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Morocco Week in Review 
January 5, 2013

AIDS awareness campaigns target Maghreb youth.
2012-12-21 By Hassan Benmehdi in Casablanca and Jemal Oumar in Nouakchott for Magharebia

Ignorance increases the risk of HIV infection, especially for young people. A national AIDS awareness campaign now under way in Morocco is focusing on teenagers. The fourth edition of "Sidaction Maroc", which runs through December 31st, aims to encourage young people to get tested so that the epidemic can be contained. The campaign also includes a televised appeal for donations.

Given that young people make up more than 30% of Morocco's population, the president of the Moroccan Association for the Prevention of AIDS (ALCS) finds it essential to raise youth awareness about the disease. "The latest epidemiological data indicate that young people, especially those aged between 15 and 34, are the worst affected," Hakima Himmich told Magharebia before the initiative launch on December 6th. "They make up more than 51% of HIV carriers," she noted.

This year's campaign is determined to convey the message that young people are more affected by AIDS than anyone else, communications expert Bruno Perrussel explained at a November 20th press conference in Casablanca.

Students Samir and Khalid agree that it is the duty of the state and civil society to inform young Moroccans about the dangers of AIDS. "But in addition to raising awareness, we also need to create sports and culture centres to guide young people along the right path," Samir said.

In Morocco, the number of people infected with AIDS as at the end of 2011 was 29,000. Of these, 10,000 required anti-viral treatment.

To call attention to the dangers of HIV infection, Morocco launched a 4-year National AIDS Strategic Plan last June. Moroccan Health Minister Houcine El Ouardi says that the project aims to stem the spread of the disease, the first cases of which were reported in the kingdom in 1986. "Between then and December 2011, 6,453 cases of HIV/AIDS were reported, including 4,169 people who had reached the stage of full-blown AIDS," the minister said. "There were also 2,284 asymptomatic carriers of HIV," El Ouardi added.

Within the next three years, Morocco aims to cut the number of new HIV infections in half and reduce AIDS-related deaths by 60%.

The ALCS offers help and advocacy for people living with HIV. Its main aims are to prevent HIV/AIDS infection, provide care and enable people to access treatment.

Egypt and Morocco’s Equator Prize Winners Preserve Environment through Tradition.
Linda Pappagallo | December 24th, 2012 |

The Medicinal Plants Association in Egypt helps preserve biodiversity and is one of the 25 winners of the Equator Prize 2012.

Policy making within the realm of “development” is often burdened by an excessively westernized design resulting in unintended consequences on the welfare of local populations. For example, a previous Green Prophet article “Morocco’s Berbers Had Water Management Sorted“, reveals how water management interventions led by the Word Bank replaced traditional water systems and eventually resulted in even poorer social and environmental outcomes.

Fortunately it is becoming increasingly popular for multilateral development initiatives to provide incentives for traditional practices in environmental preservation and economic development rather than replacing, renewing or reforming existing practices which have been built on years of knowledge and perfected after generations of creative design. The Equator Initiative: A partnership for Resilient Communities, is an example of this movement in the “development” world which honors practices that aim to create societies and socio-economic landscapes that are resilient to environmental destruction and cultural erosion.

Through the biannual Equator Prize, the Equator Initiative recognizes 25 outstanding local projectsthat work to advance sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities. To date 152 community organizations have been awarded the Equator Prize and in June 2012, representatives of winning communities participated in the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), which was held in Brazil. This year the Middle East North Africa region was well represented by two Equator prize winners: the Medicinal Plants Association St. Catherine from Egypt and Amsing Association from Morocco.

In Egypt the Medicinal Plants Association St. Catherine supports the development of livelihood alternatives for the Bedouin populations of Sinai’s St. Catherine Reserve, through the protection of its genetic medicinal plant heritage and cultivation of endemic species. The reserve is home to roughly half of the country’s botany, four hundred and seventy two different species of plants of which more than one hundred are used for medicinal reasons and many are unique and endangered species which have been threatened by overharvesting and overgrazing. The Medicinal Plants association promotes home gardens, provides alternative energy solutions, gives hands-on training on sustainable harvesting techniques, and creates market supply chains for locally produced medicinal herbs, handicrafts and honey. For example part of the livelihood program focuses on supporting female Bedouin farmers from planting through to the marketing phase of the products, the revenues from the activities are then invested in a rotating fund which allows the community to access small loans. So far, the project has created over two hundred jobs, and has improved the living conditions of over one thousand people.

In Morocco Amsing Association was created by the villagers of Elmoudaa, an Amazirght (Berber) community located in the High Atlas Mountains, to address economic isolation, a lack of social services, and harsh climatic conditions. The association has successfully regenerated degraded lands surrounding their village through a traditional land management practice called ‘azzayn’ which bans herders from grazing in protected lands.

The reintroduction of this regulatory system has allowed native grasses and shrubs to thrive, reduced soil erosion, and prevented flooding. The association has also undertaken a number of infrastructure projects to promote community-based adaptation to climate change and resilience in the face of climate variability.

A ‘water chateau’ stores fresh water for use in times of drought or when floods wash away irrigation ditches, while a water tower provides local residents with access to clean drinking water.

It is encouraging to see these projects flourish and it would be nice to see more winners from the MENA region in the next cycle of prizes in 2014. If Green Prophet readers know of projects that would fall in line with the Equator Initiative’s objectives then invite them to apply for the Equator Prize in 2014! Here is the list of eligible countrieseligibility requirements and selection criteria from the Equator Prize 2012.
Images of Medicinal Plants Association and Amsing via The Equator Initiative and Egypt Independent

IMF urges Morocco to reduce unemployment.

Morocco must focus on reducing youth unemployment, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Monday (December 17th) after talks with the Moroccan government over the two-year IMF credit line. "Morocco has made substantial progress in strengthening growth and reducing poverty over the past decade. But despite such progress, much remains to be done to reduce unemployment, in particular among the youth," the IMF said.

Morocco tackles youth employment.
2012-12-19 By Siham Ali for Magharebia

Lawmakers are pushing the government to accelerate their efforts in resolving Morocco's unemployment problem. Moroccan MPs recently urged the government to shoulder its responsibilities by finding jobs for young graduates and non-graduates. During a session in Parliament on December 3rd, MP Omar Hjira said the government must find innovative solutions to get young graduates into work in a range of sectors.

Former Prime Minister Abbass El Fassi's pledged to recruit graduates directly. But current Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane recommended competitive recruitment processes as the only way of getting into the public sector.

Hjira argued that young people had no confidence in the competitive recruitment system, which has long been tainted by favouritism.

Law graduate Sara Damini claimed competitions were a sham and did not offer equal opportunity. "I doubt the current government can guarantee transparent recruitment competitions enabling young people to take up public-sector jobs," she said. "I have tried applying several times over the years without success, whereas a number of people who are less capable than me have been successful. So what's the explanation for this state of affairs?" she asked.

Employment Minister Abdelouahed Souhail said the government's decision was final and that these young people must accept this situation for the sake of equal opportunity and transparency. He stressed that the government was encouraging the private sector to create jobs and was also promoting self-employment.

The minister also said that vocational training was the ideal way of helping them find jobs. "Every year 250,000 pupils leave school and 65% of them take up jobs," he said. He also pointed out that the government was striving to fill in the gaps in this area, such as the lack of a body responsible for advising young jobseekers with no degree.

Right now, the National Agency for the Promotion of Employment and Skills only helps graduates. The minister said that it will soon start helping non-graduates too. The government's strategy for this category of young people consists of offering more vocational training courses. A total of 390,000 trainees are currently enrolled in courses at institutes and colleges. It is projected that a million people will complete courses by 2016.

22 year-old Hanaa Charrat is currently training to become a hairdresser and beautician. She left school six years ago and chose vocational training as a pathway to a job. "After I spent six years doing nothing other than housework to help my mother, a neighbour advised me to take my destiny into my own hands so that I wouldn't end up in an insecure position. All you need is willpower. These days, I'm ambitious. This training will enable me to work for myself once I've earned my certificate," she said.

Morocco expands urban renewal project

Morocco added thirteen new cities to its anti-slum initiative, Housing Minister Nabil Benabdallah told MAP on Sunday (December 30th). Tanger, Tétouan, Settat, Kalaa des Sraghna, Ksar Lekbir, Sidi Kacem, Sidi Slimane, Es-smara, Deroua, Ben Yakhlef, Sidi Bennour, Souk Sebt and Touissit are the latest cities that will be rid of shantytowns by 2020, as part of the national urban renewal project.

The number of "Cities Without Slums" is expected to reach 62 in 2013, Benabdallah said.

Morocco Clamps Down on Owners of 'Dangerous' Dogs.
by Naharnet Newsdesk 03 January 2013,

A new law in Morocco seeks to clamp down on dangerous dogs and their owners who now face up to five years in jail in a country where more than 50,000 dog bite cases are recorded every year. The text aiming to "protect people against the danger of dogs" was passed unanimously late on Wednesday by a parliamentary committee, and now becomes Morocco's first legislation aimed at tackling the problem.

A penalty of a maximum five years in prison and fines up to 50,000 dirhams (about 4,500 euros, $5,900) now await any dog owner convicted of breaking the law. "A dangerous dog is one which displays, by nature of its breed or morphological characteristics, aggression deemed to be dangerous to man," the new law reads, adding that a list of dangerous dogs will be drawn up.

Interior Minister Mohand Laenser told members of parliament that the new law mainly concerned the owners of pitbull terriers because of the danger these animals represent "to the security and peace of mind of citizens." He also referred to the use of the breed "for criminal purposes." "More than 50,000 cases of people being bitten by dogs" are registered each year, also increasing the number of deaths because of rabies, the minister added.

Will Morocco be the First Country to have a Win-Win Partnership with the US?
Published: 2012-12-23

Both Moroccans and Americans should now accelerate their initiatives and projects in different fields to give a meaning to excellent political relations between the two countries, points out Zakaria Tanjaoui.

Solid, longstanding relations between the United states and Morocco. Throughout history, leaders of both countries have always been keen to continue working and coordinating with each other to further develop and expand their bilateral ties.

Every time the issue of relationship between the two countries is brought up, there is always a historical fact that characterizes this powerful relation: Morocco was the first country to recognize the independence of the United States. Since then, the two countries have always deployed tremendous efforts to consolidate their already excellent bilateral relations. This strategic historical partnership has undoubtedly given a fresh impetus to the two countries and has opened up vast promising prospects.

Throughout history, Morocco has always reiterated its keen desire to pursue consultation and coordination with the United States of America with a view to developing mechanisms to make sure their promising partnership leads to concrete projects that benefit key sectors in respective countries and serve as models of solidarity and complementarity in the region.

At the UN, the two countries’ views have always converged on key international issues to promote peace and stability around the world. Morocco has always offered wise advice and even concrete actions to boost the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians in total coordination with the American administration. This has never discouraged Morocco to offer candid and honest views to put the peace process back on the negotiation table. A position that has gained Morocco a lot of credibility and respect in the eyes of the American leadership.

Since King Mohammed VI acceded to the throne on 23 July 1999, all his efforts of in-depth reform in Morocco were highly appreciated and supported by the American leadership.

Letters from former President Bush and current President Obama praising Morocco's commitment to democracy, rule of law and sustainable development including Morocco's continuous endeavors to set up a complementary, integrated Maghreb Union to promote a regional environment in which the people concerned can enjoy security, prosperity and stability.

Morocco shares US earnest ambition regarding the achievement of sustainable development in Africa. Morocco has always stood by American side to uphold the ideals of freedom, justice, equality and dignity, to foster good governance and shared progress, to promote the lofty human values of tolerance and intercultural, inter-faith coexistence and to reject all forms of violence, extremism and insularity.

Morocco pledged to do whatever it can to contribute to the emergence of a better, safer, more peaceful and more equitable world which is committed to upholding the principles of solidarity and to international legitimacy.

This "parfaite entente" between the two countries resulted into the creation of the Strategic Dialogue, recognition of than a decade of peaceful reforms and stability under the leadership of King Mohammed VI. The two countries signed the Strategic Dialogue, which will not be affected by changes in administration, leadership or personnel, officially begins and builds on bilateral advances already achieved, including the Morocco-US Free Trade Agreement, the Millennium Challenge Compact, and Morocco's designation as a major non-Nato ally.

It is high time now to give a new impetus to the private sector, NGOs, think tanks, universities...from both countries to implement many of the agreements and accords reached between the two countries. Both Moroccans and Americans should now accelerate their initiatives and projects in different fields to give a meaning to excellent political relations between the two countries. An economic, cultural, educational road map should be elaborated to open doors for potential projects from both sides.

If Morocco was the first country to recognize the independence of the United States, it should now be the first country to develop a strong win-win partnership with the United States.

Outlawing Child Marriage In Morocco
By: Karim Boukhari . Translated from TelQuel (Morocco).

I will always remember this long, long day of autumn or spring — forgive my vagueness — I spent with this passionate, intriguing, meticulous old gentleman, who bore a striking resemblance to Santa Claus, but with tired looks and without a beard. He spoke of great revolutionary ideas, which were distilled into small innocuous, simple and humble words. Pure nectar.

The old man had long been observing me and listening with a little smile on his face, before he addressed me in a fairly nice and calm manner, articulating beautiful Arab words reminiscent of the greatest poets of the Umayyad era.

"My young friend, I understand that people such yourself may have a problem with the Sunnah and Shariah law, and frankly, I share your doubts. There are some precepts of Islam that do not fit in with our times. If these precepts are mentioned in a page of the Quran or Hadith, well, we ought not hesitate to tear out this page, for the good of the Ummah [Islamic nation]," he said.

The author of this tirade is named Gamal al-Banna, the younger brother of Hassan, the founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. This is the organization that has changed the face of Islam, Arab countries and — to a little extent — the world we live in today.

He is 92 years old and is deeply religious. He represents one of the main figures of contemporary Islam, even though he is not regarded with favor by Al-Azhar authorities. However, he speaks aloud what we are well aware of, yet do not actually dare to say: There are some codes dictated or tolerated by Islam that are obsolete and backward. They should be banned, without riling the anathema of the mullahs hiding in us.

I remembered the words of this dear visitor during a foggy day in Rabat — to whom I wish a very long life and dedicate these lines to, hoping he will read them one day — when I read in amazement and dismay the new statistics on child marriage in Morocco.  The number of cases of child marriage has risen in the span of one year from 33,000 to 41,000. What a shame.

Child marriage, which is a common practice in Morocco, draws its legitimacy from the life and mission of the Prophet Mohammad. “If he did it, why can’t I?” This is how today's Muslim men reason, without a single pang of conscience, convinced that they are on the right path by marrying girls as young as 10 or 12 years old.

Thus, rape has become disguised as marriage and "women" have become an offering presented from one guardian to another. Undoubtedly these "women" are likely to be put away sometimes later. All this is possible and even common in Morocco, which has reformed its family code in 2004. Nevertheless, thousands of young girls can still raise the placard saying "Married and Divorced at Age 14," without arousing the ire of anyone.

To paraphrase the old Gamal al-Banna, since such an ignominy is mentioned on a page of the Mudawana* [the family code], we ought not hesitate to tear it out! This is exactly what Moroccans should do, instead of focusing on the current ridiculous debate on setting the "minimum age" of marriage at 16 years. Child marriage is a barbarity that must be prohibited by law, regardless of the rules of the Sharia and Sunnah.

*Note: Articles 20 and 21 of the Mudawan, which ostensibly ban child marriages, actually produce an opposite effect as they allow the patriarch of a family to "authorize the marriage of boys and girls before the legal capacity to marry, i.e. 18 years. "

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Morocco Celebrates Amazigh Culture and History At Festival in Rabat.
By Naoufel Cherkaoui, 31 December 2012
Rabat, Morocco

Ever since a post-constitutional amendment recognised Tamazight as an official language, "all actors are now required to pay attention to the promotion of this culture," Chems Bladi Association head Fatime Ferhate said at the festival finale on Saturday (December 29th).

Fine arts, cinema and various workshops highlighted the "overlap of Amazigh and Moroccan-Arab culture", said Ferhate, whose association partnered with the culture ministry and the Moroccan Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) to organise the event.

"We believe that the Amazigh culture is not restricted to the Amazigh, and that the Arab culture is not restricted to Moroccan Arabs, but that there is a Moroccan culture that contains all that is Amazigh and Arab. This is what we wanted to express by involving Arabs and Amazighs as part of this event," she said. Ferhate added, "Even if the Amazigh language itself is divided into several dialects based on regions, the adoption of Tifinagh script has now unified it, and they also belong to one nation. Therefore, we're bilingual Moroccans."

IRCAM head Ahmed Boukouss also noted that the festival followed the constitutional amendment recognising Tamazight. "That culture was officially recognised for the first time in Morocco's history, and therefore, we can consider this to be a cultural and legal revolution," Boukouss said. "Now the state can budget sufficient financial and human resources to activate the constitutional amendment." "We're waiting for the issue of regulatory laws in order to activate the official nature of that culture," he added. "We're also having a discussion in which some believe that Tamazight has the right to be as important as Arabic; while others believe that Arabic alone must be the official language."

Life for a Child Visit to Morocco: Caring for Type 1 Diabetes in A Difficult Setting
James Ron | January 01, 2013

A few months ago, I was in Morocco on a work trip and arranged, through Life for a Child - the international program for children with diabetes – to meet with Dr. Amina Balafrej, a paediatrician, in Rabat, the country’s capital city.  Balafrej works with a local association, Badil, established 12 years ago by volunteer doctors and parents of children with type 1 diabetes. It’s a remarkable group, with some important organizational innovations that others could learn from.

First, the background.

Badil’s staff of five volunteer physicians, along with a paid diabetes educator, dietician, and volunteer social worker, care for about 900 children with type 1 diabetes, all of whom were diagnosed before the age of 15. Some 400 are directly cared for by the association, while another 500 visit Badil from the local government hospital, where they are patients of Badil’s physicians. Life for a Child sends money to help 35 of the poorest families with their most basic diabetes, including insulin, syringes, and two blood glucose test strips a day.   

Badil plays an important role in the lives of these parents and kids, because only 50% of Morocco’s population is covered by some form of health insurance. Yet even insured families have a hard time getting proper diabetes care. For example, many Moroccan insurance plans do not cover blood glucose test strips or syringes, and the only insulin available in most government dispensaries is the long-lasting, NPH type. This is because the much larger type 2 population uses long lasting insulin, and this population’s needs tend to predominate. Rapid acting insulins – the kind type 1 patients need to survive- are often not available in government dispensaries.

The fancier analogue insulins common in the global North – Lantus, Levemir, Apidra, Novo Rapid – are too expensive to be distributed through public facilities, although better off patients can easily buy them, along with blood glucose test strips, in the country’s many private pharmacies. In addition, “the better educated, more literate and wealthier families get better access to government care,” Dr. Balafrej said, because they have the skills, confidence, and connections to work the system. Getting reimbursements through public insurance plans, for example, is a huge paperwork challenge, requiring literacy, oodles time, perseverance, and lots of self confidence. 

For patients who are illiterate, record keeping – so crucial to proper diabetes management – is especially challenging. At Badil, 55% of the mothers of children with type 1 diabetes can’t read, and the same is true of 40% of fathers. It’s the mothers who matter most, however, because they tend to do most of the diabetes management.  

The association’s achievements, as reported by Dr. Balafrej, are extraordinary. When Badil began, most patient HbA1cs were dangerously high (14-18%); these children were headed for serious medical complications in their 20s and 30s, followed by premature  death. Through regular access to Badil’s supplies, education, and emotional support, however, over 90% have now dropped their A1Cs  below 10%, and the clinic average is 8.2%. Badil, in other words, has dramatically extended 900 lives, while curtailing the pain, suffering, and financial burden of diabetes-related complications. 

How did Badil do it? 

First, it was the voluntarism of the association’s five physicians, along with the parents who worked with them, that mattered most. If it wasn’t for the extraordinary commitment and generosity of these women (and a few men), none of this would have happened.

Second, Badil’s creators came up with some interesting organizational innovations. For example, they created a sliding scale of voluntary fees. Low income parents don’t pay anything for Badil’s medical consultations and HbA1c tests, but higher-income parents are urged – albeit not required – to contribute what they can.  

This kind of resource pooling is often hard to pull off, because higher income families may refuse to be treated alongside the poor. Badil’s services must be of sufficiently high quality to attract higher income families who would have otherwise have gone private.   

Badil also created its own cooperative for selling insulin, syringes, strips, and other supplies. These are available at substantially reduced cost, made possible by bulk purchases and special deals. 

Third, the educational and testing services Badil offers are fantastic. Each incoming family gets five sessions with a doctor, five with a diabetes educator, and five with the dietician. Thereafter, they get another 10 training sessions to build up their self monitoring and  management skills. As a result, most patients (or their mothers) can now adjust their own doses, including those who are otherwise illiterate. Badil has taught mothers functional literacy to save their kids’ lives.  

Finally, the association has been able to nurture a positive relationship of sorts with the government hospital and another non profit. The former pays the doctors’ salaries (who then donate their overtime to Badil), and supplies some insulin, medical tests, and the like. The friendly non profit agency gives Badil office space and meeting rooms.

There are problems, of course. First, too many patients still do not have regular access to insulin, strips, syringes, and key health tests. Balafrej would love for Life for a Child to support another 65 of the association’s poorest families, and to offer everyone four blood glucose strips a day, rather than the two currently available. 

Second, the government hospital’s administration has become frustrated with the arrangement, and Badil’s hitherto positive connection with the state has begun to fray. A full rupture of the relationship could prove disastrous.

Third, no matter how hard Badil tries, it can’t get access to the small syringes most needed for children. Instead, parents across Morocco must struggle with 0.5 ml/50 U type, which are hard to use for very small insulin doses.  

Most importantly, however, Badil hasn’t figured out how to resolve the problem that bedevils similar groups worldwide: how to help paediatric patients when they grow up? Life for a Child’s support goes only to children and youth aged 25 and under, and Badil would probably prefer to do the same. After all, more young patients are waiting for help, and the adults should, in theory, be able to look after themselves. But with unemployment, illiteracy, and a struggling health system, the fate of the poorest over-25s is unclear. If they no longer get the HbA1c tests, guidance, and supplies from Badil, where will they obtain similar care? And if they can’t find another mechanism, will their A1Cs start to deteriorate?

If that happens, Badil’s 12 years of life-saving efforts may turn out to have been little more than a temporary stay-of-execution. 

Dr. Balafrej has ideas for new resources, but it’s really up to the patients and their families to get organized. In an impromptu meeting I held with a group of type 1 mothers outside Badil’s office, we spoke about the need for them to develop advocacy capacities to transform the public health system into one better able to respond to their needs.

Outsiders can certainly help by donating time and money, but the impetus for change needs to come from within. There seems to be plenty of interest among the mothers I spoke to; they are strong women, regardless of their poverty. 

I wish the International Diabetes Federation could help by developing an on-the-ground  support function for groups such as Badil, along with their associated families and volunteers. A small team of activists, mobilizers, and advocates could visit Morocco, along with many other countries, to help Badil-type groups develop their own capacity for civic advocacy initiatives. Graduates of the Badil program could provide a nucleus for broader organziational efforts, linking up with peers in Morocco and elsewhere.     

The money for this kind of international advocacy effort wouldn’t be huge. A few thousand dollars goes a long way in some contexts, and in any case, the idea shouldn’t be to develop local dependency on foreign money. Instead, what’s needed is IDF help to transfer skills, experiences, and instincts from place to place, inspiring Moroccan parents with the experiences of Mexicans or Indians, and vice versa. 

Type 1 diabetes is a global problem, but lasting solutions must be local. Each community of patients wrestles with his or her own national health system, culture, and resources. There is an enormous amount of capacity developed in stellar groups like Badil; together, the international and national type 1 community must find a way to sustain and scale those efforts up.

Moroccans Fear That Flickers of Democracy Are Fading
TANGIER, Morocco

Until recently, politics in Morocco involved red carpets and speeches in high Arabic that the average citizen could not understand. But on a campaign swing this fall through a working-class area of this port city, Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane stood on a makeshift podium in a muddy vacant lot. He spoke without notes, kissed babies passed forward by the crowd and promised, as he has done all along, to fight corruption and return the government to the people. “We will get stronger with the help of God and accomplish what we wanted,” he told the crowd, which roared its approval.

But more and more Moroccans are questioning his ability to do that, wondering whether Morocco’s version of the Arab Spring brought anything more than cosmetic changes to this impoverished country, which has been one of America’s most stable and staunch allies in a region marked by turmoil.

A year ago, it seemed Moroccans were giddy with the sense that they had found a gentle, negotiated answer to the popular uprisings in the streets. The country’s king, Mohammed VI, 49, defused angry protesters by volunteering to share his power. Within months, Morocco had a new Constitution. …………….
Read more here:

Isolation and hardship hit Morocco's mountain Berbers.
Published: 27/12/2012 Online news: World

In a country on the doorstep of western Europe and popular for sunshine holidays, an unusually bitter winter has hit isolated mountain villages, causing hardship not usually associated with Morocco.

On an icy morning in December, Salem Said trudges with his son along a snow-swept road to the only school in this area of the Atlas Mountains.

The predominantly Berber region is a victim of poor infrastructure and harsh winters, as starkly illustrated on Friday when a week-old baby died in Anfgou village after falling ill because of the extreme cold, according to witnesses. They blamed her death on the lack of vital medical treatment.

An unusual bout of heavy snowfall has made many roads unpassable, leaving vehicles unable to supply the weekly markets in the villages of the Middle and High Atlas, where temperatures plunged to minus 5 degrees Celsius (23 Fahrenheit) last week. "The lorries and pick-up trucks can no longer drive along this road. I travel dozens of kilometres (miles) by mule to get supplies," said Moha Ouaali, a father struggling to provide for his family during the winter months. "People like us have no life here," he sighed, glancing towards his three mules, laden with bags of wheat and other food that they hauled along the mountain road.

Holding the hand of his 8-year-old son, sometimes carrying him, Salem Said battled on foot through the snow to get to the school in the village of Timahdite, three kilometres (two miles) away. "I have to take him, because he can't go on his own," he said, as he criticised the lack of state support for the people of the area. "We are not asking for the moon. A simple, passable road to link us up is all we're asking for," said Said, before heading off towards the school.

Despite its huge tourist trade and proximity to Europe, much of rural Morocco remains below the poverty line, and the country ranked 130th in the latest human development index published by the United Nations.

The local authorities themselves do not hide their frustration at the lack of resources, a factor that they say limits the region's development and its links to the outside world. "There is one snow-plough for the whole region, it's not enough," an elected local official told AFP by phone. "Don't forget that the municipal budget is very limited. Without the state developing a nationwide strategy for road infrastructure in rural areas, the problem of isolation will return every year," the official added.

The region of Timahdite, as well as Anfgou in the High Atlas, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) south, is considered the worst affected by the problem, and residents say the first snowfalls this year have been particularly bad. "The effects of the snow are not just negative. It also allows the wells and the reservoirs to fill up. But the lack of infrastructure isolates the inhabitants, especially the poorest," said Lahcen Ouhalli, a local activist with the Moroccan Association for Human Rights. "Those who have the means buy tractors that they use to get their supplies. They are less isolated than the others, who only have their mules, their donkeys and their feet," he added.

Fadma Bouba, a mother in Timahdite, readily admits to her dependency on the more primitive form of transport. "It's thanks to the donkey that I can get around and buy what I need. Otherwise, with this snow and this cold, we couldn't do anything."

The family of the 40-day-old baby that died in Anfgou will feel more isolated than most this winter, although they are not the first to suffer such tragedy in recent years.

More than 20 children froze to death in the same deprived village in the High Atlas in the winter of 2006-2007, and according to unconfirmed local press reports, at least four children have already died from cold weather this month.

In response, Morocco's Health Minister Hossein El Ouardi visited the area. And his ministry said last week said that it was launching a campaign to provide medical aid to the Timahdite region, as part of ongoing efforts to combat the effects of the extreme weather and to improve healthcare.

But a doctor in the region said better access to medical treatment during the winter months was not enough. "We need to educate women in these villages about not exposing their children to the cold," he told AFP.

Morocco moves to institute unemployment benefits
Posted by News Desk on December 25, 2012

Moroccan authorities, the employers’ association, CGEM, trade unions and the social security fund, CNSS, have finally agreed to institute unemployment benefits to ease the strain of the global financial crisis that is sparing no country. The project to set up such an allowance was first tabled some 12 years ago but several obstacles have so far hampered its coming into being. It was only earlier this December that the partners agreed on the financing mode of this benefit.

The recipients will get an allowance in case they lose their job for economic or technical reasons. The allowance, amounting to 70 percent of their average monthly earnings over the last 36 months, will be granted to the person on the dole for a six-month period. The payout will not however exceed 100 per cent of the guaranteed minimum wage, which currently stands at DH 2,300.

Authorities, who say that the introduction of this benefit is part of efforts to support workers who lose their job and to help businesses facing up difficulties, are earmarking DH 250 million to enable the programme to go ahead. The employer’s contribution has been set at 0.38% of the company’s social contributions. Employees will also make a contribution to fund the allowance, set at 0.19% of their salary, capped at DH 6,000.

To claim the allowance, the laid off worker must meet some requirements such as having lost his job involuntarily, be able to prove at least 780 days’ worth of contributions to the social security fund during the three years preceding the laying off date, 260 of which must have occurred in the year leading up to the dismissal. The applicant should also be registered as a jobseeker with relevant intermediation services, should not be entitled to a disability or retirement pension, and must be able to work.

2-Billion-Year-Old Meteorite From Mars Found in Morocco.
Irene Klotz for Discovery News 2013-01-03

A rare Martian meteorite recently found in Morocco contains minerals with 10 times more water than previously discovered Mars meteorites, a finding that raises new questions about when and how long the planet most like Earth in the solar system had conditions suitable for life............

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While change shakes the Arab world, inertia still reigns supreme in Morocco: Far from stirring up trouble, Morocco's Islamist government has been keen to gain royal acceptance since coming to power
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 1 January 2013

Is it still plausible to see Morocco as an exception? Thrown into turmoil by the Arab spring, the kingdom has taken great care to promote this notion, while remaining cautiously on the sidelines of the changes rocking the Arab world.

Unlike Tunisia there is no controversy about Islamist policies here. Nor has Jordanian-style popular unrest sought to oust the monarchy. On 18 November only a handful of militants gathered outside parliament to demand a cut in the royal budget, estimated at about $300m. A year after the general election that brought the Islamist Justice and Development party (PJD) to power for the first time, Morocco is still keeping a low profile in the Arab world.

"Nothing whatsoever is going on," says the PJD minister of higher education, Lahcen Daoudi, with a laugh, as if it were proof of success. But such inertia is beginning to irritate people in Morocco...............

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Moroccans spend hours online, new survey finds

A new survey released Monday (December 17th) in Casablanca found that 57.4% of young Moroccans spend more than four hours per day on the internet, MAP reported. Laptops are the most popular means of access (88%), followed by mobile phones (55%), the Averty Market Research and Intelligence study found. The internet is used primarily for sending and receiving emails (66%), while online shopping accounts for only 7% of use.

E-government services also drew a favourability rating of more than 75 per cent. The most popular portals: biometric passports (69%), employment site ANAPEC (43%) and consular services (28%).

EU boosts Morocco health, education
2012-12-17 By Hassan Benmehdi for Magharebia in Marrakech

Despite the economic crisis, European support for reforms underway in Morocco is undiminished. The European Union Delegation in Rabat on December 16th wrapped up a field visit to Settat and Marrakech. The purpose of the regional trip was to see whether EU-funded literacy, hospital care and education programmes were working. Morocco, which lags behind in these areas, is receiving financial contributions and the know-how of the European community to help find adequate solutions.

EU ambassador to Morocco Eneko Landaburu told Magharebia that the co-operation between Morocco and the EU was going well and that Morocco was the first Arab state to receive European financial aid by virtue of its neighbouring position and "advanced status". "At present, it is difficult to answer the question of whether the financial aid granted to Morocco by the EU will be affected by the economic crisis," he said.

"A heated debate is being had in Europe at the moment because aid budgets for the next few years are currently being decided on, but I'm very optimistic and we will be on the same budgetary volumes allocated to Morocco," Landaburu added.

In a similar statement, Moroccan Health Minister Houcine El Ouardi sought to illustrate the importance of the technical support given by the EU. "In addition to financial aid, we also need innovative thinking and know-how in the area of management," El Ouardi said. He further says that this aspect is essential to efforts to improve the quality of services and efficiency of hospitals in Morocco.

Another purpose of the visit was to find out what has been achieved by the EU programmes aimed at supporting the target populations. The beneficiaries confirmed that these support programmes, focused mainly on disadvantaged communities, have had a positive impact.

A total of 86 million euros were allocated for health programmes between 2009-2013, with 44 million euros going specifically to healthcare for the 2008-2012 period. The financial aid granted by the EU to tackle illiteracy amounted to 27 million euros over five years. This programme helped more than 735,000 people from 2011-2012.

During a visit to one literacy centre, the centre's chief, Ait El Mekki, said that 5,000 people benefited from its services. Illiteracy in the region was at 52% in 2004, but was reduced to 38% in 2012, reported. "I've learned a lot, and the support of the trainers has enabled me to start up a livestock-rearing project," said one woman who took part in the education and learning scheme.

Morocco counters extremism with culture
2013-01-03 By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat

Moroccan authorities hope cultural programming can instil a national spirit in youths and help combat radicalisation. A chorus of voices in Morocco is calling for culture to be used as a means of boosting national identity and protecting young people from extremism.

Extremists should be tackled not only directly by the authorities, but also by instilling the country's values in young people, according to Culture Minister Amine Sbihi. This, he said, will protect them against the extremist thinking that is spread everywhere, in particular by certain satellite channels. Sbihi argued that young people are leaving the country in droves not only because of unemployment and poverty, but also because they have not been taught to be committed to their country.

For 2013, Morocco has allocated 571 million dirhams (52 million euros) for the culture ministry, including 217 million dirhams solely for investment purposes. Several experts and MPs are calling for special attention to be paid to the sector because of the role that culture plays in boosting identity and fostering social values.

The ministry has come up with a new community-based strategy to enable a larger number of young people to benefit from cultural opportunities. The minister has also said that his department wants to help young people to be creative.

MP Rachida Bensaoud lamented the small budget that has been allocated to the culture ministry, arguing that there should be a link between politics and culture. Bensaoud added that culture should be present everywhere within society so that it can play its role.

Sociologist Samira Kassimi echoed the sentiment, saying that the promotion of culture serves as a bulwark against extremism, especially since Moroccans have long been known for their open-mindedness and tolerance. "It is important to develop the culture of society and encourage young people to take pride in their identity. To achieve the desired goals, we need to improve Morocco's audio-visual media so that people are no longer forced to watch satellite channels which convey messages that may incite extremism. There is also a need to boost youth clubs and libraries," she said.

Political activist Jamal Sendoussi has been critical of state youth clubs, saying they need to be renovated in order to play their part in helping youths.

Young people can easily fall prey to fundamentalist groups due to the lack of cultural provisions, according to the activist. In his view, a proper strategy to promote culture among young people with clear goals is needed. This will develop the minds of young people by giving them opportunities to share their passions and better themselves under sound guidance, he said.

The culture ministry has said that this year will see further efforts to provide community cultural facilities across the country. That programme includes the opening of fifteen new arts centres, three conservatories, two theatres, and 15 new culture centres to be run in partnership with local authorities.

Islamist ally wants more woman ministers in Morocco
Saturday, 05 January 2013

The head of Morocco’s Istiqlal (Independence) party, the main ally of the ruling Islamists, has asked for a cabinet reshuffle, saying 20 percent of ministers should be women, media reports said on Friday. “The reshuffle is an opportunity to inject new blood... and increase the representation of women to 20 percent,” Hamid Chabat said in an official request to the head of the government which was published in local media.

The current government led by the head of the Justice and Development Party, Abdelilah Benkirane, has only one female minister in the 31-member cabinet, in charge of family affairs. Chabat, the mayor of Fez, was elected to lead Istiqlal in September and has regularly referred to a cabinet overhaul. This was the first time he has made a formal request for a reshuffle, however. “We must also reduce the ministerial portfolios... (by) redistributing them based on the proportion of seats won by each party,” he was also reported as saying.

Benkirane has yet to respond to his request.

Chabat’s request comes almost a year after the inauguration of the present government following a historic win by the Islamists in November 2011 legislative elections.

Morocco says may launch subsidies reform in June
By Aziz El Yaakoubi RABAT | Sat Jan 5, 2013 RABAT ( Reuters)

Morocco is prepared to start reforming its expensive system of subsidies for food and energy in June if a political decision to do so is taken, the minister in charge of the issue said. State subsidies on food and energy shot up to 53 billion dirhams ($6.25 billion) in 2012 - 15 percent of total public spending - from 48.8 billion in 2011 and 29.8 billion in 2010, as the government spent heavily to ensure social peace in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings elsewhere in the region.

In a step supported by the International Monetary Fund, the government now aims to repair its finances by reducing the subsidies and shifting the focus of spending to the poorest Moroccans.

The reform is politically sensitive in a country which saw street protests demanding democracy and better economic management in the wake of the Arab Spring.

The protests faded after the king introduced constitutional limits to his powers and allowed an Islamist party to form a cabinet after elections. The monarchy still plays a key role in decisions on major issues. "Technically, the reform of the subsidies system is quite ready," general affairs and governance minister Mohamed Najib Boulif said in a statement carried by the state news agency late on Friday. "Once talks are concluded and the political decision is taken, it will be launched," he added.

Morocco plans to replace the current subsidy system with monthly cash payments of 1,000 dirhams to as many as 2 million of the most needy families; if the reform goes ahead in full, this could reduce the annual bill to 24 billion dirhams.

Boulif said the reform would take around four years and could in itself eventually raise inflation, now officially running below 2 percent, to 7 percent. "The risk of the reform is the impoverishment of the middle class," finance minister Nizar Baraka has said in a parliamentary debate.

Last August, the IMF approved a $6.2 billion precautionary line of credit for Morocco over two years while urging action to reform the subsidy system, although it did not formally tie the reform to the aid. The cash-strapped country raised $1.5 billion with an international bond issue in early December, which lifted its foreign currency reserves to 146 billion dirhams - but they only cover about four months of import needs, which economists say is an uncomfortably low level.

Rabat aims to cut the state budget deficit to 4.8 percent of gross domestic product in 2013 from an estimated 6.0 percent last year. It is projecting GDP growth of 4.5 percent this year, after 3.4 percent in 2012.
(Editing by Andrew Torchia)

From micro to macro: Morocco to use mini-loan scheme to boost employment
Published December 16th, 2012

The Moroccan government plans to use microcredits to create two million permanent jobs over the next ten years instead of the one million currently forecasted. Lending by microcredit associations has been exempt from value-added tax (VAT) since 2006, but the policy was due to end on December 31st, 2012.

To help the microfinance sector expand and encourage micro-entrepreneurs to develop activities, the VAT exemption period should be extended to December 31st 2016, Budget Minister Idriss Azami told parliament on Monday (December 10th).

Microfinance is creating real job opportunities in Morocco. The sector has a special place within the Moroccan financial system and acts as a powerful driving force through the role it plays in financial inclusion, poverty reduction and the integration of economically weak members of society through the creation of jobs and income-generating activities, Azami said.

According to the Mohammed VI Centre for Support for Social Microfinance, at the end of 2011 the sector helped create about one million permanent jobs and 6,000 direct jobs within microcredit associations.

National Federation of Microcredit Associations president Tarik Sijilmassi said the government and the judiciary must protect the interests of the sector, which is showing potential and creates 1.2 jobs per loan. The aim, he added, is to increase the number of permanent jobs created over the next 10 years from 1 million to 2 million, with a total of 3.2 million beneficiaries.

Economist Mohamed Cherghouni underlined that support for micro-entrepreneurs in terms of training and awareness-raising was essential for them to develop their micro-projects.

Moroccan authorities seem committed to the idea of expanding the sector. In a message to a Skhirat conference on the sector held October 11th, King Mohammed VI encouraged the promotion of microfinance. "The sector must stay true to its original aim, which is to support, finance and assist entrepreneurs engaging in income-generating activities within the most deprived communities. Furthermore, it is always important to take the human dimension into account when assessing financial needs in order to expand the opportunities and choices available to Moroccan women and men," the monarch said.

According to the budget minister, plans are in place to cover the country more fully, with priority given to rural areas where poverty is rife. The aim is to change people's daily lives.

Fouad Lahdef, 35, received a microloan of 5,000 dirhams five years ago. He opened a small workshop and purchased a small second-hand sewing machine. With his electrician's degree, he repairs electrical domestic appliances. His wife mends customers' clothes. "Thanks to this small sum, my life has changed," he told Magharebia. "I now have a steady job and after working for two years, I have become self-sufficient. I am now renting a house, whereas before, I lived with my parents," Lahdef said. "It's not easy at the beginning. You have to dare to take that first step. With my savings, I intend to grow my business," he added.

IMF urges Morocco to remove fuel subsidies

Current subsidy system called a drain on the country’s budget

Dubai: Echoing its prescription for other struggling economies in the Middle East and North Africa, the International Monetary Fund urged Morocco to remove fuel subsidies in order to free up resources for investment.

In a report on a recent IMF visit to Morocco, the international body said that the current subsidy system is a drain on the country’s budget and ineffective in helping the poor. “Ensuring medium-term (fiscal) sustainability will hinge on the delivery of critical structural fiscal reforms... in this regard, the reform of the subsidy system is crucial and urgent, as the current system is a drain on the budget and an ineffective tool to support the population in need,” the IMF report said.

In August, the IMF approved a $6.2 billion, two-year precautionary credit facility for Morocco to support economic reforms and help protect the economy from outside shocks, such as any fallout from the eurozone crisis or ongoing political tensions in the region. Morocco has to import much of its energy needs, and is a major exporter to Europe of agricultural and industrial goods.

The IMF said in August that its credit facility would help Morocco reform its budget and ease pressures caused by the rising cost of subsidies, particularly on fuel.

The IMF’s first deputy managing director David Lipton said recently that countries in the Middle East and North Africa spent $210 billion on such subsidies last year, the equivalent to 7 per cent of their combined gross domestic product. He said the money would be better spent investing in infrastructure that would improve long-term growth.

But subsidy reform has proved tough to implement. Last month, protests broke out in Jordan after the government raised fuel prices in line with IMF recommendations. And Egypt has postponed its request for a $4.8 billion loan from the IMF as recent political unrest has hampered the government’s ability to implement controversial economic reforms, which include an overhaul of the country’s tax system and the bloated energy subsidy regime.

In its report, the IMF praised Morocco’s record of implementing policy reforms but said it faces numerous challenges due to high commodities prices and the weakening economic situation in Europe. “Morocco’s solid performance has been challenged by the deterioration of the economic situation in Europe, high oil and food prices and, in 2012, a lower than average agriculture production,” the IMF said.

Morocco has yet to draw on the IMF’s precautionary credit line, viewing it as a back-up in case it runs into difficulty raising money by other means. Earlier this month, Morocco issued a new $500 million bond to be repaid over 30 years, adding to an existing $1 billion, 10-year bond.

The IMF also suggested further reforms to Morocco’s currency regime, saying that “a more flexible exchange rate regime would strengthen the contribution of structural reforms to greater competitiveness and absorption of external shocks.”

Voices from Gourougou
Date Published: 19/12/2012 04:17

They arrive breathless and drenched, sweat intermingled with rain, defeated. They have run up Gourougou mountain in the driving rain, trying to reach safety. Some limping, all covered in mud, they arrive back at their homes under the trees after another unsuccessful attempt to climb the fence into the Spanish enclave of Melilla, in northern Morocco.

Around the city of Nador, and in the pretty pine-covered hills and lowland forests around Gourougou, several hundred African migrants are living in makeshift camps, waiting for an opportunity to enter Europe.

Stuck in Morocco, unable to move on or to return to their own countries, the migrants suffer constant harassment by Moroccan security forces and the Guardia Civil (the Spanish police force). Caught trying to scale the fence to Melilla, they face violence and possible expulsion to the Algerian border. …………..
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Morocco Keeps Rate, Sees Inflation In Line With Objective.
By CentralBankNews updated December 18, 2012

Morocco’s central bank kept its policy rate unchanged at 3.0 percent and expects inflation to average 1.7 percent over the next 1-1/2 years, in line with the bank’s price stability objective. Bank Al-Maghrib, which has held its rate steady since March when it was cut by 25 basis points, said headline inflation should hover around 1.2 percent in 2012, 1.7 percent in 2013 and 1.5 percent in the first quarter of 2014.

“In this context where the balance of risks is neutral and the central inflation forecast is permanently consistent with the price stability objective, the Board decided to keep the rate unchanged at 3 percent,” the central bank said in a statement, repeating its statement from September.

Morocco’s headline inflation rate rose to 1.8 percent in October from September’s 1.2 percent, but the bank said this was mainly due to a 5 percent rise in volatile food prices. Core inflation rose to 0.8 percent in October from 0.6 percent.

Morocco’s Gross Domestic Product expanded by an annual 2.3 percent in the second quarter for first-half growth of 2.6 percent and the bank said 2012 growth was expected to remain below 3 percent, the same forecast as in September. Next year, the central bank forecasts that the country’s economy should expand between 4 and 5 percent under the assumption of average cereal production and “persistent unfavorable global economic outlook.”

Morocco’s government has forecast the economy would expand by 4.5 percent in 2013.

Money creation in Morocco continued to moderate at the end of October, the bank said, with money supply up an annual 3.6 percent, down from 4.4 percent in the previous quarter, and credit growth down to 5.4 percent from 6.3 percent. “Under these circumstances, the money gap is expected to remain negative, suggesting the absence of monetary inflationary pressures,” the central bank said.

Morocco’s economy is dependent on tourism and exports to Europe. Transfers from some 2 million migrants living abroad shrank by 4 percent to the end of November and travel receipts fell by 2.3 percent, the bank said.

Morocco's winter freeze claims another baby’s life: 40-day-old baby girl Amelou dies from severe cough caused by cold in Atlas mountains. RABAT

A 40-day-old baby has died of the cold in Morocco's Atlas mountains, witnesses said Monday, after a winter freeze and reports that four other infants had earlier perished in similar circumstances.

Habiba Amelou died on Friday morning in the village of Anifgou after suffering from a severe cough, according to two witnesses. "I spoke to her father, who was heartbroken. She was 40 days old and died from a severe cough caused by the cold," Mounir Kejji, a Berber activist in the region, said.

Another young man from the village who helped with the funeral on Friday said the baby had vomited blood. "Before she died, she had a bad cough and was vomiting blood. Her body couldn't handle the extreme cold, especially with the lack of medicine in the area, which has experienced heavy snowfall," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The news was also carried by Moroccan Arabic-language daily Al-Akhbar Monday, and comes after local press reports of at least four babies in the region had already died from the cold weather so far this winter.

The interior ministry earlier denied what it called "rumours" circulated in the media about the babies dying because of the cold.

But last week, Moroccan Health Minister Hossein El Ouardi visited the region, and the ministry said on Monday that it was launching a campaign to provide medical aid to the region, as part of efforts to combat the effects of cold winter weather. It said more than 2,400 people would benefit.

Anfgou lies at an altitude of 1,600 metres in the Middle Atlas mountains, around 350 kilometres (220 miles) southeast of Rabat. The remote mountainous region around Anfgou suffers from a crippling lack of infrastructure, with many roads unpassable in the winter months and residents complaining of having to transport basic supplies by mule for long distances along icy roads.

What does Abdessalam Yassine's death mean for Morocco? The Justice and Spirituality leader was a consistent opponent of the monarchy, combining Sufi piety and politics to powerful effect
Myriam, Thursday 20 December 2012

Islamism is often thought to be antithetical to Sufism, but in Morocco, a Sufi-inspired Islamist movement has represented the most potent opposition to the monarchy since the 1980s. The death of its mystical leader, Sheikh Abdessalam Yassine, last Thursday has left many asking what direction Morocco's informal opposition will take.

Tens of thousands of people converged on Morocco's capital, Rabat, to mourn the passing of Yassine, 84, the founder and spiritual leader of Morocco's largest Islamic opposition movement, Justice and Spirituality (al Adl wal Ihsan), a nonviolent group committed to the peaceful overthrow of the monarchy................

The Food of Morocco - Paula Wolfert
by Nick Harman - Wednesday December 26, 2012 10:12 am

Almost as soon as Christmas day is over, the holiday adverts traditionally arrive. The TV stops pumping out images of snowy fields and robins on logs and moves into sandy beach and blue sky overdrive.

So it’s appropriate now to put aside with a deeply thankful sigh Christmas books by celeb chefs showing off their perfect homes and adorable families and move to sunnier images, in this case Morocco.

North African cuisine doesn’t get much of a look in on telly or in restaurants, although its close cousin Middle -Eastern cuisine occasionally surfaces along with doomed attempts to interest us specifically in Persian/Iranian cooking. The trouble with the latter is that no one really goes on holiday to Iran; even Ryanair doesn’t fly there yet, so we don’t know the cuisine

Morocco is still a mysterious place but it is accessible, a vast area with cooking as varied as its landscape, towns, villages, souks and medinas. Tangiers, Casablanca, Marrakech are all names that conjure up memories of classic films, as well as of Led Zeppelin, and Paula Wolfert has over 50 year’s experience in country. This lavish book is another expert excursion into the cooking she loves so much.

Beginning with a chapter on essentials - the clay pots, preserved lemons, the ubiquitous spice Ras el Hanout, honeys and ten essential tips - she takes full flight into the food of Morocco. Thirteen chapters in all: salads, breads, pastries, eggs and cheese, soups, couscous (of course, course), fish, poultry, meats, beans and vegetables, desserts and drinks.

Each chapter comes packed with fine photography by the exotically named Quentin Bacon who one hopes is a real person and not a pseudonym. He’s mastered the out of focus background so beloved of food bloggers with their first dSLR but he also knows how to properly compose a picture.

Salivate over 200 recipes; the slow-cooked tagines fragrant with spices, the classic grilled meats, colourful salads alive with flavour, the remarkable range of smoky flatbreads and of course desserts so sticky you become glued to the table literally as well as metaphorically..

You could call this a definitive book, it's certainly erudite and entertaining. Even the page markers are well-made, a rich cloth and not cheap nylon, and the whole book reeks of care, knowledge and perhaps a hint of saffron.

Moroccan cooking could be the next fashionable thing, real sharing food for friends, and a way into the wonderful culinary world of North Africa, a place next to Europe but not of it. Paula Wolfert is your expert guide and let’s hope she gets to bring her sunshine to television soon.
ISBN: 1408827468

Moroccan Solar Plan Sees Path Forward, With or Without Desertec - Forbes
By Christopher Coats, 20 December 2012

If the news of the last month and a half is any indication, the likelihood of finally kick-starting the Desertec renewable scheme in North Africa had become more elusive than even critics once thought. Facing wavering support from vital shareholders and a small, but significant exit of two of the program's largest corporate backers, the green energy plan emerged from the month battered by the press and familiar critics alike. If the rush of articles that surrounded them were to be believed, the beleaguered green power scheme had faltered and threatened to take the region's renewable fortunes down with it.........
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A journey to Morocco inspired me to end my anxiety
By Maria Albertsen Fri, Dec 21, 2012 16:03 GMT

For as long as I can remember I have struggled with my anxiety. After I left university I was really unsure about what I wanted from life and my anxiety became worse.

I made friends with a Moroccan woman at work. She went back to Morocco and one day invited me to visit her and her family. I really wanted to, but I would have to travel there alone and I knew we would be in a very rural and remote area. How would I cope with my anxiety?

Then one day I woke up and it dawned on me that I had a life to live. I could choose to let anxiety control me or I could go to Morocco and experience something really different.

I was 23 years old and had never been out of the UK alone. I set off on my journey to Morocco, getting a plane to Spain, a three-hour bus ride to Algeciras, and a ferry to Ceuta where my friend was waiting for me to take me through the Moroccan border. The journey to Morocco changed something inside me. I felt liberated by the experience - and I'd managed to cope with my anxiety. The sense of achievement was overwhelming and still to this day when I get scared of going somewhere alone, I remember my journey to an unknown land and how good it felt when I arrived in Morocco - it reminds me that I can go anywhere.

When I arrived in Morocco I was so grateful for the generous welcome I received. My friends' family had arranged a welcome party for me and there was singing and dancing. They were so loving towards me - accepting me for who I was and I quickly felt at ease. This feeling has stayed with me over the years. I knew that I needed to stop worrying about what other people thought about me, that I had to accept myself for who I am. This moment of love felt in a far away village reminded me that I am 'good enough' which in turn helped to reduce my anxiety.

The next day, in the morning light, I saw the area where we were. I was shocked by how rural it was - and the realisation that these people had very few resources.

In the forthcoming days, I went beyond the village and travelled around Morocco. We went to Marrakesh and explored the Atlas mountains. We watched a magical story of Aladdin acted out by belly dancers and men on horses. There were acrobats, story tellers, drummers, snake charmers and dancers. We had the most amazing food, too - lots of fresh fruit and vegetables which melted in my mouth. We visited Moroccan souks, and when we got lost we just laughed. As the days went on, I realised how much life is for living. I knew if I could overcome my anxiety that I could spend a lifetime experiencing many more magical adventures.

At the end of my stay something inside me had changed. I realised I hadn't felt anxious or had a panic attack for nearly two weeks and I felt like I was free. There was something about being in Morocco that allowed me to express myself on a spiritual level and this was accepted by everyone around me. You weren't considered 'mad' or 'strange', in fact it was encouraged.

The people celebrated life and each other on a daily basis, always hugging and kissing - not just family, but me, too! They ate family meals around the table every day and were always singing and dancing. The sense of love and acceptance has had a profound affect on both the way I see life and the way I see myself. This has stayed with me and made me a stronger and more confident person.

Spending time in this culture helped me to realise what is important in life, what really matters, and with that my anxiety vanished. When I returned home I was much more proactive in challenging the things that made me anxious. I was determined to live my life to the full and experience as much as I could - and so far I have. I was able to get over my anxiety and now I help others with the same issues. Working with people, helping them overcome their anxiety, is how I can share the love that was given to me in Morocco.

Morocco Moving Forward On Regionalization
3 January 2013

North Africa Post and In-Depth Africa - Morocco is moving forward in implementing its regionalization plan in the southern provinces through the establishment of a regional economic system conducive to growth, wealth generating and employment creation.

The broad outline of this development plan for the Moroccan southern provinces was disclosed on Wednesday by the President of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, Chakib Benmoussa, in a presentation before the King of Morocco Mohammed VI.

This broad outline of the Southern provinces development plan is the first phase in the process of elaborating a new economic and social development pilot project for the southern provinces and a first step leading to implementing a project of paramount importance that will stand as a model in realizing the regionalization process nationwide as provided for by the Constitution................
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Is Marrakech’s Westernized Female Mayor a Real Figure for Change?
By Vivienne Walt / Marrakech, Morocco Jan. 03, 2013

Upstairs in the old city-hall building in this ancient tourist mecca, there is an unexpected sight: in the sprawling mayoral suite, the head of Morocco’s third biggest urban area, a city with more than a million people, is dressed in a slim-fitted jacket and trousers, her hair hanging loose and makeup expertly applied. The mayor of Marrakech admits she hardly fits the stereotype of the Arab politician on the rise. But in this North African country, that is the point. Having averted an Arab Spring–style revolt, Morocco, a country of 30 million people and a key U.S. ally against Islamic militancy, is attempting to remake itself, bit by bit, while leaving intact its top-down politics: a compliant Parliament accountable to a powerful monarch, King Mohammed VI. “People were surprised to see a young woman like me elected,” says the mayor, Fatima Zahra Mansouri, 37. “I realized people were hungry for change.”…………….

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Orphans In Morocco, A Documentary

Over the last few months a number of stories about the crisis in the orphanages in Morocco were published by international media. There were  also reports on a proclamation by the current Islamist government that seems set to hinder progress - the stopping of foreign adoptions, including Moroccans living abroad. But this is an issue that will not go away until concrete steps are taken to bring Morocco into the modern world where adoption is seen as an act of compassion, not a problem to be eradicated. Assisting this process are activists, some more enlightened politicians and hundreds of thousands of Moroccan women. And now a new film will add weight to the calls for change.

The documentary, BASTARDS, is about illegitimate children and the fathers who abandon them. By following single mothers fighting for justice, the documentary addresses big social issues through small human stories….heart-warming and heart-breaking stories captured in the raw, as Moroccan men and women clash about sex, children, marriage and money. It's a surprising contemporary documentary that touches anyone who has loved or been betrayed. The filmmaker is Deborah Perkin........................

A Spiritual Journey to Fez, Morocco  

Journeys unfold over space and memory, composed of the greatest of distances and the most compressed moments of time. Just as we pack suitcases, we pack our memories into movable units that can expand into endless canvasses. This summer, I took a journey to Fes, one of Morocco’s oldest and most historic cities — a journey along multiple gradients, geographical, spiritual, and personal.

If cities define civilization, Morocco is full of vibrant cities. Tangiers, the seaside city has hosted some of the most famous writers and travelers of history. Its white casbah is also a vantage point from where Gibraltar (Jabl al-Tariq) can be seen misting on the Spanish coast. Then there are the grand four imperial cities, Rabat, Fes, Meknes, and Marrakesh, whose monumental architecture is remnant of the skill and ingenuity of bygone Muslim powers. The living tides of Islam, the waves of migration featuring Andalusian refugees, Sufi scholars, tradesmen and adventurers, settled these cities over the centuries like a well-sedimented river-bed. Of the four imperial cities, Fes is the heart of Morocco’s spirituality, its masjids, zawiyahs, and universities still ringing with the sounds of devotion and remembrance................

At The Valley Of The Roses
12/25/12 Candace Rose Rardon

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions,and the roots spring up and make new trees.”– Amelia Earhart

Roses aren’t supposed to let you down. Neither are rose festivals, one of which had drawn my friend Liz and me to Morocco’s Valley of Roses this May. There wasn’t much written online about the festival, but what the guidebooks and websites lacked in details, my mind more than made up for in expectations....
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Morocco: When babies Die Of Cold

We recently heard the sad news of the death of Habiba Amelou, a baby little more than a month old, whose small body couldn’t cope with a winter freeze in the Middle Atlas Mountains. Many of the villages in the area are extremely remote, with sometimes little access to medical help...................

Imlil, a village in the High Atlas Mountains, the Association Bassins d’Imlil, a local association covering the seven villages of the Imlil Valley, have made a major difference in the medical services of their area.

Morocco Adventure - 10 Days in the High Atlas
by Robert Rebholz Dec 22, 2012

It's a big world out there with tons of rad places to ride. Traveling is expensive and there's only so much time that you can get away from home. How do you narrow it down to just one place to shred?

For me, picking a destination to ride is based on a convergence of factors. I love going to exotic spots where people live in a different way than I do. I also love riding with good friends, so obviously where they are interested in going makes a big impact on the group's decision. More than anything, I pick my riding trips based on where I can go to get the longest, most flowy descents possible.

This year, the stars aligned to ride the High Central Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Ever since I saw the riding in Morocco in Roam and New World Disorder, I wanted to visit there. The landscapes looked so epic and the culture seemed rich and vibrant. When I heard that my guiding buddy Kris Dassi from Exoride was planning a trip there, I was intrigued.

"The Atlas Mountains are big like the Alps, but not as steep," Kris explained. "You don't need to be on the brakes as much and the trails are very flowy." Kris said the magic word, "flow," and I was in.

The three of us flew into Marrakech and were greeted by our guide Redouan and driver Mohammed. I thought maybe we'd have some down time, but it was, "Yalla, yalla, yalla!" (Arabic for go, go, go) from the start. We built our bikes in the parking lot of the airport, drove three hours to the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and got a sweet sunset ride in.

After the ride we headed to the small hotel or Gite and got comfortable. It was an awesome little place in the middle of nowhere and had a sweet Turkish bath, or hammam on the property. Nothing feels better than a hot bath after a day of traveling and shredding!

The next day we got up early and hopped a shuttle to the highest point they could take us, a village called Tissekrine. From there we climbed for an hour or so and had a sweet descent from the 7,200 ft. peak of Tizi n'Tirghst. The trail was fast and flowy and ran next to local architecture built seamlessly into the desert landscape.

Our guide Redouan explained to us that the people living in these remote valleys were completely self-sufficient and used ancient Egyptian water collecting techniques to farm. It was wild to see these thriving bright green patches in a sea of dusty rock. The villagers were super welcoming to us and were happy to show their hearty fields of corn, apple orchards and fig trees.

One of the many highlights of the trip for me was the sing-alongs after dinner at the Gites. As we crossed high pass after high pass, one thing I could always look forward to was a nice plate of mouthwatering Tajine and some good company at the mountain hotels. Every village we went to, the locals made us feel right at home and it was great to see their culture in such an intimate way

The next zone we rode, Region d'Amezri, was probably the most visually striking place I've ever been. The red dirt against the towering gray Atlas Mountains is something I'll never forget. The riding there was a lot like Southern Utah or Northern Arizona, specifically St. George or Sedona.

Donkey shuttles! Yeah, I was surprised too, but they actually worked out pretty well. To reach the remote Tarkeddit Plateau we had to climb trails to steep to ride and too long to carry the bikes on our backs. The donkeys walked at about the same pace we did on the six-hour hike, but never slowed down to rest as we frequently did. By the time we reached the top the donkeys were munching on hay and relaxing, the bikes already unpacked by the donkey drivers.

The riding on the Plateau was mind-blowing. We rode long stretches of buff singletrack, flowing singletrack and had some epic views of the rolling Atlas from our 11,000 ft. height. At the end of the day we stayed at a wicked stone refuge in the middle of absolutely nowhere. I've never seen brighter stars in all my days.

The next day we descended off the plateau and had even more fun. All of that hiking was worth it for the ride we had down into the valley. It seemed like the ribbons of singletrack would never stop unfolding before our eyes.

If you love enduro style descents and enjoy checking out new cultures, I definitely would recommend rolling with Exoride on your next adventure. I want to thank Kris for inviting me on this awesome trip and his partner Hassan Bouhrazen for organizing everything. Big thanks to Alban Aubert for keeping my spirits up during those big day hikes and our guides Redouan and Mohammed who took care of us like family while we were in Morocco. I also want to give a big thank you to Hans Heim at Ibis Cycles, John Hauer at X-Fusion, Scott Boyd at the Hayes Group, Dustin Brady at Shimano, David Parrett at Thomson, Colby Young at ODI, Suzzette Ayotte at Fizik, Yarrow Dougherty at Lake Shoes, Erik Hauge at Dakine and Dave Watson at Sombrio for material support for my trip. Last, but not least thanks to Jeremiah, Colin and all of the guys at Bert’s Bikes & Fitness in Tonawanda, NY, who help keep my rigs running right.

Check out this video put together by Kris of our Moroccan adventure:

Restaurants in Morocco Forgoing Exotic Floor Shows in Favor of Authentic Flavor.
December 30, 2012

Around ten years ago, you can go to any restaurant in Marrakesh and for sure your plate will be served with some exotic floor shows complete with drummers and belly dancers. With all the frenzy your palate will really have a hard time distinguishing what’s bad and what’s not. Faux food, faux flavor and real Moroccan food done better in places like Berlin or San Francisco.

Today’s story is a few miles different. Restaurants have gone back to the roots and tap dadas, female cooks who make the best home dishes. The meals made by dadas are featured along side creations of young local chefs.

Here are some of the best restaurants in Morocco where you can meet the real local flavors to make your holiday memorable:

Classic Moroccan Flavors

La Maison Arabe is the pioneer Marrakesh boutique in medina that is why they prepare their food with heart and mind. Their culinary vision is owed to Fabrizio Ruspoli, the owner. His restaurant, called Les Trois Saveurs, recovers the struggling Moroccan dish, tagine. Didier Levy’s, a famous chef, infamous tagine is saffron, sesame, ginger, onions, seeds, and turmeric-roused tour de force, made its savory lamb spiced possess sunny sweetness with caramelized oranges added. No less delicious is the combo of peaches, which are sun-dried, pogeon pastille, and chicken tagine. You will be led by a dada after signing up for this hotel’s cooking tutorial sessions – they disclose the recipe secrets of their tribe passed through generations.

Street Food of Morocco

Every night amidst dusk, the central square of the medina, Djemaa el Fna, converts to an array of buffet full of street-foods. The vendors prepare their tables and cooking stations which are numbered, smoke begin to diffuse to the billowing clouds.

To avoid having the “tourist belly,” more likely to happen here in Morocco than in anywhere in the world, be mindful and abide several basic rules: Prevents stalls that build up their complicated food displays, that are cooking large amount of dishes, and are packed with travelers. Go for stalls that draw attention of locals and concentrate in a couple of signatures dishes only. Focusing on fresh snails in bowls with broth of rousing thyme, green tea leaves, seeds, red chilies, and mint are stalls number 1 to 6. Stall #94 (and the one front of it without a number…

Read more: Journey Etc

Eco Travel Morocco at Holistic Meditation Retreat in the Sahara
Kelly Vaghenas | January 2nd, 2013

The Sahara.  It’s the world’s hottest desert and almost as large as China or the United States, so travelers have good reason to be wary of wandering into it alone.  But adventurer Tom Thumb has organized another retreat in 2013 for those who want to experience the Sahara. The Road Junky Sahara Retreat will be held in the Moroccan Sahara from January 27 to February 2, 2013.  If it is anything like the past two that have been held, it is a perfect chance for travelers to reflect upon their own lives in the sharp repose of the desert.  It is also clear from the testimonials on the Road Junky retreat website that members naturally build a community that yields long-lasting friendships, despite the relative brevity of the trip.

With its “particular focus on mindfulness and meditation,” the group will seem to transcend this world and enter one that is almost completely natural, making the retreat a rather spiritual experience for most.  As a former member reflected, “Taking off our watches…for five days was definitely a good idea!  It was immensely refreshing to live purely by the sun and moon.”

In the past, size has been pretty intimate, with no more than a few dozen travelers.  Retreaters got to know one another well through the group activities – which, however, are completely optional, as personal needs for meditation are considered first and foremost…………

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A Journey From Mosques to Breasts Via Satellite Dish.
By Bob Barry, 26 December 2012

Marrakesh — Some might call the Moroccan artist Mohamed Mourabiti a breast man.

But the half-cupped forms he is fond of depicting are not so much inspired by the female chest as they are by the domes of Marrakesh's ubiquitous mosques. Conflating the sacred and the sensual in this way challenges some viewers. Others are more ready to appreciate the up-close-and-personal expression of the untouchable.

Sitting in his studio, in front of his paintings, Mourabiti recalls his first artistic endeavours. "I started at a very young age by drawing simple things like streets on pieces of wood or cloth," he says. "But I quickly moved from the vertical to the horizontal."

That reorientation was inspired by the rooftops of Marrakesh's old houses or, to be more precise, the techology that was perched on them. "At first, I used to hate the sight of these satellite dishes and antennas. But seeing them every day, I eventually got used to them," he says.

Mourabiti began to play around with these shapes, the sphericality of the satellite dishes ultimately leading him to the domes of mosques. "I found my way to this after a spiritual journey that took me through the zaouïa spread across Marrakesh," he says, referring to the city's many Islamic schools.

The mosques - forms essentially comprising a square and a half-circle - became his new focus. "I enjoy playing around with these domes. I like to isolate them, cut them into pieces or simply invert them as I see fit," he says.

Mourabiti is also known to decorate the domes with items he finds on the street, such as cigar stubs. His work also takes cues from the strong presence of both Judaism and Christianity.

"When I exhibited the seven breasts representing the seven saints who watch over the city of Marrakesh, I had to respond to numerous questions from visitors," the painter says. "But my answer was always very simple: Didn't every saint have a mother who had two breasts?"

Little Morocco at The Fort Strip.
By Marane A. Plaza | Dec. 26, 2012

Moroccan cuisine has been refined over the centuries by influences from Europe, Middle East and Africa. It is no fluke that Moroccan dishes possess the most exotic zests and the most dynamic twists of flavors among any other international feasts.

This is something husband and wife entrepreneurs Martin and Monica English know a little too well. The couple first fell head over heels for Moroccan cuisine 12 years ago, during their two-year stay in the lovely Northwest African country of Morocco.

“Heavily influenced by European cuisine-by Spanish and Portuguese predominantly- mixed with Middle Eastern, Jewish and Berber flavors, Moroccan cuisine is a totally enthralling dining experience,” said Monica. “But what sets it apart from other Mediterranean cuisines is that it has mastered the art of marrying unique savory twists, sweetness and spice in one representation.”

The couple decided to bring these mouth-watering Moroccan food to the Philippine shores four years ago. They first launched Kasbah Restaurant and Bar in Boracay. Adventurous Filipino foodies fell in love with its authentic dishes. Kasbah has effortlessly revolutionized the local dining scene, as well as the way Pinoys appreciate international dishes.

After two years, Kasbah is finally in Manila with its second branch in The Fort Strip, Bonifacio Global City offering a romantic, sensual and sophisticated vibe with its genuine Moroccan interiors. The place is a lovely place with its mysterious air of elegance brought by the Moroccan colors of the walls and impeccable lanterns.

“Moroccan homes are very meticulous when it comes to their lighting that is why they’re very famous for their exquisite lanterns,” said Monica. ”One of our lanterns here is authentically from Morocco, chiseled and made by Moroccan artisans, out of sardine cans.”

Beyond the charming feel of the place, Kasbah in The Fort Strip offers the finest dishes of Morocco, more than anything.

Sugar, spice and everything nice

“It is almost often that people perceive Moroccan food as spicy, but that is not always true. Some spices and herbs are used to bring out certain levels of meaty and savory flavors from the dishes, to complement the richness of let’s say, lamb.“ said Monica. “So the spice is really tolerable. But all in all, sweetness is a huge factor in Moroccan cuisine, and these sweet twists are usually gotten from honey, cinnamon, dried fruits and even almonds. Filipinos can connect to that sweet appeal of the Moroccan dishes.”

A lovely way to start your Kasbah experience is with its Beetroot and Feta. The cheese purée and toasted almonds are incredibly tasteful . Hummus Kalamata is another great starter, with its flavorful chickpea and tahini purée blended with chopped olives.

For your healthy greens, Tabbouleh is the perfect choice. It’s a fabulous green herbal salad of parsley, mint, tomatoes and couscous-Morocco’s staple food and old national delicacy. The refreshing lemon dressing adds zests to this healthy meal. Another notable salad is the Couscous and Chickpea Salad, a healthy and colorful salad with carrots and red bell pepper coated in a delicately spiced olive oil and lemon dressing.

One’s Moroccan food trip is never complete without trying tagine. Tagine is like rice, only healthier and richer in fiber. It’s perfect for health-conscious diners who love unusual servings. Kasbah’s Lamb Tagine is definitely a must-try. The melting tenderness of the lamb stew, sweetened with honey and cinnamon, and sprinkled with almonds and topped with hard boiled eggs, is just gastronomically astounding. The Chicken Tagine and Seafood Saffron Tagine are equally remarkable with its aroma and flavorful fusion.

Of course, kebab is another Moroccan dining requirement. Kasbah serves a variety of Brochette, the savory skewers marinated and seasoned in magical spices served with grilled vegetables, saffron basmati rice or pita bread complimented with chutneys and side dips. It comes in chicken, beef, seafood and even home-made Moroccan sausages. Kasbah’s resident chef, Fadi Zaidan, an Israeli-Palestinian culinary genius, makes genuine Moroccan sausages right at the kitchen of Kasbah.

Another quintessential Moroccan dish is Kasbah’s Chicken Pastilla, the chicken pie with a sweet twist! A luscious pastry filled with sweet and lightly spiced cooked chicken mixed with almonds and cinnamon, Chicken Pastilla is one of the brand’s best-sellers.

As Moroccans like sweet things, Kasbah has enticing desserts, including the famous Baklava which has decadent layers of filo pastry, stuffed with walnuts, pistachios and almonds, with honey and rosewater syrup. Cardamom and Pistachio Panna Cotta is a classic Italian dessert with Moroccan flavors.

Kasbah opens at 11AM. Corporate meetings usually fill the spaces in the afternoon too. The bar’s happy hour starts at 4PM-8PM, as local beers, wines and cocktails are served at purse-friendly prices. Chic dinner starts at 7PM ish, while after-dinner parties start to unfold at 8 p.m. onwards. Kasbah transforms into a party place at night, while maintaining its laid back, chill atmosphere. DJ booths are set up outside, as deep house and unique genres of music are played.

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