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Morocco Week in Review 
February 11 2017

U.S. and Morocco elections: An American's view from afar.

By RPCV Mark Mahon 12/19/16 REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal

PJD leader and current Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, a folksy mix of Jimmy Carter (deep faith) and Bill Clinton (feel their pain) connected with like-minded voters in a genuinely ground-breaking manner: passion. Within one month of each other, Morocco and the United States held federal elections. For the Kingdom of Morocco, it was the first post-Arab Spring parliamentary election. The Oct. 7 election was a mini-referendum on the current coalition government in a nation that is similar in both size and population to California. Viewed from Morocco, the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8 seemed to serve as a barometer for the health of the nation’s civil society.

As a political junkie, I have enjoyed querying my Moroccan colleagues and neighbors about politics, from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to the minutiae of Morocco’s electoral system. Moroccans, generally, greeted news of Trump’s victory (explaining the Electoral College system is the very definition of diplomacy) with either slight bewilderment or casual indifference. “The people will always be friends,” said one friend from the Sahara Desert region. Here, both Moroccans and Americans like to boast that – way back in 1777 – Morocco was the first nation to recognize the independence of the American colonies. The long friendship has more than endured.

Appropriate or not, I looked for some commonalities between the election cycle and results in the United States and Morocco. Morocco has become a close U.S. ally in the tumultuous Middle East-North Africa region. The Kingdom of Morocco navigated the tumult of the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2012 fairly well. This year, automaker Renault announced a $1 billion investment for an automotive ecosystem in northern Morocco, and Boeing is planning a similar aerospace hub investment. Add to this Morocco’s growing cache as a leader in Sunni Islamic scholarship and religious tolerance. Imams and Muslim scholars from at least seven countries – France to Nigeria – come to study at Mohammad VI Institute in Rabat. 2014 was a record year for foreign film/TV production inside Morocco. Exciting times.

Was there angst among the Moroccan electorate, too? Yes. We have more in common than you’d think. Angst. In Arabic: qalaq.

Shake up the system

The entire Middle East-North Africa region is in the midst of a demographic youth bulge: Roughly half of the population of the region is under 30. The growing private sector economy is struggling to find jobs for all the country’s young college graduates (and those who decide to leave middle- and high school early). Voter turnout on Election Day was 43 percent, down from 46 percent during the previous round of parliamentary elections in 2011. Over half of my 20- and 30-something friends told me they hadn’t voted — a reflection of the ambivalence held by unemployed or underemployed young adults. They wanted to know that their voices would be heard, and that the government would have concrete plans to train young adults and provide them with career opportunities. They wanted service. Now.

In the U.S., nationwide voter turnout was just over 55 percent, the lowest in 20 years. Rising personal incomes and relative peace abroad didn’t seem to diminish a sense of national malaise. It was difficult to explain American angst to my Moroccan friends and counterparts. The socioeconomic and political fractures within the U.S. are not lost on citizens across the globe, but American soft power (YouTube, Hollywood) has more staying power among many young adults than hard problems like racism and inequality. During the U.S. presidential campaign, I sensed more shouting past one another than dialogue with one another. A Pew Center survey of partisan attitudes conducted this past summer indicated that 49 percent of Republican respondents and 55 percent of Democratic respondents said they were “afraid” of the other party.

One U.S. election exit poll survey question was very telling and one that would yield a similar response among the Moroccan electorate: Which candidate quality matters most? Of four given choices, the top response (garnering 39 percent) was a candidate who can bring change. 83 percent of that 39 percent chose Trump. Change, again. It showed itself in a slightly different way here, too. The current governing party, the Party of Justice and Development (PJD) surpassed all expectations and actually increased its percentage of the vote, from 26 percent to 32 percent (it picked up 19 seats in the 395-seat parliament). Impressive by Moroccan electoral standards as coalition government is the norm and most leading parties rarely if ever break the 20 percent threshold. The moderate Islamist party had governed Morocco for five years, instituting painful subsidy rollbacks and pension reforms, faced on and off criticism from the mainstream media. Yet it outperformed expectations. JDP supporters showed up on Election Day. One big reason, a friend told me, was that the JDP says what it means, and it does what it says. It was shaking up the system.

Straight talk resonates with Moroccans. PJD leader and current Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, a folksy mix of Jimmy Carter (deep faith) and Bill Clinton (feel their pain) connected with like-minded voters in a genuinely ground-breaking manner: passion. He campaigned as an outsider who promised supporters that he would continue to reform the nation’s public and administrative institutions while protecting disaffected young people and the poor. Several Moroccan friends told me that they admired the party’s desire to upend the old rules of the game. Sound familiar? Whether PJD delivers on its lofty promises is yet to be determined. The opposition countered that the system overhaul advocated by PJD was ill-suited to Morocco’s collaborative political heritage and stewardship of Morocco’s diversifying economy should be the top priority. The PJD certainly has everyone’s attention here.

Polarized electorate

The other half of the shake-up-the-system election story here in Morocco is the equally impressive performance of the second-place finisher, the Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM). The centrist party, with an impressive social media machine and a program promoting experience and competence, more than doubled its seat total, from 47 to 102. It now takes on the role as the loyal (and large) opposition. Morocco’s modern political tradition includes a collection of 30 registered parties. Historically, perhaps four or five parties would dominate the vote during an election cycle, each receiving about 50 or 60 seats in the lower house of parliament. Not in 2016. PJD and PAM broke from the pack and each will hold more than 100 seats, more than doubling their respective historical averages. They have given Moroccan voters something new: clarity. PJD: faith, reform and transparency. PAM: inclusion, economic growth and competence. Both parties claimed mandates in their own right because both had genuinely connected with a significant number of voters who felt inspired by the message. The self-congratulating by both parties was so pronounced that it was hard to know at times, as a non-Moroccan, who finished first and who finished second.

In the U.S., the mildly curious red-state-blue-state phenomenon that I relished discussing with my Moroccan friends over the last three years has become a slight drag on my deep pride for being American. Especially when viewed from a more communal society that engages in heated political discourse more sparingly. Here political arguments, like family arguments, are often settled by dinnertime. Even bitter small town rivals will cross paths and share an occasional tea break. It seems Americans are politically segregating themselves, by town, by city, by state. The average margin of victory in U.S. Senate races this year was 22 percentage points. The average House victory margin was almost 37 points. In reference to President Obama’s selection of Judge Garland to be the next Supreme Court Justice last spring, a good friend here asked me, "Is it Obama’s job to pick a new Supreme Court Justice, or the new president next year?" Um …

Candidate charisma

I saw Twin Cities’ media coverage of Trump’s brief campaign rally at MSP airport on Nov. 6. Why, I wondered, was he in Minnesota? At a last-minute rally held in an aircraft hangar? Now I know. The mass rally spectacle trumped field offices in 2016. Here, too, in Morocco, large and medium-sized campaign rallies held by the leading parties have taken on a rock-concert feel. There are no TV attack ads here, so parties rely on a mix of old-fashioned door knocking, social media saturation and candidate rallies.

During the 2016 election cycle, Morocco’s political parties registered some 9,000 activities and events with the national electoral commission. That’s double the number of the 2011 election cycle. The stump speech messages were more macro-level “I feel your pain, change is coming …” than party platform recitations. Party leaders connected with supporters using real emotion: PJD leader Benkirane, overwhelmed by the size and passion of the crowds, was moved to tears at several campaign rallies. PAM leader Ilyas El Omari, using populist rhetoric, sought to make the election a referendum on PJD’s stewardship of both the economy and Morocco’s civil society over the last five years. He was certain that voters were not better off than they were five years earlier. That message yielded a strong second-place finish and it created a new narrative in Africa’s fifth largest economy: economic opportunity fuels social equality and a stronger civil society. “We will drive the Moroccan train back to its original rails,” he said in one interview.

Moroccans didn’t vote in large numbers this year, but they did take notice and there was real passion among voters who perceived Morocco to be at a social and economic crossroads. And Moroccans aren’t shy. In the next round of elections they’ll be ready with the local version of an American classic: What have you done for me lately?

The coalition-building process is still under way in Rabat. PJD needs the support of at least two second-tier parties to form a governing coalition. It’s a phenomenon that doesn’t exist in winner-take-all Washington, D.C.  But it’s definitely a process that would benefit the American psyche in such a bitter political climate. Were the legendary tales of after-hours fraternizing by House Speaker Tip O’Neill and President Reagan true? I hope so.

I stayed up all night on Nov. 8 in Rabat glued to my smartphone, watching America select a new president from afar. Tired and dazed the next day, I talked about the results with a Moroccan friend. He consoled a weary Golden Gopher with some timeless Arab wisdom: Winds do not blow as the ships wish.

Mark Mahon is a community engagement professional and writer from Minneapolis. He currently lives in Rabat and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco for 29 months (2013-15). He currently works as a cultural facilitator for higher education study abroad organizations.  
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Q&A: School librarian David Brooks, on following a path from Morocco to Niagara Falls

David Brooks’ life resembles a watercolor painting, with many of his interests blending seamlessly into the next. Details emerge from his world travels and residencies, his knowledge of several languages and cultures, and the handful of careers spanning his lifetime. To appreciate it, one must take a step back and look at the whole picture.

Brooks said he will retire this year from Niagara Falls High School, where he has spent the past 11 years as a media specialist (formerly known as a librarian), and all that job entails in the digital age.
Prior to this job, the Youngstown resident taught high school geography and history in the Falls, and before that, he was a Niagara Falls city planner, where his expertise in demography came to the fore. He has degrees in library science, anthropology and international relations, is an unabashed Francofile and chess enthusiast, and his technical side includes a proficiency with computers and cameras.
Read more here:

The Moroccan Women’s Muted Revolution to Be

By Mohamed Chtatou -February 7, 2017

The constraints of an absurd tradition
The Moroccan woman, and by extension the Arab woman, is still, alas, in the middle ages stuck in obscurantist and absurd traditions, and the situation is even worst since the advent of political Islam.

With the arrival of Mullahs in power in Iran in 1978, and the Islamists in the Arab political scene, there has been a steep retrograde movement in the areas of achievements of true democracy and real modernity. So, the woman after being freed from her veil, litham, finds herself obliged to wear the integral veil ni9abor bur9a3, to, supposedly, protect her from sexual fantasies of men. In reality, she is viewed as a source of emotional disturbance, fitna, for males within a society created by males for males, where, unfortunately, females’ role is to give sexual comfort, do housework and procreate only.

In the mind of this retrograde society, the woman is the source of all evils. She is attractive if she shows her face and curves, dirty because she is prone to menstruations cycles, unable to think and reflect and always immature, na9sa 3qel. The woman is referred to in Moroccan Arabic as: dal3a 3awja, distorted rib, in reference to the biblical and Koranic story that she, supposedly, came out to existence from between the ribs of Adam. Common Moroccans, speaking of her say in the popular idiom say unashamedly: lamra 7achak. 7achak is a term of darija, vernacular Moroccan Arabic, used when one wants to talk about a subject that is 7aram, illicit or impure. So, the woman is an impure human being just because of her sex, no more.

This iniquitous behavior towards the woman, originated, not in Islam, but in the pre-Islamic tribal culture, where the patriarchal system used to make out of the  woman a simple object of the house, both for pleasure and procreation, no less no more. During the period of life of the prophet Muhammad and the Rashidun Caliphs, the discrimination against the woman was proscribed, but after this period, Muslim monarchs and their ministers and governors, strong in their tribal habits, imprisoned women in harems that were guarded by eunuchs. The people, taking the example of their administrators, returned to their ancestral habits making of women a mere ornament of the house for pleasure and daily chores.

The pseudo-religious clergy, including their political or military leaders reinforced, without proof, that Islam, because of the laws of inheritance, wants the woman to remain a minor in society, and this way, during centuries, she remained a prisoner of tribal practices whether in palaces or huts. In rural areas, where life is harder, the economic necessity liberated the woman from the home prisons as well as the hijab. She went out to work in the fields but soon she regretted this “freedom” because she was, unashamedly, exploited threefold: in the field, in the house and in bed. In a word, she is supposed to do all the donkey work without the slightest expression of gratitude from the men folk or society that is male-oriented, anyway.

This woman’s destinies and long term drama were studied amply and skillfully by renowned Arab sociologists, such as Fatima Mernissi in Morocco and Nawal Saadaoui in Egypt. Obviously their studies were never accepted by the Arab chauvinist and autocratic establishment, which sees in women’s liberation a prelude to man’s freedom from autocratic governance and therefore access to democracy and rule of law. For the Islamists, these two Arab women, where brainwashed by the Western world to enfeeble Islamic culture, and have been declared, as a result, to be in a state of Koufr (infidelity to religion), for their writings that denounce women’s exploitation in the name of Islam.

The despotic subconscious
The exploitation of women in Arab society, in general, and Moroccan society, in particular, is, without a shadow of doubt, the result of a cultural accumulation of several centuries of tribal despotism. Girls are raised by their mothers to always serve males at home without the least expression of disrelishing or aversion, and when they go to their husband’s house they are literally bethralled by him and his family and total obedience is required from them by the entire society at large. A lot of traditional mothers teach their daughters blind obedience to the husband, on the grounds that he is both a protector and a provider, worse they inculcate them that obedience to man and his desires and whims is a form of obedience to God.

This absurd tribal education strengthens and inflates the man’s ego, beyond belief, and creates in him a feeling of superiority and impunity. So he believes, strongly, that his wife is his own property, she belongs to him, he can satisfy his craziest sexual fantasies on her, even if she doesn’t want to without considering this a form of rape because it is done without consent, In the local culture of course. He can hit her, anytime he wants, because the woman is always a minor, and his role is to educate and lead her into the right path, even if she expresses some form of dislike or distaste.

Harem mentality
I remember in 1978, I returned to Morocco in the summer, after my first year of studies at the University of London, very proud of myself because I was accompanied by a beautiful blonde with blue eyes. After one week, the English girl, Named Margaret interviewed me singularly:
– Mohamed you are well educated, intelligent and a good person, nothing to say, except that your behavior with your sisters is abject and inconceivable.
– What do you mean, Margaret, I love them and I treat them well, I replied with much amazement and disappointment.
– What you say is true, but you are always calling on them, like all males in your household, to serve you diligently, once you get home.
 – It is our culture, Margaret.
– I know, but as an intellectual you must rise up against this enslaving and degrading culture, it is a pure exploitation. You must learn to serve yourself, without asking your sisters in unrewarding way to bring you water, and you do not even say, “please.”
– This is implied …. hhh
– There is no implication in politeness, actually, you behave like sultans, and the harem is there to serve you and to satisfy your desires.
–  In a sense you are right, but in reality I never saw things from this angle and then household females always serve men without taking offense.
– It is absurd; please act in line with your intellect Mohamed.
– I will improve, I promise.

Since, Margaret’s words and their subsequent effect is always with me, every time I am with my sisters, I never dare to ask for a service for fear of being reprimanded by my intellect. Margaret brought to my attention a reality that I never took into consideration because of the kind of education I received from society.

In our culture, the mother, lmima is the dearest human being of them all. The sweetest, the most beautiful, the most human and without her presence at home all family members are orphans, without any possible support. And the mother is also, the sister we cherish, the girl we adore and the wife who holds our hand along the path of life. But, unfortunately, we forget that we exploit all the loved ones of our household without reluctance.

We like to exploit women
In Morocco, rural women are exploited on all levels, they are supposed to work all day in fields, hard and physical work, taking care of children at home and satisfy their men in bed. In this environment of ingratitude and misery, the woman is supposed to be there for others, the whole family to cry on her shoulder, but in return, no one is there for her.

In this environment, the woman is trapped in her female status: religious orthodoxy makes her guilty even when she is proved innocent, because of misogynist and absurd traditions and her illiteracy condemns her to remain a human being in total bondage in the 21st century. No development, whatsoever, can be achieved without freeing the woman from all her chains which hinder her progress in society and in life.

This does not mean that the urban woman lives in better conditions, she, also, suffers. She must wake up early in the morning to prepare breakfast, to take her children to school, to go to work, where she suffers the dictatorship of the chiefs and their sexual harassment, once back home she has to prepare food again for the whole family, in bed she is obliged to satisfy her husband, In the total indifference of her other half. It is only when she gets sick that everyone realizes that she is indispensable, but as soon as she gets better, they forget this important detail, and because of her goodness she forgives their proverbial oversight.

Moroccan society must change, at once, its behavior, its habits, its philosophy and perception of women, in order to be able to make a firm step into modernity. The woman is neither an object of passion, nor an object of possession; she is a human being, with feelings and desires. People must get rid of such medieval ideas, which make of the woman a public danger,  fitna, when she is beautiful or tries to make herself pretty and attractive. The poor woman wants only to please herself and/or to please her family and her husband.

Positive discrimination
The obscurantist forces that have come to power and prominence in the last years think that if men are unemployed today, it is because women are hampering them with their presence and competition in the labor market. These Individuals think that the woman must return to work at home and let the man the chance to earn more money for the whole family. This unenlightened argument implies that women hinder men to achieve their goals, worst they think that the right place for the woman is home with pans and babies.

In theory, all Moroccan political parties have women’s associations; however these associations exist just for dummy presence and showcasing, which is practiced in this country with much dexterity. Moroccan political parties are far from democratic, which means that the candidates’ lists for all elections is made by the central party office and not by the local party, and the choice of women for this job remains a luxury tainted with nepotism.

Fortunately, the progression of social and human political thought towards gender equality has duly inspired the Moroccan political environment to create a safety valve for the emancipation of women: the activation of the concept of positive discrimination. Without the formalization of this concept in Moroccan political life, women would have never been able to be in the parliament and government, because despite the economic development of the country and the woman access to education, she is unfortunately stuck in the concept of: “be beautiful dear and shut up”.

Thanks to the culmination of women’s empowerment in democratic countries and, also, thanks to pressure from the international community, Morocco has introduced positive discrimination in favor of women but this beneficial discrimination is limited to the parliamentary level. In principle, it ought to be extended to government, major state offices and all state institutions, as well as the private sector, and also army, gendarmerie and police. In fact, there are women soldiers, gendarmes and police, but they are still at the bottom of the professional scale, with some exceptions of course.
Also, gender parity must be extended to all areas and walks of life, in employment a woman must not be deprived of a job opportunity just because she is a woman, and no institution, corporation or business ought to refuse a job for a woman only because she wears hijab, it is unconstitutional, undemocratic and immoral. However, there is something more serious in public and private administrations and businesses that affects negatively women empowerment: salary discrimination. For the same job, a woman and a man do not have the same salary; men always get the most of the situation just because they are men.

The silent revolution of the Moroccan woman
The Moroccan woman has successfully initiated with firmness and courage a silent revolution on independence by entering schools to learn, since the number is increasing over the years, nowadays the percentage of women in universities is apparently 54%. The downside is unfortunately in rural world, especially in the Amazigh-speaking mountain regions where Illiteracy is almost 80%. In these areas, Morocco is trailing behind compared to the rest of the world: a real national shame.
Rural women’s literacy is a must in these poor areas for much-needed women empowerment. Literacy, is supposed to be undertaken in accordance with scientific rules far from any political demagogy or populism. If done in this manner, it can be greatly beneficial at several levels:
1- Learning the 3 Rs: Writing, Reading and Arithmetic;
2- Intellectual and professional development;
3- Learning the rules of hygiene and reproductive health, especially in an environment where infant mortality is very high, and
4- Creating opportunities for self-employment.

Moroccan woman due to her legendary courage, her temerity, her patience, and wisdom entered all domains deemed masculine: she pilots a plane, drives a bus, a taxi, and a tram, manages companies, teaches, etc.

If today the Moroccan woman is a national subject of honor and pride, it is mainly due to her massive exploits and proverbial persistence, and also thanks to the King Mohammed VI, who extended a helping hand to her cause by showing his wife Princess Lalla Salma in public, a first in the annals of the Moroccan monarchy’s history, and entrusting her with public missions. Lalla Salma is not only inspiring Moroccan youth with her gestures and doings, but also sets for them an example to follow in doing volunteering work. Moroccans are very proud of all the royal princesses: Lalla Meryem, Lalla Hasna, Lalla Asmaa et Lalla Soukaina, who, through their humanitarian actions on the national and international scene, show clearly that the monarchy does not only have historical legitimacy but is, also, popularly loved and without any form of ambiguity.

A few years ago King Mohammed VI, entrusted his cousin, Lalla Joumala, laureate of the prestigious University of London, with the ambassadorship position in the United Kingdom, a highly strategic mission in view of the important secular relations and strategic alliance between the two kingdoms.

But this Moroccan women silent revolution would have never succeeded if King Mohammed VI had not introduced decisive laws for the future of the Moroccan nation mainly the family code of 2004 which has completely transformed the old moudawana into a modern family code without causing any breach, whatsoever, in tradition and religion. Nowadays It is considered as the most groundbreaking  code in the Arab world, and an example for other Muslim countries to follow.

The Moroccan women spring
The Moroccan woman takes several social roles: she is the beloved mother mima, sister, daughter, wife, fellow worker, she must absolutely benefit of the country’s total recognition. This recognition should be expressed as follows:
1-    Recognition of the primordial role of women within family and at home;
2-     Assisting the housewife by sharing housework chores;
3-    Helping women in education of children at home;
4-    Getting rid of sexual stereotypes about Moroccan women, she is a honorable human being;
5-    Adopting a spirit of parity with women;
6-    Criminalizing acts of violence against women, either sexual aggression or physical misbehaving; and
7-    Adopting the principle of positive discrimination in public life: a woman can easily be chief of government like in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The Moroccan women spring, for once does not only concern women but the whole nation: women and men; governors and governed. Steps forward have to be diligently taken to liberate women from constraint, bondage and slavery, and, also, from traditional prejudice and stereotypes, as well as archaic laws to achieve real economic development.

Hospitality abroad: Even when my country will not reciprocate

Written by Madeline Hughes on February 9, 2017

The moment I was introduced to Feiza, my host mother, she was simultaneously carrying a six-month old baby and trying to wrangle a two-and-a-half year old running through everyone’s legs, I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into. I greeted her with “a-salam-alaikum.” She replied “alaikum-salam,” kissing me on both cheeks and wrapping me in a big hug. I fumbled over the little Arabic I learned, clenching my Arabic notebook as a crutch for my failing awkwardness. Little did I know how quickly my time with my host family would fly by.

Last spring I studied abroad in Rabat, Morocco. The Presidential Primary was still flooded with candidates. I never thought Donald Trump would become the Republican nominee, let alone the President of the United States. Ten months later, one week into his presidency, Trump threw the country into turmoil with a series of executive actions, including his promised “Muslim Ban,” which has been challenged by a federal judge, temporarily rendering it ineffective until it can be ruled upon at a later date.

A year ago I was welcomed with open arms by the people who are targeted by this ban; my host family was Muslim. My father was a devout Muslim who prayed five times daily. My mother wore hijab out of the house.

The majority of Moroccans, 98 percent, identify as Muslim. Mosques are on every corner, the call to prayer rings out five times a day. It took some getting used to coming from a secular country, but it is one of the things I miss most. There was a profound sense of peace in the country where the religion seemed to be as much of a culture as a creed.

The first weekend in Rabat my friends and I visited an art museum. After wandering around the exhibits my friends and I regrouped in the lobby, questioning what was next. A little Moroccan man in a suit and tie was standing nearby taking photos of us. When we all turned our heads to look at him he quickly introduced himself as Mehdi Qotbi, the President of the National Museum Foundation in Morocco. He was ecstatic American students were visiting his museum. He asked us about our time in Morocco so far. When we told him we were journalism students he even gave us his contact information in case he could be of any help further down the road.

He also made sure to slip in the fact that we were welcomed in Morocco, and that Moroccans did not want to harm us. That sentiment shocked us at first, it had never even crossed our minds, but we realized that this was coming from the news of Donald Trump and his “Muslim Ban.”

As the semester went on I faced more and more uncomfortable situations where I had to explain what was going on in American politics. I had conversations about religion with my host family where I explained that we did indeed have people of all religions and the majority of Americans welcomed people of all religions. In an interview with officials from the Moroccan National Human Rights Council, the question of Donald Trump becoming president was brought up in an elevator ride that seemed to take years.

As part of my journalism track my final project was on Syrian refugees’ reception in Morocco. Moroccans were welcoming, but the government was not. Though many had made it to Morocco, they were left in legal limbo of not being granted refugee status and the legal papers need to work, travel and own property.

I was meeting Syrian refugees with a friend. One woman stood outside of her home hanging laundry and she said that she just missed her washing machine from home. We came across a man, Riad Mustapha, who invited us into his home. He told us stories of how hard the refugee camps were, especially with Lebanon’s cold winter, and about their journey across North Africa, eventually making it to Morocco. His wife and two children made the trek with him leaving behind his three oldest children because it was too expensive.

Another man I met, Ghassaan Abou Salehm, had been in Morocco since the 1980s after fleeing Syria in 1971 for political reasons. With the recent issues he has been helping Syrians that made it to Morocco settle in and get the resources they need. We interviewed him for our project but as he talked I was lost, because it got heated and the translator couldn’t keep up. Then Salehm turned to me, breaking from his Arabic to say “America, your country. Donald Trump, he refuses any Syrians in America, but in Canada the Prime Minister goes to the airport to welcome Syrians.”
Caught off guard, I didn’t know what to say besides, “Not all Americans think like that.” However, that didn’t mean much, nor should it. Trump garnered so much popularity because so many people have similar views, with no one from within his party really standing up to this xenophobic rhetoric.

The people I met opened up, and shared their stories, even invited me into their homes. Conversations over mint tea and pastries lead to more friendships, and understanding of cultures from me to them, and them to me. The countless adventures I was invited on where people opened up to my friends and I are the everlasting treasures I have from my time abroad.
There is nothing quite like the hospitality I got while in Morocco from people that were complete strangers.

I’m heartbroken knowing that if they came to America they wouldn’t have the same welcome.

'Intimate' photos capture the daily life of Moroccan women

By Nosmot Gbadamosi and Tom Bouchier Hayes, CNN
Check them here:

Number of Moroccan Readers Does Not Exceed One Million

February 7, 2017 Rabat  

Moroccan Minister of Culture Mohamed Amine Sbihi has stated that “the approximate number of Moroccan readers does not exceed one million.” During a press conference held Monday in Rabat to announce the schedule of 23rd annual International Book Fair in Casablanca, Sbihi said that “the middle class citizens are the ones who have the ability to read books,” noting that “the average of the book sales does not exceed 1500 copies,” per published book. Sbihi went on to say that “the ministry is not responsible for the decline of reading in Morocco,” noting that the ministry organizes several cultural events throughout the year to motivate the Moroccans to read.

“The Ministry of Education is responsible for reading,” Sbihi continued. “It is not fair to see that Moroccan students have 30 hours of school per week, while in Europe they only have 23 hours.”
Sbihi went on further to call on the ministry to “avoid burdening the students with ‘unworthy subjects’ by reducing the numbers of hours and assign hours when students can explore books, theatre, and art.”

The minister also stated that the decline of reading in Morocco is not due to technology. “There are developed countries more advanced than Morocco in technology and they still respect the status of the book,” Sbihi said, “because the matter is related to the relationship of the society with the book.”

The 2017 International Book Fair, to be held February 9 to 19 in Casablanca, expects to receive approximately 350,000 visitors, according to the minister

'As a woman in Morocco you cover up, no matter what the guide books say'

Be prepared to get lost in the souks in Morocco: I did, writes Irishwoman Michelle Walshe

Tue, Feb 7, 2017 Michelle Walshe in Marrakesh, Morocco

‘Go for a weekend, go for a week. I went for a year. And stayed.’

It’s so hot in Marrakesh in summer; clothes stick to your back, make-up melts on your face kind of hot. The dust swirls, visible to the naked eye, tangible, practically edible. And it’s red. Like the heat. Like the city, which sits stoically in the middle of the country in a climatic fishbowl suffering sweltering summers and freezing winters.

Winter arrives abruptly, leaving you changing your t-shirt for a fleece and glaring at the tiles on the floor that you gazed at so adoringly in spring and summer.

It tries hard to be the West, but this is certainly no New York. The western tinge is superficial. Go behind any of the elegant modern facades and you will find segregated eating patterns with men and women in different rooms. Arranged marriages are common and polygamy still exists, though it is no longer rife.

Cafes are men-only domains. Shopping malls cater for Muslim not western women. The veil is not only in fashion, it is integral to the culture. As a western woman, you make adjustments. You don’t go out alone at night. In fact, you don’t go out alone at all. You cover up, no matter what the guide books say. And you speak French or you don’t manage. Learning Arabic is helpful. A key word is Inshallah, which translates literally as “god willing”, though has come to mean no in reality. As-Salaam-Alaikum (peace be with you) and its response Wa-Alaikum-Salaam (with you too), are useful greetings to learn. They are used to mean something like “How are you?”

Everything has a price. Everything is for sale. Learn how to bargain and yet expect still to feel duped. Whatever price you are quoted, halve it, then halve it again.

Lost in the souk

Be prepared to get lost in the souk. Wander the tiny streets. Inhale the scents of fresh vervain, mint and cumin. Drink an avocado juice or an Oulmes, the Moroccan Ballygowan. Try some mint tea – and try not to blanch at the amount of sugar in it. Try a “crazy sandwich” in Djemaa el-Fnaa – it’s like a blaa but with zany ingredients. Eat tagine with your hands. Savour fragrant couscous, succulent dates, fresh crispy nuts, warm bread dipped in olive oil.

Sit on the edge of the square and watch the crowds: the tourists, the young Moroccan men with their older European girlfriends, the Europeans on city breaks, the American students, the snake charmers, the monkeys, the tricksters, the fruit sellers. All life is here.

Pause, listen, look. And shop. Visit the Quartier d’Or at the entrance to the main square if you want to buy some Middle Eastern yellow gold. It’s shiny, it’s sparkly. The square is a great place to buy phone covers, shoes and clothes but beware, goods made here do not have a long shelf life and break easily.

Oasis of calm

Take a red tourist bus tour and orientate yourself. Keep the Koutoubia Mosque in your sights and you won’t get lost. Jump off at Les Jardins Majorelle, a blue beauty and an oasis of calm. Visit the parfumerie across the street. Take taxis the rest of the time. They will try your patience but remember you are paying €2 for what you would normally pay €20 for at home. So smile and say, “Shukraan” (Thank you). Don’t drive. There is an invisible “third lane” apparent only to Moroccan eyes. Even if you have driven in Italy or Greece and think you have seen it all, you haven’t.

Go to a hammam; Turkey invented it but Morocco perfected it. It’s a social outing but leave your modesty at the door. You will emerge feeling cleaner than you ever have in your life.

Don’t visit in August, you will melt, or at Ramadan, which is a moveable feast, as everything is closed and taxi drivers are grumpier than usual. And make sure to bring home some Argan oil, the elixir Moroccans put on everything from their faces to their salads, they are only shy of putting it in their cars.

Ryanair flies from Dublin to Marrakesh every Thursday and Sunday. Go for a weekend, go for a week. I went for a year. And stayed.

Moroccan Scientist Receives White House’s Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers 

By Morocco World News - February 10, 2017 , By Alexander Jusdanis Rabat

Moroccan-American NASA scientist Dr. Othmane Benafan has been chosen to receive a 2017 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).  The award, given this year to 102 researchers, is the “highest honor bestowed by the US government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers,” according to the National Science Foundation.
Benafan, a Fez native, currently works as a materials research engineer at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, leading a team to innovate new shape memory alloys.

“These PECASE winners represent some of the brightest researchers that NASA supports,” said Deputy Chief Scientist Gale Allen at NASA Headquarters in Washington, adding that it reflects not only what they have already accomplished, but “where we expect they will lead the nation in the future.” The date of the PECASE award ceremony has not yet been announced.

In 2015, Benafan was awarded the Glenn Research Center Agency Honor Award for his contributions to aeronautics and mechanics research. Benafan graduated from Moulay Youssef Technical College in Tangier in 2001 before traveling to the US, where he received a BS, MS, and PhD in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Central Florida. Benafan is one of a small number of Moroccans to have worked at NASA, which include Kamal Oudrhini of Fes and Asmaa Boujibar of Casablanca.

Moroccan Woman Appointed to Chair US Physics Division

By Youssef Igrouane - January 27, 2017 , Rabat

Moroccan experimental nuclear physicist, Kawtar Hafidi, has been appointed the new Director of the Physics Division (PHY) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory.
Profiled recently on the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) website, Hafidi has 17 years of experience leading and conducting fundamental research at major accelerator facilities in the United States and Europe. Currently serving as Associate Chief Scientist for Laboratory-Directed Research & Development (LDRD), Hafidi established transparent processes to support Argonne’s most important scientific priorities and assured the possible return on early scientific investment.

The 39-year-old physicist nurtured her ability to forge strong relationships with U.S. physicians while she was assigned to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Nuclear Physics. She supervised major projects dedicated to accomplishing the DOE’s scientific mission. Hafidi obtained her PhD in nuclear physics from the University of Paris XI in 1999. She has been the recipient of several awards, including the Argonne Women in Science and Technology Diversity Award, and the U.S. Department of Energy Appreciation Award for 2014.

Hafidi is also the author of more than 140 publications. She has been invited to deliver talks at several international conferences, universities and laboratories. Speaking on behalf of ANL, Argonne’s Interim Director, Paul Kearns, expressed their pleasure in having Hafidi head their department, describing her “notable experience and unique insight into the way that fundamental research can drive energy breakthroughs.”

Morocco Aims High With Aspirations for Rural Development

By Chaima Lahsini - January 27, 2017 , Rabat

The Standing Committee on Advanced Regionalization and Rural and Territorial Development, working under the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (EESC), presented a draft report titled “Rural Development: Challenges and Prospects” in Rabat on Thursday. The methodology adopted for the preparation of this report consists of an analysis of the current state of rural development. The EESC recommended the formulation of a new national vision for the development of rural and mountain areas. The vision would call for the collaborative efforts of various agencies and involve the  incorporation of  human, economic, social, environmental and cultural concerns into a plan of action. 

According to the report presented by the Council, this 2030-2050 vision should guide all the development processes of the territory, namely for the region, the province and the rural communities.
In the same context, the EESC proposed setting up an administrative body dedicated to the development of rural and mountain areas. This body would be tasked with the following responsibilities: coordinating and integrating sector related measures, while strengthening decentralized governance and ensuring the integration of information systems and evaluation actions and the dynamics of rural development on a regional scale.
The body would also define each region’s essential vocations and mark their identities and production potential. In addition, the Council emphasized the importance of information and communication technologies as one of the main tools of rural development, proposing to strengthen and accelerate their use. This would be sensible now that mobile and internet networks are reaching even remote areas.
On the human front, the EESC called for the implementation of gender equality in rural development policy and the implementation of positive measures for the empowerment of rural women. This approach would help eliminate structural and cultural obstacles. It would also eradicate discriminatory practices women experience in the family and in society, increase women’s participation in decision-making, access to land and material assets. The issues of marriage of minor rural girls, child labour and the exploitation of women in the workforce would also benefit.
At the operational level, the report recommended ensuring that rural populations receive better access to social services and infrastructure, strengthening the rural economy and protecting and enhancing the value of natural resources.
It also proposed the promotion of cultural and sports activities in rural areas, to ensure close support to local providers and rural populations. A recommendation was also made for strengthening the financing of rural development actions and directing it toward the welfare of the rural population.
The objective of this draft report was to analyse every aspect of the problems of rural development in Morocco and to provide answers to the questions that would inevitably arise.
The methodology adopted for its elaboration was based on an analysis of the current state of rural development and the identification of factors that have hindered the improvement of the rural population’s living environment. ======================================================================

Morocco’s Children of the Moon, Grew in the Dark with No Medical Care

By Morocco World News - January 24, 2017 , By Hassna EL-Ammari Rabat

The fatal skin disease Xeroderma Pigmentosum afflicts around 800 Moroccans, but those with the condition suffer from minimal official medical support.

Driss Hamouti is skinny with a freckled face and a tumor on his lower lip.“Sometimes I just hate myself,” says Hamouti with tears in his eyes. I ask myself why exactly me. Why is this happening to me, not someone else?” Hamouti, 24, is one of an estimated 800 Moroccans who suffer from the fatal skin disease Xeroderma Pigmentosum, known as XP. Unusually prevalent in Morocco, XP is characterized by a hypersensitivity to the sun’s ultraviolent radiation, resulting in freckles, tumors, and blindness. Hamouti is the only member of his family with XP.“We thought it was just a simple fever, but the color of his face changed. It was as if something inside of him came up with a darker color, and then he couldn’t see,” said his mother Drissia El Ayouti, 58, who lives in Tiffelte.

Hamouti’s health struggles started when he was just one year old. At first El Ayouti says she thought her son’s only symptom was  blindness, but as the disease progressed, tumors started to appear and his face became freckled. The doctor ordered his mother to keep her son in a dark room away from sunlight as a precaution. The doctor did not explain to El Ayouti what was exactly wrong with her son and did not convey the dangerous damage that sunlight can cause to his DNA.

“He is so stubborn; no one can change his mind.  Sometimes he refuses to protect himself and goes outside even though  we try to stop  him,” says Wafae Hamouti, 27, Driss’s older sister.
When he was just a little boy, Hamouti faced a dilemma – to continue going to primary school, and risk his health by exposure to the sun, or to quit school entirely.  He decided to quit.
Sixteen years ago, Nozha Chkoundi’s son made a different decision.  Her son Mounir Yakdane played soccer with his friends in the sunshine and spent hours at the beach. He didn’t want to give up his normal life.

Mounir’s father, Mohamed Yakdane, a retired mathematics teacher, took his son to a public hospital in Casablanca after being informed that the boy was born with XP.  They had to stand in line out in the sun for hours,  not taking in consideration the damage being caused to Mounir. In fact, Yakdane says, doctors used his son as a teaching tool, gathering around to study the boy’s damaged skin.
Even after Mounir developed a cancerous tumor in his left eye, his parents couldn’t stop  him from going to school and playing in the sun . He ended losing his eye,  and then his life two years later. He was seven.

My wife burned all of Mounir’s photos after his death.  She couldn’t take it any longer,” says Yakdane. The Yakdane family’s fight with XP didn’t stop after their son’s  death. Soon, freckles  started to appear on their  daughter, Sanaa. She  has since spent 20 years in a closed dark room, safe from sunlight but a prisoner of darkness.“It tears me apart to leave my daughter, who has no future and had no education, at home and go to teach other people’s kids” says Yakdane.

In 2012, Chkoundi formed the Association of Solidarity with Children of the Moon with the aim of informing Moroccans about the disease, supporting XP patients and their families, and gathering  them to share their dramatic struggles with XP. Helping Chkoundi is her daughter Saana, who found has her haven in social media. Through a Facebook page which she manages, she has gathered together over 170 people with XP from all over Morocco, whom she invites to take part in her mother’s association.

The Association of Solidarity with Children of the Moon helps people like Fatima-Ezzahra Ghazaoui, 22, who also suffers from XP. Like Mounir Yakdane, Ghazaoui goes out into the sunlight even she knows the damage that sun can cause her skin.“Life is too short, especially in her case,” says her father Elhabib Ghazaoui, 59. “It is the reason why I want her to profit from life and enjoy it as she can.” But there is a price to going out in the sun. Ghazaoui has had 35 operations to replace skin and excise  tumors, as well as having undergone the removal of part of her tongue.“I am not embarrassed,” says Ghazaoui. “My family and friends treat me like there is nothing different about me. I’m a normal person with a disease. I do not have any problem with that.”

Mohamed El Kotbi, 17, lives in a small room next his school to avoid the danger of walking in the sun. El Kotbi is the only one with the disease in his family, though it is thought that XP may be caused by a genetic mutation acquired when close relatives marry each other, and it is more common in children of consanguineous parents. El Kotbi’s father married his cousin. El Kotbi says he struggles with the reaction to his disease.“I am afraid of people,” he says. “The bad reactions of people scare me. I want them to leave me alone, because I didn’t choose to have a fatal skin disease.”
Still, XP does inspire El Kotbi, who writes rap lyrics about the disease. “A child of the moon has one small dream,” raps El Kotbi. “And it is to enjoy the sunlight freely.”

People with XP need sunscreen, sunglasses, masks, and other protectants. They often come from poor families, says Chkoundi, but the government offers no financial assistance.
“My one  and only dream,” she says, “is to build a center where those kids can live together protected. They will be able to pursue  their studies and live an easier life.”

Morocco: 66% of Sexual Assault Cases against Women Occur in Public Places

By Chaima Lahsini - January 25, 2017 , Rabat

53% of physical assault cases and 66% of cases of sexual assault against Moroccan women happen in public places, according to a report released by the National Observatory of Violence against Women. Basima Hakkaoui, Minister of Solidarity, Family and Social Development commented on the Observatory’s findings on Tuesday, during a workshop held in Rabat, titled “Rabat, a safe city for women.” The Minister emphasized the impact this phenomenon has on all levels of civil society, from the public sector, to international partnerships and organizations. As for her views on the controversial 103.13 Bill, regarding the fight to end violence against women, Hakaoui expressed her hopes for the approval of the bill. For Hakkaoui, the bill is a fundamental legal tool to stop female targeted violence. The Minister also underlined the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators as one of the main reasons this issue remains so pervasive.

“The “Safe Cities for Moroccan Women” initiative, implemented in Rabat, Marrakech and 20 other cities, seeks to find efficient approaches and sustainable solutions to make public space in Morocco a safe and secure space,” Leila Rhiwi, Representative of the UN Women’s Maghreb Office said. She also pointed out that cases of violence against women in urban areas greatly exceeds those in rural areas.“Violence against women is an international phenomenon, against which the UN is fighting relentlessly through partnerships with public sectors, to put a worldwide stop to the spread of this plague,” Rhiwi added.

Participating in the workshop was Mohammed Sedikki, President of Rabat’s Commune. For his part, Sedikki affirmed that violence against women in public places is “an outrageous violation of human rights,” expressing his conviction that “achieving the country’s sustainable development objectives requires society’s absolute mobilization for the protection of women rights.” “Rabat’s Commune engagement, through international cooperation regarding women rights, is a strategic start to ensure women’s safety in Morocco’s capital city,” Sedikki added, affirming Morocco’s firm stand in supporting women’s rights in the framework of a democratic and transparent approach.

The workshop also discussed the urgent need to enable local authorities and law enforcement to intervene in cases of violence against women in public spaces, by granting them clearance to arrest and inspect any suspect. Talks also asserted that the testimony of the complainant should be taken as credible evidence, thereby indicating proof of a criminal act of violence, barring proof to the contrary. The workshop finally underlined the important role women play in this fight to stop gender-based violence and the need to allow them a forum in which to suggest solutions to help improve their daily lives as well as their security in public spaces.

MSU-Morocco partnership heralded as ‘best practice’ in international education

January 23, 2017 Contact: James Carskadon STARKVILLE, Miss.

Mississippi State University’s partnership with Morocco’s Université Internationale de Rabat is being recognized as one of the top partnerships in international education.

The Institute of International Education announced today [Jan. 23] that the dual-degree program established by the two universities has received the 2017 IIE Andrew Heiskell Award for International Partnerships. With the recognition as America’s top international university partnership, the program will be featured as a “best practice” in international education by the IIE.
“We’re very proud to see MSU recognized with the Heiskell Award, recognizing the innovative program that we’ve developed with the Université Internationale de Rabat,” MSU Vice President for Research and Economic Development David Shaw said. “We’ve made a strong commitment to globalizing our campus, and this partnership with a Moroccan institution is tangible evidence of this. We are now growing and deepening the relationship, including exploring other academic programs that might be offered and research collaborations that open up new opportunities.” MSU and UIR have partnered to create dual degree programs in automotive and aerospace engineering. The relationship between the two universities also extends to research collaboration and academic exchanges that are beneficial to education and economic development in Morocco and Mississippi.
The dual degree program allows students from Morocco to spend a year studying in Mississippi and earn a diploma of engineering from UIR and a bachelor’s and master’s degree from MSU. Since the academic program began in 2015, Morocco has become one of the top 10 countries sending students to MSU. For more information on the partnership, visit
MSU’s application for the Heiskell Award notes that the relationship between the two institutions of higher learning has grown and evolved organically, based on complementary strengths. UIR approached Mississippi State about developing a School of Automotive Engineering because of active research collaboration with MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems.
The award will be presented on March 14 at the annual Institute of International Education Best Practices Conference in Miami, where MSU has been invited to make a presentation on the program. The Heiskell Awards are designed to foster innovative ideas that will help international education professionals create and sustain new opportunities for students and faculty. For more, see
More information on Mississippi State’s global initiatives, led by the university’s International Institute, can be found at
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at

Step into the blue city of beauty and life

Rabat One of Best Cities for Street Artists: American Website

By Youssef Igrouane - January 21, 2017 Rabat

American website Artsy published an article on Thursday, selecting Morocco’s capital, Rabat, as one of “the best cities to be a street artist Today.” Artsy lauded Moroccan artistic diversity, saying “In Morocco’s major cities, art has been accessible on the street and in public spaces since times of antiquity—intricately patterned Zillij tiles, meticulously carved woodwork, and the flowing characters of Arabic calligraphy adorn the mosques and medinas of Rabat, Marrakech, Fez, and Casablanca.”

Artsy went on to say that the Moroccan government invests in the arts to preserve historical sites and encourage the engagement of youth in contemporary art and that includes street art.
The article also noted that Rabat hosted the Jidar Street Art Festival in 2015 and 2016, saying that “the event brought artists together from around the world to paint alongside domestic talents.”
“Those artists were given the opportunity to paint massive walls around the city. The pieces on display form a fascinating blend of styles and cultures,” it continued.  “The geometry and calligraphic elements of traditional Islamic art were well represented alongside surrealistic figurative works.”

As ones of the international artists who participated in the Jidar festival, Argentinian artist Jaz and Spanish Artist Okuda, rated their experience in creating Rabat’s murals as “the best.”
Jaz was quoted by Artsy saying, ““Rabat, in Morocco, is one city where I have such a great response from the people.” Okuda echoes this sentiment: “You work more for the community and you feel how your work makes a positive change in the neighborhood and in the people.”

Artsy explained that, in an international artistic project, the artists become competitive and they do their utmost to prove their potential. “When working in historically conservative cities like Rabat, artists coming from the outside must challenge themselves to innovate and paint with consideration to political and social expectations,” Artsy said. “The collaborative efforts of Jidar, between the people, their government, and the artists, represents a fresh take on ancient practices.

Essaouira, Morocco: A home away from home

Nina Karnikowski 21 Jan 2017,

Rustically glamorous with its curved whitewashed walls, this living home sits nestled in the Wind City of Africa.

If Essaouira were a house, it would have to be this one. Rustically glamorous, its curved whitewashed walls nod to the Moroccan seaside town's languid '70s vibes, and the central light well and trio of black-and-white-tiled rooftop terraces renders it sunny, breezy and relaxed. Do my travel companion and I need five floors' worth of space? No, we don't. But one glimpse of the interiors of Atlantic Morocco – this 200-year-old four-bedroom home tucked inside Essaouira's medina – convinces us we do. From the rusted vintage signage and indoor banana palms, to the '70s cushions and Berber rugs strewn across the floors, the Atlantic oozes a warmth and charm that immediately draws us in, hugs us tight, and tells us that we're home.
Which makes sense, really, because this actually is a home. The home of two friends – Rosie and Lisa, from London – who posted it on Love Home Swap, the world's biggest home exchange website, where it happily found us.

When we've exhausted ourselves running up and down the four flights of stairs, checking out the terraces and poking our heads into room after room after room, we slide on our Moroccan babouche slippers and step out into the centre of the ancient souk.

Shuffling through the warren of narrow laneways, we pass tiny art galleries and blue-tinged shops selling everything from raffia espadrilles and silver teapots, to local artworks, handmade instruments and colourful Berber rugs. Resisting temptation, we head outside the sun-bleached, honey-coloured fortress walls wrapping around the medina, built to guard the town against pirates and invaders in the mid 18th century, to Essaouira's seaport.

Gnarly, salt-encrusted fishermen haul nets filled with writhing silvery fish out of their faded blue wooden boats, as stray cats and dogs and terrifyingly large seagulls swoop in for scraps. Since its foundation, this has been a major international trading seaport, linking Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa with Europe and the rest of the world. The air is laced with the scent of two centuries' worth of rotting boat hulls and fish gizzards. It's almost enough to make us turn and run, but the promise of great Instagram shots keeps us there.

When the sun starts to set, we find ourselves flopped on the rooftop daybeds of the Atlantic, sipping crisp Moroccan rosé and watching the gull-smattered sky turn pink, then tangerine, as the lights of the town start to flicker on below. We peer down onto a scene out of Arabian Nights: countless white-washed terraces spreading toward the North Atlantic, the call to prayer wailing from the minarets of a nearby mosque seemingly inviting us to get back out among it. We consult Atlantic's dossier, collated by Rosie and Lisa, who recommend One Up just a few streets away. The dimly lit, lavishly decorated space offers cool clubby vibes and tasty Moroccan-inspired tapas, but we move on rather quickly when we discover they don't yet have a liquor license. Around the corner at Elizir we find a series of intimate, interconnected dining rooms styled with derelict '70s decor, and gobble a squid ink risotto from their tightly edited organic menu accompanied by another delicious glass of Moroccan rosé.

Essaouira is known as the Wind City of Africa because of the trade winds that whip off the Atlantic. We experience them for ourselves the following morning when our housekeeper Nezha (yes there's a housekeeper at the Atlantic, who'll clean the whole place and also cook breakfast for about $7 a person) suggests we head to Tagenza Beach. It's a fair way out of town, so we hire a driver to run us out through the undulating Argan forests.

We'd asked for remote and remote we get. Arriving at Tagenza we discover we're the sole visitors, aside from the local goat herd. It only takes about five minutes – five minutes from when we've told our driver to come back in two hours – to discover why. The wind has turned the ocean into a frothy cauldron too wild to take a dip, and is sending sand up our noses and into our mouths, eyes, hair and clothes. It drives people nuts, this wind, or so my guidebook had told me. And it certainly feels like I'm headed that way as I wrap one towel around my torso, another around my waist and yet another around my head, to keep the sand out. Eventually we just give up and explore the hauntingly beautiful ruins by the shore.

The final secret Rosie and Lisa share with us via their dossier is Jardin des Douars, which we take the 20-minute drive out of town to visit late the following morning. Modelled on the rammed-earth kasbahs of the Atlas Mountains, this bougainvillea-shrouded boutique hotel is surrounded by thriving gardens and two elegant swimming pools. We're allowed to loll about in them all day long, provided we eat lunch in Douars' reasonably-priced restaurant. Which we do with gusto, devouring fresh tuna, salmon and kingfish sashimi served with a herb and lemon tapenade, then taking our gelato by the pool, where we stay until our skin turns crispy and the sun hangs low in the sky. We make it back to the Atlantic's terrace just in time for sunset, toasting with Casablanca beers and wondering how exactly we'll break the news to Rosie and Lisa: we're never, ever going to leave.

Not for Women Only - Family Planning for Families

01/20/2017 Alexander Sanger Chair, International Planned Parenthood Council

I’m in a Planned Parenthood health center. Men are in the waiting room, as well as women and infants. Primary care, including dermatology, urology, and pediatric care, are offered to all comers. But that is not all. In one adjacent building, there is a cooking class and an adjacent café where the teen (and some adult) budding cooks sell their culinary creations to the public. In another building, teens are learning to cut and style hair; next door teens are measuring customers for made-to-order clothes; and in yet another space, teens are rehearsing a play about responsible decision making and warning against illegal abortion. Nearby are the classrooms of a primary school for the orphan children of the neighborhood. A steam bath in another building has a steady stream of customers from the community.

This is Planned Parenthood? Or have I wandered into some alternative universe?

I’m in Fes, Morocco at the Complexe Lalla Fatima Zagra Laazizia, run by Moroccan Family Planning Association, or, more properly, the Association Marocaine de Planification Familiale (AMPF). AMPF is the Member Association of the International Planned Parenthood Federation in Morocco. Founded in 1971, AMPF saw that providing sexual and reproductive health care had to be done in the context of empowerment of women and of disadvantaged young persons, male and female. Family planning had to be part of life planning and life opportunity and needed community support so as to be seen as integral to the futures of girls and boys, women and men. AMPF decided it had to be embedded in the community to succeed. No isolation for them. No services only below the waist.
No women only. In this it has succeeded.

The nation of Morocco is among the most liberal in the Arab world and is developing rapidly. According to the United Nations, the population is approximately 35 million people, and the birth rate is 2.6. The birthrate in the Arab world is 3.5. According to the World Bank, maternal and infant mortality are declining rapidly in Morocco and the Arab World, with maternal mortality in Morocco at 121 (down from 317 in 1990), versus 156 in the Arab World (down from 289 in 1990). Thus, Morocco had had above average maternal mortality in 1990 and now is lower than average. The under-5 mortality is 28 (down from 239 in 1990). In the Arab World it was 37 in 2014 versus 249 in 1990.

While the life expectancy at birth is 73 years for men and 75 years for women, the educational and economic disparities run in the other direction. According to the UN, 59% of boys are enrolled in secondary school but only 53% of girls. These rates are slightly less than the Arab World at 64% and 58% respectively. In University, the ratios even out with about one-quarter of both young men and young women enrolled. The greatest disparity is in labor force participation, where only one-quarter of women are participating, whereas three-quarters of men are.

Birth-control is available for free in government health clinics and abortion is widely practiced, but is legal only in cases of danger to the health of the woman and in cases of rape, incest or fetal defect (these latter exceptions were added this year.) The contraceptive prevalence rate is 68%, with the modern contraception rate being 58%. The percentages for the Arab world are 51% and 43% respectively.

The Moroccan Family Planning Association operates 30 sexual and reproductive health centers and, in addition, has seven mobile health units. It offered over 1.7 million reproductive health care services last year.

The MFPA clinic and complex in Fes is located in a disadvantaged neighborhood called Sahrij Gnaoua. The Complexe serves the 70,000 inhabitants, where the birth rate is about five children per woman. The illiteracy rate is 55% for women and 35% for men. There is only one Ministry of Health center for this entire population and one doctor from the private sector.

The Complexe enables women to make choices about their lives, gives young girls and boys opportunities for the future, campaigns against gender-based violence, and creates a social enterprise model and mutual aid partnership between the clinic and all its programs and the entire neighborhood.

The Complexe is a model for how reproductive health care services can be part of an entire fabric of a neighborhood and garner community and nationwide support. They partner with 65 community groups and do sex education programs in the community schools. Women sit in the hammam and discuss sex and ways to prevent intimate partner violence. There is no opposition. No picketing. No harassment. It is one of Morocco’s great success stories. There are lessons to be learned here.

Serving in Morocco: Braun paints in Morocco as part of his EDGE Project.

ByEmma Pay

Anthony J. Braun, a senior interdisciplinary studies major from Cedar City, describes himself on his personal website, as a poet, writer, artist and world traveler. Just like many aspects of his life, Braun went the extra mile with his EDGE project by completing humanitarian projects with six organizations and getting the whole community involved at the same time.

Braun contacted local newspapers to cover his story, appeared on the morning show at Canyon View Middle School, and even made t-shirts for friends and family to raise awareness about issues abroad. “I felt like it was important to raise awareness in the community because … I felt like this was something the whole community could take pride in, and I wanted to share the experience with as many people as I could,” he said.

As a young boy, Braun said he was inspired to travel by looking through his father’s collection of “National Geographic” magazines. “I would scan through the articles about people making a difference in the world, about foreign destinations and distant cultures and I fell in love with the idea of volunteering abroad,” he said. “Africa has always been on the top of my list because of the culture’s diversity and depth.”

Years later, he discovered the Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency Program (CULP) through his service as a cadet with the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).
Anthony traveled to Morocco in July 2016 and spent three weeks in various parts of the country, volunteering with six organizations, including CULP, World Unite, La Creche and Green Wave.
Braun said he had a broad impact on the country during his time in Morocco, participating in efforts to clean up the environment, benefit the disabled, educate the youth and provide resources for underprivileged villages. However, he said the most memorable service he performed was for a school in a town called Bab Taza. “The school hosts 200-plus students from all grades, and we painted a schoolhouse that could be seen from 10 miles away,” Braun said. “I could literally see the building from the second tallest mountain in northern Africa … I’m happy that we were able to make that kind of difference in a learning environment.”

Another project, which Braun said deeply affected him, took place at an orphanage for mentally handicapped youth, many of whom were infants. After spending the day interacting with the children, a supervisor told Braun that he was good with the kids and suggested that he adopt one of them. “I went to our living quarters and cried that night, because I didn’t know where any of these kids would be in 18 years, and I didn’t know how their living conditions were going to be,” Braun said.

Before and after the trip, Braun appeared as a guest speaker on the “Morning Show” at Canyon View Middle School, where he shared his experiences and insights about goal-setting, leadership and overcoming adversity. Conrad Aitken, the principal of Canyon View Middle School and host of the “Morning Show,” invited Braun to speak in order to inspire other students to follow in his footsteps.
Braun also used the project to complete requirements for his English 2040 class with professor Jennifer Sorenson. She said Braun went the extra mile to make his project great.

“Anthony was an excellent student who asked me to challenge him,” Sorenson said. “He wrote a proposal outside of the assignment guidelines that met his needs, and I approved it for him … I feel that this type of assignment gives students a chance to apply their learning, problem-solve and be creative.” Aitken added, “I hoped through Anthony’s visits we could raise the social consciousness of our students even if it just meant they could be kinder to each other here at school. If others were inspired to set goals as Anthony has done, that would be all the better.”

Braun said the process of planning and completing his project helped him to strengthen his leadership skills, develop patience, and learn about foreign cultures. He says he hopes to educate his peers about cultural issues by sharing his newfound knowledge.

“I find myself correcting people when they present wrong or misguided cultural stereotypes,” he said. “We need to remember that we have more in common with people than we think, and Americans are so ethnocentric sometimes that it is hard to change the mentality.”

Timeless Belief in Saints and Spirits in Morocco

By Mohamed Chtatou - January 19, 2017 , Rabat

The concept of saints and spirits has been a part of Moroccan religious beliefs and an influence behind cultural practices for as long as history can tell. The modern beliefs, traditions, and celebrations inspired by Moroccan beliefs in supernatural beings draw influences from early animism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (including from the Sunni, Shia, and Sufi sects). Despite Morocco’s increasing modernization and industrialization, saints are still celebrated, and spirits continue to be an influence in everyday cultural practices. The Moroccan people continue to celebrate saints and spirits by preserving holy places, holding festivals (moussems), and observing practices to avoid the wrath of spirits (jnoun).

Ancient belief still strong

Saints and spirits are concepts often affiliated with local religious beliefs and figure prominently in most world religions. A saint refers to someone of the faith who is known to have been of exceptional righteousness. Many adherents to Christianity, Judaism and Islam believe that already-dead saints can still influence and bless the pious, and, therefore, shrines are often built to honor these great holy men and women. Prayers often invoke the names of great saints. Edward Westermarck argues in his work Ritual and Belief in Morocco that the beliefs and traditions surrounding saints in Morocco are not Qu’ranic, but rather influences from earlier paganism. He continues to argue, however, that the strict monotheism of Islam gave rise to an increase in popularity of saint cults, as many believers saw an intercessor before God as necessary. Catholicism within Christianity, Kabala within Judaism and Sufism within Islam highlight the importance of mysticismwithin religious belief and practice as well as in everyday life and culture.

A spirit in Morocco most often refers to ajinni, and spirits are recognized in the Qu’ran as malevolent beings. Anas Farah argues in his paper “Spirits in Morocco” that the beliefs regarding the nature of the spirits in Morocco evolved from views of these spirits as individualized, African animistic spirits to the view of these spirits as the jinn mentioned in the Qu’ran. This evolution in belief is believed to have taken place after the Islamic assimilation of Morocco, when previous religious elements of Moroccan culture were integrated into the new, monotheistic religion of the region.
Before the arrival of the three Abrahamic religions, North Africa was mostly animistic in its beliefs, assigning spiritual qualities to animals and geographical features, such as rivers and mountains. The first monotheistic religion to establish itself prominently in Morocco was Judaism around 70 AD, and Moroccan Judaism adapted many naturalistic symbols that would become associated with its saints and spirits as the result of influence of Amazigh culture. After the arrival of Islam in the region in 711, Moroccan Islam and Moroccan Judaism shared veneration of certain saints. Those bestowed with sainthood in Morocco can vary in the reason for their Barakadivine grace. Many other saints followed a more traditional Sufi lifestyle for which they are honored, a lifestyle involving humility and a way of life devoid of human possession. Most saints revered by Moroccan Jews were great Rabbis and, while those of the Jewish faith will never claim openly to be praying to a saint, yet many believesaints can be of assistance in the person’s supplications to God.

A well-entrenched belief in Moroccan culture

Jinn, along with saints, figure heavily in Moroccan folklore, due to influences from early animism as well as reinforcement in the belief in jinn found in the Qu’ran. The view Moroccans have of the jinn is often close to the beliefs their ancestors held of natural spirits. Some jinn are even named and given traits, such as Aisha Kandisha, a female jinniof incredible beauty associated with rivers and underground water sources taking a cue from early animistic beliefs. It is not unusual for a jinni in Moroccan folklore to be able to assume the form of a young, beautiful woman, or even a terrible crone. Jinn are often known to deceive and possess people, and while practices to prevent these situations vary from area to area, there is a strong belief in the jinn in Morocco.

Many Muslims in Morocco make pilgrimages to holy sites to venerate saints. Maraboutism is a Moroccan term that refers to the recognition of the importance of the veneration of a saint and/or his or her burial place. Pilgrimages to sites believed to be the burial places of saints or places of importance to these righteous men and women is a common practice in Moroccan culture.[vi] These practices are popular during Eid al-Mawlid, the annual celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birth. Saints inMorocco are often celebrated with moussems, or feast days, and almost every city has what can be called a “patron saint” (drawing parallels with the Roman Catholic Church).

The festival of Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch is celebrated by Sufis to venerate a 17th century saint and his disciple and servant woman named Lalla Aicha, a Muslim princess saint believed to dwell in the spirit world and capable of  interceding for her followers. Many believe that going to this festival can protect them from the jinn and that the saint’s baraka – divine blessing – can still influence their lives positively today. The celebration is held in Mghrassyine, where a shrine is dedicated to the saint.

In reference to the moussem of Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch, Simon Martelli writes in Taipeitimes: “The festival of Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch brings Moroccans from far and wide to venerate a 17th century Muslim saint and his servant Lalla Aicha, a mythical Muslim princess from the desert who dwells in the spirit world and is a powerful unseen force for her followers. Traditionally, worshippers have come to Mghrassyine for spiritual guidance and divine blessing, sometimes seeking higher states of consciousness through music and dance, as a form of communion with God. But for a growing number of people, the week-long religious festival, or moussem, is a journey into the supernatural world of genies, incantations and shawafa — women who claim to be able, for a fee, to help people find love and feel better, to maybe cast or break a spell.”

The pilgrimages of Jews to or within Morocco to holy sites associated with the Jewish faith are called hiloulot/hiloula . Some large Jewish pilgrimages to honor deceased rabbis are held in major cities like Meknes, Fez, and Marrakech, but the largest pilgrimages take place in Ouezzane and Ben Ahmed to which pious Moroccan Jews of the Diaspora flock every year relentlessly.

After the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, Moroccan Jews who lived in Morocco for over 2000 years started their Aliya to this new country and by 1970, 250,000 have become Israeli by nationality, but their heart, nevertheless, remained in Morocco and their culture was exclusively Moroccan. Very much like their Muslim brethren, they werevery much immersed in the culture of sainthood and maraboutism. So, those who cannot afford coming to Morocco to honor their saints had “replacement saints”in Israel and this is well highlighted in an article by Joel Greenberg in the New York Times: “Once a year in midwinter, this drab, remote town becomes a magnet for thousands of Jewish believers from around Israel. They flock to the tomb of a revered holy man in search of health, wealth and happiness.The faithful are Israelis of Moroccan origin who in recent years have created an annual revival-style meeting at the grave of Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzera, who in his life gained a reputation for having divinely endowed powers.

The mass pilgrimage is the most dramatic evidence of a resurging rituals surrounding a belief in saints among the more than 600,000 Israelis of Moroccan descent, a group that is dominant in this Negev town. The traditions mirror practices of Muslims in Morocco and bear some resemblance to the Christian worship of local saints.

Rabbi Abuhatzera, known here by the nickname Baba Sali, was believed to have the power to heal the sick, ward off misfortune and give those he blessed a healthy and prosperous life.
Baba Sali’s reputed powers are said to have passed to his tomb, which, since his death nine years ago at the age of 94, has become the center of a rapidly growing cult.
Some scholars say the surging popularity of such pilgrimages signals a new assertiveness by Moroccan Jews. When they began to immigrate to Israel in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Moroccans were overwhelmed by culture shock, economic difficulty and an official “melting pot” policy that frowned on their distinctive traditions.”

Importance of sainthood

There are many other sites in Morocco dedicated to saints, including the burial sites of Moulay Idriss I in Zerhoun and his son, Moulay Idriss II in Fez (at whose shrine women pray for ease in childbirth). In Marrakech, one will find the tombs of the “seven saints” -sab’atu rijal- of Morocco: Sidi Yusuf ibn Ali Sanhaji, Sidi al-Qadi Ayyad al-Yahsubi, Sidi Bel Abbas, Sidi Mohamed ibn Sulayman al-Jazouli, Sidi Abdellaziz Tabba’a, Sidi Abdellah al-Ghazwani, and lastly, SidiAbderrahman al-Suhayli. These seven religious men were and still are considered the patron saints of Marrakesh as well as different cities in Morocco, and it is widely believed that they will, one day, rise again and continue to work good deeds in the world. The mausoleums of Mohammed V and Hassan II are also places frequented on pilgrimages (as former kings are often granted saint-like status).

At such celebrations of saints and (sometimes) jinn, rituals are performed and forms of folk magic practiced. Potions are often created from traditional ingredients, harking back to earlier African influences. Trances are a common element associated with such Sufi celebrations, as well as self-mutilation with knives while under the supposed influence of a jinni or divine power. In regards to warding off evil spirits, evil eye pendants and the Hand of Fatima (the Khamsa) are symbols associated with protecting the innocent. Knives, also, appear to play an important role in Moroccan culture for warding off the jinn – it is believed by some that possession by jinn can be prevented by plunging a knife into the ground before the jinn can get close, or by placing it underneath the pillow of a person who is possessed or in danger of being possessed. Moroccans, also, avoid pouring hot water down the drain at night, a place which is supposed to be the parallel dwelling world of spirits.

After the marginalization of Moroccan Sufis under his father, King Hassan II, King Mohammad VI has made steps to reconcile with them. There has been a marked revival of Moroccan Sufism under the current monarch. Many activists praised King Mohammad VI when he appointed Ahmed Toufiq, a Sufi, as Minister of Awkaf and Islamic Affairsin 2002. Many believe the move to be a signal to encourage the growth of Sufism in response to the increased threat of Islamists in Morocco, and particularly in response to the 2003 Casablanca Bombings. The encouragement of the Sufi movement and culture has led to a recent increase of interest in Sufi pilgrimages and celebrations, giving rebirth to a rich tradition that dates back hundreds of years.

Final word

While spirits play an important role in the Moroccan rich culture, the combination of traditional beliefs surrounding spirits and the continued veneration of saints creates a more unique approach to the spiritual world compared to the rest of the Muslim world.
Morocco’s rich Jewish and Sufi traditions have melded their beliefs in saints and its animistic roots have been influential in the roles spirits come to play in Moroccan folklore. While many in larger cities might dismiss these beliefs as superstition, they, nevertheless, remain strong in the majority of the population’s beliefs and will continue to play a major role in Moroccan culture for years to come.
You can follow Professor Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu

Bloomberg again Names Morocco among 50 Most Innovative Economies in the World

Results Reflect Morocco’s Success in Implementing King Mohammed VI’s Vision for Modern, Growing Economy

January 19, 2017 01:22 PM Eastern Standard Time WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE) Moroccan American Center for Policy (MACP)

Morocco was again named among the 50 most innovative economies in the world and one of just two such economies in Africa by the 2017 Bloomberg Innovation Index released Tuesday.
"No surprise" #Morocco again named among 50 most innovative economies by @Bloomberg, says frmr US Ambassador

The Index evaluated over 200 world economies before trimming the list to 78 that had data on at least six of seven factors: research and development (R&D) intensity, defined as research and development expenditure as a percentage of GDP; manufacturing value-added; productivity, defined as the GDP/GNI per employed person age 15+; high-tech density, capturing the proportion of domestically domiciled high-tech public companies such as aerospace and renewable energy companies; tertiary efficiency, reflecting enrollment in tertiary education; researcher concentration, or the percentage of the population involved in R&D and patent activity per the population.

Morocco’s highest rankings were in the areas of R&D intensity, manufacturing value-added, and high-tech density, reflecting the North African country’s success in implementing its longtime strategy to develop its auto and aerospace manufacturing sectors, as well as its leadership in renewable energy development.

According to Morocco’s Minister of Industry, Trade, Investment and the Digital Economy Moulay Hafid Elalamy, Morocco’s aeronautics industry has grown by a factor of six in just a decade, and today boasts 121 companies. In September 2016, the Kingdom and Seattle-based aerospace company Boeing announced plans to establish a Boeing industrial ecosystem in Morocco that will bring 120 Boeing suppliers to the country, create 8,200 skilled jobs, and generate $1 billion in exports. Meanwhile, Morocco is now home to the world’s largest solar power plant. Indeed the 2016 Climate Performance Index ranked Morocco among the top ten countries making the most progress in addressing climate change and number one among "newly industrialized countries," citing the country’s commitment to generating 42% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. (This number was since raised to 52% by 2030.) And reflecting Morocco’s commitment to R&D, King Mohammed VI just last week inaugurated the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, a hub for research, training and innovation in Benguerir, Morocco.

The Bloomberg Index is also just one of many industry and business reports of recent years awarding Morocco high marks. In September last year, the World Bank’s 2017 “Doing Business” report ranked Morocco 68 out of 190 countries in ease of doing business—a two-spot gain over the previous year—making it number one in North Africa and fourth overall in the greater Middle East/North Africa region. KPMG International and Oxford Economics’ 2015 Change Readiness Index (CRI) ranked Morocco as the most “change-ready” country in the Maghreb, with particularly positive results in the category of “enterprise capability.” And in 2014, the Wall Street Journal’s Frontiers/FSG Frontier Markets Sentiment Index reported that Morocco is among the top ten frontier markets—and the only one in the Maghreb—most favored by foreign corporations.

“It’s no surprise that Morocco’s economy was ranked among the most innovative in the world,” said former US Ambassador to Morocco Edward M. Gabriel. “Under the leadership of King Mohammed VI, Morocco has been implementing an aggressive, long-term economic vision to enhance its business environment, improve citizens’ quality of life, and become an engine of growth and development in Africa.”

The Moroccan American Center for Policy (MACP) is a non-profit organization whose principal mission is to inform opinion makers, government officials, and interested publics in the United States about political and social developments in Morocco and the role being played by the Kingdom of Morocco in broader strategic developments in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East.
This material is distributed by the Moroccan American Center for Policy on behalf of the Government of Morocco. Additional information is available at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC. Contacts Moroccan American Center for PolicyJordana Merran, 202-470-2049

Morocco — a bridge to be built

Jan 31, 2017 Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

A MOROCCAN passport officer asked me, “What do you teach?” “Communication,” I answered. With typical bright smile, he asked me to explain what it means to communicate and what the most important skills are.“Communication is a fundamental belief. If a message doesn’t come from your heart, there is no point in faking it — it’d always show,” I pointed out and explained, “Communication begins when you believe in and apply the Qur’an verse: (O people, we created you as a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so you get to know each other).”
“Then, the principles and values of tolerance, cooperation, justice, righteousness and charity would emanate from your soul to all around you. You would easily learn the mechanics and skills of positive and effective communication, and find it easier to convince others of your sincerity.”
I asked him, “Do you know what are the greatest communication skills?” Then said: “It’s the smile. The Moroccan’s smile, for example, conveys the feelings of friendliness, respect, empathy and appreciation to all regardless of their languages, races and ages. Smile is the message understood by every human being and creature. So keep smiling and your are already half the way in communication school!”
My encounter with the passport officer was not the only good experience. If Japan was the country of the “Rising Sun,” then Morocco is the “Bright Smile Land.” You expect no less than warmth, kindness and generous Arab hospitality from most people.
During my first trip in 1985, I was impressed by the major leaps in the development and progress the country achieved in recent decades. In addition to its charming nature, ancient heritage, proud culture, and rich sources of water, fisheries and phosphate, Morocco’s greatest treasure lies in its well-educated and skilled human resources.
Moroccan economy has benefited from major projects such as the extensive networks of dams, roads, railway, telecommunications, ports and airports. Recently, they have built the fastest train system in the North Africa.

Still, the economy is in dire need of liberation and moderation. Foreign investors are frightened off by red tape and certain laws. Investors, for instance, are restrained to withdraw and transfer from their hard-earned profits over the stipulated limits. The dirham value is decided by local financial authorities.
The most attractive asset in Morocco, however, is its people. Their beauty is reflected in their environment, society and cities. They are green, bright, clean, elegant and simple. Contrary to their public image in some Arab countries, most Moroccans are conservative Muslims. This shows in their preservation of their Arab and Islamic heritage, customs and traditions. Westernized liberals are there too, especially in metropolitan areas, but you would hardly notice them, unless you were on the look.
In cities and countryside; from the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea to heartland; from the beaches of Casablanca to the alleys of Marrakech; and from the diplomatic districts in Rabat to the luxurious resorts in El Jadida, Morocco looked clean, safe, and organized.
The wisdom of Moroccans is reflected in the relationship between the ruled and the rulers. When the nation’s enemies tried to stir up the people against their leadership during the so-called “Arab Spring,” and as some Arab governments lag behind the demands of their people, the Moroccan leadership was step ahead. King Mohammed VI has presented his reform initiative way beyond the aspirations and demands of his people. This contributed to the stability in his country and increased his already high popularity.
This wisdom has again manifested in the King’s support of the Arab and Muslim alliance in the face of terrorism, Israeli and Iranian aggression. Promising Morocco awaits more of our investments and people to people communication. We need cultural and scientific exchange that includes schools, universities, research centers and civic institutions. We may benefit from Moroccan expertise in tourism, fishing, traditional industries and mining.
It could be our shortcoming, or maybe theirs. However, we, on both sides of the Arab world, need to improve relations, cooperation and communication. We should also change wrong concepts and fight stereotyping. There is no better way than regular exchanges of visits and direct networking between institutions and organizations of businesses, media, culture and education. We could facilitate such collaboration with well-organized regular conferences, exhibitions, seminars, and various cultural and scientific programs.
It is about time we start building that Arab bridge between the east and the west.
— Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi


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