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Morocco Week in Review 
September 6, 2014

In Morocco, Kaine CODEL Meets With Government Officials, Civil Society & Business Leaders. - Sep 08,2014 RABAT, MOROCCO

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, and a Congressional delegation including Representatives Loretta Sanchez (CA), Adam Schiff (CA), Albio Sires (NJ), Juan Vargas (CA) and Pedro Pierluisi (PR) concluded a two-day visit to Morocco.

In meetings with Moroccan government officials, Kaine thanked them for the longstanding partnership with the United States, stressed the importance of continued security cooperation against regional threats, encouraged greater economic cooperation, and discussed the importance of education. Kaine focused on the need to strengthen and broaden our strong friendship with Morocco, especially because of the growing security concerns across the Middle East and North Africa. The delegation also met with Moroccan civil society leaders to discuss the importance of political reform and human rights in Morocco.

In Tangier, the delegation met with Moroccan educators, business leaders and Peace Corps volunteers. With the business leaders, Kaine discussed the successes of the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement and Morocco’s aspirations of developing into the economic gateway for Africa. With the Peace Corps volunteers, Kaine discussed their work in Morocco, and took a tour of the Tangier American Legation for Moroccan Studies, the only American historical landmark outside of the United States.

The delegation will visit U.S. Naval Station Rota in Rota, Spain where they will observe joint U.S. and Spanish military exercises, tour the destroyer USS Donald Cook, previously homeported in Norfolk, and meet with servicemembers from Virginia and delegation states.

MAD 900 million budget for 2014 general population census: HCP
Friday 29 August 2014 Rabat

Morocco’s 2014 general population census, slated for  September 1- 20, will cost a total of about MAD 900 million, High Commission for Planning (HCP) said. The overall budget of the 2014 general population census amounts to MAD 897,082,984, according to figures released  Wednesday  by HCP during a press conference. This large-scale operation includes three major phases: cartographical works and data running and exploitation, the same source added. 85 % of this budget, that is MAD 764m, will go to allowances for participants and vehicle charges, said HCP.

Morocco launches census
By Hassan Benmehdi in Casablanca for Magharebia - 05/09/2014

Morocco's sixth national census is under way. Conducted every ten years, the project will provide data to guide future development and public policy programmes. No fewer than 70,000 census takers have set off to meet Moroccan households, as part of the three-week General Population and Housing Census (RGPH) operation that kicked off on Monday (September 1st). "Right from the very first day, we've seen that the public is fully prepared to answer the census takers' questions," said Hasna Tadli, the census manager in Casablanca.

According to High Commissioner for Planning Ahmed Lahlimi, citizens showed "a real willingness to help and a high level of civic responsibility". "Members of the public have a moral and legal duty to answer the questions in the census, which has the sole purpose of taking a snapshot of the social realities of the country, so that political decision-makers will be able to draw up development plans for the coming decade," Lahlimi told Magharebia.

Citizens have welcomed the project, especially questions introduced into the 2014 census on the quality of housing and access to basic facilities. "This operation is needed to find practical solutions to problems such as housing, youth unemployment, schools and public services," Casablanca architect Labib Belaâyoune said.

To medical student Najat Essahel, "the real success of this operation will be the way it contributes to fixing all that hampers socioeconomic development".

Younès Battoufi, a parking attendant, also voiced hope that the data collected by the government would lead to practical results. "I really want them to use this census to improve the daily lives of poor people in Morocco and to establish real social justice," he said.

For the first time in the history of the census, the 2014 edition is using satellite imagery and special websites, according to Mohamed El Qarfaoui of the High Commission for Planning (HCP).

The population segments covered by the census are ordinary households, nomadic households, people living alone, the homeless and those in temporary housing. The figures on the population living legally in Morocco will be published towards the end of 2014. The demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of the population are expected to be announced next year.

The overall budget for the RGPH is 900 million dirhams.

Struggling to achieve gender parity in education, despite substantial gains towards achieving the related millennium development goals (MDGs). compares progress in Morocco and Yemen.
Sep 5, 2014
By Mohamed Cherif in Geneva, together with Mahmoud Ma'rouf in Rabat, Morocco, and Abdul-Karim Salam, in Sanaa, Yemen,

Since 1990 Morocco and Yemen have reported headway on realising MDGs 2 and 3 on universal primary education and promoting gender equality, respectively.

At national level Morocco has pushed to achieve universal education. Net enrolment in primary schools rose from 55.3% in 1990 to 98.7% in 2013, according to the United Nations. Thanks to efforts by civil society groups, international organisations like the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), some people expect Morocco to achieve MDG2 when it expires in September 2015.

Despite this, some girls living in the countryside in Morocco are still unable to go to school. The main reasons for this are cultural – the preference for schooling males over females – financial and economic.

Questions have also been raised about the validity of Morocco’s MDG statistics. "The official figures don’t necessarily reflect the reality on the ground. For example, the 98% rate of universal primary education is not the same in all areas. Figures are close to this rate near urban centres, but decline gradually as we move further away,” declared Mohammed Mu'ashib, who works as a primary school teacher and researcher in children's culture in Morocco.

Conflicting statistics

In Yemen, meanwhile, conflicting statistics abound. United Nations data says net enrolment in Yemen’s primary schools rose from 57% in 1999 to 87% in 2012. But a recent UNICEF report on Yemen based on 2013 Ministry of Education data said the school enrolment rate was 81% - 90.3% for males and 72.8% for females. But in a different section of the same report it said the primary school enrolment rate was ‘in the range of 77.4%’.

Whatever the final approved figures when the MDGs expire, Yemen currently ranks 119 th  globally in terms of overall MDG achievement. It is unlikely to achieve the goal of universal primary education by 2015. "The low ranking of Yemen on many indicators is the result of many economic, political and social factors, which have left around one million children of school age not enrolled in primary education,” said Abdo Seif, head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) advisory team in Yemen.

Shrinking gender gap, but…

Despite differing levels of success in getting children into classrooms, both Morocco and Yemen suffer from gender inequality in education.

Morocco has been more successful. In 1990, there were about 68 girls for every 100 boys in primary school. By 2012, the gender gap had shrunk to 95 girls to 100 boys. Meanwhile in Yemen in 1999 there were about 56 girls for every 100 boys in primary school. By 2012 the gender gap was 83 girls to 100 boys. The figure for secondary school was much worse, though – 65 girls to 100 boys.

Nonetheless, Abdul-Hadi Wakrimi, the head of the Imam Malik Association for Traditional Education "Tam Turka Azrou" in the village of Onayan 380km southwest of the Moroccan capital Rabat, said fathers were afraid to send their daughters to remote schools. “But there is also the economic factor and the low income of parents. Fathers prefer to cover the cost of education for boys and sacrifice the right of girls,” he added.

Tribal influence

But girls in rural areas in Yemen suffer more than their counterparts in Morocco, said Abdo Seif, owing to “interference from tribal chieftains and dignitaries, and because of the predominance of social traditions that reject education, in addition to the lack of resources and the poor infrastructure".

Ishraq al-Hakimi, the Ministry of Education undersecretary for girls' education in Yemen, agreed that it was not just a question of poverty. “Customs and traditions, and the lack of awareness among families about the importance of education in general, and the girls’ education in particular, make families believe that girls' education is useless, and that the girl's natural place is in her home where should deal with household responsibilities,” she declared.

Ishraq said there were few girls-only schools in rural areas in Yemen. The schools there were often mixed, which meant some parents deprived their daughters of an education. But there were other obstacles, she went on: "These include the scarcity of female teachers who agree to work in the countryside, early marriage between 12 and 18 which prevents girls from completing their education, and widespread violence against women and girls."

A recent report by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics raised concerns that the rate of enrolment of boys had declined in recent years, which meant that the figures may not reflect the real progress in girls' education. Specialists therefore believe that Yemen will not be able to achieve gender equality in education target.

Impact of armed conflicts

While Morocco has maneuvered relatively peacefully during the Arab Spring, Yemen has been plagued by a cycle of political and civil conflict, coupled with their fight against terrorism and Al-Qaeda since 2011.

Fighting with Shi’ite Muslim Houthis in the northeast of the country, the popular uprising in the capital Sanaa and several other cities against the regime of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and calls for independence in the south have all had a negative impact on achieving the MDGs.

Reports by Yemen’s Ministry of Education in 2013 showed that as a result of these developments over 150 schools were occupied, including 34 by government armed forces or displaced people. About 100,000 students have been affected, according to the Ministry of Education.

Local and practical experiments

In the face of these problems, civil society organizations in Morocco and Yemen, have nonetheless managed to develop small local solutions for achieving universal education and gender equality goals.

In Morocco so-called ‘collective schools’ have been set up for boys and girls in rural areas. In the village of Onayan the ‘Imam Malik Association for Traditional Education’, for example, offers an educational programme similar to that of public schools, but under the supervision of the Ministry of Awqaf (endowments) and Islamic Affairs. The ministry oversees the traditional education and literacy programmes, which focus more on the teaching of the Holy Koran. The association has three classes that accommodate around 60 students.

The head of the association, Abdul-Hadi Wakrimi, says the experiment is successful, as each student gets a grant worth 150 dirhams (about $20) a month. However, he recognizes that they suffer from "a lack of quality education and qualified teachers”.

A successful experiment was also launched in 2003 to teach Tamazight, the language spoken by about three million people, in order to increase attention on ethnic and linguistic minorities. According to a UNESCO report, this helped reduce the rate of children who were never enrolled in schools.

And in Yemen, a civil society group called the Yemeni Coalition for Education for All took an unprecedented step to address the issue of tribes' opposition to girls' education. It encouraged tribes to sign a document pledging to teach girls so they wouldn’t be blamed for the failure to achieve the MDGs. The first one was signed on February 13, 2014 with the chieftains and people of Hamadan directorate on the outskirts of Sanaa. The coalition is confident that such agreements will be expanded in the future to involve other tribes.

MDGs 2 and 3

Worldwide  progress on realising MDG 2 - universal primary education - and MDG 3 - promoting gender equality - has been mixed. The overall school enrolment rate in primary education in developing regions increased from 83% to 90% between 2000 and 2012. But most of the gains were achieved by 2007, after which progress stagnated. In 2012, 58 million children were out of school.

Substantial advances were made towards reaching gender parity in school enrolment at all levels of education in all developing regions. By 2012, all developing regions achieved, or were close to achieving, gender parity in primary education.

Half of the 58 million out-of-school children of primary school age live in conflict-affected areas. More than one in four children in developing regions entering primary school is likely to drop out. In the Arab-speaking world Yemen was ranked last with around 857,000 children out of school, according to a report by UNESCO in 2012, followed by Iraq (500,000), Egypt, (368,000), Saudi Arabia (318,000) and Morocco (134,000).

781 million adults and 126 million youth worldwide lack basic literacy skills, and more than 60% of them are women.

Mediterranean Youth Focus On Citizenship.
By Imrane B

The week-long Euro-Mediterranean Forum wrapped up on Sunday (August 31st) in Biougra, Morocco. The event brought together youth from across the region. The main aim of the meeting near Agadir was to develop methods of teaching citizenship and to promote cultural dialogue in European and Mediterranean nations, according to Abderrahim Bourkia, a Moroccan journalist and social science researcher.

Mokhtar Nait El Cadi, the president of the Timzday Association, which organised the event, said it was an opportunity to take stock of the experience of different countries in terms of teaching citizenship. "The differences between Mediterranean nations require great capacity to manage the various aspects of cultural dialogue (e.g. political and religious). The forum is focusing on the management of cultural, religious and linguistic diversity in the Euro-Mediterranean region," he underlined.

He also said that the goal was to encourage young people to have a positive vision geared towards changing civic education syllabuses within the Euro-Mediterranean region. "We also need to take a fresh look at cultural dialogue programmes and look at how we can make sure that the countries in the southern Mediterranean benefit from all efforts made to this end," he said.

Zeer Hatem of the Tunisian youth ministry explained the importance of the forum: "We start off by presenting the issues that must address young people's expectations. Then we all reach agreement on a plan and work out the details of its implementation, and then its evaluation... This participatory approach enables young people to express their opinions and take decisions. Participation is the best way of assimilating the principles of citizenship," he said.

Meriem Narimen from Algeria, who is an assistant professor at the University of Batna, presented the changes in the concept of citizenship since the dawn of mankind. "The aim of my speech was to highlight the importance of teaching citizenship, a concept that can prevail over all other political, religious and ethnic affiliations in Arab countries," she stated.

Within this framework, she called for the creation of a Euro-Mediterranean network for the teaching of citizenship and cultural diversity in Arab countries. She added that the forum was "an opportunity to change the misperceptions that people in the Arab world have about citizenship. It is a concept that stands apart from political, ethnic and religious differences."

According to Abderrahim Bourkia, the Moroccan journalist and social science researcher, the conference sought to encourage discourse between cultures. "Intercultural dialogue", he explained, "has an important role to play in this regard. On the one hand, it helps us to prevent ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural divisions. At the same time, it enables us to move forwards together and recognise our different identities in a constructive and democratic way, on the basis of shared universal values."

In his view, the words "citizenship" and "dialogue" are two key terms to describe the main challenges facing European and Mediterranean countries, "especially after the recent major changes that have put many of them to the test", he told Magharebia. This mechanism, he said, necessitated support for democratic and political transition by empowering citizens and young people to participate in public affairs.

Civic education and multicultural dialogue would enable citizens to play their part in contributing to constructive change and development in their countries, Bourkia added.

Moody's changes outlook on Morocco's Ba1 rating to stable from negative.
Wednesday 03, September 2014 by Matthew Amlôt

Moody's Investors Service has today changed to stable from negative the outlook on Morocco's Ba1 government bond rating. Concurrently, Moody's has affirmed the Ba1 rating.

The key drivers of the decision to change the outlook to stable are as follows:

1) The implementation of the government's energy subsidy reform, which improves the structure of fiscal and external accounts;
2) The government's industrial policy agenda, which promotes higher value-added export industries, particularly in the offshoring, automotive and aerospace industries, and is funded by significant foreign direct investment (FDI).

The affirmation of Morocco's Ba1 rating balances the expected peak in the country's debt/GDP in 2015 and significant ongoing borrowing requirements with its easy access to funding. Moody's has also kept all rating ceilings unchanged, namely the foreign-currency bond ceiling at Baa2/P-2, the foreign-currency deposit ceiling at Ba2/NP, and the local-currency bond and deposit ceiling at Baa1.

The first driver of Moody's decision to change the outlook on Morocco's government bond rating to stable from negative is the implementation of the government's energy subsidy reform. This reform is facilitating structural adjustments to the fiscal and external accounts and helping to reduce the large twin deficits that the government accumulated in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The formation of these deficits was the key driver for the negative outlook assignment in February 2013.

Cumulative budget execution data from January to June 2014 confirm Morocco's progress in reducing subsidy expenditures, in line with Moody's expectations. Subsidy and transfer expenditures over the first half of 2014 were almost 47 per cent lower than over the same period in 2013. The government is on track (1) to reach the MAD35 billion end-year subsidy expenditure target; and (2) to reduce the subsidy bill to 3.8 per cent of GDP in 2014 and below three per cent in 2015, from 4.8 per cent in 2013 and 6.6 per cent in 2012. The latter assumes that oil prices remain broadly constant. Moreover, the retrenchment in subsidy expenditures has allowed the government to expand public investment expenditures significantly in H1 2014 compared to the same period last year.

Moody's also notes the impending pension reform and the expected adoption of the Organic Budget Law as being supportive of creditworthiness.

The second driver of today's outlook change is the government's industrial growth strategy, which has started to show significant results in the areas of offshore outsourcing and the creation of export-oriented industrial zones with a focus on higher value-added automotive, aerospace and electronics industries. Automobile construction and electronics-related exports have increased at high double-digit rates over H1 2014 compared to the same period last year, with the potential for further expansion. The development of these industries was funded by significant FDI inflows, which have also strengthened Morocco's international reserve base.

Morocco's "Vision 2020" strategy for the development of the tourism industry as the country's main source of foreign currency income is also supportive of creditworthiness.

Moody's has affirmed Morocco's government bond rating at Ba1 to reflect the following key considerations:

1) Morocco's general government debt-to-GDP is projected to peak at about 66 per cent of GDP in 2015, and to decline only gradually thereafter, thus leaving the fiscal strength indicators in line with Morocco's rating peers.
2) The country's gross borrowing requirements remain significant at about 15 per cent of GDP per year, in line with peers, although its low share of foreign-currency funding and ample access to domestic and external funding at favourable conditions are mitigating factors.
3) The availability of IMF support under the Precautionary and Liquidity Line (PCL), which provides additional insurance against deteriorating funding conditions in case of tighter external liquidity conditions or a significant change in market sentiment.

Upward rating pressure would result from higher economic growth through improved competitiveness. In addition, further institutional improvements such as negotiated under the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the EU would be supportive of creditworthiness.

Risks to Morocco's current rating stem from a potential reversal in the country's fiscal consolidation strategy due to the materialization of domestic or geopolitical risk, as well as a significant worsening of the current account following a protracted slowdown in the euro area, which is Morocco's main trading partner.

Islamic banks one step closer to fruition in Morocco.
By Siham Ali in Rabat for Magharebia – 02/09/2014

Morocco's Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE) weighed in on the Islamic bank bill last Thursday (August 28th), proposing two changes. The president of the Chamber of Councillors, Mohamed Cheikh Biadillah, asked the body last month to render an opinion on the legitimacy of the draft's legal provisions.

Two negative remarks were made by the CESE. The first related to a lack of consumer information necessary to avoid unfair marketing by Islamic banks. The second dealt with the need to clarify the roles of the National Council of Ulema and the central bank in the oversight of the sector.

According to Eastern Regional Council of Ulema chairman and CESE member Mustapha Benhamze, the establishment of Islamic banks in Morocco was a necessity. However, civil society activist and fellow CESE member Hakima Naji opposed the intervention of the High Council of Ulema in the financial sector. She criticised the idea of religious management of finance and said that the central bank had the necessary ability to both traditional and Islamic banks.

CESE chief and former Economy Minister Nizar Baraka highlighted the importance of creating Islamic banks by explaining that alternative products already existed in Morocco and had accounted for almost a billion dirhams of savings since 2010. This amount, he said, will be boosted by the creation of participatory banks. This type of bank will also make it possible to increase the percentage of people who use banking services in Morocco, which currently stands at 57 percent, he said. "The goal is to increase this rate to two-thirds of the population," Baraka noted.

CESE underlined in its opinion that more communication about participatory products was absolutely essential in order to explain the concept properly and to avoid distinctions being made between "halal" and "haram" products, sociologist Karim Chabli said. "We need to be careful that we don't fall into this trap and create pointless debates that can only harm society when the reason for licensing Islamic banks is to respond to the needs of a category of the Moroccan population," he said.

Trader Mohamed Chadi is among the citizens pleased that the CESE adopted the draft law on participatory banks. "I've been waiting for years for Islamic banks to be created in Morocco so that I can manage my money in accordance with my religious beliefs. It's true that I'm banking with a normal bank at the moment, but that's because I have no other option," he told Magharebia, underlining that he has friends who take the risk of keeping their savings at home due to the lack of Islamic banks in the kingdom.

Hamza Souieh, an employee, also welcomes the introduction of Islamic finance in Morocco. He has been aspiring to buy a home for years but refuses to take out a loan. "If Islamic banks are created, I'll soon be able to buy a flat," he told us optimistically.

Morocco named world’s fifth exporter of strawberries

Morocco ranks as the world’s fifth largest strawberries exporter, according to Statistics provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
The same source said that during 2013-2014 crop year the country exported approximately 74,000 tons, representing 7 percent of the international market.

During the same year, the kingdom exported 55000 tons of frozen strawberries, representing 72 percent of the total exports and 19,000 tons for the fresh category with 28 percent. The ministry said that 95 percent of Moroccan strawberries were exported to European countries.

Over 3,300 hectares have been allocated for strawberry farming in Morocco, mostly in the in the fertile regions of Loukkos, Souss-Massa Draa and Gharb.

To celebrate this important national product, which is unique to Morocco among Arab countries, the kingdom organizes annually the International Strawberry Festival in the Moroccan sea resort of Moulay Bousselham in order to make producers of strawberries in the region familiar with the new methods of production and conservation of this sweet fruit.

Source: Publication date: 9/4/2014

A Good Friend To America Is A Good Neighbor To Africa

Government officials and business leaders from nearly 50 African countries gathered in Washington, D.C. on August 4-6 for the first-ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. The event not only signaled President Obama’s commitment to building a stronger relationship between the U.S. and Africa; it also demonstrated his belief that “Africa’s growth depends, first and foremost, on continued reforms in Africa by Africans,” as he stated.

A shining example in this regard is Morocco. Throughout the meetings, programs and events, the North African Kingdom demonstrated that it plays a key role in promoting economic development and stability among its neighbors on the continent.

Morocco has signed cooperation agreements with a number of African nations on everything from agriculture to security to telecom to energy. The Kingdom offers scholarships for African students to study in Moroccan universities; provides several African countries with training for religious leaders and teachers—both men and women—to promote moderate Islam; and will be offering security training as well.

The country’s strong presence in Africa was mirrored by the Moroccan delegation at the Summit, with Moroccan delegates attending more than 70 events that resulted in a number of public statements and signed agreements on counterterrorism, business, education and more. Among them, Morocco’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mbarka Bouaida signed a framework of cooperation with the U.S. to identify and support Moroccan security training experts and for the U.S. and Morocco to provide joint training for civilian counterterrorism forces throughout the region.

Another key development was a memorandum of understanding that Morocco signed with Wells Fargo bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to expand lending to small and medium-size enterprises in Morocco through Attijariwafa Bank.

President Obama also announced that the next Global Entrepreneurship Summit will be held in Morocco. Now in its fifth year, the event is an extension of Mr. Obama’s emphasis on entrepreneurship as a pillar of U.S. global engagement and serves as a platform of exchange between global business leaders and entrepreneurs.

The Summit was an opportunity for African countries to showcase their diversity, strength and dynamism. It also demonstrated how Morocco, with its stability and robust economic growth at home and strong, established relationships throughout the continent, can work with the U.S. to build success and increase its engagement in one of the fastest- growing areas of the world.
This information is conveyed by Beckerman on behalf of the Government of Morocco. Further information is available at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Little transparency in Morocco's receipt of foreign aid
Author: TelQuel (Morocco) Author Nizar Idrissi Zouggari Posted September 4, 2014 Translator(s) Cynthia Milan

The announcements of donations and loans granted for Morocco are coming in one after the other under the banner of Official Development Assistance (ODA). However, this generosity is not as great as it may seem.

Economist Najib Akesbi talked to Tel Quel about the financial aid Morocco has received from Arab and Western countries, stressing the need to distinguish between donations and loans.

On Aug. 24, Qatar granted Morocco a donation of around 1.15 billion dirhams [$313 million]. Yet another donation announcement, but do we really know what the money will be used for? If the destination of these donations is generally made clear at the time of their announcement, the traces of these transactions on the other hand disappear and little feedback on their use is available, as they do not undergo a transparent impact assessment.

How much is Morocco receiving?

The donations and loans received by Morocco from developed countries are all under the banner of the ODA. The ODA consists of donations and loans with preferential conditions on interest rates. The “extreme” donations are relatively rare. The loans generally have an “element of donation,” which means that they are granted under better conditions than the ones of the market.

The distinction is really important: Donations and loans do not exploit the public expenditures the same way. If the donation, as the name suggests, is free, then the loan binds the state that granted it and must be repaid. In the press, however, this distinction is not respected, which alerted economist Najib Akesbi, who told Tel Quel, “The press does not treat this matter with enough precision. The loans exploit public funds and should be subject to an extensive debate. We speak of loans or donations without clarifying the difference, without raising the right questions concerning these loans and donations or even the conditions that accompany them.”

According to Word Bank statistics, the ODA received by Morocco in 2012 reached $1.48 billion. This makes Morocco the 20th-most important ODA beneficiary for 2012, according to these statistics.

Who are the donors to Morocco?

France is Morocco’s top donor. In 2011, France’s share represented 62% of the bilateral aid received by Morocco. The same year, Morocco was the third most important country in Africa to benefit from France’s aid. The first was the Democratic Republic of Congo and the second was the Ivory Coast. In 2013, the French Development Agency alone granted Morocco 250 million euros [$325 million] in loans. The rest of the aid received by Morocco was European and multilateral.

The United States and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in particular, granted Morocco $167 million in 2012.

According to Akesbi, “The EU aid breakdown is not clear and mainly helps to symbolically materialize the political relationship with the kingdom. In the end, the EU has little regard for the destination of these funds.”

In addition to these two traditional allies, Morocco is increasingly receiving aid from the countries of the Gulf and Qatar in particular, which is currently engaging in a strategy to extend its economic influence. In 2014, the Emirates granted Morocco several donations and loans worth $600 million.

What are the results?

Economists who are experts in development criticize the mechanisms of the ODA, whose effectiveness is often undermined by the beneficiary countries’ corruption and incompetence.

Morocco multiplies the announcements of donations and loans taken from various states and international institutions. But after the donation is received, the communication is almost non-existent. It is not even subject to an impact assessment.

Concerning this subject, Akesbi is uncompromising: Morocco sunk in excessive debt, especially to the international organizations.

“The World Bank has been lending to Morocco for decades and no audit has been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of these loans,” said Akesbi. “However, the interest of the public debt represents a third of the country’s budget deficit.”

The donor countries also have their share of responsibility in this situation. According to Akesbi, a general audit of the situation and the impact of these loans is a must, because public finances and citizens’ taxes have been exploited.

International regulation of counter-revolutions.
Wael Qandil Friday, 05 September 2014

You don't have to let your imagination go far or even delve deep into the world of conspiracy theories to see that there appears to be an organised movement of counter-revolutions in the Arab world. You will not have departed too far from the truth if you were to believe that the remnants of the old regimes each now have a counter-revolutionary movement that brings down Arab revolutions under the false pretext that they are sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood. These counter-revolutionaries act will full confidence, almost as if there is an international system that supports and backs them in every step that they take and provides them with an organisational framework.

From the counter-revolution that is in sync with the military coup in Egypt; to the "Haftarian" experiment against the Libyan revolution; to the interruptions in both the Tunisian and Moroccan experiences; and even the skirmishes within the Turkish context, one finds that there is a barely visible thread that seeks to link all of these activities via an international counter-revolutionary movement. Interference in the revolutions is often carried out by international and regional sponsors.

On our television screens we see the same citations about how Islam threatens the modernisation of the state; clichés about changing the identity of the nation, the prohibition of art and cultural production; and, of course, threats to trap women inside the niqab. The alleged "threat of political Islam" floods our media platforms as if one person or one source has taken over the unravelling of the story and dictated the script and dialogue we use to discuss these new events. It is as if one person has taken it upon himself to direct this drama without bothering to change the décor as we shift from one scene to the next.

In Morocco, the government pre-empted the wave of the Arab Spring by carrying out a number of radical changes and reforms within the governing system. I spent three days there during that time during which I met with different factions and classes of Moroccan people. At that time, everyone was asking the same question: why do counter-revolutions always come back with such ease? This question was posed during a conversation with Abdelfattah Mourou, vice president of the Tunisian Nahda movement, Mr Kamal Khatib of the Islamic movement in the occupied West Bank, and other Moroccan intellectuals and politicians.

It was agreed between us that "negligence" is what caused the Arab Spring's unfortunate fate and, as such, it could be argued that some of these revolutionary systems voluntarily committed suicide when they gave into the demands of other factions by leaving room for division to occur. Our brothers in Morocco have tried to find excuses for the government following the revolution in Egypt and they have done so by claiming that no one could have imagined the level of deception that followed the Egyptian revolution. They also argue that they have learnt quite a bit from the hijacking of the Egyptian revolution and the success of the Turkish model, and have also had their eyes opened to their own experience as well as that in Tunisia in order to prevent a repeat of the Egyptian and Libyan scenarios.

In reality, my conversations with the Moroccan youth revealed that the events in Egypt are affecting the democratic experience in Morocco, almost as if it were the result of sympathy or being overly cautious. I even read newspapers that expressed sentiments of animosity that mirrored pre-coup Egypt in June 2013.

Indeed, some voices even expressed beliefs that the Justice and Development Party in Turkey (AKP) is the same as ISIS, not least in its alleged desire to prevent artistic and cultural expression and production. The people fear that through this prohibition, Islamic movements will destroy the planet. While it is true that the democratic reforms in Morocco were not the result of the Arab Spring or a revolution, it can still be said that the reforms package implemented by the government in Rabat was a silent spring in its own right.
Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, 3 September, 2014

Morocco enacts reforms but obstacles remain
Author: Al-Hayat (Pan Arab) Posted August 31, 2014
Author Amer Thoab al-Tamimi Posted August 31, 2014 Translator(s)Pascale el Khoury

Morocco boasts a unique geographical location: It overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean; it is the closest African country to Europe; and it enjoys close relations with the European Union countries, especially France and Spain.

Significant Moroccan communities exist in European countries such as France, Belgium, Spain and Italy. Moreover, Morocco enjoys political stability, and King Mohammed VI has adopted a reformist approach. His government has sought to develop legislation governing economic activity and has enhanced the potential to create an attractive investment environment. This has reassured Moroccan and foreign investors and encouraged the adoption of numerous projects in vital sectors.

Morocco has a population of 33 million. ... Moroccans work in a variety of economic areas, the most important of which are traditional manufacturing industries, agriculture, mining and services. In 2013, the kingdom exported $22 billion worth of products. European countries are the main importers of Moroccan products, with 21% of exports being sent to France and 17% to Spain. Exports include garments and textile products, phosphate, fertilizers, vegetables and fruits.

However, Morocco remains a net importer, with imports amounting to $46 billion in 2013. Main imports are oil, telecommunications equipment, wheat, plastic products and electrical appliances. France and Spain remain the most important exporting countries to Morocco, followed by China, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Italy and Russia.

Morocco is a touristic country visited by tourists from Europe, North America, Japan, China and the Gulf. An estimated 9 million tourists visit Morocco every year, although that figure has fluctuated during the past five years. Morocco’s tourism revenues are estimated at $8 billion annually. The kingdom seeks to further benefit from its hills, valleys and all-year-round mild climate to attract tourists from all over the world.

In 2012, Morocco’s total GDP was $169 billion, while the average annual per capita income was $5,100. Agriculture still represents the most important sector in terms of workforce employment, with 44% of the labor force, while manufacturing industries only employ 20% and the booming service sector employs 35%. The unemployment rate in Morocco is close to the European Union’s 9% average.

With 15% of the population living below the poverty line, the government allocated significant amounts of the public budget to help its citizens cope with the burdens of life. This requires the allocation of funds to subsidize fuel and food. It also leads to increased spending and registering a budget deficit, since tax revenues and other revenues are not in line with spending allocations.

In 2012, the budget deficit reached 8.4% and public debt rose to 71% of the GDP. There is no doubt that this requires basic remedies, such as reducing allocations for commodity subsidies and other subsidies, improving the ability to collect taxes and providing other sources of revenue to the public treasury.

Despite these basic problems, Morocco developed the institutions working in the national economy and set the appropriate legal ground for the establishment of an active financial market encompassing the major companies and promoting trade of stocks and other financial instruments. There are important banking institutions in Morocco. They were established a long time ago and aimed at providing the necessary funding for numerous projects undertaken by the private sector. Moreover, Moroccan banks developed acquisitions and mergers operations among them; thus, ownership was modified and important foreign funds entered the country to acquire stakes in those banks.

Morocco’s government has striven during the past few years to encourage businessmen to expand their activities in various cities and geographical regions to provide employment opportunities for Moroccans. The government sought to expand the infrastructure; it built roads and power plants and provided mass transit systems, such as trams, in major cities such as Rabat and Casablanca. However, important challenges lie in the social reality, as millions of Moroccans remain marginalized, many of them working in non-core economic activities. The new government policies may succeed in developing the country’s capacities, following the adoption of programs that will raise optimism about the kingdom’s economic future.

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Morocco boasts flagship model of integrated child protection policy.
Thursday 4 September 2014 Geneva

Morocco boasts a flagship model of integrated child protection policy at the regional level, Minister of Solidarity, Women, family and Social Development, Bassima Hakkaoui, said Wednesday in Geneva.

The Kingdom is characterized by a public policy project concocted through a consultation process involving all relevant stakeholders, the minister told the Moroccan News Agency (MAP) on the sidelines of the examination of the third and fourth periodic reports of Morocco before the committee on the rights of the child.

This strategy is overseen by a ministerial committee under the chairmanship of the Government Chief, underlined Hakkaoui, who chairs the Moroccan delegation participating in this debate, held within the framework of the 67th session of the Committee.

During this debate, the committee members praised the progress made in Morocco in the protection of children’s rights by setting specific goals as part of the implementation of Morocco’s international commitments in this field.

Morocco and the Challenge of Climate Change.
Saturday 30 August 2014
Kenitra, Morocco

The World’s climate is changing on a daily basis and it will continue to change into the coming century at rates projected to be unprecedented in recent human history.

Morocco is no exception to this worldwide metamorphosis. The major impacts of climate change in Morocco will be higher temperatures, with marked regional variations, reduced rainfall and an increase in the severity of extreme weather events. The Moroccan population has more than tripled over the past 50 years, putting the country’s natural resources under pressure. What’s even more worrying is the fact that Morocco’s economic activity is strongly concentrated along the coast with over 80% of its urban population living in these coastal zones.

With about 3,400 kilometers of coastlines, Morocco is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and with most of its economic activity near the coast, climate change is a real threat to agriculture, fishing, water supplies, tourism and the unique ecosystems of the country.
Morocco is also facing a water supply increase in many Mediterranean cities, rising ambient temperatures, urban air pollution and an ongoing risk of earthquakes and tsunamis.

The costs of these climate-related events are estimated at MAD 1.162 billion ($150 million) in 2030 or about MAD 222 ($29) per person per year of which over 90% results from flooding. For that, Morocco has joined other African countries to adapt better to the potentially devastating effects of climate change and has given high priority to this phenomenon.

It has ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1995 and the Kyoto Protocol in 2002. It has also submitted its second National Communication in April 2010 and has developed a national plan for climate change, which mainly focuses on developing renewable sources of electricity generation, particularly the solar ones. It has also invested in a range well-developed sectoral strategies, including the « Plan Vert » for agriculture which is complementary to Morocco’s plan to protect the environment.

Based on the foregoing, it appears that Morocco has made significant progress against a wide range of the MDG indicators including ensuring environmental sustainability.

However, even though it has demonstrated political leadership on this issue, the Moroccan government still doesn’t identify climate change as a category within its national budgets and for that, it needs a greater capacity to develop and manage this problem and requires more campaigns to raise awareness across the country and among its population.

Journals of a Moroccan Fulbrighter in America (1): ‘Us’ vs. ‘Them’.
Sunday 31 August 2014 - Ahmed Echcharfi

Austin – My journey to America was rather twisted. I had to fly from Casablanca airport via Madrid and Dallas, before reaching Austin. Throughout these points, my mind couldn’t stop making comparisons. I don’t know if this way of thinking is normal since this is my first trip abroad, but I suspect that in my case, as well as the case of many of my generation and the generations before mine, the old issue of our relation with the West stands behind my persistent comparisons.

My first flight was scheduled at 8:10, but I arrived at the airport about two hours in advance. My brother, who drove me there, had a difficult time to park the car. Inside the airport, people were lined before numbered counters, but it was difficult to tell who was on the line and who was out. I chose one but when my turn came, I was told that I should have chosen a different one. I was not the only one, and soon there was a mess. Many people started complaining. While I was waiting for my turn on a second line, an airport employee called for passengers of the 8:10 flight to Madrid to go first; otherwise, they would miss the plane. Because of the crowd, I barely found my way to the officer, who apparently had received the job very recently, judging from her frequent consultations with the colleague next to her. A young couple was protesting as the officer was dealing with my case. I didn’t understand why.

There was a long line to the police officers, but it was better organized. We were given a small form to complete, which I didn’t because I didn’t have a pen. I was ashamed when the officer told me angrily to complete the form first, and addressed the next person. When the whole procedure was over, I could already hear my name being called on a loud speaker: the plane was about to depart, and I was late, along with some other passengers.

At Madrid airport, things went rather smoothly. The ladies who did the checking tried to speak English, though with a heavy accent. The Moroccan couple who was complaining at Casablanca airport started complaining here, too. This time, I witnessed everything. They had in their case some goods that the customs officer deemed valuable and needed to be registered. The couple either didn’t understand or simply thought it unfair to pay money for goods that probably were not meant for sale. There were many other Moroccans, and some of them barely spoke a foreign language or none at all. I thought that we owed a lot to these people who, while working to make their lives better, also help their fellow Moroccans by sending much needed foreign currency home.

When we got on the plane, it was about time to depart, but the flight was delayed for a very long time. The voice of the captain kept reassuring the passengers now and then that the delay had nothing to do them, but rather with cargo.

After about twelve hours in the sky, the captain finally announced our landing. Dallas airport was futuristic: the voices on loudspeakers, the employees reiterating the same sentences in a monotonous way as if they were robots, the voice on Skylink announcing the next station, etc. all reminded me of science fiction movies. There were long lines before the customs offices, and most of the people were young south-east Asians, most probably students coming to America to study. They looked much disciplined in the long winding lines. Anyway, there were employees whose job was to watch over order. I thought we needed something like that at Casablanca airport. When I went through all the procedures, I found out that I had missed my plane. I received another ticket and got on Skylink to a different terminal. About an hour and a half later, we landed at Austin airport. There was my case waiting for me; nobody needed to watch over it. There were also two professors from the University of Texas waiting for me. From that time on, I was in good hands.

What I have reported so far are statements of fact, perhaps tainted a little by some subjectivity, but not consciously distorted to serve some hidden objective. But I doubt that a Moroccan reader will take them as they are. The act of reading is never neutral, and much less so when it comes to the question of East-West relations. Most probably, the events at Casablanca airport will be magnified so that they become indications of characteristic disorder rather than restricted to a single morning. On the other hand, the order reported in the other airports will be understood as also characteristic. In fact, all the positive aspects of “them” and the negative aspects of “us” will be focused on, magnified and recalled. Our good side and their bad side will simply be ignored. Why should this be so? Why are we ready to make comparisons that are not in our favor? Do we really have all the bad things, and they all the good things? More will come in the next letter.

Moroccan Authorities’ Ban on Amnesty International Youth Camp is Regrettable and Unwise.
Friday 5 September 2014 - Hassan Masiky
Washington DC

My work as a trainer during the 2002 Amnesty International (AI) Youth Camp in in Bouznika, Morocco, was memorable, rewarding and heartwarming. The meeting, that gathered more than 40 youths from around the world including Palestinians and Israelis, showcased Morocco as a tolerant and open society. As such, Moroccan authorities’ decision to ban this year’s youth camp is regrettable, wrong and unwise.

By hosting in 2002 a group of young activists from the Middle East, North Africa and Europe to discuss human rights issues and  share experiences of working to defend civil rights violations, Moroccan officials showed a level of confidence and wisdom that seems, alas, lacking in today’s decision to cancel the same  event. In fact, AI considers this decision “a step backward for freedom of association and assembly when the authorities claim to be committed to human rights and the rule of law.”

Rabat, that spends millions of dollars in public relations campaigns to shore up the image of the Kingdom as a nation committed to the protection of human rights, seems oblivious to the impact of such decision on its image worldwide. Events like an AI youth gathering have more impact on the international public and foreign governments’ perception of Moroccan policies, in terms of freedoms of expression and assembly, than the best PR promotion will ever achieve.

The human rights organization is disputing Morocco’s allegations that AI Morocco did not follow  the necessary procedures when asking for permission to hold the event in Moulay Rachide Youth and Children’s Complex .Amnesty International issued a statement confirming that it “complied with all the procedures set out in Moroccan law when preparing this event, in particular article 3 of the royal decree concerning public gatherings which states that the local authorities should be notified of all public meetings, but that prior authorization is not required.”

The presence of a group of young human rights activist from around the world in Morocco discussing “ways of stamping out torture and ill-treatment, an issue that is part of a global Amnesty International campaign, as well as restrictions on freedom of expression and the capacity of human rights defenders to undertake their peaceful and legitimate activities” is a notable occasion that officials should encourage and endorse.

The 2002 Camp was educational, informative and fun. The youths present were impressed by AI Morocco’s organizational skills and impressed by the level of freedom enjoyed during the discussions. In choosing Bouznika as a venue for such gathering, Amnesty International offers Morocco a “free” occasion to show the world the Kingdoms social and civic advances. Unfortunately, the decision to ban it will just re-enforce the view that the country is regressing.

Moroccan Shale Shows Potential, Just In Time.

This past week, it was reported that San Leon Energy produced the first oil shale from its Timahdit license, roughly eight months after it signed an MoU with Chevron Lummus Global related to technologies needed to “produce synthetic crude oil from raw shale oil” in the area. The news comes just as investors in the country’s untapped energy sector have begun to express frustration with the progress of exploration and production.

San Leon also announced the spudding of an offshore well.

For Morocco, a domestic production future is vital to creating some level of economic independence. While sharing the North African coast with some of the continent’s largest oil and gas producers, Morocco currently imports about 95 percent of its energy needs, putting it in a precarious situation where energy prices can, and have, skyrocketed overnight.

Meanwhile, for foreign firms, Morocco represents a stable, if unproven, frontier in North Africa. This reality has become especially clear over the last three years. In the case of Libya, the country’s new government has struggled to retain control over its energy assets and export facilities under the pressure of local militias. In neighboring Algeria, a legacy of underperforming projects, institutional corruption and political uncertainty has made it difficult to pique the interest of new investors. While the country largely escaped the kind of broad political unrest experienced in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, they have encountered some spillover, including a direct attack on a BP-Statoil held gas facility in January 2013. Leaving scores dead, including foreign staff, the attack rattled both firms, forcing a reevaluation of their presence in the country. By comparison, Morocco seems quaint, even if it doesn’t provide the potential of its neighbors.

However, Morocco’s serene landscape is not the only thing drawing firms to its Atlantic shores. Larger outfits like Chevron and BP have joined firms like Kosmos and Carin in enjoying a potential 75% revenue share, with the remaining 25% reserved for the Moroccan government.

Still, analysts have expressed concern that the lack of real progress and difficulty presented by some of the country’s viable domestic options may prove too taxing for needed foreign investors.

Adding further challenges to the country’s energy development, Morocco has had to cope with political stress related to the country’s Western Sahara region, which is home to some of its new energy options, including both traditional hydrocarbons and renewables. Earlier this year, Norway’s $850 billion Sovereign Wealth Fund announced that they would be reviewing their connection to France’s Total due to their involvement in exploration efforts in the Western Sahara region of Morocco. Charged with investing Norway’s oil and gas revenue, the fund has made it a point to invest only in ethical companies, excluding controversial investments like tobacco, weapons and landmines, according to a recent Reuters report.

Norway’s fund holds a 2 percent stake in Total, making them the company’s 4th largest investor. France’s Total was awarded an exploration licence by the Moroccan government in 2011, putting them alongside a growing number of international firms with an eye on the northwest African coast.

The Norwegian announcement came shortly after other potential European lenders expressed their concern about becoming involved in projects in the area. According to a Reuters report from January 2nd, German state-owned bank KFW, the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, and the European Union all said they would not financially support solar projects in the Western Sahara, with one official saying such an investment would be an endorsement of the Moroccan position on the region .

The Big Read: Taking a trip through time in old Morocco

"It felt as if nothing much had changed for centuries," writes David Blake Knox from the medinas and riads of Morocco.

I can't really blame the Princess. It was true that we had been waiting for her to take her place at the Bab al-Makina - a spectacular medieval castle in the Moroccan city of Fes - for well over an hour.

But the Princess was born in Fes, and the city was clearly delighted to welcome her back. As she made her way through the cheering crowds, her progress was agonisingly slow.

We were attending a concert that was part of the Festival of Sacred Music that is staged in Fes every year. Eventually, the Princess was able to take her seat, and the concert could begin. The Conference of the Birds was based on an epic poem by a thirteenth century Persian mystic, and featured some wonderful performances. However, at almost three hours long - and without any interval - I thought it would have benefited from some severe pruning, and I couldn't help wondering if Princess Lalla felt the same.

I had arrived in Morocco the previous night, and checked into the Merinides, a modern hotel set on one of the hills overlooking Fes. As I walked into the hotel lobby, I noticed that it was adorned with numerous portraits of the Princess's husband, King Mohammad VI. There were photos of His Royal Highness with his wife; on horseback; on the ski slopes; with the Crown Prince; fishing; on a jet ski; reviewing a military parade; and - as befits a direct descendant of the Prophet - at prayer.

After a light breakfast, I had spent my first morning exploring Fes's famous medina: an enormous warren of narrow streets inside the city's ancient walls, which is now a Unesco world heritage site. Within a few minutes, I felt as if I had wandered into a strange world of exotic fragrances, sounds, and colours.

Medinas are generally free from traffic - since some of the streets are only a few yards wide - and the Fes medina is believed to be the largest car-free urban zone in the world. It was, however, crowded with people, artisan workshops, food stalls, the occasional donkey, and a host of small and large emporia. Everything seemed on offer: you could buy jewels and spices, slippers and bath plugs, sweets and ceramics, a new fridge or an embroidered kaftan.

It felt as if nothing much had changed for centuries - especially when I visited one of the city's tanneries. I was handed a bunch of fresh mint to hold to my nose as I approached the pits where the animal hides are treated, and I was soon very grateful for the gift. The scene looked like something from the Middle Ages, with half-naked men standing in huge vats of coloured dye, stomping and beating the rough hides until they became pliable and soft. These tanneries have operated for over a thousand years - since the reign of the Caliph Harun al-Rashid, of Arabian Nights fame -and they are responsible for the legendary reputation of Moroccan leather.

As it approached midday, I was relieved to step out of the sun, and enjoy lunch in the shade of a traditional Moroccan riad. Viewed from the outside, these houses seem modest and unobtrusive, but, once inside, it's a very different story. Riad means "garden", and, at the heart of each house, there is an elegant courtyard which normally includes an ornate garden and some imposing water feature. All of the rooms open onto this central space, and it fulfils a practical as well as an aesthetic purpose: creating a form of natural air-conditioning that has been used in Morocco for centuries, and is still remarkably effective.

In recent years, there has been an upsurge of interest in these beautiful old buildings. Many of them have now been restored to their former glory, and are used as boutique hotels, or high-end restaurants. I enjoyed a traditional Moroccan lunch in one of these. It began with a series of hot and cold salads - rather like an Italian antipasto. These included local specialities, such as aktouka - tomatoes, green peppers, garlic and spices -and zeelous, a tangy mixture of aubergines and tomatoes.

The main course was a tagine of roasted lamb, served with baked oranges and couscous. The dessert was another local delicacy: kaab el ghzal - a pastry stuffed with almond paste and topped with sugar - which was rather too sweet for me, so I opted for some fresh pears.

I washed the meal down with some of the local wine. Vineyards had originally been planted here by French settlers, but import restrictions introduced by the EU in the 1960s froze Moroccan wines out of the market. In the 1990s, French companies returned and planted new vines. Since then, the industry has revived, and, although Morocco is a Muslim country, the sale of alcohol is widespread. I tried a glass of the El Mogador Gris - so-called because its colour falls somewhere between white and rose. It was crisp and refreshing - with the lingering flavour of fruit.

The following morning, I returned to the medina. I had been told that I should not leave Fes without visiting the Café Clock. The café takes its name from a famous water clock- the Dar al-Magana - an extraordinary mechanism that was built in the fourteenth century, and is currently being repaired. The Clock - as the café is usually known - was only established in 2006, but has already acquired the status of an institution in Fes. It was the brainchild of Mike Richardson, a former Maitre D' at London's ultra-fashionable Ivy restaurant. It seems he fell in love with Fes on a fleeting visit, and immediately decided to settle there.

Since then, the Clock has become a place where visitors can mingle with local artists and musicians. It has become well-known for its cocktails and camel burgers, but the café also offers calligraphy workshops, language lessons, and runs its own cookery course. It seems that some well-known celebrities have come here to learn the secrets of Moroccan cuisine: on one of the walls I saw a signed photo of Camilla Parker-Bowles - aka the Duchess of Cornwall - wearing an apron and brandishing a spoon.

This year's Festival of Sacred Music in Fes was dedicated to the legacy of Nelson Mandela, and I returned to the Bab al-Makina for a concert that featured two artists who had been closely associated with his struggle against apartheid. I had seen Johnny Clegg perform before, but had only heard of Youssou N'Dour. He is not only an acclaimed singer and songwriter, but is also the current Minister for Culture in Senegal. He was supported by a large troupe of musicians from Sierra Leone, and, by the end of an electrifying set, the entire audience was on its feet.

There were many other performers that I would have liked to have seen in the music Festival - including our own Altan - but I had arranged to travel on to Casablanca. I must confess that, in my mind, Casablanca was still the sleepy, colonial town of the Bogart-Bergman movie, filled with louche and slightly shady inhabitants. In reality, it is a bustling city with a population of more than five million, and is regarded as the industrial engine of the Moroccan economy.

While I was there, I couldn't resist paying a visit to "Rick's Café". It was opened in 2004 in homage to the Hollywood movie by a former American diplomat. The interior is full of striking decorative detail: curved arches, balconies, balustrades and plants that cast dramatic shadows on the walls. There was even an authentic Pleyel piano from the 1930s - on which As Time Goes By is played every night. Sadly, there were no suspicious characters loitering at the bar with whom I could strike up a conversation - so I raised a glass of dry Martini on my own.

Morocco is a country that defies easy description, and one that seems able to integrate its ancient traditions with the modern world. There are also very few places in the world where you can drive for two hours to the west, and surf in the Atlantic; or drive two hours south, and walk in the Sahara Desert; or drive two hours west, and ski in the Atlas Mountains; or drive two hours north, and swim in the warm Mediterranean.

Before I visited Morocco, I had a vague idea that it was part of the Middle East. But Fes is much closer to Dublin than it is to Cairo or Jerusalem, and the flight from Ireland doesn't take much longer than it would take to reach the Costa del Sol. If you are looking for the equivalent of Magaluf in Africa, then Morocco is not for you. But if you want to explore a warm, vibrant and welcoming culture, then you should book your flights at once.

Eating in Central Morocco: Essaouria, Marrakesh, and Demnate
Colette Apelian, Ph.D.  

It was a last minute decision to take a break from research for a couple of manuscripts and a 2014 Middle East Studies Association talk. On a whim and a desire to escape the heat of Fez and Marrakesh, I took a grand taxi Mercedes sedan circa 1980 from the portal near the Saadian tombs in Marrakesh, Bab er-Rob, to the city of Demnate. My first thought was to go to Setti Fatma in the Ouarika Valley, which is known for apples and hiking along mountain streams. 

A local guide can arrange family home stays and it was a few days before the annual moussem festival. Demnate is east of Marrakesh on the road to the Cascades d’Ouzoud and the Ait Bougomez Valley in southern Morocco.  

It was Sunday, which is suq day. Anyone who sells anything that is useful for local daily life converges on an open field just outside of town.  My goal was simple: find local crafts, olive oil, honey, and almonds for which this part of Morocco is known.  I even brought an empty Oulmes bottle, just in case.  Oulmes water is bottled near Setti Fatma.

I figured I had earned a feast day after engaging in nearly every sport I could in Essaouira and Sidi Kaouki.  They included running on the beach, taking windsurfing lessons instead of kite surfing, and trying to surf. Essaouira is also known for thuya wood handicraft shopping and delicious food and sweets. Try Patisserie Chez Driss, Les Alizes, Gelateria Dolce Freddo, La Triskalla, the fish grill hidden inside the port that a fisherman recommended (buy your fish in the morning market), La Découverte,  and Le Patio. There is a Thai restaurant steps from Place Moulay Hassan, a sushi street “bar” inside the madina, and local wineries, like Le Val-d’Argan, thanks to the concierge ladies at La Médina Spa in Essaouira for the information. If you stay at La Médina, they will organize a tour to the vineyards. A shop to buy local wine is just down the coast from them and up a side street.

The taxi to Demnate meandered through the dry countryside, picking up and dropping off passengers like an informal bus. The road and landscape was mostly flat and dry like a desert with occasional mounds of rocks along the road. Except for the small and mostly single story, box-like settlements, electric wires and supports, and a large power station, there was not much in this landscape, at least at first glance. When we picked up a man carrying his containers of honey, I suspected there may be more than meets the eye.  It took about an hour and a half to arrive from Marrakesh to Demnate.

A few kilometers before the city gate, I asked to be dropped off at the suq organized at the Salle Omnisport field.  The ten am sun was hot, so the first thing I did was buy a hand woven palm hat, which went well with the blue embroidered blouse from the Bab Khemis secondhand clothing joutia or flea market in Marrakesh. The elderly gentleman, grinned as he quoted me a price he then halved immediately.  I could not argue with such disarming tactics! He tried to sell me a hat with bright colors woven through plain. I insisted on the plain. Later, I discovered women do not usually wear either type in this area, at least not the day I was there. Perhaps this is why he was laughing, along with a few of the men I passed in the marketplace and a policeman after he interviewed me. Other woven goods were on sale. Most striking were those that incorporated and reused rubber and plastic. Manmade materials were substituted for palm, reeds, or other natural media, objects from which were also in the suq. I like to think that the artisans were employing items that might normally clog a landfill or litter a field. In the suq, there were old tires cut and folded into two handled shallow containers and animal feed bags. There were colorful bundles of bidons, or used water and oil containers, next to plastic baskets. The multicolored examples, which patrons used in the Essaouria vegetable suq, appeared to be woven from flat and fairly thick plastic cord that could be used to bind bundles before shipping. There were two-sided carriers in black that are usually slung over a pack animal’s back. Containers used for bread were constructed from multicolored “mika” or thin plastic wound around a center core.

It took me about an hour and a half to walk through the Demnate suq. Though I did not find many textiles, argan products, honey, or olive oil vendors, I did see mounds of fresh vegetables, used clothing, and other items manufactured in Morocco, such as foot tall columns of Cosumar sugar. Inside a line of tents men waited for shaves. A homeopathic medicine vendor sat on a piece of plastic tarp on the ground with tins in front of him. Another man with a small glass enclosed table was selling cell phones and INWI renewals to a crowd of men around him who listened intently to his explanations. Homemade wooden and painted shelves were in one aisle. On a small hill, a collection of brown tagines and other ceramic cookware were carefully placed. Some had tan colored abstracted vegetal and geometric decoration.  A small group of almond farmers, their wares spread in piles on plastic sheeting, were near the front of the suq closer to the part of the road leading into town. They sold almonds they described as spicy and sweet.

Off the road, representatives from the Haut-Commissariat au Plan, Centre National du Documentation in Rabat were telling suq attendants in Berber and Darija that they were going to be taking a census regarding, among other questions, who had electricity and water in their homes.  In and around Demnate are many Berbers, and the government says they are conducting the survey to learn what types of future economic and social development programs will respond to local needs. Rural areas are a special focus.[i]  I did not notice any Sub-Saharan African immigrants like I’ve encountered in the north, such as Rabat, the Petit Socco of Tangier, and a Fadila bus traveling between these cities.  That is another essay. I wonder what the census will say about them.

Before I left the grand taxi, the driver showed me where to find a three to four dirhem mini bus into the city of Demnate. On my way into town, we passed the grand taxi station, which is near the arches that mark the start of the city. The taxis can go anywhere, I was told, though it is about an hour to Cascades d’Ouzoud and two hours to Beni Mellal. The small minibuses, which people use to travel to nearby villages, stop and wait to fill up with passengers about a hundred meters past the city gate and near a café at the base of the hill leading up to the municipal market. Unless you are part of a packaged tour or in a rented car, the grand taxis and minibuses are the best way to get around this region. I also saw some intrepid cyclists on the road into Demnate.

The minibus driver dropped me off at the foot of a small hill that led up into the winding and relatively crowded suq within the madina. There, the owner of an épicerie insisted I share bread and olive oil so I would say people in Demnate welcome visitors.  How could I refuse?

Snack finished, I went in search of more oil. There was a vendor selling both white and black chunks of salt. Some shop owners in the city told me most of the honey is not for sale until the next day or Tuesday. However, I happened across a merchant selling small containers from a low wooden seat set in front of a narrow staircase. The honey makes a delicious breakfast when added to Rabat madina wheat bread or Akkari rye fresh from woodfire bakeries, or bhagarir from the ladies in the stalls near Bab al-Bouiba. It is also good with tart Moroccan soft cheese sold from small baskets near the El-Mekki Mosque or in Akkari with delicious sweet butter, in addition to fresh roasted cashews, ground cinnamon, and raw almonds from the Souss region found along Suika in the madina of Rabat.

On my way down the hill in Demnate, I saw a tall man in a very tiny stall from which he sold smin, preserved butter, and olive oil with a floral flavor. He used a funnel to disperse the oil into my empty bottle. Its dark green color said all I needed to know. Yum!

Demnate is a small town. Though it is prominent in the Jewish history of Morocco, the Mellah today does not appear to be very old, except for the remains of a rampart. Other rampart remains are hard to find, just a wall and portal up the main road from the mellah. Continuing along the main road, one encounters an ecological museum or cultural center complete with a garden and what looked like some tomato crops. It is closed on Sundays. In general, Demnate was quiet in contrast to its Jewish and Muslim moussem holidays in July and September.

As I was standing on the pavement outside the museum wondering how to get to Imi-n-Ifri, which a woman recommended I see, a group of ladies in a minivan screeched to a halt in front of me. One of them threw open the sliding door and another ordered me in to show me something I had never seen before.  For a second time in Demnate I thought how could I resist? They made room near the front. To my right was a Berber lady with her distinctive facial tattoos that told her life story in geometric motifs.  Fewer younger ladies have the tattoos today. The reason usually said is that it is not Islamic.

The bus wound its way up a lush, wooded mountainside with the sliding side door ajar. Air rushed through the opening that gave us a clear view of the valley below. White and tan settlements clung to the valley walls. Olive trees grew on the other side of the road. We traveled for about ten minutes. Imi-n-Ifri is located about six kilometers from Demnate and thirty-five from Ait Blal, and not far from some hotels, such as the chic Kasbah Illy.

The ladies dropped me off at Imi-n-Ifri, which means Grotto’s Mouth in Berber.  From the top of the road marked by a scenic overlook, cafes, and shops is a switchback path next to a brook and fig trees. The path leads to a river, bathing pools, and, though it was mostly dry in August, the remains of a cascade. You can hike up and through the waterfall and pools through what looks like an enormous cave with stalactite stakes and birds swirling above. There are actually two paths leading down to the grotto from the bridge and crossroads, one on either side of the main road. Down the stream, towards Demnate are thermal springs that locals say are good for the skin.

After photographing the gorge, I walked down the hill and found Afroux vegan and vegetarian restaurant and coffee café. It also had tajines prepared “sans plomb.” The owner, Hassan, took my order and I saw the pools and grotto while he prepared the meal.

Hassan is passionate about not consuming meat the raising which he says is bad for the environment and country he loves. As far as I am aware, his café is one of only a few self-advertised vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Morocco, the others being Earth Café and Café Clock in Marrakesh and Fez, and La Triskalla in Essaouira. A database of others is at . In many Moroccan restaurants vegetarians can also order beans, such as lubia (kidney) and eaadis (lentil).  In the evenings, one can also find chickpea or fava bean carts on the streets of many cities. Vendors will sell you a paper cone of beans from large, steaming aluminum containers. There is usually one on the quai of Rabat not far from the Oudayas.

When I returned to Afroux, Hassan showed me to one of the small rustic terraces overhanging with fragrant vines. The meal began with tea and raw almonds. The then brought the tagine with fresh bread, and, if you order it, coffee. The tajine was spiced with wild rosemary and garlic. Since I am not vegan, it had a hardboiled blidi or wild hen egg.  Dessert was sliced melon, grapes, and coffee spiced with cinnamon and herbs and plants Hassan grows on the property.  During our conversation, he pulled some pods from a tree. I believe they are called santar and are added to tajines and coffee. Another spice he uses in his meals I was able to buy on my way out of town, a clovey and tart “tabza” mix, if I read the shop owner’s writing correctly.  It goes well with chicken, too.  

My meal at Afroux was enjoyed on a low wooden table set with a view of the grotto, its visitors, and the gorilla and man’s heads Hassan pointed out in the mountainside. As I relaxed in the vine covered terrace, too comfortable to make my way to the Ouzoud Cascades, I seriously contemplated Hassan’s offer to lead a walking tour along the river back to Demnate. However, on the more practical way back to Marrakesh, I decided the offer gave me a reason to return, perhaps on a tour that ends at Jebel Toubkal.

Author’s Biography:Dr. Apelian organizes distance education courses in art and architectural history from Morocco where she lives and researches as an associate of the Centre Jacques-Berque in Rabat. She is currently writing a manuscript on the histories of electricity, automobiles, and development in the old city of Fez during the French colonial period (1912-1956). Themes of additional projects in process and publication include modern and contemporary arts, architecture, urban planning, and the visual cultures of Morocco .

Morocco offers oasis of calm in north Africa
James King 01/09/2014

With many north African countries in political and economic turmoil, Morocco’s stability and strong growth are proving attractive for Gulf-based investors looking to access the north African market…..

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Falafel-ly Yours Brings Taste of Morocco to South Orange
BY: SONYA KIMBLE-ELLIS  September 3, 2014

The colorful and exotic new renovations at Falafel-ly Yours, located at 50 W. South Orange Avenue in downtown South Orange, transport customers to another place and time. “It’s a combination of traditional and contemporary Moroccan style,” says Jennifer Starr-Talsmat, who is co-owner of the restaurant with her husband Nabil Talsmat.

The renovations, which began this past March and lasted about a month, included expanding the kitchen and repainting Falafel-ly Yours. But an even larger component involved creating a new dining area they’ve affectionately named “My Morocco.” Inside, patrons experience unique décor, which was imported and arranged by a New Jersey import company called Three Habitats.

“One of the owners gave me quite a few fabric choices,” says Jennifer. “But I thought I might choose too many similar types. I knew I wanted the room to be eclectic, so I just gave them carte blanche.”

The result is an array of multi-hued Moroccan textiles that fill the room. Striped purple fabric has been upholstered onto the benched seating areas, which are complemented by flowered pillows. Deep orange and yellow fabric that lines the walls from top to bottom dramatically offsets the seating. Tables made of collapsible wooden bases with embroidered copper trays, a collection of softly-padded ottomans, and several Moroccan rugs complete the room’s Moroccan influence.

For the Talsmats, expanding their restaurant happened for several reasons. “We needed more room,” explains Jennifer. “Sometimes Falafel-ly Yours, which specializes in Middle Eastern cuisine, would be full of customers and they would go elsewhere instead of waiting for a table.” A solution to the problem came when their landlord offered them the adjoining space after the barber next door closed up shop. The Talsmats accepted the offer, tore down the wall, and created My Morocco. There is also now added outdoor seating in front of Falafel-ly Yours. In addition to serving as a dining area, My Morocco is available for use by families and local businesses.

Along with the new dining room came an expanded menu. While their initial thought was to possibly keep the entire restaurant Middle Eastern, the couple settled on adding a Moroccan twist and cuisine, in part, because Nabil is Moroccan and French. “We figured, why not do this completely new room and also do something with the spices and food of Morocco?” My Morocco at Falafel-ly Yours serves several tagine dishes (meat and vegetables prepared in an earthenware cooking vessel that has the same name), cous cous creations, appetizers, and a variety of entrees.

To enhance the Middle Eastern and Moroccan experience, Falafel-ly Yours hosts jazz music on Tuesday nights, belly dancing on Friday and Saturday nights, and is working on having world music on Wednesday evenings.
Falafel-ly Yours  and My Morocco, 50 W South Orange Ave, South Orange, NJ (973) 313-1333


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