The mineret that takes you home

About Membership Volunteer Newsletters Souk Links

Virtual Magazine of Morocco on the Web
Morocco Week in Review 
July 27, 2015

From Monica to Muna in Morocco: River Valley grad treasures Peace Corps experience.
By Deborah Rieth  News Correspondent  Wednesday, July 22, 2015 BENTON HARBOR

Monica Groen, a familiar face at the Boys & Girls Club of Benton Harbor where she is Sports & Fitness Coordinator, is also known by another name in a small Moroccan village half-way around the world.

There, she is called Muna, which means “to hope.”

A graduate of River Valley High School (2006) and Grand Valley State University (2010), Groen holds a degree in Criminal Justice. The former Galien resident had initial post-graduate plans to attend law school, but instead, she began to consider other options.

“Someone in passing, literally, mentioned the Peace Corps, and I thought how amazing that would be,” she says, “And I love to travel but hadn’t had much of a chance to do that. So I thought I would look up some information online, and within a couple of hours I was halfway through the application.”
While waiting for her application to become finalized, and for her family and friends to warm up to the idea, Groen worked in Grand Rapids at a homeless shelter for at-risk youth as a residential crisis counselor. She had no preference for a specific program or country within the Peace Corps, and remained open to whatever opportunity arose. So when she was asked to go to Morocco for two years, the ancient country in the northern tip of Africa, she agreed, even without knowing much about the country or its culture.

Her adventure in Morocco began in the Spring of 2012, when she arrived in the capital city of Rabat for a two-week orientation with 100 other volunteers. The group was then divided into smaller groups, Groen’s being Youth Development, and she was transported to Bourdhem, a smaller rural village, for language education.

Groen admits to a lot of uncertainty about learning the Arabic language.

“We stayed with host families for ten weeks while we attended daily language lessons. No one spoke English. The language was extremely difficult to learn. The written Arabic is understood by everyone, but there are many different dialects that are actually spoken.”

Next came Groen’s assignment to a permanent location. She requested a place where she could enjoy nature so she could be active outdoors. She also preferred a small village so that she wouldn’t be overwhelmed by some of the harassment issues that occur in some of the larger cities.

Her wish was granted, and she was placed in the small village of Skoura, in a beautiful mountain valley complete with three waterfalls. Her host family welcomed her and immediately started speaking, of all things, French. She tried communicating in Arabic, without much success. The three little girls in the family, however, talked and played and immediately broke down any barriers.

“The girls started hanging out with me a lot, and they started calling me Muna, which stuck,” Groen says.

The food took some getting used to. “One big dish is placed in the middle and you eat with bread. No forks; sometimes spoons for couscous. The flavors were amazing — saffron, cumin, and all very fresh.

“The thing I didn’t like was that you had to eat so much bread. It was really good, thick, amazing bread — they don’t mess around with it. And it’s a big part of their culture to eat, eat, eat. And if you don’t eat, they are offended. I was so full all the time. I think I gained about ten pounds while I lived there, because they would not let me stop eating,” Groen says.

Skoura had a government-funded youth center, designed to be used for after-school programs, but there was no staff to organize and direct activities.

At least not until Muna arrived. “I spent most of that first year just going into house after house, learning to talk to them, eating and eating. It was scary at first, but they were so nice, and so excited to have me there, making sure I was comfortable, putting their best things out. I was able to build relationships and gain their trust so that they became willing to allow their kids to be part of the youth center.”

Children are considered “youth” until they are married, so Muna worked with young kids all the way up to 30-year-olds. She started off teaching simple English, sometimes with the help of the English teacher from the local school. She then incorporated other lessons, such as brushing teeth and other basic health topics.

Groen also developed a presence in other segments of the community. She helped with the local olive harvest, and worked with Peace Corps volunteers in another community providing eyeglasses for people, in cooperation with Eyejusters, a United Kingdom corporation.

She led an exercise class for a group of women, and helped renovate a building into a shower house for the women to use. Joining with other volunteers, she helped build a playground out of tires.

Another challenge in Morocco was learning to fit into a culture that has a different view of traditional roles. In America, she was comfortable being an independent young American woman, capable and confident. In Morocco, however, she had to be always conscious of maneuvering within the customs and preferences of her hosts and their community. She was careful to dress moderately and communicate carefully, slowly gaining their trust by being a friend and helper, never insisting or suggesting that they change their way of life.

It was difficult to approach the time for leaving. As is often the case, just when you get things figured out, the game’s over. All the time spent developing relationships was finally bearing fruit, with more kids involved in her youth programs, deeper friendships and relationships with the women of the village, and more self-confidence in her ability to communicate. Groen had made strides in finding people to partner with her in offering programs, so that she could branch off into even more activities.

Still, “I cried a lot. I wanted to come home, but I also wanted to stay. It’s amazing how close you get to your host family, even though you cannot speak their language. “The relationships I formed were not superficial; the people literally loved me as a part of their family. I was not just an English teacher, but a part of them. I loved going into different houses each day, to sit and crochet with the women, listening to them talk, and helping cook or play with their kids.

“There was such a sharing and love between neighbors, which is so different from our lives here where we hardly know our neighbors. There was such joy and love that it was overwhelming to me.”

The biggest culture shock once back in America? “The constant commercials and media pressure to buy this or buy that, to make you better, prettier, happier,” she says. “In Morocco I just loved being me and not trying to impress everyone. I was much more comfortable and relaxed about who I was, even though I couldn’t speak the language and felt stupid much of the time. Even without all the things I was used to, I was just happier.”

In return for her support of their community, she was rewarded with a very deep connection and love for the people of her village. The respect with which she was treated was mutual, seeding her desire to learn more and give more.

Groen hopes to return to Morocco to visit, but until that time she plans to obtain a graduate degree in international development, to help build a stronger foundation for her desire to help strengthen communities, while keeping their rich culture intact. She says the Peace Corps allowed her to get out of her comfort zone and learn about other people.

“There is a whole world out there just waiting for you. And people are willing to get to know you, wherever you are, and you can love people anywhere.”

Abortion and Sexual Education in Moroccan Universities

11 p.m., springtime, a hospital between Ifrane and Fes. A potbellied man in his fifties and a young woman negotiate payment for an illegal procedure. Hugging her, the man tells her to undress, and she begins to shiver. Meriem* a university graduate, wonders if this is a nightmare.  She freezes as the man, described as a hospital manager, pushes a pill inside her vagina with a cone-shaped tool. Lightheaded, she sees stars.  He injects her with an unidentified fluid, twice, and she returns home. Due to severe cramps, Meriem knows that this time, finally, the procedure will work. It doesn’t. 

Meriem attempted miscarriage with pills. She tried injections. She visited a doctor in Meknes, who inserted his finger in her anus and stormed out of the clinic when she asked to bring a friend into the operating room. Finally, in a Rabat clinic, Meriem ended her pregnancy. Though she suffered no lasting physical consequences, psychological and financial costs were significant. 

In searching for an illegal abortion, Meriem was hardly alone. Morocco legalized contraception in the 1960s. Free condoms are available in public hospitals, emergency contraception retails in pharmacies and abortions are legal if pregnancy threatens a mother’s health and in cases of rape or severe birth defects. 
Education on contraception targets married people, though, and this represents a larger taboo in Moroccan society: here, premarital sexual intercourse is illegal and heavily stigmatized, according to France’s 2006 Emergency Contraception in Africa survey. While society considers premarital sex necessary to prove male virility and adulthood, 90 percent of women surveyed considered premarital virginity a “social duty.” Most men refused to marry a non-virgin, one likening women’s premarital sexual behavior to prostitution.

Nevertheless, many women begin sexual relationships: in a 2006 L’Economiste study, 34 percent of women surveyed reported sexual activity before marriage. 
Unmarried women discovered as sexually active are shamed, and, if pregnant, can face ostracism and abuse. Perhaps consequently, levels of illegal abortion are high: between 130,000 and 150,000 procedures happen each year, according to a 2003 USAID study.

If contraception is readily available, why are there so many illegal abortions?  Ignorance regarding sex strongly influences unprotected behavior. The ECAF survey found unmarried women often began sexual activity without contraception, as reproduction was only briefly discussed in schools and overlooked in families.

In schools, many teachers refuse to teach sexuality-related topics to pupils younger than 15 years. Some Muslim authorities dismiss premarital sexual education for single people, as clerics believe it encourages activity. 

Though the Ministry of National Education recently signed a bill to promote reproductive education in public schools, it is unclear whether this measure covers premarital sex.

It also fails recent graduates, who enter university unprepared for sexual culture.  Students from some universities can easily avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections by accessing emergency contraception on campus and buy condoms in town. 

Like other Moroccan youth, though, they have little sexual education. Education centers on the biomedical model, which introduces diseases, cures and prevention while largely overlooking psychosocial aspects of sexual behavior, like respect, which have a greater effect on student decision-making. 

Dr. Jallal Toufiq, a psychiatrist and director of Salé’s Arrazi Hospital, believes students’ ignorance also comes from cultural silence.  “This is a conservative society, and (students are) not educated (to) talk about their sexual lives… very easily,” said Toufiq.  New male students, says Mohammed, a former student, expect university to mirror an American Pie movie. They pursue numerous encounters, sometimes oblivious to safe practices. 

When asked what consequences single, pregnant students face, Mohammed indicates psychological burdens stemming from religion.“Religiously talking, it’s forbidden to have premarital sex,” said Mohammed. “It’s seen as something evil… like she did the worst crime in humanity.”  Toufiq recalls a student who, to avoid parents’ involvement in her pregnancy, went on academic exchange and later left university. 

Simo, a male student, says most of his friends have impregnated women and that, frequently, they abort due to familial shame.  “Morocco is (a) very conservative society,” said Simo. “People are worms… the way they’re going to treat her.”

In addition to pregnancy and transmission of disease, ignorance can lead to risky situations. Mohammed recalls an overnight trip with a co-ed student group. Though sleeping arrangements were sex-segregated, a man attempted to coerce a woman into having sex, and Mohammed returned to campus with the women, rather than stay with the alleged offender.  He described sexual coercion as common among young men.  “’I’ll be insistent until you fall down and do whatever,’” said Mohammed, characterizing how he believes they think.

According to Glorianna Pionati, a school counselor and professor, students have reported Rohypnol as common in town. Young female students, she says, are especially susceptible to sexual violence because they are not educated.  Simo believes freshman-level sexual education can decrease risk-taking and increase knowledge about consent.

To create an effective sexual education course, high schools, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say, must focus on reducing behaviors that cause unwanted pregnancy and STIs, reinforcing a clear stance on unprotected sex and adapting material to students’ cultures. Effective programs, the CDC say, last 14 or more hours and work best on small groups. 

If Moroccan universities tailor an effective course, they may help students avoid sexual issues.  School administrator Abdelhamid Lotfi believes this is possible. He stresses that a well-designed course should include a cross-section of society, Islamic teachings and universal human rights.

“Sexual education… has to go along with what’s taking place in the social environment,” said Lotfi. 

In 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development declared access to health-care services and education as fundamental human rights. To help students realize their rights, Moroccan universities must focus on sexual education. *Students were given anonymity due to this topics’ social stigma. 
Ida Sophie Winter is an undergraduate student of journalism at the University of Missouri. During the 2014-15 academic year, she attended Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane as a Boren Scholar.

Casablanca: US Ambassador Plays Wheelchair Basketball with Youth with Disabilities
Thursday 23 July 2015 - Aziz Allilou Rabat

On Thursday, the U.S. Embassy in Rabat shared on Facebook a picture of US Ambassador to Morocco, Dwight L. Bush Sr., while playing wheelchair basketball in Casablanca, to encourage youth with disabilities. Ambassador Dwight L. Bush brought smiles for youth with disabilities from poor and middle classes in Casablanca, as he gave them the opportunity to play wheelchair basketball with him. This game was held in Morocco’s first Wheelchair Basketball Academy TIBU Maroc located in Casablanca, following a meeting between Ambassador Bush and TIBU Maroc members.

Via this initiative, Ambassador Bush communicated to all youth with special needs that no dream is too big, and encouraged them to thrive, rather than simply survive. Moroccan social media users commented on the US Ambassador’s picture, expressing their gratitude and appreciation for his humanitarian move.
“We are proud of you. I don’t think we have ever had an Ambassador who is so close to Moroccan communities like you,” commented Yassin Moutaouakil.
Mohammed Elyoubi another commentator said: “I have never seen any Minister or official of ours do such thing.”

TIBU Maroc, which provides basketball training, as well as leadership skills for disabled youth in Casablanca, is supported by the US Embassy in Morocco.
On April 2015, the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Section funded a wheelchair basketball program in TIBU Maroc. The program provides training to youth with disabilities from poor and middle classes families in Casablanca.

By empowering disabled youth, TIBU seeks to help build their self-esteem and reinforce their role as active members of society and as role models for other disabled people.

Morocco: Entrepreneurship Program Launched in New Morocco-Virginia Initiative
By Jean R. Abinader Moroccan American Center for Policy (Washington, DC)  20 July 2015

One of the most interesting responses to the need for entrepreneurship training in Morocco was announced last month by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). It will be offering entrepreneurship programs in partnership with the International Institute of Higher Education in Morocco (IIHEM) at the newly established Henry Ford Entrepreneurship Academy, a project of the Ford Fund, the philanthropic arm of the Ford Motor Co.

The three partners - VCU, IIHEM, and the Ford Fund - have made a long-term commitment to promote entrepreneurship through workshops, exchanges, some infrastructure, and working with stakeholders throughout Morocco. Eventually, the Academy will become a center for networking and connecting alumni and the Moroccan business community.

Jay Markiewicz, the executive director of entrepreneurship programs at VCU, recently returned from his first trip to Morocco and was struck by the cultural diversity in the country and the potential for building a collaborative program with IIHEM that would allow its students to pursue a master's degree in Richmond. He will take the lead in designing the initial two-day workshops to be delivered in French at IIHEM. The workshops will target what are referred to as second-stage companies, those that have been around for less than three years and can benefit from insights into: articulating their value propositions; understanding customer needs and regulatory and legal issues; and gaining a working knowledge of financing, marketing, branding, and building business plans and models.
Jay is quite excited by the partnership with the Ford Fund, which is building its visibility in the region as the company extends its commercial operations in Africa. Their joint goal with IIHEM is to address economic development needs and make a difference in the economy by promoting a spirit of entrepreneurship and creating an infrastructure, an eco-system, to support entrepreneurism. It is a long term project that will start with the workshops and then develop additional programs as the demand and needs are identified.

Jay says that the response from the Richmond area has been very positive. Already three members of his advisory board have agreed to fund and join a visit with three VCU students to Rabat. He believes that the Richmond area has a great deal to offer to the program in Morocco and in the US. In turn, this will create new opportunities for Virginia companies and students who have not been to Africa to experience Morocco and identify opportunities for study and business.

This is a great human capital investment for Ford Motor Co. as it has opened three sales locations in Morocco and a purchasing office in Tangier, the location of Tangier Automotive City, where more than 100 companies supply the automotive industry in Morocco - the country's fastest growing export sector. Ford wants to strengthen the local economy, contribute to the development of its private sector, and encourage education that provides skills needed in their industry.
As Ed Grier, dean of the VCU School of Business remarked, "Entrepreneurship plays a critical role in energizing communities and stimulating economies. I have not doubt that the new Henry Ford Entrepreneurship Academy will make a difference in Morocco, and VCU is proud to play a leading role in this exciting venture." The reciprocal benefit of this relationship was well summarized by Mr. Markiewicz when he said, "I think it speaks highly for our university, for our entrepreneurship education... Anytime you bring positive global press to a piece of Richmond, something so significant as its university, I think that it's going to open doors - for the university and for Richmond and for the students."

The new partnership is more than a concept; by the end of November, it will have delivered its first workshops and will have gained some helpful insights into how to make the Academy a fulltime success - for all the partners.

Moroccan chicken and lentil soup–done with Tesco ingredients
By: Norma Chikiamco @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer July 23rd, 2015

As if SM doesn’t already have enough goods in its supermarket, it recently augmented its already abundantly filled shelves with products from Tesco, the much loved brand from the United Kingdom. I must admit that I wasn’t aware of this British brand until now. Oh, maybe I’d heard of it from some vague references, but it’s only now, with its very visible presence at SM supermarket, that I’ve come to know more about Tesco.

I already started buying Tesco products a few days before its recent formal launch at SM Aura, having been drawn to its attractive display at SM’s Makati store (see my story on Tesco, July 9, 2015 issue of the Inquirer, or visit What a pleasant surprise to see that Tesco has bottles of plain Dijon mustard, which I’ve had trouble finding (most of those sold in the market have white wine). Moreover, it costs only P129.50 a bottle for the plain and P137.50 for the “finest.”

That’s a reasonable price for a product with numerous uses. Dijon mustard is great for salad dressings, for tuna and chicken sandwiches, for honey mustard sauce, and—live it up a little—for slathering on hotdogs in place of the more prosaic yellow mustard. Then there are the herbs and spices from A (allspice) to C (cardamoms, chili powder) to V (vanilla pod). How delightful to see so many of them packaged in neat bottles. What’s more, even their caps are labeled, so it’s easy to identify them from the top, especially if you’ve stored them on the lower drawers of your kitchen.

Because I take pride in making my own cranberry sauce (from frozen cranberries which I badger my daughters to buy for me overseas), I resisted buying Tesco’s bottled cranberry sauce, though it really looked quite tempting. However curiosity getting the better of me, I soon reached for a bottle, which I lost no time in tasting at home.

Suffice it to say that I will no longer be badgering my daughters for those frozen cranberries. Light, fluid, with occasional whole cranberries and a carefully calculated amount of sweetness, Tesco’s bottled cranberry sauce is just as good and maybe even better (I have to concede) than my own homemade one.
Perhaps the SM-Tesco partnership was inevitable. According to Luke Elliott, Tesco’s commercial manager for Group Food, Tesco is like the SM of the UK.
“We share the same business principles and the same business operating model,” he said.

Here I’ve tested one of the recipes handed out during the Tesco launch at SM Aura: Moroccan Chicken and Lentil Soup. This is a very thick, hearty soup, perfect for rainy days. With cinnamon, cumin and coriander as seasonings, and dried apricots, eggplants, chicken, beans and carrots in the mixture, it has a rich, complex flavor and bountiful textures. Serve it with warm, crusty bread and you’ll have a complete meal.

Tesco’s Moroccan Chicken and Lentil Soup

1 tbsp Tesco olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tsp Tesco ground cinnamon
1 tsp Tesco ground cumin
1 tsp Tesco ground coriander
3 tbsp tomato purée or Tesco passata
5 c hot vegetable stock or vegetable broth (or water or chicken broth)
2 carrots, diced
1 400-gram can chopped tomatoes
1 390-gram can Tesco green lentils, drained
¾ c dried apricots, roughly chopped
1 small eggplant, diced into medium pieces
250 g (1/4 kilo) boneless chicken breast, shredded and skin removed
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Small handful fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

In a large pan or casserole, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté for two to three minutes, or until softened, stirring constantly so onions and garlic don’t burn.

Stir in the cinnamon, cumin, coriander and tomato purée or passata and cook for a further two to three minutes.

Pour in the vegetable stock or broth and the carrots. Let simmer over low heat, for about six to seven minutes or until the carrots are tender. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, lentils and apricots and continue simmering for 12 to 15 more minutes.

Add the eggplant and shredded chicken and cook for five minutes or until eggplants are tender and chicken is fully cooked. Add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, ladle into soup bowls and garnish with the lemon zest and fresh mint leaves. Makes four to six servings.
For more tips, recipes and stories, visit author’s blog:, facebook page: or follow on Twitter @NormaChikiamco.
Cook’s tips:
Before juicing the lemon, remove the zest first so the lemon is still firm. (It’s difficult to zest a lemon that has softened.)
Passata is the equivalent of tomato purée and is available in small boxes under the Tesco brand in some SM supermarkets and hypermarkets.
This is a very thick, hearty soup. Be sure to serve it piping hot.
Read more:

Nabil Ayouch's film "Much Loved"    Sinner or saint?

Screenings of Nabil Ayouch's new film "Much Loved" have been banned in Morocco. Described as "an insult to all Moroccan women", the drama focuses on the lives of three prostitutes in Marrakech. It was a big hit at this year's Munich Filmfest. By Susan Vahabzadeh

When night falls in Marrakech, the city belongs to Noha, Soukaina and Randa. At least, they behave as if it does, this brash trio whose conversations are punctuated with sufficient vulgarity to turn the air several shades of blue. They talk about their bodies and the job, which of course are one and the same topic, and sometimes even their driver, Said, who chauffeurs them through the streets of Marrakech, from one party to the next, from hotel to hotel, and finally home just as the grey light of dawn is breaking, finds it all a little too much. "What are you looking at?" Noha asks him after he appears shocked by one of her racier outbursts, "You want me to be more poetic?"

The brassy self-confidence of the three heroines of "Much Loved", it turns out, is nothing more than a front, armour behind which to hide their true vulnerability. While the three women are prostitutes, Said's role, is less obvious; we are left wondering whether he is merely some sort of good-natured protector-bodyguard or whether he is in fact their pimp after all.

Moroccan film director Nabil Ayouch allows us to closely observe the struggles of the three women to get by, showing us how they pick themselves up after being thoroughly degraded by their clients (mostly hypocritical Saudis, occasionally patronising Europeans), how they manage to hold on to their dignity in spite of the feigned lust and violence that is their daily lot, and how they create a little space for themselves where they can still dream of getting married, of being cared for and looked after. The bond that the trio shares is as moving as their pragmatism. "Much Loved" is a touchingly beautiful portrayal of the lives of these ladies of the night and of how they have come to terms with the hopelessness of their existences.

Ayouch shows very clearly what the consequences are when women are always falsified, unreal: sinner or saint. "Our women are like the meat on this plate," says one of the clients, a Saudi, over dinner: "dead". It becomes very clear just how much almost all of the men with whom Noha, Randa and Soukaina are involved despise them: they are alive but they are whores.

"An insult to all Moroccan women"
"Much Loved", which has been banned in Morocco, has been screened at the Cannes Film Festival and the Filmfest in Munich

"Much Loved" was shown at this year's Munich Filmfest. Ayouch's candid approach has meant that controversy has been the film's constant companion since its first showing as part of the Directors' Fortnight line-up at Cannes in May. Loubna Abidar, who plays Noha, apparently received death threats, as did Ayouch himself. In Morocco the film has been banned, branded an insult to Moroccan women, indeed to the whole Kingdom of Morocco.

Recent reports have suggested that Ayouch ignored the ban and screened the film in Rabat for students at a conference on freedom of expression. The website of French newspaper "Le Figaro" was just one of the sources for this story. Some Moroccan media have since denied that such a thing took place. The story, they claimed, was polemical – yes, there had been a conference and yes, Ayouch was in attendance, but the film had not been shown.

According to the British broadsheet "The Guardian", Ayouch and Loubna Abidar had been summoned to appear in court on 15 July. Whatever the truth of the matter, Ayouch, who claims to have been surprised by the intensity of the reaction to the film, has certainly set the cat among the pigeons. At the end of last year, Ridley Scott's "Exodus" was also banned in Morocco, though it was later given permission to be screened following a couple of minor adjustments to the script.

Ayouch's avowed surprise at the scandal is nevertheless hard to believe. Of course he is right to stand up for freedom of expression in Morocco; and it is probably also right that the film is said to be not only very authentic, but to actually show things the way they are. Prostitution may be a taboo subject in Morocco, but it highly likely to exist there, just as it does everywhere else in the world.

A film to get people talking
Morocco is striving harder than most other Arab countries to encourage a spirit of progressiveness. The Marrakech Film Festival does its best every year, and with official sanction, to push back the boundaries of what is acceptable to Moroccan audiences. Jean-Marc Vallée's "C.R.A.Z.Y." (2005), for example, also dealt with a topic usually considered taboo in Morocco: homosexuality. The Arab Spring may have passed Morocco by, but this does not mean that the relative internal peace, the non-violent tug of war over conservative standards and renewal, is any easier as a result – a moderate Islamic party has had a majority in parliament in Rabat since 2011.

Nabil Ayouch may deny wanting to provoke anyone, but it was clearly his intention to get people in Moroccan society talking. He has certainly adopted radical means to do so. It is perhaps worth mentioning that "Much Loved" could only be seen by people of 18 and over at its German screenings. After all, it is only fifteen years since French author Virginie Despentes' film about women and violence, "Baise-moi", came close to being banned from European cinemas.
Susan Vahabzadeh © Süddeutsche Zeitung/ 2015 Translated from the German by Ron Walker

Sexual violence is on the rise: A spate of attacks in a cautiously liberal land
Jul 22nd 2015 | Middle East and Africa

Last month, a taxi driver in Fez ejected a customer from his cab, shouting that he was a “khanit,” slang for gay. A mob then beat the man, who was wearing a wig and a white dress. In a video that circulated widely online, the victim can be seen rolling on the ground while his attackers strike and insult him.

Because of that cell-phone footage, two of the attackers are now on trial for assault. Dozens of lawyers from human rights groups around the country have reportedly offered legal assistance to the victim, who was only saved by police intervention. The incident is just the latest in a series of controversies in Morocco over sexual freedom, public morality and the law.

Earlier in June two young women out shopping in the southern city of Inezgane were harassed by street vendors for wearing skirts. When the crowd became aggressive, the girls called the police, only to be arrested themselves for public indecency. Their trial sparked an outcry in a country that has been largely quiet since a wave of protests petered out following the Arab spring. Moroccan intellectuals, activists and artists signed a petition published in several liberal newspapers decrying “the rise of an aggressive and threatening conservatism, that intrudes on the intimacy and personal choices of individuals.”

The girls were acquitted on July 13th, after protests in solidarity, during which many women demonstrators made a point of wearing dresses, took place in several cities. Some protesters also held up signs marked #LoveIsNotACrime, the hashtag of an online campaign calling for the government, which is currently revising the penal code, to decriminalise homosexuality.

The Moroccan ministries of interior and justice have called on citizens not to take the law into their own hands. But the Minister of Justice has also said that homosexuality is a “red line” and that homosexuals shouldn’t “provoke society.” Citizens are implementing, in their own violent way, prejudices that are enshrined in law and often enforced by the authorities.

Just a week before the Fez attack, 20 men were reportedly arrested in the southern city of Agadir on charges of homosexuality and public indecency. A gay couple that exchanged a public kiss in protest was sentenced to three month in prison last month; a TV channel broadcast their home addresses.
Morocco’s current morality laws allow the police to harass unmarried lovers; they have been used to break into activists’ homes in the middle of the night and arrest them on charges of adultery.

At other times the authorities prefer not to see. In May, a film by a Moroccan director, Nabil Ayouch, that chronicles the daily lives of prostitutes in Marrakesh, was banned for insulting “moral values, the Moroccan woman, and the image of the kingdom.” There was public support for the ban, despite grudging acknowledgement that prostitution is widespread. (A 2011 study by the Ministry of Healthy found 19,000 prostitutes in four Moroccan cities.)

Morocco remains more liberal than many other Arab countries, especially in its urban centres. But it also remains patriarchal and religiously conservative. Justice and Development, an Islamist party, heads its governing coalition. King Mohamed VI bears the title of Commander of the Faithful. The kingdom prides itself on its moderate brand of Islam, its diversity and its ability to manage its contradictions. One way it does so is just to look the other way.But instead of selectively enforcing conservative laws on morality, it would do much better to reform them.

What’s It Like to Be Gay in … Morocco?
By Liam HoareJuly 22 2015

For those who heard about the case of Ray Cole—a British tourist arrested last year in Marrakech, Morocco, on suspicion of committing “homosexual acts” and sentenced to four months’ hard time in a Moroccan jail prior to his early release—it is perhaps difficult to imagine that Morocco was something of a gay paradise for white men of standing in the aftermath of World War II.

Gore Vidal describes the queer scene in his memoir, Palimpsest:. “A pack of queens were on the move that summer in Europe,” he wrote: Some lived by their wits, others on remittances from home. In 1948 they converged on Rome and Paris and Tangier. In the next decade, it would be Athens and Istanbul; later Tokyo, where life was cheap in the seventies and Americans honored. Then Tokyo extruded them and the survivors fled the setting sun for San Francisco.

Tangier—on the northernmost coastal point in Morocco, across the Strait of Gibraltar—was for strategic reasons an international zone, separate from the French-controlled Moroccan protectorate, between 1923 and 1956. This period in its history allowed it to become culturally distinct, and after the war in particular, a focal city for a number of queer American literary types. These poets and novelists sought a different way of life that could not be found in the United States at that time, one of eternal sunshine, mildly exotic cultural interaction, cheap living, and even cheaper boys.

Vidal characterizes himself as the “fugitive” of a group that included Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams, and Truman Capote, to be joined later by the likes of Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs (who wrote the drug-infused novel Naked Lunch there). Yves Saint Laurent had a home in Tangier for many years (as well as a villa in Marrakech). The darker side of this period in Tangier’s history is apparent in the diaries of the English playwright Joe Orton, which make clear he was none too fussed about the age of the boys he was picking up there.

Queer Tangier died a long time ago. After the city was reunited with Morocco, and the protectorate gained independence in 1956, the expatriate community dwindled away. In the 1960s, during what became known as “the Great Scandal,” foreigners in Tangier were arrested for sexual and drug-related crimes, and many of the city’s seedy brothels were shut down for good. Something of the gay scene moved to Marrakech, but suffice it to say, it is far removed from Tangier’s heyday and very much confined to the margins.

Gay life takes place in the depths of certain hammams (Turkish baths) and the back rows of cinemas, if people happen to know the right spots; needless to say, cruising plays an important role. The most prominent stage after dusk is Jamaa el Fna, the main square and marketplace and gateway to the souk in the heart of the old city. The gardens adjacent to the Koutabia mosque and Avenue Mohammed V between the new and old cities are other reported hot spots. There are no gay bars, but a mix of gay and straight patrons can be found in clubs that cater primarily to Westerners.

Seen in this light, the case of Ray Cole can be said to be another part of the story of the withering away of gay life in Morocco, or at the very least, the end of turning of a blind eye to it. But what is more significant about Cole’s case is that it demonstrates the true reality for gay men in Morocco, namely, that while the laws on homosexuality are enforced inconsistently, there is evidently a double standard employed in their application.

The literature available to potential gay travelers to Morocco—of which there is a great deal since, in spite of laws and social norms there, Morocco remains a prime destination for package holiday-goers from Britain, France, and Germany—is very clear in setting out what is and isn’t acceptable. Gay couples should refrain from public displays of affection and would be advised to seek out hotels and riads (a traditional house with an interior courtyard) known to be gay-friendly. But provided they stick to these guidelines, the police won’t pay them any mind or pick them up on the street.

The situation is altogether different, as Cole managed to discover (or perhaps uncover), if Moroccan nationals are involved. We would never have heard of Cole’s young lover, whose whereabouts were unknown for several days after Cole flew home, had he not been holding hands with an Englishman. The arrest of Moroccans for “homosexual acts” occurs every day and goes unreported. The scenes of Cole’s family greeting him at Britain’s Gatwick Airport contrast starkly with how gay men are treated in Moroccan society: looked down upon, rejected by their families, dismissed with the Maghrebi Arabic slur zamel.
“More than [Cole’s] own case, what happened to him shows how vulnerable gay Moroccans are,”Abdellah Taïa, a Moroccan writer and filmmaker who now lives in exile, wrote in The Guardian, “They are at the mercy of anyone. Your life can be turned upside down at any moment.” To the question of what it is like to be gay in Morocco, then, the answer very much means one thing to a Western visitor and quite another to Moroccan nationals, who are considered by their society and their state to be of lesser value.

Correction, July 23, 2015: Due to an editing error, the photo caption originally misidentified Jamaa el Fna as being in Tangier.
Liam Hoare is a freelance writer whose work on politics and literature features in the Forward and the Tower. He is a graduate of University College London's School of Slavonic and East European Studies.

Mapping Morocco through portraits.
By Amanda Sealy and Daisy Carrington, for CNN July 22, 2015

She admits that in Morocco, finding subjects willing to be photographed can be difficult, due to superstition.

"There is an association with witchcraft and there's this kind of fear that if someone takes your photo, they can use it after and put a spell on you," she says.
(CNN)Photography has, traditionally, been a somewhat contentious art form in Morocco. Design, architecture, fashion -- these are areas where the country shines. Photographs, however, seem to make many Moroccans uncomfortable.

"There's no way I can take a camera and just do street photography in Morocco. People will get aggressive," says Leila Alaoui, a French-Moroccan photographer who is making waves with her striking portraits. The reasons, she notes, are myriad, and range from superstition to feelings of being exploited.
"There is an association with witchcraft and there's this kind of fear that if someone takes your photo, they can use it after and put a spell on you," she admits.
"The second reason is I think people are getting tired of European tourists coming in and taking photos of exotic Morocco. People feel like they're being a bit used."

As a result, Alaoui says it takes her time to get locals to pose for her. "It takes so much time to convince people. As a photographer it's really difficult to photograph in Morocco."

Slowly, the country is starting to open up, particularly in the realm of the arts. Last year, the country saw the launch of its first museum for modern and contemporary art -- The Mohammed VI Museum -- in the capital city of Rabat. Davis Knaus, the managing director of The Marrakesh Museum for Photography and Visual Arts -- which opened in 2013 -- says that the younger generation are showing a greater interest in the arts. "The young generation, they want to own their culture. I don't think there's ever been value put in Morocco and lots of Africa on owning your contemporary culture. All that has changed now and these kids want to own it," he says

This Why Fez Is No Longer Appealing to Tourists.
Wednesday 22 July 2015 - Katherine Hall Rabat

The video that shows two young men in Fez haggling with a Japanese tourist after the two men assumingly took some time to show the man around the city to take pictures, shows a common struggle for tourists who come to Morocco.

While most occurrences are not quite as severe as the one posted here, it highlights a larger issue for tourists and Moroccan tourism as a whole.
As a tourist visiting Morocco for the duration of 4 weeks, I can identify with this man. In an unfamiliar place, where people are speaking a different language, the last thing tourists like me want to worry about is the pressure from locals to buy their goods or services for a price higher than what might be fair. Such haggling from the locals puts tourists in uncomfortable situations that are likely a lot more overwhelming than locals might expect, and can leave a lasting impression.

Yes, bargaining is part of the culture here, something many Americans and people from other countries aren’t used to. However there comes a point to where the haggling can become overwhelming and unfair.

Days before I left for my trip to Morocco, I was warned to not go to Fez; that it was the most dangerous city in Morocco. While I now realize that there is little to no truth to this statement, I am aware that bad reputations are created quickly and easily through the experiences people have during their visits as tourists. One bad experience could mean a tourist will never return, and tell their friends and family to avoid the city or area as well.
While tourists recognize that locals insistent upon a high price or pushing to sell their goods or services are in need of money to earn a living, unwanted haggling discourages tourists from coming back, and can be considered unsustainable for Moroccan tourism. Morocco is a beautiful country with a lot to offer, however this video illustrates one reason why some may resist embarking upon what could be the trip of a lifetime.

Grammar Teaching in Communicative Language Teaching: A Return to Form.
Wednesday 22 July 2015- morocco world news By Otman Boukhzar Fez

The teaching of grammar has always stirred controversy among researchers. Historically, the question of whether grammar should be taught explicitly or implicitly has always been hotly debated; while the deductive method is traditionally associated with the dreaded grammar-based approaches, the inductive method is closely linked to the communication-based approaches which have won momentum, nowadays.

However, recent studies in the field of second language acquisition have revealed that, just like the grammar-based approaches were inadequate due to their sole focus on form, the communicative-based approaches, too, have many inadequacies, crucial of which is their mere focus on meaning-based instruction. Therefore, these negative reactions have resulted in the development of a new grammar teaching approach that combines both perspectives, namely focus-on-form instruction to cater for the weaknesses of each approach. This article seeks to discuss the issue of focus-on-form instruction in communicative language teaching. First, it aims at establishing a background to the issue. Second, it attempts to provide a definition of focus-on-form instruction and its main principles. Third, it gives some benefits of the focus-on-form instruction. Last, it presents some practical activities for implementing it.

Approaches to grammar teaching have undergone many changes and fluctuations. These changes that have characterized the teaching of grammar are ascribed not only to the changes in the research findings conducted on this issue, but also due to the movement from grammar-based approaches to communicative approaches. The latter put its primary focus on meaning and the implicit teaching of grammatical rules. As far as the grammar-based approaches, they are built on the assumption that through teaching grammar exclusively, the learners will be able to fully master the target language. As Nassaji & Fotos put it, “One of the major assumptions that underlie traditional grammar based approaches is that language consists of a grammatical forms and structures that can be acquired successively” (2011). Put differently, if the learner is exposed to the grammatical forms of a language in a sequential manner, he or she will end up acquiring the language. The most renowned grammar-based approaches are traditional translation and audio-lingual methods. Though they differ in many respects, these methods share the assumption that language is best learned through the explicit grammar instruction. These approaches have been put into question with the advent of the communicative movement.

Unlike the grammar-based approaches, the communicative approaches are based on the idea that language is best learned through communication, not via the mechanical presentation of grammatical forms. The communicative approaches have disregarded the explicit use of grammar rules in teaching grammar. This has led to a shift from form-focused instruction to meaning-focused instruction (Nassaji & Fotos, 2011). The exclusive focus on grammar instruction has been found to be inadequate to develop learners’ ability to perform in oral communication. Furthermore, many researchers have attested to the fact that language teaching cannot be limited solely to grammar teaching. This is so because the explicit teaching of grammar does not result in fluency. In the same vein, Hymes’ theory of communicative competence (1972) has been very influential in the development of communicative language teaching, which puts the development of students’ communicative competence as its primary goal. The communicative competence asserts that knowledge of a language not only lies in knowing the grammatical forms of that language, but also of knowing how to use them appropriately in different communication contexts.

Nevertheless, given that each of these approaches focuses only on either the form or meaning while turning a blind eye on the other one, they have both been found to be ineffective on their own. Researchers have come up with ample evidence that assert the importance of the inclusion of both components, i.e. form and meaning in language teaching. For instance, Krashen’s Monitor Theory (1981) accentuates the interrelatedness of explicit and implicit knowledge, as does Language Awareness Movement, which emphasizes the importance of explicit teaching and reflection on language structures. Simply put, both explicit and implicit knowledge are equally important. Therefore, many educators have argued that communicative approaches should revisit its goals and thus incorporate both form and meaning.

Focus on Form Instruction:
The growing dissatisfaction with both grammar and communicative approaches to teaching grammar has led Long (1991) to propose an approach which he termed Focus on Form instruction (henceforth FonF). According to Long, this approach is distinguished from a focus on forms instruction, which is associated with grammar-based approaches, and a focus on meaning instruction, which is the instruction employed by communicative approaches and that pays no attention to form. In contrast, Focus on Form instruction tends to combine both positions through drawing students’ attention to grammatical forms in communicative contexts (Nassaji & Fotos, 2011).

According to Long (1991), FonF instruction is an approach that “overtly draws students’ attention to linguistic elements as they arise incidentally in lessons whose overriding focus is on meaning or communication” ( Long as cited in Nassaji & Fotos, 2011: 11). The concept emphasizes an incidental focus on explicit grammatical forms to direct learners’ attention to various linguistic features of their language along with making them aware of the linguistic forms of their utterances while conforming to the communicative practices. Similarly, the Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistics and Language Teaching defines Focus on Form as follows: “In a more technical sense, focus on form has been defined as a brief allocation of attention to linguistic form as the need for this arises incidentally, in the context of communication” (C. Richards & Schmidt, 2001:205). In view of this, FonF grammar instruction attempts to combine the teaching of communication with the teaching of grammatical structures (Larsen-freeman, 2001). Such type of instruction represents an optimal position. While it adheres to the communicative principles, it also gives due importance to the place of explicit teaching of grammatical items in language learning.

Benefits of Focus on Form instruction:
The Focus on Form instruction yields many beneficial outcomes in communicative contexts. First and foremost, Focus on Form instruction draws students’ attention to grammatical forms and aspects that might go unnoticed if the focus is put solely on meaning. Another benefit of Fonf’s instruction is that students will be able to increase their noticing as well as monitoring capacity while engaging in communicative tasks. Differently stated, not only will they manage to attain fluency, but also accuracy. In addition, Focus on Form instruction is also beneficial in making students become creative in terms of coming up with new structures (Larsen-freeman, 2001). More importantly, this type of instruction contributes to the development of meta-linguistic awareness, not only of the target language, but also of that of native language. To achieve these benefits, effective classroom activities are needed.

Activities for doing Focus on Form instruction:
Focus on Form is closely linked with task-based style, and it is used as a follow-up activity to alert students’ attention to explicit formal aspects of language (Cook, 2008). In task-based language teaching style, Fonf tasks attempt to alert students’ attention to the grammatical forms in an optimum and judicious manner, since focusing merely on meaning may not help students induce the rules from the input and some structures or rules may escape their attention. This approach is based on input-processing and consciousness-raising tasks (Larsen-freeman, 2001). Using these processes, the teacher makes his or her students aware of certain grammatical forms whilst engaging in communicative tasks. As Cook puts it, “by letting language form in through the back door” (2008).

Generally, there is a wide range of activities and techniques developed by different scholars. Some activities make use of classical exercises or activities in bringing students’ attention to form such as translation, dictation, and rote memorization (Nassaji & Fotos, 2011), while others attempt to develop communicative ones such as “noticing” tasks (i.e. learners are asked to notice and underline grammatical aspects in a texts or statements), “consciousness-raising” tasks (i.e. learners complete an helped to discover how the target language structure works by analyzing texts), “checking” tasks (i.e. learners are asked to complete an activity to check if they have understood how the structure of the target language works), etc. Although these activities are aimed at making grammar forms salient to learners, this is always achieved through communicative tasks. Such tasks are designed in such a way that they promote learners’ awareness of the grammatical forms of the target language along with engaging them in communicative interaction. Together these activities can enhance the learners’ target language development and awareness.

In a nutshell, Focus on Form instruction is the most recent method of teaching grammar that attempts to bring together both form and meaning in the course of teaching. This method is built on the assumption that a return to form is inevitable in grammar teaching and that any teaching of grammar that tends to turn a blind eye to the teaching of grammatical aspects of language is doomed to be inadequate. For this reason, Focus on Form instruction stresses that both form and meaning are of paramount importance to language development and, therefore, they should be used in an optimum and judicious manner in order for learners to be able to develop both fluency and accuracy.

Woks cited:
Balstone, R. (1994). Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cook, V. (2008). Second language teaching and learning. London: Hodder Education.
Fotos, S., & Nassaij, H. (Eds).( 2011). Teaching grammar in a second language: integrating form-focused instruction in communicative context. London: Routledge
Hymes, D. H. (1972) “On communicative Competence” In: J. B. Pride and J. Holmes (eds) Sociolinguistics. Selected readings. Harmodsworth: Penguim.
Krashen, S., (1981). Second language acquisition and second language learning. Oxford: Pergamon.
Larsen-Freeman, D.(eds).(2001).Grammar: The Cambridge guide to teaching English to speakers of other languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Richards, J.C., & R. Schmidt. (2002). Dictionary of language teaching & and applied linguistics. Longman: Pearson Education

These postings are provided without permission of the copyright owner for purposes of criticism, comment, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and it may not be distributed further without permission of the identified copyright owner.  The poster does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the message, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Return to Friends of Morocco Home Page

About Membership Volunteer Newsletters Souk Links