Virtual Magazine of Morocco on the Web
Morocco Week in Review
July 16, 2011
US-Morocco Treaty Partnership at 225
J. Peter Pham | July 15, 2011
Today marks the 225th anniversary of the longest unbroken treaty relationship to which the United States is a party. On July 15, 1786 (18 Ramadan 1200), in Marrakech, American agent Thomas Barclay was handed the final protocol of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship by his Moroccan counterpart Taher Ben Abdelhack Fennish. Certified translations of the articles would be incorporated in a document eventually signed by Thomas Jefferson and John Adams as ministers plenipotentiary and ratified by Congress the following year on July 18, 1787. The long-term success of the partnership which emerged from the treaty contains lessons which are still relevant as Washington seeks to strengthen or forge links with other African countries, especially those along the Atlantic coast of the continent.
First, without necessarily being exclusive, relations have to be direct; subcontracting them out to other partners, who may or may not be disinterested, is not viable. Although Sultan Mohammed III ben Abdallah al-Khatib was the first foreign sovereign to recognize the independence of the United States when, in December 1777, he included America in the list of countries to whom Morocco’s ports were open, the relationship nearly floundered when Benjamin Franklin was convinced by his Parisian hosts to ignore the overtures of Etienne d’Audibert Caille, a merchant in Sale whom the monarch entrusted with initiating contact with the new country. Fortunately, Caille was persistent and went over Franklin’s head and appealed to the Second Continental Congress which, after some delay, commissioned Jefferson and Adams to negotiate a treaty, recognizing the value of the offer of diplomatic and economic relations to a young nation still struggling for acceptance in the international community.
Second, relationships are more likely to be sustainable when they are comprehensive. Although primitive by the standards of today’s technical precision, the 1786 treaty covered everything from diplomatic relations (“the Consuls of the United States of America shall reside in any Sea Port of our Dominions that they shall think proper; and they shall be respected and enjoy all the Privileges which the Consuls of any other Nation enjoy”) to non-hostility (“if either of the Parties shall be at War with any Nation whatever, the other Party shall not take a Commission from the Enemy”) to access to markets (“if any Vessel of either Party shall put into a Port of the other and have occasion for Provisions or other Supplies, they shall be furnished without any interruption or molestation”) on the basis of “most favored nation” (“the Commerce with the United States shall be on the same footing as is the Commerce with Spain or as that with the most favored Nation for the time being”).
Third, security interests help to consolidate other ties. The final article to be attached to the treaty was a security provision that was most beneficial to the young American nation at a time when its merchant shipping was often preyed upon by various European warships: “If any Vessel belonging to the United States shall be in any of the Ports of His Majesty’s Dominions, or within Gunshot of his Forts, she shall be protected as much as possible and no Vessel whatever belonging either to Moorish or Christian Powers with whom the United States may be at War, shall be permitted to follow or engage her, as we now deem the Citizens of America our good Friends.” This modest promise of protection has over the centuries evolved to the point where Morocco is one of just over a dozen countries to enjoy the designation of “Major Non-NATO Ally of the United States.”
Fourth, relations prosper when each side sees opportunity for economic growth with the other. It was no accident that one of George Washington’s earliest diplomatic messages was addressed to Mohammed III, both explaining the hiatus in communications due to the ratification of the US Constitution and touting the potential of the new republic: “It gives me pleasure to have this opportunity of assuring your majesty that I shall not cease to promote every measure that may conduce to the friendship and harmony which so happily subsist between your empire and these…This young nation, just recovering from the waste and desolation of long war, has not, as yet, had time to acquire riches by agriculture or commerce. But our soil is beautiful, and our people industrious, and we have reason to flatter ourselves that we shall gradually become useful to our friends.” The friendship treaty’s guarantee of minimal government interference with commercial activities (“Merchants shall not be compelled to buy or Sell any kind of Goods but such as they shall think proper”) enabled a thriving trade to develop—so much so that, in 2004, a free trade agreement was entered into by the two countries.
The treaty relationship between the United States and Morocco was by no means assured, especially given the various obstacles that had to be overcome in order to even sign the accord, much less to permanently renew it in 1836. Nevertheless, more than two centuries after its signing, the pact has proven to have justified both the farsightedness of Mohammed III and the efforts of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. If today the balance has shifted in favor of what Morocco gains from close ties with an America that has grown immensely since the treaty of friendship was negotiated by Barclay and Fennish, nonetheless it remains a vital asset for the United States to continue having the kingdom as moderate – indeed, reformist – ally in the Maghreb as well as a political and commercial springboard for links presently being forged in the geostrategically increasingly important areas along the Africa’s Atlantic coast.
J. Peter Pham is director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center at the Atlantic Council.
Boosting cooperation - 56 % increase in Morocco's exports to USA
Ahmed Gamal Monday, 11 July 2011 Global Arab Network -
Morocco's exports to the United States rose 56% in 2010 over 2009, with food products making up 18% of these exports, Moroccan minister of foreign trade announced.
Abdellatif Maâzouz, who inaugurated the Moroccan pavilion at the 57th Summer Fancy Food Show (July 9-12), highlighted the innovative character and the high quality of the Moroccan products exhibited in the show by 26 Moroccan firms.
He insisted that the US market gives enormous opportunities for the Moroccan exports, especially with the Free Trade Agreement signed between the two countries, which entered into force in 2006.
The Moroccan products exhibited in this show include fruits and vegetables, sauce, condiments, sea products, olive and argan oil and safran.
The show, which is being held for the first time in Washington, features some 20 seminars and thematic workshops.
Means to boost agri-food exports
Moroccan minister of foreign trade held, in Washington, a series of meetings with U.S. officials and stakeholders active in the sector of supermarket distribution.
Held on the sidelines of the 57th Summer Fancy Food Show, the talks aimed at promoting Moroccan exports of agri-food and agricultural products to the United States.
Abdellatif Maazouz, who started on Sunday a four-day working visit to the United States, is slated to hold talks with officials of the US department of commerce to explore avenues for reinforcing trade and partnership.
The other Morocco, 'behind the sun'.
Achraf El Bahi Jul 15, 2011
"If you think this is Morocco, you know nothing," a neighbourhood drifter yelled in the old medina of Marrakech, as he pointed at a fancy car. "There are Moroccans you've never seen, they speak a language you won't understand, and have a way of life you can't even imagine. They live behind the sun, in a Morocco you've never known," he rattled on.
Hyperbolic as it is, his statement still serves as an apt portrayal of one of Morocco's most serious problems: the country's centre of power is out of step with the regions it governs.
While many Moroccans are happy to live in the kingdom's big cities, which benefit from the attention of the central government, those in the regions - in the north-east and the south, for instance - are barely keeping their heads above water.
The root of this problem goes back to the colonial period. In the first half of the 20th century, the map of the country was divided into two sections by French colonisers - the "useful" and the "useless" Morocco - the "useful" part of the country was fertile, rich in fisheries and minerals, thus worthy of development. The "useless" was not.
French strategists, more interested in exploitation than in the country's long-term growth, saw no reason to build infrastructure linking deprived areas to the rest of the Moorish kingdom. Since gaining independence from France in 1956, this so-called "useless" Morocco remains underdeveloped and secondary.
"There were real tensions over power between the monarchy and the nationalist movement - the country's political and economic elite - after Morocco's independence," said Mustapha Qadery, a historical anthropology scholar and author of A Nationalism of Self-Contempt, a book on Moroccan politics recently published in Arabic and French.
"But there was one thing both sides agreed on: the centralisation of power was key to ensure control over the state after the French had left. So they adopted the French model, which was based on the idea that 'there is the capital, and there is the rest'. Never mind that it was the worst government model in Europe," Qadery noted, speaking on the phone from Virginia State University, where he is currently a scholar in residence.
Predictably, regional affairs could not be properly run from Rabat, the capital. Though the country is not massive, at best, officials did not fully understand the true needs of rural communities and, at worst, did not care about them. This was at a historical juncture where the idea of local government was made to sound like a threat to national integrity.
"Whoever called for regionalism at that critical transitional period was portrayed as a separatist by the nationalist movement, the only class in Moroccan society that thrived under the French protectorate, and wanted to make sure it'll keep on thriving after France was gone," Qadery said.
Populations miles away from the centre saw that walis (provincial governors) were not fitting representatives of their interests, given they were not elected and, perhaps worse, were often foreign to the region they were appointed to serve.
A few exceptions aside, underprivileged regions remained so. And since the underdevelopment of a region entails the underdevelopment of a community, this chronic aversion to decentralised power has left large local populations with no proper education, health care or human development opportunities - the "forgotten Morocco" some like to call it.
So when the country's constitutional reforms were announced by King Mohammed VI last month, amid justified international media attention, many people in these marginal areas (where illiteracy is endemic) had no clue as to what the fuss was all about. The irony is that, for the first time, a draft constitution in Morocco addressed their situation without too much equivocation.
It reserved a whole section for "regionalism", a system that "hinges on the principles of independent management" and "ensures the involvement of the concerned communities in running their own affairs", to quote Article 136 of the draft text. In Ben Guerir, for instance, a small town 50 kilometres north of the city of Marrakech, many of those who voted for the new constitution in a July 1 referendum did not know what the word "constitution" meant.
Khalid Mir, a 51-year-old unemployed local man with a high school education, said on referendum day that he was not going to vote. Sitting with friends next to the cart of an ambulant meat vendor at the local souq, Mir said he took that decision because he did not understand what the new constitution was about.
"I'm not sure what a constitution, in general, is made of, so I won't vote. I'm not saying yes, and I'm not saying no," he declared.
Nevertheless, the introduction of regionalism in this new and more assertive form has the potential to turn things around. On paper, it carries the promise of bringing public services closer to marginalised communities and galvanising dormant territories, while alleviating the administrative strain on big cities and blunting rural migration.
On top of that, it has a significant symbolic dimension, according to Qadery, who also teaches a graduate course in French on theories of the state at Rabat's Mohammed V University. "It marks the country's reconciliation with its own history," he pointed out. "State rule in Morocco was premised on the idea of regionalism for centuries, until the colonial period changed that. The country is now taking a first step towards redressing an incorrect situation. The next right thing to do would be, when the time is ripe, to proclaim 'local governments'; give entities the freedom and the responsibility to fully, not partially, govern themselves."
For his part, Abdellah Bouano, a Moroccan member of parliament with the opposition Justice and Development Party, described the constitutional provisions under regionalism as "a positive step". Speaking from the capital, he said a form of economic regionalism started in Morocco in 1974, then took on a political character in 1996. But it was not effective because the heads of regional councils were never truly empowered.
"Only now, with the new constitution, is the region entitled to intervene in a number of sectors that directly impact the local community, and that includes planning and budgeting for human and cultural development, infrastructure, schools, hospitals, tourism and so on," Bouano explained.
"Before, the region as a territorial entity did not play more than a consultative role in the management of its own affairs; real power was in the hands of the walis, who had the key prerogative to disburse financial resources. Now this power would be vested in elected regional chiefs. The long-term goal is to establish local governments; we're not there yet," he added.
There is yet another facet to Morocco's push for regionalism: the Sahara issue. The autonomy plan proposed by Morocco in 2006 for the Western Sahara, whereby the territory disputed between the kingdom and the Polisario Front would gain independence under the kingdom's sovereignty, has played a role in making regionalism occupy a more prominent place in the new constitution.
"It wouldn't be right if the Sahara were to be granted a large autonomy, while other Moroccan territorial entities are not given sufficient self-management powers. You don't want the Sahara to be the odd one out," Bouano observed.
One thing is clear though: there is no political system out there that will suit all Moroccans. Instead, they must knit one with their own hands, one that accommodates their many asymmetries, stresses their commonalities and eases their differences.
Achraf El Bahi is the lead translator at The National.
A Side Of Sewage With Dinner In Morocco
Tafline Laylin | July 14th, 2011
Last night, hundreds of tourists that descended upon the popular La place Jemâa el Fna in Marrakech were greeted with a stinking treat. Right next to the open air restaurant that later served me a small Moroccan salad, potato cakes, and delicious mint tea, (see a recipe for Moroccan Anise bread here) and where Henna painters, storytellers, and snake charmers spend their evenings luring tourists to their small patch of concrete, a blocked drain overflowed. And nobody rushed to the scene to clean it up.
Located in Africa’s Northwestern corner, Morocco has a sewage problem. This is no secret to anyone on the street or on high, and the issue is being addressed with a certain urgency. In the meantime, though, raw sewage continues to run amock not only in poor, rural areas, but also in urban areas that experience high tourist traffic.
The Régie Autonome de Distribution d’Eau et d’Electricité de Marrakech (RADEEMA) was established in 1971 to manage Marrakech’s water and electricity supply. Then in 1998, it was tasked with restructuring the city’s water sanitation facilities and closing injection points that discharge untreated water into the surrounding environment.
According to Eco2Data, Marrakech produces approximately 90,720 m3 of wastewater every day. With limited infrastructure to cope with it, RADEEMA’s job of ensuring that the surrounding environment is not contaminated with untreated sewage is no easy task.
Poop in the sea
Roughly 60% of the country’s 546 million m3 of wastewater lands up in the Atlantic Ocean untreated, which is harmful to fish – an important domestic and export commodity. And the cost of cleaning up this and agricultural contamination amounts to at least $0.5 billion every year.
In Marrakech alone, it is estimated that 2,000 hectares of agricultural land, which produce cereals and fruit, are watered with raw sewage. Fresh water resources are quickly dwindling in Morocco, as elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa region, particularly in the drier, southern parts of the country, so farmers are resorting to what resources they do have.
So, what’s the solution to this sh#tty problem? Under the Horizon 2020 program spearheaded by the European Union, which has contributed 90 million euros towards Morocco’s national sanitation program, 34 high level wastewater managers and decision makers attended a training program in Rabat earlier this year. There they were exposed to best practices that are expected to be passed (and hopefully not flushed) down the management chain.
Plan and program
The country has a long way to go, but unlike Egypt, for example, where raw sewage flows freely into the Nile river, Morocco’s government has a plan.
According to Global Water Intel:
In 2005, Morocco only treated 10% of its municipal effluent, despite the fact that 70% of the population was connected to the sewerage network. Faced with mounting pollution problems, the country launched a national wastewater strategy, Plan National de l’Assainissement (PNA), with the longterm objectives of treating 60% of effluent and connecting 80% of the population to the sewerage network by 2020
France funds solar project in Morocco with € 100.3 million
Reda Darwish Sunday, 10 July 2011 Global Arab Network
The French Agency for Development (AFD) decided to give Morocco an appropriation of € 100.3 million in order to "support the implementation of its solar energy plan and the construction of a solar power plant in Ouarzazate."
The sum is composed of a loan of €100 million and a donation of €300,000.
The AFD underlined the importance of the plan, launched in 2009 with the aim of raising the capacity of power production from solar energy to a minimum of 2000 MW by 2020.
In this regard, it said that while Morocco imports 97% of its energy needs, "which puts a strain on its balance of trade and its budget," it "has, however, one of the most abundant solar resource in the world."
Morocco, France sign MoU to promote investments
Rabat - Morocco's Investment promotion agency (AMDI) and the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Morocco (CFIM) signed, in Rabat, to strengthen bilateral partnership.
The MoU is designed to further foster partnership in terms of promoting investments through the exchange of information and expertise between the two countries.
Signed by Director General of AMDI and CFIM’s President, the MoU is part of the momentum witnessed in the French-Moroccan relations.
The signing was preceded by a conference on French investments in Morocco, during which investment opportunities and the advantages offered by the Kingdom were highlighted. (MAP) http://www.english.globalarabnetwork.com/2011071011147/Energy/france-funds-solar-project-in-morocco-with-1003-million.html
A souk for Bradford? Grand idea, bring it on!
Plan announced for an Arab market to join the Yorkshire city's many other draws. It's a good one, quite apart from tourism. Remember that Morrison's started as a Bradford market stall.
Here's an idea in keeping with the Northerner's campaign to protect and re-energise markets in our three regions: the Bradford charity QED-UK is putting forward plans to liven up the city with a souk.
You could argue that we've got one already, with the cabins at John Street Market and frequent street stalls, specially for food, but Mohammed Ali of QED – a very long-standing campaigner for Bradford's well-being – wants to go way beyond that.
He says: "A souk would boost the region's economy, create jobs and attract visitors from all over the world. Traditional Arab market places where goods are bought and sold in a bright, colourful, noisy labyrinth – are a strong tourism feature in countries such as Dubai and Morocco."
If you've been to Istanbul, you'll get the idea too – think of the Grand Bazaar where no excuse will get you out of a purchase. "You don't like any of these colours; wait, my cousin has all the other ones." It may not click immediately with traditional British reserve, but these days we soon get over that.
Ali adds: "Rather than dreary shopping malls, souks are colourful, noisy, fascinating, inspired places to be. There's a unique, authentic, raw quality to souks. It's such an exciting idea for Bradford." QED has put in an outline bid to the Government's regional growth fund for a 60,000 sq ft space, with room for small businesses to design, make, demonstrate and alter products – another characteristic of Arab souks.
Ali says: "It's time Bradford was re-energised with a radically innovative approach. We're hoping there will be a ground swell of support for our proposals. A souk is a fantastic way to bring visitors to the north of England from all over the world to experience a unique shopping experience. It's a chance to really celebrate the diverse culture the city offers and to put Bradford firmly on the map in a positive, thriving way."
He's signed up chartered accountants Clough and Co, commercial property agency Andrew Idle Associates, construction consultants Rex Proctor and Partners and Watson Batty Architects. All other support welcomed. Me, I'd house it in the sad old Odeon. It already looks the part with those lovely domes.
Agadir's Timitar Festival highlights Berber comeback
Sylvia Smith Jul 12, 2011
As Hassan moves gracefully across the stage dressed in doublet and hose, he emerges from the shadows and is reflected against the dark background of the former kasbah of Tiznit. The dim lights and sound effects used in Tinu, a choreographed play based on the collection of short stories by the Amazigh writer Mohamed Ouagrar, add to a sense of history.
After the play ends, the audience at this year's Timitar festival in Agadir, Morocco, bursts in to spontaneous applause, standing up to express approval of the way this production promotes the cultural significance of the Berber people.
Tinu , which means "My Beloved" in the Amazigh (or Berber) language, is about a fictitious ruler of the Amazigh who outlaws love. It is a highly romantic tale and the young actor speaks his words with confidence both on stage as well as in everyday life. He is a symbol of the renewed determination to bring this once marginalised group within Moroccan society to the fore. "I am not now and will never be satisfied until we Berbers take our rightful position in society," he tells me in Tashelheit, the local Berber language in the Souss Massa Draa region. "We are proud because we are the original inhabitants of north Africa and now we have our language officially recognised."
Thanks to the constitutional reforms that were voted in via a referendum at the beginning of July, Berber is now recognised alongside Arabic as an official language in Morocco. Although not generally recognised as a significant force within Morocco until recently, the culture of the Amazigh (Imazighen is the singular and means freeman) has been the vehicle allowing artistic expression and the language itself to thrive. As a language, Amazigh is one of the earliest known, yet it has survived unwritten until recently. Even today, at weddings and other family gatherings poets and minstrels keep Berber history, heroic figures and traditional tales alive and relevant.
According to Abdullah Aourik, an artist and the publisher of the monthly magazine Agadir O'flla, the Amazigh translation of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot most successfuly expresses the endless struggle of the Amazigh for equality. "I was born in Agadir and survived the earthquake that destroyed the city in 1960," he says. "I'm delighted to see that my language is no longer considered an anachronism. But in the new constitution it is mentioned as the second official language and that seems to mean we are still second-class citizens. We are the majority and our culture was the original way of living throughout north Africa."
In fact, Amazigh is constantly heard in Morocco. It is included in almost every sentence uttered on the streets and its prevalence is what makes the Moroccan dialect so difficult to understand by speakers of classical Arabic - even though Arabic has been the only official language since the Arabs swept across north Africa bringing the language with them. But Amazigh is no longer viewed as backward-looking.
To understand the reach of the Berbers and their language, he tells me that the language is spoken from the oasis of Siwa in Egypt, near the border with Libya, as far as the Canary Islands. And from the Mediterranean to the Niger River in the south. "Ibn Battuta [the fourteenth-century Islamic scholar and traveller] was Berber. Not to mention the footballer Zinedine Zidane. We reckon there are more than 50 million of us," he says. "But we still have to get a special court order here in Morocco if we want to give our children an Amazigh first name."
Across north Africa the same music, art and way of life is shared by countless others who may not consider themselves Berber but who have roots in this ancient civilisation. This common culture is celebrated each year at the festival Timitar, held in the Berber heartland of Agadir. This year's festival took place from June 22 to 25, just before the referendum.
The festival puts the most outstanding performers in the Amazigh constellation centre stage, allowing them to be seen singing and playing alongside international artists such as Youssou N'Dour, Selif Keita and Alpha Blondy. Timitar means sign, and the festival is one of the most important gatherings of Amazigh. It is a symbol that new young artists are coming up and the culture is far from forgotten, even if it is changing.
Brahim Mazned, who has been Timitar's artistic director since its inception eight years ago, is adamant that the cultural aspect of the festival boosted the determination that the language should be on the school curriculum as well as taught at university level. "We sponsor local artists so that they can record good-quality CDs," he explains. "We have a strong cultural message that is communicated through song lyrics and we have to ensure that Amazigh is part of the globalised world."
Timitar is a series of huge, free, open-air concerts that showcase such Amazigh militants as the singer Fatima Tabaamrant, who is in her fifties. Born in the mountainous region of Ait Bamram, she learnt to read and write only recently. But she has composed all her songs and is known as a rayissa - or poetess. "Of course we are pleased with the news that finally we are officially accepted, but this is just the start," she confirms.
At this year's Timitar festival it is clear that she has lost none of her power to move a massive audience. The crowd, which numbers more than 150,000 squeezed in to Agadir's main square, goes wild when she comes on stage. They sing along to anthems waving the Amazigh flag.
Tabaamrant and well-known bands such as Oudaden have been a source of inspiration to the new generation of Amazigh singers. But while she and those of her generation involved in the early Amazigh movement stick to more traditional instruments and use the symbols of nature to put their message across, young bands have transformed the way Berber is listened to and the way it is expressed. Downloads and iPods are common and singers have turned to rap and hip-hop to demand equality.
Rap2Bled is a rap band from just outside Agadir and they sing in Tamazight, the generic name for Amazigh languages. They sing only to promote the Berber identity.
One of their videos features a graffiti artist writing on a wall using the characters and symbols that have been adopted as an alphabet so as to write down the previously oral language. The signs are said to have been taken from magic spells found in Touareg tombs and caves.
Mazned is all in favour of modernising the movement. "My new plan is to have an initiative to compose reggae in Amazigh," he explains. "We are part of this modern world, not some irrelevant villagers who are stuck back in the dark ages."
Offering Slow, Small Changes, Morocco’s King Stays in Power
By NADIM AUDI Published: July 10, 2011 RABAT, Morocco
With the pace of democratic change stalled or staggering under violent crackdowns in the Middle East and North Africa, Morocco’s recent decision to alter its Constitution provides what some see as an alternative to the bloody confrontations that have marked the Arab Spring.
Morocco’s decision — in the form of a referendum to give more powers to elected leaders — was offered as a unique answer to the insistent calls for democratic change that have swept through Arab countries since Tunisians unexpectedly toppled their longtime dictator in January.
For now the electoral victory in Morocco remains largely symbolic. King Mohammed VI proposed the referendum himself, but the revisions to the Constitution it allowed ensure that he maintains nearly absolute political power and unquestioned control over the military. And the Constitution’s ability to bring real change to this centuries-old monarchy will largely depend on how the text is applied to everyday politics.
But supporters of the new Constitution argue that moving slowly may be the surest way to achieve sustainable change, and analysts say that even baby steps may be enough to inspire others in the region to follow suit eventually. At the least, the events in Morocco provide a striking counterpoint to those in Egypt and Tunisia, where leaders’ concessions appeared to work against them, emboldening protesters.
“It’s a peaceful revolution, and the major difference with other countries in the region is that protesters never called for the fall of the regime,” said Mokhtar El Ghambou, who is helping to found Rabat International University. “There was no bloodshed. I think it shows there are two options; the first one is radical change, the second is change with continuity.”
For some, that is a good thing. For others, Morocco’s example is troubling, providing ammunition for rulers and counterrevolutionaries intent on breaking the momentum for sweeping reform that was in protesters’ favor for months.
“If the Egyptian revolution fails to bring change, with places like Morocco in mind, there will be a big backlash against the revolutions,” Mr. El Ghambou said.
Morocco’s evolution was inspired by many of the same issues that birthed the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.
The kingdom, on the western edge of North Africa, has a large population of restless young people, many of them unemployed, and the country is troubled by a level of nepotism reminiscent of Tunisia’s and a yawning gap between rich and poor.
At first, the nation’s reaction to the stunning news from Tunisia and Egypt tracked with those of others in the region. Protesters took to the streets with their grievances, and the government cracked down, sometimes violently.
But the narrative diverged from there. Government troops beat demonstrators, but did not fire on them, and the protesters themselves were more interested on pushing their king toward a true constitutional monarchy than pushing him out.
Mohammed VI already had a well of good will to draw on. He is considered forward-thinking and a gentler leader than his father, King Hassan II. Early in his reign he took steps to modernize the kingdom, including promoting a family law that raised the age for women to marry and allowed them to seek a divorce.
With the rise of radical Islam, however, the king slowed the pace of change, frustrating many of his subjects. Over time, he was also accused of tolerating corruption and of allowing advisers and former schoolmates to amass fortunes from state contracts.
He began to propose major changes again only after protests roiled major Moroccan cities this year. He proposed the constitutional changes that went to a vote on July 1, and pardoned scores of prisoners who the opposition said were jailed for their political beliefs.
Under the new provisions, which fell short of demands for a real constitutional monarchy, the prime minister will still be appointed by the king, but will now need to be chosen from the party with the parliamentary majority. In a change from the past, the prime minister will be charged with appointing government ministers, but the king still needs to approve those choices.
The constitutional changes — and the reality that 98 percent of an unusually high turnout of voters approved them — has left some Moroccans, especially on the left, disillusioned.
“The king gives the impression of giving the keys to the prime minister, while keeping a copy in his pocket,” wrote Karim Boukhari, editor and publisher of the francophone weekly Tel Quel. “Morocco deserves much better, and right now.”
Members of the February 20 Movement for Change, which coordinated the country’s demonstrations, have vowed to keep up weekly protests.
“This text is not acceptable, it was cooked up in the hallways of the palace,” said Zineb El Rhazoui, a journalist and human rights advocate, who is active in the protest movement. “It’s all cosmetic.”
Whether Morocco’s example can be replicated is an open question. Relative to its neighbors, the country was more open to reform.
Analysts said that other monarchies, including those in the gulf, were unlikely to follow suit in good part because their populations were both wealthier and more conservative, and therefore less likely to agitate for democracy.
The leaders of two other Arab countries, Jordan and Algeria, have at least suggested political reforms, but it is unclear if they will move ahead.
The situation in Jordan more closely mirrors Morocco’s: it is a monarchy with close ties to the United States, and King Abdullah II has recently reshuffled his cabinet to try to appease protesters. But analysts said regional realities might doom more significant changes, especially as Syria descends further into chaos, with the government unable to quell unrest despite a fierce crackdown.
“They’re closely watching the situation in neighboring Syria, and are very worried about being destabilized by events there,” said Muhammad Abbas Nagi of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, a government-financed research center. “They’re not comfortable with what could happen if they start answering the protesters’ calls for change.”
It is also in Jordan’s economic interest to maintain close ties with countries like Saudi Arabia, which balks at change in the region and sent troops into Bahrain to support the monarchy after weeks of protests. A recent offer to consider including Jordan as a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council has been perceived as an effort to buttress the monarchy and keep Jordan in the fold.
But even if no country follows Morocco’s example in the near future, the king’s ability, at least so far, to satisfy critics and still maintain power presents an alternative for reformers searching for new ways to wrest power from leaders who have clung to their positions for decades..
“On one side, you have Libya, which is exactly where Arab populations want to avoid going; on the other, you have this Moroccan counterpoint, which showed it was possible to absorb discontent through reforms,” said Haoues Seniguer, a professor and researcher at Lyon’s Institute for Political Studies. “What is certain is that some governments might be inspired by this successful strategy to diffuse protests.”
In the end, whether others follow Morocco’s lead may depend in part on whether the country’s experiment turns out to be a true template for change.
One of the first tests of the king’s commitment to reform will come after parliamentary elections, expected this fall. Detractors will be watching closely to see whether the elections are fair and whether he chooses as prime minister someone anxious for reform or someone who is merely acceptable to the winning party.
For the king’s many supporters, the changes may be imperfect, but they are the best way forward.
“People in Egypt are still throwing rocks at each other, and we already have a new Constitution,” said Rachid Benmami, 55, as he sat in a coffeehouse in Casablanca, Morocco’s economic capital. “The king knows what’s good for his people,” he said, removing an aging picture of Mohammed VI from his wallet.
“We thank God for our king,” he said as he kissed the picture.
Shared Maghreb identity builds momentum for UMA
By Siham Ali 2011-07-10
Maghreb residents are beginning to embrace a regional identity.
After more than two decades, the Maghreb Union (UMA) may finally be ready to complete its institutions and compete on a global scale.
The popular momentum is there to make it happen, observers note. Especially in Morocco.
The [Arab] Maghreb Union offers advantages to every member country involved, economist Najib Boulif told Magharebia, adding that each country would stand to gain by an amount equal to 5-6% of its GDP.
"When the flow of trade is increased, monetary union is implemented and the movement of money and people is made easier, this will give a boost to the regional economy," he said.
Morocco's economy needs to open up more towards other Arab markets, according to MP Lahcen Daoudi.
Moreover, he said, the countries of the Maghreb share the same set of values, the same way of thinking and the same language.
"It's a sentimental link. Moroccan identity is made up of several components, including Muslim values, Arab values and Maghreb characteristics. The latter are much stronger and closer to us," Daoudi said.
"You can't deny geography or change history," agreed sociologist Ali Chaabani said. "There are several things in common: the language, the religion, feelings and cultural and artistic expression. For instance, when you listen to an Algerian singer, it's as though you could just as easily be listening to a Moroccan singer."
Despite their similarities, citizens of the Maghreb do not feel as though they belong to the same society when they are in their home countries, Chaabani said. When they go abroad, however, the feeling of kinship emerges.
Ahmed Cherrat, a senior manager, echoed that sentiment, saying when he was on business trips abroad, Maghreb citizens got along best with each other.
"We feel as though we come from the same region. People aren't interested in petty politicking," Cherrat said.
Siham Atlass, a student in Montpellier, France said that when she was in Morocco, she was unaware of the degree of cultural and social affinity within the Maghreb.
"I knew we shared the same values, but I never imagined we had the same identity," she said.
"The Tunisian and Algerian students I've met in France are no different from Moroccans. We're open-minded."
Uncertain future for Morocco's unlikely force for change
Issandr el Amrani Jul 11, 2011
A t the beginning of the month, as the results of Morocco's constitutional referendum trickled in, a group of young activists sat in a small apartment in central Rabat. Journalists and bloggers traded stories from the day, the more courageous activists proudly showing scars they had received during clashes at recent protests. When the television announced that the preliminary tally of votes showed that at least 98 per cent of voters backed a new constitution, the room erupted in cheers and laughter.
These weren't activists who had backed the referendum, as most political parties in Morocco did. They were from the February 20 movement, a loose coalition of critics of the Moroccan regime that had called for a boycott of a referendum that everyone believed would pass. What the ragtag group was cheering was that the score, reminiscent of previous elections under the reign of Hassan II, King Mohammed's father, would help discredit a process they had opposed from the very beginning.
The February 20 movement marks a new departure in Moroccan politics. Since 1999, when King Mohammed succeeded his father, who had reigned over the country for 38 years with an iron fist, most were hopeful that a real transition to democracy was underway. This had been partly ushered in by the late king in the last years of his reign, when he convinced a historic opposition party, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (known as USFP, its French acronym) to form a government that could put the country on the path to democracy.
There were some notable successes, such as the Arab world's first truth and reconciliation commission, which looked into past human rights abuses; the reintegration of former political prisoners; and one of the most progressive personal status laws in the region. But by the mid-2000s, this transitional experiment began to be seen as a failure. The new king's advisers continued to hold sway over politics, and grew increasingly rapacious over the economy. In the last parliamentary elections in 2007, less than 37 per cent of those eligible turned out to vote (the opposition says the real figure is closer to 20 per cent).
February 20 emerged from this disillusionment with politics. At the beginning of the year, a group of activists - mostly leftists close to human rights groups - were transfixed by what was happening in Tunisia and Egypt. They began a Facebook group directed at King Mohammed, addressing him on the questions they felt the political class was not addressing: Morocco's failing education system, poor health care, decrepit transport infrastructure and the growing inequality between the mass of the population (Morocco has the lowest development indicators in the Arab world after Yemen) and the elite, which had profited handsomely from a decade of fairly robust economic growth and a dramatic rise in real estate speculation. Some prominent businessmen even joined the fray, condemning abuses of power by the king's entourage.
By mid-February of this year, just as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak was toppled, the activists on Facebook aired a video of themselves calling for a protest for change. The video, ably produced and straight to the point, spread like wildfire. Tens of thousands joined the Facebook group, which renamed itself February 20, the day of the first protest. By March 20, there were simultaneous protests in over 100 towns. They tended to be led by leftist activists and independent liberals, but also received major backing from Justice and Spirituality, Morocco's largest Islamist movement (which is banned for its critique of the monarchy, most notably the king's official religious role as Commander of the Faithful), as well as the youth wings of various political parties. It was the biggest wave of political activism the country had seen in decades.
Within weeks of the first protest, the king reacted. On March 9, he launched a reform process that led to the new constitution passed on July 1. Constitutional reform had long been a demand of the Moroccan opposition, but it was not a central demand of February 20. Nonetheless, the royal initiative fragmented the movement. Political parties that had supported it distanced themselves from it, particularly as it was seen to become more radical and refused to participate in the king's constitutional commission, demanding instead an independent constituent assembly.
Early sympathisers became nervous about February 20's alliance with Justice and Spirituality, whose conservative views occasionally came out in demonstrations in which they often made up half of the protesters, aligning themselves in neat ranks unlike the disorganised groupings of the young Facebook activists.
With the monarchy having won the first round by upstaging protesters and focusing on constitutional reform, many now wonder what the future of the movement will be. "We're back to February 19," says one member. Some predict its Islamist and secularist components will have increasing difficulty working together.
But others are less gloomy: they are content, for now, with the knowledge that without their movement, the government would have not even thought that a new constitution was necessary or released political prisoners in recent months. Nor would have new online publications, often run by exiled dissident journalists, cropped up to serve the new interest in political commentary. Whatever the future of February 20, if political life finally shows some signs of activity, Moroccans will have this unlikely coalition to thank.
Issandr El Amrani is an independent journalist based in Cairo. He blogs at www.arabist.net
Morocco: Constitutional Sleight of Hand
AHMED TAIBI 07/13/11
The Moroccan Association for Human Rights – Association Marocaine des Droits Humains (AMDH) made public today, Tuesday July 12th, a pointed report on the July 1st constitutional referendum. It noted the government orchestrated grave transgressions that undermined the electoral process and influenced the electorate leading to a 98.5% in favor of the new constitution. The report decried the extensive use of television, radio, and newspapers, as well as taxpayers’ money, public property, and apolitical venues such as mosques by governmental entities to saturate the opinion pool with a discourse favorable to the agenda of a few and mute the undogmatic grassroots opposition whose public support has grown exponentially since the 20th of February. The government’s partisanship is contrary to the democratic principles boded by the new constitution. As to human rights, the association conveyed its skepticism of the government’s willingness to uphold its obligation to foster a state of law and condemned its disingenuous efforts to curtail abuses against those who oppose the status quo.
Justice Monitor of Morocco, another watchdog, leveled harsher criticism against the government in a statement to the media. They denounced the unethical and sometimes unlawful campaign the government launched to mobilized the population in favor of the new constitution. Their investigation and analysis indicated the number of voters and the tally of favorable votes the government blared out were grossly inflated and should not be considered seriously. The watchdog argues that the Moroccan electorate is estimated at twenty-four million; of those and according to voters registrar, less than thirteen million hold a voter’s card. It assesses that the July 1st referendum turnout could not have surpassed 20% and by no means expresses the will of the majority of Moroccans. Additionally, the watchdog raised serious misgivings about the electoral process and uncovered irregularities in the way voters lists have been compiled and maintained and voters cards have been handled.
Many Moroccan journalists, political analysts, and bloggers, myself included, have reported on the flagrant perversion of democracy the government has been trying to impose on the people. Just recently, Taieb Fassi Fihri, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Khalid Naciri, Minister of Communication and the government’s official spokesman, in interviews with international and national media, carried on their bovine insistence that the post-July 1st Morocco is more democratic and nationally cohesive. Moroccans understand that the situation will not improve so long as the same nepotistic and avaricious potentates with total disregard for the law and the will of the nation. They have literally made the prospect of democracy in Morocco walk the plank. A. T. B. © 2011 http://www.moroccoboard.com/viewpoint/60-ahmed-tb/5351-morocco-constitutional-sleight-of-hand
Morocco’s New Constitution: What Next?
07/13/11 Nabil Arrach, Ph.D, Washington / Morocco Board News
The referendum passed with a majority of 98.5% in support of the new Constitution. Morocco’s traditional allies including France, the European Union, and the United States expressed support calling the reforms “a clear commitment to democracy” and describing Morocco as a model of democracy in the region. On the other hand, a pro-democracy movement on February 20 th inspired by the Arab Spring, questioned the transparency of the referendum and called for more protests.
The referendum was marked by heavy participation of the Moroccan authority, not as a neutral body as it should have been according to the Constitution (Article11), but rather as an active advocator in support of the proposed Constitution.
The opposition, in and outside political parties, criticized the Moroccan authority for politicizing the Mosques and the official media. According to the opposition, the Imams were campaigning for a “yes” during Fridays’ prayers, while the local media including national television banned all attempted boycotts, and favored the Yes campaigns.
Now February 20 th Movement is back in the street. Thousands of pro-democracy protestors took the street last Sunday to demand more freedom, better justice, and an end to corruption. That same day, protesters loyal to the monarchy marched in support of the new Constitution. The Moroccan streets are now more divided than they were a few months ago.
The EU’s and the US’s support for the reforms was anticipated. In fact, the opposite would have been a surprise. Morocco offers a political stability that is preferred over a risky democracy in the vulcanized Maghreb. A strong ally, such as Morocco, could play a key role in protecting the US and European interests in the MENA region.
Notwithstanding, the west has supported pro democracy movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and recently in Syria, usually when the movements became more powerful than the regimes, and only when such movements were unlikely to be hijacked by Al-Qaeda or other radical Islamic groups. Based on western views, the revolution in Yemen is considered risky because it appears susceptible to Al-Qaeda’s influence; this explains why it did not gain the support.
Morocco is simply not there yet. The pro-democracy movement did not reach the same popularity as it did in other Arab countries; nor did it create strong leaders, groups or individuals, who could exercise real negotiation power with the regime. Over time, the February 20 th Movement was compelled to make a non conventional, yet risky choice, by integrating groups from the far left party and the officially banned Islamic groups such as “Justice and charity”, a choice that is not necessarily bad, but did not resonate with the masses, and was easily targeted.
Fair enough; the Moroccan government moved swiftly and scored few political points against the February 20 th group, arguing the Movement was “overtaken” by the Islamists and the leftists. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, the Moroccan regime did not have to rely solely on repression, but did know how to handle the protests politically. The Monarchy has extensive experience dealing with a complex political landscape characterized by seasoned political parties.
These and other factors that pertain to the Movement itself, such as the lack of structure, agenda, and absence of strong leadership, and internal power straggle, has downgraded the Movement from being a power broker to a complainer. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that February 20 th has shaken the monopoly of power and is expected to make few dents in the socio-political scene.
The game is not over yet; the elections that were initially scheduled for the next year may take place in October 2011 according to the media and government officials. A tactical move that would kill a few birds with one stone!
With the elections in place, the Constitution will find its legitimacy, and may prevent the pro-democracy movement from pursing the reforms. Most importantly, it has the potential to stop the dominance of the Islamic party “Justice and Development Party”. In 2007, the Justice and Development Party won 46 out of 325 seats in Parliament. The Islamic party has a strong base and is likely to win more seats if proper preparation was allowed.
However, if the election takes place in October 2011, a major winner is not anticipated. The Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) will likely remain strong despite the controversy surrounding his founder and former Minister Delegate to the Interior Fouad Ali El Himma. Overall the proportion of major political parties in Parliament will likely remain unchanged, especially if the participation rates remain low (bellow 40%). Regardless, February 20 th group will be present as an observer and maybe a guarantor of the implementation of the new reforms.
Moroccan rights group seeks probe into reform referendum
Tue Jul 12, 2011 By Souhail Karam RABAT (Reuters)
Morocco's main independent human rights group demanded a judicial investigation into what it said were serious violations that affected the outcome of a July 1 referendum on constitutional reforms.
King Mohammed is expected to hand over some of his powers to elected officials under the new charter while retaining a key say over strategic decisions.
The government said nearly 100 percent of those who voted in the referendum approved the changes.
Khadija Ryadi, who heads the Moroccan Human Rights Association (AMDH), said that in the absence of international observers, the vote "witnessed serious violations ... throughout the referendum process".
"We have material evidence those violations ... did impact the credibility and the validity of the results that were announced," Ryadi said at a press conference presenting AMDH's report for 2010 and the first half of 2011.
Authorities used mosque preachers and religious schools and monasteries to urge worshippers to vote in favour of the reform crafted by the palace in what Ryadi called a "horrible exploitation" of religion.
The authorities also allowed campaigners in favour of the reform to deploy in cities on voting day while the campaign was supposed to end the day before, she said.
Authorities used the state machinery, public media and official premises to campaign for a "Yes" vote, in what Ryadi said was "blatant discrimination based on political opinion and an illegal use of public assets".
Policemen were present at some voting stations while others had only 'Yes' voting slips, she added.
"We demand a judicial probe ... This will be the first test for the constitutional court under the new constitution".
The interior ministry, which runs elections and domestic security issues, said 98.5 percent of those who voted approved the text on turnout officials estimated at 73 percent of registered voters.
Opponents have said that more than half of Moroccans actually eligible to vote did not do so at the referendum, either because they were boycotting the event or because of lack of interest.
Morocco had at least 75 political prisoners at the end of 2010, Ryadi said. There were also 342 people who are being prosecuted without being jailed.
Morocco released 92 political prisoners in April under a pardon issued by King Mohammed after street protests demanding democratic reform by the youth-led February 20 Movement.
Inspired by uprisings which ousted leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, the February 20 opposition movement has been holding regular protests for months to demand a parliamentary monarchy and that officials they accuse of graft be brought to justice.
The AMDH report said two human right activists and ten activists from February 20 were sentenced in June to up to three years each in jail after protests in the eastern town of Bouarfa in May on grounds they encouraged armed gatherings and attacks against civil servants. http://af.reuters.com/article/topNews/idAFJOE76B0PL20110712?pageNumber=2&virtualBrandChannel=0
AGRICULTURAL AGREEMENT WITH MOROCCO REJECTED BY THE EU
The Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament rejected yesterday the agreement for the liberalization of trade in agricultural and fishery products between Europe and Morocco. The decision must be ratified and voted in the European Parliament.
In a move welcomed by Spanish exporters, the committee has approved a study by right-wing Italian MEP Lorenzo Fontana (EFD Eurosceptic group ) that recommends the abandonment of the deal, arguing it would have “negative consequences” for southern European agriculture. His proposal received 24 votes in favor, 14 against and 2 abstentions. In his report, the Italian MEP called to the renegotiation of the agreement, with a renewed focus on “adaption to reform of the entry price system, reducing phytosanitary, sanitary and environmental differences, and the inclusion of social and anti-dumping clauses”.
Spanish fresh produce federation Fepex, which has campaigned vigorously against the agreement, called the vote a “positive” development, adding that the committee had “taken into account the extremely serious situation the (EU) fresh produce sector finds itself in”.
Other agricultural organizations as Asaja, COAG, UPA and Agrifood Cooperatives also appreciated the decision taken yesterday in Strasbourg and called it a “step in the right direction” for the Spanish production sector.
Following the agriculture committee meeting, on July 13 the Moroccan agriculture minister, Aziz Akhenouch, will meet the European Commission, which could prove crucial in deciding the future of the deal, as European MEPs have still to vote on whether to ratify it. The vote on the ratification of the EU-Morocco agreement of association is expected this October.
Last April, the campaign of tomato, compared to quota of 16,500 tons, Morocco exported to the EU, 42,819 tonnes, according to Eurostat, which has caused a “serious crisis to EU producers of this vegetable,” indicated exporters. This has been repeatedly denounced by the European agricultural organizations, especially the Spanish.
The report of the Agriculture Committee is to agree with the Spanish producer sector, recognizing that “Europeans are penalized by the fact that the products of Morocco, such as tomatoes, access the EU market at a time different from the normal marketing time in Europe, causing serious damage in the functioning of the market”. http://www.greenmed.eu/news-1093.html
Eating Out With Dusty Miller: Lost in Agadir, a paradise in Morocco
By Dusty Miller Sunday, 10 July 2011
I meant to present some interesting data about my current destination: the paradise holiday town of Agadir, in Morocco, in the far north-north west of Africa in this week’s column. But Africa Wins Again!
Morocco is without a doubt the hardest place I’ve ever been to fight your way onto the internet. Having succeeded: often after hours of frustratingly trying, it’s rare you stay on line for long, before the operation is timed out, or signal to server lost. Mind you, on the plus side, the Wi-Fi is free wherever I’ve been in Morocco.
But I think I’d rather pay for a reasonable and reliable service!
In Egypt, at the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, just before Christmas, (ie just before the Egyptian Uprising against Mubarak), e-mail and internet connections cost 100 Egyptian pounds —around US$10 — a day.
Dearest I’ve ever paid (and only to send out a major hard news story about a Somali pirate attack)was US$30 for HALF an hour: the standard charge on cruise liners, with their captive audiences, nowadays.
A Zimbo pal was totally horrified on booking out of a Dubai four-star hotel last month to be hit with a bill for US$720 for his niece’s interline bill for a three-night stay. Now that is wrong. Either provide a free service, or charge in advance so the client knows what the financial commitment is.
As dearly as I love my family, I can’t think how I’d react if my sister’s 17-year-old daughter ran up a US$720 bill for me by constantly Skyping a boy she promptly dumped on returning to Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital!) a week later.
So, at this stage, I can’t tell you how large Morocco is as compared to Zimbabwe; or how many hotels and rooms there are, what percentage occupancy they enjoy, nor the relative importance of tourism on Rabat’s economy. (Watch this space, after I return to civilisation tomorrow.)
However, I’m staying at Agadir, an important sea resort on the Atlantic seaboard in southern Morocco.
It’s funny that as you go through life (I find), you’ve never heard of a place, person, book, piece of music, event or even word one day and — voila! — it crops up immediately afterwards.
I first learnt of Agadir as the scene of “the Morocco Incident” (in which the German Navy almost started World War I five or six years early!) in a history lesson. That very night, in 1960, I delivered hundreds of copies of the local paper announcing the place had been almost totally destroyed by a terrible earthquake.
The tremor killed 15 000 people: then about a third of the population and the King ordered the old place razed to avoid disease in this tropical climate in a sub-tropical latitude. I didn’t know about that aspect until I did briefly manage to consult Dr Yahoo and Professor Google on the subject at the hotel.
And that was AFTER I went unsuccessfully yomping around the Centre-Ville (Morocco, although a kingdom in the same dynasty for almost 1 000 years, was a colony of Spain and France for over a century) with my trusty Canon camera at the ready to capture images of venerable mosques, minarets, slave markets and fortresses.
Other than the indigenous population, the Carthaginians were first here; the Portuguese ruled from 1505 and Denmark gained the monopoly of its trade in 1751, but I was puzzled to find few if any buildings appeared older than me!
I now know that’s because hardly any construction survived the earthquake; most of “new” Agadir was built at least five kilometres from the “old”. (Rather like the “new” Umtali (Mutare) was re-built several miles from the original settlement, when the line of the railway to Beira was confirmed as having to by-pass the first town, due to the mountains.)
What survived, here, was possibly Agadir’s most attractive architectural feature: the Kasbah, a veritable eyrie perched 236 metres above sea level.
Built in 1540 by Mohammed ech Cheikh as a starting point to launch his offensive against the Portuguese occupation and restored in 1752, it is a fine vantage point with a magnificent view of the sea and Agadir’s attractive beach: said to be the longest in Morocco.
I’ll be sorry to leave Agadir tomorrow after a very relaxing fortnight’s beach holiday with seemingly endless hours spent swimming in the warm gentle (at this spot) Atlantic Ocean, but rural Oxfordshire and my gorgeous grand-children call. At least for a few days when — subject to the recent vagaries of AirZim — I SHOULD be returning home after a month’s sanity break!
If I could see far enough across the breakers from my hotel, I’d be looking at the Spanish Canary Islands. But that’s according to one map I’ve seen here, which also tells me Mauritania lies to the east of us. According to another map displayed at the GereRouters (long distance coach station) Algeria is actually the nation to the east of us. I tend to go with that version!
What did we do before we could (sometimes!) call up Google Earth to check these things?
I can’t remember! If you can, let me know!
All Hail the (Democratic) King
By AHMED CHARAI and JOSEPH BRAUDE
Published: July 11, 2011
Offering Slow, Small Changes, Morocco’s King Stays in Power (July 11, 2011)
IT isn’t news anymore when an Arab ruler facing mass protests pledges sweeping reforms. But Morocco’s July 1 constitutional referendum may be the most significant development in the Arab world all summer. For the first time since the Arab Spring began, a population broadly embraced its leader’s reforms and scaled back antigovernment demonstrations. In the weeks before the referendum, over 100,000 people had taken to the streets; after the vote only about 10,000 did.
A sizable majority of Moroccans approved the new Constitution, which calls for King Mohammed VI to cede half his power to a prime minister appointed from the parliament’s majority party and ensures the rights of women and non-Arabs, including the country’s large Berber population.
Morocco appears to have found a new model for political transition. If the constitutional experiment succeeds, the country will have the opportunity — and responsibility — to take on the regional leadership role that has traditionally been played by Egypt.
The major parliamentary opposition parties, including the main Islamist party, endorsed the Constitution. Those rejecting it, including a radical Islamist group which aims to overthrow the king and install a caliph, had the chance to make their cases on public radio and television. Some officials believe this new openness is serving as a force for moderation. “The more the extremists go on TV, the more ridiculous they look,” said Nawfel Raghay, who manages the country’s broadcasting authority. “We should have done this 20 years ago.”
The Constitution’s power split provides a check against Islamists, if they were to win elections. In the event of an Islamist landslide, a new Shariah-minded prime minister would have the authority to appoint all senior civil servants and oversee domestic security. However, control over the army and foreign intelligence services would rest with the king. The monarch would also retain his traditional role as the country’s highest religious authority — meaning that he could block attempts to use mosques, the news media and religious education to impose chauvinist religious mores.
This novel arrangement also addresses the historic dilemma between values and interests the West has faced in its relationship with Morocco. The country has long been regarded as a constructive player in regional affairs, but its pro-Western authoritarian elite has a troubling human rights record and has constrained political and economic opportunity for the country’s impoverished majority. The Constitution could allow the emergence of new elites and open up the political arena.
It is important for America and its allies that Morocco achieve this balance at a time when Egypt is not in a position to serve as a regional powerbroker. Under its former president, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt served as a bridge between Arab monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Arab dictatorships like Syria and Libya. But today, there is a new Arab political divide — between autocracies and countries undergoing democratic transitions. Morocco, a transitioning government itself and a prospective member of the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council, is uniquely positioned to bridge this divide.
Whereas Mr. Mubarak mediated between Israelis and Palestinians, the new Egyptian government has yet to form a coherent policy on that conflict, let alone earn the trust of both sides. Morocco, by contrast, has a history of doing so. Years before Egypt normalized diplomatic relations with Israel in 1980, the Moroccan king Hassan II was a liaison between Israel and its neighbors. The country’s distance from Israel was not a serious disadvantage then, and it is even less so today in the era of instant communication and intercontinental strategic partnerships.
Morocco also has a deep historical bond with the Jewish people: the king protected 200,000 Moroccan Jews from the Nazis during World War II, and nearly one million Israelis have Moroccan roots — including some senior political and military officials. Morocco can extract concessions from both parties to the conflict that Egypt never could.
The Moroccan constitutional model sets an obvious example for Jordan, whose king also claims some religious authority and remains relatively popular. For the more embattled Sunni kingdom of Bahrain, a similar pact of electoral power-sharing with the Shiite majority may be the only way, in the long run, for Bahrain’s dynasty to survive.
Before the referendum, scores of protesters were wounded by the police, and one was killed. While this violence is deplorable, it is a far cry from that of Egypt, where hundreds died, let alone Libya and Syria, where state security forces have killed thousands.
There is great optimism in Morocco today. Millions have signaled their desire for freedom and opportunity within a constitutional framework. If parliament is vigilant in ensuring that the reforms are swiftly applied, Morocco can set an example for peaceful political transitions across the Arab world.
Ahmed Charai is publisher of the weekly Moroccan newspaper L’Observateur. Joseph Braude is the author of “The Honored Dead: A Story of Friendship, Murder, and the Search for Truth in the Arab World.”
Rail revolution in Morocco
STEVE McKENNA, The West Australian July 14, 2011, Steve McKenna ©
I half-expected Tangier's railway station to be like an old-fashioned Indian terminus; air rife with spicy smells, frantic ticket kiosks and nearly every open space covered in blankets on which generations of families would huddle amid bulging piles of baggage.
Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.
With its uncluttered, shiny marble floors, small, orderly queues and almost clinically sedate atmosphere, Tanger Ville seems almost too spick and span for a place with as much culture-shock potential as Morocco.
But this gleaming new transport hub is a symbol of the renaissance gripping the country's previously run-down rail system.
A multi-million dollar cash injection has sparked the construction, or refurbishment, of more than 40 stations with new track and rolling stock leading to faster, comfier journeys and the public is clearly charmed.
Last year, network operator ONCF carried an estimated 30 million passengers - up from 14 million in 2002.
A jolt of caffeine and excitement hits me as I sip a cafe au lait and survey Tanger Ville's electronic departures board which, in French and Arabic, flaunts a series of exotic destinations.
There's Casablanca, which conjures all kinds of romantic visions from the Bogart movie; there's Fez (the mythical old heartland of Islamic Morocco) and Meknes (the launch-pad to the Roman ruins of Volubilis).
I'm bound for Marrakech, a city bathed in its own magical allure and find myself humming the words to Crosby, Stills & Nash's classic folksy tune The Marrakech Express.
Released in 1969, it's infused with a hippyish, Woodstockian vibe and includes such verses as: "Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes, travelling the train through clear Moroccan skies, ducks and pigs and chickens call, animal carpet wall to wall."
There are no ducks, pigs or chickens (or hippies) aboard today and animal skin plays no part in the decor. The train is clean and functional, rather than shiny and super-modern, and is split into two classes - both air-conditioned.
Marrakech in one fell swoop is more than eight hours away, so I'm splitting the journey with a long, lazy lunch in the capital, Rabat.
Leaving behind the suburban wastelands of Tangier on the Mediterranean coast, we're soon skirting empty Atlantic Ocean beaches.
From the artsy seaside town of Asilah, we jerk inland, through mist-strewn olive groves and sparse green countryside, and plough a fairly bland furrow for a few hours before heading back to the coast.
There are no postcard views but it's absorbing.
Two local women (one in her 20s, the other in her 40s) are talking animatedly about the uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East. Pointing to dramatic photos in their glossy magazines, they ask me, in French, what I think. I'm soon engulfed in a conversation peppered with Arabic, French, English and Spanish (which we can all speak a bit of).
The older woman works for the UN's food relief program, her job taking her out to rural Morocco to improve the diets of malnourished children.
She doesn't reach these far-flung spots by rail, though. While things have come a long way since the late 19th century when the first line stretched 600m from a sultan's palace to his garden, the country still only has 2000km of track. Spain, a similar size, has 15,000km.
Several places that aren't covered by ONCF, including gorgeous towns like Chefchaouen and Essaouira, are linked by Supratours' deluxe coaches, yet hundreds of towns and villages remain well off the beaten track, as speed, rather than widespread connectivity, tops the agenda.
For example, a new two-track line with double-decker trains has cut journey times between Casablanca and Fez by 70 minutes to 3hr. 20min.
By 2015, French-built TGV Duplex trains, running at up to 320km/h, will link Tangier and Casablanca and in the most ambitious scheme, by 2030 the 700km from Tangier to Agadir, the main beach resort on the mid-Atlantic coast, will be covered in just four hours.
More pie in the sky is a 40km line under the Strait of Gibraltar, linking Morocco and Spain.
"We'll believe that when we see it. We'll probably be dead by then," chuckles the UN woman.
Rabat is an attractive city with palm tree-lined boulevards and leafy squares edged by alfresco cafes. Although it's been the capital since independence from French rule in 1956, it's never taken off as a tourist hotspot, despite its rich history and ruins and monuments dating back to Phoenician, Roman and Almohad dynasty eras.
Across the Oued Bou Regreg river is Sale, a thriving port and pirate lair in the 17th century. Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe was captive here before escaping on his epic voyage.
Conversations in French, rather than Arabic, dominate the next section. Marrakech has a thriving expat scene, with the French still madly in love with their former colonial outpost.
I speak to a 30-something Parisian who has a hotel in Marrakech. We chat about politics, culture, sport, tourism and the train.
As we pull into Casablanca, he adds: "Today it'll take us four more hours to get to Marrakech; in a few years, on a new TGV train, just one hour. Amazing, hey?"
If Tanger Ville was a symbol of the new Moroccan railways, then plush Gare de Marrakech is its poster boy.
It houses a dozen or so smart cafes, shops and restaurants and has a phenomenal entrance, which is modelled on the elaborately-designed gates of Marrakech's old medina.
Purists and the nostalgic may be dismayed that a gritty old network has embraced modernity, but for most, rail-wise Morocco is definitely on the right track.
• First-class fares from Tangier to Rabat are approximately MAD145 ($17.25), from Rabat to Marrakech they are MAD185 ($22) and from Casablanca to Fez they are MAD165 ($19.64). For timetables and rail travel information, go to the ONCF web site at www.oncf.ma.
• For more about Morocco, see www.visitmorocco.com.
Stay Tuned: 'Expedition Impossible' nothing like ‘Amazing Race’
By Melissa Crawley GateHouse News Service Posted Jul 14, 2011
Expedition Impossible” is a new adventure race reality show on ABC this summer. Teams of three complete physical challenges across Morocco. They hike through the desert, climb sand dunes, repel down mountain faces and kayak through shallow rivers. They also receive instructions at checkpoints and solve puzzles that lead them to the finish line of various stages, where host Dave Salmoni stands to greet the top teams and eliminate the team in last place. It's basically “The Amazing Race — Morocco Edition.” I'm sure the network is hoping to draw viewers with the obvious similarities. The problem is there's nothing amazing about this series.
One of the elements that makes “The Amazing Race” interesting is watching people exceed their comfort zone as they navigate through foreign countries. Racing around the world, contestants are often guilty of displaying the “ugly American” attitude, and it's this sometimes careless insensitivity to the nuances of other cultures that gives the series many of its best, if not cringe-worthy, moments. The choice to differentiate “Expedition Impossible” by isolating it to one country limits the potential for this type of drama. It also makes it less visually exciting. Morocco is exotic, but there are only so many ways of shooting deserts, mountains and rivers before they start to become nondescript.
Also, there's nothing really “impossible” about the expedition. So far, the physical challenges have included walking up a sand dune, riding a camel and a horse, repelling down a cliff and paddling a kayak. I'm sure climbing a Moroccan sand dune in the blazing heat is challenging, but a sensible pace, moderate level of fitness and frequent sips of water would get most people to the top. Riding a camel? More tricky than impossible. Horseback riding, repelling and kayaking? Last time I checked, these were not activities that are considered unachievable.
The show comes closest to portraying the idea of impossibility with its contestants. As in, how is it possible for two players who are former members of the U.S. Army National Guard to have a map and a compass and still get lost? Or how is it possible for a team of women not to know that wearing black from head to toe is a poor wardrobe choice for trekking through the scorching heat of the desert? The teams, many labeled by occupation (“the cops,” “the fisherman,” “the football players”), are difficult to root for or against because they rarely interact. All the characteristics that make “The Amazing Race” teams watchable — passion, break-downs, rivalries, personal epiphanies — are hard to find here.
Adventure racing should be exciting viewing. It's about overcoming mental and physical hardships to achieve what is seemingly out of reach. But before the viewer can feel the contestants' pain and celebrate their triumph, they have to connect with them and the ordeal they're about to undertake. Unfortunately, the only thing that feels impossible about this expedition is caring much about it.
Melissa Crawley credits her love of all things small screen to her parents, who never used the line, "Or no TV!" as a punishment. Her book, “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing,’” was published in 2006. She has a PhD in media studies. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @MelissaCrawley.
Expedition Impossible Recap: There's Snow in Morocco?
Jul 15 2011
With the Atlas Mountains looming and the temperatures reaching the below freezing markers, the teams had to adjust to a change of climate. No more sand this week on Expedition Impossible, just a lot of snow and dirt. The groups were given braided bracelets to wear for a future challenge. Of all the teams, The Country Boys were nervous mentally because Chad would probably have issues with elevations, just like he did with the sand dune. To make it worse, the altitude is a lot higher now.
Dave explained that the contestants would have to walk to the top of the ridge and follow the ridgeline to the first checkpoint. The Gypsies got a "head start" though if I had the choice between a few minutes and a trip sponsored by Travelocity like The Amazing Race, I'd take the trip. They didn't even bother telling us that it was probably less than five minutes. They were followed by wave two (The Blind, The Country Boys), three (Ballers, the Gays, Firemen), and four (Cops, Pink, Kansas, Fishermen)
At around 9,700 Feet Up we learned that Blind Erik survived climbs by one of the teammates illustrating the terrain with words. I wonder if the descriptions are ever, "Walk around those beautiful grey rocks" and Erik has to figure out what made the rocks so beautiful in the first place. The Country Boys immediately fell to fourth, then fifth, then sixth. Of all the teams passing the Pinks were excited. They decided that a positive spirit is stronger than altitude sickness.
To no one's surprise the Gypsies arrived at the checkpoint in first. The clue instructed teams to create a fishing line with a hook from the provided bracelets and hook a cage with a key that was below the side of the cliff. By the time the middle pack teams arrived both the Blind and Gypsies were gone. We learn further instructions: only one member could do the task and not change places. So this was the equivalent of The Amazing Race Roadblock. AJ decided to do the challenge after his sister decided to not listen; it was probably for the better since, Pink Brittany started fishing for her group unsuccessfully.
The Gypsies got the following clue to hike down the mountain and go to the base point. The blind and Footballers headed out next. The Country Boys finally arrived in last, to the fishing challenge but with so many teams fishing for their clues they managed to have luck on their side and leave before several teams.
Everyone except for Pink, Firemen, and the Gays thought the hooking challenge was a piece of cake. Brittany was in tears because she was not able to feel her body. Fathead thought that the whole challenge was a joke. Gay AJ screamed as he threw his hook imagining every childhood fight he had with his sister. In his fourth throw he managed to get a key and the team headed out. What upsets me the most was that AJ complained so much, but got the key in only four tries. That's a 25% hook rate and that didn't even factor that AJ could have gotten duds. The gays were in 8th and Keri wanted to make sure everyone hustled so that they would finish by sundown. AJ slipped and continued to complain about how miserable he was. Eventually Fathead got his key. Pink was ready to camp for the night right there but Fathead tried his best to help Brittany. He coached her through and she managed to get the key. The two teams set off as a pair to the check in. The Firemen admitted to Dave that they couldn't leave the women there.
At night, everyone started to complain about the blustery horrible conditions. One large gust of wind opened up one of the "tents" which looked like a tarp attached to a stick.
In the morning, everyone was in pain and tired. Host Dave explained that the contestants would go west out of the snow and follow the dirt road to find a farming village. The Gypsies left in first with only a three minute advantage. I could have sworn previous weeks were at least five minutes: they were cheated two minutes, not like they needed it. They were followed by basically the same waves of contestants [Blind, Footballers] [Fisherman, Cops, and Kansas] [Gays, Pink, Firemen, and Country Boys]. As much as the Country Boys fought to stay close, they ironically started day two in last place.
Kansas struggled with the thinning air, as the Firefighters, Gays, and Pink overtook them. On the other extreme, the Gypsies were so excited to be in the front to experience in the change of climate. The gypsies arrived at the village to their next clue. They need to get an unassembled plow, and lead a mule 2.5 miles up switchbacks. The blind were lost and they were helped by a local child to give them directions; that's the first local that gave a team useful information. They gave him a candy bar as his reward. The Blind (and Footballers) packed up and headed out
In the back Kansas just wanted to make sure they weren't last, even though Chad was slowly closing in. The Firemen, Gays, Pink, Fishermen, and Cops all headed out trying to gain time. In 8th, the gays continued to drag AJ across. Kari and AJ continued to bicker like the siblings that they are. Kari wants to do well; AJ just knows that there were two teams behind them, so it wasn't worth the effort to gain one spot. AJ was smart enough to know that the top three would be the Gypsies, Footballers, and the Blind. Luckily, the ex-boyfriend helped AJ get through the drama.
The contestants grabbed their clue to drive their product placement SUVs with their plow to a field. Kansas finally got their mule and plow and headed out right as the Country Boys arrived. The Gypsies read the next clue, which was assembling the plow, and plow for the finish directions. From the glance of instructions we got, it looked like a small Ikea instruction manual with photos for reference.
Footballers, Cops, Fishermen, Firemen, Pink, and Gays were the middle pack. Two hours behind, the Country Boys and Kansas were still going up the switchback. Chad ingeniously decides to get on the mule and they made more time. Kansas saw Chad on the mule and yet none of the girls decided to ride the mule as well. They were also not as heavy as the boys. Kansas continued to push as Chad walked with the mule. Country Boy Jason was collecting rocks, ready to go home.
In sheer luck, the Gypsies found their needle first; they were followed by blind. The middle teams all arrived. As sick as AJ was, he ended up assembling the plow. To no surprise, the Gypsies were first again, with the Blind right behind them.
All the middle teams complained about the difficulty, as the footballers, firemen, fishermen, and cops got the clue. Pink struggled as they lucked into another clue. Soon afterward, the Gays got their clue. Ryan and the rest of the team wobbled their way to the leg checkpoint.
Kansas and The Country Boys were fighting for their lives. The two teams put together their plows and the country boys were digging more effectively because of their pattern. Pink and Gay arrived in 7th and 8th. Both teams struggled with finding a clue but with Kansas and Country Boys so far ahead, they clearly didn't. Kansas stopped every few minutes when a rock got caught. The girls started to lightly kick their way to a canister as the country boys were more methodical. They found their clue and headed out, flustering the girls. The show decided not to even edit some form of battle between the two of the siblings. The girls continued to struggle with their plow as Lindsey started crying. They got their canister and left disappointed.
The girls were proud of their race, but were helicoptered too early. The next challenge doesn’t bode well at all for the only all-female team left. The pinks will need the support of the Firefighters if they really want to survive.
Surf and sun in Mirleft, Morocco’s new wave
By Robert V. Camuto, Published: July 15 Washington Post
Our group landed at the Agadir airport at dusk and drove south for more than two hours along two-lane roads, through tiny Moroccan towns filled with mud puddles after recent rains. At Mirleft, we turned off the coastal road into the town — a grid of a few dirt streets lined with low white- and turquoise-painted cinder-block buildings.
Men cloaked in Jedi-like robes — traditional North African djellabas — sipped hot mint tea on the terraces of small cafes. Women veiled in brightly colored, patterned Saharan fabrics walked home from evening errands. Children played and fought in the street alongside lost-looking dogs. Meat hung out in the open in front of butcher stalls; Berber music blared from a few shops showing off silver and stone trinkets, brightly colored soccer balls, woven baskets, fabrics and other household goods.
We drove up a hillside road as rutted as a dry riverbed, past flocks of wandering sheep and locals riding donkeys sidesaddle. The glow of soft lights behind a tall arched entryway suggested that we had made it to our inn: Les 3 Chameaux, a nearly decade-old bastion of style in what had once been a French colonial fort from the 1930s.
A series of colliding impulses had led us to this wild strip of Moroccan coastline and the village of Mirleft: the call of sun and sea, the allure of this cool bed-and-breakfast inn, and the appeal of soaking up the exotic vibes thrown off by the cohabitation of cultures — surfing and Islam — in a place that feels like the edge of the Earth.
In the 1960s, when Western hippies discovered Morocco, they camped along the country’s southern Atlantic beaches, which ended at Mirleft. Locals enthuse about how Jimi Hendrix (Morocco tourism’s George Washington for all the places he is alleged to have slept), staying more than 200 miles north in Essaouira in 1969, grooved on Mirleft, then a mere collection of Berber fishermen’s houses.
Since those days, the world and southern Morocco have changed dramatically: Essaouira is a major tourist spot lined with condos and hotels, and Agadir (about 90 miles north of Mirleft) has grown into a center for modern vacation villages. That leaves Mirleft as one of the few remaining places on the southern coast with wide open spaces and a laid-back aura. Meanwhile, in the past decade, a Moroccan surf scene has blossomed, supported by French surf associations that have spread the word of the wave to North Africa.
Mirleft is now a hip destination favored by affluent classes from Marrakech, European artists and musicians and an international set of surfers, paragliders and trekkers. Tasteful and sometimes luxurious B&Bs are sprouting along the coast, and as investment has poured in, it has brought the first modern conveniences, such as street lights and an ATM, to a town where the preferred modes of transportation are still donkeys and jangly old mopeds. And despite an April terrorist bombing in downtown Marrakech that killed 15 people, the relatively remote Mirleft coast has reportedly experienced an increase in tourism over 2010.
For the French, Morocco (a former colony that achieved independence in 1956) is a prime vacation spot in the sun. When French friends and Morocco-philes (including my 16-year-old son’s best pal and surfing buddy) invited my family to join them on a winter trip to warm southern Morocco, Mirleft quickly rose to the top of our list.
Spread over about three acres enclosed by traditional red mud wall fortifications, Les 3 Chameaux still feels like what it was originally built to be: a colonial outpost combining Moroccan architecture with modern European comforts. The large guest suites have traditional ochre walls and rustic tile floors and are fitted with a mix of antique and modern furnishings. My wife and I slept in a suite that once served as the local post office.
Gravel and dirt paths lead through gardens of bougainvillea and climbing roses. The deck next to the heated swimming pool provides a panoramic view of the nearby foothills of the Anti-Atlas Mountains.
The hammam and massage rooms are located in what was once a prison. In the main building, we enjoyed about the only cocktails to be found in Mirleft and then were served candlelit tagine dinners accompanied by Moroccan red and rose wines.
Adding to the aura are the little touches of rusticity — the irregular water pressure, the lack of electrical outlets in the bathroom and the funky propane space heaters for the evenings when the temperature drops — that remind you that you’re a long way from Casablanca.
In the morning, we awoke to a Moroccan breakfast of crepes, jams and honey, fruit, yogurt and tea. As we ate, we took in the generous views over the town, its mosque towers and the breaking waves of a nearby inlet. Our fellow guests were mostly outdoorsy Europeans who wore serious trek wear in combination with exotic duds: cotton print pants from Nepal or Arabian scarves.
Behind us climbed red hills, covered with a low growth of prickly pear cactus, wild thyme and the occasional argan tree, from which Morocco produces its prized cosmetic oil. On a taller hill to our southeast stood the dilapidated walls of an older turn-of-the-century French garrison, silhouetted against a blue sky by the morning sun.
Jean Francois Bouquillon, the white-haired French hotelier who opened Les 3 Chameaux in 2002, introduced himself, explaining that when he took over the place a decade ago, it had fallen into abandon, and the village was a fraction of its current size.
“Ten years ago, none of these buildings were there,” he said, waving his hand at the creeping line of white cinder-block structures working their way up the hill.
That first day, we climbed into our rental cars to explore the coast, a collection of rolling hills and sharp cliffs that fall to the ocean, forming inlets with sand beaches that were desolate in winter. A wind blew off the ocean, making it feel slightly chillier than the morning winter temperature of the high 60s. The region offers a temperate climate with highs that range from about 70 degrees in winter to the low 80s in summer, at the height of tourist season.
We headed south about 13 miles to Legzira Beach, with its dramatic wind- and surf-beaten red rocks carved into evocative shapes and immense natural arches. Here, at a favorite lunch spot for paragliders — as evidenced by the photos that decorated the walls — we sat on a terrace and ate fresh grilled fish and fries downed with the ubiquitous sweetened mint tea.
The boys were itching to surf, and by the second day the rest of us were willing to put more than our toes in the water, although none of us had been near anything more than a foam body board since our childhoods.
We began the following day at a surf shop run by a local surf school. The two boys — veterans of several summers in Biarritz — had brought their own wet suits. The parents — except for my wife, who is allergic to public humiliation and was content to watch — were fitted with slightly frayed rubber suits that we stuffed ourselves into like so much sausage meat.
We were joined by two other families with younger children — one French and one American. The Americans, from Seattle, had come to Mirleft on the recommendation of the owner of a riad they’d rented in Marrakech.
Boards and coolers containing lunch were loaded onto a 4x4, and 15 of us plus two surf instructors caravaned more than a mile and a half south of town to the main surf beach, known as la plage sauvage. As the name implies, the beach was indeed wild. For one thing, there’s no road sign that points you there. Nor does any road take you there, for that matter.
We turned off the coastal two-lane onto a rocky plateau and continued toward the sea to the edge of a cliff. There, on a dramatic perch overlooking the coast, was a well-stocked camper belonging to a foursome of young German surfers, two men and two women whom, over the course of a couple of days, we never saw surfing. We always found them in the same position: taking in the views while snacking and drinking something poured from a thermos.
Getting to the beach required hiking — with our boards, towels, food, water and other supplies — down a fairly steep rocky trail that switched back and forth along the cliffside. About midway down the trail, a large hippie totem came into view on a plateau about 20 feet above the beach: White and blue painted rocks formed a large mushroom flanked by a peace symbol.
The boys discussed the wave patterns and took off on their own down the shore with warnings from their moms about staying close by. This spot is a relatively calm one, with beach break waves that were up to about five feet that day, while about 50 yards or more offshore, the waves seemed to stretch to twice that size.
We novices stayed with our main instructor, Kareem, a tall Casablanca native and professional competitive surfer of about 30, with patient eyes and demeanor, who would teach us first how to ride a wave on our bellies before attempting to get us upright.
I won’t bore you with the details of what I learned on my first day on a surfboard in more than 40 years. Or tell you of the awkwardness in catching a wave that dropped me and my surfboard onto the backside of one of the moms in our group. I suppose it’s a truism that after a certain age, starting a new sport is hard, and it’s probably a good idea to stop after lunch. The women in our group did just that, heading to the provincial capital Tiznit, 23 miles inland, for an afternoon of shopping and bargaining for silver jewelry.
While the boys calmly rode the waves that afternoon, their dads ended up hurting themselves. I pulled something in my lower back that made getting up the hill seem like a peak ascent and getting into the car like advanced yoga, and later turned what was supposed to be a relaxing massage at Les 3 Chameaux into near torture. For the next three days, I swallowed the maximum dose of ibuprofen, which I had fortunately packed as a precaution.
To the Sahara
On our last morning in Mirleft, while the boys slept, we adults headed across the mountains for the Saturday morning camel market in Goulimine, at the edge of the Sahara. I believe someone told us that the 50-plus-mile drive took about an hour and a half, but there’s another truism about travel in Morocco: It always seems to take at least one hour more than you expect to get where you’re going.
By the time we returned that afternoon, we were dusty and road-fatigued from hours in the car, the ordeal of finding the camel market, convincing a Saharawi trader that we didn’t want to buy one of the beautiful live camels (or goats, sheep, or cows for that matter), and then getting out-negotiated by him on some of the beaded baubles he was also hawking. (“Put what you like in the bowl and the price will come to my head,” he’d said. In the presence of the magic bowl, we didn’t bargain enough.)
Back at Les 3 Chameaux, my son and his pal, Louis, were wrapping up a lunch of grilled fish on the terrace after a morning of surfing. They poured tea from a silver pot and leaned back into the sun. I wished I’d stayed behind with them and “chilled,” as my son would put it.
Louis’ mom asked the boys about the morning’s “activity.” Fixing her with a blank adolescent stare, Louis replied that surfing is not an activity.
“It is,” he corrected his mom, “a way of life.”
Camuto, a writer based in France, is the author of “Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/surf-and-sun-in-mirleft-moroccos-new-wave/2011/07/07/gIQAS11BGI_print.html ##########################################################
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