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Morocco Week in Review 
October 15, 2016

CorpsAfrica Volunteers Share Their Experiences in Casablanca
By Morocco World News -October 11, 2016 By Marwa Al Omami Casablanca

CorpsAfrica Volunteers from Morocco, Senegal and Malawi Gathered in Casablanca to Present their Experiences and Meet Sponsors, Development Partners and Friends. CorpsAfrica hosted a special reception on Saturday, October 8, 2016, featuring young, African Volunteers from across the continent. CorpsAfrica Volunteers, staff and alumni from three African countries – Morocco, Senegal and Malawi – joined together to share their experiences and meet supporters and partners. The CorpsAfrica presentations and reception ceremony took place at “A Ma Bretagne” Restaurant in Casablanca. Corporate sponsors, Moroccan NGO leaders, academics, CorpsAfrica alumni, Board members, and teachers, students and family of the Casablanca American School community were in attendance.

Members of the newly launched CorpsAfrica Alumni Association introduced the elected Board Members and discussed plans to help former Volunteers launch purposeful careers and become job-creators themselves. CorpsAfrica also introduced a new program at the Casablanca American School Middle School called “Junior CorpsAfrica (JCA).” This youth development program will provide students with the opportunity to work with a CorpsAfrica Volunteer and experience voluntary work first-hand from a young age.

Inspired by the Peace Corps, CorpsAfrica gives young Africans the opportunity to apply their skills and energy toward helping their fellow citizens overcome extreme poverty. CorpsAfrica Volunteers live in remote communities for one year to facilitate demand-driven development projects. Using the Human Centered Design Approach, they help community members identify their highest priority needs and link them to the resources to design and implement small-scale, high-impact community development projects. There are currently 43 CorpsAfrica Volunteers serving in Morocco, Senegal and Malawi. Volunteers are ambitious, idealistic college graduates, both men and women, mostly in their early 20s.

Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World
By Hinna Sheikh - October 11, 2016, Rabat

We Will Rise: a CNN film looking to showcase the achievements of girls all around the world in overcoming various challenges and achieve and education. With an all-star backing from Michelle Obama, Meryl Streep, Frida Pinto and Isha Sesay, the CNN film looks to highlight women and girl’s achievements in all parts of the globe.

According to the US Agency for International Development (USAID), there are over 62 million girls who are not in school getting a sufficient education. As girls grow into adolescence, it becomes harder for them to continue in their educational career, due to various socio-economic and also family pressures. Various studies have shown the importance of the education of girls; it leads to lower rates of infant mortality, increased GDP and it increases economic security for families. With this in mind, it is critical that all girls receive equal opportunities to study and to pursue their educational career to a higher level of they so wish, just as their male counterparts.

We are honoured to have the contributions of the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, Meryl Streep, Freida Pinto, Andra Day, and our own Isha Sesay, for this inspirational film,” said Amy Entelis, Executive Vice President of Talent and Content Development for CNN Worldwide. “These dynamic and accomplished women, each long-committed to the transformative nature of girls’ empowerment, amplify incredible stories of success despite challenges. We are delighted to share this hopeful film with our global audience.” Visiting various countries, the group met with dozens of girls who shared with them their hopes and dreams for the future. Making a stop in Marrakech, the First Lady, Streep, Pinto and Sesay met schoolgirls and empowered them to continue on with their education.

We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Education Girls Around the World, featuring Meryl Streep, Frida Pinto an Isha Sesay, is directed by Tony Gerber and produced by Martha Adams, Beth Osisek, and Gerber of The Documentary Group.

Lalla Joumala Alaoui: First Moroccan Woman Ambassador to the US
By Zainab Calcuttawala -  October 14, 2016 Rabat

King Mohammed VI swore in Lalla Joumala Alaoui – the first woman to serve as Moroccan ambassador to the United States – to her new diplomatic position on Thursday at the Royal Palace in Casablanca. The King had appointed Alaoui to the position in February to replace Rachad Bouhlal, the ambassador in charge of Morocco’s correspondence with the superpower since December 2011.

The United States has stated its support for Morocco’s autonomy plan for the Western Sahara several times since it was introduced in 2007. The plan would give the Saharawi people full autonomy on regional issues, while keeping the “Southern Provinces” under the Moroccan flag. Still, the U.S.’ diplomatic support of Moroccan interests in the United Nations has been lukewarm over the past year. Lalla Joumala will work towards strengthening the dwindling ties and bring new foreign direct investment opportunities to Morocco.

Alaoui previously served the North African country as ambassador to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. She had held the position since 2009 before the swearing in ceremony. Abdesslam Aboudrar will replace Alaoui as chief diplomat to the U.K.

Pursuant to royal tradition, Lalla Joumala studied at The Royal College with her siblings and cousins. Her mother, the late Lalla Fatima Zohra, was the half sister of King Hassan II, which makes Lalla Joumala and the current monarch cousins as well. Later, she studied at the University of London, completing a Bachelor of Arts degree at the School of African and Oriental Studies.
Alaoui formed the Moroccan-Britain Society in 2003 to allow cultural understanding between the peoples of the two kingdoms mentioned in the organization’s name. Through the MBS, she played a key role in establishing the King Mohammed VI Fellowship in Moroccan and Mediterranean Studies in partnership with Oxford University.

Six years after the start of the MBS, following her appointment as ambassador to the United Kingdom, she said on the embassy’s website that she would “endeavor to enhance our bilateral cooperation in all possible fields and give a fresh impetus to the development of a fruitful and mutually advantageous partnership between our two countries, as instructed by His Majesty the King.”

13 Women Sworn in as Morocco’s Ambassadors
By Safa Othmani - October 14, 2016

Thirteen women ambassadors were sworn in by King Mohammed VI of Morocco on Thursday to transmit Moroccans’ voice to the world. The swearing-in ceremony was held in the Royal Palace in Morocco’s central-western city of Casablanca, one week after the upshots of the October 7 ballot votes were released. 65 Moroccans, men and women, were appointed to the position as the kingdom’s ambassadors to the world.

The female diplomats will speak up for Morocco across Europe, Africa, America, Asia, and Oceania. The list includes Lalla Jumala Alaoui, the first woman to serve as Moroccan ambassador to the United States. The twelve other ambassadors have been identified as Latifa Akharbach, Oumama Aouad, Saadia Alaoui, Nezha Alaoui Mhamedi, Nour El Houda Marrakshi, Zakia El Midaoui, Farida Louadaya, Karima Kabbaj, Lamiae Erradi, Khadija Rouissi, Kenza El Ghali, and Amina Bouayach. The female diplomats will represent Morocco, respectively, in the following states: Tunisia, Panama, Angola, Ethiopia and Djibouti, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Macedonia, Colombia and Ecuador, Hungary, Norway and Iceland, Denmark and Lithuania, Chile, and Sweden and Latvia.
An Tunisian observer told Morocco World News the move marks a watershed in Morocco’s political landscape, signaling the kingdom’s propensity towards a feminist politics, in which women not only chip in the political orb but also take a stand in the act of decision-making.

Such a pro-feminist dynamics marks itself as one of a kind in the North African region, where women have almost gone astray in the wider socio-political scene. Largely blemished by a sexist mind-set, North Africa and the Middle East have been marked by a lower participation of women in elections and decision-making, both before and after the Arab Spring. The lower participation of women in North African politics has been attributed to several reasons, most notably the “masculinization” of political leadership to exclude the position of women as an active agent outside the domestic sphere. Morocco’s shift towards a feminist politics signals a belief in the role played by women in the larger diplomatic action and cross-cultural dialogue.

Kim Kardashian: Morocco’s Argan Oil is My Beauty Secret
By Morocco World News - August 14, 2014 Rabat – Rabat

Kim Kardashian has revealed that Morocco’s Argan oil from Morocco is her skin secret. American reality TV star Kim Karadashian said that Argan oil has a special place in her daily beauty routine in order to keep her skin and hair moisturized.

Called “Liquid Gold”, Argan oil is one of the world’s most rare and expensive essential oils. The 200-year-old Argan tree grows only in the Sous Valley of Southern Morocco. In this region, native Berbers have been using culinary Argan oil in their recipes.

Meanwhile, it has become a source of living for the Amazigh women in this remote region, as it has shown marvelous results in healing skin, hair, and nails, bringing them to excellent healthy condition.
In addition, Argan oil has gained the attention of many of the world’s female celebrities, and has become an essential part of their beauty routine. Those celebrities, includes Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry, Eva Mendes, Salma Hayek, Taylor Swift, Madonna, and Scarlet Johansson.

The Daily Mail revealed in a recent report that stars’ love of Argan oil boosts business in Morocco and empowers Moroccan women.“Beauty secret: Radiant beauties Kim Kardashian and Eva Mendes swear by the power of Argan oil – and the production of it in Morocco is helping women earn a living in a remote desert where work is hard to find,” according to Daily Mail. The British news website points out that the Tighanimine Cooperative, the world’s first Fairtrade certified women’s Argan Oil cooperative, gives Berber women the financial independence to support their families.“The income is helping to change not only the women’s lives, but also their family’s too.” Daily Mail concluded.

The Energy: Morocco emerging as a solar superpower
By Guest Authors October 14, 2016

ACWA Power explains how the Noor 1 Concentrated Solar Plant will shape Morocco’s approach towards solar power, in this exclusive case study for Big Project ME. The trading city of Ouarzazate is known as the ‘door to the desert’, and its wild, remote location has provided the backdrop for film and television spectaculars like Lawrence of Arabia and Game of Thrones. Now it is also known as a global solar superpower.

Morocco is the largest importer of fossil fuels in MENA, importing 94% of energy as fossil fuels from abroad, with growing energy consumption in the horizon. By 2020, 42% of its electricity will come from renewable energy.

In November 2012, MASEN and the consortium, led by ACWA Power, signed a Power Purchase Agreement for the value of $900 million for the sale of net electricity output from the Noor 1 Concentrated Solar Plant, for a contracted tariff of 18.9 US cents per kWh, the lowest ever ascribed at that time for CSP Technology. By mid-June 2013, the project had achieved financial close and begun construction, with the first phase becoming operational in late 2015. The speed at which the project of this scale moved forward emphasises the progress that can be made through the collaborative approach of the IPP model, and the agility and experience of ACWA Power to lead a consortium.

Noor 1 is the first phase of four linked solar mega-projects with a total investment of $9 billion. Its inauguration in January brought on stream a visionary and ambitious programme to provide nearly half of Morocco’s electricity from renewables by 2020, with some spare to export to Europe. When the Noor complex is complete, it will be the largest concentrated solar power (CSP) facility in the world. Noor 1 itself comprises 500,000 crescent-shaped solar mirrors positioned in 800 rows to generate 160MW.

ACWA Power has since achieved financial close of the Noor II & Noor III Projects, with construction underway to add another 350MW of solar power, and both are expected to be in commercial operation in late 2017. And when complete, with the addition of Noor IV, a PV plant, the entire complex will produce 580MW of electricity – enough to power a million homes. Its environmental impact stands to be significant, saving approximately 930,000 tons of CO2 per annum by providing an alternative energy source to the imported hydrocarbons that would have otherwise been used as the source of energy.

Environment minister Hakima el-Haite says solar power will help drive Morocco’s growth, explaining that the Noor plant is the first flagship project in this programme and that it is already dispatching green energy into the system during the day and three hours into the night. The project also directly benefits the development of Ouarzazate province – one of the most disadvantaged regions in Morocco – by providing a foundation for the development of the local economy. In the next 25 years, the Noor complex itself will create thousands of local jobs and indirectly benefit many inhabitants by boosting the local economy. Beyond the green MWs, the direct benefit for the country and its people, the development of the Noor complex includes a significant component of activity to promote social and economic integration in the region and enhance the employability of local citizens.

The ACWA Power community engagement team has launched a number of projects, including the training of skilled and certified welders, creating an arts and crafts collective for the production of traditional embroidery and ironwork for export, and training farmers in modern methods of sheep and crop husbandry to improve productivity and, in turn, raise incomes, all focused at improving the quality and standard of living of the local community. Each project has been developed in conjunction with and with guidance from the local authorities, national training organisations and relevant government ministries, to ensure that they are appropriate and properly resourced to maximise impact on the local people.

This successful example in Morocco demonstrates the benefits of inclusive growth models, which allow companies like ACWA Power to confidently invest in emerging markets to deliver the much needed electricity – and green electricity at that – to fuel economic development and the social wellbeing of communities and nations. “From the moment we place our capital in a country, we become concerned about the long-term health, wealth and happiness of the people, as it is only their success and prosperity over the next few decades that will allow them to afford the electricity that we are supplying and in turn enable our investment to be successful. Thus, for us, our investment in community development initiatives is just that – an investment, and not a cost,” explains Paddy Padmanathan, president & CEO of ACWA Power. “We invest in the training and development of the local community to provide the necessary skills for plant operation and maintenance over 25 years, and it is an investment in nurturing local SMEs and education and healthcare facilities to drive social development and economic growth.

“At the same time, the local communities invest their time and talent to acquire the skills and know-how to provide a brighter long-term future for them and their families, with the confidence that the growing economic activity in that locale will enable them to participate with this new-found knowledge and capability. It’s a perfect symbiotic union.” Through job creation, energy generation and reduction of Morocco’s carbon footprint, the Noor project will continue to have a positive socioeconomic impact on the local community and Morocco as a whole for many years to come.

In early February, just a month after the Phase 1 project started to dispatch electricity, Moody’s investor service issued their routine report on the credit standing of Morocco. Given that 95% of Morocco’s energy needs rely on imported fuel, all of it fossil, the analysis showed that the harnessing of significant renewable domestic energy resources is not only credit-positive from an environmental sustainability perspective, but also highly impactful, helping to permanently reduce Morocco’s balance of payment sensitivity to higher energy prices. Moody’s evaluation confirmed that from an economic perspective, 1 million TOE represents about 4.8% of energy imports in volume terms in 2015. At last year’s oil prices, the savings from reduced imports would have amounted to about 0.3% of GDP. A huge impact from just this one project.

Parliamentary Elections: Back to Business for Morocco?
By Abdellatif Zaki - October 10, 2016 Rabat

After about a year of a less-than-clean campaign, election results have confirmed most expectations. The two competing favorites both greatly outscored the third and the other twenty-six, more than half of which did not even qualify one candidate. The party scoring highest, the Party of Justice and Development, known as PJD, gained 129 seats, while the second, the Modernity and Authenticity Party (PAM) doubled its former performance to make 103. The third party Istiklal Party (PI), formerly second, has dropped with about forty per cent of its previous score and has experienced serious humiliation, obtaining only 40 seats. Some parties that had enjoyed popularity and even ran the government in the past were utterly defeated.

The Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) has lost ground in the last two parliamentary elections, and reached a miserable low of 20 seats, when just two elections ago it almost enjoyed an absolute majority. In a much worse position is the PPS, which obtained 12 seats. This communist party transformed into a socialist one, before it ended supporting the Islamic PJD.

The true winner, however, is what everyone is referring to as “the party of absentees”, which amounts to about twenty-one million five hundred thousand citizens. While the 43% official turnout figure may seem to be decent, one needs to assess it with reference to the very limited rate of registered voters, which is about 50 percent of the eligible population. In reality, 76.11% of Moroccans did not vote. The dramatic implication is that the highest scoring party has hardly received any votes from the eligible voting population. The arithmetical and legal legitimacy of the results does not, therefore, express any political legitimacy or popular backing.

The parties may brag and boast about having scored highest and claim their right to govern and to chair the cabinet, but they and everyone else are aware of the political illegitimacy of such claims. What will make things more challenging is that the highest scoring party will not be able to form a government without the coalition of several other parties, most of which it declared war on one another during and prior to the campaign, treating them as scoundrels, heathens and traitors. To heal the emotional injuries of these accusations might prove to be too costly for the “winner” and require heavy compromises in the number and quality of ministerial portfolios to consent to them.

What strikes many analysts, however, is the fact that the incumbent party, which has led the government for five years, scores so high given the severe negative effects of several of its economic, political, and social decisions on the people. During its mandate, the party raised the retirement age from sixty to sixty-five, increased the contribution fees to the retirement funds, thus reducing the income and purchasing power of citizens.

The party also dropped employment programs and worked out no alternatives for the tens of thousands of unemployed college graduates. In addition, it did not provide budgets for new schools and classrooms to be built so that at the end of the mandate, classes from grade one to ten can be comprised of up to seventy students and more, with many classrooms operating without furniture. They did not provide budgets for hospitals so that by the end of the mandate women are giving birth unassisted in corridors and operated on citizens are left to sleep on the floor right after the surgery has been performed. The winning party even failed to maintain roads throughout the country.

Above all, the government cancelled its indirect support to many essential food products, as well as to gas, which is billing at high rates disregarding the collapse of international markets. In addition to this, the government amended the laws of freedom of speech, the right to strike, and the right to public demonstrations, essentially criminalizing them.

The whole mandate was fraught with social unrest, resistance of layers of the populations whose wellbeing was jeopardized by the actions and decisions of the government and the rough interventions of law enforcement on teacher trainees, medical students, and other categories of the population. Because of these many failures and shortcomings, it was normal for observers not to expect as good of a performance from this party as the breakthrough it made five years ago based on promises that it would improve living conditions and the political atmosphere in the country.
The mystery remains is how has this party been able to win over the people it has so badly mistreated, mishandled, and betrayed? The answer being:  the party has addressed a deeply religious and severely illiterate and uneducated population and fed it a discourse that gives it no choice. Either vote for the party and be accepted in Heaven or vote for the others and fall in total Divine disgrace and into Hell.

The new government has many challenges ahead. It must build a national consensus and acquire technical and managerial expertise, something that the former government failed to gather, thus driving the country straight into a wall. But most importantly, the government must garner strong mutual trust and exceptional skills in rehabilitating the credibility of the state and of politics.
In fact, rumors claim that the loyalty of this Islamist party tends to be more to its foreign allies and for agendas that reject both the notion of nation state and that of democracy. The Islamist party seems to associate them with heathenism and irreligious politics and, therefore, with everything that has to be fought and removed as a condition to recover the purity and essence of the religion as it was, allegedly, taught and practiced by its initiators.

The coming weeks will be interesting to see how the country will get back to business as usual, and whether and how it will overcome the ideological disorders that endanger its stability, cohesion, and peace.

Elections in Morocco & the United States: Change is Coming.
By Morocco World News -October 6, 2016  By Mark Mahon Rabat

Morocco will vote tomorrow for a new parliament and a new government. On November 8, the United States will elect a new president, as well as 34 senators, all 435 members of the House of Representatives, and numerous other local officials.

I am an American living in Morocco and I love politics. While not an expert on Morocco’s political heritage or culture, I make a few observations that show some similarities as well as differences between the United States and Morocco as both nations go to the polls.

Important juncture & Outsiders
Both countries are at an important juncture. For Morocco, the 2016 national elections are the second since the constitutional reforms of 2011. The elections in late 2011 witnessed the fast rise to prominence of the Justice & Development Party (JPD). It’s general secretary and leader, Abdelillah Benkirane would become prime minister as part of a governing coalition. He faced formidable tasks: navigate the Arab Spring tumult (demonstrated by the limitless passion of the February 20 Movement), reform Morocco’s cumbersome bureaucracy, reform the nation’s generous subsidy programs in a way that would be palatable to the masses, and increase foreign investment and private enterprise in Morocco to help bring down the stubbornly high unemployment rate (nearly a quarter of college graduates are unemployed). All this while insuring that the king is on board with the general direction of the legislative agenda.

Morocco’s coalition tradition and constitutional requirements insure that the “system” would allow this agenda to move forward; rarely quickly, often with significant alterations, and always to the frustration of one coalition party or former-coalition partner. Morocco’s foreign minister, Salaheddine Mezouar, is a member of the National Rally of Independents (RNI) Party. The nature of coalition politics here probably makes for uncomfortable alliances, difficult conversations and short tea breaks. It is admirable, though, to this non-Moroccan. National unity. Working together on broad goals. Shwiya b shwiya. In the US, presidential elections are winner-take-all. The inauguration of a new president takes place about eight weeks after the election. A president’s cabinet (the group of minister-level agency heads) are members of his party. But a recent phenomenon has seen the winning candidate select one cabinet post to be led by a member of the opposite party. A spirit of bipartisanship.

The United States will elect a successor to Barak Obama, the nation’s first African-American president who, in his 2008 election victory, managed to win the support of a broad cross-section of the American electorate. An important demographic in US elections are the so-called suburban voters: generally middle-class families, often – but not always – white. They are often considered socially progressive and fiscally conservative. His re-election in 2012 also saw a modest decline in support among white men (down 43% to 39% of that group). Political analysts, campaign organizers and media consultants love to dissect the general electorate into groups to better focus the political messaging.

While the US economy is growing modestly and has created millions of private sector jobs during the Obama Presidency, people generally feel anxious about their future. Add to this the drawn-out military engagement in Afghanistan, combating Daesh, a resurgent Russian foreign policy and Americans are, once again, filled with anxiety. The table is now set for the final sprint to the finish line between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

There is also a Libertarian Party candidate and a Green Party candidate running for president. While they have gained media attention, and they both actively campaign across America, regulatory barriers, fund raising challenges and the modern political heritage of the US make Presidential-level third party challenges difficult. Third party candidates do win elections at state and local levels.
American political tradition often dictates that one candidate brands himself/herself as the “outsider” who will “shake things up.” Donald Trump has embraced this role with relish. He is the first presidential candidate in modern American history with no previous elected office experience: he has not served as a governor, senator, or member of the House of Representatives. He has shown no interest in policy details, but he embraces “the outsider” mantle. And this has resonance in American political culture: it helps explain Obama’s victory in 2008, as well as Clinton’s victory in 1992 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. They won vowing to “shake up” the status quo. It should be noted that all three had previously served as either a US governor or senator.

The rise of the JDP may have a similar story line: The current power structure was not serving the Moroccan people. The haves would continue to have, and the have-nots would make due as best they could. The JDP promised to change that. A 2013 Telquel poll of Moroccans found public corruption to be far-and-away the number one issue confronting society. The JDP seems to have built an impressive grassroots political machine, especially among the young. It’s 2015 regional and local election victories in the country’s big cities were so impressive that it would be considered, in the US, a bit of a mandate: affirmation by a majority of voters that they approved of the party’s platform and legislative agenda. Maybe they had won those important independent voters and non-voters, those who either change their loyalties based on results (getting things done) or those who hate the system.

Moroccans I have talked to for the last three years often, not always, convey a sense of that indifference about politics. The responses are varied: “We are subjects in a kingdom. Politics does not concern me.” “No matter who wins, nothing will change.” “The parties do not represent me or my concerns.” Fair enough but as we say in America: Elections have consequences. What would the Middle East region look like had AL Gore won the election in 2000? Better shape? Worse? I sense a greater level of engagement by many Moroccans this election. Voter turnout in the 2011 national election was 45%. In the 2015 regional and local elections it was 54%. An impressive jump. I expect it will be even slightly higher for this election. I sense excitement mixed with frustration in Moroccans: People were promised a lot in 2011. Someone better deliver.

All politics is local. Sometimes.
Moroccan elections are a national affair run by the Ministry of the Interior. US elections are run by the individual states. US presidential elections are mandated to be held the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. During presidential election years (held every four years in the US), voter turnout has been about 50-55%. Though my home state, Minnesota, has a very high voter turnout in presidential election years: 76%. US presidential elections always include other candidates running for state and local offices. Often, the top of the ballot (the presidential candidate) affects the candidates who are down ballot (lower-ranking offices, like governor, senator, representative, mayor, city council person, school board member). A strong candidate at the top can carry to victory a city council candidate from the same party. Presidential coat tails, we call the phenomenon. It is a unique part of the US electoral system: personality politics. Morocco’s political system tends to follow that of western European nations: the party platform is an important document and candidates pledge to follow the platform if they are elected.

By contrast, in the US, candidates can distance themselves from issues and party platforms that they personally oppose, or their constituents oppose. For instance, some democrats do not support global trade agreements that they perceive as threatening jobs in their districts. In 2016, numerous Republican officeholders (in Congress and at state-level) are refusing to publicly support Donald Trump because of his inflammatory rhetoric about Muslims, women, and communities of color. And Morocco, too, has its share of colorful politicians that use their personality to dominate local politics and grab headlines. The larger-than-life Hamid Chabat, seemingly, was synonymous with Fes. And vice-versa.

I remember observing US politics and elections during the 1980s and early 1990s. It was a world sprinkled with conservative Democrats and liberally Republicans. But as the politics of the US has become more polarized over the last 25 years, there are fewer of these so-called Blue Dog Democrats or Rockefeller Republicans. Hence, the work of Congress moves slowly. Very slowly. And therein is another similarity to Morocco: the work of the legislative branch moves slowly. Morocco’s current political system, inspired by Hassan II and which includes nearly 30 active parties, saw the benefit of many parties competing for support in the parliament and among the people. It reinforced his role as power broker and logjam breaker. The structure of society – with the monarchy as a foundation – needs to be protected and respected as politicians promise change and more change.  As a non-Moroccan, it’s impressive to see this balancing act.

In the US, the power of special interest groups is considerable, including associations for retired people, gun advocates, and teachers, etc. Voices are heard during legislative debate if those voices have clout (money) and effective lobbying advocates.  US presidential candidates from both parties work hard to gain the support of key special interest groups. Their support brings money (for the campaign organization, not for personal use) and grass roots advocacy in a nation of 324,000,000. It also means endless TV commercials during election season. United States campaign laws allow nearly unlimited personal and corporate donations to so-called political action committees (PACs). The official campaign organization of both candidates may use federal money for their campaigns. The 2012 presidential election campaign cost $2.3 billion (campaign expenditures and allied group expenditures). Most Americans agree that there is too much money in politics.

The Left is back.
Morocco’s political left seems to be undergoing a mini-resurgence. Most of the dedicated political leftists that I have met while in rural Morocco have been at middle-age or older; those who still look to the France of Francois Mitterrand with genuine admiration. It makes sense that a new generation is ready to advance a progressive leftist agenda: Many 20-somethings that I meet here remember the “crisis” in Europe (The Great Recession) and the many friends who either struggled to find a job, remain unemployed, or seek to migrate to Europe for more job opportunities. This is similar to Bernie Sander’s left flank assault on Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination. Young voters under 30 were the foundation of his populist campaign. This week, the medina of Rabat is full of campaign rallies, with young people playing a leading role in these grass roots events. It will be important for the young to stay engaged in the system after the excitement of the election fades.

The JPD considers itself an Islamist party, working to build a more just society for a nation that is overwhelmingly Muslim. Religion is foundational. The embrace of religion is to be expected by the JPD, as well as other parties represented in parliament. But the party also embraces Moroccan nationalism, pride in Moroccan culture and acknowledgement of the diverse history of Morocco. It’s an important point to remember given the fate of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Bill Clinton’s 1992 unofficial campaign logo still holds true: It’s the economy, stupid!” Piousness partnered with job creation will win more votes. It seems nearly every party here understands this. Even Abdelillah Benkirane has stated, “We are a political party that has come from the Moroccan people…under the leadership of his majesty.”

In the US, the influence of religion is more subtle. Until it’s not. The so-called “religious right” has often played a prominent role in the election of republicans to the Presidency. The religious right, or Christian-right, is generally considered to be socially and politically conservative-minded groups and individuals. But while religion is an important component in the life of many American families, formal religious practice is in decline. In 2015, 89% of Americans said that they believe in God. But a quarter of the population does not currently identify with a formal established religion (Pew Center). As America diversifies in ethnic composition and religious identification, the influence of organized religion-based political activism will continue to decline.

Good luck Morocco, as you vote on Friday. It is a treasured civic duty and privilege. We don’t always like the outcome. But, there’s always next election. Perhaps Moroccans will see the vote this Friday as a referendum on JPD and a question will hover in their head similar to the question that then-Republican candidate Ronald Reagan posed to voters during the 1980 campaign: Are you better off than you were five years ago? Perhaps they’ll vote for change. A new direction. I’ll enjoy watching my Moroccan friends sort it all out.

Why Students Need More Open, Accurate, and Comprehensive Sex Education?
By Zineb Raji - October 9, 2016 , © Noel Celis / AFP Rabat

Rolling my eyes over, with a tight lip smile that’s how I tried to escape the looks of my classmates who looked just as perplexed and confused. It lasted for a while as the natural science teacher was explaining the major features and functions of female and male genital organs. Some girls were brushing and couldn’t wait for the bell to ring while some boys managed to hide their curiosity behind a sudden pretended seriousness translated into staring eyes but subtle smiles.

One by one, we left the classroom with one unmistakable fact that we had just scratched the surface, and there is so much to know that was not possible to be said in the classroom. We had lot of questions that we did not dare to ask the teacher and by the same token, they cannot be answered at home. So, how is it possible to crack the hard shell of this taboo? At home, it is hard for parents to talk with their children about sex, and obviously children are not at ease doing so. So, if is it not taught at home and at school only a very shallow and superficial explanation is provided, then who teaches children about sex? Are they left alone, by their own, to learn it their own way?

What is the chief culprit in our inability to embrace sex as openly as we embrace other natural instinctive needs? Don’t we need to know what is happening inside our bodies, what is the nature and origins of the deep feelings and urges, how to cope with these? What do we do about them? And countless are the other questions that cannot be answered solely from a religious standpoint, or relying only on a cultural background, nor the two combined. No sex intercourse should take place before the marriage inked and declared bond, to cut to the chase, it does not mean that nobody does it.

To blindly believe that things could not be otherwise is to further complicate the situation and gives total freedom for all kind of opposite practices to take place. To tackle sex from exclusively one prospective is what gives rise to a repressive environment that in return would produce a heavy bundle of social problems such as abandoned children, sexually transmitted infections and health problems, sexual harassment, and rape crimes. Sex education is a fundamental issue that requires resilient and flexible tackling starting as early as possible.

While growing up, children undergo physiological and psychological changes that the more they understand; the better they handle the situations accompanying the different stages of their development. Children have a number of questions for which they need appropriate answers. They would like, simply, to know. But most of the time discouraged because adults are cloaked in conservative coats which save them from questions that, most of the time, they themselves cannot answer. Children and teenagers are brought up out of harmony with their inner needs; their feelings are suffocated, and their minds are kept to roam at random, which would not result but in suppression, embarrassment, and confusion.

The number of children born out of the wedlock that is on the rise stands in testimony as one way in which the dysfunction manifests. Despite all crimes and social problems traced back to the lack or the inadequacy of sex education, still sex is a subject that is encapsulated by lot of ambiguities, and shame. Whenever the subject is brought up, or an inappropriate TV seen suddenly pops up, an awful feeling of embarrassment prevails whishing the ground would swallow the one caught guilty.

The need for awareness is immense in this respect, primarily at school and at home, the first seeds of awareness need to be implanted in order to break the ice on this taboo. The more sex is surrounded by silence and ignorance, the hardest it becomes to diagnose the caused disorders. The repressed collective psychology resulting from this mindset would sustain itself through many generations to come and get fortified to cause more serious disorders and therefore more repressed generations. With time, the related social problems would manifest in even unprecedentedly acute forms.

To develop a particular solid discipline in sex education and bring about experts and well trained people on the subject could be a very good start. Sex education is not shameful and it is not an invitation to sex, as some might call it. Sex education is awareness that would open our eyes on something that is part of ourselves. In fact, lack of awareness is not what would prevent somebody from having a sexual intercourse outside the socially defined boundaries. On the contrary, shedding light on the rights aspects of sex is what could save lot of lives from suffering and misery, is what could save a whole society from being trapped at the lowest levels of human consciousness.

Offering the right disciplines, guides, and communication to parents and their children in this respect should be made a priority, as parents also have to get prepared for the questions of their children. By doing this, teenagers can access outlets to vent any frustrations and other emotional charges that could be destructive. Answers have to very accurate encompassing a very broad prospective, in a very simplified and straightforward way.

To teach sex and sex abstinence, lot of material and evidence could be brought including from real life, religious teaching, and scientific research. Also, we could build on some other countries’ experiences that need to be carefully and reasonably matched or just inspired from. However, it is important to be vigilant so that it is not taught from a strongly biased point of view as it would make learning nothing better than learning completely false and biased ideas about sex.

Sex education when taught in good and appropriate manners could yield good results but very harmful when it is the other way around. Let’s have good faith in our children and equip them with the necessary knowledge to understand themselves and their bodies, if they hold good grasp over the functioning of sex, for sure, there would not be such misuse, repression, and violence, or at least not to the extent that we see nowadays. Sex is important for the survival of human beings, thereby, it is a natural gift not a curse.

Standard and Poor’s Affirms Morocco’s BBB- Rating
By Zainab Calcuttawala -October 11, 2016 Rabat

Standard and Poor’s Ratings confirmed Morocco’s credit rating BBB-/A-3 last Friday due to forecasted improvements in the kingdom’s external and fiscal deficits, according to a new report by Reuters.
The agency said its outlook for the economy looked “stable” as the net-energy importer continues to benefit from two years of low oil prices – unlike its fellow North African petrostates.
S&P also said it was optimistic that public finance reforms would proceed and that current account deficits would see sizeable reductions. The biggest point of concern remained the economy’s vulnerability to volatilities in the agricultural sector, which employs nearly 40 percent of the Moroccan workforce.

Last month, Moody’s released a report that stated it expected Morocco’s banks to remain profitable due to stable funding and the country’s “sound” economy, despite the high credit risk they face.
“Nonperforming loans (NPLs) for Moroccan banks have increased to 7.7% of gross loans as of Q1 2016, but we expect them to stabilize,” says Olivier Panis, a Vice President and Senior Credit Officer at Moody’s. “Retail sector NPLs have already stabilized at around 8.1% as of Q1 2016 and reducing share of doubtful and watch list loans points to a slowing trend in NPL formation.”
Cheap sources of fuel, as well as a growing reserve of hard currency, a rise in foreign direct investment, and a marked increase in remittances, have prevented the national budget from tanking in 2016, despite troubles in the agricultural sector in the first half of the year.

In April, weak agricultural output caused by the absence of rainfall led S&P to halve its expectations for economic growth in Morocco for 2016 from 4.5 percent to less than two percent.

Teachers Day: Mourning Education in Morocco.
By Abdellatif Zaki -October 6, 2016 Rabat

I have heard that some colleagues in other parts of the world have small class sizes, teach fewer hours and levels, and have all the resources they need. They are highly respected in their community and are well paid for the work they do. They undergo several in-service training and personal development programs. They also enjoy frequent systematic professional support. I have even heard that some were requested to integrate games in their work and not assign homework anymore to their students.

Conversely, I have also heard that some of us in Morocco this year have students but no desks or chairs in their classrooms. I have seen rosters of over seventy students as well as schools without roofs or window panes. They lack latrines, water, and protection from the elements. I have read reports of subjects with no textbooks, teachers that have been mistreated by law enforcement personnel, and trainees that when promised jobs had been beaten up for claiming a position after graduation. It pains me to admit that ambulances have been scheduled in anticipation of events and have actually taken away cases with severe injuries. I have seen pictures of bloodshed and of injured heads, faces, and limbs. In fact, I have even seen it in vivo.

I have heard government officials speak of us in ways no one wishes to be talked about. I have, like all of you I am sure, been expecting my salary to be amputated of precious amounts and am currently witnessing it occur. I have been told that my retirement pension has driven the country’s economy and financial stability to the dogs. I am then told that the only cure is to extend my labor days by three to five years and significantly increase my participation to the pension funds while decreasing my income. This would not have bothered me so much had they applied the same measures to themselves, but they refused, arguing that they cannot disturb the status quo that they inherited.

I wonder how I still see amazing stories of teachers doing incredible things in rural and mountainous areas, in marginal neighborhoods of big cities, and in the once prestigious but now impoverished city centers. Teachers walking long miles in rough paths in the mountains, risking their lives crossing mad rivers, and confronting dogs and hogs. They live in classrooms, provide supplies to students, volunteer extra hours, and pay for their own professional development.

I hear stories of teachers spending high percentages of their meager salaries on equipment and technology to use with their students and going out of their way to assist others. Many still find time to work out cooperation projects and programs with national and foreign organizations to benefit their students who otherwise would not have had any opportunities.

It is amazing how teachers can still have inspiration to find innovative and creative solutions, face up their everyday classroom challenges, and be supportive of their students. They somehow have time to prepare lessons as well as design, administer, analyze and interpret assessments. Where do they get all this energy, these resources, this resilience and this patience? It is a wonder! It must be their patriotism, their respect for the job, and their commitment to serving the students. I may be wrong here, but these are the only reasons I can think of for anyone to accept to undergo what teachers are made to experience in our country.

Unusually Morocco’s Missing Youth
13 October 2016 Dr Claire Spencer Senior Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme & Second Century Initiative

Low rates of youth voting in the recent general election reflect the absence of young people’s social and economic concerns in the country’s politics. Unusually for the Arab world, Moroccan elections have the merit of not being entirely predictable. This is partly because conducting public opinion polls ahead of voting is prohibited, but also because the 'dirty tricks' department of the Ministry of Interior has reined in its horns in recent years. King Mohammed VI of Morocco is understood to want a genuine political arena to develop, in order to balance, if not counterbalance the ultimate political authority the palace still enjoys. The 2011 general election victory of the Islamist-led government of the Party for Justice and Development (PJD) was seen as an experiment in affording greater executive leeway to a popularly elected party.

The results of the general elections of October 7th appear to confirm that this experiment is destined to continue. In a parliament of 395 seats, the PJD’s second term mandate is assured through its winning 125 seats over the 102 of its nearest rival, the Party for Authenticity and Modernity (PAM). Despite a number of minor incidents, the conduct of the elections themselves also belied the accusations of the PJD that the party had been set up to fail by ‘deep state’ forces that even Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane referred to darkly as ‘tahakoum’ (a creeping form of authoritarianism). Few doubted this to be a euphemism for the re-emergence of the Interior Ministry’s ‘dirty tricks’ specialists acting on behalf of interests close to the palace.

The head of one of the PJD’s coalition partners went further to accuse the PAM of still being under the influence of its most prominent founder, Fouad Ali El Himma, who now serves as a senior adviser to the king. In a campaign that would do the US presidential elections proud, the subsequent trading of insults and allegations saw the head of PAM, Ilyas El Omari, accuse the PJD of being linked to hard-core Islamist trends and of funding associations that radicalize young Moroccans, above all in northern regions between Tangier and El Hoceïma where recruitment to ISIS has been high.

In the event, the majority of the 43% of eligible voters who participated last week appear not to have believed this. But what these polls have not yet addressed is how to make official politics relevant to Morocco’s majority of young voters who did not participate, and who see little merit in the elite club of political interest groups and lobbies constituting most of the 30 political parties that contested the ballot. In the event, only two counted: the PJD, which does have a popular base, and the PAM, which despite its elite beginnings, forged an unprecedented rural following in last year’s local elections to balance the PJD’s dominance of city councils and urban centres  Reflecting the importance of local politics in budgetary allocations and local patronage, the participation rate in the October 2015 ballot rose to 53% from 45% in 2011. However, only 20% of voters aged under 35 voted in 2011 and a low youth participation rate is likely to be registered this year.

Much of the blame rests on PJD leaders who promised much in 2011 and have delivered somewhat less for disproportionately unemployed youth, at both ends of the spectrum from university graduates to unskilled labour. Benkirane’s successful lifting of unsustainable subsidies on petroleum products has stalled over other costly subsidies on sugar and butane gas, and his government’s pension reforms have been unpopular with the trade unions. Yet his bigger goals of stimulating economic growth to an annual rate of 7% from its current 1.5%, creating jobs and bringing Morocco’s endemic corruption under control have all faltered. According to the former head of Transparency International in Morocco, the level of corruption has in fact increased since 2011.

The PJD also faces dents to its image as a moderate Islamist party acting as a moral counterweight to a self-interested establishment of elites. With embarrassing speed over recent months, a series of sexual misconduct and adultery scandals in the PJD’s parliamentary wing and wider Movement for Unity and Reform has combined with the arrest of a PJD member in possession of three tonnes of cannabis to make a mockery of the party’s plans to uphold the illegality of extra-marital relations and cannabis production.

Little of this addresses the question of what kind of state, society and economy the majority of Morocco’s youthful population wants to see emerge. Young entrepreneurs lament the lack of legislation to authorize crowd-funding, seeing the elections as an unwelcome distraction from getting new economic ventures underway. Few consider that the established political sector has any real understanding of what is needed to address youth unemployment; even fewer are tempted to found their own political platforms while the barriers of political censorship, patronage and corruption remain so insurmountable.

The follow-up to these elections matters to the outside world not least because of the exemplary role Morocco’s intelligence and security forces play in intercepting international terrorist networks. Lone actors, such as the perpetrator of a knife attack on Dutch tourists in the capital Rabat last week are hard to pre-empt, but over the past fortnight, Moroccan forces have arrested a 10-strong all-female terrorist cell reported to have been planning suicide attacks on behalf of ISIS and will also have played a role in the coordinated arrests across Europe of four Spaniards and a Moroccan belonging to an online Spanish-language ISIS recruitment network.

If a similar balance of resources were dedicated to creating the space for new political and economic endeavours to emerge in Morocco’s most vulnerable hinterlands, then the need for preventive measures might well be replaced by new poles of attraction to counter the enticements of ISIS and its ilk. That these enticements are as much socio-economic as they are ideological is well-understood by the under-35s whose views and concerns will have barely featured in last week’s elections. It is time they were listened to and brought into the mainstream.

Opinion: Reading into Morocco’s Successes
Eyad Abu Shakra October 13, 2016 276

An advice given to me by a dear late friend keeps coming to mind when I discuss politics. He said: “Beware, Eyad, of a politician who knows only politics and likes nothing but politics!”
He was absolutely right; and after getting to chance to meet with politicians all over world the world, I realized that the worst were those who do not enjoy reading, are not attracted to culture, never developed an artistic taste or hobby, whether for music, drawing, painting, sculpture, or literature.

This is not the case with Morocco, where I found, over the years, the highest percentage of intellectually, culturally and artistically gifted but totally unpretentious politicians and diplomats in the Arab world. This quality is for all to see in Morocco’s political life which the other day crossed another important milestone when the second general elections in the country since “The Arab Spring” were held. The “Spring” that has shaken, changed and uncovered a lot of our political ills.

Here, too, Morocco has been an exception. The massive upheavals witnessed in some Middle Eastern and North African countries, showing the ugly face of dictatorship, the malignancy of terrible sectarianism and the disingenuity of glittering slogans, led to civil and tribal wars nurtured by regional greed and international conspiracies that are destroying Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.
Morocco, however, thanks to its politicians’ awareness and realism, has continued to enjoy two advantages that have allowed it an easy and safe passage through “The Arab Spring” despite the social and economic difficulties in a young nation that is not blessed with rich resources.

The first is political legitimacy. There is no question in Morocco about the legitimacy of Amir Al-Mu’mineen (The Commander of the Believers), neither from the Left nor from the Right. Both the ideological and trade unionist Left have adapted to and interacted with this legitimacy because they preferred national unity and social stability over venturing into the unknown. As for the Right, both its liberal and religious wings have had no reason to challenge either the country’s market economy or its ruler’s religious legitimacy.

The second is the ‘exhaust valve’, i.e. the mechanism that is provided by the cultures of co-existence and diversity in a country that has rejected exclusion, marginalization, denial, factional privileges, which directly contrast with the anathema that has been destroying the entities of the Mashreq before our eyes.

I thought long and deep before choosing to write about the Moroccan general elections and its meanings today. I hesitated. Then I asked myself the following questions:
1. Would it be right to ignore the affliction of Aleppo, the world’s second oldest metropolis, the city long praised by Al-Mutanabbi (the great 7th century Arab poet), now being slaughtered by the bloodiest mass murderers of the 21st century?
2. Would it be appropriate to disregard the imminent grave danger threatening Mosul, the ‘mother of two springs’, the birth place of Ibrahim and Ishaq Al-Mosuli (the great musicians of the 8th and 9th centuries), the jewel of Iraq’s cities and the capital and cultural cradle of Assyria?
3. Can I possibly forget Lebanon; ‘God’s paradise on Earth’, the ‘homeland’ of my father and forefathers, and the playground of my youth that is burdened by tyrannical occupation and threatened by a bleak future?
4. Is it possible to turn the page of Yemen, once felicitous but currently grief-stricken, which is encountering the Persians as conquerors rather than saviours in the absence of Saif bin Dhi Yazan (the great pre-Islamic Yemeni hero)?

All of these afflictions are, unfortunately, true. But because they are, the contrasting picture becomes more deserving of discussion and analysis. The Moroccan experiment, specifically in accommodating diversity and the opposite view, provides a lesson in ‘The Culture of Life’, while the Mashreq entities look as if they are in a race for death, whether gratuitous, in the shape of martyrdom, or in attempts to obliterate others.

In Morocco, as reflected by the polls, there is no monopoly of patriotism and no outbidding from any side. Furthermore, although it is almost impossible to have a spotless election – as proven by the flawed Florida poll in the US presidential elections of 2000 – it has been obvious that the top priority for all Moroccan parties is the firm belief that the choices and programs put forward to the voters are there to be negotiated by their parliamentary representatives, and implemented in the widest consensus possible.

Clearly, the Islamist ‘Party of Justice and Development’ led by the current Prime Minister Abdul-Ilah Ibn Kiran was the major winner, gaining 125 seats out of a total of 395, against the 102 seats gained by the liberal ‘Party of Authenticity and Modernity’. With the rest of the parliamentary seats shared by several other parties including the “historical trio” of the ‘Istiqlal (Independence) Party’, the ‘Popular Movement’ and the ‘Socialist Union of Popular Forces’, the overall result shows two facts. The first is that moderate Islamists continue to enjoy sizeable support; and the second is that intellectual and cultural diversity continue to enrich Moroccans’ politics inside and outside their home country.

It is worth noting here that ‘political Islam’ has neither been new nor alien to the Moroccan political scene before and after the country’s independence. It was always one of the salient identities of the national struggle led by great patriots like Allal Al-Fassi and Dr Abdul-Karim Al-Khatib. The ‘marriage’ of Islam and nationalism has been the solid base for Morocco’s unity that has transcended regional, ethnic and linguistic divides.

By the same token, the other political trends of all colors and creeds thrived in Morocco’s rich and glorious diversity. The history and geography of the country has confirmed the principle of ‘unity in diversity’ throughout the ages. Indeed, Morocco has been the ‘bridge’ of Islam, Arabism, and ‘Amazighism’ linking Africa – including its Middle Eastern depth – with Europe. It is also the full cultural partner in the great Andalusian heritage and its preserving reservoir, as well as being the melting pot of French, Spanish and Portuguese cultural influences with the Moorish (Arab/Amazigh) core expressed in almost every field.

Furthermore, in Morocco the cultural lifestyles of the rural areas, desert oases and major cities have fused and metamorphosed in an amazing way. Indeed, this exceptional country has had several ‘capitals’ including four ‘royal capitals’ (Fez, Meknes, Rabat and Marrakesh) which enjoyed glorious periods under different dynasties, and a vibrant economic capital (Casablanca), and a metropolis that was once ‘an international city’ (Tangier). Home to the world’s oldest university (Al-Qarawiyyin University and the grand mosque in Fez), Morocco has been a hotbed of industrial and trade unionists movements that bore impressive cultural and political fruits.

Last but not least, Morocco’s political successes have not been limited to the national or domestic scene, but could be witnessed wherever expatriate Moroccan communities live. Three Moroccan women are currently members of the French cabinet, another is the speaker of the Dutch parliament; and a compatriot of hers is the mayor of Rotterdam, the Netherlands and Europe’s largest port.
Many thanks to Morocco from every Arab, and congratulations for the recurring success of its democratic experiment.

Supporting the Kingdom of Morocco
11th October 2016 Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir

In recent decades the Kingdom of Morocco has embarked on a path that fully commits the nation to a development and civil course that is at once progressive and strongly connected to its national identity. The Moroccan model for success – with its core ideals of decentralization, human development, multiculturalism, south-south connectivity, and participatory methods – is essential not only for its own people but also for establishing a viable strategy for the people of Africa, the Middle East, and the world.  

Could it be that Morocco committed to democratic empowerment and sustainable development of communities and individuals will inspire a golden era of decentralized power and achievement for countries of the entire global South?

What is compelling about the Moroccan example is the way that the local community level is emphasized in programs, policies, and laws. Actualizing local participation in development helps more than any other measure to ensure that projects directly respond to local needs and that community beneficiaries are themselves dedicated to help maintain their projects.

A major challenge running through efforts to promote local community development is the need to systemize local, democratic forms of decision-making and management within the context of a still highly centralized, public administration.  Moroccan development programs promote inclusion, multi-perspective planning, public-private partnership, the engagement of all levels of society and the participatory frameworks to promote sustainable change from a local level.  However, the scarcity of funding and availability of “learning by doing” workshops for people from all sectors in facilitating participatory methods of community planning–even when the approach is required to be implemented by legal statute–ensure progress only at a gradual rate, with incalculable benefits lost to communities year after year.

That decentralization and participatory methodology are embedded at many levels in key policy documents is in itself immensely commendable.  For example, a wonderful opportunity is presented when Morocco’s National Charter of Municipalities makes it a requirement for elected members of local assemblies to assist in the creation of development plans that result from participatory, community-wide meetings. Yet when the great majority of those elected members have never observed or experienced the application of participatory democratic methods, this excellent policy remains largely ineffectual relative to its transformative, grassroots potential.

Facilitators of community dialogue are essential in order to ensure that local meetings are widely attended, all voices have the opportunity to be expressed and heard and the community data generated is made available to local people so that they may make the most informed decisions possible.  The effectiveness of facilitators is enhanced greatly when they participate in capacity building workshops in community settings toward creating real projects.  Facilitators who assist applications of participatory planning and assessments of local needs, may include–among others–elected representatives, schoolteachers, civil society organizers, government technicians, dedicated women and youth, cooperative members, private sector workers, village leaders and volunteers.
However, genuine community planning is not enough–there must be funding to implement the initiatives they determine.  In Morocco, unfortunately, too many well-meaning programs, which should be the natural vehicle for project finance, remains too inaccessible to the majority of people and their local associations owing to its challenging proposal format, inconsistent timing of calls for proposals and a requirement for local partial funding which is simply impossible for the majority of groups, especially rural. 

What difference can we make in Morocco and most rural places to break this impasse and create an independent, ongoing revenue stream to advance human development projects?  The answer lies in promoting organic agriculture and the entire value chain, from nurseries to sales.  Most rural people derive income from agriculture, and most poor are in rural places.  Net revenue can then be managed and dedicated by local cooperatives to build the schools, drinking water systems, and new businesses.  In this way the revenue from Moroccan organic agriculture can build a decentralized system and actualize the nation’s progressive policies.

What does all of this mean in a broader sense for Morocco, its place in the region and in a global context? To the extent that the Arab Spring signifies, on one level, the people’s call for empowerment, the Kingdom’s path of decentralization and sustainable development through the participatory method is highly relevant for the rest of the region.  Just as decentralization is linked intimately to participatory community planning, both of which confer authority as close to the people as possible, so human development in Morocco is consciously allied to cultural inclusion and coexistence, particularly in the light of the Kingdom’s 2011 Constitution, detailing the country’s many cultures and ethnicities, past and present.

Surely then, it is worth lending our wholehearted support to the Kingdom of Morocco so that this deeply humane model may spread hope throughout the continent and in our world.
Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir is a sociologist and president of the High Atlas Foundation, a U.S.-Moroccan international development organization.

The Moroccan women fighting daily sexual harassment
10 October 2016

In Morocco, it's not easy for women to walk the streets unmolested. Morgan Meaker hears from some who want to put an end to endemic harassment. For Ghizlane Ahblain, the word "whore" is a constant refrain in the soundtrack of her home city, Marrakesh. A stomach-punch of a word, it's hurled from the pink-tinged doorways and from the rickety motorbikes whose engines gasp for breath on the city's choked main roads."In Morocco, everything you do, you're a whore," says Ghizlane, who works at a hotel. "If you wear lipstick, you're a whore. If you wear a headscarf, you're a whore."
Frustration spills out of the small but fierce 30-year-old Moroccan as she sits on a cafe terrace in central Marrakesh. Like many women in Morocco, Ghizlane experiences sexual harassment on a daily basis. But a few years ago, she started to fight back.

Her tactic is to make a scene, making it harder for men who harass women on the street, both physically and orally. She sparks an argument with the man who mutters: "You've got lovely legs", or loudly accuses another of theft after he makes sexist comments at the bank. "More people should denounce this behaviour," she says. "Men in my country don't know when to stop."
With her master's degree and short skirt, Ghizlane admits she's no typical Moroccan woman. But she's not alone in standing up to sexual harassment.

In Rabat, the country's seaside capital, I wait for Mo outside the central station. She slides along gleaming floor tiles, a curtain of brown hair down her back. Our conversation is awkward. She says she doesn't usually talk about women's rights - her friends aren't very interested. "My dream is that Moroccan women learn how to stop sexual harassment," she says. "When someone harasses them, I dream of the women breaking his face."

She tried to start a self-defence class but had to apply to the government for permission. Her application was ignored. Instead she's been confronting street harassers herself, one by one. "When someone tries to touch me," she says, "I scream at him. I say, 'Why are you doing this?' These men don't understand. I never get a positive reaction."

But with a draft bill on sexual harassment currently being considered by Morocco's parliament, persistent street harassers could soon face between one and six months in prison or a fine of between $250 (£170) and $1,200 (£800).

It sounds positive. Is there a catch?"We think it's a terrible bill," says Stephanie Willman Bordat, an American expat who's worked on women's rights here for 21 years. Her office in Rabat is a safe haven from the catcalls and marriage proposals that photographer Frances and I have been attracting on the streets outside. "It's really just making minor adjustments to the existing criminal code," she says. "The whole problem is that women don't report, police don't investigate and prosecutors don't prosecute."

Later, she emails me a story from 2015 which explains why women don't trust the system. It's from Inezgane, south-west Morocco. After being harassed by a group of men, two women sought refuge in a nearby shop where they waited for the police. When the officers arrived, instead of protecting the pair, they arrested them - because their dresses were, they said, "too short".
But street harassment doesn't just leave women with that silenced, suffocating sense of feeling violated. In Morocco, it also limits their freedoms - the freedom to get an education, to go to work, to feel safe in the place they call home.

And while a shift in attitudes could still take decades, in the short term, reforming the law on sexual harassment does send a clear message - about what is acceptable and what isn't. About who can be picked on with impunity and who can't.

Not every woman in Morocco has the energy to fight back against harassment. Many simply mould their lives around it, avoiding friction. Wandering through Rabat's old city fortress, businesswoman Gitana tells me how she avoids men's comments, and their attempts to touch her, by travelling everywhere by car.

Together, we look down at the beach. The Atlantic ocean blurs into the monochrome Moroccan sky. I notice there are only boys swimming in the water. I ask my new friend, "Do you think, maybe, it would be OK to go swimming… in a bikini?" Giggling, she says, "I mean, you could…" She pauses awkwardly looking into the blue on blue below. "But I would never…"

I think again of Ghizlane in Marrakech and her daily battles. Before she slipped away into the smoke-laced crowds, she looked at me earnestly, through oblong-shaped glasses, and said: "It's definitely not easy to be Moroccan and a woman."

Moroccan Girls Travel to Washington, D.C. to Meet with Michelle Obama
By Morocco World News -  October 8, 2016 Rabat

On Saturday October 8, twenty-one Moroccan girls boarded a Royal Air Maroc flight destined for Washington, DC to meet U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House, according to the a press release from the US embassy in Rabat. According to the same source, the girls will continue the conversation that they started with the First Lady when she visited Marrakech in June where they discussed their shared commitment to education as part of the “Let Girls Learn” initiative.

These young women, who come from diverse backgrounds and communities including Tetoune, Casablanca, Essaouira  and Ouarzazate, so impressed Mrs. Obama with their dedication to following their dreams that she invited the girls to her home in the U.S. capital. To support this effort, the U.S. Embassy under the leadership of U.S. Ambassador Dwight L. Bush funded this unique exchange experience, thanks in large part to the generous support of Royal Air Maroc, the same source added.

While in Washington D.C., these young women will participate in activities designed to develop their leadership skills and celebrate their commitment to achieving their educational goals.
The Moroccan girls will attend the celebration of the United Nation’s International Day of the Girl Child on October 11 with a special screening at the White House, of the new CNN International Film We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World.

Other events will include a real-time, digital conversation with adolescent girls in Jordan, Peru, Tanzania, and the United Kingdom; a meeting with representatives from the Moroccan Embassy in D.C.; and visits to the new African American History Museum, the Air and Space Museum, and local U.S. universities.

The U.S. Embassy and Royal Air Maroc “are proud to support this exchange experience.  Ambassador Bush will accompany the group on their visit,” the same source said. “I am delighted to be accompanying these young women to Washington D.C. to meet once again with First Lady Michelle Obama because they represent the ambition of all young Moroccans who want to make an enduring, positive impact for their families, their communities, and their country,” said Ambassador Bush. “Elevating the voices of young women and girls across Morocco allows us to understand their hopes and aspirations and ensure that they are an integral part of our shared efforts to build a more peaceful and prosperous world,” he added.

Amazigh Women of Morocco: Heart and Soul

The Amazigh women of Morocco have faced threats to their strong traditions and distinct religious identity for thousands of years. Celeste Hicks travelled high into the Atlas Mountains to find out how the Amazigh are dealing with a new threat – a stricter traditional version of Islam that could undermine their unique way of practicing their faith. She hears how the Amazigh are trying to hold on to many of their traditions such as carpet weaving and facial tattoos which the conservative forces that are becoming more influential would find ‘haram’ or forbidden. The Amazigh women are a strong independent force in their historic tribe which date back to the days of Jesus' time on earth and holding on to that identity is a continuing struggle.

Morocco: Spiritually Rocking The Kasbah

The only time I ever thought about Morocco was when Casablanca was on Turner Classic Movies or someone mentioned Bogie and Bacall, but that changed abruptly when I was offered an opportunity to participate in a leadership retreat in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

My journey began in Marrakech. I flew Royal Air Maroc, traveling on a fresh-off-the-assembly-line Airbus. Very new. Very big. Very full. With only 36 hours to explore Marrakech, I immediately searched out my hotel, the Riad Balkisse (4 Derb Charij Riad El Muhka, Tel: 212-5243-81998., which was admittedly not luxurious, but clean, hospitable, extraordinarily affordable, and located within Marrakech’s red-walled medina, a fortified labyrinth built by the Berbers in the 11th century. Originally intended to keep invasive marauders out, the walls can no longer contain this thriving urban center of nearly a million residents, plus many more tourists.

Marrakech is a mix of ancient and contemporary influences. A university student told me that the dominant attitude throughout the city is “open Islam,” which accepts many Western ideas about other religions, human rights, women’s rights, education, and sexuality. Residents and tourists in mini-skirts and designer jeans engage with women in veils and men in traditional fezzes. Music is a mix of world, Western, and Berber rhythms and instruments. Architecture blends ultra-modern with classic Moroccan elements like tiles, interior fountains, and lavish textiles. Outside the medina, streets are congested with cabs, scooters, and buses. Luxury hotels and over- priced restaurants are crammed along main traffic arteries along with trendy boutiques, banks, and the ubiquitous Starbucks.

I had three things that I absolutely had to do while in Marrakech. First, to visit the Majorelle Garden and Museum of Berber Culture (Yacoub El Mansour Riad Yves Saint Laurent, Tel: 212-5243-13047. This meticulous 12-acre botanical garden was created in the 1920s and 1930s by French painter Jacques Majorelle (1886–1962). After falling into disrepair, the site was purchased and restored by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, who had a home in Marrakech. The gardens are tranquil, enhanced by verdant bamboo and palm groves, cactus gardens, and lily-covered pools. An art deco pavilion in striking cobalt blue offsets the dazzling bougainvillea. The café is an oasis of cool, as industrial fans blow cooling mist over fashionable guests who would otherwise wilt under the searing summer sun.

Second, to experience a hammam, a Moroccan-style scrub, sweat, and rub available at any almost any price, depending on your luxury standard. For Muslim women, the hammam is a weekly tradition (usually on Friday) when they gather, as girls often do at spas, for pampering and weekend preparation. My 90- minute treatment was $35 at a spa nearby my riad. Fabulous way to end a hot, sweaty day. Third, to grab a table at the Café du Grand Balcon (Jemaa El Faa. Tel: 212-5244-42193) overlooking Jemaa el Fna (the medina’s enormous square) sip sweet mint tea, and witness the sun’s brilliant progression through an orange-pink-purple palette before vanishing into the deep-blue dusk.

Every evening, as prayers end and the sti- fling heat dissipates, observant Muslims stream from the city’s mosques to converge with a river of tourists flowing into Jemaa el Fnaa. Here, the snake charmers, acrobats, musicians, and dervishes work alongside henna artists, monkey handlers, herb sellers, storytellers, food vendors, and pickpockets. North of the square is a maze of souks, all devoted to specific crafts, where it’s possible to watch an artisan at work and haggle with a merchant for the best possible price on fin- ished goods.

Goals for Marrakech realized, I returned to the airport where I rendezvoused with the five participants and two facilitators for the retreat. For eight days, I would be in an intimate and challenging relationship with four Brits, two Germans, and another American. By profession, we were business consultants, a team at one of the world’s largest e-commerce corporations, a former primary school teacher recently certified as a therapist, the founder of a global creative group, an author/leader of vision quests, and a psychotherapist/corporate leadership trainer.

Our destination was Imlil, a village known primarily to trekkers, who stop there for supplies, pack mules, and hire guides before heading into the mountains. We lodged at the luxurious and award-winning Kasbah du Toubkal (Gite Toubkai, Tel: 212-5244-85611., a Berber Hospitality Center set in a location of almost unimaginable beauty. Originally the summer home of a local chief, the walled compound fell into disrepair after Morocco gained its independence from France in 1956. Now restored, it sits atop a hill and has unobstructed views of Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa. Hospitality is the spirit of the Kasbah, which reflects the ambience and culture of the Berber people who are known for their consideration and respect for others.

On the hottest days, light winds cool the grounds, gardens, and guest rooms, all of which have terraces overlooking the river valley. The river’s roar is ever present, as it cascades from peaks, pounds over rocks, gushes past rapids, and babbles gently through irrigation aqueducts to sustain walnut, apple, and cherry trees. The Kasbah’s serenity is interrupt- ed only by bird calls, bellowing cattle, bawling sheep, and a unique experience that became a part of our stay: daily, around 5:15 A.M., the Muslim call to prayers started at a minaret adjacent to the Kasbah. As the voice of “our muezzin” soared and echoed over the valley, seven others joined him, creating a holy din that brought us to consciousness, awake to the dawn’s beauty. Also reminding us of spirit were four sayings carved into the beams sup- porting the rooftop terrace where we took our meals, one of which reads “There are many religions but only one God.”

Because the Kasbah owners want to benefit the local community, only locally grown produce and meat were served at meals featuring olives, dried fruits and nuts, and very fresh fruit and vegetables. The kitchen turned out delicious lamb, beef, and chicken tangine, as well as couscous, yogurt, and hearty seeded bread. We ate sugar-free except for an occasional sweet mint tea.
And we worked, hard, for eight days, from nine to five and often after dinner. Titled Lead Like a River ( The retreat promised physical, spiritual, and intellectual engagement, combining “ancient nature-based practices with contemporary leadership techniques.”

The curriculum was dynamic, adapting to the group’s energy. The work helped us overcome personal obstacles and long-held beliefs and moved us toward realization visions and dreams. Our leaders were experienced, wise, and united by theories of change, as well as a seasoned professional friendship.

For 20 years, Trebbe Johnson has led worldwide programs that combine mythic questing with searching for insight through nature. Eugene Johnson is a psychotherapist and CEO at ArtGym, a London-based leadership training agency, and is global recognized for corporate leadership development programs that encourage creativity and imagination.

Trebbe and Eugene promised to shake us up and wake us up. And they delivered. Each day started with a communal breakfast on the Kasbah roof under a crystalline-blue mountain sky. Our classroom sessions combined creative exploration through reflection and art to reveal personal truths. Daily, we ventured from the classroom to explore the mountain, the river, and the valley as inspiration to excavate our inner lives.

We work with solo walks in nature, myth- ic patterns, archetypes, art, and storytelling so that everyone can grasp their own reality from the intuitive, creative side of the brain. We all know instinctively how to explore our personal reality from these perspectives; most of us have just gotten into the habit of thinking them irrelevant.”

Every day we were challenged. Sometimes deeper truths emerged without restraint. Often, the group pulled the individual members through fearful moments by cheering accomplishments, like an ascent to the top of a water- fall or a ten-mile trek with a blown-out knee. Always, we witnessed respectfully the revelations that were shared.

After three days in the classroom and on local hikes, day four brought us face-to-face with a very real physical challenge: a nine-mile hike to 13,000 feet where we camped for two nights under a star-filled canopy and a maturing Blue Moon. Accompanied by a nimble and knowledgeable guide and four sure-footed mules that carried our gear, we hiked for about eight hours, finally arriving at a rustic hut shared with other trekkers from around the world.

The following morning at 6 A.M., we each set forth separately on a day-long solo experience. We traveled in whatever direction that called us, and eventually each found a spot for reflection and contemplation. Dawn to dusk can be a long time, especially when fasting, but meditating, praying, writing, creating ritual, and napping diverted my attention when coffee craving and lunch fantasies threatened my serenity.

I also took time to think about Fatima, a young Muslim woman I met in Imlil when I stopped for directions at her shop. Offering a cup of tea, she engaged me in a flowing con- versation that quickly moved from the aragon soap she makes to how she overcame family and community disapproval when starting her business. She wisely observed that change is always difficult, but inspired by her education, Fatima overcame the objections of her parents and four brothers to become a business owner. Thinking about Fatima, I was moved to create a ritual honoring difference in a conflict-ridden world.

As the sun dropped and dusk approached, we straggled back to the hut, energized, excited, and hungry. We broke our fast with celebratory mint tea, followed by the most delicious dinner. We told about our adventures, like the heroes we felt ourselves to be. The following morning, we trekked out, descending 11 miles to the Kasbah for baths, dinner, and two final days of challenging work marked by tears and laughter, confusion and commitment.

On our last night, the Kasbah staff surprised us with a special dinner of goat, which had been roasted all afternoon in a large above- ground oven, accompanied with the usual selection of locally prepared olives, olive oil and hearty bread, fresh vegetables, and fruits. After dinner, the staff donned their traditional Berber robes, grabbed bendirs, a type of hand-held frame drum, and for two hours, they sang while we whirled and twirled and spun like dervishes, wild and without limit.

Lead Like a River tested all our limits: physical, spiritual, and emotional. We quested for new knowledge in order to journey toward fulfillment. Each of us left the Kasbah with new insights and new ideas about our calling. Those calls were as unique as each participant: to relationship, to education, to disaster relief, to support immigrants, to employ technology for life betterment, and to resolve conflict. After a week of revelation and bonding, we flowed back into the world, letting life carry us toward our destination and fulfillment.

Discover Simplicity: My First Day in Morocco
By Morocco World News - October 3, 2016 By Emily Rathmanner Agadir

I stumbled down a dusty hill, down some makeshift stairs that were built from packed dirt and broken slabs of concrete. My guess was that I found the locals’ short cut to the beach. I passed by women in veils sweeping their mosaic front steps, dingy surf shops, and a friendly gang of street cats on a scavenger hunt for today’s breakfast. Moving slowly, in awe with the fresh, new air that smelled of slow cooked tajine and African saltwater, it hit me: I was in Morocco. It was refreshing; I was back in the lands of roads without rules, wild beach dogs, a culture different than my own, and best of all, simplicity.

Morocco: A two-speed country: Morocco's business community is profiting from "new" industries but they do not generate enough employment.
Ahmed El Amraoui & Aida Alami 01 Oct 2016 [Reuters/Stringer]

More than a fifth of young people are out of work in Morocco. While Morocco takes pride in its pro-market, macroeconomic reforms, which spur competition and foreign direct investment, the economy’s progress as a whole - which still depends on agriculture - falls short of sizzling growth.

The kingdom's major infrastructure projects include modern highways, tourism, a growing manufacturing sector, a nascent aeronautics industry, a new port and free trade zone near the city of Tangier in the north, and a massive solar plant in the country's remote southern desert with a renewable electricity goal of 40 percent by 2020. Such projects, however, are not generating enough employment in a country where - according to the World Bank - more than a fifth of young people are out of work.

This has created a two-speed Morocco. The country's business community is gaining higher exports from the "new" industries [cars, aeronautics, and electronics], while this year's poor harvest drags down total GDP growth below two percent in 2016. "Morocco’s economic model, based on attracting foreign investment in carefully selected sectors and building major infrastructure projects, is not really sustainable in the long term," Riccardo Fabiani, a senior analyst of Eurasia, told Al Jazeera.

The kingdom’s major infrastructure projects include a massive solar plant in the country’s remote southern desert

Corruption in Morocco remains widespread in both the public and business spheres, Fabiani said, leading the country to slide backwards in terms of high unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and stalling living standards. "The mega projects are rarely supported by a buoyant, local business environment. Their impact is limited by these structural weaknesses," Fabiani added. "In addition, in the past five years the government has reduced spending by cutting public sector jobs and subsidies. This has pushed many young Moroccans to look for precarious jobs in the informal sector, despite having university degrees."

To the detriment of Moroccans, improving access to health and education are considered low priority compared with the push to build mega projects, said Omar Hyani, a Rabat-based financial analyst and city councilor.

Morocco's colonial heritage in higher education: Students from underprivileged backgrounds suffer as universities continue to teach courses in French rather than Arabic.
Jennifer Kwon Al Jazeera 17 Jun 2016 Rabat, Morocco

Teaching in Arabic was appealing to many Moroccans, a sign of their independence from France. But Arabic never reached the university level, especially in math and science - When Widad Houmaid, 20, earned good marks in high school, she decided to enrol in a biology class at Hassan II University in Casablanca. There was only one problem; Moroccan university professors teach science in French. Houmaid, a graduate of Moroccan public schools where maths and science are taught in Arabic, does not speak French.

She is now struggling in her biology class. "You have to speak French to get the professors' respect, and to get their attention," she said. Moroccan science professors, she added, are failing their Arabic-speaking students.

For help, Houmaid relies on YouTube videos like this one in which a science course on thermodynamics is taught in Arabic. The language debate in Moroccan education dates back to the 1980s, when public schools switched from French, the teaching language established since Morocco was under French colonial rule, to Arabic. Despite the switch at school level, Arabic did not become the teaching language at universities, particularly for maths or science. This was mainly due to a shortage of qualified teachers who spoke Arabic.

The switch was not without hurdles. According to Mohamed Melouk, a professor of research methodology and curriculum development at Mohammed V University in Rabat, the abrupt switch from French to Arabic caused problems for pupils. "Students can work with any mathematical formulas, they can break down any computers or computer programme. But in terms of communication, the mastery of language, they are still poor," said Melouk. "If you give them the means, the instruments to communicate, they would go further."

Last December, Rachid Belmokhtar, the national education minister, made a controversial proposal to a go back to French for the teaching of maths, science, and physics studies in secondary schools.
The move was vetoed by Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, whose moderate Islamist political party strongly supports continuing teaching in Arabic. However, Belmokhtar's proposal, which got the backing of the Moroccan King Mohammed VI, was approved in February by a council of ministers. Accordingly, the switch back to French for maths and science will be implemented over the next 15 years.

Mohammed Ait El-Maati, 22, studied geology in Mohammed V University and is training to be a high school science teacher at Centre Pedagogique Regional, or CPR, a teacher-training school in Rabat. He recalls having trouble understanding the lectures and had to translate terminology from Arabic to French. But Ait El-Maati gradually figured it out and excelled in school.

Now, in yet one more language reversal, he will be using Arabic once again to teach in high school since the new decision will not be effective before 2030.  "I did 12 years in Arabic, three years of French, and now I have to go back to teaching people in Arabic. You need to have 'Google translate' in your head," said Ait El-Maati, laughing."I don't have problems teaching students, but I only have a problem understanding this system. Why are they doing this?"

According to Mohammed Ait El Maati, right, there are four students from African countries in his geology department and some have never spoken a word in French [Soukaina El Ouaai/Al Jazeera]
Moroccan education officials blame students' language difficulties on big class sizes and teachers who lack skills. According to a UNESCO report published in 2015, during the period from 2011-2014, the average student/class ratio for primary level was around 28-29 students per class. It has been increasing steadily at university level from 33 in 2001 to 38.4 in 2014. 

"In Morocco, more than 1,600 hours of French is offered [through high school] so students should be good in French," Lahcen Daoudi, the minister of higher education, scientific research and training, told Al Jazeera. "That is not a problem of hours of language learning, it is a problem of quality of work that is put in."

Two years ago, the Faculty of Science at Mohammed V University in Rabat started offering a beginner French class for students lagging behind in the language. Many students need the help, according to Asmaa Badhadi, 18, who is studying journalism at Institut Superieur de l'Information et de la Communication in Rabat. "The test made for students who don't speak good French was so easy. It was like choosing 'la maison' or 'le maison', but people still didn't pass the test," said Badhadi.

Nationwide, there were about 185,000 students enrolled in science programmes, according to government figures. But 85 percent of the students at the University of Hassan II Mohammedia - the country's most prestigious engineering school - said they struggle to be fluent enough in French to succeed in their studies, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Research & Method in Education.

A quarter said they have a lot of trouble understanding the French language, and 60 percent reported some problems with understanding the language. Only 5 percent of all Moroccans obtain university degrees and one reason, university professors say, are challenges with language proficiency.

"There are a lot of people who, after the first week, drop out of university because of this issue," said Nabila Guennouni, a second-year student in the computer science department at Hassan II University.

Wealthier parents have the privilege to enrol their children in private primary schools, that grants them much more exposure to the French language. In private schools, science and maths are taught both in Arabic and French, and French as a language class is taught from first grade.

In public schools, however, students start learning French in fourth grade. "You mess with the linguistic policy, you create a private system … What's the rationale behind this policy?" said Nabil Belkabir, the cofounder of UECSE a student-led movement to improve education.

Complicating matters even further is a new government plan to give English a larger place in education. English will now be introduced starting in the fourth grade. "I think it would be better if the whole system was in English for scientific studies," said Oumayma El-Jahsani, an engineering student at CPGE Moulay Youssef, a school in Rabat. "Because even after you study in French, when you do research, sometimes you find books only in English."

According to Ben Saga, the director of the information and orientation division of the higher education ministry, the priority now is to have English language in higher level education, especially for PhDs and master's students. "It is very important for us to have this for scientific research, since the majority of it is in English," he told Al Jazeera. "Our PhD students find it difficult to have direct access to scientific research in the world if we only have Arabic or French. So for us, it is very important to have this."

Many Moroccan students say they like the new English language requirement, as they view fluency in the English language as an advantage, not only in school but also in the job market. "English will be helpful for all because it’s easy and we can work with it," said Nassim El Garni, a third-year mathematics and computer science student at Mohammed V university. Others aren't so sure, seeing it as merely the continuation of the problems that have arisen with making French so necessary. "Is it possible for a country to develop if it speaks the language of another country or if it not capable of speaking its own language?" asks Hamza Alioua, spokesman for the UECSE and a second-year student at the Hassan II University.

Jennifer Kwon spent several months in Morocco as part of an SIT Study Abroad programme. This story was produced in association with Round Earth Media which is reclaiming international news. Soukaina El Ouaai contributed reporting.

A Look at Morocco’s Ambitious Renewable Energy Program
Wed, 10/05/2016 - 00:16 vjohnson By: William Q. Harmon

Fifty-four journalists from 28 African countries, who were visiting Morocco to assess the level of preparation the country has made for the upcoming global conference on climate change (COP 22), were astounded by the country’s ambitious renewable energy program.

Being highly impressed after top Moroccan government officials, including the Ministers of Interior and Agriculture and Fisheries drilled them with the level of progress that that country is making to address the issues of climate change, the journalists were fortunate to pay a visit to Morocco’s gigantic solar energy plant—known as Noor-Ouarzazate.

Renewable energy, such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydro-electric and biomass—provides substantial benefits for the climate, health, and economy. But before we explore the Moroccan program, let it be established that renewable energy is one of the best ways to mitigate the huge impact of climate change. Many will ask how does this happen?

First of all energy sources have an impact on our environment, but it is no secret that fossil fuels — coal, oil, natural gas and even charcoal in the Liberian context — do substantially more harm than renewable energy sources by most measures. Fossil fuels cause air and water pollution, damage to public health, wildlife and habitat loss, and effect water use, land use, and generate emissions that contribute to global warming.

Human activity is overloading our atmosphere with carbon dioxide and other global warming emissions, which trap heat, steadily drive up the planet’s temperature, and create significant and harmful impacts on our health, our environment, and our climate.

For example, one of the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gas, the United States’ electricity production, accounts for more than one-third of its global warming emissions, with the majority generated by coal-fired power plants. This approximately produces 25 percent of total U.S. global warming emissions and natural gas-fired power plants produce 6 percent of total emissions. In contrast, most renewable energy sources produce little to no global warming emissions.

It is in this regard that Morocco embarked on constructing the world’s largest renewable energy program (wind, solar and hydroelectric combined) while also boasting the construction of Noor-Ouarzazate, the largest solar energy plant in the world when completed.

The Moroccan government is keen on increasing renewable energy production. Renewable energy, the officials said, represented 0.4% of the national energy balance (excluding biomass) and nearly 10% of electricity production in 2007. This has doubled significantly over the years. Renewable energy is supported by strong hydropower sources and the newly-installed wind energy parks (147 MW installed and 975 MW under deployment). Morocco plans a $13 billion expansion of wind, solar and hydroelectric power generation capacity and associated infrastructure that should see the country get 42% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

In November 2009 Morocco announced the ambitious Noor-Ouarzazate solar energy project worth $9 billion which officials say will account for 38-45 percent of Morocco’s installed power generation by 2020. Funding for the project is from a mix of private and state capital. The ceremony was attended by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Moroccan king, Mohammed, VI. The project will involve five solar power generation sites across Morocco and will produce 2,000 megawatts of electricity by 2020. It will add in terms of power generation the equivalent of the current electricity consumption of the country's commercial capital, Casablanca.

As a net energy importer, Morocco launched the National Renewable Energy and Efficiency Plan in February 2008 to develop alternative energy to meet 15% of its domestic needs and increase the use of energy-saving methods. The plan is expected to create more than 40,000 jobs and stimulate over €4.5bn in investment by 2020. The National Plan for the Development of Solar Thermal Energy, formulated in 2001, aimed to install 440,000 solar-powered water heaters of which 235,000 was completed in 2012. The Moroccan government plans to produce 40% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Many initiatives are dedicated to renewable energy such as solar power plants, pumping stations, hydraulic turbines, waste recycling, water pumps, sea water desalination, air conditioning and solar water heaters. Renewable energy is also the focus of many economic and social programs, as in the case of rural electrification, where individual photovoltaic solar systems account for 7% of energy production.

Two years ago, the World Bank approved the "Noor-Ouarzazate Concentrated Solar Power Project—initially commencing as a US$159 million solar energy development project. The financing was intended to expand development of a Moroccan solar energy complex with the goal of increasing the complex's energy production. By October 2014, the complex carried a 160 megawatt capacity. Project planners hope to grow that capacity to 350 megawatts.

The country had earlier in 2009 announced it would produce 2 Gigs of solar capacity by 2020; subsequently launching the Noor-Ouarzazate. Five solar power stations are currently under construction. The Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), a public-private venture, has been established to lead the project. MASEN has invited expressions of interest in the design, construction, operation, maintenance and financing of the first of the five planned solar power stations, the 500-megawatt plant in the southern town of Ouarzazate. The first plant was commissioned in 2014, and the entire project will be commissioned in 2019. Once completed, the solar project will provide 18% of Morocco’s annual electricity generation, a tour guard told the journalists.

Morocco is also the only African country to have a power cable link to Europe, which aims to benefit from the €400bn (US$573.8bn) expected to come from the ambitious pan-continental Desertec Industrial Initiative based in Europe.

Video: Mark Zuckerberg Reminisces About His Trip to Morocco
By Youssef Igrouane - October 14, 2016 Rabat –

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook, in a recently released video posted on Facebook, reminisced about his “awesome time” in Morocco. In a video interview conducted via Facebook live, Zuckerberg began by introducing his daughter as a “guest,” before recounting his memories of Morocco. In response to a comment from a Moroccan follower, Zuckerberg said to his wife, “We went to Morocco, do you still remember? It was one of our first international trips we took together for fun. It was an awesome time,” he said. Last year, Zuckerberg posted on his Facebook account photos of Morocco’s blue city, Chefchaouen to showcase the new Facebook feature on Instagram.

The Tradition, art blend in Morocco 'tbourida' cavalry charges
By Afp  14 October 2016

The equestrian art of tbourida, inspired by the historical charges of the feared cavalrymen of Morocco, fascinated Romantic painter Eugene Delacroix two centuries ago and still draws enthusiastic crowds today. At this week's "Salon du Cheval" show in El-Jadida, western Morocco, thousands have been enthralled by the spectacle of groups of riders in colourful traditional dress charging in a line and then suddenly coming to a halt with a synchronised firing of their muskets in a deafening and pungent blast of gunpowder.

The 15 finest troops of cavalrymen from across the North African country competed in the first King Mohammed VI Grand Prix of tbourida, taken from the word for gunpowder in a local dialect, at the sandy exhibition grounds of the port city of El-Jadida. The event showcased "the traditional equestrian art of Morocco dating back to the 13th century", Hamid Benazzou, who heads an association on Moroccan horses, told AFP.

Mustapha Mallagui, 42, a civil servant and part-time farmer who rides with the "sorba", or troop, from Fes-Meknes in central Morocco, said "tbourida and its horses are like a work of art", as seen in many magnificent paintings by the French master Delacroix. "Historically, (Arab and Berber) tribes would celebrate victories with the tbourida to display their equestrian knowhow, their handling of guns, the beauty of their harnesses. It was a sort of military parade," Mallagui said, standing under one of the huge red-carpeted tents set up for competitors.

Today, the tribal wars are over but the rituals remain a part of traditional festivities in the countryside. Villages and towns all have their own sorba and a nationwide contest selects the best troop from each region.

The colourful harnesses of the horses, the regional costumes of the riders are a sight for the eyes, with their embroidery, kaftans, pompoms, the "burnous" Arab hooded cloaks, shoulder belts and turbans. Shiny curved daggers, swords, powder horns and pearl-encrusted guns with chiselled grips add to the visual feast of handicrafts.

Fusion of man and horse -
The tradition of tbourida is deeply-ingrained in central Morocco and the southern deserts, where cavalrymen in their majestic blue "gandoura" tunics fire not in the air but into the ground because, as Mallagui explained, "the enemy is hidden in the sand and not in the mountains". "Before, there were no tanks, no planes in wars... there was only the horse," he said. Tbourida was above all the fusion of man and horse, especially the Barb, an ancient North African breed famed for its hardiness and stamina.

It was introduced to Europe centuries ago and became the favoured horse of royal courts and on the battlefield right up to the time of Napoleon. Each sorba is made up of between 11 and 15 riders, mounted proud and straight-backed, with a captain at the centre who loudly coordinates the movements of his men and horses. The troop makes a first pass, called the "hadda", at a slow gait followed by a trot, to exhibit their equipment and their mastery of beast and weapons. The "talqa", or charge, is next with a synchronised gallop that comes to a finale with simultaneous firing of the muskets at the captain's command before the horses come to a sudden standstill right in front of the jury. Errors are common, with riders falling off their horse or guns failing to fire. "To be a sorba rider, you need the discipline of a soldier," one of them said as the two-hour spectacle drew to a close.

Walnut Hills student returned from Morocco resolved to help newly arrived immigrants and refugees: So he founded STAR and planned a benefit concert
Sonia Chopra | WCPO contributor Oct 15, 2016 CINCINNATI

Two years ago, Adam Sella went to Morocco for six weeks to study Arabic on a U.S. State Department scholarship. "I made a few friends. I met some refugees and I realized that using languages can actually help in communicating with and helping people, especially refugees, assimilate in our society," said Sella, 17, a Clifton resident who is continuing with Arabic evening classes at the University of Cincinnati. "I found the whole experience inspiring."

Sella stayed with a host family and he appreciated how they shared everything with him, even though they didn't have that much to share. He began to realize that not everyone in the world has the opportunities many Americans take for granted. This also marked the period during which Sella first became aware of the global refugee crisis, and he wished, somehow, that he could make a difference.

Last year, he founded an organization called STAR (Students Together Assisting Refugees) at Walnut Hills High School to raise awareness and aid for refugees. Since its inception, STAR has held school events to which refugees were invited to speak, where a movie dealing with the refugee crisis was shown, and where donations of household items benefiting more than 260 local refugee families were collected. STAR members also volunteer as mentors and tutors for refugee children at the Academy of World Languages through RefugeeConnect. WCPO Insiders can find out what unusual event STAR students are planning this month in an effort to raise $5,000 for a refugee scholarship fund, and how to take part in it.

Into Darkness: Going Blind in Morocco: A courageous family of 11 blind people try to keep hopes and dreams alive as another member faces blindness.
02 Oct 2016 By Rachida El Garani

As a storyteller, I have always believed that human stories show us the things we have in common. At a time where we are faced with Islamophobia and social polarisation I decided, as a filmmaker, to look for a story that unites people rather than one that focuses on our differences. And this is where it all began; while on holiday in my native Morocco, I met Achmed, a 35-year-old blind man, in the city of Taroudant. At the time, I was doing research into another project called RUMI, looking for young disabled people pursuing higher education.

Achmed invited me to his home to meet his sister Naima who's also blind and a student. She had just finished her first year studying to become a physiotherapist. When I entered the house I was surprised; I was surrounded by an entire family of blind people. Eleven out of 13 family members are blind, living together in one house. Only the grandmother, the daughter-in-law Fatima and the little boy Elias could see. It was a quite shock for me. Not only does this family have to live in total darkness, they live in poverty and have no income or aid from the government whatsoever.

I was inspired by Naima who believes that higher education is the only way out of poverty. The young children, Mohamed and Marwa, touched me even more. They only have one dream - to keep the last bit of sight they still have. When I arrived back home in Belgium I knew I had to tell this story. I convinced the Royal Institute of Theatre, Cinema and Sound (RITCS) that this would be my masters graduation film project and I gathered a team together: Kris Van Den Bulck, a cameraman from Belgium, and through RITCS, I found a sound engineer at the ESAV film school in Marrakech, Zineb El Ouarzazi, and Erika De Korte, my editor from the Netherlands.

With Into Darkness I hope to move people with the story of this family and also shed light on the terrible circumstances they and many others in Morocco have to live with. Into Darkness had a world premiere at IDFA Festival Amsterdam, in two competitions. Since its screening it has been described as "a film the world should watch". There was a similar reaction in June, when the film won the audience award at the prestigious LA Film Festival in Hollywood. The film was also the opening film of the FIDADOC festival in Agadir, Morocco.

When people in Morocco saw this film, they were moved and shocked. It started a debate to bring change, not only for disabled people, but for all people who face social injustice. In this documentary, we are reminded of how much we are alike in the core of our being. It shows us that it doesn't matter what cultural glasses we wear, we all go through fear, sadness and laughter in life. It reminds us that we should be lucky and grateful for what we have, that we can still smile, that we understand what courage and dignity really looks like and, above all, that we remain hopeful. The best thing about making this film is that I gained a new family, who hardly believes the world is moved by their story. Little Mohamed asked me once: "Are there really people interested in my story?" Every soul I meet wishes you the best in life and wants to help you, I replied.

Being a new graduate of filmmaking at the age of 40 means that I can finally do what I was meant to - telling people's stories. I was born and raised in Belgium and have Moroccan roots and I intend to travel the world to tell more stories, especially in the Arab world, about the struggle against Islamophobia, racism, and social injustice that people of ethnic minorities face in Europe today. I sincerely believe that cinema is a powerful tool to bring people together, to understand one another and to discuss taboos, but mainly to be a platform for change.

What about the future of this family?
My main goal for this family is to find a medical solution to save the children's sight through surgery. If there is a possibility, I will start a crowdfunding campaign to help fund their travel and medical expenses to Europe for their operation. But for now, we still have to wait for the medical results and maybe, just maybe, we'll get some good news. In which case, I might make a new film called "Into the Light" documenting these children's new lives, out of the darkness.

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