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Morocco Week in Review 
December 5
, 2015

Tribute to Fatima Mernissi, an Exceptional Woman in a Troubled Era
Monday 30 November 2015 morocco world news Last updated: December 3, 2015
By Fatima Sadiqi Fez

beyond-the-veil.jpgBorn in 1940 in Fez, Fatima Mernissi received her primary and secondary education in one of the first co-ed private schools in Morocco. She then studied sociology at Mohamed V University in Rabat before pursuing her studies in France and the USA. Back in Morocco, she taught sociology at Rabat university and was then nominated member of the University Research Institute and member of the UN University Council.

Mernissi became aware of the dynamics of male-female segregation very early in life. Her autobiography novel, Dreams of Trespass, which met wide acclaim and has been translated into no less than 24 languages, expresses this awareness and her attempts to understand and trespass the hududs (frontiers) of Arab-Muslim space-based patriarchy.

Although most of her texts are non-fiction essays, Mernissi often uses the techniques of a fiction writer, often mixing science with scholarly analysis and literary art. She communicates her thinking in a refreshing, engaging and persuasive voice that combines creativity with the shrewdest intelligence.

Mernissi’s subject matters are diverse and far-reaching but three main themes are recurrent: women, modernity and Islam. For her, sexual inequality is a prominent feature of both Islamic and Western societies in spite of the fact that the underlying concepts of female sexuality in Christian and Muslim traditions are very different.

In Islamic societies, Muslim theorists often view women’s sexuality as a threat to civilized society, creating thus a clash between these societies and the requisites of modernization and resulting in blunt contradictions. Reflecting on these contradictions, Mernissi set out, with rare courage, to tackle the most sensitive topics in the Arab-Muslim societies: dependence, absence of democracy, impotence, the crumbling of the frontiers of “the house of Islam,” etc.

Her first book, Beyond the Veil: Male/Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society (1975), still a classic although controversial, establishes her as an Islamic scholar because of her interpretations of the Qur’an. Her other book, Sex, Ideology and Islam (1983), made her famous in the whole world. However, the real “scandal” was The Political Harem (1987) subtitled “The Prophet and Women”.

For the first time, a Muslim scholar uses her right to investigate and interpret her own history, going back to its prestigious origin. Mernissi’s findings were very encouraging, but scandalous for tyrants and machos. Various fundamentalist groups threatened her in spite of the fact that she never attacked Islam as such.

Ever since, Mernissi steamed over by publishing successively Shehrazad is not Moroccan (otherwise she would have been salaried) in 1987, Forgotten Queens (the history of Muslim women heads of state) in 1990, and Islam and democracy: Fear of the Modern World (1992), with a subtitle “Islam-Modernity Conflict.” Fatima Mernissi’s work has been recognized in the whole world. She received the prestigious literary prize of Prince of Asturias in 2003 for her prolific and profound œuvre and for the aesthetic quality and depth of her ideas.

In addition to writing, Fatima Mernissi is also known for her study of the Moroccan civil society. She founded the “Civil Caravan” and the Collection “Women, Family and Children” in the first years of the twenty-first century.

Fatima Mernissi will remain an icon of freethinking about women, modernity and Islam in a troubled era. Her staunch belief in her ideas and her vast knowledge about her topic single her out as an outstanding woman.

Mernissi generations of men and women not only in Morocco, but also in North Africa, the Middle East and beyond. Her legacy is unique and her so will the impact of her work be. Navigating between the local and the international she was able to reach people of all ages, political backgrounds and schools of thoughts.
Fatima Sadiqi is Professor of Linguistics and Gender Studies (MA, PhD) in the University of Fez. She is a Woodrow Wilson Center Fellow. She is also the co-Founder, International Institute for Languages and Cultures (INLAC) and the Director, Isis Center for Women and Development.


"She was a beacon of enlightenment on women, modernity, and Islam"

Fatema Mernissi, one of the most important sociologists in contemporary Morocco, has passed away. "Her legacy is unique. She was able to reach people of all ages, political backgrounds, and schools of thought," Professor Moha Ennaji writes. Morocco has just lost the great progressive sociologist Fatema Mernissi, who was one of the cultural and intellectual icons of the country. The deceased spent her entire life defending gender equality, women's rights, moderate Islam, the Islam of mercy, love, and tolerance. She dealt with contemporary issues with scientific rigor, objectivity and boldness, often breaking taboos.

Fatema Mernissi has immortalized her name by wonderful books such as "Beyond the Veil", "Political Harem", "Dreams of Trespass," "The Veil and the Male elite", and "Women in Islam". Mernissi became aware of the dynamics of male-female segregation very early in life. Her autobiography novel, “Dreams of Trespass”, which met wide acclaim and has been translated into no less than 24 languages, expresses this awareness and her attempts to understand and trespass the hududs (frontiers) of Arab-Muslim space-based patriarchy.

Mernissi’s subject matters are diverse and far-reaching but three main themes are recurrent: women, modernity, and Islam. For her, sexual inequality is a prominent feature of both Islamic and Western societies in spite of the fact that the underlying concepts of female sexuality in Christian and Muslim traditions are very different.

With the death of Mernissi, our country has lost one of the greatest sociologists in Moroccan history, and one of the emblems of the feminist movement, a good honest charismatic woman who dedicated her life to defending the rights of women in order to free them from the grip of oppression and exploitation in any form. In doing so, she lit the flame of knowledge and tolerance in this dangerous world, and illuminated the way for Moroccan and Muslim women to continue the struggle and work for freedom and the common good of their communities.

Using her scientific publications, Fatema Mernissi was a beacon of enlightenment in the realm of university research, contributing a multitude of books and participating in the development and prosperity of the Moroccan university. She wrote in Arabic, French, and English and published her work in the best of international publishing houses. She was translated into several foreign languages ​​and lectured and taught in the most prestigious European and American universities. Her attention was focused on issues of democracy in Muslim societies, in particular the status of women and the analysis of the evolution of Islamic thought, as well as recent developments related to globalization and the Middle East.

Students Learn How to Access Every Community Voice through the High Atlas Foundation
By Ida Sophie Winter“You have to realize your power… and that is your right. And it is the right of every Moroccan to participate in community meetings where you live. That’s the law.” – Yossef Ben-MeirOn Friday, Yossef Ben-Meir spoke to the ability of students at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane to effect social change in their communities and country. Ben-Meir, president of the nonprofit High Atlas Foundation, engaged students from business and human development disciplines in a conversation on reaching their hopes and those of others by harnessing participatory development techniques as community facilitators of dialogue. These techniques, he said, ideally aim to build community consensus around pressing issues by accessing every voice in society.

“It’s not the facilitator having answers,” said Ben-Meir. “It’s making sure (everyone is heard). How can we discover our dream?”Ben-Meir encouraged student dialogue on cultural and gendered sensitivity in applying these methods. He highlighted the importance of supporting often-marginalized voices in Moroccan communities, such as those of women, youth and rural people. He urged students, as facilitators, to seek these voices in the Ifrane region.

“These techniques will help you be a good brother, sister… and effective human resources manager,” said Ben-Meir. “It’s about consensus and listening, where Othman’s interests can be made consistent with Latifa’s.”

Ben-Meir asked students to participate in the fig and almond sapling nursery currently being built on university land by Al Akhawayn and the High Atlas Foundation. According to Ben-Meir, this nursery is meant to provide farmers with extra income by allowing them to receive fruit saplings for free. Eventually, the High Atlas Foundation’s High Atlas Agricultural and Artisanal affiliate will add to this profit by buying tree product directly from farmers, and reinvesting money from its resale into community-planned projects in agriculture, health and education. Ben-Meir asked students to visit these communities in order to determine the most-needed development projects.

He also emphasized student participation in a U.S. Embassy Rabat-sponsored program to train students in business analysis and open market opportunities for Moroccan farmers. The majority of these farmers, according to the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture and Maritime Fisheries, are trapped in subsistence farming of low-value, resource-intensive crops like barley and corn due to financial entry barriers to more lucrative crops like fruit trees. This program, which is currently training four students from Al Akhawayn, Hassan II University in Mohammedia and Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakesh, works with students to develop ideas on local organic crops, value-added production and community involvement in Morocco. The program focuses on students’ development of skills in research, participatory planning, project management and writing, and aims to ultimately help them attain professional goals and ecologically-focused innovation.

Yossef Ben-Meir and student Sofia Mohaouchane.Sofia Mohaouchane, a participating student, spoke about her creation of an organic olive oil business plan, which proposes localized marketing of high-grade organic olive oil to the U.S. Mohaouchane will soon begin collecting farmers’ ideas on value-added products and development projects they would like to pursue, and will implement the High Atlas Foundation’s techniques on participatory community sourcing. Mohaouchane, a business student, described the knowledge she has gained from this program so far as a practical application of business skills.

Ben-Meir praised her work, and indicated that her business plan and those of other students allow the High Atlas Foundation to pursue organic crop-focused projects with organizations like the UNDP and French bank Crédit Agricole.

“As Sofia develops and builds knowledge, we are able to act on it,” said Ben-Meir. “That’s the idea of learning by doing. So let’s learn by doing. Let’s be active facilitators.”

While indicating the government’s strong partnership record with the High Atlas Foundation, Ben-Meir acknowledged that engagement with government on an individual level could be more difficult for young Moroccans than for Americans, such as himself, due to the privilege he feels as an outsider and U.S. citizen. He encouraged students, however, to be persistent in their pursuit of social change.

“I believe that the (social) purpose is true, and you will succeed,” said Ben-Meir. “But you will have to spend more energy, and you may get more tired than I have… But you’ll get change. We need to know our power.”
Ida Sophie Winter is a student at the University of Missouri and project manager with the High Atlas Foundation. She spent 2014-2015 in Morocco as a Critical Languages and Boren scholar.

Two Million Moroccan Adults Suffer From Diabetes
Friday 20 November 2015 By Cindy Basha Rabat

The Moroccan Ministry of Health launched a national campaign on November 14, World Diabetes Day, to control the spread of diabetes, as an estimated 2 million Moroccan adults have this disease. Managing diabetes costs the government anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 dirhams per person per year to treat individuals with the disease, according to the National Fund for Social Protection (CNOPS). In 2013, diabetics in Morocco spent 379 million dirhams managing the disease and its side effects, such as hypertension. Diabetes is the primary cause of vision loss and limb amputation in Morocco, according to CNOPS.

The Ministry will use radio advertisements and posters to spread inform to the public on preventing and managing the disease. There will also be a drive to screen 500,000 people each year for diabetes, as the government estimates that half of all diabetes patients in Morocco are un-diagnosed.
The government will also promote the importance of regular exercise and a balanced diet in managing the disease.

The League Marocain de la Lutte Contre le Diabetes (LMLCD), an association that represents the rights and resources of Moroccan diabetics, also emphasized the importance of managing the disease. They have also worked to uphold diabetics’ right to treatment and ensure government funding goes into diabetes research.

The United States has taken similar measures to manage diabetes, as roughly 29.1 million Americans have it, representing 9.3 percent of the population, according to the US Centers for Disease Control. Diabetes awareness campaigns in the United States highlight ways patients can manage the disease, as well as the consequences of poor diet, such as kidney failure.

World AIDS Day: Alarming trends in the Arab world: HIV and AIDS infections are rising sharply in the Middle East and North Africa.
1 December 2015
Navid Madani

These visible reminders of support for affected communities, along with determined efforts of organizations working hard to eradicate the disease, whether through research, public health programs, community outreach, social activism or government policy initiatives, are crucial but much is still lacking.
HIV is the most researched virus to have emerged, but there is still no cure. The epidemic has plateaued or is decreasing in many regions of the world today, including Sub-Saharan Africa, but in the Middle East, HIV is an expanding epidemic.

In marked contrast to the rest of the world, recent reports by the joint United Nations program for HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is experiencing a rise in infections. The total number of adults and children in the region who are living with HIV was estimated in 2014 to be 270,000, with roughly 34,000 new infections and an average of 16,500 deaths annually. These numbers suggest that overall incidence of HIV has increased by almost 79% from 2001 to 2010. Deaths due to AIDS have increased 176% in the region — yet many countries have still not established their own national strategic plans.

HIV: Stigma and denial
The key reason for the rise is depressingly simple: HIV stigma. Stigma stops people from finding out their HIV status. It prevents patients from seeking effective early treatment for the disease. It thwarts community discussion and the sharing critical of educational information, especially among young people.
Women in particular are severely discriminated against when it comes to HIV treatment.

The MENA region has not adequately addressed the stigma associated with HIV infection. Yet the region’s people, particularly the large cohort of young adults and adolescents, must be empowered through education to be able to evade the disease.

The dynamics of the epidemic itself have not been sufficiently addressed. In theory, Muslim and Christian religious tenets condemn the use of illicit drugs and alcohol, and prohibit extra-marital sex, but the reality is that the major causes of the epidemic in the MENA region are intravenous drug use and prostitution.
And few are talking about this paradox out loud.

Sociocultural factors that determine gender norms also affect the modes of transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Stigma and discrimination are key reasons for insufficient treatment options for people infected with HIV or diagnosed with AIDS.

Women in particular are severely discriminated against when it comes to accessing testing and HIV treatment. In some places, women are not allowed to visit testing and counseling centers. For these reasons many women do not know their own HIV status and are equally unlikely to know their husbands’ status. Thus, husband-to-wife transmission is increasing; the male to female ratio of new adult HIV infection has been reduced from one female per eight males diagnosed, to one female per three males in the past 10 years.

Many countries of the region either ignore or are utterly intolerant to men who have sex with men (MSM). These countries impose legal measures — that often include harsh penalty and prison — for homosexual acts. Naturally, such measures block the access of these men to HIV-related services.

The Arab Spring disrupts HIV treatments
The last five years have been an extremely tumultuous period for the region. The Arab Spring of 2011 triggered a sequence of events that is having a major impact on the course of the HIV epidemic.

The epidemic among intravenous drug users is still rising in Egypt and Morocco.

Numerous conflicts in MENA that have lead to a large number of people being either internally displaced or seeking refuge in neighboring countries. Health systems have been disrupted, and many people living with HIV had to stop their treatment, while vulnerable minorities are facing higher levels of stigma and violence.

Healthcare infrastructures experience other challenges that hinder efforts to expedite the scaling up of HIV treatment. Programs for publicizing HIV information are weak in many countries. Laboratory capacity remains short, so testing is expensive and inefficient.

A concentrated effort, therefore, is still needed to strengthen each country’s existing public health response to their HIV epidemics. This could happen through a two-pronged approach of a health-driven education, which can target misguided taboos and stigma, as well as a biochemical approach of enhanced laboratory-based viral load detection and increased testing.

It is clear that strong educational efforts to fight stigma are needed to stem the tide of HIV infection. Some examples:

  1. Regional epidemiology shows that HIV incidence is increasing most rapidly among women and children, as heterosexual and perinatal contact become more common points of transmission. Removing barriers to testing, treatment, and medical care for women is a crucial first step.
  2. The epidemic among intravenous drug users is still rising in Egypt and Morocco. Evidence of concentrated epidemics has also been reported among MSM in Egypt (5.7%), Tunisia (5%), and Morocco (5.6%). Educating the public about the need to use sterile needles and offering access to drug treatment and HIV testing could have a significant impact on HIV spread through drug use.
  3. Evidence of alarming prevalence of HIV among female sex workers in Egypt (2–3%) and Morocco (2%) has also been observed. There is no data from Qatar and Jordan, but migrant workers who spread the virus to their spouses are a major concern, and the regional dynamics raise concerns about the emerging epidemics among at-risk populations in these countries as well. Educating the public, and particularly sex workers, on condom use and safe-sex practices offers an opportunity to limit these impacts.

Despite the trends, there is some positive news coming out of different countries.

For example, Morocco is in an excellent position to reverse the course, with positive consequences for the entire region. The movement of the civil society in addressing HIV-related risk behaviours in the country in recent years has made great strides for harm reduction. Even so, there is a great deal of work yet to do: Although the availability of HIV test kits and antiretroviral medications has increased in Morocco, there’s a huge gap between known and estimated numbers of people living with HIV, with almost 72% of them being unknown — and therefore untreated.

The red ribbon is an expression of compassion for people living with, and affected by HIV. On December 1 this year, it should also represent our continued efforts to find better preventive measures, and a vaccine–antiviral combination that will move us towards a possible cure for HIV. Let the symbol inspire us and remind us that we need to educate MENA society, teach our young people, inform our religious and political leaders, and elect policy makers and leaders, both at the national and international levels, committed to advancing health and education in order to combat this terrible epidemic.
Madani is a Senior Scientist in the Department of Cancer Immunology and Virology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Amid World AIDS Epidemic, Morocco Making Progress
Tuesday 1 December 2015 - morocco world news By Kaitlin Junod Rabat

While HIV and AIDS infections are rising in the Middle East and North Africa, Morocco has made substantial progress in fighting HIV/ AIDS, wrote Navid Mandani for Nature Middle East. According to Mandani, civil society has done an exceptional job in addressing HIV-related risk behaviors and “stands in an excellent position to reverse the course” of rising infections. Nature Middle East estimates that death due to AIDS in the MENA region has increased 176 percent from 2001 to 2010.

As a part of World AIDS Day, held on Tuesday, UNAIDS released the latest statistics on the diseases, reporting an alarming ageing in the AIDS epidemic. In the past three years, the number of people in the world 50 years of age and older living with HIV has risen from 3.6 million to 5.5 million, quickly making it a chronic condition, according to a press release.

“HIV services are still not equipped to address the needs of older people and need to be more integrated in care systems for other chronic diseases,” said Rachel Albone, Health and Care Policy Advisor for HelpAge International in the press release. However, amid a quickly growing infection rate, there has been some global process in addressing the issue. The number of people having access to life-saving HIV treatment worldwide has doubled to 16 million since 2010, according to UNAIDS.

Part of solving the problem is removing the stigma associated with the diseases, especially in the MENA region wrote Mandani.“In theory, Muslim and Christian religious tenets condemn the use of illicit drugs and alcohol, and prohibit extra-martial sex,” he said. “The reality is that the major causes of the epidemic in the MENA region are intravenous drug use and prostitution.”

Mandani estimated that despite the progress in Morocco in the availability of HIV test kits and antiretroviral medication, there is a big gap, between known and estimated numbers of people living with HIV, meaning many people go untreated.

Figuig: A troubled home for Morocco’s rarest date

Could one fruit serve as the saving socioeconomic grace for this ancient village at the crossroads of the trans Saharan trade routes?

The streets of Figuig are quiet and empty. Dusty rose-colored walls stand as dividing sentinels along the roadways of this eastern Moroccan date oasis, empty during this midweek afternoon. There are few roads to Figuig, and they are lonely at this time of year, save for CTM local transport buses, occasional tourist groups, bleached billboards advertising the village’s date palm plantations and military vehicles headed for the closed border with Algeria. Police stationed here know each villager, and pay close attention to strangers. The Middle Atlas mountains insulate and dwarf the village on three sides, while date palm plantations spread far, making up over half of the village’s land area.

According to the municipal government, Figuig is plagued by emigration, as the population, officially estimated at anywhere between 11,000 and 12,500 people, shrinks due to lack of employment opportunities. Though nature tourism and the International Festival of Oasis Cultures attract roughly 1,600 tourists a year, many families that once resided here have now moved to neighboring cities like Oujda, and come back only for the holidays, if at all. Fifty-four percent of the village’s 2,443 houses are in dire need of renovation. Agriculture, the village’s main industry, is threatened by desertification, drought and disease.

Figuig, however, is not yet in danger of becoming a ghost town. This ancient village, located at the crossroads of trans Saharan trade routes dating back over half a millennium, is known for a special variety of date: the Aziza, a yellow-green fruit that can be stored for two years, contains less sugar and water than other date varieties and is rare enough that it can be sold for 120 dirhams a kilo, a price roughly six times higher than that of any other date variety.

Aziza may serve as the saving socioeconomic grace for this village: if the municipal government’s plan to expand Aziza production can be implemented, it can create scores of jobs and invest in important infrastructure, like expansion of medical services. Healthcare here is currently limited to two local doctors, and roughly 30 percent of women receive pre- and postnatal care, compared to the government-cited national averages of 92.4 percent and 87 percent.

Aziza is rare for a reason, and the road to expansion will be difficult: according to regional official Jamal Mimouni, Aziza saplings are delicate, and the survival rate for those grown traditionally is close to 0 percent. Offshoots of mature trees have a 10 to 20 percent chance, but take 3-4 years to mature and another four years after transplant to bear fruit.

Mimouni says that the government is therefore looking to a public lab in the southern city of Errachidia, which creates date sapling from heart of palm fragments, giving them vitamins to increase resistance and water absorption, and sheltering them in a sterile environment for two years. This method, he says, ensures that 100 percent of non-Aziza saplings survive, though he is not sure it will work for Aziza. The government, nevertheless, hopes to create a similar lab in Figuig. The cost is high for this experiment: municipal officials call for $600,000 to achieve this goal. But potential benefits are great, due to the high price of Aziza dates, and private labs have been profitable in Meknes, Mohammedia, Marrakesh and Agadir.

For now, local cooperatives focus most of their energy on storing, packaging and exporting dates to other parts of Morocco. One such cooperative, run by the local branch of the Ministry of Agriculture, provides an example for the infrastructure Figuig will need if it expands production: this cooperative, made up of 433 of the village’s 2,000 date farmers, provides farmers with storage space, for a small fee, and processes 20 tons of Figuig’s 3,500-ton date crop per year. In a place where only 17 percent of association and cooperative leadership is female, this cooperative employs 30 women, depending on the season, and also provides processing equipment to local farmers for olive oil and cow milk.
The cooperative pays 17 dirhams per kilogram for common dates and 90 dirhams per kilogram for Aziza, selling these, in turn, for 120 dirhams to cover its own costs. Costs are especially high for electricity, which the head of the cooperative says could be effectively cut through solar power. This cut, he says, would allow him to employ ten additional people.

Given the delicacy of Aziza saplings, the growth of knowledge capacity is as important as models for physical capacity here. Roughly 30 people in Figuig know how to cultivate Aziza without using a lab. One of them is Mohamed Mansouri, a farmer from Berkane who works at a private cooperative just outside of Figuig. One of two people at the cooperative who knows how to cultivate Aziza, he works two months at a time, taking 10 days off to see his wife and nine children in his home city. While it is difficult to be away from his kids, he says the bread his job provides is important to their survival.

The cooperative where Mansouri works possesses 100 hectares of land, but uses only 20. Though production focuses mainly on dates, almonds and olives also grow here, he has been able to introduce fig trees.

Despite the profitability of Aziza, many other farmers in Figuig also hope to diversify their crops through almond, olive, pomegranate and fig plantations, which are much less profitable than Aziza but will aid in community self-sufficiency. In Figuig, though, it makes economic sense that 80 percent of agricultural produce is date, and municipal officials agree that the future of Figuig rests with dates, and not almonds.
Ida Sophie Winter is a student at the University of Missouri and project manager with the High Atlas Foundation. She spent 2014-2015 in Morocco as a Critical Languages and Boren scholar.

Marvelous Morocco
December 01, 2015 1:30 pm • Linda Chaplin Special to the MCTT
Editor’s Note: Mark and Linda Chaplin recently visited Morocco. Here is the story of their adventure.

Morocco - the mention of this country conjures up images of caravans, camels, and kasbahs - or the questions, “Where’s that...and why did you want to go there?”

Located in Northern Africa and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the west and Algeria on the east, Morocco is roughly the size of California. Thirty million people of Arab/Berber descent live in this Islamic country.

My husband, Mark, and I recently returned from a 16-day tour of this fascinating, exotic country. We were a tour group of two and traveled by van with a driver 1,800 miles to most of the major attractions during our Experience It! Tours “Classic Morocco” tour.

Our tour began in Casablanca with a visit to the magnificent Hassan II Mosque. Morocco’s largest mosque, it is also the only mosque in Morocco we non-Muslim tourists were allowed to visit. Twenty-five thousand worshippers can gather for prayer inside the elaborate hall.

After a morning visit to Rabat, the capital of Morocco, we drove north through the Rif Mountains to arrive at Chefchaouen, the Blue City. Whitewashed buildings with shades of powder blue accents attract tourists throughout the year. Hearing the five daily calls to prayer coming from several mosques simultaneously was our initial introduction to the customs and traditions of this Islamic country. Our city tour guide, Mr. Salaam, took us to several points of interest one of which was a local baker’s shop. Traditional flatbread loaves are baked daily in a large stone oven and returned to each individual who brings her bread to be baked.

A View from Morocco: The Danger of Escalating Anti-Muslim Rhetoric
11/16/2015 Aili Mari Tripp

I am an American professor teaching this year at Al-Akhawayn University in Morocco and, like everyone, am horrified by the stories of escalating terror that cross our screens daily. I am also disturbed to see that as the violence escalates, the rhetoric on Islam is becoming louder and uglier. In trying to outdo Republican candidate Ben Carson who has expressed fear of having a Muslim president, Donald Trump has promised to close mosques if elected. Ayaan Hirsi Ali headlined her recent Foreign Policy piece: "Islam is a Religion of Violence." Bill Maher wants to urge liberals to wake up about Islam after Paris attacks. Such generalizations feed into fears that most Muslims are terrorists or soon-to-be terrorists. Are they referring to all 1.57 billion people who live from Indonesia to Senegal, Kazakhstan and the U.S.? Such rhetoric is both dangerous and ignorant.

I live and teach in a predominantly Muslim country as a non-Muslim. This is a deeply religious country, as I am reminded from the moment I wake up before sunrise when I hear the call to prayer. When I take my daily walk in the morning, I greet one of the street cleaners, who stops what he is doing and showers me with God's blessings in Arabic. My officemate welcomes me in the morning with a warm smile and kisses on both cheeks, as is the custom here. I spent my Sunday in Ouad Ifrane with friends visiting a collective of women weavers. One of them invited us, who were practically strangers, impromptu into her home for mint tea and served us a table full of pastries and homemade goodies. She told us about her life, work and children in her lively Moroccan Arabic. When my 27-year-old godson unexpectedly died in the U.S. and I was heartbroken, my Moroccan Arabic teacher sent me a beautiful message saying he was praying for my godson's family that God would help them get through these sad times. Every Friday, I look forward to shopping at our local marché (semi-indoor market) and seeing the smile on the face of my favorite salesperson, a young man named Munir.

Of course, I am aware as a social scientist that a few vignettes about some nice people in the Middle Atlas region of rural Morocco do not tell us much about the brutal war ISIS is waging. But perhaps it can tell us something about why many of my friends and colleagues from Somalia, northern Nigeria, Sudan, Kenya, Lebanon and other troubled lands don't understand why the thousands of deaths in their countries from terrorist attacks do not elicit the same responses that we see in the global North by leaders and citizens alike.

At the same time, my Muslim friends here, in the U.S. and elsewhere now, feel they have to defend their religion because of the lunacy of some who use religion to justify their madness. They feel they must twitter, blog and post Facebook commentary, attesting that these attacks were not in their name as Muslims. One of our students at Al Akhwayn made such a post on YouTube to express his deepest condolences to the French people, but also to explain that the terrorist actions had nothing in common with the Islam he and most Muslims live and believe.

Every life has importance, and if we believe that, we need to be more global in our empathy. We need to distinguish between the vast majority of Muslims for whom Islam is a religion of peace and love, and the small but visible minority who use it for terrorist ends. Already for over ten years between 1991 and 2002, Algerians waged a bloody war with hundreds of thousands of deaths against fundamentalist terrorists with little recognition from the world. More recently, Syrians have died in the hundreds of thousands, in part as a result of the treachery of ISIS, as it is known in this part of the world. We also need to recognize the responsibility the powers in the North share in fostering this madness. There is enough blame to go around. But what we need more than anything now is a recognition of the humanity of all. Fear is the enemy of us all, while love and compassion, as I have seen through my Muslim friends in Morocco, is what creates the bonds to dissolve fear.
Aili Mari Tripp is a Visiting Fulbright Professor at Al Akhawayn University in Morocco, for the academic year 2015-2016. She is also a Professor of Political Science and Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Mountain music and a city of spies in Tangier
Tangier, Morocco Andrew Kealy 16/11/2015

The message came through from the village: "They've slaughtered the goat." This good news, sent from Jajouka in Morocco's Rif Mountains to our group in Tangier, meant the following day's lunch was shaping up well. We were to visit the Master Musicians of Jajouka, a group of Berber players that can trace its existence back over 1,300 years and which has caught the ear of western writers and artists; William Burroughs reportedly referred to the group, with some exaggeration as to the timeframe, as a "4,000-year-old rock band".

Ahead of our mountain trip we are based in the city of Tangier, which sits on Morocco's northern coast looking across at Gibraltar and on to the straits where the Atlantic and the Mediterranean meet (Tarifa, Spain is 40km away, or about an hour by ferry). From the viewing point at Cap Spartel to the west of the city, it is possible to discern a line in the water where the two seas meet.

It is this meeting point of Mediterranean and Atlantic and of Africa and Europe that has given Tangier its unique international flavour. Over its long history, the city has been under the influence of Portuguese, English, Arabs, French and Spanish, and this legacy can be heard in the languages spoken and seen in the architecture around the city (surrounding the old city, in the 'ville nouvelle', there are French, Spanish, British and American quarters; the area with the golf course and race track is known as California). French is the lingua franca, but English and Spanish are widely understood.

For westerners, perhaps the more interesting time in Tangier's history is its status as an 'international zone' between 1923 and 1956, when it wasn't part of Morocco (during this time Moroccans needed a passport to enter Tangier). France, Britain and Spain agreed to run the city between them, with none of them enforcing a particularly strict administration, and this peculiar status made the port town attractive to, among others, smugglers, spies and artists. American and European writers and artists were attracted in part by the combination of refinement and delinquency. Among the notables drawn to the city were Henri Matisse, William Burroughs, Timothy Leary and Yves Saint Laurent.

In a recent interview, Bill Murray, who made a film in Morocco, described it to a US audience as "entry-level Africa and an entry-level Muslim country". And while Tangier may no longer be a playground for western thrill-seekers, it certainly feels safe and comfortable to walk around. A simple measure of the moderation to which Murray refers is that while most women wear head scarves, many also wear western clothes and don't cover their hair; only a very few cover their faces. And yes, you can get a drink.

On the morning we strolled towards the souk, Berber women in traditional dress had descended from the Rif mountains on their weekly trip to sell their produce (fruit, vegetables and goats' cheese). Inside the market, butchers were busy carrying carcasses over their shoulders as stalls were set up with everything from colourful displays of olives to marijuana pipes.

At the heart of Tangier is the old walled city, or Medina, which, in a series of narrow stone alleyways, leads down to the port. At the centre of life in the Medina is the square known as Petit Socco, which was once famous as a centre for drug deals and prostitution. These days, it is cleaned up and filled with tourists who find it a pleasant place to stop for a cup of tea and do some people-watching. Drinking the local tea (highly sweetened and served with fresh mint leaves) seems to be key to life in Tangier and there are no shortage of cafes where residents and tourists while away the hours. Among the better places to do this is the terrace of the Hotel Continental, which has a magnificent view of the city. The hotel retains a sort of faded grandeur - boasting a late 19th-century recommendation from the then Duke of Edinburgh. Barring the addition of a flatscreen TV and an updated bathroom, the duke would find his room little changed.

For those following in the footsteps of the beat writers, Cafe Hafa is a must. Its series of descending terraces set into the cliff all provide panoramic views of the bay. It is an ideal place to chat, smoke and drink yet more tea. Although it doesn't boast a view of the bay, the Cafe de Paris in the centre of town remains popular. It retains the decor of its 1950s heyday, when it was known as a place spies would meet to exchange secrets. One of our group had a less-thrilling exchange here when she was enjoying an omelette at her table on the boulevard; a vagrant walked up, grabbed the food from her plate, shoved it in his gob and legged it.

In contrast to these well-worn hostelries is the modern opulence of Le Mirage, a hotel to the west of the city where the grandeur is not at all faded. If modern Tangier retains an espionage link, it is that Daniel Craig stayed here during the making of the new Bond film Spectre. And it is a fine home for Bond, with its series of luxury suites cut into the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. From the terrace where we lunched, there is a tremendous view of the beach stretching away to the south. Le Mirage also recently hosted French President Francois Hollande, who met Morocco's King Mohammed VI in part to discuss a project to join Tangier and Marrakech with a high-speed TGV train.

For those wishing to escape the city, the fishing town of Asilah is an hour's drive south of Tangier along the Atlantic coast. This fishing town boasts an impressive citadel built by the Portuguese in the 15th century. And a local ordinance dictates buildings in the old town can only be painted blue and white. On top of this, artists attending an annual festival in July paint murals on walls, replacing the previous year's art, making for a quirky experience where one turns a corner on a medieval stone street, to be greeted by a modern work of art on a white-washed wall. The view of the coast and of the waves crashing against the rocks from the kasbah's walls is extraordinary.

Of all the artists to pass through Tangier, the westerner most-associated with the city is American cult author Paul Bowles, who in 1947 settled here. Bowles was also a composer of note and took a keen interest in the traditional music of Morocco, travelling to small villages to make recordings. His travels brought him to Jajouka, a village of mostly goat herds two-hours' drive from Tangier into the Rif mountains, where he met Mohammed Attar, leader of the Master Musicians. Sixty years later, our group traces that journey and we are greeted by Bachir Attar, Mohammed's son and the current Master Musician (although there was a schism at some point and so there is also a group with the variant spelling Master Musicians of Joujouka).

At the centre of the village is the tomb of Sidi Ahmed Sheikh, a saint who brought Islam to the village approximately 1,300 years ago. Bachir tells us the music was used as a cure for mental illness. Pilgrims would bring afflicted family members to the tomb where they would be chained to the adjacent fig tree. The musicians would play for them until they were cured, a process that could last months. The practice has died out, although the saint's tomb remains a site of pilgrimage for the devout.

In 1968, Rolling Stone Brian Jones, via painter Brion Gysin, found his way to Jajouka, where he recorded an album of Sufi trance music. And in 1989, the Rolling Stones were here to record the musicians for backing music on a track on the Steel Wheels album. Now, the Master Musicians of Jajouka hold a festival in the village each August as well as playing gigs throughout the year.

During our visit, our group is treated to a performance in a compound built by Gysin for the musicians. Bachir leads five other players; four play the ghaita, a reed flute made from the wood of the apricot tree, with two playing drums. They perform two pieces of about seven minutes each, screeching pipes playing repetitive phrases over relentless drums. Sitting under the warm October sun, the music seems to fit the arid hills, although one couldn't help feeling that the sensation would have been heightened by some of the kif for which this area is famous - (it's the local word for marijuana, pronounced keef, as in Mick 'n' Keef, and hence the phrase kif in the Rif). Alas, it's not that sort of trip. The goat, at least, is delicious.

Morocco's MEGA PLANT will power a million homes using sunlight: Advanced solar tech provides energy even after dark

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Moroccan solar plant to bring energy to a million people
By Roger HarrabinBBC environment analyst 23 November 2015

The solar thermal plant at Ouarzazate will harness the Sun's warmth to melt salt, which will hold its heat to power a steam turbine in the evening.
The first phase will generate for three hours after dark; the last stage aims to supply power 20 hours a day.
It is part of Morocco's pledge to get 42% of its electricity generation from renewables by 2020.
The UN has praised Morocco for the level of its ambition. The UK, a much richer country, is aiming for 30% by the same date.
The Saudi-built Ouarzazate solar thermal plant will be one of the world's biggest when it is complete. The mirrors will cover the same area as the country's capital, Rabat.

Futuristic complex

Paddy Padmanathan of Saudi-owned ACWA Power, which is running the thermal project, said: "Whether you are an engineer or not, any passer-by is simply stunned by it. "You have 35 soccer fields of huge parabolic mirrors pointed to the sky which are moveable so they will track the Sun throughout the day."
The developers say phase one of the futuristic complex will bring energy to a million people.

The complex stands on the edge of a gritty, flat, rust-red desert, with the snow-clad Atlas mountains towering to the North. It is part of a vision from Morocco's King Mohammed VI to turn his country into a renewable energy powerhouse. The country has been 98% dependent on imported fossil fuels, but the king was persuaded of the vast capacity of Atlantic wind, mountain hydro power and scorching Saharan sun.

The king's plans are being enacted by environment minister Hakima el Haite. She told me: "We are convinced that climate change is an opportunity for our country."

As part of its national commitment to the Paris climate conference, Morocco has pledged to decrease CO2 emissions 32% below business-as-usual by 2030, conditional on aid to reach the renewables target. Currently Morocco imports electricity from Spain, but engineers hope that will not last long.
Paddy Padmanathan predicted: "If Morocco is able to generate electricity at seven, eight cents per kilowatt - very possible - it will have thousands of megawatts excess. "It's obvious this country should be able to export into Europe and it will. And it will not need to do anything at all… it needs to do is just sit there because Europe will start to need it."

'True revolution'

Morocco's previously useless slice of the Sahara is proving a blessing for solar power. Solar thermal technology only works in hot sunny countries. The price is falling, and its growing capacity to store energy is arousing interest.

The cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels is falling much faster but the International Energy Agency expects them both to play a part in an energy revolution which is likely to see solar as the dominant source of electricity globally by 2050.

Everywhere solar prices are tumbling. Thierry Lepercq, CEO of the Paris-based Solaire Direct, said (controversially) that large-scale ground-mounted solar could already be built without subsidy even in a country like in the UK.

"Solar is a true revolution - that's the way we define it," he said. "The $50 mark (per megawatt hour) is now being crossed and prices are going down.
"The long-term decision-making that is prevalent in the energy world is being disrupted; so you are certainly going to see some coal projects coming to fruition in the next couple of years based on previous decisions but what is certain today is that in all the boards of directors of energy companies, those things are being fundamentally reassessed." It is, he said, a moment in history.
Roger Harrabin visited Morocco for his series Changing Climate on Radio 4 on Monday at 8pm - then on BBC iPlayer. Full interviews for the series are on the Open University's website

Four reasons why Morocco's startup ecosystem is at a tipping point [Opinion]
by Leyth Zniber, November 26, 2015

Governments all around the world want to build strong startup ecosystems. Cities want to attract world class talent and corporations are ready for open innovation. Morocco is no exception. It feels like Morocco is at a tipping point between its current immature ecosystem and a fast growing one. But is everything going to work out?

Date 30.11.2015

The national survey on Moroccan domestic tourism in 2014 presented recently in Casablanca demonstrates that the travel sector is growing in several different areas. Last year, tourism in Morocco generated about EUR 3 billion (31 billion dirham) in revenues, which represents 12% of the Moroccan GDP according to the tourism minister, Lahcen Haddad. In total, tourist accommodation recorded 5.3 million overnight stays, which is an increase of 2.4 % compared to 2013. These figures bear testament to the “good health” of domestic tourism according to the minister.

Moroccans are travelling more and more. 52% of city dwellers and 39% of rural residents are travelling for pleasure. This kind of travel has gone from 35% in 2010 to 45% in 2014. Even though tourists travel mainly with their family, according to the report, 1 out of 5 Moroccans travel individually and only 15% travel as a couple without children.

Among the new destinations preferred by Moroccans, Agadir is the city that generates the most overnight stays (19 million), followed by Casablanca and Marrakesh, with 17 and 15 million overnight stays respectively.

The study of tourism in Morocco also revealed that local tourists are generally satisfied with their visit. 63% of national tourists say they are “very satisfied” and 36% claim to be “satisfied” with their stay. The report does not specify the percentage of tourists who are dissatisfied with their holiday.

Furthermore, domestic tourists do not hesitate to recommend their preferred vacation places to their friends. What are the favorite activities of Moroccans during their vacation? 62% of them appreciate hiking and walks, 42% prefer seaside activities and 31% like to go shopping. The ‘sport and wilderness’ category is undertaken by less than 5% of participants as it attracts mostly the youth and executives, stated the report.

Four Most Popular Dishes of Fez Cuisine
Saturday 28 November 2015 - morocco world news By Latifa Elogri Fez

Despite losing its status as capital of Morocco in 1912, Fes is still the Moroccan capital of food. And Fassi cuisine is among the world’s best. Over the course of decades, Fes has become a destination for many Moroccan and non- Moroccan visitors who want to enjoy the luxurious tastes of foods served in its homes, restaurants and cafes. In Fes, one can broaden one’s culinary horizons and fulfill one’s desires for new tastes.

Each region in Morocco has its special dish and method of preparation. For example, one can sample zinabah in the Sahara, tanjia in Marrakesh, rziza in Rabat, berkokouch in Oujda, along with many other foods, both spicy and non-spicy. Food plays an important role both in our culture and in our relationships. As Jean Anthelm Brillat-Savarin stated, “tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” In the context of Fassi cuisine, this proverb would mean that the type of food you eat, how you prepare it, the ingredients you use to make a certain recipe and ultimately how you share it can define whether you are from Fes or not.
Foods that are very popular in the capital of spirituality are various and unique. Yes, it is true that we can find the same dishes in other regions in Morocco, but they don’t taste the same as they do in Fes. The following dishes are four of the most popular and representative of Fassi cuisine.

Khli’i is considered the favorite dish of people in Fes and its surrounding regions. The name khli’i springs from the term to preserve something for a long time until it becomes ready to be consumed. This type of food is made of kaddid, which is a combination of beef ribs, salt, altsfirh, cumin, coriander, and oil. We cut the beef ribs into thin pieces, mix with the spices and oil, and hang the pieces in a sunny place for up to three days or until they are dried. To make the khli’i, we put the kaddid pieces in fire, then we add a boiled robe with one letter of oil. Finally, it is put in a glass bottle in the refrigerator. It is served hot for lunch or dinner or, as some people prefer, with tea in the morning.

Even when you ask for this food in another Moroccan city, the restaurant owners, in order to persuade you of the quality of the dish, will tell you that their khli’i is imported from Fes. The superior quality of khli’i from Fes is acknowledged by Moroccans in all regions of the country.

Bastilla is served in Fassi houses to welcome guests and to show them kindness and generosity. A favorite dish for important Fassi ceremonies and meetings, it demonstrates a mixture of cooking tradition and art that typifies the culture of Fes.

Bastilla is prepared with chicken (or fish), phyllo pastry leaves, eggs, and pecan. After we cook one chicken with onions and spices, we separate the chicken from the spices and add eight or more eggs. Then, we put one pastry leaf in a dish and add the onions and eggs. In the opposite direction we put another leaf and we add the chicken, cut in small pieces. Then we put a third pastry leaf and we add the pecan. After covering the dish completely with a fourth pastry leaf, we bake the bastilla in an oven. After it is cooked and the pastry is browned, we decorate it with sugar and cinnamon.

There are many other techniques for preparing this dish, but this way is the one used most often in Fez. What is striking in this dish is the fascinating combination of savory and sweet flavors which differentiates it from customary Moroccan dishes.

Chebbakia, a small piece of twisted dough that is deep fried and soaked in honey, is served during Ramadan as a necessary part of the breakfast meal, but it is also served with harira (a Moroccan soup) during the rest of the year.

In Fes, it is found year round as the most popular piece of food in the old medina, along with other small pastries like the triangle-shaped briwat. It is true that this kind of food is served in almost all parts of Morocco, but what is special about it in Fes is the originality that led to the invention of other shapes and decorations as well as other flavors. Chebbakia is prepared with a light dough containing a mixture of flour, milk, sugar, butter, a substance called nafa’a, and pecan. The dough is fried in oil, soaked in honey, and then decorated with sesame. Although this is the common method, Fes continually comes up with different tastes and interlaced shapes. Fassi chebbakia might be shaped like figs or round and decorated with various types of dried fruits.

Sweets of Moulay Idriss:
If you pay a visit to Fes, you can’t go back to your city/country without carrying with you some pieces of that particular kind of sweet. Made from figs, pecans, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, and caramel, the pieces vary in color and taste of according to the ingredients used.

These sweets are generally not prepared at home, but rather are bought only in the streets, especially around the Moulay Idriss shrine. These sweets are considered for some Moroccans as the baraka, or blessing, of the shrine of Moulay Idriss and, therefore, the baraka of Fes at large. So, when speaking about Fes, sweets of Moulay Idriss come to mind when we think about something different to eat.

With technology and the various cooking programs that are shown regularly on the Moroccan TV and radio, people all over Morocco can prepare many types of food and invent new meals. Still, Fes will be always the best site to prepare and serve food; it is the city which exports more types of food to cities in Morocco and abroad.

These are only some examples of the famous foods of Fes; the list is very long. Even in newly-invented dishes, Fes cuisine combines tradition and art. Its creators are concerned not only with very pleasant tastes, but also with the physical outline of the dishes, using their special artistry to produce the unique foods of Fes and to differentiate them from the foods of other cities of Morocco.
Edited by Esther Bedik

It's a bad time for journalists and activists in Morocco
Rik Goverde Monday 30 November 2015

Press freedom appears to be increasingly under threat as the authorities crack down while the world is looking elsewhere. Journalists are no special breed. They’re ordinary people asking questions, doing research and bearing witness to what’s going in front of them. Journalists ask questions, activists shout them, others only think them in silence. But the questions are the same. Which is why freedom of speech, the right to information and press freedom are so tightly connected.

Over the past few years however, they all seem to be increasingly under threat in Morocco.

I’m writing this in Nijmegen in The Netherlands, where I have been since I was expelled from Morocco on 16 November. Officially I was thrown out for working without a press card – which is true, I didn’t have one. So Morocco had the legal right to put me on a boat to Spain in the middle of the night.
But the question isn’t whether I was expelled lawfully, but why I never got a press card in the first place.

Over the past two years I asked - pleaded, even - for it many times and handed in all the necessary paper work. Yet a decision was never made. I’m not sure whether it was incompetence, indifference or malevolence, but I fear it was the latter. Without a press card, authorities always have something on you. And indeed, quite a few colleagues who are in the same position have told me that my expulsion has made them even more careful.

I still don’t know exactly why I was put on that boat – aside from the official reason given. Maybe it was the research in Nador in the days before, on the hundreds, even thousands of Moroccans leaving for Turkey to cross to Europe. Maybe it was a phone call with an activist earlier that day, or a radio report on migrants in Tanger the week before. I don’t know.

But I do know I got off easy compared to some Moroccan colleagues. They don’t have the luxury of waving their EU or US passports when things get edgy.
The most recent example is Taoufik Bouachrine, director the daily Akhbar Al Yaoum. A few days ago, he was sentenced to two months suspended imprisonment and a fine of 1.6 million dirhams ($160,000). His newspaper wrote about an alleged bribe of an American journalist, who was accused of being paid to write favourably on Morocco.

In February of this year, the Minister of Communication Mustapha el-Khalfi responded angrily when Reporters Without Borders put Morocco in place 130 on their press freedom index. That’s five places below South Sudan, where a civil war is raging. The RWB report didn’t reflect the reality on the ground, steps forward were being made, responded el-Khalifi. Soon, he was proven wrong.

A few days after his words a French camera team was expelled for working without a permit on the abortion issue – although the French say they asked for the permit. Since then, at least three Moroccan journalists were sentenced to jail-time. Hicham Mansouri who is scheduled to be released on the 17 January, Hamid al Mahdaoui and cartoonist Khalid Gueddar. A fourth journalist, Hamid El Mahdaouy, was sentenced to a fine and he was ordered to temporarily close down his website.

On top of that, well-known journalist Ali Lemrabet went on hunger strike when he was denied re-entry to the kingdom after a 10-year ban. Professor and publicist Maati Monjib did the same - and collapsed - when he was not granted permission to leave the country.

And that’s just the journalists. Also this year, authorities went into a cold war with Morocco’s biggest human hights organisation AMDH by banning protests.
It expelled researchers from Amnesty International and recently it paid for a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal stating Human Rights Watch was no longer welcome. Even activists and journalists, among whom Mansouri, Monjib and online activist Hisham Almiraat, face up to five years in jail or fines. Their crime: the vague charge of "endangering the internal security of Morocco".

Morocco’s El Khafli is fencing off criticism with the new press code he is working on. This week however, the joint editors of the daily newspapers in Morocco announced they will fight the draft. Some prison sentences have been taken out of the press code, but according to the editors they are being replaced by other sanctions such as heavy fines, taking away press cards and a ban on working as journalists for up to 10 years.

Morocco has positioned itself in the role of stable and moderate exception in a troubled region, a democracy in the making. It’s true that the signs are there. There have been no recent terrorist attacks and in September elections were held without too many problems. On a yearly basis, all over the country thousands of protests are organised, the vast majority of these end in a peaceful way. People can speak their minds, if the subject is not too controversial.

The crux is in that last part of the sentence: there are unwritten boundaries to what people can ask. A country cannot claim or even strive to have freedom of speech, when at the same time authorities decide that certain subjects are off limits and that journalists and activists can be oppressed. Instead of progressing towards a transparent society, Morocco seems to be slowly backing away from it.

The question is: what triggered the crackdown? Why now? Morocco is doing quite well. Not only because of the elections, but also because - despite financial strains - it has a growing economy, prestigious solar projects, it invests heavily in West Africa and it plays a prominent role in the international fight against extremism.
The answer to the question probably lies exactly there: outside Morocco. First of all, journalists and activists in Egypt, Libya and Syria are far worse off, an excuse behind which Morocco easily hides. More importantly, the world is engaged in a fight with terrorism. Morocco is an important ally in that fight, with an effective secret service which has spies in Moroccan communities in The Netherlands, France, Belgium and Germany. The West needs Morocco.

It seems the authorities in Morocco have taken the opportunity to slowly take back some of the influence they lost after the Arab uprisings of 2011. Now is the time to suppress those who ask difficult questions; the world is turning a blind eye anyway.
Rik Goverde is a freelance correspondent who was based in Rabat, Morocco from October 2013 to November 2015, when he was expelled from the country by Moroccon authorities.The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
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Fantasia: Moroccan ceremony represents bond between man and horse
December 2, 2015 Updated: December 3, 2015

It has been compared to a medieval joust and the ceremony in Morocco known as fantasia or lab Al baroud – the gunpowder play – is certainly as exciting and as old. For centuries the traditional display of horsemanship has been a feature of festivals and weddings among the Berber people and in the Maghreb.
It fascinated the first western visitors to see it in the 19th century, including the French Romantic painter Eugene Delacroix who used it as the centrepiece of one of his canvases, thinking it was a military exercise.

In fact, the fantasia is representation of the bond between horse and man – or women, with some having taken up the tradition in recent years.
Even when performed as a tourist attraction, lab Al baroud loses none of its power. A group of riders, or serba, in elaborate costumes gallop in a straight line, brandishing muskets known as moukahla. At the heart of the performance is a synchronised firing of guns, which makes it sound as if a single shot has been fired.

The Barb horses ridden in the ceremony are known for speed, agility and hardiness – and also for their fiery temperament and courage in battle.
This week there is no need to travel to Morocco to witness the fantasia, with performances one of the highlights of the Moroccan heritage week show that opens in Abu Dhabi tomorrow.

The event is part of celebrations for the 44th National Day and is jointly sponsored by Sheikh Khalifa, the President, and King Mohammed VI of Morocco.
Activities and events at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre will showcase Morocco’s history, traditional music, arts, handicrafts, cuisine and fashions while equestrian events will take place at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club on Shakbout bin Sultan Street.
Times of performances were not available at the time of publication.

A sea of change for Morocco

Drinking water in the tourist-heavy Agadir region of Morocco is in short supply, but a new desalination plant – the largest in the region – is set to change that

Morocco is one of the world’s most affected countries in terms of water shortages. According to the Social Watch Report 2012, supply capacity in dams is becoming ever more restricted, and 35 percent of piped drinking water is wasted due to poor maintenance. The World Bank estimated water supply per head in the wider North Africa and the Middle East region would be just half of its 2008 baseline by 2050 as a result of a growing population and climate change, stressing the importance of new infrastructure projects to help solve the problem.

One solution is the use of desalination plants: complex systems that turn seawater into safe drinking water. These systems have begun cropping up in Morocco, but the Agadir region on the southern Atlantic coast – where demand is soaring as a result of the booming tourist industry – has until now remained severely undersupplied. In 2008, water stocks in Agadir’s farming regions were seven times lower than in 1982

Project desalinate
Earlier this year, construction began on a new desalination plant that is set to supply over 500,000 people with 100,000 m3 of safe drinking water per day: giving the plant the largest desalination capacity in the region. The €842m project will use an innovative pressurised ultrafiltration membrane system to treat the seawater, which will be collected via a 1,150m-long underground pipeline and reverse osmosis to desalinate it. The plant will operate for a period of 20 years.

Located 42km from the city of Agadir, the project is being led by global firm Abengoa, which develops technologies to promote sustainability in the environment and energy sectors, and has already worked on a number of other water supply projects across the world. Abengoa was chosen to manage the design, construction, technology, maintenance and operation of the project by Morocco’s National Power and Drinking Water Office (ONEE) – which is responsible for water supply and distribution throughout the country and is involved in the project’s development.

The project is being financed by investment fund InfraMaroc alongside a consortium of local banks, led by Banque Marocaine du Commerce Extérieur (BMCE). This PPP model marks a milestone in the region, according to Abengoa. “This is the first project that the National Power and Drinking Water Office has developed under a public-private partnership system, putting Abengoa at the forefront of this model in Morocco”, the company said.

Socioeconomic development
As well as supplying much-needed potable water to households, the new plant is set to help the fast-developing Agadir region grow on a socioeconomic level, supporting the industries upon which its economy lies – most notably tourism and agriculture. The latter accounts for 80 percent of water usage in the country as a whole, according to the Social Watch report, but its access to safe water is declining. In 2008, water stocks in Agadir’s farming regions were seven times lower than in 1982. That’s likely to become yet more of a concern as yearly average rainfall drops. One study (Climatic Change and Drought Mitigation: Case of Morocco) predicted a 10 percent reduction in the country’s precipitation between 2021 and 2050.

The difference the Agadir desalination plant will make to those sectors and the region’s economy at large is clear, and it’s part of a global effort. “The Agadir desalination project is part of a strategic plan to solve water supply problems in those parts of the world most affected by water shortages”, said Abengoa. It’s also a means of bringing local partners in Morocco together through an innovative financing model that combines public and private expertise to provide help where it’s most needed. That’s a move that should inspire other such partnerships throughout the country and beyond, as investors seek to support infrastructure projects that have a real impact on the communities in which they’re built, and which leave a lasting change on the countries in which they operate.

Activists claim draft rights law fails to treat disabled people as equals.

Critics claim proposed legislation designed to benefit disabled people focuses on prevention and diagnosis rather than rights and legal protection
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Celeste Hicks in Casablanca Thursday 3 December 2015

A draft law on rights for disabled people that has gone before the Moroccan parliament has been criticised by civil society groups for perpetuating outdated notions of disability. Moroccan disability associations are being supported by the campaign group Human Rights Watch, which recently wrote to the Moroccan parliament calling on lawmakers to ensure that the draft law accords full rights to disabled people.

Human Rights Watch says draft law 97.13 “on the protection and advancement of persons with disabilities” focuses too heavily on preventing and diagnosing disability, rather than giving disabled people rights and legal protection.

“People with disabilities in Morocco have been treated as objects of charity rather than as equal citizens, leading to stigma and discrimination,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and north Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

Morocco was one of the first countries to sign the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, which promotes a human rights approach to disability rather than focusing on medical issues. It specifically calls on governments to ensure disabled people can enjoy “full and effective participation and inclusion in society”.

One of the major stumbling blocks to full inclusion in Moroccan society has been the right to education. Some disabled children have missed out altogether, putting the onus to provide learning on disabled people’s associations instead of the state school system.

“I didn’t want my daughter to go to a special school,” says Soumia Amrani, mother of Aya, 22, who is autistic and still lives at home with her parents. “When Aya was two, she saw her sisters going to school and she wanted to go too, but there was nowhere available for her. I tried to educate her myself, at home with the help of specially trained teachers, but it was very difficult.”

Amrani says she is disappointed with the proposals for the new law, and feels it doesn’t do enough to give disabled children the right to attend regular schools. She feels that money earmarked for disabled people’s associations to deliver schooling would be better spent making existing schools more accessible and training teachers to help children with special educational requirements.

“Moroccans like to see themselves as kindly,” she says, “but we don’t want charity. Aya has spent her whole life living on the margins, with people feeling sorry for her and sorry for me. Her life has been ruined because her right to be included has not been recognised.”

There has also been criticism that disabled people’s groups are not being fully involved in the debate and consultations on the new law. “We’re very disappointed,” says Mohamed Khadri, president of the civil society umbrella group Collective for the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. He says that a previous draft law, drawn up after a consultative and widely praised national conference in 2008, was dropped when a new minister of solidarity, women, family and social development was appointed. “The draft law was abandoned in favour of this new framework law without any consultation with civil society. Now we’re starting again, just wasting time, and disabled people continue to have no protection for their rights. The minister must do more to make sure we are consulted.”

This is the first piece of legislation on disability that Morocco has put before parliament since signing the UN convention in 2009. The draft has been through the lower chamber of parliament, but has yet to be approved by the upper house. Several attempts were made to approach the minister, Bassima Hakkaoui, but no one from her office was available for comment.

For Amrani, time is running out. “I was hopeful when the debate began on the new law that things might have moved on,” she says. “But from what I see now, it’s all about giving money to civil society associations to take responsibility for these people who the government seems to think are unable to lead a normal life. I see nothing in the text about protecting Aya’s rights, nothing about making sure she can find a job, look after herself or live in her own home if I wasn’t around. I’m sure my daughter could have had a completely different life if her right to be included had been recognised from the start.”

Jews among Berbers: a Moroccan Exhibition

A photo exhibition titled Jews among Berbers was officially opened at the Bulgarian Academy of Science in Sofia on Thursday. Dozens of images, short of making up an entire picture of everyday life of Moroccan Jews, show little known scenes dated back to the 1940s and 1950, when Jewish populations larger than now coexisted peacefully with Arab and Berber Muslims.

The events is part of the Morocco Days in Bulgaria organized by the country's Embassy to Sofia and due between November 30 and December 13, with cultural programs in both Sofia and Bulgaria's biggest city Plovdiv.

„What gave me the idea of this exhibition is the fact that both Bulgaria and Morocco saved the Jews during World War II. But what convinced me about the relevance of this event is the resurgence of the speech of hatred on the basis notably on manipulation of history and instrumentalization of religion,” Morocco's Ambassador to Bulgaria, H.E. Latifa Akharbach, noted in her speech addressing guests attending the inauguration. These included Bulgaria's last King an former Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Education Minister Todor Tanev, the Bulgarian Academy of Science's head Stefan Vodenicharov, Bulgarian lawmakers, and ambassadors of other countries.
Taken by Elias Harrus (himself a Moroccan Jew) in the rural areas of the Atlas Mountains and and at the doors the Sahara, the photographs bear testimony to a mode of coexistence and similarities among Morocco's Jews and Muslims: having lived together for centuries, the two groups share numerous customs, and elements such as clothing and cuisine bear much resemblance. Morocco's Jewish population, on the other hand, used Hebrew characters in writing but its language was either Arabic or Berber.

"Diversity is not about numbers, counts or quotas. Diversity is all about culture and values."

Pictures that can be seen now at the Bulgarian Academy of Science have already been shown in Casablanca, London, Paris, Amsterdam, and several other big cities.

"The new Moroccan constitution considers Judaism as part of national identity. This is one of the most significant achievements of democracy, along with the recognition of the Berber language as official language of the Kingdom alongside Arabic," Mrs Akharbach told the guests.

"Every minority is entitled to its memory, and every majority has the obligation to preserve its memory".

Morocco is working not only on theory to preserve this memory, being the only Arab country with a museum dedicated to Judaism and Jewish patrimony located in Casablanca, its biggest city and economic heart.

It is Morocco, on the other hand, where a Museum of Judaism should be. Despite being commonly perceived as an “Arab country”, it has never even thought of concealing that the first people to inhabit its lands were Berbers and Jews: well before Arabs did.-
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Morocco: Gnawa Music - From Slavery to Prominence: Gnawa is the music of formerly enslaved black Africans who integrated into the Moroccan cultural and social landscape, and founded a model to preserve the traditions and folkloric music of their ancestors.
By Ahmed El Amraoui

Simply put, Gnawa is the music of formerly enslaved black Africans who integrated into the Moroccan cultural and social landscape, and founded a model to preserve the traditions and folkloric music of their ancestors.

Rising to prominence from a marginalised practice to heal people possessed by genie spirits, it is one of the most popular styles of North African music, which not only attracted fans worldwide, but also interested famous European and American musicians such as Randy Weston, Bill Laswell, and Robert Plant.
Gnawa reflects the impact of black African culture on Moroccans. The African touch is clearly reflected in the dances and the garments the singers wear.
The roots of the music are recognisably African in the drumming, the unique metallic castanets, the three-stringed bass lute (guembri), as well as the mosaic gowns and caps worn by musicians mostly decorated with cowry shells.

"This music is a part of ancient and rich African heritage, which has been growing and prospering for centuries as a thriving music project in Morocco. It is a fascinating combination of poetry, music and dancing. Its secret also lies in its religious, spiritual dimension, which gives it a kind of therapeutic power," said Anass Fassi Fehri, Professor Assistant at Fez Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University.

Origins in slavery
It is said that the name Gnawa originated from the word Guinea, a place known for its slave trade during the 11th century. The music is found mainly in communities with large populations of ethnic Africans and is not connected with the elite. Gnawa bands come mainly from the cities of Marrakech and Essaouira, which are historically known for slave trade with trans-Saharan countries.

The components of Gnawa songs and dances incorporate references to the singers' origins and enslavement, as well as displacement and misery.
Not just a set of a series of rhythms, Gnawa is a music which, according to academic and researcher Fouzia Baddouri, takes one back to the remote past where poor black slaves sang their misery and daily worries.

As Okot p'Bitek describes in his book, Song of Ocol & Song of Lawino, the African primitive songs and dances are not just entertainment. They also establish links between members of the community, both who are alive, and those who have passed away.

And the similarities between Gnawa, jazz and Blues in the US have seen the folkish genre travel internationally. African Americans share an element of a painful African history: slavery. Through each of those types of music, singers try to return to their African roots and identity. By committing themselves to Gnawa music, African Americans, for example, are establishing a historical and cultural link with their forefathers.

Hooking audiences
The music has become so popular that it prompted the Moroccan government to organise a yearly festival in the southern coastal city of Essaouira, featuring Gnawa as part of the country's cultural heritage that forms an important part of the kingdom's oral literature.

The three-day musical event is held every May or June and features a host of Gnawa masters along with jazz, fusion, Blues and contemporary world artists.
Gnawa Muallems (Masters) pride themselves on being able to keep the audience hooked, fascinated and moved through a distinctive spiritual practice that turns noise into melody."The fact that the main musical instruments are the drums and "ganbri" is very significant because they symbolise and reflect the beating of the dancers' hearts," Baddouri said.

For many, Gnawa is enchanting in a way that only spiritual music can be. It uses drums as the main background and relies on refrains that take one into a swirling movement. The regular loud rhythm of drums leaves a hypnotising effect on some people.
For others, the music is a mark of distinctiveness that tends to be monotonous and repetitive, but has its own charm that sends everyone into rapturous spasms.
"The more the dancer is involved in the dance or trance," Baddouri said, "the more the drums beat loudly."
At a time when ISIS militants have been burning musical instruments because they claim they are against Sharia Law, … see more »
This story from Al Jazeera was supplied to AllAfrica under an agreement with the African Media Agency.

Morocco: A Bipolarization under Royal Control.
Dec 04 2015by Stéphanie Wenger

The Moroccan electoral race began in September with the local and regional elections, which culminated on Tuesday 13 October with the election of the President of the Chamber of Councillors, the Upper House of Parliament. [1] The 120 elected representatives (217 prior to the constitutional reform of 2011) have designated Hakim Benchemass, from the Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM) as the president of the Chamber of Councillors. It took two rounds and a margin of one vote to rule out Benchemass’ opponent from the Istiqlal party, Abdessamad Kayouh. This narrow victory allowed the parliamentary opposition to take control of the Upper House.

While the Istiqlal Party, Morocco’s historical independence party, came in third in the regional elections, it still managed to win the greatest number of seats in the Chamber of Councillors, with a total twenty-four seats. The result came as a consolation prize for the party, which suffered a blow by losing its long-time stronghold, the city of Fes, which Istiqlal Party’s General Secretary, Hamid Chabat, has governed as mayor since 2003.

On 8 October, an investigation into “vote buying” against twenty-six people, including ten MPs, six of which were members of the Istiqlal party, caused much controversy in Moroccan politics. According to Mohamed Madani, Professor of Political Science at Mohamed V University, “there is a political character to this announcement, and its timing, at the eve of the election of the President of the Chamber of Councillors, a crucial position for the party, is not innocent.” Professor Madany added that in the aftermath of the elections, the Istiqlal party announced its intention to quit the parliamentary opposition in order to provide “critical support” to the government; “one begins to wonder whether any pressures were exerted through the judiciary in order to make things easier for the PAM, the second power in the lower house.” [2]

Voting for what? And for whom?
Back to 4 September in Rabat: in a popular neighborhood in the capital city’s old medina. Voters regularly cross the gate of a primary school located at the end of a small dead end. When asked for whom he voted, Charaf, an engineer, shrugs his shoulders: “I could not distinguish between the different parties’ programs; I am going to vote for either the Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM) or the Party of Justice and Development (PJD), the ones who have the means to act.” Founded in 2008 by one of King Mohammed VI’s most influential advisors, the PAM is currently the main rival of the conservative Justice and Development Party (PJD).

The Islamist party, which won the 2011 elections, has since been leading the ruling coalition ever since. The mutual attacks from both parties punctuated the campaign, and voters such as Charaf, who have a hard time distinguishing between the various political parties, confirm this polarization of political life that has been widely discussed. Khalid Ben Aboud, a PJD candidate in that district, welcomes the reform toward greater decentralization of power because it gives more powers to regional councils: “Our motto is to fight corruption and to achieve good governance at the local and regional levels. A freer management will allow us to ascertain the appropriateness of our choice.” During the 2009 elections, the PJD obtained a poor score, with only five percent of the vote. Since 2012, it has been running the government; but will the elections’ outcome favor their balance sheet? “This is a historical challenge, we are hoping to consolidate our position”, adds Ben Aboud.

A Moral Vote
The latest elections have been a success for the PJD, having topped the list with 1.5 million votes, more than doubling their results in 2009, and receiving 200,000 more votes than the PAM. While the Islamist party finished third at the level of local councils, coming behind the PAM and the Istiqlal, the leftist parties were the main losers of the elections. According to Ali Bouabid, director of the political think tank Abderrahim Bouabid Foundation, this PJD’s success is the result of a “power-grab”:

The campaign which focused on national and ideological issues, has been largely polarized by the PAM-PJD duel. There has been very little discussion on the assessment of the elected representatives. There was no protest vote against the ruling party, although this is usually the case for the interim elections. The PJD has stocked-up on voices; it stands out as the first urban party.

Bouabid also emphasized an important point: the gap between the 1.5 million votes for the PJD and the more than fourteen million registered voters in Morocco:

The mistrust toward politicians in general, which feeds abstentionism, is still pervasive. Paradoxically it is also pushes the PJD to display its moralism. The PJD is able earn its traditional electorate as well as voters who practice sanction-voting and reject a political scene that they consider to be perverted. Some of the sanctioned political class is part of the coalition. The PJD feeds on the weakness of others.

For Professor Madani, the results the Party of the Lamp (an alias for the PJD, whose party symbol is a lamp) acheived comes as a surprise: Although the party has taken some adverse actions against the middle classes, much of them have voted for the PJD. The government closed the path for direct hiring of unemployed graduates, increased fuel prices, changed the terms of the Compensation Fund, delayed retirement age, etc. It was expected that this would lead to a backlash. But voters know the government balance sheet, and the failure of this fight against corruption. They know that the government’s leeway is quite narrow, and this is why they do not blame put the blame solely on it.

In the countryside, where voters have been more active than elsewhere, the PAM has been leading. Mounia Bennani-Chraibi, a professor at the University of Lausanne sees in this the accentuation of a trend and the embodiment of two different political cultures caught between “a populist party” like the PJD, and a “party of notables” like the PAM: “The latter brings together people who mobilize through social authority, with their own material and symbolic resources, and their own networks. They have more clients and agents than they have actual activists.” According to the researcher, the rural success is explained by “the fact that the PAM is seen as close to the government, which attracts rural notables, or the ‘owners’ of electoral strongholds, who easily change their partisan label; they do not position themselves on the basis of national issues or even regional programs, the issue is the redistribution of scarce resources and protection.”

Prescribed Alliances
The Islamist party won the largest number of seats in regional councils. Still, it only won the presidency of two regions against five for PAM. A game of alliances fixed the direct outcomes of the ballot boxes. “This can be explained by electoral engineering (voting system, carving of the poll…)”, argues Madani, “but also because a number of parties are not autonomous in forming their alliances. They act upon what they are told and are under direct administrative control, or sometimes they are controlled by elites who fix administrative rules: this has been already been proven.” Therefore, the PJD’s power was limited in its ability to reach a more acceptable equilibrium for the palace: “The elections were supposed to happen in 2012 but they were postposed in order to avoid a tidal-wave of the PJD in the regions, when they had just won the legislative elections,” adds Madani. It is now likely that the 2016 legislative elections will also revolve around a PAM-PJD confrontation.

Khalid Ben Aboud, an elected PJD representative in Rabat interviewed on the day elections for regional presidents were held, argues: This is paradoxical; we are leading on the whole territory in terms of votes, we have convened alliances with parties in the majority, but our supposed allies did not keep their word. This is particularly the case of the National Rally of Independents (RNI), who relinquished the alliance in Casablanca, and who almost betrayed us in Tetouan…this is political and ethical incorrectness. This will have an impact on the coalition.

But Ali Bouabid questions this statement: “All of the parties agree on this type of alliances, no one disputes it. The governmental coalition did not draw any conclusions from what happened; and even though the PJD complains from the attitude of the RNI, the situation will remain unchanged. The PJD remains entangled in its moralizing behavior without drawing any political consequences…”

The South on the Line of Fire
Could the predominance of a partisan logic undermine the impact of regionalization? The reforms King Mohammed VI carried out were finally enshrined in terms of "advanced regionalization" in Article 1 of the 2011 constitution. Directly elected, the Regional Councils are entrusted with important skills and regulatory power. A solidarity fund and a leveraging fund have been established. Local authorities are now responsible for the implementation of budgets. “This is a major project,” recognizes Bouabid. “Significant skills have been transferred, with significant resources but the state is also attempting to territorialize through decentralization. The process remains under control but gives some leeway compared to the previous situation.” Thus, the regional governors still retain a key role.

Advanced regionalization could be considered as facilitating Morocco’s autonomy plan for the disputed Western Sahara territory. In the opening speech of Parliament on 9 October, Mohamed VI recalled the very high electoral turnout in the “southern provinces.”

If the locals experience more decentralization, this will create greater involvement of people in the management of their future and the fate of these territories,” explains Ali Bouabid. “On this very question, it will also depend on the diplomatic configuration. Morocco is not alone but we can also imagine that calls for a greater autonomy could fade away with the argument that there is already a regionalization process,” adds Mohamed Madani.

The analyst highlights some positive outcomes in the application of this reform for the future of the southern territories: “There could be positive if regionalization is to be associated with democratization, one could imagine that young Sahrawis would prefer to see themselves in this model rather than to being tied to a small state or to Algeria.” Nonetheless, Madani insists that “this reform raises the question of democratization, as well as the question on the provisions of the monarchy to make concessions, it is a problem of separation of powers.”
[This article is published in partnership with OrientXXI]

Morocco Travels: Rabat and Casablanca's Mosque (Part 1) –
Novinite is publishing the first of three articles about Morocco, where a group of journalists was invited to spend more than a week in November and get to know a country which is not far from Europe, looks fantastic on tourist billboards and draws millions of visitors every year, but Europeans don’t know about it as much as one would expect.
This first part takes us to two cities in Morocco’s north. None of the texts pretends to be a guidebook at all; it is just a traveller’s way to share a few thoughts.

See Morocco and Die
Huge French-language billboards advertising telecom services, wide boulevards and bright night lights - all of these greet visitors to one of Northern Africa's biggest cities. But minutes into our tour around Casablanca, as the bus is stuck in rush-hour traffic congestions, the idea of having “something like Europe here" starts to look increasingly dim. Here are the African crowds in the streets, walking under endless rows of hoisted flags, with garments ranging from "European" suits to anything a European mind would falsely recognize as "exotic" (what does this word mean anyway?) and that the Moroccans and the Arab-speaking Mediterranean would call simply "kaftan" or "djellaba" (types of robe).

Taking a stroll along Casablanca's Atlantic coastline and later into souks, the traditional markets every city has, one gets immersed into the crowd in a matter of seconds. There is plenty of time to look around - this is no place to be in a hurry, and no-one around is. Within minutes, one realizes this different sense of time is not just a phrase to lure tourists, even a dynamic city like this one shows a different notion of rhythm, one that the famous Humphrey Boggart movie has largely failed to show.
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Essaouira: what to see and do. Morocco’s hip coastal town has windswept beaches and historic souks:

Medieval architecture, an ocean-front medina and a laid-back vibe makes Essaouira an unforgettable seaside holiday. This windy little port town just a bus ride from Marrakech is a welcome break from the madness of the city, and European hippies have been flocking here like its famous gulls since the ’60s.
Legend tells us Cat Stevens, Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix, visited (there’s a hotel named after the latter) and it’s no wonder. Romantic, mystical and surprising, Essaouira is a joy.
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Q&A: The gender imbalance in Moroccan politics
Al Jazeera – Sun, Nov 15, 2015

Nabila Mounib, 55, is the first woman to lead a major political party in Morocco. In January 2012, she was elected secretary-general of the Unified Socialist Party, a secular and socialist party created in 2005. A lifetime political activist and advocate for women's rights, Mounib also teaches biology and endocrinology at University of Hassan II in Casablanca.

When protests demanding change broke out in Morocco in 2011, Mounib was among the people who demonstrated to ask for a parliamentary monarchy. During the 2011 constitutional referendum that followed, she called for the boycott of the vote because she believed the constitution did not offer enough separation of powers. Over the years, she has remained a vocal critic of the Moroccan regime.

Mounib recently received much media attention when some questioned her legitimacy to lead a delegation to Sweden to negotiate a diplomatic rift between Sweden and Morocco over the Western Sahara. In Morocco's recent provincial elections, the first time Mounib ran, she did not win in her district but her coalition made gains.

Al Jazeera spoke with Mounib about her career and the challenges of being Morocco's first female political party leader.

Al Jazeera: As a woman, what hurdles stood in the way of you becoming a politician in Morocco?

Nabila Mounib: I did not become the head of the Unified Socialist Party overnight. I had been involved in politics since I was a student, and I have been running campaigns for decades. When I attended the university to study science, I was elected to the student council. Throughout my career, I was a member of different committees and organisations, and I was a union representative for many years in Casablanca. In the 2000s, I was a coordinator of foreign affairs for my party, which is what gave me experience in understanding conflicts…………….
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