Saturday, December 18, 2010

Morocco In the News: Dec 12 - 18

High-Profile Peace Corps Alums Made Their Marks.
By Patrick J. Kiger | December 14, 2010  
We did a story a while back about Lynn Dines, a 29-year veteran pharmaceutical executive from Huntington Beach, Calif. who left the corporate sphere to help the world as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco………………..
Read more here:
The Kaplans in Morocco: Distinctive duo realizing a dream as they live politics and protocol 24/7
By Sharon Schmickle | Friday, Dec. 17, 2010
RABAT, MOROCCO — Homemade fudge in the refrigerator and sweet corn planted in the formal garden are among the telltales signaling that a Minnesota couple occupies the stately mansion reserved for the highest-level American dignitary in this African nation.

It is just over a year since Sam and Sylvia Kaplan left their home near the Mississippi River in Minneapolis to move into Villa America, the official residence of the U.S. ambassador to Morocco.

During that year, this power duo of Minnesota politics has practiced a well-honed persuasive style along the dusty roads of rural African villages, at the tables of diplomats from around the world, and at the court of Morocco's king.
Read more here:
HRW lauds Morocco for Amazigh name measures. 2010-12-15
Human Rights Watch on Tuesday (December 14th) noted "positive results" from Morocco's decision to recognise the legitimacy of Amazigh names. In a directive issued last April, the Moroccan interior ministry defined Amazigh names as meeting the legal prerequisite of being "Moroccan in nature". Since then, HRW reported, Amazigh activists have reported fewer complaints that Civil Registry offices had rejected Amazigh names for newborns.
"By explicitly recognizing Amazigh names as Moroccan, the government has eased a noxious restriction on the right of parents to choose their children's names. This move shows greater respect and recognition for Morocco's ethnically and culturally diverse population", the HRW MENA chief said.
Moroccan Amazighs say they are treated as a minority by members of the dominant Arab culture. Last summer, Morocco presented a report to the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in Geneva on the efforts made by the country to end discrimination against Amazighs.
'Untangling Threads: Female Artisans in Morocco’s Rug Industry' review: Exhibit highlights the hidden world of Morocco’s female rug weavers.
Published: Monday, December 13, 2010
As the sun sets in the Moroccan desert, families gather outside in the central courtyards of their clay homes for dinner, tea and conversation.
Beneath them, intricately woven rugs — full of jewel-toned zigzags and diamond patterns — cover the ground.
These carpets have been at the center of life in Moroccan villages for thousands of years.
But it isn’t only their aesthetic or practical value that makes them such a unique part of their society. In a country where men preside over leatherwork, metalwork, sewing, knitting, embroidery and almost all artisan crafts, weaving is a woman’s world.
That world’s stories and secrets are on display at the Gruss Center of Visual Arts at the Lawrenceville School in “Untangling Threads: Female Artisans in Morocco’s Rug Industry,” an exhibit designed by Alia Kate, founder of the fair trade business Kantara Crafts, and photographer Anna Beeke.
The name “Kantara” comes from the Moroccan Arabic word for “bridge.” Through her website,, Kate sells the rugs online.
“What drew me was the art behind it,” says Kate, a chic 25-year-old based in Brooklyn who supplements her income through restaurant work. “I think it’s a shame that Moroccan carpets don’t hold as much weight as Oriental rugs.
“I love the colors, their stories, the geometry, the patterns. There’s so much depth and texture and energy behind it.”
Kate first traveled to Morocco in 2005, during a semester abroad in Spain while she was a student at Oberlin College. On a whirlwind 10-day visit, the smells and colors and commotion in the cities gave her an intoxicating feeling of sensory overload, and she returned the next year to see more.
While working for a charity organization, Kate came into contact with business-oriented Peace Corps volunteers who steered her to the women’s cooperatives where she soon integrated herself into the fabric of the community.
At one point, Kate asked one of the women how she learned her craft.
She said, “You know how to read and write, right? We know how to weave carpets.”
In Morocco, Kate said at a recent presentation for the exhibit, there are 10.5 million adult women, 4.6 million in the villages of indigenous people known as the Amazigh. At least 2.2 million are weavers. (The numbers are based on information from the U.S. World Fact Book.)
The work has passed down from mothers to daughters over many generations and almost every house has a loom.
“They wanted me to see it from day one,” she says when asked if the women welcomed her into their way of life.
When she tried to weave herself — after practicing on American spinning wheels pumped by a pedal — they laughed at her “city girl” ways.
The work is intense, Kate says. The process begins with shearing of the families’ sheep. One exhibit photo shows a yard covered in fluffy tufts of raw wool. The women strike the wool with metal combs until it becomes soft enough to weave, a process called carding.
“You sit there and beat that comb down for two minutes and you can feel it in your arm, and they do it for eight hours a day,” says Kate.
The women kneel or sit as they work at looms, taller than they are, that look like bunk bed frames. They weave by hand, working in cooperatives of about 15 to 40, and sometimes one picks up where another leaves off. It usually takes one or two weeks to make a carpet, but for the most involved rugs, it can take a month. Always, they add some kind of mistake on purpose, to signify that only Allah is perfect.
“If a rug is perfect, the thought is that a neighbor could envy it, so they’ll purposely create a small irregularity,” says Kate. “To me, that’s their signature.”
The rugs come off their looms the day before souk day (market day), when an influx of men from Fes and Marrakech visit to appraise the rugs. The women show up at 5 a.m. with the carpets rolled up, and the men name their price — usually a figure so low that it covers materials and little else.
By the time the rugs go through several middlemen, they can sell for thousands of dollars at tourist bazaars in the big cities.
“Women make the goods but they don’t have access to the markets that sell them,” says Kate. “They don’t have a way to get there and it’s maybe not culturally appropriate for them to be there.”
Of the photos at the exhibit, the only one to feature men prominently is one in an auction house. There are no women in that photo.
“They kicked me out very quickly,” says Beeke.
But elsewhere, both men and women treated Beeke and Kate as family. Kate says that “carpet weaving is always secondary to the bonding that goes on” in the cooperatives, and that she shared “100 million glasses of tea” with the women.
Beeke’s photos show that closeness. One shows a child caressing her grandmother’s face lovingly even though the two live in different parts of the country and speak different languages. Another displays a panoramic scene of rugs drying over a bridge while women wash clothes in a river and children splash and play in the water.
Kate works directly with three cooperatives that she visits once a year. She runs workshops, usually facilitated by Peace Corps volunteers, in which she helps women learn to better promote themselves. She runs color theory workshops, camera workshops and discussions about product design.
Historically, women have struggled to enter markets or craft fairs.
“Taking public transport might mean walking 5 kilometers to the nearest town, where you catch a bus an hour and a half, or catch a taxi an hour and a half to the nearest big city, where you catch a bus down a treacherous road for five hours to Marrakech or you catch a train to Rabat,” says Kate.
“It costs a lot of money and it’s very taxing.”
Cars are rare in the villages, but one of the cooperatives Kate and Beeke recently visited became able to afford one — and its women are cleaning up at craft fairs across the region.
“Our project has changed dramatically,” says Beeke. “When we began, we wanted to expose unfair markets. Fortunately most of the women in the coops we’ve been visiting have been very business savvy and creative. Maybe the situation’s not as bad as we thought.”
For Kate, though, the mission continues, as she hopes to see the millions of other women in Morocco continue to advance as well.
“The goal was to be able to have a wider reach and that’s still something I want to work toward,” she says.
Untangling Threads: Female Artisans in Morocco’s Rug Industry
Where: Gruss Center of Visual Arts, the Lawrenceville School, 2500 Main St., Lawrenceville
When: Through Thursday. Tomorrow, Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon, and Wednesday from 1 to 4:30 p.m. How much: Free. For more information, call (609) 896-0400 or visit
Don’t get the rug pulled over your eyes in Morocco.
Anna Porter MOROCCO— From Saturday's Globe and Mail
I wish I had read Nazneen Sheikh's book, Moon Over Marrakech, before I went to Morocco.
Sheikh's memoir lends an air of mystery, romance and obsessive love to the dusty, crowded, meltingly hot streets of this old city, but even a cursory read would have persuaded me to be exceptionally wary of guides who have easy access to splendid hotel lobbies.
In any event, I would not have bought two improbably overpriced rugs from a snake charmer of a rug salesman in the middle of the notorious Marrakesh souk. This legendary market in the Medina seems to occupy another world from the glitter and lush greens of La Mamounia, where we stayed. This hotel, as its elegant manager, Didier Picquot, pointed out, isn't simply a hotel, it's a
La Mamounia's marble lobby foyers have soft round maroon settees, fountains, chandeliers, white and red flowers in three-foot-tall vases, Le Mystère, Chopard and Gucci stores and a three-level spa. The patio has a giant square blue pool, with blindingly white umbrellas and waiters in matching whites balancing silver trays. The rooms feature soft white duvets, black-brown painted calligraphy and cursive white stucco patterns on baize-brown walls, inlaid mosaic floors embroidered with black studs, marble bathrooms and views over immaculately manicured gardens. There are pink roses, jacaranda, hyacinths, orange and lemon trees, palms, two-metre-high flowering cacti, grey doves and hundreds of swallows. This is the magical place where Nazneen Sheikh stayed when she first came to Marrakesh.
But back to the rugs. The overwhelmed tourist, soothed with essential oils of eau de rose pure, steps out of this luxurious palace to be swallowed by a terrifying array of speeding vehicles.
Dilapidated cars, gas-spewing trucks, motorcycles, bicycles and horse-drawn carts careen past with nary a glance at the sidewalk where the tourist cowers, hoping for a change of light where there are no lights. You really do need a guide. The guide holds up her arm and, miraculously, the whole noisy cavalcade comes to a brief halt, allowing tentative passage to what she describes as a park on the far side of the road. It consists of wide concrete paths with ragged beggars and skeletal dogs, some patches of grass and grey foliage, leading to the famed Koutoubia mosque rising like an angry finger pointing at the blazing sky.
Then one more heart-stopping traffic crossing and the tourist is in the open market where snake charmers and men with monkeys and black teeth and turbans offer you a chance to take their photographs; small children tug at your arm, circles of dark-clothed women sell charms and bracelets and henna drawings if you are in the mood for saffron-coloured anklets and lace hand decorations. There are traditional storytellers, acrobats, dancers and musicians. The guide gives stern advice about avoiding the local water sellers and ignoring the myriad temptations to photograph. It is an insult to take someone's picture without permission and some of the locals – the snake charmers and monkey men, in particular – charge $25 and up for a single photo of themselves with or without the bewildered tourist.
There appears to be only one safe place for ice cream with photos (the pineapple ice cream is tasty, the photo cost is reasonable), then we enter the maze of narrow alleys where you can buy most of the things that would look suitably exotic at home: silk caftans, hand-carved mahogany footstools, gaudy masks, embroidered slippers, wrought-iron birdcages, lamps with elaborate mosaic designs, plush velvet dragons, pashminas, embroidered cotton djellabas, ivory-handled swords, oriental perfumeries, cigar boxes, barrels of spices and tiny silver containers of essential oils.
Nazneen Sheikh, in love with this place and two men who betrayed her, was sober enough to write of the souks whose “blood supply comes from the tourist wallet” and of the men with hooded eyes who examine “the flashes of exposed tourist skin,” no doubt scanning for prey.
There were carpets of all sizes and shades hanging along corridors of high-ceilinged bazaars, but none of these was to tempt us, none, as the guide said conspiratorially, was worth the asking price. Until we arrived at Palais Saadiens, the one place where we were not warned about drinking the tea served so readily while the man in charge ordered his staff to roll out the best for his visitors.
The rollout itself deserves special mention. The mustachioed, jacketed, chief salesman waved his hand and other, smaller, less well-attired men leapt onto the floor to unfurl rugs that thud, snap and a sigh as they reach their full length, until the whole bazaar is covered with a wild array of magnificent, multicoloured rugs, each one with its own story. Oh yes, the stories he told about ancient techniques and men with hard fingers weaving each piece, some from the Atlas mountain tribes that had known no slavery, Berbers who have never come down to the cities, others from descendents of the Almohades near Fez, or the North African tribes who favoured soft pinks and baby blues. Perhaps some had been displayed at the famous Bahia palace….
Although I really did not and do not now need rugs, I listened to the prices and was proud to reduce the two, grand, ancient, historically important rugs to a single price I thought we may be able to afford. The previously cautious guide was delighted with the deal and praised me for my bargaining. More tea was poured. More rugs spread.
Upstairs, where the credit cards are signed, a formidable woman of unguessable age produced the modern paraphernalia of credit cards and smiled, I thought rather sadly, when I told her I had chopped a third of the original quote off the price.
It was not until a month later when I saw my credit-card statement that I realized the price had not been reduced at all. Her calculations in local dirhams, when restated in dollars, brought it back to the original price.
Nazneen Sheikh writes of the disdain the local guides have for tourists; their side deals with stores; their professional acting abilities, their art of deception; and of the “cocoon-like interior of shops filled with shimmering objects.” Her story is a vibrant tale of a woman's search for love and her ultimate understanding that not all that shimmers is gold. It is a fine and engrossing read even if you can resist buying rugs in Morocco.
Morocco moves to protect AIDS patients' rights. By Naoufel Cherkaoui– 14/12/10
The UN estimates that 3,000 Moroccans contract AIDS every year and 80% of them are unaware they have the condition.
Morocco's Advisory Council on Human Rights (CCDH) signed an agreement on December 6th in Rabat with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) aimed at protecting the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS.
"Within the framework of our work to promote and protect human rights, we will work on raising awareness that people infected and living with HIV/AIDS shouldn't be treated as outcasts," CCDH President Ahmed Herzenni told Magharebia. "We will also work to change the misconceptions about this disease, which can be avoided through prevention. We must also work to safeguard the rights and dignity of people infected with it."
Kamal Alami, director of the UNAIDS programme in Morocco, told Magharebia that "this initiative is the first of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa region that gives people living with HIV/AIDS the opportunity to benefit from the major progress that was made in the field of human rights in Morocco."
"The agreement is part of efforts to support the national strategic anti-AIDS programme within the framework of reviewing the programme in terms of human rights," Alami said. "Many recommendations said that this field must be enhanced while working to combat this disease, as when there is exclusion and discrimination against the people living with HIV/AIDS, they would resort to isolation, and in this way they would not benefit from the prevention programmes and from support provided to them."
"Morocco is doing good work in combating AIDS, given that there is commitment on the part of the highest authorities in the country," Alami noted. "In regional conferences, Morocco appears to be the most advanced in this field as compared to the rest of countries in the North Africa and Middle East region."
The UN official added that there was more work to be done, particularly "by expanding the prevention programmes to reach some remote areas that none of these programmes has reached before. In addition, we must encourage people to check for the disease, since we found out that 80% of people infected with the disease in Morocco don't know that they are infected."
In her turn, Aziza Benanni, head of the national anti-AIDS programme for the Moroccan Health Ministry, told Magharebia: "Upon reviewing the national, strategic anti-AIDS plan, we found that there was lack of respect of human rights and in other fields as well. In the framework of the partnership which was kicked off today, we hope to cover all fields and to expand the field of respect of human rights."
"Within the framework of partnership with civil society, we are working on expanding access to early detection of AIDS, given that this facilitates the process of living with the disease and providing support for infected people," she added. "However, we notice low turnout on the part of Moroccans in this process."
Benanni noted that "the Moroccan government is expanding access to detection of the disease". She added that the government "established screening centres at non-government organisations. It has also structured the screening at the primary health centres, and ensured that infected people receive tri-therapy free of charge."
As to the number of people infected with AIDS in Morocco, Alami said, "The latest report of the UNAIDS, which was issued two weeks ago, has estimated the number of AIDS patients in Morocco at 26,000 people." He added that "3,000 cases of infections are recorded every year. However, the incidence rate in Morocco is still low, like the Mediterranean Sea area, which is 1 per 1,000, as compared to some African countries, where the incidence rate is 10%."
Speaking to Magharebia, an HIV-infected woman who did not want her identity published, said that she contracted the disease 20 years ago, after her divorce, when she had several unprotected sexual relationships with different people.
"It was at a time when there were not many means of awareness available, as is the case now," she said.
She added, "There is still discrimination against people affected by AIDS," as she was banned from entering the public bath and hair salon as well as a dental clinic after the news of her infection spread. "Mentalities have changed with time," she concluded.
Morocco Leading Growth in North Africa.
Ahmed Rashid    Friday, 17 December 2010
Thanks to heavy spending on infrastructure, Morocco managed to post "levels of growth that are the envy of many of its neighbours", Irish daily "The Irish Times" said.

Investing in big infrastructure projects spared Morocco the worst of the global crisis, allowing it to post levels of growth that are the envy of many of its neighbours, the paper underlined.

"The Irish Times" shed light on Morocco's investments in the field of energy, noting that "in 1996, just 22% of all rural homes in the country had electricity; today, after years of heavy state investment, the figure is 96.5%".
The investments' effect "has been revolutionary," the paper underscored, highlighting Morocco's efforts in terms of promoting renewable energy.

In this respect, it pointed out that "in June, the largest wind park in Africa opened near the northern city of Tangiers", stressing that this project is "the most visible marker of the country's strategic decision to wean itself off foreign energy and push its economy on through investing in big projects".

With "the resources it has in abundance," namely sun, wind and water, Morocco "plans to raise the share of renewable energy in its total output to 42% by 2020", the paper added.

Recalling the global economic crisis' impact on some sectors, the paper underlined that this impact has "largely been offset by good harvests, investment in infrastructure and a resilient banking system".
Corruption rife in Morocco, Transparency International alleges.
By Siham Ali– 16/12/10
A just-released report painted a bleak picture of graft in Morocco.
Thirty-four per cent of Moroccans admit to having paid a bribe in the past 12 months, according to a recent study by Transparency International.
For its 2010 Global Corruption Barometer, released on December 9th, the Berlin-based organisation interviewed more than 91,500 people in 86 countries and territories. Nearly one thousand heads of household, including 483 women, participated in the survey.
Seventy-nine per cent of Moroccans interviewed felt that corruption had either increased over recent years or stagnated while 91.7% felt that ordinary citizens can play a positive role in countering the problem. Although Transparency noted great potential for the public to get involved in combating the graft, 38% said that they would not be inclined to speak out in cases of corruption.
The release of the report coincided with the first-ever meeting of the International Corruption Hunters Alliance (ICHA). The head of Morocco's Central Authority for the Prevention of Corruption (ICPC), Abdessalam Aboudrar, participated in the Washington gathering, which brought together more than 200 officials from 134 countries.
Despite government efforts to tackle the issue, graft remains rampant across Morocco, with even the government officials openly admitting the extent of the problem.
Selham M, who works in the building trade, had to pay a sum of money "under the table" to the adjudicating panel before being allowed to bid for a public contract.
"They told me I didn't have the necessary references. It left me completely stuck, because I needed to get my business going. I'm against corruption, but first we need to clean up the business world so that competition can take place on a transparent basis," he told Magharebia.
Kawter Benmehdi, a management assistant, said that sometimes, in order to receive paperwork on time, it is necessary to bribe minor officials, or face the prospect of hanging around, doing nothing for several days.
According to Transparency Maroc chief Azzeddine Akesby, the lack of legislation to protect members of the public discourages those who have witnessed or suffered corruption from reporting it.
At the Parliament plenary session on December 8th, majority and opposition MPs questioned Public Sector Modernisation Minister Mohamed Saad Alami about the problem.
Parliamentarian Mustapha Mohamed Ibrahimi considered that, despite recent anti-corruption measures, the reality of graft has not changed, and is seriously damaging the principles of competition and reducing the attractiveness of investment.
For his part, MP Lahbib Choubani said that the government had demonstrated its powerlessness in the face of this scourge, calling for top officials to open up their departments to full public scrutiny.
"Corruption has become culturally embedded in society, and we need public awareness campaigns to eradicate this evil," Representative Omar Hjira said, adding that even ordinary citizens should bear the blame since they are the ones who pay bribes.
Meanwhile, MP Abdelkader Tatou stressed the need to start by attacking large-scale corruption, which is the biggest danger, rather than focusing on minor officials who resort to bribes because they are poorly paid.
Alami said the government was determined to put an end to the problem, reminding that it had adopted a two-year plan in October, designed to prevent and combat corruption. The programme aims to raise moral standards among the public and introduce rules to guarantee transparency between the citizen and government, in financial management and public tenders as well as strengthen control mechanisms within the public administration.
"We shall put some concrete mechanisms in place to put an end to this problem," Alami pledged.
Meet me in Morocco FEAST WITH ME By Stephanie Zubiri (The Philippine Star) Updated December 16, 2010
There’s this scene in the classic Hitchcock film, The Man Who Knew too Much, where Doris Day and the amazing James Stewart have dinner with a British couple in the epic Hotel La Mamounia in Marrakesh. They have large platters of couscous, merguez, all kinds of dips and small things. The two couples discuss the food, the culture and customs. They discuss how to eat the food and the customs related to it. “Tear the bread… Oh, allow me to show you, will you? You use only the first two fingers and thumb of the right hand. You don’t use the other two fingers, and always the left hand in the lap.”
There are no forks and no plates, just the ultimate sign of respect and conviviality of eating from the same bowl. The next day, the couples stroll the exotic markets of Marrakesh. Snake charmers, colorful food stalls, merchants selling strange skins all culminating in a plethora of enchanting noise and mysterious peddlers. It is the uneasy calm before the plot thickens into murder, kidnapping and treacherous false diplomacy.
There are few places in this world that fascinate me as much as Morocco does. As far as I can remember, Casablanca has been as cliché as it is my favorite film. I still cry every time they zoom in on handsome Humphrey Bogart and gorgeous Ingrid Bergman, tears in her eyes, the sound of the plane ready to take off… Rick’s Café Américain in Casablanca, Bogart hiding from his painful past, and she, love-of-his-life Ilsa Lund, walks in. “Of all the lousy bars in all the world, and she walks into mine.” Morocco is all about mystery, culture, history, romance…
Morocco is the backdrop of films and exotic dreams. Markets in Fez with stacks of spices, saffron, turmeric, coriander… The French have always kept close ties with Morocco. Things worked out rather peacefully for them as compared to their Mediterranean cousins in Algeria. Couscous — and I don’t mean the grain that is actually called “semoule,” but the dish with a rich hearty broth, stewed vegetables, merguez, lamb, chicken… you name it — couscous is just as Parisian as French onion soup. Every other café, brasserie or bistro will serve couscous either on their regular menu or on a Friday special. There are a number of amazing Moroccan restaurants in Paris and I’ve had the opportunity to even try homemade tajines. But never, never have I ever had the privilege of going there myself.
I studied Moroccan history during university and we had to choose topics to focus on for an oral presentation. Does it surprise you that I did a piece on the use of sun-dried tomatoes and saffron in Morocco? The layers and the precision; these women take pride in making their food. There are no shortcuts, everything is about layers of flavor and the patience in preparation. There’s a balance of spice, earthiness, heat, freshness and acidity. Lemon confit, harissa, bell peppers, cinnamon, coriander, saffron…
Last week I was invited to a most wonderful intimate dinner at La Régalade. They’ve launched a French Moroccan Festival, a collaboration by La Regalade’s sous chef Karen Martin and one of my favorite chefs, Luis de Terry. The food was impeccable, hearty and passionate. As we drank the beautiful chardonnay and discussed shocking intrigues in the culinary industry, I felt like Doris Day, lost in some café in Marrakesh, indulging in luxurious cuisine, caught up in some foreboding Hitchcockian plot.
The meal started with a magnificent mhemmer and fish keftas with mint and harissa. Mhemmer is a Moroccan tortilla de patata; it was firm outside and delicately fluffy inside — very humble ingredients come together in perfect balance. Egg, potatoes and onions were interlaced with parsley, coriander, paprika and cumin for that one-way ticket to Maghreb. The fish keftas were light and fluffy, the mint was refreshing and harissa aioli was creamy and hot. I was right there in the port that Luis was describing, eating my fish keftas out of a rolled paper cone, feeling the dry sting of the Mediterranean sun and the salty breeze. There were spicy prawns with generous servings of fresh cilantro that were rather delicious, but from the ocean to the earth I traveled — the lowly snail had outshined the poor crustacé.
Escargots sizzled in a bath of harissa butter. These unrefined black pearls were sprinkled with fresh chopped herbs and spices, glittering in its juices, bathing like a Nubian princess under a hot sun. They were rather breathtakingly exquisite. And with the overwhelmingly unnecessary use of foie gras and truffle oil nowadays, this poor little snail, specially grown and fattened for my palatable pleasure, is slowly crawling up my favorite food scale. A large colorful platter of roasted bell peppers with goat cheese and citrons beldis (preserved lemons) served as a refreshing cleanser.
Most people look down on soup. “It’s easy. It’s poor man’s food. It’s something extra to throw in.” Soup, when executed properly, can be utterly mind-blowing. Soup is a way to fool your tongue and play with any preconceived notions you might have. A crème is all about flavor because there are no physical telltale signs. We were served a squash soup worthy of the Moroccan king himself. So ridiculously thick it must have been pureed and passed through a sieve close to 10 times to get that unctuous, velvety consistency. There must have been a tablespoon’s worth of sacred saffron in each bowl to get that truly amazing flavor that is so rare. As saffron is like a young and shy demoiselle, you must coax it gently and be patient for its full flavor to blossom and bloom. A little cinnamon here and some rice pilaf for texture turned this soup into what seemed like a harmonious symphony of plush ingredients that even the famous London Philharmonic Orchestra could not match.
By then I had whet my appetite so much that when the impressive leg of lamb came, only social decorum stopped me from taking that lamb by the bomb and sinking my teeth in like a ravenous caveman. It was one of those meals where the flavors had excited my taste buds so much that my stomach became a never-ending black hole. Who was full? I certainly was not! Keep that steamed and roasted lamb coming, along with the couscous and grilled vegetables.
Needless to say, by the time dessert came, I was drunk on food. I was high on good company and perhaps ever so slightly tipsy with the fine wine. As we traveled through the hard-to-find markets, expounded on the delicious history of Moroccan food, gasped over shocking stories and shared our very strange experiences with rabbits, the night seemed more and more enchanting. Take four friends and ask them to each invite a person you haven’t met. Have an exciting adventure and discover new food. One tip, though: order your own portion of escargots. Stolen snails might be grounds for murder mysteries and scandals.
* * *
La Regalade’s French Moroccan Festival runs till Dec. 30. For more information call 750-2104 to 05. For the leg of lamb remember to order 24 hours in advance.
From Morocco: Women rising to the challenges that a modern world brings.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010 (YD PCV Alex Cash)
When I first came to Morocco and for much of the time I’ve been here I thought being a woman was a disadvantage to me. I was forced to deal with the unwanted attention that men don’t get and I knew I might not be as respected the same as one of my male colleagues would.

Women in Morocco are rising to the challenges that a modern world brings. Now more than ever they are making their mark on this country. However, there are still many realities that prove women still play a very traditional role. My best friend in town was married when she was 17, selected by a man roughly 15 years her senior when she was just 14. At age 23 now she has been married for six years and her husband restricts some things in her daily life in the name of Islam. She can not go out walking around town, because her husband would become jealous.

I’ve heard stories of girls being married at age 12 although under the revised family code known at Mudawana formed in 2004 it is not legal. I attended the wedding of a 19 year old girl getting married to a man several years older than her, who she had only met once or twice. I couldn’t wrap my head around the thoughts she must had been having but I could feel compassion as I looked at the shy and nervous look on her face.

My city is a small one, by no means the smallest or most conservative but still traditional in many ways. Many of the young girls I know have boyfriends without their parents knowledge. They have to hide it and if their parents knew they would never approve and be thoroughly shamed. I know several women who’s work only consists of that inside the home.  I’m not discrediting this as a job,  I just don’t know if washing floors and doing laundry is the most fulfilling work. Women live with their parents until they are married, which can be sometimes even until their late 20s or early 30s, if they are career focused. I feel pride in these women for their independence.

Men and women are still separate some places. One of my favorite places to go back home was a local café or bookstore to read and relax. In small towns, Morocco cafes are meant as a place for men, women not usually seen there. But having so few places to go to get out of my house and enjoy a new atmosphere I choose to sit in one particular café anyways. This café is new and clean and even has two women employees.

Coming back to my point of my perceived disadvantages as a woman, I feel they have somewhat dissolved. I’m still correct in some ways but now I truly see that many of the experiences that I have had and will hold so dear happened due to the fact that I am a woman.

I didn’t always seek the refuge of women in America because I didn’t have to. I felt an equality between women and men and I felt safe speaking and interacting with either. But here my reality is different. I avoid most men on the streets and find safety in all women that are warm to me. I’ve only felt comfortable enough to open myself up to one man in Morocco, to who I am grateful, but I have been able to give so much more to several women who have entered my life here.

I have been blessed to feel the hospitality of many Moroccan women and girls for which they are known. I’ve eaten much food from warm kitchen and hearts of women who seem to genuinely care. I’ve received so much love from girls who can barely understand me and vice versa. Sometimes smiles are all you need to communicate a feeling of love and admiration and it brings you down to the bare bones of humanity.

I had a sleepover at the house of two girls, sisters, from my youth center who I have grown very close with over the past couple months. They treat me like some kind of princess in their home and after them asking several times for me to spend the night I agreed. At ages 14 and 17 I hope to be someone to them that they might need. Someone to give them love, support, compassion, and respect. Having such strong relationships with women here gives me a whole new layer of self-esteem to bring home when the time comes.

For more information about the Mudawana family code of Morocco visit
Morocco: The High Atlas divides the country into traditional and modern.
The freedom of Rabat's boulevards are a world away from the country's isolated pistes
Maggie Barclay Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 14 December 2010
The piste from Missour, a small town about halfway down Morocco, to Beni Tajite to the south-east, is now a modern tarmac road passing through several communities. Life in a Berber shepherd's home, where we're invited to stay, still seems fairly remote, however. We sit on the floor to eat home-made bread and omelette and drink tea with the shepherd while his wife and daughter in their sparkly embroidered clothes look on.
After Beni Tajite, the piste further east to Mengoub is little used, and hasn't been upgraded. We get lost for a while just trying to find the traces of whatever last vehicle passed this way before us. This landscape is harsh. A hot wind constantly blows sand and dust into our noses. A few camels, a very few sheep, goats and donkeys nibble on the sparse, scrubby vegetation.
Every couple of hundred kilometres there is a well. The oueds we cross – dry pebbly river beds, with occasional pools and tiny streams – are evidence of water too. The sheer size of some of the oueds is testament to the torrent that flows when rain comes. The land is so dry that it can't absorb the water, which channels into the river beds, sweeping away any road in its path. When we stop near a pool, some women doing their washing hide among the oleanders.
Further along, a nomad family living in a camel-hair tent in an abandoned hamlet come out to greet us. They possibly only ever see a handful of people. The woman is magnificent with her bright blouse and skirt, blue tattoos on her forehead and chin.
When we reach Rissani, I'm the only woman sitting in a cafe in a street that is lined with cafes. The few Rissani women we glimpse are huddled in the back of trucks and are dressed from head to toe in black. They turn their heads away as they pass.
We cross the High Atlas, where headscarved women crouch to work allotments with hand tools, while their menfolk push wooden ploughs behind mules.
It is worlds away from the outskirts of Rabat, the capital of Morocco. There elegant women in western clothes sit in rattan chairs and sip coffee at glass-topped tables under parasols. Their hair is loose, sometimes dyed blonde. Their gestures speak of freedom, modernity and the city. I wonder if they give a thought to their country cousins.
Morocco’s Bedouin Festival in the Sahara
In the western end of the Sahara desert adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, the sun rises east over the misty skies.  Listen to the waves crash into the sand and peace will surely be with you. Three million acres of desert may seem overwhelmingly vast and deserted at times, but every year in December in its Moroccan town of Tantan, the Sahara is injected with the largest Bedouin (nomadic) gathering in all of North Africa.  Make no mistake--Morocco is Africa.
Folklore songs beat to the sound of the drums while dances follow in sync. All traditional. All tribal.  Moussem de Tantan is a celebration they wait for and prepare for every year. It is the Berber Bedouin equivalent of Brazil’s Carnival or New Orleans’ Mardi Gras.  Tantan may just be a small desert town, but it welcomes thousands from within Morocco, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, among other neighboring countries.
Because of its access to water along the Atlantic Ocean, the area of Tantan and its surroundings have always attracted exhausted camels roaming wild in the largest desert in the world. But the tradition of the Moussem began in the early 1960s surrounding the tomb of Cheikh Mohamed Laghdaf who resisted against the Franco-Spanish occupation of North Africa. The Tomb, just outside Tantan, became a meeting ground for tribes where they would race and trade camels, share stories and remedies, and display their skills.
The attraction for the Moussem continued to grow for years, but in 1979 due to regional instability, the cultural and traditional excitement was put on hold.
In 2004, King Mohammed VI of Morocco restarted the festivities giving the Bedouins, once again, a venue to hold onto their heritage and share it with their neighbors. In 2005, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized Moussem de Tantan as “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” honoring the event’s ability to promote living expressions, “inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants.”
For the Bedouins, Moussem de Tantan is not just a festival; it is a way to preserve their traditions in a very challenging time. With nation-states and borders, they no longer have the ability to freely move around the African continent’s ground. Many are forced to settle in towns losing their nomadic ways. At the Moussem, they relearn their histories from one another and strengthen their bonds, especially of the indigenous Berber tribes.
For the Kingdom of Morocco, Moussem de Tantan is also not just a festival. Most of the Arab world is inflicted with conflict, instability, or under harsh repression. Morocco doesn’t shy from its Arab identity, but makes a clear distinction from Iraq, Palestine, or Egypt and wants the world to know Morocco is a safe peaceful place with rich ancient living cultures and traditions.
At this year’s Moussem de Tantan, internationals from around the world were invited by the Kingdom of Morocco to witness the diversity of Africa’s Morocco. In rows of camel-wool tents, tribes sang their folk songs and danced a show. Others displayed delicious cuisines, demon-fighting incense, and beautifully finished handcrafts. Camel and sheep wool-woven quilts, Qur’an writings on oak tablets, and hunting tools were just few amongst the many handcrafts in display. Women in colorful traditional thobes lined up on one side while the men in white wearing turbans on the other welcoming the guests with rhythmic chants. Among the many guests in attendance were the Princess of Bulgaria and King of Benin giving the tribes a real sense of pride for their centuries-long heritage.
Once the guests were finally relaxed and situated in their seats, they watched spectacular camel and horse shows that lasted for a couple of hours with each tribe displaying their best performances.
Beyond the show, guests were given a real sense of tribal culture through great hospitality. Each meal consisted of at least three different meat dishes, fruit, dessert, and sweet Moroccan tea, of course.
The guests ate like royalty, but lived like locals. Instead of staying at hotels, they stayed in a tent town off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Such an experience may be difficult to adjust considering the camel-wool drapes as doors had no locks on them and there is little privacy from one tent to the next. Nonetheless, each tent did have a bit of electricity and a bathroom with “running” water. Even the Princess of Bulgaria and King of Benin stayed in the tent city, but their tents were more extravagant.
The guests mixed with the locals of Tantan getting to know more about the people behind the festivities.  At night, they sat by a burning fire relaxing under the darkest skies, experiencing ancient African-Arabian-Berber-Bedouin traditions will surely remain with each of the guests. As for the Bedouins, they hope their traditions will live on year after year. From the Kingdom of Morocco...Ahlan wa Marhaba Bikum.
U.S. Official Expects New Jobs From Partnership
Lindsey Oechsle
16 December 2010
Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez, after returning from meetings with government officials and entrepreneurs throughout North Africa, says that links between U.S. and North African entrepreneurs and investors are already forming based on recognition of the many business opportunities in that part of the world.
The trip -- which included travel to Tunisia, Libya and Morocco -- began in Algeria, where Fernandez unveiled the U.S.-North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity (NAPEO) during a U.S.-Maghreb Entrepreneurship Conference December 1-2.
The conference brought together an estimated 350 attendees from the Maghreb region and 70 panelists and speakers from the Maghreb, Europe, the United States and the Middle East. Attendees participated in skills-training workshops and networking opportunities, connecting youth entrepreneurs and business leaders.
Participants from the United States included investors, government officials, representatives from companies and executives from the Kaufman Foundation and the Angel Capitol Association of America. Academic institutions were also represented and included the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and Babson College.
Built on President Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo and the accomplishments of Obama's Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship this past April, the conference was described by Fernandez as a successful and necessary step toward deepening economic relations with Muslim-majority countries around the world. It is these objectives that make up the basic framework of NAPEO, according to Fernandez.
The aim of NAPEO is to encourage startups through training and improved access to capital, and inspire budding entrepreneurs of all ages to create jobs.
NAPEO will establish a young business leaders network, a startup incubator for innovation and technology, and a "center of excellence" in each of the five Maghreb countries -- Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia -- that will bring together best practices and share knowledge and will serve as a regional academic institution on entrepreneurship.
NAPEO will be managed by the Aspen Institute. There will be a board of advisers in each country, as well as a regional board of advisers that will serve as the umbrella organization together with the Aspen Institute.
After the conference, Fernandez traveled to Tunisia, Libya and Morocco to meet with government officials and entrepreneurs to discuss their reactions and work to incorporate their feedback into the future success of NAPEO. Fernandez said that government officials' ability to recognize the opportunities for private sector growth, job creation and entrepreneurship are crucial to NAPEO's success. He said that links between U.S. and North African entrepreneurs and investors are already forming based on recognition of the many business opportunities in this part of the world.
"I encouraged private sector representatives to participate in this initiative, and I can tell you without any reservations, that the overall reaction was very, very positive," Fernandez said. "I was really pleased to see the support for this new initiative in the region from governments as well as from the private sector."
Throughout his discussions with the region's business leaders, Fernandez stated that there was a clear recognition that the old state-driven economies that rely on a small set of export items are not viable models for long-term economic growth.
Fernandez met with several young entrepreneurs across the region to hear their stories -- including the challenges they face from the region's business climate. Many of the entrepreneurs spoke of a demographic bulge. In some places throughout the region, 70 percent of the population is under age 35, which creates an urgent need for more jobs. Small and medium enterprises foster jobs, and Fernandez spoke of the importance of creating a business climate where these enterprises can flourish.
"In general, I found a widespread recognition that partnerships like NAPEO will bring real and lasting positive change in the Maghreb," Fernandez said. "The reaction was good, and now we have to perform. Now we come to the next steps."
The second U.S.-Maghreb Entrepreneurship Conference will be held at the end of 2011 in Morocco.
December 16, 2010, 5:34pm
By Jeremiah Lockwood
It was bound to be a bizarre experience for me. Instead of rolling through my modest Brooklyn neighborhood, I was going to the fancy Pierre Hotel to sit in a room full of New York City’s elite. If you are not accustomed to the rigors of society life, a tableau of rich folk dolled up for a night out is both intimidating and comic. The fact that the reception on the evening of December 13 was being given by the American Sephardic Foundation in honor of King Mohammed VI of Morocco only added layers to the strangeness of my situation.
Distinguished guest after distinguished guest stood at the podium as wine was poured for the assembled party, and effusive words were spoken in praise of King Mohammed. There was a definite charm, even a relief, in hearing a room full of Jews applauding a Muslim monarch and paying homage to his wisdom and beneficence to the Jewish community. The evening had a feeling of the middle ages: the era of court Jews and royal indulgences. The King’s award was accepted by Serge Berdugo, an ambassador and a descendant of a family of Jewish royal advisors to the Moroccan throne.
Berdugo’s praise of the King and the royal commitment to the equality of his Jewish subjects was warm and engaging. He also spoke about the vibrancy of the contemporary Jewish community in Morocco. Many of the speakers drew attention to King Mohammed’s remarks in a speech last year in which he spoke of the Holocaust as “a wound to the collective memory” and as “one of the most painful chapters in the collective memory of mankind.” It is of course remarkable to hear the leader of a Muslim country using this kind of language in the contemporary landscape where delegitimizing the memory of the Holocaust has become a grotesque political tool.
This praise, and the strength of the King’s patronage of the Jews, made me wonder why a million Moroccan Jews live in Israel, France or the United States with only a few thousand remaining in Morocco. The historical record shows that Jews in Morocco in the chaotic years after independence in 1956 were scapegoated and victimized by the majority population. The Jews left Morocco in desperate haste. While the royal attitude towards the Jews is admirable, the reality of life in Morocco for its Jews has been fraught with trials.
The current attitude of the Moroccan government to its minorities is also a complicated issue. The Moroccan military recently engaged in a strong-armed suppression of protests by the Sahrawi people, a formerly nomadic Berber tribe without a homeland, who are caught in a cold war between Morocco and neighboring Algeria. While many sovereign nations use their power in questionable ways, this recent outburst of violence brings up painful memories of the situation in Morroco for its Jews in the years after independence.
At the reception, I had an opportunity to speak with Marc Charles Ginsberg, the former US Ambassador to Morocco and the first Jewish American appointed as a diplomat to an Arab nation. I asked him if he felt that Jews have a special responsibility to take concern with the treatment of minorities in Morocco. Ambassador Ginsberg politely brushed my question aside with the political non sequitur that Berber minorities are treated much better in Morocco than by neighboring governments.
Still, there is much to celebrate about Morocco and about Moroccan Jewish history and culture. The American Sephardic Federation and the Center for Jewish History are undertaking a variety of cultural presentations over the course of the next year, including some concerts and an intriguing sounding evening with a tableau vivant of traditional Moroccan wedding scenes. Of course, any opportunity to work with those members of the Muslim world who are receptive to Jewish culture should be taken. And, especially if it provides a chance for American Jews to engage with the riches of Moroccan culture.

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National solidarity campaign 2010 raises about $24m
Rabat - The Mohammed V for Solidarity has announced that the national solidarity campaign 2010 has raised a total amount of 201.98 million dirhams (about $24 million).
    It noted that the sale of badges, stamps and direct contributions of the public, the members of the Foundation's board of directors and its Support Committee topped contributions with a total of 128.25 million dirhams.

    The Foundation expressed gratitude and thanks to all the citizens, associations and other bodies for their generous contributions.
Morocco, EU sign € 70 mln-agreement to finance assistance program for agricultural sectoral policy.
Rabat - Morocco and the European Union signed, on Friday in Rabat, an agreement worth 70 million euros (770 million dirhams) to finance the assistance program for the agricultural sectoral policy.
    This new program will support the implementation of the Moroccan Green Plan benefitting the rural zone, notably the solidarity-based agriculture sector which includes 800,000 farmers and covers 10% of the usable agricultural land.
    The agreement was signed by Economy and Finance Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Aziz Akhannouch and the head of the EU delegation in Rabat, Ambassador Eneko Landaburu.
    The assistance program for the agricultural sectoral policy will span three years and target the eastern region as well as the regions of Draa, Boulemane and Tafilalet.
    It is aimed at gradually upgrading the industries of red meat, date palms, olives and other local products mainly truffles.
    This will help ramp up production, improve farmers’ income, create job opportunities and promote the quality of processed products.

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