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Morocco Week in Review 
September 8, 2012

Morocco youth unemployment 'very serious': World Bank
By Simon Martelli (AFP) RABAT

The World Bank on Friday described the problem of youth unemployment in Morocco as "very serious," with similarities to other countries in the region where youth-led protests brought about regime change. "It is a very serious problem," Inger Andersen, the bank's vice president for the Middle East and North Africa, told AFP, speaking in Rabat at the end of a two-day visit to Morocco.

The World Bank published a report in June that said around 30 percent of Moroccans aged between 15 and 29 -- who account for 44 percent of the working age population -- were unemployed. But Andersen cautioned that such statistics did not reflect a key aspect of the problem, namely that many of those out of work had "given up" on the labour market. "They are not active job seekers."

She said the bank had yet to carry out similarly detailed studies on the unemployment situation elsewhere in the MENA region, but said provisional research also indicated "very high" levels of youth unemployment. "I think we are finding a lot of similarities among the Arab Spring countries," she said. "And in fact it was indeed the youth that spoke out for change," she added.

Morocco has mostly been spared the unrest that swept North Africa last year, toppling the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. King Mohammed VI managed to contain the protest movement by introducing significant reforms to curb his near-absolute powers, culminating in November elections that saw a moderate Islamist party win most seats and head a coalition government. But there are sporadic protests and social discontent persists, particularly among Morocco's youth population, driven partly by the lack of job opportunities.

Andersen said Morocco's economic growth was likely to slow from 4.9 percent last year to around 3 percent in 2012, due to its heavy reliance on trade with the eurozone, and warned of the challenges that rising food prices were likely to cause the government.

Morocco's budget deficit hit a record 6.1 percent of GDP last year, caused by rising international commodity prices and the growing subsidies bill, notably on food, and some fear that it could rise further. Although the country is an agricultural producer, the cost of food remains relatively high in 2012, caused by a harsh drought that has badly affected agricultural output and a 20 percent rise in petrol prices.

Finance Minister Nizar Baraka, quoted by the official MAP news agency, said on Wednesday that the government hoped to bring the budget deficit down to just 5 percent this year, mainly thanks to an improved fiscal situation.

Morocco economic crisis weighs on consumer confidence
August 27, 2012 Rabat

Morocco's economic crisis saw consumer confidence, a key engine of growth for the kingdom, fall for third straight quarter during three months to June, the state planning commission said in a report published Monday. "During the second quarter of 2012, consumer confidence continued a downward trend that began in the fourth quarter of 2011, recording its third consecutive fall," Morocco's planning commission (HCP) said in its study.

Between April and June, the consumer confidence index fell 5.1 points compared with the same period in 2011, and 2.2 points compared with the first three months of this year, the report noted. A majority of households expected food prices to continue rising over the next 12 months, alongside a decline in the standard of living, according to the study.

Due to the precarious financial situation, 57.9 percent of Moroccans said they were forced to curtail their expenses, 36.6 percent said they were accumulating debt or dipping into their savings and only 5.5 percent said they were saving. After a decade of prosperity, Morocco is suffering the knock-on effects of the debt crisis in Europe, its largest trade partner, cutting growth forecasts amid price rises and simmering social discontent.

The International Monetary Fund announced early in August that it was opening a "precautionary" $6.2 billion line of credit for the kingdom to protect the economy from external shocks.

Read more:
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::

Morocco: Coming Out Of Political Closet
AHMED TAIBI n08/23/12
Washington / Morocco News Board

Many see Abdelilah Benkirane’s moments of candor and transparency as a breath of fresh air in Morocco’s political governance today. In a clear departure from the false demagoguery proffered by previous prime ministers, he provides a glimpse of a pervasive and growing reality Moroccans have long been denied, but have always suspected.

The appointed heads of previous governments were either ideologically purified children of privilege and political scions, or obsequious civil servants and party leaders who, despite the prestige of their offices, were nothing more than unctuous clerks lacking the gumption and conviction of true leaders. They didn’t have to worry about governing well and honestly so long as they are executing the dictate of the King and his imperious votaries, a nexus of corruption and patronage.

Mr. Benkirane understands this very well. He may be an idealist who believes in a changing Morocco, but he is also a pragmatist who sees the system as a top down patriarchy of stunning efficiency. There is a clear indication of that when he implied by his infamous “aafa Allah aan ma salaf – let the bygones be bygones” that former high ranking officials will not be held accountable for their incompetent and possibly criminal leadership. Any intensified scrutiny into the etiology of the nation’s ills will lead to the King and his inner circle that, for decades, have privatized profits, but nationalized losses. No foreign or domestic policy, economic strategy, military initiative, or religious interpretation has ever been strategically conceived and implemented without the approbation of the King.

Sometimes, Mr. Benkirane, despite his political acumen, lets his truculence get the better of him and he trespasses on the patience of the King. He forgets his right and left limits and extends his line of fire to those who act under the aegis of the palace. Last month, when he accused Fouad Ali El himma and Mounir Majidi of filibustering his administration’s efforts to reform, he was forced to publicly apologize. He could have acknowledged his indiscretion privately, but there is a lesson to be learned in this public political coitus. Mr. Benkirane, a standard-bearer known for his political obduracy, needed his dignity wrung out. Schooling him on “makhzenian” sadomasochistic politics became necessary; the Moroccans needed to see with painful clarity who has true agency and realize there is no one on the scene yet with the spine to stand up to the elite. As long as he is pandering to the King and his cabal, Mr. Benkirane can attack anybody else and gin up any self-serving polemic.

I am one to believe that Mr. Benkirane’s probity is a tool to settle scores and abdicate his responsibility to fulfill campaign promises. Last Monday, in a statement before the parliament and to the media, he announced it will take time for his budget minister to devise a workable economic model for recovery and stability. He confessed the country is headed towards economic austerity; the deficit figures reported by Salaheddine Mezouar, the previous Minister of Finance did not add up. The situation is so dire that Morocco had to call on the International Monetary Fund earlier this month to request a precautionary credit line of $6.2 billion. That’s in addition to over $2 billion borrowed from the World Bank and the African Development Bank in the past two years to optimize farming irrigation systems, improve electricity production and public transportation, prop up educational reform and rural roads programs, develop the financial sector, reform public administration, support infrastructure projects, and finance the Ouarzazate solar power project.

Many of these projects have already failed, or are so flagrantly mismanaged by an unaccountable and grossly opaque and graft-ridden bureaucracy that their dismal flop is inevitable. Policies to improve living conditions in rural areas and combat illiteracy, to eradicate poverty and slums, to reduce unemployment, and to reform the health, judicial, and education sectors have all yielded derisory results. Three weeks ago, Mohamed El Ouafa, Minister of Education, officially admitted that the emergency program (2009 – 2012) designed to overhaul public education has failed. The program was introduced with a fanfaronade by Ahmed Akhchichine, El Ouafa’s predecessor, . Its budget exceeded $370 million. Is there a motion to hold Mr. Akhchichine accountable? Absolutely not! You see, Mr. Akhchichine is a protégé of Fouad Ali El Himma.

A study by Morocco’s recently reactivated Competition Council indicated that over 63% of business transactions are facilitated by bribes and 54% of businesses surveyed are driven by patronage. These are dejecting numbers. Mr. Benkirane was quick to point out that eradicating corruption, as he had promised during his campaign, will prove difficult. It is certainly a long-term project and success is not guaranteed.

For every promise made during his electoral campaign, Mr. Benkirane and his ministers have disclosed information to explain why it would be difficult to fulfill. In the coming months, Morocco’s deficit is projected to grow as it is posed to carry out the biggest grain import in thirty years; social woes are worsening; civil rights are declining, according to international human right organizations, as demonstrators are being violently suppressed and detained incommunicado. Mr. Benkirane’s government lacks the strategy that will protect the country from the vicissitudes of the global economy and advance it towards democracy. He is falling back on a familiar script when he said: “When I say that I am only the head of government, that is not to play down my importance. But it is the king who is our guarantor of stability and the key person with responsibility for constitutional implementation.” So, what took you so long to come out of this political closet and join the rest of the harem?

42 killed in Morocco's worst-ever bus crash
By Mohamed Chakir (AFP) RABAT

A bus plunged into a ravine in the Atlas mountains of southern Morocco early on Tuesday killing at least 42 people, a security official said, in the worst such accident recorded in the kingdom. All the victims were Moroccan, a local official told AFP. "But we are still in the process of identifying the bodies, as well as the injured," he said.

The accident took place at around 2:00 am (0100 GMT) when the vehicle fell off a main road in Haouz province, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Marrakesh, one of Morocco's top tourist destinations.

Read  more here:

Morocco Mulls Tax Reform For 2013 Budget
by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels 03 September 2012

Moroccan Minister of General Affairs Najib Boulif has announced that the government is planning a large-scale tax reform for the 2013 budget. Boulif has indicated that the government is currently preparing proposals to reform the value-added tax (VAT) and corporate tax regime, while the personal income tax system should remain mostly unchanged.

The Moroccan government is aiming for a budget deficit below 6% of gross domestic product (GDP) for 2013, with gradual corporate tax cuts over the next few years. The VAT reform would consist in eliminating distortions and inefficiencies in the current regime. Boulif also criticized the the EU for 'dumping' goods into Morocco, and proposed to revise the FTA between Morocco and the EU.

Morocco to develop ultra-fast broadband
By Rachid Jankari 2012-08-23

The Moroccan government launches an ambitious plan to keep a greater number of people connected online. As part of a new technological trend, the Moroccan government has decided to adopt a ten-year national plan to develop ultra-fast broadband connections.

"Specifically, the ultra-fast broadband plan, which has been approved by the government, will give the entire population access to telecommunication services within ten years – that is, by 2022," said National Telecommunications Regulation Agency (ANRT) chief Azzeddine El Mountassir Billah.

The ANRT will implement the ambitious plan in two phases. The first phase will involve a number of aspects, including the rollout of 4G mobile technologies from 2014 onwards and opening up the Wi-Fi band to telecom operators with a view to providing access to outdoor high-speed networks.

In parallel, ANRT plans to launch pilot projects to give housing estates access to fibre-optic cabling and establish procedures for connecting new developments to telecom networks. This emphasis on boosting fibre-optic coverage stems from the fact that telecom networks currently cover just the main urban areas but not remote parts of the country.

The second phase of the 2022 ultra-fast broadband project will focus on two aspects. Firstly, telecom networks will be boosted so that they offer better service quality for the various data networks and good connectivity between networks in different built-up areas and backhaul networks. Secondly, it will explore a variety of technological solutions to speed up the process of expanding access to high-speed networks.

"The implementation of this nationwide plan will include legal and regulatory measures to encourage the sharing of infrastructures and pooling of investment," said Billah.

The regulatory body also plans to update the legal framework, including Law no. 24-96 on postal services and telecoms, as well as decrees concerning the use of networks and antitrust litigation.

At present, virtually the entire population of Morocco is covered by 2G mobile networks with more than 37.4 million active mobile lines and a penetration rate of 115%. Mobile broadband (3G) services are also available in big cities. There are now more than 3.7 million internet users in Morocco, 83% of whom use 3G internet services and 17% of whom use high-speed internet.
-------------------------------------------------- Brings Argan Oil to US Market and Moroccan Women Reap Benefits from Its High Demand: As Demand for Argan Oil Skyrockets, Numerous Women In Morocco See a Brighter Future for Themselves and Their Families

By Last modified: 2012-09-04 HICKSVILLE, N.Y., Sept. 4, 2012 /PRNewswire/

Women who want to look good and do good can accomplish both tasks by buying 100 percent pure Argan Oil from as proceeds help to improve the lives of women in poor regions of Morocco.

" has brought to the west the liquid gold of Morocco which is Argan oil. When women buy our brand, they know they will be helping improve the lives of women who want better lives for their families," said Hicham Ben Youssef of "Consumers in the United States can now use this precious 100% natural cosmetic product that effectively promotes beautiful skin, hair and nails and they will know that the people who produced the oil can buy food and send their children to school."

The product has an EcoCert certificate, which states that the oil is pure and biological produced.

"The demand for Argan oil is continuing to rise," he said.  The oil has been well received because of its beauty and anti-aging benefits."

The argan trees have thrived in the Moroccan mountains for centuries and for thousands of years, the Berber tribe of Morocco has been extracting oil from the argan nuts for cosmetic, culinary and medicinal purposes. Today the oil is considered a very precious resource and in poor rural areas of Morocco, this oil has given many families a chance for a better life.

"Although the work of producing this oil is time consuming, many women are happy to spend their time doing the labor needed to produce this oil. The oil's market value has reached $40 per liter which ten years ago was only at about $4 per liter," he said.

"All the argan oil products we sell are produced by a woman's cooperative in Morocco," he said. "We at are quite happy to think that not only are we giving consumers a product that is absolutely effective in promoting beautiful skin, hair and nails but we are also helping dreams halfway across the globe come true. So to our consumers, every time you buy a bottle of argan oil from, you are helping a mother's or a child's dream somewhere in Morocco become more of a possibility."

The argan oil industry has also inspired other women and many other people across Morocco to make and sell their own local products including olive oil, dates and textiles. This is all because of the success of argan oil cooperatives, he said.

Read more here:

Welcome Week, Morocco Style
Posted by: Karis Hustad Updated: September 8, 2012

"Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you. You must travel it by yourself. It is not far. It is within reach. Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. Perhaps it is everywhere-- on water and land." -Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Welcome week in America is synonymous with getting acquainted to new experiences, places and people. Welcome week in Morocco is generally the same.

That is, if you consider bargaining in Arabic, figuring out a tram system and moving in with a family that likely speaks mostly Darija (a little French and English if you’re lucky) on the same level.

Certain elements are universal: safety and health lectures, overview of the program ahead and the constant conversation, “Where are you from? What do you study?” to get to know the faces you’ll be spending three months with. But the experiential aspects have been a bit more challenging than getting reacquainted with local college bars.

We started off the week with an introduction to our school, the Center for Cross Cultural Learning (CCCL) and its annexes. Our main school, where we eat lunches and take Arabic, is a 19 th century riad (house in the medina). I though moving from Roseville’s drab interior to Loyola’s lush campus was an upgrade, but stepping into the CCCL is like stepping onto a movie set. You enter a giant brass door and into a tiled entryway. Walk past an iron gate and to your left is a giant three-story atrium flooded with light from the ceiling windows. The walls are covered in intricately detailed tiles, the railings are all curled brass and the lights are hanging lanterns. Each floor has several rooms that surround the balcony; each with patterned tiling on the floors and walls, with small windows that open into the central atrium and medina outside.

My favorite part is the rooftop terrace, as I mentioned in my last post. You really can’t beat 360-degree views of any city, let alone one as beautiful as Rabat.

We also have an annex with a library elsewhere in the medina, and another annex outside the medina for the other two SIT Morocco programs’ Arabic classes.

After our activities each day, we wandered about Rabat on foot, taking in the ocean, the Kasbah and local restaurants. The first day, four of us wandered to the beach through the Kasbah. The Kasbah is the older part of a city, and is set up similarly to the medina with twisting streets where small shops line the main drags and quiet neighborhoods extend in every which way. Rabat’s Kasbah, called Oudaya, is regarded as one of the most beautiful in North Africa. It is located directly on the Atlantic Ocean and is painted a cerulean blue and white throughout. It is a bit lusher than the medina, with trees and vines cascading from upper landings and along street corners.

The entrance from the Kasbah to the ocean is breathtaking. You exit an arched gate to a sweeping, most-likely thousand+ year old terrace, overlooking the beaches, ocean and river. After gaping at the views for a bit, my fellow students and I wandered down to the beach and out onto a long pier. The beach was largely male dominated (as most of Morocco is), and though I was with two male friends, I felt a bit conspicuous as an American woman. Despite this, it was a pleasant walk with amazing views. On our way back, we found a few other friends from our program. Though Rabat is a big city, it is amazing how small it can be when you are looking for other people!

On our way back to our hotel, we wandered back into the Kasbah in search for a café my friend had visited a few days earlier. After a couple wrong turns and dead ends, we made it to this picturesque café atop a cliff overlooking a harbor. We had mint tea (absolutely delicious), my friend got henna and we discussed our experiences thus far. I am very happy with all the people in my program. We only have 12 students, everyone comes from very different backgrounds but we all came here because we wanted the same thing: a change from the usual routine, the challenge of taking on an unfamiliar culture and language and a passion for storytelling in one way or another.

On Tuesday, however, came the first major challenge: the drop off. This is exactly as it sounds: they drop you off somewhere in Rabat with 20 dirhams (approx.. $2.50), a topic to observe and tell you to make it back to the CCCL in an hour and a half.

Intimidating? Yes.

Difficult in reality? No. 

I was dropped off with two other girls and we ended up taking the tram back to the medina after wandering around our area (which included the national library and Mohamed V University). The Rabat tram is less than a year old and is very similar to the light rail. It is clean, easy to use and cheap: one ride is 6 dirhams ($.75 USD). They also have a bus system, but I have not looked into that yet. I believe the public transportation is limited to the city area: there doesn’t seem to be much transport to the suburbs outside of driving or taxis. I am hoping to look into how the recent arrival of the tram is affecting transportation and access to different parts of the city, as well as traffic (which is crazy as it is).

That night we decided to go out to explore some of the nightlife of Rabat. Though Moroccan women almost universally do not drink, it is a bit more acceptable for western women, but it is seen as very shameful (not to mention unsafe) to be drunk on the street. The guys of the program decided to have a “guy’s night” and went to a local bar that doesn’t allow women. We met up with them later and tried to go to the bar across the street from us (which was a happenin’ joint the night before with karaoke blaring until 2 a.m.) but they didn’t allow shorts. We wandered for a bit, and eventually got directions to a very nice hotel bar where we stayed until about midnight. The drinks were moderately priced ($5 for a big mug of beer), and the atmosphere was much more accepting of women, but also upscale. As a woman, I don’t think drinking is going to be a big part of my experience here. Fine by me, but certainly a different vibe than college in America.

On Wednesday, Badr (our program assistant) gave an introduction to bargaining. Bargaining is part of a culture here in the medina, and if there isn’t a fixed price on something, it is expected that you barter for the price. As a born-and-raised Midwesterner, this goes against essentially everything we are: aggressive, bold and blunt. They throw out a price, you counter, if they say no, you walk away, if all goes right, they call you back and the bartering continues until you get the price you want. Oh, and this is best done in Arabic. These shopkeepers are professionals as well: they know how to act, what to say and often up to nine languages to ensure they can make a profit no matter the ethnicity of their customer. The next day we were sent out on our own with 10 dirhams to give the bartering a try. I immediately forgot the Arabic we were taught, so I decided to give it a try in French. Here is how my bartering for a ring went:

Karis: “Bonjour, ca va?”

Shopkeeper: “Bonjour.”

Karis: “Combien cecoute?” (points at ring)

Shopkeeper: “10 dirhams” (continues to speak in French I can’t follow)

Karis: (Acts disinterested as taught) “Et ca?” (points at other ring)

Shop keeper: “Twenty five dirhams”

Karis: ……

Karis: “I’ll take the one for 10 dirhams.”

Clearly this is a skill I have yet to conquer.

On Thursday, we had to be at the CCCL with our luggage at 8 a.m. because later in the day we moved in with our homestay families. Though we all were a little peeved at having to wake up early on our last day, especially since we drew the unlucky straw of being the first of all the groups to get picked up, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. 

After the hectic nature of welcome week, we had an hour to ourselves. Some people talked, others slept. I went up to the terrace to write, and Dev Dharm, a guy in my program and certified yoga instructor, led a couple people in a rooftop yoga session. It was calm, relaxed and a nice chance to center ourselves as we dove into the next chapter of our semester in Morocco: the homestay.

I am writing this from my house in the medina, while my host mother does her prayers and a lilting chant in Arabic drifts from a radio. My laundry is hanging on a line upstairs and every so often a stray cat wanders onto our terrace and its meows fall past the giant cloth that functions as the roof to our courtyard and mix with the chanting and sound of cooking from the kitchen.

More to come.

Have a question about Rabat or Morocco? Email me at and I try to find an answer and post it on this blog!

How Did Morocco Survive the Arab Spring
Published: 2012-09-07

To the contrary, in the countries where the rulers had some kind of legitimacy, be it religious or traditional, demonstrations simply inaugurated a peaceful reform process or a new course of change, writes Said Temsamani.

Many observers of the "Arab Spring" wonder why this phenomenon has taken violent forms in some Arab countries, while taken non-violent forms in others. To me, the answer holds in one word - "legitimacy."

Wherever legitimacy was lacking, demonstrations quickly transformed into uprisings, if not into revolutions. To the contrary, in the countries where the rulers had some kind of legitimacy, be it religious or traditional, demonstrations simply inaugurated a peaceful reform process or a new course of change.

In Morocco, the monarchic regime had a strong legitimacy. Deeply rooted in the "Commander of the Faithful" status of the king, this legitimacy had been consolidated by the role played by the monarchy, first, in the fight for independence, and then in the semi-democratic system established after independence.

This semi-democratic system, then subsequently underwent substantial improvements beginning from the early 1990s, when the late Hassan II called for an "alternate government" to be formed by the opposition parties.

The pace of these improvements accelerated with the advent of the Mohammad VI, who in particular encouraged the national reconciliation process which called for a radical reform of the judiciary, launched the "regionalization" process, and last, but not least, installed the "Economic and Social Council" as a permanent frame for social dialogue and discourse.

All these improvements needed were to culminate in a profound reform of the constitution. It is the merit of the 20th of February movement, which finally precipitated and accelerated this reform process. Morocco has now certainly one of the most advanced constitutions in the Arab world.

It clearly reflects the diversity of Moroccan society and culture, including recognition of ethnic Berbers and making their language with Arabic official state language. It explicitly mentions all universally agreed upon human rights. It particularly insists on women's rights. It establishes a clear separation of powers.

But a constitution is merely still just a text when it is written. It needs to be enacted in the field. And this is where the role of political parties come in. It is in the end their responsibility to mobilize the people and to expand their participation.

Will Moroccan parties meet the expectations of the Moroccans especially the youth? One has to acknowledge that they didn't have time to properly prepare themselves thus far.

However, we are fortunately seeing some encouraging signs, such as high rate of registration in electoral lists and high rate of new participants in the race of parliamentary positions.

In the final analysis, the reforms now extant in Morocco were just a beginning and it will take dedication, hard work, and greater involvement on the part of the parties and the country’s citizens, including 13-15 million young adults, before real democratization can be realized.

Said Temsamani
Political Analyst

Morocco: Trending Away From Absolute Power

A major challenge to Morocco’s economic development will be the focus on education and the role of youth. Youth unemployment and school attendance are real looming issues that must be addressed. This will require the kind of dialogue and inclusion that will allow this increasingly large and important demographic group to be heard and have a true stake in their future.

This fall tens of thousands of Moroccan youth will participate in Youth Council which will define an ongoing platform for the government to engage youth in a grassroots political process. Unlike in Egypt, US NGO’s have worked along side civil society to support youth initiatives.  

There is no doubt that traditional political parties and human rights activists feel overtaken by the "Facebook insurgents".  Two and a half million Moroccans are members, making Morocco second only to Egypt in the number of Facebook subscribers in North Africa and Middle East, the region known by the acronym MENA.  A higher percentage of Moroccans use the Internet, however, than Egyptians do.  And these Moroccans are mobilizing for their own protest against corruption, poverty, unemployment, access to health care, and various forms of indignity.  A Facebook organization by the name of “Democracy and Liberty Now” planned  a nationwide demonstration on February 20, 2011.

Such public demonstrations, however, are not unusual in Morocco’s multiparty political system. Traditional activists think that Facebook uprisings are not enough to see reform through; public discontent needs to be channeled and framed by traditional political parties and human rights organizations.  Many Moroccans, after July 2011 constitutional reforms, have become very excited by the social and political rearrangements unfolding in Morocco.  A country without oil or gas and a large population of 33 million or more, Morocco is betting on the resourcefulness of its people and the stabilizing force of the monarchy. The term “monarchy” doesn’t resonate well in the west because it connotes all the evils of ancient regimes.  But in Morocco it is entrenched in the country’s history. Sultans led the resistance against foreign occupiers and the king is now leading the way to modernization, despite all the pressures stemming from a bad global economy, the lack of resources, and the stubborn challenge of Islamism.
I was, therefore, gratified to note that Thomas Friedman recognizes Morocco as one of three nations in the Arab world that is poised to provide real leadership to its citizens and the entire region. Of these three nations, Morocco’s monarchy is by far the oldest.
The recent progress toward greater political and economic reform in Morocco should not be underestimated. The country’s national security and political direction  trends are clearly pointing away from the days when absolute power ruled absolutely.

Bohemian rhapsody: Falling (again) for Tangier, Morocco's exuberant swirl of a city
By Glenys Roberts 7 September 2012

Morning service at St Andrew's Church, and the well-mannered congregation is singing 'Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken'. Afterwards, in the churchyard, they greet others in plummy tones that can be heard anywhere in the Home Counties.

Suddenly a well-dressed elderly lady, she must be 90, snaps out of the impeccable character suggested by her Chanel suit and pearls, and starts pointing frantically at a barely healed hole in her calf. 'You see that,' she screams like a fishwife, 'Birdie did it!'

Welcome to expat heaven Tangier, Morocco, where the British still cling to an elegant social round, for the most part long gone in the mother country.

With their own church, their favourite hotel, the Minzah, built by the immensely rich Marquis of Bute in the Thirties; their own riding school; and their own cemetery (and pet cemetery), it is one of world traveller Michael Palin's favourite destinations as described in his book Sahara.

Palin tells of the typically bizarre churchyard scene when Birdie, an elderly white pet cockerel, took a bite out of a retired widow called Lady Baird.

 Quite why I fell in love with Tangier and its eccentric ways, I can't remember. I have been visiting it since the Sixties and seen it change from a scruffy town to a modern city with French restaurants, beach bars and a summer influx of some of Europe's richest people.

Mick Jagger, who has kept a flame alive for it almost as long as I have, paid a flying visit this year to see his favourite jeweller Majid, and I met Sixties rock chick Pattie Boyd, still looking a million dollars stretched out under a coconut hair parasol.

I first visited the white city, as it is known because of its dazzling buildings and fabulous light, on a day trip from Gibraltar on the shuttle plane run in those days by Gibair. When the plane was grounded by sea mist, the company put us up in the Minzah.

I was smitten and have never stayed anywhere else since. With its entrance in the middle of the town and view over the bay, it is surely one of the best-placed hotels in the world.

It is hard to think of a better positioned town either. On a headland where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean and overlooking Cape Trafalgar, where Nelson lost his life, it is a must for history buffs.

The town has had Western visitors ever since the 17th- century diarist Samuel Pepys was sent there to wind up the British garrison in 1683.

Gore Vidal came to Tangier for the boys, Errol Flynn for the girls. Matisse and Degas came to paint and couturier Yves Saint Laurent to gain inspiration for his collections. Tennessee Williams came to write and so did Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. Winston Churchill and Aristotle Onassis both visited and the legendary American writer Paul Bowles moved in.

Today, the King of Morocco Mohammed VI is determined to make it a showcase city. He has built a corniche at the base of the kasbah and a marina that he hopes will make it into another Monaco.

There is so much confidence in the air that the Spanish come to look for work in construction. And there are so many French intellectuals - French is still the lingua franca - at times it is possible to imagine oneself on the Left Bank in Paris.

In fact, it has become so sophisticated that two films were in the making while I was there this year - Tilda Swinton in Jim Jarmusch's story of two vampires in love and a French documentary about homosexual lovers Jean Cocteau and Raymond Radiguet.

Old Tangier hands like myself hope our favourite town will not end up a concrete jungle as parts of Europe have done, but whatever happens it is difficult to imagine it being altogether changed.

It is built on so many hills that there will always be those tempting glimpses through the buildings to the sea. When I first visited, many of the women were veiled. Now the French sunbathe topless and the carpet sellers speak perfect English. You can gamble in the casinos, you can drink in the restaurants and quad-bike and surf on the beaches.

But one thing is quite different when you jet in from London: the way people still know how to enjoy the moment. They love to sit around in cafes watching the world go by and not worrying what the next day will bring. It is such a cultural shift it makes for a very relaxing holiday.

Most of all there is the impression, because of Tangier's history, of living in several centuries and several countries all at the same time.

Read more:

Morocco Is on the Path to Change
August 28, 2012

Hicham Ben Abdallah el Alaoui is a consulting professor at Stanford University's Center for Democracy Development and the Rule of Law, and is the president of the Moulay Hicham Foundation. He is a cousin of King Mohammed VI of Morocco and third in line for the throne.

The Arab monarchies have survived the turmoil in the Middle East for several reasons. First, the monarchic institution remains deeply linked to national identity in many of these countries because of anticolonial struggle and the historical importance of the institution itself. Second, monarchies have traditionally arbitrated conflicts between different groups and classes, acting as benevolent caretakers of society. They have also allowed other institutions, like parliaments, to represent the people, thus staying above the political fray.

Like Jordan, Morocco is trying to satisfy its citizens by liberalizing instead of democraticizing.

These factors have earned Arab monarchs a respite from the wave that swept away regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and possibly Yemen, but the respite will not last forever.

In the Gulf, enormous oil revenue has permitted monarchies to initiate new welfare and development programs to deflect public pressure. Geopolitics matter too: it has become clear that Saudi Arabia will not permit the crisis in Bahrain to truly threaten the existence of its monarchy. Likewise, at the international level, the United States and the European Union have little desire to encourage any more instability in this economically vital area.

The issue of monarchical survival has become inextricably entangled with the dynamics of Sunni-Shiite sectarian tension, which pits Iran against the Arab Gulf kingdoms. This discourse has grown hegemonic: not just the monarchies but also oppositionists have internalized these fears, blunting the demand for political reform.

Morocco and Jordan — the two oil-poor monarchies — are trying to satisfy their citizens by liberalizing instead of democratizing. They have turned to controlled political openings cloaked in the language of freedom but intended to perpetuate the status quo. Limited constitutional reforms, tolerance of more opposition and new parliamentary elections are welcome steps, but such measures do not devolve power away from the palace.

And such policies cannot indefinitely quiet the restive middle classes, who are no longer satisfied with constrained pluralism and demand genuine participation. What they desire is not revolution but reformation toward constitutional monarchy, a new system of governance that embodies the spirit of democracy while retaining the historical role of monarchism in these societies. The path to change may be uneven, and sometimes even chaotic, but it has begun.

Morocco's illegal mussel pickers ply non-eco trade
August 29, 2012 by Mohamed Chakir

Fishermen shell mussels on a beach near Rabat on August 18. Thousands of Morocco's unemployed slum-dwellers head to the Atlantic coast every morning to scrape a living as illegal mussel pickers. But experts say they threaten the health of the marine ecosystem.

Thousands of Morocco's unemployed slum-dwellers head to the Atlantic coast every morning to scrape a living as illegal mussel pickers. But experts say they threaten the health of the marine ecosystem.

The stretch of coast between Rabat and Casablanca, Morocco's economic capital renowned for its sprawling slums, or "bidonvilles," is the most popular destination for these unlicensed fishermen, who flock to the area at low tide.

The mussels that line the rocky sections of the coast are highly sought after in Morocco, where they are served up in tajines, or cooked with onions and lemons, and are particularly in demand during the holy month of Ramadan.

So when the tide is out, the poachers scour the rocks with iron bars they use to catch the black-shelled mollusks, and with the full knowledge of the authorities, who are supposed to help protect the shoreline but instead turn a blind eye.

Unemployment is a major problem in Morocco—tens of thousands demonstrated in Casablanca in May demanding jobs—so the unauthorised mussel-pickers are tolerated, as an official in Harhoura, a seaside resort near Rabat, explained.

"We can't stop this informal activity because we have nothing to offer the fishermen as an alternative," he told AFP.

More importantly, from an ecological point of view, the government has never passed a law to encourage the conservation of the mussels, which play an important role in preserving the marine environment.

They act as filters for microbes found along the coast, including bacteria and algae, excreting nutrients that stimulate the growth of plant plankton, which in turn benefit the fish.

Their shells are also able to absorb metal pollutants, adding to concerns among environmentalists about their disappearance.

The sides of the rocks south of Rabat are scoured by the mussel pickers on a daily basis "and left bare," according to a Moroccan development NGO.

The poachers have much to gain from this activity. One person may collect 200 kilos of mussels per day, which when shelled would yield about 3-4 kilos of meat, sold to buyers for around 50 dirhams (4.5 euros) per kilo and potentially earning the poachers between 100 and 150 dirhams per day.

There are no official figures on the number of poachers plying the trade along the heavily urbanised shoreline south of the capital, but an official in the Rabat prefecture estimated there are more than 2,000 during peak season. …………….

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Morocco: Bowing to the King
31-08-2012 Al-Akhbar:

Activists have formalized a call for the cancellation of a pledge of allegiance ritual they see as degrading. Loyalists defend the ritual as a Moroccan tradition that should be upheld and protected.

On the anniversary of his coronation – in what is known in Morocco as Throne Day or Fête du Trône – the Moroccan king, Mohammed VI, upholds a decades old ritual by riding through the palace gates on a horse.

The purpose of this traditional ceremony is to ask notables, MPs, senior state officials and army officers to renew their pledge of allegiance by bending before the king three times in a near-kneeling position. Everyone is dressed in white traditional Moroccan attire, a sign of obedience and loyalty.

This ritual that marks the Allegiance Ceremony no longer receives the kind of unanimity that had previously been imposed through fear and intimidation on a silent majority. ……………

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Midwest to Morocco
Posted by: Karis Hustad : August 29, 2012 -

This Friday I head from the Midwest to Morocco. 

You could say the planning for this trip began in my 10 th grade French class. We were assigned a project to plan a trip to any French speaking country in the world. I chose Morocco, due to the fact it was far away and seemed like the most fascinating of the French speaking countries. A melting pot of European, African and Arabic cultures, a land where every shadow in the Medina hides a story. Of course money was no object on this imaginary trip, so five-star hotels and private jets, rather than riads and petit taxis, anchored my travels. I got an A on the project, but put aside my Maghreb dreams as more pressing domestic matters, such as college, took priority.

Life continued until a year ago, when I found an abroad program that offered courses in journalism partnered with a non-profit based in Minneapolis all in the setting of my 10 th grade dream destination: Morocco. Though a homestay and 36 hours of travel time is a slight adjustment from my sophomore year travel plans, I decided to go for it. Fast forward past applications, health insurance, TB tests, frantically searching for a travel pack and a fantastic summer in Chicago, and you’ll find me here in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, typing away on a blog post three days from departing America. Beginning Friday night I’ll hop on a plane, train, then automobile, and arrive in Rabat Sunday afternoon ready to begin a semester studying journalism in Morocco.

Deep breath. Let me introduce myself:

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Theolia to Start Moroccan Wind Farm Development.
By Tom Metcalf on August 31, 2012

Theolia SA (TEO), a French wind-energy developer, expects to begin developing the first stage of its 300-megawatt project in Morocco over the next few months, its chief executive officer said. The Aix-en-Provence-based company signed an agreement with the Moroccan government’s Office National de l’Electricite in May 2011 for a two-phase wind project. The first stage will double the capacity at the company’s existing 50-megawatt site in Tetouan on the north coast of Morocco.

“We will be ready to start building this wind farm in a few months,” Fady Khallouf, the CEO, said by phone today. The wind conditions in Morocco combined with political support of the industry make it an attractive market, and Theolia is eyeing further opportunities in the country, according to Khallouf.

Theolia today reported its loss widened in the first half as a surge in interest expenses offset a 21 percent gain in electricity sales, according to an e-mailed statement. The net loss was 10.3 million euros ($12.9 million) compared with 6.86 million euros in the first six months of 2011.

Theolia’s shares fell as much as 7.2 percent to 1.68 euros in Paris trading. The stock has risen 38 percent since the start of the month.

Interest expense relating to the company’s convertible bond rose to 6.5 million euros from 2 million euros last year as the number of bond conversions fell from last year’s levels. Measures to pare debt at French wind farms resulted in a one- time accounting charge of 2 million euros, Khallouf said.

The financial charges overshadowed a doubling of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. That measure rose to 15.9 million euros from 7.6 million euros. Revenue from electricity sales rose 21 percent to 26.3 million euros.

“Despite the financial crisis, we are able to grow and able to improve our profitability,” the CEO said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Metcalf in London at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at

Troubadours of the Old and New Morocco

For decades now, Nass El Ghiwane have fascinated audiences with their individual stylistic blend of Gnawa trance music and social protest songs. Their popularity is such that they've been dubbed the "Moroccan Beatles". Andreas Kirchgäßner profiles the group

The stadium in Agadir is rocking. Long-haired youths tear off their T-shirts, waving them to the music like flags. People dance in a crush, pushing against the lines of soldiers and policemen trying to force them back. A girl slips bravely through the cordon, jumps between the musicians. She dances with them for a moment before the marshals pull her off the stage. But after the final chord, there's no holding them back. The youngsters storm the barriers, grab instruments, fly at the musicians. The plump Moroccan girl is back, and stands in front of Larbi Batma as he's leaving the stage, tying her scarf around his neck…

Impressions from the wild 1970s. And indeed, with their Beatles-style haircuts and flared trousers the Moroccan musicians looked just like contemporary rock stars. But listen closely and something doesn't seem quite right: there's no howling electric guitar, no huge drum set. The instrumentation was sparse, some pieces were only sung and accompanied by rhythmic clapping.

Religious and inflammatory
Courageous directness and social brisance: "The fact that Gnawa music now enjoys pop status across Morocco is due to Nass El Ghiwane," writes Kirchgäßner Then the musicians again brought out traditional instruments: the harraz, the cup-shaped drums of itinerant musicians and beggars, the tbila drum of the Sufi brotherhoods, covered on both sides, the framed drums of the Jilala and Aissawa and the gembri, the percussive bass of the Gnawa musicians.

They did indeed use these instruments to play the music of the traditional Sufi brotherhoods, the Jilala, the Hmadcha, but above all the trance music of the Gnawa. But they had composed new lyrics, partially in the style of religious Sufi poetry, but always infused with courageous directness and social brisance.

In the educated Morocco of the 1960s and 70s, which had its cultural centre in Fez, this music was regarded as primitive and backward. After all, it was often used to conjure up spirits in healing ceremonies developed by popular Islam.

Instead, Moroccan radios broadcast overblown emotional music or the noble tones of zither and violin. It was already a sensation in itself that four musicians played their own songs and lyrics on traditional instruments – an approach that soon packed the biggest venues and stadiums in Morocco.

In June 1971, they were the warm-up act before a performance by the Radio Orchestra at the National Theatre in Rabat. But the audience didn't allow the orchestra – with its classical Arab and western orientated repertoire – onto the stage, celebrating instead the music of Nass El Ghiwane. They were henceforth hailed in the Moroccan media as "the Moroccan Beatles".

In the late 1960s, four young men from the working-class district of Hayy al-Mohammadi in Casablanca joined a theatre group and provided a musical accompaniment on traditional instruments to the socially critical plays. They were an instant success, and soon formed the group "Nass El Ghiwane". The addition of the banjo to their ensemble made the group the first in Morocco to modernize traditional music.

The "Ghiwane" musicians that gave the group its name were the troubadours of old Morocco, members of traditional Sufi brotherhoods who used music to convey the latest news, religious messages and entertainment to the people.

Not long after independence, in the midst of the worst economic crises and harshest political repression, the group mixed popular Sufi music with their own texts. Nass El Ghiwane was the first-ever Moroccan group to denounce the misery of the young and disenfranchised, despotism and omnipresent corruption:

"Oh, what a miracle! Our summer has become winter … The rulers' tyranny becomes all the more oppressive, their despotism more brutal." (Excerpt from Nass El Ghiwane: "Subhan allah")

Sufi music and Arab protest

Although they originated from the leftwing intellectual student milieu of their time, they were not flying any particular political banner, but expressed through song their desperation, their hopelessness and the isolation of the young man who came to the city from the country.   
Musical legacy: Paco's son Youness Paco (second from left) joined forces with his brother Yassine and the banjo player Rachid (first from left) to form the group "Paco El Ghiwane", which sees itself as the successor to the legendary "Nass El Ghiwane"  But through Sufi music they also celebrated something lacking in the western student movement, but which to this day remains an integral part of all Arab protest: a religious fervour that turns to Allah for help. Gnawa music, the legacy of black African slaves in Morocco, still played in the African jazz pentatonic, still interfused with strange words of Bambara and Wolof, in turn mirrored the feelings of the young, the disenfranchised and persecuted. They too perceived themselves as slaves of repression.

In 1974, the young gembri player Aberrahman Paco came from the traditional Gnawa stronghold of Essaouira to join Nass El Ghiwane, thereby further strengthening the influence of black African healing and trance music on the group. The fact that Gnawa music now enjoys pop status across Morocco is due to Nass El Ghiwane.

But after almost 20 years, in 1993, Paco withdrew from the furore surrounding Nass El Ghiwane and returned to his roots: the Gnawa cult in Essaouira. He suffered a stroke there a few years ago, and has been bed-ridden ever since. He has however passed the musical baton to his son Youness Paco, who played with Nass El Ghiwane as a young boy.

Morocco and the Arab Spring

I meet Youness in the port city of Essaouira, where he founded the group "Paco El Ghiwane" with his brother Yassine and the banjo player Rachid from Marrakech. But the student movement is no more, and socialist models appear to have been enduringly discredited.

But Arab society is showing itself to be anything but paralysed. Suddenly young people are organising themselves on Internet forums, filling the streets with people. Morocco is not spared. Although the young King initiated hurried constitutional reforms, demonstrations also began here. After all, the King continues to be the unchallenged ruler of the land and parliament, and abuse of office and corruption on all levels persists.

I push for a response from the musicians to the political events of the Arab Spring. Of course, they welcome Ben Ali's resignation, Mubarak's ousting, the removal of Gaddafi and the rebellion against Assad in Syria.

But Youness' response to developments in Morocco and the "February 20 Movement" is very cautious: No one wants to question the authority of King Mohammed VI., who is also the nation's religious leader.

Frustration at rampant corruption and miserable working conditions: Banjo player Rachid from Paco El Ghiwane As far as the musicians are concerned, the problem is corruption within the ranks of advisers and parliamentarians. This is why a movement such as "February 20", which calls for greater parliamentary democracy, is garnering little support beyond the economic metropolis Casablanca. Instead, even the smallest "February 20" demonstration is followed by a massive counter-rally in support of the King.

But Rachid, who arrived from Marrakech during the night, has driven away his fatigue with a few brisk banjo solos and is now on a roll. His entirely unsatisfactory predicament in which he, a talented musician, is forced to take on exhausting, badly paid jobs, makes him sick. Yes of course there are musicians in Morocco who can earn a good living from their performances.

But they had connections that he, Rachid, doesn't have. That's corruption in Morocco: without friends in high places, artists can either starve or give up on their craft. He plays a few runs on the banjo in an attempt to dispel these gloomy thoughts. The lyrics of Nass El Ghiwanes appear to be more relevant than ever:

"Oh you jailers! Open the doors of the prisons … Oh you rulers! Cease your barbarity." (Excerpt from Nass El Ghiwane: "Al-Samta")

Andreas Kirchgäßner © 2012
Translated from the German by Nina Coon
Editor: Lewis Gropp/

Easy riders on Morocco's coast: After the heat and hassle of Marrakech, Oualidia's oasis of calm soothes our writer with its long lagoon, seafood, royal surfers and pink flamingos
Sunday 2 September 2012

" Flamingos, surfers and royalty have discerning taste in beaches" – or so I'd been told by a Moroccan friend a few days previously, as we sat in the cloying Marrakech medina surrounded by the smells of spices and moped exhaust fumes.

She was exploring my beach options, to escape the city. "Agadir will steal your soul in return for cheap sunglasses," she said, shooing away a man with a baby monkey on his shoulder asking for dirhams. "The wind in Essaouira turns people insane, but the lagoon of Oualidia is magic." I'd heard of Agadir, of course, destination for Europeans seeking easy sun, and Essaouira, the seagull-wheeling hippy town where Orson Welles filmed Othello. But Oualidia?

No idea, yet the whispery syllables – pronounced wa-li-dee-ah – coupled with the intense midsummer heat of chaotic Marrakech, were enticement enough. "It's where Marrakech goes to play and the Moroccan royal family learns to surf," my friend smiled.

When we arrived, I thought perhaps there had been some mistake: it didn't look like a town that would attract royalty. Or flamingos. But then you turn a corner towards the sea and Oualidia uncurls to reveal the magical lagoon at its centre.

It is immediately beguiling. The crescent of butterscotch-coloured sand loops at the southern tip of 11km of lagoon, protected from the crashing Atlantic by a barrier of rocks that catch all the violence of the ocean. Slickly wet-suited children surf in miniature waves and teenagers play football among djellaba-clad women making sandcastles with their babies on a stage-like central island, which evaporates and re-emerges with the tides. Over the course of our three days, it never looked like the same beach twice. Silver at night, the water was lilac in the rising morning.

In spring and autumn, migrating pink flamingos land here on the way from Spain to sub-Saharan Africa. We watched elegant sandpipers and curlews, herons marching their lolloping Egyptian walk through the sand, swallows dancing to the sound of minarets calling the boatmen, fisherman and surfers to prayer.

In the pink: migrating flamingos visit Oualidia’s sheltered lagoon

While most of the town is modern, hunched on the bluff above the water is a now-crumbling kasbah, built by the village's namesake, Sultan El Oualid, in the 17th century. Below it is the ruin of Mohammed V's summer palace, a skeleton of luminous yellow ochre fringed by fir and palm trees on the water's edge. It has been abandoned for more than 50 years and guards hover on the rocks outside it, guns slung over their bodies, protecting the roofless staircases, dried-out swimming pools and Moorish arches.

"No photo, no," shrugs a toothy fisherman outside the palace when I pull out my camera. Simultaneously, a nearby guard squares his shoulders and glares at me from under his hat, motioning me to turn away.

Friends of the present king – Mohammed VI, who has reigned since 1999 – apparently own villas in the area and when the local surf school teaches the royal children, the small lagoon fills up with a protective huddle of wet-suited bodyguards. Laurent Miramont, the handsome surf-school owner, insists the sheltered water means that anyone can learn to surf in Oualidia's lagoon – he taught a 70-year-old to surf last week, a three-year-old a few weeks before that – but my stint on the waves proves him quite wrong. It seems I have no balance at all. Never mind, it was blissful out there – I idled away most of the afternoon sitting on my surfboard as if it were a sedan chair, watching the children fly over the enclosed puddle of ocean with the swelling, breaking waves.

The next morning I rode a white horse named Lagoon over the dramatic Atlantic beaches. If the calm inside the breakwater is too tame for your tastes, the surrounding shoreline is wild. At 9am, trotting through the surf as the mist cleared from the edges of jagged rocks, the only others along miles of sand were local children sitting by fishing poles or chasing each other in the water.

It takes a while, after the steaming intensity of Marrakech's hard-sell, to realise nobody is going to hassle you in Oualidia. The kids don't look up at you with their irresistible big brown eyes and ask for "Un dirham, s'il vous plaît?" and the men don't stare at your ankles as if your bare flesh is both edible and immoral. Everyone just goes about their business. Passing the small fish market at the tip of the lagoon, in front of a battalion of blue fishing boats, fisherman will politely offer "Oursins? Ostreas?" But if you shake your head, they go back to talking among themselves.

Most of the voices on the beach were Arabic or French. I befriended Madhi, a musician from Safi playing football on the beach in his Oakley board shorts and "LA" baseball cap, who told me that he got the inspiration for all his songs from the landscape of Oualidia. Bashir, a well-travelled student at Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech, on holiday with his parents, let me help him build an elaborate sandcastle with his five-year-old cousin. I asked him what there was to do in this town, and he laughed at me. "Just this," he said, smiling. "Surf, sandcastles, eat fish and oysters. They say it's Morocco's St Tropez, but it's not – it's Oualidia, different from everywhere."

You certainly wouldn't come here for the boutique shopping or the choice of nightlife. In Marrakech we had sipped cocktails on the snakeskin window seats of new town lounge bars, swimming away hot days in the luxurious pool of Les Deux Tours Hotel before venturing out to haggle over the price of leather slippers and silver rings. In Oualidia, there are no beachside bars and only three restaurants of note, all of which serve nearly the same excellent food: fresh fish and huge wet oysters, which are a speciality of the region.

We visited L'Ostrea restaurant, which sits next to an oyster farm, in the evening and found it desolately empty until 10 o'clock, when elegant groups of French men and women began to drift onto the patio with stripy sweaters slung over their tanned shoulders, chain-smoking Marlboro reds between sips of white wine or slurps of giant oysters.

L’Hippocampe hotel in Oualidia has an English-syle garden

The other two restaurants are connected to Oualidia's premier hotels, L'Hippocampe and La Sultana. We stayed at the former, owned by Latif Illane, whose cherry-red Alfa Romeo convertible sits outside the hotel and whose racing trophies decorate the fireplace underneath a grimacing wild boar head, which is affectionately referred to as "Lord Muchty". Latif is rightfully proud of his lavish English-style garden, overgrown with dark red geraniums, nasturtiums, black-eyed Susans, daisies, arches of ivy and great fists of frilly pink hibiscus.

The rooms are simple and while the friendly staff speak French, you shouldn't go there expecting to get by on English. There are larger suites at the front of the hotel, which walk straight out onto the veranda and the beach, and next time we visit I'll book one of these. Built next to the ruined summer palace, L'Hippocampe's location is unbeatable and we ate better in their restaurant than anywhere else in Morocco, fighting the sharp tangled limbs of giant spider crabs, sharing grilled soles, fresh off the boat that afternoon.

We ate seafood salad full of fresh calamari and mussels at the beachside restaurant of the more recent and decadent hotel, La Sultana, watching the more European clientele holidaying at this side of the lagoon – young English couples with well-dressed children, lanky French teenagers hiding behind Ray-Ban sunglasses. Certainly the atmosphere and service is more cosmopolitan, but after spending days watching epic football games, gaggles of surfers and industrious Moroccan sandcastle-makers on the beach, I felt a little sorry for the pretty English children in straw hats playing on their own outside La Sultana.

The most enjoyable activity in Oualidia isn't swimming in La Sultana's swanky infinity pool, surfing with Laurent and his beach-babies, or even birdwatching. My favourite moment of each Oualidia day was sitting on the beach as the sun began to fall, watching the football games turn to sunset silhouettes, the pleasure boats pausing their ferrying to bob on the tide, swallows chasing each other, men in billowing white kaftans standing with their toes in the waves as the sun finally disappears beyond the rocks. Even if you did nothing but sit on the beach for a week, the constantly shifting landscape would keep you entertained.

On our last day, sipping cold water under a straw umbrella as the sun turned the lagoon silver, we even saw the pale outline of flamingos flocking away in the distance. Quietly, we raised a toast to their spectacular taste in beach towns.

Anna Stothard's novel, The Pink Hotel , is out now in paperback (Alma Books, £7.99)

Moroccan Journalist Wears His Heart On His Sleeve
By Ellen Van De Bovenkamp, 29 August 2012

Journalist Omar Radi was front page news himself when he dared to challenge Minister of Justice Mustafa Ramid's views on sexual freedom. Radi told the minister he lived with his girlfriend without being married and didn't see why that should bother anyone. In response, Ramid warned him not to say anything more because he might reveal he was breaking the law that forbids sex outside marriage and wind up in prison.

It was not the first time that 26-year-old Radi chose to express his personal view on a taboo subject. An activist as well as a journalist, Radi is a member of the Moroccan protest movement 20th February and says he is "preparing for the revolution". Surprisingly, this enfant terrible is a nephew of Oussama Cherribi, a former politician of the right-wing Dutch VVD party.

Radi and his uncle clearly have very different opinions, but political and social engagement is a family tradition. "My parents are both active members of the main Moroccan human rights' organisation. When I was still in high school, I was active in the youth sections of this group as well as of ATTAC, an NGO which opposes free trade, globalisation and neo-liberalism."

Delicate topics

Radi grew up in the port city of Casablanca. After studying economics, he got a job at Radio Atlantic, where he was responsible for a programme about financial news. "It was with Radio Atlantic that I learned the basics of journalism. The do's and the don'ts. What the don'ts are? You cannot say everything - there are a few delicate subjects about which you shouldn't talk. You shouldn't bother sponsors, and you need to respect the editorial lines. I mainly discovered that journalism is more than simply transmitting information.'

While still working at Atlantic, Radi was asked to join the liberal weekly Le Journal Hebdomadaire. Although the magazine was closed down by the authorities only three months later, it was the start of his career in print media. At the same time, he continued his activism within civil society. "I know that being a journalist and an activist at the same time is sometimes viewed negatively, but in an authoritarian country like Morocco, where you have to struggle for access to information and for freedom of speech, you have to be both."

A meal too far

In the summer of 2009, he was the spokesman for MALI, the Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties, which organised a public meal during Ramadan to provoke a discussion about individual liberties. This open flaunting of the Islamic obligation to fast during the daylight hours of Ramadan outraged many Moroccans who considered it a far too provocative act.

Omar Radi is nonchalant: "I'm not aiming to offend people, but I do say what I think. We need a serious debate and dialogue, but sometimes we also need a shock. It's good to stir up the foundations of this society now and then. That won't hurt."

The palace decides

Individual liberties are still limited in Morocco, and Radi hasn't noticed any improvement in press freedom since the government of Abdelilah Benkirane came to power at the beginning of this year. "But it's not because of the government that things are changing or not. The government has no power whatsoever. The bad vibes never come from the government because it can't send any. It is the Palace which decides on the limits of what is allowed."

The current state of the Moroccan press isn't very inspiring. "The press has been tamed. There's been so much repression, censorship, retaliation... to a point that many journalists have lost the sense of the fight for freedom and are just happy to be able to make a living out of it. We have an obedient press. This press won't bring about any change."

Agadir Luxe: A luxury break in Morocco
By Myrisa Luke

Elsewhere, trees full of goats are not an everyday sight. But then, “Morocco is a place where everything is possible and nothing is certain”, as my Moroccan friend Faical likes to say, borrowing a phrase from Richard Branson’s sister, Vanessa. She knows the country well.

The minibus driver taking us across the Sousse Plain to the Atlantic coast shakes his head when asked to stop and pulls over by a road sign saying “40 kilometres to Agadir”. “Why?” he asks. “They want to take photos of goats? Not of people?”.....................

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