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Morocco Week in Review 
November 12, 2016

American City of Alexandria Presents Morocco with Flag of Friendship

By Elisabeth Myers - October 26, 2016 Rabat

The Kingdom of Morocco and the 20,000 strong Moroccan-American community were recognized at the Second Alexandria International Festival this past weekend with a gift of the City of Alexandria’s flag. The City of Alexandria’s Regional Program Director, Cheryl Lawrence, acknowledged the longstanding relationship of Morocco and the U.S. during the Morocco Moment presented by the Moroccan American Network at Alexandria’s Second International Waterfront Festival on Saturday October 22, by giving the flag of the City of Alexandria, Virginia, as a token of friendship toward Morocco.

Legendary Gnawa musician Hassan Hakmoun, who performed at the festival, Mohamed El Hajjam, CEO of premiere festival sponsor AV Actions Inc. and President of the Moroccan American Network, and Khadija Ghazzar received the flag on behalf of the Kingdom to be delivered to King Mohamed VI.

Founded in 1749, Alexandria is one of the older cities in the U.S., and historically one of the busiest ports in the nation.  Morocco was the first country in the world to recognize the independence of the United States in 1777, memorialized with a signed Treaty of Friendship in 1786.  In presenting the flag, acknowledging the longstanding relationship and Alexandria’s maritime history as a hub of international business, Lawrence said, “We couldn’t have done it without the Moroccans; they accepted us with love.”

Morocco was the featured country at Alexandria’s second international festival, which every year showcases Alexandria’s ethnic diversity and inclusive culture.  Hanging above center stage were the American flag on the left, the City of Alexandria flag on the right, and the Moroccan flag in the middle. The Morocco Moment showcased Moroccan music and couture.  Dressed in a loose fitting turquoise trouser suit of his own design, Hakmoun performed traditional and original Gnawa music on sintir with vocals, accompanied by his professional dancer wife Chikako, who dressed in bright red sang, played the qarqaqab (metal castanets), and tap danced, while their three-year-old daughter Aya danced between them on the stage in her mini rose and green kaftan.  It was a truly spectacular family performance.

Hakmoun received an award from the Moroccan American Network in appreciation of his longstanding artistic excellence and outstanding contribution to the Moroccan American community.
Showcasing one of the quintessential cultural elements of Morocco, the designs of Moroccan-American fashion designer Khadija Mouh were paraded down the run way by volunteer models in a mini-fashion show. The show included the traditional kaftan as well as other, more modern styled items, featuring colorful and beautiful, hand-embroidered Berber designs.

On Monday, representatives of the Moroccan American Network visited Mayor Allison Silberberg to thank her and the City of Alexandria for its friendship and support of the Moroccan American business community.  Representatives included MAN President and Alexandria resident El Hajjam; Khadija (Katie) Ghazzar, Coordinator of the Morocco Moment; Mohammed Saadouni, noted Moroccan journalist assisting with media relations; and Elisabeth Myers, attorney and strategic advisor and former long-time resident of Alexandria and Chair of the Alexandria Performing Arts Association.
“America is a nation of immigrants,” Mayor Silberberg said. “The City of Alexandria has opened its doors to people of all ethnicities, cultures, religions, and walks of life.  The Moroccan-American community is a dynamic force in Alexandria, and we were pleased to showcase its cultural heritage at our annual international festival.”

The Moroccan American Network is a non-profit network of individuals dedicated to strengthening economic ties between Morocco and the United States. The Morocco Moment featured at the Alexandria Festival was the successful culmination of the Moroccan American Network’s 2016 events.

Is Morocco On Course?

November 4, 2016 Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

Morocco’s second Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC election since the adoption of the new constitution in 2011 resulted in the appointment of Abdelilah Benkirane as head of government, since his moderate Islamic party, PJD, had the highest number of votes. He is currently in the process of negotiating a governing coalition. To outside observers, this seems consistent with the norms of a democratic election and so is not remarkable. However, it has a much larger significance for several reasons. First of all, the results reinforce the reality that free and fair elections are a consistent feature of political life in Morocco. There are winners and losers, and the process moves towards peaceful outcomes and transitions, if necessary. Secondly, the results indicated the rise of a strong party, the PAM, in opposition to the PJD-led government, another healthy sign of a society in which no one party has the monopoly on the national discourse. A third consideration is that King Mohammed VI showed his support for the electoral process by immediately appointing Benkirane to form a government, a critical step since PAM is known to be strong supporters of the palace.

Most important in the long run, the election underscores Morocco’s advance towards greater civic engagement and government accountability, a consistent theme in the King’s speeches, most recently to the opening session of Parliament, itself continually including more women and youth members. And this is probably Morocco’s strongest asset, the blending of the King’s leadership with a government supporting ongoing reforms that bring Morocco in line with human and civic values that solidify its democratic elements.

Intentions are certainly not enough. The reform agenda is still incomplete. And the gap between passing and implementing legislation cannot be ignored. The King himself complained about the inadequate understanding and enforcement of the Family Law (Moudawana), which provides significant policies for women’s empowerment. Judicial independence is still to be attained; the regionalization process devolving certain powers to local governments has yet to be fully codified with institutions and human resources prepared to implement it; and there are gaps in the educational infrastructure and approach that are an obstacle to fully developing the country’s human potential.

These issues and many more were raised during the election, another positive sign for Morocco’s democracy. Most importantly, aside from a defensible prohibition on pre-election polling (which can be appreciated given the cornucopia of contradictory results of the myriad polls in the US at this time), Morocco has achieved a seasoned election process. As the political parties mature and the number of serious parties shrinks from the 30+ in the recent election, the opportunities for more robust and vibrant political campaigns can be realized.

Over the longer term, Morocco’s elections have another very important function – to build needed credibility in the political system. Some international election observers suggested that the turnout of 43%, while comparable to democratic elections elsewhere, may signal dissatisfaction with political parties. In fact, there are signs that the political parties are getting the message that defining positions, seeking to be more inclusive, and listening to constituencies are critical to their survival and success. Shake-ups are already underway in those parties that fared poorly. Another lesson learned in the recent elections.

Finally, another issue to be reckoned with is how legitimate political mechanisms, such as elections, contribute to Morocco’s internal coherence and ability to govern. The lack of credible mechanism is commonly mentioned an indicator of “state fragility.” As Thomas Carothers points out in a recent Policy Brief produced jointly by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Center for a New American Security, and the United States Institute for Peace, a common feature of fragile states is the systematic exclusion of its citizens. And the commonly defined prescription is “inclusive governance.”

If inclusiveness is the glue for building stability and the social contract, then Morocco is surely headed in the right direction. Elevating the Amazigh language as an official language for the government and educational system, broadening the role of civil society in in policy-making, and the King’s insistence, in his latest speech, that the government remain focused on providing quality services to the people – are all positive trends towards inclusion. People are already more empowered due to digital technologies; the government and institutions must keep pace develop credible and effective communications strategies in order to proactively discharge their responsibilities.

As the Policy Brief concludes: When a government closes off space for independent civil society, it is creating a significant structural obstacle to achieving inclusive governance and positive state-society relations. An active, diverse civil society is the key to empowering marginalized groups, creating multiple channels for citizen participation, mediating diverse interests in a peaceful fashion, and in general creating state-society relations based on mutual communication, respect, and consensus.
This is where Morocco is headed and the country is well on its way.

Stanford: Morocco Could See 100 Percent Green Energy Use by 2050

By Zainab Calcuttawala - October 25, 2016 REUTERS/Regis Duvignau Rabat –

Morocco could run on 100 percent green energy by the year 2050, according to new research on the matter from Stanford University. The California-based institution studied the energy prospects of 139 countries to develop a feasible and hypothetical green energy scenario for each nation. An optimal energy portfolio for Morocco would be composed of 65.6 percent solar energy, 29.7 percent offshore and onshore wind energy, 2.5 percent hydroelectric power and 2.1 percent additional marine energy, the California-based company’s analysis showed.

Going green would add 88,806 permanent full-time jobs to the workforce, adding $3.53 billion to the Moroccan economy every year. Deserting fossil fuels would also save citizens from over MAD 420 billion in healthcare costs related to pollution. Researcher Mark Jacobson, who developed a computer model related climate change to air pollution, spearheaded the study. The report comes as the North African kingdom prepares to host the United Nations Climate Change Summit COP22 in the tourist city of Marrakech next month. The team’s scenario aligns closely with the kingdom’s plan to become fossil fuel independent in the coming decades.

Morocco currently hosts the world’s largest solar complex, Noor 1, in the desert city of Ouarzazate, where it generates 580 MW of electricity. The National Energy Strategy calls for the development of 2000 MW of renewable energy by the year 2020 by installing new solar facilities in Beni Mathar, Foum El Oued, Boujdour and Tah Sebkhat. Wind power’s share will increase to 14 percent to 2020, if the strategy’s implementation proceeds as scheduled. By 2030, the government plans to derive 52 percent of the nation’s energy from renewable sources.

Woman party boss, rare in Arab world, cracks glass ceiling

November 11, 2016 CASABLANCA, Morocco (AP)

The polls have just closed, and Nabila Mounib is surrounded by activists who take selfies with her and wish her luck. She's keenly aware of the stakes. Mounib, a 56-year-old endocrinology professor, is Morocco's most high-profile female politician. After two weeks of campaigning across the country in a cramped mini-bus, she will find out the next day if she has succeeded in getting the party she leads into parliament and winning a seat herself.

It's a moment she's worked for all her adult life, while raising three children. Even now, in the anxiety-tinged bustle, she's caught in the push-pull of a working mother. She excuses herself to rush home and help her son with his science homework. Mounib is still a rarity in the Arab world — a female politician in a leadership position. Morocco ranks 97th out of 145 countries on the gender gap in politics, according to the World Economic Forum. Many Arab countries score even lower.

Mounib says she learned early on that women have to outperform men to prove their worth. "Women have to struggle extra hard in every aspect of what they do," she says. "The main reason I decided to pursue politics was to reach these heights, to reach these ceilings, and to shatter them for other women...I want to create an example, a historic example, a successful example."
Despite the hopes raised by the Arab Spring five years ago, women in the region still hold only 17.6 percent of seats in parliament, the second lowest score in the world. In Morocco, it's 20.5 percent, mainly because of a women's quota.

In this election, Mounib's Unified Socialist Party is allied with two others to form the Federation of the Democratic Left. She is accompanied on the white campaign bus by four young volunteers, including her 25-year-old daughter Dounia. The mood is casual. Mounib insists that the driver eat with the team. He is almost instantly transformed from a random stranger into a supporter, sitting in the front row when she delivers her daily stump speech. Her calm only rarely gives way to irritation, mostly over planning mishaps. "Honestly, I do feel this pressure," she later says about leading a national campaign.

Her audiences — mostly men — listen without heckling or interruptions, a display of politeness fairly typical at such rallies in Morocco. The husky-voiced Mounib is lively and confident. She took up karate when she was younger — a sport she says helped with concentration and public speaking. "Our society teaches us to be shy and keep to ourselves," she says of women in Morocco. "I've always been outspoken."

Mounib grew up in Casablanca as the seventh of nine children. Her father, a diplomat, encouraged her interest in politics, answering questions and giving her books. He also invited her to his office, where he received dignitaries. In a patriarchy, a supportive father is the key to a girl's confidence, she says. She earned her doctorate at Montpellier University in France. After her return to Casablanca in the 1980s, she became a university lecturer, eventually rising to the leadership of the professors' union, and got involved in politics. Daughter Dounia says her father, who works in insurance, often fixed meals as her mother dashed off to meetings. Some of her girlfriends, even in their upscale Anfa district, would often be asked to serve their brothers, she says.

Her mother is a role model, even if there's some friction. At one point on the trail, Mounib snaps at Dounia when she criticizes a decision on a social media post. The tension quickly dissipates.
"Just the fact that you see this woman being in charge of something this big makes you believe in anything," Dounia says. "You see yourself in her."

The Federation has struggled to extend its appeal beyond urban, educated Moroccans. Mounib tries to reach rural audiences with demands for social justice -- narrow the wealth gap, fight nepotism, improve education.

Morocco does not allow polling during campaigns, so Mounib has no idea how she is doing. But in some rural communities where men control the public space, her presence gives a jolt of hope to women. Mounib "gives strength to women because she is capable and equal to a man," says Chenna Hadhoum, a 38-year-old municipal clerk, at one stop. After the rally, Hadhoum wrestles with her shyness, and then walks up to Mounib and asks for a photo. She says it's been a day she will remember for a long time.

Mounib says she has encountered sexism even in a progressive movement like her own. In her first year as party leader, she faced repeated challenges, mostly from male colleagues, and at times considered resigning. The possibility of failure is clearly on her mind. She resolves not to seek re-election as party leader if the Federation does poorly. "If we fail, I'm going to go back and put on my sneakers, and get back to the grassroots," she says.

However, Emna Ma Al Ainaine, an Islamist candidate, dismisses the Federation as marginal and claims Mounib comes off as elitist. "We had debates," she says. "Me, I am open, I am ready to listen to everyone .... But with Nabila, she believes she has the truth, just her, in Morocco." Dounia says her mother has been skewered on Facebook for owning a pair of expensive sunglasses — which she takes off when talking in poorer communities. And a French publication noted in a profile that Mounib drove to the interview in a Volvo.

Early on Oct. 8th, the election results start to come in. Euphoria erupts at campaign headquarters, because the federation has secured two of 305 seats in district races. But the two seats fall far short of the 10 to 12 Mounib had hoped for. And a few hours later, she hears on television that the federation did not cross the 3 percent threshold for the national vote, which determines 90 additional seats reserved for women and younger candidates. This means she won't get into parliament.

Mounib takes a few days to deal with the disappointment. A week later, she's back at party headquarters. She won't seek re-election as party leader, as promised, but she won't resign from the party either. "I want a Morocco where equality between a man and a woman means that a woman can walk outside in a hijab or in shorts," she says, "and be happy about being a woman."

The Day After Tomorrow in Morocco: Morocco is a fitting place to host the United Nation’s annual Climate Change Conference.

By Joseph Shupac  November 11, 2016November 11, 2016

Delegates debate at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco, November 10 (UN Climate Change)

Amid the election victory of the intensely pro-coal, global-warming denier Donald Trump, the United Nation’s annual Climate Change Conference is underway in Marrakech, Morocco and is aiming to build on last year’s Paris Agreement. The conference began on Monday and will run until the end of next week.

Herculean task

Trump aside, getting any far-reaching climate deal done will be a herculean challenge involving unprecedented cooperation and goodwill between nations. Specifically, it will require cooperation between developed economies, which account for most greenhouse gas emissions in per capita as well as historical terms, and developing ones, which have the most urgent need for an increase in carbon emissions and carbohydrates consumption. Morocco, which is a developing, African, Muslim economy that shares the Pillars of Hercules with its developed, European, Christian neighbor Spain, could therefore be among the most fitting places to accomplish such an effort.

Food and fuel

Morocco exemplifies many of the greatest challenges as well as greatest opportunities of a world in which the use of fossil fuels is relegated to the back burner. Using Morocco as a case study, one can explore in detail what the “day after tomorrow” could look like. Not the apocalyptic version of climate change that Hollywood has repeatedly shown us, but rather a more hopeful day after tomorrow: the lower-pollution world those at the conference in Marrakech are hoping to build.

On the challenge side of the ledger, Morocco is one of the poorer countries of the Arab world. While not an energy exporter itself, it does rely on business and investment with the oil-rich Gulf.
Moreover, it is one of the largest food importers in the world (relative to GDP size) and is part of both the Arab and Saharan worlds which are similarly beholden to food imports.
Given the energy-food-water nexus, which has many aspects, there is a far-reaching link between food and fuel prices. In any climate deal, countries like Morocco and regions like the Middle East must be supported in one way or another if they are to avoid economic crises due to food-price inflation and declining energy export revenues.


There is also a geopolitical and humanitarian component to this. Conflicts can be started in response to food prices: the current Syrian war may have been sparked or at least exacerbated by drought. Morocco has its own dormant food-related conflict with its gas-rich neighbor Algeria over Western Sahara, the large Moroccan-controlled former Spanish colony which holds perhaps three-quarters of global reserves of phosphate fertilizer.

Morocco’s opportunities

In terms of opportunities in a lower-emissions world, Morocco has three factors working in its favor. First, its location at the exact crossroads of the Atlantic and Mediterranean puts it in a strong position to engage in fuel-efficient maritime trade with large markets like Europe, the Americas and South Asia. Second, Morocco has renewable energy to harness: the Saharan sun, seaside wind (Morocco’s coast is over 1800 kilometers long) and direct electricity-grid linkages via Spain to the hefty renewables output of Europe.

Indeed, Morocco built the largest solar plant in the world this year, while Spain is the world’s fourth-largest producer of wind power and tenth-largest of “renewables” in general. Beyond Spain, Morroco’s largest trading partner France is by far the least dependent on fossil fuels of any of the world’s biggest economies. Finally, Morocco is one of the few countries to speak three global languages pretty well: Arabic, French and Spanish. As such, it is well-placed to engage in emissions-free trading of services and media on the Internet. Morroco’s even getting decent at English now, because of tourists from the United Kingdom, the United States and the EU.


Morocco has always been something of an outlier. Today, it is arguably the only country in the Middle East or North Africa that is not or does not border a failed or semi-failed state. In recent years, Morocco has been one of the few places in the region where good news has not been too difficult to come by. And with Trump’s victory on Tuesday, and the end of the climate conference approaching next week, we could all use some more good news out of Morocco right now.
This article originally appeared at Future Economics, November 10, 2016.

Morocco’s Revenues from Alcohol, Cigarettes, Gambling Reach Over MAD 10 Billion

By Ezzoubeir Jabrane - October 25, 2016 Casablanca

The revenue of the domestic consumption tax on cigarettes, alcoholic drinks and gambling is expected to generate over MAD 10 billion. In a new report the 2017 Finance Law Project (PFL 2017) revenue from domestic consumption tax on cigarettes, alcohol and gambling prove that this religiously prohibited industry is, in fact, an important source of revenue for the government.
The government is expected to collect MAD 1,26 billion from the domestic tax imposed on the consumption of all sorts of alcoholic beverages. Added to this, the tax revenue on the sale of cigarettes is estimated at MAD 9.1 billion, while another MAD 160 million will be collected from the tax on gambling.

Interestingly, the 2017 revenue estimations of alcoholic drinks are higher than those of 2016. Perhaps not surprisingly, they are 400% higher than those of non-alcoholic drinks. Predictably, there has been some push back on the results. The Moroccan daily newspaper, Al Akhbar, took the announcement as an opportunity to slam the Justice and Development Party (PJD), chich has led the government for two consecutive sessions (2011 – 2016 and 2016 – 2021) accusing it of “… contradictory moralistic discourse”.”

In today’s issue of the paper, Al Akhbar stated “… the Islamists of the Justice and Development Party are counting on increasing sales of products ‘haram’ to fill in budget holes.” Addressing the issue of the “Islamization of the state,” which came as an accusation of many political rivals of the PJD during the last election campaign, Abdelilah Benkirane, the party’s Secretary-General, stated that the religious reference of the party does not determine the policies of the government. He went on to challenge that no one can refer to any government policy that can be considered “Islamic.”
Edited by Constance Guidon

Leila Slimani: Portrait of a Feminist and Prix Goncourt Winner

By Ghita Benslimane - November 5, 2016 Casablanca

You may know Leïla Slimani as the first Moroccan woman to be awarded the prestigious literary prize, the “Prix Goncourt.” Perhaps you simply know her as the talented author of “Dans le Jardin de l’Ogre” (“In the Ogre’s Garden”) or “Chanson Douce” (“Sweet Song”). Or you may know her as the accomplished journalist who wrote for Jeune Afrique for several years.  But there’s a lot more to Leïla Slimani, the French-Moroccan writer who was recently congratulated by the Moroccan monarch, King Mohamed VI, on winning the Prix Goncourt for “Chanson Douce.” This was no easy feat; the Prix Goncourt, France’s #1 literary award, recognizes “the best and most imaginative prose work of the year.”

Slimani’s path to Goncourt-dom is an interesting one. Born to a Moroccan father and a French-Algerian mother, Slimani spent her childhood and adolescence in Rabat, Morocco. Her father was a banker and her mother an ENT doctor. Her upbringing, she tells French publication “Liberation,” was one defined by freedom and relative secularity. Her parents constantly fostered her love of art, culture and literature. After graduating from “Descartes,” Rabat’s French high school, Slimani leaves Morocco at the age of 18 and enrolls in Sciences Po in Paris. After graduating, she joins the illustrious “Cours Florent,” a French drama school, but later decides that acting isn’t for her. She enrolls at ESCP Europe, a pan-European business school, where she gets a Master’s degree in media before joining “Jeune Afrique,” a news site covering anything and everything Africa. 

In 2013, after a successful career in journalism, Slimani leaves Jeune Afrique to focus on writing. In 2014, “Dans le Jardin de l’Ogre,” Slimani’s first novel, is released. The prize-winning novel follows the story of Adele, a young journalist navigating the intricacies of nymphomania.  “Adele appeared to me as a soft, painful piece of music. What is subversive about Adele is not the sex, its her passivity, her laziness. She doesn’t want to fulfill the roles offered to her,” Slimani tells Liberation. “I think there’s something very sad in sexuality,” she adds. 

Her handling of female sexuality in “Dans le Jardin de l’Ogre” is not common; she treats Adele’s sexuality with unabashed fervor. And when France24 asked her what it was like, as a Moroccan woman, to write about sex, Slimani said, “Whether I want it or not, the labels of “woman” and “Muslim” are who I am in Morocco. So when I write about what I think about sexuality in a country where homosexuality and sex outside of marriage are condemned, it engages me. So somewhere, I’m taking risks.”

Slimani is also a self-proclaimed feminist. “We often ask me if I’m a feminist,” she says, in an article written for Le360. “And I often get the impression that we use the word with caution, as if people are scared to offend me, as if feminism was a shameful disease. Of course I’m a feminist! How could one not be? When we know that the simple fact of being a woman makes us potential victims of violence, of sexual assault, of harassment and even death?”

Her second novel, the Prix Goncourt-winner entitled “Chanson Douce,” is a little more somber. It follows the story of a nanny killing two children under her supervision. Slimani says it was inspired from a real incident which occurred in New York in 2012.  The novel, which begins with an impactful “The baby is dead,” explores the path of Louise, a nanny who often feels powerless and resentful at the hands of life. 

Slimani found out about her Goncourt win on Friday at the Paris restaurant Dormant. Since 1914, all Prix Goncourt announcements have been made at the restaurant. The prize, that of 10 euros, is merely a token — Slimani will benefit from the achievement in more ways than one. Today, Leïla Slimani stands out as one of Morocco and France’s most talented writers. Her powerful, fearless prose is both art and activism, and the world would surely benefit from more of it.

Moroccan author condemns country's 'medieval' laws on sexuality

Leila Slimani, first Moroccan woman to win prestigious Prix Goncourt literay prize, defends two teenage girls arrested for kissing
Friday 4 November 2016

Moroccans must rebel against the "medieval laws" that weigh them down, the winner of France's top literary prize declared on Friday as she jumped to the defence of two teenage girls who were arrested after being caught kissing. Leila Slimani, who became the first Moroccan woman to win the prestigious Prix Goncourt Thursday for her novel Chanson Douce ("Sweet Song"), lambasted her homeland's human rights record, and in particular the way women are treated.

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 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," said the 35-year-old, whose winning novel is based on a real-life case of a nanny in the United States accused of killing two children she was looking after. "The laws in Morocco are completely medieval, completely disconnected from reality ... they ban sex outside marriage, homosexuality and adultery," Slimani added. 

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 good that 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 that 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 seen several controversies over moral issues in recent years

Recipe Box: Morocco-inspired Alaska seafood dish

By Sierra Starks Photojournalist: Rick Rysso - November 8, 2016

This week’s Recipe Box is inspired by flavors found halfway across the world. Chefs Kirsten and Mandy Dixon recently represented Alaska in Morocco during the second annual U.S./Morocco Food Week. “It was incredible,” said Kirsten of the experience. “We went all over the country. We cooked Alaska cuisine for Moroccan chefs and homemakers, and we also learned from Moroccans how to prepare Moroccan food.”

Lucky for KTVA 11’s Daybreak — the mother-daughter duo was willing to share some of the recipes they picked up during their time abroad. In the video above, Kirsten prepares a Morocco-inspired Alaska seafood dish: salmon, halibut and crab prepared over a bed of couscous (or rice). The seafood is coated in a spice and herb mixture called a Chermoula marinade, also from Morocco.
The newest tool added to her culinary repertoire after visiting the African country was a tagine, a clay pot with a tall funnel-like lid. But Kirsten says a casserole pot with a lid will work as well.
To make it even easier for parents on the go, download the free recipe on your mobile device or print it to throw in your own recipe box!
Video here:

Talking about his mother: interview with Ben Jelloun, 'Morocco’s greatest living author'  

Jackie McGlone

TAHAR Ben Jelloun is “Morocco’s greatest living author”, according to the blurb on the paperback edition of his latest book, About My Mother, which he began in 2001 and finished in 2007. The accompanying press release also claims that he is “regularly shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature”, although the names of nominees cannot be revealed until 50 years later. But let us pass on that.

In any case, the distinguished novelist, essayist, critic and poet has yet to win. He has, however, been awarded the Prix Goncourt – the first North African to do so – and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. In France, where he and his wife (with whom he has four children) have lived for more than 45 years. He also received the rank of Officier of the Légion d'honneur in 2008.
Many of his North Africa-set international bestsellers, all of which he writes in French despite his mother tongue being Arabic, have been translated into English, including The Happy Marriage, This Blinding Absence Of Light, The Sand Child and Racism Explained To My Daughter. Winner of the 2016 PEN Promotes Award, All About My Mother is a genre-defying, lyrical, moving tribute to Ben Jelloun’s late mother, thrice-married Lalla Fatma, translated by Ros Schwartz and Lulu Norman.

But is it a novel? A memoir? A biography of an ordinary woman? A case study of the living death that is Alzheimer’s disease? Or is it a social history of Moroccan domestic life? It is all of these – as one reviewer has suggested – and much more, a blend of fact and fiction as vivid as one of Lalla Fatma’s gorgeous headscarves in colours that she believes should make the heart beat faster.
So, a meeting with the great Ben Jelloun is keenly anticipated. But, reporter, be careful what you wish for. He arrives with interpreter and publicist at the London hotel near the BBC, after being interviewed for the Arabic service. Looking irritated before we are even introduced, he tosses his fedora and a long blue scarf, which I have offered to take from him, onto the sofa alongside me and proceeds not to engage in any eye contact, although he does so eventually, of which more later.

There is nothing more disconcerting than an interviewee who refuses to look you in the eye and who is more interested in the London skyline from 15 floors up than in having anything approaching a conversation about his work. Indeed, the strength of the double glazing is tested as he bangs his fist on it at one point – not out of anger but more idle curiosity I suppose, or perhaps he’s trying to escape.

We discuss the unclassifiable nature of the book, which he embarked on when his mother first fell ill, becoming “a frail little thing with a faltering memory”, summoning long-dead members of her family – “We’re living with ghosts here,” he writes. She talks to them as they file past her bedside, sometimes they linger. He doesn’t interrupt them. He doesn’t like to upset her. Her paid companion tells 69-year-old Ben Jelloun that his mother thinks that she is in Fez in the year of his birth. She constantly revisits his childhood: “Her memory’s been toppled, lies scattered over the damp floor. Time and reality are out of kilter.”

The book was originally a diary of Lalla Fatma’s illness. “Then in the end I just changed it all and it became a novel. Yes, it is hard to categorise and it is all [the genres] you have described but it’s a book about mothers and people’s relationships with their mothers, which is why it is appealing to readers in more than 20 countries and has been translated into as many languages,” says Ben Jelloun, speaking in rapid French through an interpreter. The book changed, he explains, because as she became more and more delirious, his mother told him stories about her life that he was not aware of. “And so I invented her childhood; I invented her life. It was almost like making a puzzle. I put all those pieces together and some pieces were real and from her; some were not. It’s a mixture.

“Many things I discovered surprised me, because in a Moroccan family the mother is always very discreet. My mother, who was illiterate but intelligent, would never have talked about her private life or her sexuality with her sons. Suddenly, she gave these little hints. She had had another child who must have died and I wasn’t aware of that. The book mixes souvenirs of my childhood and her memories but it’s not a personal story. In a way, I appropriated her life, but I’ll never know whether it is precise or not because she is no longer here to verify it. I told her I was writing the book, which she would not have liked at all, with me revealing her incontinence, for instance. In a way, I suppose I am stealing her life, her small, beautiful life.”

It is an accusation that has been levelled at Ben Jelloun in the past. His multiple award-winning 2001 novel, This Blinding Absence Of Light, is based on the true story of a former inmate of one of Hassan II’s notorious desert prison camps – an officer accused of collusion in a failed coup and interned for 20 years in an underground cell. Ben Jelloun drew on a three-hour interview with a survivor (whose brother had asked Ben Jelloun to tell the story), who later accused him of having stolen his story. But a financial agreement had been signed and a draft approved by the survivor, to whom the book was also dedicated. It was nonetheless a bruising experience.

So much so that Ben Jelloun went on to write for the first time about his own spell in detention in his Tangier-set novel, The Last Friend (2004). In 1966, while reading philosophy at Rabat University, he was arrested for taking part in a student demonstration in Casablanca. He was interned in a prison camp for 18 months. Books were banned but his brother smuggled in the thickest paperback he could find – James Joyce’s Ulysses. Fascinated by this “writer’s liberty”, Ben Jelloun began writing poetry in French.

On his release from the camp, he taught philosophy, but left for France in 1971, where he did a doctorate in social psychiatry and published his first novel, Harrouda (1972). By this time he had discovered many more inspirational writers, such as Cervantes, Borges and Jean Genet, whom he befriended and liked very much.

We return, though, to his mother – “a woman full of goodness, incapable of speaking ill of people, a believer with great faith in God” – and to Zilli, his friend Roland’s flamboyant mother, about whom he also writes, comparing and contrasting the two women’s lives. “Zilli did everything!” he exclaims, looking positively animated and finally making eye contact. “She went on cruises, she played the piano and she played tennis. She went riding. And she had lots of lovers! If you compare the two lives, my mother’s life was empty. But my mother compensated by being very generous, a committed mother, a woman who never got cross. In her final years, I spent days and days with her. The longer I was with her the more I got used to her leaving me.”
I ask Ben Jelloun why he writes in French rather than Arabic. “I prefer to test myself in a foreign language,” he replies. “I love French. Had I written my books in Arabic, they would be bad books. I just don’t master the language.”

Currently he is not working on another novel, but focusing on writing about terrorism in France and has recently been talking to schoolchildren about it.
“I am very worried about the situation,” he says brusquely. “It is a war like no other war. We don’t know who the enemy is, but he is not scared of losing his life while we are scared of losing our lives.”

I open my mouth to ask him about the political situation in North Africa and the refugee crisis – we meet shortly before last weekend’s [October 29] mass protests in Morocco – but suddenly he stands up, announcing that he is tired. We have been talking for barely 25 minutes. The fedora and scarf are retrieved and he leaves after signing his book. Finally, he asks my name.
About My Mother, by Tahar Ben Jelloun (Telegram, £8.99).

Morocco’s Role as Africa’s Little Hollywood

CNN By Youssef Igrouane - November 11, 2016 Rabat

American TV channel CNN published an article on Monday praising Morocco on becoming the major filmmaking hub in Africa and the Middle East. CNN lauded Morocco’s setting for renowned blockbuster movies, including Nicholas Cage’s latest film, “Army of One,” shot in Marrakech, taking the place of a city in Pakistan. In the movie, Oscar winner Cage plays the role of Gary Faulkner, an American construction worker, who is on a mission from “God” to capture Osama Bin Laden.
Read more here:

Climate conference in Marrakesh

A golden opportunity?

With this year's UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Marrakesh, more media attention is being paid to environmental activists and green issues in Morocco than ever before. But will this have a lasting impact on the collective awareness of environmental issues, environmental protection and climate change policy in this north African country? Martina Sabra reports
Mamoun Ghallab's telephone hasn't stopped ringing for months. In addition to his day job, the young political scientist and environmental advisor from Casablanca has been fielding a flood of questions from the press. Ghallab is a well-known member of Morocco's young yet growing civil society movement for environmental protection and sustainability. The movement is becoming more and more diverse, covering topics such as organic farming, green technology and social struggles for the right to land and water.

Mamoun Ghallab's focus areas are waste avoidance and climate protection. Inspired by the international Zero Waste movement, he began reducing packaging waste at his home in Casablanca in 2013. Today, he says, the packaging waste in his apartment is only five percent of what it used to be. ″I use shopping baskets, have a composting container on the balcony and make my own soap. Milk and medicine are the only things I buy packaged – for health reasons.″

Ghallab recorded his progress with the zero waste experiment on his blog, ZeroZbel (Moroccan Arabic for zero waste). ZeroZbel ( is also the name of a registered association founded in the spring of this year by Ghallab and Soukaina Aziz El Idrissi, an artist who is also very active in the environmental scene.

Take the initiative aims to use innovative campaigns and formats to motivate Moroccans: ″We want people to be better informed and we want the government to make and enforce better environmental laws,″ says Ghallab. ″But we also want to show young people that change can only happen if they start making that change themselves. By taking individual action, everyone can help improve the general situation.″ Ghallab feels that the ban on plastic shopping bags, which came into force in Morocco on 1 July 2016, is an important step in this regard: ″Companies and citizens could have been better prepared, but generally speaking, the law is a good thing and is having an impact,″ he says.

The association ZeroZbel will also be present at the UN Climate Change Conference COP 22 in Marrakesh. Within the framework of a so-called 'Climate Open Zone' and with the support of the Rabat office of the German Green political foundation Heinrich-Boll-Stiftung, ZeroZbel will over the course of a week provide a platform for a wide variety of activities, ranging from recycling art to outdoor sport and from debates on environmental policy to concerts. ″We rely heavily on art as a medium. Art makes it possible to get messages across via the senses without coming across all preachy,″ says Ghallab.

'March for the climate'
In addition to ZeroZbel, numerous other alliances, NGOs and initiatives from across the country will be represented in Marrakesh, canvassing for their objectives at a number of locations around the city as part of the fringe programme. Together, the semi-official Alliance Marocaine pour le Climat et le Developpement Durable (Moroccan Alliance for Climate and Sustainable Development), which was launched in May 2015 with the support of the UN and the EU, the more independent Coalition Marocaine pour la Justice Climatique (Moroccan Coalition for Climate Justice, a coalition of over 150 networks, trade unions and associations founded in February 2016) and other players have called for an international climate march in Marrakesh on the afternoon of 13 November 2016. The Coalition pour la Justice Climatique is also organising so-called 'self-managed spaces' (espaces auto-geres) along the lines of those at the World Social Forums, for use by national and international environmental initiatives.

The official organisers of COP22 expect that about 2,500 NGOs from Morocco and all over the world, including about 300 from sub-Saharan countries in Africa, will use the 10,000 m² of available exhibition space for artistic activities, lectures and public debates. ″There have never been so many opportunities for exchange between Moroccan and international environmental NGOs,″ says a jubilant Umaima, a young activist from Ouarzazate in southern Morocco. ″COP22 and the preparations over the last two years have given the Moroccan environmental movement unprecedented visibility,″ says Mamoun Ghallab. ″All of a sudden we have almost barrier-free access to the media. Everyone wants to speak to us.″

Motivating Moroccans with innovative campaigns and formats: "We want people to be better informed and we want the government to make and enforce better environmental laws,″ says Ghallab. ″But we also want to show young people that change can only happen if they start making that change themselves″ But the media hype surrounding COP22 aside, how is Morocco performing in terms of climate policy, the safeguarding of livelihoods and public participation? When it comes to global rankings of climate offenders, Morocco isn't doing too badly at all: its CO2 emissions are comparatively low. However, because Morocco needs large amounts of energy to cool buildings, among other things, and because it imports 95 percent of its energy, interest in renewable energy is high anyway, quite apart from the issue of high CO2 emissions. For years, Morocco has been casting itself in the role of pioneer in the use of renewable energy on the African continent.

Criticism of solar mega-plants
Nevertheless, the distribution of natural resources (land and water) and affluence is extremely uneven, citizens do not have a say and Morocco does not have the capacity to fund and use major solar power plants on its own. Because there is no real freedom of expression and press freedom, the media cannot openly highlight these shortcomings. There is also a lack of functioning legal mechanisms that would allow citizens to hold incompetent civil servants or environmental offenders to account.

This is why Ghassan Wail El Karmouni, journalist and expert for energy policy, is highly critical. Writing in a special edition of the magazine Perspectives on COP22, he says that the solar mega-plants in southern Morocco – both those that have already been built and those that are still at the planning stage – are using precious water that will not be available to the local population in the long term. The committed journalist also points out that Morocco needs to take out huge loans to install and operate the imported technology, concluding: ″We are moving from one dependency to another.″

Jawad Moustakbal, an engineer who is currently working at the SIT Graduate Institute in Vermont (USA), expresses his reservations even more bluntly: ″At COP22, we will see a lot of small NGOs hoping for funding from the state or from abroad (…) The state is doing all it can to keep these NGOs away from the major environmental problems that are considered politically sensitive and it will try to restrict their sphere of action to the collection of rubbish, the planting of trees, or the cleaning of beaches.″

Mamoun Ghallab from ZeroZbel is cautious about the long-term impact of COP22. ″I don't think that the international Climate Change Conference will live up to everyone's expectations. After all, for Morocco, it is first and foremost a diplomatic matter. It is about international visibility and showing the world that Morocco is a stable, reliable partner that can put on a major conference like this, even in a regional context that is sometimes quite difficult.″ Ghallab sums it up like this: Morocco would like to show that it is a strong economic partner and a great place to invest.

Nevertheless, he sees the conference as an opportunity that should not be passed up by environmental activists in Morocco: ″The path from zero waste to a reduction in CO2 emissions is a straight one. Almost all plastic waste is made from petroleum by-products. Large amounts of CO2 are generated when such plastic waste is produced and, above all, when it is burned. Once you start, the ball just keeps on rolling. We have an opportunity here to explain the connections to a large number of people,″ says Ghallab, drawing attention to three brand new videos.

″For the first time ever, we are explaining climate change clearly in the language spoken by Moroccans on a daily basis: Moroccan Arabic,″ he adds. Ghallab is convinced that there will be a post-COP effect. ″It is possible that environmental themes will not get as much coverage in the Moroccan media after the UN Climate Change Conference,″ he says. ″But we will keep at it.″
Martina Sabra   © 2016  Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

WB Showcases Morocco’s Regional Clean Energy Leadership

November 11, 2016

Morocco stands out in the MENA region by showing the road to breaking dependence on imported fossil fuels through investment in concentrated solar energy, said the World Bank in a note on its website. In a feature story on Morocco’s solar energy plan, the World Bank quoted the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) Mustapha Bakoury saying that Morocco is on course to achieving the target of meeting 42% of its power generating capacity needs through renewables by 2020– a figure that was raised to 52% by 2030 at last year’s climate talks in Paris. “With the first phase of the 500 MW NOOR project coming on line earlier this year, the 160 MW NOOR I plant, Morocco is providing an example to the region,” said the World Bank.

In a similar article, Siona Jenkins of the Financial Times looked at Noor project in the context of climate talks being held at COP22 in Marrakech. She said that the ambitious Noor plan is part of a multi-pronged plan combining renewable energy development and improved energy efficiency with the aim to achieve the national goal of cutting greenhouse emissions by 17 per cent by 2030.
Other countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, have shown an interest in the country’s approach, said Jenkins, adding that as many experts believe the Noor funding and development model could work as a template for future renewable projects. Unlike onshore wind and solar photovoltaic schemes, the concentrated solar power plants under Noor plan can store energy in superheated liquid that can be used later to drive turbines.

A Foreign Student’s Opinion on the Diversity of Moroccans

November 5, 2016 By Johanna Meyer Rabat

When talking about Morocco with westerners one often hears of the beautiful Sahara Desert at night with its clarity of stars, of the souks in Marrakech, tagines and Friday couscous, but one seldom hears of the sheer diversity of Moroccans themselves. The first aspects of Morocco that struck me, upon arrival, were the many languages I heard on the street, followed by the wide array of attire worn by people of all ages.

I frequently step into a taxi in which the driver speaks three to five languages fluently. As I half failingly attempt to tell him my destination in my broken Darija, I often sit next to a fellow female taxi patron wearing a djellaba and hijab who in tern is sitting next to her friend wearing the latest on trend platform shoes with skinny jeans and a sleeveless top.

This deliberate choice of garb is not a mere representation of preferences for fashion trends, but can also be indicative of one’s level of religiosity or interpretation of their faith. In less jargon-filled words, perhaps the woman wearing her djellaba and hijab has a different interpretation of how to embody her devotion to Islam than her friend without a hijab, who may also be a Muslim woman.
Yet, these different choices hold no bearing on the bonds of friendship I witness in my taxi. It seems each day I spend in Morocco I see the triumph of relationships over personal beliefs and any superficial sense of superiority. This diversity of interaction among people of different faith interpretations is rare to witness in my homeland and is a beauty to behold in Morocco.
Diversity is accompanied by acceptance, which I have found to be a defining characteristic of my experience in Morocco. Even when I have looked physically different from others with my foreign face and opinions, I have been treated with respect and dignity.

Moroccans have a beautiful way of not allowing the diversity of others to negatively impact their lives, even when they do not agree with the choices or beliefs of those around them. It seems commonplace in Morocco to experience not simple tolerance, but a higher level of acceptance of the true diversity of the human spirit.

Recipe: Sam Mannering's rolled roasted lamb shoulder with Moroccan flavours, pomegranate and Israeli couscous

SAM MANNERING , October 30 2016

This roasted lamb shoulder combines Middle Eastern and North African flavours and the pomegranate adds crunch. Sometimes I think we need to be reminded how lucky we are with our produce. Our lamb is incredible. I very rarely get gushy, but this time I'm going to make an exception. Recently, I was fortunate enough to go to Turakina near Whanganui to spend a day with the farmers who make up the Coastal Spring Lamb co-op. The very next day, they won top honours at the NZ Food Awards.  This dish is a sort of Moroccan-Middle Eastern hybrid of flavours.

The preserved lemon adds a lovely underlying complexity to the lamb. I know Nigella has the monopoly on pomegranate seeds, so I'm not going to try and wrest it from her, but I love using them for the fresh, juicy crunch they give a meal.  
*Recipe: Easy Moroccan lamb shanks
*Recipe: Moroccan-style monkfish & almond tangine with steamed couscous
*Recipe: Salt cod and parsley by Sam Mannering

Serves: 6-8
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 2½ hours

2-2.5kg lamb shoulder, boned
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 tbsp raisins or currants
Handful flat-leaf parsley
Handful mint leaves
1 preserved lemon, de-seeded and finely chopped
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp cumin seeds
Olive oil
1 cup good beef or vegetable stock
2 cups Israeli couscous
1 pomegranate
Generous handful of watercress
Preheat the oven to 220ºC on fan bake. On top of a chopping board, spread the lamb flat, skin side down. Season well with salt and pepper. 
Roughly chop pine nuts, raisins, parsley and mint, and combine with the preserved lemon, cinnamon, cumin and about a tablespoon of olive oil. Grind in a little pepper and taste to see if the mixture needs any salt; the saltiness of the preserved lemon should be enough. 
Spread mixture evenly over top of the lamb, then carefully roll up like a Swiss roll. Tie with kitchen string or secure ends with skewers. Place in a roasting dish, drizzle over a little olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.
 Pour stock into the roasting pan and place in oven. Cook for 20 minutes at 220ºC to get good colour and caramelisation on top, then reduce temperature to 160ºC and cook for about 2 hours, basting the meat occasionally with liquid from the bottom of the pan, until lamb is tender and cooked through. 
While the lamb is roasting, cook Israeli couscous in plenty of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain, toss in a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Halve pomegranate and extract the seeds by whacking the outside lightly with a wooden spoon. Mix with couscous.
Once lamb is cooked, remove from oven and rest for five minutes or so.
Spoon a little hot stock from the pan into the couscous mixture. 
Wash, drain and tear watercress, fold through the couscous and serve immediately with the lamb.

Moroccan women vs Islamic extremism

December 11, 2008 · Host Marco Werman Reporter Sarah Kramer

A group of women hands out bread, milk and yogurt to a sick man lying on a hospital bed. These women are a regular fixture at this hospital�they're female preachers who have completed a training program run by the Moroccan government. This woman became a preacher two years ago and she tells me it's a dream job. There are now 200 female preachers in Morocco and the government pays them each about $450 dollars a month, a good middle class salary here. They work in economically depressed regions though to be fertile recruiting grounds for religious extremists. The director of the program in Rabat says female preachers play an important role in counter terrorism strategy, for instance when they speak to women in mosques. Violence is a big concern for the Moroccan government. The government has blamed Islamic extremists for violence and has arrested thousands of suspects and also has intensified efforts to bring religion under government control. And it's not only about countering terrorism, many women come to the women preachers with questions about their rights under Moroccan law. But some in Morocco aren't so comfortable with the women preachers. This non violent political party is banned by the government and this representative says she doesn't mind women preachers, but she does mind the government intervention in her religion. The women preachers don't see a conflict in serving their religion and the government. After all there's no separation of Church and State in Morocco.
Audio here:

Is a ‘Moroccan spring’ coming?

October 31, 2016.

Angry demonstrations in Morocco have raised the question of how stable the kingdom, which survived the Arab spring intact, actually is today. The trigger for the protests, which have been peaceful thus far, bears similarities to that which set off unrest in Tunisia nearly six years ago and spread into the convulsions that swept up Egypt, Libya and Syria.

The Tunisian uprising began in December 2010, when a young man set himself on fire after police confiscated fruits and vegetables he was selling. Likewise, the recent protests in Morocco began with a shocking incident that appeared to pit authorities against a poor citizen just trying to make a living.

Mouhcine Fikri, a fish seller in the northern town of Al-Hoceima, was crushed to death inside a garbage truck Friday night, after he entered the back of the truck in an effort to reclaim fish that the police had confiscated from him in punishment for breaking a ban on swordfish sales.

Word spread throughout Morocco that police had ordered the garbage men to “grind” Fikri, something the police denied. But the grinding allegation has remained, amid a widespread perception that the entire Moroccan system grinds down those who are not well off.

“Welcome to COP 22, we grind people here,” read one protester’s sign at a demonstration in Rabat, referring to the upcoming UN global summit on climate change in Marrakech, which the regime hopes will boost its image abroad. Another sign at the same protest showed a blender filled with blood.

Despite the intensity of the anger, Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, a Tel Aviv University scholar of Arab politics, says there is reason to believe the current Moroccan protests will not escalate into the kind of sustained unrest that would threaten the monarchy. Among the factors pointing against that eventuality is the fact that the main Moroccan Islamist group, the Justice and Development Party, which leads the government and scored well in recent elections, has urged its supporters not to join the protests.

“If the Islamists aren’t there, the chances of sustained protests are less,” Maddy-Weitzman said. “It’s hard to see a united opposition crystallizing like we had in Tunisia.”

King Mohammed was able to contain Arab spring protests in 2011, in part by launching a reform process in which he appeared to devolve some power to elected representatives, albeit with the palace remaining as final arbiter. “Since 2011, there have been two rounds of parliamentary elections, enabling authorities to say, ‘we have a legitimate government and this is the best way to go.’” Maddy-Weitzman says. “The reforms were cosmetic, but they bought time.”

The swift response of the government in arresting 11 people yesterday over Fikri’s death may also help the government ride out public anger. The palace has been doing its utmost to show it sympathizes with public opinion. Immediately after Fikri’s death, the king, who was abroad, ordered the interior minister to visit his family and convey his condolences. Government leaders vowed a rigorous investigation to get to the bottom of the incident.

Another factor that could contain the unrest is that the protests, thus far, have not led to clashes with the security forces. Until now, both sides seem to be exercising restraint, and the government has let the demonstrations proceed. “A lot of young people are alienated and angry and are ready to express that anger when there’s a trigger, but that doesn’t indicate a massive snowball effect that would challenge the regime,” Maddy-Weitzman says.

Still, another incident or a mistake by either side could stoke passions further, as grievances run deep. Morocco is “still in need of a renewed social contract. The problems are still there – large scale unemployment, alienation and economic growth that is not at a rate that can dent unemployment,” Maddy-Weitzman says.

The economic woes mean there is scant chance for young people to advance, which naturally breeds resentment against the system. In this case, there is also resentment over long-standing marginalization of Moroccan Berbers. Fikri hailed from the northern Rif region of Morocco, a Berber area with a history of tense relations with the central authorities in Rabat. Some protesters have carried Berber flags during the demonstrations. Berber grievances include that the state does not accord the Berber language an equal status to Arabic, despite making it an official language in 2011, and that the state, in the past, has not invested in Berber areas.

The demonstrators are young.

On Monday, students in Al-Hoceima boycotted their schools and took to the streets. Some carried signs that read, “we are all Mouhcine,” The Moroccan Times reported. Protesters shouted, “criminals, criminals, murderers and terrorists.” It should be of concern to the king that some demonstrators railed against the makhzen, a word that connotes the elite establishment connected to the palace. This reflects a wide perception among citizens that the system is rigged against them. “The makhzen humiliates people, life and human rights,” the Moroccan Times quoted Maati Monjib, a professor of political history at the University of Rabat, as saying.

Nadir Bouhmouch, a Moroccan activist and filmmaker, suggested that grievances against the regime run very deep, in an interview published on the Democracy Now website. “This is a much bigger issue than just the death of Mouhcine Fikri,” he said. “I mean, Mouhcine died with an empty stomach, according to the medical examination.

This is about a people that is hungry, that is being what we call hogra. The protests are about hogra, which is a sort of trailing oppression, an oppression that comes from the top and goes all the way down to the roots of the regime, which are the daily officers, the bureaucracy, everything that is lined up against the people who are seeing an increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the rich and of austerity and privatization, the neoliberal pull that’s destroyed the needs of the people.”

Turning sun into water in parched rural country: The group is working to reverse an exodus from the mountains as people seek easier lives elsewhere.

Published: 09.11.2016 Pulse News Agency International By AFP

In the Moroccan farming village of Tafoughalt solar panels have been installed to pump water from the ground, as rains dry up. In the arid mountains of eastern Morocco, people know the value of water all too well. "Every drop is like gold. It should almost be measured by the carat," said local activist Najib Bachiri.

Eight hundred kilometres away in bustling Marrakesh, negotiators are this week thrashing out the details of a landmark global agreement designed to stave off disastrous climate change.
But in Tafoughalt, a little village deep in the mountains of Morocco's Berkane province, that impact is being felt already. Rising temperatures are among the factors making the rains increasingly unpredictable.

As a consequence, life for the residents of Tafoughalt -- who largely survive on subsistence farming -- is becoming harder than ever. "Here, the farmers work on small plots that are barely enough to feed their families," says Bachiri, head of campaign group Homme et Environnement ("Man and Environment").

The group is working to reverse an exodus from the mountains as people seek easier lives elsewhere. Bachiri says local problems feed into each other; isolation makes life difficult, which encourages people to quit the countryside. Abandoned fields lead to land erosion, which in turn also spurs on the exodus.
And in the background, there is the constant shortage of water.

Smuggling crackdown

"For their fields, in the absence of electricity farmers rely either on rainwater or on pumping groundwater with diesel-powered generators," says Bachiri. Until recently, fuel for the generators was at least available cheaply thanks to rampant smuggling from across the nearby Algerian border. But Algerian authorities have cracked down on the illicit trade since 2013, leading to a tripling in prices -- from 10 euros ($11) for a 30-litre (eight-gallon) can to 30 euros. And to make matters even worse for the fuel-reliant farmers, the Moroccan government has called a halt to diesel subsidies.
"Small-scale farmers here have not been able keep up, which has aggravated the agricultural crisis in these isolated villages and encouraged people to leave," says Bachiri. But a simple solution is making a big difference: using the sun from above to draw up what's underground.

Cheaper and cleaner

With the help of local funds and international donors, Bachiri's group has installed two solar water pumps in the mountains of Tafoughalt. Two rows of black solar panels, two metres (2.2 yards) across and 10 metres long, are connected to a generator which feeds a pump extracting water from underground. The equipment is durable and low-maintenance. The sunlight is unlimited in supply, but carries none of diesel's downsides in terms of pollution and ill-health. "Solar energy is so much better," says 60-year-old local farmer Mahta Allal. "The pumping is weaker in winter or when it's cloudy. But it's good for us when the sun is there -- it can double the pumping and irrigation."

Siddiq, who has guarded the local well for 17 years and as such is in charge of the community's water-sharing arrangements, said the new system was far more convenient. "Before, you had to go and collect fuel from very far away," he said. "It was very tiring -- and then there was the noise, the fumes, mechanical problems. Today it's much better with the clean solar energy."
The price of an hour's irrigation has gone down by 75 percent, from 50 dirhams ($5) to 12.5 dirhams.

"It encourages agriculture," says Siddiq. "Even if you don't have a lot of land, at least you'll be guaranteed a harvest to eat." Solar energy alone won't be enough to solve Tafoughalt's perennial water shortage. "That's why we've installed tanks to collect river water, and we're also working on installing technology to make the use of water more efficient," said Bachiri. But he said 450 farmers were already using the two solar pumps to water 100 hectares (250 acres) of crops. "Some farmers are coming back to the village to work the soil again -- it's a good sign," he said.

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