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Morocco Week in Review 
April 13, 2013

Morocco: Middle East development a dream for former Salem resident
The Salem News Online, Salem, Missouri
Tuesday, April 9, 2013 Tirzah Digennaro

Rural Morocco and rural Missouri are not so very different. I grew up on One Step Farm, a small pastured poultry farm on C highway. We had an outhouse, we raised our own milk, eggs, meat, and vegetables, I could drive a tractor before I could drive a car, and in the summer we watched the sky, searching for signs of rain.

For the first two months of our two and a half years in Morocco as Peace Corps volunteers, my husband and I lived with a host family in a tiny village way up in the mountains while we studied Arabic. The olive oil and honey we dipped our bread in every day came from their own trees and bee hives, the rugs on the floor were made from wool from their own sheep, the figs, apricots, apples, plums and cherries were all from their orchard. And whenever it rains, everyone says, “Hamdulillah,” or “Praise God,” because just like in Missouri, rain brings life.

There may be similarities between my life in Morocco and my life in Dent County, but it took me a long time to get here. I always knew that I wanted my life to make a difference in the world, and after spending six months working at an orphanage in Morocco in 2006, I decided I wanted to work in development in the Middle East long term. I studied Arabic while getting my bachelors, and that’s when I met and married Chadwick. He was originally from Indiana but had grown up in Turkey and shared my passion for a safe and peaceful Middle East. After we finished our undergrads, we wanted to do a short-term service in the Middle East to gain experience in development work, as well as the language and culture. A year ago today we got on a plane heading to Morocco, a diverse country of rugged mountain villages, modern cities, whitewashed towns on the Mediterranean Sea, and oasis villages in the Sahara Desert.

My husband and I live in a sleepy little coastal town in southern Morocco. We work in the Youth Development sector, helping youth learn healthy lifestyles and gain employability and entrepreneurial skills. At the community center we teach English, courses on personal and career development and coach basketball, soccer, yoga and aerobics clubs. We also work with local Moroccan volunteers and organizations on other projects, like an internship program and an HIV/AIDS testing and sexual health program. In our spare time Chadwick hangs out in the cafes with his friends or plays basketball with a local team, and I drink tea and gossip with the women in my community. He and I eat our breakfast in the sunshine on the roof of the house we share with our host family, and after our classes are over for the day, we climb up onto the ramparts that surround the old city, sit on the ancient cannons that once protected it from pirates and invaders, and watch the sun sink into the sea.

For most of our projects and classes we don't need outside funds, since we either contribute from our own money or get creative and make do without. But for big projects Peace Corps has a grant system. We fill out an extensive application, and if approved, it gets posted online, and the grant is filled by individual donations.

The project I'm working on right now is a GLOW Camp, which stands for Girls Leading Our World. I’m partnering with several other Peace Corps volunteers and a Moroccan women's association to put on the camp in April, just a few weeks away. This is a five-day camp for 50 teenage girls from my town and other small villages in the region. We will be emphasizing women's health, being an active citizen, setting and achieving educational and career goals, and empowering them to become leaders in their families and communities.

Especially in the rural areas, sometimes girls have little or even no access to education, they often are married very young, and the conservative gender roles can disempower women. We want to respect the girls' religion, family and culture, so most of the sessions will be led by female Moroccans to ensure the material is culturally sensitive. The women's association we're working with has put on GLOW Camps in the past and is extremely capable and devoted to helping women and girls become strong, active members of their communities and countries.

The Dalai Lama once said, “Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.” My hope is that this project will help this happen in Morocco, by empowering girls to become confident, healthy and capable women, able make their own country a more just and peaceful nation.

For more information on GLOW Camp go to, click on “Donate to Volunteer Projects,” and search “Morocco” as the keyword.

Salty water threatens Morocco’s oases farms.
by Tim Lucas-Duke on Monday, April 8, 2013 DUKE (US)

Efforts to divert water from mountains in Morocco to irrigate oases farms have dramatically increased the natural saltiness of groundwater. For more than 40 years, snowmelt and runoff from Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains has been dammed and redirected hundreds of kilometers to the south to irrigate oases farms in the arid, sub-Saharan Draa Basin.

Researchers from Duke University and Ibn Zohr University in Agadir, Morocco, measured dissolved salt levels as high as 12,000 milligrams per liter at some locations—far above the 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams per liter most crops can tolerate.

Dissolved salt levels in the groundwater of the three southernmost farm oases are now so high they endanger the long-term sustainability of date palm farming there. “The flow of imported surface water onto farm fields has caused natural salts in the desert soil and underlying rock strata to dissolve and leach into local groundwater supplies,” says Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “Over time, the buildup of dissolved salt levels has become irreversible.”

The scientists were able to know this by identifying the distinctive geochemical and isotopic signatures of different elements in the water, such as oxygen, strontium, and boron. Elements in low-saline water have different stable isotope signatures, or fingerprints, than those in high-saline water.

“Once we get a water sample’s fingerprint, we can compare it to the fingerprints of other samples and track the nature of the salinity source,” explains Nathaniel Warner, a PhD student at Duke who led the study. “We can also track the source of low-saline water flowing into a system.”

The practice of importing freshwater to irrigate crops is widespread throughout much of the world’s arid regions, Vengosh notes. Governments have invested billions of dollars to construct reservoirs, dams, pipelines, canals and other infrastructure to bring the vital resource from areas where it is plentiful to where it is scarce.

Short-term solution

Future climate change models predict significant reductions in precipitation in the Southern Mediterranean and Northern Africa regions in coming decades. Snowmelt and runoff will diminish. Local groundwater may be the best—perhaps only—source of water remaining for many communities. “Protecting this vital resource, and helping governments in desert areas worldwide find new, untapped sources of it, is the wiser approach in the long run,” Vengosh says. “The forensic tracing technologies we used in this study can help do that.”

Warner notes that by using the isotopic fingerprinting technologies, the researchers discovered a previously overlooked low-saline water source that flows naturally into the Draa Basin from the adjacent Anti-Atlas Jabel Saghro Mountains.

The natural flow of freshwater from this source dilutes the saltiness of nearby groundwater aquifers and improves prospects for the future of farming at the basin’s three northernmost oases. Dissolved salt levels in these oases’ groundwater are between 450 and 4,225 milligrams per liter—a more sustainable level, especially for growing date palms, which are the primary commercial crop in the basin and relatively salt-tolerant.

“Prior to our study, people didn’t think this was a major water input into the Draa system,” Vengosh says. “We now know it is—and that it deserves to be protected as such.”

The study appears online in the journal Applied Geochemistry. NATO’s Science for Peace Program funded the project.
Source: Duke University

Desert nomads marvel at water purifying device
By Jalal al-Makhfi (AFP) M'HAMID, Morocco

Omar Razzouki gazes intently at the wooden box, marvelling at what might be the solution to the perennial water woes that he and other nomads like him across the Sahara desert face daily.

More than 330 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, or around 40 percent of the population, do not have access to clean drinking water, according to a report published to mark world water day by British NGO WaterAid. The World Health Organisation estimates that this lack of drinking water is the reason for nearly nine out of every 10 deaths linked to diarrhoea.

In the Sahara, nomads are among those suffering most from limited access to water, particularly during the hotter periods when rising salt levels in water drawn from wells make it undrinkable.

The "nomadic festival" held earlier this month in M'Hamid, in Morocco's southern desert region, was an opportunity for the pioneers of a portable water purification device to showcase their invention.

It uses a process as old as the sky. "It's simple. It emulates the natural cycle of cloud condensation," explained Alain Thibault, an ex-sailor who had to confront the issue of fresh water shortages at sea. The experience gave him the idea several years ago of reproducing the process using just a "small machine that is easy to make and easy to use."

The "waterpod" allows desert-dwellers to turn water extracted from wells into clean drinking water through evaporation and condensation, using the heat of the sun, a technology that the Arabs were among the first to develop as far back as the 16th century.

The device, which resembles a large letter box, currently costs around 500 euros ($650). But the inventors have already given courses at a college in Tiznit, on Morocco's Atlantic coast, to teach students how to produce them more cheaply. "The waterpod is made of wood, cork, stainless steel and glass," said Thierry Mauboussin, who is helping to promote the water project in Morocco. "It works with solar energy, so no fossil fuel."

Noureddine Bourgab, the president of the nomad festival at M'Hamid, also praised the environmental value of the new device, which he hoped could "put an end to the problem of salty water for the desert nomads." "It's a technique that embodies the real meaning of sustainable development and protection of the environment," he said.

Razzouki, a nomad from the M'Hamid region, was concentrating hard on figuring out how the waterpod works. "This could resolve many of our water problems," he said, noting that the box was light, and "we won't have the problem of salty water everywhere we go."

M'Hamid El Ghizlane, Morocco's gateway to the Sahara, is an oasis on the edge of the Draa valley surrounded by rolling sand dunes, 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Algerian border.

The construction 40 years ago of a hydro-electric dam further up the valley to provide for the growing population and tourist trade at Ouarzazate, along with the relentless desertification of the region, has taken a heavy toll on water supplies.

So there are high hopes for the waterpod, one of which can produce six litres of pure water daily from 12 litres of brackish water, according to its creators. They give it an estimated lifespan of 20 to 40 years, with just a daily clean needed to keep it in good condition.

Morocco Slow to Enforce Laws on Women's Rights
By AIDA ALAMI Published: April 10, 2013 MARRAKESH, MOROCCO

The girl at the police station in Marrakesh said she was not sure how old she was, 13 or maybe 14. Sitting on a chair in the unit that processes youth cases, she told a chilling account of being gang raped, and said she had no relatives willing to shelter her.

She gave conflicting statements and when she was finished speaking with two male police officers, no one was clear on what had really happened. There were only two consistent elements in her testimony: that her first name was Amal and that she was pregnant.

Like many unmarried girls in Morocco, she would be afraid to admit to having had a sexual relationship because of the social stigma but also because it is illegal to have sex outside of marriage.

Last year, 16-year-old Amina Filali committed suicide after a judge and her parents forced her to marry her alleged rapist, causing a national and international uproar.

In 2004, Morocco changed its code of family law, shifting away from Islamic principles by giving more rights to women regarding divorce and polygamy, and raising the minimum marriage age for women to 18 from 15.

But conservative judges have been finding ways around the law. Courts have granted special dispensation for minors to marry in 90 percent of the cases that have appeared before them, according to 2010 data reported by the Justice Ministry.

And while human rights groups are urging Moroccan leaders to further reinforce women’s rights, amending the penal code remains a sensitive issue. While the government has ratified international treaties on human rights, its own laws do not yet conform, a situation that has led to protests, human rights groups say.

In Amal’s case, the police officers who questioned her late last month were extremely gentle. The presence of Najat Oulami, a member of the women’s advocacy group Al Amane, seemed to help. “We help women navigate the system and make sure that every woman that comes to our offices asking for our help is treated well by the authorities,” Ms. Oulami said. “We took Amal to our shelter, we gave her clothes and fed her. But she is a minor, we cannot take on the responsibility and the authorities need to deal with her case.”

Because Al Amane cannot shelter minors, Amal was sent to a different shelter, and her whereabouts are now unclear.

To avoid more tragedies like the Filali suicide, rights groups say that Morocco must change Article 475 in its penal code, which allows for a charge to be dropped in cases of statutory rape if the two parties get married. One interpretation of this provision has allowed rapists to swap the charges against them for a wedding ring and a child bride.

“The problem is, many judges are very conservative,” Ms. Oulami said, “and they believe that it is better to save the girl’s honor by giving their permission to let minors get married.”

Al Amane is one of several groups throughout Morocco working with Global Rights, a nongovernmental organization that aims to help women get more access to the justice system.

A grant from the Netherlands has led to the creation of a Web site called Marsadnissa, or Women’s Observatory, where judicial decisions are listed as a sort of database to help women’s rights lawyers across Morocco argue the law more effectively.

This kind of tracking mechanism is crucial, rights advocates say.

“Judges don’t know how cases are being decided across the country — there is no systematic collection and publication of court decisions at the local level,” said Stephanie Willman Bordat, an American who is the Global Rights director for the Maghreb region of North Africa. “We’d like to see greater consistency in court decisions and greater protection of women’s rights by the judiciary.”

In January, the Justice Ministry issued a statement saying it was in favor of abrogating Article 475 and human rights groups are confident it will be struck down by Parliament. The Islamist-led government, however, is not showing much impetus to act.

“The pressure of civil society has already created an impact: It has become impossible now to marry a girl under the age of 16,” Kachane Belcaide, a lawyer in the northeastern city of Khemisset, said last month. Still, “the current government seems to be divided,” he added. “There is no sign that a special law on violence against women will be put forward.”

Observers say that any changes undertaken by Morocco will not mean much as long as there is not a strong and independent judiciary to apply the law. In fact, Moroccan judges themselves are demanding changes to the family code. In August 2011, judges formed the association of Moroccan judges, which now has 3,700 members, to protest judicial corruption and interference by the executive branch, which they say undermines their independence.

Aziz Nizar, a judge and former president of the association, said initiatives like Marsadnissa would help change the system. “There are many ways to interpret a law,” he said. “I frequently go on the Web site, read the decisions and am inspired by them. Sometimes I even enter comments and give my opinion on some cases.”

Despite the various initiatives, the biggest obstacle to advancing protections for girls seems to be the prevailing mentality in Morocco about women and their place in society. A recent online documentary about the rape law, “475: Trêve de Silence,” in which Moroccans of all ages and from different parts of society were interviewed on pre-marital sex and rape, showed a clear consensus that a girl who had lost her virginity had lost her value.

“A woman should stay at home and only go out to run errands,” one man said in the documentary, suggesting that a rape victim was responsible because she put herself in danger. “She shouldn’t be wandering around the streets.” Even some women in the film said they believed that was normal for men to desire women. As one teenager put it: “The man is never guilty.”
Alice Urban contributed reporting from Rabat.

Morocco looks to UK, Germany to beef up tourism
RABAT, Morocco (AP)

Spared the violence and instability of its North African neighbors, Morocco is looking to lure even more tourists to its beaches, cities and mountains to make up for those kept home by Europe’s economic crisis.

Morocco hasn’t had anywhere near the catastrophic drop in tourism experienced by once-popular destinations such as Egypt and Tunisia, both of which are going through chaotic and at times violent post-revolutionary phases. Still, Morocco’s numbers are flagging, Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press.

More than half of Morocco’s 9.3 million visitors in 2011 were French or Spanish, but those groups arrived in smaller numbers that before and stayed fewer nights due to financial crises in their nations. To offset those losses, Haddad said Morocco wants to attract more visitors from Britain, Germany and Saudi Arabia.

The challenge for Morocco will be to distinguish itself from its more unstable neighbors. ‘‘A lot of people put Morocco in the same basket as the other countries even though Morocco has known a different road in terms of political reform,’’ the tourism chief said. ‘‘It has required a lot of communication in order to put Morocco in a different light than what has been reported in some media.’’

Morocco experienced pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011 much like the rest of the region, but these largely died away after the king pushed through constitutional reforms and an opposition party won elections. Still, Morocco’s once booming tourism sector has dragged, with arrivals growing just 1 percent in 2011 while the nights they stayed in hotels — a key indicator of revenue — dropped 6 percent.

The slow growth is a major concern for a country where tourism is considered a key industry. Morocco’s tourism sector, which recently surpassed remittances from workers abroad as the main source of foreign currency, employs some 470,000 people in this country of 32 million.

The country features a combination of sea and sand tourism, with beach resorts such as Agadir on the Atlantic coast and exotic medieval-style cities like Marrakech — the country’s top destination. Morocco’s 2020 Vision plan, its main development plan for tourism, seeks to expand the country’s appeal to include its mountains and deserts.

Germany and the United Kingdom, which have been less affected by the economic crisis than several of their European neighbors, are the main targets for the ministry’s campaign to attract new visitors. There are currently 500,000 annual visitors from Britain, for instance, and Haddad said Morocco ‘‘would like to get something like a million.’’

Also in the minister’s sights: wealthy Arab tourists from the Gulf, who tend to stay longer and spend more than other tourists. ‘‘The places where they used to go, Egypt and Lebanon, they can’t now because of security reasons, so they are coming to Morocco,’’ Haddad said. ‘‘We have seen a huge growth in that market, about 20 percent last year.’’

In the long run, Haddad said Morocco also hopes to attract more visitors from China.

Arab Spring - No Walk in the Park - Interview With Morocco Reformer
By Jennifer Rubin, 10 April 2013

Syria is in the midst of a bloody civil war. Lebanon is a shadow of its former self, no longer a vibrant, fully autonomous or inclusive nation. Iraq is beset by sectarian violence. And Egypt is economically and politically teetering on the brink of another popular eruption under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Even where gradual, peaceful change is taking place there is no straight line from authoritarian rule to Western-style democracy. I spoke by phone today with Dr. Rachid Benmokhtar Benabdellah, a Moroccan governmental official deeply immersed in the civil and constitutional reforms ongoing. He puts it simply, "The biggest challenge? They are numerous!" he says cheerily. He gives some perspective on the enormity of tasks for countries emerging at a time of political and economic chaos in the region.

Under the recently passed Constitution, he explains the task is "to make people into citizens." In Morocco part of the task involves devolving power to localities. He observes, "Auditing skills and expertise are very important. People need to be trained and to have some knowledge." This is true, he cautions, for officials and ordinary citizens. That requires "young people with good education" and continued integration of "young women in private society [who can take] leadership in civil society." One of the biggest challenges, he says, is that young people "are expecting something from government. We need to train them in entrepreneurship." He adds that this is one area in which the United States can provide encouragement and assistance.

"In addition to its internal challenges, Morocco faces regional threats from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the violent separatist group, the Polisario Front."

Morocco is unique in some ways. Unlike the modern states carved out of British holdings, Morocco is an old country with a respected monarchy that combines religious and political power. The present King, like his father, therefore can speak with religious and secular authority in moving the country toward a modern economic and political system. Interestingly he comments that what Morocco can teach its neighbors is that "even in the dark years we were able to find a way." This is a lesson about endurance and patience, as he tells it. "We were able to make good assessments and to be critical," he says. With each step forward, he notes, "We build on success. We don't have to go back to the beginning."

In addition to its internal challenges, Morocco faces regional threats from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the violent separatist group, the Polisario Front. Until the security situation is resolved the dream of an integrated, prosperous North Africa remains a distant dream.

The take-away from our conversation is that the transformation of a country is no easy matter. Morocco at least has the benefit of a reformist monarchy and a shared national history. Elsewhere the picture is more grim. What we take for granted — a concept of citizenship, respect for a constitution, competent governance and an independent judiciary — have to, in large part, be started from scratch after tin-pot autocrats are overthrown. That requires immense patience which is often in short supply after years of political repression and economic stagnation. And that in turn requires a long-term commitment by the West in money, technical expertise, diplomatic support and anti-terrorism cooperation.

If we want the final chapter of the Arab Spring to be the emergence of peaceful, stable and relatively free governments with functioning economies, then we need to give not speeches but sustained help. That's not an easy sell when we and other Western powers have budgetary and economic problems of their own. But the alternative is widespread violence, the re-emergence of anti-Western leaders and humanitarian disaster.

‘Green rock in Morocco may be meteorite from Mercury’
April 1, 2013,

Scientists have discovered that the green meteorite found in Morocco last year may be the first ever to have originated from Mercury — the closest planet to the Sun. The claim has been made by meteorite scientist Anthony Irving from the University of Washington.

The study, unveiled at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in the Woodlands, Texas, claims that a space rock called NWA 7325 came from Mercury, and not an asteroid or Mars. NWA 7325 is a group of 35 meteorite samples discovered last year in Morocco . Scientists have dated them to be 4.56 billion years old.

"It might be a sample from Mercury, or it might be a sample from a body smaller than Mercury but (which) is like Mercury," Irving said.

The NWA 7325 meteorite is unlike anything found on Earth before, he noted. NWA 7325 also has a lower magnetic intensity (the magnetism passed from a cosmic body's magnetic field into a rock) than any other rock yet found, Irving added.

Data sent back by Nasa's Messenger spacecraft in orbit around Mercury shows that the planet's low magnetism closely resembles that found in NWA 7325, Irving said.

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