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Morocco Week in Review 
September 29, 2012

Morocco: Half of attacks on women by their husband.
Half of the violence against women in Morocco comes from their own husbands, a situation that needs to change, a minister from the North African nation said Monday.
By AZIZ EL YAAKOUBI Associated Press

Half of the violence against women in Morocco comes from their own husbands, a situation that needs to change, a minister from the North African nation said Monday.

Social Development Minister Bassima Hakkaoui, the sole female minister in this country of 33 million people, said she would try to push forward a law protecting women that has been stuck in parliament for eight years. "Despite all efforts, violence against women is still widespread," she said at the opening of a regional conference on the subject. "Violence against wives represents 50 percent of all attacks against women." According to statistics from her ministry, 6 million women in Morocco are victims of violence, roughly one in three.

In March, the suicide of a 16-year-old girl who was forced to marry the man she said had raped her made international headlines and threw a harsh spotlight on Morocco's penal code. Amina al-Filali took poison after several months of what her parents described as an abusive marriage to a man they said had raped her in the woods.

Hakkaoui, a member of a moderate Islamist party that dominated the country's election in November, has been criticized for not doing enough to protect women, including changing the law allowing rapists to be exonerated if they marry their victim. While the official marriage age is 18, judges can approve much younger unions, which are common in rural areas that are poor and deeply traditional.

Morocco updated its family code in 2004 to improve the situation of women, but activists say more still needs to be done.

Khadija Ryadi, president of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, expressed doubts about Hakkaoui's commitment to finally passing the law protecting women. "This law has been stuck since 2004 and Bassima Hakkaoui is the third minister speaking about it - I don't understand the delay," Ryadi said.

Rougher Road Ahead for Morocco's Maternal Health
By Juhie Bhatia WeNews managing editor Monday, September 24, 2012

Morocco has blazed a reputation as a can-do country when it comes to improving its maternal health statistics. But a birth attendant in the remote Atlas Mountains shows the steeper climb that lies ahead for the country as it tries to reach rural women who live far from any health clinic.

Aicha Sasbou, who has worked for 30 years as a traditional birth attendant in this remote region of the Atlas Mountains, clearly remembers her first delivery. She was called along with her aunt to help her own sister. Her job: hold the candle and provide light for the delivery, since there was no electricity. But once the baby arrived, Sasbou forgot her duties in her excitement and shifted the light to see the baby instead of aiding her aunt in cutting the umbilical cord.

Since then, Sasbou has helped deliver around 25 babies in the homes of two of Zawiya Ahansal's villages, including those of two of her daughters. She's had no formal training, but with each delivery her skills have grown.

When a woman is in labor in one of these poor, Berber-speaking towns, Sasbou instructs her to squat and hold on to a handle hanging from the ceiling. She massages the pregnant woman's belly with olive oil and feeds her the oil to speed up the labor.

Morocco has made great strides in improving maternal health in recent years, decreasing its maternal mortality ratio by over 60 percent since 1990. But women such as Sasbou, in remote parts of the country, can only do so much when a woman runs into serious trouble and access to life-saving care is a two-hour walk away, on a rough mountainous path sometimes blocked by snow.

"Seventy percent of mothers who die do so on the way to the hospital," said Dr. Abdelghani Drhimeur, head of communications at the Ministry of Health in Rabat. "It takes one hour to hemorrhage and die or even less."

These types of barriers have created a wide maternal health gap between city and certain rural women that Mostafa Lamqaddam, Peace Corps' health program manager in Rabat, said could curb the country's swift progress on maternal health. "The [maternal mortality] rate may stabilize. Probably the system will hit a limit."

Rural, Urban Disparity

In Morocco, 112 women die per 100,000 live births, according to a 2011 report by the Ministry of Health and the United Nations Population Fund. But the maternal mortality rate in urban areas in 2010 was 73 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared 148 deaths in rural areas.

Fertility rates also diverge. In 2009, the average number of births per woman in Morocco was 2.2; but in rural areas it was 2.7 compared to 1.84 in urban areas, according to the 2011 report.

In a place such as Zawiya Ahansal those numbers are drastically different. Mereim Elmadkouri, who thinks she's 41 and also lives in Tamdarot like Sasbou, had two children, one of whom died. But Elmadkouri, who runs a women's association here, said she's the exception in this region.

"Women here have five kids or more," said Elmadkouri, sitting in her home, which lies on a steep, rocky incline above the river. "Even if they are poor they still give birth, even if children are expensive. Most want boys rather than girls."

Her head covered in a purple scarf and her fingernails polished with henna, Elmadkouri said she had her children at home with the help of her sisters. But this was partially why she lost her daughter, she added, during a difficult labor.

Sasbou, who doesn't know her age, has had eight children. She also gave birth at home, which she said is the general preference of women in the villages here. "It's easier for them to give birth at home," she said, holding her mouth because her few remaining teeth hurt that day. Bundled in a gray sweater, her head covered in a black and white scarf, she added, "It has to do with money and because the road is far."

A Rough Path

The Peace Corps carries out maternal health work in many hard-to-reach areas of Morocco, but not here.

From Marrakesh, the tourist-filled city, with its bustling old town, souks and palaces, the drive to Zawiya Ahansal is 125 miles, taking five to six hours along a winding mountainous road that turns into rocks and dirt as you approach the region's first town, Amzeray. The closest hospital in the area, en route, is in Azilal, around a two hour drive away from Amzeray, if the road isn't blocked with snow.

The government opened a health clinic staffed with nurses and midwives in the next town over from Amzeray, Aguddim, in late 2009. Aguddim is also the last town an ambulance from Azilal can reach, as the road for vehicles ends here.

From Sasbou's town of Tamdarot--a car-free place without any road for vehicles--the clinic can only be reached by foot or donkey. A 3.7 mile rocky trail to Aguddim runs alongside a river, goes up and down a mountain and requires two stream crossings. On a good day, the walk can take two hours, bypassing herded goats and sheep, green fields of crops, men on donkeys and women carrying sticks on their backs. Travel time likely rises for a pregnant woman making the trek.

In part to help bridge the gap between locals and the government's health resources in the area, Cloe Medina Erickson's organization, Atlas Cultural Foundation, kicked off a health education program in Zawiya Ahansal earlier this year. As its first initiative, the group and its partners conducted four community health awareness days in late May, which over 50 women, including the villages' traditional birth attendants, attended daily, she said.

In developing a health education program for the region, Erickson realized that traditional birth attendants not only required midwifery training, they first needed training in such basic things as sanitation, hygiene and nutrition before moving on to more technical skills.

"Midwives can fill the role of a community health worker," she said. "They can also become a liaison between the general population and the government nurses and midwives who often do not speak the local language or understand their traditional customs."

Slight Progress

In addition to building clinics, the government is trying to reach rural women through various initiatives, such as sending mobile teams to provide a range of preventive care, including family planning, said Drhimeur.

The initiatives seem to be helping, said Genevieve Chabot, executive director of Iqra Fund, an organization that's partnered with Atlas Cultural Foundation. From talking to women in the region, "rates of maternal mortality have gone down. It used to be quite a few a year in each village and now I hear it's much less. One to three every two years," she said. "The government clinic here definitely impacted rates."

Elmadkouri explained that most women in her village don't use the clinic because it's far and difficult to reach. In contrast, Aicha Ssadki, a sheik's wife who lives in the town where the clinic is based, Aguddim, said she and others here do regularly visit the clinic.

Ssadki, who guesses she's 37 and wore a leopard print housecoat and a beige head covering, said that after a few women died in her village, many of her village's women became afraid to give birth at home. She had two of her five children at home; the others she had in Azilal's hospital.

"I prefer to give birth at the hospital because the doctor knows more things than my mother in law," she said. "In this village most women prefer to go to the hospital in the last month of pregnancy . . . They now understand giving birth in the hospital is safe."

Juhie Bhatia reported from Morocco on a fellowship from the International Reporting Project (IRP), an independent journalism program based in Washington, D.C. She's the managing editor at Women's eNews.
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Morocco secures $300m World Bank loan
September 26 2012 By Reuters

High-spending Morocco secured a $300 million World Bank loan to tackle youth unemployment and boost gender equality, extending a run of international borrowing as it battles fallout from the euro zone crisis.

The finance ministry said on Wednesday the funds would feed into a social development plan that aims to fight uneven access to basic amenities and the marginalisation of women and the country's youth.

Youth unemployment stands at over 30 percent while illiteracy among women is above the national average and rises to as high as 80 percent in rural areas. Close to a quarter of the 33 million population live in poverty, according to state planning authority HCP.

The country's central bank expects the North African state's economy to grow by just 2-3 percent this year, one of the lowest rates of the past decade. The government is also struggling to tame a budget deficit that last year hit its highest level since the 1990s.

The well-being of the $95-billion economy is closely linked to the euro zone. The debt turmoil there has hit Morocco's tourism revenues, remittances from workers abroad and foreign investments this year, raising concerns about the country's current account balance.

On Tuesday, the Abu-Dhabi based Arab Monetary Fund (AMF) said it was arranging a $127 million credit facility for Morocco, a loan which officials in Rabat said would help cushion a rising trade deficit.

Earlier this month, the African Development Bank (AfdB) approved $800 million in loans to support Morocco's renewable energy programmes.

Investment grade-rated Morocco also plans to sell a sovereign bond worth $1 billion in October to help finance budgeted investments.

In August, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) awarded Rabat a $6.2 billion precautionary credit line to support the current account balance when needed.

Morocco has budgeted 20 billion dirhams ($2.33 billion) of foreign borrowing needs for 2012 in addition to 40 billion dirhams to be borrowed from the domestic market.

The country closed 2011 with a public debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio of 52.9 percent. - Reuters

Morocco: subsidy will not affect bread.
September 28 2012 By Reuters

A 15 percent cut in Morocco's subsidies on soft wheat imports in the last quarter of the year will not boost bread prices, Najib Boulif, minister in charge of general affairs and public governance, said on Friday.

High food prices were seen as a factor in violence which engulfed North African neighbours Tunisia, Libya and Egypt last year and Morocco has also witnessed violence following bread price hikes in the past.

“The price of bread (200-gramme loaf) has to stay at 1.2 dirham ($0.14),” Boulif told Reuters by telephone.

He said while it would lower the subsidy, the government would end up spending an additional $100 million to maintain the bread price, reflecting wheat prices that have soared this year due to drought in the United States and Russia.

“We have agreed to raise by 860 million dirhams the total amount of subsidies to be paid for soft wheat imports during the fourth quarter because we want the price of bread to remain the same,” Boulif said.

Strapped for cash, Morocco's government on Thursday announced a rare cut in the subsidy it pays millers for imported soft wheat, part of a plan to gradually reform the country's wider subsidy system.

“We suspended the import duty on soft wheat imports (for Q4, 2012) to help the operators,” said Boulif. “But they always import more than what we need, piling up stocks,” Boulif said.

The government will cap the payment of the import subsidy at 1.3 million tonnes of soft wheat in the last quarter, Boulif said.

Its actions raised concern that industry operators might pass on the any impact from a lower subsidy by raising bread prices, a sensitive issue in a country where protests over unemployment and poverty are common.

In 1983, dozens of people were killed by security forces in riots in Casablanca after authorities were forced to raise bread prices.

Already hit by fiscal and current account deficits which surged last year, bad weather has hurt Morocco's labour-intensive agricultural sector.

Rabat was granted a $6-billion-plus liquidity line by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last month as the crisis in the euro zone, its main trade partner, threatens to further deplete the country's hard currency reserves.

Based on demand of 7.1 million tonnes last year, Morocco will need to import around 4 million tonnes of soft wheat, its biggest import campaign in 30 years.

State grains agency ONICL has not yet made any imports under a 12-month import campaign that ends next May, however, as authorities put particular emphasis this year on encouraging local growers.

The agriculture ministry said soft wheat stocks should stand at 1.3 million tonnes by end-September, which would cover the nation's needs for three months.

Boulif is a member of the moderate Justice and Development Islamist party (PJD) which leads the government.

It has pledged to reform subsidies by restricting them to the neediest Moroccans in an approach commended by the IMF.

The reform push, which follows a ruling earlier this year by the state's anti-trust body, may take until 2016, PJD ministers have indicated. - Reuters

Morocco resumes debate over compensation fund.
By Hassan Benmehdi 2012-09-23

Successful reform of the compensation fund will require the involvement of all Moroccans, the wealthy and the destitute, officials say. The debate over reform of the compensation fund flared anew in Morocco, amid great public interest. Discussions enfold in civil society, political and economic circles alike.

"When we reach the stage where we spent 51 billion dirhams on the Compensation Fund alone in 2011, which is 7% of GDP, we cannot put it off any longer," Minister Delegate for General Affairs and Good Governance Mohamed Najib Boulif told Magharebia on the side-lines of a September 18th conference in Casablanca.

The compensation fund required urgent reform, he insisted.

Participants in the conference debated how to finance the fund, especially at this time of economic turmoil

"Of course there's the human dimension, which is important, but right now we need to think about how the Fund is funded," said Naim Barkaoui, an industrialist from Casablanca. "Let's not delude ourselves; the challenge is to target those in real need, on the one hand, and have the political guts to take the subsidies away from those who have the means but are profiting from it, on the other," said Abdelkeq El Omani, another industrialist from Ain Sebaâ in Casablanca.

Other speakers felt that involving all Moroccans would be crucial for the success of the reform.

"We mustn't forget that, behind the financial aspect, there's also the political aspect, insofar as subsidies for basic commodities in any state will ensure social cohesion and stability," acknowledged Samira, a young business leader. "Political stability, which is a prerequisite for investor confidence, comes at a price."

According to Boulif, reforms to the fund will be progressive, co-ordinated and characterised by direct financial aid for those in need.

"We're going to opt for a claims system where each family who feels they are entitled to direct financial aid must declare it to the local authorities, who will take the necessary steps to register and maintain a record of the beneficiaries' names," he explained.

Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane has placed the compensation fund reform on the top of his government agenda. "The compensation fund keeps me awake at night," he said.

The outcome of all the discussions will be presented to Benkirane exactly one month from now, for introduction early in 2013.

Morocco battles unlawful construction.
By Hassan Benmehdi for Magharebia in Casablanca – 24/09/12

The Moroccan government is toughening laws to combat unregulated housing development.

Urban development in Morocco has been significantly blighted by illegal construction. With a new law, the government aims to impose stiffer penalties on violators.

"The problem of unregulated construction has become a real scourge for Morocco. People are convinced the sector has been left to do its own devices," stressed Abdelmajid Moha from the Casamémoire Association. "Moreover, it is a breeding ground for corruption, because all this unsafe building is going on with the local authorities' full knowledge."

In Casablanca alone, there is "an entire shantytown on the edge of the city known as B'ni Draâou [Built with one's arms]", he told Magharebia. "The inhabitants coming in from the countryside are building their own dwellings without consideration for the current rules and in defiance of local officials."

Under the draft law, violators can be jailed for up to twelve months and pay fines ranging from 10,000 to 100,000 dirhams.

The penalties are even harsher for developers building residential complexes without permit, with fines of up to five million dirhams and prison sentences of between one and five years.

Last year, the government made a major move against unlawful construction, particularly in Meknes, Sale, Agadir, Fes, Dar Bouazza, El Jadida, Tangier, Safi and Mohammedia. Local officials were prosecuted for corruption and failure to report illegal building sites.

"The state will no longer allow or accept anything even remotely to do with unlawful housing. Going unpunished is a thing of the past," an official from the housing ministry, who preferred not to be identified, told Magharebia.

The draft bill envisions a new watchdog to provide information and report offenders. It also provides for tougher monitoring of authorised construction sites, and where current laws are not observed, reports will be sent to the public prosecutor's office within three days. Those same inspectors will have the power to halt work on construction sites where irregularities have been found.

The new law will simplify procedures by lifting the requirement to go through an appeal process before the Communal Council.

With these new measures, illegal construction cases will be brought before the courts with greater transparency, efficiency and speed, according to Casablanca-based lawyer Rachid Tarek. "There was no real judicial mechanism to clamp down on unregulated housing," he said.

The government's efforts must not be curtailed by "the multifaceted resistance" of "real mafias and lobbyists" working in the shadows to encourage the growth of the phenomenon, said Housing, Town Planning and Urban Policy Minister Nabil Benabdallah.

Fourteen Moroccan Schools Granted the “International School Award”
by Madani Ait Kabbout Morocco World News Ouarzazate, September 22, 2102

For the first time in Morocco and the Maghreb area, 14 middle and high schools in three Moroccan Regional Academies for Education and Training were awarded the prestigious International School Award “ISA”. The adjudication panel for the 2012 ISA met in Rabat on Thursday 13 September 2012. The panel, including representatives of academies, the Ministry of Education and the organizers, the British Council, convened to check that the work under scrutiny in this pilot year met the required standard. The Moroccan International School Award scheme has emerged from the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms Project (CCP). In brief, schools are required to demonstrate a commitment to the international dimension in their formal curriculum and implement a set of projects involving most pupils and school subjects across the academic year. Collaboration with overseas partners and self-evaluation are also required in the portfolio submitted for adjudication.

The communiqué issued by Sous Massa Draa (SMD) Academy, on Thursday 20 September 2012, announced that the jury decided to grant the Label of the International School Award to a total of 14 educational institutions belonging to 3 Academies (Souss Massa Draa, Doukkala Abda and Meknes Tafilalet). Eight of the schools belong to the SMD area. They are as follows: Sidi Ahmed Bennacer high school (Zagora), the private Institution Alhanan, Sheikh Saadi, Tagadirt Naabadou middle schools (Agadir Idaoutanan), Ibn Soulaiman Roudani and Sidi ou sidi high schools (Taroudant), Ibn Alhaitham Technical high school and Cadi Ayyad middle school (Ouarzazate).

The awarding of the great label, as stated in SMD Academy communiqé, came as a fruit of the continuous efforts invested throughout the last three years by the Sous-Massa-Draa Regional Academy team – including the cluster coordinators Mr Abdellatif Zoubair and Mr Mohammed Hassim, who have been in charge of supervising partnership projects within the Connecting Classrooms Scheme. The project turned into an official nationwide programme following the signature on May 27, 2011 of a memorandum of understanding between the Ministry of National Education and the British Council. The success achieved by the schools above came as the outcome of the constructive work of the teacher coordinators of the project who have managed to integrate innovative approaches along with a global dimension into their teaching practices. The British Council officials – including Amina Elabdellaoui, Ghizlane Lachir and Ibtissam Berrado- have been providing guidance and support during the last three-year period of the project in Morocco.

Chris Williams – The expert and the Chairman of the panel from the United Kingdom – stated that

At the end of a jury session which lasted eight hours, the panel unanimously agreed that all 14 schools should be approved for accreditation with the Full International School Award in 2012. The applicants are to be congratulated…  I would like to thank everyone in the schools, the inspectorate and the British Council for the great courtesy, warm welcomes and huge enthusiasm for the international dimension.”

Madani Ait Kabbout is a high school teacher of English in Ibn Alhaitham Technical School (Ouarzazate)

Ten Tips for Navigating Morocco’s Souks
Fodor’s Travel Intelligence, by Laurie R. King (Sept. 28, 2012)

Shopping in a souk can be a mystery. The guidebooks command you to bargain—but how, without either feeling like an idiot or an Ugly American? Here’s some tips.

1. Bargaining is a game, with rules. The goal isn’t to win and leave your opponent bleeding; it’s to tie, leaving both sides content.

2. Bargaining is also a relationship. Greet the seller—and let him know if you’re only browsing. If you’re interested in buying, respond to his opening bid not with outrage, but polite disbelief (then cut it in half.) Mention flaws with apparent reluctance, and blame any drawbacks on yourself: Well, this isn’t quite what I was looking for… I wish I had that much to spend…

3. Do your homework. Know what’s there before you go, and roughly what it should cost. If you know trusted locals—not your guide, your waiter, or the hotel manager—ask what they might expect to pay. And watch how much other souk shoppers hand over.

4. Don’t be in a hurry. This is a relationship, remember? Ask questions, make a joke, establish that you’re fellow travelers on the planet. And unless what you’re seeing really is one-of-a-kind, taking your time allows you to compare quality and prices. When it comes to bargaining, the signals given off by a customer in a hurry send the price skyrocketing.

5 . Always assume the shopkeeper is proud of the goods. Open admiration and those jokes and questions are more productive than pretending nonchalance, or even disdain. Beside, you won’t fool a savvy salesman.

6. Be willing to walk away. Honestly willing. If you haggle for a while and begin to feel pushed, you may be in the hands of a rogue hawking inferior goods. Or it could be you don’t understand what the piece is worth, and you’re risking an insult. A wistful farewell to the object of your desire gets the message across— if you then walk off. (Slowly, in case he wants to counter-offer.) See also #4 above: waiting a day to return establishes both your interest, and your iron nerve.

7. More tourists mean higher prices. On the other hand, tourists also mean more shopkeepers who accept plastic, and who can be relied upon to ship something—a consideration if you don’t want to be wrestling that carpet into a plane’s overhead bin.

8. A disapproving and/or impatient partner, particularly one who clearly holds the purse strings, can be a valuable tool for the game: good buyer, bad buyer.

9. Don’t feel guilty over the amount of their tea you’ve drunk or the mountain of goods pulled down for you. You owe the shop nothing but thanks.

10. And if you buy something you love and later find it for sale down the street for less, so what? You have it, you love it, you won it in the souk: the price is a minor surcharge for the privilege of travel. There’s no mystery in that.

Haven in the Harem.
September 23, 2012

In a sanctuary where men are forbidden, Susan Gough Henly discovers peace, seclusion ... and an upside-down house.

Set in a luxurious private compound, overflowing with whimsical sculptures, on the outskirts of Marrakesh, Harem is not your usual spa retreat. Sure, it evokes Moroccan exotica and, of course, it offers healthy food, foot baths and facials, but it is primarily a place of discovery, of surprise...............

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Morocco fabled ochre city yearns for visitors

MARRAKESH: With its labyrinthine souks, palm-fringed palaces and Islamic heritage, Marrakesh has developed over the years as a chic tourist destination, drawing in the world’s rich and famous. But 18 months after a terrorist attack struck at the heart of Morocco’s ochre city, the number of visitors continues to fall. Down a narrow alleyway in a hidden corner of the medina, Riad Karmela is one of many exquisitely restored houses in the old city whose leafy courtyards, dripping pools and roof terraces offer luxurious relaxation in the fabled former capital. “Business has been going down every year since we opened in 2006,” says Joel Castrec, the French owner, who moved to Marrakesh after running hotels in Paris and London.

“There were simply too many riads. Many people were opening four or five bedroom guest houses. But I’d say most of them didn’t know what they were doing. Then we had the economic crisis and the attack last year,” he adds. The April 28 bomb that tore through the Cafe Argana in the Jamaa el-Fna, Marrakesh’s famed central square, killed 17 people, mostly foreign tourists, including from France, Britain, Canada, Portugal and Switzerland. It was the deadliest bombing in the North African country since attacks in the coastal city of Casablanca in 2003 killed 33 people and 12 bombers. Some argue the tragedy only seriously affected Marrakesh for about three months, after which business rebounded quickly……….

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The plight of the Rif: Morocco's restive northern periphery
28 Sep 2012

The unrest in the Rif is based in the tumultuous history of Rifians as a battered people on Morocco's northern periphery Morocco's King Mohammed VI (centre) should act to help the beleaguered people of the Rif, writes scholars [EPA]

This article is the twelfth in a series by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistani high commissioner to the UK, exploring how a litany of volatile centre/periphery conflicts with deep historical roots were interpreted after 9/11 in the new global paradigm of anti-terrorism - with profound and often violent consequences. Incorporating in-depth case studies from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Ambassador Ahmed will ultimately argue that the inability for Muslim and non-Muslim states alike to either incorporate minority groups into a liberal and tolerant society or resolve the "centre vs periphery"   conflict is emblematic of a systemic failure of the modern state - a breakdown which, more often than not, leads to widespread violence and destruction. The violence generated from these conflicts will become the focus, in the remainder of the 21st century, of all those dealing with issues of national integration, law and order, human rights and justice.  

The Moroccan journalist, Hamid Naimi, has received a number of ominous and mysterious death threats in the last few weeks. Based out of the Spanish enclave of Melilla on the northern Moroccan coast, Naimi's blistering reports on the corruption of the Moroccan central government and its treatment of the Berber periphery have become a thorn in the side of the administration.

Naimi, originally from Morocco's northern region, the Rif, has been in exile since 2005, when his newspaper Kawaliss Rif  ("Stories from the Rif") was shut down by the government.

The travails of Naimi expose the challenge of Morocco in dealing effectively with its Berber periphery, particularly the Rifian Berbers in the north. The Arab Spring protests across the country have led to new constitutional reforms for the nation, yet more must be done to account for and alleviate the problems of the Rif and its Berber tribes who have felt neglected by the central government for decades.

Over the past year, protests in the Rif pointed to the issues which plague the region - high rates of poverty, unemployment, a media blockade and brutal tactics employed by the police to crush any unrest. To understand the current relationship between Morocco and its northern periphery, we must look into the history of the Rif with its Berber tribes and its interactions with the centre. 

Resisting encroachment

The largely unknown mountainous region of the Rif, meaning "the edge of cultivated land", in northern Morocco has struggled with central authority for the past century. The Rifian Berbers, ensconced in their mountains, have lived according to a code of honour, hospitality and revenge within their system of clans and kinship networks, allowing them to regulate justice and social order without the presence of state institutions for centuries. The Rifian Berbers, distinct from the Atlas Berbers in central Morocco, have their own Berber dialect, Tarifit. 

Sean Connery depicted the importance of dignity and honour among the Rifians with empathy in the 1975 film The Wind and the Lion. Connery, himself a Scotsman, played the Rifian tribal chief Mulai Ahmed el Raisuli with flair. The film recounts the historic events surrounding el Rasiuli's kidnapping of an American expatriate, Ion Perdicaris (portrayed in the film as a woman played by a glamorous Candice Bergen), and his son for a ransom and control of two government districts from the Moroccan Sultan.

Connery's acting accurately displays el Raisuli's reputation of treating his hostages with respect and hospitality, even going so far as protecting them from harm. Perdicaris would later write of el Raisuli, " He is not a bandit, not a murderer, but a patriot forced into acts of brigandage to save his native soil and his people from the yoke of tyranny".  

The Rifians with their sense of honour and fierce independence resisted the encroachment of central authority. Beginning in the late 19th century, Spain made a number of military incursions into the Rif region, clashing with the Berber tribes. With the establishment of the Spanish Protectorate of Morocco in 1912 over the north of the country, the Spanish military attempted to bring the mountainous area under central rule.

By 1921, Abd-el-Krim, a Rifian tribal leader, declared independence from Spain. Abd-el-Krim caught the attention of international media, appearing on the cover of TIME Magazine in August 1925. To defeat Abd-el-Krim and his allied tribes, Spain relied on overwhelming military force and the extensive use of early forms of air power and chemical weapons to subjugate the rebellious tribes.

King Alfonso XIII of Spain captured the mood of the country when he stated that the aerial gas campaign was for "the extermination, like that of malicious beasts, of the Beni Urriaguels [Abd-el-Krim's tribe] and the tribes who are closest to Abdel Karim". The resulting war which ended in 1926 proved devastating for both: the Spanish lost as many as 50,000 men and the Rifians had roughly 30,000 casualties. 

With the Rif's inclusion into independent Morocco in 1956, the Rifians felt sidelined with Arabs, who represented the dominant culture, and others from Francophone Morocco favoured for administrative posts within the newly centralised government.

Violence erupted in the Rif in October 1958 when tribesmen attacked markets and local offices of the nationalist Istiqlal Party and, then, escaped into the mountains. Despite these attacks against the state, the Rifians were quick to express their traditional loyalty to King Mohammed V due to his holy lineage, separating his religious authority from his political authority. 

This has been how Berbers have viewed central authority throughout history. During lulls in battles between government forces and Berber tribes of the Atlas Mountains in the late 19th century, for example, Berber women would kiss the Sultan's cannons and ask them for benediction in order to defeat the Sultan's forces, as the cannons carried the Baraka, or blessing of the Sultan and thus the Prophet. 

'Cruel punishment'

In January 1958, the government responded to the Rifians' overtures of violence with 20,000 troops of the newly formed Forces Armees Royales (FAR), over two-thirds of the entire army, led by Crown Prince Hassan, to carry out what the King called a "cruel punishment". 

When the Crown Prince's plane was landing in the Rif Mountains, he was greeted by gunfire from Rifian sharpshooters hiding in the brush at the edge of the landing strip. The FAR responded by indiscriminately bombing entire villages and raping Rifian women. The uprising came to an end in the following month with casualties for the tribesmen exceeding 10,000.  

After King Hassan ascended the throne in 1961, the Rif remained largely neglected by the central government and as a result, suffered from some of the highest levels of poverty in the country. In the Rif in the 1960s, for example, the infant mortality rate within one week of birth was over 50 per cent.

With very little development from the centre and lacking economic opportunities, its people were forced to resort to widespread hash cultivation and smuggling merely to survive. Many Rifians chose to settle in slums surrounding Casablanca and other major Moroccan cities or travelled to Europe as migrant labourers with the majority of Moroccan immigrants in Europe from the Rif.

The bread riots in the Rif in the 1980s, sparked by rising food prices, were quickly suppressed by the government with King Hassan describing the Rifians in a nationally televised speech as "savages and thieves". 

The unrest in the Rif is based in their tumultuous history as a battered people on Morocco's northern periphery. Understanding their history, the people of the Rif need to be treated with compassion and sympathy. This presents not only a dilemma for dealing with the Rif, but also an opportunity.

For the Moroccan centre, King Mohammed VI is almost unique in the Muslim world as a ruler with a holy lineage. The King, with the compassion and Baraka of the Prophet, should act to help these beleaguered people while respecting their culture and understanding their history.

The Rifians only want the rights and opportunities of full citizens of a modern and inclusive Morocco. Only then can peace and stability be brought to the troubled northern periphery of an important Muslim nation.

Professor Akbar Ahmed is Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, DC and the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.   

Harrison Akins is the Ibn Khaldun Chair Research Fellow at American University's School of International Service and is assisting Professor Ahmed on Ahmed’s forthcoming study,   The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam, to be published by Brookings Press in January 2013.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Women's International Film Festival Supports Dialogue Between Cultures
By Naoufel Cherkaoui, 27 September 2012 Salé

The 6th Annual Women's International Film Festival came to a close on September 22nd in the northern Moroccan city of Salé. Twelve films from Europe, America, Asia and Africa competed in the six-day event, organised by Association Bouregreg.

Women from India, Iran, France, Burkina Faso, South Korea and Morocco took part in the jury panel, in an expression of Morocco's goal of cultural exchange.

"Round after round, the festival has become of a level that makes it an event with an international touch, especially with its professional organization," Morocco's Minister of Culture Amine Sbihi told Magharebia. "We're proud to have this very popular festival. The city of Salé with its old history has enough innovation and potential to qualify it to be a city of culture par excellence."

"The multiple nationalities that are taking part in the festival express Morocco's cultural openness on the one hand, and on the other hand, this shows that cultural diversity was adopted as one of the criteria in this festival," he added.

For his part, cinema critic Omar Belkhemmar told Magharebia, "The importance of this festival lies in its interest in women's cinema. In addition, it's an international event that attracts films from different world countries; something that allows those who attend the festival to watch different experiences and visions on women and their conditions in different countries."

Actress Amina Rachid, who received a tribute at this year's festival, talked about its importance. "This honour is for all Moroccan women who work in every field of art. The organisation of a festival dedicated to women's cinema makes us more proud of the valuable efforts that Morocco has made with its public and private sectors to promote cinema on the international, local and regional levels."

"We also become more determined when we watch a group of films produced, basically by women's efforts, in different world countries," she added. "We become even happier when we welcome in each round of this international event members of jury who are part of the audio-visual sector."

In his turn, festival president Noureddine Chmao said, "In this round of the festival, we decided to select the participating films carefully. We were also very careful in our choice of members of jury, who were selected from among very famous women in this field. Through this festival, we want to build a cinematic event that can create a place for this festival among other cinema festivals."

Moroccan director Azlarab Alaoui, who won the jury award for his film "Androman... De Sang et de Charbon", told Magharebia: "I think that winning an award in a festival where the jury members are all women is a win for humanity in general. The film defends women, but it basically defends human identity. I had no doubt that those women would choose the film that talks to senses, feelings and identity, and I think they've made the right choice."

20-Nation Mission to Mars Due to Touch Down February 2013 - in Morocco
27 September 2012

SpaceRef, Austrian Space Forum — Between the 1st and the 28th of February 2013, the Austrian Space Forum, in partnership with the Ibn Battuta Center in Marrakesh, will conduct an integrated Mars analog field simulation in northern Sahara, near Erfoud, Morocco, in the framework of the PolAres research program….

Read more here:

Music festival supremos gather in Morocco

The people who stage music festivals around the globe have been getting their heads together at their annual European forum at Agadir in Morocco.

The European Forum of Worldwide Music Festivals is the biggest federation of its type in the world, and gives organisers the chance to compare notes on potential artistic and administrative pitfalls, particularly with the current universal pressure on financing.

The president of the EFWMF, Alexandra Archetti Stolen, told euronews: “The challenges are always on different levels, I think for Europe, of course, the economical crisis is dramatic so I think this is a big problem with the sponsoring, with the public funding – in a lot of countries the public funding has been cut by 60 percent, by 80 percent. And the audience, the big crowds are disapperaring – festivals who have existed for many years are struggling.”

The forum also provided a prime opportunity to showcase Moroccan music to the people who book artistes for festivals …………

Read more here:

Abortion Ship to Target Morocco, Ran Aground Years Ago
by Steven Ertelt | Rabat, Morocco | | 9/28/12

The abortion boat run by a Dutch-based pro-abortion group is back. After running around years ago in South America, the organization has brought the ship back to supposedly do drug-induced  abortions on women and unborn children off of the coast of this pro-life nation.

Abortions are not legal in this northern Africa nation. While the boat was initially set up to do surgical abortions, it has normally given women either the dangerous RU 486 abortion drug or misiprostol pills that are meant for ulcers but are bastardized by the group to cause abortions.

“MALI ( Alternative Movement for Individual Freedoms ) has invited the Dutch organization Women on Waves to come to Morocco with the abortion ship,” the group said in a press statement LifeNews received. “The ship can provide women with legal medical abortions under Dutch law after sailing to international waters.”

“MALI has invited Women on Waves to support the movement for legalization of abortion. To support legalization of abortion in Morocco, people can sign the petition,” it said.

WOW will not announce the place, date and time of arrival of the ship, likely due to fears of protests by pro-life advocates or actions by the government of Morocco.

As LifeNews reported in June 2008, the abortion boat ran around:

In 1999, abortion advocates devised a new strategy to bring abortion to nations that protect women and unborn children. After upsetting residents of Ireland, Poland and Portugal, the Dutch-based abortion boat recently arrived in the South American nation of Ecuador, where abortions are illegal.

Morocco: so much to do, so little time.
September 24th, 2012

After reading the Lonely Planet guide to Morocco cover-to-cover three times in order to decide where to go, my supposed shortlist was not particularly short. I wanted to go everywhere. With only ten full days in the country, that just wasn’t going to be possible.

Morocco strikes me as the perfect place to travel extensively in a relatively short time. Obviously a week and a half isn’t enough, but give yourself a month and you could definitely fit a lot in. An extremely diverse country, between the lush Mediterranean coast in the north and the desert in the southwest you can make your way through crumbling medinas, modern cities, peaceful mountain villages and ancient ruins.

Marrakech is a logical starting point when flying in and out of England. You’ll be throwing yourself in at the deep end, but what better way to adjust to such a different culture? Until you visit Marrakech it’s impossible to understand the pull the city has on travellers. Even when you get there it might not be clear, but at some point you’ll realise how to make the city work for you. Morocco defies expectations, and there are no rules for what you should do or see once you’re there.

Moroccans enjoy some serious haggling, and they’ll suss you out as a naïve tourist the moment they see you. Offer to pay about a third of their asking price, or if they ask how much you’ll pay, suggest something ridiculously low. They asked, after all. If they won’t accept your final offer, move on to another lantern/tagine/rug shop and try again, although if no one accepts your price you’re being too optimistic. Always try the “I’m a poor student” line, they love it.

In Marrakech, visit the famous Djemma el-Fna during the day for some orange juice on the way to the souqs (markets) and you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about; visit from 9pm and you’ll wonder whether you’ve travelled through time to a medieval camp. Grab a bite to eat at one of the food stalls and then head up to one of the roof cafes for a non-alcoholic drink and get a bird’s eye view of the spectacle.

Go out of your way to see the Bahia Palace, a cool sanctuary of trees, mosaics and white plaster, and the Jardin Majorelle, previously owned by Yves Saint Laurent. Like Marrakech, it’s impossible to describe it accurately and do it justice, so you’ll just have to trust me and go.

From Marrakech most places are just a bus journey away, and your riad, hostel or hotel will probably offer trips to the mountains, desert or the coast. Travelling in Morocco is easy by bus, but renting a car is a good idea if you’re planning a long stay. To the west is the weather-beaten Atlantic coast where you can surf, kite-surf, wind-surf and sail, especially in Essaouira. The further south along the coast you go the less ferocious the wind: seek out Surf Maroc in Taghazout for some more luxurious sunbathing and surfing.

Head to the mountains for some peace and quiet after the bustle of Marrakech. A day trip to a waterfall valley like the Cascades d’Ouzoud will suffice, or plan a trek and stay in local houses along the way. Camel rides in the desert and sleeping under the stars isn’t one to turn down, either.

In the north, explore the national parks between Fez and the coast, or visit the white and blue walls of Chefchaouen to seriously relax with other travellers. The northern coast is on the Mediterranean, with less wind and waves but miles of beaches for sunbathing and taking life at a much slower pace.

As important as it is to see palaces and gardens, the biggest part of visiting Morocco is to immerse yourself in the culture. Watch and talk to the people around you, and you’ll get a much better idea of what Morocco is than by visiting tourist attractions. Smile, drink mint tea, and don’t panic if you’ve done nothing all day but café-hop. No one can sight-see 24/7, after all. ##########################################################

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