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Morocco Week in Review 
May 11, 2013

Unearthing the Secrets of Essaouira’s Jewish Cemeteries
Lynn Sheppard, Essaouira, Morocco

Essaouira-Mogador occupies a unique place in the history of Morocco. This is largely based on the exceptional unity of social, philosophical and cultural relations between communities of diverse religious faiths. The High Atlas Foundation and its many local partners have initiated a  preservation and maintenance program for the Moslem, Christian, and Jewish cemeteries in Essaouira, which stand as present-day reminders of the peaceful and prosperous coexistence of the past.

Essaouira has two Jewish cemeteries: the ‘old’ and the ‘new’. I was very privileged to visit them with Asher Knafo, poet, writer, and researcher of the history of Jewish Mogador. Asher explained to me that the Jews of Mogador were such a culturally rich society that there are several practices which existed only here. For example, the creation of illuminated ketubot (Jewish prenuptial agreements) or the inscription of linguistically complex poems on tombstones. His  article, about the new Jewish Cemetery, « Heureux sois tu, pays aux nombreux fils et aux nombreuses tombes » explains what this poetry reveals about Jewish life in Mogador in the 19 th and 20 th centuries.

Asher is a Jewish Souiri himself. He left Morocco in 1951. He showed me his former house in the Kasbah (which is now a hotel) and the shop in the Kasbah where his father sold books and stationery (now a photography studio).  His grandfather and great-grandfather, both prominent rabbis, are buried in the new cemetery.  When we visited, Asher defied the infamous Essaouira wind to light a candle at the grave of his grandfather, Rabbi Yossef Knafo. I helped clean the grave of his great-grandfather, which was covered in evidence of Essaouira’s many seagulls!

Rabbi David Knafo, Asher’s grandfather, was the chief Rabbi of Essaouira and the rabbinical judge. He died in 1937. He is buried near his peers and friends – another two Davids: Rabbi David Elkaïm and Rabbi David Yflah. Both died in the early 1940s and both were lauded experts in their cultural and artisanal fields (as well as men of religion). David Elkaïm was a celebrated poet and stone mason. It was the fortuitous convergence of these skills which led to the rich poetry of Mogador epitaphs. He had many imitators in Mogador and never signed his works, but his work is recognisable to those who seek it and is considered the best example of Jewish epitaph inscription.

Rabbi David Yflah was a master of liturgical poetry. Many came to learn from him and the Andalusian style of music and song, of which he was a maestro, is still celebrated in an annual festival in Essaouira.

The tombs inscribed by Elkaïm and others take some deciphering. Their poems are not only of aesthetic and cultural significance, but they contain social information relating to the family, profession and situation of death. In addition, they provide historical information which helps us piece together information about life in Mogador in the 19 th and 20 th centuries. One grave we found, of a woman called Esther who died in 1940, revealed that the deceased’s father had been a consul of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The inscriptions also contain riddles and codes. Extracts from verses of the bible are used as code to denote the Hebrew date of death (which then needs to be translated into the Gregorian calendar). In the case of Esther, chillingly, the letters of her own name revealed the date of her death.

I also noticed inscriptions of open palms on graves. This means that the deceased was descended from religious priests forefathers (Kohanim) who blessed the people in this fashion. I had seen stones placed on graves in other Jewish cemeteries and Asher explained that people place these to mark their passing. If the stone is still there when they return, it is considered to bring good luck.

We trekked into the heart of the cemetery where it is impossible to walk without treading on tombstones. We apologised to those upon whose graves we stood. Asher’s theory about the disorganised laying of the tombs in certain spots is that there was a typhus epidemic at one point where men and women died in greater quantities than had permitted more systematic burial. Elsewhere, I noticed many women’s graves grouped together – indication of a more conservative and orderly period where it was considered proper for women and men to be buried separately.

The cemetery also tells the stories of many great families of Mogador such as the Corcos, the most famous ‘Sultan’s merchants’ of Mogador and the Yuly and Levy families – some of whom are certainly ancestors of the first Jewish US senator, David Levy Yulee.

The two Jewish cemeteries (and the Haïm Pinto synagogue) are looked after by a Muslim woman, Malika, and her son. Malika’s family have been caretakers at thecemeteries for 4 generations. She told me how she recalled a vegetable garden in one corner of the cemetery where we funds from the US Ambassador’s Cultural Preservation Fund have enabled HAF to plant three large Washingtoni palms to offer some much needed shade. But the cemetery is too much for one family to maintain. The graves are so numerous and the land is so overgrown. In some areas, we can be sure there are graves, but we can’t see them for vegetation. An important part of the HAF project will be clearing, cleaning, planting and restoration in the cemeteries to make them more accessible and inviting for visitors.

In the meantime, however, Asher needs to clear some key graves to continue his work of photographing, copying, recording and analysing key historical tombstones. 

Some of the best preserved are those which are covered in weeds and therefore not exposed to the unrelenting sun, wind, moisture (and seagulls!). We are very appreciative of assistance offered to us by the Governor of Essaouira and the Essaouira-Mogador Association in securing labourers to assist Asher in his work. He has come a long way from Israel to re-visit his roots. We are grateful to him and we want to ensure that he can use his time well to preserve the knowledge and history of the Jewish cemeteries.

About the Author:  Lynn Sheppard is Project and Development Manager for the High Atlas Foundation's cultural preservation initiative in Essaouira, Morocco, where she also lives.

Moroccan writer Fouad Laroui winner of the Concourt prize for literature. 
By Youssef El Kaidi Morocco World News Fez, May 8, 2013

Many Moroccan writers of French expression blossomed and excelled in French literature better than the French themselves. Driss Chraibi, Abdellatif Laabi, Taher Ben Jelloun, Abdelkabir Khatibi, and Mohammed Berrada are a few Francophone Moroccan writers who have gained international acclaim for the quality of their literary achievements and won many distinguished awards.

The Concourt prize 2013 was awarded to the well-known Moroccan author Fouad Laroui on Tuesday, May 7 th for his groundbreaking book “L’étrange affaire du pantalon de Dassoukine” (The Strange Affair of Dassoukine’s Pants,” published by Editons Julliard, announced the Concourt Academy in a press release.

The novel combines stories of humorous paradoxical characters in amazing situations. It tells the story of a Moroccan official responsible for purchasing wheat in Brussels for his country. The official finds himself mortified after he realizes that his only pants were stolen from his hotel room. He finally presents himself before the European Commission strapped into a castoff worthy of a clown, and against all odds, he succeeds in his mission.

A boy eager to get a passport realizes that, for the administration, the village of his birth and childhood does not exist. Therefore, he was never born; he is unknown and officially doesn’t exist.

 A Moroccan town councilor who failed to build in the village the swimming pool he had promised his countrymen comes to create the concept of “dry swimming.”

With caustic and striking humor, Fouad Laroui staged paradoxical and confusing situations in which his characters are constantly forced to question many concepts. From book to book, he continues to explore one of the first emotions of every human being: the irrepressible laugh at the absurdity of our condition.

Fouad Laroui is a Moroccan economist and writer. He was born in 1958 in Oujda, studied at the National School of Bridges and Roads in France before working in a factory of phosphate in Khouribga (Morocco). He lived in the United Kingdom and spent several years in Cambridge and York, where he earned a doctorate in economics. He lives in Amsterdam where he teaches econometrics and environmental science at the university.

Meanwhile, he devotes himself to writing. His novels in French in which he denounces with humor the blockades, the absurdities and the injustices of society, are very popular in Morocco, where they are often among the best sellers.
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.
Re-published by Freinds of Morocco with permission

Thousands march in Casablanca against paedophilia: Associations and citizens demand new laws.
07 May, 2013
(ANSAmed) - TUNIS, MAY 7

The latest case of sexual abuse against a little girl, Sidi Kacem, who was abducted, raped and killed, sparked a wave of protests across Morocco with a demonstration in Casablanca which saw thousands of people march through the four kilometers of the Corniche.

The country was shocked by violence against Wiam who was disfigured and then hit twenty times with an axe after she was abused. Violence against minors is a national plague, with a variety of abuses including little girls used as slaves for domestic work by the wealthy. Protesters in Casablanca did not only include members of associations protecting the rights of minors and women but many members of civil society, members of the country's cultural, artistic and sports elite, such as Aziz Bouderbala, a former Moroccan soccer star who marched alongside actors, singers, filmmakers, writers and DJs.

Demonstrators asked authorities to pass harsher measures against abusers as Moroccan laws often don't respect victims enough. Rapists for example can be freed of charges if they marry the woman they raped, often forced by her family to accept to save her honour.

A recent television documentary by Spanish reporters recently showed that the prostitution of minors attracts many tourists from abroad, mostly Europe and North America. (ANSAmed)

With its Robust Renewable Energy Plans, Every Day is Earth Day in Morocco.
MATIC Washington, DC, April 23, 2013

Yesterday, the world celebrated the 43rd annual Earth Day through seminars, volunteer projects, concerts and more, in a show of hope for the future of our planet. In Morocco, green-conscious citizens participated in Earth Day events like the two-day Earth Day project in Ouarzazate, which featured environmental education programs in schools, tree planting, and recycling events.

But Earth Day isn’t just a once-a-year event for Morocco.  To address the needs of its growing economy and growing demand for energy, Morocco has become a recognized leader in clean, renewable energy, investing billions in solar, wind, and hydro power to meet its goal of generating 42 percent of its domestic energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.   Take a look at this infographic for the top seven facts you may not have known about Morocco’s renewable energy initiatives.

See graphic presentation here:

Coasting down Morocco’s Big Sur: On the road from Agadir, Tara Stevens encounters dramatic beaches, lunar-like landscapes and the majestic Atlas Mountains.
By Tara Stevens 28 Apr 2013

The light, when we step off the flight from snowy London, is heavenly: a deep, cerulean blue where a cloudless North African sky meets the limitless horizon of the Atlantic. But the man-with-the-sign who's meant to take us to our car is nowhere to be seen. I ring the help line. "Hello, Mrs Stevens," says the voice at the end of the telephone, "We're here in Marrakesh waiting for you."

This being Morocco it is a "no problem, madam", moment, and soon Saaïd, the one-man operation of the Agadir branch of Holiday Inn Cars, has appeared with our vehicle. He bids us a pleasant trip, tells us to call if we need anything at all and we're on our way, heading south on highway N1. Our plan is to loop south along the coast road to Sidi Ifni, a former Spanish outpost overlooking the Atlantic, and then double back to Agadir via the lunar-like landscapes of the Anti-Atlas.

The first part of the journey is a dull, 30-mile stretch of dusty, satellite towns. But as we near Tiznit they give way to shady avenues of plane trees, pink earth and hand-painted signs written in the Tifinagh alphabet of the Amazigh people of this region, which point us towards the terracotta red crenellations of the town.

As Moroccan towns go this is a very laid-back affair, named after a reformed prostitute, Lalla Tiznit, whose repentance was rewarded by God with a freshwater spring, the Source Bleu. These days stagnant and green would be a more accurate description, but the Tiznit that grew up around it became a thriving centre for beaten metal wares, silver jewellery and enamelled cutlery and the Thursday and Friday open-air souk is considered one of the best in Morocco.

We stayed for lunch – a chicken and golden onion tagine – then headed west, cross-country, along valleys as green as any shire, over plump rolling hills and past sprays of forest until suddenly, from high on a ridge, the Atlantic appeared before us, like a frothy blue carpet.

This extraordinary stretch of road runs south parallel to the ocean from the isolated cove of Gourizim all the way to Sidi Ifni (nearly 40 miles away) and save for the odd grand taxi – the battered old Mercedes that here are painted green and yellow to resemble California surf mobiles from the Sixties – there is virtually nothing and no one on it.

Arranged along the cliff tops like a great blue-and-white wedding cake, Sidi Ifni was occupied by the Spanish from 1476 to 1524, and again from 1860. In 1912 it fell to the French protectorate, and was finally given back to Morocco in 1969, but what you see today still has a very colonial feel. With little by way of sights – unless you count the retired Europeans who descend in their motor homes for the winter – this is a place in which to do nothing more than mooch about admiring the Art Deco architecture of the largely disused Spanish consulate, the palace, the lighthouse and the old Hotel Bellevue.

We started and ended our days on the elegant promenade above the beach where we'd have coffee and chocolate croissants in the mornings, and later stroll about under the stars nibbling freshly popped corn from old-fashioned tin drums. In between we'd take long walks on the beach and lazy lunches of grilled fish marinated in turmeric, lemon juice and parsley eaten beneath the colourful parasols of the arcaded market. It's easy to see how days could drift into weeks, months, even years here.

If the beach at Sidi Ifni is impressive it is nothing compared to those of Mirleft and particularly Legzira, farther north up the coast. Although a Spanish-style development is slowly taking shape on the cliffs above Legzira, down on the beach the original hamlet remains as it always was: a cluster of simple guesthouses and beach bars framed by fire-red cliffs that seem to burst into flame at sunset.

This is the hour to visit, and a couple of beaches along you'll find a series of magnificent arches, carved by waves rolling over from America. Like great, gaping jaws they leave you feeling quite humbled by the sheer power of it all.

Indeed, Mother Nature seems to have been working overtime in these parts. We drove from Sidi Ifni to Gourizim, then continued north on the coast road to Aglou where the landscape turns to lush, green rolling hills sprinkled with palm trees. Then back through Tiznit and east towards Tafraoute, up, up and away into the Anti-Atlas. The heart-stoppingly beautiful drive reaches heights of over 8,000ft and is punctuated by rammed-earth villages clinging to the sides of ravines and the odd kasbah perched on a stony outcrop.

Tafraoute is comparatively low at about 4,000ft, but it occupies a dazzling spot in the heart of the Ameln Valley. It's a sweet little town and an excellent base for exploring this wilderness by foot, mountain bike or paraglider.

Known for boulder fields that look as though a giant has been playing marbles across the high desert floor, the chief attractions here are the prehistoric rock paintings at Ukas, contrasted somewhat incongruously by Les Roches Bleues, the 1984 work by the Belgian artist Jean Vérame who took it upon himself to paint several acres of these monumental pebbles in cerulean blue, hot pink and emerald green on the nearby plains of Agard Oudad. The effect is striking and bizarre, and you can easily lose several hours here half expecting that one of them might actually hatch.

The final push west over a great wall of mountain to get back to Agadir is tremendous, the scenery flattening into a Martian-like landscape on the top and springing back into life as you dive back into valleys lush with almond trees, their blossom gusting in the breeze like snowflakes.

This is the road to Aït Baha, where much of the region's best Argan oil comes from. Revered for its cosmetic and culinary qualities, the oil was traditionally obtained by milling the half-digested pits of the Argan nut gathered from the waste of grazing goats.

These days they are harvested by hand, but we saw several trees filled with little black goats with Mohican manes and came face-to-face with great herds of dromedary camels, their sinewy necks reaching into the upper branches for Argan nuts too. Imagine, just 30 minutes from Agadir, but it felt like a million miles from anywhere.

It was a shock to get back to the traffic-choked city, but even that had its compensations. With the same laid-back character that distinguishes the Moroccan south it has wide, palm-lined avenues, a pretty kasbah located 750ft above the sea, and endless, perfectly kept beaches.

Following a catastrophic earthquake in 1960, which completely destroyed the medina, the city commissioned the Medina de Coco Polizzi – an Italo-Moroccan oddity that's sure to please lovers of kitsch. Covering four hectares, it showcases various Moroccan architectural styles from the ornate zellige and plaster-covered palaces of Fez to the rammed-earth kasbahs of the Atlas, interspersed with shops hawking fixed-price artisan wares, and cafés and restaurants serving traditional food.

For our last night however, we headed to Agadir's swanky new marina. Settling into a hip, seafood restaurant with a two-tier platter of grilled lobster before us and a bottle of ice-cold, salmon-hued Moroccan wine, we raised a glass: to spring on Morocco's Big Sur.

Morocco launches solar mega-project at Ouarzazate.

Morocco on Friday officially launched the construction of a 160-megawatt solar power plant near the desert city of Ouarzazate, the first in a series of vast solar projects planned in the country. The largest of its kind in the world, according to Mustapha Bakkoury, the head of Morocco's solar energy agency MASEN, the thermo-solar plant will cost 7 billion dirhams (630 million euros) and is slated for completion in 2015, the official MAP news agency reported.

The ambitious project "reinforces the will... to optimise the exploitation of Morocco's natural resources, to preserve its environment... and sustain its development," Bakkoury said at the ceremony which was attended by King Mohammed VI.

A consortium led by Saudi developer ACWA Power won the contract to build the plant, near Morocco's desert gateway city, last September. The World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank are helping to finance the solar complex.

It is the first of a two-phase project, due for completion in 2020, that is expected to cover 3,000 hectares and have a generation capacity of 500 megawatts, enough to met the electricity needs of Ouarzazate's 1.5 million residents.

MASEN's Bakkoury said in March that companies bidding for the second phase of the project had to submit their proposals by mid-April, with the contract to be awarded sometime next year.

The North African country is aiming to become a world-class renewable energy producer, and is eyeing the chance to export clean electricity to neighbouring Europe. Morocco expects to build five new solar plants by the end of the decade with a combined production capacity of 2,000 megawatts and at an estimated cost of nine billion dollars (6.9 billion euros).

The kingdom has no oil and gas reserves to speak of and is hoping, with the solar projects, along with a string of planned wind farms along its Atlantic coast, to raise renewable energy production to 42 percent of its total power supply mix by 2020. docId=CNG.c66aa3d5bd793128f7c8f3da314a73d9.441

Morocco fair promotes self-sufficient agriculture in effort to cut imports.
Sunday, 28 April 2013

For the eighth year in a row, the central Moroccan city of Meknes hosted its annual agriculture event, attracting over 1,000 exhibitors from around the world. This year’s International Agriculture Fair focused on food security and self-sufficiency, as many countries seek to reduce their dependence on imported foods.

Morocco has had its ‘Green Plan’ in place since 2008, which set out to develop the agriculture and food production sectors in the country.

Part of this involves making better quality food more readily available. “We have to improve our production because the Moroccan market is growing. This is why we should satisfy it. We also have to improve our products because one of the objectives of the Moroccan Green Plan is to guarantee food for 33 million Moroccans at a good price and of high quality,” said agriculture and fisheries minister Aziz Akhenouch.

Currently in Morocco, agriculture - some of it in the form of rudimentary and subsistence farming, and highly vulnerable to the vagaries of rainfall - employs about 40 percent of the workforce of over 11 million people. Rabat said the sector has developed rapidly over the past few years, as the Green Plan has led to huge investment and an increase in the amount of cultivatable land. The result has been a spike in output, with Morocco producing significantly more citrus fruit, cereals, wheat and olives than it did in 2008.

It’s an initiative that has not gone unnoticed by other countries who are hoping to follow Morocco’s example.
“What we seek today is to develop our agriculture to achieve food security and to be self-sufficient. It’s a political and social objective for our country. This is why we came here to Morocco, to be inspired by the Moroccan model which has already shown some very good results in the space of five years,” said Patrick Mba Bekoung, an exhibitor from Gabon, which imports 95 percent of its food.

Morocco’s ambitious Green Plan is set to run until 2018 at a cost of one billion Moroccan dirhams a year (an estimated US 117 million dollars). But although the country has managed to achieve a high level of food security in recent years, some products, such as sugar, still need to be imported.

Neighboring Tunisia, with its rapidly growing population, faces similar issues. “Food security has been one of the main objectives for agriculture development schemes in Tunisia for decades. We managed to reach self-sufficiency in some products such as milk and some kinds of meat but we are still making efforts to attain this self-sufficiency in other products, such as wheat and some other products,” said Adel Labben from the Tunisian Agency for the Promotion of Investments in Agriculture.

Exhibitors from European countries attended the fair to exhibit the latest innovations in farming and food production.

Dynagri, a company specializing in potato and corn production, said modern technology could be used to adapt crops to grow successfully in a particular climate. “The main objective for us is to provide some varieties with a high yield that can adapt to the climate in the Mediterranean region. We are aiming to reach self-sufficiency and improve the quality of the food while reducing the cost. Efficiency is based on productivity and also on marketing,” said the company’s manager, Lachen Abdane.

The Meknes fair ran from 24 - 28 April.

Morocco women battle against domestic abuse
Amal Mourad: May 01, 2013 CASABLANCA

The bruises on her wrists so the signs of struggle. Her still blue tinted eyes show the marks of a fist. For Khadija, and countless other Moroccan women, she continues to face abuse and sexual violence at the hands of her husband.

“If I don’t do what he says or refuse sex, he beats me and attacks me,” she told at a local women’s shelter in Casablanca. “He then will force himself on me, but there is nothing I can do because it is isn’t illegal for him to force sex on me.” She is getting treatment for the first time after she ran away from home. At 24-years-old she is thankful that she has no children. And she is determined not to go back. “I can’t go back to my husband. I don’t want to be treated like that and thankfully Morocco has these places to be safe,” she said.

Her story is one of many in Morocco, and here at this makeshift home run by a Moroccan couple who told that “we just wanted to offer a place for women who are beaten to be safe.” The “safe house” is secretive and word-of-mouth has seen it fill up in recent months with women needing shelter.

The husband and wife team that own the flat believe that by giving an outlet to younger women who face domestic violence, they can bring attention to a problem that continues to afflict women in the country. “It is our goal to be there for people in need,” said the husband, Ibrahim, who added that he and his wife had met too many women beaten and abused by their spouses to remain silent. “It was the right thing to do,” he added.

And the government is finally taking notice. Morocco’s Social Development Minister Bassima Hakkaoui, the only female minister in the country, said last week that she would try to push forward a law protecting women that has been stuck in Parliament for 8 years. “Despite all efforts, violence against women is still widespread,” she said at the opening of a regional conference on the subject. “Violence against wives represents 50 percent of all attacks against women.”

According to statistics from her ministry, 6 million women in Morocco are victims of violence, or around one in three.

In March, the suicide of a 16-year-old girl who was forced to marry the man she said had raped her made international headlines and once again put the spotlight on Morocco’s penal system. Amina al-Filali poisoned herself after several months of what her parents described as an abusive marriage to a man they said had raped her in the woods as she was returning from school.

Hakkaoui, a member of a moderate Islamist party that dominated the country’s election in November, has been criticized for not doing enough to protect women, including changing the law allowing rapists to be exonerated if they marry their victim.

While the official marriage age is 18, judges can approve much younger unions, which are common in rural areas that are poor and deeply traditional.

Morocco updated its family code in 2004 to improve the situation of women, but activists say more still needs to be done. Women in Morocco are finally taking action and the efforts of places like this safe house, one of many in the city, aims to create a better society and care for women battered by their spouses. “I thank God that this place exists. I don’t know what would happen if it didn’t. Maybe I would just kill myself to end the misery,” added Khadija as her cuts and bruises were being mended.

Smartphone application “Moroccan Bazart”: Dipped into technology to embrace tradition
Written by  Mustapha MAY   Friday, 03 May 2013

Hassania Engineering School (EHTP) is one of the best engineering schools in Morocco which has formed in 41 years more than 4000 high qualified engineers so as to face the challenges of an open economy and invest in national and international fields. From this perspective, EHTP is distinguished by the "Personal Initiative Project (PIP)" which aims at teaching engineering students entrepreneurial initiatives in order to prepare them to be creative and self-confident. Amongst these students, eight future engineers interested in the development of the craft sector in Morocco have decided to adopt the promotion of Moroccan handicraft as the topic of their project “Moroccan Bazart”.

The Android application "Moroccan Bazart" is a new tool that draws its identity from the secular heritage of Moroccan handicraft. An innovative concept that stimulates the commercial dynamic of tourists and increases their awareness of Moroccan products’ art, in order to highlight the innovation and creativity of Moroccan artisans.

The "Moroccan Bazart" application is addressed to people who are passing a few days in a Moroccan city, those who are seeking a relaxing time through the magic of texts and visual sequences depicting the deep origin of traditional art.

Visitors of the "Moroccan Bazart" application are invited to stroll through the bazaars of Morocco based on the essential and practical information (handicrafts shops, international trade fairs ...) to find products which will stay reminiscent of their pleasant trip in Morocco.

"Moroccan Bazart" is an effective and ergonomic tool providing a nice user interface. The user discovers the various branches of Moroccan handicrafts (decoration, furniture, architecture, clothing, jewelry and organic products), admires artisans shaping matter with body and soul through various video clips, learns about the international events linked to Moroccan handicraft (trade expositions, trade fairs, ...) and locates a range of handicrafts shops in several Moroccan cities through a powerful search tool.

To benefit from the services offered by the "Moroccan Bazart" application no permanent internet network is required. Additionally, this new application is multilingual and freely available on

Thanks to the "Moroccan Bazart" the precious handicraft of Morocco will have no secrets for you!
Published by: LAHLOU Ghizlane“moroccan-bazart”-dipped-into-technology-to-embrace-tradition

Morocco trip offers Merrimack students diverse education
Friday, May 10, 2013 By WENDY THOMAS

Six students and two teachers from Merrimack High School spent winter vacation in Morocco learning about the local language and culture. The trip, organized by the students’ French/Arabic teacher Mohamed Defaa, and also attended by Linda Mandra, gifted and talented teacher, was intended to be a “learn by immersion” experience with the students staying with Dafaa’s relatives, local host families and sometimes in a hotel. Besides visiting different cities, students also volunteered for community work, talked with local students and experienced the different culture of Morocco.

“What was so amazing to me,” said Jeff Marchesano, who went on the trip with his twin brother, Matt, “was that you’d think the youth was a lot different from here. Except that over there, they listen to pop and have cell phones and are even on Facebook. It wasn’t hard to assimilate into the families.”

Marchesano has stayed in touch with some of the Moroccan people he met while on the trip.

The group stayed in Dafaa’s families’ homes for part of the trip. “We expected nice people, but it wasn’t just that,” said Remy Watt, a senior. “The first night when we went to bed, the hostess of the house same over to us while we were sleeping and tucked us in and gave us all a kiss.”

A large part of the trip involved getting to know the country’s history. Hannah Dutton, a senior hoping to study anthropology, was particularly intrigued by the age of the buildings and sites she saw during the trip. “The kids made fun of me, and called me ‘Rocks’ because I was so excited by experiencing and learning about the history,” She said. “I mean, we stayed in a house that was three times the age of the United States!”

Some of the cities visited included Casablanca, Marrakech, and Rabat, the capital city of Morocco. The students visited art and history museums – where the building was actually part of the exhibit – saw the mountainsides, including their first contact with camels, attended a local concert, and bargained for goods in the bazaars and local markets. At one memorable moment, the group was standing on the top of a building looking out onto a city when they heard all the mosques ring the call to prayer.

No hot dogs or hamburgers for the students on this trip, instead they dined on local specialty dishes. Each day began with a traditional breakfast consisting of hand-made pastries, coffee, juices, and homemade bread and noodles. Other meals involved meats and fresh fish purchased at local market and couscous, which according to the students’ trip blog was, “extremely different than the kind you buy in a box at Shaw’s.”

When pressed on the difference, the students simply replied that the taste was “nuttier,” “tastier,” and “had more flavor.”

And coffee. Most meals and snacks were served with coffee, cafe au lait, being the most popular drink among the students and sweet tea, traditionally served in glasses. “I didn’t drink coffee before I went on this trip, but I do now,” said Watt, “but not as much.”

Dafaa, who grew up Morocco, said all the food is typically freshly prepared with local ingredients. Although lamb is frequently found on menus, knowing that Americans didn’t tend to prefer lamb, Dafaa had alerted many of the hostesses to instead prepare dishes using beef. Even still, some students were brave enough to try liver and lamb brain at one particular dinner.

The group got to see many of the traditions from the country including the costumes and ceremonies. Mandra had to use Dutton has her interpreter, when she became intrigued by the apparel in a wedding shop and wanted to know more information. The shop owner who was a local wedding planner gladly welcomed them into her store and then went on to explain wedding traditions for the next 45 minutes.

A highlight of the trip was when the group visited a neighborhood where Dafaa had grown up and distributed clothing and gifts to the residents. “Giving back, not from just me, but my students, that was the best thing ever,” Dafaa said.

Several of the students hope to return to Morocco someday and some like Marchesano, who already has plans to continue world travel by studying abroad during a semester in college, will continue to make travel a part of their lives. “This trip has made me more aware of how interconnected we all are,” Dutton said. “It’s impossible to quantify this trip in only a few sentences, so much happened.”

“For me, what I wanted students to get out of this trip was that prejudices don’t have a nation,” Dafaa said. “The Moroccans were impressed with how the kids behaved. It was not like what they had heard about American youth in the media. And,” he added, referring to the delivery of clothing and goods to the poor neighborhood, “I wanted my students to understand that donations come from the community.” For more information on and photos from the Moroccan trip, visit the students’ blog at

Will Morocco Grow More Tolerant Of Its Salafists?
Ali Hassan Eddahbi Translated from TelQuel (Morocco)

On the 22nd and 23rd of last March, an important consultation meeting was held in Rabat and was the first of its kind initiated by the Al Karama forum, the associative arm of the Justice and Development Party (PJD).

The topic of the day was the case of Salafists still in prison. The meeting was attended by the entire national associative spectrum. Representatives from the Adala association, the Justice and Truth Forum, the Moroccan Organization of Human Rights (OMDH) and even the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH) took part in this conclave next to the Salafist guest stars: Abou Hafs, Hassan Kettani and Omar Haddouchi. No officials made the trip [to come to the meeting], except for a representative from the National Human Rights Council (CNDH).

"At present, there is still no dialogue with the state. It is simply a matter of [actually] meeting. [Other meetings] will then follow where we will be sure to invite government representatives,” said Al Karam Forum’s president, Abdelali Hamieddine. “The primary goal of this meeting is to do away with certain preconceptions such as saying all Salafists carry out takfir or that all secularists are atheists,” explained the Salafist Sheikh Abou Hafs, who had been sentenced on May 16, 2003, to 20 years in prison but was pardoned in 2011.

Status quo

There is little information right now concerning the security role in this file, or just how implicated the PJD government is in this matter. According to a source from within the authorities who had opted to remain anonymous: “The CNDH has nothing to say at this time. Commenting on this issue would only further complicate things.”

Hamieddine responded tersely, “Things will work themselves out little by little. We must avoid acting hastily, since our country’s stability is so important. Effectively, if the initiative is laudable, we must certainly expect a miracle. Neither the government, nor the CDNH, the king is the only one in the end who calls the shots.”

The political scientist Mohamed Darif postulated that “liberating detainees is a matter of royal grace, an act that goes back to the state. The PJD can only help with the decision making process. Human rights associations play the same role.”

Activism forever

According to Al Karama forum’s figures, there are close to 500 Salafists whiling away in Moroccan prisons today. Abderrahim Mouhtad, president of the Annasir association for the defense of Salafist detainees, lamented, “Over the past year and a half, no progress has been made for these prisoners.” For this former member of the Chabiba Islamiya, “the file has remained stagnant because of the absence of the engagement of [political] parties, but also and above all because of the reluctance of security force representatives who hold the keys to this affair [hostage]. It is they who arrested them and thus it is they who know why.”

The authorities’ reluctance to touch the files points to recurring fears. “It’s the main obstacle to this file,” explains Darif. It is important to note that, as soon as they are liberated after having completed their sentence or being pardoned by the king, some Salafist detainees immediately take up their activism again in Morocco or go abroad to participate in Jihad. “Take the example of Brahim Benchekroune (former Guantanamo inmate, extradited to Morocco in 2006); he was pardoned and is now out fighting in Syria,” explained Abderrahim Mouhtad.

For the researcher, Darif, confidence must first be re-established between the state and the Salafists. The former fears that the latter, once free, will resume illegal activity. On the other hand, the prisoners—especially the innocent—do not trust the promises of a judicial and security system that has wrongly incarcerated them. The decision to free them is thus political and implies major security considerations.

Case by case

Initiating a dialogue between the state and Salafists until now has been stalled by the absence of representative interlocutors from this circle of influence. “The Salafists have never been a single or homogenous entity, which has posed a problem in establishing dialogue between the two parties,” noted Hafs, one of the most well known sheikhs.

This is changing, however. Several figures from the Salafist movement and the Chabiba Islamiya have just come together around a recently created and consecrated association called “Al Bassira for education and preaching.” Presided by Hassan Kettani, this entity could very well fill in the gap left by the absence of a representative authority in the influential movement.

All that remains is for the dialogue on the liberation of Islamist detainees, in spite of everything, to take an individual, case-by-case approach to separate the flowers from the weeds. Most importantly is that the Salafists be classified according to four categories: those implicated in violent crimes, those arrested in association with the May 16, 2003 attacks, those detained for their sermons deemed too radical by the state and finally those implicated in acts “that encourage attacks on public order”. This makes the process complicated, but it is not an unachievable feat.

“We have gone through many years in prison with these people,” explained Hafs, vice president of the Al Bassira association. “I can assure you that the security services can easily identify the innocent, who comprise the majority of those convicted, from the truly guilty, who are very few.” So, will the requests for pardons begin to be issued?

Read more:

Bicycling From Scotland to Morocco's Sahara. 05/03/13

Armstrong, 27, from Alloway in Scotland, is a pilot with the Royal Navy who is equally passionate about cycling as he is flying. In January his entire fleet was grounded after two aircraft crashes and instead of taking off to Thailand with the rest of his squadron he decided to cycle to Morocco.....

More here:

Interreligious Dialogue in Morocco: Peaceful Co-existence between Divine Religions. 
Hind Al-Subai Al-Idrisi

Like several countries in the Middle East, Morocco witnessed a popular movement that fell short of a revolution. But citizen demand for government reform did lead to a number of changes. These changes included a referendum on a new constitution, limiting the Moroccan monarch’s authority, as well as elections, which led to a victory for the Justice and Development Party, an Islamic political party.

While many people feared an Islamic political party might not respect the faiths of non-Muslim nationals, Morocco is showing its commitment to the promotion of co-existence between Moroccans of different faiths under the Justice and Development Party.

Morocco is considered one of the most stable countries of the region, with more or less peaceful co-existence between the various religions and cultures that make up the Moroccan social fabric. As a testament to this, the city of Fez, classified by UNESCO as part of the global human heritage, held a significant event on 13 February 2013: the inauguration of the newly renovated Fez Prayer Synagogue.

The celebration was headed by Morocco’s prime minister and leader of the Justice and Development Party, Abdelilah Benkirane. He pointed out that: “The event underscores the identity of Morocco as a land for peace, tolerance and peaceful co-existence between followers of all divine religions and is a lesson for the 21st century, which Morocco sends to all the world.”

Historical and religious landmark

The Fez Prayer Synagogue is one of the oldest Jewish synagogues in the city. It was built in the seventeenth Century in the Mallah district of the Old City and is considered a historical landmark for Jewish Moroccan culture. The synagogue has played an important role in the religious life of the Jewish community, whose members were once 30,000 strong and are today estimated to be between 3,000 and 7,000.

While most Jews left Morocco after the state of Israel was established, the Moroccan monarch gave a message during the inauguration ceremony of the Fez Prayer Synagogue to remaining rabbis and representatives of the Jewish community in Morocco in which he called for the renovation of other synagogues in Moroccan cities. Not only is this effort re-establishing these building as places of worship, it also creates spaces for intercultural dialogue.

Within this context, Morocco is also witnessing other interfaith events encouraged by the King and the Justice and Development party. The latest example was an event called “Interfaith Co-existence and Dialogue in Morocco,” which was a meeting of three religious leaders from three separate religious communities: the head of the Moroccan Catholic Church, the Jewish community leader in Morocco and the chief of the local Scientific Council of Anfa, a district in Casablanca. It took place on 31 January in Casablanca’s Siqala Square.

Answering young people’s questions

The celebration marking the opening of the restored synagogue, which has in the past been used as a carpet workshop and a gym, was led by Morocco’s prime minister and leader of the Justice and Development Party, Abdelilah Benkirane, who read out a message from King Mohammed VI.

The leaders sat at the same table to talk about interfaith co-existence in the country and took questions on the subject. They were joined by a number of young Moroccans of various religious orientations. The young people asked them many questions about the three Abrahamic religions, which were answered in a respectful climate of tolerance.

Many people asked about the freedom of religion in Morocco. While it is illegal for Muslims to renounce Islam, the three religious leaders stressed the importance of accepting all faiths and granting permission for all of them to practice their traditions. The Muslim leader explained that there is “no coercion in religion (Koran 2:256),” and that this should be lived out in daily life by embracing diversity.

Young people are considered among the most important elements of a society. Making them familiar with dialogue, co-existence and acceptance of the other, despite religious, ideological and cultural differences is an important step for any society that strives for positive change.

Through events like these, Morocco is preparing a new generation, one that is even more capable of co-existing with members of other religions.
Hind Al-Subai Al-Idrisi© Common Ground News 2013-04-03

Sunderland dentist on mission to Morocco.

A SUNDERLAND dentist is showing "wheel" heart with a bike ride through the Sahara desert for charity. Michael Oliver will swap his daily pedal to work for a brutal trek in 55°C heat.

The dad-of-three said: "You get to a certain age, realise you've been lucky, and want to do your bit. "Four years ago I founded a charity called Dental Mavericks. We travel to Morocco once a year, and offer free dental care to the children who live in the fishing region of El Jebah. "They have a high sugar diet and no dentists. The first year, we were taking out teeth in the school classroom. "Now, we have proper Western equipment, and we've raised enough money to convert an ambulance and take it up into the Riff mountains."

Michael and 10 other members of the Dental Mavericks will fly to Marrakech and enter the northern region of the desert, via Morocco and the Atlas mountains, where they will be guided on a 200-mile bike ride by tribesmen.

Michael, from Chester-le-Street, will return to Morocco in September to treat hundreds of children in need of fillings and extractions. "All of us fund our own travel. I'm not keen on the idea of others paying for my flights and accommodation, so every penny donated will go directly to the charity."

Later in the year, Michael will cycle from Dublin to Sunderland for SAFC's Foundation of Light charity.

To make a donation, go to and search for Michael Oliver.

Copyright 2013 Johnston Press Plc  All Rights Reserved

Maghreb women evaluate post-Arab Spring progress.
By Mohamed Saadouni in Casablanca for Magharebia – 02/05/2013

Maghreb women have made many strides towards improved rights, but governments and social pressure continue to stand in their way. This was the tone taken at a two-day forum that ended Saturday (April 27th) in Casablanca. The event was organised by the Democratic League for Women's Rights (FLDDF) and brought together women's movements and lawyers from across the Maghreb.

FLDDF chairwoman Fouzia Assouli opened the forum with a summary of women's struggles and progress in Morocco. She also celebrated the unique achievements of women's movements under the Moroccan constitution, calling them unique in the Arab world, but said that the margin of poverty women suffer in Morocco had grown.

"This debate is intended to acquaint us with women's status in the countries of the Arab Spring," Assouli told Magharebia on the side-lines of the meeting. "There were many significant shifts that led to conservative governments, and unfortunately women found themselves losing some of their achievements just when their participation in Arab movements was being effective."

Amal Karami, a Tunisian researcher in comparative religion, used the term "Arab Movement" in her remarks instead of "Arab Spring", claiming that she had not seen an Arab Spring. "There is a huge clash in the Tunisian street between the modern and salafist currents," she said. According to Karami there were 600 cases of customary marriages in Tunisian universities and there were Tunisian women ready to volunteer to go to Syria to marry mujahedeen. "Believe it or not, this is the situation in Tunisia today," she said.

In Tunisia there is not just one discourse, she added. "There are numerous discourses moving in the direction of the Islamisation of the state. There are attempts to destroy the achievements women have made over decades. The Ennahda party aims at eliminating fifty years of accomplishments from our history under the pretext of a historic conflict between Rachid Ghannouchi and Habib Bourguiba."

It is women who pay the price, she said, "under the name of returning to an Islamic identity and restoring family values, which is a Middle Eastern Wahhabist plan that we will confront."

Accounts from Libya were even more pessimistic.

"Unfortunately, the situation for women in Libya has become disastrous," researcher Sahar Madiha al-Naas told Magharebia. "In spite of the failure of religious movements in elections, it has spread throughout society and dominated daily life."

"There are plans to oust Libyan women, marginalise them and dwarf their role. This is unfortunate because women's aspirations to improve their tragic situation were great under the former regime," al-Naas said. "They were looking forward to greater opportunities, but instead they are losing the ones they had before."

To draw an everyday picture of women's struggles in Libya, al-Naas added: "Today, women are stopped in the street and humiliated for not wearing the hijab. This 'Taliban scenario' is repeated in Libya every day. My presence here in this international forum is to alarm the world about the situation of Libyan women and to co-operate with sisters in Morocco to develop a strategy for progress and confronting extremist religious discourse."

Egyptian lawyer Islam al-Bahiri discussed the difficult situation women face under the Muslim Brotherhood, saying: "They resorted to deception to convince Egyptian people to vote for them. During their campaigns, they said that those who vote for them vote for God and those who vote for others vote for the enemies of God. At that time, I wrote a column in which I said we would not vote for God because He did not participate in the elections."

The first thing done to curb women's accomplishments, al-Bahiri said, was abolition of laws related to women's rights, including a ban of female genital mutilation.

The Brotherhood declared that any girl who refused to be circumcised was adulterous. According to them, "She must be forced to be circumcised to protect the dignity of her family and preserve her chastity, so she will not fall in vice," al-Bahiri concluded.

Morocco paying too much for solar power
Gerard Wynn / Friday, May 10, 2013

Morocco is set to pay more for its solar power than far richer countries such as Germany and should switch tack to cheaper solar technologies that can compete better with wind, oil and coal. The higher cost can probably be attributed to its choice of concentrated solar power (CSP), the competitiveness of which is being questioned as prices of rival photovoltaic (PV) technology tumble.

Morocco plans to install at least 2,000 megawatts (MW) of solar power capacity by 2020 at five sites, which it hopes will account for 14 percent of total power generating capacity by the end of the decade. It will target both CSP and solar PV in its Moroccan Plan for Solar Energy, or “Solar Plan”, according to the Moroccan Investment Development Agency, but has so far veered towards more expensive CSP at one initial project near the southern city of Ouarzazate.

That contrasts with how developers in California have increasingly ditched CSP for PV over the past three years as a global manufacturing glut sent PV costs plummeting. CSP uses parabolic or other types of mirrors to concentrate sunlight and create heat and steam to drive a turbine. It is a technology championed by power equipment producers in Spain, Morocco’s neighbour and one of its closest diplomatic allies.

Solar PV converts sunlight directly into electricity using a light-sensitive semiconductor such as silicon. Morocco would do well to switch to PV, given a far more developed supply chain, commoditised end product and competitive power generation, especially given that the country’s economic troubles make it riskier to experiment with less widely used technologies.

Moroccan authorities anticipated the solar plan would cost $9 billion at its launch in 2009, according to data on the website of the north African country’s solar energy agency, Masen. The plan will be part-financed by a $1 billion Energy Development Fund, including donations from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Morocco has raised additional funds for the first Ouarzazate project from institutions including the European Investment Bank, the French Development Agency (AFD) and the German development bank KfW.

The plan will be delivered through 25-year power purchase agreements (PPA) with independent power producers which earn a fixed rate per unit of solar power they generate.

The aim is to achieve greater energy independence: Morocco is one of the world’s most energy-poor countries, importing around 95 percent of its needs, according to the World Bank. Energy accounts for more than a quarter of the country’s imports and contributed to a record trade deficit of $23.6 billion last year.

Sun-drenched Morocco wants eventually to export its solar energy to Europe.

The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has developed an open-access database measuring solar irradiance calculated according to the sunlight captured by a panel tilted southwards, defined in units of kilowatt hours per square metre per day. The NREL’s map shows a maximum “Direct Normal Irradiance” (DNI) in southwest Germany of 3.39, compared with 7.47 at Ouarzazate in Morocco. (See Chart 1) It shows that the Moroccan project should achieve far more competitive power generation.

But Morocco announced last September that it had awarded a group led by Saudi International Company for Water and Power (ACWA) a $1 billion contract to build a 160-megawatt (MW) CSP plant, at 1.62 dirham ($0.194) per kilowatt hour.

ACWA last week confirmed further details including the award of construction contracts.

That is more support than for smaller PV installations in Germany, at 0.134 euros ($0.18) per kWh for projects up to 10 MW, and in Britain, at 0.115 pounds ($0.18) for projects above 250 kilowatts, both of which are over 20 rather than 25 years. Germany has scrapped support for projects over 10 MW.

One way to compare costs of PV relative to CSP is using a measure called levelised cost of energy (LCOE), based on total lifetime costs and energy generation. —Reuters

In Morocco, eating is the spice of life

World-renowned chef, author and Emmy winning television personality Anthony Bourdain visits Tangier, Morocco in the next episode of "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown," airing Sunday, May 12, at 9 p.m. ET. Follow the show on Twitter and Facebook.

One of the signature photos people always take home with them from Morocco is of heaping piles of spices in a variety of enticing colorful displays. These setups aspire to overwhelm visitors with the enchantment of a new and undiscovered place – and to encourage wide-eyed tourists to part with their dollars.

Diane Rice of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, captured a singular image of one of those remarkably shaped groupings of spice cones, a monument to Morocco's exotic qualities.
Spice shops are located all over the place, inviting visitors to try a sniff. Ras el hanout, or "top of the shop," is the country's signature spice blend. There may be dozens of ingredients involved , including nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon and cardamom - and everyone has their own variation. It is these same spices that lend Moroccan foods a special flavor.

"I've traveled extensively in Europe, but nowhere than can match this experience," Rice said. "Whatever exotic dream I had of Morocco before I went was more than confirmed.  It was way better than I ever expected, and by far the farthest thing from our life in the U.S. that I have ever visited."

Rice was visiting her son-in-law's family in Morocco and wasn't sure what to expect during her May 2011 trip, but any fears were quickly dissipated by the hospitality - and tastes - she encountered.

Two popular meals are the tajine (or tagine) and the pastilla. The former is a style of slow-cooked stew often filled with meat and vegetables, and is named for the special pot in which it is cooked. The latter is a Moroccan meat pie often made with pigeon or chicken.

"My experience with the food was amazing, but different because I was eating in private homes, prepared by real, traditional Moroccans," she wrote. "I had every conceivable tajine recipe and loved all of them. I had some clean, lemony salads and some creamy, delicious couscous that I remember vividly."

Jessie Faller-Parrett of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, shared a photo of the colorful array of vegetable foodstuffs one might find in just one course of a Moroccan meal. Multiple courses with many different components and local breads are common when eating in Morocco.

Like Rice, Faller-Parrett spent time eating with Moroccan locals during her travels, so she also got the non-touristy perspective on food. "I was fascinated during one of our first breakfasts, as the hosts at our riad served us three different kinds of bread, hard boiled eggs, cheese, jam, cocoa, honey, butter, olives, orange juice, coffee and mint tea."

She enjoyed immersing herself via the varied foods available in Morocco, including the tajine and pastilla. She also made sure to try a sheep's head and brain straight from a stall in Marrakech's Jamaa el Fna, the country's most famous market. "Meals are a wondeful experience, with many different courses and new tastes," Faller-Parrette said. "Be adventurous and try everything from the many delicious types of bread and vegetables to pigeon pastillas and boiled sheep's head."

If you go to Morocco, you'll also find that tea is steeped into the culture. Swishing a paper tea bag in a steaming coffee mug can be heavenly on a cold day, but it's a far cry from the elaborate rituals of the East. Residents drink a special green tea several times a day. It's a part of daily life, and a component of hospitality shown to guests.

"The ubiquitous mint tea was ever-present," wrote Rice. "Every shop, hotel, restaurant and home." The tea is prepared with mint added to it, and then sweetened to varying degrees by regional preference.

Visual presentation is a big part of the ritual, and the preparer typically uses a tray with glasses and pots. There may be an elaborate preparation technique designed to affect the taste and consistency of the drink. Pouring is done from a distance to ensure a certain foaminess, which is a practice that can be found in many other countries around the world.

Vivienne Chapleo and Jill Hoelting , who run, visited Morocco and participated in a tea ceremony with a Berber family just outside Marrakech in the Ourika Valley. The Bend, Oregon, bloggers said the tea ceremony was a treasured experience featuring more than just tea, and plenty of attention from their hosts. "They also served warm, fresh bread from flour they had stone ground themselves. Accompanying the bread was honey from their own bees, butter from their cow and olive oil from their olive trees."

The traveling pair made sure to record a video of the elaborate preparations for the tea.

"The mint tea was served with copious amounts of sugar and was an absolute treat to see being prepared." Faller-Parrett says she also enjoyed tasting the tea with meals or just to relax wherever she went. "Mint tea is such a huge part of Moroccan culture, and I enjoyed taking a moment after meals to drink it and talk about all of the delicious foods we ate or to take a break from a day of exploring to sit for a moment at a café, soak in my surroundings and drink tea."

The post originally ran as part of CNN iReport's Destination Adventure series, which took a look at great places for eager explorers. Have you been to Morocco? Share your story in the comments below.

10 street foods to try in Morocco
By Lara Brunt for CNN  May 10, 2013

There are two things you can be sure of when it comes to your taste buds in Morocco.

You'll drink enough sugary mint tea to send your dentist into a spin. And, after a couple of days, you'll be sick to your back teeth of tagine (if you have any left).

What's a hapless (and hungry) traveler to do?

As most locals will tell you, the best Moroccan food is found at home, not in restaurants. Unless you can wangle an invite to a local's home, your best bet is to dive into the maze-like medinas and head to the food souks.

Vendors gather together in guild-like fashion, so you'll find honey sellers in one area and a row of butchers down another alleyway.

The best cities for street food include Fez (head towards the Achabine area), Marrakech (in Djemaa el-Fna and the surrounding streets) and Essaouira (near the port end of Place Moulay Hassan).

"A lot of visitors miss out on street food because they go back to their hotel between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. for dinner," says guide Gail Leonard, who runs various food tours of Fez, the culinary capital of Morocco.

"This is when Moroccans promenade and snack, before dinner at home at around 10 p.m. "It's also the time when you get to connect with Moroccans because that's when they're out eating."

Street food is also popular for breakfast and lunch and draws on Morocco's mix of Berber, Arab and European cultures. Best of all, it's fresh, filling and yours for a few dirhams.


Crusty bread (khobz) baked in the communal wood-fired oven is a Moroccan staple. The souks also serve up a tempting array of pan-fried, waistline-busting loaves. Particularly good is beghrir (spongy bread a bit like crumpets), harsha (buttery bread made of fine semolina) and rghaif (flaky, layered flat bread). Topped with honey or goats' cheese, they make a good snack while you're out exploring. Expect to pay from AED 2-10 ($0.24-1.18), depending on the topping.


A bowl of hearty fava bean soup, mopped up with the ubiquitous khobz, is a popular workers' breakfast and costs just AED 5 ($0.59). Hole-in-the-wall eateries also dish it up for lunch with a glug of lemon-infused olive oil and a sprinkle of cumin and chili. It's made with loads of garlic (about one kilogram per large vat) and the stallholder will simply shut up shop once he's sold out.

Crumbed liver

Moroccan's are big on nose-to-tail eating, so if offal's your thing, you're in for a treat. You can chow down on cow udders, tongues, tripe or even feet. If that's a bit too adventurous there's the Moroccan version of a Weiner schnitzel: smooth and buttery calves' livers, crumbed and fried. Food in souks is sold by weight and a decent portion will cost around AED 10 ($1.18). The vendor will then chop it up and serve in a sandwich or with a handful of fries.

Steamed sheep head

This delicacy is usually eaten for breakfast after a home slaughter during the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice). In the souk, sheep heads are steamed for about five hours and ready by lunchtime. "They're sold as a half (AED 15 ($1.77)) or whole head (AED 30 ($3.55)), with or without eyes, although the brains are sold separately at another stall," says Gail. How to tackle eating a head? After the vendor scrapes the fur off, sprinkle with cumin, salt and chili, and then scrape out the tender cheek meat and tongue.

Spicy sardines

Morocco is the world's largest exporter of sardines, so these silvery little fish are a street food staple. The sardines are stuffed with a spicy chermoula paste made of tomato, coriander, chili, garlic, paprika, cumin, olive oil and lemon juice. They're then coated in a light batter, fried until crisp and often served with a fried green chili. Again, they're sold by weight but AED 15 ($1.77) will buy you a very tasty sandwich.

Aubergine fritters

Sliced aubergine (eggplant) dipped in sweet smoked paprika batter and deep-fried. No such thing as "just one." Vegetarians can happily scoff their way through the souks too, with plenty of fresh, organic produce on display. Look out for sliced aubergine (eggplant) dipped in sweet smoked paprika batter and deep-fried (AED 1 each ($0.12)). The silky, smoky slices are served with spicy lubia (white haricot beans stewed in tomatoes, cumin, paprika, garlic and ginger) or fresh salad.


Follow the billowing clouds of smoke and you'll find mini chicken kebabs cooking over charcoal. The meat is rubbed with salt and spices such as paprika and cumin, or spiced ground lamb or beef (kefta) is formed around a skewer and grilled. The brochettes are served with khobz, harissa (red pepper sauce), red onion, cumin and salt and cost around AED 20-30 ($2.36-3.55).

Snail soup

Stalls selling steaming vats of snail soup are popular across the country. A bowl costs between AED 5-10 ($0.59-1.18). First you pluck the snails from their shells with a toothpick before slurping the soup. "The snails have a very earthy flavor, a bit like shitake mushrooms," says Gail. Moroccans believe the broth, flavored with a concoction of around 15 different spices, is good for digestion and fever, so some drink it without snails.

Stuffed camel spleen

The texture of stuffed camel spleen is soft and creamy, like liver. For an alternative take on sausage, how about tehal (stuffed camel spleen)? Stuffed with ground beef, lamb or camel meat, olives, spices and a little bit of hump fat, the spleen is then sent off to be baked in the communal bread oven. It's then sliced, griddled and served up in a sandwich (AED 15 ($1.77)). The texture is soft and creamy, like liver, and tastes a bit gamey.

Or you can pop into Café Clock in Fez for one of their famous camel burgers served with fries and salad (AED 95 ($11.23)); (7 Derb el Magana, Talaa Kbira; +212 535 637 855;

Sweet treats

Super sweet pastries and biscuits are big in Morocco, especially during Ramadan when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Each evening, they celebrate breaking their fast with succulent dates, pastries and savory harira (wholesome lentil and tomato soup). Some of the most irresistible -- and calorific -- goodies include briwat (deep fried filo pastry triangles stuffed with almonds) and shebakia (flower-shaped sesame cookies that are fried). Both are dipped in honey and are lip-smackingly good. All for around AED 1-3 each ($0.12-0.35).

Plan-It Fez offers a half-day souk tasting trail in the ancient Fez medina for AED 960 ($113) per person (+212 535 638 708;

Morocco Considers Tax Reform
By Hassan Benmehdi, 9 May 2013 Casablanca

Moroccan government officials and international economists agree that the tax system is in urgent need of an overhaul. "Today we need to move on from the idea that tax is a burden or a punishment, and see it as a fundamental principle of good citizenship," Economy and Finance Minister Nizar Baraka told Magharebia outside the April 29th-30th Tax Conference in Skhirat.

In his opening speech, Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane explained that tax reforms "cannot be seen as a technical process taking place in the background, but must be the choice of society as a whole, aimed at establishing conditions favourable to economic development and social cohesion".

In a video address to the participants, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Director Christine Lagarde took the opportunity to recommend far-reaching reforms to the benefits system, which, she said, was "placing a serious burden on state finances".

Minister-Delegate for the Budget Idriss Azami struck a similar chord: "The state also has a role to play in the matter, setting an example through spending to meet the needs of the public."

Tax receipts in Morocco have been seriously eroded by the multitude of tax breaks available and the growing impact of tax evasion and the informal economy.

The "inequitable" nature of taxation on the informal economy "nourishes the scourge of unfair competition and punishes those companies which opt for transparency", noted General Confederation of Moroccan Businesses (CGME) Chair Miriem Bensalah-Chaqroun. She urged everyone to "pay their dues to society".

Participants were unanimous in stressing the importance and urgency of reviewing tax arrangements to introduce greater fiscal equity and transparency. They called for taxing the profits of major agricultural operators. They also called for school supplies to be exempted from VAT, and for study-related levies to be lifted. They also demanded legislation that would introduce a 0.5% to 2.5% minimum tax on assets.

Organisers hoped the conference would lead to a new tax system that would be profitable for the state, all the while allowing companies to be competitive by relieving some of the pressure on their finances.

Crisis does not Deflect Attention from Major Tourism Investments.
by Rabia Elkotbi on May 10, 2013

Despite the crisis that hit the tourism sector worldwide, Morocco has not shoved its projects in a drawer. On the contrary, Morocco is launching new projects and hunting for new investments to attract greater numbers of tourists, not only from Europe, its traditional market, but also from the Gulf and Asia, especially from China.

Although Morocco was hit by the European economic crisis and the Arab Spring upheavals, its multiple assets (ancient cities, sea and mountain resorts, renowned cuisine, cultural diversity etc.) help boost this growth-generating sector and the country’s second foreign hard currency earner after phosphates and second largest contributor to the GDP. The sector has actually surpassed remittances from Moroccan workers abroad as the main source of foreign currency.

Upbeat on the tourism sector prospects, Morocco recently signed a series of agreements to boost the sector and reach the targeted 20 million tourists by 2020.

The Caisse de Dépôt et de Gestion (CDG), the first institutional investor in the kingdom, and the French Pierre & Vacances company signed a €360 million agreement to build tourism resorts in Taghazout and Saidia in addition to the first complex being built in Marrakesh part of cooperation between the two groups.

The Marrakesh complex, Noria Oasis, scheduled to open in 2015, will have a 2.400 bed capacity in addition to 540 villas and apartments that will be put on sale. The complex will also have conference halls, kids clubs, swimming pools and other recreational facilities.

The Saidia resort on the Mediteranean, north-eastern Morocco, will include 400 accommodation units, a water park and a conference center while the eco-tourism resort in Taghazout, a village in the suburb of Agadir, will provide 520 accommodation units with a 2.700 bed capacity. The eco-resort will also include 380 flats and houses to be sold to private owners. The opening of both resorts is set for 2016.

The development of large tourism resorts offering a full range of leisure activities, which are a high added value to the hotel industry, aims to improve the country’s attractiveness and enhance the sector which is a key job generating sector. The sector employs some 470,000 people.

In 2011, Morocco set up a Tourism Investment Authority, “Wissal Capital”, in partnership with the sovereign funds of Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait. The authority has projected to invest in the sector between $2.5 and 4 billion.

A number of measures meant to attract investors and back their projects were announced during the Morocco Tourism Investment Forum, held last April in Casablanca. Morocco is expecting total tourism investment to reach around $ 2.5 billion in 2013, a noteworthy increase compared to about $1.6 billion invested last year.

The 2020 vision program requires a total of about $17.5 billion to finance, among others, the creation of some 200,000 beds.

A Study by Oxford business group reveals that Morocco is likely to reach its tourism 2020 vision, to be among top 20 tourist destinations worldwide while a recent survey by the World Economic Forum ranked Morocco in the top three most welcoming countries in the world for foreign visitors.

Rabia Elkotbi, A Moroccan journalist, graduated from King Fahd School of translation, he holds a master degree in Translation and Journalism, and a BA degree in English studies from Mohammed V University. He is focusing on new media and digital journalism; he carried out a paper on “the impact of digital journalism and new media on public opinion in Morocco”.

10 things to know before visiting Morocco.
By Lara Brunt, for CNN May 8, 2013

Rainbows of color, spice-market smells, an urban orchestra of sounds: Morocco can be overwhelming at first.

Lying 13 kilometers, or 8 miles, from the coast of Spain, the North African country mixes Middle Eastern magic, Berber tradition and European flair.

Tourism has more than doubled since 2002, to nearly 10 million visitors in 2011. King Mohammed VI wants to increase the annual visitor numbers to 18 million by 2020.

The royal ruler's strategy is underpinned by infrastructure development, making traveling around the country even easier.

Add to this a program of ongoing social, political and economic reforms, and Morocco is one of the most moderate and peaceful countries in the region.

Cafes dominate life in Tangier. Cafes are the key place to socialize, for Moroccan men at least. They gather to drink sweet mint tea and watch people as they go about their affairs. The northern port city of Tangier has a history of literary bohemianism and illicit goings-on, thanks to its status as an International Zone from 1923 to 1956. The Interzone years, and the heady decades that followed, saw writers, rock stars and eccentrics flock to the city's 800-plus cafés.

Two must-visit spots: Cafe Hafa (Ave Hadi Mohammed Tazi), overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, was a favorite hangout of Tangier's most famous expat, Beat writer Paul Bowles.

Smoky and slightly edgy, Cafe Baba (1 rue Sidi-Hosni) is the coolest spot in the Kasbah. A photo of Keith Richards, kif-pipe in hand, still adorns the grimy walls.

Most mosques are off-limits to non-Muslims Nearly 99% of the population is Muslim, and hearing the muezzin's melodic call to prayer for the first time is a spine-tingling moment.

While very few Moroccan mosques are open to non-Muslims, one exception is the towering Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca (Blvd Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah; +212 522 22 25 63). Located on a promontory over the Atlantic Ocean, the mosque was completed in 1993 and can hold 105,000 worshipers inside and out. Tradition and technology sit side by side, with colorful zellij (mosaic tiles), intricate stucco and carved cedar complementing the retractable roof and heated flooring.

If you can't make it to Casa, Marrakech's 16th-century Ali ben Youssef madrassa-turned-museum (Pl Ben Youssef; +212 524 44 18 93) is open to all and also features impressive Islamic design.

Multilingual Moroccans will put you to shame Arabic is the official language, but you'll also hear French, Spanish, Berber and various dialects. Moroccans switch languages mid-sentence, reflecting the cultures -- Berber, Arab, French and Spanish -- that have crisscrossed the country. Arabic is the official language, and you'll hear the Moroccan dialect, Darija, spoken on the street. French continues to be widely spoken in cities; foreigners are often addressed in this first. Spanish is still spoken in Tangier. There are also three main dialects spoken by the country's Berber majority: Tashelhit, Tamazight and Tarifit. You'll be able to get by with English in the main tourist hubs, although "La, shukran" ("No, thank you" in Arabic) is one phrase to master.

Don't get stuck in Marrakech

Marrakech is justifiably popular, but there's so much more.

Fez tops the list for its maze-like medina, fabulous foodie scene and annual Festival of World Sacred Music.

For a slice of the Sahara, there's the desert town of Merzouga, near the impressive Erg Chebbi sand dunes, accessible via camel treks.

Active types can hike between Berber villages in the High Atlas or head to the blue-hued Andalusian town of Chefchaouen to explore the Rif Mountains.

Beach bums will love laid-back Essaouira and Sidi Ifni on the Atlantic coast, while surfers often head south to Taghazout.

For quiet contemplation, Morocco's holiest town, Moulay Idriss, is hard to beat. Plus, you'll have the nearby Roman ruins of Volubilis pretty much to yourself.

If you don't like cumin, you may starve Cumin is one of the main spices used in Moroccan cooking. This pungent powder is used to flavor everything from tagines to mechoui (slow-roasted lamb). Cumin is used as a condiment on most Moroccan tables, along with salt and chili. It's also a popular natural remedy for diarrhea. "Cumin has anti-parasitical properties, so if you've got an upset tummy, a spoonful of cumin knocked back with water will help," said food guide Gail Leonard with Plan-It Fez.

Trains are cheap, comfortable and reliable First class train travel in Morocco is affordable and worth it. Just be prepared to share your food. Train company ONCF operates one of the best train networks in Africa, making it the easiest way to travel between cities. It's worth paying extra for first class, which comes with a reserved seat and A/C. First class carriages have six-seat compartments or open-plan seating. Stock up on snacks, or buy them onboard, as it's customary to share food. When it comes to traveling to smaller towns and villages, buses and grand taxis, usually old Mercedes sedans that can seat six (at a squash), are best.

Couscous is served on Fridays You'll see it on every restaurant menu, but traditionally, couscous is served on Fridays, when families gather after prayers. This is because the proper (not packet) stuff takes a long time to prepare. Coarse semolina is hand-rolled into small granules to be steamed and fluffed three times. It's pale in color, deliciously creamy and served with vegetables and/or meat or fish.

Bread is the staple carb and is served with every meal, except couscous. It's baked in communal wood-fired ovens, one of five amenities found in every neighborhood (the others being a hammam, or bathhouse; a drinking fountain; a mosque and a preschool).

Riad rooftops rock The traditional Moroccan house (riad) is built around a central courtyard with windows facing inwards for privacy. They're decked out with elaborate zellij, stucco and painted cedar and are easily the most atmospheric places to stay. While Moroccans tend to use their rooftops as clotheslines, a riad roof terrace is the place to be come sunset.

In Marrakech, Italian-designed Riad Joya (Derb El Hammam, Mouassine Quarter; +212 524 391 624; has prime views of the Koutoubia Mosque minaret, while five-star La Sultana (403 rue de la Kasbah; +212 524 388 008; overlooks the Atlas Mountains.

Top picks in Fez are the bohemian Riad Idrissy (13 Derb Idrissi, Sieje, Sidi Ahmed Chaoui, +212 649 191 410; and its suntrap terrace, while Dar Roumana (30 Derb el Amer, Zkak Roumane; +212 535 741 637; has sweeping views of the world's largest living medieval Islamic city.

When you hear 'balak!' watch out The narrow streets of Morocco's souks are filled with hagglers, hustlers, mule-drivers and motor scooters. Morocco's souks are not for the faint-hearted. The narrow streets teem with hagglers, hustlers, mule-drivers and motor scooters. Rule No. 1 is to step aside when you hear "Balak!" It means there's a heavily laden handcart or mule bearing down on you. You'll inevitably get lost, as maps don't usually include the warren of small alleys that make up the medina. A guide can help you get your bearings and fend off touts, but be aware that anything you buy will have his commission built in to the price.

Alternatively, taking snaps of landmarks with your smartphone can help you find your way back to your accommodation.

It's not weird to be bathed by a stranger There are plenty of posh hotel hammams, but nothing beats a visit to a no-frills public bathhouse. Spotting the entrance can be tricky, as most signs are written in Arabic. Look for a shop selling toiletries or a mosque, as these are usually nearby. It's advisable to stock up on black olive oil soap, ghassoul (clay used as hair conditioner), a kiis (exfoliating glove) and a mat to sit on. Visitors need to take their own towels, comb and flip-flops. Women strip to their knickers (no bra), and men wear underpants. Then you'll be steamed, scrubbed and pummeled until you're squeaky clean.

Morocco seeks more protection for children.
By Hassan Benmehdi in Casablanca and Siham Ali in Rabat for Magharebia – 08/05/2013

Thousands of Moroccans on Sunday (May 5th) marched in Casablanca in support of a young victim of a brutal sexual assault that almost cost her life.

Ten-year-old Wiam Faraj was allegedly assaulted and raped last month by a middle-aged man in Ouled Othman, 60km from Sidi Kacem. The accused perpetrator was later arrested by gendarmes, according to Le Soir Echos.

Some 5,000 participants showed up to protest the attack, according to organisers.

"It's useless to walk if nothing tangible is put in place afterwards to fight paedophilia," noted rap singer Big.

The organisers hope to break the taboo of silence and pressure political decision makers to take the appropriate measures so that similar crimes never happen again.

Actress Amal Saqr pointed out that on her end, there was not just one Wiam, "but several, who are all victims not only of rape but victims of silence and society's inaction as well".

"Sexual assault on children is a dangerous phenomenon that adversely affects society's human values," said celebrated comedian Attir.

Marching alongside others, Wiam's mother expressed her relief: "When I saw all these people coming to support my daughter's cause, it really made me forget the pain."

The White March, organised by the group Fikou (Wake Up), lasted three hours and covered nearly four kilometres of the avenues alongside the city's corniche.

In accordance with article 475 of the penal code, rape in Morocco is punishable with several years of imprisonment unless the victim and her attacker get married. But the suicide in March of 2012 of Amina Filali, who was forced to marry the man who raped her, sent shockwaves through the country and requests to repeal the law started increasing.

The justice ministry announced in January that the government was in favour of removing the subparagraph that allows the rapist to marry his victim in order to avoid conviction.

The government is also moving to protect the rights of minors employed as maids. The long-awaited draft law on domestic work was finally adopted by the cabinet last Thursday.

There had long been calls to pass such a law governing the sector, in which many irregularities occur.

This crucial point is covered by the new law, which is intended to combat the employment of young girls under the age of 15 by making it a criminal offence.

Fines of between 25,000 and 30,000 dirhams will be imposed on those who employ children aged under 15 and those who employee minors aged between 15 and 18 without the prior consent of the guardian.

More generally, the law is intended to lay down the terms of the relationship between home help and their employers in order to give employees social security and socio-economic rights.

The law guarantees domestic employees a contract giving them several rights, including the right to at least 24 hours of time off each week. Monthly wages must not be less than 50% of the guaranteed minimum wage. After working for one year, employees will be entitled to redundancy pay.

"The regulation will enable a large segment of society to have access to decent working conditions in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and the international agreements signed by Morocco in this field," said Minister of Employment Abdelwahed Souhail.

The provisions of the law have been welcomed by domestic employees.

"What's good about this law is that it bans the employment of children aged under 15, and that's a big advantage, because there are families who exploit their children from the age of six onwards," said Sbiha Cherrati, 28.

Sociologist Samira Kassimi said that this was a big step forwards for both child maids and domestic employees in general.

"Yet, it's not enough to pass a law," she remarked. "There needs to be monitoring to guarantee that the regulation will succeed."


Morocco expects $1 billion a year in loans from AfDB in 2013-16.
Wednesday 08, May 2013 by Reuters

Morocco expects to win $1 billion in loans per year from the African Development Bank (AfDB) over the next four years as the country looks to make full use of the bank's funds, the Moroccan Finance minister said on Wednesday. Morocco is keen to develop its energy sources and infrastructure, but it logged a budget deficit of 2.2 percent of gross domestic product in the first quarter and is trying to reform its costly system of food and energy subsidies. Rabat has signed an agreement with the AfDB for a nominal loan package worth at least $650 million a year from 2012 to 2016.

But the minister, speaking at a press conference with the bank to announce that it will hold its annual assembly in Marrakesh at the end of May, said Morocco had received $1.2 billion last year and expected to get around $1 billion a year for the next four years.

The 2012 package of loans included $450 million for wind energy development, $220 million for solar power, $140 million for the agricultural sector and $200 million for rural electrification.

"Other countries' members don't mobilize the bank's funds, so we are trying to benefit most from the opportunities offered by the AfDB" Nizar Baraka added.

The AfDB said Morocco was its first client in a decade, which was why it chose Marrakesh to host its annual assembly.

The Tunisia-based bank added that it would start to move its offices back to its permanent headquarter in Abdijan in Ivory Cost after the annual assembly approves the move.

Nizar Baraka said that Morocco had also signed with the World Bank an agreement close to the amount in the AfDB deal, and that he expects to get more than $750 million a year from the World Bank.

Morocco also expects to sign a $2.4 billion loan deal in a few weeks with the Saudi-based Islamic Development Bank, sources have told Reuters.

The Moroccan economy grew 4.8 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, accelerating from the previous three months as agriculture recovered after bad weather. Its planning agency expects the economy to grow 5.5 percent in 2013.

The cash-strapped country has said it wants to limit its public debt to 60 percent of GDP despite its rising budget deficit

Living in the Delusion Of Morocco's 'Democracy'

Poof! Today, as we flail in the midst of a crisis, we realize the extent of our fragility and just how much official discourse has deceived us. It is like a smack in the face waking us up. No, reality is not as rosy as we’ve been led to believe. It is much starker than that. Today, we can clearly see it and smell it while it touches us.

Yes, we are going through and arduous economic crisis. The state coffers have almost dried up and the growth measured in the past years was essentially taken from the consumption resulting from public investments that we are no longer able to finance. Even economic development in these past years has not really contributed to human development, merely increasing inequalities. Perceived social peace is less than a drop.

There is no doubt that we’re going through a great political crisis. It is institutional: a new constitution that is difficult to apply, even if, deep down, it has changed almost nothing in the rules of governance or the separation and balance of powers. Behind the glass of political pluralism are political formations that cannot bring together the masses. They can only serve [their own] system, going back to its mold. Our stability is a myth that can collapse. Our streets could flare up with the slightest spark: we can only wait to see the incompetence of the forces of order to contain a mob of football fans.

Even with the national cause, the darned Sahara affair, we are conceding land. Our proposed autonomy plan is no longer “serious and credible” in the eyes of certain of our “allies.” The US, the No. 1 power in the world, has just reminded us of this. Our society, which we proclaim to be open, modern and tolerant, is nothing but a façade hiding a reality riddled with incoherencies. Our cultural aspect is not much better. Under the tapestry of large international festivals is hiding the misery of our art and artists. This list is obviously anything but complete. Even if we published an extensive “Morocco monitor” as it is, there would never be enough space to include everything.

Some might call our approach nihilist. They would have preferred that we sing the praises of the Moroccan exception, and blather on about advancements we’ve achieved. We have to admit, they are many. However, being content to see the glass half full would be to rest on our laurels. On the other hand, putting our achievements into perspective and looking at them without complacency or concessions would be entirely more constructive.

How can we overcome our weaknesses and gaps if we never take the time to diagnose them. When we exercise, when we realize that there is a certain political will to uphold the illusion of our style of governance. [This is no doubt] because our rulers have sensed that we are predisposed to letting ourselves be fooled. Perhaps it is a survival reflex in the kingdom of mirages.

The myth of democratic advancement

The separation of powers, enlarging the prerogatives of the government and the parliament … the 2011 Constitution tends to seat democracy. But putting it into action shows that almost nothing has really changed.

Such a mirage, democracy for us is unreachable. Each time we have the impression of getting closer to it, we realize that it is still far. It is to believe that we are damned to advance forever without being sure of achieving our goal. The most prominent, unequaled example is that of the constitution adopted by July 2011 referendum. The Makhzen initiated to disguise that which was supposed to be a historic meeting in royal plebiscite, harkening back to what we thought was a bygone era.

More of a king than ever

Beyond the modalities of its adoption and the process of its elaboration, the country’s new and fundamental law deceives above all by its content. “It is a very consensual constitution, where each one can find his part. It resembles a bad novel,” according to Ilyas El Omari, one of the tenors of the Modernity and Authenticity Party (PAM) whom we could in no way suspect of being anti-regime.

He confidently points out the vagueness of this text wherein many points need to be made more precise. There is, however, one point that we must not push off: the royal prerogatives have barely moved.

“The 1996 constitution was founded on the unity of powers and distribution of functions. The king was the center of power and delegated it to others,” explained political scientist Mohamed Darif. “The current constitution allows the powers to be put in a sort of hierarchy, however, it is still far from being a separation of powers.” The fact of the matter is, the prerogatives of the government council, presided by the head of the government, are confined to decrees to manage daily [affairs]. The council of ministers, presided by the king, on the other hand, keeps its hand on all major political decisions. According to the constitution, law drafts are to be validated by this assembly directed by the monarch.

The same goes for the nomination of walis, governors, ambassadors and the presidents of other constitutional institutions. Furthermore, even for the patrons of public establishments, the separation accorded by the organic law for nominations largely tilted the balance in favor of the king, to the detriment of the head of the government. Even if the constitution stipulates that nomination to the council of ministers be done by recommendation of the head of the government, the reality is that we cannot see Benkirane’s hand in the designation of gleeful elected [individuals] to strategic posts.

This reality unhinges Darif: “The fact that strategy is limited to the king turns the head of the government into a mere manager of current affairs since he does not have the right to make political decisions.” The political scientist elaborates: “Constitutionalists say that to evaluate the constitution, a strict reading of the sense of the text is not necessary. What is needed is an analysis of how it has been put into practice.”

In this sense, it must be admitted that Abdelilah Benkirane is doing serious damage. One must simply remember the interview carried out with the Spanish daily El Pais where he lacks in substance: “The Justice and Development Party (PJD) merely participates in the government. The king retains the power.” Even worse, upon presenting the legislative agenda (which includes some 250 draft laws to be adopted during his term), Benkirane proposed at first that many sensitive texts be elaborated in the royal cabinet. How overzealous of him. …

A motley majority

Moreover, the delusion of democratic advancement is not justified by the reluctance of the monarchy to abandon a part of his prerogatives (a completely legitimate move for any political actor), but also by the inability of political parties to take their destinies in their own hands and to seat a true popular legitimacy. Take the November 2011 legislative elections, for example: pressured to rise to [the challenge] of an electoral battle that would result in the nomination for head of the government (one of the rare, true advancements of the new constitution), the political structures were not looking for electoral lists.

However, it is a Punchinello secret: There are close to 6 million citizens of voting age who are not registered in these lists. Even among the some 15 million who are registered, it is not uncommon to come across double-registered individuals or even dead people. This could be seen during the last partial elections in February when the dead voted in the Settat district. Once the elections were held, the reality of a totality broken political card finished by doing away with the hopes of seeing a solidarity government emerge to lead toward a realistic platform. The great victors at the polls, the PJD Islamists needed to lean against the liberals of Istiqlal, the socialists of the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS) and the big names from the Popular Movement (MP) to create a majority.

The result: a motley executive [branch] that does not function as a bloc, thus allowing divergences to become more and more apparent each day, while the proponents of reform continue to wait. The opposition, for its part, is not doing much better. Its parliamentary groups are more comfortable rebelling than actually acting and putting forth propositions.

This leaves the legislative institution stagnant, the parliament that still functions with a completely illegal chamber of counselors. This marginal role of the parliament and the government must make one believe that the Moroccans were expecting it. Turnout in the last elections was rather low (57%) and the votes counted for the victor are still less than the [number of] blank or nullified ballets. This makes one think that rare are those who let themselves be fooled by this illusion of “democratic advancement.”

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