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Morocco Week in Review 
May 9, 2015

Moroccan Artisans Festival Featuring Beautiful Handicrafts Expo Officially Opens
Tuesday 28 April 2015 - Elisabeth Myers Alexandria VA

Despite cold, un-Springlike cloudy weather, the Alexandria Artisans Festival opened officially with a flourish today in front of City Hall in Old Town Alexandria. With plenty of hot Moroccan mint tea in the offing, and marked by an impressive delegation of government officials and dignitaries, the Festival kicked off at noon with a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring welcome speeches by City of Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille, Morocco’s Minister of Handicrafts, Solidarity, and Social Economy Fatima Merouan, and Morocco’s Ambassador to the U.S. Rachad Bouhlal.

Celebrating the long standing diplomatic relationship between Morocco and the U.S., a full ROTC Honor Guard of students from T.C. Williams High School marched in and presented side by side the U.S. and Moroccan flags, while the national anthems of both countries were sung, Morocco’s by Mohamed Ziyat who travelled here from Morocco with his wife especially for the festival, and the U.S.’s by Marchelle Toliver.

Moroccan Gnawa and fusion star Hassan Hakmoun offered a wonderfully unamplified acoustic musical presentation on sintir and vocals, while jellaba-clad members of his band danced to the beat of qarqaqeb, the heavy metal Moroccan equivalent of castanets.

An official tour of the outdoor handicraft exhibition with a meet and greet of the artisans followed the ceremony, and then Moroccan American businessman and Vice President of World Jewry, Sir Charles Dahan, led the group inside City Hall for a tour of the Moroccan Jewish heritage expo, featuring gorgeous hand made, filligree and silver jewellery. Many of the beautiful handicrafts are on sale, including colorful ceramics, carpets, silver work pots, babouches (Moroccan slippers), engraved brass and silver trays, and Berber jewellery. An expert calligrapher will write your name in beautiful Arabic for free, and frame it for a small contribution for his hoped-for ferrari. I plan to go back tomorrow to buy the amazing red, white, blue, and green ceramic tajine adorned on one side by the U.S. flag and on the other by the Moroccan flag.

The festival continues tomorrow and Wednesday in Market Square – the perfect setting for the bazaar-like exposition — right in front of City Hall.

The Moroccan Embassy in DC Presents Passport DC: Cultural Tourism
Monday 4 May 2015 Fez

Morocco is participating in Passport DC: Cultural Tourism throughout the month of May in an effort to portray its cultural heritage. The event, which is organized by the Moroccan Embassy in the United States in collaboration with the Ministry of Handicrafts and Social Economy and the Crafts House, aims at presenting different Moroccan handicrafts, combining tradition and modernity. Items presented include tapestries, traditional costumes, basketry, decorative items, and jewelry.

Forty embassies will participate in the embassy open houses, including Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Japan, Indonesia, Ghana, Gabon, Mexico, Qatar, Bahrain, Libya, Tunisia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ukraine, the Philippines, Bolivia, Haiti, Guatemala, the Bahamas, and Malaysia.

The exhibition attracts thousands attendees each year who live in the U.S. capital and other regions who want to experience global cultures. Gnawa and Andalusian music will also accompany the exhibition, enhancing the festival atmosphere and charm. The event is an opportunity to pay tribute to Moroccan crafts and to inform the American public about the diversity and uniqueness of Morocco’s national cultural heritage.

First Showroom of Moroccan Handicrafts to Open in Washington D.C. Area
Tuesday 28 April 2015 Washington DC

Moroccan Minister of Handicrafts & Social and Solidarity-based Economy, Mrs. Fatima Marouan, inaugurates a permanent showroom in Dulles Design Center showcasing the finest of Moroccan craftsmanship. Morocco’s rich and unique handicraft heritage is not only the fruit of distinguished skills and artistic talents, but also the results of the multiple cultural exchanges have shaped its history. It is no secret that when it comes to handicrafts, the diversity of Morocco’s portfolio is hard to beat.

The blending of centuries-old skills and expertise with the boldness of new-age daring designs is spurring a new wave of creation that is sweeping the world of international interior design and home-décor. This creates great opportunities for Moroccan firms that specialize in the craft trades in several foreign markets, including the American market.

Following a comprehensive research that was conducted on the American market, it became apparent that the selection of a distribution hub as well as US-based distribution channels would be vital for the long-term success of an export strategy that aims to penetrate the U.S. market. “The whole idea is to promote the Moroccan handcraft, and showcase the Moroccan culture in USA,” Hassan Samrhouni, CEO and founder of Morocco Premier Events told Morocco World News. “Having a permanent showroom so near to Washington, DC and Dulles International Airport gives us a great opportunity to sell the Moroccan story to audiences across North America,” he added.

The Dulles-based permanent showroom (Morocco Premier Events) is the 1st step in making it happen. The 5,000 square foot showroom features items and products that range from furniture and design elements to jewelry, clothing, and leather-work that can be a window to the culture and heritage of Morocco in America. This initiative is part of a wider effort carried by the Government to promote Moroccan exports to the USA and encourage firms to further explore the American market. The Pilot project/action forms part of a bigger strategy that aims to strengthen public-private partnerships.

Morocco is a ‘Wonderful Country': US Ambassador Says According to WikiLeaks
Monday 4 May 2015 Rabat

“Morocco is a wonderful country with interesting people”, says U.S. Ambassador to Morocco, Dwight Bush, according to hacked emails made available online.
The email was among more than 170,000 internal Sony Pictures emails published online and indexed by WikiLeaks on April.

In an email exchange dated September 17, 2014, with American screenwriter and director Stephen Gaghan, Ambassador Dwight Bush wrote: “Hello Stephen. Pleased to make your acquaintance and welcome to Morocco! I don’t know if this is your first visit or a return, but Morocco is a wonderful country with interesting people, great culture and history and much to do.”

The American director, who was in Morocco for the shooting of his film “Syriana”, replied the Ambassador on September 18, 2014: “Mr. Ambassador! It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance as well. I genuinely love Morocco. I worked in and around Casablanca for months on my film, Syriana. And was so happy to be able to return for this AMC pilot. Originally we were slated to film in South Africa, but our scout of Morocco a couple of weeks ago won the day.”

These emails and others have been indexed as a fully searchable archive on WikiLeaks. The website’s founder Julian Assange said the publication of the emails is meant to show “the inner working of an influential multinational corporation. It is newsworthy and at the center of a geo-political conflict…It belong in the public domain.” Sony, however, called the hack a “malicious criminal act” and blasted WikiLeaks for making it available. They also said they “vehemently disagree with WikiLeaks’ assertion that this material belongs in the public domain and will continue to fight for the safety, security and privacy of our company.”

Moroccan Cuisine among Top Ten Foods Preferred By British Diners
Wednesday 29 April 2015 - morocco world news Rabat

According to a survey by restaurant booking platform Bookatable, Moroccan cuisine is among the top ten foods Brits would like to see better represented in the UK. The Moroccan cuisine is ranked 7th among international cuisines British diners would like to see available in their local areas.

The Caribbean cuisine has topped the top 10 list of most in-demand world foods by British diners. It is followed by foods from Greece (2), France (3), Britain (4), Mexico (5), Italy (6), Morocco (7), Brazil (8), Japan (9) and the United States (10).

The survey, cited by BigHospitality, has found that thirty four per cent of those surveyed said they do not like certain foods despite never having tried them before, while 39 per cent admitted they rarely try something new. “It appears that certain food types aren’t broadly represented, causing some people to be less adventurous,” Bookatable chief executive Joe Steele said.

“Our goal is to encourage people to be more adventurous when it comes to eating out because there are so many exciting foods for people to discover. “But given the huge demand for emerging cuisine types such as Caribbean, Moroccan and Brazilian, it’s clear that diners just need a push in the right direction,” he added. Bookatable is an online restaurant reservation service headquartered in London, United Kingdom.

Ethnic 101: Easy Moroccan recipes: Influences from many lands play part in flavorful dishes of Morocco
Caroline Barret, Times Union By Caroline Barrett Thursday, May 7, 2015

Editor's note: Each month, Caroline Barrett explores an ethnic cuisine and shows you how to serve it up with ingredients easily found in the local supermarket.

There is often little consolation for the armchair traveler. People like me, we dream of faraway places, little winding streets and crowded markets. It's not sandy beaches I long for on gray and rainy days but hot, vibrant streets with market stalls on every corner. In my mind, there are deep, rich colors everywhere, baskets with exotic fruits and bowls filled with red and orange spices. Vendors sell steamy bowls of slurpy noodles, fried rice and crispy hot fried dough, drenched in sugar. Sounds nice, right?

Since I'm not packing my bag and leaving for a month of travels through another continent anytime soon, I'm content to live in the reverie of those warm, spicy streets. I'll get there someday. For now, I dream and I cook. Cooking up warm and fragrant spices, stirring together garlic and ginger and breathing it all in brings me to those places I can't quite get to, not yet.

Perhaps the biggest culinary fantasy of all is a stroll through a Moroccan spice market. Imagine the deep reds of ground pepper and saffron, rich yellow turmeric and golden ginger. Those markets, they wait for me. And while they do, I will blend these warm and wonderful spices in my own kitchen. Each bite of preserved lemon and bright green charmoula brings me a little closer, if only in my heart, to the land of Morocco. There is much to know about Moroccan food. It's complicated and diverse, with influences from many places. There are hints of French, Arabic, Jewish and Berbere in its cuisine. I dug through many recipes and chose what I believe to be the best starting places for approaching Moroccan cuisine.

First, there is the preserved lemon, which is a true wonder, an intense rush of lemon without any bitterness. Preserved lemon adds a wonderful lemony-ness to salads, pasta, fish and, most importantly, tagine. The good news is that preserved lemons are most likely the easiest recipe you will ever prepare. There are two ingredients, lemon and salt. The first time I made preserved lemons, I worried. I fussed over the jar, checking to see how they were doing. They were always the same, just a jar of lemons and salt, sitting in the pantry. They need no fussing. The bad news is, it takes at least four weeks to turn regular old lemons into the succulent lemons that are ready for Moroccan food. It's worth the wait. My son will stand next to the cutting board as I prepare preserved lemons for a tagine. I scrape out the pulp and slice each soft piece of peel into strips. He waits, then picks up the pieces, one by one, eating them like candy. Finally, I chase him away, saving my precious preserved lemons for the dish ahead.

With the Atlantic Ocean on its west coast and the Mediterranean Sea to the north, it's no wonder fish plays an important part of the Moroccan diet. There are many fish preparations, but most often a whole fish is stuffed and roasted. Fish are cooked in tagine or grilled. Shrimp, sardines, calamari, sea bass, tuna and swordfish are all vehicles for the spice mixes and fresh, fragrant sauces of Morocco. I like to buy fresh ahi tuna steaks, grill them simply with a brush of olive oil, and serve it up with a slathering of charmoula. The meatiness of this fish makes a fine balance with the herbs and ginger that stand out in charmoula.
Tagine (pronounced "ta-jean") is the one food most people associate with Morocco. A tagine means two different things. One is a large, ceramic pot with a conical shaped lid. The other is the stew that is cooked inside the pot. Now, it would be nice to own a tagine pot. But, you don't have to own the pot to make a decent tagine. In fact, you can make a lovely chicken tagine, full of spice and flavor, in a heavy-bottomed pan, no special pan necessary. My tagine pot of choice is a large, heavy stainless steel skillet that I can use to braise on the stovetop, then put directly in the oven to roast. This method produces very sweet and caramelized vegetables in a rich and flavorful broth.

Chermoula is the pesto of Morocco and a nice change from the usual basil and Parmesan we eat so often. The fresh herbs in charmoula are cilantro and parsley. Garlic and ginger shine, and a small amount of warm spice is added for balance. Charmoula is wonderful on simply grilled fish, chicken, even a grilled flank steak. Use it as a marinade for fish or chicken. Serve charmoula with pita, olives and cheese on an appetizer tray. Heck, I just like to eat it with a spoon. It's easy to make and keeps well for a couple of days in the refrigerator.

There is so much to write about the spice of Morocco. Books are devoted to them. Entire markets are devoted to spices. Ras el-hanout, a widely used spice mixture, can have 100 or more spices in its recipe. Fear not; 100 spices are not necessary for a decent Moroccan meal. A few that are important, though, are these: saffron, turmeric, paprika and coriander. Saffron is the notoriously expensive spice that looks like red threads. A small amount goes a very long way. Saffron is a bittersweet flavor that ultimately adds sweetness to a dish. Turmeric is golden with a pungent, bitter taste. Paprika is bright red and adds subtle sweetness. Coriander is pale yellow, tart and citrusy. Together these spices add depth and rich warmth to meat and vegetables.

These basic elements will have you cooking up Moroccan food, savoring the flavors of this wonderful cuisine and longing for a spice market. So let's pack up, shall we? I'm packing my bag and heading to Morocco for dinner, if only in my dreams.

Grilled Ahi Tuna with Charmoula
Makes 5 servings

For the charmoula:
1 cup flat leaf parsley, leaves only
1 cup cilantro
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
½ cup shelled salted pistachios
Plenty of black pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon

For the fish:
5 (6-ounce) ahi tuna steaks
Olive oil, as needed
Salt, to taste
For serving:
1 (6-ounce) box cous cous
¼ cup olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon

For the charmoula: In the bowl of a food processor, combine parsley, cilantro garlic, ginger, cumin, paprika, pistachios, black pepper, olive oil and lemon juice and pulse a few times to combine. Scrape the sides down and process until a slightly chunky paste forms, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap until ready to use.

For the fish: Brush both sides of the tuna lightly with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt. Cook the steaks on a medium hot grill for 2 minutes, then flip and cook another 2 minutes for medium-rare fish.

To serve: Cook the couscous according the package instructions, then toss with olive oil and lemon juice. Slice the tuna on the bias into 1/3-inch-thick pieces. Arrange each plate with a scoop of couscous, a few pieces of sliced tuna and a dollop of charmoula.

Note: I like to simmer the garlic for 1 minute in an inch or so of water before adding it to the food processor. This process leaves you with a mellow garlic flavor, letting the other flavors stand out. If you prefer the bite of garlic, use it raw. The charmoula is best the day it's made, but keeps for 3 days, wrapped tight and refrigerated.
From Caroline Barrett
"Easy Tagine: Delicious Recipes for Moroccan One-Pot Cooking," by Ghillie Basan
"Mourad: New Moroccan," by Mourad Lahlou

Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Olives
Makes 6 servings with leftovers

2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon coriander
1½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium red onion, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 8)
1 pinch saffron
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
1 small head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large tomato, cored and chopped
2 cups chicken broth
½ cup green olives, quartered
½ cup apricots, sliced into strips
¼ preserved lemon
Pita or other flat bread

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, add the spices and place over low heat. Stir and cook until spices are fragrant but not smoking, about 1 minute. Add the oil, turn the heat to medium, and add the onion and garlic. Stir, cooking until very soft and fragrant. Sprinkle the salt over the chicken and add to the pan. Cook for a few minutes on each side, stirring with the onion mixture. Add the saffron, ginger, cauliflower and tomato. Pour in the chicken broth, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Scoop the pulp from the preserved lemon, rinse the rind well and cut into strips. Remove the cover, add the olive, apricots and lemon. Roast in the oven for 20 more minutes.
Serve hot with pieces of bread.

Preserved Lemons
Makes 1 jar preserved lemons
Use a clean and dry glass pickle jar. Preserved lemons keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.

8 lemons
Kosher salt, to taste

Bring a pot of water to a boil and place the jar and lid in. Boil for 10 minutes, remove with tongs, and place on a clean towel to dry. Scrub the lemons clean. Slice 6 into quarters. Place 1 tablespoon salt in the bottom of the jar, then place a layer of 4 quarters in the jar. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon salt over the quarters. Layer all of the lemon quarters in this manner, pushing down with your hand or a wooden spoon to extract as much juice as possible. Use the remaining lemons, if necessary, to fill the entire jar with juice. The lemon juice should cover the lemons at the top of the jar. Sprinkle 1 more tablespoon salt over the top layer, place the lid on tightly and wipe it all clean. Place in a cool, dry place, shaking the jar a few times, for 4 weeks.

To use a preserved lemon, scoop out and discard the pulp. Rinse well, and slice the rind. Excellent in salad dressing, pasta salad, in tagine and with olives.
Refrigerate after opening.

About the author: Caroline Barrett's love of all flavorful food comes from her parents. It wasn't a warm-and-fuzzy vision of cooking together, because Shake 'n Bake or Rice-A-Roni were staples of her childhood. She's mostly self-taught, inspired by people who have shared stories and recipes with her. She's not afraid to introduce new food to her family, and they are (mostly) happy to try it all.

Why English is of Paramount Importance to Morocco
Wednesday 6 May 2015 - morocco world news By Ambassador Theodore Kattouf Marrakech

Language in Morocco is a vibrant resource and an economic imperative. Arabic, Tamazight, French and Spanish are spoken from the souks of Tangier, across the Atlas Mountains, to the desert gardens of Marrakech and beyond. While as a result, millions of Moroccans are fluent in multiple languages, young people in particular have inherited a linguistic jigsaw puzzle that they are sometimes hard-pressed to put together. Yet, having deftly navigated the Arab Spring—and the Arab Winter—Morocco is well positioned to step deeper into the global marketplace, and raise the standard of living throughout the country in the process. A central aspect of this is English language acquisition.

Why English? Given Morocco’s colonial history, French has been the operative language for diplomats, businesspeople and tourists, and it will certainly remain an important language here. However, the French themselves are now learning English at an ever increasing pace in order to do business more effectively across time zones and cultures. Young people in particular see English as their second language, often weaving English phrases into their Arabic. Clearly, in order to sustain growth in tourism, international trade and logistics, as well as its nascent technology industry, Morocco must transform how it teaches English as a foreign language (EFL).

Later this week, hundreds of people determined to improve our world will descend on Marrakesh for the first Clinton Global Initiative conference to be held in Africa or the Middle East. I will be among them, representing AMIDEAST as we confirm our commitment to help Morocco improve its educational outcomes and, more specifically, its teaching of English. AMIDEAST has earned a strong reputation for designing and delivering education, workforce development, and English language training programs tailored to the specifics needs of the Arab world. Our understanding of and commitment to Morocco is well demonstrated through more than 35 years of continual operation in the country.

In partnership with the Ministry of National Education, our CGI commitment will provide Moroccan English teachers with hands-on exposure to the communicative, learner-centered EFL approach that has long been acknowledged internationally as a best practice. This approach to learning emphasizes language use—the ability to apply the knowledge acquired in meaningful situations—as opposed to the memorization of language rules and forms. Such a shift results not only in greater motivation in the classroom, but also improved student achievement.

Needless to say, this will have a huge impact in Morocco, where language education has become an important political issue. In his annual address at the opening session of Parliament last year, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI stated, “I perceive human capital as our foremost asset in building on the country’s economic, social, political and human rights achievements… I have therefore been attaching special importance to training and education, so that our citizens may be proud of their identity and embrace universal values.” “Moreover,” he confirmed, “particular attention should be given to vocational training and to ensuring a good command of foreign languages so that graduates may cope with technological progress and access the new jobs being created in Morocco.”

He’s right. In recent years, Morocco has emerged as a leader in economic development among North African countries, attracting highly technical industries such as aeronautics and automotive manufacturing. As Morocco’s economy grows, and as international companies—including many from the U.S.—establish offices there, the need for fluent English speakers also grows. And as research shows, English-speaking Moroccans earn 13% more than non-English speakers and are more successful overall in the job market.

Fortunately, this transformation in English language education in Morocco is possible, but it will require actors from different spheres of society working together. Indeed, the biggest takeaway from the CGI Middle East & Africa Meeting is that cross-sector cooperation is the key to solving any 21-century jigsaw puzzle – from mitigating the consequences of climate change to equipping young Moroccans with language skills that can boost their place in the global economy.
Ambassador Theodore Kattouf is the President, AMIDEAST

Barry Dentists Prepare for Morocco Charity Mission

A dental duo from Barry is gearing up for a charity mission in Morocco. Advance Dental Care’s Gareth Crowther and Louise Bottomer are jetting off to North Africa this week. Louise and Gareth are visiting Morocco as part of a five-day trip organised by the charity Dental Mavericks. During their time in the country, they will be visiting remote villages to provide basic dental care.

The pair will be part of a team of volunteers hosting free dental clinics for children aged between 4 and 11 years old. Many of the children have never seen a dentist before and most have extensive decay due to a lack of oral hygiene practices and a high sugar diet. Gareth and Louise have been fundraising for the trip for some time now and patients have helped out by participating in events and making generous donations towards the cause. This will be the second time members of the team at Advance Dental Care have taken part in a Dental Mavericks programme.

Gareth said that he was really looking forward to using his skills to help people out and experience a completely different working environment, while Louise said that she can’t wait to meet the children. The team is taking medical and dental supplies as well as a number of toothbrushes, some souvenirs from Barry Island and lots of smiley face badges and stickers.

Unemployment Declines by 34,000 in Morocco: HCP.
Tuesday 5 May 2015 Rabat

The unemployment rate in Morocco was 9.9 per cent in the first three months of 2015, down four-tenths of a per cent from 10.3 per cent during the same period of last year, according to the High Planning Commission (HCP) latest statistics. The new figures carried by news website H24info have shown that the number of jobless people currently stands at 1.157.000, down from 1.191.000 in 2014 or a decrease of 34,000 (12,000 in urban areas and 22,000 in rural areas).

The rate of unemployment decreased from 14.3 per cent to 14.3 per cent in urban areas and from 5.1 per cent to 4.7 per cent in rural areas. The Moroccan economy has also managed during this period to create 27,000 new jobs. These new jobs have benefited services sectors with 4,000 jobs, agriculture and fisheries with 14,000, and industry (including crafts) with 9000

How to Anger a Moroccan
Tuesday 4 March 2014 - Monika Mizinska Casablanca

Inspired by the series of articles “How to piss off..” published on Matador Network I decided to come up with the “piss off” list for Moroccans. It can’t be missed! Living in Morocco for, so far, half a year, I have learned many interesting things about the language, the culture and the people. Here are some tips on what angers Moroccans. Use them wisely!

Note before reading: if you are a narrow-minded, self-proclaimed patriot with an inferior complex and can’t see the sarcasm, irony and mock stereotypes, under no circumstances should you read this article.

1 Say Moroccan food is so so
I am the realest foodie and Moroccan food simply pampers my taste buds! I love most of the foods here but there are some exceptions. I once made a comment about this thick, green, stinky soup called bisara and I was literally yelled at! When I dared to say that sweet-salty bastilla was disgusting for me I was screamed at! If you wish to hurt the feelings of your Moroccan fellow, go for it and don’t appreciate his mother’s dinner. It will be the end of your friendship.

2 Go mad if they are late
The old proverb “Westerners have clocks. Arabs have time” says everything and is more than enough in this case! Always take your time, never rush, breathe-in and breathe-out… Thirty minutes late is not the end of the world! Neither sixty is. Chill out and take another tea while waiting. Pick up your laundry, go shopping, check your news feed on Facebook once again, cook a dinner. There is still some time till your friend shows up, well, if he or she shows up.
And when they finally come, start yelling at them, calling them disrespectful and careless. Brace yourself, your belated friend will come up with a thousand of excuses (traffic jam, flat tire, grumpy boss, burnt dinner, cat’s funeral, terrorist attack…). Like the realest storyteller!

3 Don’t value Amazigh roots
Berbers are very proud of their cultural heritage, language and history. You have to know that Amazigh and Arabic languages are completely different in all aspects: words, the accent and even the alphabet. Many people tend to confuse them what makes Moroccans go crazy. No wonder why, I also go crazy when people confuse me with a Russian or Swedish or are surprised when I say that I don’t speak Russian and in Poland we have a different language… Remember that your ignorance may be very unpleasant. Once again: use it wisely.

4 Call Morocco a Middle-Eastern country
Some blame it on the educational system. I blame it on both; education and human’s ignorance. Or rather lack of interest in different cultures. I met many people who asked me where Poland was. Some thought it was in America, some others knew it was somewhere in Europe but the exact localization remained mysterious. It pisses me off. It works the same with Moroccans. (Morocco is often confused with Monaco, therefore many people place it in France instead of North Africa).

5 Argue about religion
No arguments with Moroccans when it comes to religion! They know it best. If you’re brave enough… Give it a try and see what will happen.

6 Ridicule a guy in public
Most of Moroccan men are proud of their manhood. If you try to question it, you push their button! Do it wisely and the guy will remember you for the rest of his life…

7 Suggest that they are the 3rd world country
Being located less than 20 kilometers from Spain, Morocco is a bridge between Europe and Africa. Many Moroccans claim that al-Maghrib is just like Europe. No differences, no boundaries. Some other say that it is like Europe… But in the ’50s.
Try to make a comment comparing Morocco to developing countries, third world, communism and stuff like that. A question “do you have Internet?” is a nail in the coffin!

8 Say “Western Sahara” instead of “Moroccan Sahara”
If you try to argue about the Sahara you have to brace yourself! Endless arguments, shouting, screaming, yelling and many other attractions waiting for you! Suggest that Sahara has never belonged to Morocco and you’ll hit the spot.

9 Send them this article
To be taken with a pinch of salt. Cheers!


Morocco’s steady trek to upgrade transportation needs: There is no option for a country so dependent on energy imports for all its needs
Published: 12:01 April 26, 2015 By Saadallah Al Fathi, Special to Gulf News

The transportation sector in any country is vital for its economy for the mobility of goods and services as well as people. Its consumption of energy is among the highest among all economic sectors and its impact on the local environment, especially in cities, cannot be underestimated. For this reason as well as others, Morocco has elected to use a price mechanism to rationalise its transportation fuels and reduce the burden of subsidies in a country where 94 per cent of energy is imported. The prices of gasoline and diesel have been gradually brought to international levels and kept there even when prices of oil dropped to almost half what they were in June 2014.

Even electricity prices have reportedly been adjusted upwards. Nevertheless, fares of taxis, buses, trains and trams remain affordable as they may receive some subsidy one way or the other from the government. Morocco’s transportation system is elaborate where the road networks are around 56,986 kilometres in addition to 1,416 kilometres of motorways joining the major cities. These are complemented by an established railways network run by the national administration, and which carried 38 million passengers and 36 million tonnes of freight (including phosphate rock) in 2012-2013. The length of the standard gauge network is 1,907 kilometres, of which 1,003 kilometres is electrified, a great achievement indeed.

But the network is essentially in the midland, north and east. Projects are well poised to reach the south where a huge investment programme will build 1,500 kilometres of high-speed railways by 2035 in addition to more than that in the form of conventional railways. The jewel in the crown is the high-speed link between Tangier and Marrakesh via Rabat and Casablanca, which is under construction now and was expected to come into operation this year.

However, the project is delayed until end of 2016 for financial reasons and problems with land acquisition. It is expected to carry 8 million passengers a year, cut journey time by more than 50 per cent and destined to be extended southward to Agadir.

The Moroccan transport minister said during a convention on railways in the Mena (Middle East and North Africa) region (held last March in Dubai) that his country plans to refurbish the railways and expand it by investing $20 billion (Dh73.4 billion) up to 2035, which includes the work underway to modernise the controls and telecommunications on the network.

Reducing emissions
The Moroccan network is connected to Algeria’s, but unfortunately the link has been closed for years. The connection with Spain and Europe is by ferry through Gibraltar, but there are studies for a future railway tunnel under the strait.

The congested cities in Morocco are also receiving attention to ease the traffic jams, improve the local environment by reducing emissions and reinforce the social contact between people. In this connection, the $1.6 billion Casablanca Tramway is a good example.

Work on the system — the pride of Casablanca — started in 2009 and went operational in December 2013. The first phase — comprising 31 kilometres of track and 48 stations — is served by 74 low-floor air-conditioned trams. The network is Y shaped now and travel time between ends runs to 64-69 minutes at almost 19 kilometres an hour. Casablanca is still congested during rush hours, but you can imagine what it was like before the trams. The line is fed by electrical overhead lines and is destined to be expanded to 76 kilometres by the addition of two more links after Casablanca discarded its plans for an elevated metro system.

The success of the system is measured by its acceptability, where in the first month of service it carried over 40,000 passengers, which soon rose to an average of 100,000 a day. This year’s average is expected to pass a quarter million a day. The system is complemented by an electric railway connection from the city centre to Mohammad V Airport, which serves the Casablanca region.

But the Casablanca tram system is not the first in the country, where the Rabat-Salé tramway started operations in May 2011 connecting the two cities by a bridge across the Bouregreg River. The network has two lines for a total length of 19.5 kilometres and 31 stops serving more than 400,000 inhabitants in Rthe abat and Salé cities.

There are plans for further systems especially in Marrakesh, and further expansion of the existing systems is an open option. The way energy consumption in Morocco is growing, mass transit systems and modern railways are a sure way of improving efficiency, in addition to creating environmental gains.

Trucks and Children Are Sucking the Beaches of Morocco Dry
May 6, 2015 By Manon Quérouil and Véronique de Viguerie

Many children in Larache, Morocco, work as sand looters instead of going to school. Three days a week, workers on Morocco's Larache beach drive bulldozers over the dunes and dig up all the sand they can. Tons of it. Their bosses have permits, but many come here illegally on the weekends, using donkeys and shovels to ravage the land even further.

A critical ingredient in concrete, glass, and microchips, sand is a hot commodity. The international community imports a little over a billion dollars of it a year, and about half of Morocco's sand trade is illegal.

It's a significant problem in Morocco, where illegal sand extraction costs the government $1.1 billion in unpaid taxes. Almost half the sand used in construction in the country comes from the illegal market, and several beaches have entirely disappeared because of it.

When we arrived in Larache, a sand-looting epicenter, we walked onsite without a hassle. All the workers we met came from a nearby village and remembered how nice the beach used to look a few years back, before the looting began. The looting operations are run by a cooperative, and the Moroccan government has recently made an effort to be transparent about who benefits from illegal sand mining.

There are about 700 trucks on the beach every day. Each one makes three journeys, loaded with 3,000 gallons of sand—well over the government quota. The trucks are only allowed to work Monday through Wednesday, so looters ransack the beach the rest of the week.

The typical looter is a young boy, between ten and 17, who earns $5 a day for loading sand onto a donkey. We didn't see any women on the beach. The villagers usually get together to invest in a donkey so they can pay a young boy to go to the beaches and take all the sand he can. Afterward, the adults share the profits of the sale.

Years ago, locals worked in the nearby peanut fields, but the money in sand looting is better and easier to come by, leaving the kids with no incentive to get an education. A young man we met said that the nearest school was a mile and a half away—and he had no vehicle. "If we have to sweat, better we get money out of it," he said. They don't consider that when the sand is gone, they will have no other way to make a living. And given the inaction of the town and the federal government, that will happen sooner rather than later.

Morocco: A dam threatens to drown a village.
Al Jazeera – Wed, May 6, 2015 Midelt, Morocco

Right before the sun sets over the Atlas mountains, the children of the Amazigh village of Tizinzou can be spotted trotting down the path from school. Ever since the governor of Midelt ordered the demolition of their village's school, they have had to walk 8km every day to reach a different one. The destruction of the school comes several years after the Moroccan state started to build the Tamalout dam in 2008. When complete, the dam will block the Ansegmir River causing waters to rise over the school, the village and farmland where they grow apple trees, wheat, and potatoes.

Funded by the Kuwaiti Fund for Economic Development, the dam's reservoir will hold 50 million cubic metres of water which normally pours into the Moulouya river basin. According to the Secretariat for Water and the Environment, the reservoir will irrigate 5,000 hectares of agricultural land. A press release issued by the royal palace explains that the dam will "stimulate the region's economy, will contribute to ecological and rural tourism in the Ansegmir Valley" and "improve the life and health conditions of the residents".

According to Mohamed Kettani, an official from the Ministry of Energy and Mines "the dam's construction was in response to the pressing demands of the region's farmers who drew our attention to an alarming decrease in the region's water table". Kettani also claims the dam will provide drinking water and irrigate 5,000 hectares of fruit trees in the Midelt region.

However, when filled, the dam's reservoir will inundate the village of Tizinzou. According to one of its residents, Driss Abghor, the destruction of the school, the removal of power lines and the demolition of approximately half the houses, "was clearly meant to force us out". "The governor sent bulldozers that were protected by armed Auxiliary Forces [a paramilitary force]," Abghor told Al Jazeera. But according to Kettani, "all the expropriations were necessary in order to complete the construction of the dam. The school, the houses and the power line were legally demolished according to a court decision".

Despite the demolitions, many of Tizinzou's 160 families refuse to leave, citing insufficient compensation from the state. The residents regularly organise protests in their village. According to Aziz Oulalou, a Tizinzou farmer and community organiser, almost the entire village community attended the 15 protests they have held so far since 2009.

Although no civil society groups have joined the demonstrations, they have received some support from the Moroccan Association for Human Rights Association (AMDH) in Midelt which has acted as an observer to deter political rights violations by the authorities. Oulalou claims the state's indemnity package initially included 10 dirhams ($1) per square metre of farmland, 6 dirhams ($0.6) for residential land and 2,450 dirhams ($246) per apple tree. The villagers maintain that it's far from enough.

"In nearby villages like Zaida, Boumia or Tounfit, land costs 700 dirhams ($70) and is far less rich in water. They have to dig wells there, while here water flows naturally from hundreds of streams," explains Oulalou. As for the apple trees, he asserts that 2,450 dirhams ($246) is not sufficient to sustain them financially. "One tree will produce 4,000 dirhams ($402) worth of apples per year. We should be given that amount over five years because if we move to a new land and plant new trees, it will take the newly planted trees five years until the first apple harvest."

According to Kettani, prices were determined according to an administrative committee which took into account the prices of lands in surrounding regions. "Those who aren't satisfied always have the option of taking their case to court." But Abghor laments: "Under pressure from local authorities, many illiterate heads of families were coerced into signing contracts accepting the indemnity package. It was only after they signed them that they understood the consequences."

Those who refused to sign, took legal action and successfully augmented their compensation from 10 dirhams ($1) per square metre to 50 dirhams ($5) per square metre, an amount they are still not satisfied with. In addition to fair compensation, they are also asking for a plot of land where they can rebuild another village in order to prevent their tribe from being dispersed. Al Jazeera could not reach the governor's office for comment.

Following the beginning of the dam's construction, a report issued by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (UICN) and the Agency for the Moulouya River Basin (ABHM) also criticised the project, highlighting the environmental impact the dam has on the river ecosystems of the Moulouya basin.
According to the report, the construction of the dam has released an excess of sediments, making it a "principal factor" in the destruction of natural habitats. The muddy water from the construction threatens several fresh water species including trout, whose spawning grounds could be destroyed and eggs prevented from developing.

Mohammed Melhaoui, one of the report's authors and a hydrobiologist from the Faculty of Sciences in Oujda, explains that "when dam gates open they have a violent impact, with severe erosion that pollutes the water".

Mohammed Indichi, the director of Desertification Control and Nature Protection in the High Commissariat for Water, Forests and the Fight Against Desertification - the state agency responsible for the protection of the environment - explains that there is a five-year project to mitigate environmental problems caused by the dam.

Aiming to "restore silvopastoral ecosystems" - ecosystems characterised by forestry and pastures for livestock - and "reduce the rate of siltation" - the accumulation of silt in river systems - the 47 million dirham ($4.7m) environmental initiative includes planting native cedar trees to hold soil around the reservoir and clearing natural ravines to prevent erosion.

However, "their efforts have been limited in dealing with dams all over Morocco", retorts Melhaoui. "They do not follow up on their environmental management plans after they are complete. They need to conduct scientific studies to determine whether these initiatives are effective or not over the long term."
Indichi points out that the High Commissariat "adopted the National Plan for Hydraulic Basin Development (PNABV) in 1996 which aims to treat 22 of Morocco's river basins over a period of 20 years". He explains that the PNABV strategies "are scientifically proven and globally recognised" and "when well-implemented [will] reduce excess erosion by 50 percent".

The Tamalout Dam is one of several development projects that have been criticised by Moroccan civil society for both their environmental neglect and lack of compensation for the groups of people they displace. Others include the Prestigia beach resort project near Rabat, the silver mine in Imider and Royal Ranch Rexas in Adarouch.

A sociologist and specialist in land and shelter rights, Soraya El Kahlaoui points out that "since 2004, Morocco has engaged in land privatisation".
"Collective lands [lands historically belonging to both Arab and Amazigh tribes, put under ownership of the Ministry of Interior by the colonial authorities in 1919] are the first targeted by this economic liberalisation". According to Kahlaoui, 12 million hectares of collective land are vulnerable to these policies which displace tribal communities. She believes these deprive them from their economic independence.

Abortion in Morocco: will the king approve a progressive law?

A new abortion law is currently being debated in Morocco, led by the king and a sacked gynaecologist. Will a progressive result be achieved?
Salima Yacoubi Soussane Wednesday 6 May 2015 “If the new abortion law addresses only 10% of the cases, what’s the point?” says Dr Chafik Chraibi, a gynaecologist and leading activist against illegal abortion in Morocco. “What are we going to do with the 90% remaining? We need a sustainable law that is going to serve this and future generations.”

Morocco is now considering legalising abortion, polarising debate between conservatives and liberals, who fear a partial law that will only allow abortions in certain circumstances. At the moment, abortion is only legal in Morocco when the woman’s life, or her physical health is threatened. The impact on mental health, rape and incest, foetal impairment, social and economic reasons, or the woman’s personal choice are still not considered valid reasons.

But last month King Mohammed VI, widely perceived as a progressive on certain social issues, opened a consultation around legalising abortion. As “the commander of the believers”, the king arbitrates religious issues and has a mandate to maintain social harmony.

Liberal abortion laws have been proven to save lives. They limit maternal mortality, child mortality, and empower women, therefore supporting development goals. It particularly protects young girls, allowing them to pursue education, get employed and raise healthy children when they are ready, ending the cycle of poverty.

Yet in the modern Muslim country, the debate around abortion is still sensitive. Chraibi, former head of gynaecology and obstetrics at the Matérnité des Orangers in Rabat, Morocco, can certainly confirm this. In February, he was fired from his 30-year career at the hospital for opening the ward’s doors to camera crews for a TV documentary that exposed the reality of unsafe abortions. The doctor is the founder of Amlac, a Moroccan NGO fighting the 800 daily illegal abortions happening nationwide, 200 in very poor conditions.

Following Chraibi’s dismissal and the subsequent civil society mobilisation, the king commissioned the National Human Rights Council, the minister of justice and freedoms, and the minister of Habous and Islamic affairs to develop an abortion law. A report is expected in mid-May.
In developing countries, 47, 000 women die from unsafe abortions each year, 40% of whom are under twenty-five. Moreover, 99% of all maternal deaths occur in these countries and they are all preventable. Africa and Latin America have the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. In Africa, abortion is only legal in South Africa, Cape Verde and Tunisia. “We know that making abortion illegal does not stop it from occurring, it just drives it underground,” says Katja Iversen, CEO of Women Deliver. “Abortions should be safe, legal and rare,” she adds.

Chraibi could not agree more. “The unmet need for contraception among adolescent girls is striking,” he says. “While married women have 70% of their contraception needs provided, this is true for less than 10% of adolescent girls.”

Currently, 6.1 million adolescent girls get unintentionally pregnant in the developing world because their need for contraception is unmet. Abortion is rarely legal, leaving them with the hazardous choice of unsafe abortion as only contraception method.

The doctor deplores the current restrictive legal framework in Morocco. “We suspect some young women have had abortions before, but when they come to the ward, they can’t tell us as they can go to jail for it,” he reveals. “As for single women who can’t access abortion, they give birth using a false identity and never come back for the birth certificate. Some newborns will be left in trashcans, some others will be given to orphanages, we don’t really know what will happen to them.”

When asked their opinion on abortion, Moroccan teenage girls and young women say they are concerned about stigmatisation. “Our society is very judgmental. I think it’s about time we asked ourselves how to help instead of being critical,” said Hind, a 17-year-old high school student in Casablanca.

Sex education and non-judgmental communication are key for preventing unplanned pregnancies. However, even in moderately conservative families this dialogue is rare. “We simply do not talk about it,” says Leila, 21.

With strong stigma and lack of information, society leaves young girls to figure out reproductive health themselves. “A teenage girl, probably 16, asked me in the street how she could find the morning-after pill,” said Yasmina, 30, still perplexed.

Abortion stories like the one in the television documentary featuring Chraibi, are not hard to find. Maria, a 23-year-old college graduate, recalls, “My friend had an abortion at 19. She learned she was pregnant after four weeks and it took another month to find someone who could perform the abortion. It was with a GP after his work hours. I don’t know how I had the courage to go with her … But she was alone.”

For Chraibi, a limited law is not a solution. It will leave the majority of the cases he witnesses on the fringe. But the legalising of abortion in case of rape and incest and foetal impairment seems at least to be likely as the most conservative parties have voiced their approval.

But there are still many obstacles to full legalisation of abortion. The conservative minister of justice recently confirmed that extra-marital sex will still be illegal after penal code reforms - not a sign of a progressive approach. Many still think abortion is a girls and women’s problem, not a collective responsibility.
Chraibi’s hope is that this issue does not drag on for years. “Totally legalising abortion is only the first step. After that, the real work only begins [education, fight against illegal abortion],” he says, with the same energy he had ten years ago, when he first started advocating for women’s health.

With the king’s involvement, Morocco significantly advanced women rights within the last decade. With an efficient abortion law, the kingdom has a chance to mark, once again, its commitment to progress, and human and women rights.

Some of the girls’ names have been changed.
Salima Yacoubi Soussane is a UN press correspondent. Follow @salimay on Twitter

Morocco’s Higher Education Ministry, Microsoft Sign MoU on New technologies.
Thursday 30 April 2015 Rabat-

The Ministry of higher education, scientific research and the training of executives and Microsoft Morocco signed a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday in Rabat providing for promoting and developing the use of new information and communication technologies in higher education. Signed by the Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Training, Lahcen Daoudi, and general manager at Microsoft Morocco, Samir Benmakhlouf, the agreement aims to facilitate access to new technologies in universities and to encourage creativity and innovation among Moroccan students.

On this occasion, Daoudi highlighted that this agreement will support universities in their efforts to launch new specialties in the field of technologies of information and communication, such as management and analysis of massive data (Big Data) which is increasingly becoming a key requirement in the labor market.

Benmakhlouf noted that under the Memorandum of Understanding Microsoft will grant international certificates to Moroccan university graduates. Speaking on the same occasion, the Director in charge of teaching at Microsoft Middle East, Mark Chaabane said that his group aims, through this agreement, to strengthen the technical capacities of the Moroccan students with a view to facilitating their access to the labor market. Prior to the singing of the MoU, Daoudi held talks with Microsoft executives on issues relating to the use of new technologies in the fields of higher education and scientific research, as well as ways to enhance relations of cooperation between Microsoft and academic institutions in Morocco.

Love in Morocco, If You Dare
Dane Steele Green President and CEO, Steele Luxury Travel 05/04/2015

Last September, Ray Cole, a 69-year-old man from the UK, was arrested while on vacation in Marrakech and served a jail term of four months. During his internment, he was fed boiled vegetables once a day and slept on a concrete floor of a prison dormitory designed for 44 but was housing 60. His family didn't know where he was; Cole's son Adrian told The Guardianthat Moroccan officials "had been reluctant" to even confirm where the senior Cole was, much less incarcerated. It was as if he had just been plucked off the street and vanished -- which, to a certain degree, he was.

Eventually, and inevitably, this made it to the British Foreign Office, and from there, to halls of Parliament in London. Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke picked up Cole's cause, and warned that British tourists had to fear for their safety if they set foot in Morocco. In a statement, Elphicke said: "I have been doing all I can to help free Mr. Cole from these appalling charges. I am deeply concerned about his safety and it is clear that if you visit Morocco you are at serious risk of facing trumped up charges for medieval crimes. The message is clear -- Morocco is not safe for British tourists.

"I am gravely concerned by the state of Moroccan prisons, and the care and the safety he will have in jail. I'm raising it with ministers, asking them to intervene more directly on his behalf. It is a shocking and appalling situation for a British national to be in and it is really important to get him back to the UK."
The story soon went viral across Europe, and he was eventually freed.

Cole, so you know, is gay. He had come out a few years before his trip to Marrakech. But ironically, even though he was charged with "homosexual acts," he was not caught in flagrante delicto. No arrests in a bathhouse or hammam or even a raid on an underground party. The authorities allegedly found incriminating photos on his phone. But how did they even know those photos were there to begin with? How did anyone know he was gay? What set all this off?

Cole was a man in love. He had gone to Morocco to meet Jamal Jam Wald Nass, 20, whom he begun a relationship online several months previously. Nass, who was released sometime later, was known by authorities to be gay, or at least, very heavily suspected of such in a country where homosexuality is illegal. So when he showed on the sidewalk with another guy (whose age difference would make even New Yorkers do a double-take), it wasn't hard for the police to put two and two together even if nothing was "going on." In they swooped.

After that very long set-up, I should say that this article is not about the Moroccan legal system, or even its draconian views on same-sex relationships -- those are their own articles. Rather, it is a very practical, if on the surface cruel, highlight to not get involved with natives.

Let me explain. You may remember the Google commercial "Parisian Love" documenting an expat's romance with a Frenchwoman with whom he lives happily ever after in Paris. Very sweet. But the fact of the matter is that we do not live in Google (although we try) or France (although we try). But while a little Franco-American action never hurt anyone, there are some countries where you take your life into your hands getting into a same-sex relationship.
And it is not just Morocco, which is actually one of the more liberal Muslim countries in the Arab world. It goes without saying that Muslim nations, even those Europe (Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo) are hostile to gays and lesbians. But a few go even further and try to root us out, using spy tactics and even double agents.

It's called different things in different countries. In Saudi Arabia, it is Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice; Afghanistan has the similarly-named Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Most often, they are simply called "mutaween." Whatever the name, they are the morality-enforcing religious police, responsible for upholding the religious tenets of Islam. Hijabs on women, beards on men, no alcohol, no mingling between men and women -- different states may have different variations, but these organizations are pervasive wherever they are. As a Westerner, or even if you are from the Far East, you will stick out like a sore thumb regardless, and you will be, if not watched directly, "paid attention to." As is anybody you are with. Gay sex is about as apostate as it gets, and with the Internet of Everything, it's not hard to do a little espionage on Grindr. And long before you get there, natives suspected of being gay or lesbian may already be on a watch list. You will be adding a spark to the powder.

Not all Muslim countries have mutaween (officially). Lebanon does not, the United Arab Emirates does not, Oman does not (good thing, the sultan is widely regarded as being gay). But it's not just Muslim countries: Russia and Uganda are good examples where any sort of public same-sex affection, or same-sex affection made public, is in all practical terms a death sentence for all involved, no Islam needed. Instead of instituting an organization to do it, the populace itself is just encouraged to keep tabs on you, North Korea-style.

Even progressive countries have their hurdles: a gay man in Japan, Taiwan, or Thailand may still marry a woman simply because of social pressure to continue the family line, and leave you out in the cold or worse, in permanent second place. I would love to say that love conquers all, but however rueful it may be to say it, that just isn't the case all the time.

There is a general rule among travel professionals that falling in love internationally has more than a few pitfalls. Let's ignore the dangerous places outright, and look at France, or Iceland, or Argentina. Yes, there is the romance of it all, the "foreign affair," but forget the whole idea of what you see in movies, dime novels, or Google commercials.

There are a lot of cons out there, including emotional ones. Some potential Romeos may not want you but want what you are, still thinking that marrying an American is no-fail gate to citizenship (after 9/11, it isn't). There is the very straightforward realization that when you are on vacation, the "relationship" -- such as it is -- already has a termination date. There is also a big difference between a relationship built over time and one still in that heady 72 hours of the initial meeting, i.e., love vs. lust.

The whole point of a vacation is to go and enjoy yourself. Do that how you will. But however great the temptation (or the thrill of almost getting caught) with this totally hot guy you just met, keep your feet on the ground. Keeping everything in its proper context might actually make the moment even sweeter, and create even fonder memories. And a reason to go back.

Ashura and the Ritual Emancipation of Women in Morocco
Monday 4 May 2015 - 1Mohammed Maarouf  Dr. Mohammed Maarouf is a Professor at Chouaib Doukkali University, Morocco El Jadida

Anthropologically speaking, the popular Islamic ritual of Ashura has been approached as a pagan survival in Morocco. There is a traditional thesis on Ashura that it is an Islamic ceremony incorporated by the newly Islamized Berbers as early natives to substitute the ancient practice of burial and resurrection of the vegetation deity. Westermarck refutes the thesis of a primeval God burial on the basis that there were no left traces of sacrifice for the deity of vegetation before the coming of Islam though Westermarck remains faithful to the pagan survival theory and considers Ashura as the sequel substitute for l-‘ansera that the Berbers used to celebrate at the end of the agricultural harvest. In general, Ashura has been explored within the scope of both solar and purificatory theories presented by Frazer and Westermarck respectively but the whole anthropological debate now seems to be moribund and does not trespass the evolutionary theoretical models of the epoch.

Ashura from an interdisciplinary cultural perspective appears to be an act of survival; it offers ‘a ritual free space’ for subordinate female social agents to discharge their discontent and exert their power, a resource which they tap into to carve out a moment of becoming reversing male domination. The ritual of Ashura allows us to see how female agency emerges from, and is continually reconstructed through their engagement by their practice of magic and ceremonial alfresco gatherings, chanting songs of challenge to the male authority.

The ethnographic image of Ashura delineates how a cultural and religious ritual may play the role of establishing and sustaining cultural hegemony. It forwards into a position of prominence the carnivalesque aspect of the ritual. The cultural authority of the male is transgressed, mocked and crushed down by the joyful moment of female becoming in a ritual outlet that permits the male cultural authority to rejuvenate its yoke of domination over women in the normal existing social conditions. It is a carnival, a form of social control of the low by the high and thus serves the interests of the official culture that it apparently opposes. As Shakespeare’s Olivia remarks “there is no slander in an allowed fool.” Thus, hegemony permits the ritual inversions of hierarchy and status degradations, a safety valve for, re-affirming the status quo, for renewing the system but women cannot change it.

In fact, Ashura seems to be double-edged. From bottom –up resources it emerges as a form of cultural resistance but from a top-down perspective it seems to be licensed in that it reflects the force of the establishment that contains it. In other words, it is a cultural resistance that spins in a vortex of authoritarian relations fixed up by the cultural establishment. The resistant female subject’s revolt bumps against the shields of the dominant cultural and political institutions and shrinks back to her initial subordinate position.

We list here three main findings our fieldwork research has discovered (for a full treatment of the ritual of Ashura see Maarouf 2009). First, there is a female emancipatory discourse articulated in the form of songs women chant outdoors on the night of Ashura. These songs may be termed “the female songs of emancipation”. Females chant collectively open air songs challenging patriarchal authority and deriding male power. As an example, female emancipation is epitomized in the archetypal verse recited by women everywhere in Moroccan plains from ‘Abda, Doukkala to Shawiya: “Baba Aishur we are not under any rule! The Prophet’s birthday festival is under men’s rule” (Baba Ayshur ma ‘lina bi-hkam a lalla/ ‘id l-milad bi-hkam rijal a la lalla)! It is saying that religious festivals such as the Prophet’s birthday ceremony may be performed under male control but Ashura is the occasion for women to celebrate their femininity. In their outdoor collective songs, women also exult at their bravura in jihad (holy war) against the colonizer and sing of bearing arms and embarking on long journeys to rescue victims even if the call for help as their metaphor goes reaches them from a donkey agonizing in a remote land (a white donkey wailed in the desert, The town girls took up rifles /wa shka hmar byad f s-sahel / wa bnat l-mdina hezzu l-mkahhl).

These songs recall to mind the songs of Hate in Gluckman’s ethnographic example of ritually insulting the King in Swaziland (1985, 51-2). This ritual is intended to strengthen feelings of loyalty towards the king, especially among potential traitors. It is like a carnival where license is permitted and strong resentments against authority are exteriorized. Potential traitors may evince strong feelings of guilt and untrustworthiness while face-to-face with the loyal subjects of the king. In the same way, females in Ashura go outdoors in parades to subvert the gender-marked established roles, menace male prerogatives, and blow up in obscenities thus draining their tensions and hostilities and consequently consolidating the hierarchical status quo.

Females’ songs of emancipation also aim at transferring feelings of aggression onto scapegoats, constructing an outsider enemy alien to the clan to strengthen the social sentiments of belonging to the same group; examples of such songs run as follows: (Play with us we play with you! You are arrogant and arrogance has undressed you! [la‘bu m‘ana nla‘bu m‘akum/ fikum shshiki u shshiki ‘arrakum] Blind the enemy’s eye! He who hates us! [ta‘mi ‘ayn la-‘du lima ibghina] Our clan is table and glass! Your clan but basket and hoe! [wa duwarna gha tabla u l-kas/wa duwarkum gha l-guffa u l-fas] Our tree is full of flowers oh lalla (honorific female title)! He who hates us, sickness be upon him oh lalla [shajeretna ‘amra ward ya lalla/ lima ibghina i‘tih l-mard ya lalla]! Our clan is a belt of silk! Your clan but donkey hooves! [ wa rifna ‘a majdul l-hrir/ wa rifkum ‘a fraqsh l-hmir])

Once a year then, Women see themselves as authorized to violate the patriarchal norms. By reversing the roles of domination and acting out the sexual conflict, the ritual of Ashura paradoxically adds force to the hierarchical social cohesion. Men and women obeying the established traditions submit to a ritual from which the community hopes to derive its prosperity and harmony.

The second finding is about purification rituals. There are many examples of purificatory rituals collected from the field but I will cite one example because of space constraints. On Ashura holy day, girls in Doukkala region hollow dates and fill them with hairs, and then march in a collective procession chanting and playing on drums with the intent to bury Baba Aishur. They go to an abandoned deep well which they circumambulate while throwing the dates, hence disencumbering themselves from their old hair. The well is a symbol of sacred water. Waarab (2003) argues that people believe that, on the day of Ashura, all wells and springs are flowing from the Meccan well of Zemzem. Before dawn, women head towards wells to get water to splash over each other, a purifying ritual named after the sacred pit Zemzem—needless to mention in this respect ceremonial bathing in rivers and at sea on Ashura day (Westermarck, 1905).
In other villages, girls bury the dates underground in remote forsaken areas so that people do not step over them and may get harmed. Sometimes, girls take with them rags, pieces of underclothing, residue of molted hair (mshaga) or fingernails belonging to their mothers or other members of the family to throw in a pit (these are belongings of tab‘a, a female jinni pursuer keen on burdening the targeted person’s way with impediments); it is an act of contagious magic, a congruence which is supposed to exist for instance between someone and the severed portion of their hair, so that what happens to the part happens to the whole. The burial of the hairs in dates is a symbolic gesture of growth and fertility. But the gesture also re-enacts the burial process of the old year with its residues; the girls bury the old hair with the old year and wish for a new hair with a new year.

This act of contagious magic may also be interpreted within the cultural frame of power relations of gender. The girls and their mothers are enacting a ceremonial ritual to preserve their feminine gender capital which they think may insure their importance to the male. The ritual shows that the male gaze is present in female popular imagination. Though the ceremony is feminine and offers females a space of freedom and challenge to male authority, women seem to experience themselves in terms of their relationships with males. In a nutshell, the ritual seems to be andocentric with the male at the centre of female attraction. By interring Baba Aishur, girls inter their mishaps and wish for more hair beauty, more male attraction to them and more self-importance in a patriarchal world.

The third finding is about the practice of magic. Ashura is the ritual occasion for the feminine practice of witchcraft. To secure their position in the patriarchal household, women may consult diviners and sorcerers, looking for magical recipes to insure continual domestic power and male emotional attachment to them. There are women who consult sorcerers or work personally in brewing spells in order to burn them during Ashura bonfires. Other women who are worried of being harmed by malevolent doings buy incense (bkhur) to avert evil influence caused by malevolent spirits. Spells may be used to harm enemies or charm people dear to the heart. This renewed interest in magical practices during Ashura implies that the social actors are aware of the annual transition (end-beginning of the year) and its sacredness. They yearn to do or undo spells during the occasion because as most interviewees maintain “charms used or renewed during Ashura may last for the whole year from Aishur until the coming Aishur.”

Ashura bonfire (sha“ala) seems to be the most convenient time when the women who believe in magical emancipation decide to burn their spells. Bonfires are lighted by male youths in streets in the presence of girls, grownups of both sexes and little children. When it blazes, the boys commence to circumambulate and leap over the flames; girls standing by sing what Moroccans term “the Songs of Baba Aishur.” At this point, one may notice female spell doers neighing the fire, and casting their spells and charms in it under children’s hurrahs. Those who do not like to expose themselves in the limelight may offer fire ingredients—for instance, an old stuff mattress—to children to burn in fire. The latter run happily dragging the bits and pieces along into the bonfire unaware that the gift might have been filled with spells.

There are women who prefer to burn their spells indoors using small censors rather than cast them in outdoor fires. Their alibi is that they do not want boys and girls playing outside to step over the spell because in their belief it may harm them. In the countryside, some women may spin wool in front of the outdoor fire to produce a magic charm. It is believed that if women spin yarn from the wool fibers stored from the Great-Feast victim’s fleece in front of Ashura fire, fortune will guide the hand that grasps the spun thread. The woman equipped with her distaff and spindle forms a thread taller than her body height. The thread may be cut into small pieces and then given to nubile girls as well as to people who desire to sell their cattle in weekly markets. All are believed to find fortune on their side.

Ashura night in fact turns neighborhoods into different sorts of perfume from gam-amoniac, alum to benzoin. Some believe that fumigation may fortify them against evil influence and others think that their spells if burnt ceremonially in Ashura may incontestably bewitch the targeted individual.

Ashura therefore is the ideal occasion for women to exert their magical power. Living in a male-oriented social world where they believe that men’s authority and prerogatives are natural and inherent in their masculinity, married women, especially from the uneducated lower social strata, generally derive their power from their sexual capital—as long as they are sexually desirable and active. In fact, their sexuality, domestic skills and child-rearing skills form the capital of their importance in the household. Their access to other sources of power is almost denied. Therefore, they scheme and practice magic, in fact using whatever means available to them, in order to act effectively on their husbands. This measure of domestic influence or ‘unassigned power’ is ritually accentuated in socially accepted avenues such as marriage ceremonies, carnivals of Ashura, carnivals of the Great feast, jinn evictions and other ritual practices. It seems that male authority allows itself to be ritually transgressed in order to tighten its grip over women in the course of normal social life.

The carnivals of Ashura are mainly performed by rural female social agents and those who belong to uneducated poor urban social classes. Educated women from modern-middle-class urban families—not to mention the rich and high bourgeoisie—,who are rising to power in the public and private sectors and gaining more freedom, challenge these cultural forms of traditional society. They will by no means descend in streets to be enrolled in ritual parades of Ashura playing on oblong drums to express their feminine liberty. Some Islamist female respondents condemn Ashura outdoor practices as heterodox; nevertheless they do not seem to question the legitimacy of male authority over them because in their eyes it is decreed by the Islamic Tradition.

Here I do not want to end up my analysis on a pessimistic tone. As it is revealed, Ashura practices do not threaten the social reproduction and maintenance of female docile subjects in society. They do not menace the social inequality of gender relations, and historically shift identity with the vagaries of domination. However, if Ashura’s emancipatory discourse may be practiced outside its ritual process authorized by the popular tradition; if women grow aware of their empowerment, such is the case now in rising feminist activism, all this may pave the way for political female agency.

Now, counter-hegemonic seeds of resistance in rituals of Ashura, trance dancing and jinn possession still prevail and subordinate women who cannot escape their social position can leastwise escape the conventions that go with it—they may feel free somehow at a symbolic level; they may transgress, be outrageous and throw out the norms at least for a while. Of course this can be seen as a `ruse of power` to licence a blowing off of steam, but these anti-hegemonic alternative meanings and dispositions remain latent and available for future uses and can be raised with a more likelihood to subvert the social structure, especially with new cultural attachments under new favourable social, political and economic conditions.
To be followed by a sequel article: “Ashura in Orthodox Islam”

Pesticides kill honeybees en masse in Morocco

The region of Souss, in south-western Morocco, is known for being the kingdom's top producer of citrus fruits. But the use of pesticides linked to intensive farming methods has a deadly side-effect: the wiping out of bees and a dramatic fall in honey production. One of the region's beekeepers has set alarm bells ringing.

The origins of these pesticides is a complete mystery. Many say they're contraband. In any case, they come in barrels that don't have any labelling.

Since farmers started using them two years ago, I've lost 90% of my harvest. Before, beekeeping provided me with a comfortable income. I could produce up to one ton of honey a year.

Dozens of beekeeping businesses in the region have found themselves in the same predicament. Some haven't even produced a kilogram of honey this year.

Omar sent us these images of his meagre harvest.

I'm part of a cooperative that brings together seven small beekeeping businesses. Two weeks ago, we took part in a gathering in front of the office for agricultural investment for the region of Souss. Notably, they're tasked with supervising the use of pesticides. We stayed for several hours but not a single official even bothered to meet with us.

In May 2014, more than one year ago now, an employee from the very same office came to my farm to take samples of dead bees. Since then, I've heard nothing.

I'm in a complete state of disarray. I no longer know what to do. When I go to see the farmers to try and speak with them, only the ordinary workers will meet me. They just tell me that they're only following their bosses' orders and that they can't do anything to help.

The worst is that the farmers spray pesticides on their crops during daylight hours, in other words, at the same time as when the bees go to gather nectar from the flowers of the orange and lemon trees. If the farmers would just accept to spray their crops during the night, the damage wouldn't be so great.

For the most part, I produce orange blossom honey because it's the most consumed type of honey and the least expensive one on the market. If the situation doesn't get better soon, I'll have nothing left to sell.

Contacted by telephone, Hafida Al-Qacimi, an official from the office for agricultural promotion for the region of Souss-Massa, pledged to meet Omar Abou Hajer and respond to his grievances.

FRANCE 24 also contacted Bernard Nicollet, a beekeeper who regularly travels to Morocco and offers advice to beekeeping businesses. He gave us his opinion on what Moroccan beekeepers should do to recover their harvests.

The use of pesticides have a big role in the spectacular drop in the production of honey in Morocco. It's a global phenomenon affecting many countries around the world. To save the honey industry, the best solution would be for beekeepers to produce further away from large intensive farming zones. They would do well to start producing in areas with trees and plants that aren't grown using intensive farming methods , like thyme, jujube, or rosemary, even it means that the honey ends up tasting different.

600,000 Moroccans Have Twitter Accounts.
Thursday 7 May 2015

New figures released by Moroccan authorities show that as little as 600,000 Moroccans have an account on Twitter. There are at least 600,000 Twitter accounts in Morocco, according to Communication Minister and Spokesperson of the Government Mustapha El Khalfi. Micro-blogging website Twitter, which launched in March 2006, has over 300 million active users worldwide, who generate over 500 million tweets daily.

In Morocco, however, the number of users on the social networking service is just a little bit over half a million. Facebook remains the favorite social media platform for Moroccans with an estimated 9 million users. The figures provided by El Khalfi also confirm Facebook as the biggest social media site in Morocco.
Mustapha El Khalfi added the number of internet subscribers in Morocco has reached over 10 million in the course of one year.

The Minister was quoting a new report released by the National Agency for the Regulation of Telecommunications (ANRT), which has revealed that the number of internet subscribers grew by 61.4 per cent.

Morocco passes 10 million internet users milestone
Thursday 7 May 2015

The average revenue per minute for mobile services in Morocco fell to MAD 0.31 at the end of March, down 9 percent on MAD 0.34 a year earlier, according to telecoms regulator ANRT. The figure is determined by dividing outgoing call revenue before taxes by the number of outgoing minutes. The average internet bill’s price contracted by 31 percent to MAD 22 a month at the end of March, from MAD 32 a year earlier. 3G mobile internet bills came down by 32 percent to MAD 15 a month.

The average ADSL bill price increased by 3 percent to MAD 92 a month. Fixed average revenue per minute rose by 11 percent to MAD 0.75, from MAD 0.83 at the end of March 2014. Call consumption rose to an average of 91 minutes a month, up 3 percent on a year earlier. SMS traffic rose by 27.1 percent year-on-year to 4.55 billion units in the first quarter of the year.

Mobile users were stable at 43.39 million, for a slightly over 128 percent penetration rate. Only 2.34 million of mobile phone users are on postpaid tariffs. Morocco had 10.32 million internet subscribers at the end of March, 61.4 percent more than a year earlier, with 9.29 million via 3G mobile, up 68.8 percent. ADSL customers grew by 16 percent in a year while fixed voice declined by 15.3 percent to 2.39 million.

EU Donates MAD 465 Million to Fund Morocco’s Noor III Solar Plant.
Thursday 7 May 2015

The European Union donated, on Thursday, 465 million dirhams to Morocco to help finance Noor III solar power plant with a production capacity of 150 MW. The donation was signed by EU Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action Miguel Arias Canete and President of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) Mustapha Bakkoury.

In a statement to MAP, Bakkoury said that the donation will help fund the third phase of the Noor project in Ouarzazate adding that construction works will start in the upcoming weeks.

The EU funding reflects the trust of international investors in Morocco’s renewable energies development projects. For his part, Canete said the EU is willing to support Morocco’s plan to develop renewables. Morocco’s solar plan aims at producing 2000 MW by 2020 which will help annually save the equivalent of 1 million tons of oil and cut CO2 emission by 5.3 million tons annually.

Morocco Ranks 62nd in Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index
Thursday 7 May 2015 Taroudant

Morocco ranked 62nd out of 141 countries in the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2015 of the World Economic Forum. Morocco made a significant stride, and gained nine places in comparison with 2014.

Spain, followed by France, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Australia, Italy, Japan and Canada respectively are the top ten in the report. The United Arab Emirate tops the list of the MENA region. It is followed by Qatar, Bahrain, and Morocco, which tops of list of North Africa region. Kuwait, Algeria and Yemen come in the bottom of the ranking.

Morocco ranks 18th globally in the number of oral and intangible cultural expressions, and 21st in the Number of World Heritage cultural sites in the country.
The kingdom also boast a reassuring position in terms of Safety and security, ranking 37th among 141 countries.

Should University Education Be Academic or Vocational?
Saturday 9 May 2015
- Abdessamad Saidi Fez

The university is an essential phase of every student’s career. It is a stage where students develop their knowledge and equip themselves with the necessary skills to lead a successful life. In today’s world, the diversity found at the university forces some professors to change their methods; while some subjects require an academic background, others need more hands-on training and practice. This dichotomy divides university education between what is more academic and what is more vocational.

Vocational education is a type of learning that is based on training or practice. Nowadays, this type of education has started to gain some popularity in Morocco, as we find more institutions requiring their students to go through a training period of one or two months before their graduation. This training is believed to equip the student with the necessary skills for the job market. However, one should not dismiss the role of academic education and its impact on university students. This type of education is, in principle, based on developing one’s own knowledge by acquiring different theories and being familiar with their principles.

Therefore, academic education focuses on the student’s needs in terms of knowledge and theory. When students finish their high school studies and enter the university, they face different problems as they adjust. For instance, many Moroccan university students find it difficult to choose a certain specialty or research topic in their third year. Thus, if their first years in the university are based on training, their choices and decisions tend to be arbitrary, and several problems may emerge in the last years of their studies. Nevertheless, if these students are exposed to different academic subjects, they will be able to narrow their scope of focus, and their choices would become clearer.

Proponents of vocational education argue that all university subjects necessitate some training at a certain level. This cannot be ignored, since any knowledge or theory that is not put into practice may become useless. However, university education is not based solely on training programs. Several subjects taught at the university require a good academic background with no practical training. For instance, in the social sciences and the humanities, different subjects such as history or literature do not require any practical training for the student. In these areas, students must gain familiarity with the field in general or the subject in particular. Furthermore, most of the essential skills that university students need to develop are academic. In other words, students are required to be more critical, analytical, and creative, and these internal/mental skills are usually fostered through academic subjects.

Proponents of vocational education go further and argue that some subjects that fall within the realms of science or technology do not require any background knowledge, and academic training is not useful for university students in these fields. This argument cannot be valid, since all scientific sub-disciplines are primarily based on theories and principles. Any practice, be it a scientific experiment or a programming task, falls within a certain framework or approach which, in turn, follows a set of principles. Accordingly, before they go through any type of vocational program, university students need to be equipped with the necessary background knowledge that will help them to benefit from these programs.

All in all, the debate over the nature of university education has taken different paths. As we move towards a more globalized world that is influenced by technology and industry, the job market requires people with more expertise and skills. However, the major role that academic education plays shall not be undermined since it is the main type of education that characterizes every university.

Exotically exciting Essaouira proves there's more to Morocco than Marrakech.
9 May 2015 Emily Retter
Emily Retter joins easyJet’s inaugural flight to exotic, enticing Essaouira in Morocco

Even high on the roof terrace of the Riad Al Madina, the smell of leather from the narrow streets of the souks below is heady, curling up in tendrils on the hot evening air. Peek down, and stalls laden with slippers of soft goat leather like butter still bustle at 9pm. Carpenters with gleaming thuja wood boxes in every shape and size, stare trance-like into the middle distance until they catch casual glances and convince lingerers to drink in the sweet tang of the wood.

Back inside the riad, burning orange blossom wafts from the central courtyard, spiralling past the storeys of bedrooms layered like a wedding cake, and disappearing through the traditional open roof.

We were told on landing in Essaouira, a seaside town in southern Morocco, the country must be experienced through all the senses – and I’m learning smell is most important of all.

Given the short flight, North Africa feels distinctly exotic. We’re just three and a half hours from Luton – where the smells are decidedly different. Two hours’ drive from tourist hub Marrakech, as Brits we stand out.

It is the locals who dominate Essaouira; English doesn’t mingle with the leather and orange blossom. There isn’t a burger chain in sight.

Last weekend, easyJet’s inaugural flight touched down at a pristine new airport.

Traditional Gnawa musicians – the descendants of sub-Saharan slaves who play trance-like music on drums and iron castanets – welcome us.

Sweetened mint tea poured from an impressive height create mini Jacuzzis in celebration. Previously, Essaouira could only be reached by holidaying Brits via popular Marrakech. But the town is arguably more alluring than Marrakech and its intoxicating but overwhelming freneticism.

In Essaouira – pronounced esso-airer – you get the walled “old town” medina and souks of Marrakech on a more manageable scale. And importantly, Essaouira has sea. The port is packed with 400 flaking, blue, fishing boats, which return every morning brimming with sardines.

For many years, the principal lure has been the kite and wind surfing. The town is famed for its strong winds – Alizes. But easyJet flies in on the wind of change – the airline has whipped local hoteliers, riad owners and restaurateurs into a frenzy. Now, they are hoping for tourists wanting much more, and why not?
The town, built in 1764, has a distinctive style all of its own. Tradition meets what is fast becoming hipster chic.

Back in the 1960s, the town was a favourite for hippies and amid the psychedelia came hairy celebrities – most celebrated of all, Jimi Hendrix. They jammed with the Gnawa and, if you believe the locals, stayed and ate in most of the hotels and restaurants... The vibe has remained. Among the richly-coloured carpets are art galleries specialising in the rainbow colours of the town’s famous “Naive” style, and an increasing array of funkier shops selling upcycled products.

There is, of course, a luxury side to Essaouira’s tourism too. Just 10 minutes out of town, we stayed in the five-star, contemporary Sofitel hotel, golf course and spa. The standard rooms are vast, with open plan bathrooms and bedrooms, including a sunken, mosaic-tiled bath, and sofas on balconies facing out to sea.
But Morocco of old is never far away and riads are the truly traditional option.

We’re told the richness of Morocco is always on the inside – a clever trick to avoid breeding jealousy between neighbours.

Inside these layered homes the ornate tiles mesmerise and the brass lamps shimmer. A fountain provides the central hub – traditionally always trickling to offer occupants, sleeping close together, some privacy.

Inside the Riad Al Madina, the stone pillars and mosaic floors are breathtaking. The reasonably-priced rooms are an explosion of colour.

Nearby, the grand Heure Bleue Palais, the grandest riad in the city, boasts a lush jungle of tropical plants in its tranquil courtyard. Here, you can also enjoy the most luxurious hammam in town – a dizzyingly calming full-body exfoliation using the ground paste of the Argan tree fruit. It’s a traditional pamper Moroccan families enjoy every Sunday.

Food is also at its best here when it is traditional. El Minzah in the medina serves beautiful seafood pastilla and a Jewish speciality of beef, rice, figs and sweet potato, Dafina. When the medina was built, it had a high population of Jewish residents living peacefully alongside Muslims.

Tagines of chicken with candied lemon and olives, and lamb with saffron feature heavily. And by the sea you have mind-blowingly fresh seafood too. At Le Chalet de la Plage I ate the best smoky grilled prawns of my life and tried sea urchin for the first time.

And of course you can’t really come to Morocco without trying one particular tradition.

Treks along the beach by camel are beautiful, if hair-raising at times.

Thankfully, my camel, Gift, was a gift in temperament, batting its spidery lashes nonchalantly.

Morocco health minister favours abortion
2015-05-08 (AP) Rabat

Health Minister El Hossein Louardi came out in support of lifting Morocco's ban on abortion, saying women should control their own bodies, in an interview published on Friday. He spoke to the weekly Tel Quel amid a debate sparked by the fact that hundreds of illegal abortions take place in the kingdom every day.

"I am a doctor and citizen first. I believe a woman should have control over her own body," Louardi told the weekly. "I think it is absolutely necessary to legalise abortion, because it is not only a medical problem but also a social problem."

The minister cited the example of a "helpless woman" becoming "pregnant with a child she can't afford to look after""How will she cope? She should have the right to decide," he said.

King Mohamed VI will soon examine proposals on abortion he asked the departments of Justice and Islamic Affairs and the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH) to prepare. In March, Louardi said he favoured "an urgent revision of the law" on abortion in cases involving rape, incest or foetal deformity.
In a country of 34 million people where extramarital relations are illegal, abortion is currently punishable by between one and five years in prison.
Although there are no official figures, it is estimated that between 600 and 800 abortions are carried out every day, sometimes in appalling conditions.

Tracking the Quality of Moroccan Olive Oils.
By Sukhsatej Batra on April 26, 2015

A study published in the journal Food Chemistry set out to establish the quality of olive oil samples produced in North Morocco. A recent study reported that the majority of Moroccan olive oil samples met International Olive Council (IOC) standards.

Even though olive cultivation has been part of Morocco’s agricultural scene since the Roman era, and Morocco is the world’s sixth largest producer of olive oil, the quality and compositional peculiarities of Moroccan olive oil have been relatively unknown. To ensure that olive oil produced in Morocco meets IOC standards and requirements, authors of a study published in the journal Food Chemistry in January set out to establish a database of quality and purity criteria of olive oil samples produced in North Morocco.

Quality of olive oil depends on several factors including the type of soil, climate conditions, olive cultivar and farming techniques, as well as the methods used to extract olive oil. Researchers analyzed 279 samples of Moroccan olive oil from the predominant Picholine Marocaine cultivar that is grown in seven regions of North Morocco.

Using the standards set by the IOC, the researchers classified 94 percent of the Moroccan olive oils from the studied regions as extra virgin oils, while only 6 percent were classified as virgin olive oils. The Moroccan olive oils also met IOC standards for monounsaturated fatty acids, ranging from 75 to 77 percent. Polyunsaturated fatty acids were 10 to 12 percent, while saturated fatty acid content varied from 12 to 13 percent in the olive oil samples.
Oleic acid was the most abundant monounsaturated fatty acid and linoleic acid was the most abundant polyunsaturated fatty acid in the olive oil samples studied.

While majority of the samples met the requirement of less than one percent of linolenic acid, 32 olive oil samples had linolenic acid at a concentration above the upper limit of one percent established by the IOC. The authors hypothesized that the presence of high levels of linolenic acid in some olive oils from North Morocco could be due to the drought and temperature stress that characterize these olive growing areas.

(Only one Moroccan olive oil was entered in the 2015 New York International Olive Oil Competition. The brand, Morok O, earned a Gold Award for its medium intensity blend.) The researchers said the research initiated the building of a database to characterize Moroccan olive oils from a monomer olive variety based on their physicochemical quality parameters and purity criteria. It also identified areas that produced olive oil with higher levels of linolenic acid than those established as the upper limits by the IOC standards. The authors believe that continuing this work could help in establishing comprehensive characterization of virgin olive oils from Morocco.

Carrying the world on their back: The human 'mules' of Morocco
By Thalia Beaty & Maggy DonaldsonApr 27, 2015 CEUTA, Spain

Three armed and uniformed men stand watch outside a warehouse in North Africa. Behind them, a throng of veiled women are pushing in line. "Do you know this word?” one of the guards asks with a sly smile. 'Alucinaciones' or hallucinations. "You’ll see why," he adds. See also: Smugglers use social media to lure migrants in the Mediterranean

It's true. The hundreds of Moroccan women behind him appear like a mirage in the early morning as they wait to strap massive packages of household goods to their backs. Bent over at the waist because of the weight, the women will carry the loads across the border that separates an autonomous Spanish enclave on the African continent from neighboring Morocco…..
Check the rest here:

Moroccan agricultural sector continues to grow

The Moroccan agricultural sector recorded a 7.6% annual growth between 2008 and 2014, while its agro-food exports grew by 34% in the same period, as reported by the country's Minister of Agriculture, Aziz Ajanuch. Ajanuch made this statement at the opening of the eighth edition of the Conference on Agriculture of the city of Meknes (central Morocco), prior to the great Moroccan Agricultural Show (SIAM).

According to the Minister, these figures are the result of the Plan "Green Morocco", an ambitious agricultural modernisation project launched in 2008, which has allowed the agricultural GDP to grow by an average of 48% in rural environments between 2008 and 2013. Ajanuch stressed the importance of agriculture for the country's overall GDP, and said the Green Morocco Plan has been "strictly monitored" since its launch, achieving an "unprecedented dynamism."

The Green Morocco Plan has contributed to strengthening exports, especially of argan oil, beans, olive oil, olives, tomatoes and clementines.

Ajanuch said Morocco has positioned itself as the third largest exporter of agricultural products in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, and the fourth in Africa. The Minister wished to emphasise that domestic agriculture is becoming less reliable on climatic changes thanks to the 37% increase in plantations and a better optimisation of the agricultural value added. Additionally, Ajanuch pointed out that 13 million fruit trees are expected to be planted under this project. A total of 500,000 people benefit from this plan, generating 7,700 dirhams (716 Euro) in gross income per grower, said the minister.

The opening day was marked by the presence of the ministers of Agriculture and Environment of Senegal, Spain, Qatar and Chad, who, along with Ajanuch, took part in a panel discussion on "The agriculture of the future".

In a radicalised region, a face of modern Islam
Thursday, April 30, 2015 By Tarun Basu New Delhi, April 30 (IANS)

The Arab world is in a bloody ferment. The Yemen conflict is just the latest in the upsurge in regional unrest, compounded by the spread of extremist forces with their violent ideologies, that threaten to take the region and beyond into a vortex of uncertainty. This may have unpredictable - and possibly dangerous - consequences.

The political volatility and theological rivalries are deleterious for not just the region's population but is ominous for millions of expats from different countries, particularly the South Asian subcontinent, for whom the Gulf region has been a source of livelihood and well-being, and a passport to a better life.

The continuing instability in some of the countries in the Sahel and Maghreb has created a fertile ground for the spread of fundamentalist ideology and spread of terrorist networks such as the Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, Ansar Dine and Boko Haram in western Africa and the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
The horrific attack on the Bardo Museum, that resulted in the killing of 21 persons, mostly European tourists in the Tunisian capital, was a grim reminder of the vulnerability of the region to extremist violence.

"The Arabian Gulf is in a dangerous confrontation, its strategic security is on the edge, and the moment of truth distinguishes between the real ally and the ally of media and statements," the UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Mohammed Gargash, was quoted as saying in an uncharacteristic outburst. He was reacting to the Pakistan parliament's resolution counselling neutrality to the government in the Yemen conflict and rejecting the request to send troops for the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition.

Many saw the Saudi decision to lead a military operation sans a US security umbrella as a signal of the Gulf major's assertion as the region's politico-religious overlord. Others saw in the Yemen conflict the danger of it becoming a proxy war between Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Shiite-majority Iran, in a region where a bevy of Islamist extremists are holding it to ransom with their radical ideologies and medieval thinking.

Amid the political volatility and ideological chaos, one country that has stood out as a beacon of of peace, stability and modernity is the low-profile nation of Morocco, wedged at the crosscurrents of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

Morocco sees itself as a "strategic link" between Europe and Africa. Because of its cultural origins, its multi-ethnic heritage and its civilisational linkages with Europe, it has been able to promote a moderate and tolerant brand of Islam that has been a counterpoint to the radical fundamentalism and religious orthodoxy seen to dominate much of the Arab world.

"Morocco remains an island of political and social stability in a region where the forces unleashed by the Arab Spring have engendered political and social chaos, heralding a transformative process," remarked Anil Wadhwa, Secretary (East), in India's Ministry of External Affairs, while speaking at a recent roundtable in New Delhi on 'India and Morocco: Imperatives of Cooperation'.

Why is Morocco different? Two reasons stand out: one, it is an adherent of the Malikit school of Islam, one of the more moderate strands of the religion, that not only advocates gender equality but also stands for women's emancipation, religious modernisation and zero-tolerance against radical thinking.
Two, it is led by a modernist, young monarch who has done a lot to instill a sense of confidence in him by the people of Morocco and the region. King Mohammed VI has undertaken path-breaking political and social reforms, begun by his visionary father, King Hassan II, and has been recognised for his efforts to resolve regional crises and play a useful mediatory role.

With its new constitution guaranteeing a prominent and credible role of an elective government alongside the monarchy, Morocco stands in between the variety of political structures found in countries East, West and South which can give useful lessons to the rest of the world, The National Interest magazine in the US said.

It commended efforts made by the kingdom to beef up security measures, enhancing the rule of law, employing aggressive anti-poverty measures, upping educational opportunity and reforming the religious establishment by investing heavily in the spiritual, Sufi strand of Islam, its traditions deeply rooted in Morocco's history and culture with its Euro-Berber roots. that seemed to have paid it obvious dividends.

Morocco not only ensures that mosques remain free of radical teachings but also has taken pioneering steps to train imams from the Arab world and Europe. An Institute for the Training of Imams - a first in the Muslim world - has come up in Rabat as part of an integrated strategy aimed at inculcating values of moderate Islam as a bulwark against all forms of extremism.

The institute, equipped with a modern educational infrastructure, trains male and female religious guides, reviews textbooks and school curricula to eliminate radical exhortations and seeks to promote values of moderation, openness and religious tolerance in mosques across the kingdom.

Also, because of a highly trained and motivated police force, the country has managed to break up over 110 terror cells, prevented over 260 terror plots and 109 deadly plans, and arrested over 27000 militants, according to Larbi Reffouh, its ambassador to India. These put Morocco in the frontline of efforts in countering terror. Its initiative in setting up a 30-member Group of Friends on Counter-terrorism at the UN in New York has been highly appreciated.
But Morocco realises that countering terrorism is not just a religious or security matter. King Mohammed VI launched a rural and urban development plan called The National Human Development Initiative, a $1.2 billion worth of social programmes that have created thousands of income-generating activities and improved the lives of nearly five million Moroccans.

US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, at a recent debate in the Security Council, highlighted efforts made by Morocco to counter violent extremism and held out its example in striving to spread a brand of moderate Islam.

The French newspaper Le Monde wrote that "while many states are looking for the means to counter the influence of radical Islam, Rabat has come up with a Moroccan model" promoting its brand of "religious diplomacy" to complement its political reformism and economic progress.
It is important for India to work together not only with Morocco but with other moderate countries in the Maghreb region like Tunisia - which has been one of the democratic successes of the Arab Spring and also follows a reformist Islam - to develop a joint strategy to fight terrorism and counter the spreading poison of radical extremism.

World Bank Approves US$249-Million Loans For Morocco's Health, Energy Projects.

The World Bank has approved two loans totalling US$248.95 million to support Morocco in its national health strategy and to promote clean energy and energy efficiency. In the health sector, a US$100-million loan will finance increased access to and improved quality of public services for poor and rural populations in disadvantaged regions, the institution said in a statement.

Investment in the energy sector will support the counry's ongoing efforts to reduce its dependency on imported fossil fuels. "This project will help to strengthen primary care across nine regions to address disparities in health outcomes and upgrade management information systems and sector accountability," said Enis Baris, World Bank's health, nutrition and population practice manager for Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region.

Morocco has achieved significant improvements in health outcomes, with reduction in child and maternal mortality rates of 64 percent and 66 percent respectively over the past 20 years. The World Bank said inequality in access to health services coupled with limited resources allocated to the sector called for a strategy to improve the distribution and quality of health services. The Health Sector Support Programme for Results Project is designed to underpin that strategy.

The second project -- Clean and Efficient Energy Project -- will be co-financed by a US$125-million loan from World Bank and a US$23.95-million loan from the Clean Technology Fund. This project will support Morocco's state-owned electricity and water company to develop its first set of three mid-sized decentralised solar photovoltaic plants.

Since 2011, the World Bank's private sector arm, International Finance Corporation (IFC) has stepped up its engagement in the country and invested US$590 million to support private sector development.

Citizenship Education to Prevent School Violence
Monday 27 April 2015 - Rabat

Over 90 teachers and 3,000 students from secondary schools will be targeted in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt by a new project called “Forming Responsible Citizens: Citizenship and equality education for school prevention of violence.”

On Friday, April 24, 2015, at the premises of the Local Ministry of Education, Academy of Education and Training in the Chaouia Wardigha region, Ideaborn and the Moroccan Center for Civic Education presented the project “Forming Responsible Citizens: Citizenship and equality education for school prevention of violence.” The project is labeled by the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) and supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Over 40 participants, representing Ministry of Education and Ministry of Justice policy makers, teachers, students, civil society organizations, unions, and media representatives, attended the meeting. The project’s partners presented its objectives and the expected activities and results.

At the opening ceremony, Mr. Abdelkader Talbi, Head of the Local Ministry of Education in Settat, spoke about the importance of the initiative and the role of partnerships with national and international partners in promoting the culture of civic education to prevent school violence.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Elarbi Imad, president of the Moroccan Center for Civic Education, also stressed the importance of the Forming Responsible Citizenship project in terms of preventing school violence not only in Morocco, but also in Tunisia and Egypt.

Ms. Chiara Gidetti, Executive Director of Ideaborn, gave an overview of the project. She stated the rationale behind it and explained the main objectives and activities to be conducted, as well as the various stages of the project.

The Forming Responsible Citizens project aims to contribute to the prevention of violence against girls and women through the implementation of a renewed civic education curriculum in Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt. The project will be implemented in close coordination with the national authorities in charge of education and training. Over 90 teachers and 3,000 students from secondary schools will be targeted by project activities.

The project will develop a new curriculum, covering topics such as civic concepts, systems, processes of civic life, gender equality, education for human rights, and inclusive and sustainable development that will improve basic citizenship and equality skills. It will train teachers in citizenship education with new materials and methodologies, in addition to providing practical training in gender equality and conflict management and resolution. The project will also enhance the participation of students and families in the school organization.

The participants also took the floor to make comments and suggestions. Most of them mentioned the main causes of school violence and proposed ways to prevent it.

At the end of the meeting, Mr. Mohammed Laaouina concluded by thanking the institutions and the partners involved in implementing this promising and ambitious project and urged the participants to be heavily involved in the diagnostic and implementation stages in order to work together to prevent the phenomenon of school violence. He also showed his readiness to contribute to the success of the program.

This project falls within the UfM’s strategic objective to develop a Euro-Mediterranean women’s empowerment initiative, a key follow-up to the Declaration of the UfM Third Ministerial Conference on Strengthening the Role of Women in Society, and as a contribution to the Beijing+20 process.

Morocco Continues Its Renewable Push With Saudi-Backed Wind Project

Morocco continued its energy diversification push this week with a nod towards its renewable power options, with the announcement that Saudi Arabia-based ACWA Power will back wind projects in the country as a part of a broad investment plan. According to local media reports, Paddy Padmanathan, President and CEO of the company, announced that the Moroccan push was a part of a larger $12 billion investment plan sprawling across multplie countries, focused on current and ongoing energy projects.

The wind projects would add to the company’s Moroccan presence, which already includes a $2 billion contract to build two solar power plants in the southern city of Ourzazate. According to press reports, the two plants totaling 350 megawatts are the second phase of the 500MW Ouarzazate project, which aims at producing 2 gigawatts of solar energy by 2020.

Morrocco is heavily dependent on energy imports to meet its growing demand and has spent the last decade exploring new options to help reduce costly oil and coal imports, including supporting new exploration and production efforts, as well as renewable alternatives.

Recently, the North African nation has explored both traditional and green energy options, including new liquefied natural gas projects to allows access to a potentially cheaper, more flexible market. However, the country renewable push has garnered attention for its ‘go-it-alone’ approach and state-backing for significant energy goals. According to the Financial Times, Morocco has the most ambituious clean energy target in the region and “is on track to have 42 per cent of its installed energy capacity dedicated to renewable sources by 2020. Of that, 2,000MW will come from solar.”

Morocco’s green energy goals continue to shape energy policy despite industry setbacks and challenges seen over the last few years. The country faced financial protests from potential European bakers of new energy projects in early 2014 due to concerns territorial concerns. According to Reuters, lending institutions including the World Bank, the European Investment Banks and the European Union had expressed concern about Morocco’s plans to extend traditional and renewable energy efforts into the Western Sahara.

Two years prior, Morocco also faced renewable setbacks when the proposed Desertec renewable plan, which would have supported solar efforts in North Africa to import to the European market, became financially infeasible for the country’s domestic energy goals.

Despite that push-back, Morocco has remained adamant that they can reach their renewable energy goals with or without European backing, with many pointing to Gulf funding as a remedy for any apprehension from the country’s northern neighbors. With Saudi companies now expanding their renewable financing footprint in the country, it appears that this assumption is well founded.

Moroccan Schools: A Cash Cow or a Commitment to Education?
Sunday 3 May 2015 -Abdallah Zbir Kenitra

I would like to introduce this article with a discussion I had with one of my friends when he asked me the following, “Do you want to be the headmaster of a private school located in ‘La Ville Haute’ area? There is a guy who just came back from France and wants to start a business here; everyone told him that investing in a school is the most profitable project.” Of course, one is fully aware that this is only a matter of profitability, similar to running a café or a restaurant. What good can be achieved from schools in such a reality?

The current reality of the Moroccan education situation is rife with a disastrous state of schools, an unsuccessful educational philosophy, a fragile education infrastructure, and a negative socio-cultural atmosphere. With all this mess, one cannot help dreading the future.

In a recent speech, U.S. President Obama addressed his people saying, “Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job. Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges. So those German kids, they’re ready for a job when they graduate high school. They’ve been trained for the jobs that are there.” An examination of a number of Moroccan speeches on the same subject, one discovers hollow political ‘sensationalism.

In the developed world, states make efforts in mapping, controlling and developing their philosophy in order to guarantee quality and effectiveness required to achieve development and superiority. These efforts are usually justified by policy makers’ strong desire to provide all that the educational actors need in order to increase the value, effectiveness, and competitiveness of the educational product. They make working on implementing points the legislators see as the core of the productive educational policy, including its independence, their main focus. This notion can be achieved on three main levels:

On the national level: educational actors should work with freedom and independence while developing the educational process’ general guidelines. The school is a quintessential educational project and not a political one. Educational choices should be determined by researchers and scholars. The role of the politician should be restricted to preparing suitable conditions which will guarantee the quality of the choices made.

On the regional level: heads of education municipalities are liable for the educational institutions subject to their territorial jurisdiction including: drawing general methods to teaching and learning processes, managing the institutions’ human and material resources, setting backing and assessment mechanisms, and developing and enforcing internships and contracts.

On the institution’s level: School directors and their administrative teams should be totally independent in forming and developing the institutions’ methodologies daily life management mechanisms.

Such ideals are absent in our world. The education scene in Morocco is marked by severe misconduct in terms of the essence of the educational decisions and the absence of a clear and constructive education policy. Its implications can be seen on the level of limited competencies, low educational achievements, and violence haunting our schools. The Moroccan school system close to being a real disaster; a disaster that cannot be beautified by any of our official’s speeches or false promises, or by any ‘decorative’ education boards or councils.
This article was originally published in Arabic on Morocco World News Arabic and translated by Najah Elyahyaoui.

Islamic Embroidery: Handcrafted art steeped in history.

By Aquila Style, Tuesday, 28th April 2015 12:35pm

Embroidery was a very important art in the Medieval Islamic world. One of the most interesting accounts of embroidery were given by the 17th century Turkish traveler Evliya Çelebi, who called it the “craft of the two hands”. Because embroidery was a sign of high social status in Muslim societies, it became a hugely popular art.

In cities such as Damascus, Cairo and Istanbul, embroidery was visible on handkerchiefs, uniforms, flags, calligraphy, shoes, robes, tunics, horse trappings, slippers, sheaths, pouches, covers, and even on leather belts. Many craftsmen embroidered with gold and silver thread. A number of embroidery cottage industries, each employing over 800 people, grew to supply these items.

A STORY OF Islamic Embroidery in Nomadic and Urban Traditions brings together more than 200 textiles from Islamic lands, including a wealth of embroideries from Central Asia. These types of textiles have never before been exhibited in the Gulf region. The exhibition aims to give visitors the chance to explore the exchange of trade and culture across the Silk Road and beyond.

These artefacts, with their kaleidoscope of motifs and colours, create a form of abstract art and testify to the role of Islamic women in creating an artistic tradition of great cultural significance as well as beauty. The works on view are embroidered garments and decorative objects that illustrate how the ancient skills and tradition of embroidery, carried on by urban, rural and nomadic women, sustained regional, tribal and family identities through its integration in communal activities, and how these skills evolved through encounters with different cultures, brought about by trade. The geographical area concerned in this exhibition reaches from Pakistan in the East to Morocco to the west, bringing together more than 200 textiles, including a wealth of embroideries from Central Asia, the hub of trade routes from ancient times. By tracing these routes and cultures through embroidery, the exhibition explores the exchange of trade and culture across the Silk Road. Silk Road trade brought great wealth to Central Asia, with textile production a major industry. Influences from other countries are also explored in the exhibition, for example, the Andalusians influenced textile-makers in Morocco, whilst the Ottomans influenced artists in Algeria, and all across Central Asia there was continual interchange among Mongols, Uzbeks, Pashtuns, Tajiks and Turkmen.

In order to make these historical and cultural links easier to grasp, the embroideries are ordered around two axes. The first is the organisation of embroideries by region and the communities where they were produced to see the way embroideries are informed and determined by their cultural setting. Social hierarchy in Central Asia was more fluid and consequently power more diffused, which meant that even sophisticated commercial textile processes involved input from craftsmen at different stages, making the process closer to a dialogue between craftsmen rather than a factory production. However, in Iran the Rasht embroideries displayed in the exhibition reveal a closely controlled production process with clear divisions of power and responsibility. The other axis follows the theme of embroidery in nomadic and urban settings. The pieces from these nomadic communities in Central Asia tend to be inspired by nature – alive with scorpions and rams – and the animals that were surrounding the tribes. Following a similar logic, urban textiles present the viewer with designs geared towards the more domesticated world of the city garden and beautiful floral patterns.

These urban embroideries also take us to Morocco where the symbioses of several external and internal influences have contributed to create patterns typical of urban Morocco whilst retaining the original imprint of Muslim Spain. Each textile is thus the result of the conflicting influence of Arabic art, known for its interlacing and interpenetrating patterns, and the rectilinear and vigorously geometric Berber art.

At the heart of Morocco’s vibrant handicraft culture is an essentially feminine art form of embroidery on silk, cotton, and linen-one of the most vibrant arts in North Africa for many centuries and in vogue through the 1930s. These exquisite embroidered objects bear witness to the sophisticated taste of a bygone society.

Moroccan Textile Embroidery explains how Moroccan women passed this cultural art on to the next generation and how embroidered patterns were used to decorate interior spaces-cushions, tablecloths, curtains and mats-as well as certain traditional accessories in the female wardrobe-shawls, belts, handkerchiefs, and headscarves. Because of the rarity of older patterns and difficulty conserving textiles, Moroccan embroidery has remained largely undiscovered. Here for pattern artists and textile enthusiasts, is a rare photographic documentation of this beautiful ancestral art, including over one hundred historical pieces.

Hollywood of the Sahara: Morocco is riding high on its reputation for stability and exotic locales, but industry officials say that it needs to do more — and offer more incentives — to realize its potential as a filming destination
By Paul Schemm / AP, Ouarzazate, Morocco

“QUIET!” The cry rings out in English, French and Arabic across the cobblestoned streets of Jerusalem, as filming begins for a scene in the series AD The Bible Continues.

But while the arched doorways, balconies and furnishings all say Roman-era Israel, the real-life setting is southern Morocco.

Viewers in America and elsewhere in the world may not know it but they have seen a lot of Morocco in the past year. It has served as the Baghdad of American Sniper, the Tehran seen in TV series Homeland, the Mali of American Odyssey and the Egypt that will appear in the miniseries King Tut. Morocco has also been Somalia numerous times, including in the 2001 film Blackhawk Down, and more recently in the 2013 Captain Philips. And it will be Saudi Arabia in this year’s Hologram for a King starring Tom Hanks.

All in all, it has been a banner year for Morocco’s status as a gigantic film-set — with US$120 million spent by foreign film productions in the country last year, more than in the past five years put together.

The North African kingdom is riding high on its reputation for stability and exotic locales, but industry officials say that Morocco needs to do more — and offer more incentives — to realize its potential as a filming destination. It is contending with increasingly stiff competition from South Africa and other countries that offer deep tax rebates.

For Morocco’s film industry, the future depends on the right package of sweeteners to persuade studios to do more than just film exteriors here but also use local facilities. The ultimate goal is to get Hollywood to film entire movies in Morocco, said Sarim Fassi-Fihri, head of the Moroccan Center for Cinematography, which oversees the industry. “The day tax incentives come to Morocco, the whole industry will move here,” he said, cutting a cinematic figure himself, sporting a fedora and puffing on a cigar.

“If we make $120 million today, with tax incentives we could go up to US$200 to US$250 million.” He pulled out a sheaf of publicity brochures from competitors in Turkey, Colombia, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Ireland, even the Canadian province of Manitoba, with promised tax rebates of 20 to 40 percent plastered across the covers to entice film companies.

Ever since 1962, when David Lean filmed scenes from Lawrence of Arabia in Morocco, film companies have been using its deserts, mountains and cities as stand-ins for exotic locations. At the vast Atlas Studios complex in Ouarzazate — Morocco’s desert Hollywood perched between the High Atlas and the Sahara — there are sets from dozens of movies from the past decades.

Here, it’s possible to ride the camel used by Nicole Kidman in the upcoming Queen of the Desert past the pharaonic sets from 2002 French film Asterix and Obelix Meet Cleopatra to the fortifications Ridley Scott built to recreate medieval Jerusalem for the 2005 crusader film Kingdom of Heaven.
Morocco has fallen in and out of fashion as a movie set over the decades. One mainstay has been biblical films, and that business is booming now with the bible-craze taking off in America. At one point over the winter, there were three actors playing Jesus in different productions staying at the main hotel in Ouarzazate.

The new boom comes off some lean years, beginning with the 2008 global financial crisis and exacerbated by the 2011 Arab Spring unrest that led insurers to pull film companies out of the Middle East. But in the case of Morocco, they came back…….
Continuous here…

Celebrate: Moroccan Eid al-Adha:
Marking the end of the Hajj, Eid al-Adha is one of the most important celebrations for Muslims around the world. We join the M’Souli family after their morning Eid prayers, with family, friends and a feast of fragrant Moroccan dishes.
By Carla Grossetti 29 Apr 2015 - 12:00 PM

“Come, welcome,” says Mariem M’Souli, as she ushers her guests into her three-bedroom unit in Sydney’s Bass Hill, where the aroma of spices fill the air. Inside, slanted rays of sunlight slice through the lace curtains and onto the kitchen bench, where a tomato and onion shlada (salad) is being prepared for today’s Eid al-Adha feast.

Mariem, who hails from Morocco, says Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, is one of the most significant celebrations on the Islamic calendar. “A day like today reminds me about the importance of being part of a family. Yes, Eid al-Adha is about the food, the intricate flavours and special dishes, but it is also about the simple act of spending time together preparing the food with your family,” says Mariem, who arrived in Sydney in 1996. “Eid al-Adha is a religious day for Muslims. It’s a happy, peaceful day. It’s part of Islamic lore and is a very big moment for all Muslims, not just Moroccans, as the celebrations coincide with the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj,” says Mariem.

The clatter and clang of pots and pans started the day before, as preparations for the feast began. Today, soft murmurs emanate from the kitchen as Mariem and her sister Kabira, who is visiting from Morocco, and her friend Fatiha El Biyed intuitively weave around each other in their flowing kaftans, chopping herbs, skewering cubes of meat and peering into the couscoussier pot.

Early this morning, the women rose with the sun, joining thousands of Muslims at Sydney Olympic Park, which morphed into an outdoor mosque for the event.
Back at Bass Hill, Mariem’s brother Semo M’Souli stoops over a charcoal fire in the small courtyard, grilling lamb and liver skewers. Semo, a chef at Semo’s Modern Moroccan Cuisine in Mooloolaba, is joined by his Sri Lankan-born wife, Jawan, and their children, Ayesha and Tariq. “Today is a big day for us and the food is a big part of that,” says Semo, who arrived in Australia in 1991. “I love the togetherness of the event and being part of a ceremonial occasion like this with my family is very important to me.”

As the day rolls on, Hassan, the oldest brother of the M’Souli clan, arrives. The cookbook author and executive chef at Manly’s celebrated Out of Africa restaurant migrated to Australia in 1985. He says it made him happy when one of his four sisters and his brother made the move from Casablanca, on the Atlantic Coast. “In our culture, food comes first. It comes before the clothes, before the language, and is like a history lesson on a plate,” says Hassan, whose book Make It Moroccan was awarded the Best in the World – African Cuisine Category at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Paris in 2010.
“Today is a day to be humble. As well as honouring ancient customs, it’s a time for families to be soft to each other,” says Hassan, who received a letter from the King of Morocco that said he had made his country proud. “The migration of Moroccans to Australia has been like grains of sand, slowly forming a mountainous dune. Celebrating Eid al-Adha brings back memories of Morocco,” he says.

As the table becomes crowded with platters and tagines of varying sizes, a circle of fresh-baked bread is passed around, and, after the blessing – Bismillah! (In the name of Allah) – the room hums with conversation.

Mariem’s daughter, Sarah El Ghazi, fills her plate with slow-braised lamb, saffron-stained couscous, sweet and salty mrouzia (lamb tagine with stewed fruits) and the garlic-spiked shlada.“Mum, can you pass the tomato sauce?” asks Sarah. Mariem rolls her eyes and laughs at this intertwining of cultures: “She has tomato sauce with everything!”

Feast of Sacrifice
While the traditional Feast of Sacrifice ritual of slaughtering a lamb is still observed in Morocco, Hassan says most Muslims living in Australia now purchase their meat the modern way – from the butcher. “As the community grows, we see the traditions change. We have to adapt our customs to life in Australia,” says Hassan, who met his wife, Najma Elyounsi, a Moroccan journalist and fashion designer, at his Sydney restaurant. As well as attending a special prayer service and fasting the day prior to the celebration, Hassan says Muslims are expected to perform acts of compassion, give children gifts and wear nice, new clothes. “Today, we are united as one. It’s a special day and it’s these rituals that remind us of growing up in Morocco,” he says. Sitting in the living room, holding her hand aloft and waiting for the henna to dry is 10-year-old Ayesha M’Souli, beaming with pride at the pretty, swirling patterns. Fatiha El Biyed says the women love to paint henna on their hands as it adds a sense of occasion. Mint tea and mhancha (a sweet almond pastry) are also commonly served at the end of a gathering.

The Hajj and Eid Al-Adha
Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice (also known as the Festival of Sacrifice), comes at the end of the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. The pilgrimage is one of the largest single gatherings on the planet and according the M’Soulis’ family friend Ramadan Dkhil, it is about sacrificing “what we love for God’s sake”. The Hajj is more than an act of faith, it’s a religious duty and every able-bodied Muslim who is financially capable is required to perform the Hajj at least once in their lifetime. Once pilgrims have completed the Hajj – which can only be performed during the last month of the Islamic year (Dhu al-Hijja) – they then join in the global festival of Eid Al-Adha. Ramadan says although the day is primarily a religious celebration, it is also eagerly anticipated as a social event. “It’s important to remember the origins of this tradition. As the story goes, God tested Abraham, directing him to sacrifice Ishmael, his first-born son.
At the very last moment, God stepped in and allowed Abraham to sacrifice a lamb instead,” he says. “It is customary for families to invite friends into their home on this day. It’s a great honour to be invited to share this feast and for all of us to feel connected to the Muslims who are making the pilgrimage to Mecca,” says Ramadan, who migrated to Australia in 1989.

Morocco's Harvest Of Cereals To Reach Record 11 Million Tonnes This Year


The harvest of various cereals in Morocco is expected to hit a record 11 million tonnes this year, says Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch. "This campaign is exceptional on all levels thanks to good rainfall, well distributed in space and time, in addition to good and effective use of inputs which reached 1.5 million quintals (73,425 tonnes) and optimisation of mechanisation," Akhannouch highlighted at the opening of the annual agriculture fair in Meknes in northern Morocco on Monday.

The harvest includes 5.5 million tonnes of soft wheat, 3.2 million tons of barley and 2.2 million tons of durum wheat. In the 2013-2014 season, the harvest reached 9.7 million tonnes, a 7.6 Per cent annual growth of the agricultural sector and a 34 per cent increase in agri-food exports since 2008.

Agricultural GDP per capita also increased from around 48 per cent in rural areas. Reducing the percentage of the rural population suffering from hunger to 0.5 per cent has also been reached, Akhannouch added. According to Morocco's High Planning Authority (HCP), the country's agricultural output rose by 12.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2015, including an 8.8 per cent increase in cereal production.

The Spectrum of Language Choice for Moroccan Education
Thursday 30 April 2015 - Abdellatif Zaki Rabat

Two or three years ago, a colleague with whom I was hardly acquainted called and asked me to join what he referred to as an elite group of Moroccan Anglophone intellectuals and activists interested in the linguistic situation of Morocco and eager to replace French with English as the country’s second language. He said, not without some pride, that many leading intellectuals and influential political, economic, and educational figures who could weigh heavily on the linguistic situation of the Kingdom would be of the party. He added that the initiative had received the blessings of the United States and the United Kingdom.

He apologized for having included me on the list of an international conference program that was to be held in two days without my prior consent. I thanked him profusely and told him that I would be delighted to participate in this conference, but only as a citizen, and not on behalf of the non-governmental organization he was expecting me to participate on behalf of; an organization that he seemed to think had the main goal of spreading the English language in the country. I explained to the colleague that the organization had professional objectives and was aimed at supporting the teaching of English as a foreign language and of providing all those involved in the profession with quality services.

I further explained that the organization aimed at optimizing the efficiency of pedagogical offers, both directly through professional development and indirectly through promoting scientific research and publishing in related subject areas. As the colleague had, obviously, a completely different conception of an organization he had hoped would support his mission, I made a point to stress the fact that although the organization maintained a long history of good-standing cooperation and working relations with the British and American cultural authorities, which it holds in high esteem, it was also keen to maintain its freedom and to preserve its independence. I wanted him to know that although the organization strives to give a voice to English language teachers in the country, it would never compromise what it takes to be national priorities, nor will it negotiate what it takes to be the foundations of Morocco’s identity or indulge in any undertaking that would jeopardize it.

On the eve of the conference, I made it clear to the colleague that I considered neither French nor English as close relatives of mine. None was my mother tongue, nor did I think of myself as a militant combatting for the prevalence of either, and that I used both equally for professional purposes, and that I did not see any need to substitute one for the other. My idea was that the Moroccan educational system has specific uses for each. Shortly after this conversation, the colleague called me again to inform me that my name had been dropped from the list of speakers at the seminar. His excuse was that he had not received the abstract of my presentation. Diplomatically, he suggested that I was welcome to attend the event and participate in the debate if I so wished.
For the record, I would like to mention that I do not find the merciless war between the French and English languages on the Moroccan educational scene as very different from the conflict between the international powers during the early years of the 20th century, which paved the way to the colonization of the Kingdom, to which the euphemistic label of ‘protectorate’ was given.

I would like to remind the reader of an important principle in sociolinguistics and historical linguistics: on one hand, languages and varieties of the same language strive to preserve their status within their original community and behave, on the other hand, as if they were in a dire need to prevail over others, and to spread beyond their natural habitat, and to gain more of an influential status where they previously did not have any. This puts languages in constant conflict with one another, competing for the same privileges and to occupy new grounds in politics, economy, religion, and culture that were once held by others.

Thus, some nations and social groups have considered their languages to be productive factors to be employed in their speakers’ political, economic and commercial relations, and people have come to rely on them for establishing an ideological hegemony. Likewise, many countries have depended on their languages as pivotal elements for the construction of their identities, and have used them as important tools for the conceptualization of their perceptions of themselves as well as of the images they present of themselves to the world. In the same vein, several communities have used and are still using their languages to maintain their status among other social groups and nations. Let us reflect on the following: language is an arena in which all critical conflicts in a given society are fought. In Morocco, the issue of language and language choice has been turned into a field in which the country is cornered, to be subjected to different types of extremely competitive cultural, intellectual, political, and economic pressures and influences.

In Britain, for instance, the English language is considered to be a complex and multidimensional product, which is at times imposed upon other nations through various colonial mechanisms and, at other times, through commercial and advertising methods and through subtle cultural hegemonic strategies. This is done using a unique network in the domain of commercializing English language instruction and serving the strategic objective of spreading it. The network consists of a huge number of ‘cultural’ centers that actually function as focal points of a stock market that benefits from the direct financial, diplomatic, political, and military support of the state. They are also supported by very powerful government-subsidized global services and industries such as publishing, language teaching, higher education, training, the arts, the economy, and culture. The English language sector has thus grown to become one of the top 6 or 7 industries in the UK. Its income amounts to billions of pounds, more than many heavy traditional industries.

In other words, talking about the English language is exactly like talking about an industrial or commercial commodity or service. It is similar to talking about an electronic device, a vehicle, an aircraft engine, a soft drink, a warplane, a cruise missile, or a bullet. The United Kingdom’s Ministry in charge of Education determined that the amount of money foreign students spend in the various schools and universities in the UK has exceeded £10 billion in 2012, 3 billion of which coming directly from the English language instruction industry. The figure does not include the huge amounts of money collected in the many Council Centres scattered all over the world. This example is mentioned only for the purpose of clarifying things for those amongst us who might still be under the impression that the support of the English language by some consular services and assimilated charities has only altruistic and generous objectives. The gains may be far more complex, but not much less visible to the naked eye if one takes the time to look closely!

Moreover, when one talks about countries intervening to spread their languages in a certain domain or foreign country, one is actually talking about hegemony and of a sort of interference at levels that are far from being purely linguistic. A sign that heralds a new colonization episode is when, for example, a simple employee in one of these language centers acquires sufficient authority to influence a Minister’s decision, or when he takes the liberty to interfere in a country’s policy by pushing for the urgency of granting priority to his own language. An even more sinister sign is when such an employee, as is unfortunately very common to see, is heeded much more than the country’s prominent linguists, researchers, university chancellors, and deans. The Moroccan adage goes, “expect the apocalypse when matters are conceded to those with no qualifications to address them…” The first and central qualification here is being a national of the Kingdom.

A large number of researchers have centered their research around English linguistic imperialism, its secrets, its hegemonic mechanisms, and its impact on the world’s culture, ideology, religion, finance, and economy. These studies reveal opportunistic and racist features of the English language that exceed those of other colonial languages like French or Spanish. Those interested in this scientific debate can run bibliographic searches with key words like “language and hegemony,” “linguistic imperialism,” “English and hegemony,” “English and racism,” “language policy” or “language planning” to strike a mine of information on the topic.

This is not to give the impression that this research is of an extremist or militant nature. It has to be noted that these studies are written in English and have been conducted by highly proficient Scandinavian, European, and North American linguists. Many courses based in this research are taught in these countries’ most famous and well-established universities. Pioneering studies and research has also been conducted in the area by African and Indian researchers. Those advocating the rejection of French and its replacement with English in Morocco because French is of a colonial nature need to investigate the imperialist and racist nature of English as discussed and documented in this relevant literature before they make up their mind or launch their marketing campaign promoting the virtues of the English language.

Anyone who prioritizes English over French in the current Moroccan educational system on the basis that French is a colonial language should recall these facts. Both languages are colonial. Some scientific research shows, however, that the hegemony of the English language is much more severe than that of any other language, as evidenced by the military, financial, economic, and political hegemony of the UK and the US and their allies, especially in the so-called Arab and Islamic world. All those pushing for the English language in Morocco should know that the two languages are waging a war, and are engaged in many conflicts that Moroccans have no reason to take sides in or to take part in. The Moroccan elite, to which my colleague seemed to be so proud to belong to, should not subject the people of the country to a new colonization and hegemony for such a cheap price. The US and the UK invest billions of dollars in this war, most of it goes to creating new alliances by all possible means, which are needless to reveal here.

Some of the questions supporters of the English language alternative do not seem to be sensitive to include the feasibility of shifting to English in the Moroccan educational system after it has invested so much in the Arabization of its primary and secondary levels while continuing to maintain French in higher technical and scientific education without compromising the status of other foreign languages, including English. Since its independence, Morocco has invested huge amounts of precious time, funds, energy, intelligence, and imagination in training teachers in these two languages, which, despite all these efforts, are still said to lack. How then, all of a sudden, can the country change its language of instruction to a language most of her teachers, who have been trained in Arabic and French, do not understand? Are the teachers who teach sciences and mathematics in Arabic in primary and secondary levels and in French in universities now to be asked to switch to English to teach? Would there be any other unfair requests? Is this not pure disregard and contempt towards these professionals, and would it not be committing the worst injustice to the students and to the country?

Or is the pretension to give a generation of English language all the skills, competences, and tools they need to perform the transition and secure the objective of rooting English in the system in a blink of an eye, knowing that the venture of qualifying teachers in Arabic and French has hardly achieved its objectives in more than fifty years? Does the country have qualified experts who are able to write course books and educational supporting materials in all school subjects in the English language, and are the country’s libraries able to provide the resources needed for this tremendous task? Does the country have trainers, school inspectors, and supervisors who are qualified to coach teachers in this language? Or do they plan on importing all this expertise and materials from the US and the UK with loans? If this option is chosen, it would have to be called something like ‘new colonialism’.

It is a lie to claim that the transition from one secondary language to another can be carried out smoothly without affecting additional generations of poor children. The transition would disqualify them from mainstream development opportunities and from socioeconomic mobility. It cannot be done without great pain and sociopolitical and cultural injury, or without creating wide and unbridgeable intellectual and cultural gaps and huge losses of current assets.
A traitor to his own people and a liar is he who claims that education and knowledge will spread and become equally accessible to all Moroccans through any language other than their mother tongues. Morocco will never be a developed, independent, and scientific country without providing fundamental education to all of its people in their own mother tongues. Those who are truly concerned about the future of this country should deploy their intelligence, expertise, experience, and wisdom to adapt strategies that would allow the native languages of Morocco to facilitate (i) the design of suitable curricula, (ii) the invention of appropriate pedagogical approaches, (iii) the learning and also the generation of relevant knowledge, (iv) the mastery of critical skills, (v) the production of innovative ideas, and (vi) the development of the creative competencies needed for the solution of the country’s problems.

Second and third foreign languages are undoubtedly important, and should be made accessible to all learners when they need them. They should be considered as tools to invest in to meet well-defined specific needs and purposes, but should not be given priority over other subjects in students’ primary and secondary education. In fact, the need for second or third foreign language varies from one field to another, and from one educational level to another. There is no need for English for a well-qualified accountant, a good surgeon, a creative architect, or a secondary school teacher of law, history, philosophy, music, or any other subject. English may be useful in fields such as tourism, the hotel industry, and banking.

The importance of this language cannot be neglected for those specializing in advanced scientific research, international diplomacy, trade, military, and civil aviation, or merchant shipping vocations. These crafts will require their practitioners to learn English and therefore the capacity and the skills of teaching it in the best ways and at the least cost. But to adopt English in the first years of instruction would not only be a waste of time, energy, and money, it will be at the expense of other more critical skills and competencies. It would seem to be more natural in the earlier years of the educational system for Morocco to invest in building native language capacities, strengthening the status of the national languages, and optimizing the quality of their teaching. Investment priorities should be on basic cognitive skills in maths, physics, chemistry, biology, physical training, and critical thinking aptitudes.

The main question to be asked is for whom this country is training her children. Is it for Morocco, its people, and its national economic development? Some colleagues argue that it is easier for university graduates to find jobs abroad if they are fluent in English. My answer is that this is absolutely true, but as a Moroccan citizen I refuse to see Morocco’s money placed in training qualified engineers, senior directors, and managers for Canada, the United States, China, or Europe. Those who want to emigrate and work in these parts of the world should then purchase the language education they need for those ‘specific markets’ or centers and pay for them out of their pocket. They should not spend Morocco’s tax money paid by Morocco’s poor, its merchants, its civil servants, and its citizens who choose to invest in the economy and industry of their country. I also find it quite immoral for the country to invest money it borrows with high interest rates on training skilled manpower that will return to the very same countries that lent Morocco the money.

A similar excuse I have seen with is that Morocco needs to attract foreign investment and multinational corporations, and that they consider English an important factor in choosing countries they settle in. This, it is argued, is a good enough argument to convince Morocco to teach this language. To answer this claim, I would like to say that teaching English as a foreign language is one thing, and having it replace another language is something else. Furthermore, the current curriculum of Moroccan public schools can provide high school graduates with such English language proficiency that can be further fine-tuned to a higher competency when and if needed. Moreover, Morocco will benefit more from strengthening its multi-linguistic capital, adding to it rather than reducing its potential, shaking her stability, and incurring a great loss.

Whatever the language(s) Morocco ends up choosing for specific purposes, the decision-making process should be grounded in the theoretical framework in which foreign language courses are designed and their multi-layer dimensions. It must be certain that the hegemonic cultural, communicational, pragmatic, colonial, racist, and imperial dimensions are accounted for and managed when the decision is made. In fact, every foreign language course should be supported by a pedagogy of critical thinking and the evaluation of opinions, attitudes, perceptions, situations, and behaviors associated with it. If the goal is to enable all those who want to learn English with the skills they need, there should be more than one methodological option to serve this purpose without replacing, amputating, or creating clashes and confusions. Should the purpose be something else, and the true goals be hidden or unstated, the issue will clearly be of a different nature.

Morocco for Families: From the Atlas Mountains to Saharan Sands.

Once the preserve of more adventurous travellers, Morocco has evolved as a mainstream destination for families seeking something a little more exotic. Whether it’s the bustling crowds and colours of Marrakech’s ancient medina, the vast, windswept beaches of its Atlantic coast, the high-altitude thrills of the Atlas Mountains, or the shifting sands of the Sahara, there is something for all ages, from tots to grandparents.

Children receive an extremely warm welcome in Morocco, and with a flight time of between three and four hours, it’s close enough for a short break. Yesterday, easyJet (0905 821 9000; launched direct flights from Luton to Essaouira, making this atmospheric seaside town on the western coast much easier to reach. That said, the outbound flight from London has a decidedly family unfriendly departure time of 6.40am.

If such an early start doesn’t appeal, there are many more connections to the country’s main gateway, Marrakech. Also known as the Rose City, it is the obvious must-see for first timers. There has been an proliferation of hotels both inside its historic medina and the surrounding areas, many of them are family friendly, with pools, gardens and activities.

Trekking in the nearby Atlas Mountains is another popular excursion for a day or a few nights – smaller children can often ride on donkeys and it’s a great way to experience the authentic, rural side of the country stopping at Berber villages along the way.

Morocco’s other cities such as Casablanca, Meknes, Rabat and Tangier have plenty to offer; the Unesco-listed city of Fès is increasingly seen as a less touristy alternative to Marrakech. Its medina is claimed to be the world’s largest car-free urban centre, so children can roam freely.

Of the many resorts dotted up and down the country’s lengthy coastline, Agadir is its best known, its six-mile beach is lined with hotels and resorts, and many of them are all-inclusive. Those in search of more authentic experience should look further north to Essaouira, El Jadida and the under-the-radar charms of the laid-back 17th-century fishing port of Oualidia.

Further inland, southern Morocco is the gateway to the Sahara, where you can enjoy the “Lawrence of Arabia” experience of camping out under the stars, sand surfing and riding camels. This is ideal for families with slightly older children, as transfer times can be long, particularly if you are driving from Marrakech.
Although parts of Morocco can be oppressively hot in summer (temperatures in Marrakech regularly top 40C in August), with some careful planning you can enjoy a family break during the school holidays. Take care to avoid the midday sun, limit the amount of time you spend inland, and instead head for the coast where temperatures are usually a pleasant 30C. February or October half-term, the Easter holidays and Christmas/New Year are good times to visit, although the mountains see snow in winter and rain can be a pain at sea level.

Outside the major cities and resorts, an organised tour is often the best way to enjoy the country’s diverse splendours. Inntravel (01653 617 000; has a new seven-night itinerary in its family friendly portfolio. Tales from Morocco includes three nights in Marrakech and four in the village of Ouirgane in the Atlas Mountains.

In the company of an English-speaking guide, families walk or ride mules to a remote Berber village, bake bread using traditional methods, weave rugs and help prepare tagine. The price of £698 per adult and £595 per child, based on four sharing includes B&B, most meals, guiding and transfers. Flights extra.
On The Go Tours (0207 371 1113; offers several trips for families, including the 11-night Kasbahs, Kids and Surf (from £849 per adult and £599 per child). Includes 10 nights in hotels, a night camping in the Sahara, surf lessons in Taghazoute, a camel trek, transfers and most meals. Flights extra.

Just deserts
Southern Morocco is the gateway to the awe-inspiring dunes of the Sahara, and on the way you can stop at the crumbling remains of the stunning, Unesco-listed site of Ait Ben Haddou, a spectacular example of the local desert architecture, which has featured as a backdrop in many films including Gladiator as well as TV blockbuster Game of Thrones.

Budding cinephiles can take a look behind the scenes at the Atlas Film Studios (00 212 524 882 223; in Ouarzazate, the centre of Morocco’s film industry. Here numerous films have been shot including Babel, Alexander and Asterix & Obelix.

Lawrence of Morocco (01672 500 555; has a seven-night itinerary starting and ending in Marrakech with stops at Azalai Desert Camp in Zagora, on the edge of the Ch’gaga dunes, and its sister hotel in Skoura. Prices start from £1,094 per adult and £335 per child, including B&B accommodation, some meals, transfers and car hire. Flights are extra.

Active adventures
If you want to add some adventure to a stay in Marrakech, a few nights in the Atlas Mountains is ideal. Tourdust (020 3291 2907; has a number of family friendly treks with mules for youngsters. A three-day trek for a family of four is £174pp with guide, cook, mules and transfers from Marrakech.
KE Adventure Travel has an eight-day Teenage Toubkal Ascent tour aimed at families with children over 10 (and used to long mountain walks), it culminates on Morocco's highest peak, Mt Toubkal. From £395 per person including accommodation, transfers, some meals and guided treks. Flights extra.
For autumn half term, Saddle Skedaddle (0191 265 2220; has a guided family cycling holiday for over 10s, from 17-24 October. It visits Marrakech and the High Atlas Mountains, with a night in a desert camp. The price of £1,135 per adult and £896 per child includes half-board, guiding, transfers and bike hire. Flights extra.

Where to stay
Marrakech is expecting two high profile hotel openings this year – the Mandarin Oriental Marrakech ( and Grace Marrakech ( For the moment, though, the Four Seasons Marrakech (pictured right, 00 212 524 359 200; just outside the city, is a good luxury choice, with a children's pool, kids' club (ages four to 12) and a "young adults centre" for teens. Doubles here cost from £258, room-only, with children under 18 sharing their parents' room free.

Renting a house is another option – Maison Vingt Sept (01424 426 751; is a three-bedroom house in the boutique Les Jardins du Touhina development, a 20-minute drive from Marrakech. There is a pool, garden and private cook, as well as use of the nearby facilities such as a spa and café. Rates for four people start at £235 per night (with a minimum stay of three nights).

In the Atlas Mountains, Kasbah du Toubkal (00 212 0524 485 611; is a popular spot in the shadow of Mt Toubkal, with a number of family rooms and a satellite lodge. Doubles cost from €160 per night, B&B, with a €40 charge for an extra bed so a child can share their parents' room.
The chance for sun, sea and sand abounds on the west coast which is ideal for young children. Agadir is one of the country’s most popular and affordable beach destinations, but smaller, seaside spots such as Oualidia, Sidi Kaouki and the broad, wave-bashed beaches of Essaouira have more unspoilt allure.
The village of Sidi Kaouki, 20 minutes south of Essaouira, is perfect if you take advantage of the new easyJet flights. Fleewinter (020 7112 0019; offers seven nights at Rebali Riads from £495pp, with flights and B&B; children can share their parents’ room from £30 extra per night. The complex has activities including surfing, camel safaris and quad biking, and there’s a tennis court and swimming pools.

Further north, between Essaouira and Casablanca, El Jadida is a quiet, coastal alternative to Marrakech. More popular with Moroccans, it has a Unesco-listed medina and some beautiful beaches. Glitzy Mazagan Beach and Golf Resort (00 212 423 388 080; is great for active youngsters. It has a new Golf Academy with weekend tuition for juniors, go-karts, three kids’ clubs, a family pool, and a 7km beach. Doubles start from £123, B&B, and can accommodate up to two children under 12 for an extra £17 per child per night.

Marrakech express
Marrakech has undeniable appeal, with its 11th century medina – a Unesco World Heritage Site. Children will be enchanted by the nightly theatre in Djemaa el-Fnaa square, with its snake charmers, Gnaoua musicians, magicians, storytellers and the billowing smoke and aromas of its food stalls.
It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that younger children might find the sights, sounds and hoards a little too much to deal with. The Jardin Majorelle (00 212 5 24 31 30 47;, gifted to the city by Yves Saint-Laurent, is a peaceful escape from the crowds, with ponds, exotic plants and Berber Museum.

A night or two in one of the many riads (townhouses) in the heart of the medina is a unique experience, but staying outside the old walls tends to offer more facilities. There are many different options for families just outside the city in the Hivernage, Palmerie and surrounding areas, with the medina easy to reach for an afternoon or day trip. The Fellah Hotel (00 212 525 065 000; in Tassoultante, a 20-minute drive away, offers a weekly children’s activity programme. Rooms sleeping three start at £135 per night, B&B, but non-guests can use the facilities for Dh450 (£30).

Morocco: What Is Morocco's Strategy for Developing a Skilled Workforce?
By Jean R. Abinader and Katherine Kinnaird

Last week, Minister Delegate for National Education and Vocational Training Abdelaadim El Guerrouj visited Washington to expand Morocco's network of resources in support of its training goals, and to move ahead with specific projects that will enhance Morocco's capacity for technical vocational education and training (TVET).

Among his principal stops were the signing of an MOU with Northern Virginia Community College to further collaboration between the US and Morocco; and meetings with the Institute of International Education (IIE) to discuss educational exchange programs, with the State Department to review current US support for TVET in Morocco, and with National Geographic, where the parties discussed opportunities for common research efforts.

The emphasis on TVET is relatively new in Morocco. Although the Kingdom has been doing technical and vocational training for decades, it was not until 2012 that a special ministry to address these issues was established. And the ministry has initiated a multifaceted program to build pubic-private sector partnerships to create a skilled workforce.

With high unemployment among college and secondary school graduates, a high number of young people dropping out of school after sixth grade, and an informal economic sector that produces, by some estimates, at least 50 percent of the value of Morocco's GDP and represents 30 percent of the workforce, Morocco still has challenges remaining.

Minister Delegate El Guerrouj took time to discuss Morocco's strategy at a private roundtable hosted by Toni Verstandig, Chair of the Aspen Institute's Middle East Programs, which has a number of programs with Morocco under the North Africa Partners for Economic Opportunity (NAPEO) project of Partners for a New Beginning (PNB). Last year, Aspen arranged for a delegation of community college leaders to visit Morocco, which led to the MOU signing. The purpose of the roundtable was twofold: to present Morocco's strategy and to give experts and practitioners the opportunity to provide feedback and recommendations to the Minister Delegate. While Morocco has achieved a great deal in terms of its physical infrastructure, it continues to lag in its human resources development, for several reasons.

First, the presence of large numbers of youth - some 44 percent of the population is under 24 years of age - means that education and TVET are a generational priority. Second, although more than 99 percent of youth have a primary education, there is a serious problem with young people dropping out.

Finally, there is always a need for more human, physical, and financial resources to carry out and build out TVET programs. Public-private sector partnerships have the potential to play an enabling role in this area.

US Support for Morocco's Workforce Development Strategy
El Guerrouj believes that there are three ways to bolster retention rates: First, identify skills needed - when students can see the link between education and employment, they have higher motivation.

Second, integrating skills training with universal principles, such as human rights and citizenship, adds value to the programs. Finally, work with the private sector through public-private partnerships focused on skills acquisition to highlight for stakeholders the specific needs of companies that are linked to jobs.
In discussing the MOU with Northern Virginia Community College, several questions emerged that demonstrate the challenges common to both Morocco and the US.

For example, what is the most useful American experience relevant to Morocco - is it setting up a community college or is it focusing on the mechanics of transferring teaching/learning methods through faculty exchanges, teacher training, and joint research? Is the US experience of public-private sector partnerships, which draw companies into curriculum design and instruction, a useful model?

One area of creative discourse during the visit was the buzz surrounding the Millennium Challenge Corporation's (MCC) Call for Ideas, which is looking for innovative approaches to public-private sector partnerships to close the education-employment gap.

Morocco has a limited industrial base and is interested in replicating its automotive and aerospace sectors' success in utilizing partnerships in curriculum design and delivery.

As part of the second compact with Morocco now under negotiation, the MCC is proposing a focus on linking businesses with TVET institutions to strengthen relations between public and private sectors to enable TVET institutions to train teachers, interact with SMEs, and collaborate with non-governmental actors.
The Morocco-US partnership has proven particularly successful in the thorny matter of skill certification - formal recognition that someone has the necessary practical experience and knowledge to perform specific tasks. A new 40,000-square -oot training facility is currently underway in Oujda, where Moroccan students follow the same curricula as American students and receive the same certifications.

The National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3) has proposed using its network of 300 US colleges to issue US-accredited certifications in new technology and engineering processes to Moroccan students.

Minister Delegate El Guerrouj also raised the issue of training costs. He is concerned that without partnerships, it will be difficult for the government to lower its costs while still enabling students and companies to break the employment-education gap.

There is also a cultural gap because university education has traditionally been preferred over TVET. Closer integration of general educational priorities within the vocational system (rather than treating vocational training as a step-child of education) will help overcome the social stigma often attached to TVET institutions.

Skills Education Matched to Business and Work Force Needs
Morocco is also addressing disparities between the needs of urban and rural labor. Minister El Guerrouj emphasized the importance of "mapping the needs of the region, both urban and rural." He believes that any effective education program must take into account the priorities of the community it serves. Otherwise, it will be impossible to set up local programs, and policymakers will be setting themselves up for "under-reform." He believes that the only way to equalize access to education across the country is to establish a solid infrastructure in rural schools so that they can perform at the same level as their urban counterparts.

Looking at how this has worked elsewhere, it may involve offering meals to students, building dormitories, or offering transportation.

Globally, there have been many efforts over the past 6-7 years in rural areas to improve education opportunities, especially for girls. One of the main tenets of the Moroccan constitution is to provide the same education for all, no matter who they are or where they come from, and this is an important guideline for the TVET strategy.

For the unskilled adult population, Morocco educates approximately 40,000-60,000 people every year at non-formal learning centers for adult education, another program they hope to expand. The Minister Delegation noted the "Validation of Skills Acquired through Experience" program, which recognizes previously acquired skills and helps students build upon them in a socially and economically meaningful way.

This will also enable those working in the informal sector to gradually accumulate the resources to become more involved in the formal economy. In these and other ways, Morocco is including those who lack formal education yet have acquired skills and business know-how.

It is this nexus of jobs, skills, and human resources that Morocco has made a priority for the next decade. Having a young population can bring great dividends if youth acquire skills that are both relevant to the demands of the current labor market and applicable to areas where demand exists but has not yet been addressed.

Morocco understands that its young people, and under-trained adults, can make significant headway in building the diverse and responsive economy that Morocco must have to grow.
Katherine Kinnaird is a research assistant at MAC.

Breathtaking, Fantastic Video about Morocco
Saturday 28 February 2015 -

The unfinished reforms of Morocco
Saturday, 02 May 2015

Setbacks include system’s inability to fight smuggling and corruption in bureaucracy, while most dangerous problem remains unemployment, especially for college graduates.

If efforts at political and socioeconomic reform in Morocco have achieved significant results, much remains to be done in vital and sensitive fields. The “good marks” that international financial institutions have lavishly granted as reforms and achievements were carried out show that the kingdom is on the right track, but massive obstacles hinder the process of meeting a number of objectives.

In any case, and for the sake of objectivity, both the achievements and failures of the reform plan should be highlighted. They even prompted King Mohammed VI to recognise in a speech in July that Morocco is adopting a two-speed policy.

His message was clear and directed at all Moroccans, including politicians, economic groups and civil society, so that they take up their joint responsibility. The monarch has apparently meant to focus on the reasons and on the main actors behind the failure of reforms that the majority of the population had been seeking for decades.

In terms of reform achievements, many people believe that they have started to bear fruit. It is the case of the Royal Institute for Strategic Studies (IRES), which is part of the programme of study on “global competitiveness.” Its experts say that reform has reached strategic areas such as changing the constitution, the Compensation Fund, the allowance system, the media, public finance, and mobilising civil society in a more global and effective manner, in addition to the progressive implementation of administrative de-centralisation.

What is most significant is that the reforms were achieved following consultations that occurred in the context of the amendments to the constitution. Then, the social support fund was created and the Tayssir programme was developed to support widows and divorced women living in precarious conditions.

In addition to these reforms, which were appreciated in particular by the middle classes and the poor, student scholarships were increased and a compensation fund was established for those losing their jobs. Then, a reform initiative, supported by the World Bank, led to the systematic elimination of slums around large cities, which the state will replace with low-income housing to ensure a dignified life for poor urban residents. In the first stage of this plan, to be carried out across the regions and to end in early 2017, 1 million homes will be built.

Meanwhile, economic reforms are steadily having a positive impact on GDP, despite the recession affecting Morocco’s main trading partners, namely EU countries, and despite years of drought. For the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which granted a credit line of $6.2 billion to Morocco — a source of funding that has not used for the past three years — the Moroccan economy is sound and able to provide leverage for achieving sustainable development objectives.

Some of the major economic reforms have a strategic scope. The most important among these is the extension project of Tanger-Med port. In addition to developing the country’s north, which has suffered from marginalisation for many decades, industrial exports from the free zone of the port reached about $40 billion in 2014 in the car industry, sectors of the aviation industry and electronic products.

In this respect, more than 700 companies of various sizes operate in this area with investments from the European Union, the United States and the Gulf countries; moreover, there are large-scale projects in the fields of sustainable and renewable energy and the massive “the water highway” project.

As for the failures of certain fundamental reforms, one must remember that Morocco continues to be hampered by obstacles to its reform process. Despite efforts by the government and even interventions by the palace, these obstacles are difficult to overcome due to the strong role of powerful lobbies with networks and senior officials.As an example, the judicial system, which lacks human resources and suffers from deeply-ingrained corruption, has yet to see reforms take root.

The education sector has also failed to benefit from the reform projects in place despite the persistent modernisation efforts by the Abdelilah Benkirane government; the same goes for the health sector.

Other setbacks include the system’s inability to fight smuggling and corruption in the bureaucracy, while the most dangerous problem remains unemployment, especially for college graduates, with thousands of them annually flooding into the labour market. As an example, statistics published on April 22nd indicate that fully one-third of female graduates are unemployed.
The Arab Weekly By: Samir Sobh is a Lebanese columnist and economic analyst who follows Maghreb affairs.

Essaouira: a mini-break in Morocco
Amy Jenkins Friday 08 May 2015

Essaouira is pronounced es-Sweera in Arabic. Say it long and slow and it sounds like the tangy sea breeze that whistles through the araucaria trees, narrow alleys, and historic seafront fortifications of this Moroccan coastal town.

Until Essaouira, my abiding memory of Morocco was of a surreal encounter I had many years ago, as a novice shopper in the Marrakech souk. I had made the mistake of idly picking up a small mirror encased in studded brown leather. I quickly replaced it, I didn't even like the thing, but the stall-holder wrapped it in newspaper and followed me around for the rest of the morning. I should have just bought the mirror of course, but I had already bought under pressure and had a confused sense of needing to draw the line. Guiltily, I didn't feel able to ignore my pursuer completely but, clearly, my apologies and rising hilarity at his persistence were not the right approach. Occasionally I'd think I'd lost him, only to have him leap out again from a side alley. I was in turn embarrassed, infuriated, bewildered – and somehow completely unable to get on top of the situation. After a couple of hours, the man and I had established a strange kind of intimacy……………..
It continuous here:
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Senior Receives Boren Scholarship to Study in Morocco

May 4, 2015 Timothy Walker MACON

Mercer University senior Timothy Walker has been awarded a Boren Scholarship to study French and Arabic at Al Alakhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco, during the spring 2016 semester. Walker, a senior history major from Biloxi, Mississippi, will also study the history and culture of Morocco and the Middle East/North Africa region, as he seeks to enhance his language proficiency and cultural awareness for a future career in the U.S. Army.

"The Boren Scholarship will afford Tim a tremendous opportunity to study Arabic and Islam in an immersive environment. This experience will enhance his understanding of our comparative cultures, enhance his career and contribute to enhanced international cooperation and security," said Dr. David A. Davis, director of fellowships and scholarships and associate professor of English.

"I am truly grateful to be a recipient of the Boren Scholarship, and I eagerly look forward to the chance for both formal and informal learning presented by this unique opportunity," said Walker. "It is my sincere desire that the lessons learned during my stay can be integrated into authentic solutions in my career serving our nation."

Walker is a military science minor and a cadet in Mercer's Army ROTC program. He has received several awards, including the Association of the United States Army Award for outstanding leadership and academic achievement, as well as the Leadership Award from Mercer ROTC, which recognizes cadets who make an impact on the University's cadet corps. He has also participated in the Army Ten-Miler and Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon. Additionally, Walker volunteers with Mercer's Veterans Voices project, a nonprofit organization created by students to reach out to veterans in Middle Georgia, acknowledge their service and share their stories with the community. He is also active in intramurals and several other student organizations, including Mercer Masala, which is the University's South Asian cultural club, and Phi Alpha Theta, the history honors society. He was invited to present his research on Muslims in 19th-century Coastal Georgia at this year's Phi Alpha Theta Georgia Regional Meeting. Walker also serves as a study skills tutor in the Academic Resource Center (ARC) and as an ARC Ambassador. In 2014, he traveled to Cambodia with a Mercer On Mission team to facilitate health care to underserved communities in and around Kampot.

David L. Boren Scholarships and Fellowships are sponsored by the National Security Education Program (NSEP), a major federal initiative designed to build a broader and more qualified pool of U.S. citizens with foreign language and international skills. Boren Awards provide U.S. undergraduate and graduate students with resources and encouragement to acquire language skills and experience in countries critical to the future security and stability of our nation. In exchange for funding, Boren award recipients agree to work in the federal government for a period of at least one year.

This year, the Institute of International Education (IIE), which administers the awards on behalf of NSEP, received 750 applications from undergraduate students for the Boren Scholarship, and 171 were awarded. An additional 385 graduate students applied for the Boren Fellowship, and 101 were awarded. Boren Scholars and Fellows will live in 40 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Middle East. They will study 37 different languages.

Since 1994, over 5,400 students have received Boren Awards. Boren Scholars and Fellows represent a vital pool of highly motivated individuals who wish to work in the federal national security arena, and program alumni are contributing to the critical missions of agencies throughout the federal government. An independent not-for-profit founded in 1919, IIE is among the world's largest and most experienced international education and exchange organizations. For more information, visit

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.

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