Virtual Magazine of Morocco on the Web
Morocco Week in Review
February 18, 2012
David Martin: Morocco deal can bring its people real benefits.
Published on Friday 17 February 2012
YESTERDAY the European Parliament voted in Strasbourg to liberalise trade between the European Union and Morocco with regard to agricultural and fishery products. The agreement liberalises, with immediate effect, 55 per cent of tariffs on EU agricultural and fisheries products and 70 per cent of tariffs on Moroccan products within ten years.Agriculture accounts for 38 per cent of the Moroccan workforce, with peaks of 75 per cent in rural areas, so this agreement will have a substantial effect in boosting trade and development.This was a contentious debate and vote, based on an accompanying resolution which I drew up for the Committee on International Trade. It was contentious because of the illegal occupation of Western Sahara. In coming to difficult decisions over expanding trade with various countries, where human rights and democracy are not what we would want them to be, it is always a question: “Will this action hinder or help the movement toward democracy?” On balance, the answer here was a guarded “yes”.However, as was made clear by the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the debate, our consent to this trade agreement does not imply any approval for the illegal occupation of the Western Sahara by Morocco. This is a clear commitment for future co-operation with Morocco. Only in dialogue will we be able to solve other serious questions, including the Western Sahara.
The European Parliament is rightly in favour of the democratic transitions that are taking place as a result of the so-called Arab Spring, and are strongly in favour of measures encouraging economic stability in North Africa. We have made many promises to the Arab people. This agreement is one of our first chances to deliver on those commitments – to “walk the walk as well as talk the talk”. Trade is not an end in itself but a tool to produce economic stability, reduce poverty and underwrite democracy. We should do our utmost to support well-functioning economies in our Southern Mediterranean neighbours – only when they are stable democracies will spring lead to summer.
David Martin is a Labour MEP for Scotland.
Ambassador from Morocco: Who Is Rachad Bouhlal?
Saturday, February 18, 2012
President Barack Obama has welcomed a new ambassador from Morocco, which was the first nation to recognize the newly-independent United States in 1777. Mohamed Rachad Bouhlal was appointed ambassador by King Mohammed VI on December 6, 2011, and presented his credentials to President Obama on January 17, 2012.
Born in Rabat, Morocco, on August 26, 1951, Bouhlal earned his undergraduate degree in Mathematics in 1970 and then an MBA at the University of Rouen, France. Returning to Morocco, in 1976 he joined the civil service, serving at the Office of Foreign Trade in the Ministry of Trade and Industry from 1976 to 1978, and as desk officer at the Europe Bureau of the Ministry of Trade and Industry from 1978 to 1979. Moving to the Ministry of Finance in 1979, he served as deputy director of the Trade Division, and then as head of the Commercial Division, at the Foreign Exchange Office from 1979 to 1988.
Shifting gears again, in 1988 Bouhlal became director of the Fishery Industries Department at the Ministry of Fisheries and Merchant Marine. In 1991, Bouhlal became secretary general of the Ministry of Foreign Trade, where he remained until 1994, when he became senior advisor to Prime Minister Abdellatif Filali.
Bouhlal was appointed to his first foreign posting in 1996, as Ambassador to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg. In 1999, Bouhlal was named secretary general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, serving until 2004, when he became Ambassador to Germany. He served in Germany for seven years.
Bouhlal is a founding member of the Association Ribat Al Fath pour le développement durable (Ribat Association for Sustainable Development), a non-governmental organization active since 1986 in the Rabat region. He is a pilot and past president of the Aéro Club Royal de Rabat (Rabat Royal Air Club). Bouhlal is also a past president and founder of the Wildlife Film Festival of Rabat. He speaks Arabic, French, and English, and is married with two children.-Matt Bewig
Official BiographyInterview with Mohammed Rachad Bouhlal (by Claire Bourdon, Cultural Diplomacy Research)
Morocco’s New U.S. Envoy Faces Tough Task Ahead (by Hassan Masiky, MoroccoBoard))
‘The real Morocco is not happy’
By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim & Laura Gilbie Sunday, February 12, 2012 Anti-government protesters in Morocco.
The self-immolation of five activists in January briefly brought international attention to growing unrest in Morocco, evidenced by the mass demonstrations that began a year ago.It is in the capital, however, where political rallies have become something of a permanent fixture.Three times a week, the well-tended boulevards of the Moroccan capital are overrun with dissatisfied tertiary graduates, demanding jobs. The rallies can last for up to six hours. Marching down Rabat’s main arteries, they bring traffic to a standstill for entire afternoons. Afterwards, participants congregate on lawns not far from parliament house. Despite drawing considerable attention from authorities, their demands have not been met. One protester claiming to hold a masters degree was bold enough to speak to a foreign journalist, but refused to give her name or other personal details, fearing police action. However, she was happy to discuss the demonstrations, in which she has taken part for several months. “We want jobs,” she said. “There is a ministry decree that everyone with a masters degree will get a public sector job. But, when we get our degrees we find this is not true.“Almost 1500 people show up to these protests, because the government promised us public sector jobs ... but you have to be from the elite to get a job in the public sector because there is bribery. ”She some most protesters are unemployed, but some have low paid jobs for which they are overqualified. “They told us not to worry, we are going to solve your problems.”However, she has no faith in the ruling Justice and Development Party, which is yet to make good on its key election promise of better jobs. “There is nothing new since the  elections ... we are still suffering from our unemployment. ”As some police passed, she grew worried, but continued the interview. She explained that the protests draw little media attention in Morocco.“They don’t want to show a negative image of Morocco, so they don’t show this on TV. They don’t show the truth — Morocco has problems.”When asked if these peaceful rallies had drawn any response from the police, she said: “Yes, of course.”“Sometimes they hit us ... sometimes they imprison us.” As the police drew closer, she finished by saying that the authorities have the “right to hit us ... because for them we make trouble”. Like this particular activist, many protesters are unwilling to give their names or personal details to strangers.
Dozens of political activists have been imprisoned, and many more have accused the police of using excessive force against peaceful demonstrations. Radical socialist Momley Eliatifi is all too familiar with the risks of voicing opposition to the regime. Shaking off an assassination attempt in 2010, Eliatifi is now a leading figure of the reform movement, called February 20. Eliatifi said capitalist “globalisation and imperialism are [the] causes of poverty”, but he sees democracy as the “answer to economic ... and social problems”.“Personally I am Communist ... [but] it is too soon to talk about a socialist movement in Morocco.” However, he acknowledged that “what we do now is very important for destroying capitalism”. Eliatifi blamed the monarchy and “imperialist forces” for impeding social progress in Morocco. Germany, Britain, France and the US all “have interests in” making sure countries like Morocco do not develop democracy, he explained. He labelled these countries as “imperialist”, and said the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation are all “imperialist institutions”, which serve the interests of developed Western nations, “against the people [of the developing world]”. “The king doesn’t work for the interests of the nation, but it is the [Moroccan] bourgeoisie that works for the interests of imperialist countries. “For their own interests, not for the interests of Morocco .”However, not everyone supports change. At a meeting on New Year's Eve, a group of Leftist and Liberal February 20 supporters discussed a fatwa issued against them.In a Rabati apartment, this small collection of radicals laughed at the death threat. These particular activists take accusations of heresy and promises of retaliation in their stride. Yet in a country where citizens were arrested and interrogated for planning a picnic during Ramadan in 2010, drawing the ire of religious leaders evidently can have serious repercussions. The following day, more cautious activists at a rally in nearby Sale were critical of reactionary religious institutions. Mostly home to workers who commute daily to Rabat, Sale also hosts sprawling shanty towns of poor rural migrants — many of whom are unemployed. Fatima (a pseudonym) is another socialist. She took part in the New Year's Day rally to demand better conditions for the working class, and improvements to child care and education. However, she expressed concern that many religious Moroccans believe that “Islam is against socialism”. This was despite the presence of one Islamist party in the reform movement. It joined other February 20 supporters in boycotting last year’s elections. “The majority of Moroccans are Muslim,” said Fatima. “They are uneducated, they think that socialism is against Islam, so they will never accept it.”
Morocco’s New Geopolitics: A Wider Atlantic Perspective
Monday, 13 February 2012
Ian Lesser, Geoffrey Kemp, Emiliano Alessandri
Recent events underscore the reality that stability in Morocco’s neighborhood cannot be taken for granted. The implications of protracted instability in Morocco’s near abroad — the Maghreb and West Africa — would be substantial, adding to the opportunity costs of poor integration in the region, and strengthening the logic of an Atlantic vision. While continuing to pursue Maghreb integration, Morocco will also explore larger geometries in its international policy and economic development.
Some of these new geometries will emerge within the neighborhood, above all in West Africa, where new infrastructure could open opportunities for economic development, with Morocco as a hub for integration and commerce in the region. Looking beyond the immediate neighborhood, the area with the greatest future potential for Morocco as an international actor will be the wider Atlantic, including the southern Atlantic per se. For various historical reasons, the southern basin of the Atlantic has featured less prominently in modern transatlantic relations and international affairs.
This may be changing. From the rise of Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria, and even Angola as emerging economies, to developments in offshore energy production and trade, the notion of southern, or more properly, wider Atlanticism may finally come to the fore. Many of the key trends affecting global economics and security are being played out to the south of the prevailing Washington-Brussels axis. At a minimum, this prospect will give greater weight to north-south and south-south relations, and Morocco is well placed to serve as a hub in this wider Atlantic world — in logistical terms, but also in terms of the evolving mental maps of policymakers. This study argues that while it is in the interest of Morocco to consolidate relations with the EU and capture the potential gains from a reshaped European approach to its southern neighborhood, Rabat should also encourage policymakers in the United States and Europe to think more imaginatively about Morocco’s role in the Atlantic and elsewhere. A first focus should be infrastructure, especially in the maritime and air realms, where the regional political obstacles are minimal. Existing projects, such as the intercontinental trans-shipment Tanger Med port, already highlight Morocco’s ability to serve as a hub for the region and the wider Atlantic. Ideally, national investments in road and rail infrastructure can also eventually contribute to wider regional integration in the Maghreb and West Africa. The completion of the much-discussed Trans-Maghreb Highway should be a key objective.
A second focus should be energy. Trends in energy trade and investment, offshore and shale gas production, and environmental policy may or may not add up to the emergence of an Atlantic energy “system,” but they will be consequential for global energy security and Morocco’s own development. There will be multiple opportunities for Morocco to participate in this increasingly significant Atlantic energy picture, and these will contribute directly to Morocco’s Atlantic vocation. Morocco’s large-scale investment in renewable energy production, and potential regional cooperation in this area, will be one key initiative.
On the security side, Morocco should work with partners in West Africa and Latin America to address the growing problem of trans-regional criminality in the Atlantic space. In the absence of an effective regional — actually trans-regional — strategy to contain this problem, Morocco will face the prospect of an increasingly unstable hinterland in West Africa and the Sahel, a more difficult relationship with European neighbors, and the threat of violent spillovers on Moroccan territory. As an exposed state with a stake in Atlantic cooperation, Rabat can take the lead in pressing for a multi-continent approach to this problem.
In a related fashion, a successful regional strategy for Morocco will be influenced by the nature and effectiveness of civil-military relations and security establishments across the Maghreb-West Africa space, especially in light of the revolutions and crises affecting the region. NATO is likely to make security sector reform in the southern Mediterranean a new focus for its Mediterranean Dialogue. Rabat can and should play an active role in this initiative, giving it a wider scope encompassing Morocco’s multiple neighborhoods. Human security, the control of borders, and air and maritime sovereignty and security should be priorities for cooperation and seem to be natural items of an emerging Wider security agenda.
Finally, internal reform can underscore the durability of Morocco’s distinctiveness, regionally and in the perception of Atlantic partners. This analysis does not focus on Moroccan domestic policy. But in a period of rapid and revolutionary change in the neighborhood, it is obvious that officials and observers will judge Morocco’s potential to play new external roles in large measure on the basis of internal conditions. The success of Morocco’s own reform efforts will be a key enabler in strengthening and diversifying Rabat’s international position.
Ultimately, pursuing a “portfolio approach” to Morocco’s international engagement may prove to be the necessary strategy for success for Rabat. Geopolitical scenarios highlights the extraordinary flux in the strategic environment across multiple regions. These uncertainties can affect the viability of regional infrastructure as well as geopolitical relationships (consider the effect of a closure of the Suez Canal on transits through the Tanger-Med port). Morocco will need to balance its European, Maghrebi, Mediterranean, West African, and Atlantic relations to hedge against risks from any of these quarters. Diversification should be the order of the day.
To the extent that Morocco aims to reinforce its Atlantic strategy, closer ties with Brazil and key African states will be an essential component — and a hedge against potential U.S. and European reluctance.
Morocco: necessity to Free Public Debt
ZOUHAIR BAGHOUGH Monday, 06 February 2012 New York / Morocco Board News
Everyone has a cause pet: some like to defend unjustly detained individuals or women’s representation in parliament. I, on the other hand, am very much into public debt -among other things. And I feel that cause deserves its place under the media spot. Free the Debt - from discretionary governmental decision debt poses just a big a threat arbitrary arrests to individual and collective freedom; Hilarious, isn’t it? And yet, the principle remains the same.
First off, let us remember all that the most stable and recurrent source of government finance is taxes, collected from individuals on their wages and revenues; from businesses on their operating income and their sales. It is only because these individuals and corporations produce and consume that this government can pay for its expenditure, and display credible enough stream of future resources to borrow against. And yet the bureaucracy/taxpayer relationship bears too many similarities with Hegel’s master/slave: it is the taxpayer who pays and provides for government spendings, and yet the latter control and dominates the former.Government services are considered to be favours, dispensed to some privileged few, when they are a right that human rights organizations tend not to care much about; after all, these police truncheon are government property and taxpayers fund them, in a sense.
The way government budget is designed and prepared leaves very little maneuver for public scrutiny, i.e. from parliament or even citizens, individuals as well as public interest-oriented groups. unelected officials get to choose all essential elements crucial to the lawmaking process, and the elected members of the public, members of parliament house, especially those seating at the House of Representatives can only go as far as attach amendments to the budget bill in the hope that they can somehow influence an outcome they had no way to interfere with in the first place; finance ministry officials have at their ready disposal a host of experts and quite a lot of resources to fend off criticism and scrutiny; as I had the opportunity to point out, the legislative branch is the most underfunded, understaffed branch of government - and because of it, parliament cannot produce legislation on its own to exercise more scrutiny on public finances.
What has it got to do with the Public Debt? Quite a lot, as a matter of fact: the debt has to be paid back one way or the other; and unless the finance ministry engages in some sort of Ponzi Scheme, i.e.with new borrowings paying back coupons and interests on longer maturities, debt services are paid with taxpayers’ money. And whenever the treasury issues bonds on domestic and international debt markets, investors assess the Moroccan government’s solvency against their potential future receipts – from future taxes.
So taxpayers are basically the core security our governments stake whenever they have to go on markets to borrow some money; in that sense, all of these elements (and many others) weigh in the complex business of government debt: economic growth, productivity, demography, taxation and government efficiency.
Economic growth: as the size of GDP pie grows, so does the amount of pie devoted to government expenditure; assuming a baseline scenario of around 20% GDP with 5% annual growth, the next decade brings some 91Bn in revenues, 75Bn in real terms alone. The higher GDP growth is, the lower actual tax burden on individuals is, and the easier a government can borrow on markets, since they can always make up for debt service by increasing taxes marginally. The thing is, public debt isn’t much of a problem during times of high and sustainable growth, though public finances in United Kingdom now experience the downside effects of excessive optimism when it comes to projected receipts.
Growth isn’t just about immediate and future tax receipts; it also has to do with the potential to borrow money; it is always easier to borrow money when one’s debt-holders are optimistic about one’s future prospects. Morocco unfortunately did not have the opportunity to borrow during the rosy years, i.e. when the business cycles were on the upswing, since 2000 that is – and by the way, that might end sooner than one might think if the average growth for the next legislature does not stick to the 5% potential growth. During the upswing decade, the main fiscal policy item was to halve the debt to acceptable levels, a level of debt inherited from previous governments, that is. Not that it was bad policy, but there was nothing else on the table; debt policy had to be counter-cyclical; as a result, government finances could not have benefited from whatever leverage effect when the economy was recovering from the 1990s depression, and had to rely on privatization to make up for the budget shortfall.
stagnating productivity means no gains made to build on growth.
Productivity: productivity in Morocco is generally very stable. Bad news indeed, since growth through improvement of productivity. For sure Morocco is still an emerging economy -and by many accounts, has big trouble emerging, as it were productivity is important to the whole debt business, first because of workforce demographics, and second, because since the existing pool of resources is limited, the most straightforward policy to expand growth with no prejudice to inflationary targets or any negative impact on trade balance, is to improve productivity e.g. find some way to increase work efficiency, or any other measure that can increase wealth creation with the existing stock of inputs. These usually result in higher returns that would benefit in terms of tax receipts. Otherwise, fiscal pressure does not change, and in times of low growth, can actually harm private GDP.
Demography: 2009 is a cornerstone in pre-workforce labour demographics; the number of 15-17 is dropping ever since, from 1.95 Million to 1.76 Million by 2016. And by 2013, there will be as many active 18-59 as there are 60+ retired; this means the workforce has already begun to shrink; in fact, looking at data, the available pool of the total workforce is going down due to demographics, and it does at very different trends in rural and urban areas; but the point is, the tax receipts profile is likely to change dramatically, hence the need to rethink the way taxes and the debt are accumulated.
Government efficiency (in spending): in principle, debt is a financing vehicle for government spending just like any other. As a matter of fact, it can help stabilize fiscal pressure by providing indirect receipts and spread out the cost across time. But there is a need to find the right balance; contrary to corporate finances, Modigliani-Miller does not apply to government budgets: finance structure affects government performance, first because of its size, and second because it influences so many other macroeconomic aggregates, treasury and finance departments need to think carefully through these spending they plan (or usually don’t) cannot be financed indiscriminately with whatever available resources.
These are technicalities that might bore the general public. But hear this: the way our institutions are framed provides many unelected officials with discretionary powers over public finances, just like in the police and security forces. Public oversight is practically non-existent when it comes to the big money; there are even administrative principles for these things, called “Principle of non-allocation“
NON-AFFECTATION (PRINCIPE DE LA ) : principe selon lequel l’ensemble des recettes assure l’exécution de l’ensemble des dépenses.
So taxes and the debt are basically managed by unelected bureaucrats allocated with discretionary powers, but the ultimate liability lies with the Moroccan taxpayers. Taxation with no oversight is just as useless as taxation without representation.
Free the Public Debt; make government more accountable to the way it spends taxpayers money, whether taxes or borrowings. Put an end to arbitrary, bureaucratic control over the taxpayer’ money, and free the debt -and public finances- to be scrutinized by our representatives and citizens keen to make sure government provides good services for all of us.
Economy: Morocco, first Muslim banks soon. The government's party wants to act rapidly in Parliament
15 February, 2012 (by Stefano Oliviero) (ANSAmed) - RABAT, 15 FEBRUARY
Morocco might soon create its first Islamic banks. The issue is indeed one of Benkirane government's priorities: the Parliamentary group of PJD, the moderate Islamic party having won November's elections, has already finished writing the draft bill to be presented at the Chamber of Deputies, drafted by a team of Party's experts led by the General Affair and Governance Minister Mohamed Najiib Boulif. On the financial instruments' market, the so-called "Islamic" instruments were already partially available, but the institutes managing them had never expressed their interest in the creation of specialized banks. However, PJD's victory changed many things, since the model has proved to resist the crisis and showed a large potential for growth. The draft bill begins with classification of the general principles underlying products currently traded by banks, grouping them into halal (allowed) and haram (forbidden) by Sharia and specifies that lending must not be the source of profit. Imposing interests is therefore prohibited and lending is not considered a form of trading anymore: "Funding agreement with banks imply participation of the bank itself in both profits and losses". Actually, Islamic banks do not merely propose financial brokering services as in traditional banking regimes; they play an active role in wealth generation, transformation and trade processes. The draft bill proceeds to determine which financing models are allowed. In general, they are "contracts compliant to Sharia regarding the use of funds aimed at generating profits".
The institutes allowed to work within this system are grouped in three categories: Islamic banks, financial institutions similar to Islamic banks and Islamic financial institutions.
Today, any moral entity allowed to collect funds, manage and invest them according to the Islamic law might be labelled as Islamic bank. These institutes would be subject to Sharija, not to current laws regulating the credit institutions and similar bodies, except the provisions that are already compliant with the Sharia. This would not prevent Islamic financial institutes from entering today's bank system: they would act under protection of Bank Al-Maghrib, the Moroccan Central Bank and by the National Council of Money and Savings, according to provisions of the Central bank, both as far as monitoring and prudential principles are concerned. The PJD project would also allow traditional banks to convert into Islamic banks, either totally or partially, creating branch offices, local cash desks or investment funds specialized in this kind of activity.
According to La Vie Eco, the total amount of funds currently circulating in the world's Islamic finance is estimated at more than USD 1000 bln in 2011, that is, a growth by 50% over 2008 and by 21% over 2010. About one fourth of the world's population is Muslim, so the system has significant potential for growth; experts estimate that Islamic finance might absorb between 40 and 50% of savings in this group. (ANSAmed).
Moroccan Media and Cultural Imperialism
By Mourad Anouar Morocco World News Oklahoma City, February 18, 2012
If you are one of those who watch Moroccan T.V, you will be shocked at the number of foreign media presence in all our national TVs and radios outlets. Movies, music, films, commercial ads and more in foreign languages all target a vulnerable audience with little or no experience in media effects on society. Any Moroccan TV’ broadcast programs are remarkably dominated by a wide range of foreign entertainment contents, of which only few are Moroccan. American, Turkish, French and Mexican entertainment productions have gotten the lion’s share in what we, Moroccans, are exposed to watch. One thing to note is that Moroccan mainstream’s indifference to cultural invasion not only raises a red flag, but it is incomprehensible. They seem unaware that they are culturally targeted. They often justify their preference of foreign entertainment media by pointing out to the poor quality of the Moroccan one. As valid as their argument seems, it still fails to deal with a serious problem that is not justified by sitting glued to the magic box watching a foreign media form.
Jeffrey E. Garten wrote an interesting article, entitled Imperialism is no Joke , in November 30, 1998 in Businessweek in which he explained how “Washington’s crusade for free trade is often seen abroad as a Trojan horse for large media to dominate foreign lifestyles and values.”While Morocco seems to be doing nothing to counter this huge but soft type of cultural imperialism, other countries are at more alert to the issue in question. Alan Riding (2005) cited in an article in New York Times that “France’s culture minister, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, told reporters that at a time of growing religious fundamentalism, the convention underlined the importance of cultural diversity for artists and national pride as well as peace. It’s a victory for consciousness-raising”. Even in the United States, an enthusiastic promoter of all forms of globalism, there were anxieties a decade ago when Sony Corp. bought Columbia Pictures and Mitsubishi Corp. purchased New York’s Rockefeller Center.Cultural imperialism has become a hot topic among nations recently, especially among ones which are more vulnerable than others. Usually, Less Developed countries are the ones which voice their frustrations louder at the super-power countries’ powerful media and entertainment industry.Cultural imperialism as defined by John Tomlinson “does not have a particularly long history. It seems to have emerged, along with many other terms of radical criticism, in the 1960s and has endured to become part of the general intellectual currency of the second half of the twentieth century”.Lawrence Grossberg even thinks that “a nation can dominate another country or people by dominating that country’s communication and culture. For example, if most of the TV shows broadcast, films screened, and music purchased in a country is American, cultural imperialism scholars argue that America has in essence colonized that country”.
Amid this world torn between clashing cultures, a frequently given reason for opposing all forms of cultural imperialism, voluntary or otherwise, is the preservation of cultural diversity, an objective relatively similar by some to preserving the human race. David Trend, In contrast, thinks otherwise as he stated “the question is, what can be done about this? Part of the answer lies in education, in the recognition that the cross-cultural exchange of media is not inherently negative phenomenon” The media effects on society are very powerful, sometimes even catastrophic. One might catch spy of a colorful billboard on the streets of Casablanca that looks the same as one in New York. And if you are behind the wheel listening to a radio station, you may have the option to select your favorite one, but I doubt it if you can find one that airs only Moroccan content. The media effects on society may vary from one society to another and even from one person to another, but could you imagine being mixed up to the point where you are unable to know what is your first language after watching a foreign show? Ten years ago, I was watching a talk show in which a Morocco-based Sudanese journalist, Taha Jibril, commented on the negative effects of Mexican soap operas on viewers by telling an anecdote about a an illiterate Moroccan man who bragged about being able to master the Mexican language after watching only one season of an aired Mexican soap opera show dubbed in Arabic language, not Moroccan dialect.
References: 1-David Trend.(1995)The crisis of meaning in culture and education. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press2-John Tomlinson. (2001)Cultural imperialism: a critical introduction. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group.3-Lawrence Grossberg.(2006) Media-making: mass media in a popular culture. Newbury Park, CA:SAGE
Mourad Anouar is a Moroccan writer, novelist and poet. He received his bachelor’s in Journalism and a minor in German from the University of Central Oklahoma. He is the author of several poems and short stories both in Arabic and English.
Revisiting Gender Roles in Morocco
By Moundir Al Amrani Morocco World News Rabat, February 15, 2012
Once again, gender roles has proven itself to be a deeply controversial and hard to deal with issue. Such an issue allows bias to filter arguments and ideas; likewise, no matter how hard one tries to stick to neutrality, there is always a possibility for misreadings and misinterpretations to occur. So far this sounds normal and understandable, but the issue gets thorny when it trespasses the limits of misreading and misinterpretation to passing judgments.
This piece is more of a clarification of certain misunderstandings and confusion on the part of some readers who found fault with the contents of my previous article. I will start by delineating the misunderstood points and then elaborate on the ideas I discussed previously. My reference is to Linda Harris’ article “Morocco: Gender Roles and the Rhetoric of Change?” published in Morocco World News on February 4, 2012. In her article, Harris argues against my idea that Moroccan society is witnessing significant changes in gender roles. Moreover, she goes further in judging the ideas behind the article and the author’s personal attitude towards the whole issue. As a matter of fact, Harris’ article provides us with a perfect case in point of a western misreading of eastern cultures .Harris’ tone in her article is intense and agitated and from the outset she is direct and straightforward in stating her strong belief in the falsity of the ideas forwarded in the article. These she sometimes describes as “foolish.” Harris’ point of view is respected and her attempt to enrich the discussion is highly appreciated; however, a great deal of her article is an emotional reaction, (as she points out when she says “I strongly believe [the author] to be mistaken”), and based on emotional reading of the article rather than the result of reasonable understanding.Understanding eastern societies in general calls for more than theory, which is the main problem with Harris’ article. The claims in her article are best asserted in theory rather than in the reality of Moroccan society. Her understanding of my article boils down to falsely limiting it to a discussion “of changes in the structure of Moroccan society that include changes in women’s rights.” She goes on to state that I make “the case that Morocco has shifted its control and power from that of a patriarchy to that of a matriarchy.”This conclusion is unfounded because I never declare in any way that Moroccan society has shifted to a matriarchy, nor do I deal with women’s rights. The contention in my article is that gender relations are changing in society. This, Harris seems unable to grasp as the viewpoint of the article. My article never discusses any change in women’s rights. Although both women’s rights and women’s role are related, Harris seems to need to wrestle with making a difference between the two.
Indeed, the last twelve years have brought about a lot of changes in women’s rights in Morocco, exemplified by the implementation of a new family code. The code has reshaped the whole frame of gender relations and has redefined gender roles. However, what I deal with in my article is a by-product of such changes, not the changes per se. Women do have their needs met if they stay at home: it is part of Moroccan culture that a man provides for his family, and it is part of the image of the man to be manly. The husband, the father, or sometimes the son in the absence of the father, are the ones in charge of bringing food to the table, because a family in Morocco is headed by a male who has to live up to his role. From another perspective, however, there are many instances of women being in charge, partly or completely, of the family. Indeed, women in Morocco are active participants in society, be it in rural or urban areas. In the country, women take part in farming and are in charge, for example, of dairy products of farms and other crops for sale in the souk. Men take care of more arduous tasks such as plowing the land and carrying heavy loads. But it is very common, too, to find men and women side by side in complementary activities, like sowing and harvesting.Likewise, in the city, getting a job has become more of a necessity for women, especially if the husband’s income is limited. A woman’s income can allow a couple to lead a relatively comfortable life and provides for services that may be considered luxuries by other couples. This is how life in the city has shaped itself in Morocco; women in cities have an active presence in social life because now they have a say in it. This empowerment of women, though insignificant to Harris, could be the beginning of a rising matriarchy, but it is not known if this matriarchy will materialize or not. This explains why the title of my article is in the interrogative form, but Harris fails to see it and insists on providing her personal definition of matriarchy. To Harris, “a matriarchy is by definition a society structured in such a way that females hold all central roles in government and political leadership, as well as all ideological, religious, and moral authority.” Once again, Harris seems to have a problem with the definition of her terms. Such a definition of matriarchy is reductionist and echoes political feminism. Matriarchy is a social system before being a political one. Matriarchy is a system where the oldest woman controls the family and its resources as well as possessions. From here, we can stretch it to touch politics as Harris defines it, but her definition remains narrow and reductionist. Moroccan women’s role in Moroccan society have changed, and this is a fact that can only be seen from within, not from without. The socioeconomic changes that have taken place not only in Morocco, but globally as well, together with other factors have empowered women to advance in participation of social development and the welfare of their country. Harris’ denial of such a fact is unfounded and remains a stereotypical response, since a great deal of her response to the idea of change is based on theory. This makes one wonder whether Harris is in the right position to make such claims and to judge the reality of Moroccan society and culture. Her attitude seems based in personal feelings and theoretical hypotheses.
Another problem with Harris’ article is her judgmental attitude when she says that I refer to a social problem, and that I fail to find solutions to the problem of male attitude towards women. This is bewildering—I never say there is a problem to begin with. As for failing to find solutions, I wonder why I should find solutions to a problem I never said existed in the first place.By the same token, Harris finds the article to defend the culture of incarceration. There is no place in the article where such a defense can be found and it seems that Harris has a problem with grasping figurative use of language, as she sticks to the literal meaning of the word “incarceration” and refuses to acknowledge its figurative use. More than this, Harris claims and accuses the author of opposing or having some grave problem with gender progress in Morocco. First, it is hard to see how Harris manages to come to this conclusion, as after rereading the article again, no indication of such a claim has been found. Moreover, her very statement betrays her as it ironically reveals her acknowledgement that there is change in gender roles in Moroccan society. Harris’ next accuses the author of insulting women implicitly while, once again, her words betray her as she explicitly insults Moroccan men by recommending they “grow as human beings.”
The next issue Harris finds fault with is religion because it is male-dominated. Her claim stands on the fact that imams in mosques are all male with no chance for women to have a similar leading position in religion. Harris’ claim reveals her ignorance of the role of religion and its foundations.Harris’ lack of depth in dealing with the issue of gender in Morocco and her shallow arguments trap her in many contradictions and inconsistencies. Therefore, to put things in the right order, I recommend that she rereads my article as a response to hers, not the other way round. Learning about eastern societies cannot be limited to theory or stereotypes. Her position gives her little credibility in assessing social dynamics in Morocco and the changes it has been witnessing. One needs to come down from the ivory tower and get experience in real life.
Edited by Jasmine Davey
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy.© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved
Zoubida Charrouf, Professor in the Science Faculty at Mohamed V University in Rabat, is hugely admired for her approach to saving both the argan trees and the women who earn a living from it. “I didn’t know that I bothered people … well, I knew that I did, but I didn’t know quite how much. People reproach me three things. They reproach me for having helped women get out of the house. They reproach me for having improved the extraction of argan oil. And they reproach me for being interested in a tree that belongs to ordinary people, not to academics.” – Zoubida CharroufA responsible brand will be able to tell you where its argan is from and might have formed an oil production centre with cooperatives. Some cosmetic firms, chastised for patenting various properties of argan oil, have tried to make good – L’Oréal has a responsible sourcing policy and works with co-operatives. This is the way forward if the real producers are to capitalise sustainably on argan oil’s popularity.
Siegle also notes that the Moroccan government is intent on trippling the oil production from the forest region that is now protected as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. Since 2009 only oil produced here and using some artisanal production can be sold as argan oil. But beware; you will see some argan oil euphemistically called Moroccan oil: this is likely to be the cheap version from private industrialised plants favoured by much of the personal-care industry. Argan pips are bought in bulk by middlemen, oil extracted using solvents, and labels attached depicting Berber women hard at work. In reality there’s no benefit sharing going on.
This article first appeared in The View From Fez
The Casablanca Book Fair Diary: Youth and Media Open Discussion.
By Loubna Flah Morocco World News Casablanca, February 18, 2012
The Casablanca Fair for Books and Publishing (SIEL2012) is not only an opportunity for publishers to market their books whose appeal has waned in the last decade. The 2012 SIEL is equally a big forum for debates and discussions, notably about publishing issues and current events. The organizers of the Casablanca book fair scheduled a series of meetings correlating Moroccan youth to different crucial issues namely reading, political participation and citizenship. The discussion about youth and media was organized last Thursday in the stand of the Moroccan Ministry of Education, facilitated by Karima Ghanem.
The process of socialization whereby individuals acquire a set of social norms is partially determined by exposure to media. Viewers, especially adolescents who are still assembling the building blocks of their personality, are subjected to numerous encounters with the media. Thus, the typology of programs they are exposed to on a regular basis can influence their behavior and shape their choices in life.Moroccan youth are incrementally dissatisfied with the programming of Moroccan TV channels. The participants in the open discussion shared their point of view about the current state of Moroccan media.
Many young activists expressed mistrust towards state-run media, namely 2M and Al Oula. They believe that their programs, especially the news, pass through the filter of censorship. One of the participants referred to the latest clash between Taza residents and security forces. He argued that the national TV channels presented a shallow and over-simplistic portrayal of the unrest in Taza.Young participants confessed that they feel alienated towards a myriad of Moroccan programs, as the latter programs do not mirror the Moroccan viewers’ interest and concerns.
They also underscored an alarming decrease in cultural initiatives that remain totally eclipsed by a compilation of “stupid” programs. There is obviously a growing discontent with the Moroccan media’s performance. Moroccan tax-payers believe that TV channel executives are accountable to Moroccans; therefore they are required to design their programs in deference to national identity and cultural diversity.On the other hand, some participants expressed concerns over the predominance of the Islamist narrative in public media. Karima Ghanem made it clear that it is difficult to purge media discourse from political ideas. Indeed, the majority of political parties often sketch their political agenda in accordance with their ideology. However, these variations should not undermine the national identity. Ghana stressed that there was, indeed, a “media blackout” regarding the situation in Taza and that the national channels’ coverage was “selective” and “biased.”
In the current conjecture, Moroccans cannot possibly tolerate this amount of negligence and irrelevance in the Moroccan media. They are demanding wholesale reform in the media and communication sector. Many programs lately broadcasted on 2M have prompted a vivid reaction among people and in the press. Astonishingly, this genre of programming has thrived lately while officials remain totally inattentive to popular demands. Meanwhile, many disgruntled viewers have already cut the umbilical cord to their local channels and have turned to foreign media for solace.
Book clubs, the new face of intellectual activism in Morocco
By Loubna Flah Morocco World News Casablanca, December 12, 2011
It is a sunny Sunday, Dalal grabs her modish handbag and heads to the Maure café nestled in the orche walls of the seqala in Casblanca. She cordially greets the café manager and two waiters hurriedly setting the tables. Dalal looks for her small notebook that seems to be lost in her baggy handbag. She flicks through her novel looking for the folded pages and the highlighted passages. Being the first comer, she welcomes her friends who gradually arrive. She greets them warmly uttering compliments for some and articulating gentle complaints for others. The book club discussion is about to begin.
An unprecedented awakening among Moroccan youth especially university graduates has been noticed in the last two years. The emergence of book clubs and the inauguration of many cultural cafés across the country add to the growing social and political dynamics in the Moroccan society. In cultural café such as Tangerine in Casablanca, one can inhale the intoxicating steam of coffee while lending a conscientious ear to a conference in the table nearby or while examining the merged colors of a contemporary painting. Cultural cafés are the new forums in vogue sought by the new lineage of Moroccan intelligentsia.Book clubs members hold their monthly meetings in cafés or restaurants. They tend to book the place beforehand especially if they are numerous to attend the discussion. They order drinks and pastry while they are paving the way for their bookish debate. They explore and discuss a wide range of ideas they deem relevant to underscore. The book choice is often the outcome of a democratic process where the members nominate a list of books in different realms of knowledge such as literature, politics, religion, philosophy, sociology…etc. They choose among these books through a vote process based on the majority preference. A succinct presentation about the book and its author often serves as a prelude to the discussion. While some prefer to proceed methodically chapter by chapter, others opt for a holistic review based on the readers’ subjective impressions.
Though, in its burgeoning stage, Book clubs start to appeal to an avid audience desirous of expanding their knowledge in different disciplines and eager to hone their critical thinking skills. Many consider the affiliation to book clubs as an intellectual bid to revisit their own outlook on life. Mohammed, who is currently pursuing a master degree in Canada started attending book clubs discussions in Morocco since 2009. He appreciates the transaction of ideas between the debaters. He insists that book clubs are liable to raise awareness about critical issues in society. Hafsa, another book club member asserts that her attendance to such cultural encounters has considerably changed her literacy practices. Likewise, Rajaa, an ISCAE graduate makes it clear that she can now enjoy reading books she would never have picked off the shelves before her affiliation to the club.
As whether the increment interest towards book clubs in Morocco can be associated with the general mood of political awakening in the Arab world, Mohammed replies that he adhered to the club before the Arab spring tide. In fact, the awakening of Moroccan Youth has been fermenting for years and their growing interest to ideas and ethics is a genuine bid to grasp the reality around them.Being sidelined by the system, some young Moroccans would try to find a surrogate platform for dialogue and self expression. In addition, the cultural agenda in Moroccan cities, such as Casablanca remains rather disjointed. The lack of local events that connect to youth concerns and aspirations triggers a feeling of frustration and alienation.While some surrender to the hectic life of the big city, a new generation of youth attempts to snatch a moment of posed reflection in order to deconstruct the main blocs of an evasive reality. They are geared with their will, their modest organizational skills and the capacity to network quickly and effectively thanks to social media.As book clubs stem from individual initiatives, its members are not usually censured if they do not attend the discussions. Thus, their assiduity remains unreliable and can be seen as an impediment to the continuity of the club’s agenda. It can also be laborious to find a quiescent place where the members can debate without overlapping sounds.
The emergence of such cultural congregation is not irrelevant to the general patterns of social and political change in Morocco. It can be perceived as a resistance strategy against a tide of trivializing trends prevailing in the Moroccan media that fails to nurture a generation’s desire of a full emancipation. In book clubs, members can elaborate their standpoints on imperative matters and, more importantly, they can voice them by engaging jointly in constructive discussions.Are we witnessing the onset of a grassroots movement that will extend to other social classes and age categories? Is this new trend a precursor to a new ideology? The current situation suggests that these cultural groups may pave the way for a mindset change that is operating imperceptibly, but steadily and surely in the Moroccan society.It is quarter past eleven, the debate has heated at some moments and cooled at others. Dalal sips the last drops of her mint tea and looks through a nearby window with a smirk on her face. She feels an overwhelming rapture enveloping her body and uplifting her spirits.
Loubna FLAH is a Moroccan national. She earned a master degree in Biochemistry from the Mohammedia faculty of science and technologies. She obtained also a bachelor degree in English studies from Ain Chok University after writing a dissertation about the aspects of sexism in Moroccan Arabic. She graduated from the Ecole Normale Superieure in Rabat as a high school teacher of English.
Coexistence in Morocco, an American perspective
Jess L. Norton* Morocco World News Fez, Morocco, February 17, 2012
It has been a while since I settled in Morocco. I thought I would take this time to write about something that I knew nothing about and perhaps most Americans and Westerners don’t either. I hope it will interest you.
While staying here in Fez, Morocco I took a day with my friend Youness Abeddour to visit all of the Jewish sites in Fez. Did you know that there were many Jews in Morocco before the creation of the state of Israel? The foundation of that state was actually the cause of a very large population loss here in Morocco as nearly a quarter of a million Jews moved from Morocco to Israel during that migration.
I was surprised to discover how many different Jewish sites there were to be seen here in Fez. I had the great pleasure of visiting two synagogues, a Jewish cemetery, a museum, a Jewish center, and the “Mellah” (Jewish neighborhood). We first visited the cemetery where I was mistaken for a Jew by the caretaker and greeted in Hebrew. The reader will do well to note that this fellow is a Muslim and not a Jew and yet he had no problem greeting me with Shalom as is the Jewish custom. We saw many graves in the cemetery. There was one tomb which was devoted to several of the Grand Rabbis of Morocco. Apparently Morocco was once a stronghold of Judaism and not just simply a place where a few Jews simply happened to live. In the cemetery we also saw the tomb of the beautiful Jewess Solika, who was executed by the sultan because she would not convert to Islam in order to marry him.
On the other side of the cemetery one will find a very old synagogue which is now a museum. It was founded by some Jewish women in 1928. The museum was full of everything from religious articles to weapons, books, and even old coins. It was a very interesting place to visit. After leaving the museum, we went to yet another synagogue called Aben Danan which was much older. It was built in the seventeenth century. We were greeted at the gate by another Muslim man who is the caretaker of this very important piece of Moroccan history. In fact, this particular synagogue is listed on the world monuments watch as one of 500 monuments worldwide which must be preserved.
From there we went to yet another synagogue, but this one is still being used. We were greeted by the Jewish men who were there for evening prayer. This was the first time I had ever attended prayer in a synagogue and so I was quite surprised to see how things proceeded. There was prayer and a lesson during which the men held conversations as they thought necessary. One fellow even called to the rabbi during the lesson, “Enough, enough”. It was a great deal more informal than I expected.
I noticed one thing very quickly both as we entered the synagogue and as we left it. As these many Jewish men passed the Muslim owned shops on their way to and from the synagogue, they commonly greeted their Muslim neighbors. I cannot speak for what is happening in the rest of the world, I can only speak for my experience here in Fez, Morocco. But this is what I have seen, Muslims are taking steps to preserve Jewish heritage and history here in Morocco and Muslims and the Jews that remain here are on friendly terms. They are neighbors and friends.
I will also say this for Morocco. I have had so many meals in the homes of Muslims. I have slept and dined in Muslim homes ever since I arrived. They all know that I am a Christian but they have treated me like a king. Before I came to Morocco every one told me that I should not come because Muslims hate Christians. Even after I arrived I have had messages from my friends to remind me that Islam is violently opposed to Christianity. I have not read the entire Qu’ran and I am not a scholar of Islam and so I cannot speak for what Islam officially teaches, but I can speak from my experience. My experience is this, that Muslims have treated me well. In their homes, I have been nursed when I was ill, I have been fed until I could eat no more. I visited one Muslim house and they were disappointed that I could not remain long enough for them to slaughter a sheep for my meal. Every day they give me tea, they bring blankets to me when I am cold, they have given my countless gifts and they treat me as if I belong to their family. I cannot speak for Islam, but I can speak for my Muslim friends. I would trust them with my very life and I have on various occasions. Even if Islam allegedly is violently opposed to Christianity and to Christians, it seems that these people are good enough and smart enough to know how to treat their fellow men regardless of religious or philosophical differences.
I would not trade my time here in Morocco for anything. These people are among the finest that I have ever known.Even as I was typing this essay a program came on the television in which a medley was sung. In the background one could see both a cross and a crescent and in the medley one could plainly here both the words “Ave Maria” and “Allahho Akbar”. Perhaps there is hatred and strive among differing religious parties in certain places, but certainly not here in Morocco. Here there is peace and affection between Muslims and Christians.
*Jess L. Norton is an American living in Fez, Morocco. He holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Philosophy and Religion. He has had articles and poems published in various publications and is currently working as a professor of History in Fez. Mr. Norton is writing a book of poems, and a novel in addition to working on various other research projects. Among his interests are: Middle Eastern Culture, Islam and spiritualism in Morocco. He currently writes as a contributor in Fez for Morocco World News.
Life in Morocco: An American Experience
By Jess L. Norton*Morocco World News Fez, October 3, 2011
Before I came to Morocco several months ago, I had many conceptions and misconceptions about living in a North African, Islamic country. What must I do when I hear the call to prayer? Will I be tolerated as a Christian? Will I be allowed to associate with women? These were all questions that came to my mind when I thought of coming to Morocco. The Morocco of my mind was the Morocco of Hollywood films and when I thought of Morocco, I thought of camels, tents, the French Foreign Legion and the One Thousand and One Nights. Since I have come to Morocco, my friends and family in America have asked me many questions. “Do they have highways in Morocco?” “Do they have mobile telephones?” “Do they have washing machines?” I’ve also heard more than enough questions about camels and about the desert.
Now I am here. I have lived and worked in Fez for several months and I scarcely see anyone who is not Moroccan. I am entirely immersed in the culture. I eat Moroccan food, my friends are Moroccan, my clothes are Moroccan, and I have done a fair amount of traveling. Since I arrived, I have seen my fair share of televisions, mobile telephones, highways and European luxury cars. I am however, still waiting to see the desert and those camels that everyone keeps talking about.
Many westerners have misconceptions about Morocco. I myself did not understand things well until I arrived. Muslim women are not shut up in some distant wing of their house where they are forbidden to have interaction with men. The women in Morocco work together with men in just about every job. I should also mention that not all women in Morocco are veiled. Morocco, like every other country has a diversity of people and of culture. Some women are veiled and wear gloves so that the only part of them that is seen is their eyes as they look over their veils. Other women wear a scarf to cover their hair and they consider that to be sufficient. Then there are other women who do not cover their heads nor their faces and no one seems to be bothered about it. It is common here in Morocco to see a veiled lady walking with a lady who only wears a scarf or perhaps with a lady who does not cover her head at all. These women who have different religious convictions all get along with one another and are friends.These women have rights also. Some people make the mistake of thinking that because some Muslim women do not live free lives, then all Muslim women are oppressed. I think that the women of Morocco are among the most free of all of the women in the Islamic world. They come and go as they please. They drive cars. They do business or whatever else is necessary.One should note that unlike the women of the west, Muslim women have always had the right to hold and inherit property. There have been many very powerful and influential women in Islamic civilization.For example. in Fez one will find both a synagogue and a Mosque-university which were founded by women. The University is Al-Karouine which was founded by Fatima al-Fihri and it is reputed to be the oldest continuously operating university in the world and the synagogue is Em-Habbanim Obviously these women were not shut away in the harem fanning themselves all the day long. They were an important and influential part of their society.
Another issue should be mentioned, that is that Morocco is a very modern and progressive country. The streets are paved and wide. In Fez, there are fountains at every turn.There has been much publicity this year about the King’s project of building the tramway in Rabat which apparently has been successful. Contrary to what some people might think, we have electricity, running water, and everything else that one requires for a comfortable life in this modern age. I have not done without anything to which I was accustomed in America save my favorite blend of pipe tobacco.
In Morocco there is a great deal of tolerance as well. Before I traveled to Morocco, I was warned by many friends that it could be dangerous for a Christian to travel to a Muslim land. After all, Muslims hate Christians, they say. Well, perhaps that is true in some places. I don’t know. I am in Morocco. Since I have come to Morocco, I have dined with Muslims. I have slept in their houses, I have been nursed by them when I was sick and they have never insulted me or discriminated against me for not being a Muslim. My friends know that I did not fast for Ramadan and they are not bothered.In fact, when I visited some Muslim friends during Ramadan, they insisted on preparing food for me so that I could eat throughout the day as I am accustomed to do. They never ate until dusk, but they never asked me to fast with them. Never once has any of my Muslim friends tried to convert me to Islam since I came to Morocco. My religion is simply not anything that they are worried about.
I live in Morocco now. My conceptions now have a foundation and my misconceptions have been corrected and adjusted to correspond to the truth. Now I know that when I hear the call to prayer, I can ignore it. It does not stop all life and movement when it is sounded. Now I know that most people don’t care what my religion is. I don’t have to worry about being discriminated against. Many Muslims call me brother and friend and I know that they are sincere. I can associate with women. I can walk with them in the street and talk with them in their homes and there is no problem. It is easy to live among Muslims and I am quite comfortable here. I think that I shall stay for quite some time.
*Jess L. Norton is Morocco World News’ correspondent in Fez, Morocco.
Living in Morocco: an American experience.
By Jess L. Norton Morocco World News Fez, February 11, 2012
When I came to Morocco it was to look for a teaching position and I vowed that I would remain if I found one and if I liked the life there. I came to Morocco and stayed for a month and delivered my resume to as many schools as I could find. No one called me. Time was running out and still I found nothing. Finally it was time for me to return to America. I had to leave the next morning to be in Casablanca in time to catch my plane. I sat and talked with my friends, I counted my money, I figured things as many ways as I could to see if I could survive without work for a while here so that I could continue to look for work. I decided to stay. It was difficult. I was gainfully employed at home. My life there was comfortable and quiet. I wanted something new and fresh though. I ignored my doubts and fears and seized on to the adventure of a permanent life in Morocco.
That same afternoon I delivered my resume to yet another school. The next afternoon the headmaster called me and asked me to come to see him on the following day. I assumed that I was going to a job interview but when I arrived, I was presented to my class. I stayed and I was rewarded. Since then I have been hired by another school to do some teaching and substitute teaching and I have also assembled a private class of my own. I have found that many people want to learn English and most of them prefer to learn it from an American and so I am in rather high demand. I am very lucky to have such an opportunity to live and work in Morocco.
What is life like here in Morocco? When I speak to people from home that is usually the first question they ask. It is of course much different than life at home. My apartment is situated in an area which is also used as a market so I am often awakened by fellows outside my door who are shouting in advertisement of their goods. (This surely is the first form of commercial advertisement). Contrary to what many might think, I have not yet seen a camel. I live in Fez which is quite a distance from the desert. I’ve seen no camels, no sand, no snake charmers or anything of the sort. The Morocco of American movies and actual Morocco do not always have so much in common. What have I seen? Fez is a beautiful city which has broad avenues lined with palm and orange trees. The people are very friendly and very helpful here. Just a few doors down from my apartment is a little shop where I buy my milk, bread and other such things as I use on a daily basis. The gentleman who owns the shop is very kind. He knows that my Arabic isn’t the best and so he will not sell anything to me before he has taught me how to say its name in Arabic. If I am a dirham or two short of what I owe him, he still insists that I take my things and go. He always says, “Pay me tomorrow if God is willing”.
Moroccan people are very friendly. When I first arrived, I was walking to my lodgings with suitcases in hand and I was greeted in Arabic by several old women saying “Welcome, Welcome to Morocco”. I don’t know who they were, but it was obvious to them that I am a foreigner and that I had just arrived and so they wanted me to feel welcome here. Contrary to what some might think, there is certain diversity here in Morocco. Most people are Muslims but they are not all Muslims. There are also Christians and Jews here. Even among the Muslims one will find great diversity. I have seen women in short skirts, women wearing scarves to cover their hair, and women who are veiled and completely covered from head to foot. These people do not separate themselves. It is not uncommon to see a woman with a scarf or a veil walking and chatting with her friend whose head is uncovered.
There is a great deal of tolerance between the people it seems. They are very ready to befriend someone even if they are not exactly like them. One thing that I find interesting about Morocco is that it seems that there is a much smaller division between the city and the country life. Of course in America you would be shocked to see horses or donkeys in a large city but here it is very common. I came home from teaching one day to find a donkey and cart parked in front of my door and the door blocked with crates of tomatoes. It is nothing to walk down the street and find crates of rabbits and chickens for sale. I came out of the house one morning to find two geese tied to a post being offered for sale. There are many shops in almost every street that sell eggs. If you look into the shop, you will see cages of chickens inside. The eggs are fresh, right from the chicken in the shop to the customer. Many of these same shops will sell live chickens and sometimes rabbits and then butcher them while the customer waits.
When walking down the streets here you will see many different shops. You will find a butcher and baker in nearly every street. There are also little dry goods shops, hardware stores, furniture stores and everything you can imagine. They are all small but that generally have what one needs. If one would walk down the street and begin to count cafes, he would soon grow weary of his task. Every where one turns there is a cafe and there are nearly as many shoe shine men as there are cafes. If one needs a shoe shine, he has but to go to a cafe and enjoy a pot of tea. It is very likely that before he finishes, a shoe shine man will come by and shine his shoes while he enjoys his tea. While sitting in the cafe you might see someone walk through with an armload of socks which he is trying to sell or perhaps some belts or other trinkets. These traveling salesmen are to be seen on most major streets here in Fez. They will sell kleenex to you or even a solitary cigarette if you prefer to buy them like that.
This leads to the subject of buying and selling.What do things cost in Morocco? If you go into one of the many clothing shops near my house you will very likely discover no price tags. There are no prices posted in the barber shop either. How do you know what to pay? It is a matter of bargaining. You must find what you like and then make the fellow an offer. You might stand and bargain with him for several minutes before you come to an agreement. If he knows you, he will give you a better deal. If you always patronize the same shops then they will take care of you and you are likely to get their best prices. This is a common part of everyday life. We don’t bargain for everything. I buy a sandwich for 15 dirhams and it is always 15 dirhams. The mint I buy for tea costs 1 dirham every time I buy it. The bus always costs me 3 dirhams. But clothes are usually bargained for. Goods bought in the markets are usually bargained for also. If one does not like such a system he can of course go to Marjane, which is a large supermarket here in Fez. They post their prices and there is no haggling, but what fun is there in that? They are usually more expensive than the market prices.
So I came to Morocco and I stayed. I have been here over a year and I would not exchange the experience for anything. The culture here is beautiful. The food is wonderful. The people that I have known here are kind and good spirited. When I first decided to remain here I was nervous about losing my job and the comforts of home but I can easily say that the exchange was very beneficial to me. I lost a dull job which was taking me nowhere in order to live in beautiful Fez, Morocco and teach English. I have met so many wonderful people including Prince Charles of Wales. I have traveled a bit since I’ve come to Morocco but I know there are so many other beautiful things to see. I could not possibly leave until I have seen it all. Perhaps I will never leave.
Jess L. Norton is a contributor to Morocco World News.
American Conceptions and Misconceptions about Morocco
By Jess L. Norton* Morocco World News / Fez, September 19, 2011
Since I have been planning my trip and talking with my American friends about my preparations, I have heard and thought of many things which cause me concern. One warning that many people have given to me is that I should take care to watch for pickpockets and robbers. Many members of my family have expressed concern for my safety. My own mother warned me against going for fear that I may be robbed and murdered. I have thought a great deal about this. Of course I would be unwise to place myself in a position of danger without considering what I am doing, but I wonder if I would really be in any more danger than I am here in my own country.I live very near to Indianapolis and Chicago. I can be in either city within an hour or two. Every day people are robbed and murdered in those cities. It is in the newspapers and it is widely known that drug dealers and gangs kill people there. However, I find it very interesting that when I am in those cities none of my friends nor family express concern for my well being.
Why would I be more endangered in Morocco than in America? Perhaps if I stand out as a foreigner, I might more easily become the target of some criminal’s designs. To be sure, knowledge of one’s surroundings and situation are good protection against crime but I do not think that every Moroccan is standing by waiting to cut my throat and take my money. Such a notion is preposterous. I will have to be more careful while I am in Morocco because of language and culture barriers. Those issues could make it a bit easier for me to getinto trouble, but I do not expect that any great harm will come to me simply because I am a foreigner.Another question that I often hear is, “Is it not dangerous to go to a Muslim country?” I usually respond by asking my questioner why it would be dangerous and they often answer by saying, “Because Muslims hate Christians” or “Because Muslims hate Americans” or “Because Muslims think that we are infidels.”This both saddens me and concerns me. I have corresponded with several Muslims and I like them. They seem very nice and very sincere. I do not like to hear them slandered in this manner. The difficulty is that up to this point in my life, I have never met a Muslim face to face. As far as I know, I have never even seen a Muslim except in films or photographs. Could it be that these “kind” Muslims are simply trying to lure me to Morocco so that they can kill another Christian Westerner as some of my American friends suggest? While I do not hear this from all Americans, some do suggest it. This is my first time to ever leave the country, of course I am nervous and things such as this remain in my mind. What if they are simply luring me to my death? I have thought about it for a long time and finally my conclusion is, “Inchallah” as they say in Arabic. Let God’s will be done. I would rather take that risk and trust these people who seem to be so good, than to think badly of them for no reason. If they are good, then I will come back to America and defend them and their honor; if they are truly so wicked as some Americans believe, then perhaps I will escape with a well learned lesson. I think it would be better to die with sincerity and kindness in my heart than to live a life which is full of unfounded prejudice and hate.
Another concern which my friends have expressed is closely related to the issue of animosity toward Christian Westerners. One of my college professors emailed several articles to me which discussed an expulsion of Christian Missionaries which happened in Morocco a few years ago. This of course was taken to confirm that Muslims hate Christians and that Christians are not welcome in Morocco. It is suggested that at the very least there is a prejudice against Christianity in Morocco and the King who is a Muslim will do whatever he can to prevent the spread and promotion of any religion save his own. His Majesty, King Mohamed is a Muslim of course that is no secret. I have thought much about this. Suppose he does try to prevent Christianity from becoming well established in his country, does this make him a criminal? We westerners would do well to remember our own history on this point. We forget that we are very far removed from the days of strong monarchy, but the King of Morocco still does wield power. In the old times when the Kings and Queens of Europe ruled with strength and power, many men and women lost their heads or were burned alive because their religious opinions were not the same as those of the crown. When we think about things from this perspective, it seems obvious that the King of Morocco rules with charity. After all, it is not Christianity that is outlawed but Christian Mission work. According to my studies, there were Christians in Morocco long before America was ever discovered. It hardly seems necessary then that we should send missionaries to Morocco. In addition to all of this, I managed to find a paper which was published by the State Department of the United States concerning religious freedom in Morocco. I was very surprised as I read it, to discover that in 2009 there were seven hundred ninety-nine Imams who were dismissed for various infractions. This makes it rather obvious that the law is dispensed with equity even if it is preferred that Christianity does not spread in Morocco.
One common misconception that I have noticed among Americans concerning Morocco is about the inhabitants of that country. Many people will ask, “Where is Morocco?” and if I tell them it is on the continent of Africa, then they immediately begin to talk about the “Negros” who live there. This misconception is so widespread that I have stopped saying anything about Africa when people ask me. I now tell them that Morocco is across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain.These are my thoughts and concerns about Morocco thus far. I have never been on the continent of Africa. I have never been among Muslims. I have never even been out of my own country. I believe that Morocco has much to teach me. I do not think that I could have chosen a culture more different than my own. I think that my experiences there shall be very beneficial.As I live in a culture which continually challenges my every thought and perspective as a Christian Westerner, I believe that my misconceptions will be more easily shown and dispelled. In addition to that, I hope that my positive impressions will only be confirmed and strengthened as I continue to interact with the good people of the Kingdom of Morocco.
* Jess L. Norton is Morocco World News’ correspondent in Fez, Morocco. This article was drafted before he settled in Morocco in March 2011. http://moroccoworldnews.com/
Cooking up good memories in Fez.
Pastilla, couscous, lemon chicken, lamb tagine... the delights of Moroccan cuisine are many and varied, and culinary guru Lahcen Beqqi is ready to share the secrets with visitors to the medieval city of Fez.
One of the joys of travelling is discovering the local cuisine in situ. Imagine, then, the pleasure of returning home from your travels in Morocco able to reproduce that experience in your own kitchen. Sign up for a Fez cookery class with chef Lahcen Beqqi – who speaks French, English, Spanish, Tamazight and Arabic – and you should be able to do just that.
The customised courses are adapted according to time available, with seven-day culinary tours offering a chance to discover the region and its cuisine. If you don't have that much time to spare, though, the single-morning cookery class suffices to explore several different recipes and produce a complete three-course meal. You'll choose a starter, main dish and dessert from Lahcen's own recipe book and take part in all stages of the preparation process. The first requirement, of course, is to procure the necessary ingredients from the seasonal produce on sale in the market in Fez, so the first session of this original culinary experience will be a trip to the souk.Here in the market in Fez you'll find no shrink-wrapped packages and prepared meals with sell-by dates stamped months ahead: everything is bought fresh, ready to be home-cooked. The market stalls display their wares – bright hillocks of spices, and fresh fruits and vegetables simply oozing with flavour – all beautifully laid out to tempt shoppers, while the fragrance of mint and cilantro mingles with the smell of fresh baked bread. Shopping in the souk is a treat for the senses, as well as a chance to experience local life as the cackling of live chickens competes with lively voices of buyers and sellers haggling – an activity that even Lahcen himself can't avoid as he moves from stall to stall showing you how to choose the best and freshest produce.
Once your basket is filled with everything that's needed, it's back to the Riad Tafilalet – a traditional Moroccan home restored and transformed into a boutique guest house – where it's time to begin to prepare the feast. With the help of the house cook, Lahcen will divide up the tasks between the participants, experts and novices alike, who have chosen to enliven their stay in Fez with this hands-on activity. One, with a knife soaked in orange-blossom water, carefully chops up the dates, while another will be chopping mint and nuts, and others peel vegetables, watch the pans where the ingredients are gently cooking, or carefully stuff the fragile pastry with fillings of meat or cheese to make delicious briouates. In a couple of hours everything is ready and all that's left is to sit back to enjoy the results at the table set up in the shady courtyard. If you've never visited Fez, or if you fancy a novel twist to your next visit, this cooking experience is sure to be a highlight of the time you spend in the city. Not only will you discover a facet of Fez from within, but when you get back home you'll be able to amaze and impress your friends with a scrumptious Moorish dinner.
Cookery courses can be booked through Fes Cooking and can be fully customised, including catering for vegetarians. A one-morning course, from shopping in the souk to lunch costs between 40 and 50 € (around ￡35-£45) per person depending on number of participants. Week-long tours are available with meals prepared in the different locations on the itinerary. Options include routes through the desert and the villages of the Atlas mountains, where you will cook in the company of the Berber women of the Beqqi family.
Morocco: Football Magic in Marrakech
DEREK WORKMAN Friday, 17 February 2012 Marrakech / Morocco Board News
Anyone who plays football these days can think themselves lucky that when they head the lightweight plastic ball into the corner of the net they don’t have half a kilo of stiff leather pounding their skull. And imagine how heavy it would be when the game was played on a soaked pitch in the middle of winter; it was bad enough kicking it, and there must have been many a silent prayer offered up that the flat leather lace that held the ball closed over the inflated pigs bladder inside didn’t connect with the forehead, leaving a nice striped pattern on the skin for the next couple of hours, and a painful memory for even longer.To buy a real handmade leather football is almost impossible, unless you go to a tiny workshop, barely bigger than a couple of kitchen cupboards, deep in the souks of Marrakech Medina, where Kamal Boukentar spends his days hand-sewing footballs and rugby balls made from original patterns dating as far back as 1900. He’s the only handmade leather football maker in Morocco, and one of only a handful left in Europe.
“Mohamed Boukentar, my father, started the shop in 1965, and was one of about twenty makers in the Medina at the time. During the seventies my mother, Lalla Aicha, worked with him, and is the only woman ever to have hand-sewn leather footballs in Morocco. I began in 1984, when I was twelve, and it took me a week to make my first ball.”
It may well be a coincidence, but that ball was bought by Michele Platini, who played for the French national team when they won the European Championship in the same year. When we meet, Kamal is working on a model from the 1930s with eighteen panels. Most people probably just assume that a football is made from a basic design, which is exactly what I thought – which goes to show how most people, including me, are completely wrong. Most modern footballs are made up of thirty-two panels. (For the 2006 World Cup, FIFA introduced a 14-panel football, a style that will be used until at least 2014). An original football can be made up of ten different numbers of pieces from four to thirty-four, and each of those will have three or four different designs, around thirty different patterns in all. On a shelf about his counter is the ultimate in the fine art of football making, a ball of seventy-two pieces, probably one of only two in the world, one made by Kamal, the other laboriously sewn by his father many years ago.Kamal sits on a wood and rush chair outside his workshop, La Clinique du Ballon, where his father started sewing footballs almost half a century ago, (there’s barely enough room inside to turn around, never mind work), painstakingly sewing three panels together with an exactness of stitch that makes you think it has been sewn by machine. Occasionally he stops to spray the seam he is working on with water, to soften the leather and make it easier to sew.“I can make an eighteen-piece football in one day,” says Kamal, “but that one took me ten days of solid work. It’s purely for display, to show just how intricate a ball can be, and there is no price in the world that would get me to part with it.”
“I buy my leather from a friend who works in the tannery in the Medina," says Kamal. "I need special skins, but when I buy them I have to line them with fabric or the needle would split the hide when it was sewn. I usually get about two-and-a-half footballs out of a skin, depending on the pattern, because even though the standard size of a football these days is sixty-nine centimetres in circumference, the older patterns we use are slightly larger, seventy-four centimetres.” As the ball comes together like a complicated inside-out puzzle, it is finally drawn through the split which is later closed with a flat leather lace, after the rubber bladder that inflates the ball has been inserted. Fortunately, Kamal doesn’t go as far as using a pig’s bladder as they would in the early days of football. In its natural state, the leather is pale beige, but after three carefully rubbed-on coats of olive oil, it attains the rich brown colour and muted sheen of memories of games played by men with short haircuts and knee-length baggy shorts, and who didn’t feel the need to kiss and cuddle each other whenever a goal was scored.Despite being a sporting work of art, Kamal’s footballs are never likely to see a football pitch. “Most people buy them for decoration or as gifts. One of my best customers is a friend who owns the restaurant A Moda in Bergamo in Italy. He orders fifty at a time and sells them to his clients. But I like it when an older man buys one because it reminds him of when he played football as a boy. I’ve got an original pair of 1930s boots on display and sometimes people tell me what it was like playing in them. Heavy and uncomfortable, by the sound of it!”
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