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Morocco Week in Review 
July 5, 2014

UN International Day of Cooperatives 2014.
by (RPCV/Morocco ) Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir Saturday, July 05, 2014

THERE REALLY is much to consider on this day of Cooperatives –which this year highlights the message that these enterprises achieve sustainable development for all - especially when we think in terms of the severe challenges and the incredible development potential of rural Morocco.

In their beginnings cooperatives were often borne from difficulty – depressed markets, social conflict and stagnant production. Their creation and successful functioning brings about the opposite, enabling the coordination and management of the vital steps needed in order to actualize latent rural development potential.

Challenge – and potential

For rural farming families, for example in the High Atlas mountain region, global prices for the walnut and almond crop they grow have doubled over the past ten years while the revenue they receive has remained basically the same.

Too often families, clans and entire communities live side by side with - yet ever so distant from - each other due to historic local events that took place decades and even generations ago yet whose divisive consequences remain alive. In practical terms, their systems of agricultural production and maintenance - although incorporating vital traditional skills and knowledge - may not primarily be directed towards optimization of quantity but to providing subsistence and the most basic continuity of life. However, with population growth, rising prices and globalization this production status quo leaves rural areas lagging behind urban ones, making systemic rural poverty deeper and the divide with cities, starker.

Now for the good news - the latent Moroccan rural potential, the harnessing of which cooperatives are such a vital, integral part. The marginalized countryside communities have never had the means to purchase and plant those agricultural crops that require the application of harmful pesticides. The result is that their surrounding environment - air, soil, the entire ecosystem - remain chemical-free; a highly desirable factor on the part of consumers, expressed particularly in the developed world and one which, when presented in the manner required, practically ensures the securing of organic certification.

Thus the nuts, figs, cherries, dates, olives, pomegranates, lemons, carob, prickly pears and several dozen medicinal plants, growing in different parts of the kingdom, could acquire organic certification and undergo other value added processes that would enable farming families to realize the vast opportunity that is rightfully theirs. True to say, much easier said than done - and seemingly impossible without the formation of local cooperatives.

Cooperative benefits

For example, the creation of plant or tree nurseries is essential to generate the billion or more trees and plants Morocco needs as part of overcoming subsistence agriculture. Nurseries, however, require land that can be openly accessed by all its potential beneficiaries, in an arrangement that benefits all households.

Moreover, training in organic practices and project management needs to be broadly delivered and experientially based in order to make the necessary vital difference in practices.

Machinery for processing and packaging is prohibitively expensive for the few - less so for the many.

International buyers seek quantities of product beyond what a single village but what many, working together, can provide. All these examples illustrate the necessity of the coming together of families and clans, communities, municipalities and provinces to form cooperatives in order for successful, sustainable agricultural development to take place.

Three factors for realization

How can this be achieved in practical terms? Firstly, latent cooperatives and other organizations in Morocco and around the world require an outside catalyst to help jump-start the all-important dialogue process needed. This enables people to express their interests and needs and identify ways that they can be made mutually compatible. Third-party facilitators play a role that cannot be underestimated in its importance - without them, communities are much less likely to create fruitful plan of actions embodying their self-determined goals. Facilitators can be teachers, government and civil workers, friends and neighbors - indeed any community member. They need to undergo public and private training specializing in facilitation for cooperative building.

Secondly, partnership building with government, civil and private groups is a vital necessity in the formation process and efficient functioning of cooperatives. The support that they can provide in all stages ‘from farm to fork’ are critical for acquiring the essential impetus for initial success and for long-term sustainability.

Finally, cooperatives must remain unequivocally and indelibly the property of the people. The basis for unlocking latent potential is essentially rooted in personal empowerment and elevated levels of decision-making skills - and in the ability of cooperative members to invest a portion of their new revenue in other human development projects that will vastly change their quality of life – clean drinking water, school building, women and youth initiatives and any other priority needs they identify.

The special nature of cooperatives

Cooperatives are indeed unique. They are controlled by and afford benefit to the very people who have forged them. They open themselves up to multi-sector partnerships at all societal tiers and reach out to a global public who express increasing satisfaction - including at the ethical level - with the product that grows in their fields and on their terraces.

In conclusion then, we say to Moroccan communities - and those throughout the world - who have yet to form their cooperative to achieve livelihoods that are viable and eminently possible - that waiting is not a necessity, nor will it make it easier (and that regrettably facilitators, as central as they normally are to the process, are far too few).

Catalyze cooperatives now for our collective well-being – choosing this commemorative day on which to do so would be at least as good as any! (

After French and Spanish, Morocco to Introduce English Baccalaureate.
Friday 4 July 2014 Larbi Arbaoui

Tinejdad, Morocco-The Ministry of Education signed an agreement with British Council Morocco on Friday to introduce an “English option” to the Moroccan International Baccalaureate (IB) program. In a ceremony held on Friday in Rabat, the Minister of National Education and Vocational Training, Rashid Ben Moukhtar, signed a new partnership agreement with Martin Rose, the head of British Council Morocco, to establish the Moroccan International Baccalaureate English option.

Under this agreement, the new baccalaureate will initially be adopted in three high schools in Rabat, Casablanca, and Tangier starting with twelve classes in common core (six in science and six in arts and humanities branches).

According to the Ministry of National Education, the same accredited programs will be adopted for the English option, with an increase in the allotted time for English language classes and gradually adopting English as a medium of teaching other school subjects.

The new program is intended to “foster the ministry’s policy seeking to diversify high school diplomas by integrating all foreign languages adopted in the Moroccan education programs,” said the Ministry in a press release carried by Maghreb Arab Press (MAP). The Ministry has previously introduced the Moroccan International Baccalaureate for both French and Spanish options.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD) has described this initiative of generalizing the International Baccalaureate for Moroccan high schools proposed by Ben Mokhtar’s department as “a grave violation of the national sovereignty” and “a humiliation of the Arabic language.”
Edited by Darren Raspa

Speaking the Truth about Sexual Harassment.
Friday 20 June 2014 Izza Fartmis Safi, Morocco

Sexual harassment is not inborn. It’s all a matter of upbringing and mentality. When men change their opinion about women, when women equal to men and gender stereotypes become part of the past tense; then harassment will lessen gradually into nothing, and women will be respected as men’s equals and partners.

Now let us be clear in that I am not speaking about compliments or genuine admiration. Even women can be attracted by something featuring a person, whether intelligence, hard work or good appearance, and  they can express their admiration verbally. That’s why it would not be surprising nor hurting to be complimented genuinely and honestly. But the problem is the way one is complimented by harassers is in truth merely insult. It is done with leers, shaming stares and challenging words. Or worse–when it exceeds even words and extends to embarrassing gestures, it is then far from being  a compliment; it is rather a violation of freedom . What I witnessed in this respect are true justifications of the aforementioned statements.

When my children were still young, I used to accompany them to the nearby bookstore to purchase their school things. The owner of the shopwas a middle-aged man; seemingly very pious, with a long beard and always dressed up in djellebas. I used to revere him and dared not look at his face while talking to him. Above all that I used to be dressed according to my young age, decently modern but without the scarf; and I used to be afraid of receiving any advice from him concerning the veil. One day, I was coming back from my in-laws’ when ,on the way, I saw him some meters ahead of me sitting in his famous R-4 car, waiting for someone. A woman, wearing a djellaba , passed by him. She was very fat(without going into details). The man couldn’t  turn his eyes away from her–as if the front glass of his car was blurry, he stretched his neck and let his head out watching  her back. The poor woman wasn’t aware of the man’s eyes on her. So how can women have a hand in sexual harassment? How can we cause it, if we are dressed modestly and are still harassed? These actions are done by men—no matter what a woman does or wears she is harassed!

Two months ago, I hosted a young girl just appointed as engineer in Safi. As it was her first stay in the city, I took her out to visit and a tour of the city. While walking along the beach, she expressed her enjoyment of the city and I replied that Morocco as a whole Is beautiful. One moment later, a voice comes out of the blue:  Yes my sister, Morocco is a beautiful place.” We were surprised at this reply coming from a young man that we hadn’t noticed at all. Honestly, we were a bit frightened, as we were along on a path with a strange man talking to us! But I answered calmly, without showing any dismay, while going  walking quickly to avoid any more comments. Up to now, the man, though impolitely intervening in our conversation, didn’t say anything bad. But some meters away, he joined us running: “Excuse me, he said, “can I ask you the permission to have her (meaning the guest’s) phone number? I’d like to …” But I interrupted him saying: ‘And do you think that we’re here looking for a husband? And would you accept that your mother would give your sister’s phone number to a stranger?” Without adding one more word, the young man went away.

Our conversation about the beauty of the city was rapidly ended, and the day spoiled. Why would a stranger intrude on our private discourse and follow us merely in order to ask my friend for her number? Isn’t this harassment? And if it is not harassment, could we not at least say that this is a lack of basic human respect? A man would never treat another man this same way! Don’t we women deserve the same consideration?

This is truly a problem that does have a solution. It is not a part of the ‘nature’ of Moroccan men, as some people state. Look at how far women have come in so many other ways in Morocco—Morocco is one of the best countries in the Middle East for gender integration! Women work side by side with men, walk beside them in daylight. The era of the harim is long over, and women will not be pushed back into the walls of their homes and kitchens by the men who harass them. Fortunately, we in Morocco—men and women—are beginning to see harassment as a major problem, and hopefully will find a solution in the future.
Edited by  Ilona Alexandra

Morocco’s First Ever Debate Camp Brings Students From All Over Morocco.
Wednesday 2 July 2014 -

Morocco held its first ever debate camp in Marrakech on June 22-26. The camp, which consisted of two one-day tournaments and three days of training, was hosted at the campus of Direct English. The camp was run by Mr. Soufiane Choubani and Ms. Ilona Alexandra as part of an attempt to gather together Morocco’s brightest and best young speakers.

From all over Morocco, students came to attend–from Marrakesh, Fez, Ifrane and Tangier. This is especially impressive because all of the students are currently on their summer break, which means that they sacrificed their time and effort after finishing school to do more schooling.

But in the end, the sacrifices paid off. These twelve young debaters and budding future leaders, spent their summer days discussing the finer points of rhetoric, argumentation and speaking style. Over the course of two full-day debate competitions, two “best speakers” were chosen: Rim Belkouadsi, a team member at the Moroccan National Debate Team, and a standout newcomer from Ifrane, Amine Naitlho.

The camp is just one of many, many efforts to prepare the Moroccan National Debate Team for the coming international competition in Thailand, and if their performance last week is any indication, good things are coming in the future.

For any budding young debaters (ages 14-22) who are interested in attending debate camp but couldn’t make it this time, there will be a second camp this August (August 25-28), so register here ( if you are interested. -------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Let’s fight to give them this Journey towards Life. Our own lives will be enriched for it.”
Terre des hommes (Tdh) - Switzerland - Tue, 1 Jul 2014

In the framework of Terre des hommes’ specialist treatment programme,Caroline Barbier-Mueller, head of a communications agency in Geneva and involved for many years with sick children, went to visit our projects in Morocco. She now gives a moving account of it and appeals to everyone’s generosity to carry on supporting this ‘Journey towards Life’, from which each year more than 250 children can benefit, thanks to the work of Terre des hommes.

“On May 26th 2014, at the Geneva Airport I joined Pascal Pittet of Terre des hommes (Tdh) and three Moroccans – two children aged 5 and 15 and a young mother – who had had surgery here in Switzerland and who we would be accompanying back home. Even though I’ve been involved in this Tdh programme for years, this time I really started my own ‘Journey towards Life’.

Some years ago I saw a bit of this ‘Journey’ when welcoming a little girl from Mauritania. A little face with two huge eyes and bluish lips, hugging a big pink Barbie backpack, she left the arms of an escort for those of a volunteer who placed her in the car to take her to a hospital where she would be examined for her heart disorder. Despite all the smiles and approaches, she stayed silent. Serious. Overwhelmed. When I had to go and leave her sitting on a big white bed, watching motionless the flurry of nurses around her, my heart ached. What did she understand? A few weeks later, I was lucky enough to see this little girl once more in Massongex. Her lips were no longer blue and her eyes sparkled. The operation had gone well and she was proud and happy to be amongst her new friends until she could go home to Africa when fully recovered.

This 26th of May, I had the chance to takeFadma, Salaheddine and Adam back to their families. You could feel little Adam’s excitement as he jumped around, and Fadma’s deep emotion on doing this journey for the third time; she is a young mother with two children of her own. At the airport of Casablanca they were all awaited by their children, parents, grandparents and cousins. And such touching reunions they were, too. Little Adam found he could talk in his Arabian mother-tongue again (he had refused to speak it for months), quiet Salaheddine’s eyes were wet, and Fadma hugged her babies to her heart, that beat only for them.

Our first task done, it was now time to continue our trip on to Rabat, where Amina and Najla from Terre des hommes Morocco were waiting for us. We soon met some parents and their sick children. Khadija, Youssef, Soukayna – different paths but the same fight. Very poor people from far away, most of them illiterate and powerless against the suffering of their children, but with a burning desire to get treatment for them.

Amina, a nurse and social worker, observes, listens and speaks to every person. She knows the pathology well enough, but she has to understand the family context, as it is useless to operate on a child whose family circle has no true awareness of what it must do afterwards to ensure the child’s future. Gently and firmly she makes sure that all the families fully understand what is at stake. She goes to see them at home, and goes back again and again. Because the children she takes into her care are looked after like her own.

Then we leave to go to the University Hospital in Rabat. Accompanied by a former colleague, a social worker at the hospital, Amina leads us through the maze of corridors to the paediatric ward to meet some recently operated children. Arms full of dolls and cuddly toys that I give the kids, I’m so happy to see the smiles that light up their faces. Amina, whose eyes are everywhere, picks out 10-year-old Rachid and 6-year-old Imane, two children with more complex conditions who may require treatment in Switzerland. She talks for a long time with the doctor about the possibility of including them in the ‘Journey towards Life’ programme, and prepares dossiers for if and when the need arises.

Now we’ve a little time to meet the Tdh delegate for a meal before leaving for Salé, 20km from the centre of Rabat, to visit two children back home again after surgery. I listen to the dossier of the first child and . . . surprise! It’s Hicham – an 18-month-old boy – and I know him! Suddenly I recall his enormous black eyes in a bluish face creased with pain . . . and a pink bootee. I met him in Geneva some months ago. Waiting for his operation, he was so calm. I watched him for a while before going into the room, so as not to make him nervous. His little fingers had got hold of his knitted bootee and, as if hypnotized, were trying to take it off. He looked so small, so vulnerable . . Hicham. And now here he was, before our very eyes – so big, so beautiful. Shyly he watched us from behind his mother’s skirts, in the one and only room that is his and his family’s home. He points to the plane flying far overhead by shouting “Hicham in there!” And then he goes to play just like any other boy of his age. Only the gratitude in the eyes of his relatives and Amina’s questions remind us that he’s a living miracle. However, the terrible poverty in which these people live – the women working in the fields for 15 cents a day, no running water, and only a solitary electric socket on the wall bearing witness to the century we are in – worries Amina, who comes back to bring them some basic necessities to help a little.

14-year-old Fatima, who we see next, has also gone further on her journey towards life. She is learning dressmaking, and her parents are so happy to have her back that she may eat everything she wants . . . risking new health problems, as Amina warns them. She will have to watch them closely!

This day, together with those spent in Switzerland in the context of this programme, goes far beyond anything I could have imagined.

These children are living miracles. With their parents they climbed mountains. They found people who could help them, the people who are some of the links in this great chain of solidarity who, with their commitment, their knowledge, availability, their fighting spirit and donations have made it possible to give this ‘Journey towards Life’.

13,000 children have already received surgery in Europe during the past 50 years in the framework of this Terre des hommesprogramme, most of them in Switzerland. Each of their stories is different. Each child is unique. And so on behalf of Fadma, Adam, Salaheddine, Khadija, Youssef, Soukayna, Rachid, Imen, Hicham, Fatima and all the others, but above all for those who will need this help in the future, let’s go on with the fight to give them this ‘Journey towards Life’.

Our own lives will be enriched for it.”
Caroline Barbier-Mueller

Argan Adds Lustre to Moroccan Economy

Watch the video here:

Argane Oil Boosting Morocco’s Economy.

Article Below:

Four Myths that hinder entrepreneurship in Morocco.
Mehdi Reghai, July 3, 2014

In Morocco, we don’t have, strictly speaking, an entrepreneurial culture; as a result, our entrepreneurs often lack experience, standards, and successful examples.

During conferences and workshops I have given at several higher education establishments around the country, I have met a large number of passionate students who dream of launching their own startups but fear failure. They doubt their managerial capabilities, or simply set unrealistic goals. I've found that very often their motivation is undermined by four misconceptions about the early stages of a company.  

Find below the truth about these four myths hindering entrepreneurship in Morocco.

Myth #1: You need a lot of money to launch your business.

The first question asked by a lot of future entrepreneurs is financial: how much do I need to start?

Technically, to get a ‘negative certificate’ (a document from the Commercial Register’s Central Registration Service certifying that no other company in Morocco has the same name as the one you have chosen), then you have to choose the type of company you want (SARL, SA etc.), legalize the documents, purchase administrative stamps that will in turn pay for administrative demands, and, the help of a lawyer or notary, if you feel it necessary. 

The charges might vary between 500 and 1,000 euros ($700 to 1400 USD). Then, you will need a minimum of 1,000 euros as minimum funds at the bank for the creation of a limited liability company – the most common type of company – versus MAD 300,000 ($37,000 USD) for an SA.

More helpful information is available through the Regional Investment Center.

Myth #2: You have to have the idea of the century to be successful

Young entrepreneurs, especially in tech, are inspired by Jobs, Gates, Brin, Page, and Zuckerberg, and wish to revolutionize their sectors. But innovation is never a guarantee of success.

Investors and mentors are increasingly recommending for entrepreneurs meet existing unmet needs in their respective markets and tap into their local and cultural specificities. Looly’s is a perfect example of this. The company took cous cous, a traditional Moroccan product, and revamped it for a new market. The same goes for GeekFtour, held by Evento agency, which succeeded in expanding to Algeria with the potential of expansion to all Muslim countries.

The path to success is to accurately estimate the economic potential of your project – even if it doesn’t rely on a big idea – study competition, effectively identify forecasts and financial needs, and find good funding resources and employees.

Myth #3: You have to be a born entrepreneur  

Some entrepreneurs base this upon the intellectual and 'genetic' supremacy of the entrepreneur.

In fact, the biggest success stories prove that a company’s success relies more on good organization and human resources rather than on the ingenuity of single person.

Anybody can create and effectively manage a startup or find the right people to do so. What matters most is motivation, sacrifice, workload distribution, and organization. 

Myth #4: Failure is a fatal finality

How to deal with failure remains a cultural matter. Moroccan society equates a professional failure to a social and personal one, while this is not the case in the U.S. Many American business people relativize risks, like Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon who explained: “I knew that if I failed, I wouldn’t regret it. But I knew that the only thing I would regret is not trying.”

Young entrepreneurs should not fear failure, and begin seeing it as an enriching experience, a rite of passage that helps them grow as entrepreneurs.

To be convinced, you just need to read these five stories of failures and success from Henry J. Heinz (founder of the condiments giant), designer Vera Wang, Bill Gates and Paul Allen (founders of Microsoft), Dave Ramsey (a finance guru), and Colonel Harland Sanders (KFC), or watch the Icelandic documentary The Startup Kids.

What are the keys to success?

Mehdi Reghai is a blogger, the chief editor of The Nexties, co-founder of Synergy Media, and co-organizer of Maroc Web Awards. You can contact him on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.

HM the King Inaugurates House of Diabetic Youth in Rabat.
2 July 2014 Rabat

HM King Mohammed VI inaugurated, on Wednesday at the Yaacoub Al Mansour neighborhood in Rabat, the house of diabetic youth, carried out by the Mohammed V Foundation for solidarity for an amount of 5 million dirhams.

This royal gesture shows the sovereign's will to ensure equal access to health care for all segments of society.

Meant to guarantee a better school and social integration for the beneficiaries, the facility will enable to receive and provide medical care, training and information for children with diabetes in the region, give early diagnosis of diabetes degenerative complications for children and youth, as well as offer supervision and training for regional actors in the field of diabetes.

Thanks to an integrated approach gathering health care, psychological follow-up and material help for the poor, the facility will ensure a better quality of life for young beneficiaries.

Built over a surface area of 800 square meters, the new establishment includes a laboratory, a day hospital room and halls for check-ups, ophthalmology, diet, training, and meetings, in addition to a library and offices. The facility will be managed by the health ministry in partnership with the BADIL association for diabetic kids.

Morocco strengthens youth role in democracy
By Siham Ali in Rabat for Magharebia – 03/07/2014

To help prepare young people to take part in the upcoming Moroccan elections, national and international organisations recently teamed up in Rabat. From June 25th-28th, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, (APCE) along with the Moroccan National Human Rights Council (CNDH) and the "Jeunes pour Jeunes" (Young People for Young People) association met in Rabat to plan strategies to encourage youth involvement in democracy.

The association has already launched a website, where members of parliament can answer the concerns of young, would-be voters, Ahmed Rizki said Friday. "The aim is to get young people to put their names on electoral lists, turn out to vote and participate in public affairs, especially at the local and regional levels," the "Jeunes pour Jeunes" head added.

Transforming young people's creative potential into energy so that they can be involved in society and the democratic process poses a challenge, the head of the Division for Education and Training at the Youth Department of the Council of Europe said.

Young people's participation in democracy should not be limited to involvement in political bodies, even though this aspect is of the utmost importance, Rui Gomes added.

This participation should also foster a democratic and civic culture among young people, he explained, noting that this was the job of the community leaders and the local and regional authorities.

This view was shared by Moroccan Youth and Sports Minister Mohamed Ouzzine, who said that the government was taking concrete steps to this end.

The national youth integration strategy, which was recently adopted by the government, is intended to invest in young people due to their key role in development, he noted. He explained that the scheme was also meant to shape the approaches of a range of public-sector and private-sector actors in the form of a social charter in order to get young people involved in all aspects of life.

This strategy will enable Morocco to make a qualitative leap forward as it reflects young people's recommendations and aspirations, the government official said. Young people with aspirations to participate in economic, social and political life were involved in the decision making.

Yet many youths remain sceptical.

Although politicians and government figures are giving young people pride of place in what they say, the reality is the opposite, a 24-year-old accountant Karim Charaf said. "Young people are still marginalised in the governing bodies of political parties. They are suffering due to unemployment and are the most vulnerable socio-economic category," he told Magharebia. "So far, we have not seen any tangible action in terms of getting young people involved in democracy. I fear that this situation will have a negative impact on turnout at the elections," he noted.

Salma Taibi, a 25-year-old management assistant, said that although young people were assigned a quota in parliament to help them participate in democracy, this step was "not enough by itself". "We need to think about helping young people to be represented in decision-making bodies. But first and foremost, the authorities must think hard about the issue of youth employment, because without economic independence, young people cannot have dignity," she explained. "This means that young people will never be able to participate in democracy to the desired extent. So we have to think about the socio-economic integration of young people so that they can play their full part in political life," she said.

The Future of English in Multilingual Morocco
Friday 4 July 2014 By Youssef Laaraj Fez

Recently, relatively subtle or, rather, unpublicized debate has arisen among educators and politicians over the importance of English as a global language in the Moroccan linguistic market. Some political and business figures have voiced that it is high time the English language replaced, or at least rivaled, French in its supremacy in the educational and economic spheres of Morocco.

Regardless of the purely educational aspect and significance regarding the Moroccan language policy, it seems that political ideologies fuel the surfacing of such controversial stances and heated debates; it brings practical profit sought by these figures in order to gain the public attention.

The Istiqlal’s Secretary General Hamid Chabat has stated that English is the language of the modern time in all world countries, and that its status must be promoted to be the first foreign language for Moroccans. Along with Chabat, prominent social activist and businessman Noureddine Ayouch called in various political and media meetings for English to be introduced early in public schooling. Needless to say, these calls have demonstrated the importance of English in today’s world.

English is admittedly the world’s most internationally recognized language for communication among people from different parts of the world. It is the Lingua Franca of the globalizing world, and the language of our rapidly developing science and technology. Thus, it appears that these pro-English demands anticipate the dire need for Moroccan graduates to know English—so that they may function effectively in a world that no longer complies with local or national frontiers, but rather is universal in its cultural and economic dimensions. Regardless of the political and ideological affiliations of English proponents, special attention should be paid to this timely controversial issue rather than ignoring these demands for their being politically and materially driven.

The educational, political, and economic spheres in Morocco must be empowered by the knowledge and use of English to keep abreast with global changes and sustainable development. However, by the same token, national languages and local identity need to be preserved through flexible and interesting educational and media programs that tighten Moroccans to their unique national identity and Arab and Islamic belonging.

The linguistic variation in Morocco—with Modern Standard Arabic and Amazigh as constitutionally official languages and French being widely used but unofficial—makes the promotion of English quite a complex challenge that needs serious political will and educational reform to accomplish. The social, as well as economic, uprising Morocco has experienced since the beginning of the 21st century seems to miss the point by not giving English the value it merits through its increasing power worldwide. In education, high school students demonstrate mediocre knowledge and lack of mastery of French, despite its being introduced in their early years of schooling.

Though several explanations can possibly account for this unpleasant fact, students’ attitudes and the complexity of the French Language may be plausible reasons. Author Leila Abou Zeid claimed in a meeting held by the ALC Fez, that many Moroccans, including herself, hold a hostile attitude towards French because of colonization; English, however, is seen to be more likely retained and learned, since students sit for a standardized national exam at the end of their secondary education, and many do far better in proportion to French.

As Morocco has strengthened its economic exchange with the United States, and with Moroccan commerce being free and open to the international market, learning English has become a prerequisite for all job seekers in both private and public sectors. The globalizing world has made English an ogre that devours all other languages on diverse fronts, such as business, science, and technology. Evidently, this is an unfavorable situation of what might be called language imperialism, as English seats itself on the throne of world languages. However, a hard choice concerning language policy should be made in order to catch up with the wave of economic and scientific revolutions. English is more likely to obtain prestige as Morocco’s first foreign language, as its use is appreciated and even mandatory in sectors such as international trade and scientific research. As Moroccan education, media, commerce, and culture are becoming more and more open to the world, learning and using English is an indispensable requirement.

English is the first foreign language students in secondary education opt for. This is demonstrated by the huge numbers of students studying English as a foreign language in comparison to the number of students who study others—notably Spanish and German. This fact indicates the need to make English more than just another foreign language complementing students’ professional and academic interests. Students have become aware that their communicational incompetence in French could be substituted with learning English, which is an easier and faster process.

In the same respect, the Moroccan Ministry of Education has been increasing the recruitment of graduates majoring in English to qualify for teaching positions in high schools across Morocco. In 2009, for instance, the number of English language teachers trained for secondary schools rose to ninety, and one hundred the following year. This escalation went on to attain 400 trainee-teachers for the coming school year, which indicates how critical the need for English language instructors in Moroccan public schools is. Without doubt, English is becoming a powerful language in Morocco for the years to come, and education appears to be the channel of its forceful succession to the Moroccan linguistic platform.
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International Workshop in Fez recommends implementing laws to stop violence against women
Friday 4 July 2014 Moha Ennaji Fez

Isis Center for Women and Development, an NGO based in Fez, held on 20-22 June  an international workshop on the state of women’s rights after the Arab Spring in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung – Rabat, Kvinfo (Denmark), INLAC Fez, and Aalborg University (Denmark).

Conscious of the fact that women’s rights are a genuine barometer of the democratic process, the state of women’s rights three years after the revolutions continues to worry civil society and the intellectual community in the region. It appears that these rights, which are the fruits of militancy where academics, activists and politicians (men and women) took part, are experiencing a sharp decline. This situation calls for a serious and calm debate. The workshop addressed the relevant challenges through the following themes:

1. The political participation of women
2. Women and institutions
3. The religous domain
4. Violence against women and individual and public freedoms
5. The impact of social media
6. The issue of masculinity

Professors and experts from North Africa (2 from Tunisia, 4 from Algeria, 10 from Morocco), the Middle East (2 from Egypt, 1 from Lebanon), Europe (3 from Denmark, and 1 from The Netherlands) and the United States enriched lively debates on these and related issues. A number of young students and researchers of both sexes participated in this high-level event.

At the end of the workshop, the participants agreed on the following recommendations:

1. Reinforce women’s NGOs and civil society to enhance their rights and implement the family laws and the new Constitutions
2. Encourage women’s work
3. Put emphasis on rural areas and rural women
4. Enact and implement laws to stop violence and harassment against women
5. Ensure women’s political and economic participation
6. Include other identities and perspectives and bring them together
7. Shift focus and center on common fields rather than conflictual division
8. Pay more attention to the classroom level and discourage violence on TV and internet
9. Encourage creation and innovation of women
10. Promote the culture of equality in textbooks
11. Foster Mainstream gender in institutions
12. Promote individual and public freedoms

The workshop also discussed the social, psychological and religious factors and negative stereotypes preventing women from political and economic participation. However, despite all the social restrictions and cultural constraints, women in North Africa and the Middle East have been able to impact public institutions since the 1960s. The success of democracy in the region depends on the political mobilization of women and the ability of women’s organizations to unite across generations, classes, and ethnic groups.

Today, we see, more than ever before, calls for gender equality, social justice, and democracy in the region, which implies an urgent need for further reforms which must boost job creation, youth participation, and women’s empowerment in the public and private sectors. The situation requires the establisment of the rule of law, democratic institutions, law enforcement, and awareness raising among men and women.

Group of Banks Launch Fund to Support Small, Medium-sized Enterprises.
Friday 4 July 2014

Bank Al-Maghrib (the central bank), the professional grouping of Moroccan banks and the Central guarantee Fund (CCG) have agreed to start a fund of financial support to very small, small and medium-sized enterprises. The fund will “co-finance with other banks operations meant to restore and secure the sustainability of these very small, small and medium-sized enterprises which are deemed viable”, says a release.

It will also consolidate and preserve the said enterprises, particularly exporting ones and those operating in the industrial sector. Intermediate-size enterprises are also eligible for this fund.

The fund’s action will consist in granting a given enterprise a loan of MAD 50 million maximum while the bank’s action could take the form of a contribution to finance restructuring existing loans, operation or investment.

All Moroccan banks will be participating in this co-financing mechanism.

Ramadan customs and traditions around the world - Morocco
Times News Service  July 04, 2014

Embracing the northwest corner of Africa at the gateway to the Mediterranean is the "Kingdom of Morocco." Rabat is the political capital while Casablanca is the largest city. 

Islam is the official religion of Morocco, representing the Muslim majority. Ramadan is considered as the exclusive time for inner reflection and understanding the plight of poor and needy. People are seen distributing food among the less privileged. This indeed sows the seeds of compassion as the whole community comes together. 

The morning meal is called "Sobh" in Moroccan dialect of Arabic. People eat light meals like oatmeal, yoghurt, croissants, dates, bread and also drink plenty of water. Coffee, milk and mint tea are also consumed.

During Iftar the tables are laden with food. Dates reappear with different types of juice, milk, tea and coffee. People drink the typical Moroccan soup called "Hareera", with honey-made Moroccan pastry called "Shabakia". Hareera is a tomato-based soup, which is part of the Iftar menu every day during this month. A variety of breads such as Msemen and Rghayif (layered flat breads cooked in skillet like Indian parathas) are also part of the customary Ramadan diet. Olives, boiled eggs, cheese, marmalade and butter are also seen on Iftar tables. Moroccan tea biscuits, known as "Fekkas," are also consumed. 

After Iftar, families are seen rushing to the mosques for Taraweeh prayers. Fatima Ben Maryem, a French national of Moroccan descent, says that during this holy month different families prepare meals and send them to mosques for people who congregate for Iftar. Different families in the neighbourhood also come together and have a collective Iftar. Once the prayers are over, people head to cafes and relax till the wee hours of morning.
Written by Shirin Ashraf - Special to Times of Oman

Morocco reshapes its image – through music festivals.

The North African nation hosts three festivals that dwarf Glastonbury – and which are designed to send out a message about the country's tolerance

You may not have noticed, but Morocco has become one of the leading destinations for music festivals in the world. There’s the Fes festival, a leading world music festival, and the snappily named Jazzablanca in Casablanca. But the biggest ones are the funkier Gnaoua festival in Essaouira on the coast, the massive pop Festival Mawazine in Rabat – which has starred the likes of Rihanna and Stevie Wonder – and Timitar in Agadir. Each attracts crowds of up to 500,000 people (that’s three times the size of Glastonbury). All of them, too, are not just music festivals – they have specific social and political agendas as well.

Timitar, which I went to the weekend before Glastonbury, is a case in point. That was where I saw a rapper called Muslim – a great name if you don’t want to be Googled – appearing at an event that is at root a celebration of Berber culture.

Muslim’s best-known song, which he delivered to a crowd of more than 100,000 at the “urban” stage in Place Bijawane near the beach, is Al Rissala (The Letter) a fiery anti-authoritarian condemnation of corruption and ignorance in high places. On another stage, Alpha Blondy’s 10-piece reggae band was singing about “spiritual terrorists” who think it’s OK to kill in the name of religion. The next night, local heroine Najat Atabou was singing songs in support of women’s rights in a more traditional style, while Mehdi Nassouli was positively postmodern, almost Prog Berber. In previous years at the festival I'd caught Marcel Khalife, a Palestinian who sings rousing revolutionary songs, and the rock band Hoba Hoba Spirit, whose Will To Live – a setting of a poem written in the 1930s – became an anthem for the demonstrations in Morocco a couple of years ago……

Read the rest here:

Game of thrones: Morocco version : "He preaches one thing while living a lavish life in the West"
Maghreb Mohamed Chtatou June 30, 2014

Dissidence, the Moroccan way

The long history of the monarchy of Morocco is strife with princes who plotted to dethrone the ruling monarch and take his place. Indeed, many of these entered into open rebellion and gathered a group of ulemas, who, in exchange for some privileges, declared the prince as the legitimate monarch of the country. There were several instances where Morocco had more than one sultan at the same time, before the opponents squared him off in the battlefield.

Until the arrival of the French protectorate in 1912, Siba (“dissidence”) was a congenital feature of the Moroccan political system. There was the siba of the princes who aspired to become sultan in the place of the legitimate sultan and who led the country into bloody wars that created instability and affected negatively the lives of the population. And there was tribal siba which recognized the political and religious attributes of the monarch but refused to pay him taxes. As such, his name was mentioned in the Friday prayer khutba as the rightful “Commander of the Faithful” amir al-mou’minin, his governors were welcomed and tolerated but had no right, whatsoever, to collect tax money or impose new duties.

Until 1912, Morocco was divided into two areas:  bled siba “land of dissidence” and bled l-Makhzen “land under government control”. Moroccan sultans, during the whole of their reign, had to face bouts of dissidence from their own family ranks or from Amazigh tribes. Indeed, Amazigh territory was most of the time in dissidence for two main reasons: firstly they abhorred being under control of central governments whatever they are, and secondly, they resented the idea of paying taxes to the state that is not receptive to their needs and demands, and practically did nothing for their wellbeing.

The self-banished prince

Since his self-banishment and his open criticism of his cousin Mohammed VI, Moulay Hicham, who is super media-hungry, helped circulate so many titles to describe his person and his political actions, mainly the Red Prince, the Rebel Prince and lately the Banished Prince.

Who is Moulay Hicham? That is the question that many people are, quite rightly, asking today. Many Moroccans, especially among the young, have no clue who this person might be, since he has been living in self-exile for almost two decades.

Moulay Hicham was born in Rabat on October 4, 1964 to the Prince Moulay Abdellah from his wife Lamia Solh, daughter of the first Prime Minister Riad Solh of Lebanon. He is the direct cousin of Mohammed VI and Moulay Rachid. He is also the cousin of Prince Al-Walid bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, whose mother Mona Al Solh is another daughter of the famous Lebanese politician.

He attended the Rabat American School and graduated from Princeton University in 1985. He later attended Stanford University for graduate study in political science. In 2002, Prince Moulay Hicham relocated to Princeton, New Jersey with his family.

Since the arrival of his cousin Mohammed VII to the Alouite throne in 1999 by legitimate succession, Moulay Hicham has been openly critical of the monarchy and its traditional political structure known as makhzen. The prince advocates full democracy in Morocco since 1999, and in the Arab world since the advent of the Arab uprisings.

For many of his critics, he is an opportunist prince who is expert in manipulating the Western press by playing on the concepts dear to this part of the world, mainly: democracy, devolution of power and human rights, but beyond talk he does nothing to make the change happen, even starting with his own person and way of life: he preaches one thing while living a lavish life in the West far away from the daily grievances of the masses in Morocco with poverty, illiteracy and lack of opportunity.

The image of the self-banished prince in Morocco

One wonders why the prince is failing miserably in his recurrent attempts to create havoc within the Moroccan political scene. Worse, his repeated attacks strengthen more and more the monarchy and the sympathy of the Moroccan people for it, even in its makhzen format.

The answer, to this seemingly difficult riddle, is simple: you cannot gain the sympathy of the Moroccans by political salon talk at distance, and attempt to initiate change by remote control. The prince has left Morocco and its problems a long time ago to live in the luxuries and amenities that a country like America offers, so how can he  know in depth the immediate concerns of Moroccans and how can he identify with them and their urgent needs? The answer is so simple, he does not know their daily pains and struggles and consequently he cannot provide real relief for their headaches.

For the majority of Moroccans, the prince’s discourse is hypocritical for the following reasons:

1.He wants to have his cake and eat it too:

The Moroccans do not trust him or believe his preaching because while he is criticizing the actual political system in its makhzenform directly, and the rule of his cousin indirectly, he unabashedly continues to enjoy the privileges of the system fully. He has plenty of business in Morocco and it is believed that he employs lots of people at ridiculously low wages. So he is using his prince status to make maximum benefit. Moroccans will believe in him if he gives up his privileges of prince hood once and for all and becomes a simple citizen.

2. The prince is filthy rich and Moroccans are damn poor:

The Moroccans want him to give to the state most of his businesses here and repatriate his wealth sitting in foreign banks and give it to the treasury because most of this wealth originated in this country in the first place and should be refunded back fully.

3. Prince talks in the name of Moroccans:

The prince always talks about the plight of the Moroccan people, but all he knows about their plight is what his retinue of bourgeois Moroccan intellectuals tell him. He has never been anywhere close to the poor and struggling Moroccans. So, how can he talk in their name?

4. The prince says one thing and does another:

He wants to save the Moroccans from the claws of the makhzen and the exploitation to which they are subjected by its economic correlate and instead of investing his wealth in the country to create jobs for the unemployed, he prefers to use his money elsewhere and as a result he has no credibility whatsoever among the rank and file.

For all these reasons - and more - the Moroccan people think the preaching of the prince is nothing but hot air and that all he has in mind is a strong resolve to take personal revenge on his cousin and become Caliph in the place of the Caliph.

Who do you know in Morocco?
29 June 2014. By Norman Greene

Dressed in her head-to-toe hajab or jalaba, she reminded me of an Arabic version of San Diego’s late travel maven Gert Thaler as she skillfully guided us on our quest around the old Jewish Quarter in Casablanca.  She was effusive, charming, funny and full of energy.  We had outlined three things we wanted to accomplish during our half-day tour.

A weekend before our May departure for Morocco, my wife and I accompanied our daughter and son-in-law on a tour of a new house under construction in Alvarado Estates.  Friends of my daughter’s for many years, Eric and Peggy Sands’ home is being built on Yerba Santa Drive.  During our extensive walk-though, the subject of our trip to Morocco came up and we were surprised to learn that Eric’s grandfather had been born and raised in Casablanca.

Eric asked for a personal favor.  Could we please find the house where his grandfather, Solomon Pinto, once lived and take a few photos of it?  Eric had spent his summers in 1966 and 1968 there. Well, that gave us the start of a little mission in this very modern, French city…one that lacks the charm and character of the rest of amazing Morocco.

We also had read about a Jewish Museum in Casablanca that we wanted to investigate.  So that was a second goal of our planned visit.   Our final activity there was an attempt to meet Jean-Daniel Vitalis a French Moroccan childhood friend of Carmel Valley resident Joanne Laverson, a friend of a friend.  My wife likes these challenges.  Other than the incredible Hasan II Mosque and the touristy, but charming, “Rick’s Café” of Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart movie fame, there really isn’t much to see in all of Casablanca.  So our three goals gave us a purpose for being there.

It took a bit of sleuthing on our guide’s part  since the address Eric gave us was on a street that had been renamed a number of years ago.  But she was up to the task and along with our extremely capable driver, Abdou Tabib Abdenabi, our guide found the new address opposite a closed synagogue on the renamed street.   We took our pictures for Eric.  Then our guide suggested we might like to visit an operating synagogue on the same street, a block away on the other side of a main boulevard.  That was some initiative on her part and the next thing we knew, we were walking into the walled courtyard of the well maintained  building.   There are about 150 Jews living in Casablanca today and, as we were told, this is one of the few Casablanca congregations still functioning in this liberal Islamic country.

As we looked around the well-worn building and its charming courtyard, my eye was drawn to a Wall of Honor.  There in bold letters was what I thought was Erik’s grandfather’s name on a marble plaque.  The name Simon Pinto literally jumped off the wall as I was walking by.  Another photo opportunity.  Mission 1 accomplished, I thought, but later we realized Simon Pinto was not the same as Solomon Pinto. Meanwhile, however, we had started to gain an appreciation for the tolerant, “live and let live” relationship of the peoples of Morocco.

About 60% of the Moroccan population is Berber, a people who predate the Arabs who immigrated to the country from Saudi Arabia centuries ago.  Many Berbers claim to be apart of the lost tribes of Israel.  They incorporate the Magen David into much of their art work, carpets, cloth and jewelry.  We were told that some speak Hebrew, although we never encountered any who did.

The remaining population is divided: some 30% are Arabs, 8% are Touareg and the remaining folks are called Andalusians to denote that they left Spain during the Inquisition.  Everyone speaks French, as well as their own native languages.  The amazing thing is that they all seem to get along quite well with each other.  As we traveled throughout the country, we witnessed only cordial relations between the various groups as they interacted with one another.

For centuries there was a very large Jewish population in Morocco.  A majority of the Jews left Morocco after the creation of the State of Israel.  They resettled in Israel, Canada and the U.S., but to this day still hold dual citizenship with their new home states and with Morocco.  At the time of the Inquisition, Jews were welcomed to Morocco since their professionalism and business acumen was admired and needed. As a trusted people, the Jewish Quarters were always constructed next the King’s palaces and Jews played a prominent role in the King’s court and economy.  Even today, a chief advisor to the present king is Jewish.  Remarkable when you think of the current Arab world.

Our guide then instructed our driver how to reach the Jewish Museum.  Naturally, once there, there was a problem.  It was Shabbat and the Museum was closed.  Never daunted, our guide began pounding on the Museum door.  I thought for sure guards would appear, but instead an Arab woman caretaker opened the door.  The two women embraced and the next thing you knew, the caretaker was inviting us in to the closed museum.  She turned on all the lights and we were given free reign to visit all the modern, well lighted and documented exhibits.

The kindness of this Arab caretaker impressed us as much as the museum, itself.

Our second mission accomplished, we set out to meet Jean-Daniel Vitalis.  Bobby spoke to him in French and we settled on a sunny patio restaurant, “Chez Paul,” in a section of Casablanca that could have been La Jolla or Beverly Hills.  It was lovely and populated by a chic clientele.  Over fresh orange juice and coffee, we shared information about Joanne and life in San Diego and Casablanca.  Jean-Daniel was charming.

The day tour wa s a huge success.  Obviously, it’s all about who you know…even in Morocco.

*Norman Greene is a freelance writer based in San Diego.  He may be contacted via

30 million Euros for the renovation of the old Medina of Fez
Thursday 3 July 2014 Taroudant, Morocco

The Moroccan Agency for Development and Rehabilitation (Ader) announced a €30 mllion renovation program for the “medina” of Fez (the old city of Fez). The renovation of the medina of Fez, one of the oldest imperial cities of Morocco, targets its nearly 400,000 inhabitants. Announced on the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Ader, the project aims to renovate 3,666 houses in danger of collapse, 143 of which will be destroyed and rebuilt, according to MAP.

Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the early 1980s, the medina of Fez is home to very old historic monuments, including Al Karaouine University, which is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest degree-granting university in the world.

In the Middle Ages,  the University of Al Karaouine played a significant role in the exchange of culture and knowledge between Muslims and Europeans. The University dates back to 859 AD.

“A short visit to the old medina of Fez is enough to understand the deteriorating condition of the houses that hosted most of the prominent figures in the history of the kingdom,” said Mohamed, a resident of the old city of Fez.

“Many old buildings in medina are in ruins. It is high time the government and the city council took action,” said another man from the medina.

In 2013, a ceremony, attended by the Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, was held to celebrate the end of the long renovation of the synagogue “Slat Alfassiyine” of the Jewish community of Fez, which was until the last century one of the largest in the country.

it is worth noting that some regions of the Kingdom have already benefited from an Ader renovation program. However, many historical sites, old Kasabahs, and old buildings in different regions and cities in Morocco are in miserable condition and need the care of an architect.
Edited by Timothy Fill

A Wedding: Moroccan Style.
Azizul Jalil

In an impressive expression of unity, forty or so USA-based relations and friends of the Bangladeshi groom arrived separately in Rabat (literally means: Fortified Place), the capital of Morocco, at the end of May, 2014 to attend the wedding.  It was located on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Bou Regreg River. On the other side, connected by a bridge, was the twin city of Sal'e, where the wedding was to take place. The weather was pleasant, in the mid- seventies and breezy with little humidity. Our hotel was nice, a Dutch-hotel chain at a comparatively reasonable cost. Within a fifteen- minute walking distance from the hotel was the Medina, the old walled city, ancient fort and the river.

We spent the three-day interlude between our arrival and the wedding by visiting the ancient city of Marrakech. Our main purpose, however, was to attend the Moroccan style wedding, which started with the mehendi ceremony on Friday afternoon. The Baraat, brought by special transport from various city hotels, joined in a procession to the accompaniment of flute and drum music to enter the bride's house with gifts in large cone shaped Moroccan design metallic containers. They were warmly received by the bride's family. At the house, the new couple was first presented to the guests. Floral designs were then put with mehendi on the bride's hands by professionals in a manner similar as back home in Bangladesh. The lady guests then had their hands decorated.

We were forewarned that the festivities each day might go on till the early hours of the next morning. We had made allowances for that but little did we know of the grand gala programme of ceaseless music, singing and dancing interspersed by short breaks for snacks and soft drinks- possibly ten times in one long evening. A lavish dinner of grilled baby lamb, chicken, vegetables and couscous was served after mid-night. It was tastefully catered and the quality of the food and service was magnificent. The ceremonies were held in the colourfully decorated, marbled and tiled parental home of the bride, built over four years with this wedding in mind.  A massive white banquet hall was erected on wooden platform on the adjoining swimming pool and yard with chandeliers and stages for performances. It was interesting that the decorations, dresses, food and drinks, music and dancing were all of Moroccan origin and tradition, even though we were amongst the educated upper class exposed to the cultures of the western world for many years. The Moroccans are proud Arabic-speaking people. Due to the country being a protectorate under the French from 1912 for forty-four years, they also speak French.

Overwhelmed by loud music, dancing and food service, at 4 am on the third day I enquired from the bride's father (an American) if he had spent most of his money in this marriage. The gentleman, a professor of Mathematics and Astro-Physics graciously replied 'a great deal' but it was worth the friendship that they were happy to acquire.
The professor told me the story of his own marriage 28 years ago in Rabat. At about 5 in the morning when he thought the ceremonies were over, he retired to his room for catching some badly needed sleep. His wife then informed him that there was yet another programme at 8 am for which her husband should be ready. I then checked with his wife, the Moroccan mother-in-law, who finally shared the secret of such a hectic wedding party. The idea, she said, was to tire out the groom so he does not entertain any idea of divorce and to ever have to go through such an experience a second time. I have yet to check out the divorce rate in Morocco to see whether the formula has been effective.

Overwhelmed by loud music, dancing and food service, at 4 am on the third day I enquired from the bride's father (an American) if he had spent most of his money in this marriage. The gentleman, a professor of Mathematics and Astro-Physics graciously replied 'a great deal' but it was worth the friendship that they were happy to acquire.
The professor told me the story of his own marriage 28 years ago in Rabat. At about 5 in the morning when he thought the ceremonies were over, he retired to his room for catching some badly needed sleep. His wife then informed him that there was yet another programme at 8 am for which her husband should be ready. I then checked with his wife, the Moroccan mother-in-law, who finally shared the secret of such a hectic wedding party. The idea, she said, was to tire out the groom so he does not entertain any idea of divorce and to ever have to go through such an experience a second time. I have yet to check out the divorce rate in Morocco to see whether the formula has been effective.

The spice of life in magical Marrakesh...
Getting to grips with Moroccan cooking, camels and culture in the city of Marrakesh
Margaret Scully Published 28/06/2014

Marrakesh, Morocco, has been attracting curious explorers and visitors for centuries. Cosby, Stills and Nash sang about taking the express to Marrakesh in the 1960s and I've always wondered why people were so impressed with the 'red' city.

It wasn't quite the romantic train journey I'd imagined, but the Ryanair flight from Dublin to Marrakesh took only three and a half hours, so definitely hit the express note. Morocco's cuisine has always tickled my taste buds too, so I was keen to learn the art of making tagine, the traditional dish cooked in a conical clay pot. My jewellery designer friend, Katrina Barker, was curious about the city's inspirational virtues and we were both game for a camel riding adventure to the Sahara desert.

Just five minutes from Marrakesh airport and we were driving alongside ochre-daubed walls with magnificent arched gates into the walled citadel that is the Kasbah. Our accommodation sent an escort who guided us on foot through a labyrinth of narrow winding streets, with horses and traps and people wearing long tunics with pointed hoods.

We checked into a riad, one of the city's traditional homes converted into a small hotel. Riad l'heure D'ete had clean, simple rooms, a courtyard and beautiful roof terrace with a Jacuzzi. On the advice of my seasoned Morocco-visiting friend, Una, we had pre-ordered dinner. This was an excellent plan, though we were a tad disappointed, especially with Katrina's vegetarian option. Breakfast was good and so too was the fact that we had a hammam spa and beauty therapists on site.

Hot on the heels of Ali G and the British Ambassador, I checked into the cookery school at Café Clock (, and was the only student on the day. Chef, Mohammed Enouichi, presented me with a menu from which to choose my dishes. I selected a bissara split pea soup, zalouk aubergine salad and fish tagine.

The class started with an Arabic lesson on how to order basic ingredients before we went to the souk (market) to purchase fish and vegetables. Daily shopping for fresh ingredients is customary in Morocco and it felt good to be with a local. En route we passed the halal chicken shop, where live chickens in pens were being selected by customers. As swift as lightening, the shopkeeper beheaded the birds and put them in a plucking machine. I can't give a full eyewitness account of this because I was too squeamish to watch. Mohammed informed me the chicken butcher is a holy man and prays several times a day. Thankfully I wasn't cooking a chicken dish.

On the way back from the market we visited the community oven. After descending a flight of stairs we arrived into an aromatic, dimly lit room, where a man shuffled breads in and out of a woodfired oven on a long-handled baker's peel. Abdelkabir Adaghiri told me he bakes every day and each morning the women bring their prepared dough at around 9am and pick up their fresh bread at 1pm for lunch. The skill with which he managed the large oven full of bread was mesmerising. Each family had fork prong patterns on their flat loaves so Abdelkabir knew who owned which bread, then restacked the fresh bakes on the appropriate trays.

Having watched a master at work, it was time to get cooking and we headed straight for the Clock Café rooftop kitchen. After a refreshing lemon mint drink, I was instructed to wash my hands and put on the apron. We started by putting the split peas and garlic into a pot of water to boil for the bissara soup. The aubergines for the salad were left to roast over naked gas flames as we got ready to make the fish tagine. Mohammed sliced potato, carrot, onion and courgette and I finely chopped fresh parsley and coriander.

I was then assigned the master task of making the charmoula marinade, which is the vital ingredient that defines the tagine's taste. With my bare hands I mixed together the chopped herbs, crushed garlic, olive oil, paprika, cumin, chilli powder, salt and lemon juice. Measurements were done by eye and the final blend determined by finger tasting and the further addition of spices. The vegetables were then layered onto the tagine and the marinated shark perched on top, before the conical lid was replaced and the dish was left to slow cook.

We blended the bissara soup in a sieve and served it with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly baked bread. The zalouk salad of smoked aubergine, garlic and coriander tasted similar to baba ganoush. The texture and flavour of the tagine was simply divine and definitely the best I had in Morocco.

Café Clock is renowned for its excellent modern Moroccan cuisine and one of the menu staples is camel burger cooked with rose petals and geranium, served with homemade tomato and cinnamon ketchup. Mohammed informed me camel butchery is more common in his home city of Fez and from Marrakesh he must travel to a market outside the city for the meat. This was distasteful news for my vegetarian travelling companion. The hump-backed animal was next on our to-do list as we had booked a Sahara desert tour with camel safari.

The four-hour drive over the Atlas mountains was a rollercoaster ride taking in high passes and spectacular scenery, but not everyone in our group of 13 found it easy on the stomach.

Everyone was ready for a stop by the time we reached the stunning Kasbah of Ait-Ben-Haddou, near Ouarzazate where 'Lawrence of Arabia' and numerous films have been made. After a further three-hour drive through the Draa Valley, our camels waited outside the town of Zagora, linked together by loose ropes so as not to stray. Even though our bodies were bus weary, the one-hour sunset camel ride to the desert camp was beautiful. A night of stargazing, dining and traditional music ensued before we settled into our Bedouin tent for a well-earned night's sleep.

Next morning we watched the sunrise before riding back to meet our bus and return to Marrakesh. This was a fantastic two day/one night experience for €65, but a stay in Ouarzazate city would have been more comfortable.

On return to Marrakesh, we were ready for luxury and relaxation so the legendary La Mamounia hotel beckoned. The rich and famous have been flocking to the five star since 1923. We didn't stretch to the €300-plus room rate, but enjoyed our €30 gin and tonics in the salubrious surrounds of the garden bar. Day passes to the hotel, which include use of the pool and spa, cost €100.

Peace and serenity was also on offer at the Marjorelle gardens, which were donated to the city by former resident Yves Saint Laurent. Initially, we were disappointed to see tour buses outside, but the artistic gardens were shaded and fabulous and extremely inspiring for my arty friend who since wants to paint her world Moroccan blue.

Not so inspiring were the maddening crowds at the Jemaa el-Fnaa. Alas the cries of snake charmers and pushy restaurateurs at the famous square sent us running for reprieve down the myriad of little laneways filled with shops. Leather goods, colourful pointed slippers, jewellery, medicinal herbs, clothing and stunning lanterns were among the offerings.

Still, overall, Moroccan people are warm and welcoming, so I understand why visitors leave impressed with Marrakesh. I left with memories of camels, culture, cooking and an insight into the culture that has possibly put me off chicken for life. ##########################################################

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