Friday, September 28, 2012

The Plight of the People in Northern Morocco's Rif Region

Here is an interesting opinion piece/historical overview from Aljazeera English on the distressed situation facing the Rifians (riyafa)  in Morocco's most Northern Region.
The plight of the Rif: Morocco's restive northern periphery:
The unrest in the Rif is based in the tumultuous history of Rifians as a battered people on Morocco's northern periphery

by Akbar Ahmed  with Harrison Akins
Last Modified: 28 Sep 2012 09:20
The Moroccan journalist, Hamid Naimi, has received a number of ominous and mysterious death threats in the last few weeks. Based out of the Spanish enclave of Melilla on the northern Moroccan coast, Naimi's blistering reports on the corruption of the Moroccan central government and its treatment of the Berber periphery have become a thorn in the side of the administration.
Naimi, originally from Morocco's northern region, the Rif, has been in exile since 2005, when his newspaper Kawaliss Rif  ("Stories from the Rif") was shut down by the government.

The travails of Naimi expose the challenge of Morocco in dealing effectively with its Berber periphery, particularly the Rifian Berbers in the north. The Arab Spring protests across the country have led to new constitutional reforms for the nation, yet more must be done to account for and alleviate the problems of the Rif and its Berber tribes who have felt neglected by the central government for decades.
Over the past year, protests in the Rif pointed to the issues which plague the region - high rates of poverty, unemployment, a media blockade and brutal tactics employed by the police to crush any unrest. To understand the current relationship between Morocco and its northern periphery, we must look into the history of the Rif with its Berber tribes and its interactions with the centre. 

Resisting encroachment
The largely unknown mountainous region of the Rif, meaning "the edge of cultivated land", in northern Morocco has struggled with central authority for the past century. The Rifian Berbers, ensconced in their mountains, have lived according to a code of honour, hospitality and revenge within their system of clans and kinship networks, allowing them to regulate justice and social order without the presence of state institutions for centuries. The Rifian Berbers, distinct from the Atlas Berbers in central Morocco, have their own Berber dialect, Tarifit. 

Sean Connery depicted the importance of dignity and honour among the Rifians with empathy in the 1975 film The Wind and the Lion. Connery, himself a Scotsman, played the Rifian tribal chief Mulai Ahmed el Raisuli with flair. The film recounts the historic events surrounding el Rasiuli's kidnapping of an American expatriate, Ion Perdicaris (portrayed in the film as a woman played by a glamorous Candice Bergen), and his son for a ransom and control of two government districts from the Moroccan Sultan. 

Connery's acting accurately displays el Raisuli's reputation of treating his hostages with respect and hospitality, even going so far as protecting them from harm. Perdicaris would later write of el Raisuli, "He is not a bandit, not a murderer, but a patriot forced into acts of brigandage to save his native soil and his people from the yoke of tyranny".  
The Rifians with their sense of honour and fierce independence resisted the encroachment of central authority. Beginning in the late 19th century, Spain made a number of military incursions into the Rif region, clashing with the Berber tribes. With the establishment of the Spanish Protectorate of Morocco in 1912 over the north of the country, the Spanish military attempted to bring the mountainous area under central rule. 

By 1921, Abd-el-Krim, a Rifian tribal leader, declared independence from Spain. Abd-el-Krim caught the attention of international media, appearing on the cover of TIME Magazine in August 1925. To defeat Abd-el-Krim and his allied tribes, Spain relied on overwhelming military force and the extensive use of early forms of air power and chemical weapons to subjugate the rebellious tribes.
King Alfonso XIII of Spain captured the mood of the country when he stated that the aerial gas campaign was for "the extermination, like that of malicious beasts, of the Beni Urriaguels [Abd-el-Krim's tribe] and the tribes who are closest to Abdel Karim". The resulting war which ended in 1926 proved devastating for both: the Spanish lost as many as 50,000 men and the Rifians had roughly 30,000 casualties. 
With the Rif's inclusion into independent Morocco in 1956, the Rifians felt sidelined with Arabs, who represented the dominant culture, and others from Francophone Morocco favoured for administrative posts within the newly centralised government. 

Violence erupted in the Rif in October 1958 when tribesmen attacked markets and local offices of the nationalist Istiqlal Party and, then, escaped into the mountains. Despite these attacks against the state, the Rifians were quick to express their traditional loyalty to King Mohammed V due to his holy lineage, separating his religious authority from his political authority. 
This has been how Berbers have viewed central authority throughout history. During lulls in battles between government forces and Berber tribes of the Atlas Mountains in the late 19th century, for example, Berber women would kiss the Sultan's cannons and ask them for benediction in order to defeat the Sultan's forces, as the cannons carried the Baraka, or blessing of the Sultan and thus the Prophet. 

'Cruel punishment'
In January 1958, the government responded to the Rifians' overtures of violence with 20,000 troops of the newly formed Forces Armees Royales (FAR), over two-thirds of the entire army, led by Crown Prince Hassan, to carry out what the King called a "cruel punishment". 

When the Crown Prince's plane was landing in the Rif Mountains, he was greeted by gunfire from Rifian sharpshooters hiding in the brush at the edge of the landing strip. The FAR responded by indiscriminately bombing entire villages and raping Rifian women. The uprising came to an end in the following month with casualties for the tribesmen exceeding 10,000.  

After King Hassan ascended the throne in 1961, the Rif remained largely neglected by the central government and as a result, suffered from some of the highest levels of poverty in the country. In the Rif in the 1960s, for example, the infant mortality rate within one week of birth was over 50 per cent. 
With very little development from the centre and lacking economic opportunities, its people were forced to resort to widespread hash cultivation and smuggling merely to survive. Many Rifians chose to settle in slums surrounding Casablanca and other major Moroccan cities or travelled to Europe as migrant labourers with the majority of Moroccan immigrants in Europe from the Rif. 

The bread riots in the Rif in the 1980s, sparked by rising food prices, were quickly suppressed by the government with King Hassan describing the Rifians in a nationally televised speech as "savages and thieves". 
The unrest in the Rif is based in their tumultuous history as a battered people on Morocco's northern periphery. Understanding their history, the people of the Rif need to be treated with compassion and sympathy. This presents not only a dilemma for dealing with the Rif, but also an opportunity. 

For the Moroccan centre, King Mohammed VI is almost unique in the Muslim world as a ruler with a holy lineage. The King, with the compassion and Baraka of the Prophet, should act to help these beleaguered people while respecting their culture and understanding their history.
The Rifians only want the rights and opportunities of full citizens of a modern and inclusive Morocco. Only then can peace and stability be brought to the troubled northern periphery of an important Muslim nation.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Morocco (Temporarily) Eliminates Import Tax on Wheat

This is important because in Morocco bread is water. Here is an article from Reuters on the temporary freeze of import taxes on soft wheat in order to stabilize supplies of wheat in the country.

 Morocco freezes import duty on soft wheat

Thu Sep 20, 2012 5:17pm EDT
By Souhail Karam

(Reuters) - Morocco will eliminate a 17-percent import duty on soft wheat from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, to ensure a regular supply of the commodity to the domestic market through imports expected to be the biggest in 30 years, according to state run radio.

Bad weather slashed Morocco's soft wheat harvest to 2.74 million tonnes. Based on demand of 7.1 million tonnes last year, Morocco will need to import in excess of 4.3 million tonnes of soft wheat to fill the shortfall this year, excluding stock variations.

Yet, the state grains agency ONICL has yet to make its first foreign purchase under the current import program that started in June.
Last month, two soft wheat tenders of 300,000 tonnes each, under preferential trade agreements with the European Union and the United States, received no bids.

Local importers said high international prices, coupled with the 17-percent import duty and other charges, left too thin a margin, while domestic supplies could still provide for immediate milling needs.

But domestic supplies, considering the 450,000 tonne monthly milling needs, will be disappearing fast, especially when a little over half the soft wheat harvest ends in the formal distribution chain.

The remainder, 46 percent last year, is either consumed by farmers or goes to unorganized traditional milling.
In August, the state extended by a month the payment to local farmers of 2,900 dirhams ($340) for a tonne of their milling soft wheat, in an apparent bid to lure more sales.

When the price of wheat costs more than the price the state pays for the domestic milling soft wheat, authorities compensate licensed importers.

Traders in Casablanca said ONICL may need to launch its first tenders during the first week of October.
"Stocks will fall sharply by end-September, to less than a million tonnes. It's an unbearable position for ONICL. They will need to replenish them through imports to keep the minimum three months of needs covered," a trader said.

Morocco's soft wheat stocks should have stood at 1.75 million tonnes by end-August from 2.35 million tonnes by end-July, according to agriculture ministry estimates published in August. ($1 = 8.5757 Moroccan dirhams) (Editing by Carol Bishopric)

Monday, September 17, 2012

UN Human Rights Expert Visits Morocco

The United Nations'  (UN) human rights expert Juan E. Méndez   is in Morocco now  to " assess improvements and identify remaining challenges." He will be there until the 22nd of September 2012 .  Human Rights Watch is asking him to look into the torture of protesters. The official UN announcement about the visit  is pasted below.
___________________      Morocco: First visit by UN Special Rapporteur on torture

GENEVA (12 September 2012) – Independent human rights expert Juan E. Méndez will visit Morocco from 15 to 22 September 2012, to assess improvements and identify remaining challenges regarding torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment, particularly in light of adopting a new Constitution in July 2011.

“My ultimate task is to engage with decision-makers and key actors to help the authorities uphold the rule of law, promote accountability for past abuses and allegations of torture and ill-treatment, fulfill the right of reparations for victims, and to ensure that alleged perpetrators are held responsible in conformity with international law,” Mr. Méndez said.

The Special Rapporteur, who visits the country at the invitation of the Government, will hold meetings with authorities, the judiciary, civil society, the national human rights institution, United Nations agencies, victims and their families. In Morocco, the Special Rapporteur plans to visit Rabat, Salé, Casablanca, Meknès and Skhirat-Témara.

Mr. Méndez will share his preliminary comments and recommendations at a press conference to be held on 22 September 2012, at 15:00, at the Hotel Diwan McGallery (place de l’Unité Africaine, 10005 Rabat). The Special Rapporteur will present a final report to the Human Rights Council in 2013.

Juan E. Méndez (Argentina) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in November 2010. He is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. Mr. Méndez has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights, and has a long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas. Learn more, log on to:

(*) The independent expert will also visit Laâyoune, Western Sahara, on 17 and 18 September 2012.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Cultural and Literary Scene in Morocco

Here is an article from  about the culture of reading,publishing, and the current literary scene  in Morocco. It came out at the end of last year but still seems timely and relevant.  It is  also available in Arabic.

The Cultural and Literary Scene in Morocco: From the Caravan of Books to the Literary Café

Morocco has not bothered to wait for the Arab Spring to revolutionise its cultural scene. It took off in the 1990s and is showing no sign of stopping – Moroccan artists exhibit in beauty salons, tennis clubs become impromptu literary cafés and a hotel sponsors the country's most prestigious literature prize. 

By Regina Keil-Sagawe

It was a glamourous event, and a touch surreal, when Mahi Binebine was awarded the newly established literary prize in the legendary and luxurious "La Mamounia" hotel in Marrakech for his novel "Les étoiles de Sidi Moumen", set in the slums of Casablanca and dealing with the suicide bomb attacks carried out in the city on May 16th in 2003. Rather a bizarre contrast, but not unnusual for Morocco, it has to be said.

Not that anyone begrudges the likeable allrounder Binebine, whose paintings have long been a feature of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, success in his native country. It is rather surprising, however, that practically all of the authors on the "Mamounia" shortlist are published by French publishing houses. And one wonders how the "Mamounia" intends to encourage Moroccan literature if it does not include any Moroccan publishing houses on its list.

A book market without readers?

Moroccan literature from Europe: Most writers awarded in Morocco, as for instance Mahi Binebine, are published by publishers in France
On the other hand, why should the luxury hotel succeed with its prestigious coup where the Moroccan ministry of culture and the French embassy have been failing for years? Although the literary prize of both institutions – the Prix du Maroc du Livre and the French Grand Atlas – traditionally go to authors with Moroccan publishers, it has not been enough to bolster the Moroccan book market with its two thousand or so new publications a year and with diminishing print runs that rarely top a thousand.

Although Tangiers and Casablanca have hosted international book fairs for years, the country's top publishers, Abdelkader Retnani (La Croisée des Chemins), Rachid Chraïbi (Editions Marsam) und Layla Chaouni (Le Fennec), complain of the government's lethargy. There are too few subsidies, too many bookshops closing and no transparent figures available on the book market; all this despite the fact that current Minister of Culture, Bensalem Himmich, is himself a writer.

And then there is the inadequate infrastructure. Instead of the planned four thousand, there are a mere five hundred public libraries. Even in the major cities there are likely to be no more than ten, maybe twelve, bookshops, their owners' usually not even trained booksellers. Until recently, professionally run book shops, such as the Kalima wa Dimna in Rabat or the Carrefour des Livres in Casablanca, seemed heavenly literary oases in a desert of illiteracy.

Back in 2002, the writer Ahmed Bouzfour took Morocco's powerful rulers to task, bemoaning the sense of shame he felt at their incompetent governance and their cultural, social and economic decadance. He then also refused to accept the Prix du Maroc du Livre with its accompanying 7000 dollars prize money. Why bother to award a literary prize for books that do not sell because one in two Moroccans cannot read, in the rural areas the figure rises to nine out of ten.

Campaign for culture
Tremendous efforts have been made since that time to reduce illiteracy. Morocco's media used the occasion of World Literacy Day on September 9 to take stock of the situation. Since 2003 five of the thirty-two million Moroccans have achieved literacy outside the school system, 84% of 15 to 24-year-olds are now able to read and write, and even among the older age groups there is now 68% literacy. It is an achievement that state institutions alone could never have managed and required the efforts of numerous participants from civil society.

 One of those pioneers is Julia Hassoune from Marrakech, who, along with Fatima Mernissi, launched the "Caravane Civique" (citizens' caravan) in 1999, and the "Caravane du Livre" (caravan of books) in 2006. Hassoune undertakes expeditions into remote mountain villages or distant oases in the company of artists, writers and educationists to deliver drama, writing, painting or storytelling workshops.

At the same time as these developments, and practically overnight, a plethora of new literary awards were springing up. Prizes, which are directed primarily at young writers, with TV stations, publishers, cultural institutions, magazines, foundations and banks as sponsors. In 2002, the "House of Poetry" sponsored a newcomer's prize for Arab poetry, in 2005 the magazine "Tel Quel" initiated a short story prize, and in 2006 the 2M TV station came up with its prize for the best new Arab, Francophone and Amazigh literature.

Marsam publishing has already published the fourth volume "Côté Maroc: Nouvelle Noire", the result of a crime writers competition run by the Institut Français in Marrakech since 2007. In 2010 the "Magazine littéraire du Maroc": created two new prizes: a francophone short story prize and a major prize for literature in the French, Arabic and Berber languages, which is due to be presented by Tahar Ben Jelloun in the elegant new national library in Rabat on 14 October.
The Moroccans already have a name for this dynamic cultural energy that has long been part of the country's young art scene – "movida" or "moufida", also known as "nayda" (from the standard Arabic "nahda" – renaissance) and is now sweeping into the literary world also.

Literature festivals and literary salons are everywhere, and the latest manifestation is the literary café. Literature programmes in the media may be in short supply, but there are plenty of opportunities for 'live' encounters with books and authors – and the latest innovation, the new "Magazine littéraire du Maroc" founded by historian Abdesselam Cheddadi in 2009, and initially published only in French, is now about to add an Arabic edition, with a Berber edition in the Amazigh language also planned.
Back in the 1990s, when support for the Berber language meant facing a possible prison sentence, the idea that Amazigh might one day be accepted as one of the official national languages seemed impossible. But on October 17 2001, the Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) was set up, and in 2005 it announced its first prize for Amazigh literature. Now it is cool to be Berber, and since the referendum of July 1, 2011, the language that is the mother tongue of around half the people of Morocco has been constitutionally recognised as an official language. It now enjoys the same status as standard Arabic.

A hot potato
This is not to say that the other half of the population speaks standard Arabic. Most speak a Moroccan Arabic dialect known as "Darija", a mix of Arab and Berber with traces of French and Spanish, which horrifies the purists, but is so much a part of the soul of the people and everywhere in the media – internet forums, rap music, and advertising slogans.
In 2006, the American Elena Prentice, publisher of the free weekly "Khbar Bladna" (the latest news from our country) in Tangiers, a very popular paper that tries to close the gap between the educated and the semi-literate, was the first and only (so far) to offer a prize for Darija literature. It was the adventurous General Secretary of the Moroccan PEN, Youssef Amine Elalamy, who published the first literary text in Darija with Elena Prentice in 2006 – "Tqarqib Ennab" (gossip), a collection of portraits.

On 2 October, the second "Mamounia" literature prize was awarded. And, once again, the authors are almost exclusively with French publishers, including Fouad Laroui, whose essay "Le drame linguistique marocain" is a plea for more recognition for Darija. It will be interesting to see whether in the exclusive setting of the "Mamounia" the jury, with its diverse representatives of the French-speaking world from Senegal and Morocca to Quebec, will dare to pick up this hottest of Arab hot potatoes.

Regina Keil-Sagawe
© 2011

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Morocco's (Illegal) Mussel Pickers and the Marine Ecosystem

This article from Radio Netherlands clarified a lot of what I would see in Rabat along the Ocean - men in the water at all times of  day and night with buckets and flashlights. Mussels  are apparently worth such effort , especially if you are unemployed.

Morocco's illegal mussel pickers ply non-eco trade

Published on 29 August 2012 - 7:33pm

Thousands of Morocco's unemployed slum-dwellers head to the Atlantic coast every morning to scrape a living as illegal mussel pickers. But experts say they threaten the health of the marine ecosystem.

The stretch of coast between Rabat and Casablanca, Morocco's economic capital renowned for its sprawling slums, or "bidonvilles," is the most popular destination for these unlicensed fishermen, who flock to the area at low tide.

The mussels that line the rocky sections of the coast are highly sought after in Morocco, where they are served up in tajines, or cooked with onions and lemons, and are particularly in demand during the holy month of Ramadan.

So when the tide is out, the poachers scour the rocks with iron bars they use to catch the black-shelled mollusks, and with the full knowledge of the authorities, who are supposed to help protect the shoreline but instead turn a blind eye.

Unemployment is a major problem in Morocco -- tens of thousands demonstrated in Casablanca in May demanding jobs -- so the unauthorised mussel-pickers are tolerated, as an official in Harhoura, a seaside resort near Rabat, explained.

"We can't stop this informal activity because we have nothing to offer the fishermen as an alternative," he told AFP.
More importantly, from an ecological point of view, the government has never passed a law to encourage the conservation of the mussels, which play an important role in preserving the marine environment.

They act as filters for microbes found along the coast, including bacteria and algae, excreting nutrients that stimulate the growth of plant plankton, which in turn benefit the fish.

Their shells are also able to absorb metal pollutants, adding to concerns among environmentalists about their disappearance.
The sides of the rocks south of Rabat are scoured by the mussel pickers on a daily basis "and left bare," according to a Moroccan development NGO.

The poachers have much to gain from this activity. One person may collect 200 kilos of mussels per day, which when shelled would yield about 3-4 kilos of meat, sold to buyers for around 50 dirhams (4.5 euros) per kilo and potentially earning the poachers between 100 and 150 dirhams per day.

There are no official figures on the number of poachers plying the trade along the heavily urbanised shoreline south of the capital, but an official in the Rabat prefecture estimated there are more than 2,000 during peak season.

At other times, the number drops by half.
During the summer months, they work in small groups down on the coast, and are also seen seated at the roadside, selling their mussels in the sweltering heat, which brings problems of its own.

"Exposing mussels to the sun for too long can make them a health hazard to the consumer," said Abdelaziz Ben Ameur, a doctor in Rabat.

But for all the risks involved, Moroccans are still happy to fork out for a bag of fresh mussels, and the poaching business helps many of the area's unemployed to support their families.
Brahim Touil, a seasoned poacher at Temara, south of Rabat, strongly defends his line of work, which he says enables him to feed seven people.

"If they tried to stop me from collecting mussels, I would beat myself to death," he told AFP.
For the moment it appears unlikely that anyone will try and stop him, but the National Institute for Fish Resources insists the exploitation of coastal resources is subject to regulations that must be adhered to.

"The rules for gathering mussels must be respected," institute director Mustapha Faik told AFP, adding that unfortunately "that is not the case."

Faik admitted that getting a permit to collect mussels can involve lengthy bureaucratic procedures at the ministry of fisheries.

"But the ministry provides information on this. If they want authorisation, of course they can get it."

Rachid Choukri, who heads marine studies at the environment ministry, laments that research on the environmental impact of mussel collecting in Morocco did not take into account the large informal sector.

"No authority is managing this, and it is time that the government opened this file, for the benefit of our fish resources," he said.