Friday, January 27, 2012

In Morocco Being Unemployed is a Full Time Job

Here is a piece from NPR( National Public Radio) on the situation of the unemployed in Morocco.
Click on the link to listen to the radio piece that accompanies it if you like.

In Morocco, Unemployment Can Be A Full-Time Job

by Deborah Amos

January 27, 2012

It is rush hour in Rabat, the Moroccan capital, and time for the march of unemployed college graduates.

They are part of a movement that has become a rite of passage. It's a path to a government career for a lucky few, even though it can take years.

"I have a degree, a master's degree in English, and I'm here ... idle without a job, without dignity, without anything," protester Abdul Rahim Momneh says.

During the Arab uprisings over the past year, political grievances have received much of the attention. But youth unemployment is also a crisis for every Arab government. In Morocco, the jobless rate is more than 30 percent for young people.

Last week, five jobless college graduates set themselves on fire to protest unemployment. One has since been reported dead. Self-immolation has become something of a trend in the region ever since a young Tunisian street vendor set himself alight in December 2010, an event that sparked the uprising there and served as a catalyst for other revolts.

Government employment is hardly a solution for joblessness, say the movement's critics. Morocco's bureaucracy is already bloated and unproductive; the huge government payroll is a financial drain, they argue.

Yet, under pressure from these protests, officials often give in, adding a few more positions. Organizers hand the government a list of the most dedicated activists to choose from.

An Expanding Movement

Every year, even more graduates swell the movement, hoping for the lifetime security and perks that come with a government job.

They gather in a park, dumping their backpacks. Each group has a slogan displayed on colored vests they wear to every march.

Mokhliss Tsouli is with the yellow group. He moved to the capital after earning a master's degree to join the protest full time. He says he protests four or five times a week. He says his yellow vest translates to the word "spark."

This permanent protest movement has become part of the landscape of the capital. It's a movement with strict rules and rewards. Organizers keep a tally. There are points for attendance and extra points for scuffles with the police. The points determine who gets to the top of the list and gets a job, Tsouli says.

"Sometimes there are students who come once a week, and they are not really activists," he says. "So we are updating the list that we will give to the government, to the decision-makers."

The country's new government has vowed to tackle unemployment. It was elected after Morocco's Arab Spring moment last year, when widespread discontent brought tens of thousands to the streets. There was no revolution, but King Mohammed VI responded with a series of limited changes.

Jobs, Not A Revolution

But don't compare that political movement with the aims of these jobless college grads, says Nasreen el Hannch.

"Oh, it's not the same. We are totally different because we are just looking for jobs," she says. "They are looking [to] change Morocco; we are not looking for change, only to find a job. So, we hope."

There's no hope the job crisis will go away without substantial political and economic change. Until then, a little social blackmail means at least some of these students will get work.

The government has already pledged to hire 20,000 more workers, but there are many more protesters, and those left unemployed would have reason to keep up the pressure.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Unemployed Moroccan Men set Themselves on Fire at Rabat Protest

Here is a short video from the Washington Post of Moroccan men protesting unemployment who then set themselves on fire. How terrible that people have to get to this point to be taken seriously.
Five Men set selves on Fire during Protest in Morocco

Five unemployed Moroccan men set themselves on fire in the capital Rabat as part of widespread demonstrations over the lack of jobs, especially for university graduates, a rights activist said on Thursday. This video contains graphic content. (Jan. 19) (The Associated Press)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Stanford Professor and Prince of Morocco: Moulay Hicham ben Abdallah

Here is an article from the Stanford Daily about Moulay Hicham ben Abdallah, the outspoken Moroccan prince who now teaches at Stanford University in the United States.

Professor, Prince
Wednesday, January 11th, 2012
By Natasha Weaser

Prince Moulay Hicham Ben Abdallah Al Alaoui, third in line to the Moroccan throne and consulting professor at the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford. (Courtesy of Moulay Hicham Ben Abdallah)

Wearing jeans and a plain black sweater, he blended into the crowd of Stanford students and visitors, none of whom knew they were in the presence of a prince.

Being a prince “can be more of a nuisance than anything else. People scrutinize you and have preconceived notions like…does he wear a turban?” he joked.

Ben Abdallah, whose full name is Prince Moulay Hicham Ben Abdallah El Alaoui, is third in line to the throne of the Kingdom of Morocco and first cousin to the current King, Mohammed VI. Nicknamed the “Red Prince,” he is well known for favoring democratic reforms in Morocco and the Arab world. He does not, however, appreciate the title, stating in an interview with the French journal Le Debat that it was given to him by the same “information handlers” who nicknamed King Mohammed VI “King of the Poor.”

His unorthodox views in the conservative kingdom led to his expulsion from palace grounds by his cousin, who ascended the throne in 1999 after the death of his father and Ben Abdallah’s uncle, Hassan II.

Morocco’s Al-Alaoui dynasty has been in power for four centuries and traces its lineage back to the Prophet Mohammed. The monarchy does not tolerate criticism.

“The authorities use the restrictive press law and an array of financial and other, more subtle mechanisms to punish critical journalists, particularly those who focus on the king, his family or Islam,” states the Freedom House 2011 Country Report on Morocco.

“The monarchy is a cultural and historical symbol,” Ben Abdallah said. “This is why Moroccans are aware of its crucial role in society and push for reform instead of overthrowing the regime…but there is a deep sense of frustration and impatience.”

His decision to publicly state his controversial views in 1995 was not taken lightly.

“I thought profoundly about who I was and what my country was,” he said. “It was not easy. There were high costs, and one of them was being ostracized and even vilified.”

Nevertheless, Ben Abdallah remains an outspoken political maverick, unwavering in his support for controversial publications and journalists as well as groups like the February 20th Youth Movement.

Raised in the Moroccan capital Rabat’s Royal Palace complex, Ben Abdallah attended the Rabat American School and graduated from Princeton with a bachelor’s degree in politics in 1985. After pursuing several entrepreneurial and humanitarian endeavors, he came to Stanford in 1995 to pursue a master’s degree in political science.

“Deepening my experience and my knowledge one way or another has never been interrupted in my life no matter where I go,” Ben Abdallah said.

In his witty, yet diplomatic, manner, Ben Abdallah compared Stanford and Princeton.

“Princeton is like an orchestra where you cannot play out of note but produce great music,” he said. “Stanford is like one big rock band where everyone is encouraged to make their own sound.”

After leaving the Farm, Ben Abdallah stayed in close contact with Larry Diamond, director of the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL).

In 2007, Ben Abdallah left his home in Princeton, where he had been living since 2002, and returned to Stanford as a CDDRL visiting scholar.

At CDDRL, he has been deeply involved in the Arab Reform and Democracy Program doing research, mentoring students, giving talks and developing the program.

“My goal is to enrich myself and my community as well as foster general understanding of the region,” he said.

Although Ben Abdallah originally intended to stay at CDDRL for two years, he eventually decided to remain longer and is now a consulting professor. This means he regularly commutes back to Princeton, where his wife, Malika, and their two daughters live.

One of Ben Abdallah’s initial research projects at CDDRL was investigating the idea that the Arab world is incompatible with democracy, which he swiftly rejected as a false concept.

“There was an underlying thesis that there was something about Arabs that makes them accept authoritarianism, and I wanted to unbundle it,” he said. “I wanted to say, look, authoritarianism is here, but this is why it’s here. The factors are not cultural.”

The Arab Spring may have surprised the Western world, but not Ben Abdallah.

“I always felt that something was around the corner,” he said. “I knew that the status quo was untenable, and that in a few of these places something would have to give way.”

What surprised him was the movement’s place of origin, Tunisia, which had a strong security apparatus. He also did not envision the movement’s diffusion and transformation into what he called an “awakening.”

Despite the optimism in the movement, he said that the future of the region is uncertain. Setbacks, reversals and failures are all likely to happen as each country faces its own particular demons, he said, but he believes the trend towards democracy is irreversible.

“This is a new generation with new values,” he said. “Fear has receded, and societies will not remain idle.”

He also downplayed fears over the rise of Islamist parties throughout the region and in his native Morocco, where the Justice and Development Party, a moderate Islamist party, recently won parliamentary elections.

“This does not mean we will see the rise of theocracies,” he said. “People are not going to resist secular authoritarianism to fall into religious despotism.”

Although Ben Abdallah has vigorously championed reform in Morocco for the last two decades, he attempts to keep his expectations realistic.

“It took hundreds of years for the West to get things on track,” he said. “It will be a messy and laborious process for Morocco, but we’ll eventually get it right.”

Ben Abdallah’s work at Stanford and in politics is not the end of his pursuits. He also runs his own foundation, the Moulay Hicham Foundation for Social Science Research on North Africa and the Middle East, founded Princeton’s Institute for the Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia and owns Al-Tayyar Energy, a renewable energy company that processes agricultural waste in Thailand.

“I barely have free time; I am juggling,” he said. “Every time I think I cannot handle more, someone else throws me another ball to juggle.”

Although his professional and family lives are rooted in the United States now, Ben Abdallah still keeps close ties with Morocco and returns often.

“I miss the community feel,” he said. “I miss my nephews and my friends. I miss walking on the streets hearing the call to prayer and smelling the odors of spices, so now and then I need to go back home.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Moroccan Imams Being Dismissed After Requesting Freedom of Speech

Here is an article from Deutsche Welle about ongoing protests for freedom of speech by Moroccan religious leaders.

Moroccan Imams Call for Freedom to Preach

Tight government controls on religious preaching in Morocco has led to a surprising wave of protest among the country’s imams. The resulting dismissals of the leading dissenters has sent shockwaves through the provinces.

It's been raining steadily all morning in Boujniba, a suburb of the phosphate mining town of Khouribga. Children jump over the puddles in the potholed pavements on their way back from school for lunch and the muezzin calls the faithful to the noon prayer of Dhuhr.

Among the men in their long djellebah robes making their way towards the mosque is Mohamed Samir. Until October he was imam of this mosque. Then the government sacked him. The decision caused a great deal of outrage among the local population.

"We cried a lot over him. We cried over his being sacked. We cried because we love him because he is a great person, an important person and he was forbidden to say the truth," said a fruit and vegetable stallholder called Omar, one of the signatories of a petition for the imam's reinstatement.

Learned spiritual leader

After prayers we go to Samir's home. In his front room, books that have overflowed from the shelves are piled on the floor. From in between the titles in swirling Arabic script, the familiar forehead of William Shakespeare beams down as we sit, talk and drink tea. These days Mohamed Samir has too much time to read. And to mull over the sudden way and the reasons why the government put an end to his career as spiritual guide to the people of Boujniba.

"The pretext the ministry gave is that I preached outside of what is permitted," he said. "I spoke about bribery, problems in the administration… corruption."

He had been a preacher since 1990. Then last summer he and some of his colleagues founded the National League of Religious Employees (NLRE) and Samir became its president. The NLRE has two goals, says Samir: To improve imams' living conditions and to win more space for freedom.

Unusual protest

Samir can no longer speak his mind in the mosque. But, in principle at least, he and his fellow members of the League can say what they like in the street. And – an unprecedented sight in Morocco – they have been staging demonstrations. The main ones took place in Ouarzazate, the gateway city to the Sahara Desert where support for the League is strong and in the capital Rabat.

In October, an NLRE demonstration in Rabat was broken up by police. The government, which declined to comment on what it said was such a delicate subject, has, it would seem, been taken by surprise by the emergence of the League.

Mohamed Darif, political science professor at Casablanca's Hassan II University and a specialist in religious affairs, says the imam protest movement is something startling and quite new.

"We had come to believe that the State had succeeded in integrating and domesticating religious civil servants," he told Deutsche Welle, adding that King Mohamed the Sixth, who holds the title of Commander-of-the-Faithful, took the imams' support for granted.

"They have long been part of the State apparatus," he said. "And, through them, the monarchy has always tried to prove its legitimacy."

Tight controls

For a quarter of a century, the imams have been under close State control.

In 1984, not long after the ayatollahs had swept the royal family from power in Iran, Morocco's Hassan II, Mohammed VI's father, ruled that, henceforth, the government would write imams' sermons for them.

Since that date, every week in time for Friday prayers, all the imams in the country receive a sermon. Most read it word for word. Others use it as a guide and inspiration. And not doing so is asking for trouble. Mohamed Darif says a hundred imams have been removed from their positions for straying too far from the government-provided text over the past decade.

For Human Rights Watch's man in Morocco Brahim Elansari this is incompatible with the identity Morocco is now claiming for itself as Africa's first constitutional monarchy. He points out that Moroccans voted this summer in favour of a constitution which has now been passed into law which enshrines freedom of speech.

"But in practice," Elansari told Deutsche Welle, "the Ministry tells the imams what to say each Friday and they don't have the right to say anything else."

Fresh hope

Back at Mohamed Samir's home, the youngest son of the sacked imam brings in mint tea, pastries and Moroccan ‘m'smen' pancakes prepared by one or the other or possibly both of his… two wives. Might we meet them? The request apparently causes a bit of a flutter at the other end of the house with the two ladies apparently debating what level of head cover would be appropriate.

They finally receive us wearing niqabs (the cover that leaves the face visible). Was he, I ask Samir, what he might describe as a conservative? No he said. A conservative wouldn't have introduced me to his wives. And if he were an extremist… a Salafist… he wouldn't just have lost his job. He'd be in jail.

Samir's profile is close in fact to that of the PJD, the Islamist party usually described as moderate that won the general elections just over a month ago and which has just formed a new governing coalition.

The former preacher's main hope now is that the new PJD-led government will be more sympathetic to the League's demands and that he might even get his old job back. He's now working as a guard for the phosphate mining company:

"But that's not the job I was put on Earth to do," he said.

Author: John Laurenson, Morocco
Editor: Rob Turner