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Morocco Week in Review 
December 7, 2013

Peace Corps Volunteers Deliver Art Supplies to Moroccan Students to Encourage Artistic Expression.
WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 3, 2013

Peace Corps education volunteer Margaret Bridges of Brookfield, Wis., recently coordinated a nine-day art education tour throughout southern Morocco to foster students’ creativity and encourage artistic expression. Working with local elementary schools and women’s and youth centers, fellow Peace Corps volunteers, and a U.S.-based non-governmental organization (NGO), Bridges hosted a series of workshops that engaged 1,250 boys and girls between the ages of 4 and 17.

“Moroccan culture, and specifically Moroccan Berber culture, has a strong connection to singing, dancing and design-related crafts,” said Bridges, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University who has been living and working in Morocco since 2011. “Bringing art education into the classroom helps students supplement their education with traditions they already practice in their home life.”

As part of the tour, the group distributed more than 1,200 packages of colored pencils, pencil sharpeners and paper. The workshops and supplies gave children an opportunity to express themselves through art, helped teachers incorporate art into their curriculum for the first time, and led a youth center to start a weekly art club.

“Bringing children a pack of colored pencils and a piece of paper may seem simple, but it has an incredibly powerful influence,” Bridges said.

The expertise of the project’s NGO partner, together with Peace Corps volunteers’ local language and cultural integration skills, improved the quality and sustainability of the art education tour. Collaborating with Peace Corps volunteers also helped the NGO reach its 10,000 th child worldwide in a part of Morocco that is often overlooked by other NGOs.

“On a daily basis, I see kids who attended the program and when I ask them if they’re using their colored pencils, they light up with excitement and show me pictures they’ve drawn on their own at home,” Bridges said. “I run into parents frequently who say their children have really enjoyed coloring at home.”

Bridges’ fellow Peace Corps volunteers who assisted with the project include: Erin McIntosh of Atlanta; Erick Faulk of Eugene, Ore.; Tatiana Cary of Seattle; Lindsay Lockhart of Campbell, Calif.; Kareema Abusaab of Philadelphia; and Melanie Warning of Cincinnati.

About Peace Corps/Morocco: There are currently 215 volunteers in Morocco working in youth development. During their service in Morocco, volunteers learn to speak the local languages, including: Darisha, Tamazight and Tashelheet. More than 4,625 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Morocco since the program was established in 1963.

About the Peace Corps : As the preeminent international service organization of the United States, the Peace Corps sends Americans abroad to tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world. Peace Corps volunteers work at the grassroots level with local governments, schools, communities, small businesses and entrepreneurs to develop sustainable solutions that address challenges in education, health, economic development, agriculture, environment and youth development. When they return home, volunteers bring their knowledge and experiences – and a global outlook – back to the United States that enriches the lives of those around them. President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961 to foster a better understanding among Americans and people of other countries. Since then, more than 215,000 Americans of all ages have served in 139 countries worldwide. Visit to learn more.

High Atlas Foundation to plant 1 millionth tree in January 2014
December 5, 2013 – Marrakech, Morocco (contact: Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, President of HAF,

On 16th January 2014 a milestone event in the calendar of the High Atlas Foundation is scheduled to take place in various locations throughout Morocco, with the celebration of its successfully completed ' One Million Tree Campaign'. Over ten years, the High Atlas Foundation, or HAF, estimates to have helped 50,000 people take steps out of poverty. 

The project is poised to continue indefinitely, at an accelerated pace, with 500,000 young fruit trees expected to be planted in 2014 alone. Each year this project has moved rapidly towards the One Million Tree goal, with 235,000 trees planted in 2013, capping four consecutive record-breaking years.

The planting of the One Millionth Tree will occur at noon on 16th January 2014 simultaneously in eight provinces where the HAF currently has projects: Al Haouz, Azilal, Boujdour, Essaouira, Ifrane, Rhamna, Taroudannt, and Taza.

The HAF encourages communities and associations to make their own tree planting events on this momentous occasion.  The Foundation can be directly contacted about creating an event in your area and they will do their best to send organic fruit trees conducive to your region.

The HAF-initiated organic agriculture project spans the entire development process – from nurseries to market. HAF trains rural famers in organic agriculture techniques and empowers them with the skills to expand these projects. By securing organic certification, farmers are able to generate higher revenue for their produce, and reinvest in human development.

Land for tree and medicinal plant nurseries is made available by a variety of interested parties including the Moroccan High Commission for Water, Forests and Desertification Control.  They lend land to HAF-community nursery projects that neighbor Morocco’s national parks, including for walnuts and almonds in the Asni commune of Al Haouz.  Local cooperatives and municipalities also lend arable land.  

Recognizing their Peace Corps roots, the HAF will plant an olive nursery with the Ouaouizerth women’s association of Azilal where the late Ambassador Christopher Stevens served as a Volunteer.  In southern Morocco (at the Toubkal commune of Taroudannt) they plant community walnut and almond nurseries remembering former Peace Corps Volunteer Kate Jeans-Gail and her mother Victoria.  They also will plant in northern Morocco, inspired by former Volunteer, the late  Tom Tolen.

As a part of the Foundation’s Sami’s project, the event on the 16th will be celebrated with schoolchildren, and the millionth tree will be planted in school yards as symbol of commitment to this generation and the next to take care of our earth and develop sustainable livelihoods. The HAF will do this in the provinces of Essaouira, Rhamna, Boujdour, and Al Haouz – in memory of Sami El Kouhen who passed away from cancer at three years old.

The High Atlas Foundation partners with the Moroccan Jewish community of Marrakesh, who lend arable land near their sacred sites of venerated “saints.”  In the Tomsloht commune of Al Haouz, the HAF is planting and distributing trees to the local communities on January 16th, and seek partners to build tree nuseries at four other historic-cultural sites, also in Al Haouz – communes of Ouirika, Tamaguerte, and Ait Faska – and the Tidili commune of Azilal.

At the end of each project mature trees are distributed at the symbolic cost of 1 Moroccan Dirham (a fraction of their true market value) to the surrounding population, starting with the most marginalized.

The HAF is in process of establishing High Atlas Agriculture and Artisanal (HA3), a cooperative enterprise to manage the agriculture initiative.  With 1 million trees planted, and millions more to come, this enterprise will unite rural farmers, allowing them to market their produce in the domestic and international market. HAF was recognized as a  2013 SEED Award winner for this achievement in innovation, entrepreneurship and promising efforts to promote economic growth, social development and environmental protection in Morocco.

The HA3 will distribute a portion of the net profit generated to family farmers for additional income. The remaining income will be reinvested in the community, by funding new human developed projects in education, health, and women’s and youth empowerment – initiatives identified and implemented by community members.

Through the HAF’s participatory approach, tree nurseries have lead to other human development projects: women’s coops, local irrigation projects, youth empowerment and educational projects and much more. Each project improves socio-economic development in rural marginalized communities.

The HAF–HA3 has made a Zero Waste Commitment to account for the waste produced by these 1 million trees. Fruit trees produce agricultural waste, be it nut shells and hulls, or fallen leaves, the HAF has a plan to repurpose this waste into energy.

What’s next?

In order to break subsistence agriculture, Morocco needs to plant billions of trees and plants. As profits from the sale of organic produce are reinvested in human development projects, HAF is confident that this project will continue to accelerate each year. It took us 10 years to plant our first million trees.  HAF seeks partners to plant the next million in 2 years.

Peace Corps volunteering provides opportunities for students
By Rebekah Duntz , on December 3, 2013

The Peace Corps has been a leader in international development for decades, but many students may not know the benefits of volunteering. The Peace Corps is a government-run volunteer organization that tackles many issues across the globe, from food security to expansion on education. Volunteers travel abroad to their assigned locations and complete projects for a duration of 26 months.

There is an affiliation between the Peace Corps and several universities in the United States called the “Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program,” and this program allows returned Peace Corps volunteers to get partial funding towards their graduate degrees through scholarships. Florida Tech is one of the schools that give partial scholarships to returned volunteers looking to earn a graduate degree in Teacher Education, and these graduate students receive a third off of their tuition.

“It’s one of those things that tend to fly beneath the radar here at the university,” said Tom Marcinkowski, a professor in Education and Interdisciplinary Sciences. “Full time teachers who wanted a degree in education had an automatic one-third tuition reduction. The department head and president of Academic Affairs then extended that one-third tuition reduction to Peace Corps volunteers as well.”

The application process takes about a year to complete, so students that are contemplating or are interested must apply in advance.

Brian Thai, a recent graduate from Florida Tech, submitted his application to the Peace Corp at the beginning of his senior year, and he is now waiting to be placed. “I always wanted to join,” said Thai. “I want to help in whatever way I can.” After Thai’s two years of service, he may come back for his graduate degree and take advantage of the Fellows Program benefits.

Since the program was established here at Florida Tech around 2000, there have been about two dozen fellows enter through either the environmental area, or in teacher education. Currently, there are two students on campus that are returned volunteers and grad students.

“I served from 2010 to 2012. I served in Morocco, in a rural village, in the middle of nowhere,” said Sarah-Kate Koprowski, one of the two fellows currently in the graduate degree program.  “I was a health volunteer, so some of the points they wanted us to work on were AIDS, HIV, personal hygiene awareness, and hand washing. We were supposed to be facilitators and educators,” Koprowski said.

Angela Delp, a PhD student in Science Education, served from 2003 to 2006. “Normally it’s a two year, and I extended for one year and made it three.  And I was in Cameroon, Africa,” said Delp. Volunteering for the Peace Corps and living abroad for two years can bring a vastly different perspective to people. “It’s a whole different world. The students have very limited resources— Simple things like ceilings in the classrooms, windows that close. Some [students] sit on rocks because there’s not enough room in the classroom,” Delp said. “I tend to forget, now that I have been here so long, how lucky we are and all of the modern conveniences and the luxuries of just being comfortable in the day.”

When asked what she has to say to anyone thinking of volunteering, Delp said, “You have to be patient because the application process takes a long time. And you need to be open-minded to where you will go. To live there and live it is different, way different. And I think that’s what kept me there for a third year, is I wanted to get more experience, and the friends I made there, I’m still in contact with today.”

Sarah-Kate Koprowski offers the same wisdom. “I think it was a life changing experience, and I wouldn’t take it back for anything. It was challenging; there were difficult days, but in the end, looking back on it, I have only positive things to say about it. It’s an exchange of cultures, you build friendships.”

Morocco Berbers struggle to be heard.

Morocco's indigenous Berber people, descendants of North Africa's pre-Arab inhabitants, are struggling to make their voices heard despite their ancient Amazigh-language winning official recognition in 2011 after decades of campaigning.

The sweeping Arab Spring protests that erupted that year brought hopes of empowerment for the region's traditionally marginalised Berber communities.

Morocco's King Mohamed VI introduced a new constitution in response to the social unrest, which acknowledged Amazigh as an official language of the state alongside Arabic, a major achievement for a tongue that was once banned in schools. The constitution, which requires "organic" legislation to implement its proposals, calls for the language's integration in teaching and other "priority areas".

"But what has been done since then?" asks Ahmed Boukous, director of IRCAM, the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture, which was founded in 2001 and spearheaded the campaign to have the language recognised. Morocco's coalition government, led by the Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD), "announced in its political programme that organic laws relating to Amazigh would be enacted. But we're still waiting," Boukous lamented.

Morocco hosts the largest population of Berbers, who live in scattered communities across North Africa, with a census taken 10 years ago showing that 8.4 million Moroccans spoke an Amazigh dialect daily, or around a quarter of the population.

Election campaign

But the language is for the most part spoken only in rural pockets of the country, even though a good majority of Moroccans are thought to have Berber ethnic origins.

Some accuse the ruling Islamist party of resisting any challenges to the supremacy of Arabic, the language of the Koran.

"Unfortunately, we're dealing with a party which had already stated during its election campaign that it was very lukewarm [about promoting Amazigh]," said Ahmed Arehmouch, who co-ordinates the National Federation of Amazigh Associations. "So we're not particularly surprised about the current situation."

Parties like the PJD "have a religious reference" and "Arabic remains for them the only official language," Arehmouch said.

Government spokesperson Mustapha Khalfi, himself a member of the Islamist party, denied those claims when contacted by AFP. He said a ministerial commission chaired by the prime minister would begin work on elaborating the organic law for Berbers from next month.

Tifinagh, the distinctive Amazigh alphabet, is now a familiar sight on Moroccan public buildings and official documents, usually alongside Arabic and French.

In June, politicians and activists welcomed a government minister's unprecedented decision to speak the indigenous tongue in parliament, in response to a question asked by an opposition MP in Amazigh.

Morocco’s ruling elite

And back in January 2010, Morocco's state broadcaster launched Tamazight, a Berber-language television channel.

But IRCAM's Ahmed Boukous says that nearly three years after the TV station started up, the quality of its programmes is poor, while the teaching of Amazigh in public schools "has paradoxically regressed." "We have to be realistic and deal with this progressively. There are certain key sectors, such as education, the media, culture, local government, the judiciary, where we need action."

Mounir Kejii, another Berber activist, says the problem is in the minds of Morocco's ruling elite. "We still have a political establishment that is Amazighophobic," he charged.

The ongoing difficulty Berber parents face in giving their children traditional names is cited as a clear example of this alleged suppression of Amazigh culture.

Such names include Anir, meaning star of the morning in Amazigh, Tilila, meaning joy, or Sifaw, meaning flame. "Those who want to give Amazigh first names to their children are welcome to do so," said Abdelouahad Ourzik, who heads the legal affairs department at the interior ministry. A list of names drawn up in the 1990s banning Berber names was scrapped 10 years ago. But since January 2012, Arehmouch says there have been at least 22 disputes over the naming of Berber children, in Morocco and in consulates abroad.

Abuse of power

Ourzik says there can be "difficulties of interpretation" in the thousands of public offices around the country tasked with registering children's names, but he insisted there were public procedures that "protect against the abuse of power". The parents can take their case to an independent commission, and then to court, if necessary. But Arehmouch says they must be "really determined."

In the Rabat suburb of Tamara, Mohamed Idrissi explained how he struggled with officialdom over the name of his son, born in 2007, whom he decided to call Anir. "When I went to the registry office ... they got out a list and told me: 'Sorry, but we can't register that name.' It ruined our celebrations," he recalled. The family got their way in the end, but only after three months of campaigning. They called their second son Anas, which is used in both Arabic and Amazigh.

Christmas shoppers in Hanley will be treated to a Moroccan Handicraft Market from December 5 to 30
By The Sentinel Posted: December 03, 2013

FAMILIES will be given the chance to experience the vibrancy and wonderful traditional arts and crafts of Morocco this Christmas in Hanley.

From Thursday , the city centre welcomes the Moroccan Handicraft Market, until December 30. With the help of 40 artisans and technicians flown in especially, the market showcases Morocco's fine arts and crafts produced, by hand, by traditional methods over the centuries.

You can wander among the traditional Moroccan Berber tents, soaking up the atmosphere while a Moroccan Gnawa band plays traditional music. The traders will offer shoppers choice from a huge variety of artisan products, from pottery and ceramics, through handmade carpets and leather goods. You'll also be able to sample traditional Moroccan foods and herbs and spices.

Items for sale will include leather goods such as bags and slippers, ceramics and hand-carved ornaments and musical instruments. There will also be jewellery boxes made from cedar wood and ornamental chests.

In addition to the market, there will be camel rides and The Two Wise Men, a hilarious comedy duo seeking a third member. Families will also be entertained by the DJs from Morocco FM and there'll be a chance to watch Rock Nativity – a nativity play with a difference from The Mitchell Youth Arts Centre.

The market is supported by the Moroccan Ministry of Artisans and the Association of Moroccan Artisans. The products on show, which are also available to purchase, are all produced via traditional methods in small societies/villages from all over Morocco. Ceramic items, such as traditional tagines, highly decorated plates, cups and earthenware, handmade jewellery using semi-precious gem stones using intricate designs and patterns as well as hand-carved ornaments and musical instruments.

Stallholders will also be exhibiting various metal products including traditional lamps, ornamental plates, artistic structures – all of which have been individually made and decorated by hand using traditional methods. In addition there'll be a wide variety of traditional Moroccan lamps, highly crafted jewellery boxes made from Cedar wood, ornamental chests as well as exotic herbs, spices and special oils such as Argan oil.

The entire product range is produced, by hand, under the supervision of the Association of Artisans. The unique atmosphere of the market is enhanced by the people who run it – the artisans themselves are flown over to exhibit the goods personally with live demonstrations showing how some of the products are produced.

The Moroccan Market of Handicraft has been running road shows across the UK for three years. The first road show took place in 2011, when the market visited more than 15 towns and cities across the UK during the summer months. During the summer 2012, the market visited a further 15 cities in the UK, which included Oxford, Sheffield, Derby, Lincoln, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leicester and Leeds.

During the six weeks up to Christmas 2012, five markets were staged simultaneously in Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Peterborough and Gainsborough. There is more entertainment lined up for Thursday, December 12, with the theme of 'A Musical Christmas.' Entertainment will include a buskers' competition and Musical Ruth, a most unusual piano-playing nun.

Families will also be treated to yodelling – where a contemporary circus meets Alpine culture. There will also be a Snow Queen riding a sleigh, clad in the finest gowns and singing well-known songs. In addition, Rag and Bone will be providing comedy, stories and songs from the jaunty Mr Rags.

On Thursday, December 19, Realis Estates will be staging a Traditional Christmas. And a Carol Concert with the Reverend David Lingwood and the University North Staffordshire Orchestra will take place in Fountain Square from 7pm to 8pm. There will be a nativity scene with real animals for you to photo and pet and a Christingle Workshop.
Read more:

Jobs and Financial Education for Morocco’s Youth
Posted by Dr. Daniel Novotny on December 5, 2013

The International Labor Organization (ILO) is going to help Morocco to run a four-year project targeted at young unemployed. It is estimated that about 20,000 participants will go through the project co-financed by ILO.

The project called “Young People at Work” intends to help young people to get into paid employment, entrepreneurship and business creation, while at the same time educating them about financial sector and services. The ILO official in Casablanca, Youssra Hamed, said that the initiative significantly stands out from similar projects exactly thanks to its emphasis on financial education.

With the help of funding from the Canadian development agency, “Young People at Work” will consist also of various workshops on management skills and business-related attitudes. Students think that the project is very interesting, though it comes in especially difficult times. Many students say that it is up to them to take the most out of the project. However, some students complained that programs that are meant to help them succeed in the labor markets are not properly advertised, which is why they often do not know that something is out there. Many students do not really know what the government’s policy on youth unemployment is.

In the view of the Moroccan government, entrepreneurship and public-private partnership are one of the ways in which youth employment will be promoted. The ILO-co-run project will not operate in the entire territory of Morocco but it will rather focus on Agadir, Casablanca, and Oujda.

Morocco Islamists under fire over women abuse bill.
December 12, 2013

A long-awaited law to combat violence against women is currently under study in Morocco, but the Islamist-led government has had to revise its proposals after sharp criticism from rights groups. A preliminary version of the bill, which is still in the drafting stage, threatens prison sentences of up to 25 years for perpetrators of violence against women. In addition, the bill would take unprecedented steps towards criminalising sexual harassment, with those convicted risking possible three-year jail terms.

As in numerous other Arab countries, sexual harassment of women is commonplace in Morocco, despite the adoption of a new constitution in 2011 that enshrines gender equality and urges the state to promote it. But despite the progress that this new law would represent, women's associations have strongly criticised the proposed legislation.

In particular, they accuse Bassima Hakkaoui, the minister for women's affairs -- herself a member of the ruling Islamist Party of Justice and Development -- of excluding them from the drafting of the bill. "We have waited for years for this law and we are now very disappointed by its content," said Najat Errazi, who heads the Moroccan Association for Women's Rights, speaking in Casablanca at a meeting to discuss the bill.

According to a study published by the state planning commission (HCP) this week, nearly nine percent of women in Morocco have been physically subjected to sexual violence at least once. Sexual violence of a physical or psychological nature has affected some 25 percent of women overall, and a startling 40 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds.

Last year, Hakkaoui acknowledged the problem by stating that six million women have suffered physical or verbal violence, more than half inflicted by their husbands.

Sara Soujar, another activist speaking at the meeting in Casablanca, argued that the bill fails to include provisions relating to single women. "This category is totally absent... Reading the text, you get the impression that violence basically only affects married or divorced women, even though others may be more exposed," she said.

Her concerns resonate with the findings of the HCP study, that around one in every two unmarried women in Morocco was subjected to sexual violence -- whether physical or verbal -- during the year that it was carried out. "Young women who work in factories or as housemaids, many of whom are minors, are no less exposed," Soujar said.

Others criticise the draft law for lacking clarity, noting that it deals with sexual violence against women and children in the same clauses.

In the face of these objections, the government has been forced to set up a committee, headed by Islamist Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, to review the draft law and demonstrate its willingness to cooperate.

Progress is being closely followed in Morocco, where many have had traumatic personal experiences of a kind that the proposed legislation is designed to deter.

Last weekend, dozens of people gathered outside parliament in Rabat to denounce "all forms of violence against women", among them members of civil society groups as well as relatives of the victims. "The ex-husband of my daughter used to beat her every day. It was like torture," one victim's father told AFP with tears in his eyes. "On the day that he learnt she was going to ask for a divorce he killed her," the man added, holding close to him pictures of the injuries inflicted on his daughter.

On Monday, two teenage girls who were sexually assaulted in Rabat finally saw their aggressors jailed for four years for attempting to drug and rape them. Many considered the verdict too lenient.

Moroccan Women Fight Violence Against Women.
Thursday, 05 December 2013

Violence against women is a hot topic in Morocco, where women's rights activists in have criticised the Islamist-led government for excluding them from drafting a proposed legislation to combat violence against women. They also accuse the government for seeking to dilute the bill through changes.

The long-awaited bill, currently under study, comes after the adoption of a new constitution in 2011 that enshrines gender equality and urges the state to promote it. In the preliminary version of the bill, prison sentences of up to 25 years threaten perpetrators of violence against women.

The bill, still in drafting state, would take unprecedented steps towards criminalising sexual harassment, risking possible three-year prison terms for suspects.

"We have waited for years for this law and we are now very disappointed by its content," said Najat Errazi, who heads the Moroccan Association for Women's Rights, speaking  at a meeting in Casablanca, to discuss the bill, according to AFP news agency.
Facing several objections, the government has been forced to establish a committee, headed by Abdelilah Benkirane, the country's prime minister from the Islamist Party of Justice and Development, to review the draft law and demonstrate its willingness to cooperate.

The progress is being closely followed in Morocco, where many have had traumatic personal experiences of violence, whether domestic or committed by strangers.

According to a study by the state planning commission, HCP, around one in every two unmarried women in Morocco was subjected to physical and/or verbal sexual violence during the year that it was carried out. According to the study, nearly nine percent of women in Morocco have been physically subjected to sexual violence at least once. Sexual violence of a physical or psychological nature has affected some 25 percent of women overall, and a startling 40 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds.

During an official visit to Morocco in October, UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri visited the Nejma Centre, where women survivors of violence benefit from counselling, training, information, psychological support and legal advice.

At the Nejma Centre, Ms. Puri met with women as well as the staff members of the NGO. Sitting around a table, the women shared their stories. “My husband kicked me and my child out at 2:00 a.m. at night and without money. I went to the police station but I realized my husband had already bribed them. My family is modest and couldn’t help me. I came to Nejma Centre. Mounia [one of the counselors] gave me advice and put me in touch with a lawyer to help me take the right steps,” said one of the women.

Another woman recounted that she was so desperate when she first arrived that she “wanted to die”. But sharing her story helped her to focus on her child and “to fight for her rights”. “We know our rights and we feel empowered to face our perpetrators and start legal proceedings against them,” she added.

Morocco a Welcome Place For Jews Despite Anti-Israel Proposals
December 3, 2013

Tucked quietly away on the far-western edge of North Africa, Morocco has largely avoided the upheaval of the so-called “Arab Spring” that has plunged many Middle Eastern countries into chaos. It has a vibrant economy, stable government, and growing tourism industry.

Nevertheless, Morocco is not immune to the problems of the Arab world, including corruption, unemployment, and Islamic extremism. Additionally, a proposed bill in the Moroccan legislature that would criminalize any contacts with Israel threatens to undermine the warm relations Morocco has with its Jewish community at home and abroad, as well as its growing international reputation as a rare model for success in the Arab world.

“Overall, Morocco remains stable and open for business and remains a mecca for tourists, but the gaps between rich and poor, endemic corruption and unresponsiveness of state institutions to people’s needs, high youth unemployment—all things that characterize the entire region—means that Morocco is not immune to challenges,” Professor Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, principal research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, told .

Isolated by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Atlas mountains to the east, Morocco has one of the Arab world’s oldest and most stable monarchies under the leadership of King Mohammed VI. Founded in 1631, the Alaouite dynasty, which claims descent from the Prophet Mohammed, has given Morocco a firm sense of identity and stability over the centuries.

Taking over as king in 1999 after the passing of his father, King Hassan II, Mohammed VI is a young and progressive pro-Western leader who immediately instituted social reforms and economic liberalization in an attempt modernize to Morocco. The king is also an adept businessman, and the royal family has a fortune worth more than $2.5 billion.

As the so-called “Arab Spring” swept through the region in 2010, King Mohammed faced unprecedented challenges to his regime. Allegations of corruption and the slow pace of reforms damaged his reputation. “There were substantial protests, calling for reform, not revolution,” Maddy-Weitzman said.

“The king seized the initiative? from protestors demanding reform, promoting a new constitution that was to give more power to the government and parliament, the devolution of power to local and regional authorities, to effectively fight corruption and the recognition of the Berber (Amazigh) language and culture as a core component of Moroccan national identity. He also expanded public spending—salaries, job hiring, subsidies on basic goods,” he said.

Maddy-Weitzman said the reform movement is now out of steam. “The monarchy retains legitimacy, the king was proactive, and the example of the instability that has shaken other countries serves as a deterrent for many Moroccans,” he said.

One of the most unique and profound aspects of the dynamism of modern Morocco and its leadership is the country’s deep interest in preserving and promoting its Jewish heritage. Under King Mohammed VI, Morocco has recognized Jewish contributions to Moroccan national identity as part of the 2011 constitutional reforms and has restored an ancient synagogue in Fez.

Home to one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities, Jews first settled in Morocco when it was part of the Roman Empire, and the country later became a haven for Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. By the mid-20th century, the Moroccan Jewish community stood at around 250,000-300,000, one of the largest in the Middle East. But like every other Arab state, Morocco lost most of its ancient Jewish community amid the upheaval over the creation of Israel and the subsequent Arab-Israeli wars.

Yet Morocco’s story is much more complex than that of the rest of the Arab world, where  rabid anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment has raged during this period of time. “Let me make one basic statement—there has not been any widespread persecution of Jews in Morocco, neither during World War II nor in the following decades,” Ambassador Serge Berdugo, secretary-general of the Moroccan Jewish community and ambassador-at-large for King Mohammed VI, told .

Indeed, Morocco’s King Mohammed V, grandfather of the current monarch, is famously hailed for his refusal to deport Jews during the Holocaust, when Morocco was under the control of the Nazi-collaborationist regime in Vichy France. Rather, Berdugo told that there were a number of complex factors that led to the massive Jewish exodus, including “socio-economic issues, religious beliefs, family reasons, [and] political and strategic trends in the Arab world.” “All these factors created an atmosphere of permanent uncertainty for the Jews,” Berdugo said.

Despite its Jewish population decreasing to 5,000, Morocco has maintained warm ties with Moroccan Jews abroad, with tens of thousands of Jews from Israel and elsewhere regularly visiting as tourists.

At a time when Jews and Israel are constantly vilified by Arab media outlets and leaders, Morocco’s appreciation for Jews has been a welcome development for Berdugo. “Unlike so many countries in the world, Morocco does not feel any guilt towards them [Jews],” he said. “On the contrary, they feel they have lost part of their national body because of their departure and are very proud to know that those who left did not forget their country… It’s a good feeling of mutual recognition of our common cultural heritage of tolerance and of the Moroccan people.”

Nevertheless, challenges do exist. Morocco’s Islamic Justice and Development Party (PJD), which controls the parliament, , has along with other parties proposed a series of bills outlawing contact with Israelis.

The bills seek to make it illegal to trade with Israeli entities and for Israeli tourists, of whom many are of Moroccan descent, to enter the country. “The very fact that the bill [making trade with Israel illegal] has been put forth, and sponsored by members of parliament from a variety of parties, including those in the government, is disturbing,” Maddy-Weitzman said.

Jewish human rights advocates have been quick to condemn the bill and have called on King Mohammed VI to stop the proposed legislation.

“This law would not only endanger the Jews remaining in Morocco, it would set a precedent for the exclusion of other minorities, thereby wrecking Your Majesty’s 2011 newly enacted human rights based Constitution,” Shimon Samuels, Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director for international relations, wrote in a recent letter to King Mohammed VI. “Indeed, it may also deter foreign investment prospects, both current and future,” Samuels added. Given King Mohammed VI’s affinity for Jewish heritage and his unique role in steering Morocco, observers think he will likely veto the bill.

Despite the reforms, “power in Morocco rests in the hands of a ruling elite that revolves around the Palace, and the Morocco’s governing institutions—the prime minister’s post, his cabinet, and the legislature—do not exercise real power,” Maddy-Weitzman said.

For Westerners, especially Americans, there would seem to be an inherent contradiction in a monarch guiding his country towards modernity. But in a region wracked by civil strife and revolutions, King Mohammed VI, back by his family’s legacy, believes it is his place to guide Morocco into the future.

At the same time, Berdugo believes that his country’s tiny Jewish community, which is bolstered by a benevolent king, can serve as example of what is possible between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. “They (Moroccan Jews) are the witnesses of a possible peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews with full rights and duties. As such, their voice for a just peace in the Middle East is a clear one based on experience and living together,” he said.

Bad times for citrus producers.

It should have been an extremely good season, but now it is going really badly on the citrus market. Where the price on the local market last year was still between 0.13 and 0.16 Euro, now they fluctuate between 0.01 and 0.02 Euro/kg. Even at that price there are hardly any sales.

Export is also a lot less than expected, according to Abdel-Krim Ouguellit, manager of the Group Fresh Fruit. The export, for instance, of clementines to Russia, of old the most important export market of Morocco, does not come above 40,000 tonnes. "At this rate we will not reach the expected 180,000 tonnes and most probably will not exceed 115,000 tonnes export of clementines," Ouguellit predicts.

Various things may be mentioned as being the cause. Some varieties were harvested too early because of the high temperatures in October. A shortage of rain resulting in insufficient development of the fruit meaning small in size, which is difficult to export in large quantities. The time is not yet ripe for the market where clementines are concerned. The price of the clementine in Russia at the moment is about 300 dollar/ton compared to 900 or 1200 dollar during the same period of the previous year.

Strong price increase potatoes and vegetables in October.

In Morocco the average price of tomatoes increased by 12%, courgettes and carrots by 9%, potatoes by 6%, legumes and broad beans by 17% and lentils by 2%, compared to September, according to the Moroccan Ministry of Trade. "It deals with free market prices. Prices of imports depend on the fluctuations on the world market," Abdelaziz Ait Abderrahmane, representative of the Ministry, explains. In order to improve the control on the prices of legumes negotiations with Algeria are taking place on the increase of their market share to 50%, compared to 7% in 2012 and 3% in 2011.

Scorsese screens ‘Hugo’ in Marrakech’s iconic Place Jemaa el Fna: Many Moroccan helmers view Scorsese as their mentor
Martin Dale Contributor December 4, 2013

As an ode to storytelling and cinematic magic, “Hugo” had to compete for attentions with the square’s storytellers, fortune-tellers and conjurers who traditionally captivate the locals and visitors in this unique locale.

Fest director Melita Toscan de Plantier first took the stage to introduce “one of the greatest if not the greatest film director in the world.” Scorsese then waved to the enthusiastic crowd, beaming: “I’m a regular visitor to your country and I’m so happy to be here.”

For many of those attending the open air screening it constituted a rare opportunity to see a major feature film projected on a big screen, and there was a clear sense of excitement as the opening credits came up and the camera swept its way across Paris.

Scorsese has shot two feature films in Morocco – “The Last Temptation of Christ” in 1988 and “Kundun” in 1995 and says he would love to film another.

His “special relationship” with Morocco is further cemented by his personal friendship with the fest’s director, Melita Toscan de Plantier. “Martin has a deep love of world cinema and a fascination with different world cultures, not only in terms of cinema but also literature and music,” explains Toscan de Plantier.

Other fest participants, such as James Gray and Marion Cotillard, also revealed that Scorsese frequently talks about Morocco and encourages others to film there.

From the launch of the Marrakech film festival in 2001, Scorsese has attended four times – including a career trib in 2005, a master class in 2007, and a whirlwind 24-hour visit during the 10th edition, in 2010, in order to host the tribute to French cinema. “For the 2010 edition, Martin’s agent was furious with me, because they had to push back the shooting of ‘Hugo’ by one day so that he could attend the fest,” recalls MelitaToscan de Plantier. “But he insisted on coming.”

Scorsese’s love for the country and the Marrakech fest has inevitably endeared him to Moroccans.

In 2005, he received the prestigious al Kafaa al Fikrya decoration from the king, acknowledging intellectual merit.

With the backing of the World Cinema Foundation, in 2007 he also restored the Moroccan documentary Trances (El Hal, 1981) by Ahmed El Maanouni about the traditional band Nass El Ghiwane.

At this year’s fest press conference, after Scorsese’s reference to the importance of his own roots in Italian cinema, Moroccan director Noureddine Lakhmari (“Casanegra”) took up this idea and stated that he felt that current Moroccan films also share a strong tie to Italy, in particular the neo-realist and comedy films produced in the 1950s and early 1960s.

As prexy of the Cinecoles short film competition at this year’s fest, Lakhmari later confided: “It’s a huge honor to be the president of the short films jury when Martin Scorsese is the president of the main jury – he has had a huge impact on me – with films such as Taxi Driver. He brilliantly explores themes of noir, urban loneliness, and how people can go mad in big cities.”

The evident affinity between Scorsese and Morocco perhaps involves deeper cultural factors, including the geographical proximity and historical links between Sicily and Northern Africa. Many cultural traits found in Southern European countries such as Italy are also shared in the countries bordering the Southern Mediterranean – including Morocco.

“I think many of the films we’re producing at the moment in Morocco have direct parallels with Italian cinema of the 1950s – directors such as Fellini, Dino Risi and Ettore Scola” explains helmer Faouzi Bensaidi.

Scorsese saw Bensaidi’s 2012 Berlin-player, “Death for Sale,” and sent him a personal note congratulating him on his “strong, powerful and emotionally-rich film.” The phrase was subsequently used in the film’s marketing campaign during its recent French release. “There’s a curious triangular link between my film and Martin Scorsese’s ‘Mean Streets’” – explains Bensaidi. “Both films have been compared to Fellini’s 1953 film ‘Il Vitelloni’.”

With these somewhat surprising affinities, local helmers are clearly interested in further exploring this “special relationship.”

Tom Hanks star in "A Hologram For The King" will lense in Morocco.
Elsa Keslassy
@elsakeslassy MARRAKECH, Morocco —

The local industry started developing at a faster pace in the early 2000s with the creation of the Advance on Receipts, a selective financing mechanism modeled on a French program allowing producers to collect public funds, and the bow of three major film schools: Marrakech’s Superior School of Visual Arts, ISMAC in Rabat and Ouarzazate film institute, where students got trained to work on local and international films. The launch of Tangier’s National Film Awards and Marrakech Film Festival also provided emerging filmmakers with a stepping stone and helped build the industry………

Read more here:

Off-the-Grid Moroccan Wine Tastings.

Despite its large Islamic population, Morocco has historically been a prolific wine-producing country

Morocco may not be the first country that comes to mind when contemplating the world's greatest wine regions. But despite its large Islamic population, Morocco has historically been a prolific wine-producing country. As far back as 2,500 years ago, this part of North Africa completed an arc of wine-growing regions spanning the Mediterranean weaving through Italy, Greece, and Turkey.

Truth be told, Morocco saved France's a** during the late 19th-century phylloxera devastation. French growers immigrated to Morocco's disease-free growing environment, unique soil diversity, and a temperate climate to cultivate Euro-centric grenache, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and sauvignon blanc while discovering indigenous varietals like faranah and local carignan as well. As a result, French winemakers secretly produced "French" wines in Morocco making the country a significant exporter. Now the Arab world's largest wine producer, Morocco produces 40 million bottles per year………….

Read the rest here:

Ouarzazate, Morocco: The Photogenic Filming Location for Game of Thrones and Gladiator.
By Ella Morton

See the beatiful pictures here:

Morocco spreads its style influence westward.

Moroccan style has gone mainstream. Its Moorish, French and Arabesque influences have proved irresistible to arbiters of fashion and design, as they translate intricate templates from Berber carpets, Kasbah tiles and riad arches for Western taste by reducing the busyness.

Best described as a fearless approach to excess, the Moroccan look may have evolved as a counterpoint to the monotone deserts that cover much of this North African country.

Since the first caravans crisscrossed the deserts and climbed the Atlas mountains, Morocco has been a melting pot of European, Middle Eastern and African cultures. Intricate patterns and textures collide with color to create a kind of clashing continuity. Geometric patterns on tile and kilms, carvings on cedar doors and ceilings, hand-painted designs adorning restored Kasbahs, and turbans, jelabas, babouche and kaftans are all the root of modern Moroccan style.

J.Crew is featuring fall sweaters influenced by scarves and rugs found in the Marrakech market.

The ubiquitous hoodie favored around the world is just a cropped jelaba, a full-length hooded robe worn by both men and women since the days of the prophets. They act as a protective layer against dirt and sand, worn over clothes.

Also popular with Moroccans and tourists are turbans and babouches, which are rounded or pointed leather slippers. Yellow pointed babouches with a striped jelaba is Morocco's version of the blue blazer and flannels.

As for the colors, cobalt blue and green tones come from miles of Atlantic and Mediterranean coastline, pinks from sand dunes lit by the sunset and the reds from the clay that surrounds Marrakech. It all blends into an exotic tagine of interior design. And poof! -- you have the look.

So from souk to sea, Morocco is the place to be if you want to see the source for this easy-to-assemble style trend.

Contact Patricia Sheridan at, or follow her on Twitter at Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

Femme Filmmakers Break Barriers in Morocco: Moroccan new wave includes many women directors
Elsa Keslassy@elsakeslassy

Laila Marrakchi, Narjiss Nejjar and Leila Kilani are among the diverse pool of femme directors making strides and powering up Moroccan cinema’s coming of age………….

Complete it here:

Chef's Corner: Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Couscous
December 6, 2013 By CHEF AZIZ ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Tagine is a north African dish from Morocco which is prepared in a special cooking pot, known as tagine and comes in two pieces. Together, they make sort of a clay oven. Generally, they can be prepared in the oven, and in some cases on the stovetop. They can also be used as serving dishes. Tagine dishes create tender and aromatic flavors due to slow cooking over a long period of time. They can be meat based or vegetarian with lamb being the preferred choice for a meat based tagine.

Couscous or granular semolina flour (the heart of durum) is traditionally steamed in a couscous ere (double stock pot with steam) and fluffed to separate the granules. And most packaged couscous is considered the instant variety and will cook very quickly off the stove by absorbing completely a seasoned boiling liquid until tender, then buttered.

It has been so popular in Morocco for centuries. Scholars trace its existence as far as the 9th century. Even the writer Francois Rabelais was able to appreciate the taste of 'coscoton a la Mauresque' back in 10th century.

Couscous and lamb are staples to Moroccan cuisine. In this edition, I choose to incorporate these two essentials into an exotic dish from our restaurant menu called, Moroccan Lamb Shank Tagine with Couscous.

Recipe is courtesy of Chef Aziz of Traditions on the Beach located at 3111 West Gulf Drive in the historic Island Inn. For more information or to make a reservation call 472-4559 or visit

Ingredients: (serve 4 people)

4 cups couscous
3 onions quartered
4 lamb shank
3 carrots cut in 4 in. strips
1/2 cup butter
1/2 head of cabbage
1 pinch saffron
1 lb turnips quartered
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 lb zucchini
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tomatoes quartered
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon honey
salt and black pepper to taste
2 cups of canned chickpeas


In the bottom of a double stock pot with steamer, preheat the oil over medium heat. Add lamb shank, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, salt, pepper and all the spices, simmer and stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. Add 3 quarts water, cover and simmer over medium heat for an hour and a half. Place the couscous in a pan sheet and cover with water and let it set. Add carrots, turnips and cabbage to lamb broth and simmer for 20 minutes. Then add zucchini and chickpeas. Transfer the couscous into the colander and place it on top of the lamb and vegetables broth pot, and steam for 30 minutes. Dot couscous with 1/4 cup butter during last 5 minutes of steaming. Note: the meat should be fork tender.

To serve, spoon couscous onto serving dish (tagine) and toss with remaining butter. Spread out to form a well in center. With a slotted spoon transfer the lamb shank and vegetables into the well. Adjust seasoning to the broth and moisten couscous and vegetables with broth and serve with a bowl of broth on the side. Enjoy!!! ##########################################################

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