The mineret that takes you home

About Membership Volunteer Newsletters Souk Links

Virtual Magazine of Morocco on the Web
Morocco Week in Review 
June 11, 2016

Gender Advocacy Training Highlights Issues and Solutions in Morocco
Wednesday 8 June 2016 - Morocco World News By Elhassania Larichi Sidi Slimane

Moroccan and American volunteer activists held the second Gender Advocate Training, sponsored by the U.S. Peace Corps on May 25-27, 2016, in Fez. Approximately 15 Peace Corps volunteers participated along with their Moroccan counterparts, both men and women from all parts of Morocco. The event was a two-day workshop, and it addressed gender issues in Moroccan communities.
The activities were facilitated in English and translated into Moroccan Darija simultaneously. There were discussions of gender issues that face Morocco both at the national and community level.
The group also participated in activities that emphasized empathy and recognizing how differences in how gender influences perception.

Also, there were some activities on how to be an active and good listener. There was a presentation which explained the Moroccan Family Code (Mudawana) by professionals at Mobilizing for Rights Associates (MRA). At the end of the event, each Moroccan and Peace Corps volunteer team gave a small talk about their planned projects for their communities that will promote gender advocacy.
Some proposed projects included creating a club for girls for activities on empowerment, health, and education; sports events that promote gender equality; and workshops on communication and healthy relationships between married or engaged couples.

MSSU graduate to serve in Peace Corps/Morocco this fall: There are 181 Peace Corps volunteers serving in Morocco, Africa, and this September, one will be from Carthage, Mo.
By Rebecca Haines Jun. 6, 2016

There are 181 Peace Corps volunteers serving in Morocco, Africa, and this September, one will be from Carthage, Mo. Matt Roy, 22, a 2012 Carthage High School graduate and 2016 graduate of Missouri Southern State University, has studied in China, ussia and is heading to Africa to serve in the Peace Corps this fall. Matt's summer will be spent as the head coach of the Carthage Aquatic Swim Team, a team of approximately 60 registered swimmers, ages ranging from seven to high school. He says it's a good fit, since his job in Morocco will be working with children as an English teacher and mentor in an after-school program.

“The first three months, I'll be learning Arabic, which is the main language in that country,” Matt said. “It's an intensive study on language and culture, and then I'll be doing my job for the rest of the time … I really have enjoyed working with youth and being a mentor.” His joy found in working with kids and traveling makes a perfect combination for his expected 27-month service that begins Sept. 18, 2016.“I have always enjoyed learning about other cultures and traveling abroad,” Matt said. “In my major [at MSSU] I had the opportunity to study a year in China. Chinese was definitely the hardest language to learn, and Russian was the easiest to study. We'll see what Arabic is like.”

Matt graduated this May with an international studies degree and a minor in Chinese. His last academic year was spent in Beijing, China, and his previous summer was spent in Kirov, Russia.
“I prefer to study language that would help me in the future,” Matt said. “These languages are the most sought after in government, and pertinent in national security and international interests.”
Matt Roy, the son of James and Debora Roy, of Carthage, hopes to pursue a career as a foreign service officer with the department of state.

Michelle Obama to Vacation in Marrakech In June
Friday 10 June 2016 - morocco world news By Christopher Thomas Rabat

Michelle Obama has reportedly decided to vacation in Marrakech this month with her two daughters.According to Le360, the three will stay in the city and tour surrounding countryside. Their trip will commence at the end of June, and will be accompanied by the usual retinue of Secret Service and other security agents. If confirmed, this trip would mark the first visit to Morocco by a member of the Obama family. This visit is not a political occasion and will not include any diplomatic exchange. However, given that this is the family of the President of the United States, the trip may carry some political connotations.

This trip implies that Morocco is a relatively safe country. While extremist groups have risen across the Arab world and incited violence from terrorist attacks to conventional military invasions, Morocco has been sheltered from these destabilizing forces. A capable counter-terrorism network and a historically tolerant population make this nation a difficult target terrorists. The First Family’s visit implies that they trust Morocco’s security apparatus to create a safe environment for their vacation.

The First Lady’s celebrity makes her travels noteworthy to the American people. Her visit to Morocco could help draw attention to the country in the context of vacation. This may encourage Americans to visit the kingdom, bolstering Morocco’s tourism industry and facilitating cultural exchange. While Michelle Obama’s visit to Morocco would be for pleasure rather than business, it would carry political weight. The message appears to be one of unity, and may encourage close relations between the two nations. At the very least, it will be a memorable vacation for the First Family.

Ramadan and Individual Freedoms in Morocco  
Wednesday 8 June 2016 -Morocco World News By Majda Benayache Rabat

The holy month of Ramadan started in Morocco on Tuesday. Ramadan comes with many virtues each year, but also brings about a recurrent controversy: how to handle those who choose not to fast. Chapter 222 of Morocco’s Penal Code states that “every individual known to belong to the Islamic community and who openly eats during the day in Ramadan, in a public place, without lawful excuse, shall be punished by imprisonment of one to six months and a fine of 12 to 120 Moroccan Dirhams (MAD).” The draft of the new Penal Code lists “a fine of MAD 2,000- MAD 10,000, effecting one penalty to the delinquent but not both.” This chapter clearly implies that fasting is an obligation for each individual. But what about individual freedoms?

Morocco is, by its constitution, an Islamic state. This does not necessarily mean that all 35 million Moroccan are Muslims. Because of this, many associations that defend universal human rights in general and individual freedoms in particular continue to publically call for the abolition of Chapter 222. They claim that while this chapter refers only to individuals known to be of the Islamic faith, it is applied to all individuals regardless of their religion. These groups want to restitute the right to openly eat in public for those who are not Muslim, even if they are Moroccan nationals. They demand a democratic view of the issue and advocate abandoning the state system, which does not take into consideration those who are not Muslim.

Religion and its practices should not be an obligation to the individual. It is a very personal choice that should not be criticized. Therefore, people of the Islamic faith should not be bothered by the simple fact that another Moroccan citizen of a different religion is eating during Ramadan, and the law should not punish those who do. The government should ensure the respect of non-Muslim practices equally to Muslim practices. After all, religious practice is a personal choice before it is a social one.

Eating during Ramadan should not be seen as a provocation to those of Islamic faith; it should be viewed as another individual freedom worthy of equal social respect. Why should eating during the day in Ramadan be more scandalous than letting poor, unfortunate people starve during the other months of the year? It is difficult to break a common social belief and century-old traditions in order to instill a new, democratic mindset about fasting during Ramadan

Morocco Intensifies Push to Eliminate Plastic Bags Before COP22
Wednesday 8 June 2016 - Morocco World NewsBy Bryn Miller Rabat

 As Morocco assert its leadership in the field of sustainable development, the government has intensified efforts to eliminate plastic bags.

Worldwide, studies by the Earth Policy Institute estimate that the population uses approximately 140 plastic bags per person annually. According to Yabiladi, Moroccans used 26 billion plastic bags in 2015; per capita, that rounds to 780 bags annually. The overuse of plastic bags in the country has led to an accumulation of trash on the streets, pollution, environmental damage, and the economic costs of remediating these problems. Many environmental activists have pushed for a nation-wide ban on plastic bags. Their efforts reached the governmental sphere in 2009, when the government banned black trash bags. In 2011, the Ministry of the Interior partnered with the Department of the Environment to establish the National Programme for Collection and Disposal of Plastic Bags. This initiative cost Morocco approximately 8 million dollars and sought to educate the populace about the harmful effects of plastic bags.

In the fall of 2015, the Minister of Industry proposed Bill 77-15. Drawing upon the goals of the 2014 National Charter for Environment and Sustainable Development, the bill bans the import, export, manufacture, and use of plastic bags and imposes heavy fines on violators. On March 24, the government ratified a decree  to apply the provisions of 77-15. The Minister of the Interior circulated a message regarding this ban to regional leaders last Tuesday.

In the wake of the Minister’s letter, local leaders across Morocco have started to organize campaigns to dispose of plastic bags in their regions. Earlier this week, leaders in Taounate and Berkane convened meetings to hash out the details of the collection, destruction, and education processes.

In Berkane, a city near Oujda, local leader Abdullah Hawdi held a conference  on the morning of June 6. He plans to work with private and public actors to locate where plastic bags are distributed, collect and secure the bags, and use a cement plant in Oujda to incinerate them. Additionally, he hopes to distribute leaflets, banners, and articles to the local populace to emphasize the damaging effects of plastic bags.

In Taounate, Hassan Bilhudfat announced on Tuesday that his regional committee hopes to clear the region of bags before the beginning of the COP 22 conference in November. He will follow a plan similar to Hawdi and emphasizes the importance of partnerships and media campaigns.

Although some Moroccan leaders support the ban, others fear the economic impact of the law. Al Araby notes that this law could result in the loss of 50 thousand jobs in the plastics industry. Other economists across the world are skeptical about whether the benefits of plastic bag bans outweigh the economics drawbacks. The National Center for Policy Analysis found in a 2013 report that plastic bag bans save no money for cities; furthermore, the study notes that single-use plastic bags are often have a lower greenhouse gas potential that reusable bags.

Other scholars, however, point to the high environmental costs of plastic bags. Especially in Morocco, where many bags are discarded outside and rarely recycled, they are likely to harm animals and damage the environment. Whatever the environmental and economic realities may be, plastic bag bans are generally viewed as a laudable and symbolic environmental development. If Morocco manages to achieve the ban in the coming months, it will further increase its environmental credentials as the COP 22 conference approaches.

Argan farming in the thirsty valley: From the coastal shores of Sidi Ifni to the mountain valleys of Tafraoute, the argan tree is farmed all over Southern Morocco for it’s ability to produce high quality culinary and cosmetic oil, Chris Griffiths finds out more

The mountain plains between Taroudant and Taliouine are a stunning drive or cycle, with roads which wind through valleys immersed in argan trees, while shepherds livestock graze along the roadside. It’s possible to see goats naturally clambering into the trees to graze on the shells of the nuts, although they are discouraged during the early stages of the nuts development (May/June). Water is scarce in the south of Morocco and farmers are allocated a share of annual rainfall by leaders of tribes in the region. People who live in these areas must farm and trade as efficiently as possible in order to survive off the land. Argan is one of the only produce which is agriculturally viable here, along with almonds and the fig barberie (prickly pear); a cacti fruit.

The region has strong Amazigh roots, a culture known for it’s truly genuine hospitality. Turning off the main road and down a bumpy piste, this welcome nature became very evident, as I soon found myself being stopped and invited to drink tea with Layla Kaltum and her daughter Hanane, who farm argan as a livelihood in the small village of ‘Agouni n Fad.’

After the customary regional refreshments - argan oil and almonds with bread (freshly cooked in a mud-oven), pure honey with natural butter and tea - they insisted I stopped for more time to watch them go about their work producing argan oil, using the traditional (and very exhausting) ‘grindstone, water and hot coals’ method.

Families like the Kaltums still use the traditional grindstone method as the modern machinery used to press large quantities is unaffordable. The traditional method begins with shelling the nuts by hand. Having two outer shells, both layers must be removed by being squashed with a rock - a laborious process which requires much patience and consistent work pace in order to make a sufficient quantity of argan oil.

During the harvesting season (July / August), goats in the region are encouraged to clamber into the trees and graze as they only eat the first outer shell, leaving the last shell and nut behind, reducing the work load for the farmers only slightly.

Argan can be stored away for long durations of time in a dry cool place once harvested, meaning the women can continue producing oil all year round. Families like the Kaltums only produce a small quantity per month and sell their argan oil to local co-operatives. Co-ops are common in Morocco, generally made up of communities of farmers from across a particular region who have united and agreed on fair prices to sell their produce for, such as argan oil.

This set up formed as a result of farmers often finding themselves at the hand of distributors in the main cities. By uniting together the farmers are able to dictate fairer prices and each co-op will have an administrative team who work to market the oil at these agreed prices, eliminating the need for middle men and commission payouts while distributing to the larger cities.

Layla and Hanane are able to sell 1 litre of argan oil to a co-op for 160dh, which takes them a full day to produce using the traditional grindstone method. But they also sell to customers directly for 200dh per litre, often to families from cities in Morocco who have connections to the region who know farmers like Layla and Hanane produce good quality, traditionally pressed oil.

Once the nuts had been separated from their shells, Layla then took them out into the courtyard and toasted them in a ceramic dish over hot coals. For many people, this stage normally indicates whether or not the oil is being made for cosmetic or culinary use, as the nuts are usually only toasted for culinary argan oil, since toasting the nuts strengthens the smell. But both Layla and Hanane laughed at this suggestion.

 “For me...” said Layla, “... there is only one type of argan oil. We always toast the nuts and use this same oil for cooking and for rubbing on our skin and hair. I see tourists buying cosmetic argan oil a lot and I have never understood why it has become so popular. I like the smell and feel of toasted argan oil on my skin. Cosmetic argan oil just isn’t the same.” The women then began grinding the nuts into a paste, another long process which tests patience and takes a lot of strength and stamina to produce sufficient quantities of oil. Layla then placed the paste into a ceramic bowl, carefully adding precise measurements of water. After  being heated on the hot coals, the oil began to separate from the paste, leaving only the fibre waste behind, which is used as animal feed.

As I left the farm, the women kindly offered some of the freshly made argan oil as a gift to take home for my breakfast the following day. They suggested I visited an argan co-operative just 10km away, in a valley called the almond valley (Aoulous). Based in a small village named Duoar Tidnass, located inside Aoulous, Co-operative Agricole Feminin Tagmat has 62 members, each supplying argan oil from farms across the Taroudant region. Mahjouba is a member of the co-op and explained that farmers who decide to work with the co-operative bring any argan oil they produce directly to the co-op who then sell it to a large distributor based in Agadir.

The amount each farmer supplies to the co-op is recorded and annual profits are shared out accordingly. At least 40L of argan oil is sold to Agadir every month, while a shop inside the premises sells bottles of culinary and cosmetic oils to tourists and visitors, as well as Amlou - a nut paste made by blending almonds with argan oil.

The 10 Essentials of Ramadan 
Wednesday 8 June 2016 -By Rania Tazi Rabat

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, is a holy month defined by fasting and abstaining from most worldly pleasures. Muslims who observe the fast year after year start to develop certain habits and rituals that they associate with Ramadan, as this month brings about drastic lifestyle changes.

In Morocco, there are many aspects of life that only exist during Ramadan. These habits and rituals may vary from  city to city, family to family, and individual to individual, but they occur in a general manner and are recur every year. There are certain elements that are essential to Ramadan, and without which Ramadan would feel incomplete.

1.   Harira and chebakkiya
The key elements of the ftour table are undoubtedly harira and chebbakiya. These two foods are essential aspects of Ramadan in Morocco, and ftour is incomplete without. Their popularity soars during Ramadan, as they are almost never consumed outside of the holy month.

2.   Cravings
As a way of distracting ourselves from the hunger and the thirst that we experience while fasting, many people use their cravings as inspiration for what we will eat for ftour. Nothing is too farfetched when it comes to the food we plan on eating after breaking the fast. Stumbling upon enticing food advertisements and pictures while innocently browsing online also contributes to our cravings.

3.   Ramadan shows on 2M and Al Aoula
The majority of Moroccans break their fast while watching television. Because this has become a sort of ritual, television channels have jumped on the opportunity of increased viewer rates. This has resulted in numerous iconic Ramadan shows, such as Lalla Fatima and l’Couple, whose actors have soared into superstardom in Morocco.

4.    Empty streets during the ftour
Casablanca has a population of 3.36 million people. During the ftour, however, all 3.36 million are inside. This phenomenon obviously occurs all over Morocco, as the streets become deserted about five minutes before the breaking of the fast. Silence overcomes most homes as people dive into the food in front of them, and the clatter of plates and utensils becomes the dominant sound.

5.   Overeating
After many hours of not eating and not drinking, a feat that seems impossible is to not overeat.  Overeating is looked down upon, since the purpose of Ramadan is not to starve oneself during the day and to eat until we can no longer breathe at night, but rather to purify and discipline oneself. However, most Moroccans fall into the overeating trap. This is mostly because our cravings during the day lead to a ftour table overflowing with food, and our initial hunger drives us to eat until we are more than completely satiated.

6.    Family gatherings
Ramadan is a special month where the breaking of the fast is a ritual to be done with family. It is commonplace for big family gatherings to happen during the month of Ramadan for the breaking of the fast. It is even more normal during the Eid, the holiday that marks the end of the holy month that is characterized by family gatherings.

7.   Tarawih
Prayer is one of the five pillars of Islam; however Tarawih prayers are non-compulsory prayers to be undertaken during Ramadan nights. Even if they are non-compulsory, they are strongly recommended. Ramadan would not be complete without crowds of men in traditional white praying clothing walking to the overflowing mosques with their prayer mats on their shoulders.

8.   Living by night
Because the ftour occurs in the evening, and during summer months at night, during Ramadan most people live by night. After the hour when most are breaking their fast and the streets are deserted, the streets come alive and where every café available is filled to capacity. Sleep is also disturbed as most stay up late for souhour, while others wake up to do so.

9.   Halitosis
The physical testimony of fasting is undoubtedly halitosis, or bad breath. Despite being usually perceived as a bad thing, halitosis during Ramadan is proof that we are fasting. According to Tajuddin B. Shu’aib, author of Essentials of Ramadan: the Fasting Month, the coating on the tongue occurs when “after desiring food, the body begins to digest such waste material and deposits of fat as are available to it. This coating on the tongue is an outward proof that inner elimination is in progress”. This has become the form of validation amongst peers as to whether or not we are fasting.

10.   Volunteering
The holy month of Ramadan is characterized by increased generosity in attempts to better ourselves. Most show this generosity by engaging in volunteering acts. Most associations see a spike in interest and commitment during Ramadan, compared to other months. The weekly news site generated a list of associations active during Ramadan who are encouraging everybody to participate, including:
–    Ftour Al Amal, organized by the Moultaqa assoction, which aims to provide ftour meals for one thousand people.
–    Ladies Circle de Casablanca 7, which aims to treat the less fortunate “like guests” by offering and serving them the ftour meal.
–    Sourire du Cœur, who aims to serve sixty ftours every night to not only the less fortunate, but also people who are isolated or who feel lonely in the Oulfa neighborhood.

In Pictures: Morocco’s Sand and Sky

Three reasons why Morocco is lagging in e-payments
by Amine Azariz, June 8, 2016

In Morocco, cash still rules.

This is the first of three articles about the state of digital payments in Morocco.

At a time when ‘fintech’ is on everyone’s lips, Morocco isn’t faring too well in the digital payments race and there are three issues in particular holding the country back. According to the 2015 annual report from Morocco’s central bank, Bank Al-Maghrib, electronic payments such as in-store credit card payments and online transactions in the country were worth $2 billion per year and averaged 600,000 transactions per day. But, as an example of how absent digital payments are from the Moroccan market, the report had no discussion around mobile payments at all.

Need mo’ mobile money
A 2015 study on mobile money in Africa by consulting firm BCG (formerly Boston Consulting Group) argues that over the last 10 years, 52 percent of the active population in Sudan uses mobile banking services, 50 percent in Gabon, and 42 percent in Algeria. In the same year in Kenya, mobile payment transactions accounted for 60 percent of GDP, a country with an economy and population close to that of Morocco. Further, one in every three Kenyans - that’s 18 million people - use mobile money to pay for items both online and offline in grocery stores, supermarkets and souks, according to French business journal LesEchos.

Yet Morocco has advantages that should make mobile money and payments more popular: a young population with an average age of 28; a bancarization rate - or the number of people with bank accounts - within the world average of 64 percent, according to Bank Al-Maghrib; one of the most developed telecom infrastructures in Africa; and a remarkably high mobile penetration rate which is as high as 130 percent according to the ANRT. So, what’s wrong?

Legislation and monopolies
Morocco boasts regulations around banking and financial services as complex as that of  more developed European countries, and that’s its problem. Most successful mobile payment solutions in the world have been launched by telephone operators such as SafariCom, which is behind M-Pesa in Kenya, and Orange which is behind Orange Money in Senegal. In Morocco, the law bans any organization that is not a bank to seek deposits from individuals and companies and offer payment options. So, from a legal point of view a solution like M-Pesa, which is based on phone companies facilitating payments, cannot exist in Morocco.  

Other legal aspects help maintain monopolies. For example, before 2014 only Maroc Telecommerce was authorized to process online credit card payments in the country. Since this monopoly nominally came to an end in 2014 three other providers have appeared: AmanPay (disclosure: the writer works for AmanPay), PayZone, and F-Pay. With these new players the number of e-shops has doubled and the quality of ecommerce services is improving.

But, while the online payments sector has been opened up to competition, payment via credit cards is still controlled by the Centre Monetique Interbancaire (CMI - which also owns Maroc Telecommerce), a private company created and owned by all but two of the country’s banks. The CMI is still the only active entity that provides shop owners with payment terminals and therefore decides the fees and services available to them.

The weight of the informal sector
The informal economy - or business activities that are not reported to the government - could also be a barrier to the adoption of digital payment more generally, rather than mobile payments specifically. According to the last report, published in 2008, by Moroccan government statistics department the Higher Planning Commission, the informal sector made up over 14 percent of Morocco’s GDP in 2007. One should add to that number, the registered shops that accept cash payments in addition to their declared income. The financial flexibility that undeclared cash provides could mean that some businesses might be reluctant to adopt more traceable methods of payment.

A closed currency
The last obstacle is related to the Moroccan dirham. The dirham is a non-convertible currency, meaning it can’t be exchanged for an international currency such as the US dollar or the euro outside of Morocco. Further, Moroccans can’t pay in dirhams abroad - they have to do so in foreign currencies - and getting dirhams out of the country is forbidden by the state. This means all modes of payment must be operated by an entity based in Morocco. It is therefore very difficult for foreign investors to invest in payment methods targeting Morocco.

Therefore, modes of payment such as Paypal are pretty much absent from the Moroccan market. It’s almost impossible to transact in Bitcoin and it’s time-consuming for services such Airbnb and Uber to get into the country partly because they have to find ways to work around the currency issue. The government is working on finding solutions to these problems such as modifying banking laws and the legal framework around the payment services and methods.

Digital payments regulations and technology in Morocco are still well behind those in other African countries. While the government is taking some steps towards allowing the country’s entrepreneurs push payments in the 21st century, there is a long way to go yet.

Library of Congress Lecturer: Morocco's Musical Traditions Reflect Country's "Inherent Diversity"
WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwired - June 09, 2016)

In a lecture on the "Musical Soundscapes of Morocco" at the Library of Congress on Monday as part of the Washington Jewish Music Festival, ethnomusicologist Dr. Samuel Torjman Thomas hailed Morocco's "inherent diversity" as "one of the most valuable elements of Moroccan society and perhaps one of the most promising elements for humanity in general." Through photos, maps, sound recordings and even live performances of Moroccan Arabic and Hebrew songs, Dr. Thomas showcased Morocco's ethnic, regional and topographic diversity and the North African kingdom's long history "as a conduit point between East and West… at the cusp of North Africa."

"There are several languages that are spoken in Morocco," he said, referring to Arabic, French, Hebrew, Spanish, and a number of dialects. "With all that linguistic diversity comes also diversity in religion and even in racial backgrounds." He noted, too, Morocco's varied geography -- its valleys and mountain ranges, its beaches and deserts. Calling Morocco "a nexus point," Dr. Thomas said, "I think that is very fundamental as well to Moroccan culture, to the development of Moroccan culture over the centuries."

In recent years, Morocco has prioritized its promotion of religious and cultural diversity through a variety of means, including several projects overseen by King Mohammed VI to rehabilitate the country's many Jewish sites -- including the "Houses of Life" project that has restored 167 Jewish cemeteries across the country. The King has called this project "a testimony to the richness and diversity of the Kingdom of Morocco's spiritual heritage. Blending harmoniously with the other components of our identity, the Jewish legacy, with its rituals and specific features, has been an intrinsic part of our country's heritage for more than three thousand years. As is enshrined in the Kingdom's new Constitution, the Hebrew heritage is indeed one of the time-honored components of our national identity."

Adopted by referendum in 2011, the Moroccan constitution states that the country's unity "is forged by the convergence of its Arab-Islamist, Berber and Saharan-Hassanic components, nourished and enriched by its African, Andalusian, Hebraic and Mediterranean influences," and emphasizes Morocco's attachment "to the values of openness, of moderation, of tolerance and of dialogue for mutual understanding between all the cultures and the civilizations of the world."

Dr. Thomas, who serves as Director of Curriculum and Institutional Programming at the Brooklyn Music School and is an adjunct Assistant Professor of ethnomusicology and Jewish studies at several campuses of the City University of New York, is the artistic director of the New York Andalus Ensemble -- a large multiethnic ensemble featuring a choir and instrumentalists performing traditional music of North Africa and Spain in Hebrew, Arabic, and Spanish. The event was co-sponsored by the Library of Congress's American Folklife Center and Hebrew Language Table.

The Moroccan American Center for Policy (MACP) is a non-profit organization whose principal mission is to inform opinion makers, government officials, and interested publics in the United States about political and social developments in Morocco and the role being played by the Kingdom of Morocco in broader strategic developments in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East.
This material is distributed by the Moroccan American Center for Policy on behalf of the Government of Morocco. Additional information is available at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC.

First two university-based career centres launched
Wagdy Sawahel10 June 2016 Issue No:417

Morocco’s first university-based career centres have opened. Aimed at enhancing the employability of graduates and their transition to the workforce, the centres will provide orientation services to students and graduates, work readiness training, information on high growth sectors and exposure to employers, internships and other forms of workplace learning. The two career centres located at Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakesh and Abdelmalek Essaadi University in Tangier – were inaugurated on 27 May and 3 June respectively. They will serve as a model for other public universities in Morocco to adopt or replicate. Development of a third career centre at University Hassan II Casablanca is under way.

The graduate unemployment problem
Nearly a quarter of university graduates in Morocco are registered as unemployed, according to a 2016 report from the government’s planning institution, the Haut-Commissariat au Plan. Based on research and in-country interviews, a 2014 report entitled Youth Transition to the Labor Market in Morocco revealed structural reasons for the high rates of unemployed graduates. The reasons are related to inefficiencies in the education system that have led to "overcrowding in public universities, low quality instruction in certain majors, and an excess of students getting training in majors that are not giving them the skills they need for full employment," said the report. "These factors diminish returns to investment in higher education and distort student perceptions of future labour market returns."

Career centres

Developed under the four-year Career Center Program funded by the United States Agency for International Development or USAID in Morocco, in cooperation with the Moroccan ministry of higher education, the career centres are aimed at supporting universities to better respond to the needs of the labour market and to help alleviate graduate unemployment. The initiative will embed work readiness programmes into the higher education system to prepare students for jobs after graduation, and build understanding of career preparation and planning among students, educators, government officials and the private sector. It will also facilitate dialogue between industry and academia and help to forge links between the private sector and education institutions.

Designed for sustainability, career centre staff will include university employees, volunteers and students. The centres will support students to enter the job market by providing an array of resources including information, preparatory classes, consulting, and intermediating between graduates and employers during internship programmes. They will also engage with stakeholders in the public and private sectors, as well as university administrations and academics, to influence their perceptions of career development and employment

A Common Art Project between Morocco and Italy 
Wednesday 8 June 2016 - Morocco World News Rabat

 Inside the auditorium of the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rabat, the event “l’Italie et le Maroc: voix parallèles dans l’art contemporain” was organized on June 3, with the contributions of art history professor Claudio Strinati and museum director Abdelaziz El Idrissi. The organizers of the third annual event of “La Médina Florissante” are the Italian Ducci Foundation based in Rome, which has recently launched an office in Fez, and the International Center For The Interculturel Dialogue (CIDI), known for its expositions of Italian and Moroccan artists in Gallery Aquas (Fez).

Unfortunately, the symposium that was planning to combine art, dance, and music to promote the dialogue of cultures in the Mediterranean, didn’t take place. Linda Bonacini, artistic director of Aqua, the first gallery of contemporary art in Fez,  told MAP that “The symposium connects Italian and Moroccan contemporary art. We try throughout our foundation to have intercultural exchanges between Morocco and Italy.” She added that the conference was canceled due to “the unavailability of Italian speakers” and highlighted the importance of art expert Professor Claudio Strinati, who would have presented “about the similarities between Moroccan and Italian art in order to highlight those common links.”

The official program included plastic arts exposition such as “Souffles d’une douceur frise” by Aziz Sayed who did its vernissage on June 4th in Aquas gallery. The inauguration of “La nouvelle palmeraie” by Giorgio Capogrossi includes a concert by piano soloist Orazio Sciortin, “Voyage en Italie aver Liszt,” and another Andalouse concert “Contaminations” by Karim Duo. The goal of this symposium was to encourage reflection about the two countries within the domain of contemporary art, and to plan other projects in the future.

Advancing Citizen Engagement in Morocco
MAC June 3, 2016 Caitlin Dearing Scott, SVP, Research, Projects, and Programs, MAC

Since 2013, the National Democratic Institute has worked with members of Parliament (MPs) in Morocco to improve citizen engagement and bridge the trust gap between elected officials and their constituencies – a long-standing challenge in the Kingdom. Through the program, funded by the British Embassy and USAID, fourteen MPs established constituent outreach offices to “directly engage with citizens and advocate on their behalf.” The program culminated in a March 2016 manual, Getting Closer to Citizens: A Manual on Outreach for Elected Officials, to provide best practices for constituency outreach.

Such outreach – which includes holding public forums and gatherings; going out into the community; cooperating with NGOs; leveraging social media and other online tools; and ensuring inclusive local engagement by bringing in women and youth – is an essential element of improving citizen engagement in politics. Its aims are to build citizen trust in the political process and political institutions; improve citizen understanding about the role and real abilities of elected officials; and strengthen political party capacity to represent public, rather than party, interests in decision-making processes. As NDI notes, “Elected leaders who are visible, responsive and accountable to citizens outside of election campaign periods create public trust in themselves and political institutions. This trust is crucial for effective and sustainable democracy.”

The timing for the program could not have been better. Morocco is in the early stages of an advanced regionalization project designed to devolve power to the local and regional levels – the success of which will depend largely on citizen engagement, improved government services, and more responsive political parties and institutions.

Announced in 2008 and then codified in the 2011 Constitution and subsequent organic laws, the regionalization process kicked off in earnest with the September 2015 local and regional elections.   For the first time, Moroccan voters directly elected representatives to their regional councils; and now both regional and local councils will have greater independence in managing and budgeting for their respective affairs.

For NDI, these reforms “demonstrate the increasing relevance of outreach by local elected officials…The devolution of powers means that regional and local councilors need to ensure that they are in touch with citizen’s needs and are adequately informed to determine the direction of local government reforms.”

Through the program, which was judged a success by both the MPs and their constituencies (see the manual and a video for some of their stories),  “citizens have learned more about the role of local and national elected representatives, which is key to the successful functioning of democracy and satisfaction of citizens with the work of their elected representatives.” Moreover the efforts of elected representatives to “better connect with constituents and represent the needs of citizens has increased their ability to fulfill their role, combat negative attitudes toward elected representatives, and meet the demand in Morocco for greater access to elected representatives.”

The hope is that this effort can be replicated on a much larger scale throughout the country. Increased use of technology and social media should help. During the 2015 elections, the improved use of technology helped with voter registration and dissemination of party platforms, benefiting political parties, administrating officials, and citizens alike. This type of mutually-beneficial engagement will prove all the more important in the coming years as Morocco’s takes on the complex challenges – and opportunities – of devolution.
See more at:

Bac Exams in Morocco: More Than 3,000 Cases of Cheating Recorded
Tuesday 7 June 2016 - Larbi Arbaoui Rabat

Despite the government’s decision to impose prison terms on students caught cheating or convicted of leaking national exams, the fraud seems very hard to eradicate in Moroccan schools. Of the 306,000 students taking the regional baccalaureate exam, the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training has reportedly recorded 3,048 cases of cheating, more than 1 percent. The ministry said that instances of cheating were reducedfrom previous years.

It also said that several people who illegally distributed the contents of the exam were “caught red-handed” and “surrendered to security authorities.” The ministry claimed that “administrative disciplinary measures were taken against several officials and assistants in the management of examinations because of their lack of firmness in the application of measures against cheating.”
The Moroccan government has already defined cheating on exams as “a form of fraud and deception in school exams to get a certificate or national diplomas.”

If adopted, the law states that anyone caught in the act of cheating or aiding in the process will face one month to one year in prison, and a fine ranging from MAD 5,000 to 10,000. Prior to the exams, the ministry led an awareness campaign to about the dangers of cheating at the national exams in different high schools around the country. Students were taken aback when they found specialized law enforcement units patrolling examination centers and teachers equipped with metal detectors for discovering electronic devices forbidden within the confines of the examination centers.

Some Moroccan associations call for reviewing the restraining laws imposed on students, recognizing the “importance and necessity of the adoption of legal arsenal to eradicate and treat the cheating phenomenon,” but concerned that “it will not be greatly effective, unless it is accompanied with educational, societal and pedagogical treatment during the schooling years.”

306,000 Moroccan Students Sit for the Regional Baccalaureate exam
Monday 6 June 2016 -Morocco World News By Bryn Miller Rabat

On Friday and Saturday, 306,000 high school students across Morocco sat for the first round of the baccalaureate exam. In Moroccan high schools, all students follow a common curriculum (tronc commun) for one year to determine if they will study language arts or science. Following this period, they focus on their chosen track in the two-year baccalaureate cycle. Last week, students from the first year of the baccalaureate program took the national exam, which is administered on a regional level. Starting today, the students in the last year of the baccalaureate will sit for the national exam.

The baccalaureate examinations at the middle and end of each year are scored on a twenty-point scale. To pass, students must receive an average grade of ten or above. In 2014, about 45% of candidates passed the final examination. During the regional testing period, two problems arose. First, the Ministry of Education reported that the government arrested 21 people across Morocco for allegedly disseminating testing material before the exam. During the test, the Ministry reported that 3,048 cases of cheating. Many of these cases involved students accessing websites for information.

Secondly, some smartphones changed the time a day early, causing baccalaureate candidates to arrive late on Saturday. Since some of these students missed the exam, the Ministry of Education will allow candidates who were unable to begin the test on the second morning to retake it on June 10

“Education for a Better Morocco” Conference Kicks Off Friday in Rabat
Wednesday 1 June 2016 -Elisabeth Myers Rabat

The Association of Moroccan Professionals in America (AMPA) and the American University of Leadership (AUL) have released the agenda for “Education for a Better Morocco,” an international conference that kicks off on Friday June 3, Rabat. The conference focuses on education within the broader context of business, entrepreneurship, and the future economic growth of Morocco. The agenda lays out a program featuring an impressive array of international experts.

Speakers include Dr. Lahcen Daoudi, Morocco’s Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research, and Training, who will also offer keynote remarks; Hamid Ben Elafdil, President, La Fondation Marocaine l’Etudiant and former CEO of the Moroccan Investment Development Agency — AMDI, and Prince Youssouf Ouedraogo, Director, African Development Bank and former Prime Minister of Burkina Faso.
Others include Malika Laasri, CEO of Education for Employment; Amine Bentahar, Managing Partner of Advantix Digital (formerly with Microsoft and Hilton Hotels) from the U.S., Sarah Ouakim, Multilingual and Multicultural Leadership Executive & Founder of Global Bridging, from Sweden; Professor Kamaleddine Tabine, Moroccan-American university professor; Prof. Christine Clarke, Academic Dean of the European University’s business school in Spain; Zouhair Benjelloun, Managing Director of SNTL Supply Chain; and two core team members representing the Moroccan and U.S. government respectively who participated in the recent establishment of MCC Compact 2.

Delegates of the Minister of Moroccans Resident Abroad and Immigration Affairs, Anis Birou, and of the Minister of Equipment, Transportation, and Logistics, Aziz Rabbah, will present remarks on behalf of their ministers. The two panels on macro and micro issues will be moderated by Abdelmounim El Amrani, Bureau Chief in Rabat of Al Jazeera, and Adnane Bennis, Managing Editor of Morocco World News. The day’s session will close with a cocktail reception, celebrating the official launch of AUL’s new American University of Leadership Morocco Foundation. Saturday morning continues with a round table of invited experts to develop recommendations for strengthening and enhancing Morocco’s educational system.

“We are looking forward to hosting this international conference, to provide a powerhouse platform for international experts in education and business from around the world to focus on Morocco’s bright economic future,” said Dr. Anass Lahlou, the President of AUL. “With our new foundation and university, AUL is well positioned to facilitate innovation, research, and business best practices in Morocco, thereby contributing to Morocco’s economic stability and growth.”

“We are so pleased that we were able to springboard off of AMPA’s initiative last December in its Moroccan American Bridges 2015 conference to present this international conference in partnership with the American University of Leadership Morocco addressing important education issues,” said Chaouki Zahzah, President of AMPA. “This comes at an important time when Morocco is reconsidering its position in the world arena and its national brand in the global economy. It will be critical for Morocco to be able to provide the best qualified workforce to fill the jobs created by increasing entrepreneurship and investment in Morocco.”

Morocco World News is a proud media partner of this conference, which is supported by other strategic partners and sponsors, including the Ministry of Moroccans Resident Abroad and Immigration Affairs; the Ministry of Equipment, Transportation, and Logistics; Royal Air Maroc; AMPA; AmCham Morocco; Amoud; AUL Global Radio; Africar; Belmejdoub Events; Event Travel International; Golden Tulip Farah Hotel; PIIMT, and the Washington, D.C.-based Middle East and North Africa Consultants Association.
The conference is free, but registration is required. For the full agenda and to register, visit: .

Minister of Higher Education Promises Reform with Strategic Vision 2030
Monday 6 June 2016 - Morocco World News By Christopher Thomas Rabat

The American University of Leadership hosted on Friday June 3 a panel of speakers, including Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Training Dr. Lahcen Daoudi, to speak about efforts to reform the public education system. During this “Education for a Better Morocco” address, he and his colleagues reinforced their commitments to education and the pursuit of knowledge, citing history and modern shortcomings to underline the importance of this institution. They made ambitious promises to the nation, the results of which have yet to be seen.

The first speaker was President of the American University of Leadership Dr. Anass Lahlou. He began by reflecting over the factors which elevated the great powers of the world to their dominant positions. He attributed the United States’ success to a history of “scientists bringing knowledge from outside the US.” Seeking out knowledge wherever it may be found was his defining factor for America’s century of global ascendency.

Lahlou considers this as Morocco’s path forward. Ten years ago, the king had a vision to “make Morocco a hub” of learning and science. Realizing this dream, according to Lahlou, would elevate the nation’s status on the international stage and improve lives at home.

“Knowledge: that’s how Morocco will evolve,” he stated. He cited 100,000 Moroccan intellectuals abroad, necessitating foreign language-learning and opening the possibility for bringing the cutting edge of global intellectualism back to Morocco. Lahlou concluded by imploring intelligent education reform, saying that the “will is there; what is lacking is the strategy.”

Dr. Lahcen Daoudi, Minister of Education, tied historical glory to education. He acclaimed Fez’s University al Qarawayin, considered the oldest university in the world, as a proud legacy of Morocco. Its founding by Fatima al-Fahri in the 9th Century and the attendance by Pope Sylvester II demonstrates the nation’s historical commitment to diversity, including women, different religions, and foreigners.

Medieval Morocco welcomed Jewish refugees fleeing the persecution of the Spanish Reconquista, becoming a “state within a state,” he said.  This was a rare example of Muslims, Jews, and Christians coexisting, he added. Daoudi expressed his desire to see Morocco return to this role of global leader in tolerance and diversity. He also talked about mass migration and extremism, first claiming that extremism is not Islamic, but was imported from abroad. The only means to fight extremism, according to him, is science. According to Daoudi, knowledge and learning beyond contrived and limiting boundaries would elevate the society itself as well as its neighbors.

Because of this commitment to education, “Morocco welcomes sub-Saharan Africans to study at Moroccan universities, which turns the country into “gate towards Africa.” Daoudi cited over 15,000 African students with 8,000 scholarships attending Moroccan universities, many of whom are not even required to have a visa. Daoudi said that Morocco intends to use education as a weapon to fight extremism and help stabilize the continent. He mentioned Africa’s 2 billion people to highlight the importance of guiding them towards education instead of radical ideologies. His concerns transcended Moroccan or even European crises, asking “How many migrants will leave Africa if it is not safe? Even America will not be safe.” Daoudi finished poetically, describing Morocco as “The lit candle”, whose light must expand to cover the whole region.

Mariam Dahbi, cabinet member of the Minister of National Education and Vocational Training, concluded the panel by addressing the problems of Moroccan education head-on. She shattered the illusion that 99% schooling rates perpetuated, citing that of every ten students who enter elementary school, eight will proceed to middle school, six will continue to high school, and only three will graduate high school. Of those three, only half will obtain their Bachelors’ Degree.

Dahbi pointed to the Strategic Vision 2030, which the king’s Higher Council for Education Reform drafted to address educational shortcomings. This Strategic Vision includes 32 projects for short, medium, and long-term changes. It promises a new model for middle school foreign language instruction, and commits to corresponding literacy with high-level reading skills. She said that students with special needs would not be forgotten. Schools will remove classrooms with two grade levels and teach marketable vocational skills to include the non-intellectually disposed students, as administrative management will overall be improved. The Baccalaureate Exam shall be available in Arabic, French, or Spanish, she said.

This Reform Act will supposedly stand stronger than past efforts, since it is a “binding contract for coherent implementation of all plans” between the government and the king. Her speech finished along idealistic lines. She detailed the benefits that various fields have on education beyond teachers alone, asking architects to build schools, businessmen to fund libraries, and engineers to improve facilities. Dahbi tied this effort to the family unit, stating that “Education is the primary building ground of Morocco,” and it begins with children “made readers on the laps of their parents.”

The panel reaffirmed Morocco’s commitment to education, and elaborated on current problems with the system, as well as ambitious goals to fix them. The speeches were impressive, but often in the abstract, explaining which problems would be fixed rather than step-by-step programs addressing how to fix them. Any Moroccan who has lived through countless efforts to reform public education could cite similar such lofty promises in the past. It remains to be seen whether the Strategic Vision 2030 can be effectively implemented and affect meaningful change, or if it will be another unsuccessful effort in a long line of unfulfilled promises.

AfDB Lends Morocco Over €88 Million to Finance Water Project
Wednesday 8 June 2016 - Morocco World News Abidjan

The African Development Bank (AfDB) approved Wednesday in Abidjan a loan of €88.85 million to fund a project in Morocco aiming at improving the quality of drinking water service. The project is meant to strengthen and secure the drinking water supply in several cities and to improve water quality at the Bouregreg system (artificial aeration at the Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah dam and ozonation at the existing treatment plant), said a statement from the AfDB.

According to the AfDB, the effective implementation of this project will meet the needs of drinking water and industrial water until 2030 in the most populated and urbanized area in Morocco (more than 5 million people). “The project will contribute to enriching the experience of the National Office of Electricity and Water Supply to achieve and develop drinking water projects in rural and urban areas,” the statement said. It added that the loan brings to 12 billion dirhams (nearly 1.1 billion euros) the total lent by the AfDB to Morocco to finance drinking water projects, which places the Bank as the first partner of the Kingdom in the water sector.

Is Sufism Truly the Magical Antidote to Islamism in Morocco?
Thursday 9 June 2016 - Mohamed Chtatou Rabat

In Morocco as in other Arab countries, Islamism has taken root in the poverty-stricken areas, in the outskirts of major industrial cities: the belts of poverty. In 2003, Casablanca experienced terrorist attacks in a popular tourist restaurant and internet café. Suicide bombers, coming from the shanty town of Sidi Moumen, aimed the first attack directly towards discouraging Western influence by getting rid of some of its perpetrators – Western tourists travelling in Morocco. The second attack, in an internet café, perhaps more indirectly, discouraged Western influence. Because the attack was carried out in a cyber commodity, this could perhaps be seen as a statement against outside influences that can permeate this North African society by way of the internet.

However, Islamism is seen as a threat to the government of Morocco both because it invokes violence and destruction and challenges the governmental regime in place. In Morocco, specifically, the idea of Islamism is a challenge to the Moroccan king because it doubts his legitimacy as amir al-mu’minin, the “Commander of the Faithful”, or head of religion. The very idea that the marriage between Moroccan politics and Moroccan Islam is insufficient or ill-functioning is both one of the major claims of Islamists and among the most threatening challenges that the Moroccan state has experienced. The Islamist opposition to the Moroccan government inadvertently crosses two red lines, challenging both the king’s legitimacy in matters of the state, and the current presence of Islam in politics as incorrect and insufficient.

Mohamed Daadaoui, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Oklahoma City University in the US,argues, in this regard, that: “Beginning in the 1970s, however, a conflict emerged between the state and a resurgent political Islam that posed a new kind of challenge to the monarchy and its religious authority. The conflict centered on control of the religious and symbolic public space and on the regime’s authoritarian control over state institutions. After the 2003 terrorist attacks in Casablanca, the state cracked down on Salafi Islamists. The state also used its exclusive control of traditional media outlets to reinvigorate the national significance of Sufi mystical Islam and, in effect, to reclaim and secure the spiritual identity of the country. Sufi Islam is at the core of the state’s religious narrative and has been instrumental in maintaining the regime’s monopoly over national religious identity. Today, the contours of this public space continue to be challenged and redefined, with little to no instances of radical violent Islamism.”

Sufism is apolitical
As much as Islamism is concerned with permeating all external areas of life, Sufism is focused on the internal workings of each individual. The religion stresses personal enlightenment by encouraging all people to look into themselves in order to find Allah. Sufis are focused on their search for a way inside themselves that will lead them to God, and believe that the path to Him can be found through meditation and purification. Because Sufism is so internally focused, Sufis are seen as inherently apolitical and uninvolved in political affairs. Sufism encourages believers to disengage from the material world, which includes politics and government, in order to better align oneself with the spiritual world and learn the truth, God. Sufism teaches that the material world is all illusion, and because of its illusive nature, it is better to free oneself from the bounds of material life and search for reality and understanding in the Divine.
On this particular aspect of Sufism, Hassan Al-Ashraf wrote in Al Arabiya News, that: “By virtue of its focus on religious practices, Sufism, a type of Islamic, mysticism, is a trend that does not aim at intervening in politics or public affairs unlike other emerging Islamic parties in Morocco. Absence of political ambition among Sufi groups has made them the Moroccan government’s way of choice to fight extremism.”

Al-Ashraf goes on to say that government official support to Sufism is shown through generous financial assistance: Financial support is among the government’s strategies to encourage the spread of Sufism in Morocco. This is basically done through issuing royal donations in the name of King Mohamed VI to “zawyas,” shrines in which Sufis perform their rituals.
In addition to promotion in the official media: “Promotion of Sufism in the media is another of the government’s ways to boost the trend. TV shows are dedicated to broadcasting Sufi “dhikr,” Arabic for “remembrance,” in which Sufis engage in devotional dancing, recitation, and meditation ceremonies for the purpose of remembering the blessing of God.”

Maraboutism, a Moroccan reflection of Sufism
Religion has always been important in the lives of Moroccans throughout history, but it was always moderate and respectful. Jews have lived and thrived in Morocco for 2000 years, thanks to this moderation. When the Sephardic Jews were kicked out of Spain after the Reconquista in 1492, Morocco was one of the few countries that opened its door generously for them, and since they dominated the Moroccan economy to the extent that they became the Sultan’s businessmen: tujjar as-sultan. The Jews also dominated, since then, Moroccan diplomacy and international trade.
Jonathan Katz, after visiting Morocco and meeting with Moroccans of different creeds and cultures had this to say about Moroccan diversity and Sufi tolerance: “So, from Morocco, what I would like to say is this: Tolerance is not the province of Western white people alone. I saw a greater acknowledgment for the intersection of different identities — Moroccan and Jewish, Berber and Muslim, Arab and francophone — than I have ever seen in much of the West.”

Moroccan Islam, though this term is rejected flatly by Islamists, who believe there is only one Islam with no local colorations, is a mixture of Sufism and Maraboutism. The Sufis came from the east around the 15th century and spread around the country, preaching a moderate Islam to uneducated farmers. On their death they were elevated to the rank of religious saints: Marabout, and rural people built shrines on their tombs and gave them baraka “divine grace” attributes that allow healing powers. So, there are hundreds of saints around Morocco with different healing powers and whose baraka is celebrated every year at the end of the agricultural cycle (a pagan concept) by a moussem “festival,” organized by the entire tribe for days, reminiscent of ancient pagan rites.

Since the advent of the Arab Spring in 2011, the establishment, which had always favored Sufi Islam, has further increased its support to religious lodges, such as the powerful and popular Boutchichiya lodge based in Madagh, near Berkane, in eastern Morocco, which boasts a membership of two million people in Morocco and worldwide made of civil servants, intellectuals and government officials. In Morocco, there are dozens of other Sufi religious lodges and orders that owe allegiance to the monarchy and give it its religious legitimacy and political strength.

For Clifford Geertz, the renowned American anthropologist of Islam, Sufism and Maraboutism are well-rooted within Moroccan society and psyche: “Islam in Barbary was – and to a fair extent still is – basically the Islam of saint worship and moral severity, magical power and aggressive piety, and this was for all practical purposes as true in the alleys of Fez and Marrakech as in the expanses of the Atlas or the Sahara.”

Realizing, also, that the fragmentation of the religious representation will make the imarat al-mu’minin(Commandership of the Faithful) stronger and more legitimate, the King has allowed recently the presence of Moroccan Shiites in the north of Morocco, under strict conditions of allegiance to the monarchy.

Is Sufism definitely the antidote to Islamism?
Morocco has gone through the Arab uprisings and the ensuing Islamist power takeover unscathed, thanks to the predominance of Sufi Islam in the majority of the Moroccan territory, which is almost as old as the monarchy itself. Moroccan Sufism, represented by omnipresent Maraboutism is tolerant, open and accepting of the other in his “otherness,” has earned the country much respect worldwide.

Today, many countries are approaching Morocco to benefit from its religious experience, especially in the field of Imam training and as such dozens of foreign students are been registered in the “Imam Academy” of Rabat. Thus, Moroccan Islam couched in Sufism has proved to be a successful antidote against religious extremism, in all its forms, and proof of that is that the “Moroccan exception” is a tangible reality in the Muslim world.
You can follow Prof. Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu

White Mentality from Othello to Donald Trump: Anything New?
Wednesday 8 June 2016 - Morocco World News By Souhil Alouache Fez

The current discussion about Islam, Muslim refugees, American Muslims, Donald Trump and his anti-Muslim bigoted rhetoric takes us back to the 16th Century play by William Shakespeare, Othello. The hero in this play is a Moor, a migrant in a foreign country, who joins the army of Venice and rises through the ranks to general.

During this period of time, the Ottoman Turks represent to the people of Venice and England a vicious rival that occupies their minds and souls. They are invariably portrayed as villains and viewed with intense suspicion and hostility. The Venetian elites send Othello to Cyprus to fend off the Turks, who invade the island. Othello leads his Christian army against the so-called “Muslim heathens in Cyprus. After a fierce battle, the Christian army wins, destroying the Turks’ ships. Religion enters emphatically into this equation: the Venetians are Christian, and the Turks are Muslim.  For the Venetians, the Turks are the abhorred enemy whom the Christians fought during the Crusades.

In this drama, Othello decides to marry a Venetian Christian woman named Desdemona, the daughter of a well-to-do man. Yet his decision is not welcomed by some, particularly his standard-bearer Iago. Iago hates Othello after Othello overlooks Iago for promotion, instead appointing fellow soldier Cassio to lieutenant.  Othello is an archetype of honor, courage, loyalty, and commitment to principles. Despite this, he receives the opposite treatment in Venetian society. Iago, on the other hand, is a manipulative character who preys on honorable personalities. He masks his deceit with a façade of loyalty, is selfish in the extreme, and does not believe in love, conscience, or honor. He stands completely outside the sphere of ethics. His methods are cunning; he plots to put an end to Othello, the Moorish hero.

In such an environment of stress and conspiracy, especially with cultural and ethnic differences, Othello’s integration into Western society is not easy. Indeed, it is a perilous experience, and he discovers that despite his sacrifices and military service on behalf of Venetian society, he cannot break the entrenched negative stereotypes in the mind of the Western characters about Arabs and Muslims.

Othello, the Moorish immigrant, poses a plethora of questions about Islamophobia in Western societies: Is the fear from Islam and Muslims in general so engrained in the psyche of Western characters that it cannot be eradicated? Is Donald Trump just echoing Western skepticism about Islam and doubting Muslims as Iago and Brabantio did in the play? Is it believable that the fear of many centuries ago still exerts its influence on the Western consciousness? Is it fair to say that this racist propaganda is exclusively an issue of the past, or is it also evoked in the contemporary West? And is it therefore a character of the Western psyche?

An outstanding question the play poses is, “Who is the real enemy of civilization?” Is it the Moorish immigrant, Muslim-born Othello who defends a land that is not his against an army with which he shares a number of ties, including religious origin, culture, ethnicity, and history, or is it the European Christian, Iago, whose business is destroying a symbol of victory for the sake of his personal interests, driven by hatred and revenge, and exposing an entire people to war? These very same set of questions are applicable to Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East, and the Muslims in America contributing considerably to the realization of the “American Dream.”

We should keep bear in mind that among foundational factors of Western power, and American power in particular, is ethnic and cultural diversity. One must not forget that the Muslim community has done well despite the racism to which it is exposed. When a man like Donald Trump declares that “We have no idea who is coming into our country, no idea if they like us or hate us,” and calls for imposing a “total and complete ban on Muslims,” he makes himself a fascist, manipulating the fear of Islam that circulates through the blood of many Westerners.

From a discursive point of view, Donald Trump is faithful to the tradition of Orientalism and an excellent pupil of Flaubert, Disraeli, and Massignon. When he says “Muslims,” he is blindly homogenizing, leaving no room for difference. And this religious reference is also problematic; why did not he say Arabs? Or refer to nationality? Why did he define the entire issue by Islam? He also uses the present tense “are,” entailing a timeless group of people as being always somehow transfixed and etherized. The ethnographic present he used leaves no way to deal with the issue in some sort of creative and objective way.

These Muslims, against whom his campaign is mounted, are not at all respected or recognized for all that they have contributed to America. They are denied the recognition that many of them are soldiers in the American army and defending the country as the character Othello did for Venice four centuries ago, whereas Trump was raised in peace. Muslims serving in the White House working day after day to maintain the Constitution and serve the people are overlooked.  Donald Trump’s discourse reflects a pathological enigma in the mentality of some Westerners, a mentality that is contaminated by xenophobia, and religious and ethnic bigotry.

This play is tightly connected to contemporary political debates and cultural phenomena. Othello is an attempt to communicate a central idea: that the West and the East, at least until now, are two irreconcilable entities characterized by a historical antagonism. It also points out that values of hostility, hatred, and exchanged fear will permanently be the formative and dominant rules in this encounter despite all calls for coexistence, denouncing violence, and initiatives taken for spreading tolerance that appear from time to time and which die immediately when faced up with the harsh historical realities and bloody political agendas exercised around the world in the name of civilization and spreading democracy, and too, when a fool like Trump launches the kind of statements.
Thus, those calls are only daydreams unless they experience a shift from the sphere of slogans and abstract sweet ideas to a daily life culture, unless they are extended from the academic platonic zone to the battlefield of politics and decision-making.

The existence of such a play discussing salient issues four centuries ago explains the continuity of false historical beliefs and triumphalist clichés, hardening attitudes, and demeaning generalizations. It also reveals the maintenance of exchanged negativity between two poles governed by power relations and hegemony. This astonishing congruence between the past and the present in the relation of the West and the East at the level of discursivity mirrors our failure as human beings in achieving any tangible progress. This is the case, because we are still occupied by the exact same debates, fears, and prejudices that Shakespeare portrayed centuries ago. Our conceptions about the other are naturally biased and are affected by the images and the discursive formations to which people’s cultural imagining is exposed.
Edited by Christopher Thomas.

What to Do and Where to Stay in Marrakech and the Ourika Valley
June 10, 2016 by Alessandra Codinha

Sexual Harassment in Morocco
Friday 10 June 2016 - morocco world news By David Hazelwood Rabat

I remained concerned and, frankly, outraged, by the sexual harassment of women and girls in Morocco. This is not something I only read and/or hear about, this is something I witness personally on a daily basis. Respecting girls’ and women’s rights changes the world unmistakably for the better. Morocco must push further in its struggle to ensure the safety and security for all girls. Investing in girls’ is not only right, it is smart. Benefits include greater social stability and economic growth.

We will never achieve this unless we tackle the roots of imbalance in social barriers and entrenched social norms. Unless Morocco begins to understand equality as a much broader concept, girls and young women will never be able to achieve the security that is of fulfillment to their human rights.

In March of this year, Bassima Hakkaoui, Moroccan Minister of Solidarity Women, Family, and Social Development, announced a new second draft for an anti-sexual harassment law.
The new bill legally redefines the spaces in which women can claim they have been sexually harassed. Sexual harassment includes unsolicited acts, statements, or signals of a sexual nature, which are delivered in person, online, or via telephone, the bill says.

The draft includes tougher punishments for perpetrators as well. A person convicted of committing sexual assault could face a combination of jail time, ranging anywhere from one month to six months, and fines, between MAD 2,000 and MAD 10,000. This will be a consequential policy choice; one that will positively affect Moroccans, especially girls and women, for generations to come. It is sad and alarming when fear hinders girls’ and women’s access to basic services outside the home. Harassment on the streets restricts social and economic development. Because of this fact, Morocco should unanimously pass the proposed bill and enforce it. People who harass girls and women in the streets are hindering the growth of the Kingdom of Morocco and its people.

It will be hard to get Moroccan boys to be bold enough to respect girls and stand up for them in front of their friends. However, we must demand that they do so. It is not only sad to see boys harass girls and women, it is also sad to see people who witness this do nothing about it; I am guilty of this too. We need to begin to speak up and stand up for girls when we witness this. We must stand in unity.

Literally millions of girls face harassment on a daily basis. We must task ourselves with doing everything in our power to give Moroccan girls all the freedom and security they deserve. They should feel safe and protected walking down the street, not scared and worried.

Morocco Liberalizes Abortion Laws, Amends Penal Code
Friday 10 June 2016 - morocco world news By Bryn Miller Rabat

 The Moroccan government approved on Thursday an amendment to the Moroccan Penal Code that liberalized the nation’s abortion laws. This amendment is the most recent manifestation of efforts to reform the 50-year-old code in accordance with the goals of the 2011 constitution. Previously, Article 453 of the Penal Code mandated that abortion was only permissible if the health of the mother was in danger. Yesterday’s reform amended the law to allow abortion in cases of incest, rape, and birth defects.

Last year, King Mohamed VI ordered the government to amend abortion laws after the Moroccan Association for the Fight against Clandestine Abortion reported that 800 illegal abortions were performed daily in the Kingdom. Although AMLAC’s estimate is hard to verify, their study demonstrates that up to 220,000 Moroccan women undergo illegal abortions each year.
The Middle East Eye estimates that illegal abortions in clinics cost approximately 3,000 dirhams (300 USD), a steep price for many Moroccan women. Those who cannot afford proper medical care may undergo procedures by untrained medics that lead to dangerous complications. Alaoui Belghitti, a doctor representing the Ministry of Health, told Al-Arabiya  in 2012 that abortion is a major public health problem.

In March, the King asked the Department of Justice and Islamic Affairs and the National Council for Human Rights to conduct a study regarding the legal, political, and Islamic implications of liberalizing Morocco’s abortion laws. The study found that the large majority of Moroccans supported legalizing abortion, but only in cases of rape, incest, and birth defects.

Health Minister El Hussein Louardi supported the legalization, telling Telquel News in May, “I am a doctor and citizen first. I believe a woman should have control over her own body. I think it is absolutely necessary to legalize abortion, because it is not only a medical problem but also a social problem.”

The Islamic laws regarding abortion make legalization a particularly controversial topic in the Kingdom. Islam generally teaches that abortion is wrong due to the sanctity of life valued in the Qur’an. The holy text is clear that it is not permissible to abort a child solely because the parents fear they will not be able to provide for him or her. However, since Shar’ia law encourages Muslims to choose the lesser of two evils most scholars agree that abortion is permissible if the pregnancy would endanger the life of the mother.

Morocco generally follows the Maliki school of law, which forbids abortion. However, the other three schools permit conditional abortions. The Hanafi and Shafi schools allow women to abort until the 120th day of pregnancy, while the Hanbali school permits them to do so before the 40th day. Since Morocco’s progressive 2004 Family Law was influenced by the Hanafi school of law, advocates for abortion legalization hoped the government will continue to shift to shift away from Maliki stances. The government’s decision to liberalize Morocco’s abortion policy is the latest of the progressive reforms that have characterized the past years of King Mohammed VI’s rule.

This reform accompanied various other amendments to the penal code, including clauses that criminalize forced disappearance, trafficking of immigrants, war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity.

In Pictures: Morocco in 1960’s-1980’s

Congressional Letter to President Hails Morocco’s Human Rights Achievements, Highlights Shared Values, Strong Alliance. 
June 3, 2016 Human Rights Washington, DC, June 3, 2016 (MACP)

Congressional Letter to President Hails Morocco’s Human Rights Achievements, Highlights Shared Values, Strong Alliance

In a letter sent to President Obama on Thursday, a bipartisan group of 16 Members of Congress hails Morocco as the US’s “strongest and oldest friend in a very important part of the world,” and urges “greater visibility” for Morocco’s role in promoting stability and development in the region, as well as the country’s progress on human rights. The letter comes shortly after Morocco expressed concerns last month that the US State Department’s April 2016 human rights report on the country contained factual errors and misrepresented Morocco’s efforts in that area.

The letter noted, “We understand that Morocco is the only country in the region to have established with the United States, since 2006 and at the request of Morocco, an on-going dialogue on human rights that is intended to be an open forum for objective and constructive engagement on these issues. This cooperative process, we are told, aims at exchanging information intended to resolve issues throughout the year and contribute to the accuracy of the annual report. We commend this process and would hope that it brings a positive contribution.”

“[Morocco] has been our ally in both the early days and throughout our history – including during World War II, the Cold War, and now our common battle against ISIL and other forms of terrorism,” read the letter. “Morocco shares our values and aspirations for the region and has been a model in promoting stability through substantial reforms.”“We are concerned that recent developments in our strategically important alliance with Morocco need to be made a higher priority and that our support for Morocco’s signal achievements, including on human rights, and the important role it is playing to enhance stability and development in the region, needs to be given much greater visibility in our public statements about this critical bilateral relationship with one of our oldest and most trusted partners.” Signatories of the letter included Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN), and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).

“Congress – both chambers, on both sides of the aisle – has long recognized the importance of the US-Morocco relationship,” said former US Ambassador to Morocco Edward M. Gabriel. “In this so-called age of partisanship it is refreshing to see such bipartisan consensus to help ease any tensions and maintain the long history of friendship and cooperation with Morocco.”
“The letter offers timely encouragement and counsel to continue to prioritize an alliance that focuses on shared values and common goals,” said MACP Executive Director Jordan Paul. “I know that for both the Administration and Congress it is important that the mutually beneficial friendship between the US and Morocco, which has lasted for more than two centuries, remain strong and vibrant.”
 Contact: Jordana Merran, 202.470.2049
The Moroccan American Center for Policy (MACP) is a non-profit organization whose principal mission is to inform opinion makers, government officials, and interested publics in the United States about political and social developments in Morocco and the role being played by the Kingdom of Morocco in broader strategic developments in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East.
This material is distributed by the Moroccan American Center for Policy on behalf of the Government of Morocco. Additional information is available at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC.
See more at:

Behind the Morocco-US Row: State Department Report Ignores Trends

Perhaps my most serious concern is that the report reveals a serious ignorance of long-term trends and provides a distorted picture of both the reality and the progress of human rights, which in its turn shows a profound misunderstanding of political and social dynamics at play in Morocco, writes Driss El Yazami.

As the President of Morocco’s independent National Human Rights Council, a body recognized by the United Nations as pluralistic and independent from the executive power, I share the disappointment expressed by the Moroccan government – and others -- over the US State Department’s recent report on human rights. I share it with millions of my fellow Moroccans as well, who, while well aware that our country is not perfect, are also aware, and proud, of the human rights improvements we have made.

To begin with, the report has numerous methodological biases. First, it makes selective and incomplete references to the conclusions of the United Nations organs that monitor international human rights and have concluded that there has been positive improvement of human rights in Morocco. These bodies, because they include independent experts -- many of whom are American -- are best positioned to make an objective assessment. In 2014 and 2015, for example, the UN Committee on Economic and Social Rights and the Committee on the Rights of the Child praised Morocco’s institutional developments, the creation of agencies in charge of human rights, and the implementation of laws and policies aimed at human rights promotion. In addition, Morocco is a signatory to the main international human rights treaties and in the past few years has hosted UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteurs and independent human rights experts; and we maintain a close interaction with UN treaty bodies.

Furthermore, the report doesn’t identify what international human rights instruments it is based on, which results in vagueness regarding the definition of the concepts (arbitrary detention, discrimination, enforced disappearances, torture, political prisoners, etc.) discussed. The research methods and data are neither transparent nor refined regarding the sources and diversity of the information; the ways in which the information has been collected; and the required updates -- many paragraphs are identical to those found in the 2014 report.

Perhaps my most serious concern is that the report reveals a serious ignorance of long-term trends and provides a distorted picture of both the reality and the progress of human rights, which in its turn shows a profound misunderstanding of political and social dynamics at play in Morocco.

For several decades, at the very least since the first Gulf War, the world has been preoccupied with the question of how to bring change to the Middle East and North Africa. In other words, we have all been – and still are -- concerned with what is needed to establish and consolidate democracy and human rights for the people, and with the ways international partners, mainly the United States, can play an active role.

By now it is clear that a successful process of democratic reform can only develop from within, and that it requires a true alchemy of many ingredients: firm political will at the head of government, modern constitutional framework, strong and delineated institutions, free press, diverse media, and dynamic civil society. Finally, civil peace and stability are essential, too.

We have this in Morocco. And we also have an open and thorough discussion going on about what still needs to be done in terms of access to justice, equality, human rights of persons with disabilities, and other social reforms. The many reports easily available on our website and those of other independent institutions and NGOs, as well as our continued work speaking out about these issues and sharing information about the progress and obstacles we face, make that very clear. Not only do we know it, but we write and do a lot about it.

The annual report that I presented to the Moroccan Parliament in June 2014, and which engaged numerous political groups and the government itself in a lively discussion regarding potential reforms, is yet another example of our awareness and our willingness to improve the human rights situation in Morocco.

The portrayal of Morocco in the State Department’s report is bluntly distorted, decontextualized and schematic; and it overlooks the capacity of the actors in Moroccan society to engage with difficult issues and to discuss them peacefully in pursuit of a reform roadmap, while protecting our internal stability and regional security. This ability to calmly talk over sensitive topics (death penalty, abortion, etc.) and to progressively adopt reforms is an impressive distinction that defines the Moroccan approach. To ignore its power in fueling Morocco’s ongoing reform process is unfair and harms potential cooperation between the US and Morocco in the ceaseless quest for human rights and democracy.
Driss El Yazami is the President of Morocco's National Human Rights Council

Why Morocco is the Right Country to Organize the COP22 
Tuesday 7 June 2016 - Morocco World News By Dinah Lakehal Casablanca

Due to its high ranking on the 2016 Climate Change Performance Index, Morocco is a fitting choice to host the upcoming COP 22 conference in Marrakesh this fall. At a time when emerging economies are over-consuming their natural resources, Morocco is asserting its position as an innovator, and leader in maintaining a balance between economic growth and a rich ecosystem. The 2016 index was released at the 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris, where King Mohammed VI called on world leaders to take forward actions on climate change initiatives, while focusing especially on Africa and its sustainable developmental needs. The index ranked Morocco as the first African and first Arab country and the ninth worldwide.

Devoid of natural resources but spoiled by the sun and the wind, Morocco has chosen to focus on renewable energy. The nation’s progress and commitment has asserted its position as a regional leader in combating climate change. With an extremely ambitious objective of securing 52 percent of the country’s energy mix from renewable sources by 2030, Morocco’s stance outdoes even the United States’ pledge of 26-28 percent and the EU’s 40 percent commitment.

After the government stopped subsidizing fossil fuels, industries turned towards generating power and savings by recycling. Large renewable energy investments and greater involvement by the private sector has allowed the government to allocate more spending on social sectors, such as education for the poor. Climate change’s impact is most evident in Morocco’s oceans and fisheries.
As a result, Morocco has invested in a tracking system that allows all boats to be followed with acute traceability and decreases illegal fishing practices to develop a more sustainable aquaculture for future generations.

With a $10 billion investment for sustainable development, Morocco is on track to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 13 percent by 2030. This commitment is especially impressive since Morocco’s annual per capital emission is four times lower than most industrialized countries. Morocco’s political efforts are openly climate-compatible and demonstrate that environmental policies are attuned to economic growth and eradicating poverty.

Hakima El Haite, Minister Delegate in Charge of Environment, explains that protecting the environment through sustainable development will not occur at the expense of the economy. Instead, Morocco seeks to strike a balance between economic growth, social progress and the safeguard of resources, while collaborating with industrialized countries. Morocco’s leadership position is reflected through its clear environmental policies, energy subsidy reforms, and commitment to pollution management. Therefore, the nation has rightfully earned the honor of hosting COP 22, the next round of international climate change talks, in Marrakech this fall.

Planet Khmissa: Moroccan Family Tours the World in Five Years
Tuesday 7 June 2016 - Morocco World News By Rania Tazi Casablanca

Aboard their mobile home “Mesk Ellil,” the members of the Atmani family are set to discover the world one continent at a time.  The family of five consists of Anouar Atmani, his wife Malika Atmani, and their three children, Meissa, Mehdi and Maya Atmani.

The name of their ambitious journey, Planet Khmissa, was inspired by the recurring theme of five -a family of five visiting five continents over the course of five years aiming to share their five values with the world. These five values include tolerance, respect of others, curiosity, harmony with the environment, and the sharing of information. Their goal is to travel the world to learn about new cultures and in turn, to share their Moroccan culture with the world. This real life odyssey began in 2013, where these “citizens of the world” embarked on their first trip to Belgium from Tangier.

Next, they made their way to South America where they aimed to enlighten students of all ages on the cultural wealth of Morocco. From 2013 to today, they have visited cities, villages, schools and universities in Argentina, Bolivia, Chili, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, and Uruguay,  where they shared their message of friendship, peace and tolerance.

Three years later, after countless press conferences, interviews, radio shows, they are back in Morocco ready to organize the next step of their incredible family adventure.

Hollywood Turns Its Eye to Rumi
Wednesday 8 June 2016 -Morocco World News By Christopher Thomas Rabat

David Franzoni, the writer of blockbuster film Gladiator, has announced his intention to create a new film about Rumi. Jalal al Din Rumi, 13th Century Islamic poet and scholar, may seem a surprising choice for America’s film industry. No less surprising is the casting: Franzoni aims to cast Leonardo DiCaprio as this historical academic, and Robert Downey Jr as Shams-e Tabrizi, the famed religious mentor so influential to Rumi’s works. Partnering with Franzoni is producer Stephen Joel Brown.

Their film intends to challenge American stereotypes held about Muslims. Given this goal, Rumi is a particularly apt choice. As a scholar instead of a warrior, he challenges violent perceptions of Islam and the Middle East. He remains the most popular poet in the United States, perhaps due to his transcended poetic style which crosses regional and religious boundaries. In Franzoni’s words: “He’s like a Shakespeare. He’s a character who has enormous talent and worth to his society and his people, and obviously resonates today. Those people are always worth exploring.”

Born in Central Asia, living in Persia, and traveling through Turkey, Rumi’s life was one of exploration and learning. His broad perspective on the world transferred to his poetry, allowing him to appeal to diverse audiences. Rumi’s poetry explicitly goes beyond Islam and portrays humanity as a unified identity. Last week, Franzoni traveled to Turkey to meet with Rumi scholars, as well as to visit Rumi’s tomb for a more accurate image of this giant of literature.

Reactions to this film proposal have been mixed. Many are encouraged by major Hollywood figures contributing to a story with a Muslim protagonist, and hope that this will help alter many Western stereotypes about Islam and the Middle East. Others are concerned that casting white European actors as non-white Central Asian characters further underscores Hollywood’s aversion to minority leads. Whether productive or detrimental to providing cross-cultural clarity, the scope of this ambitious film is certain to raise issues of race and religion, bringing Rumi to the center of that discussion. The Middle East and Islam would be hard-pressed to find a better cultural ambassador than Rumi.

The pluses and minuses of monarchy: Morocco is doing well, but its king still needs to adapt
Jun 11th 2016 | CASABLANCA

ON THE night of February 19th 2011, Abouamar Tafnout, an activist from Casablanca, suddenly grew nervous. He had just watched a documentary on the civil war in Algeria. We don’t want that, he thought. Thousands of Moroccans were preparing to hit the streets the next day to challenge King Mohammed VI and the ruling elite, known to locals by the nickname makhzen (“the storehouse”), which controls much of the economy. Mr Tafnout, just 20 years old at the time, had helped to organise the protests. “I was afraid—afraid for the country,” he says.

But most of Morocco’s protesters, like Mr Tafnout, did not want a messy revolution. Rather, they pushed for a more constrained monarchy. When the king increased wages and pensions, and promised to relinquish some power, many were satisfied. A revision to the constitution, strengthening parliament, was passed by referendum in July 2011. Elections were held that November. Some blood was shed, but Morocco’s version of the Arab spring went rather smoothly.

Five years on, Morocco is stable, relatively free and increasingly prosperous. Compare that with the rest of the region and it is little wonder that Moroccans are loth to upset the status quo. “Gradualism” is a popular word, even among those who would like to see their country become more like Spain, where the monarchy is largely ceremonial.

The king still dominates the state, but he is popular. His granting of more rights to women and efforts to tackle poverty have gone down well. Critics say he is a cunning politician. Most Moroccans credit him for the country’s stability. And he has capitalised on the calm by positioning Morocco as a hub for European manufacturers. Tax breaks and good logistics lure business. Car production, led by Renault, a big French producer, has more than doubled since 2011. The aeronautics industry has also taken off.

Renault’s factory has a direct train line to the commercial port of Tanger-Med, 40km (25 miles) east of Tangier, which is expanding. By the time construction is completed, in 2018, it is expected to be the busiest port on the Mediterranean. Morocco is looking south, too. Casablanca Finance City, a public-private initiative, helps local and international firms that want to use the country as a base for their operations in Africa. It is building fancy new office space on the site of an old airport in the city.

As it upgrades its roads and infrastructure, Morocco is bound to experience catch-up growth—GDP grew 4.5% in 2015. But its government has also been clever. Tighter fiscal policy, including cuts to energy subsidies, has helped Morocco reduce its current-account and budget deficits. A drought may slow growth this year, but analysts are still bullish. “We think Morocco could record GDP growth of 5-6% over the next five to ten years,” writes Jason Tuvey of Capital Economics, a consultancy.

But not everything is rosy. The monarchy can certainly get things done: big projects, such as the largest solar plant in the world and 1,500km of high-speed rail lines are moving ahead; but the average Moroccan must deal with a stifling bureaucracy. “The further you get away from the king, the harder things become,” says Merouan Mekouar of York University in Canada. Members of the royal court use their proximity to advance their own projects and win contracts. Morocco ranks a woeful 88th in the world in Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index.

The problem is compounded by a lack of accountability. Take the high-speed rail lines, which should more than halve travel time between Morocco’s big cities. Some have questioned whether the billions of dollars might be better used to help the poor, given that Morocco is in the bottom third of the UN’s human development index. Others wonder if a slowdown in global maritime trade makes the Tanger-Med expansion unwise, or ask why an initiative to boost tourism, Plan Azur, has failed to produce many results. No one in the royal palace seems to be checking.

Don’t expect parliament to provide answers, either. Although the revised constitution gives the government more power over policy and appointments, the king is still firmly in charge. Moreover, “the regime has largely succeeded in taming opposition forces,” says Mohamed Daadaoui of Oklahoma City University. It has co-opted the Justice and Development Party (PJD), a mildly Islamist group that won the election in 2011. The PJD has not pushed for substantial democratic reforms. Yet it still faces a challenge from the Party of Authenticity and Modernity, which is even more supportive of the king, at parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

Journalists and activists criticise the monarchy, which puts them at risk. News outlets have been forced to close and journalists jailed in recent years. Reporters Without Borders, a pressure group, considers Morocco less free even than Algeria or Afghanistan. Consider the case of Ali Anouzla, a critic of the king, who has been accused of “inciting” terrorism. His alleged crime was to link to a video by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which he criticised.

In general, freedom of expression is curtailed by three red lines. Critical discussion of Islam, the monarchy or the disputed territory of Western Sahara is banned. Even so, protests are common in Morocco, over such things as employment and pay. But they are often broken up by police, who tend to use heavy-handed tactics. When protesters questioned the enormous royal budget in 2012 they were beaten.

Many Moroccans are ill-equipped to question their king. Almost a third of the population is illiterate. Others protest in a different way. About 1,500 Moroccans are thought to have joined Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. Hundreds more are training in Libya, leading to fears that they may return to launch attacks in Morocco. Youth in rural areas, where poverty is widespread, are seen as particularly vulnerable to the terrorists’ message. So the king—who also holds the title, “commander of the faithful”—has created a new religious training institute in Rabat, the capital, to promote his moderate brand of Islam.

The threat of terrorism has also been used as an excuse to silence critics, while the turbulence of the region is cited to dim the ardour of reformists. But by comparing itself with the Arab world, Morocco is setting a low bar. Many of its citizens speak French and Spanish, and would rather look to Europe for inspiration. The king has encouraged such thoughts on economic matters. But he is thwarting Morocco’s political progress. Little effort has been put into building the institutions, like an independent judiciary, that would be needed in a constitutional monarchy. Still, Moroccans are hopeful. “Sometime in the near future, Morocco will be a democratic state,” says Mr Tafnout. “The monarchy is smart enough to know that.”

“Hijab “Hijab is Not an Islamic Duty”- Scholar
Sunday 24 June 2012 - Jamal Saidi Casablanca

Last month at Al Azhar University, Sheikh Mustapha Mohamed Rashed defended a thesis that sparked a heated debate among religious scholars. The candidate concluded that Hijab, or the veil, is not an Islamic duty. The claim is not the first of its kind, but the mere fact that it is adopted in Al Azhar University – the Sunni Islam’s foremost seat of learning –makes it controversial. Sheikh Mustapha Mohamed Rashed argued that Hijab is not an Islamic duty. He stated that Hijab refers to the cover of the head, which is not mentioned in the Holy Quran at all. “Nonetheless, a bunch of scholars insisted vehemently that the veil is both an Islamic duty and one of the most important pillars of Islam,” he added.

In doing so, the PhD candidate points out, “they deviated from the purposes of the Islamic law and “Sahih Atafsir” or the true interpretation. They rejected reasoning and relied only on literal text.”
According to Mohamed Rashed, these scholars de-contextualized the verses of the Quran and interpreted them in their very own liking, following some ancient scholars, as if what they said is sacred and is no subject to Ijtihad.

Ijtihad is a technical term, which literally means “exertion” in a jurisprudential sense; it is the exertion of mental energy by a Muslim jurist to deduce legal rulings from Islam’s sacred texts.
The researcher continued that the scholars, who claim that Hijab is an important pillar of Islam, departed from “Al Minhaj Assahih,” or the true path, of interpretation and reasoning, which interprets the verses according to their historical context and the causes of revelation. These scholars  “interpreted the verses in their general sense, overlooking the causes of their revelation, intentionally or due to their limited intellectual capacity resulted in psychological scourge.” Worse yet, they approached hundreds of important issues in the same way.”

“The supporters of Hijab as an Islamic duty base their arguments on inconsistent and wrong evidence. They would ascribe various meanings to the veil, from Hijab to Khimar to Jalabib, a fact which shows that they digressed from the true meaning they intended to address, the cover of the head,” he added. The researcher attempted to deconstruct the three claims that are derived from interpretations of the sacred texts.

Literally, Hijab means “a veil,” “curtain,” “partition” or “separation.”1 The verse in which it is mentioned is specifically addressed to the wives of the prophet; there is no dispute among scholars about that at all. The verse states as follow, And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a partition ( hijab). That is purer for your hearts and their hearts. And it is not [conceivable or lawful] for you to harm the Messenger of Allah or to marry his wives after him, ever. Indeed, that would be in the sight of Allah an enormity. ( Quran 33: 53)
The term hijab then is meant to have a partition between the wives of the prophet and his companions. It is not addressed to the Muslim women, otherwise it would have been stated, says Mohamed Rashed.

Bouthaina Shaaban seems to have held the same belief. She said that those who imitate the wives of the prophet and wear the Hijab are disobeying God’s will, for He said,
O wives of the Prophet, you are not like anyone among women. (Quran 33: 32)

As for the term Khimar, it is found in a verse of the Quran stating,And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests. (Quran 24: 31) The researcher pointed out that the evidence is invalid. The intent of the text is to refer to the cover of the breast whose exposure is un-Islamic, but not to what is perceived nowadays as Hijab for the head.

In this regard, it is believed that when the pre-Islamic Arabs went to battle, Arab women seeing the men off to war would bare their breasts to encourage them to fight; or they would do so at the battle itself, as in the case of the Meccan women led by Hind at the Battle of Uhud.

Nikkie Keddie, a prominent historian and an expert on women’s issues in Islam, said that this verse does not refer to covering the hair. It was only “later interpreted as meaning covering the whole body, including the hair, and most of the face.” She continued that; “This interpretation is illogical. If the whole body and face were meant, there would be no reason to tell women to veil their bosoms specifically, while the later interpretation of ‘adornment’ to mean everything but the hands, feet, and (possibly) the face is a forced one.

However, Al Qaradawi, a famous Egyptian scholar, quoted the same verse to conclude that the Hijab is compulsory and is an injunction based on a literal reading of the Koran. He asserted that the Hijab is, “not the result of an opinion by jurists or even by Muslims; it is a Koranic order.”

As regards the verse in which Jalabib is mentioned, the researcher considered it to be misplaced evidence. O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. (Quran 33:59)

The supporters of Hijab as an Islamic duty overlooked the historical background and the cause of revelation, for the verse was meant to distinguish between the pure and promiscuous women and slaves. At that time, all women tended not to cover their faces. Hence, the verse was revealed so as to protect the pure from some men, who would gaze at them while they were excreting or urinating.

Mustapha Mohamed Rashed rejected the Hadith, reported by Abu Dawud, in which Asma, daughter of Abu Bakr, was ordered by the prophet to expose only her face and palms. He says it should not be taken into any sort of consideration because it is “Ahaad” or its narration does not fulfill one of the most important required conditions, connectivity.

It is not clear whether the dissertation was preserved on the shelves of Al Azhar University and could not be discussed. This possibility made the Moroccan newspaper, Almassaa, wonder if the Arab Spring was conducive in bringing this issue to the surface.
Update to the article:  Al Azhar University published a statement in June 2012, denying the claims that one of its scholars had defended a thesis that concluded that Hijab, or the veil, is not an Islamic duty.
1.Cyril Glasse. The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. Harper and Row Publishers, New York, N.Y., 1989.
2. Bouthaina Shaaban. The Muted Voices of Women Interpreters. In FAITH AND FREEDOM: Women’s Human Rights in the Muslim World, Mahnaz Afkhami (Editor). I. B. Tauris Publishers, New York, 1995. p.72.
3. “Live Sermon from Umar Bin-al-Khattab Mosque in Doha,” Qatar TV, December 19, 2003.

Big Ride : Atlas Mountains Morocco

The Bearded Woman: Moroccan Transgender Tells her Story
Friday 10 June 2016 -morocco world news Benjamin Stevenson Rabat

Flailing punches, broken teeth, and boiling coffee being thrown at her, is how Mala Badi a Moroccan transgender activist remembers one of her least favorite Ramadan meals. Her mom screamed and tried to stop her male family members from beating her after her confession, somehow giving Mala the impression that she knew all along.

Mala Badi, born by the name Hamza, was kicked out of her home after revealing to her family that she identifies as a woman, rather than the sex she was born. She recalls realizing her transgender identity in the Huffington Post saying, “When I was 15 and first found a group of gay and transgender friends, I was swept away by a deep feeling of joy, and was finally able to accept myself for who I was. There in a private house, away from my classmates and even from God, I no longer thought I was the only ‘deviant’ in the world. I could wear women’s clothes and dance like Ruby, the seductive Egyptian singer.”

She continued, “It was the first place I had put on lipstick since I was a little girl and went rummaging secretly through my mother’s make-up box and the clothes she kept for special occasions. I would put on the dress she wore to weddings and some red lipstick, then promenade around the house like a princess for a few minutes before taking off her clothes and rubbing my lips with water, knowing that she was going to return very soon.”

Shortly before being kicked out of her home for revealing her identity, Mala began getting involved in LGBTQ activism in Morocco. She found herself performing demonstrations at the February 20th movement, and asserting her gender and sexuality publicly and more frequently.

Mala remembers time after the Arab Spring as a time of change. She says, “During that time, I was busy thinking about revolution and liberation. I noticed other gays also taking part in the marches, some whom I had seen secretly in the parks—some of whom I had even slept with. I was proud of them as they were fighting for change and embodied the ‘natural gay’ as I imagined it, through their appearances and their commitment to political change.”

After pondering further about her identity she finally came out to her family, which resulted in her being kicked out and homeless for a short period of time. Mala explains, “That is when I decided to declare myself to my family. And so I did, before finding myself sleeping on damp pieces of cardboard with only the sky as a blanket. I would start my day singing the songs of the spellbinding singer Fairuz and reading a book by transgender advocate Sylvia Rivera I had just found in a rubbish dump.”

Somehow, months after Mala is still expressing her transgender identity when she feels like doing so. Never backing down, fearlessly showing her true self to those around her. Since then she has not been beaten for doing so she claims. Whether this is a sign of changing societal perceptions of gender and sexuality in Morocco cannot be determined from this single brave individual; however, one might infer and even hope so.

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

Return to Friends of Morocco Home Page

About Membership Volunteer Newsletters Souk Links