The mineret that takes you home

About Membership Volunteer Newsletters Souk Links

Virtual Magazine of Morocco on the Web
Morocco Week in Review 
September 24, 2016 Department of State Opens Applications for Green Card Lottery.

By Morocco World News - September 22, 2016 Rabat

The US Department of State has announced that the registration for the ‘Diversity Migrant Visa 2018’ (green card lottery) will begin on October 4 and close on November 7. Registration for the visa can be done for free only online at, which will be active during the registration period.

According to a document released by the US Department of State, applicants for the green card lottery should register as early as possible since the heavy demand on the website during the last few weeks of the application period might cause website delays. The document specifies that paper applications and late applications will not be considered, whereas, “Individuals with more than one entry will be disqualified.”

The applicants must respond to simple yet strict eligibility criteria, including a baccalaureate certificate. If more than one member from the same family wishes to apply for the Diversity Visa, each member must register individually.

The US Department of State will use a computerized system to select the applicants from the bank of eligible entries. The applicants will be able to check the status of their green card application beginning on May 2, 2017.

The number of Moroccans selected in the Diversity Immigrant Visa changes slightly from year to another, but it approaches 3000 people. Further information will be provided to individuals whose applications are selected, such as the fees involved in the immigration visa.

A New Paradigm for Global Education in Morocco

By Morocco World News - September 23, 2016 , By Sara Amiri Wisconsin

Education in Morocco is often described with a sense of disappointment and anger. It is believed to be the most important factor in the development of the country. After all, it is making sure that generations of bright, efficient, and civilized individuals continue to drive the country forward economically, politically and socially.

This importance of education is being used as a political tool to attract and engage voters, alluding people to truly believe that a better education system is the sole responsibility of the government.
The reality is that despite the relatively mediocre education system that many of us are enraged about, many students have managed to have a beneficial educational experience in the tiniest of villages, unidentifiable to the average Moroccan. This successful experience is, without a doubt, attributed to the ambitious and intelligent nature of the student, but also attributed to their educators, specifically, the educators who inspire and believe in the student’s abilities to succeed and see beyond the limited and not-so-engaging education system.

A great educator inspires students and motivates them. A great institution leader creates that perfect learning environment and engages in the short and long term education of the students. In Morocco, there are many examples within this new generation of hard-working, open-minded, and committed university and school leaders who are ensuring that students see and utilize a variety of learning and personal development opportunities.

Professor Yassine Zarhloule, Director at EST Oujda is a great example representing this group of optimistic leaders within Morocco’s educational institutions. In a short period of time, he was able to apply international standards in his institution. Inspiring students as a professor, he now continues inspiring both students and professors as a school director. His positive attitude and optimism can be seen during the very first few seconds of interacting with him.

When students come to him seeking help he welcomes them with a listening ear and a warm smile. He goes above and beyond his daily dictated responsibilities as a school director, by continually looking for ways to improve his school’s teaching methods and by bringing new opportunities to students and professors at EST Oujda (ESTO). His open door policy and closeness to his students allows him to directly and positively impact them on a daily basis.

“I never went to his office and he turned me down. He always motivates us and provides us a space to work on our creative projects,” says ESTO student Mohammed Ayyadi when asked about Yassine Zarhloule “Moreover, he gives us feedback on our projects and provides mentorship so we can improve our work.” Watine Latnine, also an ESTO student adds: “His passion and dedication to his job has given us a great role model to follow”.

Yassine’s closeness to his students can be seen in his frequent interactions with students seeking advice, help, or simply a listening ear. These student testimonials show how much Yassine’s work is appreciated within ESTO and that more examples like him are needed in Morocco’s educational institutions where students are in a desperate need of mentors and role models.

Lessons from Morocco’s Noor solar project


ZAMBIA has for some time now been grappling with the crippling effects of the 560 megawatts electricity deficit caused by low rainfall experienced during the 2015/2016 rainy season. The development is likely to get worse as demand for electricity grows by 200 megawatts annually. The bigger issue is that electricity is the lifeblood of the economy and this development has continued to affect the growth of industries, most of which use energy for production. The country, however, has huge potential to explore alternative sources such as renewable energy to meet the gap. As things stand, Zesco Limited, the country’s power provider, is projected to suffer loss of about US$S227 million as a result of the deficit.

Government, private sector and other stakeholders are now looking at ways of resolving the energy deficit in the country. Renewable energy could be the solution to the challenges the country is facing and will therefore need to be explored. According to the Oxford English dictionary, renewable energy is power-generated from natural resources, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides and geothermal heat, which are naturally replenished.

Because the country is endowed with a number of renewable energy resources that can be explored in order to attract investment, it is time to do the exploration for the good of the country.
Aside from water, which the country uses for its energy, Zambia has favourable climatic conditions that make it suitable for solar solutions. Government is investing in renewable energy through various projects and programmes such as the Rural Electrification Authority (REA), aimed at promoting the transfer of renewable technology in achieving the objective of sustainable energy for all.
This is in line with the National Energy Policy for 2008 where Government has recognised the need for promoting renewable energy.

And to enhance such undertakings, lessons can be drawn from the Noor solar project in Ouarzazate, Morocco, which covers 3,000 hectares of land. Noor Ourzazate Solar project is the first complex deployed by Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) and is located approximately 10 kilometres north-east of the city of Ouarzazate and on the edge of the Sahara desert. The site gathers four multi-million technology solar plants (concentrated solar power (CSP) parabolic trough, tower and photovoltaic) with a total capacity of 580MW developed in line with international standards including environmental and technological ones. They are associated to a research and development platform that covers more than 150 hectares.

The complex has the necessary infrastructure, developed by Masen and Office National de l’Electricité et de l’Eau Potable (ONEE) for the benefit of the developers. A visit to the solar project site with the support of Conference of Parties (COP) steering committee revealed that through solar and good technology, it is possible to supply a nation with sustainable energy. The Noor complex is famous as a filming location for the Hollywood blockbusters like “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Gladiator”.

Representative in charge of planning and methods at the plant Tarik Bourquouquou said once completed, Noor Ourzazate solar project will be the biggest solar project in the world with the capacity of 580MW. He said once completed, the size of the solar project will be like that of the capital city of Morocco providing electricity to 2.2 million people countrywide.

The capital city of Morocco is Rabat. Its size is 45.17 square miles. According to the world atlas, the city has a population of 577,827 people.

Mr Bourquouquou said the project is in three phases. The first phase, Noor I, which is already complete and providing 160MW power of the ultimate 580MW capacity to the people of the Kingdom of Morocco is helping the country save thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide. Noor I solar project is using CSP parabolic trough. When the mirrors start turning, heat begins to turn the turbines and the plant starts producing energy. It is currently servicing about 650 thousand local people with solar electricity from dawn until three hours after sunset.

Phase two, which is still under construction, involves the construction of a 200MW concentrated solar power plant while the last phase will generate 150MW with seven hours energy storage.
Noor III CSP plant, which is a tower, will produce 150MW and will be the highest building in Africa at 243 metres and will involve the construction of CSP Noor IV.“The power generated at the complex will be enough for the consumption of 2.2 million people by Moroccan standard once all the phases are done.Works are scheduled to be completed end of 2017,” Mr Bourquouquou said.
An estimated cost of around three billion dollars will be spent on the project. According to Climate Investment Fund (CIF) finance group, the Noor complex could produce enough energy to power over one million homes by 2018 and help to reduce carbon emissions by 760,000 tonnes yearly.

The Moroccan government through King Muhammed VI, decided to invest in renewable energy to reduce the country’s dependency on imports of fossil fuels abroad which stands at 95 percent. A national energy strategy was put in place which aims to bring the share of renewable energies at 52 percent of the total energy production capacity. According to Mr Bourquouquou, the country’s projected goal is to reach 2,000 MW of solar energy by 2020 and 52 percent of national capacity of renewable, including wind, solar and hydro.“The Noor solar plan, through the development of solar project, should generate investment in excess of nine billion dollars by 2020 and should enable annual savings in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 3.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide,” Mr Bourquouquou said.

Beyond 2020 these indicators will even reach higher levels. Five sites close to Ourzazate, Midet, Laayoune, Boujdour and Tata thus have been shortlisted to host the Noor multi-technology base projects indispensable to the new high ambition. The construction and operation of these integrated plants goes along with active and committed socio-economic development of the region in which they are located. Morocco is showing real leadership and bringing the cost of the technology down in the process.

And this is because the North African country knew and understood its demand which has continued to grow at 7 percent yearly and something had to be done. A decision taken by the highest office of the king to promote renewable energy is slowly paying back for the country. The Noor II and Noor III plants combined will help offset 533,000t of CO2 emissions a year.
It is a project worth emulating in Zambia.

From Rentier Economy to Rentier Mentality in the Arab World

By Mohammed Maarouf - September 19, 2016 , El Jadida

Ibn Khaldun defines rent in his prolegomena (2005 edition) as revenue cumulated without producing effort not only by leasing property but also by commercializing natural resources or taxing their trade. According to him, rent originated in the Arab world from the economy of conquest and capture of booties in that the masses sweated over wealth that was lavishly captured by the minority in power. He referred to historical events delineating how tribes raided upon other tribes and captured their properties.

Ibn Khaldun also alluded to how Arab elite regarded labour as shameful in agriculture or industry (p. 340), and concluded that in the Arab mind the prestige of wealth was not associated with effort, sweat and labour but with gift-exchange or usurpation cultural models. He pointed up that rent-based economy would not lead to social development. It is production-based economy instead that could infuse a social “habitus” with effort-oritented ethics of labour and secure the survival of a harmonic social fabric.

There are some social scientists and economists who distinguish between “rentier state” and “rent-based economy,” although others may use the terms interchangeably. The term “rent-based economy” is broader in meaning and presupposes the implication of the “rentier state” but the difference between them lies in the degree of the involvement of state institutions.

In a rentier state, the public institutions alone are rentier; in a rent-based economy, both state institutions and private sectors are rentier (see Hafez 2009). Thus, rentier economy has a larger scope. According to Hazem Beblawi (1987), there is no “pure” rentier economy. Rentier aspects exist in every economy. It is a matter of perspective. Rent based economy evinces a preponderance of rent elements. In rentier economy, the labor force may utilize and distribute wealth while the minority of capital owners may generate it though Beblawi is not decided on this point.

Sometimes, the economic roles are switched or intermixed. What is new in Beblawi’s theory of rentier state is that governments are the initial force that sets the rentier economic machine in motion, especially with the redistribution of state revenues. What deepens the rentier state roots is the inherent preeminence of tribal segmentary social structures. The state uses its source of revenues to co-opt tribal loyalties and redistribute favors to its faithful subjects and servants. Hence, the role of the welfare state based on taxation is obfuscated and the role of the charitable ruler is polished in society through the political practice of endowment.

From a cultural perspective, it is not rent that should be censured and dismantled but the culture it produces. Rent dismisses the imperative of work and effort to make profit. It spreads a rentier mentality, according to Beblawi, that promotes the capture of booties and accruement of assets with the least effort. The main characteristic of this mentality is the reversal of the conventional ethics of labour based on effort and risk-taking.

Rentier ethics ruptures the causal relationship between work and earnings. Revenue becomes a hit-and-miss affair of chance and special circumstances. In Morocco, for instance, the rentier ethics are expressed through cultural idioms rooted in rentier-submerged maraboutic thinking. The notion of baraka, luck (zhar), divine allocated provision (rzaq), charity, and divine distribution of wealth (Allah created the poor as he created the rich) are all local meanings that disregard personal effort and human agency which can bring social change. They rather uncover a popular cultural worldview at work constructing local social identities in terms of mystic forces being capable of steering the wheel of fortune.

Another example from Moroccan history about rentier ethics is the Sufi ethos of labor. Sufis draw upon the concepts of dependence (tawakkul) and cause (sabab) to earn their daily bread. Dependence (tawakkul) means for them the trust in God to facilitate their sustenance. Cause (sabab) – in the sense of taking the initiative – is regarded as subsidiary even if some Sufi groups permit work for their members to allow them to provide for their families. In most cases, work is not important in their opinion. It should not seduce the Sufi away from his meditation and worship.

Historically speaking, many Sufis’ preaching did not consort with their practice. In 10thand 16th centuries, a number of Sufis worked as fellahs, tailors and merchants to provide for their families (Shadili 1989, 196-7). In reality, Sufi lodges (zawiya-s) lived on revenues such as gifts (hadaya), tribute (ziyara), donations (hibat), and were also exempted from taxes by Sultanic decrees of honor and respect. A tribute typified the gift individuals or tribes annually offered to the zawiya to which tribes lived in devotion and gratitude. It was compulsory in that the Moroccan tradition dictated it. It was socially inconvenient for someone to refuse giving his due annual tribute to the zawiya which he was closely related to.

Tribute was usually associated with supplication and was channelled through a gift-exchange cultural model. Individuals and tribes took their gifts to a particular zawiya in the hope that its saint would endow them in return with his baraka, either by chasing away a sickness and malediction or by solving a social problem. De Foucauld wrote in 1883 that the zawiya Sharqawiya in Bja‘d (Tadla) received annual tributes each year from all the nearby tribes. Other tribes from Shawiya and the Great Atlas also used to give their own annual tributes. The value of those tributes was 1/10 of the harvest. In 1905, Ait ‘Atta in Wad Dar‘a gave a tribute to the shurfa of Tamsluht in the sum total of 1 sheep per flock of 100 heads, 1/30 of corn harvest amount, 1/8 of henna amount being the main commercial produce of the oasis, and 0.5 franc per new-born and newly-purchased horse. (cit. in Michel, 2001, p. 103).

Another historical example is the shrif Mulay Ali l-Wazani who received gifts from different parts of Morocco and beyond. He received henna and dates from visitors from Tafilalt, male and female slaves from visitors from the Sahara, fabric and mules from visitors from the Orient, iron equipments from mountaineers and olive crops from visitors from Demnat – needless to mention the gold (from 10 to 500 drachmas) and money he received from his followers (1989, pp. 198-9).

In nineteenth century, Sufi lodges received, within a gift-exchange cultural model of cooptation, donations in the form of land property offered to them by Sultans to exploit in return for the support they might offer them in pacifying dissident tribes, seizing power, or combating crusaders. Such donations (in‘am / hibat) usually reinforced zawiyas’ allegiance to the Sultan and polished the latter’s symbolic image of guardianship (ri‘aya/ himaya) and charity (ni‘ma) (Hammoudi 2000, 76-7). Thus, zawiyas amassed capital through the donations they received from Sultans in the form of mortmain land (aradi l-waqf) like the Zawiya Nasirya which benefited from mortmain land, mortmain salves and houses (Shadili, 1989, p. 206). Also, there were zawiyas that benefited from charity (sadaqat) and alms (zakawat) given to them by nearby adherent tribes.

Zawiyas also gained more land by virtue of giving protection and subterfuge to fugitive peasants overwhelmed by heavy taxation and persecuted by the Makhzen. Those who fled qaids’ oppression, or were unable to work or join combats, all sought the protection and immunity of saints and offered their land to the shurfa (the descendents from the noble lineage of the prophet) in return for being sheltered, fed and protected for life. Zawiyas also benefited from volunteer workforce; men who zealously offered their hand labor toshurfa by working in their fields unpaid, and by giving harvest tributes to the Seigneur (Halim, 2000). The Makhzen was aware of those conditions and sustained their reproduction to keep manpower under saints’ social control and derive profit from honorary service (Laroui 2001, 19).

Hammoudi (1997) in Master and Disciple framed this maraboutic mechanisms of sultan-subject relationship within a gift-exchange model characterized by complex dynamic power relations though the author seems to neglect the rentier dimension of the transaction. The sultan’s acceptance of the gift from his loyal servants and his presence in front of them are expressions of gift-return. The presence of the sultan fulfills the compulsion culture dictates when one is given a gift. When the sultan offers gifts to loyal subjects, it is staged as an act of benevolence that expresses his satisfaction (rida) with his loyal servants; when he does it to win his adversaries, it is regarded as an act of condescension to pardon miscreants.

We have argued in previous research that this gift-exchange model rooted in maraboutism may be transferred to other social arenas like the domain of education, labour, family or administration. But like our predecessors, we skimped over the rentier basis of the maraboutic model that seems to be a latent strong indicator affecting the formation of loyal political alliances in Morocco. It is obvious that maraboutism, sultanism, and broadly political culture appear to be structured by the rentier economic system the Arab States have generally inherited for centuries and which has extensively affected both the state and citizen in the Arab World.

Moroccans and Mixed Marriage: Does it Always Work?

By youssef El kaidi -June 22, 2013 Fez

The first meeting happens, may be by chance, in a park, in a lift, in a bus, in an administration or wherever the gaze of admiration and ardent love electrifies the heart and fans the flames of its feelings of passion and affection. This is how love starts in most cases; smooth, sweet, delicious and irresistible, but the end is not usually “and they lived happily ever after.” Mixed marriages, interracial marriages or transnational marriages sometimes fail because of a variety of special issues that arise and challenge the stability of a marital union.

In an age of sweeping globalization and transnational mobility, which has become increasingly easier thanks to the new means of transportation; in an age of blurred borders thanks to the revolutionary technological inventions that connect the extremes of the world, the phenomenon of mixed marriages is remarkably increasing worldwide and more people marry across national and cultural boundaries. Mixed marriage is, thus, a by-product of globalization and the movement and migration of people.

When two racially and culturally distinct individuals marry, they bring their cultural backgrounds under the same roof, which is the contact zone where these backgrounds either co-exist and cross-pollinate for the benefit of the couple, or grapple and jostle against each other for the detriment of the marital bond.

A successful mixed marriage is one where each member accepts the right of the other to being different, which most marriage advisors see as the nub of the problem. However, many other commentators argue that mixed marriage carries within it the factors of its failure, irrespective of how long it resists.

The failed mixed marriage of the Moroccan Olympic athlete Khalid Sekkah, made uproar in Morocco since the breakdown of his relationship with his Norwegian wife Anne Cecile Hopstock, more than two years ago. The uproar was intensified recently after his arrest in France because of an international warrant against him circulated by the Norwegian authorities following a lawsuit brought by his divorced wife who accused him of abusing their two children, Tariq and Salma.

The Moroccan champion denies the fact that cultural disparities were behind their failed love and attributes that to disagreement over real estate, but can we really detach cultural assumptions and norms from the whole story? One of the big challenges in mixed marriage, in addition to culture, is legal and institutional differences between the countries where the couple come from. In this case, disagreements over child custody, inheritance and citizenship surface.

Morocco World News received different attitudes over the issue of mixed marriage from people who undergo the experience. “It doesn’t matter whether the partner is from another culture if the relationship is based on love and dialogue from the very beginning. I have been living with my Moroccan husband for eight years so far, and I have never thought that my life will be such a blessed life,” said Stephanie Z., a German teacher of English who married a Moroccan engineer in Germany. Stephanie converted to Islam, and when MWN asked her whether her conversion was out of conviction or just a marital conversion she said: “I would not have married Mohammed if I had not fallen in love with the culture and religion of Morocco. I converted out of conviction of course.”
Guan-yin left her family in Beijing, China and came to live in Fez after she married a Moroccan importer who frequently visits China to buy technological devices and sell them in Morocco. Guan-yin lives with her in-laws as her husband travels a lot. When MWN asked her about her experience she said with Moroccan Arabic: “Hamdollah (praise be to God). At the beginning I found ample problems because the culture, food, and language are far different from China, but with time I started to adapt and learn.”

“Another thing that tired me at the beginning was housework; there was a lot of housework to do every day but now I’m used to it.” Guan-yin said she has two girls now and she would do her best to keep harmony and love in her family, especially that the difficult times have gone now,” she added.

For Rachida C., the situation is different. Rachida is a Moroccan woman married to a French man for seven years so far. She met André R. when he came to spend his holiday in Morocco with her father, who was a worker in France. With a voice that tells a lot beyond the literal words Rachida said: “Life is ups and downs. Sometimes we fight, other times we calm down. After all, I have to be patient because I have no other choice!” Giving her opinion on mixed marriage based on her experience, she said: “mixed marriage is more difficult for a woman than for a man. I don’t advise Moroccan women to marry Europeans. It is difficult to maintain your culture and practice your religion. It’s still difficult even if your partner doesn’t object.”

While some people think that the thread connecting wives and husbands of mixed marriages is so tenuous and can be lost any time, others think otherwise and believe that mixed marriage has several advantages. The first advantage is that mixed marriage blends genetics and reduces children’s risks of developing diseases. Second, people who accept mixed marriage are more tolerant of other races and cultures. Third, mixed marriage allows each person to learn about one another’s cultures, religions, history, etc.

Is ICT Really Revolutionizing Our Educational system?

By Abdellah Taibi - September 19, 2016 Marrakech

Whenever I attend a meeting, conference or a workshop about promoting teaching and learning in Morocco, participants never miss to demonstrate the paramount importance of ICT and the necessity to implement it in our schools. Some may even look at these tools as a crucial vehicle that will shift our education from the bottom of the ranking of the world educational systems. One may say that it is inconceivable to teach 21st century students using primitive tools and equipment while they are submerged with high-tech tools at every instance of their daily life, except in class. Bearing in mind that Morocco still fights to afford useful blackboards, this is not an issue that will be solved overnight.. But this is not the topic I am about to evoke in this article; the issue is that we overestimate the role of technology in education.

The dream of revolutionising education reached the peak at the golden age of technology, with the development of modern computers after the 1980s. This new and improved device that encompassed all the features of previous devices made them null and void. A computer is audio-visual, interactive and can be programmed to do almost anything, and this is the reason why this tool was entrusted with the mission of revolutionising education and distancing itself from old methods.

In previous years, there has been debate among psychologists, computer scientists and educators concerning the ability of computer programming to enhance thinking and develop problem-solving skills in humans.

I still remember, back in 1990s, when a student in our school owned a computer at home, he/she was assumed to be smart and knowledgeable. That belief has been proven wrong over time. Today, almost everybody I know owns a computer, a tablet or a smartphone, but all these gadgets have no significant influence on our intelligence or knowledge. Worse than that, many of us admit that the chalkboard generation of the 1960s and 70s had demonstrated better education levels than this generation of tech-savvy millennials.

The question that should be raised here is to what extent the use of technology in our educational system will help improve teaching and learning? In 1986, a group of scientists in Bank Street College of Education, led by D. Midian Kurland ,carried out a study about the development of programming ability and thinking skills in high school students. The outcome of the study showed that students developed programming skills but there was no significant impact on their reasoning skills.

Throughout this last century, technology has managed to revolutionize many areas of our life, but education has no significant part in this revolution. With all inventions, hopes and predications, students are still taught in packed classrooms by a single teacher, and to make things even worse, classroom sizes are getting larger each year.

We have to admit that ICT has undeniable advantages; it can enhance creativity, help students to learn at their own pace, and are cheaper and available to learners at any time and geographical setting, unlike teachers.

So, why did technology not make us or our children any smarter? It goes without saying that learning through audio-visual, interactive programs makes learning easier and enjoyable; but therein lies the problem. Maintaining information is linked to the amount of effort we invest in learning. Doing little or no effort is surely going to result in less or no outcome. Our brains function like our bodies and muscles; the more we use them, the stronger they become to overcome tougher challenges.

If we still believe that the role of a teacher is to transfer information to students and fill their heads, then the internet is a platform that teachers absolutely cannot compete with. Youtube, for instance, offers millions of videos uploaded by experts in various fields: science, history, language learning and even how to make a necktie. With this myriad of videos at the disposal of everybody, I guess nobody should need a teacher. But, why do teachers still maintain their jobs? Furthermore, why is the number of students who take private tutoring and evening classes still growing despite the affordability of the internet today and the exponential increase of videos on YouTube and other educational channels?

The answer is simple; the teaching/learning process is not a mere transference of information from the teacher’s head to the student’s. It is rather a social process in which the teacher is a guide and a facilitator. His/her role is to inspire learners, motivate and challenge them; thus robots cannot replace them.

According to the social constructivism theories, learning is socially situated and knowledge is a holistic experience that is socially and culturally constructed; in other words, learning is influenced by the social, cultural and even emotional environments in which it takes place. For this to happen, it is necessary that the learner be surrounded by his peers and a teacher, who cares about his or her learning.

Technology is extremely fascinating and helpful, but it cannot be more than a tool for both teachers and learners. Therefore, it cannot surpass the human teacher. Obviously, we agree that ICT has managed to cause an evolution in the field of education, but it is still far from causing a revolution.

World's oldest library reopens in Fez: 'You can hurt us, but you can't hurt the books'

After years of restoration, the ninth-century Qarawiyyin library in north-eastern Morocco is finally set to reopen – with strict security and a new underground canal system to protect its most prized manuscripts

Kareem Shaheen in Fez Monday 19 September 2016

The caretaker stares at the wrought iron door and its four ancient locks with a gleam in his eyes. Outside, the Moroccan sun shines down upon the ornate coloured tiles of Khizanat al-Qarawiyyin, located in the old medina of Fez. This, it is widely believed, is the oldest library in the world – and soon it will be open to the general public again. “It was like healing wounds,” says Aziza Chaouni, a Fez native and the architect tasked with restoring the great library.

The iron door is found along a corridor that once linked the library with the neighbouring Qarawiyyin Mosque – the two centres of learning and cultural life in old Fez. Inside it were kept the most prized tomes in the collection; works of such immense import that each of the four locks had separate keys held with four different individuals, all of whom had to be present for the door to be opened.

The restored library boasts a new sewerage and underground canal system to drain away the moisture that had threatened to destroy many of its prized manuscripts – plus an elaborate lab to treat, preserve and digitise the oldest texts. The collection of advanced machinery includes digital scanners that identify minuscule holes in the ancient paper rolls, and a preservative machine which treats the manuscripts with a liquid that moistens them enough to prevent cracking. A special room with strict security and temperature and humidity controls houses the most ancient works. The most precious is a ninth-century copy of the Qur’an, written in ornate Kufic script on camel skin.

The must of old books permeates the reading room, and the copies feel fragile and dusty, wearied by years of disuse. Some are wrapped up to prevent them disintegrating in your hands.
“The people who work here jealously guard the books,” says one of the caretakers. “You can hurt us, but you cannot hurt the books.”

The library’s restoration comes at a time when extremists are rampaging the region’s heritage. Across Syria and Iraq, the militants of the Islamic State have carried out cultural atrocities that include ransacking the great library of Mosul, burning thousands of manuscripts, bulldozing ancient Assyrian cities like Nimrud and Hatra in Iraq, blowing up the Temple of Bel in Palmyra and sacking the oasis city’s museum, in addition to destroying tombs and mausoleums of Shia and Christian saints.

Those troubles seem a world away in Morocco, which managed to remain unscathed by the tumult that has gripped the region and brought down venerable nation states. The king introduced reforms that placated enough of the middle class without devolving too much power to the Islamist-dominated parliament, and peace was largely restored after a series of protests in early 2011.
In 2012, the ministry of culture, which manages the Qarawiyyin library and university, asked Chaouni to assess the library, and she was pleasantly surprised when her architecture firm was awarded the contract, in a field traditionally seen as a man’s province.

The Qarawiyyin library was also founded by a woman. In the ninth century, Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Tunisia’s Kairouan, arrived in Fez and began laying the groundwork for a complex that would include the library, the Qarawiyyin Mosque, and Qarawiyyin University, the oldest higher education institution in the world – with alumni including the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, the great Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun, and the Andalusian diplomat Leo Africanus.

From the library’s roof, the old city of Fez stretches out into the distance; its narrow streets crowded with life. Residents are animated despite fasting in the beating heat of Ramadan, shoppers haggle for leather goods crafted in the ancient tannery, and blacksmiths and copper artisans sweat in the shade of their workshops. Through the winding alleys the odour of treated leather mixes with the call to prayer. It is as though time has stood still.

Craftsmen say it is harder to make a living these days, with the prices of raw materials rising and the lure of cheap, mass-produced wares drawing away customers; but still they toil day after day, far from the lush boulevards of the more modern downtown Fez.

The restoration of the library fits into this pattern – Aziza Chaouni recalls stories of how her great-grandfather travelled on a mule from his ancestral village in Morocco to study at Qarawiyyin University in the 19th century. “One of his homes was the library,” she says. “It has this magical aura.”

Growing up in Fez, Chaouni would often visit her great-uncle’s workshop at the coppersmiths’ quarter just a stone’s throw away from the library, and would be confronted by its immense closed door at the entrance, and wonder what lay beyond. Once she was in charge of restoring it, she wanted to do more than just fix the broken tiles.

“It has to continue to live,” she says. “I hope it will open soon, and the public will come and enjoy seeing the manuscripts for the first time. But I also hope that the people from Fez will use the space like a second home. The library’s value is not simply to preserve it for tourists, but that it is functioning.”

Engineers worked to determine the structural integrity of the library, restoring some of the woodwork but all the while trying to preserve as much of it as possible. They were helped by the fact that France had undertaken a significant restoration project in the 1940s with the aim of allowing non-Muslims access to the library. They also installed a new chandelier in the reading room, a high-ceiling hall with polished wooden desks and chairs, and intricate reliefs on its columns.The library is expected to be reopened for visitors later this year after an initial target of summer 2016, and then September, slipped by. No definite date has been set, but the architects remain confident it will happen before 2017. As a sign of the authorities’ investment in the restoration, King Mohammad VI inspected the work in June, and the monarch is expected to inaugurate the reopening.

The renovation is at the forefront of the plan to restore Fez to its status as a spiritual and cultural capital, which it was for centuries, until Rabat became the centre of political life when Morocco was still a French protectorate. Many of the city’s thinkers and intellectuals left Fez, condemning it to a future as a provincial city, but fortunately preventing the gentrification of the old medina, which maintains its earthy quality to this day.

Now renovations are taking place in other quarters of the city. Sufi and music festivals have also injected with fresh blood, as young people rediscover the medina throughout the year. Plans are being made for an exhibition that would showcase the most prized collections in the library.

Satires of Syrian soap operas for Ramadan, courtyards filled with citrus trees and traditional designs given a 21st-century twist make this Moroccan city what it is
Read more But for Chaouni, the sustainable architecture philosophy also means the library cannot be a relic of ages past, but a breathing part of the city, much like the old medina is still an inhabited living organism.

It is a philosophy she takes to heart. Chaouni also drafted a plan to restore the river in Fez, which was once known as the river of jewels, but was gradually drenched in waste from the local tannery and sewage from the surrounding residences, and then partially covered with concrete and trash. The river is slowly coming to life now.

“I would like my kids to be able to see this heritage,” she says, recalling how in her childhood she could scarcely see inside the walled-off complex. “The medina of Fez has the largest pedestrian network, the largest number of historic buildings inside, and I think as a model, as a living city, it’s not just a city for tourists,” she adds. “It is still transforming and adjusting, and as a pedestrian city it’s a great model for sustainability.”

Fighting corruption in Morocco

Moroccan police officers' helmets are now fitted with video cameras. The state wants to use them to fight corruption. Yet the measure is not being welcomed by all. The stir was caused by a video: It shows a police officer accepting cash from a driver in the middle of a crowded street in Casablanca. A woman practically forces the money into the officer's hand so that he doesn't give her a ticket. A friend of the woman recorded the incident - it remains unclear as to why.

The video was making the rounds online for just one day before the directorate of the national security authority in Rabat announced that it would ask state prosecutors to investigate the incident. Soon the officer in question admitted having taken money from the woman. State prosecutors then announced that they would file corruption charges. The officer, who is currently out on bail, will appear in court in early October. After another video of police officers breaking the law went viral on social media platforms, national security authorities decided to equip officers' helmets with small video cameras. These are supposed to document every aspect of their assignments.

A new piece of equipment: the helmet camera
The measure is not only intended to fight corruption: It is also supposed to ensure that officers respect human rights. Shortly thereafter, members of the royal guard in Rabat were also required to wear body cameras on their uniforms. Their work, too, is to be documented.

A sensible measure
The recordings make sense, says Moroccan economist and anti-corruption expert Azzedine Akesbi. He expects that corruption and abuse of authority will be curbed as a result. However, he says that certain conditions will have to be met. Among other things, the use of such cameras must be determined to be legally correct. But Akesbi warns that people should not expect miracles - the fight against corruption will remain difficult. For not only does corruption have many faces: It is also prevalent in many parts of Moroccan society. Fighting it will demand a comprehensive strategy. One requirement will be an independent justice system, free from all outside influences. Further, individual rights must also be better protected.

Creating a sense of responsibility
Meanwhile, the directorate of Morocco's national security authority is dealing with videos that show a number of its own employees in suspicious situations. Since the beginning of this year, the number of investigations into such cases has increased considerably. A great many police officers have had to answer not only charges of corruption, but also of abuse of authority. The cameras have served to connect responsibility and accountability, explains security expert Mohammed Akdid. But the cameras also help to improve the police authorities' image. Many officers suffer from the fact that their occupation is criticized as being "corrupt" in many parts of Moroccan society. Moreover, the cameras will help to provide transparency in the security apparatus - and to enforce the constitution, which was ratified in 2011. This came about due to pressure from reform movements within civil society. One of their demands was for an improved prosecution of the fight against corruption and state despotism.

Initial successes
But this fight also requires the appropriate political will, says anti-corruption expert Akesbi. And, according to national and international reports, that will is comparatively weak - even though some 4,000 police officers are currently facing charges of abuse of authority, says security expert Akdid. That is more than at any time in the country's history. The high number shows that the will to fight corruption is growing. And the cameras are playing a major role in this change of attitude.

Mixed feelings toward corruption
But the cameras also make something else apparent: Moroccans' ambivalent relationship to corruption. Videos have shown that many citizens attempt to buy their way out of penalties. A portion of society is also opposed to the installation of surveillance cameras on the streets, says Akdid. Some citizens prefer to take care of offenses quickly - even if that means breaking other laws. And that is why it is not only a large number of police officers that are appearing in court, but also a growing number of civilians who have attempted to bribe law-enforcement officers.

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

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.

Read more:

The music and magic of Fes

Jamie Blake Knox Published 08/08/2016 |

Situated between the cedar-wooded summits of the Middle Atlas and the silver olive groves of the Rif mountains, lies Fes - for many, the cultural and spiritual centre of Morocco. It is also one of the most perfectly preserved medieval cities in the world. Walking around its dense warren of streets, it was hard to believe that it is only a three-hour flight from London. It feels like a world away from Europe and metropolitan life. I was here to attend the 22nd Fes Festival of World Sacred Music.

In recent years, Morocco has become one of the world's premier locations for music festivals. Aside from the Fes festival, there is the brilliantly named Jazzablanca in Casablanca (where else?), the Timitar Festival in Agadir, the funky Gnaoua festival in Essaouira on the coast, and the massive pop Festival Mawazine in Rabat - which recently starred Rihanna and Stevie Wonder.

I entered the walled city through the Blue Gate, one of 13 mighty gates which punctuate its vast sandstone fortifications. My initial feeling was that Fes was like nothing I had ever experienced before. It is home to what must be considered the mother of all medinas, - with some 10,000 alleys, and innumerable stalls, cafes, and shops. I was not surprised to learn that this has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

There is a real sense that much of the medieval fabric of the city has survived the centuries. With so many things to distract me, I began to fear that I would never find my hotel. However, I was soon able to locate the Palais Amani - a renovated Riyadh, or traditional and opulent house, located near the heart of the medina. In keeping with Islamic concepts of modesty, the entrance of this former palace is subdued. But when you enter you are struck at once by the balance and serenity of its garden- planted with lemon and orange trees around a bubbling fountain. The fabulous tile work in the courtyard has been painstakingly restored. My room was spacious, airy and tastefully decorated with traditional furnishings. Its restaurant offers sophisticated takes on Moroccan classics, and my chicken and turmeric tagine was both light and filling.

That night I relaxed with a few rather potent cocktails in the loft bar. Looking out over the rooftops, the view was broken every so often with thin, pencil-like minarets. The blueish mountains in the distance made it all seem impossibly romantic.

The next morning, I was sufficiently rested to explore the medina again. Fes' medieval roots are perhaps nowhere more evident than in its iconic tanneries. Here, you can still witness bare-chested workers toiling in the blazing sun as their predecessors have done for hundreds of years. They treat animal hides in a colourful array of huge vats in which the workers are themselves immersed. Thankfully, we were given clumps of mint to hold to our noses to escape the stench of the untreated hides.

The medina is one of the largest car-free urban areas in the world, where 270,000 Fassis live cheek by jowl in an enclosed space. At times the streets are so narrow that you have to press yourself against the shops to avoid being crushed by donkeys laden down with wood, carpets, hides and spices. The bakeries are often communal, and offer an array of cheap but delicious sweet snacks, all of which are washed down with lots of refreshing mint tea.

Madrasas have a somewhat sinister reputation today as centres of political extremism, but it is as well to remember that it was these institutions that helped kick-start the revival of medieval European learning. For centuries, scholars from all over Europe would travel here to pick up the advanced learning then on offer. Fes was once one of the great centres of learning of the Arab world, packed with libraries and schools. Indeed, the University of Al Quaraouiyine is the oldest continuously active university in the world and was founded over 700 years before our own Trinity College.
Nearby is the stunning Madersa Bouanania Mosque, the only madrasa in Fes with its own minaret. It is one of the few religious places in Morocco that is accessible to non-Islamic visitors. Originally built in the 1350s, it has been beautifully restored and the ornately carved cedar wood and intricate geometric tile work are quite magnificent. As figurative art is strictly forbidden in Islam, there are no statues or images inside. This does not mean that it is not rich in symbolism. The colours of the tiles and mosaics are suffused with meaning: blue represents Fes, green and white for Islam, pink for rival Marrakesh and yellow and black is the evil eye.

For lunch I headed to Cafe Clock, an eclectic restaurant created by Mike Richardson the former maître d' at The Ivy in London. It is famed for serving the best camel burgers in Fes and it didn't disappoint. Camel meat is supposed to be much healthier than other red meats. When my burger arrived it was almost the size of my head but so tasty that I somehow managed to devour the whole thing.

There have been Jews in Morocco since at least the 6th century BC, when Jewish traders began the arduous journey across the Atlas Mountains to trade with the Berbers. Fes was also the destination for both Muslims and Jews who escaped the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Although the Jewish population has decreased markedly in recent years, with many families leaving for Israel, their legacy is still apparent. The tiny but charming Aben Danan Synagogue is open to visitors. You enter through a simple doorway indistinguishable from the doors of nearby houses, which doesn't prepare you for what lies inside.

It is decorated with simple but beautiful blue figured Moroccan tiles with delicate carved plaster work and painted wooden beams. It is also possible to visit an underground bathing area which is used for rituals. As you wander around the Mellah - or Jewish quarter - you notice a distinct architectural shift. Unlike Muslim homes which are enclosed and centred around a central courtyard, there are town houses with ornate balconies and intricate wrought iron windows facing out onto the street.

It is in this historic spirit of religious toleration that the Fes festival was founded. It is strictly non-sectarian. In the wake of the first Gulf war, it was intended to serve as a "beacon of tolerance" to counter the increasing polarisation of the Islamic world and the West. The underlying ethos is a simple but profoundly admirable one: to juxtapose religious music from all over the world - inviting musicians, artists and speakers from across the religious spectrum to perform.

Now well established, the central theme this year was the multifaceted role of women as founders and innovators of sacred music. And the programme was full of female artists from Morocco, Mongolia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Ethiopia, Lebanon and Italy. There was a strong contingent from India.

The opening ceremony was quite extraordinary. It took place at night, outdoors in the Bab Al Makina. The vast walls of this imposing former military fortress were illuminated by a stunning series of shifting psychedelic projections. Just in front of the stage was a special royal platform. The thousands of guests eagerly awaited the arrival of Her Royal Highness Princess Lala Selma. Her entrance was heralded by a cacophony of ululation.

The show itself was highly ambitious. It promised to demonstrate how some of the founders not only of Islam but of other ancient cultures were female: 'the women of the Orient lead us on a journey of discovery into the history of Morocco and into the myths of the East.' The revealing, not to say provocative dancing of two rather voluptuous Ethiopian singers may not have been to everyone's tastes but it certainly got the loudest cheer of the night. At one stage, a group of gigantic flying winged unicorns appeared in the background, it was all very enthralling, but I had absolutely no clue what was going on.

Every day at the Fes festival, there were eclectic performances from acts as varied as Tibetan throat singers to Italian folk acts - all staged at a number of stunning locations throughout the city, from the shaded gardens of a 19th-century palace to grand concerts in an open-air theatre.

The undoubted highlight for me, however, happened on the one day it rained. It was a screening of the Indian silent film King of Ghosts, in a disused Art deco cinema hidden in the medina. Old portraits of the former king hung precariously from the wall and its faded grandeur was the perfect setting for this surreal masterpiece.

This remarkable film was brought back to life by a live accompanying orchestra. The piece was composed by Soumik Datta, Johannes Berauer and the Waterford-born percussionist Cormac Byrne. They want to bring the piece to Ireland and I hope that they are successful.

There was just time the next day to explore the ancient ruined city of Volubilis. It is about an hours drive west of Fes in the foothills of the Rif Mountains. It seems fitting that today the site is surrounded by idyllic olive groves as it was the trade in olive oil which sustained it in the past. Before it was abandoned in the 11th century in favour of Fes, it was once one of the most important cities in north Africa and marked the limits of the Roman Empire. The size of the site itself is hard to fathom, and it is still only partially excavated. It is easy to become completely lost as you walk along its streets. Huge prehistoric looking Storks nest on the tops of some of the Corinthian capitals. In the forum plinths to statues of Emperors and local heroes long forgotten still stand. Amongst the houses there are scores of incredibly detailed and well preserved mosaics. There are depictions of animals and sea monsters along with a plethora of identifiable Gods and figures from the Aeneid and Iliad. They offer tantalising glimpses into what daily Roman life must once have been like in the city. Unfortunately, we are increasingly bombarded with frightening and negative images of Islam. It is all too often caricatured as being comprised of unbending fundamentalism, repression or terrorism. Islamic fundamentalists, like the Puritans before them, abhor music and have tried to repress it.
But just as in Christianity, Judaism and other religions, there is another more representative strand of Islam where music is placed at the heart of devotion. In these worrying times of fear and divisiveness, this festival celebrates the values of tolerance and openness. And that is surely more needed now than ever.

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"
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.

Spice up your summer with Moroccan food from Chef Teddi

Peachy Chicken Tagine combines the flavors of apple wood-smoked bacon, garlic, peaches and lots of warm spices. It’s served over Saffron Pearl Cous Cous. Jason Vorhees

By Teddi Wohlford

My husband, Bill, has this theory. As a New Orleans native, he believes this notion that if it’s hot outside, to feel cooler you should eat hot, spicy food and drink LOTS of hot coffee. He says that it makes you feel much cooler. Okay, so that’s what Bill says, thinks and indeed, lives by. I, on the other hand, I have another theory. I think that to feel cooler, you should avoid the stifling, life-draining, soul-sucking heat and humidity that is our Middle Georgia summer. Not being able to abide by my own theory without becoming a hermit, I never miss an opportunity in the summer to get wet or cold, and both are indeed quite heavenly!

So, whether it’s a fun day spent at Sandy Beach Waterpark at Lake Tobesofkee (yes, I have a season pass — what a bargain!), a nice break in the splash-pad fountain at the end of Cherry Street in downtown Macon (near the Terminal Station), or a simple five minute visit to a walk-in beer cooler at a convenience store (temperature about 35 degrees), I have my own ways of beating the heat and keeping a cool head — literally!

I’ll indulge Bill’s theory today as I share with you my recipes for a not-too-spicy Moroccan menu. We’ll start with Moroccan Mint Tea served, as any self-respecting Southerner would, in a tall glass over ice! Fresh mint grows abundantly in the South (just ask anyone who has ever planted the stuff — it will quickly take over an herb garden if not kept in a contained pot). I simply brew green tea in very hot water, but not boiling. Steep for no longer than five minutes, as green tea gets quite bitter if allowed to steep longer. I sweeten the mint tea with sugar, although you can choose the sweetener of your choice — honey, agave nectar, stevia — and it’s even more refreshing and more thirst-quenching to serve it unsweetened.

A nice salad of coarsely grated carrots and chickpeas dressed in a sweet and sour Moroccan-spiced vinaigrette starts the meal. The salad can be made a few days in advance, allowing the vinaigrette to penetrate the dense vegetables. Baby spinach is tossed in a little bit of olive oil just before serving and the marinated vegetable salad spooned on just before serving.

My entree is to-die-for. Peachy Chicken Tagine is this Southern girl’s Moroccan food fantasy. I indulge my love of crisp-cooked apple wood-smoked bacon, combining it with plenty of onions and garlic (sauteed in some of those lovely and flavorful drippings) and chicken, fresh Georgia peaches, some carrots, and lots of warm spices.

I cook mine in the traditional Moroccan vessel — also called a tagine — with the cone-shaped, tight-fitting lid, allowing all those yummy flavors to stay inside the pot, and braise over a lower heat. Think of the tagine (the cooking vessel, that is) as a centuries-old slow cooker. The crisp bacon, freshly grated lemon zest, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and some minced fresh herbs get added just before serving over Saffron Pearl Cous Cous.

Saffron Pearl Cous Cous is a side dish, or it could easily be considered a vegetarian or vegan entree (substituting vegetable broth for the chicken broth). Slivers of dried apricots and coarsely chopped pistachios add great flavor impact. However, the star of the show is real saffron threads — the most expensive spice in the world.

But the spice is far less expensive when purchased at an Indian-Pakistani grocery market (you’re welcome for that great tip!). If you’ve never been to one of these stores — we have a couple in Macon on Eisenhower Parkway — it’s quite a delightful experience. I don’t know what to do with most of the food products I find there, but the staff at the stores, and the customers, are extremely helpful.

And for dessert, try my Moroccan Spice Cookies!

Moroccan Mint Tea, Southern Style
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
4 cups boiling water
8 green tea bags
1 cup sugar
4 cups combined ice and water
Place mint leaves in a heat-proof pitcher. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil and pour over the mint leaves. Let stand uncovered for 5 minutes. Add green tea bags. Let tea steep 5 minutes only. Strain tea. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add ice and water. Serve over ice.
Note: Yep, this is some SWEET tea, even by Southern standards. Minted green tea is served in homes and marketplaces alike (traditionally served hot) as a sign of sincere hospitality.
Makes one half-gallon.

Carrot & Chickpea Salad
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons coarse grain Dijon mustard
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons minced garlic
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups coarsely grated carrots
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6-8 ounces baby spinach
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Combine first five ingredients in a large non-reactive bowl. Whisk in the olive oil in a thin and steady stream. Whisk until emulsified. Add the grated carrots, chickpeas, bell peppers, parsley and cilantro. Stir to blend well.
Cover bowl with plastic food wrap and store in the refrigerator for at least two hours or up to two days before serving.
Just before serving, toss spinach with olive oil. Arrange spinach on a large serving platter or individual salad plates. Stir the carrot and chick pea salad well and distribute over the spinach.
Serves six to eight.

Peachy Chicken Tagine
4 cups ginger ale
1/4 cup kosher salt or sea salt
2 tablespoons sugar
3 pounds skinless chicken thighs
8 ounces sliced bacon, cut into thin strips
2 large yellow onions
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground tumeric
2 cups sliced (peeled) peaches
2 (12-ounce) cans peach nectar
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup honey
Zest and juice 1 lemon
Brine: Combine ingredients and stir to dissolve sugar and salt. Refrigerate until cold. Place chicken in brine. Cover and refrigerate for 4-8 hours.
In bottom of tagine or Dutch oven, fry bacon over medium-high heat, stirring often, until crisp. Using a slotted utensil (reserving drippings) remove bacon from pan and set aside. Remove chicken from brine and pat dry. Brown chicken on both sides in reserved drippings. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
Sauté onion in skillet for a couple of minutes, stirring often. Add garlic and sauté briefly. Stir in the carrots. Combine together cinnamon, ginger, pepper flakes and turmeric. Add to the pan and stir into the vegetable mixture. Remove spiced vegetable mixture from the pan.
Return chicken to the pan. Scatter peach slices over the chicken. Evenly distribute the spiced vegetable mixture over the peaches. Pour peach nectar over all. Cover pan with lid. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 30 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in parsley and grated lemon zest. Drizzle with honey and lemon juice. Scatter cooked bacon on top. Top with the previously cooked bacon. Serve over hot, cooked rice or cous cous.
Serves six to eight.

Saffron Pearl Cous Cous with Toasted Pistachios & Apricots
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups pearl cous cous
1 large pinch saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup apricot halves, cut into thin slivers
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup apricot nectar
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 cup coarsely chopped (salted and roasted) pistachios
In a pot with a tight fitting lid, sauté the pearl cous cous in olive oil over medium-high heat for several minutes. Stir in saffron, pepper and apricots. Add the chicken stock and apricot nectar.
Once mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover the pot with the lid. Let simmer for 10 minutes until all of the liquid is absorbed.
Fluff the cous cous with a fork. Just before serving add the parsley and toasted pistachios.
Serves six.

Morrocan Spice Cookies
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted, cooled
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream together the butter and confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy. Add the water, almond and vanilla extracts and blend well. Sift together the flour and remaining ingredients, except for the almonds. Add dry ingredients to the dough and blend just to incorporate. Stir in the almonds.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Arrange on baking sheet allowing 1 1/2-2 inches of space between. Using the palm of your hand, flatten the dough balls. Bake in the center of the oven for 16-18 minutes, until deep golden brown on the bottom of the cookies.
Remove from the oven and place the baking pan on a cooling rack. Let cookies cool for 5 minutes only before transferring them to a container with additional confectioners’ sugar. Coat cookies in a liberal amount of confectiones’ sugar, allowing cookies to remain in the sugar a minute or so to develop a good “crust” of sugar on them.
Remove cookies from the sugar and shake off excess. Place cookies on a cooling rack and let cool completely. Store airtight for up to one week with waxed paper or parchment between layers.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies

Read more here:

Moroccan Spiced Carrots with Yogurt Sauce

By MELISSA D'ARABIAN Associated Press Aug 9, 2016 The Associated Press

This July 12, 2016 photo shows Moroccan spiced carrots with yogurt sauce in Coronado, Calif. This dish is from a recipe by Melissa d'Arabian. (Melissa d'Arabian via AP)

Start to finish: 15 minutes
Servings: 4
1 pound baby carrots, peeled and greens removed
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
3/4 teaspoon ras el hanout (Moroccan seasoning)
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup plain Greek lowfat yogurt
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons toasted chopped walnuts
torn mint leaves for garnish
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Cook the mustard seed in coconut oil until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the cumin, ras el hanout, paprika, granulated garlic and stir. Add the carrots and salt and stir to coat carrots with spices, and cook until the spices are deep in color, stirring, about 3 minutes.
Then deglaze the pan with stock and lime juice. Cover the pan and let steam for 3 minutes, then uncover and cook until liquid evaporates, another 2 minutes.
Meanwhile make the sauce by mixing yogurt, lime juice, smoked paprika and salt in a small bowl. Lay the carrots on a platter and spoon some yogurt over the carrots. Top with walnuts and mint leaves to serve.
Nutrition information per serving: 97 calories; 35 calories from fat; 4 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 1 mg cholesterol; 294 mg sodium; 13 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 3 g protein.
Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook "Supermarket Healthy."

Moroccan Couscous Salad

Recipe serves: 2
Prep Time 20 min
Cook Time 15 min
1/2 Knorr Reduced Salt Vegetable Stock Cube, dissolved in 150ml boiling water
115 g couscous
20 g Flora Buttery, melted
200 g tinned chickpeas, drained
1/2 pepper, diced
2 spring onions, chopped
4 cm piece cucumber, diced
3 - 4 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 - 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley or mint
2 tbsp Hellmann's Light Mayonnaise
1/4 lemon zest, finely grated (optional)
1. In a bowl, pour the hot stock over the couscous, cover and leave for 10 minutes - or until the liquid has been absorbed. 2. Use a fork to fluff up the couscous, then add the melted Flora and mix well. 3. Add the remaining ingredients and toss well together.
Recipe courtesy of Flora

Read more:

English to tackle graduate unemployment

More North African universities turn away from French and Arabic as languages of instruction

September 24, 2016 By Chris Havergal Twitter: @CHavergalTHE Source: iStock

While English is increasingly the dominant language of global higher education, North Africa remains one region where it has made limited inroads. In the countries of the Maghreb – Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia – in particular, French and Arabic are still dominant. That could be about to change, however, with the challenge of tackling high levels of graduate unemployment prompting policymakers and university leaders to turn to what is seen as an international language of business.

North Africa’s youth unemployment rate is one of the highest in the world. It reached 29 per cent in the region in 2014, and was as high as 42 per cent in Tunisia that year. At an event in London organised by the British Council, sector leaders from the region said that improving students’ English-language skills, and offering more courses with English as the medium of instruction, would be an important part of the solution.

Najla Romdhane, a senior adviser to Tunisia’s higher education ministry and professor of higher education at the National Engineering School of Tunis, said that some courses at the country’s institutions were already taught in English. But she said that the government would be pushing for that number to increase in coming years. “I think we are really aware that, if we don’t speak English, we don’t access the world,” she said. “People are aware of the importance of moving to another phase with English teaching and learning.”

English-language skills in North Africa have a long way to go. New research released by the British Council, English and Soft Skills in the Maghreb, shows that only 7 per cent of the Algerian population speak English to at least an intermediate level, while in Morocco the figure is 11 per cent.

In Tunisia, 64 per cent of graduates are believed to have elementary or lower-intermediate English. But there is new evidence suggesting that improved English language ability could help to tackle graduate unemployment. Surveys conducted by the British Council in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia found widespread concern among employers about the English-language ability of the candidates that they interviewed, with companies considering English to be particularly important if they worked internationally, or operated in sectors such as telecommunications or IT.
Previous British Council research has suggested that students in North Africa and the Middle East who learn English are likely to earn more, and that countries that have invested significantly in English-medium education can expect to experience increased economic growth as a result.

One of the Maghreb countries to have made the most dramatic shift to English-medium tuition is Morocco, after Lahcen Daoudi, its higher education minister, called for English to be adopted on engineering and medical programmes and for doctoral students to be proficient in the language. Fathellah Ghadi, vice-president of Morocco’s Ibn Zohr University, said that 98 per cent of courses at his institution are currently taught in French or Arabic, but that this would change, because English is now a “must-have”. “Our objective is to do more and more courses in English,” he said. “We have some programmes that will continue in Arabic and some that will continue in French but for technical and scientific programmes we are obliged to do [them in] English if we want our graduates to have opportunities in the job market.”

It is not just about language of instruction. The most recent British Council research found that employers also had concerns about applicants’ dependability, work ethic, organisation and communication skills. Work is under way to address these concerns, too. In Tunisia, for example, a $70 million (£54 million) World Bank-backed project is encouraging universities to improve teaching and management standards, and developing joint programmes with employers that provide internships and careers guidance. But the intractability of the graduate employment issue appears to be what is prompting policymakers and university presidents to consider English, despite the longstanding dominance of Arabic and French.

“It may not be the most obvious thing for graduates to study English given how many other languages there are [in the region],” said Matej Damborsky, author of the British Council study, but “they do need to do it if they are going to improve their employability chances”.

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

Return to Friends of Morocco Home Page

About Membership Volunteer Newsletters Souk Links