Virtual Magazine of Morocco on the Web
Morocco Week in Review
July 12, 2014
“This Is Only the Beginning:” A Very Peace Corps Homecoming
By Guest Contributor on Tuesday, July 8th, 2014
Five decades of Peace Corps Morocco. Back row: Jesse Bailey 2007-2009, Paulette Thompson 1986-1988, Eva Canan 2012-2014, Dave Keiser 1998-2000, Ann Puddu 1962-1964. Front row: Tim Resch 1971-1974, Sharon Keld: 2006-2008.
Eva Canan was only back home from Peace Corps for 19 hours before she jumped in to volunteer at NPCA’s Peace Corps Connect – Nashville conference! Here’s her story …
About 19 hours after landing in Nashville, having just gotten back from the Peace Corps in the Souss region of Morocco, I headed to a meeting of dozens of fellow Tennessee Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. “I served 1984-1986, what about you?” “Oh, I got back yesterday.” We were preparing to volunteer at Peace Corps Connect, an annual National Peace Corps Association conference held in my hometown of Nashville this year.
Shared Goals and Values
Ann Puddu and Eva Canan served in Morocco exactly 50 years apart: Ann from 1962-1964, Eva from 2012-2014.
It was a conference packed with interesting panels, inspiring speakers, and great local musicians, but the best part was the coming together of 300+ Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). As I helped register people, I saw on their nametags the various countries and years of service – spanning six continents and six decades. Despite the discrepancies of time and space, we all came together to celebrate our commitment to shared goals and values: striving to promote human dignity, rights, and equality, working with community members, maintaining humility.
Some volunteers had to travel great distances to speak with families once a year while others of us could Skype and email. Some of us served in villages with simple amenities, while others were in urban settings. Yet most of us, I’m sure, experienced loneliness, elation, frustration, disappointment, love, awe, and surprise. These shared feelings and values are what knit us together.
While all RPCVs have this shared experience, the bond with RPCVs from the same country of service can be even stronger. I met six other Morocco RPCVs whose services spanned every single decade, including one who served exactly 50 years before I did.
Catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in over two years and being at the conference were wonderful, but one seasoned RPCV warned me: “There’s a honeymoon phase to coming back, too.”
With my girls’ leadership program.
I soon found that to be true: I hadn’t experienced any “reverse culture shock” until today, the first day of Ramadan. I spent two Ramadans in Morocco and they were months filled with special memories: my neighbor teaching me to make harira (soup); observing my friend prepare huge tajines to offer to people at the mosque; finding my cat who would accompany throughout my service; my student bringing me homemade food almost every day during Ramadan, since I had just moved into my house. Recalling those memories, I felt suddenly overcome by homesickness, imagining my fellow villagers as life went on without me.
The thing I miss the most about my time in the Peace Corps is the strong, intimate community I became a part of. As painful as it was to leave my Moroccan community, I realized at the conference that I was gaining another amazing community of fellow RPCVs. One of them told me, referring to how wonderful it is to be a part of the thousands of Americans who have served in the Peace Corps, “This is only the beginning.”
– Eva Canan
After several months of development, we’re excited to officially announce our collaboration with the British Council’s highly successful Design Explore program. Starting this August, the British Council will sponsor a British designer to live and work with Anou’s artisan leaders. The goal will be to exchange ideas, culture and techniques in their respective crafts in order to spur both the artisans and designers’ ability to create new and innovative designs.
At the conclusion of the month-long residency, the artisan leaders will fly to London for one week. In London, the artisans will work with the designer alongside a UK curator to set up an exhibition to display the work they created together in Morocco at the London Design Festival, one of the largest and most dynamic design events in the world. At the festival, the artisans will be able to observe cutting edge design all while sharing their experiences as Moroccan artisans and what they learned working directly with expert designers. During the week, the artisan leaders will visit leading designers in their studios and also meet and exchange ideas with students and professors from the top design schools in the United Kingdom.
This program has an immense amount of potential to benefit the artisan community in Morocco. In order for Moroccan artisan community to truly thrive, direct access to the market isn’t enough. Artisans themselves must also learn how to innovate and create new designs that blend their traditional craft with current and future trends in the global marketplace. Artisans will never be able to earn more than a fair wage if they just continue to work as labor. Through the direct access to market Anou provides, in combination with the one-of-a-kind experience the British Council program will provide the community, Moroccan artisans will be able to make the leap from merely being producers to designers and ensure the sustainability of their craft and livelihood.
If the pilot proves successful, Anou will continue working with the British Council to expand the program next year so it can benefit more Anou leaders and highly motivated artisans. We can’t wait for this program to begin!
The Last Generation of Metalworkers
June 27, 2014
Mohssine Benjalloun’s unassuming metal workshop can be found in one of the most visited alleyways of the Fez medina. The presence of his workshop in such a popular area is unique. Today, Fassi artisans are almost exclusively found in corners deep inside the medina or on the distant fringes of Fez’s suburbs. Rarely are artisans found where tourists often visit. Such popular places are now filled with whom Mohssine describes as “bazarists,” those that sell Moroccan crafts, but don’t make them.
Mohssine recalls that the alleyways of Fez didn’t always look like they do now. Decades ago, when Mohssine was just a teenager, he began learning metalwork from his father. Demand for his and his father’s metalwork was booming, just as much as it had for his grandfather. Before, Mohssine, recalls, artisans earned enough from their craft that they were able to innovate and design new products and ideas. He now only has memories of all the shops that lined the alleyways of Fez which were filled with artisans teeming with work.
Mohssine painfully remembered that as he grew older, the demand for his and all of the other artisans’ craft in Fez began to slow. “Cheap imitations from China,” he says, forced many artisans to close down their shops and either relocated to the suburbs of Fez, or simply quit craft all together.
Mohssine continued to ply his trade even as all the shops around him filled up with bazarists, reselling similar products at prices that barely sustain the artisan that made it. Over time, his sales dried up. Determined to keep his workshop, he began spending less time on his craft. In order to continuing earning an income, he has filled most of his time with making simple board games that he sells for $3. He also handles the occasional repairs for metal pieces people bring to his store and dabbles in cutting glass for picture frames. He earns enough to keep the shop open and to support his family. A picture of Mohssine’s grandfather, who bought the workshop nearly 100 years ago, hangs on the wall behind him where he works everyday.
Everyone once in awhile, when money and time allow, Mohssine pulls out large copper brass sheets, his old metal cutting scissors, and a torch and begins working on the craft he loves. His ten year old son, who often sits at the door of the workshop, watches as his dad begins to immerse himself in building craft by hand. “I hope my son never goes into craft,” Mohssinne says as he begins work on a new lantern, “There is no work left. He is better off doing something else.” His son silently looks on.
Mohssine acknowledges that the artisan sector must change and innovate if it is going to survive beyond his generation. He laughs as he recalls a recent TV documentary he watched about rockets that fly into space, “It takes hundreds of people, a community of people, working together to build a rocket.” The effort and focus of many is what is needed to revive the artisan sector. To build a future where his son can become an artisan, Mohssine says, will take the collective effort of an entire community.
Visit Mohssine’s online store and view his newest item.
Morocco's 'liquid gold' enriches Berber women.
Agence France-Presse November 14, 2012 TIDZI, Morocco
In a poor but fertile corner of southern Morocco, illiterate Berber women are tapping the surge in global demand for argan oil, a "miracle" product they grind from a special nut, that is helping to lift them out of poverty. Sometimes known as "liquid gold" or "miracle oil" for its rich cosmetic, culinary and medicinal properties, the exclusively Moroccan export has caused a sensation in the West, where it is touted as a unique hair care and anti-ageing skin potion.
The rolling countryside between Essaouira and Agadir, resort towns better known for their Atlantic surf, is covered with argan trees, and distinguished by the bizarre sight of goats perched in their branches munching away on the pulp of the nut.
Another striking feature of the landscape is the profusion of cooperatives that employ Berber women to produce the oil, from the tree to the bottle, and sell it as far afield as Canada and Japan, sharing the profits.
Indigenous, non-Arab Berber people make up a large portion of the local population.
Zahra Knabo, who runs the Ajddigue cooperative, one of the very first, says there are now 137 of them, and hails the "evolution" they have brought to the region's Berber women who suffer from widespread illiteracy, poor health care and stifling social mores. "In this rural area, women would traditionally herd the animals and gather wood from the forest. They were the first to wake up and the last to go to bed," says Knabo. "Now most of the women working in the cooperative have money in their pockets. Some have completely financed their houses. They've been able to get electricity, televisions and fridges," she says.
When it opened in 1996, Ajddigue had 16 employees and produced 200 litres (52 gallons) of oil monthly. But around 60 women now work there, Knabo says, and monthly production has risen to 1,000 litres, with an annual turnover last year of four million dirhams (360,000 euros, $460,000).
Reflecting argan oil's growing popularity in the cosmetics industry, the group's two biggest clients are French and Italian, while the nearby Kaouki cooperative says its main customer, a British firm, started buying the oil in 2009.
Scientific proof of the oil's unique healing properties is elusive, but leading aromatherapists argue that, with its richness in fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamin E, it is a highly effective treatment for damaged skin and dry hair.
The economic crisis has taken its toll on demand this year, with both cooperatives seeing their big European clients cutting by half their orders of the luxury commodity, which sells for between 250 and 400 dirhams a litre.
Competition from the growing number of producers has, meanwhile, left smaller associations like the Tawount cooperative, which opened in July and employs 15 Berber women, struggling to sell their products. Colourfully dressed women sit on the Tawount shop floor, cracking open the nuts and sorting them into baskets, with stone grinding tools used to crush the kernel and extract the oil, as they lack the machines that others use to do so.
Argan products range from cooking and cosmetic oil, to hand cream, honey and "amlou" -- a sweet, nutty paste made with almonds -- while the pulp is used as nutritious animal feed, and the shells burned as fuel for cooking.
Karima, a 28-year-old assistant at Tawount, remains optimistic that business will pick up. But she is adamant about the cooperatives benefiting the marginalised women of the area, who she says were often unable to reap the rewards of their labours. "Before, they worked at home roasting and crushing the nuts and giving the oil to their husbands to sell. Now, by working together, they are able to earn money for themselves, to support their children and their families."
Another threat to the Berber groups' success is now making itself felt, according to Ajddigue's Knabo and others familiar with the market, from companies "disguised" as cooperatives looking to cash in on the trend.
In the heart of Essaouira's medina, Khadija, 21, runs a small shop selling bottles of the golden liquid on behalf of five women producer groups, one of many argan oil outlets in the historic port city targeting the tourist trade. "Unfortunately, a lot of false cooperatives have been set up recently, working with businesses in Casablanca. They lie about their activities" to get the official certificate of approval, she charges. "We need the state to stop giving certificates to these false cooperatives. There are dozens of them in the region of Essaouira, and they are undercutting our business."
But the argan oil boom is in its relative infancy and hopes remain high.
Its positive impact on the environment has also been hailed as a success story, spurring conservation work to reverse the over-exploitation of the endemic tree, now found only in southern Morocco and parts of Algeria. The cooperatives have carried out reforestation projects backed by the government, and millions of euros in EU support, that also encourage the Berber women to appreciate the importance of the tree for future generations.
UNESCO, which designated 10,000 square miles (26,000 square kilometres) of the argan region a "biosphere reserve" in 1998, has highlighted the tree's function as a buffer against desertification, as well as its rich yields for the local community.
Read more: http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/africa/moroccos-liquid-gold-enriches-berber-women#ixzz37Ru5cX9Z
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Waltham student going 2,000 miles to help disadvantaged youngsters in Morocco.
By Grimsby Telegraph July 07, 2014
A NEW WALTHAM student is set to travel almost 2,000 miles to help build a school for disadvantaged youngsters – but needs more support to help realise her dream.
Chloe Howell, 19, a biomedical science student at Northumbria University, has been selected for the Childreach International project which will see 20 students from the university travel to Morocco to take part. The team will spend two weeks in the Atlas mountains in September, helping to build a language school for youngsters in the Berber community. They will be living with local families, immersing themselves in the different culture.
Chloe, a former Tollbar student, has already raised more than £600, and needs to raise a total of £1,350 by noon on Friday. She is now appealing to the community and to local businesses for sponsorship. "The charity wants all children to have access to mainstream education and to have the same opportunities as everyone else," she said.
"I've never done anything like this before but I'm really looking forward to it, I just need one last push to raise the money. "I want to learn about different cultures so I was really pleased to have been chosen. "It will be the full experience because I will be living with a local family, experiencing their culture and eating local foods."
Chloe is appealing for support from local businesses, and will wear their company logos on her T-shirt.
Her dad, Mark Hinkley, said it was a great opportunity for Chloe. "It's a fantastic chance for her to travel and to give something back to the world," he said. "We have all been helping as much as we can, friends and family have been very kind, but now she just needs one more push. "It's a lot of money she has needed to raise, but she's already well on the way. "She has always been very independent, even more so since she went off to university. It has given her the confidence to have a go at something like this."
Anyone who would like to sponsor Chloe can visit mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/chloehowell1 or, alternatively, can e-mail her at email@example.com
Read more: http://www.grimsbytelegraph.co.uk/Chloe-aims-gift-learning/story-21338167-detail/story.html#ixzz37RsAb5ad
Morocco’s caravan of hope and the struggle to end child marriage.
By Georgia Hanias
This month the UK government will be hosting its first ever Girl Summit in a bid to mobilize domestic and global efforts to end – within a generation – female genital mutilation (FGM) and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM). This isn’t going to be easy, given the wide-spread occurrence of these practices, and the economic and societal pressures that continue to undermine gender equality in many countries. Globally, nearly three million girls and women a year are at risk of FGM.
Despite these challenges, there hasn’t been a better time to host a Girl Summit. More than ever before, people are aware of what’s happening to young girls and want to see action on issues that are rightfully viewed as a global problem.
Initiatives are already taking place. The impact of FGM has been well documented by human rights groups and, after a recent report claimed that as many as 170,000 girls were forced to have the procedure in Britain, the issue is now being hotly debated in the UK parliament. The arrest and prosecution of a National Health Service doctor for the crime has added further weight to the debate.
Early-age marriage is affecting an even larger population of girls. According to the United Nations, about 14 million girls under the age of 18 get married every year. If nothing changes, that number is expected to increase to 15 million a year by 2030. And, like FGM, this isn’t only happening in far-away villages in remote parts of the world. It’s happening to children in affluent, Western countries, including Britain.
So what can be done to end this practice? How can a British-backed summit influence change not only at home, but also in remote areas? Setting a global agenda is vital but change must also happen at a grassroots level. And it already is, with some success, in some places. A good example is the Caravan Project in Morocco, founded in 2008 by Najat Ikhich, a prominent women’s activist who also set up YTTO, a charity to support victims of gender-based violence.
The caravan initiative is the first of its kind. It brings together a team of doctors, lawyers, social workers and child carers and takes them to rural areas across Morocco in a caravan. The villages visited by the caravan are so remote that Najat and her team must park their vehicles and walk several kilometres to complete their journey – the villages are beyond the reach of roads or infrastructure.
The real work begins once the team reaches the village. Najat has to win the trust of the local community and get them to accept the services brought to them – including medical check-ups and advice on health, as well as legal awareness among community members, particularly women.
In respect to gender rights, Morocco fares better than many of its neighbouring countries, thanks in large part to a strong women’s movement that dates back to Morocco’s independence from France. Reforms have taken place, including amendments to the country’s Moudawana – the official family code that decrees the roles and relationships between men and women within the family.
The reformed Moudawana grants men and women equal rights within the family. Husbands and wives also have equal rights in house management, family planning, bringing up children and legal cohabitation. Furthermore, the legal minimum age for marriage for both men and women is now 18 instead of 15.
Enforcing these reforms is difficult, especially in poor communities, however. ‘Men don’t want change because they are scared of losing power,’ explains Najat. ‘I change their views by pointing out how much power a community will have if women can contribute to the economics of the village.’
Getting women and girls on board is also vital to the success of the project. When they reach the villages, Najat and her social workers set up consultation rooms in tents so that they can talk confidentially with women seeking advice and support. Community debates around issues linked to women’s empowerment and child marriage are also encouraged.
The project is working. Child marriage has dropped significantly in many of the target villages. One village saw a reduction from 450 underage marriages in 2010 to just 50 in two years later. Local contacts in other villages report that fewer families are accepting early marriage as an option for their daughters and many more girls are learning to read and write.
The success of the project has reinforced Najat’s belief that change is always possible. ‘I choose to fight for my rights and the rights of women. I have nothing to lose and so much to gain from this struggle.’
Georgia Hanias is Canadian freelance journalist based in London. For more information about the Caravan project, please contact the charity GirlsNotBrides.
Moroccan Student Gets the Highest Score on the Baccalaureate Exams.
Sunday 6 July 201 Rabat
Myriam Bourhail, a Moroccan high school student in Dumas city, received the highest Baccalaureate exam score in France. Scoring 21.03 out of 20 (799 points out of 760) Myriam surprised herself for having exceeded her own expectations.
Recently celebrating her 18th birthday, this young French-Moroccan’s efforts were rewarded after a year of devoted studying and hard work. Although Myriam was confident in her ability to score high, she did not expect to achieve such an amazing feat.
According to Union Press, Myriam’s lowest grades were 15/20 in sports, 18/20 in History and Geography, and 19/20 in Philosophy. Apart from these three “low” grades, Myriam scored 20 out of 20 in subjects including English, Spanish, physics, mathematics and SVT (Sciences of Life and Earth).
The student thanked her teachers for their patience and dedication that enabled her to achieve this remarkable score. In turn, her teachers applauded her diligence and perseverance that led her to this noteworthy accomplishment.
Mohamed Bourhail, Myriam’s father, is a Franco-Moroccan worker who interrupted his studies after obtaining a degree in Mathematics and Natural Sciences to cope with the constraints of life. Still, he is committed to his children’s wellbeing and education and strives to provide them with opportunities he never had— continuing their studies and the luxury of choosing their own path.
The father’s mission is accomplished as Myriam’s elder sister recently earned her degree in the Sciences of Life and Earth (SVT) and plans to apply for a master’s program next year. Myriam’s second sister is about to test for her biology degree while her brother is studying towards his diploma.
Now, Myriam is considering higher education. She needs only choose as the most prestigious institutes and universities welcome her with open arms. Myriam has expressed interest in studying medicine.
Edited by Sahar Kian
Six students to represent Morocco in International Math Olympiad 2014.
Sunday 6 July 2014 - Larbi Arbaoui Taroudant
Six Moroccan students are representing Morocco in the 55th International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) held in Cape Town, South Africa, from 3 to 13. According to a communiqué issued by the Ministry of National Education, the six students were selected among the best in mathematics through math tests administered in all regions of the kingdom and three trainings conducted in the second stage.
Led by Mohamed Berraho, head of delegation, and his assistant, Abdellatif Zerouale, the six talented students namely, Aadil Oufkir, Reda Bahi Slaoui, Mohamed Hibat Allah, Mohammed Amine Bennouna, Amine Natik, Zouhair Khatouri will represent Morocco in the oldest of the International Science Olympiads. Unlike last year, no female student was qualified to participate in International Science Olympiads this year.
As part of the partnership concluded recently with the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training, the group of the Cherifian Office of Phosphate (OCP) sponsored all travel expenses of the six students participating in this international event.
Since its first participation in 1983 with Khalil Benhssein and Noureddine Hamdane, Morocco has been doing good and usually ahead of other Arab countries.
Ever since, Morocco has established itself as a regular candidate, generating 4 Silver medals, 32 Bronze medals and 50 Honourable mentions according to the official website of IMO. Last year, only Mohammed-Amine Bouayad, among the six Moroccan candidates, obtained honorable mention.
In 2012, two Moroccan high school students, Mohamed Mehdi Ouaki and Mostafa Adnan, won bronze medals in the International Mathematics Olympiad. Mohamed Mehdi Ouaki, from Almanbaaa high school (Rabat), managed to solve 66.73% of math tests, while Mostafa Adnan, from Al Marjiîya high school (Meknes), resolved 62.71% of the questions, according to the official website of IMO.
The International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) is the World Championship Mathematics Competition for High School students and is held annually in a different country. The first IMO was held in 1959 in Romania, with seven countries participating.
Morocco growth slows.
The country had registered GDP growth of 3.8% in the first quarter of 2013 and 4.5% in the last quarter of 2013. The country's state planning agency now expects GDP to grow 3.7% in 2015, lower than the 3.9% forecast by the International Monetary Fund in 2014 and 4.9% in 2015.
The lack of growth is worrying as Morocco implements painful subsidy cuts and a range of social and economic reforms.
"On the fiscal front, the challenge of fiscal consolidation amidst lower growth and higher oil prices will be difficult. Rising spending and falling revenue widened Morocco's overall fiscal deficit by 41.5% y/y to MAD 28.7 billion (USD 3.5 billion) in the first four months of the year," said Barclays Capital in a note.
"Total spending rose 11.5% y/y at end-April, bolstered by a 50.1% y/y expansion in capital expenditures, in line with the government's plan to support growth."
Spending on subsidies registered a 5.5% y/y decline under the reform initiative.
"While domestic demand continues to benefit from low inflation, the recent increase in oil prices, and rebound in unemployment in Q1 14 (10.2% up from 9.5% in Q4 13), as well as the reduction in rural income, could add downside risks to consumption growth during the rest of the year,"
Agricultural output growth fell to 3.4% year-on-year after registering double-digit expansion in 2013. Exports of phosphates and its derivatives fell 13% during the first quarter, largely offsetting overall growth of 10.2% year-on-year largely driven by the exports of cars, electronics and aeronautics.
The higher planning commission also foresees downward pressure on growth from an expected slowdown in construction and industrial investment.
The country survived the Arab Spring chaos by embarking on significant political reforms, which kept dissent at bay. But it has not reaped the rewards of social and political reforms and the authorities are now seeking a credit lifeline.
Morocco is reportedly seeking a new two-year precautionary line of credit (PLL) with the IMF, which may be potentially lower than the earlier USD 6.2 billion facility that expires in August. The PLL has helped Rabat secure loans at favourable terms, such as EUR1 billion in a 10-year Eurobond last month at a yield of 3.7%.
Along with state-owned OCP Group's USD1.55 billion loan to fund its phosphate production, the country has also made use of aid from bilateral and multilateral donors, and has largely secured its external financing needs for the next six months, Barclays notes.
New avenues of growth
With Morocco's largest trade partner, the European Union, struggling, Rabat is looking at the fast-growing Sub-Saharan markets, according to Abdellatif Jouahri, governor of the central bank.
In addition, the country has opened up to Islamic finance to attract Gulf investment. An Islamic finance bill was passed last month by Moroccan lawmakers, paving the way of new investment in the financial services sector.
Morocco is also developing plans for solar power energy and for the offshore oil and gas sector as it expands its horizon to jumpstart growth.
The International Monetary Fund said promoting stronger, more inclusive growth and higher employment is the key challenge. It said that in order to improve competitiveness and reduce unemployment, there was also a need to accelerate structural reforms aimed at further improving the business climate and economic governance by enhancing transparency, accountability, and the rule of law.
Teaching of the Amazigh Language in Moroccan Universities: Benefits and Challenges.
Saturday 12 July 2014 By Mohamed Saoudi
Rabat- Teaching of the Amazigh language in Morocco has become more prevalent in recent years in comparison to other countries in North Africa. Amazigh is. Amazigh is now taught not only in primary schools, but also in some Moroccan universities. The implementation of the language in some Moroccan universities has been gradual and still has some way to go, but the efforts to broaden the teaching of Amazigh language in all Moroccan universities are becoming fruitful. While integrating the Amazigh language into the curricula of Moroccan universities has perhaps not gone as well as planned, there are both benefits and challenges.
1. The Benefits
Research on the Amazigh language and culture began during Morocco’s colonization period in the middle of the 20th Century. French anthropologists and linguists such as David Cohen, Camps, and others conducted research on both the Arabic and the Amazigh languages. After independence in 1956, there was a tendency in Moroccan universities to encourage students to research Amazigh language and culture. In the 1980s, a group of teachers at the University of Fez created a laboratory called the Research Group on Linguistics and Literature to motivate and supervise students to write BA monographs, Master’s theses, and doctoral dissertations on the Amazigh language and culture.
Now with the creation of The Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) and the institutionalization of the Amazigh language under the new Moroccan Constitution in 2011, there has been progress in the process of teaching Amazigh language not only in primary schools, but also in universities. The Royal Institute has signed agreements of co-operation and collaboration with the Ministry of Education to further develop the teaching of the Amazigh language and culture. At least three universities have since introduced the teaching of the Amazigh Language and culture. The universities of Agadir, Fez, and Oujda have each created a Department of Amazigh Studies to improve the teaching and the learning of both the language and culture.
The University of Ibn Zohar in Agadir was the first university in Morocco to integrate the Amazigh studies in the education system. The Amazigh department consists of an undergraduate program, a Master’s program, and doctoral program. The undergraduate program aims at teaching students the basics of Amazigh studies, conducting research and surveys on the Amazigh language as well as studying its socioeconomic and sociocultural environment. The program is a module system. The students have to take four modules each semester and the whole program is six semesters.
The course subjects range from history and linguistics to culture. The Master’s program aims at introducing pedagogical tools that can help students and researchers conduct significant studies of the Amazigh language and culture. The mastering of the language is also another goal of this program, and it offers students the opportunity to study different Amazigh dialects and varieties. It provides students with the necessary tools for cultural mediation, translation, and teaching of the language in both high school and at the college level. Until now, there has been no doctorate program in Amazigh studies; however, university officials and academics are working on a project to integrate Amazigh studies into doctorate programs.
There are other masters programs in other Moroccan universities that are focused on the Amazigh language and culture, such as “Amazigh Studies and National Heritage” in Rabat. The Master’s program of Arabic and Amazigh Linguistics in Tetouan is a comparative study that addresses both languages and trains students enrolled in the program in the modern theory of linguistics. The objective of this program is to provide students with theoretical and extensive courses in Arabic and Amazigh languages, ensuring a laboratory to explore and evaluate the theoretical and empirical status of modern linguistic theory, and preparing students for positions related to the field of the Arabic and Amazigh languages. The masters is designed to enrich scientific research in both the Arab and Amazigh language. It aims at preparing students for a Ph.D. program in Arabic or Amazigh linguistics, training school-teachers, and cultivating translation opportunities.
2. The Challenges
Unfortunately, the implementation of Amazigh studies in Moroccan universities is still limited due to many factors that hinder its complete integration into the curriculum. Along with the insufficiency of pedagogical tools, the lack of resources, and the bureaucracy of the Ministry of Education, the lack of qualified human resources is a big challenge to the development of the departments of Amazigh Studies.
The fuzziness of the objectives of these departments is another serious challenge to its continuity. Until now, the studies offer only theoretical courses to students of the department. This pedagogical limitation needs to be remedied very soon because students after graduation face the bitter reality of the lack of positions that are linked to the domain of their specialty. The absence of the doctorate research and laboratory is also another factor that limits the number of the enrolled students in the department.
Teaching all courses in French is also a real problem that should be resolved immediately. The fact that courses are taught in French raises questions and has caused skeptics to accuse the departments of being guardians of French interests in Morocco. This has legitimized to some extent the claims of Arabophones that the programs are a racist scheme that threatens national unity.
The lack of communication between the departments of Amazigh language in Moroccan universities reduces the rate of gradual integration of the Amazigh language and culture into the curricula. The lack of the cooperation between the Ministry of Education and the IRCAM also shackles the efforts of academic officials to improve the conditions conducive to the teaching of Amazigh.
Today, Amazigh studies is a specialty in some Moroccan universities; however, the mere creation of departments of Amazigh Studies has not yet reached the objectives nor provided the expected results. Decision makers should redouble their efforts to reach the goal of widespread teaching of Amazigh language and culture.
Boukous, Ahmed. Revitalizing The Amazigh Language Stakes, Challanges,and Strategies. Rabat: Royal Institution of Amazigh Culture(IRCAM), 2011.
Carcia, Joshua Fishman and Ofelia. Hand Book of Language and Ethnic Identity: The Success-Failure Continuum in Language and Ethnic Identity Efforts. London : Oxford University Press, 2011.
Edited by Elisabeth Myers
Bastards, film review: An intimate and moving portrait of poor single mothers in Morocco.
Geoffrey Macnab Friday 11 July 2014
Deborah Perkin's feature-doc explores the plight of poor single mothers in Morocco, fighting against a deeply patriarchal system that won't recognise their children In Muslim countries, sex outside marriage is illegal. As "bastards," illegitimate kids are therefore denied education and often even the most basic healthcare. Their mothers are despised. The fact that the fathers may have misled and abandoned the women is overlooked.
Perkin focuses in particular on Rabha El Haimer, a young mother who was married at 14. The wedding was never formally registered and she is now fighting for her daughter's rights.
Thanks to her links with the campaigning charity Solidarité Féminine, Perkin is able to film the key moments in Haimer's court case. She provides an extraordinarily intimate and moving portrait of her subject, a woman who refuses to accept second best for her child, whatever the conventions and prejudices of the society around her.
Morocco Counters Jihadism With Religion.
By Hassan Benmehdi, 8 July 2014 Casablanca
As part of Morocco's strategy to confront extremism at the source, King Mohammed VI just barred religious leaders, imams and preachers from participating in any form of political or union activities.
The July 1st decree aims "to preserve the doctrinal unity of the ummah, harmonise religious messages, and equip imams and preachers to combat fundamentalist ideas and preserve the tolerant nature of Islam", Moroccan Centre for Values and Modernism head Abdenbi Aydoudi said. The decree is also intended to protect religion from political use by Islamist parties, noted Khalid Adlaoui, a member of the youth wing of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP).
The president of the Council of Ulema, Mohamed Yessef, compared clerics "soldiers who stand guard over religion so that it is not affected by any foreign influence that might cause problems". "One of the tasks of this council is to examine ways of safeguarding the inviolability of mosques, which are considered to be nerve centres of society," Yessef noted.
Some imams in recent decades have been implicated in the indoctrination of young jihadists. For example, cheikh Mohamed Fizazi, an icon of salafist takfirism, served prison time for inspiring the 2003 Casablanca attacks.
Morocco has thus adopted a multi-pronged approach to stemming radicalism and dissuading youth from foreign jihad. "We do not have any figures for the precise number of Moroccan jihadists in Syria, but what is certain is that we are working in perfect harmony with the interior ministry to combat this phenomenon," Habous and Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Toufiq said on June 24th.
"In the face of the growing strength of jihadism and fundamentalism within society, Morocco is mobilising all departments concerned by this phenomenon, primarily the departments of the interior and habous," confirmed El Bachir Ahid, a journalist specialising in religious affairs.
Thanks to institutional co-operation, "the Islamic affairs ministry has the means necessary to monitor virtually all 50,000 mosques in the country, including those located in remote and isolated areas," political analyst Omar Belhaj told Magharebia.
Sanaa Maktaoui, a teacher at a private school, is among the citizens welcoming the move. "The promotion of violence, intolerance, hatred and rejection of others is a red line, which an imam should not cross under any circumstances," she told Magharebia.
As part of the strategy to fight extremism in Morocco, the "Religious Guidance Support Plan" launched in June is putting instructors in places of worship to guide discourse.
Some 1,300 imams-mourchidines (spiritual instructors) will provide religious guidance without inciting intolerance or hatred. "Their task is to help and guide imams in mosques to preserve the fundamentals of Islam in Morocco, based on the Maliki rite, contrary to takfirism, which is constantly invading the minds of our young people," Toufiq said. http://allafrica.com/stories/201407090298.html
Morocco: HM the King Inaugurates in Skhirate Two New Solidarity-Based Projects for Women and Youth.
HM King Mohammed VI inaugurated, on Tuesday at the Al Fath neighborhood in Skhirate, a training center for women and another for training and artistic and cultural activities, carried out by the Mohammed V Foundation for Solidarity for an amount of 8 million dirhams. These two projects mirror the unwavering commitment of HM the King to be responsive to the expectations of women and young people, and show the royal solicitude for the human capital, a cornerstone of any sustainable development policy.
The women training center will enable to develop, through courses of literacy and training on income-generating jobs, women's competences to help with their integration in the working life and the dynamic of local development. Built over a surface area of 400 square meters, the new facility includes several workshops (culinary art and pastry, sewing, hair dressing and esthetics), literacy classrooms, classrooms for remedial courses and computer science, and a drop-in and guidance room. Its management is entrusted to a local association.
The training and artistic and cultural activities center is part of the program elaborated by the Mohammed V Foundation for Solidarity for young people and seeks to give this social segment the means to blossom and ensure their socio-cultural integration through supervision, remedial education and training.
The new facility will enable a wider participation by the region's youth in social life thanks mainly to association-based actions, artistic and cultural activities, remedial education and languages.
Stretching over 618 square meters, the center comprises several workshops (theater, painting, music), classrooms for remedial courses and foreign languages, and a library-multimedia library. Its management is entrusted to the Office of vocational training and labor promotion and a local association.
These projects, whose building works were launched by the Sovereign on July 17, 2013, are the fruit of a partnership between the Mohammed V Foundation for Solidarity and the Al Omrane Group. http://allafrica.com/stories/201407090563.html
Morocco: HM the King in Casablanca - Solidarity-Based Projects to Meet Aspirations of Youth in the Region .
9 July 2014 Casablanca
Morocco's economic capital witnessed, on Wednesday, the birth of two new solidarity-based projects which meet the aspirations of the region's youth and mirror HM King Mohammed VI's solicitude for this social segment.
HM the King inaugurated a training center for auto repair jobs in the Sidi Othmane neighborhood (prefecture of Moulay Rachid districts) and a socio-cultural center for youth training and integration in the Lahraouiyine (Mediouna province), two projects carried out by the Mohammed V Foundation for Solidarity for an amount of 22.5 million dirhams.
The facilities are meant to reinforce the various actions undertaken by the said Foundation in the Greater Casablanca region for the benefit of young people, with the aim of encouraging access to the different mechanisms of social and vocational integration through notably training on income-generating jobs and promoting cultural and association-related activities.
The training center for auto repair jobs will provide the beneficiaries with training that matches the needs of the car industry which has a strong potential for employment. Benefitting nearly 750 interns yearly, this center (2,594 m2) includes several workshops (car-body making/painting, automotive diagnostic, engine/transmission/brakes, automotive electricity and electronics, quick service), four theoretical training rooms, a computer science room, a library and a shop for storing raw material.
The facility, which is worth 14.5 million dirhams funded by the Mohammed V Foundation for Solidarity (5 mln MAD), Casablanca prefectural council (3 mln MAD) and the Office for vocational training and labor promotion OFPPT (6.5 mln MAD), will be managed and pedagogically supervised by the OFPPT.
The socio-cultural center for youth training and integration (1,465 m2) will contribute to the blossoming of the targeted social group by creating cultural and social activities that would encourage young people assume more responsibility and volunteer for social actions mainly in relation with associations, as well as training to ensure a better integration in the job market.
The new facility will benefit nearly 500 young people annually and comprises training workshops (computer science, office automation, network maintenance, graphics, communication and foreign languages, arts and design, visual communication and recording techniques), classrooms for music, for commercial agents training, for brain-stimulating games and computer science, and for remedial education and counseling.It has also a multi-purpose room, pre-school education classrooms, a reception hall and an exhibition hall.
Fruit of a partnership between the Mohammed V Foundation for Solidarity (4 mln MAD) and the Al Omrane Group (4 mln MAD), the center is managed by the Office of vocational training and labor promotion, which ensures pedagogical supervision, and a local association
Moulay Hicham, Morocco's rebel prince.
By Nadia Rabbaa in Casablanca
Read the original article on Theafricareport.com : Moulay Hicham, Morocco's rebel prince | North Africa
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King Mohammed VI's cousin and the third in line to the throne has written a scathing book about the need ford democratization in Morocco, but critics say that he benefits greatly from the monarchy. Moulay Hicham's first book, Journal d'un prince banni ('Diary of a banished Prince'), airs his family's dirty laundry.
Hicham is the son of Prince Moulay Abdallah, the brother of Morocco's late king Hassan II, making him king Mohammed VI's cousin and third in line in the succession.
4 March, 1964 - Born in Rabat
1985 Degree in politics - Princeton University
2000 Carter Center delegation to monitor Nigeria elections
2010 Created the Moulay Hicham Foundation to encourage research on the Middle East and North Africa
2014 Published Journal d'un prince banni (Grasset)
His family relations through his mother, Lamia es-Solh, make him a cousin to Saudi Arabia's Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud.
Nicknamed the Prince Rouge ('Red Prince') for his support of democratisation in the Moroccan kingdom, Hicham uses his book to explain his very public break-up with the regime. The tome, published in April, sparked fierce debates in Morocco. In it, he argues that king Mohammed VI "risks bringing about the country's downfall". He criticises the government's handling of Western Sahara and the opacity around the palace's business relationships.
Some see Journal d'un prince banni as a rallying cry for a so-called 'cumin revolution' and a transition to a liberal democracy. Others see it as a career-enhancing missive serving the Prince Rouge's agenda of undermining the palace's authority.
In the introduction, Hicham explains that the book offers a chance to expose the manoeuvres that pushed him out of Moroccan public life. Despite his criticism of the monarchy as a ruling system, he still claims the power due his rank.
King Mohammed VI has allowed the book to be sold in Morocco, robbing Hicham of the chance to pose as victim and undercutting his claim to be a banished prince with a banned book. Though newspapers and social networks have been filled with buzz about the book, they have not turned against the current government.
Some journalists, stung by the prince's criticism of the media, point to the close relationship between Hicham and certain members of the press who vociferously support his views.
Despite his heritage, Hicham was marginalised from the royal entourage just a few years after Mohamed VI's coronation in July 1999 because of his critical views, which were widely pushed in Western media.
His public support of the Mouvement du 20 février, which called for greater freedom in Morocco in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, finally sealed his divorce from his cousin's reign. Though he claims he was forced to leave the country – he has been living in the United States (US) since 2002 – Hicham still possesses lucrative businesses in Morocco. Critics claim he uses royal privileges to win deals in Morocco and abroad.
In his book, he talks about his role as a consultant for French arms manufacturer Thomson- CSF in the United Arab Emirates. He runs the Hicham Moulay Foundation and donates to universities in the US. He supported the creation of the Institute for the Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia at Princeton, his alma mater.
The foundation also financed the Program on Good Governance and Political Reform in the Arab World at Stanford University, where Ahmed Benchemsi, founder of news weekly TelQuel and the supposed ghostwriter of the book, is a fellow. Hicham is seen either as a role model for Moroccan democrats or a traitor for those who support the monarchy. He himself rejects all labels bar the one of a 'bad prince' fighting for "a kingdom for all" Moroccans.
Read the original article on Theafricareport.com : Moulay Hicham, Morocco's rebel prince | North Africa
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Look to Morocco for luxury décor.
By VICKI PAYNE MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE
Morocco — simply saying the name inspires images of an exotic and exciting location. I don’t know of a single other place in the world that has that same effect for me. And I am not alone.
Walking through the airport recently, I saw posters promoting the allure of Morocco. Casablanca, Marrakech — can you get any more romantic? Many of us will never have the opportunity to travel to this intoxicating land, but we can bring Morocco to us.
Designers are using Moroccan furniture and accessories to create a look that is luxurious and to bring a touch of the exotic into our lives. The effect of Moroccan designs can be powerful and soothing.
The country absorbs elements of surrounding cultures: France, Spain and Portugal. It is also strongly influenced by proximity to the Mediterranean, Africa, Persia as well as traditions of Islam.
When all these cultures, colors and traditions mesh, a unique style emerges. Color and craftsmanship are the two defining elements of Moroccan décor. The colors are designed to punctuate the surrounding sea, sand and sky of the country.
Light is an essential element of the Moroccan style. Natural light floods into Moroccan homes. Lighting fashioned from metal, colored glass and wood creates a romantic mood within the interiors of Moroccan residences. Craftsmanship is evident in even the smallest accessory.
Textiles are influenced by lush, rich, beautiful saturated colors. But the weight of these fabrics is light and airy, providing a sense of floating through space. The rugs are soft and patterned with tribal motifs or simple light-colored prayer mats.
The furniture is powerful and alluring. The intricate use of mosaic patterns, inlaid with stones, shells, glass and ceramics are unique to Moroccan furnishings. Place a Moroccan table in a room and it demands your attention.
Of all the reasons to love Morocco, for me it’s the furniture. Unlike some other design styles, it is happy to play well with others. Just one piece can accomplish so much.
Moroccan lighting casts a spell like none other. The light pattern created by the tiny pierced holes in the metal or wood shades sends thousands of little sparks of light dancing on the walls, ceiling and floors. Add colored glass to these fixtures and the effect is magical.
Mosaic tiles are one of the most recognizable aspects of Moroccan art and architecture. The colorful designs are busy and work best when used as the only accent in a space. Keeping the surrounding surfaces neutral and unadorned allows the true beauty of the tiles to explode.
Exploring Sufism in Fez: Morocco has been promoting Sufism as a way to counter strands of political Islam
Worshippers sit outside the famous Tijani mosque in the ancient Moroccan town of Fes, emerging through the dramatic arched gates fresh from prayer. The mosque is named after Ahmed Tijani, the founder of one of the leading currents of Sufi Islam. Pilgrims have for many years come here from across West Africa, often on their way to Mecca. Tijani, who died in Fes in 1815, has millions of followers around the world.
Fes is known as the spiritual capital of Morocco, a country with a strong Sufi heritage. In recent years, however, competing conservative currents of Islam have gained ground among the youth here.
Sitting on a bench outside the Tijani mosque, Abdullah Gurnech, a retired army officer who has been coming to the mosque since his youth, says that poverty is one of the factors that has encouraged many to turn to Wahabism. “The youth are more conservative today,” he says.
Still, he says he is starting to notice more local worshippers at the Tijani mosque praying alongside the mainly Senegalese pilgrims.
Two Gnawa performers wander through the winding streets of Fes, hunting for foreign tourists to play for. Just as similar performers have been doing for decades, they also earn a living performing Sufi-inspired ceremonies in the homes of Moroccan families. Such mystical ceremonies, influenced not only by Islam but also West African traditional mysticism, draw the ire of ultra-conservatives, yet for many Moroccans they are part of their heritage.
And lately, says Khalid Hamid, a 30-year-old dressed in a dark purple gown, business has picked up among Moroccan clients. The Gnawa, like the Tijani, are one of several Sufi brotherhoods prevalent in Morocco. “There's been more demand lately,” Hamid says. “At weddings and exorcisms of women who’ve been possessed.”
The Moroccan authorities have for several years been actively promoting Sufism, a strategy that has been aimed partly at taking some of the wind out of sails of political Islam. “There have been very strong attempts at a top-down revival by the ministry of religious affairs, on many levels,” explains Dr Isabelle Werenfels, head of the Middle East and Africa research division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
The original idea was to counter the rise of political Islam since the 1980s. In Morocco, the country’s dominant Islamist party is the Justice and Development Party (PJD).
When there was a burst of political dissent in February 2011, King Mohamed VI was more nimble than many of his counterparts at managing the tensions, allowing the PJD to join the government for the first time in 2011 (they had spent the previous 14 years in opposition). The king’s critics, however, say the democratisation is happening too slowly, and that it is too tightly controlled and superficial.
Some see the strategy of building allies in the Sufi brotherhoods as just another form of clientalism. The Boutshishi brotherhood, as Dr Werenfels notes, has been condemned in opposition media as the ‘Sufis of the palace’ and the ‘free masons of Morocco’.
The fostering of Sufism has also been aimed at competing with the appeal of ultra-conservative Wahabism, which many here blame the Gulf states for propagating in a bid to exert power across the region. By bolstering the role of the zawiya, as the Sufi lodges are known, the Moroccan authorities are filling a vacuum to prevent perceived foreign influence.
Two other reasons for the policy which Dr Werenfels highlights are as a diplomatic and economic tool in generating goodwill, the better to facilitate Morocco’s relations with West Africa, and also encouraging tourism. “It fits into the overall discourse of patrimony and a modern revival of history. This is how it's being sold,” she says.
A similar strategy has been followed in neighbouring Algeria, with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika building a strong support base among Sufi actors.
It can be hard to measure the success of the King’s strategy. In mid-June, the annual Fes Sacred Music Festival saw tens of thousands of tourists descend on the town to celebrate Morocco’s unique Andalusian-Sufi heritage.
Then last week, also in Fes, a cell allegedly recruiting Moroccan volunteers to fight in Syria and Iraq was busted by the Moroccan authorities, evidence that the ultra-conservative fighting networks view the many unemployed youths here as fertile for recruitment.
Abdelfettah Bennis, widely seen as one of the most renowned Sufi singers of his generation, is a staunch supporter of the king’s policy of the state’s promotion of Sufism. He says it’s having a clear impact. “The youth are much more interested in Sufism than they were ten or twenty years ago,” he says.
Two years ago, Bennis helped open a school teaching Sufi music to children. He also performs regularly at Fes’s annual Sufi Cultural Festival, now in its eighth year. But the role of Sufi figures goes well beyond the purely cultural. "The interior ministry is reinforcing the zawiya to eliminate wahabism,” he says. “Thanks be to God, the Sufis are strong here.”
Morocco’s Sufi revival is likely to mean Sufis will play a growing role not only in national political life, but also as a tool for furthering Morocco’s regional, and even international, influence. http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/sufism-fez-212503515
Snake charmers and storytellers: Marrakech's magical medieval heart.
ByTahir Shah, for CNN July 9, 2014
Editor's note: This piece, and several others on Marrakech, complement the CNNGo TV series. This month's show features a lesson in haggling in the medina old town and samples delicious local pancakes. It meets a homegrown rap artist and showcases the ancient city's contemporary culture before embarking on a hot air balloon ride over the beautiful nearby countryside: www.cnn.com/cnngo
Wiry, wizened and dressed in a tattered old jelaba robe, Abdul-Hakim lives in a world in which fact and fantasy are blurred together through an ancient alchemy.
Almost every day over four decades and more, he's stood out in Jemaa el Fna, the great sprawling square that forms the heart of medieval Marrakech in Morocco. In cold winter rain and mist, and in the searing heat of the endless desert summer, he's one enduring fixture, a constant force in a realm constantly touched by change.
He stands there, knitted cap pulled down tight over a balding scalp, fingers gnarled and black with dirt, a face conjured from a weather-worn sheet of chapped leather.
As the muezzin's voice radiates down over the long morning shadows, Abdul-Hakim finishes his prayer and steps out into the sunlight.
Having given a blessing that begins "All things to the pious," he claps his hands to gain an audience.
All of a sudden, the story begins:
"There was once a woodcutter named Mushkil Gusha," he says, his voice rasping a tale from the "Arabian Nights."
"A man who was as honest and kind as any other alive ..."
Within an instant, a halqa has formed, a sacred circle of souls.
Pressed shoulder to shoulder, the listeners crane forward, as they do, day in day out, every day.
For them, Abdul-Hakim's stories are a kind of magical lifeblood, a wisdom and an entertainment all rolled into one.
"He transports us to distant kingdoms," says Malik, a shopkeeper from a nearby perfume stall.
"Only he can weave magic like this. I was brought up with his tales, just as my own sons have been."
The hakawati, the storyteller, lowers his voice, a technique to draw the listeners in towards him.
He takes his time, feeding them the tale as though it were some delicious sweet.
Powders and homemade lotions
A stone's throw away, a healer is setting up his stall.
He's dressed in the light blue robe of the Tuareg, his skin as dark as his teeth are white.
From an old Berber chest he pulls out his wares -- a clutch of ostrich eggs, a pair of dried chameleons, a jaguar's skull and an assortment of vials and jars, powders and homemade lotions.
Beside him is another medicine man.
His stock in trade is sulfur and antimony, dried damask roses, and a half-gallon pot of lizard oil.
Across from him is a dentist.
In his right hand is a pair of electrical pincers. In his left, a shoebox half-filled with human teeth.
"I never cause any pain," he explains meekly. "You see, it's because I whisper a spell as I make the extraction. Take a seat here, sir, and I will prove it to you now."
By late morning, the tale of the woodcutter Mushkil Gusha is nearing its end, and the dentist, from the inner reaches of the desert, is posing for a picture.
A tourist from Brooklyn slips out his camera and points to a bottle marked with a skull and crossed bones.
He wonders aloud what's inside.
The Tuareg healer grins a fearsome, almost maniacal grin.
"It's for revenge," he lisps.
The last shadows melt away as noon approaches, and as the summer heat begins its raw and unrelenting suffocation.
A scattering of tourists amble about, soaking up an atmosphere that has allured visitors for centuries.
They're from every corner of the world.
Distant desert outpost
These days most people fly in directly to Marrakech.
It sometimes feels as though they hardly have a clue where are.
After all, the airport could be anywhere.
The ancient mud walls that encircle the city's medina are a clue though -- a clue that this was once a distant desert outpost, fortified for life and death.
Marrakech may be easy to get to now, but it's smack in the middle of Morocco's red desert.
With that heritage comes a kind of Twilight Zone sense of the miraculous.
Like the tales woven by Abdul-Hakim, Marrakech blurs the lines between fact and fantasy, and touches all who venture here with its sorcery.
As the afternoon heat reaches its height, the snake charmers slink out from the cool of the cafes, the shrill sound of their flutes, known as rhaita, forming a hypnotic stage on which their overheated cobras perform.
Gradually, the afternoon heat begins to wane.
And, as it does so, a slew of acrobats tumble and fall across the square's great open space.
Members of the Gnaoua, an ancient brotherhood, they clatter huge iron castanets, warding away supernatural jinn.
Abdul-Hakim pauses for the late afternoon prayer.
When he's done, he sips a little water and chews on m'simmen, a kind of Moroccan pancake.
And then, wiping his eyes with the corner of his handkerchief, he begins another favored tale from "The Thousand and One Nights," a story half as old as time, called "The City of Brass."
Sheep brains and spicy sausages
As his words waft out over the square, there's the thunderous sound of steel wheels rapping hard over stone.
Dozens of iron carts are hurtling forward.
Like gun carriages hastening to war, they're pushed into position at lightning speed, and quickly unloaded.
Within a few minutes, clouds of dense oily smoke are billowing up into the dusk, as the stalls start touting all manner of foods.
In Jemaa el Fna's nocturnal incarnation, tourists and locals dine on sheep's brains and spiced Berber sausages, mutton tagines, roasted chicken and trout.
A lithe good-mannered figure is hustling for custom outside Stall 117.
Going by the nickname "Denzil Washington," he appears ready to sell anything. Working as a volunteer in an orphanage by day, he supports himself by touting in the square at night.
"One-one-seven!" he cries is a faux cockney voice. "It'll take you to heaven!"
Away from the smoke, the incandescent light bulbs, and the uproar of the feast, a blind musician draws a bow over the strings of a battered old violin.
A microphone strapped around his neck leads to a little amplifier, cupped in the hands of his young grandson.
The sound stretches out like a magic carpet laid over the desert floor.
Listen hard, and you find yourself transported back in time to an encampment in the wilderness, a watering hole for camels and men.
As the night approaches, the medicine men and the healers pack up their bones, their potions, and their boxes of human teeth. The Gnaoua disappear into the shadows, and the snake charmers slink away home for another night.
Abdul-Hakim is one of the last to go.
Pausing at a cliffhanger in his epic tale, he tugs off his knitted cap and holds it upside down.
A few Dirham coins are dropped in by locals.
The storyteller does a mental calculation. Just enough for dinner.
"They'll be back here in the morning as sure as day follows night," he says. "You see, they're caught in my spell. I can see it in their eyes. They simply can't resist."
Tahir Shah moved from London to Casablanca 10 years ago. He's the author of more than 15 books and is best known for "The Caliph's House," which details the tribulations of living in a haunted Moroccan home.
Moroccan lawmakers just approved a banking bill that provides for the creation of Islamic banks.
According to Minister-Delegate for the Budget Driss Azami, "participatory financial products and services can make an important contribution to the mobilisation of savings and financial inclusion in Morocco". The move by the Chamber of Representatives on June 25th to approve the alternative banks had been expected ever since the Justice and Development Party (PJD) took office.
The PJD had long underlined its commitment to the plan, in order to cater to the needs of a certain segment of the population and attract foreign investors. The cabinet in January took the first step by adopting the draft law.
The law covers the basic principles of Sharia finance, defines concepts, details the wording and scope of contracts and transactions, and outlines consumer protection measures and the supervision of participating banks by Bank al-Maghrib.
A range of financial products and services will be offered not only to Moroccans within the kingdom but also to those living in countries where participatory finance products are available.
The MPs who spearheaded the bill said that it addressed a grievance stretching back many years. According to the leader of the PJD group in the Chamber of Representatives, Abdellah Bouanou, the aspiration of a segment of Moroccan society that hoped to see Islamic banks has finally been realised.
Some other lawmakers, however, warned against the idea of "halal" and "haram" banks. Mounia Ghoulam, an MP representing the Istiqlal Party, underlined that this way of thinking could spark a social revolt. "There's no danger of ill-feeling being stirred up within society by the concept of halal or haram because Moroccans are aware of the services offered by each type of bank," sociologist Samira Bakali countered.
Said Khairoune, the president of the Finance and Economic Development Committee of the Chamber of Representatives, pointed out that alternative financial products would also contribute to the growth of the national economy.
The introduction of Islamic banks in Morocco would help draw cash into the financial market, economist Mehdi Farayhi agreed.
Foreign investors are already interested in Morocco, he said. An influx of capital is expected from Gulf countries. "Islamic finance has great potential in Morocco. The authorities just need to raise awareness of the services offered and train suitable staff," Farayhi added.
Rkia Raji, a 42-year-old employee, is among those planning to take advantage of the new banking services. "My husband didn't want to take out a normal bank loan to buy an apartment," she told Magharebia. "We've been saving up for years, but it's not enough to achieve this goal. Only Islamic banks offer a solution for us," she said.
© Magharebia.com 2014
The argan oil advantage at Dubai’s Al Asalla Spa
Anna Seaman July 6, 2014\
Dubai Women’s Establishment, or the Ladies Club as it is more commonly known, is a popular hangout for ladies all over the city, with a stunning beach, two pools and a great gym and running track. But Al Asalla Spa, attached to the main property, is often overlooked. So when it launched a new argan oil menu last month, we decided to check it out.
Although the reception area was a little tired-looking, with slightly dated decor, the size of the spa was impressive. It opens up into what seems like caverns of treatment rooms and a gorgeous, tranquil Jacuzzi, set with Arabesque tiles, brick walls and low seating, giving it the feel of a real Moroccan spa.
I opted for the Argan Essential Massage and Body Brush and was rapidly ushered into a dimly lit room for the treatment.
The therapist seemed a bit unsure and timidly approached me with the bath brush to explain that she would first rub my skin down with this brush to open the pores and prepare the surface for the nourishing argan oil.
To be honest, I didn’t really see the point of the brush – it was not vigorous enough to have much of an impact, but it was followed by the best bit of the treatment – the massage.
Suddenly much more confident, the therapist proceeded to give me a deep-tissue kneading with untreated argan oil.
Extracted from the kernels of the nuts of the argan tree, which only grows in south-west Morocco, argan oil is eaten for breakfast in the North African country. But it has incredible moisturising properties for the skin, hair and nails and is used to treat acne, heal scar tissue as well as combat rheumatism. In fact, it has so many benefits that some people have called it liquid gold.
My treatment left me with a healthy glow and deliciously soft skin and I was quite happy to sit in the relaxation room and sip on ginger tea while soaking up the benefits of the oil.
If I were to go again, I’d probably opt for a different treatment that concentrated more on the massage and less on the brushing, but as for ingredients and relaxation, we give it a thumbs up.
• The Argan Essential Massage and Body Brush treatment at Al Asalla Spa at Dubai Ladies Club costs Dh400 for 60 minutes. Call 04 349 9922 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more: http://www.thenational.ae/arts-lifestyle/beauty/the-argan-oil-advantage-at-dubais-al-asalla-spa#ixzz37RrXseh9
Khadija Fajry, an immigrant to both France and the US, likens nascent cosmetic industry to a goldrush in which she offers 'the real thing'
Little brown bottles filled with Moroccan argan and prickly pear seed oil dot Khadija Fajry’s table at a Long Island City street fair in the multiethnic enclave of Queens, New York.
Her business, Kenza International Beauty, is one stand among many. Italian ice, drunk with sweet syrup, is scooped out nearby and neighborhood establishments perform all around – from Irish folk dancing children to CrossFit gym rats, a group of muscular women wearing tiny shorts (some in high heel sneakers), who dramatically hoist barbells above their heads.
Wearing a long red silky blouse over crisp white pants, Fajry greets prospective customers warmly, and is soon massaging samples of her oils into the back of their hands or into the dry frizzy ends of their hair. Her own hefty mass of dark curls shimmer in the sunlight from the day’s excess oil she’s wiped into her hair.
Cosmetic oils might conjure up images of a blindingly slick face or grease-stained pillows for those accustomed to creams, but pure argan and prickly pear seed oil are absorbed within seconds, says Fajry.
“It’s literally food for your skin and your hair,” says Fajry in a vaguely French accent; she notes the oils are loaded with vitamin E and fatty acids. Kenza’s 1-2oz bottles of oils sell for $30 to $77.
Fajry founded Kenza in 2012 as an internet business that sells 100% USDA organic Moroccan oils. Fajry had moved to the US to be with her husband in 2000, then began noticing Moroccan argan oil beauty products flooding New York City stores and cosmetics websites.
“People got crazy over it. And when you see the product, there is nothing to get crazy about,” says Fajry flatly, “this is crap.”
Products were either mixed with chemicals or of low quality, easy to spot because the oil is slimy. She took it personally.
When you look at the ingredients,” says Fajry singling out Moroccan Oil, the wildly popular hair product line that uses argan oil, “it’s really sick.”
Moroccan Oil Treatment oil is one of the most popular products, but its devout following could have silken tresses not from hydration but because of its first its two ingredients, cyclomethicone and dimethicone, which are forms of silicone. Fajry also noticed an business opportunity because no one was selling prickly pear seed oil, an exquisite cosmetic oil popular in Morocco, now hot in Europe.
“I thought, ‘I have to do something, I’m Moroccan,’” recalls Fajry. “I have to bring them the real thing.”
Finding pure, high-quality wholesale Moroccan oils and a trustworthy supplier is challenging. The oils are expensive because the process is labor intensive.
Prickly pear seed oil is made from Moroccan cactus fruit seeds. Argan oil, cosmetic or culinary, is made from the kernel found inside the argan tree fruit, native to south-west Morocco, primarily a Berber region. The fruit is inedible except for goats who climb the gnarly tree branches to eat them. Women crack open the argan nut between stones to extract the kernel, which is then cold pressed.
European cosmetic companies began buying argan oil in the 1980s, and it’s now a big business. Fajry likens the industry to a gold rush, in which scams and fakes are plentiful. Sellers might mix sunflower seed oil with argan or make it in an unsanitary kitchen, and if argan oil has a bouquet of goat, it’s been made with the argan kernels taken from goats’ excrement after snacking on the fruits.
Fajry found supplier Said Azbane of the Casablanca based Les Labaratories Azbane, a large family-run cosmetics company
Said Azbane is a tall skinny man with closely cropped graying hair and long lashes. His family is Berber and comes from the argan forest region. His interest in regulating the quality and labor practices of the argan oil business is both business and personal. “We don’t have gas, we don’t have energy,” explains Azbane of Morocco, “we have only our people and our natural resources. We have so many aromatic plants and argan oil, which is only found in Morocco.”
After hearing rumors about possible argan tree plantings in Israel and Mexico, Azbane helped register argan oil as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) the first in all of Africa. The designation ensures various foods originate from a specific region.
“I wanted to get the highest quality that is certified, verified, everything!” says Fajry, noting he had all the correct certifications. He was reluctant to work with a tiny startup, but he recognized her sincerity and liked that she was Moroccan. Moroccan Oil, by contrast, was founded by no Moroccans; their products are produced in Israel and the company is headquartered in the US, as is the company of American model Josie Maran, who created an argan oil makeup line that sells at cosmetics superchain Sephora.
Moroccan oils have a built-in socially responsible business structure that appealed to Fajry. For more than a decade, oils have been made in female-owned and run co-operatives, funded in part by foreign and domestic governments, NGO’s, and grants. The co-operatives are designed to give poor women in remote regions who are uneducated, even illiterate, financial independence. However some co-operatives are legitimately female-run and -owned; others are not.
“Sketchy” is how Ainslie Koopmans, the co-founder of the Vancouver, Canada based argan oil company Saadia Organics describes the co-operatives, which are popular with photograph-taking tourists. Over a two-week visit, Koopmans found only one authentic female owned and run co-operative.
The others had men roaming around, which to Koopmans was a bad sign. “Men will very proudly tell you about how strong their capitalist structure is,” reports Koopmans. “And how – we say exploiting – but there, they say how well their women are working for them. It’s a real source of pride. If you were to talk like that here, you’d have women picketing outside your shop!” exclaimed Koopmans, “They don’t get that that’s not a thing to be proud of.”
Fajry buys her oil from legitimate female-owned and -run co-operatives. She also says she donates 10% of her sales to two New York City non-profits, the New York Women’s Foundation and Turning Point, which focuses on helping Muslim women and children.
Integrating into American culture as an adult was easy for Fajry, now 44-years-old, compared to French culture as a child. Her family immigrated to Istres, a small town in southern France, because her father found work painting bridges and other structures. Typical of many immigrant kids who quickly learn the new language, she was soon in a leadership role, taking care of family paperwork and doctor visits.
Although traumatizing at the time, Fajry credits her first immigration to making her adaptable and fearless. She was encouraged to get an education by her parents; her father has never learned to read or write because he had to work as a child.
A socially responsible business is important to Fajry, even if she makes the tiniest contribution. “You can have all the money, and not be happy,” says Fajry. She grew up seeing her parents, who were not wealthy, help relatives in Morocco when they visited over summers. “It is so satisfying to see you can do that,” says Fajry.
Fajry was thrilled to make a profit in her first year of business, which she attributes to low overhead. She works out of her apartment and Kenza’s only marketing is Fajry’s vigorous social media. Her goal is to eventually sell high-quality products that financially benefit women from all over the globe. And always ready for adventure, she says, “I can feel another immigration coming!”
Start-up on a Moroccan roll with Argan oil.
Gillian Duncan June 8, 2014
Read more: http://www.thenational.ae/business/industry-insights/the-life/start-up-on-a-moroccan-roll-with-argan-oil#ixzz37RuYdBUW
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