Saturday, November 13, 2010

Morocco In the News: Nov 7-13

INDH gets 5-year Morocco review.
By Sarah Touahri 2010-11-08
Moroccan officials met with the European Union representatives to gauge the successes and failures of the National Human Development Initiative.
On the fifth anniversary of the National Human Development Initiative (INDH), Moroccan officials held a forum November1st-2nd to take a closer look at progress made and address obstacles.
"Despite the unquestionable advances which have been made, we are aware that this experience has highlighted certain limitations, which will naturally form a part of any innovative programme of this size," Moroccan King Mohammed VI said in a message to the forum participants.
"Hence our desire to ensure that it is followed up on the ground, along with constant monitoring at various stages, with a view to improving programmes, encouraging a more integrated approach to projects, and overcoming obstacles," the King said.
International partners at the Agadir forum included members of the European Union. French Secretary of State for Urban Affairs Fadela Amara lauded the initiative as an exemplary development model.
Others, however, highlighted the obstacles that the programme still faces, particularly regarding the long-term future of economic plans.
Since its launch in 2005, INDH has notched up 22,000 development projects helping 5 million people, at a total cost of more than 10 billion dirhams (887 million euros). It has produced more than 3,400 income-generating activities, which have created 40,000 jobs.
"The efforts should certainly be acknowledged, and have enabled many families to move out of poverty," said sociologist Samira Kassimi, adding, however, that the initiative would become more effective if the projects could be put on a more permanent footing.
"We have seen problems regarding the viability of the projects. This comes from a lack of follow-up mechanisms for beneficiaries," Kassimi said. She added that it is not enough to set up small projects but the important thing is to maintain and develop them.
The King emphasised that development problems have to do with "targeting populations and areas, intensifying activities to generate income and spreading the participative approach". He also highlighted "the decisive role that the regions and territorial authorities must play in the move to promote the well-being of the citizen".
"Weaknesses will always be found in any new experiment, but the evaluation which has been carried out to date will allow improvements to be made," said Moroccan Finance Minister Salaheddine Mezouar at the opening of the meeting.
Targets include simplifying administrative procedures and putting support mechanisms in place to help beneficiaries to become more autonomous. He added that from now on the idea is to strengthen the network of voluntary organisations involved in setting up various human development projects.
Moroccans from underprivileged backgrounds pinned their hopes on the project. Craftsman Bousselham Boujemâa, 32, told Magharebia that he hopes to set up a small business and receive funding from the INDH.
"I'm also hoping to get some training so that I can adapt to the market and manage my project properly. A friend of mine has really benefited financially. But he's run into some problems and there's a risk he could go under," he said.
The second phase of the initiative is slated for 2011. It aims to step up the pace, by introducing new rules, facilitating business set-up procedures and encouraging income-generating activities.
This exhibition provides an overview of the presence and flourishing of Jews in the ancient and modern Kingdom of Morocco. It is presented through the implementation of artistically designed textual displays, documents, pull quotes, non-photo images, historic photos, captions, replications of historic documents, and other visuals which portray the life of Jews living throughout this North African country. This exhibition, developed and curated by Shelomo Alfassa, has been funded in part by the New York Council for the Humanities.
The exhibition opened on October 14, 2010 with a keynote address by Dr. Norman A. Stillman, the 'Schusterman-Josey Professor and Chair of Judaic History' at the University of Oklahoma. This event opened the ASF's year-long program, '2000 Years of Jewish Life in Morocco: An Epic Journey.'
Who: American Sephardi Federation (About the ASF)

What: Exhibition: Looking Back: The Jews of Morocco, curated by Shelomo Alfassa

When: October 14, 2010 - Spring 2011 - There is no charge to visit and see this exhibition
Where: At the American Sephardi Federation, a partner of the Center for Jewish History 15 West 16th St. NYC
Gallery Hours:
Sunday, 11:00 am to 5:00 pm
Monday and Wednesday, 9:30 am to 8:00 pm
Tuesday and Thursday, 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
Friday: 9:30 am to 3:00 pm.
Why: This exhibition is part of the ASF's '2000 Years of Jewish Life in Morocco: An Epic Journey'
Exhibition Consulting Scholar: Professor Daniel Schroeter,
the Amos S. Deinard Memorial Chair in Modern Jewish History at the University of Minnesota
Arab, Jewish cultures meet in Morocco.
by Anouar Hamama 2010-11-05
The Atlantic Andalusia Festival was a chance for Essaouira to highlight its ancient Jewish community.
Jews and Muslims from around the Mediterranean gathered in Essaouira last week for the 7th Atlantic Andalusia Festival, an event that celebrated the multi-religious heritage of Andalusia and Morocco.
The October 28th-31st concert event was organised by the Three Cultures of the Mediterranean Foundation and the Essaouira Mogador Foundation, both of which are presided over by André Azoulay, a senior advisor to King Mohammed VI and one of the country's most influential Jews.
"Andalusia is in our minds, it's in the whole world," said Azoulay, explaining why the show takes place far from standard geographical interpretations of Andalusia. He said that the annual festival helps address Moroccan history "with a very capital H", helping to re-contextualise the immense influence Jews have had on the Moroccan character.
The festival featured exhibitions, forums, and a series of concerts in the style of al-matrouz, a form of music that seamlessly blends Spanish, Arabic, and Hebrew to the point where the languages are almost indistinguishable. The performances evoked the time between 711 and 1492 AD, when Andalusia was governed under a Muslim caliphate – an era known for peaceful co-existence between Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
Notable participants included Haim Louk, the orchestra of Hadj Abdelkrim Raiss Orchestra and the David Hamelech Hevrat Choir of Strasbourg.
"It's very rare to have a festival like this, that rediscovers things that were covered in a pot," said Hannah Hainounou, a Jewish attendee from Fez. She said that her community has dwindled and become increasingly isolated, as many of her Jewish compatriots have left the country. She said she only recently started learning Hebrew, and events like these allow her to rediscover a heritage she hadn't known. "Before, only intellectuals knew of this history, but here it's open to everyone," she said.
"These exercises that reunite us help us to understand, to continue to look for what we don't want to be taken from us, whatever it may be from our memories: the happy, the sad, the complex," said Azoulay.
The king's advisor presided over discussion forums that allowed people a space to talk about their experiences. Many participants were joyous, talking about Jewish-Muslim co-existence and exalting Morocco for being the only country in North Africa where they felt they could have such a festival.
But juxtaposed with the elation was an awareness that everything was not as peaceful as it could be. As singers intertwined Muslim and Jewish melodies in large tent in the old medina, the grandiose gates were manned by a plethora of police and security guards behind barricades, as though to prevent an attack similar to the bombings of Jewish targets in Casablanca in 2003.
At the forums, Rachid Benmokhtar Benabdellah, President of the National Observatory for Human Development, said that much of the reason some Moroccans speak badly about Jews is that they don't know the history of Jews in Morocco, who had been in the region for thousands of years before Muslims came.
"There's an orchestrated ignorance in education," Benabdellah said, adding that Jews are purposefully not included in textbooks. "There are people who think that Jews came in the luggage of the French."
Part of the misinformation about Jews in Morocco is because there are so few remaining in the country – about 250,000 Jews left after the founding of Israel and only about 4,000 remain. This fact isn't lost on the city of Essaouira, where Jews once comprised about half of the population.
Now, only two Moroccan Jews are left, and the mellah, or Jewish quarter, lies in ruins.
Joseph Sebag, one of the two, tends to a small bookstore right off the main square of the city. While he said he is not observant, he does try to keep kosher and pray, and goes to Casablanca for the high Jewish holidays. Sebag said he didn't attend much of the festival – he said it focused too much on the glorious past, and ignored a future that was much bleaker.
"Judaism is alive and well in Morocco, but there is much anti-Semitism," he said, adding that current developments with Israel were making things harder, as many Moroccans don't distinguish between Israelis and Jews. For example, this year, after the Gaza flotilla raid in May, many Essaouirans protested outside a Jewish-owned hotel in the Essaouira medina.
Even at the festival, discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict repeatedly arose, although Azoulay said that the event was not the place to open such a debate.
Sebag said that while he does not feel in danger, he would prefer to be somewhere else, and is here due to circumstances, not nostalgia.
"Even when I'm here, I'm not here," he said. "Too many Jews here live in the past, looking at what was."
Nevertheless, the Essaouira of the past is a major attraction for Jewish tourists of Moroccan origin, which come all year by the busload to retrace their heritage. Many stop by the centuries-old Synagogue of Rabbi Haïm Pinto, one of the few standing structures in the mellah.
Malika Idarouz is the Muslim caretaker for the synagogue, which was looked after by her father before her. She said about 50 people came for Shabbat services during the festival. This was unique, as the synagogue no longer has a congregation and is now mainly a museum, paid for by foreign donors. Idarouz told Magharebia that there are never any problems with the community, and that the door of the synagogue is always open.
"Before anything else, we are all Moroccans," she said.
Moreish MoroccoJacqueline Bullard  Thursday, 11 Nov 2010
Morocco is a land of contrasting colours, sounds, aromas and textures and is steeped in remote history.
Essaouira, first settled in the 7th century, is two hours’ drive from Marrakech. The blue sky and brown beaches are reflected in the architecture and Berber jellabas. Old and tumble- down buildings jostle with smartly painted white structures against an azure sky, contrasting with the deep blue of railings, doors and kerbs.
Choice of accommodation is between modern hotels along the long beachfront, outside the city walls, or a riad (house with a courtyard) in the old city. An old riad has atmosphere, but can be too 15th century for modern comfort with a tiny kitchen that makes home catering tricky.
Yet it is easy to eat out reasonably. Stalls in the outdoor fish market cook fresh fish to order on open braziers for finger-licking eating outdoors. Restaurants like La Licorn decorated with stained glass and metal lamps serve tajines and food with subtle eastern spices, and Il Mare where one can watch the sun go down as waves crash against the ramparts. The beach offers miles of good walking and towards the estuary are white camels for riding — best done in the cool of the day. The many cats feast on fish off-cuts at the harbour, which is vibrant with blue fishing boats.
Wood craftsmen create exquisite marquetry tables, boxes and trays in thuja wood, decorated with lemon wood and mother of pearl. Shopping for throws, clothing, wood items, spices and jewellery is a pleasure in this friendly city.
Marrakech is busier. Once a centre for trading caravans, the tourist focus today is on the main square with its horse carts, unruly traffic and nearby souks. Staying in a riad in the old part of the city is in walking distance of the square and within audible distance from the mosques. L’Hotel le Riad Monceau has good accommodation and meals in the open air courtyard, created by a talented chef.
The main square bustles into the evening. One can watch the action while sipping mint tea or coffee from a second- storey cafe. Storytellers keep people captivated, along with snake charmers and drummers. The nearby souks sell dates, spices, carpets and leather and one is generally expected to bargain. One rand buys just over one dirham and the prized saffron is 60 dirham a gram.
Pastry shops offer a myriad tiny pastries flavoured with almonds, dates, honey and sesame seeds. The flat breads are moreish and the pain au chocolates are as good as any in Paris.
A highlight is the exquisite Medersa Ben Youssef. Used in earlier times for religious instruction, its niches and archways off a graceful central courtyard are intricately carved and verses from the Koran in ceramic and floral tiles adorn the walls. We hired a guide for a morning – the alternative is to brush up on your French and Arabic.
A longer stay would allow a trek to the Atlas Mountains, or a tour of a Berber village.
Chefchaouen the perfect place to relax in hectic Morocco.
By Jonas Brunnert Nov 9, 2010
Chefchaouen, Morocco - Visitors to the dusty streets of Morocco's major cities such as Tangier experience a bustle of heat, noise and frantic trading in crowded alleyways where poultry have their throats slit by butchers before your eyes.
The smells from the hundreds of food stalls and spice sellers assault the senses as much as the ubiquitous rubbish while donkeys push by with equal regularity as motorbikes.
The frenetic nature of much of Morocco can become a serious strain after a while but the north-western city of Chefchaouen offers tourists the chance to experience something different as well as recharging their batteries for a couple of days.
Chefchaouen or Chaouen, as it is often called by Moroccans, is situated in the heart of the Rif Mountains, and offers a relaxed alternative with its combination of Arab tradition and Andalusian flair.
The mountain air is clear, the streets and most of the buildings in the walled old city (medina) are painted a brilliant sky-blue and are set against a background of green hillsides dominated by cedars, pine and oak.
The heart of Chefchaouen's medina is the shady, cobbled plaza of Uta el-Hammam, where old men in traditional garb observe the busy cafes and restaurants while waiters serve a spiced meat and vegetable dish known as tajine and named after the special clay pot in which it is cooked.
The clear mountain light makes the red-hued walls of the kasbah and the El Masjid El Aadam Mosque appear even more impressive. The mosque was commissioned by city founder Ali Ben Moussa Ben Rached El Alami in 1471 on his arrival from Andalusia.
The octagonal minaret is especially noticeable while the mountain tops above the town look like the two horns of a goat. The name Chefchaouen derives from the Berber word for horns.
Many of the Muslims driven out of Andalusia at the end of the 15th century made their way to Chefchaouen, which has their influence to thank for its unique architecture. For centuries Chefchaouen was considered a holy city and was barred to non-Muslims until 1920.
The medina is particularly beautiful on the evenings when the muezzin leads the call to prayer and those wanting to stay should have no problems finding a room in the many hotels.
A clean double room with mosaics on the ceilings costs no more than 150 dirham, around 18 dollars. Nearly all hotels have a roof terrace, offering panoramic views of the area and the priceless sight of a star-filled sky. Budget travellers can also sleep here, in summer at least.
A breakfast consisting of fresh mint tea, baguette and marmalade can be bought at one of the cafes at the Uta el-Hammam plaza while afterwards a stroll through the city's steep and narrow streets is well worth the effort.
By travelling north from the medina, visitors find themselves quickly in the mountains. After half an hour on foot, the view opens up, presenting the blue and white walls of Chefchaouen circled by green - a certain cure for stressed holidaymakers.
Rabat to boast theatre worth 1.35 billion dirhams.
- Amina Murtada    Monday, 08 November 2010
Rabat will soon boast a state of the art theatre dubbed "the Great theatre", worth 1.35 billion dirhams. The agreements on the funding, architectural design and the building of the cultural edifice were signed on Friday.

Spanning over an area of 47,000 square meters, of which 27,000 square meters will be covered, the new facility will have a theatre hall with a capacity of 2050 seats, a small theatre hall of 520 seats, a studio and an auditorium of 7000 seats, in addition to green spaces and a parking.

the theatre, to be operational in 56 months, will be built following modern design in complete harmony with its surroundings and with a magnificent view on the Bouregreg river.

It will provide space for a variety of artistic expressions, including plays, music festivals, ballets, and operas.

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