Monday, October 29, 2012

Moroccan Villagers Battle to End Local Prostitution

Here is an article from the New York Times about people in Ain Leuh taking a stand to end prostitution in their town.
 Villagers in Morocco Drive Out Prostitutes

By SUZANNE DALEY   Published: October 29, 2012

AIN LEUH, Morocco — For years, this mountain village with its crumbling whitewashed walls was known locally as the place to go for sex. Women — some dressed in tight jogging suits, some in dressing gowns — dallied in the tiled doorways off the main square, offering a Moroccan version of Amsterdam’s red-light district. 

The village in the mountains east of Rabat was long known as a place to find prostitutes.
But no more. A band of men here, known as the Islamists, took matters into their own hands last fall. 

The men deny that they were on a religious campaign, or that they are fanatics. They were tired, they said, of living side by side with drunken, brawling clients, tired of having their daughters propositioned as they headed home from school, tired of being embarrassed about where they lived. 

“It reached a point after Ramadan,” said Mohammed Aberbach, 41, who helped organize the campaign to drive the prostitutes out of town, “that men were actually waiting in lines. It was crazy.” 

These days the side streets are quiet. The doors, painted green and yellow, are mostly shut, though a few prostitutes remain, now trying to sell candy instead of sex. In the square, the pace has slowed, fresh chickens and slabs of meat hang for sale on hooks, and villagers take their time over displays of vegetables. Nearby, women are bent over looms making traditional Berber rugs. 

The changes in Ain Leuh are being held up by some in Morocco as another triumph of the Arab Spring — testament to what can happen when ordinary citizens stand up for change and make life better for themselves. 

For others, however, the events of the past year show how the more fundamentalist Islamists, though continuing to be shut out of power in countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, nonetheless manage to promote their conservative agendas — often taking the law into their own hands, and in this case threatening the prostitutes and their customers and driving away the only industry in these parts. 

“The economy is in free fall here,” said Ali Adnane, who works for a rural development agency. “The girls rented. They had cash. They bought things. Some people here are really happy about the changes. But some people are not.” 

Morocco has avoided much of the violence that has gripped Arab countries in the last few years. In the face of mounting protests, Morocco’s king, Mohammed VI, offered to curb his own powers and in 2011 pledged a variety of reforms. Since then, the country has adopted a new Constitution and elected a new government, led by a moderate Islamist party. 

The new prime minister, Abdelilah Benkirane, who has refused many of the perks of his office, has a flair for mingling with the average man. But many remain frustrated over the pace of change in a country plagued by high unemployment and corruption. Ain Leuh is hardly the only village to have seen the emergence of a local committee, known as a comité, pushing for reforms of various sorts. 

Exactly what happened in this village of 5,000 in the Middle Atlas Mountains, about a two-hour drive from Rabat, the capital, is in dispute. Mr. Aberbach says the Islamists never did anything illegal. The campaign, he said, largely involved demonstrations in the main square. No one threatened anybody or used violence or stood at the entrances to the village demanding identification from men who wanted to enter. 

“That would be against the law,” said Mr. Aberbach, a friendly man who owns several shops here and has big plans for the future of Ain Leuh.
But others, including Haddou Zaydi, a member of the town council, say all those things, and more, took place. Sometimes, he said, the Islamists used padlocks to imprison the prostitutes in their houses after a customer had gone in. Then, they called the police. 

In the past, many here say, the prostitutes would pay off the police to look the other way. Now, though, the authorities, still getting the feel for a newly elected government led by a moderate Islamist party, the Justice and Development Party, let the Islamists have their way. 

Mourad Boufala, 32, who runs a cigarette and candy shop in the main square, said he was not in favor of prostitution. But he was offended by the Islamists’ methods. “The way they did it was really rough,” he said. “They hit girls and scared them. And the problem is that they offered them no alternatives.” 

Mr. Boufala worries that the country is adrift, easily prey to self-appointed militias like the Islamists.
“No one is governing,” Mr. Boufala said. “The militias exist like they are the authorities.”
Repeated phone calls to local police officials were not returned. 

Curiously, few people here see the campaign against the prostitutes as particularly religious. Mr. Aberbach and several other members of the Islamists frame the campaign in moral terms — and business ones. They say the name “Islamists” was attached to them because they are members of various Islamic parties, including the governing one. 

They say that they consider the prostitutes victims of criminal gangs that brought drugs and human trafficking to their village. And they are determined to end the corruption that allowed such crimes to flourish in their streets. 

“What we did is related to the Arab Spring because it brought the culture of speaking out,” Mr. Aberbach said. 

“We could have tourism,” he added. “But we have no good roads or hotels or restaurants here. There are beautiful things around here. Waterfalls, a lot of things. But who is going to come to a village known for prostitution? It got to the point where if you were a woman you could not say you were from here.” 

For the prostitutes who remain, the last year has brought hard times.
“I won’t even make 10 cents today,” said Khadija, 34, who has tried to earn a living selling cigarettes, candy bars and small toys displayed on a round table outside her door. “My neighbors are feeding me.”
“They are watching us all the time,” she added, referring to the Islamists. 

Up the street, Arbia Oulaaskri, 64, said her family has been living in terror since the Islamists’ campaign began. Her house is luxurious compared with others in the village. Her living room easily seats 30, and more than 50 tea glasses are arranged on various coffee tables. She says she was never involved in prostitution and obtained her money from her family and from her daughters who live abroad and send her checks. But, she said, the Islamists carrying chains arrived at her doorstep night after night, telling her to leave. 

Her son, wearing a gold lamé jacket, exhibits a room nearby that shows signs of a fire and says the Islamists did that, too. But, Mrs. Oulaaskri says, the authorities would not listen. She is facing charges related to running a house of prostitution.
“We filed a lot of complaints,” Mrs. Oulaaskri said, “but no one followed up.” 

Aida Alami contributed reporting.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Judges in Morocco Lead Sit-in for Autonomy

The sit-in of 1,000 judges in Morocco calling for autonomy, freedom to not have decisions be "bought" by prestige or money is worth noting.  Here is the Associate Press article via The New York Times. 

Judges in Morocco Lead Sit-In Calling for Autonomous Judiciary

Published: October 6, 2012
Morocco’s courts have historically been weak and under the control of the king and his Justice Ministry, which determines judges’ salaries and appointments so that they will often rule as instructed for the sake of their careers. 

“We have no protection, no rights, we have a miserable salary, we work in catastrophic conditions,” said Nazik Bekkal, a judge from Sidi Kacem in northern Morocco, at the demonstration. “Above all we are not autonomous, very simply, and that’s what is most important. It’s the autonomy, the independence of the judiciary, that’s what we really are looking for.”
Yassine Mkhelli, a judge from Taounate in northern Morocco and founder of the club, said more than 2,200 judges — about two-thirds of the country’s total — had signed a petition calling for reforms. 

In May, judges across the country wore red armbands to protest official interference in the judiciary in another action organized by the club. Morocco’s new Constitution, passed last year, does give the judicial branch greater powers and independence but has yet to be implemented. 

The justice system is one of the most sensitive issues in Morocco, a North African country of 33 million. Many Moroccans believe that it serves the highest bidder.
Critics say verdicts in civil trials can be bought for just $5,000, while a phone call from a high official is enough to seal a guilty verdict in the case of terrorism or political trials. 

The Justice and Development Party, an Islamist group which won last year’s elections, made battling corruption and creating a truly independent judiciary a main plank of its campaign, but judges say little has changed.
“This issue concerns all the Moroccan people who deserve a truly independent judiciary,” said Judge Mohammed Anbar of the Supreme Court, the vice president of the club.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Second Tale: a Poem by Moroccan Poet Rachida Madani

Here is a poem by Moroccan poet Rachida Madani  that has been translated and  published in Guernica magazine. Thanks to one our readers, R.C. for calling it to our attention. A collection of Madani's poems has been published in English by Yale Press if  you would like to read more of her work.

The Second Tale: XV, from Tales of a Severed Head 

By Rachida Madani, translated by Marilyn Hacker 
October 1, 2012

It was a tale for disfigured women
for children unable to laugh.
A tale crashing in the glass garden
after centuries of patrol
centuries of silence
in Shehriyar’s palace.

It was the sobbing tale of a shattered woman
the bloody tale of a head severed
on the way to revolt…
And without a tear, in the glass garden,
the blackest owl
took its turn to stand guard.

Rachida Madani, a native of Morocco, has published several volumes of poetry in French, a language she taught for thirty years. She lives in Tangiers.
Marilyn Hacker is a poet, translator, and critic. For her work she has received a National Book Award, a PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and a PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, among other prizes. She lives in Paris.

Monday, October 1, 2012

From the King's Mouth: Transcript of M6's Speech at the United Nations

The Moroccan National News Agency, MAP has posted a copy of the speech Muhammad VI  had his brother Moulay Rachid deliver in his name at the UN on the 28th of September. Its interesting to see what topics he chose to discuss.______________

New York (UN)
Praise be to God 
May peace and blessings be upon the Prophet,his Kith and Kin

Your Majesties,
Your Highnesses,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I should like to congratulate you most warmly, Mr President, on your election as President of this session of the United Nations General Assembly. Your election is a mark of esteem for your country as much as a recognition of your vast diplomatic experience.

I also want to commend your predecessor, Mr. Nassir Al-Nasser, on his efforts and achievements during the past year.

Similarly, I would like to praise His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of our Organization, for his untiring action and his keen desire to tackle crises. I applaud his initiatives to enable the United Nations to rise to the growing challenges facing our world.

Mr. President,

Sweeping changes are affecting today’s international arena. They include, in particular, a protracted global economic crisis - which has various implications and consequences - and a growing number of hotbeds of tension, political disputes and armed conflicts, as well as complex global challenges which exceed the capabilities of individual states, such as the achievement of sustainable development, the protection of the environment, respect for human rights, and the fight against the growing scourge of international terrorism and all forms of organized crime.

Given current changes in the world, we, the Member States, ought to provide the United Nations Organization with the means it needs to tackle challenges. To this end, we have to expand the scope of the Organization’s action and revitalize its approach while preserving its principles and objectives, so as to make it an active player in effective political governance and an instrument for equitable economic governance.

Mr. President,

The Kingdom of Morocco fully backs your decision to give special importance to resolving disputes by peaceful means. My country applauds the General Assembly’s decision to make the consolidation of this foremost principle in the United Nations Charter the key objective of the current session.

Achieving international peace and security remains the core mission entrusted to the United Nations. The tens of thousands of UN peacekeepers serving across the world to protect civilians and bring about the right conditions for political dialogue between the parties concerned clearly attest to the vital role played by our Organization in this domain.

The Kingdom of Morocco takes pride in being one of the first States to have contributed to peacekeeping operations under the UN banner. So far, my country has sent more than 50,000 members of the Royal Armed Forces around the world to serve the lofty objectives of the United Nations.

Morocco pledges to pursue its contributions to crisis management and will support efforts to promote preventive diplomacy.

The experience gained by the United Nations in conflict-affected countries points to the importance of securing smooth, systematic transition from peace restoration to peace consolidation. This requires, above all, that the pressing needs of the current crucial juncture be met. Otherwise, the threat of a return of violence and partition will continue to hang over the countries - even the regions - concerned.

Mr. President,

During the past year, the situation has seriously deteriorated in Africa, and more particularly in the Sahel and Sahara region, due to criminal, terrorist and separatist activism which now threatens the stability of the countries concerned.

The sister nation, the Republic of Mali, is confronted with a situation which threatens the country as well as its national unity and territorial integrity. Despite the sincere efforts exerted by countries in the region, including Morocco and the Economic Community of West African States, the contribution of the United Nations is needed in order to achieve national consensus, overcome the political crisis and confront separatist activism in the north. Only an independent, focused effort on the part of the United Nations can help achieve those objectives.

I should like, in this respect, to reiterate to our brothers in Mali Morocco’s commitment to continue to provide them with aid and active support for the success of the political process, and the preservation of their country’s national unity and territorial integrity.

On the other hand, the Kingdom of Morocco commends the notable progress made in several parts of Africa, especially in the sister nations Côte d'Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, towards the promotion of national reconciliation and a return to political normalcy.

Moreover, Morocco reiterates its firm commitment to pursuing cooperation and solidarity programs with various African sister nations, using efficient, dynamic approaches to South-South cooperation for the benefit of African citizens.

Mr. President,

The changes witnessed in the Arab region reflect the will of the peoples involved to build democratic societies where human rights are respected, and where citizens enjoy equal opportunities and a dignified life.

The peoples in the sister nations Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen have ushered in a new era and made much headway towards democratic transition, despite a complex, troubled political environment, a fact which makes it incumbent on the international community to provide support and assistance to these countries to lift the constraints they face.

On the other hand, it is most regrettable that the Syrian people are each day paying the blood price for their freedom. They yearn for the kind of democratic change that would enable each component of the Syrian population to contribute to achieving the desired change.

Morocco which, as the only Arab country sitting on the Security Council, has significantly contributed to mobilizing international support for the Arab League’s initiatives and resolutions, calls for concerted efforts and decisive action to compel the Syrian regime to put an end to the violence. It also calls for a political transition process which would allow for the full spectrum of opinions to be heard, the aspirations of the Syrian people to be fulfilled, and Syria’s national unity and territorial integrity as well as stability in the entire region to be guaranteed.

At the same time, it is necessary to raise the financial resources required to meet the needs of refugees in neighboring countries and those of internally displaced persons, as well as to ease the suffering of our Syrian brothers and put an end to their tragedy. In this regard, Morocco continues to show its solidarity by providing medical services on a daily basis to Syrian refugees in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

These rapid developments in the Arab region must not distract us from the fundamental, longstanding challenge of resolving the Palestinian issue.

In this regard, the Kingdom of Morocco calls for the mobilization of international support to back the steps taken by the Palestinian National Authority so as to secure non-Member State status. At the same time, my country is of the view that negotiation is the best way for the Palestinian people to regain their legitimate national rights, and to set up an independent, fully viable and geographically contiguous Palestinian state, living side by side with Israel, in peace and security.

I therefore look forward to seeing the international community change its approach to resolving this crisis by reconsidering its intervention mechanisms and work methods to make sure direct negotiations are resumed very soon and in the best possible circumstances, under the auspices of the influential powers and with their commitment.

This cannot be achieved if the fait accompli policy is allowed to continue. In this regard, and in my capacity as President of the Al-Quds Committee, I have strongly condemned the Israeli scheme for the Judaization of occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the designs to wipe out the city’s spiritual and cultural identity and to change its demographic and urban features. Let me reaffirm, in this respect, that there will be no peace without East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.

Mr. President,

Being convinced of the importance and effectiveness of joint regional action, the Kingdom of Morocco has undertaken initiatives and bilateral contacts to inject fresh momentum into the Arab Maghreb Union. Indeed, my country believes such a strategic, inclusive regional bloc is needed. Not only does it meet the legitimate aspirations of our peoples, but it is also necessitated by the security and development challenges facing the five Maghreb states.

In a bid to overcome obstacles that might hinder the fulfillment of this Maghreb ambition, the Kingdom of Morocco has contributed in a sincere, dedicated manner to negotiations aimed at finding a realistic, mutually acceptable political solution to the regional artificial dispute over the Moroccan Sahara – a solution that guarantees the Kingdom’s national unity and territorial integrity, allows for reunification to take place and respects the characteristics of the region’s populations.

Morocco remains committed and willing to negotiate on the basis of the principles set and repeatedly confirmed by the Security Council, as well as on that of the Autonomy Initiative which the international community has deemed serious, realistic and credible. Morocco will also pursue its constructive cooperation with MINURSO, on the basis of the mandate entrusted to it by the Security Council – a mandate which will not change in any way, neither in form nor substance.

Your Majesties,
Your Highnesses,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I cannot conclude without referring to the need for collective, efficient and concerted action against all forms of extremism and hatred, as well as rejection and provocation of the other, and the undermining of his beliefs, whatever the reason and in whichever form.

Given the increase in such appalling acts - often with tragic consequences - I believe national efforts to confront them must be part of a concerted international strategy. The latter should take into account the constructive initiatives launched, build on the mobilization of all United Nations organs, be based on clear commitments, and encourage lawmaking and the dissemination of national and regional best practices in this area.

As Member States, we have to provide the necessary means and reiterate our political will to support the Organization and reform its structures and intervention mechanisms. The aim is to enhance its efficiency in terms of achieving peace and security and promoting cooperation, while enabling it to fulfill its indispensable mission of furthering tolerance and coexistence, for the benefit of mankind.

Thank you.

Wassalamu alaikum warahmatullah wabarakatuh.