The mineret that takes you home

About Membership Volunteer Newsletters Souk Links

Virtual Magazine of Morocco on the Web
Morocco Week in Review 
October 29, 2016

A Paradigm Project for the Future – Location: Morocco. RPCV Jasen Ben Meir

1st November 2016 By Yossef Ben-Meir–Marrakesh, November 1, 2016

What makes for a great development project?  Which qualities imbue an initiative with longevity and sustainability, enabling it to meet a whole range of interconnected material and emotional needs?  Is there a single concept applicable to a specific geographical location that – exceptionally – embodies those qualities?

Yes!  Allow me to introduce what I term a Paradigm Project – shovel-ready, with the potential to be inaugurated in the Kingdom of Morocco.  In this context, a particular dimension of sustainability is germane.

The fact is that the more partners there are to a well-managed community project, the longer the project life.  A greater number of partners means a higher number of interests and goals likely to be met, with more interested parties and contributors, lower risk, greater adaptability and efficiency and a higher level of beneficiary knowledge and ability to reinvest.

The Paradigm Project in question is indeed a unique case, involving the Moroccan Jewish community playing an indispensable role in meeting Morocco’s need for one billion trees and plants and thus aiding in the dissolution of the harsh burdens of rural poverty.  The initiative could inspire the world since it combines Muslim-Jewish collaboration with local-to-international and private-public partnerships.

The Paradigm Project’s multi-faceted nature and unique features have enabled it to meet the criteria for becoming a Clinton Global Initiative commitment to action. Is it agricultural? Environmental?  Multicultural? Does it empower women, youth and marginalized families?  Does it advance democratic procedures, civil society and businesses?  Does it increase domestic and foreign trade and jobs? Does the project invest in human development and address causes of rural poverty? Does it develop highly employable and nationally imperative skills?  Does it further food security, carbon balance and Morocco’s goals?

Yes, to all of the above!

A full 23 years have passed from the project’s conception to the consensus for expansion of the resoundingly successful pilot. In my mid-twenties, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco, living in the Tifnoute Valley on the south side of the High Atlas Mountains.  Passing through the Ouarzazate region, I noticed a barren, eroding mountainside with majestic, ancient white structures nestled at its base.

I was both curious about the buildings and cognizant that the mountainside could be terraced, providing arable land for much-needed nurseries.  Later I learned that this site houses the thousand-year-old tomb of Rabbi David ou Moché, one of hundreds of Moroccan tsaddikim – Jewish saints.   Other structures have been provided to accommodate the hundreds of visitors arriving every year, particularly during the fall, for the Rabbi’s hiloula (commemoration of the passing of his soul) that occurs straight after the Jewish festival of Sukkot.

I saw an opportunity.  While farming families need desperately to grow fruit trees, as one of a series of measures necessary to end systemic rural poverty, they find it impossible to give up their existing land for two years in order to establish nurseries.  The input of new land in the interim, before transplanting, is therefore vital in order to break the deadlock.  The Jewish community of Morocco, with over six hundred rural sites, could be a potential partner in this enterprise.

At the time of writing I am president of the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), a U.S.-Moroccan nonprofit organization which I cofounded in 2000 with other former Peace Corps Volunteers.  We work with farming communities ‘from farm to fork’ – from the setting up of nurseries to the sale of certified organic product and carbon offsets.

Our model is to engage in partnerships with communities and utilize participatory methodology to determine and implement an initial project before utilizing revenue thus obtained to invest in students and schools, women’s cooperatives, drinking water, irrigation, and training – the priorities expressed by those communities.

My father, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, is a writer and activist for peace in the Middle East. Looking back, it seems natural that I sought to establish community nurseries for a predominantly Muslim society on land lent by the Moroccan Jewish people, adding an element of unity in a region burdened by catastrophic divisiveness.

I express sincere appreciation to His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco.  The king has made the preservation of cemeteries of all faiths a matter of national importance and has established the connection between Moroccan multiculturalism and human development.

Pilot project at Akrich
In 2014, the HAF pilot nursery on Jewish communal land was established at Akrich, located on the northern side of the High Atlas in Al Haouz province, around 25 kilometers south of Marrakech, at the site of the 700-year-old tomb of the healer Rabbi Raphael Hacohen. Since that time we have planted 120,000 almond, fig, pomegranate, and lemon seeds which have reached maturity and now are maintained by about 1,000 farmers and 130 schools.

The project’s cost of $60,000 was graciously given by Wahiba Estergard and Mike Gilliland, owner of Lucky’s Market, and Jerry Hirsch and the Lodestar Foundation.  The then-Governor of Al Haouz province, Younes Al Bathaoui, showed fantastic leadership and coined the initiative’s name, House of Life.  Jacky Kadoch, president of the Jewish Community of Marrakech-Essaouira, together with his wife, Freddy, provide essential support, as do community members Isaac and Bloria Ohayon.

In 2016, the first trees from the pilot were handed to local children and farmers by the Governor joined by the United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, Dwight Bush, Sr.  Earlier, Ambassador Bush hosted a reception for House of Life at his residence in Rabat, at which advisor to the King, André Azoulay, and former Peace Corps Director in Morocco, Ellen Paquette, spoke about the years of dedication and benefits for Morocco embodied in our work.

Making the Paradigm Project a reality
Were the Paradigm Project to be implemented, the first year would see the construction of 26 nursery terraces supported by stone taken from the surrounding, crumbling mountains.  The new arable space created would encompass half a hectare (5,000 square meters), upon which would grow 300,000 one-meter tall organic trees of walnut, carob, fig, pomegranate, cherry and almond, as well as dozens of varieties of medicinal herbs.  On maturity they would be given without charge to local associations, 5,000 farming families and 2,000 schools in provinces across Morocco.  Together with our partners, HAF would monitor growth as part of carbon offsets sales, the revenue from which would be invested in further planting.

After one year, a sign made out of fallen organic walnut wood would be installed in loving memory of Julien Raphael Berdugo, a young, sadly deceased son of Arlette and Serge Berdugo, the Secretary General of the Jewish Community of Morocco.

After four years, there would be more than one million trees and herbs grown from seeds near the site of Rabbi David ou Moché burial and then transplanted to communal orchards and plots. As the plants mature, they would have an increasingly powerful social and environmental impact.  Almost undoubtedly the project as a whole would initiative replication across the Moroccan Jewish community, providing hundreds of parcels of land adjacent to sacred sites throughout the kingdom.  At scale, tens of millions of seeds would be planted every year and a better life afforded to all.

Achieving the vision
To bring the Paradigm Project to fruition, we need $300,000, which would cover the entire cost, including training communities in organic practices.  On November 17th HAF is hosting a Carbon Offset Auction at COP 22 in Marrakech, sequestered by the local community orchards we plant.  With our community partners, we currently have more than 500,000 saplings in twelve nurseries around Morocco.

Every day I feel grateful to work for sustainable development in Morocco, where national frameworks enable the implementation of projects to national scale.  Here is where the House of Life project, sits so naturally.  Implementing the Paradigm Project as part of this initiative would make manifest those partnerships that seek the people’s prosperity, opinion and participation and, ultimately, the greatness of Morocco.

Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir is a sociologist and president of the High Atlas Foundation.

Morocco's oases fight back creeping desert sands. 2016-11-05 courtesy: AFP

Rissani (AFP)

On the edge of the southwestern town of Rissani, Abdelrahman Ahmidani sighs as he reflects on the state of the Moroccan oasis, endangered by drought and climate change. Whoever lives here," he says, "is condemned to a life of poverty."

In Rissani, the sinuous mountain oasis of Tafilalet gradually disappears into the Sahara desert, after snaking green for dozens of kilometres (miles) down the Ziz valley. The town, the tourist pamphlets say, was where Morocco's ruling family established itself in the 17th century and was once a major crossroads -- famous for gold trade -- on ancient merchant routes to Senegal and Sudan.

But since the 1980s, the sands have been advancing on the town. On the outskirts of Rissani, hundreds of palm tree trunks rot away on cracked ochre soil shot through with parched irrigation channels."When I was a child, the oasis was green and thriving. In one generation, it has become almost completely dry and sterile," says 37-year-old Ahmidani, who grew up in Rissani and now works as an official in town. The late 20th century brought long periods of drought, leading farmers to flee the area abandoning their earthen houses to dissolve whipped up in sandy winds.

Palms against the desert
"Oases are part of Morocco's natural resources," Ahmidani says of the green sanctuaries that for centuries have formed a shield against desertification. But mismanagement of surface water and overexploitation of groundwater -- notably due to urbanisation -- has led to increasing drought. Morocco has lost a third of its oases in a century.

Twenty kilometres outside Rissani, Hassan Sadok has been working on rehabilitating seven hectares (around 17 acres) of land for the past 15 years."Date palms are a natural barrier against desertification," says the former hotel owner turned farmer for lack of tourists."In the beginning everyone laughed at me," he said."The land was dry and sterile, and growing anything in it was very difficult."Look over there. Those lands are dead."But on my farm, thanks to my date palms, the land is fertile. My farm turns a profit and is environmentally friendly." Sadok rears sheep for their dung and refuses to use industrial fertilisers. He also pumps groundwater using solar power and tries not to overconsume it. Clear water runs between his 1,800 date palms, while plaited reed barriers hold back the desert beyond.

'Sustainable oasis'
"Oases withstand drought much better with these ancient methods," says Ali Oubarhou, who is in charge of oasis areas at the agriculture ministry. Rabat launched an ambitious project to revive its oases in 2008 as part of the "Green Morocco" plan, he says. After the number of date palms dropped nationwide from 15 million a century ago to just 4.8 million, it has now increased back to 6.6 million trees -- with a goal of eight million date palms in 2020.

Oases are the most vulnerable ecosystems to climate change, according to the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change, and their disappearance comes at heavy environmental, economic, social and cultural cost. Rabat will be presenting an action plan to save the world's oases at an international climate conference it is hosting this month. It will unveil a proposal for a "sustainable oasis" at the COP22 climate talks to run in Marrakesh from November 7 to 18. Bringing back date cultivation means "generating wealth to create areas that are attractive to people, all the while preserving natural heritage through a rational use of resources and preserving biodiversity"."But we have to be realistic," Oubarhou says, explaining action at local level will not be enough.
"We will need international cooperation to save the oases, and we're expecting a lot out of COP22."

Makeover in Morocco

Residents of the centuries-old Tangiers medina have launched a campaign to spruce it up. The old city’s winding alleys now sport different colours. Wall paintings, colourful facades and flowery alleyways are brightening up the centuries-old Tangiers medina as residents bring new life to the neglected streets of the Moroccan port’s old city. Standing on a hill overlooking the port and the Strait of Gibraltar — one of the world’s most strategically vital waterways — the old city of Tangiers has few green spaces. But residents of 13 neighbourhoods have launched a campaign to spruce it up.

By residents, for residents
“The initiative came from the residents, without any intervention from political parties or associations,” said Rafih al-Kanfaoui, 33, of the old city’s Ibn Battouta neighbourhood. “The neighbourhood has taken on a beauty that nobody imagined.”

’s winding alleys, house fronts are decked out in different colours and pots of flowers sit outside doors and in windows. ’s most famous son — have been daubed green and purple, and a wheelchair ramp has been fitted. “We all worked together, men and women, children, young people, old people, to make the neighbourhood beautiful,” said Soufyane Abdel-Mottalib, 30.

The operation was funded by the residents themselves and now four neighbourhoods in Tangiers have won awards from Morocco’s Observatory for Environmental and Historical Monuments. It is one of several citizens’ initiatives launched as Morocco hosts the COP22 climate talks in Marrakesh from November 7 to 18. Mohammed Salmoun, a local civil society activist, said the project had changed the face of several marginalised parts of the city. “This kind of initiative has shown its potential to make districts stand out both locally and nationally,” he said.

It has spread to Casablanca
Inspired by pictures of the project on Facebook, inhabitants of other Moroccan cities including Casablanca have launched similar projects.

Who was Ibn Battouta?
Tangiers residents are proud of their city’s long history, particularly the story of Ibn Battouta, who left Tangiers in 1325 at the age of 21. He crossed North Africa and travelled as far east as China. Defying distance, hardship and the Black Death, he later returned to his home city and wrote a book about his travels. Because it overlooks one of the world’s top maritime routes, Tangiers was the theatre of bitter rivalry between European powers in the 19th century.

Tangiers, like much of Morocco’s north, was neglected under the late king Hassan II. The city dwindled slowly. But the city has experienced a revival since King Mohammed VI launched an ambitious four-year 1 billion dollar (700 million euro) redevelopment plan in September 2013. The waterfront now shines with new buildings and the city centre has been transformed, with wide avenues and white painted sidewalks.AFP
The neighbourhood has taken on a beauty that nobody imagined.The walls of Ibn Battouta — named after the 14th century explorer who was the city’s most famous son — have been daubed green and purple, and a wheelchair ramp has been fitted.

Zero Mika: Morocco goes plastic bag-free

In Morocco, plastic bags are a national burden. Moroccan households consume about 25 billion of these temporary bags every year. After they have been used, they end up littered across the landscape, for want of a proper recovery and recycling program. The consequences on the environment are dire: a sea of plastic bags, each with a life expectancy of about four centuries.

Morocco has decided to take action to eliminate plastic bags as quickly as possible, through its operation named “Zero Mika” (“Mika” is the Arabic word for plastic). In other countries, it has taken several attempts before governments have succeeded in implementing a ban.“Zero Mika”’ focuses on the main culprits in this epidemic – the single-use plastic bags with handles commonly found at supermarket check-outs. Other types and designs (such as freezer bags, garbage bags, bags for industrial waste or for vegetation, etc.) are still authorised for use.

A comprehensive guide will soon be published detailing the specifications for each type of bag. The law, which bans the manufacture, commercialisation and importation of plastic bags, came into effect on July 1, 2016, only six months after its publication in the Official Bulletin.

Monitoring is a key element of the strategy. Three authorities are involved — the Ministry of Industry is working with factories, the Ministry of the Interior with retailers and the Customs Administration is taking on imports. Heavy fines will be handed out for any violations, which could be anything from 10,000 dirhams to 1 million dirhams (US$99,930) depending on the nature of the infraction and the type of perpetrator (individual or corporation).

This ban on plastic bags has brought attention to the group of industrial companies whose main product is this type of packaging. To prevent them from going out of business and to keep their workers in employment, the government has put a conversion plan in place, at a cost of about 200 million dirhams. The state plans to support these transparent businesses in the transition to producing non-pollutant packaging products instead. The Ministry of Industry has taken on the consultancy costs of this process. However, the few informal manufacturing companies that are not eligible for the conversion program are continuing to produce plastic bags, which will likely last until they use up their stocks of raw materials.

In general, however, the majority of retailers have cooperated in the “Zero Mika” operation. The first step for large shopping centers, which did not want to get caught short when the day arrived, was to import and store millions of bags. Now that the law has come into force, various alternatives have been developed. Different types of materials are being trialled depending on the type of product being packaged. All of these new types of packaging are either biodegradable, or reusable.

Coinciding with the introduction of this new law, a campaign encouraging citizens to pick up discarded bags and clean up the environment has been launched. Several thousand tons of bags have been retrieved and sent to cement manufacturers for incineration. This operation is due to last until the end of the year.“Zero Mika” seems to have succeeded in ensuring that everyone plays their part, proof that Moroccans are willing to mobilise around an important social project. Taking a look at the changing state of the landscape will be the ultimate way of judging the operation’s success.
This is the last article in a 12-part series. Read more at
The Hong Kong Economic Journal and EJ Insight are among 20 global media organizations that participated in this year’s Solutions&Co, organized by Sparknews, an international social impact amplifier. Contact us at

Eco-Dome: building ecological ‘houses of tomorrow’ in rural Morocco

Stéphanie Jacob L’Economiste November 3, 2016:  

The Moroccan start-up, Eco-Dome, is building 72m² ecological houses. These homes are split into four rooms and are made from a mixture of earth and cement. Photo credit: Eco-Dôme Morocco
A Moroccan start-up, Eco-Dome, is working to create inventive and innovative housing opportunities thanks to traditional materials. Using a mixture made from 90% earth and 10% cement, each construction takes the shape of a dome. Both environmentally friendly and resistant to natural disasters, these houses cost less than reinforced concrete alternatives. The advantages of these domed houses are multiple: they are soundproof and offer thermal insulation, as well as reduced CO² emissions of up to 64%. Construction time is also reduced.

At first glance, it does not seem like Eco-Dome’s technique is doing anything new. Actually, you could say that using earth to raise the walls of your house is an ancient tradition and a tried and tested technique. However, this Moroccan start-up has a few new tricks up their sleeve. Their alterations are simple: Eco-Dome builds houses made from 90% earth and 10% cement, and forms them into domes rather than constructing four walls and a roof. As basic as this sounds, the resulting domed house has astounding qualities: both the materials used and the construction method are ecological. Equally, the round shape of the building is a self-stabilising mechanism, which makes it resistant to natural disasters such as cyclones, floods and earthquakes, without any need for structural reinforcement. The materials used can even withstand house fires. By sourcing natural building materials from local areas, this start-up has produced a sustainable cheap housing alternative.

The brainchild of engineers, the company developed through support from Empact – an accelerator programme launched by the OCP entrepreneurship network and Enactus Morocco.
Eco-Dome gained recognition on a global level at the international CleanTech Open Global competition in San Francisco in November 2015, and continued to make an impression at the MassChallenge event in Boston that December.

For local residents, the main appeal of Eco-Dome might be the incredible 45% cost reduction per m² when switching from reinforced concrete to this start-up’s more natural building method.
Or it might be because this method also cuts the required construction time in half. Or because these earthy domed shaped houses provide both sound and heat insulation for their occupants, allowing the rooms to stay cool in the summer and to remain warm in the winter.

With a reduction in CO² emissions of up to 64% throughout the building process, it is equally hard to overlook the houses’ environmental attributes. A 72m² Eco-Dome with four rooms, electricity and running water, sanitation and electrical installations included costs around 140,000 DH.

The Moroccan start-up currently has two on-going projects to its name. They are a house in Sidi Allal El Bahraoui that fits a family of five, and a 250m² cultural centre in the process of being built for students in the Agouim region. Through this project, the company is able to offer children of this rural region a place to read, create and grow.

Following the original earth-based model, two new versions are now available in Morocco, one made of wood and the other in a handy kit format which can be easily assembled in two weeks. These cost around 250,000 DH with delivery and construction included, and cover a surface of 100 m². The walls and the ceilings of this new model are made of Canadian wood, which is known for its strength and insulation properties. Furthermore these kits meet international quality standards, and can accommodate power generation equipment, whether that means wind turbines or solar panels. Suitable for private housing or for hospitality purposes, this environmentally-friendly option is well adapted to the Southern climate.

Sexology: A Growing Field of Medicine in Morocco.

November 2, 2016 Casablanca

The Moroccan Association of Sexology held a conference in Marrakech tackling a wide array of issues relating to sexual health. The conference, which was held in Marrakech this past weekend, held panels and discussions about erectile dysfunction, the effect of anti-depressants, female sexual pleasure, sexual life in relationships, sexual violence and sexual rights. Though these topics are often considered taboo in Moroccan culture, the Association of Sexology does not consider them so. They hold numerous conferences and meetings throughout the year to discuss sexology, which is otherwise known as the study of human sexual life and relationships.

In an article published by Telquel, it was reported that the president of the association, Rachid Aboutaieb, who is also a sexology professor at the Casablanca School of Medicine, is encouraged to see that interest for sexology seems to be growing in the country. It probably is a good thing that sexology is getting more recognition as a medical field in the country, as numerous studies have proven the benefits of a happy sexual life. Happify, a website dedicated to “science-based happiness” recently posted an infographic about sex, saying that “couples who have sex an average of once a week are the happiest.”

In Morocco, only the Casablanca School of Medicine offers a specialty in sexology. Graduates tend to pursue one of two routes. They either become practitioners, helping patients with sex-related issues, or they become researchers and writers in the field of sexology. According Telquel, Aboutaieb’s association did not always have it so easy. A couple of decades ago, they had trouble even booking a conference room, with many people “confusing sexology with pornography,” said Aboutaieb. Thankfully, the confusion between the two very different words seems to have dissipated, but for Aboutaieb, Morocco’s next challenge is to educate even more people about sexuality and to get sex education to be more available in schools.

Freedom of Religion in Morocco: The Silent Minorities

By Sami Elmoudni - November 1, 2016 , Rabat

A few months ago, some Moroccan Christian activists created a YouTube channel and posted videos making their presence known, claiming to be a religious minority standing up for their full rights as citizens.  This is being widely seen as a huge behavioral shift inside a religious community outside of Sunni Malikite Islam. This video is the first instance of Christian discontent with social and societal considerations ever witnessed in Morocco. There have been a few notable exceptions in other parts of the region, such as so-called “Brother Rachid,” host of an evangelical Christian television program in Europe, who has been very vocal in the media about his conversion from Islam to Christianity since 2010.

Just how many Christians in Morocco share the feelings expressed in the video is hard to determine in a country where 99% of the population is Sunni Muslim, while just 1% is comprised of Jewish (Judaism being recognized), Christian, Baha’I and even atheist and nonreligious people. Also complicating matters is the fact that many of this 1% tend keep their religion private, making it extremely difficult to take a thorough census of this population, which is not legally recognized.

As a result, the annual report from the U.S. State Department on human rights in Morocco remains one of the few reliable statistical perspectives available to track this issue. The 2014 report estimated the Jewish population, primarily seniors, at 3000 -4000 nationals, 2500 of them based in Casablanca alone, with the remainder living across the country. The same report placed the number of  Moroccan Christians at 4000, most of them ethnic Amazigh, who practice their religion in churches. Some estimates count the number of Moroccan Christian churchgoers at 8000. According to the report, there are also 400 Baha’is, 8000 Shiite Muslims from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and a few Moroccans.

During my investigation titled “the defectors of State religion in Morocco,” published in the Moroccan newspaper Al Massae on February 10, 2013, I had the opportunity to encounter a number of Moroccans who decided to convert to Christianity, Baha’I faith or Shi’ism. In the course of speaking with these people, it appeared to me that while the State recognizes the freedom of religion for Jewish people, the rest of these minorities have nowhere to practice their beliefs.  In addition to not being able to declare their belief, they’re also not allowed to convert to any other religion other than Sunni Malikite Islam.

Additionally, the Scientific Board, the highest religious authority in the country, made its position clear in a 2013statement stipulating that anyone who changes their religion will be punished like an apostate should be, stressing that “… whoever left the religion of their fathers and forefathers is considered an apostle in Islam, therefore deserving of punishment, unless they atone, or else all their deeds become null, and they lose both in this life and the hereafter and they should be punished accordingly.”

Vincent Landel, the presiding chief of the Catholic Church in Rabat had already stated that the church refuses “the conversion of Moroccan citizens to Christianity… That’s what the law says and we have to respect it.” This adherence makes it difficult for the Christian Moroccan community to get to churches in Rabat, Casablanca and Marrakesh. The controversy over freedom of religion in Morocco goes back to the first half of the twentieth century, exactly six years after the independence of the Kingdom from France. In 1962, thirteen young Moroccan men and a Syrian citizen were tried for converting to the Baha’I faith. They were charged with threatening the stability of the country and three of them were sentenced to death. Five others were given life sentences with hard labor and the rest to 15 years in prison without parole.

The late King Hassan II stated in a press conference on December 12th 1962 that the sixth item of the constitution doesn’t allow in any way the preaching of religions and doctrines other than Islam, and it doesn’t recognize the Baha’I faith, considering “heretical” in the Islamic view. The king subsequently granted his pardon to the Baha’I prisoners. They were released from prison after international pressure during the monarch’s visit to the United States.

The controversy returned to the front page during the Arab Spring of 2011 when Morocco’s new constitution was adopted. Abdelilah Benkirane, then Secretary General of the PJD, threatened to vote no to the proposed constitutional changes, after news leaked constitutional committee writing the proposed amendments was intending to include the freedom of religion. Benkirane said in a speech in Temara “… what is the meaning of freedom of religion? Letting people violate the fast during Ramadan? Spreading sexual and homosexual liberties between people?” Benkirane, who would go on to be appointed by King Mohamed VI as head of government, added that “… including the freedom of religion would be the end of ‘the Emirate of the Believers.’”

Benkirane’s threats and the warnings of his party and its religious wing were sufficient to make the advisory committee in charge of changing the constitution backtrack on any attempt to include the freedom of religion. Many believe that Morocco missed an historical chance to acknowledge one of the main rights in any democratic country, because of narrow ideological considerations.
While the constitution doesn’t openly state that there is no freedom of religion, the law doesn’t actully prevent anyone from converting to another religion. Chapter 220 of the Moroccan criminal code punishes whoever uses any means of temptation to shake a Muslim’s belief or convert him to any other religion. In reality, the aforementioned chapter talks about children and poor people and the attempt to convert them to a religion other than Islam.

This analysis confirms the ruling of the court of appeal of Fez in 2014, which found Mohamed Baladi not guilty of proselytism, after it appeared to the committee of the court that Mr. Baladi changed his religion and didn’t try to convert anyone. This marked an unprecedented ruling by the judge Taieb Khiary that supported the freedom of religion, considered a lenient interpretation of chapter 220 of the criminal code.

This ruling supported a ratification made in April 2014 of a UN resolution on the organization‘s human rights council that stipulated “the right to protect everyone’s freedom of belief, displaying it, practicing and teaching it as well as manifesting their religion in public.” The resolution also emphasized “… the freedom of believing whatever you want… Including the right to change one’s religion and beliefs”

The decisions made by the Moroccan government might seem contradictory but one can’t deny the fact that there are some positive signals associated with it. Mainly it supports the idea of being tolerant of converts of other religions and doctrines and not resorting to arrest to stop vocal and open religious expression. In fact, the security services have a list of their names, more often than not for the purpose of protecting them from extremists.

This was publicly confirmed by the Baha’I at a press conference I took part in where their representative stated that the “… Moroccan government doesn’t bother the Baha’Is, even though they know of our existence, and they don’t deny it. Unlike Morocco, Egypt has launched a series of attacks on the Baha’I three years ago and they had to go through a legal battle against the Egyptian government, while in Iran, you can’t even be outspoken about being a Baha’I in the first place.” Of course none of this stopped the Moroccan Shiite and Christians from demanding their rights as citizens.

Because Morocco doesn’t oppose the gradual recognition of the freedom of religion, it’s facing a opposition to the recognition, mainly due to the rise of extremist fundamentalism and Salafism in the country. This is why it’s necessary that this recognition doesn’t cause a violation of the pivotal role played by the emirate of believers that includes all the political and human rights’ actors in managing religious affairs in Morocco, considered the safety valve that prevents chaos.

Furthermore, there is an apprehension that these minorities will be a source of trouble in the future, especially regarding the Moroccan Shiite, like some other countries that have Shiite sects on their soil (Bahrain, Lebanon, Iraq). This explains the attacks which occurred in Morocco in 2009 after cutting its diplomatic ties with the republic of Iran. The actions were taken against the Moroccan Shiite and included the banning of their books from libraries as well as the closing of the Iraqi school in Rabat, arguing that it was trying to pass on Shiite ideologies amongst its students, regardless of The Moroccan Shiite addressing their pledge of loyalty to the emirate of the believers and no other party.

Despite the relevance of the justifications given by the state regarding the issue of “right of religion,” the reality of today shows that there are religious minorities in Morocco, full citizens, estimated in the thousands. Despite this they can’t make their beliefs public because the law only recognizes Sunni Muslims, representing the vast majority of the population, and Moroccan Jews. The rule of law is based on civil foundations, not religious ones and it’s unacceptable that a segment of the Moroccan society still lives in this “daily schizophrenia,” caught between a belief they harbor in secret in their homes and a societal situation that considers them born Sunni Muslims.
Translated by Mehdi Belhesen. Edited by Connie Guindon

WB: Morocco Set Powerful Example in Fighting Climate Change

By Morocco World News - November 2, 2016 , Washington

Morocco has set a powerful example in terms of fighting climate change, said the World Bank (WB), noting that the country’s decision makers have geared up policy and investments toward increasing resilience and fostering a low carbon economy. In an articled posted on its website and authored by Hafez Ghanem, the Bank said that the hosting of the COP 22 in Morocco is a testament to the role of middle income countries in tackling climate change, and their capacity to rally the international community around this critical task.

The author added that it is now time to turn the Paris Agreement into action, and the next global meeting on climate change, COP 22, in Morocco will bring together all the parties working towards the collective goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping the rise in global temperatures under 2?C. “Morocco and the United Arab Emirates are among those that have already ratified the Paris agreement and contributed to its coming into force. This is an encouraging step for the region, showing that the climate agenda is moving to the top of countries’ strategic priorities,” he wrote.
Marrakech will be a COP for action; a COP marking a step toward the change needed to avoid the point of no return; the COP where major economies will pave the way towards going green, he concluded.

The largest protests in Morocco since 2011 erupted last week in several cities after the crushing to death of a fish vendor in a garbage truck. Some news reports drew parallels to Tunisia’s Mohammed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation after his wares were confiscated sparked off a wave of pro-democracy protests in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. However, the protests in Morocco are unlikely to germinate anything more than a demand for a responsive government to address issues of police violence.

While the Head of the Government Abdelilah Benkirane urged his party members and supporters to stay away from the protests, the demonstrations proceeded without interference from the authorities. King Mohammed VI ordered the Ministry of the Interior to convey his personal condolences, and to investigate and try those responsible; this appeared to reassure the victim’s family, who then decried the volatile climate as being stoked by lies and political manipulation.

The responses of the major political actors to these recent protests are instrumental in elucidating how people’s dissatisfactions are managed and eventually defused by a long-standing ruling philosophy that ensures the continued stability of the monarchy; when people are enraged, do not give them reason to become even more enraged. The following sets out why this ruling philosophy seems to work in Morocco, and is likely to continue to do so in the future.

Morocco’s “third way” process of change
King Mohammed VI’s speed in addressing the demands of the youth-led protests in 2011, with constitutional reforms that transferred some of his powers to an elected parliament, was hailed as the Moroccan “third way” process of change; a partnership between the king and politicians towards gradual democratisation. The other two ways played out in the MENA region were bloody revolution and autocratic repression.

Five years after the Arab Spring, Morocco’s elections in October show that the country’s “third way” process of change has led to a win-win situation for the main political actors, where non-violent and free electoral politics is normalised and monarchical power structures remain intact. If one’s measure of success of the “third way” is a dismantling of the country’s semi-authoritarian power structures, then the process has been an abject failure. Success, though, can be measured in other ways: in the fact that the king is now obliged to let the people choose their political representatives, for example, which is a concession that cannot be reversed without repercussions on his standing; or that political contests can proceed in a stable environment.
Although widely perceived to be the monarchy’s least favoured choice, the ready acceptance by the king last month of the Islamist-oriented Justice and Development Party’s (PJD) second consecutive parliamentary election win since the 2011 reforms is reflective of the progress made.

Significance of Morocco’s 2016 parliamentary election results
The two parties with the largest votes share one common feature. Rather than challenge the status quo, they work within the boundaries of the monarchical system, and this appears to appeal to the electorate. The PJD managed to increase its number of seats from 107 to 125 (out of the 395 available) despite a campaign fraught with negative media coverage. This included a sex scandal involving two PJD-linked political leaders; strong criticism over its performance during the first term in office; and an intense contest featuring over 30 political parties with a myriad of agendas and ideological bents.

Even more remarkable was the rise of the seven-year old Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), which is perceived to be linked closely to the monarchy; it more than doubled its seats from the 47 it won in 2011 to 102. The two parties’ central messaging is similar, the main thrust being a promise not to jeopardise the monarchy – which is cast as the country’s anchor of stability after God – even as each endeavours to address issues of corruption, unemployment and economic growth, that are the prime concerns of an electorate mindful of regional instabilities.

The parties that clung to archaic ideological messaging or espoused an alternative but radical political vision – such as the transition to a parliamentary system, with nominal powers for the king – performed dismally at the polls.

Good emanates from the king
While the normalisation of electoral politics is a healthy development, the low voter turnout at 43 per cent is indicative that a large segment of society remains disengaged from participating in the political process, despite the reforms. The system in place prevents any single party from winning an absolute majority, which necessitates the formation of a coalition government. The PJD and PAM have already ruled out working together, which means a PJD-led coalition government with smaller parties that carry even less of a mandate. This might entrench further the bipolar and partisan politicking evident between the two leading parties and divert the focus from the issues about which most people care. Such a state of affairs will encourage people to continue to look to the monarchy for change rather than the politicians who they have elected into office. This reinforces the mindset that good can only emanate from the king.

Continuity of the makhzen
While the PJD had tackled issues such as reducing the budget deficit and state subsidies successfully during its first term, it lacks the political power to tackle issues of corruption and income inequalities that are embedded in the institutions still firmly in the purview of the king and the makhzen (state apparatus). The failure of the politicians, thus far, to confront the vested interests of the makhzen stems from not only an unwillingness to engage in a fruitless confrontation with the monarchy, but also an unwillingness to incur a political backlash from a populace that seems not to want to direct its disaffection at the king. One reason for this is that the king’s traditional and religious appeal remains deeply rooted in society, undoubtedly bolstered by his high-profile role and duties as Amir al-Mu’minin (commander of the faithful).

More importantly, the makhzen has had an uninterrupted history of adapting itself to a changing environment in order to maintain the authority of the monarchy; not even colonialism, which had divided Moroccan territory, broke the continuity of the makhzen. The late King Hassan II once noted, “Morocco is a lion that you must guide with a leash. He must never feel the chain. When he pulls too hard, I give in a bit, and when he eases up, I pull.” One might say that this is the ruling philosophy that underpins the “third way” in Morocco; it is unique and not replicable anywhere else.

Poverty of Privilege: UN Criticises Morocco Over Women's Rights

1st November 2016

The United Nations has been critical of Morocco recently with the respect to women’s rights, and in particular violence against women. ‘The 118th session of the United Nations Human Rights Committee looked into the 6th periodic report of the Moroccan government’ with the delegation from Morocco undergoing tremendous criticism over the status of the implementation of women’s rights within the country, according to Moroccan World News. The central examination of the Moroccan status of women’s rights took place in the context of law, sexual assault or rape, housing, polygamy and child marriage, and the level of discrimination of women. The research prior to the meeting was done by the Mobilizing for Rights Associates and numerous other Moroccan nonprofits. In general, the research was on women’s rights with a particular focus on “women’s rights in the family and violence against women.” Let’s run through the list of inequalities, which can mean disempowerment for women, equality and empowerment come as a package.

In law, the absence of rights for one group of people implies a separate set of rules given everything else as equal. That is, women and men are adult Moroccan citizens and should, and deserve, equal rights. A trivial statement, even a truism. When it comes to violence against Moroccan women, women victims of violence, in law, do not have civil protection orders.

In sexual assault or rape, which means sexual violence, the World Health Organization defines it as follows: any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.

Victims of sexual violence within Morocco can be, if married and raped by someone other than their partner, “prosecuted for taking part in sex outside of marriage.” That is, the Moroccan legal system, in an inverted ethic, turns the punishment for the crime onto the victim. To make this clear, the law is functionally equivalent to the conditional statement: if a married Moroccan woman is raped by somebody other than her husband, she will be prosecuted for sex outside of marriage.

In housing, and once more on the topic of violence against women, but in the domestic arena, female victims of domestic violence need safe havens to escape the abuse - physical, emotional, social, and spiritual - of some abusive intimate partners. This means the need to have housing centers, which remain one common solution to the problem. According the Centers for Disease Control, intimate partner violence comes with tremendous problems for the victim: society via the economy, physical, reproductive, psychological, social, and inadvertent negative effects on health behaviour for women. It is straightforward. The consequences are short- and long-term. Safe housing can help. Morocco was chastised for not having appropriate provision of them.

In polygamy and child marriage, which implies simple marital and intimate relations, the persistence of these activities indicates systemic socio-cultural problems for the country, which cannot be ignored, and were not, by the international community. In the examination of the nation, the exploitation of women through polygamy and girls through child marriage demarcates an unequal power relation and disempowerment of women and girls, across the age spectrum in other words (intergenerational sex discrimination).

In divorce cases, and so if the cases are considered of discrimination in marital and intimate relations because of polygamy and child marriage, in disproportionate violence against women and provisions for victims because of a lack of safe housing, in sexual assault or rape cases involving married Moroccan women because of full blame on them for ‘sex’ outside of marriage, and in law because of no civil protection orders for women, then the ‘icing’ to the discrimination pie (of which Moroccan women get a greater share) is general discrimination in divorce.

Historical context informs this, too. It is not only a current, ongoing phenomena with the discrimination against Moroccan women. Indeed, this continues right into the present because of the historical context, in part, with the past states transitioning into the present. Morocco was run by the French. Its citizens did not garner independence from the French until the late 1950s.

In 1958, soon after Morocco got its independence from the French, notable male scholars of the country wrote a Family Code Law (the Mudawana) which would be legally implemented by the state, and is still part of Morocco’s legal system. The Mudawana was based on Islamic principles regarding marriage, abortion, divorce and child custody. Despite improvements in the Mudawana in recent years, Morocco still has a lot to cover on its way to bring its legal system to standards where human rights and gender rights are respected and protected, especially when it is still based on Islamic law and principles.

The Mudawana has indeed been updated to allow abortion in case of rape, making the legal age of marriage for both men and women equal and allowing a woman to divorce her husband. However, it is very questionable how, if ever, the reformed version of Mudawana, that was so praised by Moroccan authorities, is followed. The country does not still have a law protecting women from domestic violence, something that puts the country much behind on what can be described as a modern state. In fact, a national survey by the Moroccan High Commission for Planning showed that 62.8% of women had, at least once, been victims of physical or sexual domestic violence. What should concern one the most is that only 3% of those cases were reported to the authorities. What is more, the authorities don’t seem to protect victims of domestic violence, as researchers of the Human Rights Watch mention. There is no doubt that in the absence of a strong domestic violence law, the authorities will keep ignoring those cases.

More than 10 years after the Mudawana’s greatest reform, its implementation into the Moroccan society still lacks behind. A great number of people, and most importantly women, are unaware of what the law allows them to do and as a result do not seek for taking advantage of the increasing equality that the legal system allows them to. In fact, because of conservatism especially in Morocco’s rural areas, women are not interested in implementing the new laws into their society but keep living on the same traditionalist grounds that they are used to. What is more, the Mudawana is limited mainly to urban areas and as a result women in rural and underdeveloped areas do not have access to justice. Thus, citizens of rural areas do not have the chance to be educated on the new law. As a result, a new kind of inequality has been created, that of the difference in implementing the Mudawana in urban and rural areas. Also, one would expect that the judges and legal personnel would be educated at a great, if not absolute, degree about the new rules and their application to the Moroccan society but sadly this is not the case as there are financial barriers in educating them.

In addition, where a legal system gains its credibility is on its application. The reformed Mudawana, unfortunately, makes unfair exceptions in a way that it still fails to protect human rights and achieve gender equality. It may had been the case that the reformation was praised for modernizing Morocco but statistics and facts show otherwise. A concerning fact is that underage marriage still exists in Morocco. Despite that being illegal, a loophole in the system allows the judges to allow men to marry underage girls if that is ‘proven’ to be for the girls’ benefit. According to statistics provided by UNICEF, 16% of girls in Morocco are unlawfully married by the age of 18. Proving that despite the law’s changes it’s difficult to change society’s moral values, the ‘family honour’ system is still in practice in Morocco’s rural areas where if a girl remains unmarried then this means that she breaks the family’s honour in the community. The judicial system does not seem convinced to change that as it has approved 90% of the cases presented before it which asked for allowing a man to marry an underage girl.

Even in everyday life, the law seems unable to be put into practice. Reports of personal experiences show how sexual harassment against women is part of Moroccan culture and it’s considered a norm. A form of sexual harassment of which no woman can escape from, and includes stalking, grobing and catcalling. It seems that Morocco is still a male-dominated society in which men try to be dominant even in their everyday lives, showing that misogyny runs deep in them.

The women’s rights examination of Morocco with respect to child marriage and polygamy as persistent practices in the culture to the present day, sexual assault and rape of married Moroccan women with the blame on the victim, the absence of civil protection orders in law, safe housing for domestic violence victims, and the level of discrimination of women in divorce in general. The Mudawana, or the Family Code Law, is an example of this in historical context as well. It is founded in Islamic Law. Gender rights and human rights are not exactly enshrined in it, in spite of piecemeal improvements - the Mudawana becoming more in line with gender rights and human rights. In addition, the pervasive traditionalism and conservatism in the country create additional barriers for the equality of women and the proper implementation of women’s rights. The research by the Mobilizing for Rights Associates and other non-profits indicates the level of discrimination against women in Morocco, and the UN did not hold back. They gave direct, firm criticism of the Moroccan delegation of the status of women’s rights in the country. As presented here, we do, too

Women in Morocco Set a Model for Rural Communities.

By   Anna Boots   October 31, 2016
Anna Boots is a Fulbright Student Researcher in Morocco who is interested in the intersection of gender, cultural production and globalization.

The growth of cooperatives is one example of how women in the Middle East and North Africa are fighting back and showing resilience. North African women have long been celebrated in their societies as protectors of traditional culture. While this role is undoubtedly critical to any society, the relegation of women to perceived “traditional” spheres has, at times, served as a tool of their marginalization.

In the North African context of the past half-century, it became common for men to move to cities and pursue well-paying jobs in “modern” sectors of the economy, while women stayed at home in rural villages, raised children and led their lives in traditional ways.

But as challenging economic circumstances across the region in the wake of failed structural adjustment policies have left many men unemployed or underemployed, increasing numbers of women are turning this dynamic on its head and using their monopoly on traditional knowledge in creative and innovative ways. In the absence of well-paying, regular work for men, especially in rural areas, women are using traditional knowledge to generate income—and oftentimes providing the glue that holds together families and communities.

Traditional Knowledge in Morocco

Take the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco, a poor, rural region where many men are struggling to find work, and where both the shortage of jobs and cultural norms prevent many women from seeking work outside their homes. In recent years, a growing focus on women’s roles and economic development from Moroccan communities, the government and foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGO) has opened opportunities for women to use their traditional skills—ranging from carpet weaving to herb-gathering to couscous making—to earn income through participation in cooperative business. Utilizing skills that many women previously used within their households to provide for the basic needs of their families, they are now using them to generate outside income through sales to their community members, other Moroccans and, most notably, to tourists.

Cooperatives act as small businesses, where several women come together to pool their resources and knowledge, and increase their market representation in a given industry. In many villages, the success of artisan cooperatives has inspired awe amongst the men, who have seen their incomes decay drastically in recent decades while women have started to earn wages in unexpected ways.

In some places, successful cooperatives are the pride of the village, and anyone you encounter on the street will know where the cooperative is and who works there. Successful cooperatives often become the focal point of village politics, sometimes attracting meddling men who seek to profit from these successful female enterprises. In the best of cases, they become collaborative community efforts, where women and men combine their skills and resources, working together to improve the livelihood of all community members.

In many cases, women become the primary breadwinners in their families through work in a female cooperative, and critically, many unmarried, widowed or divorced women are able to support themselves through this work.

What is perhaps most remarkable about the success of some women in generating income through their artisanal skills is that they do so in addition to all the other work they are responsible for. In rural Morocco, women are responsible for the vast majority of household management tasks, ranging from cooking and cleaning to collecting firewood, tending to livestock and, most importantly, rearing children. Sometimes, an unemployed male will step up and support a working female in the household with these tasks, but in the majority of circumstances they are left to women, even when they are also working to support their families outside of the household.

This combination of responsibilities makes for long, exhausting days for many rural women. In the best circumstances, the companionship women find from other women in the cooperatives provides them with vital emotional support.

Pros and Cons of Cooperatives

Cooperatives are not perfect solutions to gender inequality or rural poverty—in Morocco or anywhere else in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). They are the targets of intense foreign meddling that often has more deleterious effects on communities than beneficial ones. And, like most human institutions, they open up opportunities for exploitative power dynamics that pit people against each other and exclude the most vulnerable in communities from sharing in the wealth they have helped to generate.

These and other dark sides of the cooperative sector are often under-emphasized by foreigners and Moroccans who look to cooperatives as a model for solving gender inequality and rural poverty.
But some of the dynamics highlighted by the growth of this industry are encouraging ones—namely, the innovative and creative power of so many Moroccan women, and the increasing opportunities for these women to use traditional skills to generate monetary value in addition to intrinsic value.

Cooperatives are undoubtedly supported by the tourist industry, and thus might only be successful in countries like Morocco where tourism has remained relatively unaffected by increased instability across the region. Even so, many consumers of artisanal products produced by women’s cooperatives are other Moroccans, and many isolated cooperatives use the internet to bridge gaps between themselves and potential customers. These strategies could potentially be utilized by women in similar situations in MENA countries without thriving tourist economies.

The growth of women’s cooperatives is but one example of how, in a climate of marginalization, poverty and oppression due to their gender and rural status, women across North Africa are fighting back, raising themselves up and bringing their families and communities with them.

Morocco Protests: The Arab Spring Is Dead, Long Live the Arab Revolution?

By Massoud Hayoun

Don’t mistake the current demonstrations in Morocco for what happened in 2011. Five years ago, the untimely death of a North African merchant drove his countrymen to the streets in protest. A similar event happened again this past weekend, only this time it was in Morocco, not Tunisia. In both cases, the merchants’ stock had been confiscated by local authorities. In both cases, popular anger arose from the lowest echelons of a country with a small, wealthy ruling class, where some people can’t hope to eke out a living, much less be upwardly mobile. And, in both cases, this anger manifested itself on the streets in massive protests across the country heard around the world.

American media seemed eager in this latest case to ask whether the death would provoke a second wave of protests across the Arab world and other countries struggling with democracy. That happened to the dismay and ridicule of many Moroccans.

But as protests began to dwindle across the North African kingdom Tuesday, it became clear that this was not 2011. Voices on social and news media who’d gone silent since the so-called Arab Spring were reborn, and yes, there was some excitement among North Africans; it takes a lot for North Africa to make its way into American media: A man being crushed to death; a Clinton Foundation scandal involving King Mohammed VI; a think piece on how Rabat is indispensable to Washington’s global counterterrorism efforts.

This time, however, it seems the poetry and youthful exuberance of 2011 are gone, despite however many people might rally on the streets. Call it mass-movement fatigue after a series of large protests in the region led to great suffering and uncertainty. Or call it a political coming of age — an understanding that there is no miraculous, easy-bake shift to good governance.
On Saturday, news broke that Mohcine Fikri, a 31-year-old fish vendor from the northern city of Hosseima, was crushed to death in a garbage compactor in unclear circumstances. The scandal of the story followed later that day, as did the viral video footage of his death: Fikri was selling swordfish, banned at this time of the year. He was retrieving his stock from the garbage compacter when it was turned on and crushed him.

In 2011, Tunisian fruit vendor Mohammed Bouazizi succumbed to wounds from self-immolation after police confiscated fruit stock he had not been licensed to sell. Some asked why he didn’t just abide by regulations and get a license. But that question was beyond the point. Under the 23-year kleptocracy of then-Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who reserved a lion’s share of entrepreneurship and social mobility for his constituents, even a fruit vendor found it impossible to survive. It wasn’t even months into the post-revolutionary atmosphere before some began to invoke Mohammed Bouazizi sarcastically as the latest face to replace Che Guevara on lefty T-shirts that had upset the fraught but calm status quo under Ben Ali.

And yet speaking with a friend from Fez on Saturday about Fikri’s death, the first question he raised was why Fikri hadn’t abided by regulations. This friend had waxed patriotic for Morocco’s February 20th democracy movement in 2011 that responded to similar calls for change in Tunisia and Egypt at the time. Mutual friends told us he’d since gone through an inner conflict of sorts. But he was adamant about a political change of heart — look at the chaos just a few mass-demonstrations had wrought across the region. Morocco is not impervious to a Syria scenario.

The fact is, he’s right. Whether that’s political bad faith isn’t for me to decide. I’d be in Los Angeles while my family’s homeland, a civilization built over millennia, goes to hell. And it wasn’t just this friend: Others have expressed anger at the suggestion that Fikri would inspire a regional push for change, like Bouazizi had. “It’s 2016, and so-called lefties obsessed with the Bouazizi myth are scrounging from the bottom of the barrel, seeing victims as but a revolutionary spark,” wrote one Twitter user, whose name and handle I’ve omitted — together with other voices for this article, following news that Fikri’s friends were arrested for speaking to the press.

One has only to look to Syria, where 2011 protests quickly devolved into wholesale bloodshed and terror; and Egypt, where the military’s seizure of the government has for some transformed the unbridled enthusiasm of five years ago into a cautionary tale against youthful ignorance.In the years following Morocco’s own democracy movement, King Mohammed VI oversaw a redrafting of the nation’s constitution, which activists have called a hollow soft power nod to Rabat’s Western allies. High-profile activists have also endured what they characterize as a politic of revenge, even long after protests had dwindled: Watchdog journalists like Ali Anouzla and Mouad Belghouat, who rapped anthems of the public’s seething anger over socioeconomic injustice, went to prison over what activists called trumped up charges designed to put a chill effect on any potential protestors.

Still, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets across the country these past few days. Like in 2011, they were chanting “a’ash ashaab” long live the people in Moroccan Arabic. Fikri’s death, unlike Bouazizi’s, is believed to have been unintentional, though. He wanted so much to live, it seems, that he was willing to risk his life for his livelihood. That’s a major difference. These protests were a nationwide funeral.

In 2016, not many people seem keen to capitalize on the almost cosmic coincidences that seemed to highlight life’s indignities. There’s a different, less exciting brand of indignation here, now that it’s not the Moroccan protestor’s first rodeo. One close friend in Marrakech wrote on Twitter, referring to Fikri’s gruesome demise, “We are all trash.” As opposed to “We are all Bouazizi” or “We are all Khaled Said,” Egypt’s 2011 martyr-cum-poster boy for revolution.

A very key difference: Unlike in Bouazizi’s case, there’s a figure that, in 2011, would have been read by much of the public as Fikri’s near-perfect foil. Last week, Moroccan pop star Saad Lamjarred, whose parents are famous entertainers believed to be close to the throne, was arrested in Paris after a woman accused him of rape. Lamjarred already faces pending litigation for similar charges from an America woman. On Monday, the kingdom’s official Agence Marocaine de Presse news agency reported that the King had advised Lamjarred’s parents to hire French attorney Eric Dupont Morretti.
A nation in mourning was scandalized; at a time when petty regulations kept a poor man from making a living, the throne had interceded to help an accused rapist. But still, in 2016, not many people seem keen to capitalize on the almost cosmic coincidences that seemed to highlight life’s indignities.

Yet another difference was where to direct this anger. There were the same government shills gingerly suggesting that, at most, only local functionaries should be held responsible for Fikri’s death. Pointing out that the king had launched a royal investigation of the matter, these people seemed to fear a call to overthrow the monarchy that I had heard literally nowhere. Very few people seemed to want names. Who ordered the fish taken? some asked; the details had been noticeably absent from early coverage of the matter.

After Bouazizi’s death, Faida Hamdi, the officer who publicly humiliated Bouazizi, soonbecame a symbol of police corruption, a whipping post made of a single woman who came to represent a deeply corrupt society. But in 2016, as names began to surface of the authorities figures who’d ordered Fikri’s fish confiscated, echoed on social media, quite a few others were calling not to flagrantly report names of public functionaries who could become sacrificial lambs for Rabat. The point was not to tear down the figureheads; it was to call for change in the system.

It soon became clear that some of the youthful mistakes of a people engaged in a movement for social change would not be relived. There are images, both hand-drawn and photographed, of Fikri circulating on the Internet — of him being crushed to death, of him looking angelic and flanked by the colors of the Moroccan flag. But no cult of the personality. There’s no “We are all Mohcine Fikri” Facebook page that has become the virtual base for organizing, like in Egypt in 2011.

It’s not that people have become despondent; they are still out there. But the emotions were different in 2011, often opportunistic. In 2011, Arab Americans who were in the United States during the revolutions wrote books on what those meant. In Egypt, pop star Tamer Hosny penned a ballad for Tunisia after Bouazizi’s death that drove many to tears. But just week’s later, Hosny was in Tahrir Square in Egypt asking people to go home. What had been encouraged for Tunisia was not acceptable for Egypt; in short, his revolutionary ardor had been a joke.

Where there were slogans and victims-cum-mascots in 2011, there was also the oft-unspoken suggestions that good governance or, more specifically, democracy, happen overnight. For instance, Egyptians saw their first election as the one that would introduce government accountability to the people, not as the precursor to the military’s massacre of Muslim Brotherhood members. Absent from all those movements was a comprehensive proposal for what a 21st century Arab democracy should look like.

It’s too soon to tell what if anything these protests will mean practically for everyday Moroccans trying to live, not necessarily struggling to live with dignity like Bouazizi, but just to make a living. What’s certain is that, from many quarters, where there were people waxing poetic about the prospects of a few large demonstrations, there are now people measuring their words, ensconced in a political calculus informed by the brutality that has been the past five years in the Arab World.

And in the U.S., the media was hopefully able to learn from its coverage of the 2011 protests the shame of the quick take, at least as it regards North Africa and the Middle East.

Author Leïla Slimani urges Moroccans to rebel against 'medieval' laws

Agence France-Presse in Paris Friday 4 November 2016

Prize-winning novelist describes arrest of two teenage girls who were caught kissing as ‘humiliation and abuse of power’Moroccans must rebel against the country’s “medieval laws”, the winner of France’s top literary prize has declared, following the arrest of two teenage girls who were caught kissing. Leïla Slimani, who this week became the first Moroccan woman to win the prestigious Prix Goncourt for her novel Chanson Douce (Sweet Song), lambasted her homeland’s human rights record and the way women are treated.

Moroccan teenage girls to face trial on homosexuality charges

Calls for pair, aged 16 and 17, to be released following their detention in Marrakech last week after allegedly kissing and hugging

A joint statement from about 20 human rights groups said the girls, aged 16 and 17, were badly beaten by their families after being filmed by a neighbour with a mobile phone kissing on the roof of a house in Marrakesh last week. The statement said the pair, identified only by their first names, Sanaa and Hajar, were denied food for three days by the police who then forced one of them to sign a statement before releasing them on Thursday.

“The humiliation of citizens, the way they are kept down, encourages a political system based on disdain, humiliation and the abuse of power,” Slimani told France Inter radio. “I think it is time people took this in hand and rebelled. The laws in Morocco are completely medieval, completely disconnected from reality … they ban sex outside marriage, homosexuality and adultery,” said the 35-year-old, whose award-winning novel is based on a real-life case of a nanny in the US accused of killing two children she was looking after.

The Moroccan Association of Human Rights has appointed a lawyer to defend the girls who, if convicted, could be imprisoned for between six months and three years. “We shouldn’t be hypocrites. Moroccans have sex lives outside marriage, and it’s good that there are homosexuals,” the author said. Slimani, who raised eyebrows at home with her debut novel last year about a female nymphomaniac, said the oppression women suffered had nothing to do with religion.

“Lots of imams and enlightened theologians will explain that to you … It is a question of human rights, sexual rights, the right to dignity and in particular the dignity of women’s bodies.” Slimani said a woman should not just be regarded as “a mother, nor a sister, nor a wife, but as a woman, an individual with their own rights”. Torn between religious conservatism and opening up to the west, the overwhelmingly Muslim north African country has been the centre of a series controversies over moral issues in recent years.

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