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Morocco Week in Review 
September 19, 2015

TIBU Maroc: Giving Moroccan Youth the Chance to Dream Big
Wednesday 16 September 2015 - Fatine Meziane Elotmani Casablanca

Launched in 2010 by a group of young basketball lovers, TIBU, whose initials stand for “Teamwork, Innovation, Binding, and Uprightness,” aims to bring the passion of this sport to the Kingdom of Morocco. TIBU Maroc’s president, Mohamed Amine Zariat, hopes to inspire the Moroccan youth with basketball by conveying values such team spirit, solidarity, fair play, and dealing with challenges. Aside from that, TIBU is a non-profit organization. The basketball association provides sporting, educational, cultural and social activities for young boys and girls. It includes two other foundations: TIBU Basketball Academy and TIBU HandiBasket.

The TIBU Basketball Academy is the first of its kind in Morocco.Their mission is to train young basketball players as well as to qualify the technical staff to an international level. TIBU HandiBasket is a special club for physically disabled children (from the ages of 8-16) that are given the opportunity to play basketball with one another without restrictions. With this initiative, TIBU demonstrates that sports are for everyone and anyone regardless of gender or impairment.
Equally important to note, TIBU Maroc works closely with the following institutions: ESIG-École Supérieure Internationale de Gestion, MDJS-La Marocaine des Jeux et des Sports, Locus English, Ville de Casablanca, Casablanca Events, as well as with the U.S embassy in Morocco.

In addition, courses in English as well as leadership skills are both incorporated within the program. TIBU Maroc also offers exchange programs in France, Spain, Canada, the Netherlands, and Serbia, and thus mastering of the English language is a requirement.

In a recent press conference, TIBU Maroc president Mohamed Amine Zariat explained that English is a must-have skill: “Why is English so important? Well, we want to become TIBU Worldwide, and in order to become known worldwide, English is essential, as it is an international language. We want our players to speak English. That’s why our coaches instruct them in English. And if ever players of our team would travel abroad to participate in international competitions, English would not be a burden.” Nevertheless, he also highlighted that French and Arabic still needed for the improvement of some children, in order to obtain the best of the Moroccan job market.

In the past few years, TIBU Maroc has already organized several successful events such as the National TIBU School Tour, TIBU Basketball Camp, and many more. What started rather small is growing into a long-lasting benefit for the Moroccan youth. What’s more, TIBU Maroc is convinced that basketball would make a positive contribution to Moroccan society and the physical and personal development of its young people.

For more detailed information about each establishment and how to participate or volunteer, please refer to TIBU’s Facebook pages below:
TIBU Maroc. TIBU Basketball Academy. TIBU HandiBasket.

Is Cigarette Smoking Haram or Halal?
Friday 11 September 2015 – PCVs Clay and Ann Smith Rabat

As foreigners living in rural Morocco, we often struggle to make sense of our current environment and culture. We constantly strive to align our preconceived notions with the realities of our daily lives. For example, we believed that under Islam, causing harm to one’s body was forbidden. However, countless cigarette smokers fill cafes and streets in Morocco, a country that is over 99% Muslim. That statement being a fact, we are left with the original question and the title to this article, is cigarette smoking haram or halal?

In Islam, hurting, destroying or killing oneself and others is forbidden. According to the American Lung Association, there are approximately 600 ingredients in cigarettes. These include arsenic (used in rat poison), butane (lighter fluid) and tar (used for paving roads). Using common sense, inhaling these things into the human lung day after day cannot be healthy. Among other things, smoking causes lung and mouth cancer, heart disease and tuberculosis and the science is indisputable. In fact, according to the World Health Organization:
1- Tobacco kills up to half of its users.
2- Tobacco kills around 6 million people each year. More than 5 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while more than 600,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

In Islam, a wasteful person is a brother of evil and charity is required of all Muslims. The cost of a pack (20 cigarettes) of a popular brand in Morocco is MAD 25. The current minimum wage for the private sector worker is MAD 13.46 per hour. That means that the lowest paid worker in Morocco must work 2 hours to buy one pack of cigarettes. Milk costs MAD 7 per liter. So, for every pack of cigarettes a person buys, he could instead buy 2 liters of milk for a poor person. The 2014 unemployment rate in Morocco is 8.7%.

Cleanliness is emphasized as part of Islam and no one is allowed to smoke in or near a Mosque. Smoking makes breath smells unclean. That same smell soaks in to the upholstery of vehicles and the walls and furniture in houses. It yellows and then blackens the smoker’s lips, gums and fingertips. In time it changes the voice of a person from clear and clean to harsh and raspy. It can also cause tar-like phlegm that many spit out onto the ground.

Anyone can confirm the facts and statistics stated here. The real issue is whether buying and smoking cigarettes is haram or halal under Islam. Certainly, this question begs an answer from someone more learned than we.

Nabil Ayouch's controversial film on Moroccan prostitution.

Before it was even shown, footage from Nabil Ayouch’s film, 'Much Loved', was stolen and leaked online, the director and lead actress received death threats and a social media campaign was launched for their execution. "Much Loved" tells the story of four women working as prostitutes in Marrakesh. The director speaks to Eve Jackson about the reaction in Morocco, needing a bodyguard and how the film says essential things about the place of women in Arab society.
View the interview here:

Why Don’t Moroccans Read For Pleasure?
Tuesday 15 September 2015 - morocco world news By Mohamed Khatib Rabat

The concept of literacy, originally referring to the ability to read and write, has expanded to include such skills as speaking a second or foreign language or accessing knowledge through modern technology. Further, the meaning of literacy differs as contexts differ; i.e., people of different social classes, backgrounds, countries, etc., may not conceive of literacy in the same way or have the same expectations of a literate person.

One of the most important keys to literacy is reading. It is through reading that we get access to almost all types of knowledge, and a well-educated person is oftentimes equated with a “well-read person.” Citing or mentioning books and their authors, for example, is thought of as an asset in almost all contexts, from mere casual conversations to highly formal speech events. Notwithstanding, even among the literate population, not all people read or like reading. In Morocco, the rate of people who read is very low. Moreover, there is a general consensus that few people — and fewer people among the underprivileged poor population — read.

For most Moroccans, a literate person is one who knows how to read and write. In addition, some people, often underprivileged, conceive of a literate person as one who can write his/her name. There is a general piece of advice in Moroccan Arabic that I have repeatedly heard, often from non-educated old persons: “Qra wakha taaraf taktab ghi smitak,” which can be rendered into English as “Study so that at least you can write your name. Moreover, this traditional and simple conception of the “literate individual,” at least to the layman, has a great bearing on the fact that most Moroccans do not read. (Since a person is literate, why spend much time on reading?)

Why are many Moroccans reluctant to read for pleasure? Before trying to provide some causes for this phenomenon, two notes are needed: (1) The reasons and views put forward in these paragraphs are generalizations and do not hold true for all Moroccans, and (2) the kind of reading I will be referring to is non-compulsory extracurricular reading, that which is done for pleasure or for the sake of intellectual or academic development.

In my discussions with friends, professors, and acquaintances, three major causes seem to underpin this phenomenon of lack of reading for pleasure among Moroccans:

Reading is too demanding and the state does not encourage reading.
Reading for pleasure is not part of Moroccan culture.
Many Moroccans read when they have a material (as opposed to spiritual) purpose.

Let’s examine some of the implications of these claims:
1. Reading it too demanding and the state does not encourage reading:
Is reading too demanding? In addition to the time, energy, and motivation required to read, it is to some extent financially demanding for some Moroccans who live from hand to mouth. Indeed, some of those Moroccans who don’t read don’t have enough money to buy books, newspapers, or other reading materials. Besides, many Moroccans shifted to using modern technology at the expense of books (smart phones, PCs, etc.). A friend of mine states, “When Moroccans got access to TV and internet, they divorced books.” Note, however, that few Moroccans now use this modern technology to read e-books, articles, and so on.

The second part of this claim — that the state does not encourage people to read — is true. I personally have been to two universities, one in Beni Mellal and the other in Marrakech, whose libraries are not equipped with many books that students really need for the subjects they study, let alone books that they can read for pleasure in their free time. Furthermore, underprivileged Moroccans cannot even find many of the interesting books they need. Few book fairs are held in Morocco, and the books exhibited are often of a low quality. Moreover, the poor find the books very expensive, if they have the chance to visit a book fair at all. I think it is a failure of the state to provide more book fairs and more books at a discount.

2. Reading for pleasure is not part of Moroccan culture.
The claim is oftentimes cited to justify the fact that many Moroccans don’t read. What does this mean exactly? Well, to begin with, what is culture? The most widely accepted definition of culture was formulated by the English anthropologist Edward Burnet Tylor in 1871:
Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. (Tyler cited in Katan, 1999: 16)

Reading for pleasure might be considered as one of those “habits acquired by man as a member of society.” If this habit is not part of Moroccan culture, then it is not acquired by Moroccan children. Consequently, they grow up to become “members of a society” that lacks a very useful habit: reading for pleasure. Therefore, many Moroccans are simply not socialized to become good readers and life-long learners.

3. Many Moroccans read when they have a material (as opposed to a spiritual) purpose.
My mother, when I tell her that I have bought a new book or when she sees me read or study for a long time, says, “What do you need these books for? You have already got a job. Why more study?” Being illiterate, my mother correlates study with getting a job. In fact many Moroccans do. However, many Moroccans are also keen readers when it comes to curricular, compulsory reading. They do their best when reading is done for an examination, or a specific material purpose.

This being said, I think that reading for pleasure should be encouraged in Morocco. This encouragement should be given due care by the state and by schools and families. I want to emphasize that teachers in particular have a great role in sensitizing students to the benefits of reading for pleasure. Such reading is the road to intellectual and cognitive development as it introduces readers to new ideas and cultures, as well as to affective development as it provides relaxation and relief from the stresses of daily life.       
Edited by Esther Bedik

Watch: Jewish Morocco - Small But Still Vibrant

Only a few thousand remain in Morocco's 2,400-year-old Jewish community - but Jewish life is as colorful as ever.
Although only 3,000 of Morocco's once 250,000-strong Jewish community remain today - one of the last Jewish communities remaining the Arab world - they are the guardians of a rich, ancient history and a colorful, surprisingly vibrant culture.
Watch the video here:!

Morocco: When Local Democracy Triumphs – OpEd
By Said Temsamani .Monday, September 7th, 2015

On September 4, Moroccans went to the polls to vote in local elections, seen as a serious test of the popularity of the coalition government led by Abdelilah Benkirane, head of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), a year ahead of a general election. 53.6% went to the polls to elect new municipal councils, as a fore-runner to legislative elections in a year’s time.

These elections are expected to provide some indication as to the likely makeup of a future government, for, in Morocco, the winning party in the poll provides the premier – who then recommends his preferred cabinet to the king. The results of the double polls showed that Morocco’s ruling Islamist party PJD won regional councils votes, but loses municipal election to its rival “Authenticity and Modernity Party” (PAM).

The Justice and Development Party (PJD) of Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane won 25.6 percent of 678 seats in regional councils, followed by PAM (19.4) and conservative Independence party (Istiqlal) (17.5pc).

For the first time in its history, PJD, which came to power in 2011 in the height of the Arab spring with anti-corruption agenda, won control of Morocco’s major cities including the capital Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier, Fez, Marrakesh and Agadir. However, in municipal polls, PAM, a liberal opposition party, came first winning 21.1 pc of the overall seats followed by Istiqlal party (16.2 pc) and PJD (15.9 pc).

The European Union qualified these elections as a first step for the implementation of advanced regionalization that devolves larger competences and autonomy to regions and communes. “These elections, the first local polls since the adoption of the constitution in 2011, will help start to implement the advanced regionalization project”, said the EU spokeswoman for foreign affairs, Catherine Ray.

Answering a question from MAP, the spokeswoman added it is a major stage for Morocco, since the councils of regions will be for the first time elected through direct universal suffrage, noting that the EU’s high-representative for foreign policy, Federica Mogherini, “has decided to dispatch a team of electoral experts in response to an invitation by Moroccan authorities”.

She also insisted that Morocco is an important partner of the European Union at the regional and international levels for the Maghreb’s stability, security, prosperity, neighborliness and regional integration.

Both State Department and EU officials have recognized the importance of these elections and have been enthusiastic about developments in Morocco which they see as momentum for a genuine democracy.

What the elections augur for the future may be unclear. What is crystal clear is that Morocco has set its sights on being a model for regional reform.
Now, arguably for the first time in decades, there is an alternative to ideological repression in the Arab community. Morocco is not yet an exemplar of Jeffersonian liberalism, but it is on a path paved with democratic principles. These municipal and regional elections, held in Morocco Sept.04, enhanced further local democracy and advanced regionalisation projects launched by King Mohammed VI.

A constitution and an election, while essential building blocks for democracy, are not in themselves dispositive. What counts is where the leaders want to take this North African nation. Will it move inexorably to democracy? Or will it backslide with pressure from other Arab states?

There remain many unanswered questions, but on one matter there is not an open question: The reforms initiated by King Mohammed should be greeted with gratitude and respect. At long last there is another model for the Arab future, one that Americans and Europeans should embrace wholeheartedly. It is true that there are still challenges ahead of the democracy path n Morocco but the most important is that Moroccans (civil society, political parties and most important youth) have made their irreversible choice to continue their peaceful struggle towards full democracy. Democracy, therefore in this part of the Arab region, is no more a myth. It is a reality.

Tangier Library Seeks a Strong but Subtle Social Role
Ida Sophie Winter / 07 Sep 2015Tangier Library

Scene: On Rue Khalid Ibn Oualid, a North African street known for prostitutes, gambling and a French-owned bookstore that cross-pollinates between European and African culture.

Enter a sweating group of older expatriates—mostly French and white—caught under the blushing blaze of Tangier. The men are sweltering through linen blazers. Women are covering their damp bodies in loud scarves and louder jewelry. Silent girls in summer dresses clutch their mothers’ hands. A Moroccan family of muhajbi women stands apart.

Then along comes Stéphanie Gaou, the Cannes-born proprietaire of librairie les insolites. Brown hair swirling over a sleek black jumpsuit, she encourages the crowd to enter the bookstore’s brewing heat, sit down in wicker chairs and accept plastic cups of Coca Cola from Alphonse, the shop’s only African-born employee.

An ex-diplomat, Jean-Yves Berthault, introduces his epistolary novel The Passion of Mademoiselle S., and Gaou gives voice to the erotic French love letters within. Listeners close their eyes, stare nostalgically at bookcases and covertly observe one another. A woman, shoulders wrapped in an orange silk button-down shirt, cools herself with a wooden fan, snapping it periodically for effect. A coughing woman responsibly removes herself. The Arab family disappears.
“You must be losing your mind here,” says a pinstriped Americano, referencing my life in Morocco. He pretends ignorance of Wisconsin, my home, and promptly tries to figure out if I’ve been invited to a party later on in the “American Sector.” I haven’t.

As a man lurchingly films Gaou with his phone over the author’s shoulder, Moroccans gather outside, standing apart from expats crowding the store’s doorway. They radiate discomfort, self-consciousness.

But they are here, and Gaou wants them. She wants to make her six-year-old buttercup-colored bookstore an interactive space for artists, authors and community members, who she says too often consider books as reserved for the country’s intellectual elite. Gaou features volumes in Arabic, French, Spanish and English, hosts Moroccan and foreign authors for public readings and reads at public schools and Tangier’s French Institut to spark children’s interest.
Nevertheless, this evening could just as well take place in Paris as in Tangier. How open are Tangerois, especially youth, to Gaou’s endeavors? Is interest in the local literary culture already strong, or is Gaou creating something new for the people of Tangier?

At least one young person is interested. “It’s an amazing library,” says Aya Nadir, 12 years old. “It’s calm. There are so many books. It smells good, and there are so many things that I like. There’s the history of Morocco in Spanish, and history of letters, and all the things about Shakespeare and doctors.”
According to Gaou, literary culture barely exists among local people, despite Tangier’s fame internationally as a safe harbor for authors like Paul Bowles and Gertrude Stein. Missed opportunities to cultivate interest start early, she says. Tangerois children are not exposed to literature due a lack of interest within a culture more concerned with everyday economic survival than literary wealth and book prices themselves. Although publishing houses receive government subsidies, says Gaou, children’s books are still not affordable for many families.

In Morocco’s collectivist culture, Gaou believes, conformity is highly prized, and reading as exposure to alternative thought is discouraged.
“For many people, the book is dangerous,” said Gaou. “You never know what’s concealed inside.” Books can be controversial, she says, because they contain strong opinions.

Dissenting opinions among youth, says Gaou, are especially discouraged. But she believes that by providing an outlet for those struggling toward self-expression, books can form the diversity in thought essential to representative civic decision-making.

Gaou tries to provide exposure to intellectual challenges—such as self-expression and strengthening of personal opinions—which she believes essential to development as an individual and citizen. “You can’t be a citizen if you… can’t construct your ideas… (or) have (the right) words to express yourself,” said Gaou.

Pursuit of strong decision-making is a way to create hope, adds Yomad Nadia Essalmi, Gaou’s colleague and a co-founder of a children’s publishing house. Hope, she believes, is necessary for a generation plagued by joblessness and what she terms “empty” diplomas from an educational system uninterested in cultivating curiosity.

According to Essalmi, who is based in Rabat, Morocco marginalizes youth and offers few cultural spaces, such as cinemas and libraries, for children. How can Moroccan society help citizens cultivate themselves and literary interests, she asks, if it refuses to provide for children’s development?

Gaou sees children’s self-development as especially critical for society due to their malleability. She says children challenge her for presenting stories that fall outside of dominant societal ideas. Children have disputed one tale, says Gaou, for featuring a goddess, because it defies the Islamic belief in one male God, and another because it described a man who engaged in housework and thereby challenged local gender roles.

Gaou welcomes criticism, and believes that through her bookstore readings, children test their opinions and strengthen their self-confidence. “I try not to tell them they are wrong and I’m right,” said Gaou. “Just to make them understand there are other views. The world they know is not the only one.”

Gaou says les insolites’ popularity among Moroccan clientele is growing, and sees this increase as representative of a greater cultural shift toward literature in Tangier. Residents, she says, were cautious at first regarding les insolites. Now, parents especially increasingly come in to buy books for their children.
In Tangier’s Franco-British expatriate society, it seems many members have bought into Tangier’s Bowlesian myth of a place for foreigners to be alone. Though her bookstore appears very much a part of this society—a Frenchman, calling himself Michel, lovingly described to me the store’s “French coziness” and the availability of literature from his home country—Gaou, with her small bookstore, more strongly pursues encouragement of local people to redefine and develop themselves and their sense of place.

“It’s a long path,” said Gaou. “It’s not finished, but until now, we can be proud of what we do.”

Why Now Is the Time to Visit Fez, Morocco
Written by CNT Editors September 08, 2015

There are cities we love because they’re always in flux; shape-shifters whose primary currency is the new, the innovative, the unexpected. And then there are cities we love because they never seem to change: Year after year, trip after trip, they appear as we remember them, a memory obligingly and reassuringly coming to life before us.

For many years, Fez, Morocco’s ancient seat of learning, was a member of the latter group, memorable not for its new hotels or shops but for the reliable sameness of its picturesque medina, a series of threadlike streets that at every turn seem to burrow, warren-like, deeper and deeper into the earth and into the past. You went to Marrakech, 240 miles to the southwest, to shop its concept boutiques and stay in one of its many luxury properties; you went to Fez to pretend you were still visiting the Morocco of Paul Bowles, when donkeys, not motorcycles or cars, were the preferred means of conveyance. Or of Edith Wharton, whose 1920 book In Moroccodocumented her travels there. “Nothing endures in Islam, except what human inertia has left standing and its own solidity has preserved from the elements,” wrote Wharton of Fez’s particular palimpsestic quality, its varied but harmonious sense of aesthetics, each enriched by the city’s earliest settlers: Berbers, Africans, Persians. “Or rather, nothing remains intact, and nothing wholly perishes, but the archi- tecture, like all else, lingers on half-ruined and half-unchanged.” She could have written those words last week, not last century, and they’d still be true.

But recently, something started happening here. Unlike Marrakech—always open to and even encouraging of expatriates—Fez was not given to welcoming outsiders. And yet over the past few years, a handful of intrepids, along with a small but influential band of locals, have begun to change Fez, to bring to its medieval pathways new places to shop, to eat, to stay. They aim not to trans- form the city—they, like us, are here because of what Fez already is, not for what they want it to become—but to remind us that no town is a museum and that every place must occasionally remake itself, even quietly, if it is to remain vital. What has emerged is a Fez that still feels as gloriously immutable, as true to itself, as it always was—with a few more flourishes and comforts. Here, on the following pages, is what defines the city now.

What to Do and See Now in Fez, Morocco's Most Beautiful City.

Check it here:

Majestic Morocco -- Tradition, History and an Enduring Golf Legacy.
Elisa Gaudet

Check it here:

Scaling the heights looking for birds of prey in Morocco’s High Atlas
Olivia Gunning Bennani September 10, 2015

The flights Return flights with Emirates ( from Dubai to Marrakech, via Casablanca, cost from Dh3,685, including taxes.

The trip Ame D’Aventure (;; 00212 524 43 90 25) organises trips and guides in the High Atlas region.
At first light, I scale the arid hillside, my feet skidding on crumbling rock. Breathless and exhausted, I finally stop on a flat roof. I gaze skywards, scrutinising the mountain ridge like a famished falcon, the valleys and plains around me hushed and deserted. There, I wait for savage inhabitants of some of the world’s most revered summits – the birds of prey of the High Atlas.

These North African peaks are home to formidable aerial predators – falcons, eagles, hawks and vultures. Abrupt, crimson ­cliffs provide perfect lodgings for birds that nest only in the most unreachable clefts of the sheerest precipices. Add vast kilometres of plains between the Atlas range and fruitful hunting ground, and they’re in perfect territory.

Our trek begins at Oukaimeden village and the mountain upon which it stands, 2,400 metres tall. It’s one of the lesser peaks that accompany North Africa’s highest, the kingly 4,000-metre Mount Toubkal. Snow crowns the surrounding summits from November until at least March. Come the winter months, Moroccans flock here to ski, but we were interested in other species; ones that steer away from crowds and are a good sight more graceful. The Atlas raptors.

On our wish list is Earth’s fastest creature, the peregrine falcon, which can fly up to 380 kilometres per hour, as well as other varieties – the Barbary, red-footed and sooty falcons. We’re thrilled at the prospect of sighting a golden eagle or perhaps a pair of Bonelli’s eagles. “You may also see the snake eagle, which feeds on reptiles, the booted eagle, sparrowhawk, and look out for the Egyptian vulture, which migrates from Africa and nests in May,” says Brahim ­Bekkas, an ornithological guide and president of the Moroccan ornithological group Gomac (Groupe d’Ornithologie du ­Maroc).

Having read many accounts of these creatures, we naively expect them to be swooping over our heads and plummeting from above at lightning speed, as we pull on our walking boots. Will they swoop in on our picnic? Should we strap our children to our chests?

But to spot birds like these, you need eyes as sharp as a hawk – and binoculars. Buy or borrow a quality pair (instead of the cheap plastic variety I’ve procured), and unless you’re a seasoned ornithologist, enlist an experienced guide well-versed in all things avian. Birds of prey don’t experience the same vision-based drawbacks. Their eyes are inbuilt binoculars, working as magnifying glasses and telescopes; their necks turn 270 degrees. Superlative vision enables raptors to intensify warm colours, meaning animals’ camouflage is less effective. Their eyes are proportionally enormous – as big as saucers on a human head.

Our guide, Youssef El Ouali, has accompanied adventurous visitors over the multifarious terrains of Morocco for 15 years, and accumulated a thousand exciting animal sightings to recount. He’s seen sand cats, jackals and even the bald ibis. He hopes to discover one day that the Barbary panther is not extinct, as feared.

The High Atlas chain parades east from the Atlantic coast towards the Algerian border. It’s a splendid concoction of ­terrifyingly precipitous red-earth cliffs leading to pockets of bright-green valley. Boundless plains – favourites for birds of prey at mealtimes – flank the mountain range. We head for the mountain hamlet of Gliz a few hours away, where we spend a night and do some birdwatching at dusk.

On initial inspection, the scorched slopes are barren of animal life. Even in early spring, after rain and snow, it’s bone-dry. Lizards shoot in and out of rocky cracks. Juniper bushes – some several centuries old – scrabble up the craggy hillside. Their berries attract birds from Nordic climes in winter and also appeal to the Barbary squirrel – a little striped thing that provides the ideal snack for predatory birds. One flashes across our path as we begin the descent, in blistering sun, with alpine-crisp air.

El Ouali suddenly pinches my shoulder, and points to a juniper tree. “Look there!”

I snatch my binoculars to my eyes.

“You see?” he asks. “What?” I reply.

The bird in question is a patient specimen. It waits between the branches, and I finally spot it – after a considerable amount of time. “I can see it,” I finally exclaim. With a blue head and chest, and orange belly, it’s very pretty. “A blue rock thrush,” El Ouali says. It promptly flies away.

“Keep your eyes peeled for the bone crusher,” El Ouali advises, instilling slight unease. We tighten our grips on our children. The lammergeier or bearded vulture is one of the most exciting feathered sights out there, and tops many an ornithologist’s bucket list. With its three-­metre wingspan, this vast scavenger is nature’s personal janitor. Retrieving leftover bones from other animals’ feasts, it soars 80 metres high before dropping the bones, shattering them against rocks. This releases the marrow, the bone crusher’s favourite ­delicacy.

Sadly, the bird has become so scarce in recent years that it was thought extinct in Morocco, although happily a handful of pairs have since been sighted. “They have become very, very rare. Partly because of changes in conditions, but poisoning is one of the main reasons it’s under threat,” explains Bekkas. “Many shepherds believe that such birds steal lambs from flocks. This vulture would never steal live prey, but not everybody knows that, so they lace dead animal meat with poison, and vultures come and eat from the carcasses.”

Aside from the ever-­increasing threats these ferocious yet vulnerable birds face, pairs defend enormous territories of between 50 to100 square kilometres, and are thus sparsely spread at the best of times.

Three hours and some whining leg-muscles later, we see Barbary partridges, alpine choughs, redstarts, mountain thrushes, mountain sparrows and a host of wood pigeons. But our sights are set on raptors.

I decide on a change of gear, scrambling through scraggy bushes and climbing onto jutting ledges of rock, dangling my feet over a heart-seizing drop. I sit as still as a stone for an hour. My binoculars weld red marks on my face, with my shoulders frozen, as obsession sets in.

We follow a brook to a waterfall, slipping on stepping stones. I see a jay with blue wings dart above the cascading flow, alongside chirping wheatears and an emerald African chaffinch. I’m getting desperate, though. Not one bird of prey.

A baby had been born in the mountain village just before we arrive at dusk. Women and girls are singing, thumping tambours and heels. Little has changed in these mountain hamlets in the past century, save the arrival of electricity, which is used frugally. Donkeys scuff up and down rough hill faces while children skit through passages, chickens screech and the scent of sheep and goat is overriding.

An infusion of green tea and sage is brought to us on the terrace, served with bread, olives and honey. And then it happened. “Look. There,” El Ouali starts. I shoot my binoculars upwards. A falcon, a thing of immense grace, sweeps from the ridge high above us down through the valley, before soaring up again and over the mountain. The whole thing is only about four seconds of flight, but it’s my first ornithological surge of adrenaline. I lay awake well into the night in the darkness, listening for the eagle owl.

I have seen birds of prey before in Morocco, mournfully caged in a Marrakech souq. “Sadly, we find eagles, vultures and falcons illegally sold in souqs,” says ­Benoit Maire, an ornithological author and biology teacher. “They should never be purchased, and trading in or poisoning of protected species should be reported to the high commission.”

At dawn, I’m the proverbial early bird to catch the worm. I clamber onto the flat roof of a baked-earth village house – a superb vantage point over the valley and out towards the plains. It’s cold, but the sky graduates from blue to indigo to fiery orange. The village sleeps below. The only sounds are birdsong and the mountain brook. I sit with my head back, eyes raised. My patience finally pays off. Above the mountain crest, I see a pair of birds circling, gliding in splendid synchronicity. “A pair of golden eagles,” El Ouali whispers. “Nothing else would fly so high. They’re out searching for food.”

The dawn hunt of one of the planet’s most ancient creatures is an unrivalled spectacle. One dives suddenly, vanishes in a second, then resurfaces, sailing through the crisp air. They disappear over the apex of the frosted mountain and are gone.

Golden eagles, though not common, aren’t endangered in Morocco. “But some birds have disappeared,” Bekkas says. “The tawny eagle has totally gone, along with the beautiful vulture, and the dark chanting goshawk – we believe that it’s completely vanished from Morocco.

“These hunters are dying out because of disturbance to their natural habitat, construction on their territory, and disappearance of their prey because of deforestation, desertification and drought. This is almost exclusively human activity.”

Ornithologically inclined tourists can participate in protection by raising awareness and observing the birds in an ethical manner – avoid any disturbance, especially during breeding seasons, which is spring for most of the birds.

There’s a big job to be done, but Bekkas is hopeful. “We’re trying to inform locals about birds, explaining that they’re not enemies but friends. They are mountain inhabitants – just like the people – who have always existed,” he says. “As with all species, they deserve respect.” Follow us @TravelNational     Follow us on Facebook for discussions, entertainment, reviews, wellness and news.

Video: How to Drive in Morocco from an American Perspective
Sunday 13 September 2015
============================================================== of a Discussion on Cross Culture
Monday 14 September 2015 - Abdellatif Zaki

WARNING: The following are bits and pieces – elements and notes – relating to discussions on cross cultural issues. Some notes are accompanied by some commentaries I have made on the spot. I have made no attempt to construct any internal coherence of the following text. The only coherence to be found is that of the unity of the theme.

There are two purposes for posting such a document (i) to keep track of our discussions and (ii) to help new participants have a feel of what our meetings are about.

One of the difficulties some people have understanding other cultures is their own expectations. They expect the rest of the world to be like their own. Differences are experienced as deviations from a natural order. Furthermore, what is in the other culture is compared to what should be in one’s own idealized culture and not always to what it actually is.

Having no expectations may be a problem, too. Many participants declared that they did not have any expectations when they decided to take up the visit to Morocco! To what extent can you not have any expectations when you are planning to visit or work in a foreign country? It seems that one will always have some sort of expectation, but that sometimes, one may not be willing to disclose one’s initial expectations especially when later the test of reality may have proven one wrong. The expression “I didn’t know what to expect” which many participants have used seems to reveal a set of paradoxical expectations which range from confirming the stereotypes and resisting such confirmation.

Stereotypes are reinforced by TV shows and soap operas. On many occasions, American participants burst in laughs when a Moroccan participant revealed that s/he had learned something about Americans in such shows. Likewise, on many occasions, Moroccan participants were astounded at how grown-ups could take for cash what they were told and shown on TV about Islam and Arabs.

One consequence of the stereotyping reinforced in the media is that cultural specificity comes to be seen as an aggression or as an invitation to conflicting relations. An American participant reported that she felt threatened by the sight of the people praying outside the Mosque. The sight reminded her of scenes that accompanied TV programs and reports on terrorism and violence. When many Western TVs report on some terrorist acts associated with Islam, they systematically show pictures of Muslims wearing their traditional clothes praying in the streets. In the imagination of this participant, collective prayer is a prelude to violence.

In the USA, times of political or economic crises with European countries have often been occasions for American intolerance of cultural specificity to be expressed in more or less violent forms. The collective breaking of French wine and French Champagne bottles during the French American disagreement on the Iraq war is a pathetic example of this intolerance. When, like in the case of French fries, nothing could be broken or embargoed, names of commodities are simply changed. French fries become free fries. In fact, while American stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims have recently had more than one occasion to take the form of actual collective behavior, stereotypes of Europeans have been dormant for the last few decades.

A survey of writings analyzing the decision of some European countries not to back the second Iraq war reveals that Americans have rather strong attitudes towards Europeans whom they perceive as essentially “lacking courage,” “too weak to defend themselves,” “self-important cowards who cry for our help whenever they get in trouble and then bitch about what we’re doing to help them,” “stuffy and effeminate,” “defeatists,” “too complacent,” “limp-wristed parasites,” “too compromising, opportunistic,” “stodgy,” “rude and snobby,” “feckless free-loading socialists,” “politically naïve,” etc.. These are but some attributes which I have identified in actual texts by Americans on Europeans, especially on the French[1].These attitudes are confirmed by American youth who, after a stay in a European country, learn about their own negative stereotyping and how it affects their approach to Europeans.

While words, behavior, gestures may have different cultural tenures in different cultures, people tend to expect everyone to have the same understanding of the same concepts and of the same behaviors. This kind of expectations can make intercultural relations more difficult. In fact, while Intercultural communication may be a major component of the solutions to current intercultural problems, it will not be a possible solution unless a number of objective conditions, among which political will, social and cultural aptitude and economic performance, have been met. In the following notes, I synthesize my own responses to the various issues related to cross or intercultural areas that have been raised in the last year and half in our meetings.

For many people, God seems to be a synthetic image made up of bits and pieces from Holy books, religious teachings, cultural values, child literature, legends, art, movies, cartoon heroes, nightmare figures, etc. Ask a child to draw a picture of God and you will see strange things. These images grow up and take adult forms later.

Saying for instance that Islam is a violent religion because it exhorts Muslims to kill the unfaithful without drawing the attention of your listeners that the verses referred to are close to literal translations from the Torah and the Bible is, at best, an act of unethical intellectual morality. Granted, however, that contrarily to Islam, for instance, the Church has, on many occasions, revisited the Holy Scriptures and made public excuses for some of the violence which it had promoted against peoples of other religions in the past. Furthermore, one would be missing a lot about religion if one tries to explain it only in one-dimensional terms. In fact, in every God, one will find features of other ones. Likewise, in every religion, there are features of other ones.

As to the attitudes of participants towards religion, it seems that many participants, whose background is probably very religious, were experiencing some sort of assessment of their own beliefs and of the foundations of their religions. While this attitude could be only a common feature of all youth going through an emotional and intellectual maturity process, it could also be a fact confirming the general growing trend of Americans objecting to being associated with a religion. In fact, the general tendency of the participants seems to confirm the findings that the number of Americans declaring of no religious obedience has doubled during the last ten years. However, while the participants did not exactly claim not to be of a religious obedience, as the question was never at issue, they did not seem to be comfortable with the idea of being democratic, to believe in the separation of religion from politics and at the same time claim obedience to a religion while religion is being abused for political purposes in their country.

However, while many participants were aware of the use of religious – biblical – discourse in politics, few were aware of the misuses of such discourse to manipulate populations for political purposes. Likewise, while many participants seemed to be aware of the great influence of religious lobbies in the making of political decisions in the USA, beginning with the choice of who will be the president and who will rule what and have which responsibilities, very few saw in such presence an effort of excluding others or an effort at maintaining some economic and financial interests on top of US politics and decision making. In one case, a participant mentioned the relationship between some religious associations and politics on the one hand and between these two and big business, oil companies, show-business and the military industry.

An analysis of the discussions reveals some sense of collective guilt for the actions of the government. In some cases, participants compared themselves / their own government to others that were condemned for awful crimes against humanity. The use of “we” when participants are actually talking of their government is contrasted to the use of the same “we” when they refer to themselves as members of a nation, of a community. The “we” in each case is different from the other. The two are opposed to each other. This dichotomy is felt by the participants who are proud of being American but who feel guilty of what their governments have become responsible for at times and of what they have undertaken in their names.

A feeling which drew my attention as well as that of non US participants, is the perception of others as somehow guilty and deserving some sort of punishment. The participants have, however, never expressed the nature of this guilt of others in quite clear terms which may suggest that it might be not so precise in their minds either. It is a sense of being threatened. This dual feeling of being guilty and of perceiving others as guilty of a potential threat seems to be expressed in terms of responsibilities that have not been assumed and responsibilities that have to be assumed. At the end of the meetings, a consensus usually develops among the participants that their difficulties to grasp, understand and cope with these dichotomies is the result of a biased and poor educational system, a biased, too-powerful and manipulating media network and an ambiguous political system.

The American educational system is said not to train in critical thinking, in opinion formation nor in the skills necessary to learn about the rest of the world and to come to conciliatory attitudes with the differences that make up the various cultures and civilizations of the world. Practically all participants are highly critical of their educational system which, they claim, has concealed realities from them, developed in them an indecent sort of pride and patriotism that become very fast the ground in which thrive hatred and scorn of others. When American youth discover the rest of the world and learn that intelligence, culture, civilization, art, generosity, diversity and tolerance exist elsewhere too; their disappointment with their educational system and with the ideology behind it takes pathological forms.

In some cases, the feeling is further complicated by the awareness that their country is generous and doing good as well. The argument of ignorance, the media are responsible, the educational system is bad, etc. seemed at times to take the form of an apology, a catharsis. In any case, “the USA is after all better than other countries that are completely undemocratic” is a note that seems to balance the opposing poles of the dichotomy.

In some other cases, the American participants who obviously think of themselves as open minded and tolerant, are stunned to hear that for many others, they are not. This discovery is disturbing. But throughout the discussion and certainly as a result of their already rich albeit extremely short experience of cultural difference, both American and Moroccan participants mature up and learn to think in relative terms. Habits and attitudes, they learn very fast, originate in a set of objective limiting factors such as time, income, availability of resources and of energy, mobility, education, information systems, etc.

An example is the independence of Americans which can be/has been perceived as selfishness in some cases. In Morocco, for instance, members of a family and of a community depend on each other for almost everything. They also expect and accept the dependence of others on them. When they meet Americans whose attitudes are more independent, they tend to judge them rather harshly. They understand neither that the Americans do not appreciate others to depend on them nor that they themselves depend on others.

In the past, travel was rather limited among Moroccans compared to the high mobility of American people. Because of this difference, the two people have developed different attitudes towards their social environment and towards other people. Many Moroccans have neighbors for decades, at times for generations. Likewise, many Moroccans never change their jobs and work in the same place all their lives. Many take up their family’s business and work in the same places as have worked their ancestors. The American way of life is different and calls upon people to move more often and to work with more different people. These objective differences in the way of life enhance different attitudes towards people. A Moroccan who moves to a new house expects and is expected to live in it for a long time. The behavior he/she will have with neighbors will necessarily be different from one who has changed homes frequently and who expects to change in the near future. Emotional investment in human relations takes risk into account. It is consented only to the extent that a minimal return over a valid period of time is secured. Comparing the emotional charge of two people living under different conditions would then seem to be inappropriate.

Many Moroccans perceive Americans as being always in a hurry and not available when they want to be with them, etc. The judgments that follow do not usually take into account that the time constraints under which the two cultures work could be different. The concept of advanced scheduling and precise deadlines does not mean the same in both cultures. While an American will tell you “let’s meet Monday at three fifteen”, a Moroccan may tell you “let’s meet at the beginning of the week some time in the afternoon or after three”[2]. Of course, businesses, schools and the administration work with precisely set schedules and deadlines, but the attitudes of many people do not always make it easy to follow the schedules and to meet all deadlines. You will hear ‘we’re running behind schedule’ in more Moroccan conferences than in US conferences. Likewise, you may be more disappointed by the organization procedures of a conference in Morocco than in the USA unless you take it for granted that cultures will operate on different concepts of time, of place, and of deadlines. This, too, does not mean that the conferences organized in Morocco will be necessarily of a lesser quality but only that they may be run with different attitudes given all the objective differences that intervene in their organization.

Another area in which cultural specificity enters into play is the workplace. The issues of teamwork, of leadership, of bottom-up and top-down decision making systems are, for example, all of a cultural nature. History has a lot to do with it. Seeking personal acknowledgement and feeling hurt when one’s name has not been mentioned in association with the success of a team is also a cultural variable. In soccer, many players resist the temptation of scoring themselves even when they play in defense positions. Others will try to score and miss while it would have been more reasonable to pass the ball to a colleague in a better position to shoot. This, too, is an indicator of a cultural feature. Examples can be multiplied from the work place, the management of NGOs, volunteer groups and from sports.

What kind of employee would, for example, top executives recruit in two countries with such cultural differences? One would recruit an employee who swears loyalty to the top executive; the other one who sees himself as a member of team. What if these employees are to be stationed in a country of the other culture in which they would be expected to work with counterparts from the other culture? Would they have to impose their own ways and own values on each other? Would the guest accept and adapt to the values and ways of the host? Will both try to adapt to each other? Which procedures / protocols should be adopted to come to good and efficient working grounds? When one of the parties does not take any of these issues in account, conflict breaks and unnecessary loss of time, energy and opportunities occurs.

In Morocco, there are traditions of teamwork and of collective performance for the community. These traditions, however, do not seem to have migrated with individuals to modern enterprises. In fact, enterprises in Morocco are essentially family organizations run by a powerful father figure who knows it all and who does it all. The management approaches do not adopt any collective or collaborative procedure to decision making. Decisions are made by the boss and any one who dares advise otherwise will be considered as rebellious and will be treated as such be he/she son or daughter. The best employees are the most obedient and the most respectful of the boss’s ideas and choices.

An important feature of the executive culture in Morocco is meetings. People are always in meetings in which they are told about decisions and about how to have things done. After each meeting, other meetings are scheduled to cascade what has been talked about.

Another problem is delegation of powers and authorities. When you do not delegate, you have to do the job yourself. This is exactly what many top executives end up doing. They end up doing everyone’s jobs which means they work long days, over weekends, etc. This is also an easier way for claiming any credit for the success of their missions. In cases of failure, they can always complain that there are no competent collaborators they can rely on.

At the evaluation session of a workshop I had conducted on communication, a participant complained that while participants had come to learn from the professor, the latter ended up learning from them. He did not appreciate that I did not lecture all the time and that participants had to pull into groups to discuss some issues and report on them later to the whole group. As far as he was concerned, all I did was to wait for the participants to present their reports to come in and draw conclusions they already knew. This participant was a few years from retirement; he had made his way up to engineer-ship through a combination of seniority, rigorous implementation of decisions and unfaltering obedience to top management.

After this first reaction to the workshop, another person, perhaps as old, expressed a completely opposite opinion. He felt empowered throughout the workshop and appreciated the learning opportunities which working in multidisciplinary groups provided him with for the two weeks of the workshop. He also perceived the fact that the workshop leader did not lecture in a completely different way. This participant was also an engineer but who went to Moroccan universities as well as to French and American universities. He had also studied management in the United States.

The two opinions were not determined by any absolute quality of the workshop or of the performance of the workshop leader; rather, it was the expectations of each participant of such a communicative event that made the difference.

One of the aspects of the workshop which the first evaluator did not like, and which he did not say at first, was that his own social status as he himself perceived it – age and administrative seniority, was not comforted. He did not expect younger colleagues to discuss his opinions nor to be in a position to learn from them. He also did not appreciate that there was no hierarchy that could impose decisions. It was enough for a decision to have been made at the top of the administrative pyramid to be sound enough and to have to be adhered to. In other words, this participant did not approve of the idea of sharing authorities and of distributing powers among a team of co-workers. Every social function had to remain still. The moment you touch one, the others will be affected. The teacher had to stick to an image; otherwise the image of the students would have to change, too. This is what he did not want.

Sharing authorities and redistributing powers entail not only democratic procedures but also democratic attitudes and capabilities. Accepting democratic rule entails accepting being voted out. As a cultural factor, democracy entails that members of the same community are first of all equal, then that they will resort to some standard procedures for settling their conflicts and for making decisions. Each of these values jeopardizes the status quo in many ways. This means that unless the culture of democracy is well rooted in a society, it would be irrelevant to talk about bottom up procedures, sharing authorities and participating in making decisions at any level or function of that society.

The current discussions of political and anthropological scientists accompanying the negotiations of the Iraqi constitution as well as the ideological debates among the various protagonists inform of the fallacy of positing that negotiation and decision making procedures can travel and apply to all contexts. Concepts, which are historical in nature, acquire sociological momentums which can hardly have for/in the same cultural or political referential in two different societies. The concepts of federalism, for instance, which are at the basis of the strength of some countries evoke weakness to many Iraqis who see in them the attempt to weaken some components of their society as well as the intrigues of some foreign powers to subdue them so as to maintain their hegemony on their country.
Likewise, to what extent can you promote some values in one sector and not in others? Let’s take teamwork. In a community in which leadership is inherited, real political power is centralized and immutable; legislation is enshrined within narrow margins, and interpretation of referential texts is limited to a few, you can hardly start talking of democracy without breaching fundamental laws.

Selection is part of communication. You choose to visit some places, to talk about some issues and to some people. When you do not choose for yourself, others will choose for you and you will have the experience they want you to have. When you choose what to talk about you also choose what not to talk about. Bias finds its more damaging roots in such selection.

Why should I believe a person and not another one? What makes a person talking about a subject or a culture more credible than another one? I need to find answers to these questions. I am sure with a little critical thinking you will understand that there are stakes talking about any subject. So, I need to start by identifying the stakes, the stakeholders, the interests, the competition involved, the conflicts, etc.

I will also understand that some people talk to me better than others and some can get their word to me and others cannot. Not an easy job for me to make up my mind and construct my own opinion about issues. History can be a place to begin with. Then, I cannot be a polyvalent historian; my knowledge cannot be of an encyclopedic nature. Likewise, I also need to be sensitive to the inherent cultural dimensions of every language I speak to other people and they speak to me. It is a dilemma.

The British, for instance, unlike Arabs, use language in such ways that it conceals their emotions and hides their actual purpose. The intention of a British commentator is to be sought not in what he says but in how he says it. What does ‘interesting’ mean when you comment on something saying ‘well , this is quite an interesting idea.’ Does this mean that you wish to follow on it? Does it mean that you think it is irrelevant to your expectations?
Do all the people who have to work together have the same understandings of the social functions they have to assume in their respective positions? Does, for instance, a French manager have the same attitude towards leadership as do her American, British and Chinese counterparts? It seems that they do not. Their judgments of each other are therefore based on references that are not necessarily applicable to the situations of their counterparts. It is because the social functions are not similar that procedures for pursuing and achieving goals are different. This also means that people from different cultures will not judge others from other cultures in the same way. This further difficulty increases the risks of misunderstanding and therefore of misbehaving. In fact, a Moroccan will not judge an Italian the way an American will judge her.

The expectations of Moroccan students from their teachers and professors are not the same as those of Americans from their professors. This is why Moroccan students have difficulties adjusting to US universities and professors and American students who attended classes in Morocco were not comfortable with the whole school environment.

What does one expect from a coach or a human resource manager? In some cultures, the expectation is to help one perform at one’s best. In ideal situations, the coach or the manager would endeavour to reduce the distance between one’s potential and one’s actual performance. In other cultures, the expectation is to be given a job and to be told what to do. Trying to push an employee to unleash his potential will backfire as picking up on him.

A group of people have been enrolled in an in-service training program. Their employer pays for them and has agreed that the training takes place during working hours. The people drop out of the program. They did it for computer, language, communication and management courses. What do you make of this? The error is perhaps in offering such training to all employees without any discrimination on the basis of motivation, potential to learn and grow professionally, identification with the missions of the enterprise, etc. Such waste of energy could have been better used in more productive ways had a preliminary diagnosis been conducted to identify more positive potential.

An employer who cannot promote her employees, nor fire them, nor request any proof of adequate performance from them, is an employer who can hardly motivate her employees. Both employer and employee will develop a working culture that is different from one that is based on performance, gratification and sanction. The kind of relationship that will develop between the two will also be different. When you cannot motivate your employees by making them in some way share the benefits of the success of the enterprise, you will be sure that those whose potential is great will seek to go elsewhere for a more gratifying career. In the Moroccan public service, the authority of a boss over employees is different from that of his/her American counterpart. The result is that the culture and the attitudes towards work, towards performance and towards achieving objectives are different in the two conditions.

Do people really understand each other when they use the same words? When people are talking of a diagnosis and they seem to agree on what the symptoms are, what the remedies should be and which follow ups to pursue, are they really talking about the same things? Not necessarily! People talk of development, of democracy, of communication, of management, of performance, of stock market, etc., do they hear the same words?

It is easy to check. One could start with dictionaries. Even at this very formal level, there are major discrepancies. In Morocco, there seems to be a consensus that the flaws impeding economic performance are the poor quality of the educational system, a faulty judicial system, an underdeveloped communication system, and an inadequate and incompetent management. The difficulty starts when you wish to define what each of these flaws really refers to. You would tell people were speaking different languages. However, in the case of speaking foreign languages, people are more cautious in jumping to conclusions than when they think they are speaking the same language.

In the UK, executive managers are mostly accountants. The annual budget is their major management instrument. When the measures of performance are the same or when they are applied by people with different professional profiles and whose priorities are not the same, communication failures are to be expected.
Furthermore, the differences of the judicial systems make international ventures difficult. A US citizen will claim the same rights and privileges his own courts of law guarantee him and will expect all judicial systems to go by the rules of American courts. The British and American business laws are an interesting case to consider.

To end this section on cultural expectations and on how they fashion attitudes, social organization and behavior, let me frame the question of religion and what it means to different people : in Islam, salvation is by good deeds and faith. Religion is equated to good deeds and good behavior towards others. Justice, equity and consultation are fundamental principles in Islam both at the personal level and at the social and political levels. How do Muslims expect salvation to be achieved in other religions?

[1] All these attributes can be easily verified through the Internet.
[2] This is an exaggeration to illustrate a difference in attitude towards time.
The book, Reflections on the formation of Western opinions, stereotypes and attitudes about Islam and Arabs, published in 2005 is based on a series of reports on Cross Culture seminars the author had conducted at LangCom during academic year 2004-2005. Over two hundred participants from various American universities and many Moroccan university students and English language teacher trainees from ENS Rabat took part in these seminars.
The seminars were a rare opportunity for both Moroccan and American participants to exchange ideas, opinions and attitudes about Islam, Arabism, and the various stereotypes that have come to be associated with them especially after the 9/11 aftermath and the two Gulf wars. They have also been an exceptional occasion for the participants to share thoughts and feelings about the various concepts associated with globalization, westernization and the new challenges of the communication era. The chapters are thus to be read as reports of these seminars.
Moms Who Are Teachers Are Also Leaders.
Wednesday 16 September 2015 -morocco world news By Karima Slamti Meknes

Mothers give birth to boys and girls who study, get married, and have children of their own. It is a natural cycle. As role models for their children, mothers have to lead, support, advise, and protect their family members. Following what has been transmitted and learned from their grandmothers, mothers fulfill a miraculous leadership role by forming future moms who will build and manage their own homes.

However, being a woman today encompasses more than giving birth and raising children. Our modern society expects women to create a careful balance between their personal and professional lives.

One of the noblest jobs for women, recognized by almost everyone in and outside Morocco, is working as a teacher. Most Moroccan men, when looking for a wife, will say, “I want a teacher, because she can teach my future children and have free time to care for her family’s needs.” A female teacher in Morocco is considered a teacher at home, as well as a wife, a mother, a chef and a lover. How magic and tremendous is the work these women do!
Not only do these working moms care about their homes, but they also try to infuse their classes with lots of affection, which is a motivating factor for students to learn. These brave women embrace positive attitudes so as to impact future generations and their well-being.

In addition to their responsibilities as mothers, teachers must also show wisdom, kindness, and inspiration inside their classes. While teaching, these mothers treat their students in the best way – as they do with their own children. We cannot deny that the roles of teacher and mother are very similar in terms of punishing, praising, and caring. Anything moms or teachers say to their children at an early age is memorized, since children consider these women mentors, motivators, and leaders.

Therefore, teachers who are mothers are powerful role models that are the soul of the classrooms. They teach students academic lessons, and, as moms, they teach them life’s lessons. This is done in order to form productive Moroccan citizens who will obtain good positions and make these teachers proud of them in the future.

Leadership is about doing many tasks accurately and effectively, as moms who are educators do. They are courageous women who take on the challenge of succeeding both at home and at work. Let’s recognize the great work of teaching mothers who merit at least a grateful “thank you.”

Morocco Among Worst Countries for People Aged 60 and Older
Saturday 12 September 2015 -Tarik El Barakah Rabat

Morocco is among the worst places in the world to grow old, a new global index has revealed. According to the Global AgeWatch Index 2015, Morocco is ranked 84th out of 96 in the index which ranks countries based on the social and economic well-being of people over 60. The index, compiled by HelpAge International, looks at 13 indicators divided into four key domains: income security, health status, capability and enabling environment.

Morocco is ranked (72nd) on health, measured by life expectancy and psychological well-being, and capability (88th), measured by employment and educational status of older people. The kingdom came 89th for enabling environment, scored on access to public transport, physical safety social connectedness and civic freedom, and 65th for income security, which includes pension income coverage, poverty rate in old age, relative welfare and GNI per capita.

Morocco ranked fourth in Africa behind Mauritius (42), South Africa (78), and Ghana (81). Because of lack of data, only 11 countries from Africa are included. In addition to Morocco, only three Arab countries are mentioned in the ranking: Jordan (85), Iraq (87), and Palestine (93rd).

In Morocco, 3.3 million people are over the age of 60. By 2050, the number of old people in Morocco is expected to account for 23, 4% of the entire population, according to the report.

“Despite Africa’s rapid economic growth, poor social and economic wellbeing for older people means most countries continue to rank in the bottom quarter of the Index,” says the report. According to the report, by 2030, the number of people aged 60 and over in the surveyed countries is expected to reach 39.5 million, representing 6 per cent of the population.

Older people in Africa experience many hardships, with few able to access basic services. Very few of them have pensions and older women are often particularly poor because of discriminatory laws against them, noted the report.

Globally, Switzerland ranked top, followed by Norway, Sweden, Germany, Canada, Netherlands, Iceland, Japan, USA and the United Kingdom. In the bottom ten: Iraq, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Tanzania, Pakistan, Palestine, Mozambique, Malawi and Afghanistan.

Morocco: Stone free in Essaouira
By Katie Wright Tuesday Sep 15, 2015

In a town where rumours of Jimi Hendrix remain, Katie Wright finds an easy pace at which to unwind…………

Check it here:

What's next for the Moroccan left?
Rabat Ilhem Rachidi Monday 14 September 2015

During elections on 4 September, the Democratic Left Federation did well in Rabat. What does the future hold for this new political organisation?

The Democratic Left Federation (FGD), a coalition of three so-called “radical” left-wing parties in Rabat, came second in the Agdal Riad constituency, a rather affluent district of the Moroccan capital, during the recent communal elections. Overtaken by the Islamists of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), the FGD nevertheless managed to get nine municipal councillors elected, five women and four men.

However, even combined, these three parties - the Socialist Democratic Vanguard party (PADS), the National Ittihadi Congress Party (CNI) and the Unified Socialist Party (PSU) - have usually put in a weak electoral performance. In the rest of the country, the federation achieved no significant breakthrough, getting barely over 100,000 votes, while 1.5 million people voted for the Islamists of the PJD. In Casablanca the PSU’s general secretary Nabila Mounib failed to win over the electorate.

Nevertheless, this coalition has generated real enthusiasm, particularly among left wing activists and party members. FGD leader Omar Balafrej, who is not a member of any established political party, does not see this as a victory but as a "first step". His goal is to offer a third option as an alternative to the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) - close to the monarchy and created to counter the Islamists - and the Islamists of the PJD, who have made significant progress in major Moroccan towns and cities. Balafrej’s task will nevertheless be a difficult one, as the left in Morocco is extremely divided and the issues dividing them are significant - including the constitution and the power of the monarch, economic reforms and more. The left is also divided by ideological differences that may be difficult to reconcile.

Boycotting the elections

In recent weeks, the bone of contention has been participation in the election itself. Among activists on the far left, this recurrent subject has generated passionate debate, just as it always has. Within the PSU, part of the party's youth wing was initially opposed to participating in the election. But above all, elections are boycotted by those who declare themselves as having a left-wing outlook, but who are members of no political party.

The members of the Marxist party Annahj Addimocrati (Democratic Way), which has not taken part in any election since it was created in 1995, once again campaigned for a boycott (their meetings have been banned by the authorities on several occasions). The call for boycott was supported by activists from ATTAC, Maoists and a number of independents.

In their view, the electoral process does not work democratically in Morocco. Among other things, they condemn the buying of votes and stress that there is no guarantee of transparency in the elections organised by Morocco’s Ministry of the Interior.

"There are several dynamics in what we generally refer to as the left,” explained Mohamed Jaite, a member of the Annahj Addimocrati party. “There is a powerful dynamic launched by the boycott campaign within Annahj. There is also a dynamic launched within the FGD but how is this likely to develop? I have no idea," Jaite told Middle East Eye.

"The historical experience suggests to me that they are chasing illusions,” he continued. "I believe that the necessary precondition to build a left-wing political force which can achieve something in Morocco is independence from the palace. I feel that the current FGD leadership lacks independence from the monarchy.”
Younes, a former member of the PSU and an activist within the 20 February protest movement, which called for more democracy and respect for the state of law in 2011, has only voted once, in 2007. He has boycotted all elections since then. His view on these elections sums up the viewpoint of many activists. "When I campaigned for the boycott, I felt rather guilty as I saw honest genuine people who thought that they could change things," he told MEE. "I don't agree with them. I believe that they can't change things from inside. I have faced the facts and we need to be realistic. The same people now participating in the elections boycotted those of 2011. They have weakened the boycott and ultimately have achieved nothing." He added: "The election system and the institutions can be seen as a software programmed by the makhzen [the "store," - an expression used by the Moroccans to refer to the monarchy and its institutions] which is not intended to bring about democracy."

A founding member of the 20 February protest movement demonstrates in Morocco's capital Rabat in March 2011 (MEE/Ilhem Rachidi)

Major divisions on the left

The Moroccan left has been fragmented for several years now and there is no sign of anything uniting it any time soon. Major ideological differences originating from Morocco’s recent history persist and have resulted in a number of missed opportunities.

The USFP, a genuine opposition party in the days of Hassan II, is now only a shadow of its former self. As for the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS), although it is holding its place electorally, it is seen as an establishment party. It also participates in the governmental coalition. For many people, these two parties are now ideologically light-years away from the left.

The fracture within the far left is, however, more problematic. But when united, it has achieved results, especially with the 20 February Movement but also within the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), one of the most influential organisations for the protection of human rights in the region and during the protest movement against rising living costs a few years ago. Nevertheless, in the opinion of numerous observers, a genuine political union is impossible.
In this context, can the new FGD be a voice for change on the left? It has created a fresh dynamism which is truly perceptible on the social networks, and led a campaign which attracted praise from many observers, with new faces emerging and real outreach work.

At the PSU headquarters in Casablanca, large numbers of activists turned out to lend a hand. Among these, some were not card-carrying members but were keen to give it a go. Others came along even if they did not intend to vote.

But throughout the campaign, the same questions arose: why take part in the elections now when no real political and institutional change has occurred (as they see it) in recent years? Does the PSU’s participation in the election, despite the fact that it opposed the constitutional referendum in 2011 and boycotted the parliamentary elections the same year, risk transforming the PSU over the long term into a party absorbed by the makhzen?

Two years ago, Younes and a group of activists were side-lined by the leadership of the PSU for expressing disagreement. He then went on to resign.
"This was a turning point. But the first reason I left was because the PSU was acting contrary to the logic of the 20 February movement almost as if this movement had never existed. I was in the PSU when it worked with the movement," he explained.

"But when the movement began to weaken, it became a party just like the others. I fear it might think it's in the process of being tamed by the makhzen, just like the USFP."

Mohamed Boulaich, a former member of the Marxist-Leninist movement Ila al-Amam (Forward), chose not to vote, simply because no party met his expectations - even the PSU, the party for which he campaigned for a decade. "We firstly need to change the constitution. The king should reign and not govern. This is the only plausible way forward," Boulaich said.

Out of the blue

Today, Boulaich does not believe that a political alternative will emerge from the ballot box.
But "there can always be a surprise," he told MEE. "Did anyone really expect to see the 20 February movement emerge? Not at all! It came out of the blue! The 20 February movement has done a lot and has had a positive impact on national life. People aren't afraid anymore and avenues have been freed. Everyone can demonstrate. [The demonstrators chanted] impressive slogans to show their opposition to the dictatorship and to the repression.”
"Unfortunately, the forces of the left did not rise to the occasion. Their approach was too calculating. They didn’t want to go that far and simply saw the possibility to pick up some members. Instead of going all the way with the movement, they simply saw a market for new members."

Abdullah Abaakil - a former Casablanca activist with the 20 February movement who was once part of the USFP, which he left in 1995 - chose to support the FGD. In his view, the left needs to open up and to attract those who are "culturally close to it" if it wants to survive. "The fundamental objective is to state clearly that we are alive and kicking and that we are still here."

He feels that the FGD can create an alternative on the left without needing to expand its political alliances. "Politics is not a question of arithmetic,” Abaakil said. “And sometimes you lose by adding more. I believe that in its current form the FGD does not necessarily need to create other alliances but instead it needs to reinforce those already existing.”

This article was originally published on Middle East Eye's French page on 11 September 2015.
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Worth a trek: Searching Moroccan mountains for etrogs.  
by Ben Sales, JTA Sep. 18, 2015 JTA reporter Ben Sales’ “fixer,” Mohammed, experiencing a moment of triumph along the etrog trail.

We had to cross the gorge, and the only way was to walk single file on a narrow concrete gutter, maybe a foot wide, that bridged the two cliffs. Below us was a long, perilous drop onto the rocky depths.

I was traveling deep into the rural communities of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, and so I’d expected to get a little dusty. But no one readied me for this afternoon trek in the desert sun. I was wearing a button-down shirt, slacks and dress shoes, and I was carrying my iPad, computer, camera and passport. But I wasn’t entirely unprepared: I had 1.5 liters (about 6 cups) of water slung across my shoulder.

It was hot and sandy, and the sun shone down on us from a clear sky. Sweat was drenching my back. My translator, the only person in the group whom I could talk to, was several steps ahead of me. I was in the sandy middle of nowhere, feeling exhausted and, since I was standing on the precipice of a cliff in an unfamiliar place, a little scared. I started walking and didn’t look down.

But I was a man with a mission. In between audible whispers of “holy shit,” I had this thought: There had better be some etrogs at the end of this trail.
When I told people I was going to Morocco one week before Rosh Hashanah to write about the country’s insular, centuries-old etrog industry, they told me I was either crazy (it was hard to infiltrate), too late (etrog season was ending) or both. But Berbers who spend their summers growing fruit in a Muslim country for a Jewish holiday felt like too good a story to miss, so I eagerly booked my flight.

Today, almost no Jews live in Morocco, though a few dozen Jewish merchants still support the industry, sending etrogs — known as citrons in English — to Jews around the world to use on Sukkot. Because 5775 was a “shmita,” or sabbatical year, when Jewish law prohibits agricultural activity in Israel, demand for Moroccan etrogs has been especially high there this season, even though the countries don’t have formal relations. I was determined to find out just how Moroccan etrogs are grown and brought to the Israeli market.

Organizing the trip, however, ended up being far more complicated than making a couple of calls. My one contact in the Moroccan etrog business said the merchants feared journalists and wouldn’t talk to me. An Israeli professor looked at me like a concerned parent after I asked for help visiting Berber citrus farmers in the Atlas Mountains. He wrote me an email hours later saying he was “somewhat worried” about me. It was too short notice, he felt, to plan the trip properly.

Running out of leads, I used British phone-directory websites to track down a London rabbi who literally wrote the book on Moroccan etrogs. But he told me he’d just returned from Morocco, was worn out from the flight and couldn’t talk.

“Go to a town called Assads,” he advised me. “When you get there, ask for Jawad. Tell Jawad to take you to the place he took Yashar. Shanah tovah.”
Then he hung up on me. My flight was in two days.

Assads, it turned out, was a small mountain village hours away from the nearest city and barely accessible by car. To get there I’d need someone to take me. And to speak to etrog growers, I’d need to connect with someone from the town who could introduce me and guide me to the etrogs. This was not exactly an agricultural tourism hot spot.

By the time I reached the Tel Aviv airport for my flight, I’d managed to make some tentative plans. A Moroccan citrus expert, Mohamed El-Otmani, arranged someone to drive me to Assads, along with a fixer who would show me the area.

The next morning, I was shaking hands with a burly man named Mohammed who would be my driver. Mohammed, I discovered, did not speak English. Neither did the fixer. I didn’t risk asking whether either of them spoke Hebrew.

“Don’t you speak Arabic?” El-Otmani asked me. I do not. So he found me an off-duty English teacher to translate, and the four of us — driver, translator, fixer and me — set off.

Our beat-up Mercedes drove from paved road to gravel path as the cosmopolitan beach city of Agadir, where I was staying, gave way to smaller, drearier towns. French disappeared from shop signs, replaced by Arabic. Unlike Agadir, where many people wore jeans, almost all the women walked with their heads covered, while the men wore beards and caftans. Then the towns faded away, until we had to stop on the dusty road to let a herd of goats pass by.

An hour into the journey, my translator asked if I was “good at walking.” It seemed like a bizarre question, and honestly, the answer was no. Born with mild cerebral palsy, I’ve always limped on my right side and had trouble balancing.

But I wasn’t going to back down. Yeah, sure I was good at walking, I said. How bad could it be?

Four hours later, after my driver had asked several children on a deserted highway for directions, we finally reached Assads and the end of the road. And Jawad, the rabbi’s contact, was nowhere to be found. There were many people named Jawad in Assads, locals said. And anyway, none of them were around.
My only hope was to follow our fixer, on foot, and pray I found an etrog tree. The four of us set off.

At first, the path was flat and narrow, with a cliffside on my left. Then it got narrower and rougher. Then a concrete gutter appeared to our right, with us balancing in between — me trying to compensate for my unwieldy bag.

I jumped in the gutter and soon there was nothing on either side. All four of us were crossing the gorge.

During the hour that followed, we climbed over boulders, along steep drops and through rocky valleys where there was no path at all. When I slipped and caught myself, watching rocks trickle down the mountainside and disappear, I kept walking. It was my only option.

Here I was in the remote reaches of Morocco, carrying valuable equipment, with four men I didn’t know who were speaking a language I didn’t understand. My safety — let alone my story — was riding on their trust.

But then, as we got to flatter terrain, my fixer stopped and grinned at me. He raised his fists in triumph and motioned at me to take a photo. Down the path, as we passed by a river, he pulled a cluster of grapes off a vine; we all shared the snack. I allowed myself to exhale. I looked back at the sandy brown mountainscape we’d just traversed, freckled with palm trees and set against a bright blue sky. Maybe this would all work out, I thought.

A couple hundred feet later, a man stood in front of us wearing a caftan and snow hat with what looked like a bush to our left. The fixer shook his hand. My translator pointed at the bush.

There it was, hanging just inches above the ground: a bright green etrog. I soon saw others camouflaged among wide green leaves and weeds. The bush was, in fact, part of a grove. It looked less like the orchard I expected and more like a bramble — as if the fruit just happened to naturally grow there. I followed the branches down a rocky, uneven slope, dodging errant etrog vines and trying, once again, not to lose my balance.

The man in the caftan was Mohammed Douch, whose family had been growing etrogs here for at least three generations. He wasn’t much for description — when I asked him, three times, what his favorite part of the work was, he just said it was his tradition. But he was dedicated. He’s 67 and a retired restaurant worker, his face worn by deep wrinkles, but he treks out here for a couple of months every year to grow etrogs, he said, because the town “is a part of our body.”

Behind him, across a narrow path, was a two-story structure made of bricks and dirt with a canopy of branches for a roof. Usually, Douch explained, he lives in the city. But each summer he comes here to reside in nature.

He repeated most of what he said to compensate for the language gulf that separated us, even with a translator. It’s an experience I had throughout my trip to Morocco. Usually the failure to communicate made me feel helpless, like I was missing a large part of a country I wanted to learn about.

But in the middle of the Moroccan mountains, amid a group of people I could barely talk to, I felt a sense of belonging. Moving to a hut with a roof of branches to tend to etrogs and connect to tradition? That’s something I could understand.

How to visit the real Morocco with children
By Mike Unwin10 Sep 2015

A family desert road trip might sound like an ordeal, but Mike Unwin finds it is the best way to get up close and personal with Morocco's spectacular terrain

"Only seven?” queried my daughter, astonished. “Yes, Fatima,” confirmed our guide Halifa, using the nickname my daughter had acquired. “Seven a day is all you need, that’s how the Berbers survive in the desert.”

I looked away sheepishly. Not only had we already exceeded our daily date quota, but we’d also guzzled pretty much every other foodstuff we’d encountered: tagines, couscous, msemen breakfast pancakes dripping with almond honey. Our Morocco road trip had not, thus far, been one of self-denial.
Halifa had swapped his splendid Berber robes for more cycling-friendly jeans and T-shirt, and was leading us on bikes through the palm grove at Zagora, a south-eastern town on the edge of the Sahara.

We meandered beneath the baked mud walls of the ksar, past donkeys laden with alfalfa, women swathed in black and barefoot boys sporting FC Barcelona tops. Everybody greeted Halifa, and we joined a group of village gents for an impromptu mint tea. Late-afternoon sun glittered in the thin sugary cascade as each glass was filled from an ornate teapot held on high.

Zagora marked the halfway point of our 10-day self-drive family tour. I was travelling with my wife and 12-year-old daughter, following an eastern, roughly semicircular route from Marrakesh to Fes. Five days in, and we had already learnt not to doubt the importance of the humble date. It is date-palm groves like this one, after all, that extend ribbons of civilisation into the desert. Inside them, life feels benign – all trickling irrigation canals and gentle pastoral activity; outside, on the arid plains, it hardly even seems possible.

Our first dates came in Marrakesh, artfully arranged on the welcome platter in our suite at Les Deux Tours. Here, while our daughter splashed around in the pool, we pored over map and guidebook to plot our sorties into the Medina. After dark, nightingales serenaded us and the gardens were heady with the sweet perfume of orange blossom.

The Medina was rather more frenetic. As we crossed the bustling central square of Djemaa el-Fna, our daughter was already rolling her eyes at yet another safety briefing (“stick together”; “put your phone away”). But the anticipated hassle didn’t materialise.

Yes, musicians and snake charmers vied for our attention, while stallholders ushered us towards their glittering dens, but nowhere was the sell so hard that we couldn’t browse. My daughter admonished me in embarrassed whispers when I attempted, ineptly, to haggle over a sandalwood “magic box”.

And then there was all that history. We ogled the mosaics of the Saadian Tombs and wandered the crumbling Badi Palace, where stork nests crowned the ramparts. And beyond the Medina walls we found the Majorelle Garden – once home to Yves Saint Laurent – where aloes and cacti flourished among walls of startling yellows and blues, as though painted in defiance of this ochre and terracotta city.

For all its delights, however, Marrakesh felt a little on the beaten track. It was two days later, as we piled into our hire car, that the real adventure began. Soon we were heading south, climbing the Tichka Pass into the High Atlas – where we stopped to “touch snow in Africa” – then descended the barren terraces on the southern side, the snowy peaks receding in our rear-view mirror.

Those peaks, juxtaposed against a sun-baked desert foreground, were still visible from Skoura, our next port of call. Here we found the secluded L’Ma Lodge hidden away in another palm grove. Behind its carved door were hammocks swinging in the shade and a terrain de petanque. “Wander wherever you like,” said owners Vanessa and Xavier. And so we did, both around the palm grove and back into Skoura, where we explored the steep stairwells and mud-brick passageways of the grand Kasbah Amridil.

Two nights later and we were perched with Halifa atop an apricot-coloured dune, watching the sun set over a sculpted panorama of sand. Below us were the elegant tents of Azalai Desert Camp. It was a Lawrence of Arabia moment.

“This is proper desert, Dad,” came an awed whisper. In truth, however, we’d been travelling through desert ever since we’d left Skoura and headed south down the Draa Valley to Zagora. There, the morning after our bicycle interlude, Halifa loaded us onto a 4WD. We headed off-road, ever deeper into the Sahara. Now, finally, we had hit the dunes.

No desert retreat could be more perfect than Azalai. Our huge Bedouin-style tent came with a grand four-poster bed. Scatter cushions on the sand outside provided an al fresco sitting room – and with no other tent visible from ours, we could imagine that we were the only people on the planet. After dark, we sat down to a starlit feast, our waiters bearing each dish in turn over the dunes, while a fire of wind-dried tamarisk logs blazed in its cradle and the moon rose over the silhouetted desertscape.

You can’t really say you’ve done desert, of course, until you’ve ridden a camel. And it was in Merzouga, two days later, that we found ourselves slipping out of our hotel at 5.30am to do just that. Our beasts were awaiting us in the predawn chill, and we held tight as they lurched to their feet in that awkward three-part unfolding of limbs. It was slow progress – camels won’t be hurried – but 30 minutes later we were climbing yet another dune to greet the sunrise. As the light strengthened I spied the tracks of the desert’s nocturnal denizens embroidered across the sand at our feet: the winding tramlines of beetles; the tiny pads of a fennec fox.

Merzouga is a morning’s desolate drive north from Zagora, and the “Attention ensablement!” road signs as we approached suggested that our destination might already have vanished into the desert. But our hotel – the Kasbah Mohayut – turned out to be one of many serving up Morocco’s highest sand dunes. Its irrepressible owner, Moha, appointed himself our guide, leading us to a salt lake where flamingoes sometimes gathered and through an oasis where, he explained, each plot was allocated eight hours of water per month from the irrigation canal. There were apricots, almonds and a carpet of green veg. “These are very happy carrots,” said Moha.

The drive to Fes was our last and longest. By then, though, we had found our road-trip rhythm, and the seven-hour haul was not the ordeal I’d feared. As ever, the scenery was consistently jaw-dropping. The route took us west through the rugged Ziz Valley and up onto the alpine plateau of the Middle Atlas, with its pastures and evergreens. At a roadside picnic stop we wandered beneath giant cedars on a springy carpet of lichens and watched a squabbling troop of Barbary macaques – the same “apes” (in reality, tailless monkeys) that frequent the Rock of Gibraltar.

A road trip may not be to all tastes. But for a true sense of Morocco – to grasp how it is that this dramatic, unforgiving landscape has shaped the country’s history and culture – you must put in the miles. And self-drive, we found, was the way to go, allowing you to stop anywhere or divert from the itinerary at a whim. Thus our trip had already taken in such unscheduled delights as the ancient fortified settlement of Ait ben Haddou, its picturesque sandcastle walls beloved of Hollywood; the library at Tamegroute, where a 1063 gazelle-skin Koran takes pride of place among antiquarian Islamic textbooks; and the donkey park at Rissani, where hundreds of the braying beasts of burden await their owners’ return from market.

And so, finally, to Fes, where the Medina – so purists claim – trumps the one in Marrakesh hands down. Staying on its doorstep, at La Maison Bleue, made it easy to test this assertion. Our guide Abdoul led us through the bewildering warren, waxing lyrical about the city’s significance. Home to the world’s first university, Fes has felt sidelined in modern times by Marrakesh but remains the proud historic heart of Moroccan culture. Indeed, with its narrower alleys, and donkeys instead of motorised transport, the Medina certainly feels earthier and more medieval. At the famous Chouara tanneries we peered down on workers treading the circular vats in a scene that felt truly biblical – and sent up a reek just as ancient.

La Maison Bleue made the perfect bolt-hole. An old family riad, and the first hotel in Fes, it embodies the traditional Islamic virtue of modesty for the wealthy, the opulent interior concealed behind an exterior so unassuming that we walked past it on the street. Inside, amid the cool tiling, the Medina seemed a distant memory. The shuttered windows of our suite gave onto a high-ceilinged central atrium adorned with mosaics. Dinner, reputedly the finest in Fes – and we wouldn’t dispute that – was served to the haunting strains of traditional Berber musicians. So affecting was the ambience that we found ourselves whispering, even in our own bathroom.

On our last day we braved the Medina alone. The place was teeming and the stallholders were as animated as ever, but we somehow felt less conspicuous than before. Anyway, there was shopping to be done. We knew what not to buy – Tommy Cooper-style “fez” skullcaps are, apparently, Egyptian in origin. And, of course, we also knew what to buy. More dates. Seven, at least.

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