage.

“Absolutely nobody knows what the majority of Moroccans think as a result of years of repression,” he said. “The movement remains strong in its fundamentals, at its core, and the protesters remain very determined. After Ramadan and summer, the protests will very likely intensify in September.”

Analysts say the newly engaged if widely disparate groups of young Moroccans are not likely to stop pushing for change. That assessment echoes what the young protesters themselves say.

“We are fighting for something meaningful and we will win,” said Mr. Benmoumen. “We are not subject to any deadline, and the course of history is on our side.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Jewish Moroccans in the Netherlands: Balancing Between Cultures

Here is an article from Radio Netherlands about Moroccan Jews who live in the Netherlands. They are all at once, Moroccan, Jewish, Dutch, and also sometimes Israeli.
Jewish Moroccans in the Netherlands: Balancing Between Cultures
Published on : 3 July 2011

Stories about Dutch Moroccan youths verbally abusing or physically threatening Jews crop up fairly frequently in the Dutch media, and politicians - especially Geert Wilders and the Freedom Party - call for hard measures against “Moroccan street terrorists". What's it like to live in the Netherlands if you're both Jewish and Moroccan?

By Jannie Schippers and Mohamed Amezian

Victor Bohbot, 56, has seen the climate in the Netherlands change over the years: “I came here in 1974, the entire country was pro Israel. When I was a soldier in the IDF, met lots of Dutch truck drivers who would come to Israel to volunteer."

Until very recently, Victor ran a number of restaurants in Amsterdam, Deventer and Bussum. In 1984, he and his family left ‘for good’ and went back to Israel. However, four years later they were back in the Netherlands. “It's difficult. What am I? For the Dutch, I'm a foreigner but I'm also not a real Israeli or Moroccan".

Cross the road
Out on the street, some people comment on the Star of David that Victor wears around his neck. He says, “A little while ago, I was standing outside when a group of kids came along, about 14, 15 years old." When he greeted them in Moroccan slang (‘la bas?), everything was all nice and friendly: “When they realise I speak Arabic, everything is okay on the surface, but the way they look at me..."

Victor says that in recent years numerous Jewish Moroccans have emigrated to Israel from France: “There have been a lot more incidents in France; people really don't feel safe. I know someone who goes back and forth every week. He sent his family to Israel but he still works in Paris." Victor does not believe that it will get as bad in the Netherlands as it is in France: “The Jewish community here in the Netherlands is much smaller and much less visible". Even though Victor says he will never leave his Star of David at home because it's safer, he won't wear a yarmulke in the streets and only puts it on when he gets to the synagogue. “I don't think it's necessary to be provocative. If I see a problem walking towards me, I cross the street. My brother thinks that's cowardly; he doesn't let anybody get away with being abusive.”

"I'm one of them"

Jacob al-Malagh, a 47-year-old Jewish Moroccan mechanic, comes into contact with Dutch Moroccans on a daily basis: “About 70% of my customers are Moroccan; I work with Moroccans and for Moroccans." He meets members of the small Moroccan Jewish community in the Netherlands – between 50 and 100 people – at the synagogue and during the holidays. Jacob says his strong bond with Israel has never caused him a problem in all the 26 years that he has lived in the Netherlands. “Moroccans treat me like one of them and according to the Dutch, one says I'm an Israeli, another sees me as a Moroccan or a Jew, while another thinks I'm Dutch. I really don't care what anyone thinks.”

Bad reputation
Both Jacob and Victor say that politicians such as Geert Wilders only make the problem worse. According to Victor, “He has very extreme ideas. Wilders is not pro-Israel, his real focus is internal Dutch politics." Jacob avoids politics: “As soon as someone starts yammering about Arabs and Jews and Muslims I say sorry, that's nothing to do with me. What other people do, that's up to them. I live in the Netherlands and I want to live in peace with everybody else".

Victor has noticed that both his son and daughter have distanced themselves from the land of his birth: “My son doesn't want to admit that his father is from Morocco. Moroccans have a really bad reputation here in the Netherlands and he doesn't want to be a part of that. But I can't forget where I come from. My grandfather always used to say that if you don't know where you come from, you’ll never know where you're going."

(Partial) History of Jews in Morocco

After the fall of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Jews were dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, including what is now modern Morocco. In 1492, Jews and the remaining Moslems were expelled from Catholic Spain and many ended up in Morocco. Moroccan Jews had a specific niche in society and had their own synagogues. After the establishment of the state of Israel in the wake of the Second World War, many Jews left the country, fearing outbreaks of religiously-motivated violence. There are less than 5,000 Jews left in Morocco.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Buying the King Some Time: Morocco's Referendum is a Very Small Step

Here is a piece from the Economist, which offers a well-rounded, honest look at the recent referendum and how it does not really address the most pressing economic and quality of life issues for the average Moroccan.
Morocco's Referendum
A very small step

The king has offered some reforms, but the opposition is not satisfied

Jul 7th 2011 | BENSLIMANE |

WITH the easterly wind, the shergui, enveloping them in hot desert air, most of the residents of Benslimane, a sleepy town in north-west Morocco, waited till dusk to vote in a constitutional referendum on July 1st, pressed by officials who wanted a strong turnout for what has been as much a test of King Mohammed VI’s popularity as a poll about reform.

Businessmen backing the yes vote held celebratory street parties. Imams at Morocco’s mosques were instructed to preach in favour of what was heralded as the king’s constitution. But even in conservative Benslimane, some 800 dissidents campaigned for a boycott. A headmaster at a local school serving as a polling station was overheard muttering that the whole exercise was a masquerade.

The result—98.5% in favour—drew guffaws of disbelief from members of the February 20th movement. The coalition of leftists, independent liberals and Islamists from the banned Justice and Spirituality movement surprised many when its protests for social justice and democracy drew thousands of sympathisers across the kingdom earlier this year. It called for a boycott of the referendum.

The new constitution includes some important reforms. It establishes human rights as core principles, recognises Berber, spoken by many Moroccans alongside Arabic, as an official language and calls for gender equality. It gives new powers to the prime minister and parliament and inaugurates a much-needed overhaul of the judiciary. It no longer deems the king sacred, though he is still “Commander of the Faithful”.

Critics complain that many of the new constitution’s articles refer to “organic laws” that have not yet been written, making the extent of some changes uncertain. Others depend on the creation of special commissions, mostly headed by the king. Political parties, a majority of whom backed the “yes” vote, only saw a draft of the constitution at the last minute. No mention is made of King Mohammed’s promise, which came in a speech in March, of moving towards a parliamentary monarchy. The king remains—directly or indirectly—in control of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, or as the new constitution puts it, a “supreme arbiter” of political and institutional life. In many respects, the new constitution merely codifies an existing method of governing that allows the palace to micromanage at its whim.

When the February 20th movement was launched, inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions earlier this year (but never calling for the king’s head), it drew much public sympathy. Many Moroccans felt enthusiastic about Mohammed VI, dubbed the “king of the poor” at the beginning of his reign in 1999. But less so in recent years, during which press freedoms were dramatically curtailed, incidents of torture returned and corruption increased.

Yet many Moroccans have been frightened by the attempted regime change in Libya and Syria. “We want transformation without violence,” says Saad Eddine Othmani, a leader of the opposition Islamist Justice and Development Party, which supported the new constitution. “This…is a beginning.”

General elections expected later this year could bring further change. But although the new constitution may have bought the king some time—helped by a doubling of food and fuel subsidies, the creation of new government jobs and the boosting of civil-service salaries—the regime is still not dealing with people’s main grievances, notably failing public-health and education systems, and rampant corruption. The political elite needs to take note, cautions Omar Belafrej, the head of a left-leaning think-tank. “There is little goodwill left.”

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Morocco Struggles with Surge in Street Vendors

Here is an article from on the apparent problem of informal street vendors threatening small shop owners in Moroccan cities.
Morocco struggles with surge in street vendors

After reviewing an alarming new government report, Moroccan officials are working to integrate cart operators into the formal sector.

By Hassan Benmehdi and Siham Ali for Magharebia in Casablanca - 08/07/11

A street vendor may have launched the Arab Spring, but the proliferation of roadside carts in Morocco is straining residents' nerves.

After unemployed Tunisian graduate turned vegetable vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself afire, igniting a democratic revolution that spread from Sidi Bouzid to Tahrir Square and beyond, Maghreb police became wary of cracking down on illegal carts.

Law-enforcement officers once confiscated street vendors' wares and forbade them from occupying public spaces. With the threat of arrest and loss of goods now gone, however, merchants have pushed their barrows into the busiest spots.

In Morocco, the situation is becoming critical.

"These traders have installed themselves along the alleyway beside the mosque, preventing motorists and pedestrians from passing," says Moussa, who lives in Casablanca's Oum Rabia I.

"After the vegetable sellers with their carts, the kitchen utensil sellers appeared on the square, and they were followed by the live chicken sellers, who even dare to slit their throats and pluck them on the spot, causing inconvenience for the neighbourhood," he tells Magharebia.

The informal traders are also having an impact on local businesses. Si Arroube, a public-sector worker, says that ever since street vendors in Casablanca's Belvedere and Roches Noires districts began offering items at rock-bottom prices, some small shops have been forced to close.

"These mobile traders don't pay rent or municipal tax," he explains. "The small retailers can't survive the competition."

Ahmed Ktiri, an economist, agrees that the phenomenon of street vending is having negative repercussions on the formal sector, due to illegal competitive practices.

"The youngest people should be offered training, and at the same time, jobs offering acceptable and viable conditions should be found for them," he suggests.

It is more than just price wars. Hassan, who lives in the city centre of Casablanca, says that the streets are no longer as clean as they used to be. "The goods are inexpensive, but these carts are a nuisance," he tells Magharebia.

For unemployed young Moroccans, however, they provide an income.

Informal trading is becoming a way of life for many young Moroccans.

"I have a family to take care of and if I don't sell anything, I risk ending up on the streets with my children and wife," says Aziz, a young street vendor of fish.

The government recognises the urgent need for a solution. "We must accept that we now need a new approach to integrate these people better into the formal sector," Trade Minister Ahmed Reda Chami told legislators in May.

"We need to create and set up new markets and spaces, but we also need to involve other departments, such as the interior ministry, and local authorities," Chami said.

Economic Affairs Minister Nizar Baraka said that the Moroccan government is paying particular attention to the issue and that help is on the horizon: "The main thing is to bring about a transition from the informal to the formal sector, that's what needs to happen."

A recent study commissioned by the Ministry of Trade revealed that Morocco now has 238,000 street vendors, 90% of whom are men. And since some 70% of them never went beyond the primary level in school, their employment options are limited.

The government report's recommendations will be implemented soon, Trade Minister Chami said in June. The aim, he said, is to integrate street vendors into the formal sector in order to improve their standard of living.

Absorption and integration of the informal sector would reduce poverty and exclusion, agrees Abdeljalil Cherkaoui, the president of REMESS (the Moroccan Network for Solidarity and Social Economy).

The informal traders, meanwhile, are in desperate straits.

Charaf Hamdani is a 35-year-old father of three who holds the baccalaureate. For the last five years, he has worked as a street vendor selling fruit. His decision to take up this vocation came after several years of unemployment, during which his wife supported the family. He hopes to have his own shop one day.

"I've suffered a lot," he tells Magharebia. "You can't afford to be sick. No one protects us. On the contrary, our activity is regarded as unofficial. I'd really like to switch, but I don't have the money for that."

His average monthly wage is between 2,000 and 2,500 dirhams.

Mhamed Daouli, who is 47, has been a street vendor for more than 15 years. He has sold fish, clothes, furniture and vegetables. At the moment, he is selling underwear. He does not believe the government's promises and feels that officials are merely trying to get rid of street vendors by sending some of them to markets far away from town centres.

"They need to find solutions within cities," he says.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Creating a Children's Refuge in Morocco's Slums

Here is a New York Times article about the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center that is reaching out to provide opportunities and life-saving rescources for poor children in Casablanca.
Creating a Children's Refuge in Morocco's Worst Slums
Published: July 6, 2011

CASABLANCA — There are few places Yacine, 13, likes to be. Not his school on the outskirts of Casablanca, where he says his teacher comes to class drunk. Not his crumbling home in the city’s sprawling slums, where his mother hit him with an ax.

“She woke up in the middle of the night and found him standing with a knife in his hand by her feet, so she hit him in the head,” said Boubker Mazoz, a community organizer. “She told me she went out to buy acid to pour on him during his sleep. When she was on her way to the store, that’s when she thought of me and came to ask me to put him in an orphanage.”

But here at the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center, on the grounds of a former garbage dump in a neighborhood known for its extreme poverty, Mr. Mazoz has given Yacine a place he says he likes to be. “I told him to consider me his father and that he could tell me anything,” Mr. Mazoz said. “I had to stop this before something worse happened, before one of them killed the other.”

In a country where drug abuse, delinquency and extremism have compelled government officials to embark on what has been hailed as one of the Arab world’s most aggressive programs of slum eradication, the center is trying to lure marginalized children away from the troubled paths so often followed by those living in squalor.

Mr. Mazoz, a retired public affairs specialist for the U.S. State Department, founded the center in 2007 with private financing and the help of the town’s mayor. “I went into the slums and found that these kids were amazingly talented,” Mr. Mazoz said. “They were just never given a chance.”

The center is run by Idmaj, Arabic for “integration,” an association of youths who come from the impoverished neighborhoods they are serving. Mr. Mazoz believes that no one understands the needs of these youths more than their peers and that the children can lead by example.

The center has several classrooms, computers, an extensive library and a stage. Students join sports activities, learn French or English, attend conferences or gather to debate the issues they face. They recently began a journalism project, Words for Change, in which the children blog about their lives.

“My story is only the beginning. It is a point in a sea of interesting stories of the people in the Hofra,” wrote Leila Gouacih in “The Hofra Diaries,” where she blogs about her home in one of the country’s worst slums, Al Hofra, Arabic for “The Hole.”

“The stories here are about the tragedies that have happened to these people,” she wrote. “Through this blog I will be a voice for the people who don’t have a voice. A voice of hundreds of residents. Men. Women. And even children.”

Marisa Mazria-Katz, an American journalist who is helping to run the program, said that blogging had emboldened the children. “I was so impressed with their ambition, their drive, their tenacity, their love of telling the stories around them, and their deep respect for their subjects,” she said. “It gave them a lot of self-esteem.”

Bolstering self-esteem has been a goal of Mr. Mazoz and Idmaj. Where social advancement is made difficult for many because of the stigmatization and discrimination faced for being born in these parts, the center has empowered many.

“Before I was ashamed to say I was from Sidi Moumen, but now I am proud,” said Abdssamad Nifkiran, as he showed off a Sidi Moumen Cultural Center T-shirt that he said he wore around town.

Parents see Mr. Mazoz as a savior.

“What he is doing for these kids is amazing,” said Naima Wahid, whose children come to the center. “He is the best person I have ever known.”

Others say the center is an escape from the hardships of everyday life. “The kids have nothing to do and nowhere to go, they just hang around,” said Hassna Fatoumi, another mother, whose three children come to the center.

Many of the children endure horrid living conditions. Heaps of rotting garbage swelter in the heat and hundreds of people cram into makeshift rooms that serve as living quarters, sleeping quarters and kitchens rolled into one. Often there is no running water, no electricity and no windows for fresh air or light. Bathrooms are rare.

Poverty has led to high levels of school dropouts, illiteracy, drug use, delinquency and worse. Every one of the 12 suicide bombers who strapped explosives to their chests in central Casablanca in 2003 were products of the Sidi Moumen slums. That was the deadliest attack on Morocco to date. Those who detonated themselves in the city in 2007 also came from those slums.

In 2001, aware of the problems growing within the slums, King Mohammed VI made poverty eradication a priority, calling for a supreme jihad to eradicate the social conditions that had created the shantytowns. Then, after the attacks of 2003, he introduced “Cities Without Slums,” a program aiming to eliminate all slums from the country by 2012.

The program offers land to developers at cut-rate prices if they sell some floors of the apartments to families from the slums below market price. Loans are made easier and the families receive grants to help them pay. For a country with limited financial resources, the program has become a success story for the government.

“It was a priority of the nation because the slums were a black stain on Morocco,” said Ahmed Taoufiq Hejira, the housing minister. “The people of the slums are not people who don’t matter. They are not a separate category. The slums are an interest of all Moroccans.”

“It’s not easy, we’ve chosen a difficult problem,” he said.

But Mr. Hejira said Morocco was on track to meet its goal of a slum-free country by 2012 if all partners in the program continued to work together.

Driving through these neighborhoods, change is visible. New buildings are springing up. Children play on fields awaiting construction where slums have been cleared. During the past decade, Morocco has decreased poverty drastically and the slums are shrinking.

“As of May 2011, 43 cities have been declared Cities Without Slums,” said Fatna Chihab, director of social housing at the Housing and Urban Planning Ministry.

While impoverished residents once dismissed government promises as mere talk, today they are more optimistic. “These people are living in the slums, but they have it in their minds that one day they will be relocated,” Mrs. Chihab said. “They have hope.”

Still, some in extreme poverty say the housing is still out of reach.

“The program works, I’ve seen many leave. But I don’t have the money and can’t afford the loans,” said Fatna Helam, a single mother whose husband died in an accident while working in Libya, leaving her to raise her daughter alone. Her home, a two-square-meter, or 22-square-foot, room in Casablanca’s Al Menzah slums, is shared with her one daughter.

“I don’t have a son to work to help pay,” she said. “I don’t have an education to get a better job.”

Mrs. Chihab, however, says such cases are the exception. “There are some cases of people in extreme poverty and we must try and find adapted solutions for them,” she said.

Still, some say the new housing units are becoming cement ghettos because families with limited finances have to go in on apartments together, cramming many into a small space. “It’s just creating new slums,” Mr. Mazoz said.

For those who wait, the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center and its youth volunteers will continue to reach out to children like Yacine, who Mr. Mazoz recently took to a psychiatrist. He also found the boy a new living situation. “The mother came back two days ago with a big knife and started beating him, but the members of Idmaj were there to save the kid and call the police,” Mr. Mazoz said.

On a recent Sunday, parents gathered, music blared and a group of Sidi Moumen children took to the stage to present a play entitled “There Is Always Hope.” Mr. Mazoz stood up to thank the volunteers and encourage the children to continue. Before he could speak, the youths erupted in cheers and chants. “Father Mazoz, you love us and we love you!” they shouted, as Mr. Mazoz smiled.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Moroccan Families Taking Loans for Summer Vacations

Here is a piece from Al-Bawaba about Moroccans borrowing money for summer vacations in order to prop up their social status.
Moroccan families taking loans for summer vacations
Published July 4th, 2011 - 09:18 GMT

Moroccan took out loans totaling 83.3 billion dollars by the end of 2010, an increase of 7.1% from 2009

This summer, thousands of Moroccan families are visiting loan companies and specialized financing institutions to take loans for travel and vacations. Private loan companies use tempting publicity and advertising to attract millions of people in Morocco who want to spend their holidays in or outside the country, luring them with specials and requirements that seem easy but lead many families into an endless spiral of loans.

The phenomenon of travel loans has spread to many Moroccan families due to the steady rise of prices. Thousands of families in Morocco go to specialized institutions and companies who offer consumer loans, including entertainment and travel offers for the summer holidays, targeting those with limited or medium salaries who cannot afford to save a portion of their salary throughout the year for a comfortable holiday.

Summer holiday loans increase during the hot months. According to new statistics issued by the Professional Association for Financial Institutions in Morocco, people took out loans totaling 83.3 billion dollars by the end of 2010, an increase of 7.1% from last year.

Researcher in social economic science, Abdul Razak Blumblah, believes that Moroccan families aren’t embarrassed anymore to take loans to travel to distant cities within the country, or even to touristic countries such as Turkey for a few days. According to Plumblah, this rush of Moroccan families to take summer loans is due to many factors, such as globalization and the desire to be distinguished while socially similar to others.

As such, families take out loans which lead to a falling spiral of loans from summer to summer, because once families pay the bills on the original debt, summer has arrived again, and thus those who have limited salaries find themselves in a vicious circle which they cannot get rid of it easily.

He confirmed that this loan spiral creates a permanent worry to the debt seekers, impacting their social and moral relationships negatively, leaving them always thinking about solutions of their financial problems, and unable to give any productive and useful solutions to develop their private and general life.

Friday, July 1, 2011

In Morocco: Voting Early and Often

Few are surprised that the "vote" for the constitution passed.
Here is an interesting piece from Al-Arabiya on voting irregularities in Morocco, which actually seem to be par for the course.

Mustapha Ajbaili: In Morocco, ‘Vote early and vote often’ even if the results are preordained

Saturday, 02 July 2011

On the day my country was asked to go to the polls and say “Yes” to a new constitution, I called my parents who live in a tiny Berber village southeast of the country to ask them if people were going to vote.

My father told me that local authorities, represented by the Moqaddam, brought him voting cards for me and for my brothers who live outside the country. The Moqaddam asked my father to cast vote on our behalf.

This was without the apparent consideration to the fact that we might vote in our consulates abroad. Apparently it was O.K. to vote twice than not vote at all. Amid calls for boycott, turnout was key in the first constitutional referendum during the reign of King Mohammad VI.

Videos of people casting ballots without neither voting cards nor national ID cards are abundant on the Internet. In some cases, authorities used school buses to transport the elderly from remote areas to the voting centers.

The voting activities on Friday, of course, quickly spawned jokes on the Internet. Here’s one popular joke:

A man voted “No” for the new constitution by mistake. As he walked home, he realized his mistake and returned to the polling center to ask officials if he could change his vote. They told him: We already corrected that mistake for you, just don’t do it again.

But in this referendum, there is something positive, after all: I found out that the Moroccan administration is so developed and advanced that it could count ballots nationwide, including from hundreds of villages scattered and isolated in the Atlas mountains, and do this in record time--four hours after the closing of the polling centers. What an extraordinary job you have done, my country.