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Morocco Week in Review 
February 11, 2012

Morocco aims to revitalise public schools
By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat – 09/02/12

The new Moroccan government aims to boost students' employment prospects by strengthening state schools and universities.

As part of sweeping reform plans to improve Morocco's competiveness, the government of Abdelilah Benkirane intends to overhaul the education sector, improving state schools and universities. According to the prime minister, the work will revolve around governance and the quality of the education system, which needs to recover its teaching credentials. Attention will be paid to improving employment conditions for teachers, while increasing accountability. The government has promised to give schools greater independence in management and decision-making, ensuring they have the resources they need. "This will enable teaching staff and school managers to be more motivated, bearing greater responsibility for results achieved," Benkirane explained. Educational establishments will be assessed from time to time, to measure the results and achievements and address shortcomings.

Every school will need to set up its own teaching programme to suit the local situation, albeit based on the national programme. Curricula will also be rewritten. The government will monitor how teaching programmes are progressing and make changes according to any weaknesses found. The teaching of languages will be improved. Over recent years there has been evidence of a drop off in achievement in these subjects, which has had negative repercussions for candidates' chances in the labour market. Improved career guidance is another key element of the programme to steer pupils and students into suitable courses, particularly those demanded by employers. The Tayssir programme is to be rolled out nationally in an effort to prevent school drop-outs, which officially number 300,000 students a year. The project consists of providing direct financial help to poor households, provided their children attend school. The head of the government also promised to fight negative aspects within schools such as violence, drug abuse and sexual harassment.

In higher education, greater attention will be paid to preparatory classes for the "grandes écoles". The university offering will be updated to meet the need for senior managers in society and the economy. Teaching will be improved, both in terms of quality and quantity. New specialist universities are planned, particularly in medicine and engineering, as well as law colleges. The reforms will aim to improve students' skills in languages and new technologies, while introducing them to business culture. A national quality and assessment organisation will be set up by 2013/2014, along with a national observatory whose task it will be to adjust higher education to the needs of the labour market.

According to Higher Education Minister Lahcen Daoudi, the business community must be involved in supporting the reforms. He said it was necessary to use businesses' financial resources for 30 to 40% of his department's annual budget. In particular, the telecoms companies could support research. Schools should not just be creating a society which has knowledge, but that it should be possible to translate that knowledge into a profession, according to Abdelhafid Fahmi, director of the Moroccan Centre for Employment Research. "Young people need direction, and we must ensure they receive better information about the programmes planned for them," he said. Training is the top solution for promoting employment, explained Hamad Kassal, the former chairman of the SME-SMI federation at the General Confederation of Moroccan Business (CGEM). He said that new jobs such as accounting and offshoring were suffering from a skills shortage, which means that training has to adapt to meet the needs of the labour market.

Morocco report views culture as key to development
By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat – 02/02/12

To attain its development objectives, Morocco needs to tap into the vast potential of youth cultures, a recent report concluded. In a first-of-its-kind study, Morocco's Economic and Social Council (CES) explored how culture can serve as a powerful tool for youth integration. Culture should be regarded as "strategic sector" and constitute a key component of development policy. Such was the conclusion of the "Inclusion of Young People through Culture" report, released on Friday (January 27th). "We must address the new context," said Ahmed Abbadi, the chairman of the committee that conducted the study. "Young people in the region have made their feelings known in various ways and their needs and points of view should have been listened to."

The aim, ESC chief Chakib Benmoussa said, is to put culture at the heart of social reform and to make it a tool for development so that it can be incorporated into all relevant sectors, such as urban development, education and religious affairs. Young people's relationship with culture has changed tremendously, the study concluded, especially due to the influence of satellite TV and wider use of new information technologies. Youths nowadays have access to a broad range of culture outlets and no longer rely on the traditional methods of producing and disseminating culture. Government youth policies, however, are marked by a lack of joined-up thinking, poor anticipation of the rapid changes currently under way and a widening gap between young people's needs in terms of cultural infrastructure and content and what is actually available to the public, according to the report. Over the past few years, the lack of an overall strategy on culture has made it impossible to make the most of the country's diverse and rich cultural heritage or devise an overarching plan that can harness creative and artistic potential in various fields, Abbadi said. Nevertheless, young people's creative abilities have helped the Moroccan cultural scene to develop, be highly innovative, attain a certain degree of independence and interact positively with other world cultures. Abbadi cited L'Boulevard festival as an example.

The CES advocated reconsidering the place of culture in the nation's collective consciousness in order to reform society. This would involve a number of measures, including the development of a national plan which would make use of culture as a strategic development tool. Its other recommendations included new training courses based on Islamic principles. To achieve the goals, the programme will need a cash infusion. The budget of the ministry of culture made up only 0.5% of the overall government budget last year. Additional funds must be found by involving business and cultural organisation working with youths, according to the CES. Cultural infrastructures and facilities in urban planning regulations need support at the national, regional and local levels. "This is because cultural infrastructures are seldom included in urban planning projects for new districts and cities," sociologist Samira Kassimi told Magharebia. "From now on, this aspect should be incorporated into basic infrastructures." Abdelaziz Ioui, who reported back to the committee, commented that culture was a central concern for governments that devote large sums of money to it, whereas Morocco falls well short of expectations in this field. Hopes, however, are high that the new government will make some adjustments.

Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane vowed in a government statement to promote the role of culture and treat it as a priority by making it a bigger part of development efforts. "We will adopt an integrated approach so that culture and arts policy will become a way of strengthening national identity and opening up to other cultures and civilisations, based on the values of freedom, responsibility and innovation," he said. He also promised to develop community-level cultural facilities and provide them in all areas, to support young artists and to increase funding to boost national cultural output.

Morocco vows to honour job creation promises
By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat – 06/02/12

Morocco's jobless graduates are counting on the new government to deliver on its campaign promises. Abdelilah Benkirane's government looks to do more than follow through on their own pledges to unemployed young people; they plan to resolve job issues left unsettled by the former Moroccan administration. The previous government promised last year to employ 4,304 graduate holders for government positions, but 2,300 young people have yet to be granted jobs, Economic and General Affairs Minister Mohamed Najib Boulif said. The recruitment will take place on the basis of merit and competition from now on, Boulif said. The government cannot keep recruiting graduates directly, he mentioned. "I know that master's students from the 2012 cohort are preparing to go out and demonstrate in the streets once they have graduated," he said. "We can't go on accepting this. The public sector cannot absorb all graduates."

The new government finds itself under increasing pressure to provide jobs. Even before the government was sworn in, groups of protestors staged sit-ins in Rabat. Some occupied a building belonging to the ministry of education. Three demonstrators set themselves on fire. One of them, Abdelwahab Zeidoun, 27, died on January 24th. Protests have taken place in Al Barid Square, the seat of Morocco's parliament. Police officers broke up some of the demonstrations. "Peaceful demonstrations are a right guaranteed by law, but at the same time, they must not compromise the interests of other citizens, cause obstructions or result in the occupation of public institutions," Communication Minister and government spokesman Mustapha El Khalfi told journalists on Thursday (February 2nd). Some protestors, however, complained about anti-riot security measures. "We had high hopes that there would be change, and in particular a ban on using security measures to repress demonstrations of public grievances – a tactic that has failed in several regions of the world," protestor Abdessamed El Bernoussi said.

On the subject of self-immolations, Justice and Freedoms Minister Mustapha Ramid told protestors on January 26th that those who set themselves ablaze are solely responsible for their actions. He pledged to launch an investigation into allegations that emergency services failed to help demonstrators in time. Many young people struggle to comprehend how someone could reach the point of despair to take one's life by self-immolation. Though employment is a right that should be guaranteed by the state, they say, the despair caused by joblessness should not drive anyone to suicide. "There is no excuse for suicide," said Kenza Hamraoui, a business management graduate who has been out of work for five years. "In the past, some campaigners were tortured and imprisoned for years, but they never gave up hope. They got out and lived for many happy years afterwards. I'm sad that I haven't found a job. My parents are poor, too. But I still have hope for the future."

Moroccan IT sector sees meteoric growth
By Rachid Jankari for Magharebia in Casablanca – 06/02/12

E-commerce, a mobile phone boom and ever-expanding internet access are re-shaping the way Moroccans deal with their daily needs. Morocco's IT sector is growing at a double-digit pace. Internet access has expanded by three-quarters in 2011, while the mobile phone market increased by more than 14%, according to the National Telecoms Regulation Agency (ANRT). The rapid expansion "necessitates a proportional investment in content and services to satisfy the growing demand" of internet and mobile phone users, according to Mobiblanc CEO Mohamed Benboubker.

The kingdom boasts a total of 36.5 million mobile phone subscribers, representing a penetration rate of just over 113%. The market, however, is still dominated by pre-paid packages. There are only 1.5 million subscribers for post-paid deals, according to the ANRT. The Internet sector has expanded thanks to the growth of 3G. Out of 3 million internet subscribers, more than 2.5 million have 3G access. Meanwhile, high-speed connection accounts for just 18% of the market. The trend is taking a toll on the landline market, which shrank by 4.8% last year. Another telling sign of the market's development is e-commerce. There are now over 200 online retail sites affiliated with the Maroc Telecommerce platform. Internet users can purchase groceries, clothes, books, mobile phone credit, electronics, insurance and many other products and services without leaving home. According to the Centre for Interbank Payment Systems (CMI), Moroccan e-commerce turnover rose to over 513 million dirhams last year, a 72% increase from 2010. More and more people opt for using credit cards. More than 6.7 million cards are held by Moroccans, which represents a 10% increase from 2010.

This year, Maroc Telecommerce is set to launch a new multi-channel payment platform. "Known as Fatourati, this platform will give private and public-sector companies optimised access to a dozen or so channels (ATMs, mobile, branches and the internet) and methods of payment (cash, card, transfers and debiting, m-payment) operated by a number of financial institutions," said Maroc Telecommerce Development Director Samira Gourrom. Finally, another area that witnessed an upward trend is bandwidth consumption. It grew by almost 66% within one year. Industry insiders predict that 2012 will see continued double-digit growth, in particular due to competition between the three telecoms operators and the ANRT forecasts.

Morocco to fight rentier economy
By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat – 03/02/12

The new Moroccan government vows to remove patronage and foster a healthy business environment. Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane has declared a war on the rentier economy, pledging to remove privileges and exemptions based on patronage. The policy affects several areas, such as granting licenses for taxis or coaches and exemptions in the housing or maritime fishing sectors. Such income is based on a monopoly, charging prices higher than the going rate in the absence of competition, economist Ahmed Soundoussi explained. It also has to do with distributing mining or other wealth and resources through a system of forced patronage, he said. Benkirane appealed to MPs to support his plans to do away with such favours, saying that he was prepared to publish a list of recipients. The measures include greater powers for the Competition Committee, which is now recognised by the constitution. Article 166 of the Constitution has widened the powers of this body, which exists to control unfair business practices.

Committee chairman Abdelali Benamor said that his organisation has a team of experienced economic and legal experts who are capable of fighting the rentier economy. He added that the problem costs the national economy between 1% and 1.5% of GDP. The Competition Committee has encountered a certain amount of resistance from some lobbying groups, Benamor added, and it will take a concerted effort by influential sectors of society if malpractice in the market is to be stamped out. Mohamed Najib Boulif, Minister Delegate for General Affairs and Governance, assured that the government saw stamping out the rentier economy as one of its priorities. He said that it was important to get rid of the "practice whereby public tenders can be secured by a telephone call". "We need to get rid of such approvals within the next four or five years and set up an appropriate legal framework," he added. "Approvals must be governed by formal specifications."

Despite its resolve to tackle this area, the government acknowledged the task would not be an easy one. Benkirane has pointed out that a progressive approach is needed to meet their stated objectives. He called on officials to set an example by not taking advantage of the rentier economy. Driss Radi, an MP from the Chamber of Councillors, was spurred into action by the head of the executive's call. He handed in his taxi licence to Benkirane. "I wanted to make a gesture, to encourage all those enjoying big favours to reject them. We need to fight the rentier economy and corruption," he commented. The time is ripe for change, Benkirane said. "Those who have profited need to know how to stop. It's better to be modestly rich in a stable country than very rich in a threatened country," the prime minister said. Ahmed Zaidi, head of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) parliamentary group, called for a joint commitment to practical action to deal with corruption. It takes a number of forms, he said, and represents a huge danger to a national economy seeking to generate added value, wealth and employment. "Public opinion is focused on seeing effective steps taken on the issue," Zaidi said. "We shall see whether Benkirane's government will have the courage to publish the list of those enjoying such favours, whilst putting mechanisms in place to recover the rights of society."

The announcement is good news for people like Hakim M, a taxi driver has been working all day for the last ten years and has to pay more than half of his takings to the licence owner. "It's easy money for him, without having to work," he said. "It's unfair. There needs to be a new system to allow young people to enter the profession without being at the mercy of licence holders, who have been able to make a profit they don't deserve."

Morocco predicts lower growth for 2012
By ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: Feb 2, 2012 RABAT

Morocco's finance minister predicted Thursday the kingdom's growth rate for 2012 would drop to 4.2 percent because of the economic crisis in Europe. Morocco has had an average growth rate for the past five years of around 4.8 percent, though it is believed to have dropped slightly during 2011.Morocco's tourism sector wasn't as severely affected by the uprisings across the region as fellow North African states like Egypt and Tunisia, which saw this key industry devastated over the past year and flat growth. Despite a relatively robust growth rate, however, the country has struggled to create jobs and unemployment is officially at 9.1 percent, though it soars to more than 30 percent among those under 34 years.

The capital Rabat witnesses daily protests by unemployed university graduates.The new government, elected in November, has promised to make job creation one of its top priorities.In his statement carried by the state news agency, Finance Minister Nizar Baraka said the 2012 budget passed in October would be amended in face of the problems in the global economy and the lack of rainfall this year which bodes ill for the all important agricultural sector.He also promised to eventually reduce the budget deficit to 1 percent of gross domestic product.The deficit rose this year to more than 4 percent, according to Baraka, under pressure from additional spending on subsidies and government salaries in the face of the unrest.

The five-year government program presented to parliament is based on an annual growth rate of 5.5 percent for 2012-2016.

In Morocco, Islamist and Jew have embraced.
By Andrew Rosemarine, February 2, 2012

Serge Berdugo, the ebullient Secretary-General of Moroccan Jewry, is upbeat as the first-ever Islamist-headed government takes office in Morocco. A former minister of tourism - a crucial sector of the economy here - and a lawyer, he well understands all that is at stake. "We have to adjust to the new constitutional and political realities," he tells me. He has good reason to be optimistic. When, on election results day, Abdelilah Benkirane, the bearded and usually tie-less head of the winning Islamic Party of Justice and Development (PJD) and Mr Berdugo caught sight of each other, they embraced one another before the cameras. They were both seeking to demonstrate that Islamists and Jews can get on well together, and that the West has nothing to fear from this Islamist prime minister, as he became shortly afterwards. Indeed, the new constitution recognises the "Hebrew" contribution to Moroccan identity, and the PJD did not seek to veto it. Muslims are taking an interest in Judaism and Hebrew, and even helping Jews maintain their cultural heritage. "The [PJD] prime minister says he sees Jews as full citizens of the state," Mr Berdugo told me after the formation of the government. "We are confident for the future."

Has Morocco become fully Islamist? No. Less than a quarter of those old enough to register to vote, actually voted; of those who did vote, only 27 per cent voted for PJD; many of them were really voting for change. Having not been in power previously, the PJD is untainted by complaints of corruption and bad governance, which damaged the image of the old governmental parties. Mr Benkirane pledged to combat these practices, as well as poverty and unemployment. The popular and West-friendly King, Mohammed VI, remains all-powerful, and ensures a strong element of experience, and continuity in Foreign Policy, even though the new foreign minister is also a PJD man. Martine Abergel, a Casablancan headmistress, comments: "The new premier is full of good resolutions and the people trust him. But it will take time and much money to implement reforms."

Getting Married In MoroccoIn Morocco, women wear very colorful garment to wedding ceremonies.
02/ 9/2012

Some couples are content to tie the knot at the courthouse down the road. But for those who are more adventurous, a destination wedding -- and an international marriage -- are a must. The Huffington Post's guide to international marriages will tell you everything you need to know to get legally married in Morocco. Read on to ensure all of your paperwork is in order before booking your ticket. --Joan Bahr

Residency Requirement And Waiting Period
U.S. citizens who wish to marry in Morocco do not have to be residents. The Moroccan marriage will be recognized in the United States. The length of time to complete the process can vary -- local authorities in Morocco can change the process according to their wishes.

Intent To Marry
There is no specific law requiring U.S. citizens to announce their marriage in Morocco. A written statement of intent to marry is included in the long list of documentation required for a marriage certificate.

The Ceremony
In Morocco, marriages cannot take place at U.S. Embassies or Consulates, and U.S. diplomatic personnel cannot preside over marriages. Marriage by U.S. citizens in Morocco is governed by legal authorities in Morocco. After documentation has been filed, a family judge ultimately decides the final steps to the marriage ceremony.

The Marriage Certificate
The Annexe du Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres issues marriage certificates in Morocco. It can take anywhere from a few days up to a few months to get the certificate once the documentation is completed. After the couple wishing to marry has obtained the certificate, a family judge handles the completion of the process.

Legal Documentation
The list of documentation required for U.S. citizens to marry in Morocco is lengthy. All of the documentation must be translated into Arabic. Couples will need a completed affidavit of nationality and eligibility to marry from the U.S. Consulate General in Casablanca, valid U.S. passports and notarized copies of the biographic page and date of entry to Morocco, certified copies of divorce decree or death certificate if there is a previous spouse, birth certificates, U.S. police records (an original from a home state is preferred), evidence of employment, a written statement of intent to marry, a medical certificate of good health from a physician in Morocco and four recent passport photos.

Same-Sex Marriage
Same-sex marriage is illegal in Morocco. Same-sex sexual activity of any kind is illegal as well, and offenders can be imprisoned for six months to three years and fined.

Additional Information
After a couple receives a marriage certificate in Morocco, they must visit the family law section at the prosecutor's office of the Court of Appeals in the city where they plan to be married. They will have to present all of the documentation; the file will be given to a family judge. The judge will inform the couple of the next steps to be taken. The U.S. Embassy to Morocco gives lengthy warnings on its website regarding marriage fraud and "Internet romance" in Morocco. U.S. citizens planning to marry Moroccans are urged to consider the possibility that the marriage is being sought only for immigration purposes.

View the full set of laws and regulations regarding marriage in Morocco:

Touch of Arab Spring Comes Late to Morocco
By Abderrahim El Ouali CASABLANCA, Feb 10, 2012 (IPS)

Deadly clashes between police and youth in the Northeastern town of Taza last week suggest that, far from bringing change and stability, Morocco’s new government is simply repeating mistakes of the past, stoking tensions and fuelling a spate of protests against the regime. In an effort to keep its population in check during the Arab Spring, the regime launched a process of reforms last February and brandished what it called ‘the Moroccan exception’, boasting of relative calm during a period of intense regional turmoil.

A new constitution took effect on Jul. 1, 2011, granting wider powers to the executive of the new government while supposedly cutting back the authority of the monarch. This was followed by general elections last September, which were snapped up by the Islamists of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), whose general secretary, Abdelilah Benkirane, was subsequently named the head of the new government.

But Benkirane, who presented his programme to parliament last month, has thus far failed to deliver on his election pledges. For instance, the promise to completely eradicate unemployment, which currently touches 19 percent of the working population, evaporated soon after his appointment, giving way to a negligible decrease in joblessness of a single percentage point. Habib El Maliki, president of the Moroccan Centre for Conjuncture (CMC), told journalists on Jan. 20, "The government’s plans to fight joblessness were not strong enough. The programme determined objectives without means, and any programme without means is doomed to failure."

Public opposition to political procrastination has been swift and the streets of Morocco have become a veritable minefield of tension. Following a violent police clampdown on a demonstration by graduates demanding jobs outside the ministry of education in Rabat on Jan. 21, a 27-year-old unemployed graduate named Abdelwahab Zaidoun set himself ablaze in the streets. Once a rare occurrence, self-immolation has become a much more frequent tactic in the Arab world, after Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian vegetable seller, burned himself alive last year, igniting from his simmering remains the revolutions known as the Arab Spring. Zaidoun succumbed to his burns on Jan. 24, his tearful 25-year-old wife told the Associated Press last month, adding, "I accuse the makhzen (the ruling elite) of killing him."

Zaidoun’s death, five days after the government’s inauguration in front of the parliament, triggered a wave of protest throughout the country. In several cities, protesters have called for the abolition of the monarchy. One of the most incendiary protests so far sprang up in the city of Taza, one of the kingdom’s poorest regions, located 340 kilometres Northeast of Casablanca, on Feb. 1. Here, the new Islamic government exposed its true colours, lashing out savagely in a police-protester confrontation that left about 100 people on both sides injured.

Rahim Moktafi, an activist from the ‘February 20th’ movement, was an eyewitness to the events. "At first, the protests were peaceful. The police surrounded the city. They blocked Internet connections and cut off the telephone lines before beginning to club everybody," he told IPS. "The police even entered the houses of citizens to club them," he added.

Videos shared on social networks showed civilians claiming that they were threatened with beatings and rape in their own homes. "Morocco has always been one of the most violent regimes in the world, and the Islamist government is the best mask for the regime to go on with its same old practices," Moktafi said. Far from bringing much-needed change, "This government will only extend the tyranny for five more years," he said.

Anger against the "bearded government", as it is referred to in the local press, does not come only from the fields of confrontation with police. In Marrakesh, 250 kilometres south of Casablanca, where demonstrations were held in solidarity with Taza, public anger is no less palpable. Abou Zahrah, a Marrakesh-based activist with the February 20th movement, told IPS, "The arrival of the Islamists in the government is only a political manipulation by the regime."

Another of Benkirane’s election campaign promises was a guaranteed minimum wage increase to 3000 dirham, approximately 465 dollars. Once promised by the king, the wage increase has now been postponed to 2016, leaving the current minimum wage at 2300 dirham, roughly 290 dollars, per month.

According to Rachid Abou Zahrah, "the Islamist government will have no positive impact on citizens’ lives. The only increase we shall see will be in the number of veiled women." He is not being ironic. The fate of women’s rights in the era of the bearded government is a major cause for concern across huge swathes of the population.

During the presentation of his governmental declaration before parliament earlier this year, Benkirane was overshadowing a protest by women MPs against the lack of female representation in his government. Despite the ‘four women’ quota, only one was allowed to serve in the last government.
"The government is crushed between a modernist pole, represented by the revolutionary February 20th movement, and the traditionalists," Aziz Nidae, a political activist from the city of Fez, nearly 300 kilometres north of Casablanca, told IPS.

But judging from the government’s recent actions and according to the analysis of the local press, the government has shown that its allegiances lie with the conservatives. In fact Akhbar Al Yaoum, a local daily newspaper, remarked that the word ‘modernity’ was completely absent from the new government’s programme of action. (END)

'Jazzablanca' to feature international stars.

The Jazzablanca Festival will kick off April 21st in Casablanca, Le Matin reported on Wednesday (February 1st). The seventh edition of the musical event will be held at the Casa-Anfa racetrack. The six-day festival includes performances by Moroccan and international artists, including Marcus Miller, Billy Cobham and Olivia Ruiz.

Photos: Amateur pictures show south of Morocco in Rome. From 22 to 29/2 in Villa De Santis. Revenues to Maghreb women.
07 February, (ANSAmed) - ROME, FEBRUARY 7

The story of the south of Morocco told in 36 photographs made by 12 amateur photographers. Unforgettable landscapes and people, presented to the public in Rome in an exhibition in Villa De Santis, in Via Casilina n° 675, that will be open from February 22 to 29 2012. Organised by the Prospettivaotto Cultural Association in Rome - which organised a photographic expedition to the south of Morocco in October last year for non-professional photographers - the exhibition's goal is to help women in the south of the Maghreb country. All revenues from catalogue sales will be used to buy sewing machines for the "Sidi Ali les Nasij" women's association, which is active in a village nearby Rissani, on the edge of the desert. ''It is no coincidence,'' the organisers of the event announced, ''that the event was set up by women who are madly in love with Morocco." The exhibition will be opened on February 22 from 5.30 pm to 19.30 pm with an eastern dance performance. (ANSAmed).

Cinema opens up for Morocco's blind
1 February 2012

Aziz Bouallouchen explains what a difference the audio description has made. As Aziz Bouallouchen walks into the foyer of a plush cinema in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, he is given not a pair of 3D glasses that one can expect to find in many cinemas around the world but a pair of headphones.Mr Bouallouchen, in his 20s, is no ordinary cinema-goer and this is no ordinary cinema. Every seat is equipped with special devices to enhance the enjoyment of blind and partially-sighted film-lovers.The film being shown is Lalla Hoby, a popular Moroccan comedy about a man who crosses the Straits of Gibraltar in order to look for his wife who has left him for another man and gone to live in Belgium. Released in 1996, it is the only North African film to have been adapted to carry audio description.

Leading the way

Wearing headphones plugged into small receivers in the seats' arms, Mr Bouallouchen listens to a voice explaining the action sequences, body language, the scenery - the "in-between" moments without which a film's meaning is lost."It's a brilliant idea," Mr Bouallouchen says. "I haven't been able to 'see' a film since I suffered a disease that robbed me of my eyes.""But now I can feel part of the world of cinema," he says.Mr Bouallouchen lost his sight in 2005 after a rare disease called Behcet's syndrome attacked his optic nerve. Seven years on, he is sitting next to sighted people, "watching" a film. And, thanks to the audio description, everyone laughs at the same time at the antics of the hero of Lalla Hoby as he falls out of a small boat crossing the Straits of Gibraltar.Morocco is leading the way in Africa with the use of this new technology.

A voice talks "alongside" the film's action and provides a more inclusive cinema experience for visually-impaired people."We are the only country in Africa and the Arab world that offers this opportunity to the blind," says Nadia el-Hansali of the Marrakesh International Film Festival Foundation.The foundation - which hosts the annual influential film festival, where audio-described films have been screened for the past two years - is funding the adaption of the mainstream films for blind people. Eight films now carry audio description, including L'Atlante (1934), The African Queen (1951) and East of Eden (1955). Over the next 18 months another six will be adapted. Ms el-Hansali writes the scripts for artists to voice over alongside the film's actions. It is very precise, with the audio fitting exactly into the spaces between the actors' dialogue. "We have worked out how much to say and what is really necessary to understand the film fully," Ms el-Hansali says. "I avoid giving too much information that would only confuse those who can't see the screen."

The aim is to move away from the days of volunteer narrators, standing up in the cinema, doing their best to describe what is happening on the silver screen - but often talking over the crucial dialogue.Mohamed Doukkali is a white-haired philosophy lecturer at the University of Rabat in Morocco's capital. He is a fan of technology and already uses a specially-adapted computer in his daily work. "One of the advantages of new technology is that it removes some of the obstacles in our way," Mr Doukkali says.He describes himself as a "real cinephile", but says he usually only watches DVDs at home with someone telling him what is going on.He is thrilled to have finally had a real cinema outing. "Thanks to a voice that describes what is happening on the screen we are able to grasp films in a way we could not before," he says."It is much more enjoyable to watch a movie in the company of a big audience - after all that is what the cinema is all about."

Will Morocco's Reforms Point a Way Forward or Simply Succeed Alone?
(courtesy of PCV Tim Chorba)
Disclaimer: The authors currently advise the Kingdom of Morocco. The remarks expressed in this article are the authors' own views.

Having both served in Morocco as representatives of the United States under President Clinton, and for the past ten years as advisers to the Kingdom of Morocco, we have witnessed firsthand the remarkable record of political and social transformation that Morocco has undergone over the past twenty years, and particularly since King Mohammed VI assumed the throne twelve years ago.

In thinking about recent events in Morocco, particularly the adoption of the new constitution proposed by King Mohammed VI, it is almost impossible to grasp the potential importance of these developments without placing them in the context of events in the larger Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

The initial euphoria over the tumultuous events in the Arab world has given way to a more sober and, for many expert commentators, realistic assessment of just what the future may hold beyond new uncertainties. The split between democratic reformers and Islamic fundamentalists in Egypt grows more evident each day. Any new parliamentary election will witness a jostling among fractious moderates and conservatives whose platforms will still be subject to continued negotiations with the military.

Reform in Tunisia is moving ahead in fits and starts, again with uncertainty over the outcomes of the elections and further constitutional reforms. A stubborn Qaddafi regime in Libya has managed to survive the protestations of the United States and others of its opposition, and NATO, without strong US political and military leadership, seems unable to advance its mission. What a failure in the Libya mission might mean for the future of the North Atlantic alliance raises another set of troubling uncertainties itself.

Bashar al-Assad's regime continues its hardline response against the Syrian opposition as well as its onerous meddling in the affairs of its neighbors. Western criticism and threats of targeted sanctions take their toll on the Syrian people without effectively weakening the regime. Violence continues in Yemen where, as with their affiliates in North Africa, only the local branch of al-Qaeda seems to be gaining ground as the conflict stretches on. In Bahrain, the military backing of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has kept the lid on for now, but sectarian troubles continue to simmer near the boiling point. And the regime in Tehran reportedly seeks to take advantage of these circumstances to further weaken its historic competitors in the region.

With oil prices rising, US media coverage of the Middle East barely focuses on key issues other than the Arab Spring, such as the dynamics between Israel and the Palestinians, Iran's nuclear ambitions, and how the United States can extricate itself from Iraq without serious sectarian violence that would further enhance Iranian influence. Of course, none of these issues has gone away and each has arguably become more serious than before given the new uncertainties of the region.

In the midst of this challenging environment but less noticed among Washington policymakers, is an opportunity for embattled Middle East policymakers to discover some fresh inspiration for the future of reforms in the MENA region. In Morocco, King Mohammed VI seized the opening provided by popular calls for reform to advance a thorough revision of the constitution and a call for new elections that will bring to office a new and significantly more empowered set of legislative and executive officials and establish an independent judiciary. The new constitution, approved on July 1, 2011, by an overwhelming turnout of more than 73 percent of Moroccan voters, included the following provisions:

Some argue that the value of these reforms can only be judged by their implementation. While there is merit in this commentary, it implicitly diminishes the substantial record of previous reforms enacted in Morocco over the last twenty years, and most especially over the last twelve.

In his first major address to the people of Morocco on August 20, 1999, King Mohammed VI outlined his first priority---equal rights for women---in what was to become a series of social and political reforms that defined his vision for the future of the nation. In our view, the new constitution and Morocco's credibility as a nation committed to democratic values that we Americans also embrace, should also be judged and supported in view of the reforms already adopted. These reforms include:

The above reforms and others have qualified Morocco for a Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact with the US government, the first criterion of which is a proven track record on "good governance" issues and a demonstrable commitment to improving the daily lives of the nation's most disadvantaged citizens.

Our overall point here is that the Moroccan exception is not a recent response to issues raised in the wake of the Arab Spring, but a thoughtful evolutionary process begun more than a decade ago. That is why it is real, why it will continue to advance further, and why it has become a model for the region.

In our view, Morocco's record on these issues---and the seriousness of the constitutional revisions---argue for a fuller public embrace and robust set of supportive measures than the State Department has yet to put into place. We believe it also justifies a stronger initiative from Washington to partner with Morocco in order to take advantage of Morocco's deeper understanding of the region and proven experience on how best to advance reforms in a conservative region where many remain resistant to such changes, especially if led by Western powers.

Obama administration programs, such as the US-North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity (NAPEO), foster private-public sector initiatives and intra-regional partnerships among entrepreneurs and companies. Similarly, the Deauville Partnership will help ensure economic stability that helps create jobs and rewards transparency. These are examples of targeted strategic assistance that can facilitate and underpin continued progress.

In addition, it is in America's interests to help Morocco ensure that its vision for the future succeeds. The region needs both a local champion and a local success to help sustain the democratic vision that we all hope will become ascendant, rather than the regressive one we fear is gaining ground. This requires more than timid statements of encouragement couched in language that also implies some skepticism about Morocco's intentions. Morocco is our oldest treaty ally, the first nation to recognize the independence of the United States in 1777, and has a record of commitment to the good governance that we hope will take hold elsewhere in the region. As such, Morocco deserves stronger support---in statements, policies and aid---from the United States based on its performance and long history of close relations; it is clearly in our interest to provide this three-pronged support without hesitation as it would benefit both Morocco and the region.

So where should we begin? Perhaps the most important element of the latest reforms, which would also have the greatest long-term impact on strengthening democratic systems, is the determination to transfer governing responsibilities from representatives of the central state to local elected officials. "Regionalization" is the term most often used in Morocco to place decision-making authority in the hands of officials locally elected, more directly accountable to citizens, and to civil society organizations, which should expedite the implementation of the new constitution. This grassroots approach would take on the great challenge of building the human and structural capacity at the local level to exercise these responsibilities with competence and transparency. This project of capacity building at the local level is where the United States can put its own substantial expertise to work with its Moroccan partners. If such an effort were begun in the southern region of Morocco, commonly referred to the Western Sahara, it would have the added benefit of bringing greater autonomy to the local government there, something the United States has already endorsed as its policy to settle the Western Sahara dispute.

The events of the Arab Spring have once again reminded us that the Middle East and North Africa are still significant players in the global community. Whether one looks at the economics of oil and markets for investments or the political instability and challenges to security, no region merits more attention at this time. The King and people of Morocco have made a definite choice to invest in their future---to answer the need for greater economic growth, jobs, transparency, and power-sharing by undertaking a thorough revision of how the country is governed and to foster opportunities to remedy disadvantages within Moroccan society. Without oil and gas, and with limited resources, Morocco's efforts need to be matched by its friends in the international community. American know-how and global insights can be both an incentive and a support that can propel Morocco along its chosen path to becoming a more responsive, reliable, and progressive country. It is an investment worth making in a cherished and responsible ally in these times of great change.

(The authors are Ed Gabriel, former Ambassador to Morocco from 1997-2001, and Robert M. Holley, another retired Former Service officer)
(courtesy of PCV Tim Chorba)

In Morocco, The Arab Spring's Mixed Bounty
by Deborah Amos February 7, 2012

Relatives of Abdelwahab Zaydoun, a 27-year-old Moroccan who set himself on fire to protest his unemployment and died from his burns, react to his death in Casablanca last month. A year after street protests in Morocco prompted some reforms, Moroccans remain discontent with the gap between rich and poor, and the slow strides toward democracy.

If you're looking for the reasons for unrest in Morocco, you can find some answers while zipping along in a golf cart at a resort in the historic town of Marrakech. The rentals at this exclusive enclave are all five-star: large villas with extra rooms for a full-time butler and a chauffeur. There's a lake, a spa and an 18-hole golf course for the clientele — who are, it goes without saying, very rich. "In Morocco," says Mustapha, a resort employee, as he takes a prospective client on a tour, "you have the money, you live good. "This place is called the Secret Garden. But it's no secret that the gap between rich and poor in Morocco is one of the widest in the Arab world. About 15 percent of the population lives on $2 a day. The literacy rate is little more than 50 percent and, political analysts in Morocco say, there's a lack of opportunity and lack of hope among the young.

Just a short drive from the golf course is another Morocco, one with no electricity or running water.This neighborhood sits in the middle of an olive grove. The roads are unpaved, and the houses are made of concrete block and mud. A woman uses a branch to sweep outside her home. This is the poor Morocco. Poverty is one of many issues that ignited protests in the region — and in Morocco.

On Feb. 20, 2011, Moroccans took to the streets to demonstrate in a country considered one of the most stable in the region. King Mohammed VI moved quickly to placate the protesters by offering constitutional reforms and calling early elections.But progress toward democracy has also revealed the limits of civil disobedience.

Desire For A Different Kind Of Monarchy

The spark came when a group of young Moroccans called for demonstrations on Feb. 20 with a YouTube video that stated their demands for freedom and equality — their motives for calling for the street march. For the first time, demonstrators were directly challenging the absolute powers of the king, says businessman Karim Tazi, who joined the protest. "In a lot of Arab countries, the goal was a simple one — get rid of the dictator," Tazi says. "In Morocco, the situation was more complicated than that. No one wanted to get rid of the king, but they want a different monarchy, they don't want an authoritarian one. "Economist Fouad Abdelmoumni says they want a symbolic monarchy more like Britain or Spain and a parliament with powers. They want a democracy, he says, not through revolution, as in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, but through reform. "We have a whole generation that is emerging to politics, that is beginning to think of politics and beginning to have faith that they can lead their life and change their situation," Abdelmoumni says.

A year after the first demonstrations, reforms offered by the king are being tested. The head of the new government is an Islamist. His Justice and Development Party, or PJD, won the most votes in November elections, but the king and his advisers still retain substantial power, says Abdelmoumni, and can stall the proposals of the PJD. "Will they be able to change the mindset where corruption and nepotism [are] the basic behavior of the state?" he asks. That is the election promise, says Abdelmoumni, and party officials have already pledged to disclose the list of Moroccans who have benefited from a system known as grima, a French word that in Morocco means favors bestowed by the monarch. "They will pay the price if they decide to go strongly against corruption, and they will pay the price if they don't go far enough, because the population is expecting a lot," Abdelmoumni says.

A Limit To The Changes This population expects jobs. Unemployed college graduates protest every week in the capital. They shocked the country a few weeks ago when five set themselves on fire. Three were hospitalized and one died. The new government's strategy is to seek economic growth and curb corruption, but Ahmed Benchemsi says that could lead to a collision with entrenched interests — the elites connected to the king.

Benchemsi, the former publisher of a popular news magazine, is now a visiting scholar at Stanford University's Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. In a visit home to Rabat recently, he explained that the monarch controls much of the Moroccan economy."[The king] is the No. 1 businessman in the country," Benchemsi said. "He's the No. 1 grocer, he's the No. 1 farmer, he's the No. 1 landowner, he's the No. 1 steel producer, sugar producer. ... He's a huge businessman." And despite the new constitution, the king can still block any law he dislikes, Benchemsi says, adding that there are limits to the changes won by the protest movement a year ago. It's a critique heard across the region from the young protesters who brought so many to the streets. "They should have worked like a political movement," says Benchemsi. "But the thing is, the protest movement in Morocco is not a political movement. It is just a bunch of kids who dream of democracy — which is a beautiful thing, but it's not enough to shake a deeply rooted system like the Moroccan monarchy. "The demand in Morocco was to shake up the system, not destroy it. But if the government and the king fail to deliver soon, analysts say, the next confrontation could be tougher — against the monarchy itself.

Morocco: The ride of our lives on the ships of the desert
It may have been scorpion-free, but a family trip to the Moroccan Sahara made for a challengingly different half-term break
By Rosie Millard 02 Feb 2012

Sometimes doing things differently is just what you need on a family holiday. Forsaking modern luxuries can be a positive, bonding experience – at least that’s what I told my husband when he realised he was about to spend three nights in the desert without running water or a flushing loo. I’d booked a week-long trip for the family to Morocco, which included two nights in Bedouin tents near the desert oasis of Ouarzazate, and a night in the middle of the Sahara desert itself. “Basic but comfortable” the blurb had it.

As we arrived, at twilight, for our first night my husband had another way of expressing this: “I am rather out of my comfort zone.” The Bedouins certainly know about camping. Our vast tent, furnished with six mats, was held up by wooden poles, and constructed from knitted goat hair. A naked light bulb revealed several rather alarming holes in the goat-hair cloth at ground level. “Oh, wow, this is where the scorpions will come in,” said Gabriel, our 12-year-old son, as I toyed with, and then abandoned, the idea of unpacking. “Are there scorpions?” I asked our guide, Aziz. A tall, softly spoken Berber, Aziz shrugged. “Probably not. Check your shoes in the morning, anyway.”

As our four children, aged between six and 14, rushed off to look for scorpions in the palm trees around the campsite (they didn’t find any), I took a quick tour around the shower block (primitive but clean) and then settled down on a low sofa in the dining area to share a pot of fresh mint tea with the two other families on the trip. Family holidays are getting more intrepid, and the idea here is to be intrepid alongside two or three like-minded groups. Beside keeping the costs down, and not having to worry that taking your luxury-loving sister along was a terrible idea, travelling with strangers means – in our case, at least – a lot less swearing and shouting. Plus, our children love messing about with an instant posse of new friends, all of whom seem equally happy talking about Dr Who and impersonating Borat. One of the families is from Wiltshire, the other from Suffolk. Had either of them spent a night in a Bedouin tent before? Of course not. But like us, they had outgrown buckets and spades. Unlike us, they had come well prepared for the challenge, remembering to bring things like head torches and travel sickness pills (the Atlas roads are nauseatingly winding). We had all, however, brought decent sleeping bags. You don’t mess around with the chill of the desert night. “I am TOTALLY FREEZING,” announced Phoebe, our teenage daughter, from the depths of the Bedouin tent on our first night. We all ended up in socks and sweatshirts over our pyjamas.

In the morning, after the general disappointment of zero scorpions in footwear, we drove into the desert, which is Martian, rocky and relentless. After 40 minutes, a Biblical-looking village appeared, with a collection of camels ensconced beside it. “Do I really have to ride on a camel?” quavered Lucien, six. “Well, I want to know what name my camel has,” announced Honey, nine. “He must have a name!” “You can give him a name,” said Aziz, clearly familiar with bossy British children. He gently settled Lucien on top of an alarmingly large beast while we all clambered aboard our various animals, each of which stood up with a see-saw motion. Essentially, we were pitched forward before being thrown back, while being propelled 10ft skywards. We were all sitting on blankets on top of blue mattresses. It was not uncomfortable. “This is what we are going to sleep on tonight!” shouted Gabriel excitedly. “Oh Daddy, there are about a zillion flies on your camel!” yelled Honey. Mr Millard rolled his eyes at me. I rather feared he was mourning the fact we were not in Richard Branson’s deluxe Moroccan hideaway. “This is the real deal!” I bellowed over to him, while anxiously hoping the camel behind me was not about to take a chunk out of my left thigh. An assemblage of local men hissed and shouted at our transportation, which doggedly started walking off.

Two hours later, we were still walking. On the horizon, we saw a tiny figure of a man standing on a sand dune. “The cook,” said Aziz. Eventually, we arrived in the lee of the giant dune. This unremarkable site, which shares the undulating profile, sharp shadows and golden sand of the surrounding 20 miles, was to be our campsite. Six small bell tents were already pitched – our bedchambers. A small square tent beside them was our kitchen, a larger square tent our dining room. Some way off, a small rectangular tent housed the latrine. That was it. After a magnificent repast of vegetable soup and spaghetti bolognese, Aziz took all the children up onto the top of the dune for a game of football in the natural bowl of sand. Afterwards, the children jumped and slid back down. The day unfolded before us. The Sahara is very big, but it’s not silent. Amazingly, we could hear birdsong. Occasionally, a butterfly fluttered past. Someone produced a volume of Cosmo, which was quite reassuring, in this giant, arid world. Someone else got out a Kindle (me actually). “I’m hoping to be the first person to read a book on a Kindle in the Sahara,” I said to Mr Millard, who was playing I-spy with our son. “I spy something beginning with S” said Lucien, somewhat unnecessarily.

Night came quickly, the shadows racing up the dunes. Hundreds of stars appeared, then thousands, then tens of thousands, plus the entire Milky Way, accessorised with shooting stars. As I blundered into the washing up bowl, I fervently wished I had brought something other than a British Museum illuminated pen with which to light my way. Around the campfire, Aziz and the camel drivers danced, beat a drum and sang. “Your turn!” they said. We looked at each other, aghast. The English are useless at spontaneously bursting into song. Then someone started singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. It was cheesy, but why not? At dawn, my husband and I crept out of our tiny tent and stumbled stiffly past the black shapes of sleeping camels. The world was grey. A rocky outcrop on the horizon was black; the sun, an iridescent line. Birds were singing everywhere. Then the sun burst up over the desert; the world became gold and the sky azure once more. Out of my comfort zone? I’ve experienced nothing like it.
Morocco essentials
The Adventure Company (0845 287 1198; has places on its next eight-day Saharan Sands family trip to Morocco which departs on February 12. It costs from £799 per adult or child (minimum age six years). This includes return flights from London, seven nights’ accommodation (four in a hotel, three camping), transport (minibus and camel), some meals and the services of a local group leader. The group will also visit the Atlas Mountains and spend two nights in Marrakesh. There will be further trips in the Easter holidays and June and October half terms.

Diamond in the rough economy in Morocco: With glaring wealth gap, can country afford its glittering new mega-mall?
By Paul Schemm Associated Press Tuesday, February 7, 2012CASABLANCA, Morocco

Inaugurated by pop star Jennifer Lopez in front of the cream of Moroccan society, Casablanca’s first mega-mall, complete with a two-story-high aquarium, is dripping with glamour and luxury.Developers describe it as a step bringing Morocco closer to the ranks of the developed world, but detractors worry that it is a vanity project that a country teetering on the edge of an economic crisis can ill afford.

Morocco at first seems a curious choice for what its developers are billing as the biggest mall in Africa. It already has world-renowned traditional bazaars featuring exquisite ceramics and rugs that draw tourists from around the globe.The North African kingdom of 32 million is home to the largest income inequalities in the Arab world. It now hosts Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dior and Ralph Lauren boutiques and department store Galeries Lafayette in the new mall, a futuristic, bulbous silver structure perched on Morocco’s coast overlooking the crashing waves of the Atlantic. The mall - which will host acts such as Shakira and Kanye West for a summer concert series - is a stark symbol of the contrasts of a country with 8.5 million people in poverty that ranks 130 out of 186 on the U.N. human development index. The 20-minute coastal drive from downtown Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, to the mall showcases the complexity of the country, with slums hidden from sight by high walls, construction areas for new shopping centers and the villas and nightclubs of the wealthy. “It is a great honor for Morocco to have a project of such dimensions,” Salwa Akhannouch, head of the Aksal group and the driving force behind the mall, said at its opening this month. Crowds packed the mall in the weeks after it opened. Shoppers ambled through sunlit galleries and gazed at the aquarium and the 350 stores. Colorfully dressed performers, some from as far away as Eastern Europe, periodically would burst into enthusiastic dance routines to the accompaniment of loud drums.

Few shopping bags were in sight, however, and most visitors seemed just curious to see this much-anticipated monument to shopping that has been four years and $260 million in the making. “There is a big gulf between the rich and the poor, and the rich just seem to be getting richer and the poor, poorer. The mall is a symbol of that,” said Hassan Ali, a 45-year-old shopkeeper selling hand-tooled leather jackets in Casablanca’s modest old quarter. Tourism is a vital part of the mall’s plan, said its secretary general, Jenane Laghrar, who anticipates 20 percent of its estimated 12 million annual shoppers will come from abroad. She said sales for the first week were on target. “When you enter the mall, you see Gucci and Dior, but don’t forget you have the largest content in Africa. At the same time, you have more affordable brands,” she said. There is also an aspiring middle class that wants to be able to buy these luxury products, she added. The hope is also that European tourists will add the mall to their usual itineraries of beaches and the exotic cities of Fez and Marrakech.Ms. Laghrar said the mall is especially hoping to attract visitors from the rest of Africa who pass through Casablanca airport on their way to Europe.

For now, however, visitors from Africa make up fewer than 5 percent of Morocco’s tourists, with the vast majority still from Europe. Europe’s financial crisis poses a dilemma for the Moroccan economy as a whole, which is deeply intertwined with its neighbors across the Mediterranean. Morocco’s main sources of hard currency - including foreign investment, tourism and remittances from its workers abroad - come overwhelmingly from Europe. On Dec. 20, the government reduced growth projections for 2012 by half a percentage point in response to Europe’s crisis. “The world is entering a period of crisis. The next four or five years are not going to be years of prosperity,” said Nabil Akesbi, an economist who teaches at the Hassan II Institute for Agronomy in the capital Rabat.For him, the Morocco Mall is part of a bet Morocco is making that it can become a kind of Dubai for the western Mediterranean, attracting consumers from across Africa and Europe to make up for weak local demand. “It is a bit of a fragile model,” he said. “The success depends less on durable local demand than betting on foreign demand. ”The mall’s developers point to Morocco’s consistent growth rate of 4 percent to 5 percent for the past few years as a sign that the economy can support this kind of luxury shopping. Those growth figures, however, are not producing jobs. Unemployment overall is at least 8 percent, while the jobless rate for those younger than 34 is a staggering 30 percent. Pro-democracy demonstrations that rose up in Morocco last year have faded away, but millions of unemployed university graduates across the country still hold regular protests.

Investment has not been in sectors like industry that produce a lot of jobs, rather in retail, services and infrastructure that have not been creating the employment the nation needs, Mr. Akesbi said.The economy is still at the whim of the annual agricultural harvest. Part of the reason for the country’s steady growth recently has been good weather.“Here we are in 2011, and the economy is still largely determined by the sky,” Mr. Akesbi said.About 25 percent of the economy relies on agriculture, but it employs 40 percent of the workforce, and a bad harvest can hurt other sectors.The government dangerously overstretched its budget by increasing food subsidies and raising government salaries in a bid to stave off unrest sweeping the Arab world.The mall project was conceived in the headier days of the mid-2000s when Morocco decided that what the country needed were more shopping centers.While Europe falters, the wealthy oil states of the Gulf are playing a role in building a more consumerist Morocco.Half of the funding for the Morocco Mall comes from the Saudi Al-Jedaie Group, which has built malls across Saudi Arabia.

Homesickness settles in Morocco
By Kaitlin Gillespie 2/3/2012 Eating camel meat cooked in a back alley is not recommended

Homesickness did not hit until I woke up Sunday morning, knowing I was going to throw up camel meat in a matter of seconds.That’s not a typo. I had camel kefta for lunch last weekend and think it might be the death of me. I’m still shaking off whatever sickness I got from it. I haven’t eaten animal products with the same omnivorous passion since.

The food in Morocco is incredible. There’s couscous and tagines and fresh fruit and vegetables. The flavors are deep and there are spices used here that I’ve never even heard of. I was expecting the same with camel. I mean, it was a great idea. A chunk of camel chopped and ground in a back alley, cooked in a back alley grill and served in a back alley hole-in-the-wall? I mean, we even had lunch mates: a couple of flies and some stray cats. What part of that doesn't sound like a great idea? But sadly, it wasn't.

Like all things, the sheen wears off after enough time. I’m still in love with Morocco. My classes are fascinating, the people are kind and the city still feels like home in spite of the amount of time I’ve spent with my head in a toilet. It’s just not as sparkly and new as it was when I arrived.I miss home. I miss my family and friends. I’m craving a juicy bacon burger made with the most processed, all-American ingredients available. Those feelings don’t mean anything is bad or wrong about the culture I’m living in. It’s just different. People are sometimes frightened of the unknown. We tend to cling to what’s close; the things that we know we love and that make us feel safe. That’s all my life has been up until now. This is my first time out of the country. Being in North Africa after the Arab Spring, when America’s image is so poor, feels very distant from what I know and love. I haven’t regretted making the decision to travel here for a second, even in my frantic searches for a place to be sick. Every adventure has its setbacks, but at its core everything I love about this country remains the same. Some of the hiccups might even have made my love stronger — like getting sick, wondering why my teacher didn’t show up to class or being stranded in a snow storm at the Spokane airport. It’s all a matter of putting things into perspective, finding the positives and remembering those even when times are hard. Maybe that’s a bit of advice we can all use sometimes.Happy travels.

From centers of torture to culture in Morocco
September 17, 2010 12:00 AM By Agence France Presse (AFP) RABAT

Morocco launched a program to restore former secret detention centers on Wednesday as it seeks to deal with the legacy of past human rights abuses, state sources said.During former head of state King Hassan II’s reign (1961 – 1999), these centers became notorious as sites where dissidents opposed to the king were detained and tortured.According to an agreement by the Culture Ministry and the Consultative Council of Human Rights, the centers will be transformed into places of “preservation and rehabilitation of the [victims’] memory” and cultural centers.The EU has granted more than $6.5 million for the project over the next five years, with the aim of encouraging “Morocco’s reconciliation with its past,” a culture ministry official said. Since 2004, a number of torture victims have been compensated by the Equity and Reconciliation Committee.
Read more:
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::

FOURTH ANNUAL CELEBRATION OF THE LOS AMAZIGH FILM FESTIVAL is now scheduled for Saturday, April 21, 2012, from 5 pm to 10 pm and Sunday April 22, 2012. We are happy to report that this season again, the Department of Cultural Affairs of the City of Los Angeles will be sponsoring the Festival.

THIS YEAR, 2011-2012, the Festival will focus on Morocco and more particularly Imazighen (Berbers) of the Mountains of Morocco, the northern Rif, the Middle Atlas, and the High Atlas. We are happy to report an excellent array of submissions has been accepted.

For details of the event , and program information, please go to: or see also article :

Please let all of your friends know of the opportunity to attend this rare event in Los Angeles. The 2010 film "Itto Titrit" by well-known Amazigh director Mohammed Oumouloud Abbazi is a gem. Our guest musicians from the Rif, renowned KHALID IZRI and violinist Baptiste Argouarc'h, will perform in the US for the first time. They are internationally acclaimed. The US Premiere of "Waiting for the Snow" , a documentary on a Middle Atlas mountains Berber family, by Moroccan Journalist Yacine El Idrissi (38 minutes) is a delightful and gripping tale. US Premiere of the film "Zohra, a Moroccan Fairy Tale" , a UK-Morocco production by an art-house, well known British director, Barney Platts-Mills, filmed with Moroccan villagers as actors, will take place on Sunday at the Electric Lodge in Venice (3 PM). It received an award at the international Rotterdam Film Festival in Nov. 2011, and will premiere in the US at this Festival.

The Los Angeles Amazigh Film Festival will also have a free presentation at the United Nations in NYC on Friday, April 27th 5 - 8 PM. - Under preparation...

PURCHASE YOUR TICKETS ON LINE NOW: Tickets on sale right now for $16.00 ($20.00 at the door) at for Saturday event.
Tickets only at the door ($15.00) for the Venice Sunday Matinee event.
Face book page: Los Angeles Amazigh film Festival has trailers.

Rare Moroccan Argan Oil – Now Made In Israel
By NoCamels Team · February 8, 2012

Argan oil, rich in vitamin E and fatty acids, has become the sensation of the decade, sought after by chemists, dieticians, hair salons, chefs and cosmeticians. The only problem with Argan was its availability: The Argan tree takes 15 years to yield nuts and one tree can yield only a couple liters of oil, making production costly and limited.Until recently, it was a rare product grown only in the Atlas Mountains and traditionally made by Moroccan tribes, as the Argan tree could not grow outside of Morocco.

Now, Israeli company Sivan is developing “Argan 100” – a super strain of Argan that is tolerant of the Mediterranean climate and can produce ten times more nuts than the average tree in Morocco, they say. “We are the only company that knows how to raise Argan trees and to bring them to market professionally, so that every year we will know how much oil to expect,” says company’s chief agronomist Chaim Oren. Based on 25 years of field research, Sivan’s agronomists found a way to produce the oil from their own groves and refuted the widespread legend associated with the production of the oil. According to this legend, Argan oil could only be processed from the nut – which looks like an unripe olive – after its hard shell was removed via a goat’s digestive tract.Oren says there is in fact no need for goats to perform the job of middlemen. “I was exposed to the Argan trees many years ago, and we did a breeding session in Israel,” Oren says. “We pollinated trees with other trees. Ours are resistant to soil disease, giving these trees a steady yield every year.”To date, about 2,500 Argan trees have been planted in the Ashkelon, Arava and Negev regions in Israel.

This commercial endeavor may also be beneficial for the Argan trees in Morocco, as the competition with the local market could reduce the tree’s chances of extinction. The United Nations’ conservation body UNESCO has set up reserves to protect the dwindling Argan trees in Morocco.

Sivan, founded in 2007 and based in Ramat Hasharon, Israel, sells Argan oil to wholesalers, with small quantities of leftovers sold online. Their eventual plan is to sell their Argan 100 to other countries.

These postings are provided without permission of the copyright owner for purposes of criticism, comment, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and it may not be distributed further without permission of the identified copyright owner.  The poster does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the message, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

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