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Morocco Week in Review 
June 2, 2012

Why Solar Cookers Should Spread Like Satellites in Morocco
Tafline Laylin | May 20th, 2012

Women in rural Morocco are often responsible for the grueling task of trekking miles to collect fuel for cooking, which requires not only energy but also time that might have been used developing or applying other skills. Lacking access to natural gas, these villagers have had no choice but to burn biomass to produce the family’s meals –  a situation that also has grave environmental consequences. But a new initiative brought to our attention by Hicham Semlali has already profoundly improved the quality of life for residents of Ouffi Ait – a small, sunny village southeast of Marrakech. The Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECI) introduced 150 new solar-cookers, which allow women to spend time on cottage industries and give the surrounding forests a much-needed break.

Spreading solar like satellites

Working with the Foreign Association XXI and ADMR from Morocco, AECI targeted women as protagonists of a cleaner, more equitable future in their Morocco Solar Cookers for Rural Families project. Aimed at overcoming poverty and exclusion, the initiative promotes using technology and renewable energy to strengthen the social and economic fabric of rural society and contribute to the successful management of natural capital and environmental preservation.

Semlali, a regular Green Prophet reader who emphasized that he is not involved in the project, but merely brought it to our attention after seeing this program on the Moroccan TV channel Al-Oula (the First)  said that women are now freed up to start small businesses and young girls are able to stay in school longer without the pressure to help their mothers complete their chores. “If the use of these solar cookers spread across Morocco like satellite dishes have done, hundreds of thousands of women in rural areas with no access to gas will wave goodbye to the daily hassle of collecting wood under extreme weather conditions,” he added.

Less greenhouse gas emissions

In Exterior 21, the Moroccan non-profit organization ADMR claims “the knowledge and use of solar energy as clean and renewable energy will reduce excessive energy consumption and biomass and stop the accelerating degradation, erosion and desertification of natural ecosystems.” Also, as less biomass is burned, fewer greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. The program includes training the villagers to use the solar cooker to make their signature dishes (such as Tagine) and the publication of a solar cookbook.

With some of the best concentration of sunlight in the world, Morocco is one of a few North African countries involved in the Desertec program to supply power to Europe. By 2020, the country hopes to install 2 Gigawatts of power, but these programs aren’t likely to trickle down to the country’s rural areas. Image: Solar Cooker  fromShutterstock

Rural education offers Morocco's women promise of a quiet revolution.
Women in remote parts of Morocco are benefiting from a literacy scheme that also teaches civil rights, numeracy and beekeeping

In a tiny classroom at the Maison de Citoyenneté support centre for the education of rural girls and women in Beni Zuli, an isolated village in Zagora, deep in south-eastern Morocco's Draa Valley, Fatima Kadmire is describing how learning to read and write is transforming her life. "The best thing is that I can now dial numbers and send text messages on my mobile phone without having to rely on others to do it for me," says Kadmire, 21, who is sitting at a small desk at the front of the class.

She is one of the beneficiaries of an accelerated literacy programme targeting rural women and girls in Zagora and other remote regions in Morocco as part of the national literacy strategy. The class she is enrolled in is run by the Association des Femmes pour le Développement et la Solidarité (Afdes).

Afdes is part of Réseau Associatif pour le Développement et la Démocratie (Razded), an umbrella group of associations and NGOs established in 2007. The organisation's aim is to strengthen the role of women in Zagora's economic development and democratic process, in partnership with the department for literacy. As well as the 300 hours they have to acquire basic reading, writing and numeracy skills, beneficiaries are given lessons in social and civil rights, development, environment and income-generating activities such as weaving, baking and beekeeping.

The Maison de Citoyenneté, or Citizenship House – a peach-coloured building opposite the mosque on Beni Zuli's main thoroughfare – is one of the first adult education community support centres in Morocco. It was built to help address one of the biggest barriers to education facing rural women and girls: lack of access to learning centres and middle schools (attended by 12- to 16-year-olds), which are usually located very far from home.

Beni Zuli, which has 18,000 inhabitants, is a beautiful village with traditional mud-brick houses. Like the rest of the province, it is flanked by the imposing Atlas mountains; its arid landscape is punctuated by a string of lush palm groves and oases. The village is one of the most remote in Zagora, which itself is a two-and-a-half hour drive along a narrow mountain road from the nearest airport, in Ouarzazate. With more than 70% of its 280,000 population aged under 30, the province is among the programme's main target regions.

The nearest middle school to Beni Zuli is 14km (8.6 miles) away, in Zagora City. When not deserted in scorching, dusty isolation (temperatures can reach 48 degrees in the summer), its main road is frequently used by donkey carts. With no public transport to and from the village, the only option for those without private transport is shared "grand taxis": old, recycled four-door Mercedes. They are used for city-to-city and city-to-village transport and cost 10-15 dirhams (72p-£1.08) a person. But with more than 40% of the village's population living below the poverty line, they are unaffordable for many.

As well as community support centres like the Maison de Citoyenneté, accessible literacy classes are held in mosques and other public places. With approximately 240,000 of Zagora's largely Berber and Arabic population living in hard-to-reach rural areas, hundreds of modest dormitories for girls have also been built close to middle schools as part of the accelerated literacy programme. More are planned.

One of the main objectives of the programme, which is enabling Kadmire and other rural women and girls to overcome deep-rooted cultural and traditional constraints, is integrated social and economic development. Post-literacy training will enable them to consolidate the literacy skills they acquire, preparing them to run micro-projects.

Such help, which promises to lift rural women out of the cycle of illiteracy and poverty, is welcome. King Mohammed VI pushed through landmark reforms to the Mudawana family code against tough opposition from religious conservatives in 2004. The measures attempted to address a range of issues including underage marriage, women's rights, domestic violence, forced child labour and sexual trafficking. Despite the reforms, however, many rural women remain second-class citizens.

Almost 20,000 women and girls have benefited from the accelerated, state-funded literacy programme since it was introduced in Zagora in 2007. Its grants cover course fees, teacher-training and learning tools such as textbooks and pens. "The trend has been to shift from standard literacy, in which programmes were limited to teaching students the basics of reading, writing and computing, to a literacy of social integration of beneficiaries in their environment. The target is 1 million beneficiaries per year and to reduce Morocco's illiteracy rate to 20% by 2016," says El Habib Nadir, director of the literacy department in the ministry of education.

Tafraoute: Morocco's Berber heartland.

Escape Morocco's big cities for the oasis of Tafraoute, where you'll find ancient traditions, genuinely friendly people and a restaurant that shows how good home cooking can be. The Moroccan town of Tafroute sits in a bowl between rocky outcrops. During the eight years that I've lived in Casablanca, I have searched for a secluded scrap of paradise to escape the wild rumpus of the city. The other day I finally found it.

Drive south-east from Agadir, through fields planted with veg destined for Tesco stores half a world away, and you eventually spy a little track on the right. Blink and you'd miss it. To take it is to ride the grand slalom of Morocco's south, a piste so windy that you wonder if it's a secret vehicle test track. Veering left, then right, the route doubles back on itself and narrows alarmingly, with boulders the size of mansions looming down either side.

There are no road signs, and the only people are shepherds, cloaked in chill shadows between the rocks. Their goats don't bother scrounging for scrub and grass. They're up in the trees, feasting on argan nuts instead.

A moment before you throw it all in, swing a U-turn and head for home, you catch a first glimpse of it – Tafraoute. Cupped in a shallow bowl between rocky outcrops, it has something serene about it, a perfect balance uniting nature and man. A cluster of slender minarets and low pink homes, there's a sense that it has just that moment been conjured by a good jinni, like something from the pages of One Thousand and One Nights.

This is Morocco's Berber heartland, where proud tribes, traditions and folklore pre-date the Arab conquest by centuries, a realm set quite apart from the hubbub of the kingdom's big cities and ubiquitous urban sprawl. An ancient oasis, Tafraoute was first discovered in the 60s by the flower power generation, when droves of tie-dyed hippies trundled south in their combi vans.

These days, it's patronised by the world's leading rock climbers, lured by the sleek, wind-sculpted faces of sheer granite, set against a backdrop of utter tranquillity.

I stayed at Hotel Salama on the edge of the main square. Nestled all around are little shops and stalls. At one, I found lumps of rock crystal, and sulphur, dried chameleons, cactus roots and myrrh, for use in spells. Another stall, opposite, was touting a selection of antique angular iron keys, once used in the region's famous wooden locks.

But, best of all, was the shop selling ordinary objects made from old paint cans, glass jars and discarded plastic. I bought some lanterns there, a paint can bucket, and a shopping basket made from crocheted plastic bags.

The most wonderful thing about Tafraoute is the way people are genuinely pleased to see a visitor and, equally, how they don't hassle you as they do elsewhere.

Having fallen in love with a little Berber chest, I had to beg the shopkeeper to sell it to me. He insisted I could get a better one round the corner for half the price.

The greatest treasure of all lies on a little lane in the backstreets of Tafraoute. It's called Chez Sabir, and it is the ancestral home of Abdel-Latif Bakrim, a culinary genius and a man so gentle that you wonder how he manages to run a business at all. There are just three tables, laid out in the family's sitting room, with a small kitchen behind.

As anyone who lives in Morocco well knows, the national cuisine is at its best not in a restaurant, but in the home. And Chez Sabir is a home.

Comprising of thick harira soup, Moroccan salads, and lamb cooked with prunes, the meal surpassed my wildest expectations. Before leaving, I asked Abdel-Latif for his secret. Smiling very broadly, he narrowed his eyes, and said: "Good food is made all the more delicious by the arrival of a guest."

• Hotel Salama (+212 28 800026 ) has doubles from around €25, breakfast €2. Chez Sabir, 41 Route Ammeln, +212 6 66 419968

Tahir Shah's new novel, Timbuctoo, will be published in June by Secretum Mundi Publishing at £29.99

Poverty Group Objects to Clean Technology Fund in Morocco
Susan Kraemer | May 22nd, 2012

Big Solar drives a wedge between the need to abate climate change and end poverty, says The World Development Movement. Claiming the the World Bank’s Clean Technology Fund is supposed to be used to alleviate poverty, a British group is objecting to the use of World Bank funds in Morocco to deploy a Desertec solar project in Morocco that will export power to Europe.

The Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) is expected to award the contract for the first phase of the 500 MW Ouarzazate solar project within weeks to one of three energy developers from outside Morocco.

MASEN intends to develop four 500 MW solar projects by 2020, which would allow it to source nearly half of its electricity from renewables, as well as become a net exporter of energy to Europe thanks to its interconnector stretching to Spain. In anticipation of becoming a renewables powerhouse, Morocco doubled the capacity of the interconnector to 400MW in 2007.

After accepting bids from 200 companies, Spain’s Abesinsa ICI  Abengoa’s industrial engineering and construction unit, Italy’s Enel SpA  and Saudi-owned ACWA Power International are in the lead to develop the project. While Abengoa has developed projects like this before, Enel has only 230 MW in solar development.

Major industrial giants like Siemens, Mitsubishi, Daewoo, Lockheed Martin and Sener were shut out.

The World Development Movement claims that using Clean Technology Fund money for the solar project would be a misuse of funds, as it claims that the program is intended partly to reduce poverty, and ”to prioritise projects that tackle poverty and aid transition to a low carbon economy, instead of subsidising multinational companies.”

But the objective of the Clean Technology Fund is to invest in clean energy projects in developing nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions of the recipient country over the long term, according to WRI.

As solar projects go mainstream, they are increasingly developed by very large engineering firms. Saudi  Arabia has a $109 billion solar plan to power one third of its country, for example. This will not be developed by small companies.

According to the World Bank [PDF] the bids must support local manufacturers within a regulatory framework that requires investment locally, where bids must specify local content clauses, including technical education and R&d.

Morocco is ideally situated for hosting this giant solar project for the Desertec plan to power Europe from the Sahara, because it has the solar insolation, the strong government support and existing grid connections with ALgeria and Spain.

But another key reason that the World Bank selected Morocco for funding was the existence of a local manufacturing base with already existing industries, with the ability to supply the project from the most basic raw materials through to the final metal structures, electric and electronic equipment.

As the North African deserts becomes a hub for CSP solar power, driven by Desertec, it will increasingly develop and hone an expertise in solar project development that will add jobs as a thriving clean technology sector develops in the region.

It would be a pity if changing the emphasis to poverty reduction within the Clean Technology Fund program led to weakening its far more far-reaching good it can do in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by helping the developing world hurdle the pollutants that threaten us all, and most particularly, the poor, by developing a solar power industry supply chain in Morocco.

Healthcare Provision and Reforms in Morocco
Dr. HUSSEIN BEN KIRAT Tuesday, 29 May 2012 Washington / Morocco News Board

Morocco’s failure in healthcare is symptomatic of its failure in education which it inherited from the French Protectorate who left it in a dire state. It is understandable that educating the Moroccans would have challenged the raison d’être of the occupation, which in fact it did, but depriving them of healthcare amounts to deliberate genocide, which the French Parliament failed to adopt recently, but praised the status quo. There was widespread hardship and more than 13% of the people were living under the poverty line.
Read more here:

Horses of God Les Chevaux de Dieu
Sun., May. 20, 2012, Cannes By Jay Weissberg

A Zaza Films (in Morocco)/Stone Angels (in France)/Cineart (in Belgium) release of a Les Films du Nouveau Monde presentation of an Ali n' Prods., Stone Angels, YC Aligator Film, Artemis Prods. production, in association with Les Films du Nouveau Monde, with the participation of Canal Plus, Cine Plus. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Nabil Ayouch, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam, Eric Van Beuren, Patrick Quinet. Executive producers, Frantz Richard, Marie Kervyn, Stephane Quinet. Directed by Nabil Ayouch. Screenplay, Jamal Belmahi, inspired by the novel "The Stars of Sidi Moumen" by Mahi Binebine.

With: Abdelhakim Rachid, Abdelilah Rachid, Hamza Souidek, Ahmed El Idrissi Amrani. (Moroccan Arabic dialogue)

Four childhood friends from the slums are recruited by Islamic fundamentalists and turned into suicide bombers in Nabil Ayouch's affecting, strongly edited "Horses of God." Based on a 2003 bombing in Casablanca, the pic delves into a shantytown atmosphere of machismo, wounded pride and powerlessness, which collectively act as a petri dish for fanaticism. By spending considerable time on milieu and the friends as kids, Ayouch sets his film apart, delineating personalities that avoid the cookie-cutter repetition seen elsewhere. "Horses" will trot confidently into Euro arthouses.

Sidi Moumen is a slum on the outskirts of Casablanca, a sprawling community on a bluff whose impoverished residents rarely if ever set foot in the cosmopolitan city at their doorstep. A soccer match between local kids quickly establishes later roles: Hamid is aggressive and fiercely protective of younger brother Yachine, whose best friend, Nabil, is frequently bullied. Yachine isn't assertive enough to protect Nabil from homophobic taunts or his subsequent rape by another kid.

Home life for Hamid and Yachine is complicated: One brother is gone, another is unbalanced, their father has lost his mind, and their mother is a termagant who clearly favors Hamid for his assertive independence. Though he's just a child, he's also the breadwinner and the only real man around the house. As a teen, Hamid (Abdelilah Rachid) runs with a bad crowd, exerting a cocky authority that gets him thrown in the slammer for three years when he hurls a rock at a cop car.

While Hamid's in prison, Yachine (Abdelhakim Rachid) emerges from his brother's shadow, even secretly courting the sister of friend Fouad (Ahmed El Idrissi Amrani). Soon after 9/11, Hamid emerges from jail a changed man, now under the sway of Islamic fundamentalists whose power is growing in the community. Gradually, the seductive persuasion of Hamid and his fellow fanatics influence the others, and in 2003 the brothers, along with Nabil and Fouad, are selected to blow themselves up at a Casablanca watering hole.

The helmer spent considerable time in Sidi Moumen, and while the pic was shot elsewhere, Ayouch is clearly reproducing the charged atmosphere of the place, with its fractured hierarchies and its disturbing assertion of a brutal masculinity that cowardly victimizes anyone perceived as "soft." Ultimately, the training and suicide mission are less interesting to Ayouch than the initial forming of character, and the fundamentalist cell members are only stock figures; what's important is the group's sense of disenfranchisement and the lure of inner peace.

Ayouch demonstrated his expert handling of children in sophomore pic "Ali Zaoua," and he's lost none of his touch in capturing their world with sober sympathy. Lensing is a standout, transitioning from free camerawork in the early scenes to more static shots in keeping with the rigidity of the fundamentalist mentality. Especially praiseworthy is Damien Keyeux's editing, first noticeable during Nabil's unsettling rape, intercut with shots of his mother dancing at a wedding, and climaxing at the very end, during the suicide mission. So good is the cutting, in fact, that the use of written-out dates to signal the passage of time feels unnecessary in the latter half and tends to break the flow.

Camera (color, HD), Hichame Alaouie; editor, Damien Keyeux; music, Malvina Meinier; production designer, Hafid Amly, Hind Ghazali; costume designer, Nezha Dakil; sound (Dolby Digital), Zacharie Naciri, Eric Lesachet; assistant director, Said Rabii; casting, Amine Louadini. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 19, 2012. Running time: 117 MIN.

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Halal certification regulation ready to enter world market growing by 12% a year. 
22 May 2012
(ANSAmed) - RABAT, MAY 22

With growth of over 12 per cent per annum since 2004 and a turnover worth 455 billion euros - which is a 16 per cent slice of the global food market - the Halal product market (the word halal means "allowed" by Islamic law) is an attractive one to Morocco's businesses.

However, access to exporting into this market lies through obtaining a label issued by an accredited organisation that is recognised by importing markets. Under pressure from the industrial sector, the Moroccan government has already begun to make moves in this direction by introducing at the end of 2010 a first regulation inspired by the Malaysian model. However, according to a report from a sector professional appearing in La Vie Eco, "the fact that Moroccan Ulemas did not take part in drafting the norm means that it never gained credibility. On the other hand, since it came into force, not one single business has attempted to have itself certified according to this norm". Over recent months, Morocco has started once again on its quest for credible Halal certification: since December, a technical committee under a Moroccan assaying institute, (IMANOR), which is linked to the Ministry for Industry, has been holding meetings to review the current norm in depth.

This time round, Ulemas were also present at the consultations and broad concordance has been sought with the norm governing Halal products of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OCI), which is a synthesis of several national regulations. The new regulations, which will cover every production phase, should come into force over the coming days following approval by the Ministry for Industry and the first certificates should be issued during July. According to sources interviewed by La Vie Eco, the Moroccan subsidiary of Nestlé has already consulted IMANOR and is working towards having some of its products certified according to the new Moroccan regulation. Other large groups, such as Coca Cola, Kraft Foods and Sapak, are said to be similarly interested and should be applying for certification soon. Sector experts warn that it may take some years for Morocco to be able to compete with competitors like the Turkish companies that currently occupy the international Halal market segment. (ANSAmed).

Five Tips for Planning a Trip to Morocco with Kids
May 22, 2012 1:51 pm

Despite Morocco’s popularity and the explosive growth of tourist infrastructure, it’s still a logistically intensive country to visit. Add kids to the mix and you have the recipe for the best – or worst – family vacation ever. Founder of and Family Travel Expert Amie O’Shaughnessy shares the five tips for navigating the country with kids.

We recently visited Morocco with our then 8-year-old and hit many highlights including Marrakech, the High Atlas Mountains, Ouarzazate, and the Sahara Desert dunes at Merzouga. Despite bad luck with the weather, we had a tremendous experience and I highly recommend traveling to Morocco with kids.

I found that Morocco is on the top of many travel bucket lists, particularly now that so many other places in North Africa are experiencing political turmoil. Here are our five tips to optimize travel in Morocco with kids:

1. Unless you plan to visit a single major city and stay there, use a reputable tour operator with years of experience in Morocco to manage and coordinate all ground logistics.

There’s quite a bit of driving down remote roads required to visit the different parts of the country. You need someone experienced who knows exactly how to manage the itinerary to be in charge. Once you are in the countryside, it’s as rugged and “foreign” as it gets — it’s the beauty and the reward of Morocco — but you don’t want to be navigating through this terrain unaided with kids.

We selected Kensington Tours for our trip and were thrilled. A private driver and guide accompanied us everywhere, and not once did we feel scared or vulnerable, as we knew we were in good hands.

2. Ease into the experience by starting the trip in Marrakech in a kid-friendly resort.

Although Marrakech isn’t Kansas, it has hosted Europeans for years and has familiar elements to it, which helps ease kids into exotic environment.

Although the old Medina is the heart of the city, it’s a chaotic place with zero room for kids to safely roam on their own.  Opt to stay in a kid-friendly resort where children can be free to run and play. We stayed at the new Four Seasons Marrakech with a supervised kids’ club, glorious garden, and a wonderful family pool.  It’s only a 10-minute drive from the action, but offers an oasis from the elements. Moreover, the kids’ club provides a way for parents to explore the city on their own.

Read more here:

Justice reform begins in Morocco
By Siham Ali for Magharebia 2012-05-20

A new government panel aims to protect judicial independence and modernise the courts. Morocco this month began its long-promised judicial reform process. A new panel will work to accelerate changes demanded by citizens and judges alike. The high commission for "comprehensive and profound" judicial reform includes representatives of the judicial, legislative and academic communities, Morocco's King Mohammed VI announced May 8th in Casablanca.

Speaking at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, presidents of both houses of parliament and cabinet members, the king said the reform initiative would include "safeguards for magistrates". According to the monarch, the panel's forty members, including eight women, will work to develop a national charter that protects "individual and collective rights and freedoms" and sets down operating rules.

Justice Minister and commission member Mustapha Ramid said that "all elements" of the Moroccan judicial system would be discussed. While the high commission is expected to address revision of the penal and criminal procedure codes, its primary focus will be on guaranteeing judicial independence. "The independence of the judiciary, relative to the legislative and executive branches", is specified in the Constitution, the monarch noted.

The reform initiative also includes "safeguards for magistrates", he said. The day before the king inaugurated the reform panel, some 1,800 Moroccan magistrates signed a petition demanding independence from the executive branch of government. "We reiterate our call for an independent judiciary, and in particular, the independence of prosecutors," Yassine Moukhli, the head of the unauthorised Moroccan Magistrates' Club, said after the group unveiled its petition in Rabat.

King Mohammed VI first called for a judicial overhaul in 2009, but reform initiatives attempted since then have been largely viewed as insufficient.

This time around, the monarch is demanding a national charter, with clear objectives, priorities and funding mechanisms. "We will involve the maximum number of players in this strategic debate," National Human Rights Council (CNDH) chief and panel member Driss Yazami said.

The commission will examine substantive issues, ranging from code amendments, to the status of judges to simplifying procedures for litigants, he said. "Citizen expectations are high and the challenge is complex," the CNDH head added.

Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid, who broached the idea of a national dialogue as soon as he was appointed, noted that the goal is to reform the judicial system and modernise the courts to better protect the rights of citizens. "We will make sure that police action meets the needs of justice," Ramid said.

For parliamentarian and lawyer Mohamed Ansari, the justice minister has "great courage" to attempt the much-anticipated reform process. "I hope that this time, Morocco achieve its objectives," Ansari said.

Citizens are eager to see the government implement its promises. "For years, we've been hearing about reforms, but no change has taken place," social worker Chabli Mounia told Magharebia. "Hopefully this project will work, because people really suffer if they have to deal with the courts," she said. "There must be safeguards in place to ensure that the citizen can have confidence in justice," Mounia added.

“Democracy in Morocco: Military and Media in Citizens’ Hands”
Monday, 21 May 2012 Lydia Stern is a graduate from the University of Arizona

Last year, unlike Tunisia and Libya, Morocco’s mass demonstrations during the February 20th Movement of the Arab Spring did not lead to the overthrow of the regime.  King Mohammed VI responded to citizens’ protests by instituting new constitutional reforms guaranteeing a number of social and economic rights.  He said his own powers would be reduced.  The wide-ranging reforms included freedom of expression and better distribution of wealth.  But in winter 2012, public outcries against unresolved economic and social issues were silenced by violent military and police response. Riot police using rocks, rubber bullets, smoke bombs, and tear gas broke up peaceful demonstrations in the northern Rif region.  Furthermore, military personnel were ordered to prevent media from gaining access to protesters during the revolts.  These attacks against freedom of expression reveal the constitutional reforms to be little more than window dressings.  Democracy in Morocco will prevail if the king relinquishes his military control and if media can be permitted to fairly represent the Moroccan people.

A year after the February 20th Movement, protests demanding access to water and electricity have continued in the mountainous Rif region.  The isolated, rural areas experience some of the highest poverty rates in the country.  Protesters, largely Morocco’s youth, are challenged by state retaliation in the form of violence, arrests, and questionable trials.  An activist with the Rif Association for Human Rights, Chakib al-Khayari, defended protesters saying, “They want their rights and a better life.  They have nothing in this region.”

Continued police raids in the town of Taza were reported by independent local media after the official state news agency claimed that life had returned to calm.  Lakome, an independent online media source, published a video interviewing local citizens of Taza.  They told stories of police brutality against unarmed protesters.  One woman’s son was killed while in police custody and another’s son was taken into custody for more than a week with no official charges made against him.  One woman explains how police threatened to rape her and another woman in her household.  The Lakome video shows multiple women sustaining injuries after police forcefully raided their home and beat them with truncheons.  Official government reports deny these claims and assert that security forces can only enter people’s homes upon judicial order.

Diverse coverage of important issues on citizen media websites like Lakome and demonstrates the overwhelming ignorance displayed by state media.  “Operation Mediatize Rif” calls for non-traditional media to provide consistent coverage of the region in order to “shed light on these events.”  Since the state media is choosing to misrepresent – or ignore – them, the people of Morocco called upon each other to exemplify their freedom of expression through alternative media sources.

However, this mission is risky.  Citizen journalists must acknowledge their responsibilities and commitments to the public they are representing.  They must also be wary of the potential judiciary repercussions. Besides arrests concerning those who participate in organized demonstrations, several outspoken Moroccans face charges of “violating Morocco’s sacred values” through the use of online media.  These accusations are loosely defined and seem to refer to insults against the king.

In early February, Walid Bahomane and Abdessamad Hidour were arrested for exerting their freedom of expression.  Bahomane, 18, posted pictures and videos on Facebook mocking the king.  Hidour was sentenced to three years in prison after police recognized him in a video posted online.  He criticizes the king, accusing him of corruption and dictatorship.  Ironically, these arrests validate Hidour’s allegations and reveal the king’s relentless tyranny against anyone who finds fault in his rule. Official Moroccan media is undergoing fierce debate led by Minister of Communication Mustapha El Khalfi.  He now heads the media affairs since the king surrendered control as designated by the new constitutional reforms.

Earlier last month, the United States witnessed Morocco’s lack of first-hand media coverage on important events.  El Khalfi met with US officials and NGO leaders to address public concerns regarding a number of issues in Morocco.  Questions were raised about the need to reform Morocco’s public news channels so they may effectively support the interests of the Moroccan people.  Coincidentally, Moroccan television channels were absent.  This meeting held high importance since it dealt with the government’s plan to implement the new constitutional reforms.

In early April, guidelines introduced by El Khalfi highlight plans to establish a national council for the press as well as restrictions on public television.  Broadcasters will be banned from advertising the lottery, mandated to broadcast the call to prayer five times a day, ordered to reduce the amount of French aired, and required to include programs about social issues and youth that must include a mufti, or Muslim cleric.

Iranian documentary filmmaker Ali Samadi Ahadi identifies the role of dictatorship experienced throughout the Middle East, Morocco included.  He declares that dictators use two main tools to control the country: armed forces and information flow. Though some of the king’s powers have been surrendered to the parliament due to the reforms, he maintains absolute control over Morocco’s military.  He has been recklessly exercising this power by arresting those who attempt to inform their fellow citizens of and protest against government corruption.  By controlling the forces, he is then able to control the flow of information.  The people of Morocco demanded democracy, were promised a parliamentary monarchy, yet are forced to continue their persistent struggle against a dictatorship.

The king should shift military operations to citizen hands so that it may be run more democratically.  His demands to arrest protesters ignore statements outlined in the constitutional reforms, approved by the king himself, to guarantee freedom of expression.  Moroccans must be allowed to peacefully demonstrate their own demands without fearing state violence or incarceration.  Media in the Rif region, as well as throughout all of Morocco, needs to establish itself independently of official state media to ensure diverse coverage of events deemed important by the people of Morocco.

Mustapha Ajbaili: Has Morocco’s gov’t hit a brick wall in reform mission?
Tuesday, 22 May 2012  By Mustapha Ajbaili   Al Arabiya

Since assuming office nearly five months ago, Morocco’s moderate Islamist-led government has worked arduously to punch a hole in an old system resistant to reform. It has failed almost at every attempt, disappointed many of those who saw in them a glimmer of hope, and created enemies with various social forces, including largely the unemployed graduates.

The pessimists are gaining ground and the protest movement, once thought to be dead, rebounded last Sunday with sizeable rallies in several cities. The much publicized “participatory governance” ─ a shared decision-making process between elected officials and the royal court ─ has turned into a euphemistic expression for a post-Arab Spring form of collective totalitarianism.

Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane has walked a tightrope for almost five months, trying to satisfy the public without upsetting the king and the coterie of oligarchs running the political show from behind a curtain. During the election campaign, Benkirane’s Justice and Development Party (JPD) promised to mend the state budget by fighting corruption, inequality, and privileges. Benkirane must have known well that he was up against a system set up in a way to ensure that no political party wins an outright majority and is thus unable to form a government by itself.

Benkirane found himself in a coalition with one of Morocco’s most corrupt and powerful political parties, the Istiqlal (Independence) party and the populist Islamist leader will see his coalition breaking apart the moment he begins to touch sensitive nerves of corruption.

We saw that recently when PJD Minister of Information Mustapha el-Khalfi came up with a proposal to reform the media sector. The proposed bill contained new audiovisual media guidelines devised to ensure the transparency, independence and competitiveness in the sector. Media hawks orbiting the establishment, best known locally as the Makhzen, hit back at the minister’s proposed plan and rejected it entirely.


Mediated explanations focused on the fact that the new guidelines sought to “Islamize” the Moroccan media and that the hawks were defending the values of modernity, openness and liberty. However, such values are the least of their concerns. They are more concerned about money and about losing their privileges, because the new guidelines call for the transparency of audiovisual production contracts and that they be awarded on merit, not favoritism.

What happened next?

The hawks appeared to have won the skirmish. The minister was summoned to the palace and all we heard later was that his proposed bill was ordered to be shelved. This is just a small example of the government’s failure to reform the system and while it is still early to make a definitive judgment about its performance, its tendency to surrender each time it provokes a fight is frustrating to the people.

Morocco to start work on 500 MW solar plant in 2012
By Souhail Karam  CASABLANCA, Morocco | Tue May 22, 2012 CASABLANCA, Morocco May 22 (Reuters)

Morocco plans to speed up tender processes for the development of a 2,000-megawatt solar energy plan, starting with the award this year of a first contract for 160 megawatts to be generated using concentrated-solar technology (CSP). Mustafa Bakkoury, who chairs the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (Masen), said a winning consortium for that first phase of a 500-megawatt solar power plant, in the southern region of Ouarzazate, would be announced by the start of summer.

Ouarzazate's 500-megawatt complex, which should be completed by 2015, is the first in the so-called Moroccan Solar Plan that aims to produce 2 GW of solar power by 2020, which corresponds to 38 percent of the country's current installed power generation capacity. "Works (on Ouarzazate's first 160-megawatt phase) will start in the third or fourth quarter of 2012 and we aim to complete the work," Bakkoury told the two-day Solar Maghreb conference in Casablanca.

Masen will pick a winner for the 160-megawatt parabolic trough plant from the three following consortia:

- Abeinsa ICI, Abengoa Solar, Mitsui and Abu Dhabi National Energy Co.
- Enel and ACS SCE
- International Company for Water and Power (ACWA), Aries IS and TSK EE.

Masen will then launch tenders to build a 50-megawatt photovoltaic module and CSP towers of at least 50 megawatts, both of which in Ouarzazate, Bakkoury said. "We will be moving faster in the launch of Morocco's Solar Plan projects ... Our initial goal to have 2,000 megawatts from solar energy by 2020 is still on," he said.

Morocco has embarked on one of the world's biggest renewable energy development plans involving solar and wind power. The solar power plan is worth $9 billion in investment and will include five power stations, two of which are located in the disputed Western Sahara.

Facing an electricity demand that rises by an annual 7 percent and a gaping trade deficit from heavy reliance on fossil fuel imports, Morocco also bets renewable energies would enable it to export electricity to energy-hungry trade partner, the European Union. Coupled with a wind energy development scheme, the solar development plan should reduce Morocco's annual imports of fossil fuels by 2.5 million tonnes of oil equivalent and prevent emissions of 9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Morocco aims to export surplus electricity to Europe via Spain, where it has a power market trading licence that allows it to sell electricity. "We expect energy demand to double by 2020 and then to quadruple by 2030," said Taoufik Laabi, head of planning and strategy at power utility ONE. He noted that the percentage of solar-generated electricity that will be exported would depend on "availability of surpluses".


Pending a drop in the high production costs of solar plants, the Moroccan government will cover any gap between the cost of producing solar electricity and the price ONE pays to buy the electricity from Masen, said Masen's Bakkoury. "The costs are high but we think they will be declining going forward ... Developing solar power is an irreversible choice for us," said Bakkoury. "I hope we will not rely on public funding for too long," he added.
(Reporting By Souhail Karam; editing by Keiron Henderson)

Solar Impulse heads for Morocco on first intercontinental flight
By Edwin Kee on 05/23/2012

The Solar Impulse aircraft that is the brainchild of Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg looks set to take to the skies on its first intercontinental flight this coming 24 May 2012 at 06:45AM (UTC+2) from Payerne (Switzerland) with the final destination being set at Rabat (Morocco). This is made possible thanks to the high patronage of King Mohammed VI and upon invitation of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN). The Solar Impulse team will not be resting on their laurels though, as they will also take part in MASEN’s commencement of construction activities at the Ouarzazate region.

What is so special about this region? It is said that the Ouarzazate region is going to be the site for the world’s largest thermo-solar power plant, sporting a capacity of 160 MW. This plant is said to be Morocco’s future, where by the time 2020 arrives, five solar parks with the capacity of 2000 megawatts should be up and operational, reducing CO2 emission by as much as 3.7 million tons.

Good thing there are no Bermuda Triangles for the Solar Impulse to fly over, otherwise, it might just have disappeared into oblivion, ending up as another modern day mystery.

Morocco's Stalling Economy
By: Lahcen Achy posted on Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In Morocco, it took three months of give-and-take between the government and the legislature for the 2012 budget to be approved by both parties. Given the difficult economic circumstances at both the domestic and the international levels, this is hardly surprising.

During the first months of 2012 the average oil price for a barrel of oil exceeded $100. Morocco imports more than 95 percent of its oil, and slow economic growth in Europe has negatively impacted Moroccan exports, tourism and remittances from the more than three million Moroccans living there. The decline in crop yields — caused by erratic rainfall — has taken its toll on the living conditions of many Moroccans whose incomes are directly or indirectly linked to the agricultural sector. Morocco’s economic growth rate is expected to drop down to 2.5 percent this year.

After the constitutional changes imposed by the realities of the Arab Spring, we can say with confidence that the 2012 budget contains nothing new in terms of government-spending policy. Contrary to all expectations, the budget’s final version ended up being a continuation of previous budgets, despite the symbolic importance of the tax increase imposed on tobacco and alcoholic beverages by the ruling (Islamist) Justice and Development Party. In the absence of a thorough study, it is not clear whether this measure will increase revenue, reduce consumption or exacerbate smuggling and black-market activities.

In the coming months, social tensions may increase in light of worsening financial, economic and social indicators, as well as the government's failure to convince large segments of society that it is serious in its fight against corruption.

Some of these indicators are outlined below:

While these tough circumstances may have influenced the nature of this year's budget law, Morocco continues to suffer from structural imbalances that require a new social contract, one that ensures stability and balances current requirements with future goals. The current government should take advantage of whatever credibility it has left and implement policies to move from a rent-seeking economic structure based on the distribution of benefits for political support toward an economy based on competitiveness, productive investment in promising economic sectors and the lowering of regulatory obstacles that harm small and medium enterprises. This requires realism, courage and the practical implementation of the new constitution. While such an option will not satisfy everyone, it will serve the national interest and maintain stability. It is important to quit making lofty promises that raise expectations, as this is only followed by frustration when these promises are not met.
Lahcen Achy is an economic researcher at the Carnegie Middle East Center

The best new holidays in Morocco
Rachel Dixon
/, Friday 25 May 2012

From luxury desert camps and riad hotels to Atlas mountains walks and cooking lessons in the souks of Marrakech, we round up the best new holidays in Morocco

Surfing in Morocco: Riding high in Taghazout

A laid-back mini surfing empire in Taghazout has ex-pro instructors, but can they teach our writer – aged 48, with a dodgy back – to ride the waves?

Read more here:

Morocco’s Atlas Kasbah Eco-Lodge is 80% Solar-Powered
Tafline Laylin | May 28th, 2012

It may look like a castle, but this beautiful red-earth building is actually an 11-roomed hotel that receives 80% of its energy from the sun. And like the eco-lodge, Hassan and his wife Hélène of the Atlas Kasbah are no run-of-the-mill owners. He is Berber, she is French, and they both possess Masters Degrees in Sustainable Development.

Their facility in Morocco’s UNESCO-protected Argan Biosphere Reserve – just a skip from Agadir’s popular beaches – has won a bevy of green accolades that distinguishes it as one of the most sustainable eco-tourism establishments in the entire country (if not the Magreb!)

Read more here:

Hoping to Help Curb Corruption in Morocco by Mapping It Online
BY Hanna Sistek | Wednesday, May 30 2012

Tarik Nesh-Nash says it was the Arab Spring that first motivated him to hack Morocco's politics through technology. By the time protests began in December 2010, Nesh-Nash, now 34, was already both technologically apt and politically active. The son of a human rights activist, he had also already volunteered for the Red Crescent Morocco, worked for Microsoft in Seattle, Wash., earned a master's degree and left software to work as a protection delegate in Iraq with the International Committee for the Red Cross.

"I had plans and ideas, and the Arab Spring brought them all together. I thought: 'This is the time to do it!'" he told me over Skype.

Among other projects, Nesh-Nash conceived of and became part of the team that built Mamdawrinch, a just-launched site to map incidents of bribery in Morocco. Built with Transparency Maroc, the Moroccan chapter of Transparency International, the site tackles what Nesh-Nash says is an "endemic" problem in the North African country. Transparency International ranks perception of corruption in Morocco as about as bad as it is in Greece and Columbia, but slightly better than in India. ("Mamdawrinch" means "we will not bribe" in Moroccan dialect.)

The focus, says Nesh-Nash, is on the petty corruption that has become part of everyday life in Morocco. "I wanted to open up the debate on the topic," says Nesh-Nash.

Suppose people in certain parts of Morocco — such as small towns where the local administration or the mayor might be worse than average — report corruption more often than folks elsewhere. Geotagged reports should show up as clusters on a map — certainly something for locals to talk about.

So far, the reports on Mamdawrinch document events ranging from bribes given to national ID card officers in order to receive a card to corruption in a psychiatric emergency ward. It was built by a team of four in two months thanks to funding from Transparency Maroc.

With Facebook, Twitter and YouTube integration, and mapping through Ushahidi, the site is an evolution of previous bribery-tracking applications, like India's I Paid a Bribe. It doesn't publish names associated with incidents unless they can be verified by media reports.

So far, the site has gathered 73 reports. The site hasn’t had any publicity yet, and since it doesn’t address current issues like parliamentary elections or the constitutional rewrite, which would naturally catch people’s attention, Transparency Moroc is banking on a media bump to grow a base of users.

What reports that will come, if past projects are any indication, are likely to come from men, aged 18-45, who live in cities — that's the type of person who interacted most often with, an election-monitoring site Nesh-Nash built for fall 2011 parliamentary elections. offered people the ability to report what they saw during elections via SMS, but that, too, is a problematic point of entry: United Nations human development statistics peg the literacy rate in Morocco at 56 percent. Asking someone to write in with a report is problematic in a country where nearly half population cannot read or write, but may not be a deal-breaker. I Paid a Bribe has accumulated over 18,000 reports in India since its launch in August 2010, all done in a far larger country, with a slightly higher literacy rate, but with similar issues around poverty and the digital divide. Eighteen thousand reports in a country of 1.2 billion doesn't sound like a lot — but it was enough to get noticed.

"Data is powerful and if you have enough data, no office can ignore you," says Subrahmanyam Ivatury, the technological coordinator for I Paid a Bribe. The site is an initiative of the Janaagraha Center for Citizenship and Democracy in Bangalore. It confronts corrupt authorities with citizen reports and asks what kind of action the authorities are planning to take. It's a tedious task. "Working with the government to make process changes takes time," Ivatury admits.

As a sort of grown-up sibling to the nascent Mamdawrinch site, I Paid a Bribe offers some examples for Nesh-Nash's effort. In India — which ranks slightly worse than Morocco in Transparency International's corruption report — Ivatury and team have trained 200 college students to put up posters about the site in government offices. The posters, coupled with SMS — meant to use the ubiquity of mobile phones as a bridge across the digital divide between rich and poor — could put a powerful tool in the hands of citizens. But I Paid a Bribe's text-message outreach has been underutilized, Ivatury says.

So Nesh-Nash is looking offline for ways to build engagement too. "Internet alone is limited," he says. "We need to start partnering with NGOs. They are very good at collecting funds and campaigning, lobbying and having a network on the field."

Mamdawrinch is one of several I Paid a Bribe-like sites springing up around the world, in the wake of the India-based platform's success. In Kenya, a local version ( is already up and running, and as more people get in touch with I Paid a Bribe, Ivatury is compiling a qualification document to assess the seriousness and resources of potential partners. "There is a big need to share know how right now," Nesh-Nash says. "In Vilnius I sat down with a Bulgarian person who built a similar site (like Mamdawrinch) and exchanged ideas on how to better integrate it with Facebook."

He is contemplating setting up a free tech-sharing site after attending a conference in Lithuania about tech-enabled tools for transparency. Among the other participants were Prijavikorupcija in Macedonia and the global Bribespot. An even more recent initiative is the Tunisian I Watch. And the global Corruptiontracker is trying to map it all.

Does this brand of online transparency tool have a future in North Africa? Mamdawrinch has only been online since January 2012 so it's as yet unclear. But it fits Nesh-Nash's trajectory as an online activist, building tools to try, with varying success, to influence the growth and direction of his home country's reformation. covered the election, but that was a last step.

His earliest project, he told techPresident, was, an online encyclopedia of law content — shades, here, of American law-liberator Carl Malamud. With a Moroccan friend who was based in Seattle, Mehdi Slaoui Andaloussi, in March 2011 he answered King Mohamed VI's Arab Spring-inspired speech — in which the king promised to redraft the constitution, rather than face the kind of uprising that was destabilizing other regimes — by building a platform to let citizens vote on individual articles of the old constitution, leave comments and suggest new laws. He stayed up all night working across an 8-hour time gap with Andaloussi by communicating via Skype.

That site garnered 150,000 visitors and 10,000 comments; some suggestions that appeared there also appear in Morocco's new constitution. And in the run-up to elections last fall, he launched — charik means "participate" in Arabic — for citizens to highlight the national issues closest to their heart. "The idea was to involve citizens in the political decision process, and to make politicians pay more attention to the popular demands," says Nesh-Nash.

Then came Marsad, to track the elections that would put people into government, and now Mamdawrinch, to — hopefully — expose it when officials open themselves to corruption. "What drives me today is to use technology for more participatory democracy," Nesh-Nash says.

Personal Democracy Media is thankful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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