Sunday, February 27, 2011

Morocco In the News: February 14 - 27

New Morocco council to revisit social charter.
By Sarah Touahri 2011-02-23
Morocco established a new state institution to develop a new social charter, but people are not convinced that the body will wield real power.
Morocco's King Mohammed VI on Monday (February 21st) inaugurated a long-awaited advisory body to the government. The creation of the Social and Economic Council (CES) is enshrined in the constitution but was delayed for years.
"We intend it to be a new, open space, capable of enhancing what the state can offer institutions in terms of structures and bodies which will foster constructive dialogue, responsible expression and a positive reaction to the aspirations of various social categories across different generations," the king said at the opening ceremony in Casablanca.
The sovereign rejected calls for replacing the Chamber of Councillors with the CES or merging the two bodies.
"We are not inclined to allow this council to become some kind of third chamber," he said.
The new body comprises 99 members, including representatives of charities and union groups, as well as scientific experts and intellectuals. It aims to draw up a new social charter, based on major contractual partnerships.
The CES holds consultative powers and is tasked with proposing solutions to major socio-economic problems, such as the needs of the labour market.
"It is intended to serve as a permanent space for social dialogue and the best place for thinking across different fields of economic, social and environmental activity," Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi said in a press statement. "Before bringing draft bills before parliament, the government will seek the views of the council and take them into account."
Former Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa was appointed as the council chairman. The CES activities will make it possible to respond to the aspirations of the people, particularly young people, in terms of competitiveness, work, equal opportunities, governance and civil society, he said.
Through its judgments and proposals, the council will support the reforms upon which Morocco has embarked, Benmoussa pledged.
"The representation of business leaders, employees and civil society within the council is a guarantee of the effectiveness of its actions in the interest of everyone and the promotion of balanced economic development," said Moroccan Business Confederation chief and council member Mohamed Horani.
Another CES member, Abdelmaksoud Rachdi, commented that the body will open up new areas for consideration of the major economic and social directions taken by the country.
People have been looking forward to the creation of the council, but that it should not become just one more institution with no real powers, according to sociologist Choubali Jamal.
Despite its purely consultative powers, the CES can play an important role if its conclusions are taken into account by the legislative and executive powers, he added.
Moroccans, however, remain sceptical and wait for tangible action.
"We'd have liked this council to have decision-making powers so that it could do something," student Hakima Belaid told Magharebia.

Economic disparities divide Morocco
Economic activity in Morocco favours certain geographical areas, putting residents of other regions at a significant disadvantage. According to recent figures from the Ministry of Finance's forecasting and research division, a number of challenges are ahead, including deepening imbalances, especially in employment and social exclusion.
High Commission for Planning data for 2010 show that five regions generate more than 60% of the entire country's income: Greater Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech, Tangier-Tetouan, and Souss-Massa-Draa. Most of the spending power resides in these regions.
Sociologist Mohamed Bouchaibi told Magharebia that the situation requires an intervention, as the divide continues to widen between the regions of diverse economies.
"Geographical disparities are synonymous with social inequality," he said. "The poorest regions are home to the most vulnerable citizens; wealth is concentrated in major cities, while small towns and villages live in another world."
Figures published in 2010 by the financial forecasting and research division confirm that inter-regional disparities stand out when it comes to GDP per capita income. In Greater Casablanca, for example, it is on average 3.6 times greater than in Taza-Al Houceima-Taounate, at 25,918 and 7,257 dirhams respectively during the period 2000-2007.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

On Thyme Time

Wild Mountain Thyme is a classic and famous song known around the world.
It’s chorus runs:

Will ye go, lassie, go?
And we’ll all go together,
To pick wild mountain thyme
All around the purple heather

Thyme, or Zatr as it is called, grows in abundance in the wild mountains of Morocco. With the coming of spring it is now the season for picking thyme from the rocky hilltops where it is found.
Zatr is drunk in Moroccan tea or coffee, accompanied with lots of sugar.
I find it very amusing that I now pick wild mountain thyme on a regular basis. Sadly, no lassies go with me. This is after all, not Scotland. 

You can hear my favorite version of the song on YouTube here:

Friday, February 25, 2011

On More Moroccan's In The News

Italy arrests Moroccans for inciting hatred of Pope

Pope Benedict blesses Magdi Allam (left) after his baptism, 22 March 2008Magdi Allam (left) was baptised in 2008
Six Moroccan men have been arrested in northern Italy on suspicion of seeking to incite hatred of Pope Benedict among Muslims.
Police in the city of Brescia said the suspects had allegedly banded together to stir up religious hatred.
A note was found calling for the Pope to be punished for converting a Muslim journalist to Roman Catholicism.
According to another source, the suspects are not suspected of planning attacks.
Five of the men, who are all Brescia residents, were placed under house arrest while the sixth was taken into custody.
The note found by police urges Muslim immigrants not to integrate into Italian society, Italian media report.
BBC map
Police said the six were accused of "setting up a group that aimed to incite discrimination, racial and religious hatred, violence and jihad against Christians and Jews".
The Pope was condemned for converting Egyptian-born Magdi Allam, a former columnist for Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
Mr Allam, an outspoken critic of Muslim militancy and strong supporter of Israel, was baptised by the Pope in March 2008.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

On One Moroccan’s Fifteen Minuets of Fame

Profile: Karima El Mahroug

Karima El Mahroug - the night-club dancer whose stage name is Ruby Rubacuori, or Ruby Heartstealer - says as a child, she was a victim of rape and abuse.
She has been in and out of care since running away from home at - reports say - either 12 or 14 years old.
The transcripts of tapped telephone conversations quoted in Italian media suggest she began her acquaintance with Mr Berlusconi when she was just 16 years old.
But Miss Mahroug has sought to draw a distinction between her treatment by men in general and her treatment by Mr Berlusconi.
"It is the first time in my life that a man has not tried to take me to bed. He behaved like a father, I swear," she told Italian newspaper La Repubblica last year.
She denies any sexual relationship with Mr Berlusconi, saying he is just a lonely man who pays to be in the company of young women.
And she now says she is about to marry her nightclub manager boyfriend Luca Rizzo.
Karima El Mahroug reportedly arrived in Italy with her family from Morocco in 2003, settling in the eastern Sicilian coastal town of Letojanni.
Her childhood was a difficult one, she said in an interview in January on one of the TV channels owned by Mr Berlusconi.

Relationship with Mr Berlusconi

  • February 2010: Miss Mahroug reportedly introduced to Mr Berlusconi after one of his friends saw her in a nightclub
  • Over the following months, Miss Mahroug - then aged 17 - visited Mr Berlusconi's residence several times, when prosecutors allege he paid to have sex with her
  • May 2010: Arrested in Milan on suspicion of stealing money and jewellery - but released from jail after call from PM's office, claiming she was a relative of then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Mr Berlusconi denies abusing his power to secure her release
  • Prosecutors say they have transcripts for dozens of phone conversations between the pair
  • Miss Mahroug admits receiving 7,000 euros (£5,900; $9,400) from Berlusconi as a gift after they first met but denies it was payment for sex
  • Denies demanding 5m euros from Mr Berlusconi to keep quiet about their relationship
"When I was nine years old, I was raped by two of my uncles - my father's brothers," she was quoted as saying.
"The only person who I dared to talk to about what happened, my mother, said, 'Keep quiet, because if your dad finds out you're not a virgin, he'll kill you,'" she said.
After she was raped, she said she invented a "parallel world" to block out the memories.
"I told my schoolmates I had a marvellous family, and I pretended I was Wonderwoman."
But at 12, her Muslim father threw a pan of boiling oil over her after she said she wanted to become a Catholic, Miss Mahroug claimed.
Other reports suggest she was known in the local town for her fiery character and for being a petty thief.
She ran away, stealing a woman's handbag before being found by police and sent to a series of care homes.
'Buying affection'
Later, Miss Mahroug became a belly dancer but denied ever working as a prostitute. "I tried but I didn't succeed. Like my mother told me, you're born a hooker, you don't become one."
She is said to have met Mr Berlusconi after one of his friends spotted her in a nightclub - the introduction arranged by Nicole Minetti, the prime minister's former dental hygienist who is alleged to have procured women for his parties - and admits spending nights at his residence.

Start Quote

Their relationship came to light after Miss Mahroug was arrested by Milan police on a charge of theft but was released - controversially handed over to Ms Minetti rather than put into care - after a phone call from the prime minister's office.
Mr Berlusconi stands by the claim made to police at the time that he believed she was a relative of the Egyptian president and demanded her freedom to avoid a diplomatic incident.
Mr Berlusconi claims he gave money, gifts and help to Miss Mahroug out of pity, while she also denies any sexual aspect of their relationship.
In another interview, she said he staved off loneliness by buying affection - something she said she could relate to, as she often sent money to her estranged father.
"He is alone and fights loneliness, a bit like I do," Miss Mahroug reportedly said.
"I pay to get my father's affection; he pays for young women."
Miss Mahroug has turned her role in the scandal to her advantage, appearing in lucrative TV interviews, in an advert and by making special appearances in nightclubs around Italy.
But she says now she wants to settle down into married life and - according to AFP news agency - would like to study child psychology in Genoa.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On The Jasmine Revolution

Recent weeks and months has seen unrest sweep across the Middle East and North Africa. While the democratic governments of the world wrestle with the apparently endemic challenge of balancing the budgets, the largely autocratic governments of the Middle East and North Africa struggle to control their populations and prevent the Jasmine Revolution from spreading to their shores.

It will be interesting to see what lies on the road ahead. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

On Corruption

There is a story about woman who had been a Peace Corps Volunteer some years ago in a far away land.

She had worked trying to improve the lives of youths and had been attached to a local school. In her country of service many government jobs, including those of teachers, were given as political rewards for those who were well connected. They were in no way related to ability or performance. They could not be taken away.

The result of this system was a school in which students taught themselves and teachers spent their time drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. When the PCV arrived she took it upon herself to motivate teachers to actually teach. This novel idea was incredibly annoying to listen to day in and day out.  The end result of this was that she was given the choice between shutting up and leaving or never being heard from again. She chose to leave quietly and live.

This is not necessarily the kind of corruption that has lead to the headline making revolutions across the Middle East and North Africa. But it still is a form of corruption that is prevalent around the world. When government employees are permitted to maintain their jobs despite poor performance, the people who rely on their services suffer. In a market system, these people would be able to take their business elsewhere, but when the government is the guilty party, all they can do is become disillusioned.

But disillusionment doesn’t last forever…

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Morocco In the News: February 6 - 13

Why Morocco matters
By Edward M. Gabriel 02/07/11
Pundits do not, as a rule, make good prophets, but that does not stop them from aligning themselves with various scenarios of what will happen in the Arab world in the wake of the regime change in Tunisia. While Egypt followed Tunisia with its own serious domestic uprisings calling for changing the government, and Yemen may well face the same challenge, a broad brush approach is hardly useful in defining what US policy options are or ought to be.
Morocco is a case in point. It is a strong monarchy with a representative Parliament, and its King enjoys a unique religious and political leadership status with his people. It is a country that has moved away from authoritarian behavior and invested in institutional change that is opening political space for its citizens and responsible opposition to critique government policies, exercise individual freedoms, and seek opportunities from a market-centered economy. 
Morocco is not Tunisia or Egypt or Yemen. It has steadily and coherently worked to enlarge opportunities for its people and reduce conditions that undermine stability – whether through programs to reduce poverty and its drag on economic and social development, or to empower women and to encourage youth to take greater ownership of their future. This solid record of accomplishments has been referred to as the “Moroccan exception.”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

On Tea

Tea is important. Throughout the world it is how people start the day, how they spend time with friends, how they show hospitality to strangers. Morocco is no exception.
The tea culture of Morocco is very well established. While there is coffee, tea is the drink of choice for starting the day. Since alcohol is illegal, tea is the drink of choice for all social events.
Moroccan tea is green tea, often with additional herbs such as mint or thyme, and always with large quantities of sugar. It is served from an ornate teapot and drunken from very small glasses. Because the size of the glass and the color of the tea people often jokingly call it “whisky Moroccan”. It is also possible it has this nickname because Moroccans think foreigners are constantly buzzed because while they drink ten glasses of tea a day, foreigners drink ten glasses of whisky a day.
The tea is always poured from a height, giving it time to cool on its way to the glass and causing small bubbles to form on the surface. Getting this correct takes good aim, practice and a willingness to spill a bit. Oftentimes, the first pour is repeated several times until the color, temperature and bubble quantity are just right.

And THAT is Moroccan Tea!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Morocco In the News: January 11 - February 5

Youth empowerment project kicks off in Morocco.
By Sarah Touahri – 04/02/11
A campaign to spur civic responsibility in the new generation has taken root in Morocco.
Moroccan teens and young adults may care more about their country's political reality if they learn about their civil, political and environmental rights, a new programme aims to show.
"We're going to organise activities that meet the needs of young people in order to foster a sense of responsible citizenship in them," said Mohamed En-Nosse, director of the United Association for the Guidance of Children and Youths (ASUEEJ).
His group launched the "I'm a Moroccan Citizen" project on January 31st in co-ordination with the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI).
"We want to remind citizens that they also have responsibilities towards their country, not just rights," said En-Nosse said.
Training workshops begin next month for 100 youths under age 25 years who either belong to civil society groups or attend schools in the Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz region.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

On Family Sleeping Arrangements

Not many Americans are 16 years old and still sleep in their parents’ bedroom. The same cannot be said for Moroccans. This is not for lack of space or any reason like that. It is simply the way it is done, a tradition. Just like the family that prays together stays together, the family that all sleeps in the same room, no matter how old or grown up, is a family indeed. Perhaps America is unique. The result of taming the Wild West, is a threat-wary mentality that says “don’t sit with you back to the door, don’t sleep with someone else in the room. If you keep your guard up, no one will kill you in Reno just to watch you die and then claim-jumper you.” It could be that there is a tear soaked loneliness that comes from moving out of your parent’s bedroom as a child that, while seen as a necessary evil in some cultures, is just plain unnecessary in others. Either way, it is an interesting difference worth noting.

The question is what happens to people who snore? 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Middle East social indicators

Countrypop. (m)median agejobless (%)below poverty line (%)internet users (m)
Saudi Arabia
W Bank & Gaza