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Morocco Week in Review 
December 24 , 2011

Reporter's Notebook: Morocco Battles HIV, Stigma Through Mosques
By: Ray Suarez   December 21, 2011

Ray Suarez with Imam Mohamed Ziani, who helps train other imams to talk about HIV in their communities. The first report in the NewsHour's Morocco series airs on Wednesday night's broadcast. Watch a video preview of the stories.

Many of the countries we've visited to report on global health over the past three years have terrifying rates of HIV infection: South Africa, 30 percent; Mozambique, 12.5 percent; and Tanzania, 6.2 percent. The infection rate in Morocco is an estimated one tenth of 1 percent, or 0.1 percent. Yet journal article after journal article written for and read by infectious disease specialists and people combating AIDS say ignorance carries with it the threat of a future rate many times higher. The NewsHour's global health unit went to Morocco to see the state of AIDS prevention in the country, and look at how people who are already HIV positive are treated.

Unlike those other countries I mentioned, Morocco is almost entirely Muslim, and discourages open discussion or popular depiction of human sexuality. Unlike those other countries, you won't find cookie jars full of condoms on clinic counters in Morocco, or HIV-positive characters in popular soap operas, or downtown billboards in big cities urging smiling couples to use condoms when they have sex, or know their HIV status.

Dr. Hakima Himmich, who founded and runs Morocco's oldest anti-HIV organization, ALCS, said she and her workers and volunteers have to be a lot more creative and a lot less overt. The government doesn't deliver open, frank messages on HIV prevention, but is glad Dr. Himmich's organization is doing it.

Government organizations are reluctant to put the authority of the establishment and the king behind education that makes sex before marriage, extra-marital or homosexual sex safer. It's a Moroccan version of the arguments we have here in the United States over whether making a dangerous or illegal activity safer is equivalent to condoning or encouraging it.

And the complications of spreading a prevention message are clear in the wide range of relationships on display in Morocco. In cities you can see modestly dressed conservative couples share quiet conversations in cafes and restaurants, their legs touching underneath the table if they dare. Often in those same restaurants and cafes, young couples in Western dress, the young woman with uncovered hair, the men in jeans and sunglasses, snuggle over coffee, sitting side-by-side on the same side of similar tables.

Secrecy provides a perfect petri dish for cultivating the HIV virus. With sex workers driven to the margins of society, gay sex entirely underground and intravenous drug use attracting restless young users among the urban unemployed, Morocco can't take that very low rate of infection for granted.

One morning, we headed out to a truck stop in Casablanca with a mobile testing unit. The beautifully equipped big white truck pulled into a parking space, rolled out its stairways, and sent workers into the neighborhood with brochures and offers of a free AIDS test.

Through much of Africa, long-haul truckers have been efficient spreaders of the virus. They visit cities and towns large and small, routinely cross international borders, are away from home and family for long stretches, and have access to anonymous or commercial sex in the places they stay. But the volunteers found plenty of takers. The test involves a simple needle-stick, and the short wait for the results allows doctors who staff the truck to deliver prevention messages and advice face-to-face.

A tougher nut to crack are sex workers. In a society as firmly against sex outside marriage as Morocco, it's difficult for sex workers to show themselves in any organized way. As in many societies, they are beyond the reach of even non-governmental organizations. But ALCS runs workshops, tests for the virus, gives exams and prevention training without judgment or punishment.

However, the most interesting program we observed involves the country's imams. An innovative educational program spearheaded by an Islamic think tank teaches leaders of congregations and religious teachers about the biology of HIV and AIDS, and training in ministering to the infected. We turned up for Friday prayers at a big mosque in a Casablanca suburb. Thousands of men and women squeezed through the entrance gates and into the worship space at prayers floated on the warm, dry winter air into the surrounding neighborhood.

Imam Mohamed Ziani welcomed us into his home, made a few last notes and put the finishing touches on his sermon, slipped his feet into lemon yellow slippers, and headed over to the next-door mosque. He and the thousands of other imams across Morocco are encouraged not only to give frank advice to worshipers about avoiding the virus, but to ask for compassion and mercy for those already infected.

World AIDS Day was just a day before Imam Ziani stood to talk to the thousands at the mosque. After urging Moroccans to talk openly about the disease and to stop its spread, he was thronged by worshipers who came to thank him for the message.

When I met Dr Ahmed Abbadi, president of the think tank called the Mohammedia League of Moroccan Ulama, he explained his support for AIDS education in the context of Islam. Mercy for the sick is a central idea for Muslims, Abbadi said, then added that compassionate treatment of the HIV positive and limiting the future spread of the virus is "the highest form of patriotism."

I hadn't really thought of it that way before. In a developing country, each person whose HIV infection eventually segues into AIDS, every person who has to spend the rest of their lives on anti-retroviral medication, every person whose future as a worker is compromised holds the country back. Lowering the disease burden, heading off new infections, figuring out who's infected and keeping them from passing HIV, doesn't just reduce the toll of human suffering. It is, as Abbadi notes, a benefit to all Moroccans.

Imams taking the training at a recent workshop in Rabat credited Islam for its endorsement of valuing every person. But at the same time, people known to be HIV-infected face isolation, social sanction, and cruelty. At ALCS we met a woman who only consented to an interview once her face and head were completely covered. HIV positive for decades, she lost her young husband and baby to AIDS around the same time she learned she was infected. Her status is known to only a few friends and family. She can't take the risk of letting more people know, she told me, because her family would be cut off by neighbors and friends.

She paused, and enormous tears soaked her veil. Her husband was the only sex partner she's ever had, and he's been dead for 20 years. This was not the life she had ever imagined for herself, a middle-aged woman with no husband and no children in a culture that places heavy emphasis on both. Off-camera she's vivacious, outgoing, and friendly -- her life saved by anti-retrovirals -- but at the same time constantly confronted by the virus her husband brought into their home.

Her fear is a reminder of how far Morocco still has to go. In many ways the country is on the road to a successful response to AIDS. There are still thousands of new infections annually in this country of more than 30 million, guaranteeing the response to HIV must stretch for decades into the future. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2011/12/reporters-notebook-morocco-confronts-hiv-and-stigma-through-mosques.html
Watch the video here: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/globalhealth/july-dec11/morocco_12-21.html
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Youth unemployment tops Morocco priorities
By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat – 19/12/11

Persistent joblessness remains a concern for both the incoming and outgoing Moroccan governments. Unemployed young Moroccan graduates hope that once new Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane assembles his government within the next few days, their situation may finally begin to improve.

In its electoral platform, the Justice and Development Party (PJD) vowed to reduce unemployment by 2% and to give 100,000 grants to unemployed young people to support them through training courses. The PJD has proposed to introduce jobseekers' allowance and to raise the minimum wage to 3,000 dirhams.

PJD Secretary-General Abdelilah Benkirane, set to be sworn-in as the new prime minister, has said that efforts must be made to reduce unemployment. Above all, he argued, corruption and authoritarianism must be tackled in order to have a real impact on the economy and jobs.

The labour market is flooded with graduates because of the 1980s baby boom, according to Najib Boulif, an economist and senior PJD official. Significant efforts must be made to boost regional development, he told Magharebia. "That will help to achieve a balance between the regions and prevent vacancies from being clustered in Rabat and Casablanca, as is the case at present," he said.

Outgoing Employment Minister Jamal Rhmani believes that joblessness among young graduates requires specialisation, with new professions emerging to meet sector-wide plans in the pipeline.

During a seminar held in Rabat on December 5th, Rhmani said that the situation has spurred authorities to step up their efforts to create a workforce with the necessary skills and address labour needs by implementing the concept of "fair work".

An agreement on two measures was signed by the government and the General Confederation of Moroccan Businesses (CGEM) last May with a view to consolidating and improving job promotion plans, as well as assisting direct integration into businesses.

The employment ministry said that the first measure is intended to improve the on-going Idmaj plan, which enables young graduates to develop their professional skills by gaining work experience while helping businesses increase their competitiveness. The project involves the state paying 12 months of social welfare contributions if a permanent contract is signed during or at the end of the 24-month training period.

The second measure is aimed at creating a "Professional Integration Contract" (PIC) to assist jobseekers having difficulty securing their first job. The programme allows businesses to address their needs while training university graduates for six to nine months. The government then makes a financial contribution to companies that offer a permanent employment contract.

According to initial forecasts, these two new initiatives will create 297,000 posts for jobseekers between Q4 2011 and 2016, at a cost to the government of more than 2 billion dirhams.

But despite government efforts to tackle unemployment, the rate remains high. "This could have a negative impact on stability and public order," Rhanmi said. "We need to think of alternative ways of getting young people into work," the minister said, adding that a new vision was being developed based on the outcome of talks between trade unions and employers, as well recommendations from the CGEM.

According to the CGEM, businesses need skilled employees to boost productivity and competitiveness. This has been underlined repeatedly by Jamal Belahrach, the chairman of the CGEM Employment and Business Relations Committee. He has called for measures to be put in place to help young people find jobs with companies.

Jobs are linked to wealth creation and educational reform, according to Chakib Benmoussa, the president of the Economic and Social Council. He said growth over the past decade hasn't reduced youth unemployment significantly.

According to a report issued by the council, jobs held by young people tend to be insecure as they are often "underpaid, non-contracted and seldom covered by a social welfare scheme". http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2011/12/19/feature-03
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Unlikely Education Leader Links Business and Schools in Morocco
By: Talea Miller December 23, 2011

Former President Clinton and Moroccan education advocate Mhammed Abbad Andaloussi at the Clinton Global initiative.

Mhammed Abbad Andaloussi is one of those people with a knack for getting what he wants, at times without even asking. He is sitting in his downtown office, with a wall of windows overlooking Casablanca, telling one of his favorite stories: the one about visiting an auto dealer to purchase a van for an education project, and ending up with a free car. "We talked about the work for a long time...then [the auto dealer] pointed to the vans and told me to pick one," Andaloussi says.

It's not hard to imagine Andaloussi inspiring spontaneous generosity - he is a seasoned business man-turned education advocate, who speaks with enthusiasm and passion about the new turn his life has taken, working to improve Morocco's schools.

In Morocco, about 40 percent of boys and 36 percent of girls attend secondary school, according to UNICEF, and resources at those schools are scarce. Andaloussi began to focus on the country's education system more than a decade ago, after nearly 35 years in the banking industry, when he founded a non profit called Al Jisr, which means "the bridge." The mission of the organization was to encourage companies to adopt a local school and take some ownership for its improvement.

Andaloussi's efforts through Al Jisr, and now running a project that trains high-school students to become entrepreneurs, have gained notice on a global scale. In 2010, he won the Social Entrepreneur of the Year award for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Economic Forum. This September, he won a Clinton Global Citizen award from the Clinton Global Initiative.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton called Andaloussi's work to link business and education "a model for the Arab world and even for the United States." "I was not looking for philanthropy, I wanted true engagement and involvement," Andaloussi said. "[The companies] were ready to give money, but for me that was not the issue."

Now one in every four schools in the Casablanca area is involved in these partnerships, and he aims to reach 1,000 schools by 2014. The companies meet with school leadership and help craft plans to address the most pressing needs, determined by teachers and the school community. Some focus on building infrastructure; some on teacher training. The companies decide how much they want to contribute based upon the plan and needs.

The partnership project continues to grow, but Andaloussi has shifted his focus to a new education cause, Injaz Morocco, which involves teaching high school students how to start their own businesses.

Over the course of about six months, students pitch a business idea, build a business plan, sell shares in their company for a few dollars and launch the product or service. Andaloussi has been astounded by the students' creativity. Businesses have ranged from engineering tools like an automatic houseplant watering device, to running computer literacy courses for teachers and students' parents.

"Today, everything [in school] is based on memorization," he said. "We encourage imagination and team work. We transform these students. In the beginning they don't even speak."

One of his favorite recent business models is a street art design company called Youth Yell (team pictured below). The students design custom graphics for customers, or work with outside street artists, to create images for T-shirts or posters based on the customers' preferences

Lina El Yakhloufi, 18, is one of the students who headed the Youth Yell project. "Street art is becoming more and more common here in the Arab world, and we chose to work on this," she said. "Here you can only find street art creations on metropolitan walls, so this gave them a way to share their art in a more legal and profitable way."

They sold their creations for about $10, and they made a profit. El Yakhloufi shared one of the designs, which symbolizes how Arab youth felt unable to express themselves openly, until this year.

After the six months, they were required to wrap up the business, as all the companies formed through Injaz are required to do. Andaloussi said that is to make sure students understand they need to finish getting an education before entering the business world.

El Yakhloufi said her team plans to restart the business in the future. "I learned a lot of stuff. I was a CEO of a young company for six months, so I did feel that difficulty between management and leadership," she said. "I think that unemployment is a problem all over the world, not just in Morocco and I think the solution is to teach people about entrepreneurship-- creating new companies and working for one's own business."

Andaloussi says he is constantly inspired by the students. He hopes that programs like this will ultimately change Moroccans' attitudes about education and encourage risk taking. "When you want to innovate, it is always possible," he said. "We are a developing country, but we can also produce. We can also come up with innovative ideas." http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2011/12/unlikely-education-leader-links-business-and-schools-in-morocco.html
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Citrus production Morocco increases by 6% Export increases by 8%

The export season in Morocco has started. The season, which runs from November till the end of June, holds good promise. Sufficient rain fell during the last year (the citrus production is 70% dependent on water from reservoirs and 30% of sub-soil water) and the quantity of the production has increased by 1200 HA new plantings. According to the ministry of Agriculture the citrus production this year increases by 6% compared to the previous season, a quantity of 1,86 million tons.

The production of oranges is estimated at 975,000 tons, which is 52.3% of the total citrus production. It is expected that 496,000 tons of the variety Moroc Late (44%) and 375,000 tons (35.5%) of the Navel will be produced. The small citrus is also important in the total with a quantity of 764,000 tons, of which 509,000 tons are clementines. The new varieties, such as Nour, Nules and Afourer are estimated at 95,000, 84,000 and 43,000 tons respectively. Souss remains the most important region for the production of citrus fruit. This season a total production of 744,000 tons is expected, which is 40% of the country total. The region Souss is followed by El-Gharb with 336,000 tons, Tadla (272,000 tons), Oriental (269,000 tons), Haouz (140,000 tons) and Loukkos (35,000 tons).

According to Aspam the increase in the supply will result in an 8% increase in export. Nevertheless Morocco only exported 110,000 tons (mainly clementines) up to 1 December against 160,000 tons in the same period last year. This delay does not cause anxiety according to Ahmed Derrab, general secretary of Aspam. Also not when the traditional markets as a result of the crisis ascertain a decrease in demand. Various other contacts have strengthened in the meantime, such as those with North America, which now already obtains 12% of the export, just as the contacts with the new markets in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Lithuania. The Moroccan producers look more and more to Asia, especially China, where the citrus is available in the supermarkets in Shanghai.

The general secretary also mentions that on the traditional market itself there is enough to correct "Markets like Great Britain, Germany and the Benelux have been neglected. This is because they are selling areas where Spain causes problems for us and where we could not interfere because of the lack in the growth of production" Ahmed Derrab says. He also points out that there should be more invested in the Russian market, which bought half of the Moroccan export in 2010/2011.

This season the export is expected to be 1.3 million tons, of which 200,000 tons are clementines. The remaining quantity has already been booked by the local market, where the direct consumption by private citizens is very large and profits good  because other products such as apples and bananas are very expensive. Nevertheless professionals complain about the taxes levied by the wholesale market without any reason. Also the condition of the logistics is also a reason to complain. To they add there is a bottleneck between the non-structured markets and the increase of the number of agents. "Contrary to what is believed the large distribution in Morocco does not take more than 15,000 tons in total annually" Ahmed says.

Aspam mentions that demand for the current year is present, but that they hope that this will increase, especially the demand for the variety Moroc Late. The big question is what prices will do. The clementine is expected to be somewhere between 0.49 and 0.81/kg and the orange between 0.25 and 0.57/kg. Morocco expects a citrus production of more than 2.9 million tons in 2020.  
Publication date: 12/20/2011
Author: Gerard Lindhout Copyright: www.freshplaza.com http://www.freshplaza.com/news_detail.asp?id=90788#SlideFrame_1
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Morocco's quiet reforms lead Arab world
By: ALI O. AMAR | Richmond Times Dispatch / December 18, 2011 LAAYOUNE, Morocco

Something is happening in the Middle East. Countries where change was believed impossible and reform unfathomable just a few months ago are now boiling and burning. Something is really happening — where little has happened for a thousand years: Words of hope and moments of fear, evenings of complete euphoria and nights of utter despair.

Large and peaceful demonstrations in Morocco are followed by loud and deadly confrontations in Syria. Massive crowds fill the streets and squares of Cairo, Tripoli, Sana'a, Damascus, Amman, Rabat, Kuwait City. Even the ultra-conservative kingdom of Saudi Arabia is trembling to the chants for change and freedom.

Presidents who felt so secure about their regimes that they made plans for their sons to inherit power are now gone. Monarchs who believed they were unaccountable, untouchable and indispensable are grasping for assurances and explanations. Presidents Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mubarak of Egypt, Gadhafi of Libya, Salih of Yemen are gone — and Assad of Syria is killing his way out of power.

Traveling through this part of the world, one senses history being made, that the people of the region are for once masters of their own fate. Regardless of the political grievances and the economic demands first expressed by demonstrators, the stakes now are bigger and expectations higher. What do the people of the Arab world want? Real change, actual reform and an equal shot at the pursuit of happiness. Here in Laayoune, the largest city in the southern provinces of Morocco, one is struck by the language, attitude and demeanor of the locals.

While keeping his eyes on hanging television sets tuned to news channels, a young businessman takes a long sip from his Lavazza cup and declares: "Change and reform will be great for business. … Here things were never as bad as in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, but I think we can do a lot better if things really change. … I would like to see an end to the corruption hampering my business!"

Morocco shares many of the ingredients of the regional unrest: a very young population, high unemployment among the youth, insufficient opportunities for college graduates, a lackluster private sector, widespread corruption, a discredited political class and an unresponsive and poor-performing government.

On Feb. 20, Moroccans organized large and peaceful protests throughout the kingdom, making the same demands for reform and chanting the same slogans for more freedom and more opportunity that caused regime change in Tunis and Cairo.

Youth movements, trade unions, political parties, civil society organizations, women's groups and minority associations marched in more than 60 cities and towns asking the king to sack the prime minister and dissolve parliament. But the marchers everywhere also chanted, "Long live the king!" Unlike most Arab rulers, King Mohammed VI enjoys the support and the respect of his people.

Ever since his succession to the throne in 1999, King Mohammed VI has redefined this 400-year-old monarchy and given it a new meaning and a new mission. The young king sought reconciliation between the throne and the people, the majority of whom suffered in one way or another from the arbitrary and brutal rule of his late father.

Under the rule of Mohammed VI, women have gained full legal equality under the law, poverty has declined, the country's infrastructure has expanded, foreign direct investment reached spectacular levels, and massive investments were made in housing for the poor, renewable energy and agriculture.

In March, the king announced the creation of a special commission to draft a new constitution for the country. The king promised the overhaul of the legal system, the strengthening of the rule of law and the institutionalization of the guarantees and protections of human rights and personal freedoms. The new constitution was overwhelmingly approved by a popular referendum in July, and the stage was set for parliamentary election the following fall.

Moroccans went to the polls in November to elect a new parliament, the first under the new constitution. More than 30 political parties were competing for fewer than 400 seats. Political parties of all colors and persuasions were running for a chance to have a place at the table of power under the new constitution.

Liberals, conservatives, Islamists, communists, feminists, environmentalists, libertarians and independents were all competing to win seats in a new Moroccan parliament whose powers have been strengthened by the new constitution and from which the new head of government will be selected. The Party for Justice and Development, moderate Islamist party and a major force in Moroccan politics, was declared the winner of the lion's share of seats in the new parliament.

When it comes to the Arab Spring, Morocco is doubtless like no other country. It introduced dramatic changes, in record times, and with the minimum of turbulence. The hard work for Moroccans starts now, as the PJD introduces its government, gets ready to govern and carries the heavy load of unreasonable expectations.

To ensure the success of its democratic experiment, Morocco certainly needs the help and support of its Western allies. The American envoy to Morocco was the first foreign ambassador to visit the headquarters of the PJD and to meet with the prime minister-elect. The visit was a reassuring and telling sign for us all.

Ali O. Amar, a democracy and governance consultant based in Alexandria, is on assignment in Morocco. He can be reached at aamar22314@yahoo.com.
http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/commentary/2011/dec/18/tdcomm03-moroccos-quiet-reforms-lead-arab-ar-1550237/
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Morocco offers benefits to foreign firms
Published December 18th, 2011

Since the outset of this year, small French and Spanish firms have raided the Moroccan market. This trend was recently confirmed by the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Morocco (CFCIM).

So far this year, 1,100 companies established branches in the Moroccan market, nearly 1,050 of them are SMEs. Hatim Benjelloun, CEO of the Public Service and Affairs (PAS) explained that this trend was boosted by the European crisis as well as by the attractiveness of the Moroccan market. According to him, has emerged as a safe haven amid the global economic crisis.

In other words, "our country faced the crisis by posting a 4% growth in 2010," said Benjelloun. In fact, the slowdown of foreign direct investment in 2010 did not prevent the decline of unemployment rate to a record low. According to Benjelloun, this is the direct effect of a enhanced public investment policy to strengthen infrastructure and to promote diversification of the economy. The success of this strategy is likely to advance human development indicators in the country.

"The signals are clear and the green lights are given for investment," Hatim Benjelloun has recently told Les Echos. "Despite the crisis, major projects continue. This is the factor that benefited our country and helped to attract foreign investment. Currently, all investors are wondering how we were able to overcome this crisis and how to do business as well," he added.

Sector-wise, the most attractive fields to foreign SMEs were infrastructure sectors, construction, renewable energy and tourism infrastructure. Generally, these companies specialize in business outsourcing. They bring with them the expertise that local companies do not have. Most of the foreign SMEs settle in the port city of and in the south of the country. However, the economic context and experience dictate some of these investors to locate in and .

According to Benjelloun, the red tape involved in the daily activity of the company remains the main obstacle that makes foreign investors reluctant. However, the establishment procedure is extremely fast compared to other Arab and African countries. The creation of a company in does not require more than 12 days, while in neighboring countries such as and the process of creating a company is up to one month.

At the legal level, the foreign investor can opt for an LLC. 90% of businesses started by foreign investors are this type. "The creation of the latter requires only a minimum capital of 10,000 dirhams," said Amine Baakili, auditor. He adds, "This amount has already broken the barrier to the initial investment."

Thus, unlike a corporation, the LLC is under no obligation to report the public as its turnover does not exceed 50 million dirhams. It should be noted that a foreign investor can own 100% stake in his company. He does not need a local partner. Regarding taxes, offers rebates that favor investors, particularly in terms of the imposition of tax.  (Source: english.nuqudy.com)
http://www.albawaba.com/business/morocco-offers-benefits-foreign-firms-405711
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Santa Clause is from Fez, Morocco.
Mustapha Azayi
12/23/11 New York/ Morocco Board News

It is that time of the year again!  That time of the year when you stride the streets and you have to wink several times before you take notice of your surroundings (But believe me it’s great!) It is the result of those colorful striking lights found along the sidewalks and in the front lawns of cold big and silent small houses, in front of attractive shops and eye-catching boutiques.

Those lights with their illumination as lettuce-green as emeralds and as cherry-red as rubies, in fact those intense green and red lights that remind me of my Moroccan flag with its red and green colors, that evoques in me the memory I hold for the lights of Eid Al Arch (Fete de Throne) and its celebratory days which used to allow me to escape studies and homework in high-school under the pretext of entirely rehearsing for a variety of shows programmed for such a day though I never made it to the stage except once. But they also remind me of the fairy-tale characters that are so central in this well-lighted stage I am so familiar with each year in the city of Brooklyn, New York, USA.  Sometimes I feel that the Electrical Mother who always wears blue, red, green and white bright lights, That Chinese Goddess of Lightning that would be so jealous of the light decoration in Bay Ridge neighborhood and Dyker Heights that I fear, out of revenge, might as well make a mess our of us all and of the place where I live joyfully. For it takes her only to grin and the spark of her violent light would emerge from her mouth and sucks ours in a blink of an eye. And because of their magic striking flashing tones I worry that these magical lights might raise the curiosity of Buddha and drives him resentful too, him who has the habit of peeping down from the sky each time lanterns are lit for the new year.

So it is that time of the year again, that swell-time to rock the night away, that time called Christmas.

However above and beyond this multi-colored atmosphere that is Christmas there lies one interesting character which always stirred controversies among folks who are religious and folks who are not.  By all accounts this character is a man and not a woman.  He is neither black nor brown or yellow.  In certain traditions in Europe a Moor, that is to say some Moroccan man, always accompanies him in the parallel way of the Chinese God of literature who is always accompanied by an ugly but very smart individual named K’uei. I am not sure about you, but that Moor is certainly not me. The man is fat-bellied, white, stout, and with short legs. He is white-bearded and old, but HOHo! Please don’t you ever mistake him for the God of longevity who is also old, fat bellied, short legged, stout and wears a long white beard, for this God is Chinese too and is always bald, while our man of this hour is of European descent and his home-address is in the North-Pole and is by no means bald like the Chinese God whose address is on the other side of the earth Axis called the South Pole.  Yes! Our man of this bright time is very hairy and his hair is colorless and falls down on his shoulders and bellower. Our man is to be found and seen in every place in these electrical days in which the colorful lights thrive and make his moon-face flash from stimulation and a lot of pleasure. He is on windows and doors and is famous than Barbara Streisand who grew-up and studied in a high school around here in Brooklyn.  He thrives large in these days and stole the limelight from every garden’s gnome people are familiar with in the region. He is not by any means belligerent or unfriendly but his character is the whole reverse of that. So he is cheerful and never brings to a standstill his waving hand to passer-bys. Today I saw him seating worriless and proud as he sat on a green lazy-boy chair planted specially for him in the heart of the lawn of a large Mansion.  I also saw him today wheezing and dangling from a branch of a tree trying not to let a heavy bag fall down from his hand, he looked struggling and fighting his heavy weight against the gravity but nevertheless was waving the other hand that was free and he was smiling.  Two days ago I saw him on the front lawn of a small house with a closure sign on it, he was smiling still and his face was redder than the normal but he was also pushing outward the door of a toilet where he was taking a shit and on which a word says OCCUPIED, he smiled, waved to me, and then returned to his toilet seat in total peace, he was at ease and more contented. And when I chatted with a friend of mine on a long distance call she told me that she, herself, saw him in Hawaii having the greatest fun of life.  And when I asked what was he doing exactly?  She said,“ Well, my dear, he was riding the supreme waves of the year 2011. In other words he was surfing like only a true saintly surfer could surf.”

And lo and behold for this is the killer of them all: Our man, if you couldn’t figure out who he is still, is also running for the American presidency election of the year 2012 and I don’t need to inform you on which ticket he is running, it is for you to figure out. 

Well, I hate to be the source of cause of any triviality or the root basis of any guess-game but in order not to keep anybody stranded or bored I feel that I have to reveal the identity of the principal character in the radiance of this grand event for whom a large number of people wait not only to meet and see in animate mode but also to see and meet in inanimate mode:  Ladies and Gentlemen cheer to our man of these intense hours: The greatest man of all time, Mr. Saint Nicholas= Mr. sinterklaas=Mr. Santa Claus!

Nonetheless the first thing that would easily pop-up in some people’s mind about this whole matter of Santa is that I am making fun of him, but in reality I am seeking to be neither critical nor sarcastic here, for if it weren’t for the reality around me that had instigated this reflection I would not have cared less.  But when one hears certain Mr. Dick telling his son Bobby:  Aren’t you glad that I am taking you to see Santa Claus today?  And Bobby replies with, “ Daddy I always told you that I don’t believe in Santa” And then Mr. Dick gets nervous about his son’s wild answer and then says to him,“ Well, son! You got to know that if you don’t believe in Santa you are going to get no presents this year.” And when to this the face of Bobby grows sinister while he has to figure out a pragmatic solution such as, “ Well then, I believe then.”

Then Mr. Dick becomes happy and says, “ Yes son, you got to believe in him for he is the One, he is the one who carefully wraps all the presents, all by himself, and send them exclusively to you. Do you understand?”
And then Bobby grows reckless again for he gets more upset before he breaks open his mouth and snap, “ That’s totally wrong daddy, I am not stupid.  I know that all the presents are wrapped and get here from Target.”

Well then, one has to write something about this shit.  Or is it perhaps just because I itch for writing about shit and this is the only shit I find unspoken for around me right now, that I took upon myself the burden of Chitspressing?

No it cannot be like that for other stories of the same nature also compels me to reflect and write about them this way. It must be just a mere necessity to tackle this issue, perhaps an inexcusable urge against my will. 
Well, or else, when one finds out about Ms. Nicholson who took her son Nicholas Nicholson to see Saint Nicholas in Macys’s and the poor baby, Nicholas, after being dragged many blocks on the crowded streets of Midtown New York and gone through the terrible nauseous experience of inhaling all kinds of pollution from cars CO2 emissions to Pretzels carts smokes before finally meeting the great man in his red suit sitting lazily on his throne with his soft ass, and then the Big Santa asks the kid to make a wish and then the little Nicholas blinking smartly and bravely says that his only wish this year is to have Caillou for his Christmas, but Santa who turns out not to have a clue who Caillou was suddenly thinks that Nicholas was only telling him Hello in Chinese, only because he looks Asian in his face features.  And when Nicholas suddenly turns to his mommy and says with a soft voice, “ Mommy I think Macys’s Santa ought to be stupid. How come he doesn’t know about Caillou and thinks it is a greeting expression in Chinese!”

Well, these are real anecdotes from our life, and I believe that they merit to be written about. Also I find it very fascinating to write about them.

My first personal encounter with Santa Claus was not in Canada where he obtained his citizenship during the last decade, or Denmark where everybody claims him to come from. No! It was in Fez, Morocco, where I grew up.  In fact Santa Claus lived with us in the Chaboula (a small dwelling built with whatever found around) in Dhar Al Mahraz, drank pure green tea with us every day and got mad when his socks got wet from the water that leaked from our tin-roof each winter.  How come that happens to be?  Well the story goes as follows:
It all started once upon the time, during the eighties, in a hot summer day of the month of August in the Joutea of Bab Boujeloud.  My younger brother H who was rummaging around in a freshly-arrived contraband ball of second-hands clothes coming from the destination of Spain through Guerssif suddenly fell upon an old man with a long white hair, a long white beard and who was wearing a red suit and a red hat with white edges.  “ The man must have been dead for a while.,” my brother said to his friend. “ Well he doesn’t look like he is flinching his blue eyes or moving his legs either, then he must be spiritless.” Remarked the friend. “ Well, let’s find out.” Said my brother.
H dug into the heart of the ball of old garments excavating for the whole corps through the entangling Kafour smelling vests, shorts, and other apparels of weird designs until he managed to get the full body out of that mess of old clothing. However, after a close and rapid investigation the pink pig-skinned old man turned out not to be a real human being but a Santa Claus suit that was filled from toe to head with crumbs of cork.  It looked like a sort of a prank afterward, but my brother H out of curiosity bought the man, or rather Santa’s costume and forgot about buying what he wanted critically: Underwear and socks.

However, no matter at what cost, the cork-stuffed Santa ended up in our home laying on top of the tin roof of our Chaboula for a while, or at least until my brother had a hunch and saw to empty him from the cork tidbits and put him to good use in winter.

H who was working as an apprentice in some miserable photography shop saw that after each Ramadan, Eid kbir and Eid Fitr his boss often falls back into slumber and gets as mad as a rabid dog with barks that never stops after the business hardly makes a dirham or two, and as a consequence my brother was always the target of his mad outrages that emanated from money need if not greed.  So my brother had the idea to talk his boss into letting him play the Santa Claus in front of the grimy photo shop.  But his boss scratched the back of his head and thought that doing so would be but a plain useless silly idea, besides in his head circus-clowning would be Haram and of no avail to his photo-taking business.  However when my brother convinced the old man of the useless idea it finally came at the cost of both of them betting on who is going to pay for a Fanta soft drink for the entire month of Bonne Annee’s manifestation.  My brother agreed on the deal believing that his idea of being Santa Claus would stir business and bring more customers to take photos with him while his boss just grumbled and gambled on the idea with no clue of what is going to happen next. Long story short, the idea worked and business thrived as customers came to take plenty of photos with the Santa who drank Fanta.

Nevertheless on the other hand a wino that stole the idea of Santa Claus from my brother went to Fez-Jedid and proposed his business plan to some miserable photo shop but on a different betting, this time it was not Fanta but Zghouda.  And for those who are not pretty well familiar with the sub-culture of the sub-culture of Morocco Zghouda is the name of a type of mice who live and feed on weeds particularly during harvest times.  The species tend to be quick, jittery and is considered to be a fast bouncing creeper of the superb type.  But thanks to these qualities of swiftness and sudden abruptness the name was borrowed by penniless winos and broke drunkards and was transferred to name a special alcohol cocktail that doesn’t differ much from a Molotov in its making, the blend consists usually of orange juice and a pure hundred proof alcohol that is not basically meant for drinking but when it is well blended with orange juice it really goes up the head and intoxicate the brain with the speed of Zghouda running among the hay weed.

Thus the Santa-Claus-Drinks-Zghouda was an expression that quickly gained familiarity and ground in designating the man. And as long as his business of entertaining while taking pictures with people thrived so did his bottles of Zghouda. 

But Santa Claus’s fame in Morocco was merely due to French colonialism. And that is why we, Moroccans, got to call him Papa Noel also.  Meanwhile Santa Claus and Papa Noel is one Saint. But hold on a second, a Saint is still a controversial word to attribute to this fairy-tale man even up to nowadays.

But perhaps there is some sort of dissimilarity in the way each nation perceives the symbolic meaning of this giant man who doesn’t hesitate or frown from giving naughty kids, like I always was, some unpleasant coal instead of sweet candy.  But in my recollection of him the image that sticks in my mind is always that of a once French neighbor of ours whom each Christmas used to disguise like a Santa and used to tell his five children that: If you love Santa this is what you get, and he opens a nice soft red bag full of candies and presents of different shape and colors, and if you love Mohammed like Mohammedan kids do, he used say, “ Well, this is what Mohammed gets you.” And the Frenchman opens up an old ragged bag and then exteriorizes all sorts of garbage within it including a variety of prickly shrubs that would hurt the kids if they dared touch them. http://www.moroccoboard.com/viewpoint/127--mustapha-azayi/5526-santa-clause-is-from-fez-morocco
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Moroccan Islamists reassure tourism industry
By Hassan Benmehdi for Magharebia in Casablanca

Politicians from Morocco's newly elected Islamist party are working to balance religious concerns with the need for economic growth. The rise to power of Morocco's Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) has some in the tourism sector worried about their financial future.

In Casablanca, Tangier and Marrakech, cities well-known for their spirited nightlife, dynamic tourist trade and the availability of a wide range of leisure activities, the PJD secured more than half of all seats in the early legislative elections in November.

In the economic capital, the party took 17 of the 34 seats available. The PJD managed the same success in Tangier, the city where the party had organised sit-ins on several occasions to protest against the city's casino. The "Lamp Party" has come out on top in this northern city, taking three seats of the five available. And in Marrakech, Morocco's main tourist destination, the PJD came away with five seats of the nine up for grabs.

According to the High Commission for Planning (HCP), tourism in Morocco accounts for 7.3% of GDP. It is one of the top five sectors creating jobs in the country, which topped the list of most popular foreign destinations for French tourists in 2011, taking the lead from Tunisia, according to the most recent annual indicator of activity from the French Association of Tour Operators (CETO).

Abdellatif Kabbaj, managing director of the Kenzi Hotels Group, told Magharebia that the main thing now is not just to promote what Morocco can offer tourists, but chiefly to promote the PJD.

"Promoting the PJD's image of moderate Islamism is a key task and a real challenge," Kabbaj said. "State and private bodies working in the sector really need to focus on that if they want to keep customers coming to our country."

At a meeting early this month in Marrakech involving hoteliers and the five new Islamist MPs representing the Ochre City, the politicians were keen to reassure those working in the industry, and promised they would constantly be listening to what the professionals had to say.

Driss, who owns Riad-Restaurant, said he was reassured at the end of the meeting with the PJD representatives in Marrakech. "They listened carefully and showed they were fully prepared to work hand in hand in the interests of the city and its people, and particularly those looking for work."

PJD parliamentarian Younes Benslimane told reporters outside the meeting that sectors that feel vulnerable have nothing to fear from his party. "Quite the contrary, professionals will find they have contact people, programmes and a whole range of facilities to remove the obstacles to investment and create jobs for the city's young people," Benslimane said.

Abdelilah Benkirane, the new head of the government, said the PJD is there to stamp out political malpractice, as well as to provide answers to socioeconomic problems and social injustice. "Stop listening to scaremongers. Have no fear, you'll be pleasantly surprised," the new prime minister said.

Azzeddine Belkhair, a young political science graduate in Casablanca, however, argued that the party would have a hard time balancing between religious and modernist discourses. "The party is not cut off from everyone else; today it's caught between a rock and a hard place. It has to project the image of a moderate Islamist party, but it must remain true to its Islamic values," Belkhair said. "Whether it is dealing with tourism, art, women's issues or other matters, it will be difficult for this Islamist party to strike the right balance, and it will be forced to reassure people to the detriment of its own Islamic values."
© Magharebia.com 2011
http://www.zawya.com/story.cfm/sidZAWYA20111222044525/Moroccan_Islamists_reassure_tourism_industry
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Gulf states approve $5 billion aid to Morocco, Jordan
Tue Dec 20, 2011 Tue Dec 20, 2011 RIYADH (Reuters)

Energy-exporting Gulf Arab states decided at a summit on Tuesday to set up a $5 billion fund to help development projects in aspiring Gulf Cooperation (GCC) members Morocco and Jordan, a final communique said.

"The higher council agreed to set up a Gulf development fund, which starts with offering support for development projects in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Kingdom of Morocco, to the value of $2.5 billion each," the final communique said.

Gulf Arab countries said in September they plan to fund a five-year development aid programme for Morocco and Jordan, and the amount will be set in December.

The Gulf monarchies are seeking closer ties with Arab kingdoms outside the Gulf as part of efforts to contain pro-democracy unrest that is buffeting autocratic ruling elites throughout the Arab world, analysts say. Jordan and Morocco are the only two Arab states outside the Gulf with monarchies.

The United Arab Emirates said last month there was no consensus yet among Gulf Arab states on admitting Jordan and Morocco to the GCC. http://af.reuters.com/article/investingNews/idAFJOE7BJ05W20111220?feedType=RSS&feedName=investingNews
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Journalists with Headscarves in Morocco Kept under Cover
15.12.2011

As in many other Muslim countries, increasing numbers of women in Morocco are entering the labour market. Among these women, there are many who wear headscarves. However, there would appear to be an unwritten rule in Moroccan radio and television that women in headscarves should not be employed in these media. Siham Ouchtou reports

Many Moroccan women wear headscarves, and the number has increased considerably in recent decades. It's a tendency that can be seen in the workplace, and especially in the media, where a growing number of women with headscarves work. Some of them have been covering their heads since they started their professional careers; others only chose to do so at a later stage. But they all pay a high price for their decision, especially those who work in radio or television.

Halima Abrouk is one of them. She's been through journalism school and now works for a Moroccan newspaper, but she originally wanted to work for radio or television. As she told Qantara.de, "I had hoped to find a place in the audio-visual media, but when I graduated, it quickly became painfully clear to me that that would be very difficult, if not impossible, as long as I wore a headscarf. This is especially true in television, where, aside from a few editorial areas, no-one with a headscarf can get a job. You certainly never see one on screen."

Abrouk had to give up her dream of working in her chosen area of the media profession, and she took a job in print, where, she says, there are no restrictions on women who wear headscarves. But Abrouk still doesn't know why such women can't get jobs in radio.

The French concept of laïcité in Islamic Morocco: although the majority of women in Morocco wear headscarves, very few of them work in radio and television, even though they cannot be seen in radio broadcasts. "You can justify the rejection of presenters with headscarves on television as a way of ensuring that no specific ideological cliché is broadcast," she points out, "but that's completely incomprehensible on radio, where no-one can see the women and the listeners don't know what they look like."

She says that it's very rare for a Moroccan radio station to employ a woman with a headscarf, however qualified she may be. Appearance is often considered more important than ability. "Even when we are given a job," she adds, "the numbers remain very small, as if we were just a token. It would be completely unthinkable for even half the women to wear headscarves."

In response to the argument that headscarves on television would convey a certain religious image, she says: "That's a very flimsy argument: there's nothing you could have against it in a Muslim country like Morocco. Not everyone who wears a headscarf holds a particular ideology. But the decision-makers in the media decide according to outward appearances, even if the person involved is in full agreement with them on other issues."

The French concept of laïcité in the Moroccan media

There's no law that prohibits the employment of women with headscarves in the Moroccan media, but it has become so normal that everyone knows that women with headscarves have no place on Moroccan television. No-one has ever seen a woman with a headscarf presenting on television, with the exception of specifically religious programmes. And even though there is only this unwritten rule, every now and again one hears public complaints from people in the Moroccan media that they can't get a job in radio or television because of their headscarves. Even women who were well-known on television have disappeared from the screen because they decided to wear a headscarf. Journalists have even been sacked for this reason alone.

A Moroccan woman speaking through a megaphone during a protest on 20 February 2011: even well-known woman television presenters who were fired because they chose to wear headscarves are keeping quiet about the situation Mustafa al-Ramid, who is a leading member of the opposition Islamist Party for Justice and Development, told Qantara.de: "The reason is simple: the people who are in charge of Moroccan television are supporters of the French concept of laïcité, which rejects the visible presence of religious symbols in the media. So the fact that a woman wears a headscarf is enough to have her taken off air." And, says al-Ramid, that applies even when she is clearly qualified.

Al-Ramid goes on to say that "those with influence have their own rules and don't need a law to justify themselves. They just use their power and their authority. Unfortunately we don't live in a state that is so democratic that such arbitrary behaviour doesn't occur."

The situation, he says, is only made worse by the fact that those affected keep quiet about it. They don't go to the media or to the courts to challenge those in charge, and that makes it easier for such behaviour to continue and be accepted.

Al-Ramid says that, as a party with Muslim values, his party is currently talking about the issue with the government, "but every case we raise is rejected because the people affected remain silent and won't speak publicly about their experience, so that we can't bring any evidence to back up our arguments to the relevant authorities."

According to Aziz Bakoush, "a headscarf would make a journalist seem introverted and shy and would convey a completely unclear and confused complex of emotions, which would make it impossible to deal with her in a relaxed way"

A political and ideological conflict?

Those who oppose the employment of women with headscarves on Moroccan television argue that they are concerned that a station that broadcast a programme with a women presenter in a headscarf would find itself with a religious image. They say that a presenter who wore a headscarf and who reaches an audience of millions could offer a veiled ideological message.

The Moroccan writer Aziz Bakoush believes that women who wear headscarves would not have brought anything positive to Moroccan media – in fact, he feels that the opposite would be the case: "A headscarf would make a journalist seem introverted and shy and would convey a completely unclear and confused complex of emotions, that would make it impossible to deal with her in a relaxed way."

Bakoush explains that a woman journalist does not give up her identity if she removes her headscarf, and that not wearing a headscarf is the expression of a secular modernity that is socially desired in Morocco. Morocco may be a Muslim country, he says, but it's also a modern, secular state. As he points out, "Each country has a specific way of thinking about things that it wishes to convey, and Princess Lalla Salma, the wife of Kind Muhammad VI, who himself carries the title 'Ruler of the Faithful', does not wear a headscarf at international events."

For Bakoush, women who wear headscarves in the media personify an ideology defined by certain political conditions, especially since the arrival of satellite stations, above all Al-Jazeera. Bakoush's conclusion is clear: "For me it's all just a political and ideological conflict; there's no other explanation for it."

Siham Oushtou © Qantara.de 2011 Translated from the German by Michael Lawton Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/Qantara.de
http://en.qantara.de/Kept-under-Cover/18057c18707i1p77/index.html
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Guitar Maestro Al Di Meola to Release “Morocco Fantasia” Video

Jazz and world fusion pioneer Al Di Meola will be releasing a new video titled Morocco Fantasia on DVD and Blu-ray on January 24. The 2009 concert was shot in Morocco, at the renowned Mawazine Festival in Rabat, featuring a crack band and special guests.

Al Di Meola’s performance in 2009 also represented a gathering of different cultures and religions – Al Di Meola (guitar), Peo Alfonsi (2nd guitar), Fausto Beccalossie (accordion), Gumbo Ortiz (percussion), Victor Miranda (bass), Peter Kaszas (drums), and with special guests from Morocco, Said Chraibi (oud), Abdellah Meri (violin) and Tari Ben Ali (percussion).

On his third trip to Morocco, the public gave this exceptional guitarist a rousing reception and showed its openness towards Western music.

Al Di Meola wowed the audience with a repertoire containing not just familiar songs but also new tracks from his current album, Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody.

The bonus material includes excerpts from the rehearsals, from the soundcheck and Al Di Meola performing a session while visiting a bazaar, etc.
http://www.yacout.info/Guitar-Maestro-Al-Di-Meola-to-Release-Morocco-Fantasia-Video_a4150.html
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Hitching a ride – all the way to Morocco
By Martin Neville - Sunday, December 18, 2011

A TRIO from the Island are hitching a ride to Morocco to improve education for children in Africa. Craig Willis, 22, of Ryde, Mary Boyce, 20, and Ellie Boyce, 19, of Newport, are thumbing from London to Morocco to raise cash for the Link community development fund, which is helping to improve the quality of education in Africa.

Craig is hosting a charity fundraiser on December 23, at Coburgs, in Union Street, Ryde, to raise awareness to the cause. It will feature music from The Operators, Yours & Mine, Mary Boyce and Godard. Craig, who enjoys combining charity work with music, said: "I have always had a good reaction from bands when asking them to play charity shows and the Ryde gig has a really diverse line up, so there is something for everyone, which should help increase the amount raised. "We have a mixture of punk, folk, retro-indie and electo-pop, all of the artists are good friends of mine, so there should be a really good atmosphere."

Craig has experience of hosting successful charity events, while Mary and Ellie, who have both worked in charity shops in Newport, raised money to fly out to Malawi last summer to assist in projects. Craig said: "You should take any opportunity that is given to you with things like this; it is for a great cause and is set to be an awesome experience. "I am really looking forward to seeing a lot of France and Spain and then travelling around Morocco once we arrive."
Reporter: martinn@iwcpmail.co.uk
http://www.iwcp.co.uk/news/news/hitching-a-ride-all-the-way-to-morocco-42232.aspx
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Sugar and spice and all things nice in Morocco
By Rebecca Younger December 21, 2011

MARRAKECH has become a key tourism destination over the past few decades. Not only is it a holiday hot spot but it also attracts filmmakers, most recently forming the backdrop for the second Sex and the City film and also appearing in episodes of TV series Made in Chelsea this year.

Perhaps it's because Marrakech is one of the few places that manages to tick all the boxes - combining true tradition with the modern luxuries of 21st century living.

Arriving inside the city’s central walls, known locally as the Medina, you are thrust right into the epicentre of typical Moroccan living. In one direction a mule, pulling a crate of local produce might go by, and in the other you might catch a glimpse of locals baking bread in one of the community ovens.

Navigating your way through the labyrinth of narrow alleyways to find your accommodation may seem like a bit of a task but when you arrive at the door to your hotel – in my case the Riad Dar Zaouia, part of the Angsana Riads collection – it will all seem worth it.

Entering these lovingly restored riads, which are scattered throughout the Medina, is a little like walking into a tardis – the small entrances open up to a stunning open air courtyard garden, which the rooms all face.

Riads are a traditional Moroccan house or palace. There are about 800 inside the walls of the Medina and in my opinion they are the only way to experience the real Marrakech.

Meaning ‘a place of retreat’ in Arabic, the 19th century Riad Dar Zaouia has just seven rooms. Each has its own unique style and showcase the traditional techniques and talents of local artisans. The communal areas are just as inviting with lit fires in winter (although Morocco is generally hot all year round, the temperature drops dramatically at night) and the rooftop terrace provides the perfect place to sit with a glass of wine or Moroccan tea (mint tea with lots of sugar) and enjoy the African sunshine.

Slightly closer to the Jemâa El Fna square (the main square), you’ll find Dar Fakir, which featured in both the SATC2 film and E4’s Made in Chelsea. This luxury guest house offers a friendly and relaxing place to stay – there are no locks on the bedroom doors, making it feel like a home from home.

The wonderful thing about these traditional houses is that because they don’t have any windows in the external walls, you can stay right in the heart of this bustling city, close to all the action but once you go into your hotel, you literally shut the door on the outside world and step into peace and tranquillity.

A typical day’s sightseeing in Marrakech could mean taking a Caleche (horse and carriage) through the Medina’s narrow streets or out into the palm groves that surround the city, a walk in the spectacular Majorelle Gardens, which were designed by Yves St Lauren, or a tour of the city’s ancient buildings, which can be arranged through local tour guides such as Travel Link (ask for Seddick Aassim, who impressed us everyday with his inexhaustible knowledge of the area).

An absolute must while in Marrakech is a visit to the Jemaa el Fna square, where you can watch the acrobats and musicians, fortune tellers and snake charmers or look down on the action from above in one of the roof top bar/restaurants, such as Cafe de France or the recently opened Le Salama. From here you’ll get great views of the snowcapped peaks of the High Atlas mountains and can watch the sun set behind the impressive Koutoubia Mosque.

Just off the square you’ll find the maze of souks, for which Marrakech is perhaps most well known. See the rows of craftsman using techniques of a bygone age, have a go at haggling for some locally-produced goods and watch businessmen bidding for leather in the daily auctions.

If you want to treat yourself to a bit of pampering after a long day sightseeing, many of the riads have spas, where you can experience the traditional Hammam massage – your body is pummelled, stretched, twisted, bent then subsequently scrubbed with a brush. Try La Sultana, which has an basement spa offering both classic and more modern treatments.

For those wanting to stay a little further out from the centre, Four Seasons Marrakech, which opened in June, offers 40-acres of five star luxury outside the Medina walls. Taking inspiration from the nearby Medina, the hotel is a modern-take on traditional Moorish architecture interspersed with pavilions, sunlit swimming pools, walkways and courtyards.

This hotel is well suited to families as it offers a fully supervised children’s facility and young adult centre but, thanks to its romantic setting and sumptuous spa, is also a great retreat for couples.

Whether you’re a traditionalist wanting to explore the real Morocco, a discerning traveller after a luxury break in the sun or you simply want to experience the best of both worlds – Marrakech, with its intoxicating mix, might just have it all. http://www.gethampshire.co.uk/lifestyle/s/2105415_sugar_and_spice_and_all_things_nice_in_morocco
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MOROCCO -- Slideshow: Scenes From Morocco
By: Talea Miller December 20, 2011

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2011/12/slideshow-scenes-from-morocco.html
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'The Indignant' Versus the Government
Suzy Bell  20 December 2011  analysis

The jailing of a Moroccan rapper Mouad Belrhouate, aka LHAKED L7A9AD, popularly known as The Indignant, has outraged cultural activists across Africa. LHAKED is celebrated as the February 20 Movement's "Voice of freedom" and his imprisonment has sparked a creative social-media campaign calling for his release.

The February 20 Movement for Change was a peaceful anti-government protest by the Moroccan youth movement planned on the social networking site, Facebook. It took place on 20 February 2011 with demands for mainly constitutional reform. Those opposing the regime are now known, after the Facebook group, as the February 20 Movement for Change.

Calling for the rapper's freedom at Africa's historical first Arterial Network Creative Economic Conference held in Nairobi last week, human rights and cultural activists from Tunisia to South Africa were photographed by Artwatch Africa with a sign in Arabic making an appeal to: "Free Mouad". Photographs of fellow activists, musicians, artists and concerned individuals across the world, holding the protest sign in their own language, have been pouring into the inbox of a young Moroccan artist and human-rights activist, Maria Karim, on her FreeMouad@gmail account.

"I started the campaign to highlight the injustice of his arrest. The idea is to make a series of Youtube videos protesting his arrest on 9 September in Casablanca," said Karim. She used LHAKED L7A9AD's music with stills of people from all over the world protesting by holding their hand-made signs in different languages, all of which read: "Free Mouad".

In response to the need for monitoring freedom of creative expression in Africa, Artwatch Africa, a project of the Arterial Network, (founded by the Mimeta Centre for Culture and Development), although already active, is still in the process of being formed as voluntary watchdog. At the Creative Economic Conference in Nairobi, Dounia Benslimane, co-ordinator of Artwatch Africa said: "We want it to be known across Africa and the world that this is not acceptable. LHAKED has been vocal in our revolution and now he has been silenced. His lyrics are viewed as provocative, but all he is doing is calling for justice and dignity and respect of human rights. He is reflecting the requests of the Freedom Movement."

Benslimane said the right to freedom of expression was fundamental to artistic practice and that artists in Africa are not excluded from the assault on freedom of expression experienced by other sectors of society such as media practitioners, opposition activists, academics, and so on.

"Musicians are jailed in Cameroon, actors are arrested in Zimbabwe and writers have their works banned in a number of countries, yet many governments have signed up to African and international cultural policy instruments that commit them to supporting freedom of expression," she challenged.

Unesco's Recommendation concerning the Status of the Artist calls on member states to "protect, defend and assist artists and their freedom of expression". The Unesco Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions reaffirms that "freedom of thought, expression and information, as well as diversity of the media, enable cultural expressions to flourish within societies". The AU's Plan of Action on the Cultural and Creative Industries in Africa adopted in Algiers in October 2008, agrees to "guarantee freedom of expression for creative and performing artists".

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

LHAKED's arrest in this year of the Arab Spring, highlights the continued blatant lack of freedom experienced by artists on the continent. Freemuse, the respected World Forum on Music and Censorship, an independent international organisation which advocates freedom of expression for musicians and composers worldwide, confirmed that LHAKED's arrest was just one of a series of arrests of artists being arrested on the continent.

Martin Cloonan, chairperson of Freemuse and professor of popular music politics at the University of Glasgow said that it was the alarmingly widespread nature of censorship in music that led to the creation of Freemuse.

"Egyptian singer, Ramy Essam for example, played an important role during the Egyptian revolution and suffered severe beatings and torture as a consequence. He personifies the powerful role that music played in the Arab Spring," Cloonan said. Time Out London declared Essam's song, Irhal, number three on a Top 100 list of songs that changed history, calling it: "one of the most influential songs of the modern age".

"Cameroon reggae artist Joe la Conscience has been arrested 15 times and the radio stations are afraid of playing his music," added Cloonan.

"Fellow Cameroon singer, Lapiro de Mbanga was arrested in April 2008 and is still in prison - and the list goes on."

Moroccan rapper LHAKED remains in detention. His trial scheduled for last week was postponed.

iMaverick is South Africa's first daily tablet newspaper and includes coverage from the Daily Maverick and Free African Media. To subscribe, go to: www.imaverick.co.za. Copyright © 2011 iMaverick. All rights reserved. Distributed http://allafrica.com/stories/201112201122.html
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Morocco’s Museum Of Things I Can’t Afford
AHMED TAIBI 12/22/11 Casablanca / Morocco Board News

As I sat in Fanajeen, Aasmaa, Akhannouch’s café, contemplating a map of Morocco amputated of its southern provinces in a Morocco Mall brochure while sipping from my 30 dirhams cup of coffee, I couldn’t help thinking Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch, the queen of retail franchising in Morocco and CEO of Aksal Group, must have sensed Moroccans’ bubbling need for a new shopping and entertainment experience. The venue is palatial and its three floors teemed with an overjoyed crowd that raged like white water through its arteries, seeking to be part of the hottest action Casablanca has ever seeing.

The excitement was palpable. There are no symptoms of poverty here. Since December 5th, the day it opened its doors with an extravagantly overpriced “J-Loesque” fanfare, visitors from Rabat, Marrakesh, Fez, Meknes, and Tangier, have been flooding Casa-Voyageur and hopping in cabs to Morocco Mall; others drove their BMW’s, Audis, Mercedes, and Range Rovers; and yet, others rode buses, or came on foot. The taxi driver told me it was his sixth trip to Casablanca’s new shopping landmark. The venue expects 14 million visitors and revenues in excess of two billion dirhams a year. Although it lacks a helipad, the premise is impressive. With its 350 high-end and well-known signature fashion brands stores, IMAX cinema, an aquarium, an arcade, an ice skating rink, and a musical fountain mimicking the Bellagio’s, it is guaranteed to be a Mecca for Morocco’s wealthy families and a broadening middle class base with a rapidly increasing purchasing power.

At least, that’s what Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch believes based on an article she wrote for the Oxford Business Group titled “Moving on up.” She further stated that the retail fashion market is compelled to expand to satisfy Moroccans’ demand for quality fashion clothing. To that end, her company co-developed, along with Saudi Arabia’s NESK Investment Group, the Morocco Mall. In the same article, Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch predicts the project will have “important social and economic impacts for the country.” Not only will it promote growth and create jobs, she adds, “it will change Moroccans’ life styles and buying habits.”

Such spurious arguments have become the meme of Morocco’s wealthy business families. I don’t see how Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch’s just-add-money franchises that make up Morocco Mall will translate into an agenda for broad prosperity; they neither develop a skilled labor force, nor improve the local and national economies. It is a pure profit venture that exploits the country’s cheap labor and lax employment laws, and facilitates the transfer of millions of dirhams toward Europe. Of course it generates revenues, but those are not positively impacting communities in dire need of adequate schools, hospitals, and other public service institutions because thanks to her husband’s connections Aksal Group enjoys unique tax breaks. Morocco Mall and similar other businesses will become even more profitable to foreign investors when the transitional period for custom tariffs dismantling ends on March 1st, 2012. The five thousand employment positions Morocco Mall created are low-paying service jobs; hardly enough to put a dent in Morocco’s chronic unemployment and soften the brunt of its current economic recession in which the government is forced to subsidize commodities to avert a major security crisis. Morocco’s GNI per capita in PPP dollars is $2,750 yearly; according to a study by the High Commission for Planning (HCP), 60% of Moroccan household have a monthly income of less than MAD 4,227, 40% less than MAD 2,892, and 20% less than MAD 1,930. Household consumption has been lagging, the poverty rate climbing, social mobility stagnating, and wealth inequality widening.

Millions of Moroccans, although scraping by on low-earning income, believe the malarkey coming from certain business circles such as Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch’s. They are of course in denial that Morocco Mall is beyond their buying power. Instead of adapting financial restrain, they are willing to stretch their paychecks and sacrifice necessities to earn bragging rights that they’ve shopped at Morocco Mall. For a few hours, they leave a world of woe behind and relish a slice of Europe that, so far, does not require a visa.

The fog of economic profiling is thick around Morocco Mall. A friend of mine who happens to be a lawyer decided, after a walk along the corniche, to take his teenage son to Morocco Mall to check it out. He was promptly stopped at the door by two security employees highly trained in sniffing the whiff of poverty on people and recognizing the wooziness of hunger. They toted handheld radios – the ubiquitous paraphernalia of authority in Morocco. They explained that he and his son couldn’t go in dressed the way they were. My friend and his son were decently dressed in locally made jeans and shirts, except…. except that they were wearing flip-flaps. He was incensed. He complained loudly and refused to leave. He was embarrassed that his son had to see his father subjected to such humiliation. Isn’t Morocco Mall open to all public? A manager finally came out and after a brief debate, decided to let them in. By that time, my friend had lost his urge to goggle at Louis Vuitton bags and Gucci dresses. Such an incident is not isolated. Excluding some Moroccans seems to be a management standard operating procedure; after all, Morocco’s journalists were never invited to the inaugurations.

Morocco Mall is surrounded by miserable and decaying patchworks of slums baked by the sun and through which a salty breeze sleathers. Their residents, stifling under the pall of poverty, will give Sidi Abderehman a break and come to Sidi Morocco Mall for no other reason than to drool over things they can never afford; a classic case of the waif ogling at freshly baked napoleons through the window of an expensive bakery. Those who do not reflect – at least visually – a certain economic standard will be barred from entering; impressed upon them will be their lack of worth and the power of a minority in society. The yawning inequities between poor and rich are spotlighted at the entrance. This will only further strain the already tenuous cohesion within society. Instead of a driver of prosperity for all, as Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch would like us to believe, Morocco Mall will most likely highlight income inequalities. An International Monetary Fund report published last April found that gaping income disparity undermines economic growth within communities.

The obvious question is why does Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch have such breathless optimism in the face of economic gloom? When Galerie Ben Omar in Maarif opened, it was the talk of the city. Anybody who’s somebody had to shop at Gallery Ben Omar. It is now a faded ghost of its old self. Twin Center and O Gallery, across from Megarama, also became the premier destination of Morocco’s fashionistas and, for a few years, achieved a degree of success. As it turns out, they were only mid-term investments. Once the initial cost is recouped and a predetermined rate of profit achieved, the business is left to rot. I suspect the same fate awaits Morocco Mall.

I headed to the aquarium. There was a huge line. The cover charge was 25 dirhams. There was a time when Casablanca had a beautiful aquarium. Few remember it. I decided to forgo gazing at fish and headed for the door just as security dragged a well-dressed young man outside. The crowd said he was a college student who, being broke, decided to wear a jacket he fancied and walk away with it. http://www.moroccoboard.com/viewpoint/60-ahmed-tb/5525-moroccos-museum-of-things-i-cant-afford
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Snake Charmers, Old Markets and Friendly People
Orkula Shaagee  22 December 2011  analysis

When I was nominated by the FCT chapter of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) to cover the maiden edition of the CAF U-23 Championship, which serves as Africa's football qualifying event for the London 2012 Olympic Games, the first thing that came to my mind was how to operate in a Muslim country, without running foul of the laws.

I also thought that social life in Morocco would be at its lowest ebb.

But I was impressed with the quality of life in Morocco, and how organized the country is.

A taxi in Morocco takes only three passengers, and no amount of persuasion could coerce any driver to take more than three persons. But the Mercedes taxis can take as many as six passengers.

Throughout our stay in Morocco, I did not experience a second of power outage. There is no presence of police on the roads to harass drivers. But the driving rules are obeyed to the full.

From Tangiers to Marrakech is 100 kilometers per hour by lorry or large bus, and road users drive according to laid down rules and regulations.

It was surprising to Nigerians that there were no pure water sellers, gala or Okpa sellers, at any of the toll gates we passed.

Morocco is not an oil producing country, but there are no cases of fuel scarcity, as vehicles are driven in at any time of the day to buy the commodity without hitches.

The country's main source of finance is agriculture, with tourism as the second revenue generating source.

Travelling to Casablanca Airport through Rabat to Marrakech reveals this, with large farm lands lined up by the roadsides. The same thing applies when you travel along the Tangiers, Rabat to Marrakech road.

The trip to Morocco from Abuja was initially fraught with difficulties. Before we finally made it, it suffered one postponement like the championship itself, which was shifted from Egypt in October to Morocco in November, 2011.

The trip was again on the verge of being cancelled for the second time, when on November 29, the NFF officials told the travelling delegation, made up of journalists and state football association officials, that the journey has again been shifted to December 1.

Some of us, who had left our houses with the conviction that we were travelling that day, left the NFF Glass House secretariat disappointed, on hearing of the postponement.

While in the office that same day, I received a call from the NFF that we were still going to make our journey to Lagos enroute Casablanca that afternoon. We (I and the other three journalists) did not leave Abuja until 9:00 pm when we boarded the Aero plane and arrived Lagos by 10:00 pm, where we headed straight to Legacy Hotel and Suites along Allen Avenue, for our accommodation for the day.

We left the hotel as early as 5.00 am to the Murtala Mohammed International Airport for our flight to Casablanca, which did not take off until 7:05 am to arrive Casablanca at 11:05.

We were received at the Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca by Nigerian embassy and NFF officials, from where we travelled 3 hours by road to Tangiers where the Dream Team played its first two group matches, which they lost to Morocco and Senegal.

While in Tangiers, we lodged at the Complexe le Printemps alongside some NFF officials, state football association chairmen, and two of our colleagues, Ben Alaiya and Tony Ubani, who joined us from Lagos.

Our accommodation, an apartment built by the government of Morocco and sold to citizens at a low price, was situated by the sea side. It is a 34 minutes trip by boat to Spain.

Having arrived late, we were not able to send stories that day.

The next day, I left to the Dream Team camp at Hotel Andalucía alongside other Nigerian journalists, where we were able to send our stories and conduct interviews.

It was while there that I had an interview with NFF President, Alhaji Aminu Maigari who said that the Dream Teams outing in Morocco, was a disgrace to the country. Maigari had said the team got all that it deserves to win the soccer event, but he was disappointed that the Federation could not get a corresponding benefit on the investment made on the team prior to the championship. According to him, the team's three months camping in Nigeria, and another ten days in Ghana before the Morocco championship, were some of the pre-championship efforts by the federation to make it excel in Morocco."It is so disappointing, disheartening, so sad and painful. Over a period of time, I have never seen this kind of disgrace, because I never expected this team to put up this kind of performance. It is unbelievable. But like you rightly said, that is football."The board of the NFF, in its usual manner, made everything possible to ensure that these boys excel, and you can see that they have been in camp for over three months, and were provided with all that they asked for, and then a board member led them to the Ghana camp for ten days", Maigari stated.

He also blamed over-reliance on foreign-based professionals for the team's woes in Morocco, saying the federation's plan is to encourage grassroots football development in the country where young and talented players will be discovered and nurtured for greatness."Over reliance on foreign-based players, contributed 100 percent to this disgrace, and on many occasions I said we should not rely on ready-made materials. They didn't play Nigerian football, because coordination was not there, team work was not there, no technical approach and there was no tactic whatsoever", he concluded.After sending my stories I returned to Complexe le Printemps, had a bath, ate dinner and slept. It was on this day that the Dream Team left to Marrakech, venue of their last group A match against Algeria.

On the third day of my stay in Morocco, I left Tangier as early as 7: 15 in the morning (6: am Moroccan time) with NFF officials and other journalists, for a nine hour journey to Marrakech, where we resided at the Saada area of the city.

Saada is a lively area for socialites, who enjoy parties and night clubbing. There are many black Africans in Saada, most of them being Liberians, Senegalese and Libyans, who fled their fatherlands during times of war.

I remember that at the Saada Shoprite, I met three Liberians, one of them, Moses Dean, was happy to meet a Nigerian. He told me "we are West Coast brothers", and that he will always remain grateful to Nigeria, for providing peace and stability in his country.

According to him, he once lived in Kano along Zoo Road, and knows much about Nigeria. He said he fathered a child with a Nigerian lady from Port-Harcourt.

Dean and two of his Liberian brothers, later had group photographs with me and my Nigerian colleagues, Andrew Abbah, Michael Obasi, Salisu Ibrahim and Maxwell Nwachukwu.

While in Morocco, I realized that citizens of the country love Nigeria as a country, and its people. They recognize Nigeria as the big brother.

During the two matches that I watched where Nigeria played, Moroccans were always behind Nigeria, providing support to the Dream Team to win and advance to the semi-final stage.

It was surprising that during the match Nigeria played against Algeria, another North Africa country in Marrakech, Moroccans were fully in support of the Nigerian team against their North African brothers.

The people of Morocco are generally accommodating and love visitors. Out of the three Moroccan cities I visited, Marrakech is the coldest, especially in the night, but I was at home in Marrakech, with my black African brothers who are ready to assist.

Despite the unique living standard in Morocco, there also exist beggars and slums. On our way to Marrakech from Tangiers, I saw slums on the way. At Attijariwafa Bank, where we went to change dollars to Dirham, the local currency, we saw beggars with their faces covered, who approached us for alms, which we obliged.

I remember that one of the two female beggars ran after me and asked to be given money. She even called my name when she heard Andrew Abbah mention it.

A banker at Attijariwafa Bank, who received a gift of an NFA cap demanded for our signatures as autograph, after which he quickly wore the cap.

Thereafter, we went to the Grand de Stade at Marrakech for the Dream Team's last group match against Algeria, which they won 4-1.

Again, like in their second group match at the championship against Senegal, Nigerian journalists, NFA officials and other members of the Nigerian delegation became members of the supporters club, with Tony Ubani of the Vanguard Newspaper leading the group.

I later attended the post match press conference where Dream Team Coach Austin Eguavoen announced his readiness to quit the national team job.

I returned to the team's hotel at Palmeraie Golf Palace, Marrakech for interviews with the players, Coach Eguavoen, Stephen Keshi and a member of the Senate Committee on Sports Alkali Jajere, before heading to my hotel at Saada, to prepare for our return journey back to Nigeria the next day.

In the morning of Saturday, five of us, I, Andrew Abbah, Michael Obasi, Maxwell Nwachukwu, and Salisu Ibrahim, went to the tourists market at Ganza Market where we got some souvenirs and gift items, before going to Palmeraie Golf Palace where a bus took us to Casablanca for our flight to Lagos. We started our journey back to Nigeria on Saturday; a day after the Dream Team crashed out of the championship, but arrived on Sunday morning.

We took off at Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca at 1:45am on Sunday aboard Air Maroc and landed in Lagos 6:45 am, after packing out of our apartment at 3:00pm on Saturday.

The journey to Morocco was a good and fulfilling one, except for the fact that Nigeria crashed out of the championship, and will be missing in the football event of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The experience in Morocco contrasts the Nigerian case. Having enjoyed all the good things in Morocco, I received a bitter experience at the Murtala Mohamed International Airport in Lagos on arrival, where I changed 100 dollars and the man shortchanged me by N5,500.

My colleague from the Sun Newspaper, Romanus Ugwu who changed 200 dollars and was shortchanged by N13,000, later approached the man and his money was returned. But I did not go back and lost N5,500 to the fraudulent dollar changers.
http://allafrica.com/stories/201112220809.html
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Flavours of Morocco, Bexley Village
By Joe Thurley  

I was immediately taken by this restaurant. The cosy interior adorned with Moroccan artefacts and drapes, gives a truly authentic, yet homely feel right in the heart of Bexley Village.

We started with the mezze selection. This consisted of dips such as houmous, taramasalata, tzatziki and aubergine chutney accompanied with warm pitta bread which whetted the pallet perfectly. The aubergine chutney deserves special note, gentle eastern spices mixed perfectly with the aubergine to give this dip a great depth of flavour.

Having enjoyed the starters, this only heightened our anticipation for the main courses. We ordered Lamb tagine and the Chicken mqali tagine. Both were served in traditional Moroccan tagine pots and served with freshly steamed cous cous cooked traditionally.

There was so much care taken with each dish. The tagines were seasoned perfectly and dried fruits of prunes and apricots accompanied the lamb. The apricots added sweetness to the perfectly cooked lamb, while the prunes absorbed the full flavour of the spices and the juices from the meat to excellent effect. This gave the dish a rich, deliciously fruity feel – a real fusion of sweet and savoury flavours.

The Chicken mqali tagine was an explosion of gentle flavours from the zing provided by the preserved lemons, onions and fragrant spices right to the olive garnish that finished the dish off perfectly.

The chef and owner, Youssef, came to greet us while we ate. He talked about his background and influences in his cooking and was warm and friendly, as were the staff who served me. The hospitality is warm and the ambiance is intimate - the kind of venue where you can chill out and really enjoy your evening.

I've rarely seen food prepared with such delicacy, precision, and authenticity as I was served here. Flavours of Morocco certainly lives up to its name. I know I’ll be back for the food first and foremost, and also for the hospitality and ambiance.

Flavours of Morocco, 73 High Street, Bexley Village, DA5 1AA. Telephone 01322 551005. www.flavoursofmorocco.com http://www.newsshopper.co.uk/leisure/latest/9437436.Flavours_of_Morocco__Bexley_Village/ ##########################################################

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