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Morocco Week in Review 
September 17, 2016

First North American- Moroccan Competencies Forum to Begin September 17th
By Morocco World News -  September 15, 2016, New York

The first edition of the North American- Moroccan Competencies Forum is just around the corner, bringing together Moroccan professionals, researchers, and entrepreneurs from Canada and the United States to New York City on Saturday, September 17th 2016. The forum will showcase the rich diversity of expertise and knowledge of Moroccans residing in the United States and Canada. It will also provide a platform to highlight the contributions of the Moroccan diaspora from North America in the emergence of Morocco as a leader in both the Middle East and Africa, thus enhancing Morocco’s image and stature abroad. Four panels are set to discuss Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Medical Sciences and Healthcare Systems, Finance & Economic Environments, and Civic Responsibility and Volunteerism.

The event is as a result of a partnership between the American Moroccan Competencies Network (AMCN), Association of Moroccan Professionals in America (AMPA), and Forum des Compétences Canado-Marocaines (FCCM). Members of the organizing entities have combined efforts and resources to make this initiative a reality and have successfully obtained sponsorship from the Ministry in Charge of Moroccans Living Abroad & Migration Affairs and Royal Air Maroc (RAM).

“It is the first step towards consolidating the efforts of the North American competencies networks and having a common vision on our contributions to Morocco” – Abdelaadim ElHanchi – Forum des Compétences Canado-Marocaines President.

“The forum is a great networking and partnership building opportunity for our Canadian and American-Moroccan experts in various fields. I certainly hope that, among other things, projects benefiting Morocco will emerge from the panel discussions held throughout the day.” – Mohamed Boutjdir – AMCN President

“AMPA and AMCN will continue to forge and build bridges between the US and Morocco so that partnerships between Moroccan Institutions and us will continue to flourish”-Chaouki Zahzah – AMPA President

The concept of creating Networks of Moroccan competencies abroad was first introduced in 2009 by the Ministry in Charge of Moroccans Living Abroad and Migration Affairs, in partnership with several Moroccan organizations abroad. The goal was to mobilize Moroccans Living Abroad (MLA) and create bridges between Moroccan Competencies among MLAs and the homeland. The ultimate purpose of these efforts is to create a platform that will facilitate the contribution of MLAs into the socio-economic and environmental development process in Morocco. Similar network forums successfully exist today in numerous countries throughout Europe.

Challenging Moroccan Youth to “Think Big”

By   Adnane Addioui August 18, 2016

What is the biggest challenge facing Moroccan youth?

In Morocco, four out of five unemployed individuals are youth between the ages of 15 and 34. Located in a region that has seen a huge population growth over the last number of decades, and along with that a youth bulge, unemployment and underemployment are of core concern for today’s youngsters. While some see entrepreneurship as being a way to combat youth unemployment, there are pressing challenges that go along with it—including the ability to “think big.”

Adnane Addioui, a social commentator, social entrepreneur and disruptive thinker who has committed his life to work in the Middle East and North Africa, is the go-to person in Morocco for all things on youth and entrepreneurship. Addioui co-founded the Moroccan Center for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship where he currently serves as chief visionary. He is also the country director of Enactus Morocco.

In this video, he answers the question: What is the biggest challenge facing Moroccan youth?

Applications For UK Scholarships for Moroccan Students Open
By Asmae Habchaoui - August 16, 2016, Rabat

Moroccan students will benefit from the Chevening Scholarships at UK Universities for 2017/2018. British Embassy Morocco announced last week the launch of Chevening Scholarship for 2017/2018.

Chevening is a global scholarship funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and partner organizations. Chevening Scholarships are awarded to candidates pursuing leadership-related masters for one year at any UK university. Applicants in Morocco should select one of the flowing fields of study: economic development (including sustainable development and environmental issues), good governance and Public Policy, security and justice, human rights, Media and communications or International relations. The scholarship covers university tuition fees, a monthly stipend, travel costs to and from the UK, an arrival allowance, a homeward departure allowance, the cost of one visa application, a travel grant to attend Chevening events in the UK.

“Chevening scholarships provide a fantastic opportunity to gain academic experience while experiencing life in the UK. Our previous Moroccan Chevening scholars have gone on to play impressive roles in all areas of Moroccan life,” the British Ambassador to Morocco, Karen Bretts, said.“I encourage all talented individuals who have clear leadership qualities and the drive to contribute to Morocco’s future to apply for these scholarships,” he added.

Applications for the scholarship started on Monday August 8, 2016 and will end on November 8, 2016.

Student blog — Toward the economic empowerment of women: Grassroots organizations in Morocco

By James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy on August 10, 2016
For the past few decades, discourse on gender and development has revolved around the interrelationship between female empowerment and economic development. Although definitions of empowerment vary extensively, there tends to be an underlying consensus that “empowerment” can be attained by following an “approach that [can] be applied appropriately in a range of contexts.” However, as literature on gender and development has progressed, it has become increasingly clear that empowerment manifests itself in various ways and cannot be achieved through the same methods across different sociopolitical and socioeconomic contexts (Shalaby 2016). This reality is especially true for countries in the Middle East and North Africa, where strong ties between religion and politics, coupled with a deeply rooted patriarchal social system, collide to create a very particular space for women in society. Due to these varying realities, I argue that literature on gender and development should highlight the many instances in which women are partaking in grassroots development efforts that are context specific and therefore effectively empower women in their day-to-day lives.

Morocco serves as one of many examples of how politics, religion and patriarchal traditions affect the way women achieve empowerment in the MENA region. However, this complicated reality has not kept women throughout the country from pushing for gender equality. The past few decades have witnessed the emergence of several grassroots organizations that have taken strides toward transforming gender norms through the economic empowerment of women (Brand 1998). Grassroots organizations such as the nonprofit Amal Restaurant and Training Center in Marrakech, the cooperative COPITADAL in Mirador and the women’s organization Association Forum De Femme in Al-Hoceima (AFFA) are examples of initiatives that involve Moroccan women in the economy in ways that are compatible to the socioeconomic and sociopolitical realities of their area, thereby providing women with nontraditional avenues toward economic empowerment.

The aforementioned grassroots organizations aim to serve some of the most disenfranchised women in society by responding to social issues that affect women’s ability to enter the workforce, such as illiteracy, limited job opportunities and social stigmas. Using different models and functioning within different areas of expertise, grassroots organizations that focus on women’s economic empowerment tend to have a similar goal: providing women with marketable technical and social skills as well as access to networks necessary to begin procuring an income of their own. More importantly, they do so in a way that responds to the needs and possibilities of their area. The Amal Center, for example, focuses on teaching skills that will allow women to exploit Marrakech’s tourism industry and the subsequent high demand for workers in the restaurant business. AFFA, on the other hand, responds to high illiteracy rates among rural women in northern Morocco and subsequently finds ways to integrate legal literacy, courses on the recently revised family code and women’s health education into their mission. COPITADAL, in contrast, responded to the lack of job opportunities for women by starting the first cooperative in Morocco to specialize in art and decorative work, entering an otherwise unexplored market and therefore gaining a good amount of recognition.

Although the skills imparted by each organization vary, most employ similar techniques to reach their goals. Primarily, these techniques include offering training courses in different technical skills, including everything from cooking and baking to decorative or textile work. Apart from these technical skills, several organizations also offer courses in management and marketing to provide women with valuable business experience that will facilitate entrance and success in the labor force. Additionally, most grassroots organizations focus significant energy on encouraging members to take literacy courses in order to gain important information and skills needed to advocate for their own rights and signal credibility once in the workplace.

Moreover, grassroots organizations also provide women with access to opportunities they may not have been privy to beforehand by integrating them into social and economic networks in the area. The fact that these organizations are often run by community members facilitates job placement for women by connecting them with possible employers. Beyond this, taking part in training sessions and working with other women allows members to build their own networks outside of the home and therefore expand their social capital. Ultimately, this means that women are able to take advantage of the immediate income and trainings made available through the organizations but also, if they so choose, branch out and use the skills and networks they gain to partake in their own economic ventures, something the president of COPITADAL took great pride in (Koubia 2015).

Despite the fact that these small-scale businesses are not highly profitable, they are often some of the only ways in which women who are a part of marginalized groups in society can enter the workforce. This is an important step toward economic empowerment for women who spent most of their lives performing unpaid work within their families. According to members of AFFA and COPITADAL, this kind of economic autonomy is important for enacting social change because it allows marginalized women and families to redefine what is acceptable and possible for women in society (Ajraoui 2015). Undoubtedly, this model can be applied to many other countries in the Middle East and North Africa where low-income women face similar socioeconomic and sociopolitical obstacles that keep them from entering the workplace.

Ajraoui, Nadia. 2015. Personal communication with the author.
Brand, Laurie A. 1998. Women, the State, and Political Liberalization: Middle Eastern and North African Experiences. New York: Columbia University Press.
Koubia, Zohra. 2015. Personal communication with the author.
Shalaby, Marwa. 2016. “Deconstruction of Women’s Empowerment in the Middle East and North Africa.” Unpublished manuscript.
Cecilia Garza is a senior at Brown University majoring in development studies and an intern for the Baker Institute Women’s Rights in the Middle East program

Sahara Spirit Foundation: Time to Create the Rain 
MENAFN - Morocco World News - 08/08/2016

The Sahara Spirit Foundation, who's headquarters are based in Laayoune city, Morocco, believes that the preeminent manner to unlock human potential is through the power of creative fraternization.
The foundation broadly indulges people through empathising with their sufferings, hardships and loads. Through its main causes which are namely education, health and human rights, the Sahara Spirit Foundation gained trust and managed to push individuals for the sake of rejoicing with a brighter and better life.

Regardless of where the Sahara Spirit Foundation (SSF) members land their feet, they try their best to place a goal in front of their eyes and set out to achieve it, whether this goal is to improve awareness of global health, defend human rights, raise issues of women's persecution or create economic growth.

SSF is a global initiative headed by both of its founders, the Chairman Kherr Yahdih and Mohamed Dekkak, the Executive President of the Foundation. These two figures are inductively convening individuals who possess power to act positively by tracing a powerful impact on people's hearts through the implementation of important projects which work in favor for the people in need. These aforementioned purposes come along with helping members to bind, team up, and make effective and measurable adherence to action.

SSF has an overall aim to be achieved, amongst many others, the first of which is to provide an equality of opportunities to all students whom are living in Morocco and ensuring a socially just education that does not leave any student behind. They must also consider them all as equal individuals, without forgetting the fact that they all have different learning needs that should be taken into account. Moreover, the Foundation aims to leap forward on education in Morocco with a method emulator to the next century. Thismethod encourages people to embrace a successful methodology of education, similar to that of Japan and Singapore and taking into consideration macro-details that we as Moroccans could adopt.

With this mixed-methods approach, the SSFaims to make students more active, creative and participative in the overall development of the Moroccan society by providing them with an equality of opportunities in order to reflect on their lives and the lives of other individuals in the society they live in. This foundation will provide students with critical insights into how one's society could be improved by including all of the members of the Sahara society in the achievement of these goals.
For further information, you can visit the foundation's website:

175,000 lose their jobs due to drought in Morocco
August 8, 2016

As many as 175,000 people have lost their jobs in the farming sector this year due to the severe drought which has led to a four per cent decline in the sector’s operating capacity, the Moroccan planning authority said. In a report released on Friday the authority said 21,000 jobs had been lost in urban areas while a further 154,000 had been lost in rural regions which operate in the farming, forestry and fishing sectors. Agriculture accounts for 14 per cent of the country’s domestic output and is the source of income for about 75 per cent of people in rural areas.

Morocco’s Mosques are ALL Transitioning to Solar Power
September 14th, 2016 by Aisha Abdelhamid Originally published on

With the first phase deadline set for 2019, Morocco has launched an ambitious “Energy Efficiency in Mosques” program aiming to provide solar power for all the mosques in the kingdom.
By switching to energy-saving LED lighting, solar water heating, and rooftop solar PV electricity generation, significant savings are anticipated for the Moroccan Ministry of Religious Affairs, the agency responsible for paying the mosques’ energy bills.

Launching a “Green Mosques” Program
More than two years in the planning, the Energy Efficiency in Mosques program was announced by Morocco’s Ministry of Energy (MEMEE) and Ministry of Religious Affairs (MHAI). The program, also known as the “Green Mosques” program, is likewise partnering with the national agency for renewable energies and energy efficiency (ADREE) and the state energy investment company (SIE).
The Green Mosques program was designed by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). With a full 99 percent of Morocco’s population registered as Muslim, mosques are very effective launching pads for raising awareness of renewable energy.

In total, there are around 15,000 mosques in the kingdom. “In a first phase,” reports GIZ, “at least 600 mosques across Morocco will be equipped with LED lighting, photovoltaic systems, and solar water heaters.” Offering expert support to government partners, GIZ is assisting in all phases of design and implementation of project activities to be launched in all of Morocco’s mosques.
Morocco Boasts one of the World’s Largest Mosques

After 32 years in the planning, Morocco’s Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca finally opened its doors to worshippers and tourists in 1993. Now an iconic national landmark, the Hassan II Mosque was built in part as a mausoleum to honor King Hassan II’s father, Mohammed V, who passed away in 1961.

Plans to build the mausoleum had not progressed by 1980, and so, during a celebration to honor King Hassan II’s 60th birthday celebration, Hassan II directly requested a new building for Casablanca.
“I wish Casablanca to be endowed with a large, fine building of which it can be proud until the end of time,” stated King Hassan II. “I want to build this mosque on the water,” he added, referring to a verse in the Qur’an, “because God’s throne is on the water. Therefore, the faithful who go there to pray, to praise the creator on firm soil, can contemplate God’s sky and ocean.”

A Solar Project Worth Watching in Morocco: When completed, the Noor-Ouarzazate station will be capable of generating enough electricity for more than a million people
By Brooke Anderson Sept. 13, 2016

The rugged landscape around Ouarzazate, a city in south-central Morocco on the edge of the vast Sahara, is known to some as a filming location for movies such as “Lawrence of Arabia” and television shows like “Game of Thrones.” Now, the sparsely populated area is getting attention for something else: solar power.

The first phase of a $9 billion solar-power project that has been under construction since 2013 opened earlier this year, making use of vast arrays of mirrors, rather than the more widely used photovoltaic panels, to produce electricity from sunlight. When it is finished in 2018, the Noor Solar Power station will cover more than 5,000 acres and have a generating capacity of 580 megawatts, enough to meet the electricity needs of 1.1 million Moroccans, according to the World Bank, which is helping to fund the project. It will be one of the largest solar power plants in the world, rivaling BHE Renewables Solar Star project in Southern California, which claims a capacity of 586 megawatts.

“This makes Morocco a big pioneer in the field of solar energy in the Arab region and the African continent,” says Ali Hajji, a Moroccan solar-energy specialist and engineering professor at IAV Hassan II in Rabat, Morocco. “It could also be a pioneer for many other countries in the world that depend on foreign imports for energy.”

The Noor project is coming online at a time when demand for energy in Morocco is increasing at about 7% a year. The nation, which currently depends on imports for more than 90% of its energy needs, including transportation, expects the solar plant to play a key role in an effort to generate 50% of its power from renewable sources by 2030. The project’s first phase, which launched in February, has a generating capacity of 160 megawatts.

While many other utility-scale solar projects are based on photovoltaic technology, Noor uses concentrated solar power, or CSP, to turn sunlight into electricity. Curved mirrors concentrate the sun’s rays on pipes running down the middle of troughs, heating a synthetic oil inside. The hot fluid boils water, generating steam that turns a turbine to generate electricity. Excess heat from the fluid is then stored in molten salt, making it possible for the plant to continue generating electricity hours after the sun goes down.

Although a relatively minor part of the energy mix today, CSP could account for 11% of the world’s electricity needs by 2050, according to projections by the International Energy Agency.
That said, some experts question the viability of large-scale CSP projects in the wake of price drops for photovoltaic panels—and the batteries that many expect eventually will be used for utility-scale storage. While the average price of a CSP project fell to about 12 cents a kilowatt hour in 2015 from around 21 cents in 2010, according to a U.S. Energy Department estimate, the average price of a utility-scale photovoltaic project declined to about 10 cents a kilowatt hour in 2015 from 21 cents in 2010.

“CSP electricity is still relatively expensive compared with PV, whose price has dropped by more than half since 2008,” says John Farrell, director of the energy democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self Reliance, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit devoted to promoting environmentally sound community development.

Supporters counter that CSP’s ability to make energy when the sun isn’t shining is a big advantage that ultimately gives it a cost edge.“How the future plays out between CSP with storage and cost reductions for electric batteries is one of the more interesting unknowns related to which technologies will provide the best balance of flexibility and costs in future sustainable electricity systems,” says Michael Taylor, a senior analyst at the International Renewable Energy Agency based in Abu Dhabi.

Regardless of the solar technology used, energy experts see the Middle East/North Africa region as an important frontier for utility-scale solar projects like Noor. The area is blessed with abundant sunlight, and improvements in solar-power technology and steadily falling prices have made it more economically feasible to exploit solar for power generation in the region.

In addition to solar plants already operating in places like Abu Dhabi and oil-rich Saudi Arabia, there are even more ambitious projects in the works, including the proposed Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai, which aims to provide 1,000 megawatts of power initially and as much as 3,000 megawatts upon completion.

“The last few years have seen a realization of just how competitive solar technologies can be,” Mr. Taylor says. The potential for the Middle East/North Africa region, he adds, “is enormous.”
Morocco, because it lacks the deep pockets of some of its oil-rich neighbors, relied on a coordinated financing arrangement to help pay for the Noor project. A government agency set up to manage and gather financing pulled together a group of international institutions, including the World Bank and the European Union, as well as German and Saudi companies. In addition, the agency took about a 25% ownership stake in the project.

“It’s remarkable they’ve been able to make it happen within the time and budget,” says Katharina Böhme, energy project manager with KfW, a German investment bank that provided loans for the Noor project.
Ms. Anderson is a writer in Beirut. She can be reached at

NNajat Vallaud-Belkacem: A shepherd girl in Morocco to first woman education minister of France; here’s her story: Najat Vallaud-Belkacem was born in a village of Bni Cheker, a Moroccan countryside, as the second child among seven siblings.
Published: September 6, 2016

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem was first inducted in the French Cabinet as the Minister for Women Affairs in 2012. Since then she has made a mark for herself by taking up issues concerning people. (Source: Linkedin)

If you don’t dream, you don’t live. If you dream, you win the world. From being an outlander to becoming the first woman education minister of France, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem has proved these words right. Belkacem was born in a village of Bni Cheker, a Moroccan countryside, as the second child among seven siblings. She spent her earlier years in rural areas of the Rif mountain ranges in northern Morocco but moved to France as a four-year-old with her mother and sister to join her father who was a construction worker in the country.

Being an immigrant, interest in politics was natural for Belkacem. However, no one but only Belkacem would have dreamt of becoming a minister one day. Belkacem had a smooth journey through school and in later years she received a scholarship to study politics at the Paris Institute of Political Studies and graduated in 2002 as 26-year-old. In the same year, she also embarked on her political journey by becoming a member of the Socialist Party.

She married to civil servant Boris Vallaud in 2005 after courting in the university. She also gave birth to a set of twins – a boy and a girl.

Belkacem was first inducted in the French Cabinet as the Minister for Women Affairs in 2012. Since then she has made a mark for herself by taking up issues concerning people, and something that is not considered mainstream in the French politics. As a woman affairs minister, she supported the legislation of gay marriage and gender ideology even as she was criticised by many, according to the After becoming the education minister, Belkacem, who calls herself a non-practising Muslim, made headlines by opposing ‘burkini’ bans in France, calling it “a threat to individuals’ freedoms.”

She was quoted as saying to a radio channel that she was opposed to both –from someone being forced to wear burkinis as well as the bans on the swimwear. Belkacem, however, continues to be attacked in the country for being an immigrant. Sometimes she has also been accused of “flaunting her charms.”. In a recent interview to French paper Le Monde, Belkacem said she was fortunate to have found an opportunity to study despite being born in a village that had no electricity. And herein lies an inspiration for all of us.

Why 2016 is a big year for Morocco's startup culture
By Kelli Rogers @kellierin06 September 2016

Oussayd Bouayad balances his computer on his lap while lounging on a well-worn couch. The telltale long tables and mismatched chairs of a coworking space litter the room. The building, located in an alley near Rabat’s rambling medina, is the headquarters of the Moroccan Center for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship, a 4-year-old nonprofit that’s assigned itself the overwhelming task of “finding entrepreneurial and innovative solutions to every social challenge in Morocco.”

On the MCISE COO’s computer screen are the inner workings of what will be Morocco’s first pre-sale crowdfunding platform, he told Devex.

The platform — named Wuluj, or “access”— will act much like an e-commerce site. Pre-orders allow consumers to guarantee immediate shipment on release, manufacturers can gauge how large initial production runs should be, and sellers can be assured of minimum sales. This should help jump-start an online market for Moroccan startups such as Marginol, which produces soaps using the castoffs from olive oil production, Bouayad explained.

Entrepreneurs in the U.S., for example, have successfully turned to crowdfunding for low-cost, risk-tolerant capital to help them bridge the gap between microfinance and commercial lending. But regular crowdfunding, or the practice of funding a venture by raising monetary contributions from a large number of people, is currently illegal in Morocco. Legislation to create a legal loophole that would allow crowdfunding platforms to request to legalize operations was prepared, but hasn’t been introduced to parliament. Now, it isn’t expected to make headway before parliamentary elections in October, explained Eric Asmar, the director of programs at MCISE.

Wuluj sidesteps this problem by attaching crowdfunding with e-commerce, which is legal in the country. But if Bouayad’s optimistic pitch of Wuluj captures entrepreneurship’s potential, then this stalled — and potentially failed — legislation is representative of the slow, frustrating progress of most serious entrepreneurs and investors in Morocco.

Entrepreneurship — and the policy, cultural shift, funding and skill sets and that will allow it to thrive — is still at its beginning stages in the country. Enabling legislation is close to nonexistent and “professional pitchers” — those who pitch ideas, win prize money, then don’t deliver — remain rampant. But in a nation strapped with a 20 percent youth unemployment rate, several groups are determined that entrepreneurship will be the path to greater social capital and job creation. And this, they tell Devex, is an important year.
A burgeoning culture

For MCISE, progress means forging ahead by supporting 15 startups — initiatives ranging from telemedicine to recycling — as well as launching their pre-sale crowdfunding application in September, if they get the payment system up and running. Already, the group has received nearly 50 applications from startups interested in selling their products on the site. They’ve shortlisted 22 by selecting innovative, impact-driven products or services that already have a functioning prototype.

Leyth Zniber, co-founder of Moroccan incubator Impact Lab, thinks it’s likely too soon to be having the crowdfunding conversation. The entrepreneur doesn’t think funding is the biggest barrier to entrepreneurial success in Morocco right now, he told Devex, rattling off a list of funds and loans available to small startups.

Zniber founded Casablanca-based incubator Impact Lab in 2014, then partnered with Paris-based accelerator NUMA when they expanded operations to Morocco in 2015. “Getting $100,000, $200,000, $500,000 is hard, but the initial $10,000 isn’t the problem,” he told Devex. “I think the biggest thing we lack is skills and expertise.”

An entrepreneur will quickly be discouraged by the lack of options for a local external accountant or lawyer, for example, or put off by outrageous prices if he or she finds one, he said. But more broadly, the culture — both of investing in long-term projects and of investing time in a new idea — isn’t present yet in Morocco. “There is no glory in being an entrepreneur,” Zniber said. “If you are an ‘A player,’ you still want to go work for an ‘A’ company.” That company, he said, is still in the traditional private sector.

The small wave of cool that has struck the entrepreneurship scene is shaky, with “professional pitchers,” as Zniber calls those who only pitch for prize money then fail to devote the time necessary to establish a successful business, souring the reputation of others.

Take a look online — or even a walk down the street in Morocco’s quiet capital or it’s shinier big brother Casablanca — and you can’t help but see names of the myriad incubators, and handful of accelerators, already present. The number of technology hubs across Africa has ballooned from 117 to 314 just in the past year, according to comparisons of World Bank data collected in 2015 and numbers recorded by global telecoms body GSMA this year. More than half of the hubs are concentrated in only five countries: South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and Morocco.

It portrays the idea that Morocco’s startup scene is booming. In reality, the same entrepreneurs are working with multiple incubators — and very few are leaving incubation stage, Nawfal Fassi-Fihri, managing director of Endeavor, told Devex. “There aren’t enough entrepreneurs to go around,” he added.

Endeavor — which chooses just two to three entrepreneurs a year to provide mentoring, access to key networks and introductions to sophisticated investors who bring not only money, but also knowledge — classifies startups into different categories based on indicators such as clear revenue models, growth trajectory, estimated jobs created and brand potential.

“You can see we don’t have any ‘diamonds’ yet,” he told Devex, referencing the six entrepreneurs they’re currently working with. Diamonds, according to Endeavor, are “tech-savvy dreamers who start innovative and disruptive tech companies that create a brand new way of solving problems.” “We hope to get there,” Fassi-Fihri added.

Funding future
Many in the Moroccan entrepreneurship space are quick to lament the lack of angel investors, affluent individuals who provide capital for a startup company. The dearth of private investors is in part due to cultural barriers — “of always wanting to screw someone out of a deal,” Zniber quipped — but it can also be traced to lack of legislation that would make it more attractive for investors to invest in Morocco.

A simple legal and tax system, like Germany’s 20 percent tax-free subsidy on investments in a young, innovative company, or Spain’s program to support the development of angel networks, could help stimulate this effort. The Caisse Centrale de Garantie, a Moroccan financial institution that aids in the financing of small and medium-sized enterprises, does guarantee loans for entrepreneurs up to 70 percent and 100 percent for nonprofit organizations, providing small honor loans to networks supporting entrepreneurs such as Réseau Entreprendre Maroc.

“This isn’t the future,” Zniber said of the loans, which might set up an individual for success but likely won’t produce the “diamonds” — to borrow from Endeavor’s language — the country needs to disrupt a sector and create jobs.

A new World Bank fund could help. It’s expected to provide $50 million of funding for entrepreneurs, $20 million in technical support in early stage capital and $30 million of seed money and will be managed by Caisse Centrale de Garantie.

It could help weed out incubators operating in name rather than function by setting certain standards of operation to qualify, as well as create a support ecosystem for the types of startups Endeavor is on the hunt for. But it could also hurt — especially if money is handed to mediocre startups not ready for a funding boost. After the initial consultative process, the World Bank has been silent on updates on the fund, both Asmar and Zniber told Devex. The World Bank declined to comment about the fund.

Running out of time?
The private sector will also play a key role in establishing the solid Moroccan startup culture of the future. “If you’re a startup in Morocco, 99.9 percent of companies will not work with you,” Zniber said. “You don’t have a track record of three years, you can’t show assets and liabilities … profit and loss, you cannot prove you are viable in the long run.”

Zniber cited the Boston Consulting Group’s “The Most Innovative Companies of 2015” report, where 79 percent of respondents ranked innovation as either the top-most priority or a top-three priority at their company. By contrast, in Morocco, there are “maybe four or five big companies starting to think about innovation,” Zniber said “And having a Facebook page is considered ‘innovation.’”
Impact Lab is currently working with RATP Dev, the parent company of Casablanca’s tramway system, on an open-innovation program around mobility and interoperability of transport systems. This project is an example of tackling barriers to entrepreneurship such as access to corporate experts and data, as well as access to markets for market-driven solutions, Zniber said.
And now is as good a time as any to make things happen since by Zniber’s estimation, they’re running short on time.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI voiced his support for entrepreneurship at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, an annual event organized by the U.S. government that promotes entrepreneurship, in Marrakech in 2014. The energy the king injects in an initiative usually “lasts two or three years,” Zniber told Devex. “We are at the end of the second year,” he said. “We have one more year to make things happen.”

So will crowdfunding be part of it? Zniber noted that the strategy targets a population rich enough to pre-buy something, which gets back to cultural readiness: “We look fancy,” he said of Casablanca’s buildings and highways. “But we are a poor country.”

The notion of expertise exchange, though, is growing richer and quickly changing the economy. If a marketing expert has an idea for an app, for example, he or she might take that to a tech savvy individual. One will build the platform, the other will help get the word out.

This is just what MCISE’s Bouayad plans to capitalize on to support startups who wish to sell on Wuluj. “The ecosystem is not mature enough, so we have to provide a lot of support,” he said of the startups pitching their products for sale.

Already he’s discussing partnerships with local communications and video production organizations that will help companies create product pitches and videos for a launch on Wuluj. They’ll take the risk with the product holders and receive payment through commission if the company’s Wuluj campaign is successful. “I said it’s up to them, but most want to take the risk,” Bouayad said.
Morocco, he said, is ready for crowdfunding.

Elder Generation Should Allow Moroccan Youth to Choose Their Future
By Morocco World News -  September 9, 2016 , By Ghizlane Akourim Rabat

I was taught that I should not question adults; they have got the experience that I do not.

I was taught that kids who bow their heads, listen all the time and obey their elders are polite.

I heard my family making plans for all their children to study a certain major, work in a specific job and marry at a certain age.

From my experience, I’ve learned that elders basically draw your future without taking in consideration what you want to do! Then, they complain about how you become lazy when time passes by. Well, haven’t they taught you to wait till you grow up, to give up on your crazy dreams and follow safe plans?

What about the youth’s true potential? What about the lives they want to live and the kind of person they want to be?

I have been underestimated thousands of times. I have had adults tell me that organizing a workshop is too much for me to handle, that I am not old enough to manage a big project. Some even told me not to spend my time doing those kind of things because they won’t make much of a difference anyway.

But you know what? I have reached a level where I do not care about what the society has planned for me; I do not care if I am viewed as a powerless individual; I do not care if I and others my age do not have enough opportunity to grow.

I promise those things won’t last forever!  They [who?] should feel the ambition in those college students; they should feel the fire I have inside me. I believe in a bright future. We will build with our efforts and will not give up because we CAN make a difference, no matter how small it will be. We will work hard until we earn the respect our elders refused to give us every time we try to step forward.

It had to start somewhere, right?

Two years ago, I found an announcement about a workshop. The organization had no age restriction, so I updated my CV, wrote a letter of motivation for the first time and applied. Guess what? I got accepted!  I invested my spring break to learn things that do not get taught at school. I discovered so much about human rights, freedom of expression and artistic expression.
Three months later, I was back to Racines as a volunteer working on projects that helped raise awareness in my community. Again, a sixteen-year-old worked with people having master degrees, PhD’s and years and years of experience, yet, my voice mattered to them!

After my internship at Racines, I flew to the United States. I was a youth ambassador for my country, Morocco. I spent ten months in a foreign country teaching people about my culture, giving cultural presentations, destroying stereotypes about Muslims, and doing more than 250 volunteer hours. All that in addition to my normal life of taking classes, improving my English, creating and organizing meetings and activities for my cultural club, Tiger Explorers, and being a part of the color guard and tennis teams.

I was peer tutoring third graders in an elementary school in the U.S. I was fascinated by how teachers and the whole school system treated their students, calling them young adults, addressing them as important people and giving them importance.

Once in high school, those students become sport managers, students counselors, volunteers, president of clubs and small organizations, and organize events for their school and community.
When you value the youth from a young age, you are building confident leaders, change makers and a stronger community!

One month ago, I found myself in the Swiss mountains with wonderful people starting my NOW journey.

I was one the youngest participants, but it did not matter to them. We worked and learned from each other the entire. Even if we were diverse in many ways, we were there for the same purpose: build a better world NOW!

I was empowered not only by facilitators, but also by other participants. I fell in love with this culture of sharing and multiplying knowledge and experiences between the youth.
When sharing becomes a passion: I love my country, Morocco but I am saddened by the way adults underestimate young people, and the way society wants to control everything.

Not all of the youth are ignorant, not all of the youth are a source of problems and not all of the youth are negligent! There is no such thing as a right or wrong age to create positive growth. It is all about believing in yourself, your strengths and abilities, and doing what has to be done.

The youth care about what is going on; they are worried about the future, too. If you can’t empower them, then by all means just set them free. Let the youth go out there, fight for what they love and learn from life! You will be surprised by how their contributions can make an impact!

I want more youth to feel that they have the power to create a change. I want them to know how important they truly are, and how they are more than able of creating miracles to change the world. Their voices matter not just in the future, but in the present as well.

I decided to create “Youth Stepping Forward,” a program that empowers, motivates and inspires the youth to take action in their local communities and spread awareness about age discrimination. In YSF, we believe that the youth have the potential to make a change and that big achievements have no age.
Edited by Natalie Yazhary

The Future of Morocco’s Informal Economy
By   Kaylee Steck August 27, 2016

A large informal sector in Morocco significantly contributes to the economy without receiving necessary support in return. Following the success of government spending in post-war Europe, the Arab world adopted a state-driven model of economic development. Morocco implemented this model in the 1960s and 1970s, pursuing expensive projects in industry, infrastructure and social services.
By 1983, Morocco’s debt equaled 85% of its gross domestic product (GDP) and its government faced severe budget deficits. In response, Morocco subscribed to the structural adjustment programs of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These programs pushed a free-market strategy that marginalized populations dependent on public sector employment and services. Morocco’s experience resembles those of other countries in the Arab world.

In subsequent decades, governments in the Middle East and North Africa attempted to redress the negative outcomes of structural adjustment. They promoted decentralization as a solution to the problems of powerlessness and inequality. This policy reinforced the efficient provision of services and encouraged the participation of citizens in managing local affairs. In Morocco and elsewhere, ostensible local participation became a way to attract foreign donors who encouraged democracy and pluralism. However, participation does not always result in productive exchanges between citizens and governing institutions.

Despite significant barriers to broad inclusion, decentralization has resulted in the proliferation of local development organizations in Morocco. There has also been much public-private collaboration to improve access to social and financial services. Still, many programs make formal market inclusion a requisite condition for accessing these services. Thus, the most disadvantaged populations do not reap any benefits.

For example, participation in a government program that subsidizes store appliances requires registration in the National Fund for Social Security. Participants must also pay a fee of 5,000 Moroccan dirhams ($515). These administrative demands immediately disqualify shopkeepers who cannot support the costs of formality. Similar barriers deter participation in other programs that provide managerial and financial assistance for small enterprises. As a result, many people turn to informal sources of support in order to launch and maintain their businesses.

Informality in Morocco
The growth of the informal sector in Morocco followed the neoliberal reforms of the 1980s. The reduction in government jobs and arrival of rural populations led many urban dwellers to engage in informal commercial activities. Today, the volatile nature of the informal sector discourages governments from investing in comprehensive regulation schemes.

Moreover, the informal sector is a major employer and income generator in the Arab world. Heavy-handed efforts to regulate the informal sector could have deleterious effects on local livelihoods and result in political unrest. This was the case in Tunisia following the self-immolation of Mohammed al-Bouazizi, a street vendor.

In Morocco, the urban informal sector makes up more than 15% of the GDP. The examples of informality are numerous: street vendors throng weekly markets; smugglers transport goods into northern cities; neighborhood grocers extend lines of credit to their clients. Informality cultivates a shadow economy that buoys up people in precarious financial situations through flexibility and negotiation. However, it does not solve the problems of marginalization or illegal business practices.

Ultimately, informality reflects a wider trend of prioritizing market integration over the equitable provision of services in the Arab world. As countries in the Middle East and North Africa experience climate change, migration and political conflict, their economies will transform. It remains unknown whether the informal sector will withstand these shocks or implode under the pressure of exclusionary development policies

How Powerful Is Morocco?

Morocco has doubled its GDP in the past decade and has the fifth largest economy in Africa. So how powerful is Morocco? Learn More: BBC: Morocco ...

Morocco, New Destination for Ecotourism
By Asmae Habchaoui - August 12, 2016 Rabat

Ecotourism is front and center in Morocco’s strategy for new tourist attractions.  As the fear of terrorism, international competition, and other challenges have hindered development of the tourism sector, finding a broader strategy for tourism is now essential.

The efforts the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism has made in recent years to market Morocco as a prime destination for ecotourism are getting the world’s attention. The development of ecotourism in Morocco is a hot topic as the city of Marrakech gears up to host the COP 22 summit in November, as reported on  French TV channel TF1 on Tuesday.

The report highlighted Berber Farm, an environmentally-friendly hotel located 15 minutes away from downtown Marrakesh. With its organic vegetable garden, farm animals and pool, the hotel offers both tranquility and entertainment.

A French family from Toulouse staying at the hotel were interviewed in the report and found Berber Farm the best of both worlds. “I had seen them before in a picture or a movie or something like that, but in real life it’s not the same thing,” says the teenage son as pets a donkey with a curious smile on his face.  Customers pick the vegetables and fruits that are used to prepare their meals themselves from the organic garden.

In embarking on a strategy of ecotourism, the Moroccan government has signed a charter to encourage professionals to develop new practices that are environmentally friendly and sustainable. For instance, waste water is now used for the maintenance of 12 golf courses throughout Marrakech.

The Moroccan government has also implemented a ranking system specifically for green hotels. Berber Farm received a “Green Key” ranking, which to requires to follow strict guidelines.
“We are super proud to say that we sort waste, make our own compost, and use a drip irrigation system; we must respect water and people love that,” explains Majd, the co-director of Berber Farm.
Sustainability at the forefront of Morocco’s 2020 Vision

Sustainability is at the forefront of Morocco’s tourism strategy.  Sustainable tourism is vital because the sector represents about 12% of the country’s GDP. Such efforts are part of Morocco’s new policy to encourage sustainable development and achieve its Vision 2020 Tourism Strategy. Through this strategy, the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism aims to make Morocco’s tourism industry more competitive, increase Morocco’s bed capacity to 372,300, attract 20 million tourists by 2020, and make Morocco one of the world’s top tourist destinations.

The protection of the environment and the promotion of an ecofriendly tourism lies at the front of the 2020 Vision Tourism Strategy, as Morocco seeks to become one of the main destination for sustainable tourism (or ecotourism) in the Mediterranean.

State Department Spending $396,000 for Climate Change Competition in Morocco: ‘Inclusive’ contest will award funding for green energy ideas in North Africa
BY: Elizabeth Harrington August 11, 2016 4:25 pm

The State Department is spending almost $400,000 for a climate change competition in Morocco. The agency said it is “aggressively” fighting climate change and is seeking to influence green energy policy in the North African country.“Morocco and the U.S. share a strong commitment to combatting climate change which they are tackling aggressively at the international, national, and local levels,” according to a grant announcement. “The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Energy Resources (ENR) seeks to highlight this shared commitment by driving policy and commercial innovation through a Green Growth Climate Challenge.”

The agency is looking for universities, organizations, or nonprofits to host a competition for ideas how to “mitigate the impacts of climate change through the use of clean energy and energy efficient technology.”“The energy industry is undergoing rapid transformation, offering countries the opportunity to accelerate clean energy deployment, from solar and wind to energy efficiency, through innovative policies and business models,” the State Department said. “Local innovation is a critical component in the fight against climate change, fueling creative approaches to climate change mitigation and resiliency.”

The contest will help Morocco break down barriers so they can adopt more liberal environmental policies.“The proposed competition will assist Morocco in breaking down barriers between government, academia, and the private sector to encourage the formulation of strong, climate friendly public policies, foster local clean energy economies, and support Morocco’s renewable energy goals,” the State Department said.

The competition, which costs $396,000, will award funding to a winner to implement green energy ideas. The contest will also be “inclusive.”“The proposed challenge should aim to promote inclusive approaches that improve local governance and business practices, while also expanding economic opportunities for youth and women,” the State Department said

The new voice of Moroccan resistance music
By Tom Bouchier Hayes and Thomas Page, for CNN  August 18, 2016

Story highlights
•             Rai music originated in early twentieth century Algeria
•             It broke away from classical Algerian music by employing drum beats and flutes
•             Moroccon musician Douzi takes CNN on a tour of his hometown and its musical origins

What happens when you combine Spanish, French, African and Arabic music? Bedouin shepherds frequenting the Algerian port of Oran first dived into this mixing bowl in the early twentieth century. What they surfaced with was Rai.

At its core Rai music was counter-cultural, tackling issues like social injustice and colonialism. It broke with the traditions of classical Algerian music by combining drum beats and flutes and the sound soon spread to neighboring countries like Morocco. "Rai used to talk about social issues that on a political level it was impossible to talk about... immigration, humiliation, [it] is full of all those subjects," explains Mohamed Amara, director of Oujda Arts and director of the International Festival of Oujda.

Harnessing this pan-cultural sound decades later is one of North Africa's biggest stars, Moroccan artist Douzi. With millions of fans following his every move on Facebook or Instagram, Douzi is an instantly recognizable figure back in his hometown of Oujda -- so much so that a police escort and a small army of helpers is required when giving CNN a tour.

How Morocco's natural beauty inspires music
Douzi shows us the city's old walls, Medina and artisans frequenting Oujda's squares. He also seeks out "Chouikh", his fellow musicians. "They are the leaders of the countryside music," he explains. "Their music is considered one of the oldest from the eastern part of Morocco.""The most important thing in the music is the subjects that they were talking about," he says. "Love, divorce... everything about our society and that people experience on a daily basis."

African folk music goes mainstream
Douzi guides us through ancient caves and leads us to a UNESCO World Heritage site where some of the oldest human remains were discovered. "This area has special weather and a place in my heart, because I love nature and the environment," he says. "In this area it is 100 percent quiet... We are far away from the headache of the traffic in the city. There is no place better than this where you can come [to] work and search for some creativity."

It's out of the city where Rai music maintains its roots; untainted by popular culture and maintaining its charm. Douzi suggests it's perhaps best it stays that way. "[Artists here] see their music as a heritage that was given from father to son, and for them it is a job and source of living," he explains. "For us [city dwellers] we always want the big thing, we want to be well known."
Local dignitaries say Oujda's cultural currency is on the rise, and part of that is down to its most famous son. For all the publicity and the progress, the adaptation of Rai and the adulation Douzi receives, he knows where he belongs.

"When I come back to Morocco I feel so good, because there is no place like home," he says. "I have traveled all over the world, but my soul rests in Oujda."

90 Day Fiancé: 21-Year-Old Single Mom Travels to Morocco After Meeting a Man Through a Man Through a Messenger App
By Natalie Stone @natalie_j_stone 08/11/2016
TLC is documenting the challenge once again!

In an exclusive sneak peek at the new season of 90 Day Fiancé, the network follows five American-born suitors and their journey to find love with their foreign lovers who use a special "fiancé" visa.

Season 4 will feature five engaged couples who have 90 days to meet the family, book a venue and say "I do" before their foreign-born partners are forced to return to their home countries.

In the clip, 21-year-old single mom Nicole travels to Morocco to meet her 23-year-old beau, Azan, for the first time. "I'm going to Morocco to meet him. Where is Morocco?" Nicole, who has a 20-month-old daughter and has never traveled outside of the United States, says in the clip.

The video also follows 36-year-old Pennsylvania resident Narkyia, who met her 28-year-old fiancé, Olulowo, on a Facebook group called "Beautiful Big Women.""I was catfished by my own fiancé," Narkyia says of Nigerian native Olulowo, who tried catfishing her by pretending to live in Alabama but actually lives in Vietnam. "But I want to marry him anyway."

Season 4 of 90 Day Fiancé returns to TLC on Sunday, Sept. 11 (9 p.m. ET), followed by the new spinoff series 90 Day Fiancé: Happily Ever After (10 p.m. ET), which will revisit the most memorable couples from previous seasons.

’90 Day Fiance’ Season 4 Ep. 2: Nicole in Morocco, Jorge Still Getting Dissed By Anfisa (VIDEO)

Marrakesh among World’s 23 Best Cities for Street Food
August 11, 2016

Marrakesh is no doubt a global must-see city for its delicacies, glamorous restaurants and culture. U.S network channel CNN has confirmed the reputation, ranking the town among the world’s top 23 cities for street food.

If Asian cities namely Hong Kong, Bangkok, Tokyo, Ho Chi Minh City, and Beijing are renowned for their busy and buzzy streets day and night, Jemaa el-Fna square in Marrakesh becomes a huge open restaurant at dusk, immensely popular with locals as well as with foreign tourists.

CNN African food and travel reporter, Anna Koblanck is one of millions of foreign travelers who do not resist the inviting smells filling the square after creative cooks set up their stalls at sunset.
“Smells of food fill the streets of Moroccan cities, and nowhere is the quality or diversity greater than in Marrakesh,” comments Anna Koblanck who labels Marrakesh as “the street food capital of Morocco, offering everything from camel spleen kebabs to deep-fried sesame cookies.”

“In the evenings, the city gathers among snake charmers and musicians at the Jemaa el-Fnaa square to taste the incredible spread of Moroccan delicacies that are on offer from the street stalls,” she says, adding, “You’ll find everything from freshly squeezed fruit juices to snail soup and sheep heads. It’s a full-on feast for all the senses, and not particularly pricey.”
Though Marrakech stands out as Morocco’s main cuisine destination, Koblanck also talks about the good food tradition and culture in other Moroccan cities where the quality or diversity is not to be ignored.

“My favorite Moroccan street snack is the Meloui, a kind of pancake made of folded pastry that you buy hot off the stove.
“I had one in the market in Fes that was made with a spicy onion-based filling that was simply divine. It’s a very heartwarming bite, a sort of comfort street food. You see these sold everywhere in Morocco, often in the food markets,” she says.

The Jewish Community throughout Moroccan History
By Morocco World News -  August 24, 2016 Aya Soulimani Marrakech

We know that the Jewish community has always been a prominent aspect of Moroccan history but how big of an influence were we on their history.

Since the beginning of time the Jewish community have been dispersed all around the world and a percentage of them made Morocco their home.

Before the founding of Israel in 1948, Morocco had the largest population of Jews in the Muslim world. Even before the conquest of the Idrisids in Morocco in 703, the Jewish community has been a prominent part of Moroccan society. During the Arab conquest of the Idrisids the Jews helped pave the way for the spread of Islam in Moroccan regions. Since Judaism is similar to Islam, the people in the Berber areas found it easier to accept the Muslim message hence causing them to convert either from their pagan beliefs or Judaism itself. Later on in 788, Morocco gained its independence from the caliphate which in turn made the Jews a minority, as a result of this, they were forced to join the army.

When Idris II came to power, he established Fes as the capitol and authorized Jews of all origins to settle there. The city flourished and was filled with Jewish scholars and merchants. Although later many Jews moved to Spain, the Jews in Morocco still flourished even under the reign of the Almoravide. Scholars such as Meir ibn Kamniel and Solomon Ab?ab Mu?allim in Marrakesh, were of Spanish origin; one from Seville and the other from Saragossa. Both were distinguished Torah scholars. It is obvious that the most successful period for the Jewish Moroccan community- from both the spiritual and intellectual point of view- was during the reign of the Idrisids and their successors.

From 1375 the Muslim world of the West clearly entered its period of decline. The Jews of Morocco were more affected by this development because, unlike in Algeria, there was no revival due to the arrival of important Jewish personalities fleeing from the Spanish persecutions of 1391. The Jews who came to Morocco during this period were mainly of average intellect; moreover, just like their native brothers, they encountered the zeal which had been introduced among the Muslim masses by the mediums, who had then founded ‘the Marabout movement’. This movement eroded the authority of the last Merinid sovereigns, and a serious deterioration in the condition of the Jews ensued. In 1438 the Jews of Fez were enclosed within a special quarter, the first Moroccan Mellahs.
The road to Morocco was walked again on a much larger scale in 1492 when Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain declared the Edict of the Expulsion of Jews. The Jewish chroniclers were undisputed in their description of the welcome accorded by the sultan Muhammad al-Shaykh al-Wattassi to the Spanish and Portuguese refugees (megorashim) in 1492 and 1496. Bands of robbers, however, attacked the numerous Jews on the roads to Fez. Once they arrived there, they found a lack of accommodation and camped in the surrounding fields. About 20,000 of them died as a result of disasters, famine and diseases.

The newcomers (megorashim) were generally unwelcomed and treated badly. They were considered outsiders, even alien at times. However, they later on established their dominance and position and made Fez their spiritual capital. For the following 450 years these newcomers separated themselves by worshiping in their own synagogues and following their own rituals. They even had their own language which was a mixture of Hebrew, Spanish and Arabic dialect. The native Jews adopted the newcomer’s way of life.

At the beginning of the 16th century, Portugal occupied some of the Moroccan coast on the shores of the Atlantic. Communities of megorashim had settled in ports such as Azemmour and Safi. Due to their excellence in trade and merchandizing, during the 16th and 17th century, Morocco became the leading producer of the world’s best sugar.

Moroccan Jews excelled in a variety of professions. In certain regions there were farmers and cattle breeders; in general, however, they were mostly craftsmen, small tradesmen, peddlers, and at times moneylenders. Some industries, such as that of beeswax, the trading of rubber and ostrich feathers were exclusively concentrated in the hands of the Jews. For religious reasons, the Muslims surrendered the arts of craftsmanship and trade of precious metals as well as the making of wine and its sale to them.

Until 1912, the majority of the maritime trade was controlled by a closed society of Jewish merchants. Businesses were passed down from father to son, some of them were court bankers or high officials. The reputation they gained led to European countries entrusting them with their interests and they often represented them before the sultan, hence obtaining the title of “merchants of the sultan.”

They had protégés over a large number of products, and held a monopoly over certain ports or took them in lease; however the majority of the Jewish population, suffered from poverty. The droughts which led to famine and the excessive taxes which were temporarily imposed on the communities from the 16th to the middle of the 18th century were the main cause of their poverty. Nevertheless, the misfortunes of one community did not affect the others. It became a common occurrence that while Jews died of hunger in Fez or were persecuted in Meknès, prosperity reigned in the Mellahs of Marrakesh and Jews ruled the town of Debdou.

During the 18th century, following the death of Moulay Ismail, the Jews were impoverished due to the imposed taxation in attempt to westernize Morocco. The Jewish villagers started to move to the urban centers changed the aspect of respectable Mellahs. The tree quarters of well-maintained Mellahs were transformed into slums and Jews started to flee and most sunk into poverty. Slowly the remaining Jews living in interior cities opted for port areas such as Safi and Rabat; furthermore, Marrakesh replaced Fez and Meknès as rabbinical centers. After this financial crisis, the next reigning sultan, Moulay Muhammad b. Abdallah, established security with the assistance of Jewish and Christian financial circles, an era of prosperity unknown in the north of the country reigned there. The community of Safi took over the leading place in the foreign trade of Morocco, while Agadir attained monopoly over the trading with the Sahara. These roles later became the privilege of the community of Essaouira, which was founded in 1764.

The operations of the big Jewish merchants in Morocco began to expand. Sugar production and trade were almost entirely focused in the hands of Jews. Commercial operations reached the ports of the eastern coast of the United States at the end of the 18th century. From the reign of Sidi Muhammad Ben-Abdallah (1757–90) down to the end of the 19th century, it was usually Jews who acted as representatives for the European Powers in Morocco. During the 19th century, they were much more prosperous; with new monarch Moulay Suleiman, violence was looked down upon. Not only that, but with the French Protectorate on 1912, the Jews had more power and monopoly over certain businesses.

Fast forward to the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the German occupation of France in 1940, and the establishment of the Vichy government rendered the Jews of Morocco (Morocco at the time was under France’s rule) powerless. In 1940, Nazi-controlled Vichy government issued decrees excluding Jews from public functions. Morocco was forced to issue these laws under France’s control and the Jews who sought sanctuary in Morocco were forced into labor camps. Morocco was not able to defy these laws until the fall of Vichy France with the help of Charles de Gaulle. After the establishment of Israel, the majority of Moroccan Jews moved there. Nowadays, the Jewish community still has an impact on our modern history as the adviser of our current king, Mohammed VI, is Andre Azoulay.

Democracy in Morocco will require collective effort
Author: Abderrahim ChalfaouatPosted September 14, 2016

Morocco’s upcoming elections are becoming ever-more critical, as signs are emerging of a regression to pre-2011 political and societal conditions.
Summary: Morocco’s deep state is worming its way into pre-election machinations.
Author Abderrahim Chalfaouat Posted September 14, 2016

Continuing both the regional wave of ousting Islamists and the local struggle between public will and loyalty to despotism, a deep state has developed and is using different strategies to tame the ambitions of the government-leading Justice and Development Party (PJD). In addition to supporting the establishment-made Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM), the deep state’s strategies have included creating animosity between the PJD and the Interior Ministry. Yet the situation may culminate in devaluing both the 2011 protests and promises of democracy. Voter turnout could grow without serious political improvement, unless a cross-party anti-despotism bloc forms.

After failing to sow long-standing discord between the government and the monarchy, the deep state has tried to lower the PJD’s public visibility in different ways. The first is by blocking infrastructure projects underway in PJD-managed municipalities. The recurrent justification is to pre-empt early campaigning, notwithstanding the effects on people’s needs.

Second, social aid distribution has been banned. For example, during Ramadan, some elements within the Interior Ministry arranged to prohibit associations from distributing free food baskets. In another, more recent instance, the poor were deprived of sacrificial sheep that civil society customarily distributes for Eid al-Adha, Islam’s holiest holiday. The ministry says it’s trying to keep nongovernmental organizations that are close to the PJD from exploiting the charitable acts in forthcoming elections, but the selective policy led impoverished families to protest.

More significantly, a moral scandal has shaken the Islamists. Two leaders in the Movement for Unification and Reform (MUR), a religious association close to the PJD, were arrested early Aug. 20. The couple was allegedly discovered in a “sexual position” in a car parked on a remote beach area. Moulay Omar Benhammad, who is married, and Fatima Najjar, who is a widow, were accused of infidelity. Socially, their image has been tarnished widely. They have left the MUR national board. Thus, Islamist activism and advocacy were dealt a blow. On the human rights side, in addition to hate speech, details of the event imply privacy infringement, not only in this case, but possibly before.

Two instances cast doubt on the official narrative. To start with, the event was first mentioned on, a PAM-supporting website, a few minutes before MUR froze Benhammad and Najjar’s membership on all boards. In explaining how it got the scoop, the news outlet said one of its journalists was at the scene. This narrative is difficult to believe, given the timely, but accidental, presence of a journalist at 7 a.m. in a remote area — unless he had known in advance about the arrest. More strikingly, he was able to record a video, according to the website’s chief editor, who would not share it. It’s unclear whether the supposed video was shot before or after the police arrived and what obstacles prevent it from being shown.

Furthermore, Benhammad and Najjar, both in their 60s, were arrested by the judicial police, though the rural area is under gendarmerie jurisdiction. Judicial police handle terrorism, drug dealing and similar dangerous affairs. When the public questioned the unusual intervention, the police general administration said in a press release that the police were in the area because they had been chasing a drug dealer — a scenario that led to more skepticism and controversy.

There are several gaps in the narrative: Why wasn’t the affair turned over to the gendarmerie; why were the two culprits taken to Casablanca, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) away, for preliminary interrogation; and what was the outcome of the drug-dealing chase? What adds insult to injury is that the preliminary interrogation records were leaked to the press. The police administration has not denied the unprecedented leak. The event’s developments point to an intentional effort to tarnish political opponents before the elections.

Nevertheless, the two Islamists have received considerable support from democracy advocates, who raised questions about the commingling of telecommunication surveillance with alleged fabrications. They echo similar ordeals they underwent. True, security services have received compliments from King Mohammed VI and head of government Abdelilah Benkirane, especially as the services have helped prevent numerous terrorist attacks. Morocco has even exported security services, such as when King Philippe of Belgium formally requested Morocco’s help. France reached out for Morocco’s intelligence, too. Thus, in a way, Morocco presents itself as a troubleshooting third party in the challenges of integration, homegrown radicalization and migration in Europe.
However, civil society representation is absent. Morocco’s telecommunications regulator, ANRT, lacks a culture of multiple stakeholders. The boundaries between security and privacy blur, especially since the main internet service provider and the leader in phone services in the country, Maroc Telecom, is state-run. Meanwhile, cybersurveillance technology companies mention Morocco as a top client.

Politicians, activists, state opponents and human rights advocates undergo surveillance yet cannot access information about its nature and extent. That is why, when Hicham Mansouri, then an activist in the Investigative Journalism Association, started an investigative report on telecommunications surveillance, he immediately went to prison in 2015 for alleged adultery and infidelity, despite his assertion that police agents fabricated the adultery story. Thus, putting activists in direct conflict with the values of the society they defend not only disgraces them, but discredits their whole advocacy.

Moreover, under a recently passed law, only documents owned by public service administrations can be accessed. Even then, access is barred when information is said to threaten public security or when certain departments are not considered directly related to public service. (For example, in Morocco, police are not considered public servants; however, courts, parliament and local governments are.) At the same time, there’s nothing in the law that says the state has to disclose the amount or type of information it gathers or how it gathers the data.

These pre-election hassles worry observers, not only about the legitimacy of the next elections, but about the democratization process in general. Possibly, forming a cross-party democratic bloc can remind all other stakeholders that the role of state departments and facilities is to serve internal well-being first and that democracy is a pre-requisite for a genuine display of the country’s exceptionalism in the region.
Read more:

Morocco becomes classroom for five UT students
Annie Tieu, Contributor Aug 25, 2016

UT students spent the summer in Morocco as part of an archaeological project surveying the Loukkos River valley, the site of the ancient Roman city Lixus. The project, “Gardens of the Hesperides: The Rural Archaeology of the Loukkos Valley,” is a collaboration between UT and the Institut National des Sciences de l'Archéologie et du Patrimoine, or INSAP. It is co-directed by INSAP Professor Aomar Akerraz and UT Professor Stephen Collins-Elliott.

The goal of the project is to learn about the rural economy of Lixus and how the ancient city interacted with its surrounding region. This summer was the pilot season of what will be a multiyear project and five UT students were involved in the inaugural trip. The first field survey will determine which sites to visit in the future.

The work provided students hands-on experience with field surveying, the process that happens before excavation. They collected pieces of ceramics, which will help them date the area.
“They help us designate the date ranges for the site, and possibly new sites,” David Guffey, senior in anthropology and classics, said. Guffey was one of the five to attend the first field survey.
Emily Gregg, senior in classics, mentioned there was an intense amount of detail orientation and precision involved with the work.

“It’s given me such a respect for archaeologists,” Gregg said. Along with archaeological work, the students got to use other skills.“Learning by necessity instead of learning in a classroom was incredible,” Gregg said. “In that moment, there is no priority but just being able to communicate with another person.” The students also had the opportunity to speak various languages with native speakers.“Getting to work with a Moroccan team, who would switch between Arabic, and then into French, and another person would translate from French into English for us … was incredible to watch,” Gregg said.

Students also learned about Moroccan culture with visits to Tangier, a Moroccan port city.“We’re still experiencing it from an outside perspective,” Gregg said. “But it was entirely different from the tourist experience. You’re getting to see what daily life is like in a more intimate way.”

For some of the students, traveling and living with a different culture was the most significant part of the trip.“Just the experience of getting on a plane, traveling to a different time zone, is something that makes you begin to think of the world in a broader perspective, much less going to a country, staying there for a month, and working in it,” Guffey said.

While there are many opportunities for students to participate in field work studies anywhere in the world, INSAP is one of the most unique.“This is a completely new Moroccan-American project that I started in Morocco this summer,” Collins-Elliott said. “Not every university or every college will have archaeological projects associated with it.“For an archaeological project in North Africa, this is a fairly rare thing just because there aren’t many American archaeologists working in North Africa right now. So, specific to the context and the place, this is a very special opportunity,” Collins-Elliott said.

This story has been modified from its original version, published on August 25, 2016. The original version misspelled Collins-Elliott’s name, did not include that the project is a completely new Moroccan-American archeological project, and implied archaeologists in general are not working in North Africa. It has been changed to correct Collins-Elliott’s name, change the phrase “time-zones” to “date ranges,” include that the project is a completely new Moroccan-American archaeological project, corrected the acronym for the Institut National des Sciences de l'Archéologie et du Patrimonies and specified many American archaeologists do not get the chance to work in Morocco

A lesson in language and culture in Morocco

“It was quite the experience,” Richardson said. “But I would definitely do it again, my language skills increased because of all the exposure to it. It was a good experience.” NSLI-Y’s primary focus is language acquisition. It is the first United States Department of State program to provide scholarships for high school-age Americans to study language while living and engaging with people in Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Persian, Russian and Turkish-speaking countries.

Richardson applied for the scholarship because he takes online Arabic classes through Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth. He was encouraged to study languages by his mother, Mary Ann Tymczyszyn Richardson, who was killed in a motor vehicle accident in January 2015. “She was very smart and thought languages were important,” Richardson’s father, James E. “Bo” Richardson III, said in a previous interview. “She knew that him having a language skill that most people don’t would be beneficial.”

Richardson spent six weeks in Morocco where he stayed with a host family. He said the whole program was based on school, and he had classes six days a week from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Richardson was placed in the intermediate Arabic class with six other students.“There was a lot of studying. We went through a whole text book and there was a lot of vocabulary,” Richardson said. Classes were held at The Center for Language and Culture in Marrakesh. Some of the school days also included extra activities, such as discussions on history and culture or lessons from a calligraphy master.“They have a full-time staff,” Richardson said. “We did a lot of grammar lessons and speaking. The first time I was in a class there, I probably spoke and wrote more than in all of my online classes combined.”

A change in the weather and culture
While North Carolinians complained about highs in the 90s, Richardson said the average temperature in Marrakesh was 105 degrees.“It got up to 115 one day and the house I stayed in with my host family didn’t have air conditioning,” Richardson said. That heat and his picky eating contributed to the 15 pounds he lost throughout the six weeks.“For the first two weeks we were there it was Ramadan. It was completely different than anything I’ve ever experienced,” Richardson said. “They are not allowed to eat or drink during the day, so they sleep during the day and the city comes alive at night.” However, since the students weren’t allowed to sleep in because they had to go to class, Richardson said he only fasted for one day before deciding it wasn’t for him.

Some of sharing traditions of his host family and the area also took some getting used to.“Everyone shares one cup when they are eating with family,” Richardson said. “Collectivism is a big thing there so they like to share a lot. There was even a cup at water fountains to share.” While some of the food wasn’t his favorite he did like the Tagines, which are slow-cooked meat and vegetable dishes made with mutton. He also enjoyed some of the desserts and managed to find a three-story McDonald’s.

Changing misconceptions
Another part of studying in Morocco was learning about Islam.“Morocco is 99 percent Muslim. It’s interesting because I never realized how closely intertwined the language is with Islam itself,” Richardson said. “Everywhere you go people are saying ‘Praise God,’ even when wishing you good luck on a test.” Richardson said he knows a lot of Americans associate Islam with terrorism, but he never encountered an issue during his travels.“I never had any issues being an American in a Muslim country. I never experienced the issues you see on the news,” Richardson said. “And my host family were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”

Wrapping it up and planning for the future
For the last 10 days of the trip, the class changed pace a little and visited the coastal city of Essaouira.“It was a pretty town. Everything was blue and white and kitesurfing is a big thing there,” Richardson said. “And it was so much cooler.” This was also the city where Richardson enjoyed a camel ride along the beach.“It was bizarre. I was surprised at how tall they were,” he said.
Richardson said NSLI-Y also offers a year-long Moroccan program and he would consider applying in the future.

“In the 1900s it was colonized by France, so French is also an official language,” he said. “It was really interesting experiencing what it is like to have two languages at the same time. My language skills really increased. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it.” He plans to keep in touch with his host family and the other students he traveled.

By Hannah Steinkopf-Frank 08/24/16

28-year-old Brooklyn-via-Morocco artist Meriem Bennani is running late. She's in the middle of a Snapchat drawing, an obsession of hers, which consists of the artist taking videos around her adopted city of New York and adding carefully constructed graphics -- most recently animals made out of food emojis. And while Bennani says these snaps aren't at the same level as her formal projects -- the latest of which is her large scale MoMA project, FLY -- like all of her art, the short videos are both cathartic and a way for her to create her own augmented universe.
Read more here:

A Jewish wedding in Morocco
by Batyah Bender

A Jewish Wedding in the Ochre City
Destination weddings are a great way to ensure you have a wedding that is completely you. At a typical wedding, you are often on the run meeting guests and welcoming out of towners but destination weddings are pure vacation time. You arrive a few days early so by the time your weddingday arrives, you've had two to three days of fun and site seeing with family and friends. How often do you have the opportunity to spend no-rush quality playtime with dear, far-flung friends? This is it!

Among the most spectacular destinations, the winner is the congenial sun-soaked Morocco; truly the perfect destination. The scent of rose petals is everywhere and there is this constant feeling that you are part of an Arabian Nights story. This ancient, exotic, mysterious and beautiful country is becoming an increasingly popular choice for couples and is also very hospitable. If you follow my Instagram account you have definitely noticed the vibrant colors I post from the rich and ornate colored buildings and interiors of the stunningly beautiful hotels and riads often and aptly called palaces, to the souks where you can get lost in the sights and sounds that is Morocco. The possibilities for the color palette for a wedding here is endless! No matter what your religious observance, there are many local traditions that you can add to your wedding. The pre-wedding parties are legendary and a wonderful way to embrace the culture. There are hammams and henna painting which are part of a bridal experience and the tradition here adds that special touch which will ensure an unforgettable experience. 

This post is provided by Morocco Quintessentially! Please click here for the full version as well as stunning pictures!

Funky Old Medinas: a slow trip through Morocco's Imperial Cities
Souks, snakes, mosques and a bit of baking. Graeme Green gets to know the 4 Imperial Cities of Morocco (Marrakech, Fez, Meknes and Rabat) on a laidback tour of the country
Issue 169 | August 2016

Ouliya Amurani laughed, as her mother eyed me suspiciously. “My mother thinks this is not your first time,” she explained. She was wrong. Of all the situations I’ve found myself in years of travelling, this was a first: away from the rush and hustle of the souks, in the quiet courtyard of Ouliya’s riad, we were making Moroccan black olive bread.

It turns out, when it comes to kneading dough, I unexpectedly have the skills to pay the bills. “Good,” nodded Ouliya’s mother Layla, as I pummelled and folded the semolina dough.

With little noise beyond the sound of water running in the fountain, the courtyard made a pleasant change from the frenetic pace of Fez’s markets and alleyways. When our dough was ready, we strolled down to the centuries-old communal wood-burning oven where a local man bakes people’s bread for a few dirhams. Our hot Moroccan ‘salads’ were simmering on the stove. A caramel and orange blossom flan was setting in the fridge. Most importantly, our fish tajine - a traditional Moroccan dish - was prepped and slow-cooking in its clay pot.

The essential ingredient in Moroccan cooking isn’t a particular spice, meat or veg, but time. “More time means more flavour,” Ouliya (pictured, above) told me, carrying our warm tray of bread back from the oven. “Tajines take hours to cook. It’s the traditional way: slow. If you cook quickly, afterwards it doesn’t taste so delicious.”

Time is of the essence in Morocco, I quickly learned on an easygoing tour of Morocco’s Imperial Cities, the four cities (Marrakech, Fez, Meknes and Rabat) that have all served as capitals under the seven monarchical dynasties that have ruled the country since the kingdom was first formed and the first capital, Fez, was built in 808. The labyrinthine souks, streets and alleys of the medinas (old cities) are perfect for wandering and, voluntarily and involuntarily, getting lost.

But more than that, I was keen not to rush through, as many travellers do, ticking off the souks and main sights before moving on. Instead, I wanted to take a little longer, get a little deeper under the skin and see behind the scenes of these cities. Ouliya’s huge courtyard, for example, is the kind of thing most travellers not only wouldn’t see, but might not even imagine existed behind the small wooden doors tucked away on the narrow alleyways of Fez.  

I started, though, in the ‘Red City’: Marrakech. “For many years, Marrakech was the capital of the whole empire of Morocco,” local guide Seddik Aassim told me as we explored the quiet outskirts of the medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the early morning. “The city was founded in 1062 and was so important for trade that foreigners started calling the whole country ‘Marrakech’. The Berber word means ‘Land of God’, but the word ‘Marrakech’ got corrupted and mispronounced in English as ‘Morocco’, which gave the country its name.”

We passed caravanserai, buildings that were, in the 16th century, hotels for caravan traders, then stepped inside a crumbly building with a furnace heating the hammam (steam bath) above. A local man (pictured, above) sat inside and, for a few dirhams, sang played a genbri for people, like us, who dropped in, the traditional 3-string instrument passed down from the African slaves brought to Morocco by the caravan traders.

Further on, we stopped in at the 14th century Ben Youssef Medersa (pictured, below), formerly an Islamic school. All you had to do to be a student here: memorize the Koran well enough to recite it from start to finish.

At the edges of Marrakech’s famous souks, we saw craftsmen working with leather, copper and tin. “Many people aren’t adventurous and stick to the souks next to the main square, which is just the bazaar,” Seddik told me. “Maybe they’re scared. But it’s good to see the artisan quarters here where things are made.”

We wound our way through some of the 6,000 stalls selling spices and lamps, carpets and football shirts, leather slippers and live hunting falcons, all the way to the market square of Rahba Lakdima, which was used as a slave market right up until the 1920s.

Over a pot of mint tea in a café overlooking the market, Seddik filled me in on Morocco’s Imperial history. “Morocco’s special for one thing: since the late 8th century, it cut itself off from the Arab Islamic empire which was spreading across North Africa, whose capital was Baghdad, and declared itself independent. Idriss I established Fez as the first capital. For 1200 years, since 788, Morocco’s known itself as an independent country, with it’s own king and it’s own identity. We continue to have a king today, though it’s more democratic. Seven families or dynasties have ruled the country, but it’s still the same monarchy system.”

We made our way across Djemma el-Fna, the largest market square in Africa, careful to avoid stepping on cobras or asps strewn across the ground by snake charmers as we crossed to the 77-metre high minaret of 12th century Koutoubia Mosque, the heart of the city, from which Muslim calls to prayer are sung out each day.

I spent the afternoon exploring alone and got my first taste of being lost in Morocco. “Is this ringing any bells?” I heard an American tourist asking his wife, as I made my way circuitously to the Maison de la Photographie (Photography Museum). “I think we’ve been this way before,” she answered, her voice full of uncertainty.

I wound my way back eventually to Djemma el-Fna, the square previously a site for public executions (it’s name means ‘assembly of the dead’). Incense and smoke from food market grills filled the air, and there was a cacophony of snake charmers’ reedy oboes and thumping drums. Circles gathered to watch street performers, from boxing matches to somersaulting acrobats, and, less, pleasantly, monkeys on chains forced to have their photos taken with tourists who pay a few dirhams.

I headed up to the balcony of Café Glacier and, over more mint tea, took in the massive spectacle from above. A wide open scene filled with thousands of tourists, shoeshine boys, policemen, snake charmers, dancers and market traders, it looked like a ‘Where’s Wally?’ picture come to life.

I saw another side to the city next morning on a philanthropic tour, stopping first at Alnour, a social enterprise in the Lakasour area of the medina, where disadvantaged women (widows, single mothers, disabled…) work as embroiderers. “We’re trying to provide facilities so women can work and be healthy and forget what their hardship is,” assistant manager Saadia Isam told me, as she led me from the main shop to the workroom, where a dozen women sat at sewing machines or hand-stitching garments. “We’re helping women develop skills, to have a more decent living, to be more independent. Morocco’s a very male dependent society.”

There were tears in the workshop, as one of the wheelchair-bound women arrived over an hour late, having been sat by the roadside waiting for a bus that didn’t show up, a sign of the daily problems faced. But mostly here there was a warm, sociable and industrious atmosphere. The project provides more than just jobs. “I’m grateful to the project,” embroiderer Naima Asif, a single woman who looks after her mother and has a paralysed left leg, told me, between stitches. “I’m financially secure, comfortable. I’m also making friends. I feel more active and part of something. Everyone knows everyone here.”

Amal, out in the modern French-built area of Gueliz, outside the walls of the medina, are doing similar work, only this time with food. The association trains vulnerable women, many of them previously living under the poverty line or homeless, in the culinary arts, as chefs or waiting staff, then helps them get jobs in local restaurants and riads. Since opening in November 2013, they’ve helped train 83 women, 76 of which are now employed, with 16 new trainees in place.

Amal’s café is meant to be a training ground; communications manager Oumaima Maijir thanks me for coming to a place where trainees can make mistakes, but I don’t see any. Lunch here is busy with locals and the food is among the best I try in Morocco, including briouats (fried rolls of filo pastry stuffed with cheese and vegetables) and classic Moroccan cous cous, served in a clay pot.
Afterwards, as part of the tour, I go back to the kitchens and sit with volunteer pastry chef Fatima Ezhari as she makes five kilogrammes of dough and mixes almonds, eggs, sugar and orange blossom water for traditional Moroccan pastries Fqas. “It changed my life,” Samira, one of the trainees, helping measure out flour. “The horizon was dark and gloomy. I couldn’t see what I was going to do. I have more chance of getting a job now.”

In no hurry all afternoon, I stroll back to the medina through Marrakech’s modern, and much easier to navigate, French quarter Guéliz, stopping to go to the rooftop of Le Renaissance, the high point in city, for views of Marrakech city and the surrounding Atlas Mountains. Using the minaret if Koutoubia Mosque to guide me back to the medina.

Next morning, I caught the train to Fez (pictured, above). It might be quicker and cheaper to travel by bus or van, but the comfortable 8-hour train’s a more relaxed way to see the countryside, from flat desert scrub to sun-bleached golden grasslands, rising to Mediterranean-esque olive trees and green hills.

Fez was the first Imperial City; it’s been the capital four times, more than any of the other three. The city’s far less visited than Marrakech but provides a more authentic picture of traditional ‘old city’ life. “Here in Fez’s medina, 90 per cent of activity is related to daily life, not tourism. It’s a living working city,” guide Abdul Khalif told me as we set off from Bab Boujloud (the Blue Gate) on a Foodie Tour.

No motor vehicles are allowed inside the old medina, only mules, donkeys and carts, the city described to me by one of my guides in Marrakech as like a “living fossil.” And in terms of navigable streets, it makes Marrakech look like Milton Keynes. “There are more than 9600 small streets and alleyways in the Old City alone. It’s easy to get lost,” Abdul laughed.

On the medina’s busy Rue Talaa Kebira, we checked out stalls selling sticky honey-and-flour pastries chebakia, dates, nuts and olives. Stalls are laid out with sharks, stingrays and sheep’s heads, a local delicacy. I spotted a young girl pinch a couple of almonds as the stall owner, an old bearded man in traditional jellaba (robes) and tarbouche (hat), turned his back to grind her family’s spice order. Catching my eye, she gave me a cheeky grin.

Further along, a camel also caught my eye; he looked like he was smiling, too, which was unlikely, as it’s head was cleanly severed from it’s body and hanging on a hook outside a butcher’s shop

“Fez is considered not only the religious and spiritual capital of Morocco, but the capital of Moroccan cuisine,” Khalif told me. “Morocco’s food is so diverse, in the sense that Moroccan culture is diverse. You have indigenous Berber, Arabic, French... The country’s been subject to several occupations: the Romans, Venetians… There are influences from southern Spain, from the descendants of slaves from Sub-Saharan Africa, from the Jewish community who’ve been in Morocco for over 2000 years. It’s a blend of all these cultures.”

Deeper into the souks, I spotted my first red Fez on the head of a local man. We passed the doorways to the Mosque Al Qaraouiyine, reportedly the oldest university in the world, built in 859AD, and I poked my head inside (non-Muslims aren’t allowed to enter) the ornate ninth century Mausoleum of Idriss I.

In the afternoon, I was happy to take a break from the souks. I followed the flow of human traffic out of the Blue Gate, then wandered where my eye and the moment took me, passing through a peaceful park lined with orange trees. Later, I stumbled upon the striking Royal Palace and circled the walls of the city, entering the medina again as daylight faded and swarms of swallows swirled around the city walls.

I was back in the markets next morning, meeting Ouliya Amurani to shop for vegetables, marlin for our fish tajine and sardines to stuff (another Fez speciality), olives... “It takes time, but I prefer to go every day to the market, so the food is always fresh,” Ouliya explained. If I say so myself, the food we (mainly Ouliya and her mother) prepared at her riad was hearty and incredibly tasty. “Well, of course I think Moroccan food is the best in the world,” Ouliya nodded.

I arrived into Meknes next morning, just an hour’s drive away. The city was the capital just once, but the ambitious, tyrannical Sultan Moulay Ismail made good use of his 55-year reign. “He built the wall, mosques, madrassas, markets…,” local guide Rhodubenane Ahmed, who goes by Benny, told me as we explored. “They call Meknes the ‘Versailles of Morocco’.”

The city’s markets are far more laidback than in Marrakech and Fez, largely indifferent to outsiders. Few tourists actually make time to visit Meknes. “They call tourists here a mirage, because if they come at all, you just see them for a short time and then they disappear,” Benny laughed.

We visited the city’s old underground prisons and Moulay Ismail’s Royal Palace, the grounds now turned into a golf course, then drove out to Heri es-Souani, the Sultan’s gigantic granaries (pictured, below) where he stored grain to feed his 12,000 horses.

In the evening, I hung out on Place el-Hedime. Men sat in cafes on the side streets, smoking and drinking coffee. There are chained monkeys and snake charmers on the square here, too, but its far more laidback than Marrakech. Young children, too young to be in charge of vehicles, drive small electric cars about the square, adding surreal chaotic edge.

But the striking thing here was the lack of foreign tourists; the circles formed around dancers and small bands of musicians with drums and strings are almost all locals, a less touristy take on the open air theatre than Marrakech’s Djemma el-Fna. I stay out, wandering the streets and the square, until daylight fades and calls to prayer sound out across the city.

Rabat was my final stop, a pleasant hour-long train ride away, passing fields of orange trees, cemeteries, towns and huge open air markets. Morocco’s current capital and political centre, Rabat is the country’s second largest city after Casablanca. “It’s been the capital since 1912, the start of the French protectorate or occupation,” guide Aziz Goumi told me.

We headed out to the Chellah, a medieval necropolis going back to the second century, before the time of the Imperial Cities, with ruins from the Romans and Venetians. Storks have made their nests here now. En route to the mausoleum of Independence hero Mohammed 5, Aziz pointed to cranes down in the valley, the construction of a new Opera House, one of the final projects from architect Zaha Hadid.

Later, we took a relaxing walk, like the locals, through the peaceful Andalucian Gardens and up the white and blue streets of the Kasbah Oudaya to a viewpoint overlooking Plage de Rabat, with surfers and SUP-boarders out in the bay trying to catch waves. “I think the main reason the French chose Rabat as the capital was the weather,” Aziz suggested. “Fez and Marrakech are too hot in summer, too cold in winter. It’s also on the coast and a central location for the area they were protecting.” But I think this could be the real reason: Rabat’s the city with the beach.

I spent the evening wandering the old medina, past kids playing football in the back alleys and busy market stalls laid out with shoes or sheep’s heads. Meat skewers and corn cobs smoked on grills. I bought a handful of Makouda (potato cakes) and walked through the crowds, past the fishy-smelling Marche Central and the fountain of Bab el Had gate where locals congregated for the evening.
I had time in the morning for something decidedly old school: a proper shave at a barber’s tiny shop in the medina, to get rid a month’s on-the-road beard. It was quite an experience, being given a shave with a cutthroat razor from a small, short-sighted barber with trembling hands. Who really needs all their blood to stay in their face anyway? At least, there was a huge bottle of alcohol on hand to make the wounds really sing.

Afterwards, I took a walk around the city, past the white towers of Cathedrale Saint-Pierre and up to the Royal Palace, back down via the country’s parliament building on Mohammed 5 Avenue and into the markets close to the coast. As the time came to pick up my bags and head for the airport, I worked my way back through the alleyways of the medina to my hotel with only the most minor ‘detours’. Four Imperial Cities in and I was finally getting the hang of it. More or less.

The author travelled with Audley Travel (, 01993 838 420), who arrange tailormade holidays in Morocco, on their 10-day Imperial Cities tour (3 nights Marrakech, 3 in Fez, 1 in Meknes and 2 in Rabat), which includes international flights from London Gatwick to Marrakech and returning from Casablanca, mid-range riads, first class train tickets and breakfasts. It also includes city tours of all four cities, plus a philanthropic tour of Marrakech and a cooking class in Fez.
For more on Morocco, see

Morocco tourism: Strengthening capacity one company at a time

The Morocco Ministry of Tourism’s Development Office is strengthening capacity through the support of mechanisms that benefit Moroccan tourism companies. The tourism sector has more than ever needed the backing of a fabric of modern tourism businesses that are structured, competitive, and capable of facing significant qualitative challenges, while at the same time delivering a full range of services aligned to the needs of Vision 2020.

In addition to a regulatory component where the ministry is incurring significant reforms of the texts governing the professions of the country’s tourism value chain, this program provides support for industry players through a comprehensive and integrated support system to enable it to address the different needs of tourism enterprises and throughout their life cycles. In this sense, the Ministry of Tourism has launched several studies to upgrade the existing fabric, which led to the establishment of support mechanisms "Moussanada Siyaha" and "Renovotel 3."
Moussanada Siyaha

This device is aimed initially at the three traditional professions - tourist accommodation, tourist transport, and travel distribution. The "Moussanada Siyaha" aims to support over 600 tourism SMEs in 2020. This support will involve an overall budget of 420 million dirhams.

Eligible SMEs can benefit in the program "Moussanada Siyaha" via two accompanying options:

First, there is one or more unplanned accompanying actions are initially planned at 60% maximum coverage, with the cost of tax services by local providers at 80% maximum. The cost of international tax services is not available locally, and there is a ceiling of 1 million dirhams per company.

Second, there are several accompanying measures are planned as part of a Progress Plan with a minimum of 3 actions in order to achieve growth targets and performance improvement, previously defined by the company. This includes a 70% maximum coverage, with the cost of tax services by local providers at 80% maximum. Again, the cost of international tax services is not available locally, and there is a ceiling of 1 million dirhams by progress plan and business, including, where applicable, the amount committed to unplanned actions.

Additionally, there is the acquisition of Case Information Systems at 70% maximum purchase price, including VAT of information systems in owner mode and/or tenant within a limit of 400 dirhams per company.

Halfway to Vision 2020, the Ministry of Tourism has seen fit to capitalize on this experience and conduct a study evaluating the effectiveness of the device, before ultimately leading to a new version, which will be more inclusive in terms of targeted occupations and services offered, in order to ensure more effective support for the tourism business ecosystem.
Renovotel 3

RENOVOTEL is a joint financing fund with banks established in 2003, dedicated to the upgrading of hotel units. It is intended to finance projects of tangible and intangible investments, excluding the increase in bed capacity.
Enchanting El Jadida
11 August, 2016

The Portuguese settled in El Jadida in 1502 and erected a fort named Mazagan. The city quickly became an important trading city and port, not only within Morocco, but also through Europe, given its setting on the Atlantic. In the 1700s the Sultan banished the Portuguese from El Jadida and exploded the city as they fled. The city was transplanted by Arab tribes and a huge Jewish community in the 19th century, after which it was renamed El Jadida aka "The new one". Before European or Jewish colonizers came in, El Jadida was identified as a city of tolerance. It is said that its tranquil beaches are credited to its serenity. I could certainly sense a positive exclusive recognition infusing the salt-filled air.

Tranquility Galore
El Jadida is a prodigious escape from the busy Casablanca or the neighbouring beaches of Rabat, being Morocco's most historic littoral towns. As we drove into Mazagan I was mesmerized by the expanse - an extravagance ocean resort and its vivacity and miscellany immediately captured the imagination, designed by Kerzner International, in an extraordinary environment, at the brink of a green eucalyptus forest overlooking the glorious beach of El Haouzia. As I stepped into the lobby, it revealed a world full of wonders within - Mazagan with its ocre walls and green tiled roofs, initially made in Fez looks like an authentic "medina"; a buzzing reception area with hip young people hopping about efficiently. The air of serenity set in, my check-in was done in a flash and I was led to my room. In late July and throughout August, many locals devote their break in this small city instead of heading out anywhere else. Each meal experience was top drawer and offered a great variety of both food and dining experience. We spent our time ambling along the wide beach, eating fabulous barbeque on the ocean-view Beach House of the Mazagan, and visiting the old Cite Portuguese, the creative European-built medina encircled by enormous ramparts. And yes, also enjoyed a Quad ride as the flawless beach days need a bit of action sometimes, driving beside the seashore is an amazing adrenaline rush and we also get to explore the small forest next to the beach, which is truly exquisite.

The old and the new
One of the striking landmarks of the city is evidently a representation of the town aka the "Portuguese cistern". Inside is a massive eerily-lit stone-arched reservoir and the reflections of the columns and vaulting on the water are truly spectacular and even a bit mysterious, which might explain why it was used in Orson Welles' film Othello back in the 1950s. We then strolled through the old medina and looked over the city and water from the ramparts, which surround the medina. El Jadida still is an affluent fishing spot for those who continue the trade. Many younger generations are turning their heads to the possibilities of tourism that still haven't been fatigued like in other beachside towns along the Atlantic coast. I simply loved the seaside restaurants offering the "catch of the day", a fish tagine, or other delectable Moroccan dishes dashed with tastes from the sea. It's interesting to watch distant fishing boats on the horizon catching sardines or other delicacies of the sea. El Jadida is absolutely stunning and I would definitely recommend it for two days, especially if you are staying at the Mazagan Beach resort. It is a trip within Morocco but comes with the add-ons of feeling like in Portugal.

Home Culture: National Geographic Ranks Merzouga as 4th Best Destination for Health Tourism
By Ezzoubeir Jabrane - August 10, 2016 Rabat

In its August/September 2016 edition, National Geographic Traveler Magazine ranks the Moroccan touristic village of Merzouga as the 4th best destination for health tourism. The exquisite presentation of this famous touristic spot appears in page 66 of the magazine’s latest edition and eloquently describes the different phases of the sand bath operation that attracts international tourists.

“Think of it as a sand bath. During the sweltering months of July and August, blue-turbaned Berbers dig bathtub size holes, in the ocher Sahara sand, wait for the grains to heat up in the sun, and then bury customers up to their necks. Participants stay in the ground for about 10 minutes and are afterwards wrapped in blankets for an hour before being served tea for rehydration.”
The magazine also discusses the health benefit of this practice, stating that “the sweaty sauna-like treatment soothes muscles” and informs readers that “most hotels in the area, including the castle-like ‘Ksar Merzouga’ can organize a ‘bain de sable.’”

The first three attractions for health tourism, according to the same magazine, are Quebec City in Canada, Aguas Calientes in Peru and Bath in England. The sand bath, although very specific to the area, is not the only thing that draws tourists to this attraction. Merzouga is also known for its magical Berber culture and traditions as well as romantic camel safaris that travel 350-meter dunes.
As to its geographic location and specificities, Merzouga is located on the edge of Erge Chebbi, a large area characterized by high sand dunes in southeastern Morocco, around 50 km close to the Algerian border.

Because of its location in the Sahara Desert, the temperature reaches 48 °C in the months of July and August. During winter months, the weather is cool and sunny, whereas in spring, the temperature fluctuates between 25 and 30 °C.
Edited by Ghita Benslimane

Move over Marrakesh - the secret Morocco where the cool set go for autumn sun."Chefchaouen's charm lies in the very lack of things to do"
Tara Stevens, TRAVEL WRITER 11 August 2016

There is a side of Morocco less travelled: the secret, north-west tip of the country that has long been overshadowed by the more exotic allure of the Sahara in the south and mysterious imperial cities of Fez and Marrakesh.

Here, where the mainland stretches out toward Gibraltar and the Rif Mountains ripple along Morocco’s Mediterranean coast, lies the country’s very own Riviera – a postcard-perfect landscape of rolling ochre hills, deep green reservoirs and verdant valleys busting out all over with hibiscus and frilly pink oleanders against a cobalt blue sky.

Travelling from Fez to Tangier, you’ll find a route dotted with useful stops that take in a spot of culture, a couple of beaches, traditional markets and boutique shopping, good food and characterful hotels, providing just enough to stimulate the senses without sending you home exhausted.

Chefchaouen was painted blue, a colour which represents heaven, when Jewish immigrants arrived in the Thirties. At its heart is Chefchaouen (about three hours’ drive from Fez), a delightful little hill town that has long been a must-do on the backpacker’s circuit thanks to the easy availability of kif – the light and fuzzy marijuana that grows abundantly in surrounding hills, and which might account for its chilled-out nature. Of late, however, a rather more sophisticated traveller has started to show up, curious about this mythic tangle of blue-washed streets that tumble between the two horned peaks giving the town its name.

Before the Rif wars in the Twenties when the little town fell under the watch of the Spanish protectorate, it had been painted green, the colour of Islam, but when a wave of Jewish immigrants arrived in the Thirties they switched to blue, representing heaven, and it has remained so ever since.

Today you’ll find civic pride bursting from every hairpin bend, where the teals, blues and turquoises contrast with vines and creepers shading the lanes, and life ambles by at donkey pace. It’s a brilliant base for hiking in the Talassemtane National Park, but its real charm lies in the very lack of things to do.

You can poke around the souks in search of artisan goodies – hand-chiselled terracotta tableware is beautiful in its simplicity, and hand-woven wool carpets are cheaper than anything you’ll find in the bigger cities – or sip sweet mint tea on the Place Uta el-Hammam, dominated by a 500-year-old citadel, and watch the world go by.

It’s a good place to eat, too, with Casa Hassan leading the way for Berber classics such as chicken, olive and preserved lemon tagine, while simple street food stands simmer fava bean soup over burning wood, coaxing out a smoky nuance that’s beyond delicious.

While there’s nothing that could conceivably be described as fine dining, there is the Auberge Dardara just a short drive out of town, and it also happens to be the best place to stay. Set within gardens of fruit and olive trees that surround a pretty pool, it’s perfection for dining alfresco on local goat’s cheese flecked with herbs; rabbit and rosemary tagine; and almond tart. If you want to stay in town, Dar Mounir (Zankat Kadi Alami Hay Souika, 00212 539 988 253) is one of the nicest boutique guesthouses.

A 90-minute drive through a gently winding valley down to the Mediterranean lands you in the handsome, former Spanish enclave of Tétouan. Having retained its easy whitewashed charm, and an unexpected amount of culture, it is a good place to hole up in for a couple of days for some light exploration.

Enclosed within five kilometres of ramparts, the old medina was awarded World Heritage Site status by Unesco in 1997. It was always commonly viewed as a gateway between Morocco and Andalusia and frequently feels more Spanish than Arabic, particularly in terms of its laid-back atmosphere, outward-looking architecture and a penchant for lining the pavements with planters full of vermilion geraniums.

Spend a morning mooching about the cobbled streets of the Mellah – the old Jewish quarter, once known for its seamstresses, now taken over by tailors and goldsmiths – before dropping in to the Escuela de Artes y Oficios (Bab el Okla), where you can see skilled craftsmen honing traditional techniques such as intricate, hand-cut zellige (mosaic tiles), carved wood and plaster, and weaving, before breaking for a seafood lunch at the Esquina de Pescado (43 Calle Chakib Arsalan).

In the bald heat of the afternoon, seek refuge among an impressive collection of mainly Moroccan works at the Centro de Arte Moderno (Avenue Al Massira, 00212 539 718 946), which now occupies the city’s former train station, a magnificent building that once connected it to the still Spanish-governed town of Ceuta.

Balmy summer evenings bring locals out in droves to promenade along wide avenues, and there’s nowhere more fun for a drink and dinner than in the eclectic courtyard dining room at El Reducto.
This former home of grand vizier Abdelkrim el Abdak, who commissioned tiled walls and a wraparound balcony over the courtyard, has been transformed by the effervescent Ruth, who has added crushed-velvet banquettes, glittering chandeliers and exuberant vases of roses. Her fabulous hosting skills have likewise ensured it remains a favourite among regulars, who come to eat, gossip and sip Moroccan wine long into the night. Then sleep it off a minute away at the serenely minimal Blanco Riad.

A half-hour drive away is the increasingly glitzy resort of Tamouda Bay, not so much Puerto Banús as St Barth’s, with its influx of big-name hotel brands. A Banyan Tree is due to open there at the end of this summer and the Ritz-Carlton is hot on its heels. So good, so swanky – but it is lovely and more down to earth a bit further south at the cheery seaside resort of M’diq, with its long swathe of seashell-scattered beach, pristine water and a blue-and-white-trimmed seafront lined with ice-cream parlours.

All along the shore, plastic sit-up chairs shaded by fringed parasols that could be straight out of the Fifties can be rented for under a fiver. There’s no hassle, either: young men paddling in the shallows respectfully avert their eyes from ladies and play chase with younger brothers and sisters. It couldn’t be further from the madness of the souks and provides a delightfully old-fashioned day at the seaside – with reliable weather.

After a couple of days’ R&R, continue on to the grittier charms of Tangier. Beloved by artists, writers and poets for its spectacular light and wayward lifestyle, it’s always been good at reinvention and in the 21st century this is a city on the up. Some whisper that it may one day eclipse Marrakesh.

But despite all the building going on in the new town, the fancying-up of the front and the promise of a luxury new marina, Tangier is still at heart a little village on a hill overlooking the sea. There are great places to stay here now too, such as the Nord Pinus and La Maison de Tanger, and the more established Villa Josephine and La Tangerina.

Touts still spot a tourist from a hundred paces, which can be overwhelming, but mooch with confidence and you’ll be surprised how quickly unwanted attention drops off. A firm but polite “la, shukran” – meaning “no, thanks” – will do the rest and enable you to explore the souks in relative peace. There are some great finds here, ranging from hand-stitched leather and hand-woven bed linens to precious antiques at Boutique Majid.

Alternatively, head up the hill to the elegant and peaceful Kasbah, where you’ll find the city’s best hotels, restaurants and increasingly a handful of home-grown boutiques. This is a place that still celebrates craftsmanship and ideas. Starbucks, Zara and Topshop have yet to penetrate these ramparts.

Instead you’ll find places with depth and substance, like the historic Café Baba (Rue Zaitouni) for Arabic coffee brewed in copper pots, Las Chicas for contemporary homewares, Topolina for flamboyant kaftans and Laure Welfling (3 Place de la Kasbah) for bejewelled cocktail dresses and pom-pom slippers.

Lunch must be at the iconic Saveur de Poisson (2 Escalier Waller), where for just €18 (£15) you will be treated to hot bread, olives and harissa, prawns bubbling in garlic, and catch of the day grilled over a wood fire, platters of fruit and sweet couscous, washed down with seasonal fruit juices. There’s no wine – it’s not that kind of place – but it’s a proper Moroccan haunt with more soul than anywhere in town.

Come the evening, put your glad rags on and head to El Morocco Club for cocktails before dinner. This has always been the most glamorous part of town – scene of Barbara Hutton’s wild rooftop parties and A-list high jinks – and although her house is now privately owned, you can channel the vibe over dinner on the roof of the Salon Bleu at Dar Nour while looking across the straits to the twinkling lights of Tarifa.

Who knows, this might just be the Moroccan odyssey you always dreamt of.
When to go: Autumn is ideal because it’s not too hot, but is still warm enough for swimming. It’s also when the cultural calendar goes into full swing with the Tangier Film Festival, September 20-24, and the Tangier Jazz Festival, September 22-25.

Moroccan Mint Tea: The Sweet Tea You've Been Missing
By Priya KrishnaPosted August 29, 2016

Moroccan mint tea defies many of the best practices employed by tea lovers: the tea leaves are often low-quality and should be boiled before adding heaps of sugar. "The method we use to make tea is really unusual," says Mourad Lahlou, chef of Aziza and Mourad in San Francisco, CA (Lahlou is a Morocco native). "If you were to tell a tea connoisseur about the kind of tea we drink in Morocco, they would be utterly appalled."

That said, Moroccan mint tea — an intense, sugary, herb-charged sip — is one of the most addictive and refreshing versions of the beverage you'll find anywhere, and practically a daily ritual in much of North Africa. Moroccan mint tea came into fashion during the 19th century, when spice traders relied on the country as an ideal stop en route from Asia to Europe. When Baltic ports closed during the Crimean War (1853-1856), enterprising British merchants sold their leftover Chinese gunpowder tea (a rolled green tea) in Morocco. Moroccans would combine the strong, bitter tea with local mint leaves and the requisite sugar. With its overwhelmingly sweet flavor, this tea could function as a post-meal treat, or a satisfying drink between meals throughout the day.

Lahlou calls Moroccan mint tea the country's national beverage, as it is known to represent "a lot of love, and the good things in life...Growing up as a young boy in Marrakesh, it was a daily ritual," he says. "You are always mesmerized watching the person making it. It brings people together."

Tea is served at birthday celebrations, in business meetings and to those visiting the Medina (Marrakesh's vendor-filled old city). "For people in Morocco, if you want to close a deal, they won't even want to talk to you until they have tea with you," Lahlou says. "And if you go to the Medina and visit a dozen shops, you might leave the market with one piece of clothing and having had a dozen cups of tea."

There is even a saying in Morocco, according to Lahlou, that goes something like, "I don't know them, I haven't had any tea with them."

How to Make Moroccan Mint Tea
The standard version of Moroccan mint tea starts by boiling water, adding copious amounts of gunpowder tea (usually six to eight tablespoons per four-cup tea kettle; the cheap stuff will work just fine), and simmering the mixture until it becomes extremely bitter. Then come the fresh mint leaves — usually spearmint or peppermint — along with a lot of sugar, about a fourth of a cup per pot. Herbs like lemon verbena, sage and artemesia get thrown into the mix when they are in season, to add bitter, woody notes.

Lahlou admits that for his daily tea, he prefers to omit the sugar. He opts for a version that's more like an infusion: high-quality mint leaves and lemon verbena steeped in hot water, and topped with a few pine nuts.

How to Serve It
The equipment used to make and serve Moroccan mint tea is extremely particular: the tea is brewed in special kettles made of pounded silver that, as Lahlou says, look an awful lot like the magic lamp from Aladdin. Glasses, not cups, are the proper drinking medium for the tea. The equipment plays heavily into the tea's highly ceremonial serving process. As Lahlou describes: "The tea kettle has a nozzle, and the person making the tea will start from the bottom where the glasses are and raise the teapot so high that it forms a head on the top of a tea glass, like a pint of beer. That cools down and aerates the tea." Glasses are typically refilled at least three times, with each subsequent serving getting stronger and slightly cooler.

But the most important part of the tea drinking ritual, Lahlou says, is savoring each glass. "You're supposed to take your time and take little sips," he says. "It's like drinking a glass of bourbon. It's a phenomenal experience."

The Villa: Villa Azzaytouna, Marrakech.
Alice Revel 8 September 2016

Villa Azzaytouna is the latest addition to the exclusive Ezzahra Estate: a trio of villas in Marrakech's leafy Palmeraie district. Set in more than 5,000sq metres (54,000sq ft) of verdant landscaped gardens and with an elegant design masterminded by Philip Hooper from Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, the three-bedroom Azzaytouna is the ultimate private retreat – despite being just a short drive from the medina. A full staff, unlimited complimentary beauty treatments and a heated swimming pool ensure complete relaxation for the duration of your stay……….
Read more here:

Beyond the tourist circuit: Runners see the real Morocco during a mountain marathon
Kirsten Kortebein/For The Washington Post By Jacqueline Kantor September 8

The runner emerged out of a pale green valley, disappearing briefly as she ducked around small hills spotted with scrubby camel grass. She was about five minutes away from completing the fourth stage of the Trans Atlas Marathon, a six-day, 170-mile trek through the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. One of her teammates from a seven-person Israeli crew spotted her and shouted to the rest of the runners to gather and welcome the last runner back.

A Moroccan runner turned up the Algerian pop music, and a German and a Belgian sprinted out to catch a finish-line photo. The rest of the race field — French, Dutch, American, British and Swiss runners — created a welcome tunnel for 38-year-old Limor Bigon as she cruised through, marking the end of another day in the mountains and the start of a rowdy international dance party in the middle of an empty valley.

Welcome to Morocco — or the Morocco that Mohamad Ahansal wants you to see. Ahansal, a Moroccan ultra-runner known for his five wins in the Marathon des Sables (arguably the toughest ultra on the continent or in the world, depending on whom you ask), believes that the best way to know a land — particularly one as geographically enchanting as Morocco — is by foot.

It’s an easy argument for Ahansal, who was raised semi-nomadic. For years, he worked as a tour guide, but found that many travelers stuck to a well-worn path that kept them in their own bubble and prevented them from fully appreciating the areas of the country that he calls home, the areas where he says life is the hardest, the purest and the most beautiful.“When you walk, you enter a country, you become part of the country,” he said. “When you stay in a posh hotel, you stay in your own country.”

Three years ago, Ahansal started the Trans Atlas Marathon in hopes of helping runners explore the untouched areas of the picturesque High Atlas Mountains. The first three editions of the race were dominated by local runners, with the occasional appearance from international running friends.

This year’s edition, staged in the last 10 days of May, featured an international field of 33 runners along with about 20 Moroccans. Part of the uptick in registrations was thanks to a new “Challenger” version, which allows casual runners or walkers to compete on the same course but with a little less than half the mileage to cover.

It’s a small race and always will be, as that’s the only way for Ahansal to direct the course though tiny ochre stone villages perched in the mountains. His high standing in the country and among the Berbers, the indigenous people of Morocco, gives him access to these towns and trails, granting foreigners a look into a side of Morocco that’s nearly impossible to discover otherwise.
“This is the best way to see the country; there is no other way,” said Peter DeWulf, a prolific Belgian ultra-marathoner who made his first trip to Morocco for the race. “You would never get in contact with a population like we have been in contact by running through their villages. It’s impossible.”

It’s an ideal option for those uninterested in contrived vibes in places like Marrakesh’s main square. Runners can go miles without spotting much more than the lone shepherd and his slow-moving herd. The 2016 edition began in Zaouiat Ahansal — Ahansal’s ancestral village — which is about six hours and change from the Marrakesh airport on steep switchback mountain roads.

In most of the villages, home to Berber populations in the low hundreds, people live off the land in the same way they have for centuries, hours from the nearest grocery store or WiFi. The race ends in Imlil, which is considered the “Moroccan Chamonix” for its popularity among trekkers and its bucolic, mountain-town feel in the shadows of Mount Toubkal, the largest peak in North Africa.
“In these tiny places, you see people in their natural state, you get to see how people really are, with no attachment to tourism,” Ahansal said. Along those lines, lunch is not provided en route, and runners are encouraged to pick up supplies in each town to help the local economy.

Accommodation during the race is in the local gite d’etape, a guesthouse for trekkers, or a cluster of tents in a bivouac. At one gite, local kids run around the finish with handfuls of balloons, dancing to a song by the Berber group Tinariwen as the sun turns the slate-colored cliffs of the Atlas from gray to gold, and the light drapes the valley in rose and soft orange, the colors of the desert bleeding up into the mountains.

Each day, the landscape of the course spotlights a different aspect of the country’s terrain: one stage traverses miles of cobalt stones on a moon-like hill until reaching an unexpected lake; another day takes runners through a shaded grove of thick walnut trees along a small stream until they reach Megdez, a village of blush-colored earth and stone houses stacked into the cliffs.
At night, the runners gather around long, low wooden tables for tagine or couscous topped with steamed vegetables, served with an endless supply of sugary Moroccan mint tea. Runners trade stories of their days over dinner: A British runner was stopped by a local woman who invited him in for tea. Another runner got lost, but an elderly Berber woman pointed her in the right direction. One runner ended up racing a crowd of kids along a village’s dusty main road from their school to the town limits.

“Here, you are able to go through basically people’s back yards,” said Meghan Hicks, one of the two American runners.“You’re going through the villages and seeing life. Nobody is modifying behavior for you. Life is happening, and you get to have these small glimpses of it.”
Kantor is a freelance journalist and editor.

Travel Question of the Day: What should I do about travel money for Morocco?
Have a travel question that needs answering? Ask our expert Simon Calder
Simon Calder @SimonCalder Friday 9 September 2016

Morocco restricts the movement of its currency
Q I've just realised you can't get Moroccan dirhams in England. Do you know if it's best to get some at the airport, or just use an ATM when I get there? Or is it worth taking euros? The guy picking us up from the airport quoted a price in euros, so can we just use them instead?
Emma Henderson

A Morocco is one of a (thankfully dwindling) number of countries that restricts the movement of its currency, the dirham. The Foreign Office says: “The Moroccan Dirham (MAD) is non-convertible. You can import or export up to a maximum of 1,000 MAD to or from Morocco.” That’s about £80-worth. The tourist board warns that the dirham “cannot be converted outside the Kingdom's borders”. Currency dealers in France, Spain and Algeria may dispute that last assertion, but from a British holidaymaker’s point of view there is no point in trying to get dirhams before you leave. Instead, just bring cash and change it, little and often, when you get there.

If you happen to have some euros from your last trip to Europe, then do bring them along; the narrowest “spread” between buying and selling rates are for euros. But pounds are also acceptable –  so long as they are Bank of England notes (as opposed to Scottish or Northern Irish) and in reasonable condition.

Why not change a big slab of cash all at once? First, you will probably not get a particularly good rate at the airport when you arrive; you will probably find better deals in town at hotels or bureaux de change (you’re looking for a rate of 12.5 dirhams to £1).

Next, when you change back surplus dirhams to “hard currency” (sterling, euros, dollars, etc) at the end of your stay, you are allowed only half the amount that you changed during your visit – this will not prove a problem if you have bought dirhams as you go along, so long as you remember to keep all receipts.

Finally, the Foreign Office warns “It‘s very difficult to exchange travellers’ cheques,” and I agree. If you want a back-up, bring a debit card – but use it in an ATM only as a last resort, because you’ll lose a small fortune in fees.
Every day, our travel correspondent, Simon Calder, tackles a reader’s question. Just email yours to or tweet @simoncalder

Morocco, Second Best Travel Destinations for Food Lovers
By Larbi Arbaoui - March 9, 2015 Taroudant

The Worldsim travel blog ranked Morocco second among the Best Travel Destinations for Food Lovers released on March 6. Known for its mouthwatering dishes, Morocco is ranked ahead of many of the gourmand’s global destinations such as France and Italy. “Morocco is the place to go for the best Berber cuisine on the planet,” writes the Worldsim.“That means fragrant tagine pots served in the midst of ancient medina towns, herbal teas to boot, and some of North Africa’s freshest fish,” the same source added.

Nearly all the restaurants within the kingdom offer various authentic Moroccan dishes; however, Djemaa el Fna square in Marrakesh remains the most famous spot where one can try all the varieties of Moroccan cuisine. Along with folklore activities, the square offers about a hundred food stalls arranged in parallel lines serving various tasty meals cooked and served in the open air. The square offers a variety of Moroccan dishes such as roasted meat, kebabs, couscous, soup and other delicious meals that can be eaten at nearby wooden tables on the square.

Although some Moroccan specialties such as sheep’s testicle, escargots, steamed sheep’s head and spicy fried cow or sheep’s brain may seem very strange and more exotic, their taste is irresistibly delicious, and their prices are reasonable.

Most famous dishes in the Moroccan cuisine:
Couscous: Couscous is a purely Moroccan dish. Traditionally, it was the regular dinner for nearly all Moroccans, but as time went by people started to usually prepare it every Friday.  Like any pasta, it is prepared with flour rolled in a skilful manner to form fine grains then steamed for a while and dried. When it is dried they store it in bags. Fortunately, ready to use couscous can be found in every market.

Tagine: Tagine is named after the special earthenware pot in which it is cooked. Yet, for all Moroccans it connotes an irresistible delicious taste and a pleasingly sweet smell. It is cooked and braised slowly at low temperatures, resulting in tender meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce, and it is served hot. It has different distinctive sweet tastes depending on the ingredients, but the process remains the same.

Bstilla: Bstilla is undoubtedly one of the ultimate manifestations of beauty, refinement and delicacy of Moroccan cuisine. It is prepared for great dinners and wedding ceremonies. Usually, it is served after small plates of fresh salads and before the Tagine with meat.

Smoke, Spices and Seafood Tagine: Mike Isabella's Guide to Tangier
By Elyse Inamine September 09, 2016

The Top Chef star found inspiration in the Moroccan port city.

Shopping in Marrakesh: Tips and Advice for Retail Therapy

In Marrakesh, souks practically run the city… at least where tourists are concerned. After all, a shopping excursion within Old Medina’s tangle of light-dappled, souk-lined alleyways is essential when visiting the visually eloquent city. Give in to the relentless beckoning of persistent vendors, brave your way through the narrow yet bustling lanes of the central souks, and get your haggling on. Treasures begging to be taken home await…..
Read more here:

Introduction to Religious Diversity in the Middle East and North Africa
By Mohamed Chtatou - September 15, 2016 , 5:44 am Rabat

In December 2010, the Arabs, sick to death with the corrupt patriarchal and tribal regimes that ruled them since independence, took to the streets to express their discontent and to ask for democracy. Initially, nobody believed that such a movement would topple well-rooted dictatorships. But the anger quickly grew in size and scope and became a true tsunami that swept away the ruling dictators and with them the proverbial lethargy of Arab society.

The media quickly dubbed the successive uprisings “Arab Spring” but, alas, soon this became a mere wishful thinking as counter-revolution, civil war and chaos started to take the place of the much-desired democracy and freedom. Many countries of the Middle East have gone awry instead of initiating a fresh start in national democratic empowerment.

Chaos, mon amour
The Middle East is bent on its own timed destruction; this is taking place slowly but surely. The next two or three decades, or even may be more, will see the irreversible deconstruction of the Middle East prior to the emergence of a new region, totally different and totally metamorphosed into a numerous small states created either along sectarian or ethnic identity lines.

The military dictatorships, the traditional monarchies and the petro-dollar entities have since independence kept the region’s volcano under control through various artifices: brutal oppression, material persuasion or religious legitimacy. But, then two things happened: the digital revolution that empowered the powerless and the oppressed, this led to the Arab uprisings that started at the end of 2010 and set the stage for the chaos that will increase with time. As such, the Arab volcano has blown its top and entered into activity spewing dense fumes and tons of molten rock and will certainly go doing that for some time to come. The magma is not about to solidify soon.

The Middle East today is undoubtedly ridden by a multitude of conflicts, those that are currently in progress and many awaiting the propitious time to declare themselves officially in existence. The ultimate question of identity has never been raised, never considered, let alone solved in total fairness. In the Arab world everyone was Arab even if he were Berber/Amazigh, Kurd, Copt, Druze or else. The pan-Arab ideology negated all identities that existed in this region either by persuasion, dictatorship or religion and still do.

If you were from the Arab region, by definition, you could be nothing else but Arab. Arabism is an ideology, a language, but, also, a cultural religion on itself. The pan-Arabism exponents like to repeat on and on that the Arab language is the idiom spoken in paradise, in other words it means that if you reject their ethnic ideology you will end up in hell. This concept is, today, highlighted and defended by The Islamists, for whom it is a must for every pious Muslim to learn and speak Arabic, the language of the Koran and ahl al-jennah, paradise inhabitants.

This is obviously a very simplistic and racist argument, bearing in mind that the majority of Muslims do not speak Arabic. The number of Muslims worldwide is estimated at 1.5 billion, of which there are only 250 million Arabs, a simple calculation will send 1.25 billion Muslims to hell because they don’t speak Arabic, but, instead, Persian, Urdu, Malay, Swahili, Pulaar, Mandinke, Berber/Tamazight, etc. Even with the fires of the uprisings ravaging the whole region, many Arab ideologues still believe blindly in the Arab supremacy, come what may.

Ethnic cultures: Berber/Amazigh
The Berbers occupy a huge area of North Africa from Morocco to western Egypt and as far south as Timbuktu and the Niger River. Historically, their influence extended to Sicily, southern Italy, and Spain and now enriches emigrant culture in contemporary France.

They are not a single “people” but can be defined by their prehistoric Mediterranean origins, by a common language (or language-group) and by their historical tendency to seek refuge from a long succession of conquerors (Punic, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Ottoman, French) in remote mountain or desert communities, where they could preserve their independence, tongue and way of life.[iii]
The Berbers/Amazighs are very proud of their culture and are presently undergoing some kind of renaissance, especially after the official recognition of their civilization (The Royal Declaration of Ajdir in 2001) in Morocco, and the subsequent setting up of the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe -IRCAM-,) whose mission is to safeguard Berber culture from extinction and make provisions for teaching the language in schools. One of the first acts of this institute was the adoption of Tifinagh, an ancient Berber script, as the official alphabet of the Tamazight language in 2003. Since then the Berber militants have been struggling for the recognition of their language as an official idiom besides Arabic. In the wake of the Arab Spring, the Moroccan constitution was overhauled in 2011 and Tamazight was inscribed in it as an official language besides Arabic. The same official recognition is happening slowly but surely in Algeria, a bastion of pan-Arabism.

Casper White, a researcher based in Cairo and working for the Democracy Program of the Carter Center in Egypt, supporting its election observation missions, highlights identity politics in Algeria:
““We are Algerians and Muslims but we are not Arabs”, begins Ait Bachir. He refers to the idea of an exclusive Algerian identity that began to take shape in the 1930s when the Arabic language and Islam were proclaimed as integral to the Algerian identity by the emerging national movement in opposition to French colonial rule. “Colonization brought the genocide of our identity, of our history, of our language [and] of our traditions,” President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said on Algerian television in 2006. Under the leadership of the National Liberation Front (FLN), this concept of an indivisible Algerian identity – nationalist, Muslim, and Arab – was further consolidated. The Berber minority in Algeria, estimated at between 6 and 10 million, have always maintained a strong determination to preserve their distinctive cultural identity and language. “Efforts to force us to use Arabic are a form of Arab imperialism”, explains Ait Bachir. Although Berber became an official — but not a national — language in Algeria in 2002, the Tamazight language is still not to be taught in public schools or in university. “Our community is traumatised – we feel like our body parts have been amputated”.”

The Kurds
The Kurdish people comprise a large ethnic group of about 25 million that have always lived in the same place, and trace their roots back to the Medes of ancient Persia more than 2,500 years ago.
For nearly 3,000 years the Kurds have lived along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the cradle of civilization. This places their beginnings at the very source of the nations and in the immediate vicinity of history’s most important events.

Most Kurds are Muslims, and about 75% today are at least nominally members of the majority Sunni branch. As many as four million Kurds are Shiites, living mostly in Iran where the Shiite faith predominates. However, the Kurds generally strive to express their Islam in a distinct fashion. For example, the Sunni Muslim Kurds of Turkey have adopted the Shafi’i legal code, ignoring the general rule among the surrounding Arabs and Turks, who adhere to the Hanafi School.

Mystical practices and participation in Sufi orders are also widespread among Kurds. Many of these orders are considered heretical by rigid orthodox Muslims. Drawing heavily on shamanism, Zoroastrianism and elements of Christianity, Kurdish mysticism places emphasis on the direct experience of God through meditation, ecstatic experiences and the intercession of holy men or sheiks. Most Kurds possess a tangible sense of the supernatural, readily acknowledging demonic activity in the form of evil spirits and curses; they often worship at shrines or other holy places.
The Kurds, very much like Berbers/Amazighs in that respect, have always dreamt of an independent country of their own, but geopolitics has not being favorable to them. So apart from the small state within a state, they have in Iraq. They are scattered in the area: Syria, Iran, Turkey, etc.

Islamic sectarian strife
If you believe that the Arab world is safe of religious wars, you are totally wrong. Prior to the Iranian revolution, the Arab world enjoyed period of Nahda, renaissance, during which religion coexisted peacefully with secularism. Most political regimes, then, were military dictatorships with socialist tendencies that strived to keep citizens away from politics by the means a generous welfare system, like in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Algeria and Yemen. Then, the Iranian revolution occurred in 1979; the Shah was overthrown and replaced by a theocracy that had for ultimate goal the re-Islamization of the local society and the exportation of the revolution to the rest of the Muslim world.

The whole of the Arab world felt threatened by the Persian religious onslaught and especially the petro-dollar monarchies that have in their ranks marginalized Shiite minorities. To mobilize political support in the Arab world, these countries invoked pre-Islamic Arab-Persian enmity and wars.

Islamic religious sects in the Middle East and North Africa
Austere Wahhabism
Wahhabism, as a movement, is generally associated with Saudi Arabia, and followers of this conservative ideology are inspired by the teachings of the fundamentalists of the kingdom. Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, who founded the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, was a local ruler in the Arabian Peninsula when the World War I began. Following the outbreak of war, the British, who were fighting the Ottomans, established diplomatic ties with Abdulaziz, and the two sides signed the Treaty of Darin as early as 1915, which made the territory controlled by the House of Saud a British protectorate.
Abdulaziz was a descendent of Muhammad Al Saud, who ruled the Najd area of the peninsula in the 18th century and was a friend of the Wahhabism founder Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab.  Wahhabism is a popular revivalist movement instigated by an eighteenth century theologian, Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792) from Najd, Saudi Arabia. It is a religious movement among fundamentalist Islamic believers, with an aspiration to return to the earliest fundamental Islamic sources of the Koran and Hadith, with inspiration from the teachings of medieval theologian Ibn Taymiyyah and the early jurist Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Muhammad Al Saud was the one who first chose Wahhabism for his tribe.

Feeling threatened by the Iranian grand project, the Saudis, with the help of billions of petro-dollars, tried to bring the inter-governmental Islamic organizations under their influence, institutions like: OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation,) IDB (Islamic Development Bank,) ISESCO (Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization,) etc. and export their brand of Islam: Wahhabism through civil society organizations in the Muslim world. Because of the money incentive many Muslims adopted Wahhabism, in spite of its harsh scripture and ideology.

To counter combative Iranian Shiism, the Saudis bankrolled Ben Laden in his Afghan Jihad machinery against the Soviets. The Americans blessed the enterprise and provided sophisticated weaponry to defeat the Soviets. Ben Laden recruited Jihadists from all over the Muslim world. Once the war was won in 1989, Ben Laden and the Jihadists felt forgotten and marginalized by the Saudis and the Americans together.

Ultimately, the Jihadists were made to return to their respective countries and tried to put their military experience to use to overthrow existing regimes, they were either killed or sent to prison. As for Ben Laden, to inscribe his name in gold in the annals of history, he masterminded the unfortunate and condemnable 11 of September events that changed the world.

Originating in medieval Islamic texts, the concept of salafiyya has come to refer to a wide variety of things over the years. The Arabic word derives from the terms “as-salaf as-salih,” which means: “the venerable ancestors” or “the venerable predecessors.”

The dominant tradition in salafiyya has to do with “getting back to the roots” of Islam and restoring traditional beliefs and practices as well as the rule of the Caliphate. Sometimes, this effort is moderate and can even incorporate modernist influences, as with the case of al-Afghani (a salafist reformer from the 1800’s who tried to reconcile modernism and Islam).

Salafiyya thrives on the economic hardships endured by most Muslims in the Middle East. Religious leaders tell them that the earliest Muslims knew no such hardships because they faithfully applied the principle of zakat, or alms for the poor. Because of this, even the richest and powerful Muslims had to donate to ensure that the poorest were sustained.

Unhappy with the religious state of Affairs in the Arab world, a more violent Islamic sect came into being: the Salafiyya Jihadiya, it had in mind a return to the ancient times of the Caliphate by the means of blood and fear. After terrorist attacks in Morocco on May 2003 and various other counties, this movement was decapitated and is leaders imprisoned, as for the remaining they adopted a vociferous attitude making use of verbal violence only or were literally co-opted by local Arab regimes.

However, it does not mean that the Salafiyya Jihadiya is disarmed; it is resuscitating in troubled spots such as Syria and Iraq where they can indulge in their violent religious ideology without the fear of retribution. Their vision of the future is the re-Islamization of society and the return to the past model of the caliphate: ISIS is, somewhat, the flag bearer of this approach, today. Beyond that they have no model of society, other than the orthodox Islamic way of life based on the strict application of shari’a law. So the basic concept of return to the “good past” can only be achieved through religious violence in three ways:
1 – Takfir, excommunication from the religious community of all those who are against the main trend of salafiyya. This could actually mean, unfortunately, most of the time, the call for their assassination because they are seen as a hazard to this school of thought. The assassination is often undertaken by religious zealots by firing at blank range point or by utilizing the al-Qaeda like notorious terrorists;
2 – Tarhib, terrorizing the population by letting them know that if they don’t carry out what their sheiks tell them they would be committed to go to hell for not following the edicts of the “true” Islamic religion. This approach works very well with the illiterate poor whose knowledge of religion and the world is very limited; and
3 – Jihad, the holy war to eliminate all the miscreants and the infidels to make way to Islam
Salafiyya jihadiya is active and prospering, today, in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Mauretania, Tunisia and Libya. It has tried to get a foothold in Morocco but was defeated by the government anti-terrorist laws and lack of following and interest among the population.

Muslim Brotherhood/Ikhwan
The Muslim Brothers movement was founded in Ismailia, Egypt in March 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, along with six workers of the Suez Canal Company, as a pan-Islamic, religious, political, and social movement. Hassan al-Banna was influenced by the reformers Mohammed Abdou and Rachid Reda. He believed that real renaissance can only be achieved through the return to the orthodox religion and the application of the tenets of Islam faithfully.

The Brotherhood’s credo was and is:
“Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and dying in the way of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.”

The submission of the brotherhood’s members under this credo is the unquestionable proof to their absolute obedience to the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership. Since its founding, the Muslim Brotherhood has been very close to the aspirations of the poor and working class of Egypt and its actions in favor of the rank and file has earned it sympathy all over the Arab region and the Muslim World and led to the creation of local chapters of this interesting religious institution in various countries:

– Justice and Development Party in Morocco, currently leading the government;

– In Bahrain, the Muslim Brotherhood is represented by theal-Islah Society and its political wing, the al-Manbar Islamic Society. Following parliamentary elections in 2002, al-Manbar became the largest party with eight seats in the forty seats of the Chamber of Deputies. Prominent members of Al Menbar include Dr Salah Abdulrahman, Dr. Salah Al Jowder, and the outspoken MP, Muhammad Khaled. The party has, generally, backed government-sponsored legislation on economic issues, but has sought a clampdown on pop concerts, sorcery and soothsayers. It has, strongly, opposed the government’s accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the grounds that this would give Muslim citizens the right to change religion, something which is not acceptable at all in dar al-Islam.

– The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria was founded in 1945, a year before independence from France. In the first decade or so of independence it was part of the legal opposition, and in the1961 parliamentary elections it won ten seats (5.8% of the house). But after the 1963 coup that brought the Baath Party to power it was banned. It played a major role in the mainly Sunni-based movement that opposed the secularist, pan-Arab Baath party. This conflict developed into an armed struggle that continued until culminating in the Hama uprisings of 1982, when the rebellion was crushed by the military of Hafed al-Assad.

– The Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood was formed in 1942, and is a strong factor inJordanian politics. While most political parties and movements were banned for a long time in Jordan such as Hizb at-Tahrir, the Brotherhood was exempted and allowed to operate by the Jordanian monarchy. The Jordanian Brotherhood has formed its own political party, the Islamic Action Front, which has the largest number of seats of any party in the Jordanian parliament.

– The Iraqi Islamic Partywas formed in 1960 as the Iraqi branch of the Brotherhood, but was banned from 1961, during the nationalist rule of Abdelkarim Qasem. As government repression hardened under the Baath Party from February 1963, the group was forced to continue underground. After the fall of the Saddam Husain regime in 2003, the Islamic Party has reemerged as one of the main advocates of the country’s Sunni community. The Islamic Party has been sharply critical of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, but participates in the political process. Its leader is Tariq Al-Hashimi.

– In Palestine, in 1987, following the Intifada, theIslamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas was established from Brotherhood-affiliated charities and social institutions that had gained a strong foothold among the local population. During the first Intifada (1987–93), Hamas militarized and transformed itself into one of the strongest Palestinian militant groups.

– The Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait is represented in the Kuwaiti parliament byHadas.

– The Muslim Brotherhood is the political arm of theYemeni Congregation for Reform, commonly known as Islah. Former President Ali Abdellah Saleh made a lot of effort to entrench the accusations of Islah being in league with al-Qaeda, but he failed to present any, even a weak, evidence to support his claims.

– Like their counterparts elsewhere in the Islamic world in general, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has influenced theTunisian  One of the notable organizations that was influenced and inspired by the Brotherhood is Ennahda (The Revival or Renaissance Party), which is Tunisia’s major Islamist political grouping. An Islamist, Rachid Ghannouchi, founded the organization in 1981 while studying in Damascus and Paris and embraced the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, which he disseminated on his return to Tunisia.

– The Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1949, but it was not able to operate openly until after the 2011Libyan civil war. It held its first public press conference on 17 November 2011, and on 24 December the Brotherhood announced that it would form theJustice and Construction Party (JCP) and contest the General National Congress the following year.

– In 2007 theNational Rally for Reform and Development, better known as Tawassoul, was legalized as a political party. The party is associated with the Mauritanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Shia Islam
The adepts of Shia Islam believe that before his death in 632, the prophet Muhammad selected Ali Ibnu Abi Talib, a member of his household, known as ahl al-bayt, as his legitimate successor and that his companions designated Abu Bakr as a Caliph, instead. As a result, the Shiites do venerate Ali, almost as a prophet and take upon themselves the blame for his assassination in 661. Thus, on the beginning of every Hijra year, during the Ashura celebration, they publically flagellate themselves to mark his martyrdom.

The Shia are a majority in Iran and Also in Bahrain. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, The Bahraini Shia took to the streets to protest political unfairness: a majority Shia ruled by a minority Sunni government. Scared by the prospects that Bahrain might fall to Shia rule, Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf states invaded Bahrain to tilt the scale in favor of Sunni rule, for fear this country will become a client state of Iran like what happened in Iraq after the demise of the Sunni dictator Saddam.

Indeed, today’s Iraq is plagued by a protracted civil war between the Shia-majority government and the Sunni ISIS in the north and this strife will certainly not end with the fall of ISIS, at the hands of the international coalition. The Sunnis will continue their fight believing, hard as a nai,l that their country has been made a province of Iran and that the government takes orders from the latter in Tehran.

The Shia are present, also, in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia where they are not tolerated by the central government. Indeed, the Saudis to show their distaste of this minority group executed their religious leader Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who led a popular uprising in the Eastern oil-rich province of Dahran.

In Lebanon, the Shias, living mostly in the south, have, under the fierce Hizbullah leadership, set up a state within a state which is in war with Israel and in cold war with the Lebanese Sunnis.
Saudi Arabia is, presently, fighting a sectarian war against Iran by proxy in both Yemen, where Houthis aided by the ex-dictator Ali Saleh, have taken over the country. To restore the Sunni rule, Saudi Arabia has mounted a Sunni Arab coalition to dislodge the Shia from the capital Sanaa. Concurrently, it is fighting another war in Syria, with the hope to put an end to the Shia minority government of Assad, behind whom Iran is putting all her weight, as well as, fierce Hizbullah fighters.

For Dieter Bednarz, Christoph Reuter and Bernhard Zand, from the German media Spiegel, the war in Yemen is directed at Iran: “The Saudi military coalition began its intervention in Yemen in the name of security. But after just a week, it has become clear that the top priority of the alliance is not that of creating a balance of power between the two adversarial camps in the Yemen conflict — which pits Shiite Houthi rebels, who have joined together with former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh (who was ousted in a 2011 “Arab Spring” uprising), against Saudi-backed government troops. Indeed, the conflict is more of a complicated domestic struggle than a purely sectarian fight. Still, the Saudi monarchy’s intervention is primarily aimed at its ideological rival: Iran. At the same time, the military operation is a chance for Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to demonstrate his independence from the US — as well as to perhaps prove his country’s military leadership in the region as a complement to its longstanding economic strength. What is clear, however, is that the brewing Sunni-Shiite struggle in the Middle East has the potential for not just destroying Yemen, but also for turning into a disaster for Saudi Arabia.”

The Sunni-Shia gap is widening more and more as Iran is trying to become nuclear. This has pushed conservative Saudi Arabia to contemplate possible alliance with its arch enemy Israel.
All in all, Shias who are growing in numbers in the Arab world are discriminated against and the same is true of the Sunnis in Iran and it is more likely that things will get worse in the future as both Saudi Arabia and Iran are jockeying for leadership of the Middle East and the Muslim world.

For Murtaza Hussain, a Toronto-based writer and analyst with a focus on issues related to Middle Eastern politics, It is not the 14-century old schism between Sunnis and Shias that is responsible for the sectarian strife but rather modern made ideology of identities: “Those who ignorantly claim that progress can be attained through the enforcement of strict ideological purity should take heed of the past and resist the temptation towards religious chauvinism. The conflict which some claim exists today between Sunni and Shia Muslims is a product of very recent global events; blowback from the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the petro-dollar fuelled global rise of Wahhabi reactionaries. It is decidedly not the continuation of any “1,400 year war” between Sunnis and Shias but is driven instead by the very modern phenomena of identity politics. Factions on both sides have created false histories for their own political benefit and have manufactured symbols and rituals which draw upon ancient history but are in fact entirely modern creations. Furthermore, Western military powers have sought to amplify these divisions to generate internecine conflicts within Muslim societies and engineer a bloodbath which will be to their own benefit.”

Ethnic diversity at the crossroads of civilizations

Situated between Africa, Asia, and Europe, the Middle East has been a crossroads for traders, travelers, and empire builders for thousands of years. Africans, Central Asians, and Celts have all added to the ethnic mix. Major ethnic groups in the greater Middle East today include Arabs, Iranians (also known as Persians), Turks, Jews, Kurds, Berber/Amazigh, Armenians, Nubians, Azeris, and Greeks.

Most of the countries in this region are multiethnic. But, even as diversity enhances the cultural richness of a society, it unfortunately may, also, lead to political conflict.

The Kurds, for example, do not have their own nation-state, but are instead spread across Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Their political and military attempts to create an autonomous Kurdistan have been strongly resisted by those states.

Likewise the Berber/Amazigh who inhabit Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Mauretania, are still struggling to have their culture and language fully recognized by the governments of these countries, who are in their majority not democratically elected and fear that such an act will erode their power base and lead to legitimate demands of power-sharing.

The multiplicity of languages spoken in the greater Middle East reflects its ethnic diversity. Most of these languages come from three major language families:

Semitic (including Arabic, Hebrew, Tamazight and Aramaic) Indo-European (Kurdish, Persian, Armenian) Turkic (Turkish, Azeri)

These language families reflect the successive migrations of different peoples into the region. A quick examination of these languages reveals the influence they have had on each other. Persian, for example, is written in Arabic script, while Turkish incorporates vocabulary words from Persian and Arabic. Arabic itself is spoken in regional dialectics that are not always mutually understood. Some ethnic and religious communities have preserved “native” languages for religious use, such as Coptic and Greek or for cultural identity as is the case for the Berbers/Amazigh.

Other religions of the book of the Middle East

In the cultural mosaic of the Middle East, besides Islam, the predominant faith in the region, there are other religions of the book: Christianity and Judaism and not to forget, of course, Druze. The faithful of some of theses religions are certainly minority groups numerically speaking, but culturally they have quite an important imprint on society and they are economically and politically very potent.

The Middle East is the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all monotheistic religions that grew from the same tradition. Each religion used the texts from earlier groups, and so they share many rules and beliefs. For example, Islam and Judaism observe the same dietary rules and have a similar focus on religion as a foundation for civil law. All three share a tradition of prophets, from Adam and Abraham to Solomon and Joseph. Jesus is significant for both Christianity and Islam, and Muslims, in addition, follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

The lack of official data on the Christian populations of the Middle East makes it difficult to confirm, but it is estimated that there are between 12 and 16 million Christians living in this area. Christianity is, also, a monotheistic religion with its origins in the Middle East, and its teachings are based on the old and new testaments of the Bible. Many different Christian sects have their origins in the Middle East and are still present in the region. Just a few examples of these sects include: Maronite Christians, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic and Chaldean Christians, among many others.

The Copts
Copts in Egypt constitute the largest Christian community in the Middle East, as well as the largest religious minority in the region, accounting for an estimated 10% of the Egyptian population. Most Copts adhere to the Coptic Church of Alexandria. The remainder of around 800,000 is divided between the Coptic Catholic and various Coptic Protestant churches.
Their position improved dramatically under the rule of Muhammad Ali in the early 19th century. He abolished the jizya (a poll tax on non-Muslims) and allowed Egyptians (Copts as well as Muslims) to enroll in the army.

Copts participated in the Egyptian national movement for independence and occupied many influential positions. Two significant cultural achievements include the founding of the Coptic Museum in 1910 and the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies in 1954. Some prominent Coptic thinkers from this period are Salama Moussa, Louis Awwad and Secretary General of the Wafd Party Makram Obayd.

The Arab Christians
The Arab Christians are an estimated 13 million Christians still living in the Middle East in countries like Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Israel and Lebanon. They are in Business, education, finance, banking and politics. The Christian presence in the Middle East dates back, of course, to the advent of Jesus Christ during the Roman Empire. That 2,000-year presence has gone uninterrupted since, especially in the countries of the Levant: Lebanon, Palestine/Israel, Syria and Egypt. But, it has been far from a unified presence.

The Eastern and Western Church don’t quite see eye to eye and haven’t for about 1,500 years. Lebanon’s Maronites split off from the Vatican, in a huff, centuries ago, then agreed to return to the fold, preserving to their rites, dogmas and customs of their choice.

Much of the region either forcibly or voluntarily converted to Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries. In the Middle Ages, the European Crusades attempted, brutally, repeatedly but ultimately unsuccessfully, to restore Christian hegemony over the region.

Since then, only Lebanon has maintained a Christian population approaching anything like a plurality, although Egypt maintains the single-largest Christian population in the Middle East.

Judaism: Israel
The historical predecessor of both Christianity and Islam is Judaism, and it is practiced by approximately 6 million people in the Middle East. It is, also, a monotheistic religion based on the Torah, which is also the old testament of the Christian Bible. Judaism is the official religion of the state of Israel.

Judaism is the religious culture of the Jewish people. It is one of the first recorded monotheistic faiths and one of the oldest religious traditions still practiced today. The tenets and history of Judaism are the major part of the foundation of other Abrahamic religions, including Christianity and Islam. For all of these reasons, Judaism has been a major force in shaping the world.
Judaism originated as the religion of nomadic people in the western part of the Fertile Crescent. The Hebrew people believed that there was only one God. Monotheism was a unique idea in the world when it originated 3,500 years ago.

By the 1980s Jews of Middle Eastern origin – adot ha-mizrah – comprised well over half of Israel’s Jewish population. Migration to Israel by Jews from the former Soviet Union made the percentages of Middle Eastern and European origin groups equal in the 1990s. By 2000 the Jewish community in Turkey stood at about 20,000. Iranian Jewry functioned actively until the revolution of 1979 that established the Islamic republic. Jews then immigrated to Israel, Europe, and the United States, and in 1989 about 22,000 remained in Iran. Very few Jews now reside in the Arab world; the largest group – about 3,000 – lives in Morocco. Since the 1980s Morocco has encouraged Jewish tourists from Israel and elsewhere, and Tunisia has done the same since the 1990s.

The poor relations between Israel and most of its Arab neighbors are sometimes described in terms of a perpetual religious conflict between Jews and Muslims. This reading, however, is too simplistic. Although control over important historical sites of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is a factor in the disagreements, many of the details that stall negotiations have to do with control of land and access to water resources and most importantly the restoration of the Palestinian state and homeland. Furthermore, many Palestinians who demand restitution for their property are Christian, not Muslim, and Egypt’s historic treaty with Israel provides a model for how Muslim and Jewish neighbors can live peaceably.

Judaism in Morocco
Jews have lived in Morocco for nearly two millennia, and Morocco’s Jewish community, which once numbered more than 250,000, remains the largest in the Muslim world. They are estimated at about 3,000 today. They migrated to Morocco in the year 72 AD, at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans.

For two thousand years of their existence, Moroccan Jews Have showed great love and allegiance to Morocco, their land and country, and this unique feeling is even stronger today for those who have left the country. There is a tremendous ongoing dialogue, esteem and cooperation between Muslims and Jews within Morocco. A good illustration of that is the grotto that exists in the city of Sefrou, nicknamed Little Jerusalem, which is called: Kaf al-Moumen, “The Cave of the Faithfull”, where a Muslim and a Jewish saints are, supposedly, buried and are revered by both Muslims and Jews in turn.

There is an incredible symbiosis between Islam and Judaism in Morocco and this is the result of strong commonality resulting from a solid cultural substratum. Indeed, while the Moroccan Jews show obsequious love to their country of origin and come back to celebrate the religious rite of Hailula, their Muslim brethren regret their departure through such films as: “Tinghir, Jerusalem: echoes of the Mellah.” In the wake of the Arab Spring, the Moroccan constitution was overhauled and Hebraic tradition was highlighted in its wording and considered a major confluent of Moroccan identity and culture.
“A sovereign Muslim State, attached to its national unity and to its territorial integrity, the Kingdom of Morocco intends to preserve, in its plentitude and its diversity, its one and indivisible national identity. Its unity, is forged by the convergence of its Arab-Islamist, Berber [amazighe] and Saharan-Hassanic [saharo-hassanie] components, nourished and enriched by its African, Andalusian, Hebraic (emphasis mine, Mohamed Chtatou) and Mediterranean influences [affluents].”

The Druze populations live primarily in Lebanon and Syria, and they are another monotheistic religion of the Middle East. Although commonly not regarded as Muslims by others, the Druze do consider themselves a sect of Islam that split from the Shi’a. The Druze believe that the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim was an incarnation of God who disappeared in 1021 but will return, bringing a Golden Age to believers.

The times are changing in the Middle East region and the Arabs have to come to term to many hard realities if they want to survive as a race and civilization: They have to solve the identity issue once for all by accepting the cultural and political rights of the ethnic and religious minorities in their ranks; They have to opt for full democracy, if they want to survive; Provide equal opportunity to everyone and especially women and the youth; Stop justifying everything by religion; Empower the youth and women; Abolish tribal practices and patriarchal traditions; and Accept the tenets of diversity in faith, ethnicity and language.

If these principles are not implemented soon, the region will be engulfed in serious strife and conflicts that will take decades to settle.
You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu

Some Ways of Facing Extremism in the Middle East and North Africa

By Mohamed Chtatou - August 28, 2016 Rabat

Middle Eastern violence is rooted in injustice, inequality, emasculation and lack of democracy Extremism is being rife in the Middle East and North Africa since the revival of Islamism following the successful Mullah revolution in Iran in 1979 and the toppling of the West-supported dictator Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (26 October 1919 – 27 July 1980) by the Shiite ascetic cleric Khomeini. It will be a gross mistake to justify this phenomenon by the nature of Islamic religion alone; there are various other reasons behind the Muslim wrath that feeds radicalism and violence generously.
Reasons for anger and rage

The anger that is simmering in the Mideast is not a recent phenomenon, on the contrary it is as old the region itself and its various cultures and faiths and can be explained by the following primary reasons that are history-linked and reach back into the time-old animosity that exists between Islam and the Judeo-Christian tradition and alliance:
•             The Crusades;
•             Colonialism;
•             Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire;
•             Loss of Palestine;
•             The Gulf War;
•             Support to pro-American dictatorial regimes; and
•             West’s emasculation of the Muslim world.

However, these reasons are not the only fodder for the mounting discontent in the MENA region; there are some contemporary issues that have not been addressed, in the least, and that are, undeniably, central to the issue:
•             Nepotism;
•             Blood alliance;
•             Corruption;
•             Co-optation;
•             Tribal tyranny;
•             Respect of seniority;
•             Use of state violence;
•             Violation of human rights;
•             Emasculation of the population by authoritative regimes, etc.

These patriarchal and tribal time-old practices have, undoubtedly, being behind the Arab Spring that started in 2010 in Tunisia and is still going on in the form of bloody and violent civil wars in Libya, Syria, and Yemen and has spawned, as a result, failed states in these countries.

George Joffé, a Research Fellow at the Centre and Visiting Professor of Geography at Kings College, London University believes that the reasons for the rage in Arab world have always existed, though in a muted fashion: “There is no doubt that the events of late 2010 and early 2011 that constituted the Arab Awakening were a radical departure from the superficial impression of artificial calm that had characterised the decade that preceded them. However, in the sense usually attributed to the term ‘revolution’ – “the complete overthrow of an established government or social order,” according to the dictionary – they were not revolutionary. Nor did the experience simply begin in December 2010 for, in reality, the demand for an end to autocracy and for popular participation in government had often been made before in the Middle East and North Africa. Nor, indeed, were all the demonstrations stimulated by common causes even if they did occur virtually simultaneously, nor did they provoke common responses from the regimes involved nor, finally, did they have common outcomes. The one common feature, perhaps, was the ambivalence with which they were greeted by Western states that might, from their endless discourse about human rights and freedoms, have been expected to have been enthusiastic supporters of the demonstrators’ essential demands.”

Religious extremism in the tormented Middle East has, ultimately, created a monster known commonly as “Islamist terrorism,” that initially started with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and is today represented, in a dramatic way, by ISIS based in Syria and Iraq. This violence has no face, no precise identity and no address to be dealt with effectively. It calls itself Jihad (religious war against infidels) and is transnational and transcultural.

Given the strong grasp ISIS has on the psyche of Muslims, especially among the unhappy youth, when it felt the heat coming the from international coalition fighting it, it immediately called on its sympathizers to strike at the Western enemy’s heart and, thus, terrorist attacks occurred in Orlando, USA, Nice, France, Belgium, and Germany. However, the chances are that these terrorists were more likely not trained in ISIS’s terrorist academy but were mere “lone wolves” pushing the narrative and the agenda of this terrorist organization with their acts and lives. In a word, like al-Qaeda, ISIS’s message seems to be subliminal, for some reason.

Root causes
Youth discontent
It is anachronistic that the vast Arab world in which youth is predominant in number is ruled exclusively by a gerontocracy totally disconnected from their needs and aspirations and worse governing them in time-old tribal and patriarchal fashion.

According to a publication entitled “Regional Overview: Youth in the Arab Region,” which is a Fact Sheet prepared by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia and the United Nations Programme on Youth, and is part of a series of Fact Sheets developed under the coordination of UNPY to support the International Year of Youth (United Nations International Year of Youth (IYY) August 2010-2011).

This document states clearly the following facts:
•             One out of every five persons in the Arab Region is between 15-24 years old and more than half of the population is below the age of 25.
•             Each year, over 500,000 people enter the labor market in the ESCWA region, most (90%) are youth.[i]
•             Arab countries have the highest regional youth unemployment rate in the world, particularly affecting young Arab females.[ii]
•             Only half of the Arab youth has knowledge about sexually transmitted diseases.[iii]
•             Youth are almost entirely excluded from participation within parliaments in more than half of the Arab countries, reaching a low of 7%.[iv]

The document states quite clearly that is under-representation, not to say total exclusion of the youth from decision-making has, undoubtedly, led to the Arab uprisings:[v] “Given the recent protests and civil unrest in numerous countries of the region (e.g. Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and Syria), it is important not to overlook Arab youth aspiration for participation in the decision-making process. More than ever before, young Arab men and women are aware of the importance of participation and its relevance for them, their societies and their future. However, entrenched institutional arrangements, dated governing procedures, and inadequate evaluation and accountability mechanisms have to date contributed to limited youth participation in decision-making processes. Youth are almost entirely excluded from participation within the parliaments of more than half of the Arab countries, reaching a low of 7% in the parliaments of Bahrain and Lebanon. Furthermore, only 4 countries (Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Yemen) have established specialized youth-related legislative committees. xvii The majority of countries of the region tends to address youth issues by proxy, through committees on sport, culture or family affairs.”

But that is not all; the youth are, also, made by tradition to carry weights of social taboos. In some countries like Morocco this has led to a cultural revolution undertaken by the millennials.

Autocratic rule
Since its independence the Arab world has been ruled by patriarchal forms of governments that are and were of the following nature and format:

Petro-dollar monarchies: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait
These countries are oil-rich and extremely conservative. They have managed to buy social peace throughout the Arab Spring with generous cash handouts made to the local population directly. These countries have, also, known incredible modernization in terms of infrastructure and means of everyday life but have and are staying away from encroaching modernity to satisfy the conservative religious currents in the country.

In Saudi Arabia the state religion is wahabism which dates back to the 18th century when the ultra-conservative preacher and scholar, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792) started a revivalist movement in the remote and sparsely populated region of Najd. His action aimed to “cleanse” Islam from forms of shirk (idolatry); such as the adoration of saints, pilgrimage to their shrines, visitation of tombs by men and women, as well as, strict separation of men and women in public spaces and strict niqab wearing outside of their secluded homes for the latter. He formed a pact with the prominent tribal leader, then, Ibn Saud, whereby he would support him in the conquest of power, through brutal submission of the tribes, as long as it is done under the banner of wahabism.

This politico-religious alliance was maintained over 150 years until 1932 when the Saud House created Saudi Arabia and made wahabism its official religion. As the oil revenues increased dramatically in the 1970s, the country started exporting its religion into the Muslim world with the help of petro-dollars and the country’s religious clout. In 1979, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, The Americans turned to the Saudis for help in financing and waging a holy war, Jihad, against the Soviets. Happy with this American mission, The Saudis disbursed important funds to the Saudi Islamist billionaire, Ben Laden, to recruit Muslim youth worldwide, to fight the Soviets.

Ten years later, the Mujahidin mobilized by the Saudis and trained by the Pakistanis vanquished the Russians heralding the end of the Soviet Empire and might. Realizing that these Mujahidin were a deadly threat, somehow, to Pakistan and the region, the Americans put pressure on the Pakistanis to send them packing home, thus, creating a decentralized Jihadi threat. A decade later, Ben Laden and his al-Qaeda operatives attacked America on September 11, 2001, in revenge for ungratefulness for services rendered. Following this horrible act, other dormant cells attacked other countries friendly with America and it was the beginning of the long bloody trail of Jihadist terrorism in the world.

Conservative non-oil monarchies: Morocco and Jordan
Because they are not rich like the petro-dollar monarchies, they have opted for an incremental type of democracy allowing controlled dissent and opposition. For the majority of people these monarchies, in spite of their deficiencies in terms of accountability, they are the best there is, in so much as they guarantee stability and continuity in a tormented and fractured region.
However, it must be made clear that this “stability” will not last forever if the two countries do not move fast to implement lasting reforms and curb the appetite of regime economic predators from the royal family and immediate entourage and political retinue as well as co-opted politicians. Rage is muted in these countries for now but it could explode into violence and chaos at any moment if long –term solutions are not found sooner than soon.

Uncertain republican regimes: Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Mauretania, Sudan and Lebanon
These countries are facing difficult times. In Tunisia, the Islamist Ennahda has gone, somewhat, secular to help the nascent democracy grow and prosper, but the problem is that the radical forces lurking in the dark see things in a different light and are tempted by religious absolutism.

In Lebanon, democracy is and has always being subject to tightrope-walking in the threatening presence of the Hizbullah menace looming in the background. A mighty political and military power controlled from Tehran and used by the latter to spread Shiite religion in the Levant and Gulf. It constitutes a formidable state within a state.

Egypt, Mauretania, Algeria and Sudan are military dictatorships where any form of dissent is repressed roughly and instantly, but, in return, they all pay lip service to conservative religious in-country establishment, to stay in power.

Revolutionary countries morphed into failed states: Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen
These countries have, since the 60s of the last century, considered themselves to be the paragon of the Arab world and its standard setters because of their revolutionary history and saga financed largely by oil windfall. Syria emasculated for decades Lebanon with its strong army, ruled over Palestinian factions; Saddam in his megalomania declared war to Iran, later robbed Kuwait and threatened to do the same with the other Gulf States; and Gaddafi, with petro-dollars helping financed revolutionaries and terrorists all the way to Ireland and declared himself unilaterally “Emperor of Africa,” when his Arab peers quarantined him for his mercurial stances and policies. Today, these dictators are gone or on the way out and their countries are in the grip of protracted civil war and have become de facto failed states with a somber future.

Corruption, co-optation and nepotism
None of the above Arab regimes are ascertained democracies; they are all, in many ways, patriarchal entities that see their people as subjects and not fully-fledged citizens. So, to keep control of power they resort to co-optation of all opposition political parties and individuals and allow unlimited corruption and nepotism, denying their people equality, equity and much-needed meritocracy.
This state of being has ultimately led to the creation of two social classes: the very rich and the very poor. The very rich class made of the ruling nomenclature and the business circles benefitting from rentier economy and a multitude of advantages, in return for allegiance and unflinching support to the establishment. The very poor class is made up of state functionaries, working class and informal economy people, in addition to the millions of have-nots and helpless people.

In these countries, under pressure from the World Bank, the state disengaged from providing social services to the poor and to a certain extent even education. They were immediately replaced and supplanted by religious welfare associations and Islamist opposition parties like the Muslim Brothers ikhwan in Egypt, who stood by the poor, in return for their political support and blind religious engagement.

Steven Brooke, in a paper, highlights the importance of ikhwan’s social contribution to the wellbeing of the Egyptian poor and ensuing immense gratitude windfall for their party:
“Anwar El-Sadat’s embrace of free market reforms in the 1970s, coupled with the onset of Economic Reform and Structural Adjustment Policies (ERSAP) in the 1990s have steadily shrunk Egypt’s social safety. And for decades it has been non-state providers, including Islamist groups, which have filled the gap for millions of Egyptians. For instance, in the years before the 2013 military coup the Brotherhood’s Islamic Medical Association (IMA) was serving approximately two million Egyptians annually. One patient’s complaint following the seizure of IMA facilities captured the frustration: “the government neither provides us with hospitals suitable for human beings, nor do they allow the hospitals that treat us well to continue operating!” Suddenly shuttering this sprawling network would risk provoking the very unrest that the regime intends to prevent. On the other hand, allowing this network to continue in its current form poses apparently unacceptable risks to the regime.

For decades, the Brotherhood’s network of social services have deeply embedded themselves in Egypt’s cities and villages and earned the movement a reservoir of gratitude, if not outright support. So long as this network continues to exist it will serve as a potential site of opposition against Egypt’s new rulers, a place where activists from the Brotherhood can build support by leveraging their resources to help Egyptians cope with their everyday problems.”

In many cases, these poor people, in return for the help they get from the religious organizations, are used by the latter, as cannon fodder, to fight their ideological battles and swell their political, as well as, paramilitary ranks. With time, this has led to an explosion of Salafist violence in many countries in the region.
Ways to counter radicalism and extremism

Quality education
Since independence, most Arab countries have invested massively in education to empower their population and allow economic development. It was, then, and still is, today, a good national cause. Nevertheless, the problem is not in the intention to do well and allow development. The problem is, inherently, in the overall system and in the approach used.

Most countries, indeed, built more schools and employed more teachers and instructors but ignored curriculum revamping, teachers training, equity and gender equality. Instead, some countries rather than teach scientific subjects and international languages, with a high potential of employability, under pressure from religious clerics, gave more time and space to religious tuition.
Empowering Muslim women by the means of education

In Saudi Arabia, religious topics take 60 % of the curriculum, which, in the end, results in people with a unilateral view of the world and of faith, if not to say, people intolerant and unable to believe in or show any disposition of undertaking any form of inter-faith dialogue and inter-cultural communication and exchange with other cultures and creeds.

However, to attain quality education, first governments must generalize learning and ease access to knowledge by duly striving to empower people through literacy, especially in remote areas. This can be achieved by providing custom-tailored literacy courses coupled with vocational training that would, ultimately, allow the individual to subsist and survive in a very difficult environment.
Families must, also, be encouraged financially to keep their children in school through basic education and especially girls, rather than marrying them at an early age or pushing them to work as maids in people’s homes where they are subject to exploitation and sexual abuse.

Women ought, also, to be empowered through functional literacy, whereby they master the three Rs but also learn a profession which can help them feed themselves and their families, bearing in mind that many women, today, are responsible for mono-parental families and could well do with an income-earning profession rather than resort to undignified labor or prostitution.

Nowadays, many young people feel emasculated by their governments because they are unable to get a job after going through the educational system and graduating from universities. Their profiles are not attractive to the private sector, in the least. Therefore, governments must, at once, revamp their educational systems and link curriculum to the needs of the market. More, the governments ought, urgently, to pressure the private sector to sponsor some university programs as is the case in Europe and America.

It is a common belief, today, in the Arab world that governments are not that interested in their country’s public educational system because their children and the country’s elites are trained in private institutions abroad and public schools in their respective countries are mere “babysitting institutions” and grounds for training needed menial workers for the rich and cannon fodder for armies. To be honest, there is a lot of truth in such an argument because senior politicians train their offspring to take over their positions in the government unashamedly.

Quality education is about employability. Employability is about dignity and hope for a better future, for a family and for full citizenship. The question is do Middle Eastern governments provide much-needed quality education or do they continue to provide just education period?

For Muhammad Faour, a senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center, where his research focuses on education reform in Arab countries, with an emphasis on citizenship education, quality education is a must for the Arab world: “Quality education is necessary for economic and social development. Sustainable economic development in the twenty-first century requires certain key competencies for lifelong learning that schools should teach. Skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, digital literacy, and social and civic responsibility are a must for new entrants to the global job market. Most current Arab systems cannot adequately educate students in these vital areas. What’s more, the Arab world’s burgeoning youth population—one-third of the Arab population is under the age of fifteen—will lead and shape societies and governments in the very near future. Investing in education reform today to encourage responsible citizenship will make all the difference for Arab democracy tomorrow.”

Promotion of equal opportunity and social justice
People in the Arab world are disappointed with their leaders who have always been tribal and patriarchal and have used their countries’ resources as “spoils of war” and not as national benefits to be shared equally between all citizens.

They feel that they have been emasculated by their governments politically, economically and socially. They are only made use of as soldiers (cannon fodder) to defend the country, security forces to protect the regimes and menial workers to work in the homes or the factories of the elites. A very sad and dramatic reality leading to discontent and anger of the impoverished masses.
In this part of the world there is no justice wether social, economic or political. Some special people are more equal than the majority of ordinary people. In most Arab countries, alas, there are two classes only:
•             Al-khassa “the specials” made up of the ruling class and the very rich, in most cases they happen to be the same, because it is the people that are supportive of the establishment that have access to the resources and the wealth. Also, because capital is very frigid, it needs the warmth provided by the proximity of power.
•             Al-‘amma “the generals, the public, the commons, etc.” which are mostly the defunct middle class, the working class and the poor and underpreviliged.

The middle class that existed in the Arab World in the 60s, 70s and 80s of the last century is now a thing of the past. It acted, then, as a shock absorber between the rich and the poor and it was basically made of the government civil servants. Since, under the pressure of the World Bank, governments are hiring less and those already employed are hardly getting any salary rises or benefits. So, as a result, they have become poor.

During the Arab uprisings, the mobs attacked the symbols of both wealth and capital in addition to symbols of power and establishment. In Egypt, the rich close to the regime of the dictator Hosni Mubarek left by planeloads to Cyprus, Greece, Europe and the US right at the beginning of the uprising, to wait for the outcome of the popular discontent.

Political participation
From time immemorial, Arab systems of government were tribal in make-up and nature and patriarchal in philosophy, whereby power is horizontal and based on the patron-client system. It is hereditary and exclusively constructed on family ties and alliances along strong blood lines.

The Prophet Muhammad, aware of tribal strength in Arab culture avoided choosing a successor from his own household; instead he left the matter to the Muslim community to decide along the democratic lines of the shura system (democratic consultation and consensus.) So, after his death in 632, the Muslim community initiated the rule of the Rashidun Caliphate the “Rightly Guided Caliphs” that lasted from 632 to 661.

The Prophet Muhammad tried to build a Muslim nation on the foundation of iman “faith,” this, however, lasted during his lifetime and the rule of the Rashidun Caliphs, after 661, a civil war broke known as the great chaos: al-fitnatu al-kubra, and a great schism materialized, as a result. General Mu’awiya, a shrewd politician, great administrator and strong military leader, from the Banu Hashim defeated Ali, the cousin of the Prophet (a member of his household ahl al-bayt,) in 658. In 661 Ali was assassinated and his son Hussain abdicated in favor of Mu’awiyya, at the Treaty of Mayadin, and the latter took power and created, the somewhat secularized Caliphate of the Umayyad (661-750.) Thus, Caliph Mu’awiyya instituted the hereditary rule based on tribal system, which was to be continued in the Abbassid Caliphate (750–1258) 1261–1517 (under the Mamluk Sultanate of Cairo),) and later on, in the Ottoman Caliphate (1632-1922.)

Under the Caliphate system, the sovereign is sacred because he is considered to be the representative of Allah on earth; dissent and opposition are illicit because they imply and encourage fitna, chaos and disorder, leading to in-fighting, violence and death. Because Caliphs were not elected and were temporal leaders and commanders of the faithful, they, automatically, escaped all form of accountability and easily made dictatorships into sacred institutions, where normal citizens were mere subjects; ra’iyya, with obligations more than rights.

This feudal system continued in modern times with monarchies and republican systems alike, whereby ordinary citizens had no say in politics and had, merely, any participation in the everyday running of their affairs.

Luckily, the Arab Spring opened the door for a great change that will take time to be established, after, probably, a long period of instability. Hopefully, the much-waited for change will usher in:
•             Respect of human rights;
•             Youth participation in political life;
•             Accountability;
•             Rule of law;
•             Recognition of cultural diversity:
•             Gender equality;
•             Equal opportunity, etc.

Democratic rule and rule of law
Many people believe that the Arab Spring has failed or gone to the dogs, the truth of the matter it has not because it has empowered, beyond belief, the Arab citizen. It has managed, successfully, to break, once for all, the wall of fear built around autocratic regimes by political police and political intelligence mukhabarat.

The Arab Spring has not gone bust or become an Islamic Spring or Arab Winter. It is offering the Islamists the possibility to contemplate, for future use, the democratic alternative, and this has already born fruit with the Tunisian Islamist Ennahda morphing into a democratic party with an Islamic referential.

Rory McCarthy explains, in The Washington Post, this unexpected shift of Ennahda both in philosophy and agenda: “How can we explain this shift? The most common explanation is that Ennahda was simply acting pragmatically. Even if it had really wanted to apply sharia law or to take a more confrontational stance against the former regime elites, the reality of transition politics instead required compromise. After all, Ennahda’s defeat in the October 2014 elections showed it couldn’t win repeated victories at the ballot box. Perhaps there was more to be gained by settling for a second-best outcome in uncertain times, especially in a system in which proportional representation and a mixed parliamentary-presidential model meant that coalition governments were more likely than a two-party system. But this implies that the movement’s adaptation was merely presentational and only the result of the political upheavals of the past few years.”

The Arab Spring is taking some respite; the next momentum will be decisive for freedom, rule of law and democracy. Also, the next Arab Spring will be a tsunami that will engulf the whole Arab world and not just one region, because the Arab individual will want to free himself from the shackles of the past and absurd tradition, and despotism, once for all. So, Gulf regimes will not be able to buy social peace with cash handouts like they did in the past. They will have to adopt full democracy or face the possibility of being thrown in the trash can of history, forever.

Personal freedom
People in the Middle East region are “born” shackled by a number of cultural taboos that restrict greatly their creative thinking, discerning power and evaluation capacities. Over centuries these have become tradition that has morphed into a culture, and with time have gained into sacrality, too;

•             The concept of shame 3ib: this is a strong cultural belief that has roots in religion, tribalism and tradition. This concept is restrictive of freedom of thought, innovation and change. It glorifies tradition, the past and established order and stands against change and innovation:

•             The concept of honor karama: honor is one of the most important pillars of manhood, virility and tribal identity. Everyone is taught, at an early age, this important concept and that if they lose honor in the community there is nothing left for them, they are supposed to commit suicide or alternatively exile themselves. Honor is linked to the defense of tribe, family and religion. Today, many honor crimes are committed in the Middle East region within the family structure, when a female member gets involved in an illicit love relationship or gets pregnant. Her death at the hands of a brother or father supposedly washes the shame off the face of the family and it is considered a manly action worth of praise from the community;

•             The concept of seniority or patriarchy: in this part of the world seniority is at the top of the social hierarchy. The older a tribal member gets, the stronger and influential he becomes within society. His advice is sought and decision is awaited and respected. The youth are only wanted for the strength of their muscles and nothing else because they are considered to be “green” and inexperienced. Sometimes, if the patriarch remains in life longer, the young of the household might age without having ever the possibility to make a decision. Worse, if they are the youngest members they will never get to make decisions because on the death of the patriarch, the older brother takes over responsibility and they have to show him respect and allegiance, also;

•             Tribalism: the Middle East region has never grown out of the concept of tribal belonging, even if Islam has, since its appearance in the 6th century, highlighted, instead, the concept of ummah (community of the faithful,) which transcends borders, cultures, colors and tongues and this is emphasized clearly in the following verse of the Koran:
“Among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and earth, and the variation in your languages and your colour”. (Ar-Rum: 22)
Tribalism is very strong in this region to the extent that it has affected Islam. Wahabism which is the official version of Islam in Saudi Arabia is undoubtedly the convergence of tribal supremacy of the House of al-Saud in Arabia and the austere tribal version of Islam advocated by the religious thinker and scholar Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792) since the 18th century (see above for details.)

•             Tradition and past: one of the most important weights people of the Middle East carry from birth is: tradition. Tradition forbids innovation and change and glorifies the past beyond belief. Unfortunately, the glorification of the past is made possible, also, by the eloquence of the language and the intellectual importance of the literature. So, in many ways, many Arabs live more on the glory of the past, in an escapist fashion, than in the realities of the present;

•             Omnipotence and omnipresence of the religion: religion is taking too much space in the lives of people in school and, as a result, in daily life. Apparently 65% of the curriculum in Saudi Arabia is about religion. No religious freedom is allowed and any expression of belief in other religion is considered as apostasy and heresy punished by death.

The Middle Eastern countries have to encourage personal freedom and write it in gold in the constitutions to allow innovation, change and development. Shackling the individual with weights of religion, tradition and tribalism will kill his talent and his drive for creativity and make of him an obedient member of the community rather than a mover.

The Arab Spring of 2011 was the work of the Arab millennials who have showed, beyond doubt that they want to have a say in the everyday life of their societies and put an end to patriarchy, tribalism, and nepotism that have crippled their lives. The Arab Spring is the first move; there will be more similar moves in the future until governments make necessary changes or disappear. Religious radicalism has to be seen, also, as a form of discontent against the state of things in this area.

Women empowerment
God has created humanity in the shape of a pair: man and woman and they both have roles to play in life. Overtime, man, because of physical strength, has usurped the important role of the woman and relegated her to the position of second fiddle: procreation and sexual enjoyment, in total obedience. Modern society has reestablished the rights of women, after a long struggle starting with the suffragettes in the West in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

In the Middle East, some progress has been done in this area, lately, to counter religious radicalism, but there is a lot of work to be undertaken in such fields as:
•             Family law: marriage, inheritance, etc.
•             Education: functional literacy for women in remote areas, encouragement of education of young girls, etc.
•             Equity at work and equal work opportunities, and
•             Criminalization of sexual harassment, rape and violence towards women.

Recognition of cultural and religious minorities
In the early 20th century, Michel Aflaq, a Syrian Christian philosopher and sociologist created the Ba’ath political movement to unite the Arabs as a cultural entity rather than a religious one. This movement ushered in Pan-Arabism, a concept of one nation from the Atlantic to the Gulf united by culture and language and opposed to colonialism and imperialism. The drawback of this movement is that it did not recognize ethnic nor religious minorities, it coalesced their identities into some sort of pan-cultural nationalism making out of Arabism a nation, a religion and a tongue.
The decline of this ideology was due, ultimately, to two factors: lack of development, lack of freedom and lack of democracy. Arabism died out of natural death with the demise of the dictator Saddam, especially after his defeat at the hands of the Americans in 2003, but, in reality, its long decline started with the Iranian Islamic revolution of Khomeini in 1979 and the subsequent revival of Sunni Islamism.

Today, due to the persistent tensions in the Middle East and the bad influence of the racist ideology of ISIS, the region is progressively losing its Christians, who are in their majority intellectuals who have defended, more than anybody else, the Islamic faith and, especially, l’Islam des Lumières, Islam of the Enlightment.

Last word
Extremism is a state of mind, a philosophy and an ideology that did not come to the Middle East haphazardly, but it is the result of many social factors and political trends that coalesced over a period of half a century to create chaos and instability.

Attention must, urgently, be paid to such areas as those given here above to establish social peace and reconciliation between the state and the citizen:
•             Democracy and rule of law;
•             Freedom (civil liberties, freedom of expression, freedom of belief and faith, etc.);
•             Women and minority rights
•             Equality and social justice;

These are, certainly, not impossible actions to undertake, but they do need a concerted effort and genuine dedication from the international community for the good of all men and women in the region and elsewhere.

Last but not least, the Arabs have to take responsibility for their actions and stop blaming the other for their demise and predicament. This is undoubtedly the first step towards positive change.

[i] Regional Commissions, New York Office, Report “Full employment and opportunities for all, regional highlights” 2008
[ii] The ILO Global employment trends for Youth issue of August 2010
[iii] League of Arab States. Arab Youth Reproductive Health and Intergenerational Communication, 2007
[vi] League of Arab States, Arab Youth Issues No.3, Arab Youth Participation: Challenges and Opportunities, 2007
[v] Op. cited
This article is the hundredth (100th) contribution of Professor Mohamed Chtatou to Morocco World News as a columnist. It was a lecture given at the Summer School held by Centre for Religious Pluralism in the Middle East (CRPME) and the Department of Political Science & International Relations of the University of Peloponnese in Katio, Greece on August 23-26, 2016.
You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu

Travelling On a Budget: 0 Dirham?
By Zineb Boujrada - August 21, 2016 Casablanca

This summer, I noticed a huge wave of enthusiastic young Moroccans who are starting to embrace the “free” mode of travelling using only their backpacks and tents. They road trip in order to explore outside of the usual, big and noisy cities. Morocco is a country of warmth, sun, mouth-watering food, and breath-taking natural and wild beauty with so much to offer. Indeed, backpacking is “revolutionizing” the way we, young people, travel, and opens new perspectives, unknown and unexpected destinations to discover.

Despite all of these apparent motivating aspects, some Moroccan trippers and some people who consider themselves as digital nomads of other nationalities fail to understand the true concept of backpacking.  It has become glamourous to grab a bag, take a photo, and post it on social media telling everybody, hey, look, I am doing the same thing as you. I have no reproach, I’ll do the same.  Okay, let’s call things as they should be called. We all want to start a dreamy trip and visit the most surrealistic gems of our country or others, but, hey wait a moment. It should be done with responsibility and a dose of realism. Here is why.

The thing is departing with 0 Dirhams just sounds very unrealistic, almost frightening, and yet funny to some extent. Yes, we all want to budget travel, sometimes because we simply want to give it a try and sometimes because we just do not have another option than shrink costs because we cannot afford expensive hotels and luxuries.

Walking from Todgha Valley to Todgha Gorges
Talking from experience, I came to know people who can afford staying in the most luxurious chalets and reside in the most expensive facilities and places in Morocco and overseas, and still they choose to take only the necessities and the basics for survival, along with useful equipment for wild camping. They even go woofing in order to get first hand experiences and enjoy absolute immersion into the culture of the host, free accommodation most of the time, and locally prepared food, which turns out to be an amazing culinary discovery especially for food lovers like myself.

Again, this is a completely wonderful way of travelling on budget where you get to give and receive, work and get loving kindness back. This is indeed a responsible way of moving around.
Genuinely, I think starting with 0 Dirhams can be a wrong decision on so many levels. Let’s get into the practical tiny details: What if your Couchsurfing host declines your request at the last minute, and what if the hosts you got in touch with do not respond? What if you land up in a camping site where you have to pay to use the site? Would you start begging people to cover your very elementary expenses? And what if you do not succeed in getting a ride (a special thought for female hitchhikers, because safety comes first)? I am not even mentioning food here! I have come across some posts of some digital nomads on Facebook who are seriously thinking that stealing from supermarkets is fair to sustain themselves while they are travelling.

If this were not enough, they think that this is an absolutely correct and ordinary thing to do.  We might all agree that the backpacking and hitchhiking mode of travelling is questioning the capitalistic dimension of modern travels (travel agencies, flight companies etc), but it is just not acceptable to use this argument as an alibi to steal other’s properties under the hashtag #screwcapitalism.
Old city of Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina

We are in a desperate need of people who understand the very essence of budget travelling. Travel equals responsibility: towards one’s self and towards the immediate environment with which one directly interacts. When you get the chance to be hosted by people you do not know, and you are sure you will not get to meet them again, the least you can do is to be grateful. It is a good idea to carry symbolic gifts for such wonderful situations (candies for kids, even money sometimes) in recognition of people’s kindness and generosity, even if they do not ask and/or accept this kind of reward.  One cannot do this if one is going with 0 Dirhams/Euros/Dollars.

In a nutshell, travelling on a budget is a whole new philosophy, lifestyle, and ensemble of values and norms. Let’s try our best to stick to a responsible kind of travel. Happy, realistic, and “clean” travels each and every one!

Yes, I am a Moroccan Female and I Backpack and Hitchhike Solo
By Zineb Boujrada - August 8, 2016 Casablanca

Traveling has always been seen a luxurious activity that only rich people or people who save the whole year from their modest salaries can afford during summer holidays. However, backpacking has emerged as an alternative travel mode that is being used by young people all around the world, in an attempt to change the way people can travel.

I started travelling in 2010 and since then I can say that I contracted the travel bug. However, it is only in 2014 that I started travelling as a backpacker and in 2015 as a hitchhiker. The first time I thought about hitchhiking was last year in Morocco, after I have heard and read stories of female solo travellers from all around the world who have chosen to hitchhike and to travel on a budget. Ever since, the desire to try did not stop growing and I decided to give it a try as I was hitting the road with a female friend of mine … It started as a joke and as it was a whole new experience, we decided to start using a big taxi then to try our first “thumbs up” on the road. We started from Fez till Errachidia, Merzouga, Tinghir, Ouarzazate, Marrakech, Essaouira, Agadir, Sidi Ifni and we ended up taking our last ride to Casablanca.

During the entire trip, we asked for the hospitality of random people we met on the road or what we called in Moroccan “Daif Allah”, we used couchsurfing or stayed at friends’ places. Since then, I have been feeling confident about hitchhiking as a female traveler especially in Morocco. I tried it in other countries like Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro and Croatia, and I can say that it has been a wonderful experience on several levels and I am thinking to go for other countries the same way.

When I share my travels with other people, the first thing they say is: aren’t you afraid? Don’t you think that you should not travel alone as a female? What if this and that happens to you?
The idea of traveling solo is not new and I am certainly not the first female who does that. Of course, life is made of risks and one has to be cautious. Life is meant to be lived just once and you have to take risks while doing it: either you take it or you leave it to other more courageous people to live it.

Traveling alone as a female in a country such as Morocco is challenging, both for the traveler and for the society. When you hit the road, and you wait for hours on the side of the road to get picked in the middle of nowhere of “deep Morocco”, you cannot escape from the wondering looks and whispering of men and women who see you as an alien with your backpack and your hair in the air. A solo female traveler in Morocco embodies freedom, courage and all what our traditional society cannot accept overnight, simply because you are a female, a woman.

Change starts from here. When you see more and more girls grabbing their backpacks, tents and sleeping bags to go get a life, a grasp of freedom from monotony, a break from the society, you say outloud that yes, we can hope for serious societal mutations in the sense that serves better the Moroccan lambda and the society.

A Moroccan Startup Launches Dome-shaped Ecological Homes 
MENAFN - Morocco World News - 04/09/2016

Domed houses are something we very rarely see, as this type of structure is usually used for large public buildings, such as mosques or catherals However, this style of geometry has inspired a new moroccan company to normalize it on an ecological level. This project was started by a company from the Hassania School of Public Works in Rabat. Eco-dome Morocco is a startup founded by Mustapha Bahraoui,a hydraulic engineer, and Younes Ouazri, a civil engineer.

This construction company builds dome-shaped housing. The structures are made from bags filled with a mixture of earthand cement which is used as a binder. The bags are stacked and secured, then the structureis coated with a mixture of hydrated lime and straw.

The concept behind Eco-domes iwas inspired by the work of the Iranian architect Nader Khalili who used sandbags known as 'super adobe' in the 80s. 'We have adapted this concept to a Moroccan context and the local materials. Concerning the construction, we have considered the geotechnical effects of each type of land,' says Younes Ouazri, co-founder of Morocco Eco-Dome.
Both the startup' s promoters aim to develop their product by targeting investors in the tourism sector.

The materials used will ensure acoustic (soundproofing) and thermal insulation. The housing's construction is up to two times faster than that of a conventional house. The mixture used in the bags is 90% earth and 10 % cement. This composition allows the structure to have a certain stability. Moreover, these aesthetically authentic structures are also resistant to earthquakes.The cost per square meter of an Eco- Dome is 2,000 dirhams. But the price may vary depending on the coating, tiling and the interior.

Currently, the startup is on its third project. The first prototype is still in the Hassania School of Public Work. While the second is a 72 m home that has been built by Morocco Eco-dome team in Sidi Allal Bahraoui in the region of Rabat, and is currently inhabited by a family of five. And the third Eco-Dome that is 250 m is currently under construction and will house a cultural center in Agouim, near Ouarzazate and includes 150 covered domes. The 'Eco- domes ' require special permission to be built from the authorities. Since the material used is earth-based, engineers have to submit a file of the structure stability guarantees.
Edited by Anna Hill

The exotic allure of Morocco’s magical Fes: Little has changed in this living museum - except it's now easier than ever to get to
By Glenys Roberts For Daily Mail , 3 September 2016

•             Fes is a handsome city with wide boulevards and beautiful public gardens
•             It's a great base to explore the Roman ruins at Volubilis and Ifrane's hills
•             The city is a Unesco heritage site and has the oldest university in the world

When my daughter was little, I used to pop her into the back of an old Renault 4 and drive all over Morocco every summer. We started in Tangier on the Med, drove to Guelmim in the south, visited Ouzzazate in the desert and stopped in Marrakesh.

But the place that intrigued us most was mysterious Fes, with its spiritual past, it’s dusty present and — at that time — uncertain future. Invited back there recently, I could hardly wait to see what had become of it. Would the myriad metal workers, tanners, potters, cobblers, gold and silversmiths, leather workers and rug-makers still ply their ancient crafts in the dark warrens of its medieval souk?

Would the mules in their rubber shoes still carry bales of cactus silk noiselessly along narrow passageways? Would you still catch a glimpse, behind a rundown doorway, of a lush garden teeming with running water and birdsong?

The Sofitel Palais Jamai, where we used to stay, butting up against the labyrinthine souk, is being refurbished, so I chose a new hotel, Barcelo Fes Medina, which was spotlessly clean and fairly priced.

Fes is wonderfully handsome, with wide boulevards and beautiful public gardens. My visit coincided with the annual sacred music festival and the Jnan Sbil gardens was one of the venues. Enjoying the music under a mimosa tree by an ornamental lake with storks flying overhead, all felt well with the world.

The theme of the festival was women achievers, and quite right, too, because it was a woman who put the city on the map in the Middle Ages. Fatima al-Fihri fled a violent husband in Tunisia to found the world’s oldest university, the Kairaouine, in Fes in 859. Jewish philosophers and medieval popes studied the meaning of life in its reading room where scholars still pore over original texts today.

In the 30-odd years since my last visit, Fes has become a world heritage site, with Unesco and American money restoring the old Jewish quarter. They’ve paved the streets where before there was bare earth, but the people in their robes and slippers still haggle, sip mint tea and obey the call to prayer in its 9,400 alleyways.

No, nothing much has changed — except it’s easier to get here, with direct flights courtesy of Ryanair.

The city has been called a living museum, the Athens of Africa and the Mecca of the West. That’s a lot to live up to, but it never lets you down. Its madrasas (schools) and palaces boast yards of blue mosaics, chiselled calligraphy and carved cedar wood ceilings, an exquisite testament to workmen’s creative skills.

Turning into an unmarked doorway off an alley not much more than a yard wide, I found myself in the restored 14th-century Palais Amani hotel.

Meknes is the imperial city where the 18th-century Sultan Moulay Ismail fathered 888 children and built a vast palace with the aid of 150,000 slaves
Ifrane, a hill town set in the largest cedar forest in Africa, is the place to escape when the temperature in Fes soars.

Sipping a hot chocolate in the glamorous Michlifen hotel with its indoor pool kept at 30c and gentle ski slopes a short car ride away, I thought what a wonderful place it would be to spend Christmas.
‘Yes, of course we have a Christmas tree,’ the hospitable manager told me.‘We don’t normally cook a turkey, but we will do one for you.
Read more: ===========================================================================================

The road to Merzouga:
In this surreal Moroccan desert, the journey is as fun as the destination
September 4, 2016

I had always read stories and watched movies about exotic Morocco with its majestic mountain ranges, mesmerizing kasbahs, and its stunning Sahara Desert. So I was definitely excited for this trip. I never knew that this would be a truly extraordinary experience!

We started out early at 7 a.m. from Marrakesh and drove through two hours of winding roads  up to the High Atlas mountains via the Tizi ‘n Tichka pass, a mountain pass in Morocco that links the southeast of Marrakesh to the city of Ouarzazate through the High Atlas mountains. We stopped several times along the way to take amazing photos. One thousand four hundred sixty meters above sea level and the panoramic views of the High Atlas Mountains, as well as the glorious sights of fertile valleys, coral colored pise, villages, and other striking mineral environments, were definitely worth the dizziness in the car!

En route, we visited the Argan Cooperative where Argan oil, delicious butter (or fondly called Berber Nutella for its similar taste and consistency), and cosmetics are made with the Argannut by hand. Argan oil is a plant oil produced from the kernels of the Argan tree, grown only in Morocco. Berber women crack the nuts and then grind them one by one, producing these products. I must have bought six months worth of soap and oil!

After spending a few dirham at the Cooperative, we then continued the journey, passing oases of impressive kasbahs, valleys lined with date palms, olive terraces, pomegranate, almond, and fruit trees. We then arrived at the town of Telouet and its ancient 17th-century Kasbah. Kasbah Telouet was formerly home to the Pasha El Glaoui, better known in the English speaking world as Lord of the Atlas. He was also known as a close personal friend of Winston Churchill. Telouet was once an important stop on the Southern Caravan route for traders carrying spices, slaves, and other commodities. Also known as Dar Glaoui, Kasbah Telouet’s toned, red walls are crumbling on the exterior, but its interior is still one of great splendor. This Kasbah’s interior still stands out with its painted salon walls, the bright Zellij (tiles), and labyrinth of locked doors with dangling silver knockers. The Kasbah boasts of iron window grilles and finely carved ceilings decorated in paints using Saffron and Henna. It made me dream of a Scheherazade-like temptress sitting in the Pasha’s chambers, spinning her tales of 1,001 lights!

After Telouet, we drove on in the direction of Ouarzazate, the picturesque village where the UNESCO-protected Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah is, a fortified city, or palace, along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech in present-day Morocco. Situated on a hill along the Ouarzazate River, it was once a crossing point for African traders seeking to reach northern cities in Morocco and Europe. Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here. It is still one of many locations in this region used for shooting Hollywood films and TV shows such as Gladiator, Alexander, and Game of Thrones.
After hiking to the top of Ait Ben Haddou, we drove to Skoura, a town that overlooks many other beautiful Kasbahs, in the direction of Dades Valley. We spent a nice evening at a hotel that had rooms with amazing views of the rock formations in the valley and the calming sounds of the Dades river. In the morning, we drove toward Todgha city to explore the Todra Gorge. The Todra, with cliffs rising dramatically up to 300 meters on each side of a narrow orange limestone corridor, make up some of the most impressive cliffs and are by far, the highest in Morocco. Their sheer height and beauty simply took my breath away.

After lunch, we then proceeded in the direction of Merzouga, home of Erg Chebbi. Moroccan legend says that the Erg Chebbi sand dunes were sent by God as a punishment for turning away a weary traveler from the Sahara desert. Moroccans believe that the dunes piled up outside Merzouga teach them a lesson to never refuse to help tired travelers ever again.

After arriving in Merzouga, we then rode the camels for about an hour through the dunes. The Erg Chebbi dunes in Merzouga are indisputably among the greatest sights of Morocco. These giant hills of smooth sand line the Algerian border, a must-see for everyone. The sand is the most golden ochre and the sunset was one of the most breathtaking I’ve ever seen in my life. I would say that it fulfills most people’s expectations of what a true desert should be. It definitely fulfilled mine!

After the sun set, we got on the camels once again and rode toward the Berber camp. We arrived just in time to get into our tents and escape a sand storm. The sand storm was definitely quite an experience! It felt like we were caught up inside a tornado, with the roaring sounds of the wind surrounding us and sand beating against our Berber carpeted tent walls. If I didn’t know what was going on, I would have thought we were being attacked by a flight of fire-breathing dragons, flapping wings and all! The storm went on for about an hour and eventually died down. It was too bad that we weren’t able to have a campfire due to the mess the storm created, but the warmth and hospitality of the Berber guides made up for the lack of “ambiance” of eating under the stars. They ushered us into a tent and served us an authentic chicken couscous dinner (very simple yet so flavorful!) and a sweet orange cinnamon dessert, all of it washed down with comforting mint tea. This was followed by enjoyable live music (drums, singing, and dancing by the Berbers.) Later in the evening, some of us went out on the dunes to stargaze. I don’t know if it was the unpolluted sky, but the stars just seemed brighter and more plentiful in the endless charcoal sky. It was a profoundly magical experience, reminiscent of The Little Prince.

The next day, we woke up early to watch the sunrise and ride the camels back to Merzouga. The sun behind us created wonderful long shadows of our caravan and reflected beautifully on the sand, giving it the most stunningly rich golden color I have never seen. I could have stayed there for hours and taken photo upon photo of the dunes. They were spectacular!

The visits to the High Atlas Mountains, Gorge, and Kasbahs were fascinating and magnificent. But I would have to say that the true star of this three-day trek was the desert experience. Despite my achy legs and cramped hands (from holding on for dear life to the camels), and sand that will probably never wash out of my eyes and hair, this was truly a trip of a lifetime. I have been on the Dubai desert safari and the Merzouga/Sahara desert tour wins in my book—and I would probably even go back. But hmmm… maybe I’ll opt for the luxury desert experience with 4x4s next time!

‘The most remote, alien place on Earth’ – Nicholas Jubber on the Sahara

Living among nomads and camels has given the writer rich insight and amazing experiences but he’s also had to evade banditry and anti-western feeling

I was six when I first saw the Sahara – sitting on my father’s knee, watching Star Wars on the telly. It stuck in my mind as the most remote, alien place on Earth (although at the time I thought it was a planet called Tatooine!) Over the years, images from the movies (a galloping Peter O’Toole, a burnt Ralph Fiennes) reinforced my romantic image of the desert.

On my first journey there, I was thrilled by the scale and emptiness. I loved how you could lie at night, warmed by the embers of your fire, gazing at the constellations; or how you could stumble upon neolithic rock paintings of giraffes and crocodiles – I saw a few on a cliff near Amougjar Pass in Mauritania. I loved how history was laid out for you, above and below.

The longer I spent in the Sahara, the less empty it became. Travelling from Fez down to Timbuktu, I was fascinated by the desert’s capacity to transform. In the caravan town of Ouadane, Mauritania, I wandered through a maze of medieval dry-stone houses where the only sign of habitation was the droppings of rock hyraxes (rodent-like creatures). But later that evening, hundreds of people gathered in a courtyard house for a wedding party, where there were swirls of colour from women’s headscarves, the hullabaloo of ululations, and frantic dancing to electric guitars and a Moorish lute.

The desert is in a state of constant flux, and life reflects that. Brutal winds shift the sand to the unlikeliest places: to the decks of Atlantic freighters and mainland Europe. There’s a feeling of perpetual movement. This was never clearer to me than in northern Mali. Riding across scrub desert, my guide checked the stars to locate his family’s camp, only to discover they had moved in search of grazing. He raised a finger to read the starscape, re-calibrating our position. After an hour’s tacking, we found them, and settled down to the customary three glasses of tea, like commuters after a hectic journey.

Staying in nomad camps were some of my happiest experiences. Morocco is the safest Saharan country at the moment; I’d recommend Zagora or Merzouga in the south-east as a first ports of call. I loved hanging around the tents, taking part in daily chores: drawing water, hobbling camels, baking millet-bread (you drop it in a pit covered in ash, and turn it over after half an hour). But mealtimes could be hard work – as an un-supple leftie I struggled with cross-legged, right-handed eating. My bit of carpet would be scattered with so much rice that goats would gather around me.

Nomads are driven by adaptability, like the fauna around them. I was fascinated by the tracks my guides picked up: snakes, grasshoppers, even hares and fennec foxes. Most distinctive are the heart-shaped hoof prints of camels. The 19th-century explorer René Caillié called them “a masterpiece of nature’s workmanship” and he was right. They can modulate their temperature, reflect sunlight off their coats, consume up to 120 litres at a single watering, among many other talents. No animal rules the desert like the camel, and spending time with them (not just riding them) is one of the region’s real treats.

One of my happiest memories is of riding away from a well-keeper’s tent a few miles north of Timbuktu. Ismail, the well-keeper, stood on his dune, chanting a song of blessing. He only had a few teeth, but the acoustics of the desert lifted his words and they floated around us, as resonant as an aria sung in the Albert Hall. That’s my favourite thing about the Sahara: its capacity to conjure the improbable.
Nicholas Jubber’s The Timbuktu School for Nomads: Across the Sahara in the Shadow of Jihad is published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing at £20. Buy a copy for £16.40, including UK p&p, at

In Photos: The Morocco Less Traveled: A T+L photo editor travels to Fez and Chefchaouen
by Anna McKerrow

I booked tickets to Morocco to visit Chefchaouen, the city of blue. Nestled in the Rif Mountains, just inland from Tangier, the city is painted a thousand different shades of cobalt and indigo, making it a photographer’s dream. The region—its relaxing vibe and lively centers—proved to be way more than scenery alone.

The winding streets lead you through a city far more at ease than more traditional Moroccan destinations. The main square of the medina provides a restful spot to people watch, but as soon as you require more action, you can wander through the shops selling locally crafted woven rugs, blankets, and clothing. It’s a city that begs to be included on any Moroccan itinerary.
The journey to Chefchaouen began in Fez, a city whose buzzy atmosphere complements the quieter city of blue. My husband and I often travel off the beaten path, but to navigate the maze-like streets of Fez we turned to a local guide. Because of religious, cultural, and language barriers, we benefited from having someone who could reveal the history and the traditions that would be otherwise difficult to spot.

The sights and smells of the medina seem timeless: bread and spices from the markets, donkeys transporting goods on their backs through the narrow alleyways, and sheep skins lying in the streets as a reminder of the recent Eid al Adha religious festival. Even harder to forget is the sound of the call to prayer.

Together, Chefchaouen and Fez made for a satisfying dive into Moroccan sights and culture. Travelers to these cities should prepare to have their senses flooded; it’s not an experience soon forgotten.
Check it here:

Moroccan Tree Goats Have Stolen Our Hearts and Our Fruit
August 30, 2016

Its logical to expect apples, leaves, beautiful springtime blooms, or even the random squirrel here and there to exist among the leafy shadows of trees around the world. But goats? That's not something you see everydayunless you live in Morocco.

Argania, the plant argan oil comes from, is a rare species of tree you can find in Morocco. The trees are known for bearing a black, dry fruit that goats go crazy over. The goats spend an average of 387 minutes per day grazing among these treetops, according to a study titled Ingestive Behavior of Goats Graving in the Southwestern Argan (Argania Spinosa) Forest of Morocco. Thats the same amount of time some people would call a full nights rest.

These argan trees can grow up to 33 feet tall, and these fruit-seekers will happily go the extra mile to snack on the highest of branches. Farmers have caught on to this process and invest in these adventure-seeking goats to help them harvest the nuts, given that argan oil is one of the most in-demand liquids for cosmetics and culinary ingredients.

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