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Morocco Week in Review 
January 28, 2012

Morocco turns south for economic partnerships
By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat – 27/01/12

The global financial crisis forces Morocco to look for new partners. With Europe facing serious economic hardships, Morocco is increasingly turning toward Africa in hopes of strengthening ties with the countries of the continent. It was against this backdrop that over 200 diplomats, businessmen, investors and officials gathered on Wednesday (January 25th) in Rabat. The topic of the forum was "sharing common intelligence for a winning dynamic".

"Morocco is involved in a number of development projects in Africa, in the fields of electrification, water resource management and irrigation, basic infrastructure, health, etc.," said Moroccan Minister Delegate to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Youssef Amrani.

Over the past two years, the Moroccan government has clearly demonstrated its intention to boost links with Africa, which has shown its ability to grapple with the repercussions of the global crisis.

The exchange between Morocco and African countries is worth a billion dollars, and the target is to increase that figure at least five-fold over the coming years. The time has come to strengthen the already-existing partnership, participants in the forum agreed.

A number of Moroccan state-owned companies have joined in the work of furthering the kingdom's foreign activities across the continent. Morocco also hosts more than 8,000 students, including 6,500 grant holders, from 42 African companies attending its higher education institutions, according to Amrani.

The high-profile role played by Moroccan state-owned businesses and large groups in the service sector (banking, air travel, vocational training, telecoms, construction, insurance and mining) is proof not just of a real commitment to the national economic fabric of the various countries, but also comes from the conviction that African economies hold real potential for growth, according to the Moroccan diplomat.

African entrepreneurs attending the forum seemed happy with Morocco's strategic change of direction towards Africa. "It is the top country for investment in the banking, insurance and telecoms sectors," Ismailia Sidi Ybé, the general manager of a Malian company, said about Morocco. "It is a bridge between North and South Africa. Relations must be strengthened further so that we can make the most of Moroccan expertise."

To achieve their goals, the countries need to overcome certain constraints.

The first challenge is the development of basic infrastructure and the establishment of free trade agreements, according to Saad Benabdellah, Director-General of the Moroccan Centre for the Promotion of Exports (CMPE).

Amrani shared this view, saying that a number of things need to be developed first, if the regional integration they want is to be achieved. Improvement of the logistics offer, better control over import and export risks in Africa, improvement of financial instruments and greater synergy between the various Moroccan players (both economic and institutional) operating in Africa will help the Moroccan private sector to open up new business opportunities, he explained. "Moroccan exports continue to suffer in competitive terms because of inadequate infrastructure and connectivity in Africa," Amrani added.

The co-operation towards which Morocco is moving is not only economic, but also security-orientated. Peace and stability remain essential preconditions for the development of countries in the Sahel-Saharan region, the official said.

Although the Sahel was for many years seen as an area for trading, meeting and mixing, it is emerging more and more as an area harbouring threats to regional stability. Joint efforts are needed to overcome all the hazards, Amrani argued. "The kingdom's active participation in the various bi-regional and bi-continental partnerships involving Africa has enhanced the diversity of its commitments," he said. "Morocco has also embarked on realistic, practical initiatives for development, peace and stability."

Morocco’s Berbers Had Water Management Sorted
Linda Pappagallo | January 18th, 2012

International water management policies in Morocco have disrupted the Berber’s perfectly good and longstanding system.

In 2009 I travelled to the High Atlas mountain region of Morocco to reach some friends that ran an eco-lodge in a very lonesome village with a wholesome lifestyle. The mother of Houssa, the owner of the eco-lodge, revealed the interesting methods used in the Berber tradition to manage their water supply. Sadly, these indigenous traditions have been falling apart since dam projects funded by the World Bank have disrupted local practices. “Now families are fighting over water, this was never the case in the past, our system was perfect, we don’t know why international organizations have come to help” Houssa’s mother said.

Water allocation methods 

Water allocation methods used by the Berbers depend on two things: Land Tenure and Time. First Land Tenure is divided by elevation and the paths of springs. Land above the spring is used for seasonal grazing and land below for agriculture and personal use. And the organization of land-ownership is designated by tribe – so any water issues that arise are discussed between different tribes.

Second, Berbers allocate water by time, not quantity. This is true whether the allocation is between villages, between lineages (large extended family units), or between individual users. Careful allocation schedules are decided unanimously and set by days of the week.

So, three days for the upstream riparian and four for the downstream riparian, then by days between villages and finally hours between family lineages. This is because different times of the day have different evaporation rates throughout the year, so the schedule is methodologically designed to respect the natural water flow while ensuring fair allocation for all.

Allocating water benefits by time vs. volume

Allocating by time rather than volume has two benefits. The first is sustainability: water allocation by time respects the fluctuations of water supply of the river due to climatic conditions. Water is allocated according to the rate of available water flow rather than according to estimated absolute quantity in volumetric terms.

Two units of time (hours for instance) equate different volumes of water depending on the season and climatic conditions, two units of volume  always equate to the same amount but do not follow the rates of water flow (availability). The Berber system avoids the kind of over-allocation that has been happening along the Colorado River and has resulted in a perpetual shortage .

This system encourages greater efficiency of water use. For instance, Berbers deal with a fluctuating supply of water by prioritizing. The highest priority is drinking water for humans and animals, followed by irrigation water and water for mills. Irrigation water brought to land through modern means and to bring new lands into cultivation is given the least priority.

Finally, water allocation can be bought and sold through units of time rather than volume; this avoids the need for storage and again respects the effective quantity of water available in nature at that time.

International organizations do more harm than good

Although it is true that these methods may only be efficient when populations are relatively small and manageable, it is also obvious that these indigenous methods have worked relatively well up till now and that “modern” initiatives may disrupt the system and create tensions between families, villages and tribes – creating new problems.

The international preoccupation with reaching the seventh millennium development goal: “Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation,” risks indigenous watershed management systems being hastily overlooked.

This may result in international organizations, that mean well, doing more harm than good. In this specific case, local farmers argue that the World Bank’s initiative to build new dams has destroyed secular water allocation methods because some of the streams have dried up.

The moral of the story is very simple: more than “Think before you act” or “Look before you leap,” International organizations should actively observe and seek to integrate their initiatives with local practices. Of course, this is perhaps easier said than done.

In Morocco, Unemployment Can Be A Full-Time Job
by Deborah Amos January 27, 2012

Demonstrators carry posters of Abdelwahab Zaydoun, who set himself on fire and died from his burns Tuesday. Zaydoun was part of a movement protesting unemployment in Morocco.

It is rush hour in Rabat, the Moroccan capital, and time for the march of unemployed college graduates. They are part of a movement that has become a rite of passage. It's a path to a government career for a lucky few, even though it can take years.

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

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

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

Government employment is hardly a solution for joblessness, say the movement's critics. Morocco's bureaucracy is already bloated and unproductive; the huge government payroll is a financial drain, they argue. Yet, under pressure from these protests, officials often give in, adding a few more positions. Organizers hand the government a list of the most dedicated activists to choose from.

An Expanding Movement

Every year, even more graduates swell the movement, hoping for the lifetime security and perks that come with a government job. They gather in a park, dumping their backpacks. Each group has a slogan displayed on colored vests they wear to every march.

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

This permanent protest movement has become part of the landscape of the capital. It's a movement with strict rules and rewards. Organizers keep a tally. There are points for attendance and extra points for scuffles with the police. The points determine who gets to the top of the list and gets a job, Tsouli says. "Sometimes there are students who come once a week, and they are not really activists," he says. "So we are updating the list that we will give to the government, to the decision-makers."

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

Jobs, Not A Revolution

But don't compare that political movement with the aims of these jobless college grads, says Nasreen el Hannch. "Oh, it's not the same. We are totally different because we are just looking for jobs," she says. "They are looking [to] change Morocco; we are not looking for change, only to find a job. So, we hope."

There's no hope the job crisis will go away without substantial political and economic change. Until then, a little social blackmail means at least some of these students will get work. The government has already pledged to hire 20,000 more workers, but there are many more protesters, and those left unemployed would have reason to keep up the pressure.

Morocco will extend easy peeler season

The Moroccan Clementine export started this season 10 days later than the previous year. First deliveries were made by end of October in Canada then in Russia before reaching the EU market. As usual, Moroccan citrus exporters were concentrated on making the first easy peelers available in North America the earliest possible. Now the season has been over since the end of December. "We were short by 4% compared to 2010-2011. We marketed 205,000t. against 213,000t last season. However the market reacted better to our products as the quality was good. We had so little rain during the picking period and that was a positive situation for the fruits, explains Fatiha Charrat, Sales and Marketing Director at Delassus.

The Clementine nour season has been very short. Delassus exported the majority of the volume to Russia, this season they will be exporting 14% less than last season due to the bi-annual production of this variety.

The Nadorcott variety has started in good condition. Ms Charrat says that this variety is welcomed by importers and consumers all over the world. The Nadorcott seedless tangerine is a special variety discovered in Morocco in 1982 in the INRA collections (Institut national de la recherche agronomique), then subsequently selected and planted by the Agricultural Estates in 1990. It is exceptional, as the taste and flavour are excellent. This is a late easy peeler and is marketed from January till late may.

While isolated from other citrus, the nadorcott is truly seedless. "In Morocco, we isolated 5 sites where no other citrus is planted. We can use the brand Afourer if the production is isolated and if the fruit is really seedless. Otherwise we market it under the nadorcott name".

Many exporters are offering Afourer this season: Delassus Group is one of them with its 3000t. The farms have young plantations and many of them are giving their first crop this season. In the future, Afourer – Nadorcott will offer Morocco the opportunity of driving the easy peelers business for a much longer period: 8 months instead of 6 months as before.
Fatiha Charrat Delassus Group

thanks to rain and new varieties
Morocco estimate citrus export higher than last year

The ministry of Agriculture in Morocco and Aspam is satisfied with the present export season of the citrus, which started in the beginning of October 2011 and will run till the end of June 2012. 571,000 tons is expected to be exported against 530,000 tons in the previous season. This increase is because of the rainfall in October and November, but also thanks to the new harvest of the new plants (1,200 HA) and the arrival of the new varieties Nour, Nules and Afourer.

Nevertheless the economic situation of the sales market is marked by the results of  the international economic crisis, which has caused a slight decrease in price. Also the present export volume is 10% less compared to the same period last year, as the present export season started two weeks later because of weather conditions. By starting the export season later a better taste and a better quality of the fruit could be guaranteed. It is expected that the citrus production will increase by 6% to 1.8 million tons (that is 2% of the worldwide production which amounts to 100 million tons), of which 1.2 million tons is destined for the inland market. This means that only 32% of the production is available for export. Morocco meets a lot of competition from Turkey, Greece and Egypt. Russia is the country where most of the citrus goes (49%) followed by the European Union (37%) and North America (12%)

The inland market is therefore an important customer of the citrus industry, which experiences an increasing demand.

Orange in all its varieties have with 975,000 tons (Maroc Late 44%, Navel 35,5%) 

the most important position in the total citrus production. Also the small fruit has a large share of the total production with 764,000 tons, of which 67% are clementines. The region Souss is at the top of the production with 744,000 tons which is 41% of the total production followed by the region El Gharb (19%), Oriental
(15%), Tadla (15%), Haouz (8%) and Loukkos (2%). 

The government anticipates a production of 3 million tons in 2020, because of programs of renewal and extension of the orchards by 50,000 HA. This is to produce a yield of about 0.57 billion Euro.

Publication date: 1/25/2012 Author: Gerard Lindhout Copyright:

Morocco: The season For Olive
NORA FITZGERALD 01/30/12 Marakkech  / Morocco Board News

--  Olive season has just come to and end…and by olive season I mean that the olives ripened, were harvested, and either pressed for oil or cured to turn them edible.  Did you know that both black olives and green olives come from the same tree?  Here is a very ripe olive from our family farm.

Did you also know that harvesting olives by hand is a labor intensive business?  In Morocco it’s all done this way: a large plastic is laid out under the tree, then you take a long bamboo stick and start to beat at the olives to knock them down.  Eventually you have to climb the tree to get to the higher branches.  Olives yield about 16 liters of olive oil per 100 kgs of olives, depending on how much the trees were watered.  The more they were watered, the juicier the olives.

I will never forget when I was 8 years old and I spent a whole day knocking all the olives off a particular tree.  At the end of the day, I had very sore hand and about 20 kgs of olives.  I was very excited to lug my harvest down the road to where they would buy them from you for about a dirham per kilo (like 6 cents per pound, for those of you who are allergic to the metric system).  I walked back with more than 20 dirhams in my pocket (2.5 dollars).  I’d never been prouder of my earnings (maybe even to this day :-).  It didn’t occur to me that those olives actually belonged to my parents, and that technically, I owed them like 90% of the money.  They kindly didn’t point it out either.

Everywhere in the Moroccan countryside, you see olive trees, and under them there is wheat or barley growing.  Each farming family gets olive oil and flour for the entire year.  This way they have fresh bread and olive oil, which, along with sweet green tea, is a meal unto itself.  Talk about local, sustainable, organic and vegan….This is how it all once was.

Morocco: The "baraka" and Other Blessings
NORA FITZGERALD 01/22/12 Marakkech  / Morocco Board News

I feel blessed to speak darija (Moroccan dialect of Arabic) because that means that I can participate in the daily Moroccan baraka (blessing in Arabic) exchange. Each and every thing or action can either have baraka or not.  For example, food that is purchased on an honest income, prepared with love and prayers, shared among as many people as possible is said to have baraka.

 Food that  is bought with questionable money, or processed in an unnatural way, or consumed greedily without praise of the Creator, without sharing with or offering to those around us, is said to be devoid of baraka.  The first kind of food makes you healthy, physically and spiritually, will never make you ill, will strengthen your body for doing good things, will strengthen bonds of friendship and unite hearts.  The second kind will weaken you, make you anxious and leave you wanting.

Our daily exchanges can have baraka.  Take, for example, this exchange I had with a man who is a car guardian. This is when I get in the car to drive away.  I am giving him 20 cents for his car guarding, and he’s helping me navigate out of my parking space into traffic.

Me : Salam alaykom akhoya.  Peace be with you my brother.
Guardian : wa alaykom salam. And with you peace.
Me : bismillah.  In God’s name.  (hand him the money)
Guardian :  Allah ya3teek el khair.   God give you good things.  (another way of saying “thank you”)
Me: Allah y3awnek.  God assist you.
Guardian:  Seeri fid Allah.  Go in God’s care.

And that’s it.  As I type it in English it sounds so contrived, but you have to understand that in Arabic, this is actually completely natural speech.  This is just how people say “hello”, “thanks a lot”, “good luck” and “have a nice day”.  Every utterance is a prayer, returning the speaker to the divine, time and time again.  As I drive away from the guardian I feel so incredibly thankful that this is the case, I feel a little more alive, more humbled, more compassionate.

Most times when I have an exchange like this, I walk away feeling a little more light.  Then there are those exchanges that feel like the person reached in, took out my heart, plain cracked it open, washed it in light, and placed it back in my chest.  A heart unexpectedly broken in the best way possible.  Tears flowing at the most importune of moments.

And it can come from the most unlikely sources.  I’d like to tell you about someone who dazzles me with light.  She’s a woman who sells candy outside my son’s school.  Her name is Naima (not Naima from the baking project, it’s a common name) and she is one of the more joyful, exuberant people I know.  She’s got this cart that she had made, and it’s a child’s delight,  full of every kind of candy and trinket.  She pushes this cart to the school in the morning, noontime and afternoon school, as many as four times a day.  My son is a regular customer, both because he likes candy, and because I really, really want  to support her.  I often stop by after dropping him off at school, just to get a little dose of Naima to start my day off right.  I never know what the topic will be.  So I might ask her a question, like, “how did you get started with this cart?”  She’ll animatedly tell me all about how she got it made and  how she started out, and then she will offer the spiritual wisdom behind it.  ”Honey, I’d rather make one dirham the right way than a million dirhams the wrong way!”.  Or if she had a day off, she’d say “Our body has a right over us!  These hands, these feet, they have their rights!  They’re going to bear witness against us if we aren’t good to them”.  She is smiling and animated, and has this amazing faith in God.  I doubt she can read or write, but she has a deep, strong wisdom about life, the human soul and our journey.

About 2 months ago, I came to the school, and I saw Naima dressed head to toe in white.  I was in total shock, because this is the color of mourning in Islam.  Even though I knew exactly what had happened, I couldn’t think of any other way of approaching her than to ask her “Naima, why are you wearing white?”.  She answered, “the man of the house died”.  This is a way of referring to her husband.  I stood there in total shock, and she told me about it.  She said “he wasn’t sick, so it was a total surprise.  He died a wonderful death, he didn’t suffer, his body was completely at peace.”  Her face is glistening with tears and at the same time she is smiling and there is that joy and light in her face.  ”And you know, he died during the best times”.  (the first ten days of the Islamic pilgrimage month, considered to be the holiest days of the year).  Then, as usual, she shares spiritual insight, “we’re all just renting space on this earth, and once the rental contract is up, we’ve got to leave.”  But the words that stick with me the most are “a wonderful death”.  I’m amazed that anyone would use that particular combination of words, and I love it.  This woman endured the ultimate loss, the person that was closest to her,  and she was completely accepting of it, and could see that it happened in best way possible.  These are the fruits of a spiritual life.

Since then, it’s been so strange to see Naima every day, with her white jellaba, scarf, socks and shoes, busily selling candy to a 100 screaming kids or cheerfully chatting with the mothers after morning drop-off.  She’ll wear white for 4 months and 10 days, the traditional mourning period.  It’s a constant reminder of death.  We talk about it often, revisiting the story of her husband’s death.  And every time I am awed by how real her strength and faith are.  More often than not, we both end up in tears, and laughing for no other reason than that we enjoy each other’s company.  Exchanges of baraka are possible anywhere, anytime, if we are open to them.  If you’re not getting any love then you just have to be the one that gives it.  A kind word, a smile, a sincere prayer are what soften and open hearts.

The sufis say that a saint is one who reminds you of God.  With him or her you experience a higher level of reality, in an instant, effortlessly.  If anyone ever wonders where the women saints of Morocco are, have no doubt that they are there, making bread, raising children, pushing a candy cart around.

Why America Matters to Muslims
01/26/12Washington  / Morocco Board News

One thing that is striking about the recent revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain is the absence of any anti-American slogans or denunciations of the Great Satan, as the Iranian regime refers to Uncle Sam. On the contrary: signs of pro-American sensibilities abound. Democracy protesters carried homemade placards displaying slogans and statements (sometimes translated into French) of fundamental American rights. 

 The United States’ republican culture, founded in the late eighteenth century, and given a brief burst of energy during the early days of the Obama administration, walked side by side with the protesters. President Obama expressed support for the demonstrators, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cautioned Arab leaders that they were sinking in the sand the day before Ben Ali fled Tunisia. One should not forget also that the Tunisian revolt was sparked by the dispatches of U.S. diplomats revealed by WikiLeaks. For many, WikiLeaks was proof that the United States was an imperial power whose consuls never ceased to keep an eye on the world’s nations and their doings; to Arabs and Muslims, however, the leaks were further proof that their regimes had no credibility whatsoever and that they were, indeed, sinking. That’s because the consular reports reflected America’s belief in freedom and equal opportunity; they expressed contempt for palace corruption even as they did business with Ben Ali and other rulers to safeguard their nation’s interests. And then, of course, the United States helped dislodge Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi from power through its military intervention.

This is a great moment for both the United States and Muslims around the world to reassess their relations and change negative perceptions that hinder a better dialogue. Americans should try to get out of the crusading mindset that they had inherited from Christian Europe. We may think that the old clashes between Christianity and Islam are things of an ancient past, but all anyone has to do is listen to what many evangelical leaders today say about Islam and its prophet to get a sense of this legacy. Islam, in such speeches and sermons, is portrayed as evil, whereas the Judeo-Christian tradition is considered God’s truth. This religious attitude has a lot to do with the stalemate in Israel and Palestine, for the belief that God has promised Palestinians to Jews and, ultimately, Christians, is well entrenched in these evangelical circles and informs a lot of U.S. policy making. One way to temper such prejudices is to highlight the positive contributions of Arabs and Muslims to American culture, whether through the scientific and commercial advances that were introduced to the West in the Middle Ages, or though the work of Arab or Muslim immigrants. To be sure, American presidents never fail to express pride in America’s Islamic component, but Americans need to do more to show that they care about Muslims in their midst. Maybe Hollywood could help change attitudes.

Muslims, on the other hand, have a lot more work to do. One problem in American-Muslim relations is the old American conviction that Islam fosters tyranny. This view was widely shared by America’s Founding Fathers as they saw, righty or wrongly, that the Muslim world, with its despotic sultans and caliphs, was antithetical to the republican spirit of liberty. No sooner was the United States created than it had to contend with the harassment of U.S vessels on trade missions by Muslim corsairs in the Mediterranean. The so-called Barbary states of North Africa demanded tribute for safe passage, but leaders like Thomas Jefferson were at a loss to understand why his newly liberated nation had to pay protection money. This encounter, with its ransoms, skirmishes, and eventual defeat of the Muslims in Tripoli, further strengthened America’s belief in the superiority of its system and worsened its prejudice against Muslims. American missionaries would later flock to the Middle East to convert the locals and, in the process, introduce modern education and health care systems. Americans praised Muslim civilization when warranted, modernized Egypt’s army, and laid the foundations for a new Arab nationalism. The United States was so highly admired during the late 19th century that some Arabs didn’t mind being part of an American mandate. This is one of the glorious moments in American-Muslim relations, one that needs to be widely known. The discovery of oil and the establishment of Israel, however, affected this relationship negatively, and things have spiraled out of control since then.

For relations to be restored to a level of high trust and mutual respect, Muslims need to face the facts and realize that old perception of their societies as despotic had some basis in truth. They need to understand that they have only themselves to blame now for their backwardness in almost every cultural and scientific endeavor and that their future rests on rethinking their approach to religion. Sunni Muslims must speak out against the wanton murders of Shiites and Christians in their midst, not just complain about Westerners. They also must accommodate themselves to the historical reality of Israel and realize that all nations—including many Muslim ones today—were born out of violence against native populations. (Many Berbers in my native Morocco still resent Arab invasions to this day.) The history of nation-making is a bloody one, but we can still turn tragedy into an opportunity. Israel has a lot to teach Muslims with its know-how and democratic spirit, while Israelis need to temper their biblical prejudices and break out of their quarantine and tap into the huge Arab market to grow stronger and more stable.

So much could be done with the right attitude, but hanging on to the dysfunctional methods of the last five decades would be a colossal waste of opportunity at this historical juncture. Belligerence will help no one—not Americans, not Muslims, and not Israelis. Americans can still teach Muslims how to build nations that keep religion and politics safely apart and how to unleash the creative spirit of enterprise, but the United States must also get its house in order, too, and fix its fast deteriorating social structures without delay. When a nation is a city upon a hill it can’t afford to neglect its affairs. As President Obama would say, this is the time for change. We can’t afford to wait.”

Anouar Majid is the author of Islam and America: Building a Future Without Prejudice (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012)
He is director of the Center for Global Humanities at the University of New England in Maine.

Article previously published by Informed comment

Morocco's Amazigh and Israel
01/27/12 Bruce Maddy-Weitzman

In recent years, small groups of Moroccan Berber activists, particularly younger people, have challenged the enforced silence regarding Israel, expressing an interest in both the state of Israel and Jewish history, including the Holocaust. They even linked this interest to the alleged historic connections between Jews and Berbers in ancient times, including the initial resistance to Arab conquerors by the Kahina, a supposedly Jewish-Berber queen, and the multilayered, more recent relations existing until the mass departure of Jews for Israel in the 1950s and 1960s from Berber villages and towns. 

 How has this extraordinary phenomenon come to pass, and what are its possible consequences? In the past, Berber activists maintained a strict separation between their struggle for political and social rights and the Arab-Israeli conflict even if there were those who quietly admired Israel's achievements. By contrast, some members of the present generation of activists and intellectuals view Israel as a partner in adversity—a vibrant, anti-pan-Arab force mirroring their own opposition to Arab-Islamic hegemony and the subjugation of the Berber language and culture—which could help, however tacitly, in their struggle for official recognition and against Morocco's burgeoning Islamist movement.

Islamist Currents and Public Opinion

Notwithstanding Morocco's benign and positive image in the West, polling data in recent years shows considerable support for Islamist and anti-Western positions. While only a small percentage of Moroccans expressed support for al-Qaeda's attacks on U.S. civilians, and 64 percent held a favorable view of the American people, most Moroccans believed that the United States was seeking to weaken Islam and spread Christianity in the region, with 72 percent supporting al-Qaeda's goal to force U.S. withdrawal from Muslim countries. Almost the same number of people believed that the United States or Israel, rather than al-Qaeda, was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and large majorities approved of attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf.

In addition, 76 percent of Moroccans favored the imposition of strict Shari'a or Islamic law; 64 percent supported keeping Western values out of Islamic countries; and 61 percent stated that being Muslim was their most important identity as opposed to only 25 percent who declared their Moroccan identity most important. Eight-five percent of people stated that their primary reaction when watching a movie about the Holocaust was resentment over the sympathy that it generated for Israel and Jews at the expense of Palestinians and Arabs; over 50 percent believed that Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons would be a positive development for the region while only a small percentage thought that the outcome would be negative. [1]

This Islamist current, embodied by both the Justice and Development Party (PJD), which accepts the supremacy of the Moroccan monarchy as enshrined in the country's constitution and holds 14 percent of the seats in parliament, as well as the officially banned but grudgingly tolerated Justice and Charity movement, seeks the Islamization of society and, ultimately, of the state.

The Berber Movement and the Jews

The other side of the ideological divide is comprised of a variety of political parties and civic groups, some with explicitly Western-liberal orientations, others less so. One of them is the Amazigh (literally "free men") or Berber culture movement, which advocates the recognition of the Berber underpinnings of Moroccan culture and calls for remedial steps, including constitutional change, particularly with regard to recognizing their language, Tamazight, as an official state language. An estimated 40-45 percent of Morocco's 32 million-strong population speak one of the three main Berber dialects; in Algeria, the estimated numbers are 20-25 percent; in Libya, 8-9 percent; in Tunisia, 1-5 percent.

The Berber component of Moroccan identity has already been given official recognition by the state as it seeks to address at least some of the movement's symbolic and material grievances in order to maintain a balance of forces within the Moroccan political fabric. Islamists and pan-Arabists have repeatedly clashed with Berber activists in recent months, mainly through polemical exchanges in a variety of media outlets. The specifics have varied, but they have had a common theme: Jews and Israel.

From the Islamist and pan-Arab perspective, this should come as no surprise. Hostility to Zionism, which all too often has morphed into anti-Semitism and Holocaust belittlement and even denial, has long been instrumental for many opposition groups and Arab regimes seeking to mobilize public opinion.

The Berber engagement in the debate, by contrast, is far less self-evident given their past evasion of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Initial indications of these changing attitudes were afforded by the 2007 announcements of plans to create two complementary Berber-Jewish friendship associations in the Souss region of southwestern Morocco, the region where, according to tradition, Jews first settled after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. Their purpose, said one of the founders, was to promote the various aspects of Morocco's cultural heritage—Berber, Jewish, African, and Arab; disseminate the culture of coexistence and respect of the "other" while rejecting violence and intolerance toward others; give real standing to the Berber and Hebrew languages inside Morocco, in order to make it a homeland for all, and to build bridges with Moroccan Jews, both inside the country (approximately 3,000) and overseas, particularly "Amazigh Jews in various countries." [2]

Although support for contacts with Israel was not explicitly expressed, the announcements immediately provoked sharp reactions from a number of Moroccan associations supporting the Palestinian cause and opposing U.S. actions in Iraq. They also prompted a heated debate on Iran's Arabic-language al-Alam television channel between the veteran militant Berber activist Ahmed Adghirni and an Algerian writer hostile to both Israel and North African Jews, whom he claimed were utterly foreign to the region and eager collaborators with French colonialism. [3]

One year later, another Berber-Jewish friendship association, "Memoire Collective," was founded, this time in Morocco's northern coastal city of al-Hoceima. Led by Muhammad Moha, the association's declared focus was the need to struggle against anti-Semitism in Morocco as part of the larger need to promote individual rights, tolerance, and democracy. Moha was prompted to create the association in response to attacks by leftist, pan-Arab, and Islamist groups when his daughter and another Moroccan teenager participated in an international youth seminar at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum. The association's creation drew further harsh responses, including the intimidation of the family of the other teenager who had joined Moha's daughter in Jerusalem. Moha was demonstratively expelled from the leftist group to which he had belonged, al-Nahj al-Dimuqrati (Democratic Path), for "crossing all of the party's red lines in contributing to the normalization [of relations] with Israel" while al-Tajdid, the newspaper of the Islamist PJD, even accused Moha of receiving €300,000 from Israel in order to set up the organization and called for acts of violence against him. [4]

Berberist Views on Israel

Israel's military operation against Hamas forces in Gaza in the winter of 2008-09 sparked another round of polemics and mutual invective between Morocco's Islamists and Berber movement figures. A commentator in al-Tajdid castigated Amazigh associations for not joining in the series of demonstrations held in solidarity with the Palestinians, wondering what was behind their failure to condemn Israel. One of the Berber movement's leading intellectuals, Ahmed Asid, replied caustically that no one had the right to question their identification and solidarity with the Palestinians, yet with the Islamist and pan-Arab currents in Morocco having a complete monopoly on organizing the demonstrations, the Berbers had no choice but to avoid them, not least since the protests had contained both anti-Jewish as well as ethnic Arab themes, which the Berber movement completely rejected. [5]

In November 2009, Yad Vashem became a more explicit site for Berber activism against the prevailing pan-Arab and Islamist currents in their own society and in the region when an 18-member delegation of the movement's educators and advocates participated in a week-long educational seminar there. One of their declared purposes was to begin incorporating the study of the Holocaust and its lessons into the Moroccan school curriculum, a subject that has been almost entirely neglected. [6] Beyond that, though, it was clear that the visit was designed to openly challenge the conventional taboos regarding contact with Israel.

The matter quickly became public knowledge and provoked a number of articles in the Moroccan press, many of them negative. But space was also given to delegation members to defend themselves, an indication of Morocco's increasingly pluralist and competitive press. One of them, Boubker Outaadit, a Berber activist for more than fifteen years, who had been involved in the formation of one of the Berber-Jewish friendship associations, was interviewed by a Moroccan weekly news magazine against the backdrop of the Israeli, Moroccan, and Amazigh flags, a picture that was worth a thousand words. Defending the educational and humanitarian value of the seminar, he declared the participants' readiness to answer those critics who "traded in foreign problems … such as the Palestinian issue," which could not be classified as a Moroccan national problem. The Arab-Israeli conflict, he declared, could have been settled sixty years earlier had the Arab side not rejected the right of the Jewish people to return to their land and defend it. [7] Another, Abdellah Benhssi, justified the delegation's visit in terms of furthering the promotion of tolerance and universal brotherhood and the rejection of fanaticism and racism, universal values which, he said, both the Amazigh and Israeli cultural systems shared. [8] In a lengthy and trenchant analysis, the Moroccan scholar Muhammad Elmedlaoui, who actually deplored what he viewed as the Yad Vashem visit's use of the Holocaust for political purposes, nonetheless characterized the anti-Amazigh diatribes emanating from certain Moroccan urban nationalist circles as constituting an updated version of the older, unfair branding of Berbers as collaborators with French colonialism. These attacks, he said, were essentially an alibi being used to promote a certain cultural vision for the country. [9]

Anti-Semitism Rears Its Ugly Head

Recent months have been marked by a number of incidents that further sharpened the contours of the debate. On March 17-20, a high-profile conference designed to promote the memory and heritage of Moroccan Jewry as part of the larger Moroccan fabric was held in the southern coastal town of Essaouira. One participant was Andrei Azoulay, one of Moroccan Jewry's most prominent figures, an Essaouiran native son and long-time financial adviser to both the late King Hassan and his son, King Muhammad VI. Currently the president of the Anna Lindh Foundation, Azoulay, a self-defined "Arab Jew," has been active for decades in promoting Palestinian rights within the context of overall Arab-Israeli peace. [10] Ten days later, members of the local branch of the Moroccan Association for the Defense of Human Rights (AMDH) organized anti-Israel demonstrations that included a brazen, verbal attack on Azoulay, chanting "Hada Ar, Hada Ar, Khwi l'Blad Ya Mustashar" (Shame, shame. Leave the country, counselor). This was not the first time that the king's adviser had been charged with disloyalty to Morocco: Some months earlier, during the visit of former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni to the Tangier MedDays 2009 conference, Khalid Soufyani, a lawyer and self-promoting president of the National Association for the Resistance in Iraq and Palestine, had declared that Azoulay had to choose between being Moroccan and being "Zionist."

Similar slogans were voiced against a local Israeli-Moroccan businessman, Noam Nir, who responded with a letter of complaint to AMDH, which was ignored. [11] Following an additional confrontation in late July, Nir filed a defamation suit against three AMDH officials, accusing the organization of anti-Semitism, particularly in light of the attacks against Azoulay. Further demonstrations were held outside of Nir's restaurant, in which he was accused of espionage and personally threatened, and another round of press attacks on him ensued. AMDH vigorously denied the anti-Semitism charge. However, as is often the case, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are easily conflated in the Moroccan discourse, a fact that an AMDH official himself acknowledged to an American journalist. For example, Soufyani has led a number of anti-Israeli protests in which demonstrators chanted "Khaybar Khaybar Ya Yahud, Jaysh Muhammad Sa-ya'ud" (Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, Muhammad's army will return), referring to the Qur'an's account of Muhammad's destruction of the Jewish community of Khaybar. And in late May 2010, Soufyani headed up a new organization in Morocco, made up of a cross-section of Islamists and pan-Arabists, which rejected all forms of normalization with Israel and reportedly circulated a black list of some twenty-five Moroccans who supported normalization.

The authorities and the Moroccan Jewish leadership adopted a low profile regarding the affair. But Berber activists in the area, some of whom had participated in the visit to Yad Vashem, came to Nir's defense, organizing a small solidarity demonstration in Essaouira and publishing articles in support of his actions and in condemnation of AMDH and its parent political party, the left-of-center Socialist Union of Popular Forces. The Simon Wiesenthal Center also voiced its concern, calling on the governor of Essaouira not to respond to AMDH's calls to halt the judicial proceedings. [12]

The Fight for Berber Rights

The coda to this account of the ongoing contestation between Berber activists and their opponents was actually triggered by the author of these lines. In August 2010, the Portuguese Institute of International Relations published an analysis of mine on the prospects and limitations of Israel's relations with the Maghreb states. [13] It included a brief mention of the Berber factor in Morocco and the Maghreb in general, including the affinity among some members of the movement toward Jews and even Israel. It also referred to its primary opponents, the Islamist and pan-Arab currents, for whom rejection of any semblance of normalization with Israel is a sacred principle.

This academic analysis was picked up in a wildly distorted form by the pan-Arab and Moroccan media, from al-Jazeera television to al-Quds al-Arabi, and the Istiqlal Party's al-Alam, which announced the existence of an Israeli "plan," drawn up by the Moshe Dayan Center (this author's home institute at Tel Aviv University) to promote Israel's "penetration" of the Maghreb through the manipulation of the Berber movement. [14] The reports touched off yet another round of heated exchanges in the Moroccan press and various Internet talk forums. To its credit, one liberal French-language Moroccan weekly, Actuel, sought me out for a response and printed the full text of my answers to their questions. [15] A special section of the monthly Le Monde Amazigh included the interview, translated into Arabic, along with a number of articles rebuffing the accusation that the Berbers were a tool of the Zionist movement. The real purpose behind the campaign, said Berber activists, was to divert attention from a concurrent damning report by the U.N.'s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Issued on August 25, the committee took the Moroccan state to task for its failure to recognize the Berber language as an official language and called on it to ensure that the Berbers would not be subject to discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment and health services. It also recommended that the state give special attention to the development of Berber-inhabited regions and ensure that Moroccan Berbers have the choice to give Berber names to their children, a long-running issue for the Amazigh movement.

However amorphous, the Berber movement's core demand in both Morocco and Algeria is clear-cut: state recognition of the Berber demographic, historical, and cultural underpinnings of North Africa; constitutional recognition of Tamazight as an official language of the state; and remedial economic, social, cultural, and educational measures to begin redressing decades of neglect and injustice.

In both countries, the authorities have made some gestures toward the movement with the Moroccan monarchy, in particular, legitimizing Berber culture as an integral part of the Moroccan patrimony even as it tries to contain it within acceptable parameters. Given that the essential parameters of Moroccan political life remain circumscribed, these competing movements are engaged in a kind of para-politics, limited in their capabilities but nonetheless energetically pursuing the reshaping of Moroccan society in their preferred images. It is in this context that the debates regarding Israel, Zionism, and the status of Moroccan Jewry, both past and present, are taking place. However secondary to the main issues facing Morocco, they are clearly hot button subjects for political activists, being useful as a mobilizing tool, especially for the Islamists while Berber militancy has now reached the point where activists are willing and able to verbally give as good as they get. With Morocco's evolution toward greater political openness moving forward, however unevenly, this public dynamic of contention will bear watching.

Article previously published by Middle East quarterly
Author: Bruce Maddy-Weitzman is the Marcia Israel Senior Research Fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. His book The Berber Identity Movement and the Challenge to North African States will be published by the University of Texas Press in 2011.

Semi-Sustainable Berber Agriculture
Tafline Laylin July 18th, 2011

The verdant valleys in the Toubkal National Park stand in stark contrast to the dry, red mountain sides.

After my last visit to Toubkal National Park in Morocco’s high Atlas Mountains, where I ungracefully scrambled to the summit of its namesake in order to prove to myself and the world that I am cool enough to climb to the highest point in North Africa, I couldn’t walk properly for days after.

Over the weekend, I went back via the Ourika Valley. But this time, while there were moments of challenging hiking, my focus was on understanding the Berber people who live in small iron-red homes tucked into the side of steep slopes. With my talented mountain guide leading the way, I trekked across a handful of loose scree peaks and verdant valleys, occassionally stopping to drink mint tea with the locals, and admire their terraced agriculture plots. Naturally, what seems “so sustainable” has a more complicated background.

Not the gringo way

I’m guilty of assuming that anything ethnic is more sustainable than the marauding gringo way. And often, by virtue of its scale, it is. But ethnic people whose survival depends more on knowledge of the land than on an ability to name the parts of a sentence also make mistakes.

Terraced agriculture is very labor intensive. It is first necessary to dig ledges into the side of slopes, which are typically steep, and then a sophisticated irrigation system has to be put in place.

It is also recognized as a sustainable form of agriculture practiced in the Andes for hundreds of years, as well as in Viet Nam, Bali, and other hilly countries, since it conserves water, reduces soil erosion, maximizes arable land, and decreases surface runoff.

Verdant valleys

Each of the villages we encountered while looping from Oukamidene, a high altitude winter ski resort, west, south, east, and then back again, manages a lush grove of walnut, apple, and fig trees, along with potatoes, wheat, olives, and a host of other produce.

These fields are carefully irrigated with a system reportedly installed by the Spanish. Melted snow and river water is channeled into targas. These are long concrete troughs, of sort, that have numbered metal trap doors. Each of the men in the village take turns irrigating the crops by lifting the trap doors and allowing water to flow in steps down each successive ledge.

This according to my guide, who has worked for several European tour operators and spends part of his life in the United Kingdom. Born and raised in Aremd, one of the villages that seem to cluster around Mt. Toubkal, he has seen the villages change. And they are not all equal.

The risks

It is a carefully-planned system that ensures each crop is placed at its ideal elevation. It is the system that has been in place for hundreds of years. But it is endangered.

In a paper presented to the 12th Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Commons, Bernadette Montanari – then an Ethnobiology PhD student – and consultant Lars Soeftehard warned that Atlas mountain natural resources are declining because of over-harvesting and population pressure.

They added that the situation is made worse by lack of secure land tenure, political representation, or empowerment.

Noble suffering?

One old man, who is bowlegged now and less able to trek up and down the mountain passes, works at the ski resort a couple of hours walk away from his village. This year, he says, times are hard because his village did not vote for the man in charge and are therefore not privy to his favors.

Much of the food grown is used at home, particularly wheat, which is processed in a pre-industrial style (with mules trained to stomp the wheat on a concrete slab in order to facilitate the easy separation of the edible part of the plant from the remaining hay) and used to make bread. The remaining produce is sold at the market. On Mondays, especially, locals far and wide flock to a town on the edge of the Ourika Valley well-known for its market.

This life is hard, endangered, but more honest somehow. While many of the locals live in filthy dirty clothing and are missing their teeth, and while they toil hard in the high sun, they are a quiet and humble people whose way of life is prey to tourist traffic, resource degradation, and climate change. But they are always ready to offer a lovely cup of hot tea to the curious, weary traveler.

Moroccan roll
16 January 2012 | By Dale McEwan

The arrival of international players into Casablanca has made a confident Moroccan legal community sit up and take note. Morocco has long been the most ­developed legal market in North Africa, and last year saw a significant amount of growth when it comes to the presence of international firms in the country.

In October 2011 Bird & Bird sealed an association agreement with local firm El Amari & Associés. This was preceded by announcements over the course of one week in July 2011 that Norton Rose, Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy (A&O) were to launch offices in Casablanca. In March, Eversheds added Morocco to its expanding international ­network through a cooperation agreement that is expected to ­develop into a Casablanca office in the future.

More to come

“My understanding is that new ­entries are still to come,” says Gide Loyrette Nouel partner Julien David. “Maybe French firms - firms that maybe already have a presence but are looking for a physical presence.”

“Others will follow the path,” forecasts CMS Bureau Francis Lefebvre Morocco co-director Wilfried Le Bihan. “I predict mergers. People who don’t have strong intangibles and a task force, such as international firms, may work jointly to give them critical mass.”

Amin Hajji, partner at local outfit Hajji & Associés, says his team has been contacted by a UK firm to enter into a cooperation agreement. “Clearly, there are now major ­actors here in Morocco,” he says. “The market is bubbling. I suspect there will be some kind of adjustments with regard to the presence of foreign law firms. Some will need to adjust their activities to be able to work in other fields.”

“The good thing is that [the arrival of firms] will help the market become more structured,” adds A&O partner Hicham Naciri. “But competition will be tougher for certain firms.”

No fear

Jeantet Associés partner Laurent Sablé echoes the view that the ­Moroccan legal market will become more structured, but states that he is not feeling any pressure. “There’s enough space for all the actors here in Morocco,” he says. “It’s not a stressful time for firms. We’re in a booming place. We’re very happy with our colleagues and we don’t fear the Anglo-Saxon firms. We’re happy to have them on board.”

“These international firms setting up is something significant for this market, especially in the energy ­sector, where investments are big and sophisticated,” adds Simmons & ­Simmons partner Yves Baratte. “The impact of that will be really seen in the months and years to come.”

Energetic work

Energy is indeed an active area for firms at the moment, with a massive solar power project in the pipeline. The World Bank has approved loans to Morocco totalling $297m (£191m) to assist with financing the first phase of the 500MW Ouarzazate concentrated solar power plant project. The initial 160MW part of the venture is a PPP between the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (Masen) and a private partner, set to be selected early this year.

The ambition is for the capital city Rabat to reach 2,000MW by 2020 as part of a $9bn programme. Firms such as Norton Rose, Linklaters and Gide have come on board to advise Masen.

“Many actors are positioning themselves ready for the race,” says Le Bihan. “It’s critical to make sure the power can be purchased on a long-term basis.”

Norton Rose partner Alain Malek says the firm is assisting Masen on the organisation of the call for ­tenders in relation to the first phase of Ouarzazate, while Simmons & Simmons’ Rome and Paris offices are ­advising one of the bidders on the construction and operation of the first part of the project.

With such a plethora of work on the horizon it is easy to see why firms are moving into Morocco. Word on the street is that the country is set to become the financial centre of Africa. Upcoming draft laws concerning ­topics such as the reform of public ­offering rules are of paramount importance to Moroccan and foreign ­issuers, as well as financial institutions. One such law will create a new financial authority, the Autorité Marocaine du Marché des Capitaux (AMMC), which will succeed the existing Conseil Déontologique des Valeurs Mobilières (CDVM). While the regulatory scope of the CDVM is limited to transactions on securities, the remit of the AMMC will be ­enlarged to all transactions on any ­financial instrument as defined by the law.

“What’s important to understand is that Morocco is a gateway to Africa,” stresses Le Bihan, likening the country’s efforts at growing its ­financial sector to those made by Dubai.

Financial incentives

As Gide’s David notes, a number of Moroccan businessmen and women are travelling through African countries to promote Casablanca’s stock exchange as a source of finance. “If my understanding is correct the Casablanca Stock Exchange wishes to attract small- and medium-sized African businesses in all kinds of ­sectors,” he explains.

The development of Casablanca Finance City is also intended to bring activity into the country. Le Bihan and fellow CMS partner Marc Veuillot explain this is a campus aimed at hosting foreign finance companies or domestic banks and insurance ­companies, as well as regional headquarters or clusters of multinationals ­performing their activities in the ­regions of Africa, North Africa and the Middle East. Those involved can benefit from brand-new premises along with tax holidays.

“The purpose for Morocco is to attract foreign investors in added-value sectors and improve foreign currencies capacities,” explains Le Bihan.

Sablé says he is witnessing the comeback of Middle Eastern investment into real estate and investment funds in Morocco, although activity is a little more cautious than before. “They’re not wasting money as they were 10 years ago,” he says. “They’re careful with their money.”

“Other North African countries are suffering in terms of foreign ­investment,” says August & Debouzy ­partner Kamal Nasrollah, adding that the firm has received several ­enquiries from foreign investors who feel they may need to switch gears and move into Morocco.

In further economic growth plans, November 2011 saw A&O advise the Kingdom of Morocco and sponsor, the Moroccan Fund for Tourism, on a $2.7bn joint venture with investors Qatar Holding, Kuwait’s Al Ajial ­Investment Fund Holding and UAE-based Aabar Investments PJS.

The agreement is part of Morocco’s Vision 2020 project, which aims to double the size of the kingdom’s tourism sector to 18 million visitors a year and place it among the world’s top 20 tourist destinations.

Naciri led the deal for A&O, while Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, ­August & Debouzy and Gide advised Qatar Holding, Al Ajial Investment Fund Holding and Aabar Investments, respectively.

Eyes down

Despite the movement into Morocco, lawyers are noticing that local ­businesses are setting their sights on ­pastures further afield.

“What’s new is that Moroccan companies are going outside of ­Morocco,” says Sablé. “We’ve noticed that not only big companies but also lots of mid-market companies aren’t going to Europe but to Africa. “There’s a cultural proximity,” he adds, noting that Mauritania is high on the list of destinations. “A number of medium-sized groups are now looking at Western Africa.”

As far as 2012 is concerned, lawyers remain confident about Morocco’s potential.

“For investment, I can give you a prediction,” teases Malek. “It’ll be a good year. Morocco, I would say, is definitely on the right side.”

“Morocco is a safe place for doing business,” adds Le Bihan. “Any ­potential player should be confident in the fact that this is a good market.”

Morocco's silent revolution
Valentina Bartolucci 17 January 2012

Morocco’s experience of the Arab spring of 2011, including constitutional reform and a parliamentary election, exemplifies the country’s political distinctiveness within the region. The events of 2012 will demonstrate how far hopes of real change can be sustained, says Valentina Bartolucci.

The last few weeks of 2011 were critical for democracy in the middle east, as illustrated by developments in a number of countries. In Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh signed an agreement to give up power, though he has yet to deliver on this repeated pledge; in Bahrain, the government accepted the findings of a frank report on human rights; in Egypt, thousands of people demonstrated to reclaim their revolution; and in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, parliamentary elections were held - the first since the wave of protests that began to sweep the Arab world in December 2010.

Morocco’s experience in the context of these region-wide trends has been as distinctive as that of any other Arab country. In 2011, Morocco too was characterised by popular protests demanding governmental changes and constitutional reforms (see "The Moroccan exception, and a king’s speech", 11 March 2011).

But subsequent events showed once more that Morocco, even within north Africa, has a singular political character. The most obvious external aspect of this is that the country is a monarchy; and in the aftermath of the protests - and in contrast to other rulers who responded to demonstrations with force - Morocco’s king, Mohammed VI, quickly promised constitutional reforms. A new constitution was proposed, and endorsed on 1 July 2011 in a referendum.

Under the new constitution, the king no longer has the title of “commander of the faithful” (and by extension his “sacred status”. He also now is obliged to appoint the prime minister from the majority party in parliament. Yet he retains ultimate authority: via control over the military apparatus and the religious establishment, the power to implement emergency laws, and the capacity to veto new laws and ministerial appointments.

This process and result reflect Morocco’s distinctiveness, in three ways. First, the king remains very popular among the general public and is widely believed to act as the guarantor of political stability and social cohesion, and arbitrator between opposed factions. The consequence is that very few people in the country want to depose the king or seek outright revolution. Rather, Moroccans are more inclined to seek gradual change continuous with the country’s history and religious values.

Second, this path of change itself follows the democratic reforms - of the family code, of the religious sector, and of justice - that have occurred in Morocco since Mohammed VI’s accession to the throne in 1999.

Third, the king’s strategic approach has been able to defuse the ostensible threat of violent groups resorting to a violent jihad, in a way that has won praise from western observers (see Nelcya Delanoe, "Morocco: a journey in the space between monarchy and Islamism", 5 February 2003). This strategy reinforces the sense that Moroccans are both devoted to their king and in their vast majority deeply hostile to violence.

The political process

The parliamentary elections held on 25 November 2011 were a test of whether the king’s approach of gradual reforms was still popular in the country. The Islamist PJD (Party of Justice and Development) - for long been perceived by Moroccans and international observers alike as the only credible political party in the country - was the victor. This indicated that those who sought real change in the country wanted this to be achieved within the system by more effective reforms, not through revolts (see Laila Lalami, "Morocco's Moderate Revolution", Foreign Policy, 21 February 2011).

The PJD owed its victory to four factors. First, it focused its campaign not on issues such as the banning of alcohol or women’s headscarves, but on a strong anti-corruption programme with detailed policy proposals - on, for example, delivering good governance and social justice, fighting endemic corruption, revamping the country’s abysmal education system, and improving people’s economic condition.

Second, its connecting theme was a call for dignity, which - backed by good organisation, grassroots networks, and motivated candidates - attracted many people who saw the Islamists as a means to escape a sense of subjugation by the west.

Third, the party benefited from the fact that the push for change in Morocco had discredited political parties closely associated with the status quo, such as the Party of Authenticity and Modernity (formed by a friend of the king). Fourth, the PJD was able to assure the middle class that it was not totally “Islamist” but rather had an “Islamic reference” that linked Islam with political dignity.

The PJD’s breakthrough was the culmination of a long period when its image had provoked elements of fear as well as hope. The party had in recent years moderated its tone and compromised on matters such as the reform of the family code (which it had initially opposed) and a stringent anti-terrorism law passed in the aftermath of the Casablanca bombings in May 2003. After later attacks, the PJD had been obliged to reiterate its total opposition to any form of violence, absolute repudiation of terrorism, and its open and peaceful character.

The monarchy played an important role in this process: both in encouraging Islamists who oppose violence and support the monarchy to participate in the political game (thus making it easier for the palace to exercise influence over it - to the extent that PJD members are known as “the Islamists of the palace”), and in cracking down on adherents of the Salafist ideology. Yet some still fear that an internal takeover of the PJD would lead to the radicalisation of Moroccan society.

This perception prompted the PJD’s secretary-general Abdelilah Benkirane to stress that the party will neither infringe personal liberties nor dictate to Moroccans how to behave, and to state that its chief concern is to improve the country socially and economically. Benkirane’s first public statement after the election declared: "Religion belongs in the mosques and we are not going to interfere in people’s personal lives."

The promise of change

Morocco’s political development in 2011, including the holding of parliamentary elections and the victory of the Islamist party, shows that even in a constrained setting there is hope for those seeking real and sustainable change while working within the system. Yet outstanding issues and challenges remain. Just before the election, the youth-led movement “February 20”, some left-wing parties and the outlawed Justice & Charity movement founded by Sheikh Yassine called for a boycott and organised demonstrations in all major cities.

The boycott demand was countered by government encouragement to vote by poster campaigns and televised announcements; in the event more than 45% of eligible voters cast their ballots, but there was also a high number of spoiled ballots, which may represent another form of protest against the status quo (and, perhaps, that there is less fear than in the past about committing such an act).

Overall, the parliamentary elections of 25 November 2011 contain signs of progress. They demonstrate that Moroccans want radical change and that such change can emerge from inside the system. Moroccans suffer from the same problems as do others across the Arab world - endemic corruption, poor housing, widespread poverty, social inequality, and increasing unemployment. Yet, unlike their counterparts in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere they will probably not go down the path of revolution.

Here, the PJD and the coalition government it leads - formed on 3 January 2012, and headed by Abdelilah Benkirane - could play a crucial role. Morocco is presently on the threshold of profound social, political and economic transformation. If the new government can assume more ownership of the political process, disaffected Moroccans may find new hope in the system.

But in order to fulfil this hope, the PJD faces two big issues. First, it must ensure that the governing coalition is a strong one, able to ensure that it is not over-constrained by the previous rules of the palace. Second, the PJD must demonstrate that it is willing to work within the system, thus reassuring worried observers that it is able to compromise and to maintain the country’s diversity and liberal lifestyle. The signs here are mixed.

Morocco remains unique among the countries affected by the “Arab spring”: ruled by a monarch who is not a dictator and is supported by the great majority of the population, with a government that has been able both to maintain its specificity while maintaining close ties with Europe and the United States. This context helps explain the character of the authorities’ reaction to demonstrations and disaffection. Its elections suggested that real internal change - even a silent revolution - is possible. The events of 2012 will to a great degree show how far that hope can be realised.

About the author: Valentina Bartolucci is a research fellow and lecturer in the politics of terrorism at Bradford University

Morocco: Colors and contrasts
Originally published January 29, 2012 By By Linda Pappas Funsch   Special to The News-Post

Morocco trivia
• It was the first country to recognize the independent republic of the United States of America.
• Morocco welcomed American ships to its ports in 1777, two years in to the American Revolution.
• It houses the oldest U.S. Embassy in the world.
• Morocco hugs the coasts of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
• It is ethnically and religiously diverse, its citizens are African, Arab, Berber and Tuareg; they speak many languages and observe a variety of religious traditions.
• The landscape is green and fertile, parched and arid, cold and hot, flat and mountainous, featuring forests of densely clustered cedars and endless expanses of searing desert.
• It is the only North African country without oil.
• It is the only Arab country which was not invaded by the Ottoman Turks.
• Morocco’s head of state, tracing his lineage to the Prophet Muhammad, carries the title “Commander of the Faithful” (amir al-mu’mineen in Arabic).

Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series on Morocco. Part 1, "Crossroads of cultures," appeared in the Jan. 22 edition of Horizon. Part 3, "Desert adventure into the Sahara," appears in today's Travel & Outdoors section on page D-1.

As a lifelong student of Middle Eastern history and Islamic culture, I have lived, studied and worked in many countries throughout the region. In the summer of 2011, I set out on a journey to Morocco, my first to northwest Africa, with a delegation of U.S. educators sponsored by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. Throughout the 10 days of this cultural immersion tour, we were afforded the opportunity to experience this unique land on a level not generally available to the commercial traveler. The first five days of our journey included visits to the modern capital of Rabat, the imperial city of Meknes, the Roman ruins of Volubilis, and to Fez -- the historic center of the Atlas Mountains.

On day six, we left Fez for the rich and diverse landscape of the Moroccan interior. This leg of our trip, while fascinating, would prove to be long and arduous. Tightly packed into two comfortable passenger vans, made all the more "cozy" by our stash of newly acquired carpets, pottery and leather goods, our group continued the journey into the heartland.

'Excellence and identity'

Nestled in the heart of the Middle Atlas Mountains and surrounded by dense forests of cedar is the town of Ifrane. At 5,000 feet above sea level, Ifrane is a community of pristine red-roofed, chalet-type dwellings evocative of Switzerland. A popular destination for city dwellers seeking relief from the blistering heat of the North African summer, it is best-known as the home of Al-Akhwayn University.

Founded in 1995, this prestigious institution was funded largely by a generous gift from the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. Following a U.S.-style liberal arts curriculum, Al-Akhwayn (Arabic, "two brothers") educates approximately 1,700 students, the majority of whom are female. While the primary language of instruction is English, the university's Arabic language center is internationally accredited, drawing students from around the world.

Strolling around the beautifully manicured residential campus, featuring rosemary parterres, Morocco's premier private university boasts state-of-the-art facilities, both academic and recreational. From "smart," tech-savvy classrooms to an immense "open-stack" library, the first of its kind in the country, to an oversized sports facility with an Olympic-sized swimming pool, this school lacks neither amenities nor the determination to excel. Added to the fact that 87 percent of its new graduates are employed successfully within the first six months, it is easy to see why Al-Akhwayn is the pride of the land.

Making friends

Inspired by the impressive faculty and outstanding young adults at Al-Akhwayn, we resumed our ascent deeper into the Middle Atlas range. Near the town of Azrou, we spotted what are reputedly the oldest inhabitants of this region: the Barbary macaque, better known as the Barbary ape. Assessing us with a combination of curiosity and indifference, we discovered these legendary primates comfortably perched both on the forest floor as well as in the thick, green canopies overhead. In this particular locale, it was clear who the interlopers were.

Heading south, fields of brilliant red poppies and lush green vegetation gave way to patches of scrub brush and red clay earth. Periodically, the tents of nomads could be spotted beyond the road's edge. At one site, while exploring a primitive -- but ingenious -- network of wells in one such encampment, a Berber man, sporting a fashionably trimmed beard under a turban of swirling green and purple tones, emerged from his goatskin tent. Gesturing for us to enter this archetypal dwelling, closed on three sides and carpeted with colorful native rugs, he invited us to share tea, a reminder of the legendary hospitality for which Bedouin across this region are known.

Chef's special

It seemed that at almost every turn, our road trip through the eastern reaches of Morocco revealed surprising and dramatic contrasts. Beyond the town of Midelt, the dry, red belt of desert suddenly yielded to the fertile valley of Ziz, thick with oases nurturing date palms fed by flowing streams.

In Midelt, we stopped for a late lunch at the Hotel Taddart. Having sampled, by this time, almost every conceivable variety of tagine, the classic national stew, this intrepid traveler decided to bypass that in favor of something new. Perusing the French-language menu, the choice became obvious: cameaux.

"And how does Madam prefer her camel?"

"Medium well, of course!"

Having absorbed the flavors of an olive oil, lemon juice and allspice marinade, our steaks were roasted over hot coals and served with a side dish of fried potatoes. The lean camel meat was reminiscent of beef, delicious and surprisingly tender. A wise choice, to be sure.

Road ... to Marrakesh

After an unforgettable interlude in the great Sahara, we set off from the dry, arid plains of the western desert, under a crystal-clear sky, for yet another exciting destination: legendary Marrakesh.

According to our driver, Hamed, this would be a challenging and tiring endeavor -- for him, at least. Navigating the narrow roads and hairpin turns in the High Atlas range would require utmost vigilance, he cautioned. We had faith.

Warnings aside, he did not prepare us for the spectacular sights we would experience along the way. Driving through the lush Tishka valley, over roads lined with miles of purple oleander and masses of brilliant yellow flowers, was a wondrous sight. Ascending the High Atlas, soaring at its height to 13,500 feet, the views were breathtaking; and so, literally, was the altitude. Stopping along the side of the road, we encountered a Berber goat herder who assessed us with some skepticism -- and likely amusement -- as we enthusiastically took photos of his scrawny charges.

'Pearl of the South'

It was midafternoon before we entered Marrakesh. Tired after our long trip and nearly overcome by the intense heat, we were energized nonetheless by the anticipation of the sights and sounds that awaited us in this storied city. Situated in a wide valley between the peaks of the High Atlas, this 11th-century city was catapulted into modern Western consciousness during the height of the cultural revolution in the 1960s and '70s as a variety of roving hippies, spiritual seekers, and artists -- from Andy Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent to the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles, transformed this vibrant center into a "hip" destination through their art, design and music.

Fortunately, the true essence of Marrakesh, the "Pearl of the South," has endured. Its residents, or Marrakshis, have preserved much of what has drawn visitors to this imperial city of almost 2 million people for generations. Its medieval structures, labyrinthine alleys and impressive historic monuments have a transformative effect, transporting even the most jaded visitor to another era, both mysterious and exotic.

With July temperatures hovering near 117 degrees Fahrenheit, we were grateful for the relative luxury of the Al- Andalous hotel, bathed in tones of red ocher, a welcome venue featuring all manner of modern convenience, including air conditioning, a swimming pool ... and ice cubes.

Where the action is

The veritable heart of Marrakesh is Djemma al-Fna ("assembly place of the nobodies"), a vibrant open-air venue where snake-charmers, potion-sellers and acrobats compete with castanet-clanging water vendors and spirited salespeople for the attention of passers-by. This immense plaza, whose parade of characters would put Barnum and Bailey's circus to shame, is ringed with a maze of covered markets offering everything from carpets, leather goods, spices and clothing to CDs and the latest electronic gadgets. On the afternoon of our arrival, purveyors of freshly squeezed orange juice were doing a particularly brisk business under the blistering heat of the Moroccan sun.

Under the leadership of our guide, Muhammed, we visited a number of historical and cultural sites in Marrakesh, including the Saadien Tombs, a 17th-century complex of chambers, mausoleums and graveyards for members of the royal family of Sultan Ahmed Al-Mansour and privileged government officials, and the Bahia Palace, a 19th-century architectural marvel whose opulent ornamentation of painted, inlaid and gilded ceilings, and ornately carved stucco arches suggest a lifestyle appropriate to a grand vizier.

At the site of the Koutoubia mosque, we gazed in wonder at the 12th-century minaret, reaching 230 feet into the sky, the second-oldest such structure in Morocco and a prototype for subsequent Moorish architectural landmarks.

Finally, against the dramatic backdrop of the Atlas Mountains, we reached the Menara gardens, featuring paths winding among clusters of towering trees and colorful flower beds, offering a welcome respite from the sun. At one end of this sanctuary stands a tall pavilion. Local legend has it that, in times of old, a particular sultan would dispense certain courtesans and unwelcome guests by pushing them from the tower into the large pool below.

Commercial hub

The final leg of our Moroccan adventure would take us to Casablanca, the country's economic capital. After more than a week of traversing the country, our band of travelers, still reeling from the intense heat of Marrakesh, headed northwest on a modern four-lane highway toward the more temperate Atlantic coastline. The drive to this thriving commercial center would take less than four hours.

Approaching the city, past a high-end residential district known as California, we encountered an orderly demonstration of striking toll collectors carrying placards. Ushered through the toll plaza without proffering the usual tariff, our driver Houssam weighed in on this curious scene.

"This is good," he allowed. "Democracy."

On a Sunday evening, the coastal Boulevard de la Corniche, was packed with people enjoying the fresh ocean breezes and casual socialization. Families spanning generations, with both children and grandparents in tow, filled the sidewalks. Young couples, walking arm in arm, found this a romantic, if public, setting -- an acceptable combination in this conservative society.

A more colorful sight would be difficult to imagine. Moroccans, sporting vibrant hues and wearing everything from traditional djellabas, headscarves and pointed leather slippers to Western-influenced blue jeans and sneakers, strolled through this public space. Stopping at food vendors to enjoy everything from ice cream to escargot, they chatted with friends and family, placating restless toddlers with colorful toys and sweets.

Looking for Bogey

As the orange sun slowly set over the sea on the western horizon, our group, anticipating a long flight home, decided to celebrate our last evening in Morocco in style. Entering Rick's Caf?, inspired by the iconic film, "Casablanca," starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, we were met with the smooth, sophisticated sounds of live jazz emanating from a first-floor room.

The interior d?cor of this stately white stucco building was elaborate and in every way evocative of colonial Morocco during World War II, with Tiffany-style lamps illuminated by gas, passages marked by arches and columns, and beaded curtains separating rooms.

Ushered to a second-floor dining room by a smartly dressed attendant wearing a red, tasseled fez, we spied a game room, replete with billiard table, in which the original black-and-white version of "Casa- blanca" played continuously on a large, flat-screen TV. We were transported to another time and place by the ambience.

As time goes by ...

After dining on an appetizer of goat cheese salad with figs, followed by a main course of grilled lamb chops with mint pesto, couscous with preserved fruit, and accompanied by a splendid bottle of Moroccan Coteaux de l'Atlas, I reflected on another incredible adventure that was about to end. In a spirit of bonhomie, my traveling companions and I took turns toasting one another, recalling highlights and sharing impressions of our Moroccan adventure, celebrating our resilience and collegiality, and vowing to stay in touch.

Linda Pappas Funsch, a Middle East specialist, teaches courses at Frederick Community College's Institute for Learning in Retirement. She is currently writing a book about the history and culture of Oman. She writes from Frederick. Contact her at lindafunsch

Morocco: Sun, sea and souks: Visit the tranquil fishing port of Essaouria to discover a gentler Morocco. For more information, check out

In the tranquil fishing port of Essaouria, with its crescent-shaped bay and honey-colored stone battlements, you can escape the crowds of Marrakesh and discover a gentler Morocco. This bohemian enclave is the answer to that vacation holiday dilemma — lounge on an exotic beach or take a cultural city break? Essaouira won’t make you choose.

Amble down its maze of narrow streets, with shadowy doorways and blue shutters clattering in the wind, and you feel like you are trespassing on a film set. The thick ramparts with their cannons pointing out to sea hint at centuries-ago strife in this forgotten bastion, left behind by the Portuguese.

Essaouira is a three-hour drive from Marrakesh and popular with day-trippers, but it is ideal for a longer stay. It is one of the world’s most popular spots for windsurfing and kite boarding, and it’s possible to rent a bike and explore the sand dunes.

Morocco: Leadership in the High Atlas Mountains
By Rosie Walford   Friday Jan 27, 201

The red-rock desert of Morocco's High Atlas Mountains is searingly hot. I find myself under a juniper tree, asking questions of a stump and a boulder. I'm alone, and I'm asking these questions aloud. But I'm not mad. I'm the owner of a small business and consultant to much larger ones. I'm also a facilitator and coach.

From these mountain heights, my multifarious work activities resemble the branching tributaries of the river below. They rush apart, dissipating energy. I realise I have travelled to Morocco to find their single source.

So I'm on "Lead Like a River", a week-long leadership quest which promises to highlight my vision and release me from unhelpful old assumptions.

I'd read that we'd be based at the Kasbah Toubkal, a renovated mudbrick fort under North Africa's highest peak, and that we'd use the river nearby as a metaphor for gathering force, negotiating obstacles, flowing in a clear direction.

On reading that the quest could "reveal the source of my inspiration to influence others", I'd signed on the dotted line.

How can one week promise such vast certainties?

One answer lies in the unlikely and powerful pairing of facilitators. First, we have Eugene Hughes, an ebullient Irish dynamo who runs a booming global leadership consultancy and is also an art therapist.

His foil, Trebbe Johnson, is a deeply grounded American author who, for decades, has led journeys into wilderness to explore myths, nature, spirit and purpose.

Lead Like a River is their collaboration - an original blend of ancient vision questing and contemporary creative process, of corporate leadership development and universal outdoor experience.

Our third facilitator is the landscape. We drive from Marrakech to a remote Berber village, then climb a rocky mountainside with mules. On an outcrop jutting into the valley, massive doors open on to a flower-filled courtyard. The kasbah is all weathered timbers and antique weavings, yet the eye is constantly drawn to the relentlessly arid peaks, daunting and beautiful, all around.

In a few days we will walk further into the mountains for our solo time with nature but for now we have every comfort: my bedroom is one whole floor of an ancient stone tower. It's rustic-chic, fully carpeted with kilim rugs. Hundreds of fossils pattern the marble of my bathroom; candles glint through big brass lamps.

The first three days prepare us to experience ourselves and nature in novel ways. One early exercise sends us down through a band of nut trees bordering the river. This is no ordinary walk. Eugene has introduced us to the concept of universal human archetypes.

Evidently, my working self lacks Warrior (who leads through action) and I'm repelled by being Emperor (who leads by control). Trebbe has instructed us to walk with these missing archetypes as our imaginary companions and to discuss with them the aspects of our personalities that they evoke. We're also to interrogate any elements of nature which seem to somehow embody these archetypes.

I muse on a slowly ripening pomegranate and remember that there's huge satisfaction in fast, measurable results; a stiff architectural thistlehead held aloft hints that control and structure can be benign.

I've been avoiding goal-setting and building infrastructure for my business for a decade. When I debrief my walk in the voices of my archetypes, I speak enthusiastically of delegating to a team of employees. Old unquestioned assumptions must have quietly loosened their grip.

Next day we alternate between time indoors and out. Eugene teaches us the Tibetan tradition of mandala-making to map our individual values. To describe "our people" (the extended circle of community which matter to us), we use Native American war-leader Crazyhorse Lakota's way with metaphors.

As we uncover hidden aspects of our own identity through these unfamiliar modes of expression, we also witness others unfold.

In the ordinary world, my eight fellow travellers are leaders in world class design teams, public health bodies, corporates or their own enterprises. Here on the mountains, everyone is exploring areas that aren't so certain; the edges where something needs to change. There is hilarity, regret, and always a deep respectful listening, which makes it uncommonly easy to speak from the heart.

Steering away from the familiar lens of the intellect, we spend hours observing the river as symbol of the leadership running through our lives. Trebbe has sent us out with wonderful watery questions: "See how this river starts with a spring: what's always bubbling up in you? See how it plunges over rocks getting new energy: what is it that gives you new energy? Rivers pick up detritus - sticks, feathers, litter: what do you pick up along the way?"

On our return, Eugene helps us present our experiences creatively. If we normally write prose, we should write poems. If we normally use words, we should paint.

When I read my poem, I feel such passion for its sustainability themes that I tremble. Using watery metaphors, I've dissolved my fears about being under-substantiated, and suddenly I've found my voice. Months later, I recall this feeling as I start my first keynote speech.

We set off towards our mountain refuge in blazing sun. Crossing into a new valley, snowy peaks loom through heat-shimmers. Our muleteers carpet an impromptu shady lunch-lounge and serve us hot tagines with mint tea. Dropping through an isolated Berber settlement, we glimpse rare vignettes of traditional Moroccan life.

We scatter before daylight to be still, alone, and fasting until dusk. Solitude seems daunting in this harsh terrain. But we have named our intentions and learned how to use rocks, trees or birds as reflectors of emotional patterns. Wilderness may evoke fears, but at least we know how we'll begin - by entering our chosen spot with ceremony.

Up high, under my juniper tree, I snooze, observe insects, shout out. A comma-shaped boulder triggers sudden apprehension of a childhood experience, and its influence over my adult choices ever since. I forgive myself. I get rapturous, poetic, bored. I let the landscape outside mirror the landscape within. The rock shows me how to edit my career portfolio according to my own values.

This is the singularity - the discernment - for which I came to Morocco.

Coming down from the mountain, we use Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey to conceptualise what's just happened. Campbell writes that an adventurer always encounters demons, and returns with a gift which he applies back in his community. On Lead Like a River, the facilitators take care that this gift will be tangible.

At the Kasbah we form pairs and detail the changes that we'll apply in our leadership roles and personal lives.

At the quest's end there is feasting and Berber dancing. I have criteria by which to edit my worklife. Even the most rational thinkers among us have talked to trees. Metaphors and paintings have moved us beyond ossified old constructs of ourselves.

On holiday, instead of in therapy or strategic sessions, we've seen what we stand for and what's to be done. I know no better route to self-knowledge than a wonderful journey, well guided, in nature itself.

* The next Lead Like a River: Morocco trip is on August 4-11. Cost: €3300 (NZ$5306, includes all meals lodging and transportation; does not include airfare). Rosie Walford offers The Big Stretch mountain retreats in Europe and individual breakthrough sessions or leadership coaching on Waiheke Island.
By Rosie Walford

Morocco: Leadership in the High Atlas Mountains
By Rosie Walford Friday Jan 27, 201

You have heard her on radio and seen her at expos. This year, Cape Town’s Giggling Gourmet will be seen in 86 countries. Jenny Morris is in Morocco shooting her new series, Jenny Cooks Morocco, for the Food Network. She is the first celebrity chef in South Africa to host a series that on the Food Network.

“I am still black and blue from pinching myself,” she said while on a five-week shoot in Morocco.

Regarding her new international audience, she says: “I want to appeal to their curiosity and share my discoveries with them. I think people are mostly the same, they love to travel from their armchairs. We (all) are interested in what other cultures eat and do.”

She does admit that having an international audience does scare her and she is still trying to find out how to deal with this fear. She has never travelled overseas for TV before. She says the show is different to her previous TV appearances as it is a stand-alone production hosted by her.

“The trip to Morocco follows in the wake of Food Network’s decision to commission yours truly for a new series to be launched later this year. This is a great honour and a wonderful opportunity to be the first celebrity chef in South Africa to host a series on Food Network.

“Following the conclusion of all contractual arrangements much time was spent in a fun and collaborative effort between myself and Food Network to agree and finalise details for the upcoming series.”

Morris also escorts people on food tours, and says Morocco is one of her favourite destinations.

“I love the people and the food. Some of them are sophisticated and the other half are rural and humble and still make their couscous from scratch.”

On her trip so far, Morris says she has experienced “amazing” connections with people, from a man who tends hammam (traditional Moroccan bathhouse) fires to immigrants to the country.

Morris believes there is much to learn from Moroccan food.

“We could learn to appreciate food again. Moroccans are seasonal eaters and look forward to the harvest with great anticipation. There are no air miles on their food; everything they eat is fresh and at its best in season and tastes phenomenal.”

But there are things that we have misunderstood about their cuisine, she says.

“Moroccan food is simple and really tasty. It is earthy and honest; people think that Moroccans eat couscous with every meal but they don’t. Couscous takes hours to prepare and they don’t have time on a daily basis to make it. They don’t like instant couscous and when you taste the real deal you will understand why. They eat bread with most meals.”

The show’s itinerary will have her travelling from the sea to the Atlas Mountains and the desert.

“I am going to ride a camel, and meet and interview some of the most amazing characters that came to Morocco and never left.”

Morris has her eyes set on South America next. “As long as I can breathe there is a whole world out there I need to taste.”

Morris’s new book is also in stores. “Cooking with Jenny Morris is my third book and is filled with stories of my food memories (of) people who have inspired me to cook from when I was really young. It is like a little black dress, everyone should have one.”

Launched in mid-November, it has over 200 recipes including for breads, cakes, muffins, sauces, jams, icy drinks, chicken, duck, beef and lamb, fish and, says Morris, a chapter on “Prawnography”.

The recipes were inspired by people who have been willing to share their recipes such as her late friend Ruby Naidu, whom Morris calls her Durban mother, her grandfather, her mother and a neighbour.

“I cannot believe the response I have been having to it.

“People e-mail me pictures of the dishes they have cooked and take the trouble to write to me and I am really happy and grateful for the support.”

Jenny Cooks Morocco is expected to air in the first quarter of this year. The series will have 10 episodes. - Weekend Argus

l For updates from Morris’s adventures in Morocco, follow her on twitter – @jennymorrischef.

Morocco: New Democratic Government Fights Corruption
By Morocco News Agency Staff Rabat, Morocco --- January 18, 2012

During the election campaign in Morocco, Prime Minister Benkirane had repeatedly promised that the fight against corruption would be a high priority for his new government. Now, the Benkirane government has begun to make good on this promise and embarked on a major anti-corruption campaign. At the instructions of Benkirane, Morocco's Central Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (ICPC) is preparing a document with "priority" proposals how to strengthen the fight against corruption in the Kingdom.

The ICPC President Abdeslam Aboudrar pointed out that the ICPC is preparing for a major transformation. With a new priority status, the ICPC is gearing up for a major surge in order to bolster the campaign against corruption in Morocco.

Aboudrar notes that the new Constitution in Morocco awarded the ICPC a new status for the national-level prevention of, and fight against, corruption. This will allow the ICPC to consolidate its missions to prevent corruption. The ICPC will now be able to assign and launch major investigations dealing with various forms of corruption.

This new status will also give the ICPC the prerogative of horizontal framework of efforts in order to both prevent and fight against corruption through a national strategy in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies.

"The ICPC is in the process of preparing a paper on priority proposals to strengthen the efforts made by Morocco in the fight against corruption, including the adoption of legislation concerning the implementation of certain existing laws as well as the enactment of other legislation particularly in relation to access to information, conflict of interest and revision of the Law on Declaration of Assets," Aboudrar explained.

"The ICPC proposals also address the need for effective enforcement of the law resulting in prosecutions and sanctions against those involved in corruption cases. In addition, these proposals aim to embed the strategic dimension in all policies against corruption, improve governance in the public and private sectors, as well as to promote the importance of integrity and the fight against corruption through public awareness campaigns."

Abdeslam Aboudrar pointed out some of the practical aspects of the challenges facing the ICPC.
He explained that these priority proposals relate to "the need for effective enforcement of the law" which should result in "prosecutions and sanctions against those involved in corruption." Aboudrar calls for the establishment of specialized courts to handle corruption cases.

The Department of Justice in Morocco has already agreed to the creation of Chambers specializing in financial crimes at Morocco's four Courts of Appeal. The ICPC hopes to capitalize on this initiative in order to create a special system of justice "to end the impunity that is one of the causes of the phenomenon of corruption."

Aboudrar is cognizant of the magnitude of the reforms needed. He argues that implementing this system of justice requires specialized adaptation of the procedures for investigation and inquiry with the specificities of the different categories of crime, creating a specialized police, assigning special prosecutors, and the adoption by magistrates and judges of the recommendations and the minutes prepared by the officers of the police and expert reports and searches.

The new courts will also have to use the services of bailiffs and other organizations specializing in the technical aspects of corruption cases. Most important, however, will be the promotion of training and capacity building of the various stakeholders, as well as the expansion of the legal criminal code to upgrade the working mechanisms of specialist justices. Aboudrar concludes that the priority challenge is to train magistrates and judges in order to carry out this task so as to accelerate and promote the quality of casework related to financial crimes.

Also of great importance is the creation of public awareness in Morocco of the imperative to both prevent and fight corruption. The emphasis of the anti-corruption message during the elections campaign resonated positively with the majority of voters.

Aboudrar is adamant on capitalizing on this trend in order to ensure long-term tangible impact. "The ICPC has developed a communications strategy to raise awareness of the harmful effects of corruption in explaining its different forms, its causes and consequences. We delayed the implementation of this strategy due to lack of financial resources allocated to date to the ICPC knowing that the launch of a communications campaign on a national scale requires a large budget," said Aboudrar.

Aboudrar is convinced that he will get the necessary budget from the Benkirane government.

Morocco: The Government's New Macro-Economic Program
By Morocco News Agency Staff Rabat, Morocco --- January 19, 2012

In preparation for the presentation of the Benkirane government's statement and program, the Moroccan Cabinet Council began elaborating on the specifics of the government's program and particularly the macro-economic and social plans.

Benkirane is cognizant that no socio-political reform is possible in Morocco without a profound economic recovery. Moreover, the rapidly deteriorating economic crisis in the West, and Europe in particular, puts additional burden on the Moroccan economy for it is connected to Europe's.

The macro-economic data in the government's program is most impressive and challenging but not unattainable. 

The government's macro-economic data expects a respectable annual growth rate of 5.5% for the next five years. Consequently, the government in Morocco will have the budget deficit reduced to 3% over these five years, and the inflation compressed to an average of 2%. 

Although, as discussed below, the government anticipates an increase in public sector employment, payroll should be limited to 10% of the GDP against the current 10.3%. The government hopes to achieve this through the concurrent increase in the GDP and recalculation of salaries in the public service.

A major component of the Benkirane economic development program for Morocco is a fair distribution of wealth through restructuring of the economy rather than debilitating taxation. Benkirane calls this approach "the moralization of public life" and it is associated with the priorities "in the new social pact" advocated by the government.

A major instrument of the economic reforms in Morocco relates to employment. The struggle against unemployment is not an easy task. The government is adamant on reaching an unemployment rate of 8% within five years. 

The government plans to create 200,000 new jobs annually via the promotion of both public and private investment. The government wants to increase the annual training and integration program to about 50,000 beneficiaries. This way, the government will be able to absorb a significant segment of unemployed graduates. However, the government plan foresees "dialogue" as the ultimate solution to addressing the youth unemployment. Young graduates will have to comprehend that the state alone cannot absorb them all. 

The idea is to explain reality while setting out the limited available resources. Instead, the government will encourage the creation and expansion of a labor market in the private sector by supporting the investment in manpower. The new, democratic government in Morocco is convinced that the private sector is willing to absorb a large proportion of unemployed graduates provided that there is no debilitating taxation on the profits from investment and business enlargement resulting from job creation. The Benkiran government already reassures the business community in Morocco that economic expansion including employment will be encouraged and rewarded.

The Benkirane government hopes to recover funds and improve the overall economic performance through the much heralded fight against corruption and bad governance. 

This objective is emphasized in the roadmap of the new government. Initially, the government intends to clean and streamline the management of public facilities. A pension reform is also a priority given the state of the various government-controlled and -guaranteed funds, and because this is a time bomb that must be defused this year or by 2013 at the latest.

The Benkirane government's plan anticipates that a large number of presently unemployed graduates and future graduates will be absorbed into the major social programs the government is committed to expanding in conjunction with the private sector.

One of the highest priority programs of the new government in Morocco is health care. 

The government is adamant on providing access for all citizens according to their needs, regardless of their ability to pay. The services offered will be of quality and patient-centered. Emphasis will be placed on the lower rates of maternal and child mortality - achieving the Millennium Development Goals. This will require the expansion of medical and social services through the recruitment of quality manpower. To address the huge financial cost of the program, the government expects the gradual spread of RAMED (Health Insurance Plan for the poor) through better management at the public sector and the inclusion of private sector business.

The other high priority by the new government is education. 

The Benkirane government's plan envisages a comprehensive program encompassing the entire educational spectrum from basic literacy to advance academic studies. Again, educational opportunities to all and the pursuit of excellence are at the heart of the government program. In the pipe is the launching of such national initiatives as "public schools of excellence", "Moroccan university as a leader in training and scientific research" and "the fight against illiteracy as a pillar of human development". 

The government is convinced that improvement of literacy is a precondition for the overall upsurge of the economy in Morocco. Hence, an urgent priority is the creation of the National Literacy program with the goal of reducing the illiteracy rate to 20% by 2016 and complete eradication by 2020.

Another priority involving employment issues in the impoverished urban slums is housing. 

The new government approach in Rabat aims to challenge the procedures presently followed for the reduction of slums and the fight against the spread of slums. The objective is to build 150,000 new homes a year. Toward this end, the government will strengthen the guarantee fund to better support access for "decent candidates" for housing who do not have regular resources. Emphasis in this program is on the unemployed uneducated youth who will be in effect employed in the building of their own houses and neighborhoods. This will put them in the workplace as skilled labor. In order to fund these programs, the government intends to revise the tax rules to encourage private sector investment in housing construction and rental. 

The new government in Morocco seeks to regulate the housing market by establishing objective criteria for project approvals - from construction to renting. Furthermore, the transfer of public land to private sector developers will be simplified on the basis of tenders.

Basically, the Benkirane government's statement is based on the application of good governance principles to the management and implementation of the provisions of the new Constitution. The stakes are high.
The Benkirane government will be facing great challenges once it begins the implementation of the promised action. After all, the expectations of the public that has just voted for Benkirane and his government are enormous.

From Morocco to tantalising gourmet dishes
Chef Lance Seeto Sunday, January 22, 2012

Moroccan lamb shanks with tomato salsa.

As children prepare to go back to school for the New Year, my culinary and cultural adventures in Fiji now enters its third year, with even more local cultural and culinary experiences that I will share with readers throughout the year.

Definitely the most exciting new project is my first travel cookbook "Food in my Belly, Sunshine in my Heart", scheduled for worldwide release later this year and documents my life-changing experiences working, living and cooking in Fiji.

Its full of myths, legends and real-life stories on how rural and island Fijians are still living, as I visit and experience some of the distant places over the coming months to reveal fresh food, ancient culture and its people. Compared to the many troubles and unhappiness in overseas countries, Fiji has become a beacon of hope for the rest of the world to see how they could be living. Politics aside, the essence and true meaning of happiness and respect flourishes here, and if you could bottle it to sell around the world, then Fiji would be the richest place on the planet.

My Sunday column also gets a new direction as I take you each weekend to a distant, far away land to introduce recipes from other ancient cultures that can be adapted here in Fiji with ingredients that you can buy locally and cook at home. Combined with your fresh local foods, I hope that this year readers will learn new flavours, new tastes and a passion to embrace new ideas in the kitchen.

Today, we head off to the ancient Kingdom of Morocco in Northern Africa, over 18000kms from Suva on the other side of the world, and would take you near one whole day to fly there.

With a population of over 35 million today, Morocco has been in existence since 110BC and has been fought over since biblical times by the Romans, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and later the Spanish and French. But while Morocco is a world away, its cuisine has many similarities to modern Fijian ingredients so it makes a perfect place to look for recipes that can be adapted to the Fijian kitchen.

Moroccan cuisine is considered one of the most diverse cuisines in the world because of their early trade with the New World, and the constant refinement of food by cooks in the royal kitchens throughout each century.

Similar to Indian cuisine, Moroccan cooking uses a combination of spices that can be readily found in Fiji like cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, ginger, pepper, paprika, star anise and coriander seeds. Oranges, lemons, saffron olives and mint also grow abundantly in Morocco, and are the basis for many of their ethnic dishes. Like the Fijian way of eating, Moroccans also eat with their hands and use bread to pick up the food, with a typical meal beginning with hot and cold salads, followed by a stew cooked in an earthen claypot called a Tagine, and finished with a cup of sweet mint tea. The Tagine is a pot with a cone-shaped lid that allows for circulation of heat and is ideal for slow-cooked stews that need to cook for longer time to help tenderise cheaper, more tough meats, and by adding fruits, vegetables and spices, you can make one of the most delicious tasting and aromatic stews. And like tavioka and dalo are the basic starches to a Fijian, cous cous or wheat semolina is the most famous accompaniment to many Moroccan dishes. You can probably see why I chose Moroccan cuisine to cook in Fiji, because all the key ingredients can be found at the markets or shops, and one pot of stew can feed the whole family cheaply and much more healthy than processed food.

One of the most popular Moroccan dishes we serve on Castaway Island is the Moroccan Lamb Shanks, slow simmered for at least 4 hours in local orange juice with sweet spices. Despite how tough the on-the-bone lamb normally is, slow cooking gradually dissolves the fibres in the muscle, resulting in the most tender flesh that's infused with hot and sweet spices. I buy the shanks from Tebara because they are huge, Halal-certified and have plenty of meat. You can also pick them up from MH supermarkets or Cost-U-less in Suva. If price is a concern, you can also use goat meat in this recipe as both meats need to be cooked on low temperature for prolonged periods to get them soft. You also don't need any special cooking equipment, as a big pot with lid and a gas or wood -fired stove is perfect. If you plan on serving this dish for dinner then it's best to make sure everything is simmering just after lunch as you'll need at least four hours cooking time, but once you've cooked a big batch then its easy to keep in the fridge for reheating the next day. I know you'll enjoy this taste of Morocco as its one of the most requested recipes I get on the island, is gluten-free and when served with roti or tavioka, makes it a modern Fijian dish.

* Lance Seeto is the Australian Executive Chef and Author based at Castaway Island resort

Serves 4

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 lamb shanks, season at least 1 hr with salt & pepper
4 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1 ltr Orange juice (100% juice, with no preservatives)
2 cups Red Wine
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 Onions white, chopped rough
1 ltr Whole peeled tomatoes (tinned or fresh)
1cup Tomato paste
1 cup Dried Fruit (mango, apple, apricot, dates), chopped
1 teaspoon Turmeric powder (Haldi)
Spiced Bouquet Garni (6 cloves, 2 cinnamon quills, 4 star anise)
2 tablespoons Sweet Paprika


In large frypan or saucepan, brown lamb on all sides. Drain off fat & remove.
Fry onions & garlic in a large pot, add the lamb shanks
Add orange zest, orange juice, and crushed tomatoes with its juice
Bring to boil (add more orange juice or water to fully cover shanks), add bouquet garni and dried fruits
Reduce heat, cover and simmer, turning occasionally, for 3-4 hours or until lamb is tender. Add more water if the liquid begins to dry out before the lamb is tender.
Add vegetables as desired - cook until vegetables are ready
Season with a little salt
Serve with roti, dalo or tavioka

Morocco works to manage popular discontent
By Mawassi Lahcen in Casablanca and Siham Ali in Rabat for Magharebia – 20/01/12

Conciliatory moves by new Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane are changing minds. Determined to hold Morocco's new government accountable for its promises, the youth-led February 20 Movement (M20F) is still staging demonstrations every week-end.

Even though Moroccan Islamist group Al Adl Wal Ihsane (Justice and Charity) severed ties with M20F in late December, and many independents have quit the activist group, its members vow to press on. "True, there is a significant decline, to a degree we did not expect, in the number of demonstrators because of the withdrawals, but that does not harm the movement at all," Casablanca M20F activist Hamza Mahfouz told Magharebia.

"All protest movements in the world knew up times and down times," Mahfouz said.

In a statement, Al Adl Wal Ihsane explained their departure: "Some of the youth of the 20 February Movement broadcast ideas and rumours that suffocated the climate within the democratic movement as a whole, putting limits on our demands."

The exiting Islamists charged that some within M20F were using it to "settle accounts with imagined opponents".

Al Adl Wal Ihsane said, however, that it still believed in the legitimacy of the democracy movement's demands.

The departure of the Islamists may indeed have weakened the M20F movement, says Yusuf Bilal, a political analyst at Mohammed V University in Rabat. "The strength of the 20 February Movement lies in its ability to combine different currents from the left, the far left and the Islamic movement," Bilal said. "Now, after the withdrawal of the Justice and Charity group, M20F has essentially become a left-wing movement. Taking this particular ideological colouring will not be in its favour."

"I think the 20 February Movement must deal intelligently with the Benkirane government and with Benkirane's call for dialogue," Bilal added.

Many of those who stopped participating in the movement's protests are now betting on the government of Abdelilah Benkirane, Casablanca M20F member Mahfouz concedes.

After the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) won a landslide victory in the November 25th legislative elections, King Mohammed VI charged party leader Benkirane with forming the first government under the new constitution.

The M20F position is that while the monarch responded to the demands of protesters by changing the constitution and holding early elections, the reforms did not go far enough. "Now they are dragging their heels, and we are telling them that if they don't deal seriously with the demands of the 20 February Movement, Morocco is going to explode," he tells Magharebia. "The regime must realise that stability can only be achieved within the framework of democracy, freedom, dignity and justice. These are the slogans raised by the movement," he adds.

Since his appointment, Benkirane has maintained that he is aware of citizens' discontent.

On December 3rd – the day the new government was announced – he said there was not a single government in the world which could properly fulfil its obligations without the support of the people, who should in turn commit themselves wholeheartedly to the work of reform.

He explained that change could not be implemented overnight, but vowed to begin a dialogue with unemployed graduates. "I promise to listen to them very carefully," Benkirane said. "I am open to these young people, like those in the 20 February Movement and the opposition parties, both those who have seats in Parliament and those who boycotted the elections," the new prime minister said.

Many Moroccans wonder if Benkirane will be able to reduce the number of labour strikes in public sectors such as education and health. Since the launch of the 20 February Movement, Morocco has seen an exponential increase in the number of labour actions.

The new government head took the initiative by meeting with union chiefs the day after his appointment to discuss issues of concern to the working class. After talking with Benkirane, Moroccan General Workers' Union (UGTM) chief Hamid Chabat said that the government must be given time before people pass judgement. Still, he said, prospects were looking good.

But the task facing the government team will not be easy, admits PJD official and new Higher Education Minister Lahcen Daoudi. If any progress is to be made, he says, the government must restore confidence from the public by first fighting corruption.

The unemployed, in particular, have high expectations for Abdelilah Benkirane's government, says Mourad Chaoui, who has been without work since earning a political science degree five years ago. He hopes that the promises made during the election campaign will be kept. "Young people must continue their demonstrations to put pressure on the executive. The issue of employment must be made a priority," Chaoui says.

The activists have no plans to quit, now that change is in the wind. "People will continue to campaign for the democracy they want," says 20 February Movement member Najib Chaouki.

The loss of support from some quarters, such as the Islamist party, has temporarily weakened the activist movement, researcher Idris Al-Qusouri confirms. But he does not rule out the prospect for even stronger future protests if the government of Abdelilah Benkirane fails to respond to the urgent call for change.

The challenges are considerable, given the variety of demands coming from the Moroccan street, political analyst Magid Ibrahimi tells Magharebia. "The people want to eat, receive medical care, work and have decent homes. Social pressure could place a heavy burden on the new government," he says. ##########################################################

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