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Morocco Week in Review 
October 11, 2014

Urgent call for youth employment in Morocco.
By Hassan Benmehdi in Casablanca for Magharebia – 07/10/2014

The creation of jobs for young people has been a major topic of debate in Morocco recently. Although there are differences of opinion as to what path should be followed, all socio-economic and political figures agree that youth unemployment has reached a worrying scale that calls for immediate responses and solutions.
Badr Charaf, a financial journalist, explained to Magharebia that according to the latest official figures, the unemployment rate is nudging 10%.
"And a growth rate of around 2% will not enable Morocco to create jobs, because experts say growth of 6-7% is needed to create jobs, whereas average growth has been around 4.5% over the past decade," he said. He concluded that in view of this situation, there was a need to respond quickly as the high rate of unemployment was aggravating social inequalities and creating frustration.

During the latest meeting on September 19th, Moroccan employers proposed to create 100,000 jobs for young people. In a public statement, the Moroccan General Business Confederation (CGEM) recommended that the Benkirane government make fiscal adjustments to enterprise tax and VAT.
On the side-lines of a national conference on the labour code held September 22nd in Rabat, Employment Minister Abdeslam Seddiki said that youth employment was a priority for the government as 50% of unemployed people are aged between 15 and 24.
"The National Employment Strategy, which will be unveiled by the end of 2014, will help to bring unemployment down even though it will not solve this problem once and for all," he added.

Higher Education Minister Lahcen Daoudi said that the reduction of unemployment was dependent on the growth rate of the national economy in particular: "Above all, Morocco must achieve a growth rate of 7-8% per year if it wants to ensure that unemployed graduates find jobs."
On the same occasion, the CEO of the National Agency for the Promotion of Employment and Skills, Hafid Kamal, said that training was "of paramount importance because any investment requires qualified skills".

That view was shared by the Industry Minister Hafid Elalamy, who announced at the beginning of last month that 1,300,000 new jobseekers would enter the labour market over the next ten years, whereas only 130,000 jobs were being created annually at the moment. In his opinion, the nation needs to create jobs, invest and re-launch its industry at all costs: "The challenge of employment can be addressed and overcome by rallying everyone, and national operators in particular… with the government and his department taking responsibility for foreign investors."

With job opportunities increasingly scarce, Moroccans interviewed by Magharebia stressed the need to find solutions. Hamza Noufis, who has completed a course at a tourism college in Casablanca, prefers to be optimistic: "It's true that I've been waiting to find a job at a tourism establishment for over two years, but I'll find one in the end when the dynamism that the sector was experiencing a few years ago returns."

Alarbi Almadani, a father and mechanic, is worried about what will happen to his three children, two of whom are graduates – one in economics and the other in legal sciences. "One of my two boys has been looking for a job tirelessly for over a year but he still can't find one, while the other is working as a call centre operator… a profession that has nothing to do with his university studies, but he still has to earn a living," he said.

Reda Essalem, another economics graduate, has planned his way forwards carefully: "In addition to my degree in economics, I will try to do some extra training at a private management college so that I can find a job easily."


Moroccan Writer Mohammed Zafzaf: ‘Disturbing, Intriguing, Shocking, Innovative, Challenging, Amusing,’ and More
Category: Books Published on Saturday, 04 October 2014 Written by Mlynxqualey
Mbarek Syrfi, who co-translated The Monarch of the Square (2014) with Roger Allen, answers questions about Zafzaf’s importance to Moroccan literature, his style, and why he hasn’t been translated into English — but should be:
Read more here

Experiencing Outdoor Adventures in Morocco
By Amanda Ponzio-Mouttaki, Journey Beyond Travel October 7, 2014

From wind-swept desert expanses and rocky peaks ripping through the horizon to serene sea coasts and the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, some would argue that there is no better place in the world to witness the contrasts of natural beauty than Morocco. Many tourists come to Morocco for the culture and food, but many others rightly come to enjoy these natural wonders. If you’re unsure where or how to best take in Morocco’s natural highlights, here are a few places to begin a nature lover’s outdoor experience.

National Parks
There are ten national parks scattered throughout Morocco. The oldest, most visited and perhaps best known is Toubkal National Park in the High Atlas Mountains, about 70km from Marrakech. This park is a well-known destination for hikers and skiers, and it also has several petroglyphs, or rock carvings, dating back several thousand years.

Khenifiss National Park is located on the southwestern coast of Morocco near Laayoune. The surrounding area is very rural and on the border of the Western Sahara, so caution should be exercised if planning a visit to this location. The biggest lagoon on the Moroccan coast is located within the park, and it serves as an important bird nesting ground for a large number of migratory birds. During the winter season, as many as 20,000 birds can be found in the lagoon area. Bird watchers from all over the world come to see these animals both in rural and urban environments. Visit Marrakech or Fez in the winter and you’re sure to find white storks nesting in the high perches of mosques, palaces, and ruins.

into the Sahara
Many people who make Morocco their destination of choice are sure to include a desert trek. The majority of desert trips depart from Zagora or M’hamid, both at the edge of the desert. These cities are an eight-to-nine hour drive from Marrakech, through switchback mountain roads. Alternately, you can fly to Ouarzazzate and then drive to either of these two cities, a total drive time of about three hours. If natural, rustic scenery is what you’re after then this drive is worth it. Stopping off in small Berber villages, watching the scenery change from brown and sandy, to green or snow covered, and then to the rocky sands of the Sahara is all part of the experience.………………
Read more here:

Culture as Engine Economic Growth, Employment and Development. OPED
October 7, 2014 Said Temsamani

Many quality studies and policies have for many years addressed the relationship between culture and economics. However, this relationship has taken different forms in different countries and regions. Furthermore, initially, studies took a sociological or, in any case, theoretical, approach. It is only relatively recently that the cultural sector has been formally studied from the perspective of economics and statistics. Therefore, only now is a framework being created of economic structures for the cultural sector. In fact, the cultural has proved on many occasions that it can generate significant dynamics from an economic perspective.

In Morocco culture is the human endeavor par excellence that produces feelings and imaginaries. It also reinforces the feeling of identity and citizenship. The co-existence of cultural manifestations close to, what we can define as, traditional culture, which is product of a multiplicity of ethnic groups and subcultures that has participated in the construction of the identity and history of the kingdom; and the manifestations closer to what we can define as modern culture or, further more, as industrial culture, which is also a characteristic of the contemporary culture. The sustainability of these cultural manifestations (sacred music festival in Fez, Mawazine in Rabat, Gnawa festival in Essaouira and others without exception are then, the inevitable guarantee of multiethnic and pluricultural society.

Many of those cultural activities activities generate, additionally, an analogous economic impact to the one produced by other sectors of the economy. In one word, culture is, besides an indispensable element for social cohesion and the reconstruction of an identity, an economic sector equally or even more important than any other productive sector of society.

On October 7, King Mohammed IV inaugurated Museum for Modern and Contemporary Art, a leading project which will contribute to preserving and spreading Morocco’s artistic and civilizational heritage. The Moroccan Press Agency reported that the chairman of the National Foundation of Museums Mehdi Qotbi underlined that the implementation of this project shows the sovereign’s will to make culture a real engine for human, social and economic development and his resolve to equip the country with high-level cultural facilities that encourage creativity and promote the principles of cultural democratization.
Worth 200 million dirhams, the new facility is the first museum institution dedicated entirely to modern and contemporary art and meets international museum standards, he said, adding that the new facility is aimed at building bridges with foreign foundations and institutions.

The Museum was designed to raise awareness and initiate the public, mainly youth, to contemporary artistic creation, and promote participation in the country’s cultural life as well as openness on international creation. It will also offer trainings and conferences to well-informed audience as graduates of architecture schools and of fine arts, and art historians.

The three-floor facility includes mainly an auditorium, exhibitions named after renowned Moroccan artists (Chaibia Talal, Jilali Gherbaoui, Meryem Meziane, Ahmed Cherkaoui, Farid Belkahya, Hassan Glaoui, André Elbaz, Mohamed kacimi), a pedagogical workshop, a laboratory for art restoration, a library, and a VIP lounge. Later King Mohammed VI launched the building works of the Rabat Grand Theater, a project that mirrors the continuous royal solicitude for art and culture.

Morocco is one of the rare countries in the African continent that has understood that the cultural sector can generate growth and employment. This was the point where cultural industries in Morocco have become the focus of cultural policy concerns. Certainly, Moroccan cultural policy will continue to generate development and growth of cultural industries and to ensure public access on equal terms to the greatest possible variety and quality of cultural content.

Moroccans launch 'Not in My Name' campaign
By Hassan Benmehdi in Casablanca for Magharebia – 10/10/2014

Created to condemn criminal acts committed by terrorists in the name of Islam, the "Machi Bessmity" ("Not in My Name") initiative has struck a chord with Moroccans. In a public statement, those who started the appeal on September 26th stressed that it was a call against all acts of barbarism perpetrated by bloodthirsty fanatics who consider themselves to be Muslims. "These are ignoble acts, which cannot under any circumstances be attributed to Islam, and yet they are being committed in our name," they said in the statement.

A campaigner and one of the people behind "Not in My Name", Ahmed Ghayet, said: "Our 'Machi Bessmity' initiative has been met with huge success, with 4,000 members in 48 hours and hundreds of young people publishing 'Machi Bessmity' photos on Facebook."

Stickers bearing the logo have been distributed among participants in the 11th Tourism Summit, a video was posted to YouTube, and the "Machi Bessmity" logo was being displayed on all taxis in the city of Marrakech.

Editorialist Narjis Rerhaye witnessed the same thing, reporting that in just a few hours, more than a thousand young people got involved and signed up to express their total rejection of barbarity. Rerhaye continued by saying that following the atrocious and unjustifiable murder in Algeria of a French mountain guide, condemnation had overtaken the British social networks: "But very quickly the expression 'not in my name' entered widespread use, becoming the rallying cry of all those who believe quite simply in humanity."

The terrible crimes committed by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq, Syria and most recently in Algeria highlight the need to mobilise all human beings across the world, campaigner Najat Alyadani told Magharebia "No way should we give in to the horror of these terrorists, who continue claiming more victims around the world," Alyadani said.

Young Moroccans have signed up in large numbers to this initiative. One young woman, Halima Addoufri, from Casablanca, said that the terrorists were bringing shame on Islam: "Through 'Not in My Name', I've been able to express my total solidarity with all those who love life," she added. Faced by terrorist groups who want to appropriate Islam, "it's important for us as citizens to have our voices heard from Morocco, to say simply that we, the young Muslims of this country, are against terrorism," commented Naima Mellaoui, a secretary at a communications agency.

"I'm a Muslim and I'm proud of that. That's why I can't accept that fanatics should commit atrocities in the name of my religion and kill in my name… I'll never accept that," insisted Kamal Alfatih, a high school student. His friend Chouâib felt the same way: "We're all 'Machi Bessmity', because we reject the idea that killing and horrible crime should be committed in our name and in the name of Islam, which is a religion of peace and love." As Casablanca imam El Haj El Mokhtar said: "We have a responsibility to defend the real values of Islam."

Taking Advantage of Morocco’s Security Threat
October 10, 2014 Mohammed Masbah

Authoorities in Morocco are increasingly concerned about the impact of Moroccan jihadis returning from Syria. This unease was reflected in a series of precautionary measures, including amending anti-terrorism laws and tightening controls at airports and along the Algerian border. So far this year, security forces indicated they have dismantled a number of cells working to recruit young Moroccans for armed groups in Syria. However, the Moroccan authorities are also exaggerating the terrorism threat to ensure the Ministry of Interior consolidates its independence from the elected government and regains the impunity with which it used to act.

Since Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the establishment of the caliphate, Moroccan members of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have worked intensely to attract and recruit peers via social networking sites. Propaganda tapes were published in turn that called for migration to Syria, extolling the earthly and eschatological gains that lie therein. A Moroccan ISIS member shared this sentiment on one of the tapes, saying: “Whoever wants [to attain] the worldly life, then he has [to go] to Syria. And whoever wants [to attain] the afterlife, then he has [to go] to Syria.”1

Some of the Moroccans fighting in Syria have furthermore threatened to launch attacks inside the kingdom. These types of pronouncements have raised fears among the security forces that jihadis currently in Syria or Libya could cross into the country via the eastern borders with Algeria to carry out violent attacks. This fear was bolstered by the dual announcements that splinter factions from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) joined ISIS, and that the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) plans to assassinate political figures, including Mustapha Ramid, the Minister of Justice and Liberties and member of the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD). The specific threat to Ramid came in response to his efforts to dry up sources for attracting jihadis, particularly his success in convincing some Salafi-jihadi figures to disavow the group. As a result of these efforts, Sheikh Omar al-Heddouchi, the most prominent such figure, issued fatwas declaring his disavowal of ISIS and criticizing Moroccan youth who join the Syrian conflict. This led the radical stream of jihadis to sideline him, some of whom excommunicated him altogether. The degree to which the assassination threats are serious, however, is difficult to gauge considering that the defected branches from AQIM lack sufficient human and logistical resources. In addition, they and MUJAO are largely operating outside Morocco’s borders—between Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, and Mali.

In response to these threats, the Moroccan government issued a modified version of the anti-terrorism law on September 11, 2014. The amended law includes new provisions pertaining to Moroccan fighters in foreign trouble spots, such as instating heavy penalties ranging from five to fifteen years in prison and fines of up to 500,000 dirhams ($60,000) for anyone who joins or tries to join armed organizations inside or outside Morocco. Ramid justified these amendments on grounds that it would prevent youth from joining “these groups where death, murder, slaughter, bloodshed, and loss of life are meaningless and without any goal.” Beyond the amendments, the Moroccan army—for the first time—deployed rocket launchers, anti-aircraft guns, and heavy weapons near sensitive areas along the Algerian border and airports in order to thwart any possible terrorist attack.

But security forces’ tactics seem disproportional to the reality of the threats. To date, ISIS’s calls have not garnered much ideological support that could down the line translate into sufficient logistical support to carry out operations in the country. The most prominent Salafi sheikhs (those detained under the terrorism law and others outside of prison) disavowed the extremist group. Although these sheikhs are far from moderate, they object to ISIS’s tactics and exclusionary tendencies. Additionally, some Salafis believe that the majority of fighters in Syria are uninterested in returning instead they largely wish to spend the rest of their lives under the protection of the “Islamic State” or die there in combat.2 As for the few who do seek to return, they would do so out of disillusionment with the groups they are fighting for like Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS than a genuine desire to execute violent attacks in Morocco.3

Although the seriousness of these threats cannot be denied, the Ministry of Interior is exaggerating them to tighten its grip on internal affairs as it once did. The ministry stands to gain most from the new set of security protocols. First and foremost, the Ministry of Interior wants to send a message to the prime minister—and consequently the PJD—that due to the terrorism threat, the security forces should be free from their oversight. The amendments to the terrorism law and the overall atmosphere of concern for national security, allow it to assert its independence from the elected government and to reestablish a free hand over internal affairs, unhampered by oversight from the government or civil society.

The Ministry of Interior can now use the new measures to quiet NGOs critical of police abuses and alleged torture. In a speech Mohammed Hassad, the Minister of Interior, gave before parliament this summer about ISIS and Moroccan jihadis, he linked the terrorism threats to the work of some human rights associations that—according to him—are tied to foreign agencies. He claimed that they undermined the state’s efforts to combat terrorism. Since that period, the security authorities have confronted the secular Moroccan Association of Human Rights (French acronym, AMDH). The Interior Ministry banned 25 of the group’s activities in less than six months, and state media has ridiculed the association to tarnish its image. It also banned an annual youth camp organized by Amnesty International’s Moroccan branch in Rabat.

The anti-terror amendments and Interior Ministry’s mew measures include restricting the country’s religious sphere and discourse. The Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs issued laws banning imams and preachers from “taking any position of a political or union-based nature, or doing anything that would halt or impede the performance of religious rites.” Ever since, the number of ministry-approved Friday sermons has increased.

The security approach, which favors a strong hand for the Ministry of Interior—even if one overlooks all the danger it poses for political and civil freedoms—is not likely to be effective to fight terrorism. However, it seems the ministry’s concern about terrorism is only secondary to its attempts to consolidate its grip once again. This, however, is not likely to enhance stability or security in the long term, and may indeed undermine it.

Mohammed Masbah is a fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin and a regular contributor to Sada.
This article was translated from Arabic.

What Makes Business Better in Morocco?
By Jean R. Abinader  Moroccan American Center for Policy (Washington, DC) 9 October 2014

I recently attended a rather thoughtful business conference on US-Arab Business, aptly titled the "C3 US-Arab Business Summit 2014." C3 stands for collaboration, community, and commerce, and its founder, Ransel Potter, has developed the summits for the "sharing of best practices in an effort to advance 'commercial diplomacy' between the two regions."

The sessions moved beyond the usual "how-to" guides and success stories to focus on issues such as the impact of water, advocacy, and cultural ethnicities on regional relationships; the importance of intellectual property protection; opportunities in infrastructure development; and the insights into how women can become more integrated into a country's economy, ably presented by spokespersons who have practical experience in promoting women in the workforce.
This year, several topics highlighted issues that continue to challenge governments as well as private sectors: for example, why corporations should consider local human capital development in their strategic planning, the importance of knowledge transfer in the health and sciences sectors, and how to communicate with Gen Y.

For me, there is great sensibility in this type of program approach that explains business opportunities within the larger context of the regional and cultural environment. Yet I found that, true to the line in the movie Jerry Maguire, "Show me the money" was also a driving force, as the great majority of presentations dealt with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries whose enormous energy-export driven sovereign wealth funds and pool of experienced local companies overwhelm market opportunities in non-energy exporting countries.

Business Sense
Addressing the market prospects in a smaller economy like Morocco's is a challenge I often face in these kinds of forums. And I was quite alone. The only other country from the Maghreb was Tunisia, whose representatives focused on social, educational, and cultural issues. So where does one start? The first step is to move beyond the "Casablanca" effect and Rick's Café and describe the wholesale changes that Morocco has made in its business environment in the last 15 years. Companies are surprised to learn that more than 100 US firms are active in Morocco, and some of the giants of the industry, like Cargill, Boeing, and GE, have a significant presence there.

More importantly, Morocco is not just a market of some 32 million people but actually serves as an effective and efficient platform for driving business into west, central, and Atlantic Africa stretching to Nigeria. With its infrastructure, networks, cultural understanding, and long historical ties, Morocco is well positioned to enable US firms to navigate three challenges in opening new markets: finding the right partners, dealing with local governments and regulations, and minimizing risk by making informed choices.

I have worked in the GCC so I can understand and appreciate the attraction of the glitter, but doing business there is not for the faint of heart. As Danny Sebright, President of the US-UAE Business Council remarked, for small firms, one trip to the Gulf may consume their entire year's market research budget. When one considers that the GCC itself is heavily invested in Morocco, then the benefits of investing in a smaller, regionally focused market become clear. Gulf countries appreciate Morocco's stability, keen appreciation for business partnerships, and recognition that it can only thrive through global commerce - these are at the center of the country's commercial ethos. So if one is intent on following the money, then it makes sense to look at opportunities in Morocco across a broad range of sectors, in the country and throughout the region.

Decentralize for People’s Power in Arab Spring Countries.
By Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir

To sustainably advance human development and political stability, Arab Spring countries should decentralize to sub-national levels the resources necessary to catalyze and implement community development.  Increasingly, Morocco is suggested as a model for the successful progress in the Arab Spring because of its stability, opportunities and cultural diversity.  At the same time, however, there are also extremely difficult internal challenges that could undermine Morocco’s future: rural poverty, youth despondency, severe economic disparity and the commonplace of exploited labor.

If Morocco could effectively implement participatory development and build democratic systems through decentralization, the model could be informative for the people of other Arab Spring countries to achieve the kind of future they seek.  Morocco’s development experiences and lessons are, therefore, relevant regionally and globally.

Morocco’s relative social and political stability during the Arab Spring is in significant measure due to King Mohammed VI’s early and consistent promotion of human development, including from 2008 and his commitment to decentralized government, now in Article I of the new Moroccan constitution of 2011.

However, both the correct vision for development (in which Morocco has made important strides) and its successful implementation (which Morocco unfortunately has not achieved as needed) are required in order to attain long-term socio-political stability in the Arab Spring countries.

Governments - that of Iraq being an example - may be reluctant to decentralize out of a concern that this process could promote secession and become a cause of conflict.  However, more often it is precisely the lack of empowerment in decision-making at the local level that heightens political resistance, tension and sectarian conflict and violence.

While decentralization may also cause national politicians and bureaucrats to feel depoliticized and less influential, the central level nevertheless remains vital in its areas of responsibility such as macroeconomic and foreign policies, national judiciary and security and development targets that encourage inter-regional balance and performance.  Such centralization could also help avoid - and counter - the pitfalls of poorly implemented decentralization, such as reduced social protection and greater social and geographic stratification.

Would the sectarian turmoil and ISIS terror that exist in present-day Iraq be less - or even absent - had the nation adopted federalism (a formalized decentralized system) in 2006 or earlier?  As unachievable as it seems at the present time, decentralization of power to sub-provincial levels, as close to the people as possible, appears the only viable way for Iraqis to feel more in control of their lives and to have even a modest chance of experiencing the person-to-person, Sunni-to-Shiite interaction that can, in actual fact, build localized processes of acknowledgement of each other and shared development.  If this were the case, ISIS would be rejected in the hearts and minds of most people.  A form of legitimate autonomy within an overall context of national sovereignty (similar to Morocco’s proposed solution for the Western Sahara, its southern provinces) could have the effect of decreasing the Shia-Sunni violence and conflict.  Decentralization is also explained to increase the defense capabilities of the country by making military attack on population centers more difficult.

As a stimulus, a decentralized human development approach would see thousands of smaller projects at the local level that communities identify and control, instead of fewer, large-scale costly projects with higher associated risks.  Benefits accrue for local communities from projects that are more quickly implemented.  In addition, such human development is finely suited to help shorten recessions and promote growth.  The participatory premise is that the timing of meetings, project implementation and of the overall development process rests with the people - acting in communities.

Villages and neighborhoods need third party facilitators of group dialogue who apply participatory planning methods for community assessments and consensus-building.  Indeed, the quantity and durability of local projects largely reflects the extent to which such facilitators are involved in this way.  Facilitators could be school teachers, members of civil society, locally elected officials, university students, business people, religious leaders, retirees or development workers - potentially anyone who is in a position to interface with local communities and whom local people accept in that role.

Morocco’s National Initiative for Human Development (NIHD) administered at the provincial level, created a framework for projects that reflect people's ideas as well as for the training required for local communities to determine those priority projects.  Additionally, the process of Moroccan decentralization and the NIHD are synergistic, mutually reinforcing each other.  The NIHD could help build new partnerships and structures of regionalization through much greater funding, training and projects - essentially the bricks and mortar of a decentralized administration.  Implementing projects in this way would create the pathways, partnerships and institutional arrangements inherent in decentralized systems.

Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir is president of the High Atlas Foundation, and nonprofit organization that promotes development in Morocco.

Well in the desert: a healthy soak in Saharan sands
2014-10-10 by Jalal AL MAKHFI Merzouga (AFP)

As the morning sun rises over the golden dunes of Erg Chebbi in the Sahara, men and women dig holes for tourists who want to bury themselves in the sand.

Decades ago, tribal nomads settled here, living a traditional desert existence that has now had to adapt to changing circumstance. The dunes of Merzouga tower over the small community in southeastern Morocco, where the Berber Ait Atta tribe now makes a brisk living from tourism. The formerly nomadic tribesmen have for years been running hotels and restaurants in Merzouga, a key stop on the Moroccan tourist trail on the edge of a sea of sand dunes. Now they're even turning to the sands themselves to attract visitors. For around 10 minutes visitors are buried neck-deep in the hot sand for therapy said to cure those who suffer from rheumatism, lumbago, polyarthritis and some skin disorders.

The therapy has the same effect as a sauna session, helping purge the body of poisonous toxins, according to those tribesmen such as Abdessalam Sadoq who now work in wellness tourism. "We offer every type of tourism here, but especially for health," he said. Making a living was not always easy for the descendants of the Ait Atta nomads, and over the decades the sons and daughters of those who roamed the desert on camels have had to attune themselves to more modern ways.

The Ait Atta once accumulated riches from trans-Saharan commerce, but now all that remains of this past is a road sign pointing towards Timbuktu, a mere 52 days away by camel. Their way of life ended after Morocco became a French protectorate in 1912, with the development of mining in the region, the emergence of urban centres and demarcation of the nearby border with Algeria.

Once-nomadic tribes had to find a new livelihood, and turned to cultivating date palms and tourism in the second half of the past century. Visitors in search of a cure do not come only from abroad: many Moroccans also firmly believe in the power of the desert. "I really feel much better, and each year I come back here to spend a week," said sciatica sufferer Ali Kallamouche from the central town of Beni Mellal.

Focus now on health
A sand bath at Merzouga costs up to 10 euros ($13), and when "patients" shake off the sand they are wrapped in hot towels to avoid the shock of a sudden cooling of the body. Many come not just for the cure but also for the breathtaking sunsets over Merzouga's erg -- the shifting sand dunes 20 kilometres (12 miles) long, five kilometres wide and up to 150 metres (500 feet) high.

Camel safaris and stays in the desert under canvas with the region's Berber and Arab tribes are still a tourist staple, but with the economy biting, industry workers had to look elsewhere to attract business. "People come for sand baths... and to taste the local dishes we make using medicinal plants and herbs," said Sadoq, who also heads an association to promote tourism in the Sahara.

Tourism is a cornerstone of Morocco's economy -- contributing 10 percent of gross domestic product. According to market experts, it is also growing, thanks to the development of wellness tourism. In September, Morocco hosted the Global Spa and Wellness Summit where industry experts said the sector expanded globally last year by 12.5 percent, generating almost $500 billion.

Morocco topped the Middle East and North Africa list in health tourism, with the industry growing more than 67 percent since 2007. In Merzouga, more and more people are signing up for a hot sand soak at the height of summer and other businesses, including those rooted in the recent past, are thriving as a result.
Ali sells camel milk which he insists does wonders for diabetes, anaemia and digestive tract problems. "People come from all over the world to Merzouga for sand baths, and that helps us promote other products," he said.

Journals of a Moroccan Fulbrighter in America (7): Happy Eid
Saturday 11 October 2014 - Ahmed Echcharfi Austin

The Eid is undoubtedly one of the occasion in which you will be reminded that you are a stranger, no matter how used you may be to your new life. If there were no Arab Muslims around you and you had no connection with home, you might be able to forget about the Eid altogether, but that was not the case with me.

The first thing that strikes me about Muslims in America is the relation they make between religion and nationality. Unlike the case in France, for example, where there is an Islamic Council that decides on dates for Eid, Ramadan, and other ceremonies, there is most probably no similar institution for Muslims in America. So, the first issue I had to settle with my Muslim acquaintances was the day of the Eid: while most Arab countries had their Eid on Saturday, Moroccans decided on Sunday. The argument certainly had a nationalistic flavor, but my position was weakened by a decisive factor: number. I was the only Moroccan while the others were mostly from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait and Yemen. So, I yielded. I learnt later on that some Azhar Sheikhs expressed very negative opinions about Morocco’s decision to celebrate the Eid on Sunday instead of Saturday, as most Arabs did. I thought about the question for a while but dropped it quickly: throughout the history of Islam, religious scholars have been idealistic about Islamic Umma. So, there is no wonder that, even in this age of nations and nationalism, they still cling to their chimerical dream of resuscitating the Caliphate from its ashes, if only through such weak symbols as consensus on the date of the Eid.

There was no mosque for the Eid prayer, but the centre for Islamic Studies was rented for that purpose. I have no idea who paid the rent, and whether it was an individual or an association. The prayer brought people from different parts of the world, though the place was small. In the hubbub of American life, I’m sure most of those people will not see each other except on a similar occasion.

There was a decision that we would have breakfast in a coffee shop near campus. We were a host of us: three Egyptians, a Yemeni, a Pakistani American, an American convert and myself. The coffee shop is a flourishing business: we had to wait about forty-five minutes for our turn. During that time, Radwa was the one who watched over everything. She was the one who had the idea of a collective breakfast and, now, she was making sure everything was going according to her plan. Kevin came wearing a gown of the kind people in the Middle East usually wear. He had spent some time in Jordan and Tunisia, and he knows how religious ceremonies are celebrated there. He brought with him a box of dates and insisted that we taste from it. Later on, he noted that he was celebrating his first year as a Muslim.

The coffee shop did not serve Halal food. Of course, we didn’t order meat, but their dishes were mixtures of several things, and there was a real risk that some of the ingredients might contain pork. Kevin was there to help us with the menu. When he pronounced the word “khenzir,” it seemed to me that he was expressing some negative attitude, but in fact he was neutral about that.

In the afternoon, I was invited to a party in Salt Lick, Derwood, some thirty-five kilometers south of Austin. This time, the group was much larger and included almost all the teachers in the Center for Arabic studies. All along the way to Derwood, the scenery was breath-taking: ranches in the midst of an oak forest. My image of Texas was merely an arid and barren land in which only cactus could grow, but Hollywood films were behind the dissemination of such representations. The Salt Lick restaurant and recreation park are situated within a ranch, which gives the place a special beauty. That’s why many people from the city go there, and if they don’t go early, they’ll have to queue for a long time before their turn comes.

We sat at a long table, and an informal one without a tablecloth. Si Mahmoud was the most experienced of us and the most acquainted with the place. With his thirty or more years in America, he was probably the least affected by homesickness. He laughed, told stories and, now and then, made jokes about one of us. Probably because he was the boss, being the director of the Arabic program at UT, he was concerned about the morale of his crew. His high spirits and his generosity did make us forget about home that afternoon.

When we were back in the city, a group of us went to a café called “Kasbah”. It is intended to look like a Moroccan place and, indeed, there was a plate saying “welcome to Morocco”. But the place is owned by a Jordanian, who himself bought it from an Iraqi; so I was told. They served tea in pots not similar to those used by Moroccans, and the tea didn’t taste really Moroccan; nothing here tastes like Moroccan tea!

The Moroccan character of the place encouraged a couple of Egyptians to talk about Moroccan Arabic. They had visited Morocco before, and they recalled funny stories from their visits. But they didn’t forget to mention the good things about the country. One of them pointed out that the tramway in Rabat or Casablanca has no equal even in America. I felt proud, although I tried not to show that. You cannot imagine how such things matter when you are with foreigners. God save our country!

Morocco a colourful blend of the exotic: Marrakech a fantastic destination on its own, but also a great base from which to travel.
By Bruce Jamieson, Special to the Sun

Morocco is the western extremity of the Arab and Muslim world, a magic carpet flying between myth and reality. Separated from Europe by only the 15-kilometre Strait of Gibraltar, it is worlds away from life as most of us know it. Although flora and fauna are distinct and the architecture unique, it was the diversity of the people that fascinated me. Phoenicians, Romans and Bandals came here; then Andalusian refugees from Spain and slaves from the sub-Sahara. Once, there were many Moracccan Jews, expelled from Iberia during the Reconquista, but since the formation of Israel the population is 97 per cent Muslim.
The biodiversity in Morocco is the wildest in the Mediterranean — there are tuna, swordfish, tarpon and dolphin. Forests of holm oak, juniper, red cedar and Aleppo pines characterize the northern slopes. Bird life includes horned larks, vultures and golden eagles. Home courtyards feature orchids, geraniums and scarlet dianthus. My intrepid wife, Carole, loves orchids, and was pleased to see a multitude of indigenous varieties.

For centuries, visitors have journeyed to Marrakech — a fantastic destination on its own — but it is also a great base from which to explore the Atlas Mountains or the Sahara. There is a marked dichotomy between the median (old town) and the Ville nouvelle. Observing the cacophonous mob of snake charmers, musicians, acrobats, dentists (believe me), preachers and assorted lunatics is like nothing I had ever seen.

Winston Churchill loved to stay at the luxurious La Mamounia Hotel. He invited Franklin D. Roosevelt to meet there and plan the conclusion of the Second World War. Today you can stay in the Churchill suite for $1,200 per night.

One evening, we attended Chez All near Marrakech for a fantasia. This included a six-course meal, musicians playing amzhads (a single string violin), drums and mars (an odd double clarinet). The meal featured a tajine, a delicious, slow-cooked stew of meat, vegetables and spices, named for the pot in which it is cooked.

Pastillia is a rich mixture of pigeon meat, lemon, eggs cinnamon and saffron in a pastry. A lamb entree followed with couscous, olives, hot peppers, garbzos and herb bread soaked in olive oil. The entertainment included a Berber cavalry charge, complete with discharging muskets.

While travelling through the High Atlas, we saw numerous groups of Berber nomads. Their tents, woven with wool and hair, were surprisingly wide-based, but families are large and multiple wives are the norm. The High Atlas is the only area in Africa that receives snow. The summit of Djebal Toubkal is North Africa’s highest peak (4,167 metres). With winter coming on, women were gathering firewood they heaped on donkeys.

In Fes, we entered the walled medina’s labyrinth of narrow streets and were assailed by hustlers selling all manners of goods. We suffered sensory overload as the scent of kebabs on open grills combined with whiffs of hashish, the stench of tanning vats and the sweet smell of cedar shavings. The souks were incredibly small shops selling fish, meat (including camel), copperware and, of course, the leather and rug work for which Morocco is famous. The spice souk had massive sacks of saffron, cumin, ginger and orange flowers. Among the more unusual wares: goat hoofs for hair treatment, ground-up ferrets for depression and chameleon liver for sexual frustration.

If you go, be careful to adhere to local etiquette. Wear a moneybelt, not a fanny pack. It is not polite for men or women to wear shorts and women must not bare their shoulders or, heavens, their cleavage. There are few places in the world as colourful and exciting as Morocco. For those in search of the exotic and unfamiliar, Morocco will not disappoint.

Discovering paradise on Earth in Morocco’s north.
By Sya Taha, Sunday, 5th October 2014

Sya Taha explores cities of art in northern Morocco: Chefchaouen, its highlands, and the hybrid city of Tétouan. Do you know any introverts who don’t talk much when there are a lot of people around? But when you talk to them in a smaller group, you realise that they have a lot of interesting things to say?
That’s what exploring northern Morocco was like for me. I only considered going there after exploring bigger and better-known Moroccan cities like Marrakesh, Casablanca and Fes….

The Trip to Celebrate Eid Al-Adha in Boumalne Dades, Morocco
Saturday 4 October 2014 El Houssaine Naaim Marrakech

Every year and during every al-Adha feast, each Dadsi person pilgrimages back to Boumalne Dades. It is a great occasion when families get together; no one should miss this tremendous day. Mothers spend their days sitting in front of doors and at windows, looking at the roads and waiting for their children to come back from the bigger cities to celebrate this wonderful day with them. All mothers pray and wish their kids to arrive in safety and peace as the roads become overcrowded during this celebration. On buses, cars, motorcycles, and taxis, people travel in groups to get home.

I’m one of these people; I can’t imagine celebrating Eid al-Adha away from my mother and my family. I make sure that I book my bus ticket about fifteen days before departure. I, like everyone, pay more than we usually do for tickets, because most buses might already be reserved. When on the bus, away from the stress of bus stations, I feel relieved and very happy: after several months, I’m finally on the way home.

During this trip, and on a very wavy road, the Tichka, some people can not bear the frequent turning around of the bus and easily vomit, but despite that everyone still seems happy and cheerful. They keep asking each other how many months it’s been since they last visited home and many other questions.
After three hours of driving from Marrakech, the bus stops at Tadart, where people have a break and something to eat. Some people eat rissole, tajine, T-steak, or just packaged things for those who don’t trust the cooked meat. In that same spot, we feel cold and notice that the weather is different from that in Marrakech or other cities. We stop wearing t-shirts when Eid falls between October and March. The farther southeast we go, the more appealing mountains we pass.

After six hours of a heavy and interesting trip, the bus drops me off in Tamazirt, Boumalne Dades, and I walk for several minutes towards home with gifts in my hands. Even when I arrive late at night, everybody in my family, including my mom, stays awake to receive me. The family becomes very excited and joyful to hug and kiss me. After few seconds, they start asking me about the trip, if it was safe and smooth, and they ask about my friends and the weather in my host city. During this first meeting while we are talking, my mother immediately goes to the kitchen to prepare some tea and bring dinner.

All of this happens for the feast Adha that comes a few days after my arrival. It is celebrated two months and ten days after the feast of Ramadan. The day after I arrive, I go to the shelter of our sheep to see how big our ram is. Then we go out to see friends and other members of our extended family and go to the souk to buy everything we need for the feast.

First, I buy a few kilos of meat for Arafat, the day before the feast, and some ingredients for cakes that my sisters and aunts often prepare. By Arafat day, all members of the family are together having fun and enjoying long talks about experiences and news that happened during and throughout the year.
On pins and needles, everyone waits enthusiastically for the day of the feast. On the morning, the mom is always the first to wake up, at about 5 am, sweeping and cleaning the living rooms and the courtyard of the house, as we expect many visits from people in our village. My sisters and aunts get up to prepare a special breakfast by cooking soup, mssemmen, baghrir, cakes, and rice. My grandmother does not eat anything until she has breakfast with the liver of the ram that we are supposed to slaughter, as she practices this Sunnah habit.

After breakfast usually at about 7 or 8 am, men and women choose the best or newest clothes, often white jellabas and babouchs, and go to the mosque for the prayer of Eid. When getting closer to the mosque, one can hear the early comers repeating some religious sayings, such as “Allah Akbar Allah Akbar La ilah illa Allah,” or ‘God is the greatest, God is the Greatest, and there is no other God but God.’

Some people congratulate each other on the way to the mosque, but most people congratulate each other after the prayer. On Mssellah, everyone without exception hugs and kisses each others’ cheeks, wishing a very happy day. If anyone is on bad terms with someone else, they reconcile and start a fresh relationship.

After praying, and after the imam slaughters his ram, everybody returns home to slaughter their own ram. When I get home, I make sure all the knives are sharp and change into other clothes so that I do not spoil my white jellaba with the blood of the ram. Before slaughtering the ram, my grandmother puts some salt in its mouth and some (antimony) tazoult/kohl on its eyes. Then the father or anyone who knows how to slaughter does the job. During this time, the family takes pictures and the women start ululating, especially if the ram can stand up for seconds even after it is slaughtered.

Afterward, the family gathers and begins having some steak and brochettes. At lunch we have tajines, fruits, and some lemonade. The meat of lunch that day is leftover from Arafat, since we start cutting the slaughtered ram three days after the feast, and we eat the head of the ram on the seventh day. This is how our ancestors used to celebrate the rituals of the Eid and has now become a habit.

In the afternoon, young girls and boys go visit and wish a happy Eid to all the families in our village. This includes more than 150 families, especially families that have old or sick people or a family that has just lost someone. On the second and third days, we visit people of other villages or tribes.
After Eid, everyone goes back to his or her study or work. Most of travelers don’t return home again for about seven months or until the next Eid al-Fitr, which is celebrated in its own special way

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