Monday, May 17, 2010

Morocco in the News: May 1st - 17th

Morocco 2nd in Arab world for internet users
Morocco ranked second in the Arab world for the growth rate of internet users in 2009, MAP reported on Tuesday (May 4th), citing a Google survey. Egypt was first with a growth rate of 20%, Morocco had 18% and Saudi Arabia was third with 17%. The number of internet users in the Arab world increased from 16 million in 2004 to 56 million in 2010, MAP noted.

Morocco’s economy saved itself from crisis, says IMF
May 13th, 2010 | By Desmond Shephard
RABAT: Morocco has suffered little from the global economic crisis due to an economy that is diversified and the rising information technology sector in the country, the International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said Wednesday.
“Countries with diversified economies, such as Morocco, have better resisted (the global financial crisis) and
could have a strong rate of growth,” Strauss-Kahn said in an interview published on Wednesday by the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram Hebdo.
“Morocco is a very good example. This country has successfully overcome the crisis. It will have a strong growth,” he said.
Strauss-Kahn added that among the problems in some African countries and other parts of the world is “having an economy insufficiently diversified or completely energy-based.”
Here in Morocco, government officials are confident that their efforts to create a new means of economic progress with alternative energy has shown that the costs of doing show are well worth it.
According to Yussif Said, a technology advisor to the government in Rabat, “we are moving forward on a number of local reforms and have given attention to the IT sector because we understand that through the Internet and our citizens, success will be had.”
He pointed how the IT sector has thrown its weight behind the massive $9 billion solar energy project that could see half of the country’s energy come from solar power by 2025.
“The IT firms are behind this initiative and show that we don’t have to focus on one sector over another,” he added.
The IMF boss said that “overall, Africa has overcome the crisis better than expected. Now we notice in most countries a return to growth.”

Shoppin' the kasbah
May 9, 2010
Lee Atkinson gets more than she bargains for as she spends up in the souks of Morocco's mediaeval medinas.
YOU'VE got to love a sales pitch that includes a marriage proposal. "You buy this carpet, we give you husband," is the quick-as-lightning response to my friend's plea that she cannot afford the beautiful but expensive Berber rug laid out before her because she has "no husband to pay for it". Quickly followed by "you give us plastic, we give you art. See how lucky you are!" Who can resist? She certainly couldn't.
The carpet sellers of Morocco are legendary for their powers of persuasion and, with or without the obligatory glass of mint tea, it's almost impossible not to succumb to the sales pitch and the carpet's charm, despite your best intentions.
If you can somehow, magically, detach yourself from the encounter you'll be treated to an hour or so of performance art that is better than any street theatre.
Shopping for carpets, or anything for that matter, in the souks (markets) of Fez, Rabat or Marrakesh is an extreme sport. A tiny hesitation outside a shop's doorway, or even the slyest sideways glance at a shiny bauble or silk slipper will set the shopkeeper quivering with excitement and the certain knowledge that he has you hooked. Enter the shop at your peril - it is virtually impossible and highly improbable you will exit empty-handed.
You can buy just about anything you've ever wanted, or are likely to, in the souks of Morocco's mediaeval medinas, or old walled towns. Silken slippers called babouches, black tin lanterns with softly glowing coloured glass, tassels and kaftans and brightly coloured ceramics, scarves and hooded jellabas, leather poufs, Berber carpets, gold jewellery and silver teapots. Move away from the tourist-thronged main streets and you'll find the local souks, where old women haggle over the price of vegetables, swarms of bees hover above displays of sweet pistachio-studded pastries drenched in honey, live chickens squawk in cages waiting to be weighed and cats prowl underneath the counters of cubby-size butcher shops festooned with tongues and lungs, sheep and camel heads, complete with their horns and hair.
Spice souks display their red and yellow seasonings in perfect pyramids, fruits stalls groan under the weight of mountains of dried dates and young men try to entice passers-by with a staggering array of marinated olives. In the perfume souk walls are lined with large old-fashioned glass bottles of sweet smelling oils and tin drums are overflowing with sticky black goo, the traditional black soap used in the public bath houses, or hammams.
Through it all weave donkeys and mules laden with heavy sacks of grain, crates of fruit or piles of leather skins, women on pushbikes, young boys pushing two-wheeled trolleys and men of all ages on motorbikes weave, too. He or she who hesitates is indeed lost, or at least overrun.
Stepping into a Moroccan medina is a journey back in time, a glimpse of what life was like in the middle ages, because in essence, not much has changed since then in these winding alleyways and labyrinthine laneways so narrow that two people must turn sideways to pass one another. When the French took control in the early 20th century, they decreed that no new building be carried out in the ancient fortified cities, known as medinas.
They built their "villes nouvelle" of modern multi-storied buildings on boulevards outside the old city walls. While this meant that the locals who stayed in the overcrowded historic centres were largely forced to live without mod cons like private bathrooms, decent plumbing and adequate electricity, it preserved the ancient cities, ensuring they remained car-free and intact and as exasperatingly unnavigable as ever.
Legend has it that they were designed in such a narrow and maze-like way in order to confuse and slow down invaders - although I suspect it is more likely to be a strategy to keep prospective shoppers in the souk for longer.
Ancient crafts are still carried out in the traditional way, in places such as the tanneries in Fez, where sinewy men wade knee-deep in vast vats of evil-smelling dyes, rank with ammonia from urine and pigeon droppings, red with crushed poppies, bright yellow from saffron or orange from henna, the coloured hides left to dry on rooftops.
Turn a corner and you find a tranquil and much more pleasant-smelling woodworker's foundouq - a courtyard complex where the artisans work downstairs and travellers of ancient transcontinental caravan routes once rented rooms upstairs; duck down a dark alley and you'll stumble across the blacksmith's souk, the air vibrating with the sounds of hundreds of clanging hammers and ringing metal; next door will be a mosque or maybe a crumbling medersa, its courtyard lined with intricate carved wooden panels, beautiful white plasterwork and vibrant mosaic tiles that surely must have distracted the students who once studied law and philosophy in these glorious buildings.
A warm, red glow at the end of an otherwise pitch-black tunnel leads to a communal bakery, where boys deliver their mothers' dough to be baked and, usually next door, sharing the same wood-fired furnace, will be the hammam or bath house.
Getting lost is a certainty, becoming overwhelmed by the crowds and the noise is highly likely and paying more than you intended for something you never knew you really wanted is an inevitability; however, the medinas of Morocco have an addictive and bewitching charm like no other shopping centre on earth.

U.S. Filmmaker Brings Moroccan Hip-Hop to World Stage.
By Carrie Loewenthal Massey / Special Correspondent 12 May 2010
Washington — Although filmmaker Joshua Asen grew up in Brooklyn, New York, with an affinity for jazz and classical music, he has since become an unofficial ambassador for hip-hop, promoting its value as an art form.
Asen’s film, I Love Hip Hop in Morocco, captures the experiences of several Moroccan hip-hop artists. Like artists around the globe, these young performers struggle to express themselves and the frustrations they encounter in daily life. They do it through hip-hop.
With financial support from the American Embassy in Rabat and the U.S.-based company Coca-Cola, Asen helped the artists organize a series of public, free concerts. His film documents the lives of the musicians, as well as the challenges of planning the groundbreaking music festival. After overcoming several logistical hurdles, the festival played in three Moroccan cities to more than 36,000 fans, according to the film.
Also reaching a large audience, I Love Hip Hop in Morocco screened at film festivals in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, and continues to travel to universities. The U.S. Department of State recently acquired rights to distribute copies of the production to 100 posts worldwide, as well.
Asen’s personal exposure to hip-hop music did not happen until he moved to Rhode Island to attend college.
“I had not had the right introduction to hip-hop until college when my good friend and co-director of the film Jennifer Needleman made me sit down and listen to the lyrics and appreciate the poetry and word play,” Asen said in an interview with
What began as appreciation for American hip-hop giants like Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z soon blossomed into a fascination with the history of the genre and its anthropological and musical impact on society. Asen began to explore the spread of this musical movement from its inception in the 1970s to its popularity today.
Hip-hop began on the streets of the Bronx, a borough of New York City, as an outlet for African-American and Latino teenagers struggling to escape poverty. Within 20 years, the stories told by these American youth sparked a global movement.
“In the ’90s and beginning of the 21st century, [hip-hop] was growing and thriving in places like Morocco, South Africa and China,” Asen said.
A post-graduation vacation to Morocco found Asen wandering in the Medina of Rabat, the remaining ancient section of the city, marveling at Moroccans playing both American and indigenous hip-hop on the streets. Questions arose in Asen’s mind about the role of hip-hop in Muslim society and the globalization of hip-hop. He soon returned to Morocco on a Fulbright grant from the U.S. Department of State to seek answers to his inquiries.
“I was one of the first people to make a case for hip-hop as a legitimate field of study,” said Asen.
Asen’s studies took him around the country, meeting the subjects of his film along the way.
He encountered the teenaged “FatiShow” rapping at a train station. Fati lived in Fez, pursuing both her studies and her music. Each time she took the stage, she broke down gender barriers. She endured boos from the crowd when they saw she was female, but with microphone in hand, she quickly won their support.
Among other Moroccan artists, Asen also met and profiled in his film the group Fnaire. From Marrakesh, Fnaire members pioneered their own style, which they called “traditional rap.” Their music mixes hip-hop beats and lyrics with traditional Arabic melodies. Following the 2004 terrorist attack in Casablanca, Fnaire produced a track called “Matakish Bledi (Don’t Touch My Country),” a message to extremists to leave Morocco alone.
Asen continues to follow the artists he met in Morocco and remains friendly with several with them.
“I think they appreciated the interest I was taking in them, learning their language. I learned Moroccan Arabic so I could relate to them and ask them the questions I wanted to ask them,” he said.
Learning the language and forging a dialogue with the Moroccan artists exemplifies Asen’s view of hip-hop’s influence on global culture.
“In the end, hip-hop is really about communication across the very difficult cultural and political borders. The fact that we’re all hip-hop fans, including me as an enthusiast and student, allows us to negotiate and at least arrive at some kind of mutual understanding,” said Asen. “The point is to create the dialogue and to share the dialogue with our respective followers.”
Since completing I Love Hip Hop in Morocco, Asen has worked to promote the dialogue that hip-hop generates on issues of global politics and culture. His blog, Hip Hop Diplomacy, tracks “the intersection of global hip-hop and geopolitics, with a focus on Middle East artists,” Asen said.
His ultimate goal with the blog project is to “create more opportunities for cultural diplomacy programming to draw on the power and the outreach these groups are able to do within their communities,” he said.
Among the hip-hop events Asen highlights on his blog are several concerts staged with the support of American embassies and the State Department. For instance, Asen cites the recent return to the United States of the Brooklyn-based group Chen Lo and the Liberation Family. The artists toured Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, performing with prominent local groups recruited by the different regional embassies.
Asen relishes the ability to partner with governments to continue to stage public hip-hop productions.
“I’d much rather see [politics] play out in the cultural, musical realm than on the street with a makeshift bomb or someone killing a protester,” he said. “I consider myself a champion of hip-hop diplomacy and hope.”

Kalamazoo retiree takes on Peace Corps stint in Morocco.

KALAMAZOO After retiring from her job at Kalamazoo College last summer, Linda Schubel ignored her options to live a life of leisure and instead joined the Peace Corps and shipped off to Morocco.

Schubel, 60, arrived in the North African country in September and will not return to Kalamazoo until November 2011, when she anticipates coming home with many stories to tell.
“I love the adventure of travel and the challenges that come with it,” she said via Internet chat from Morocco. “I was ready for a foreign immersion since I knew I wouldn't really know a country unless I did this.”

“I am willing and eager to try new things and try to keep an open mind when things are different than expected. I also love to share the American way of doing things.”

Schubel was placed with a host family during the first weeks of her visit, with “parents” 20 years her junior and an 11-year-old brother and a 7-year-old sister. She said she’s had fun celebrating Muslim holidays with the family, sharing some Christmas traditions and cooking, making them a source of comfort for Schubel in a foreign country, though she now lives on her own.

“I try to visit them at least once a week and usually the children stop by my house during the week since their school is near,” Schubel said.

Schubel and her newfound Moroccan friends have been cooking for each other with mixed results.

“First thing I made was chicken and dumplings. Since dumplings don't brown up and look rather doughy. They were not impressed,” Schubel said. “I have since made pizza many times, plus some pasta dishes. I baked several kinds of Christmas cookies and delivered them around to homes that I knew.

“I like the flavors of Moroccan food. They don't have a lot of variety to their meals though. Lots of bread, about five times a day. Almost always a tagine for lunch and, yes, the vegetables vary a bit by the season, but are quite similar” to American vegetables.

Schubel has found the simple things in life to be most enjoyable since she arrived in the country. She said her most memorable day so far has been spend planting crocus bulbs, from which saffron will eventually be harvested, and having a picnic with her host family in the High Atlas Mountains.

“The weather was perfect,” she said. “We then walked home, tired but happy. It was just such a fantastic family day.”

Learning the local language has been a challenge in ways Schubel didn’t expect.

“I found learning the Tashlheet language to be very difficult and it challenged my self-esteem more than I ever thought possible,” Schubel said. “Certainly took me back a peg or two.

“I have a long ways to go to be fluent. Tashleheet is a Berber dialect and it is not a written language. It has verbally been passed down through the years.”

Morocco trains teachers to keep kids in class.
By Naoufel Cherkaoui 05/05/10
The ITQANE project will give secondary-school teachers more skills to help them keep young Moroccans from abandoning their studies.
To curb high drop-out rates in secondary schools, Rabat's education officials have launched a teacher-training project aimed at encouraging students to stay in class and pursue careers.
"The new project is supporting students [and] enhancing the quality of education at the level of secondary education," said Education Secretary Latifa El Abidah. "It targets youth who need support in order to choose their career."
The Education Ministry, working in co-ordination with USAID, launched the Improving Training for Quality Advancement in National Education (ITQANE) initiative on April 29th.
The $14 million project will first be implemented in the pilot regions of Fez-Boulman and Doukkala-Abda before being widened to other regions. The project is part of Morocco's 2009 emergency plan to improve the education of all students.
ITQANE, which in Arabic means "to perfect", is the product of 14 years of collaboration between Morocco and USAID. During this period, the agency worked with education officials to boost the school system and improve students' performance.
"It's a project that falls within the framework of the excellent collaboration between Morocco and USAID, which has supported many programs in Morocco, such as 'Moroccan Education for Girls' that aims at supporting girls' education in elementary schools, and 'Alef', which focuses on improving the quality and relevance of elementary and secondary school," El Abidah said.
According to a USAID education official involved in the initiative, secondary-schools students have the highest drop-out rate in Morocco.
The initiative prioritises teacher training, said project manager Christina N'tchougan-Sonou.
"We will train teachers as well as those who are still in training. In addition, we will train leaders and principals of educational institutions, superintendents and advisors," she said.
The project will also introduce monitoring and evaluation systems to bolster advances made as a result of the initiative.
The head of the Central Unit for Professional Training, Mohammed Dali, welcomed the initiative.
"I believe all involved parties in the education system need training, especially during the educational reform phase," he said. "There are always new developments in the field that the teachers should keep up with by going for continuing training."
"Through this project, teachers will be trained to do their job well and teach them how to assess their work," said US ambassador to Morocco Samuel Kaplan. "This is part of the drive aiming at improving the quality of education world-wide, and it is part of [US] President Barack Obama's vision to establish a strong relationship with the Arab world."

Morocco grapples with shortage of doctors.
By Siham Ali 2010-05-14
Obtaining quality medical care is a concern, say many Moroccan patients, even as the Health Ministry gears up to fill an acknowledged lack of doctors.

Morocco is running short of doctors, and the results can be hard on both the providers and receivers of treatment, according to patients and a labour leader in the health care sector.
"At the end of the day, doctors are only human. In a single night, a gynaecologist may have to perform three or four Caesarean sections," the deputy secretary-general of the independent public-sector doctors' union, Dr Mustapha Ibrahimi, told Magharebia on May 7th.
"That's why, sometimes, medical errors can occur," said the union leader. "The doctor finds himself put on trial and is condemned by public opinion, which accuses him of poor medical practice, when the reality of the situation is
The government has launched a sweeping health care plan and an initiative to train 3,300 doctors by 2020.
Ibrahimi called for an objective evaluation of the scheme, in order to examine what he called concerns about the quality of training offered to the high number of students involved.
"The lecture halls, which were built to accommodate 170 students, are taking double that number," he said. "Some students have to follow lectures on television in adjacent rooms."
"The country is currently facing a dilemma, because it can't ask for student numbers to be reduced, but at the same time, adequate support measures must be introduced," he added.

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