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.
Economist Bouyahya Malik explained that the geographic disparity problem is a difficult one to solve, since it has been building up for years. He urged the government to make an effort to remedy the lack of infrastructure and basic equipment, as well as promote employment through investment and education.
"Education would be a good place to start in promoting human resources, which are the key to any development," he said. "It is also imperative for each region to develop its own resources and potential."
Member of Parliament Fatima Moustaghfir believes the decentralisation policy planned by Morocco would have a positive impact on the regions' development. She told Magharebia that investment should be tailored to regions' specific potential, and that people must be the driving force of their hometowns.
"Many wealthy people leave their own regions and invest elsewhere," she said. "Responsibility must be shared between the state and residents of the region."
During discussions of the finance bill, Economy and Finance Minister Salaheddine Mezouar admitted to members of Parliament that inequality exists, and that all sector-based strategies and restructuring projects should indeed aim to create the balance needed.
The minister noted that over the last decade, "Morocco has undeniably achieved significant development, although one would wonder whether the pace is fast enough, or could be stepped up".
According to the financial forecasting division, the regional development model is to create a geographical balance that would give all citizens access to public services and an equal chance of social improvement, by developing and utilizing their true potential and ability to contribute to wealth creation.
Sarah Touahri for Magharebia in Rabat
Morocco is famous in tourist circles -- primarily for Marrakech, and rightly so. With bustling souks, boutique riads around every corner and a medina full of storytellers and snake charmers, Marrakech is a true East-meets-West city. It has a buzzing sense of otherworldliness and style that is hard not to like. Yet having landed in the impressive new Marrakech Airport, we ignored the call of the shopping in the souks (which, trust me is no hardship...)..........
Check the rest here:

Biology professor Mike Stokes leads a study abroad group every summer in Africa, where students spend time participating in research that aims to solve the conflict of migrating animals destroying farm- lands.
Researchers from the biology department work in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, Stokes said.
"Kenya is a very poor country," he said. "It has more people than it can support, like many countries in Africa, but human population growth continues unabated."
Stokes said there are about 37 million people in Kenya, where the average person in a rural area is unemployed and living off much less than a dollar a day.
"You can describe their existence as subsistence living," he said. "A family will grow a crop or two, and if the drought isn't too bad or animals don't eat it, they'll use it as food or trade it for other goods."
In Kenya, education is free through eighth grade, and then students must pay tuition, which results in almost everyone dropping out of school after middle school, Stokes said.
"It's the fortunate few who can have a high school education," he said.
Stokes said families and villages often pull together money to send a child to high school in hopes that their investment will be returned to the village in some way.
"That person will be able to find a job and send money back to the village," he said.
While the study abroad groups are in Africa, they are there to participate in research, he said.
"We hope that our research will contribute to a better life in those communities," Stokes said.
Now, Stokes is working on research that is funded by the U.S. government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The research is focusing on ways to keep migrating wildlife off farms so they don't destroy the farms as they move from place to place.
"We're interested in it because we're interested in wildlife research and conservation, but at the same time it's something that should help the communities," Stokes said.
There are other projects that are complementary to the research project, including paying for a child to go to high school or helping to build a house for orphans.
The Students in Free Enterprise group helps sell baskets that Kenyan women make, Stokes said.
The profits from the baskets go back to Kenya, where the local women's groups distribute the money as they see fit, paying for food, seed, tuition for a child, or materials to make more baskets.
"Every student I take over comes back a different person," Stokes said.
Andrea Falcetto, a graduate student in biology and sociology from Emporia, Kan., was working in Morocco in the Peace Corps before she went to Kenya and met Stokes for the first time this pas summer.
Falcetto helped distribute the money from the basket project, bought more baskets to sell and did some unofficial Peace Corps recruiting.
Falcetto will begin a new research project on forest conservation in Kenya this summer with the help of Stokes, she said.
Maggie Mahan, who works in WKU's biology department, went to South Africa and Kenya with Stokes as an undergraduate in 2005.
During spring break of the next year, Mahan went back to Kenya with Stokes to work out a contract trying to find a place to set up a campsite on a share-held ranch the size of Mammoth Cave National Park, she said.
Mahan also helped with the basket project, using the profits from the baskets to pay school fees for local children and to buy maize for the villagers after a drought.
She said the program is constantly growing.
"All of our work helps add so much extra income to a relatively poor area," Mahan said.
Mahan said she highly respects Stokes for all the work he does.
"Mike is a great friend and mentor," she said
Before the status of women in Islam can be determined, the religion itself must first be analyzed separately from the cultures and practices in “Islamic” countries—most notably, those in the Middle East. I argue that Islam gives women and men equal human rights spiritually, financially, and socially, thereby making it compatible with the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its emphasis on gender equality. I maintain that because of the persistence of agrarian labor and tribal traditions that created an imbalance and inequality of gender roles, these rights are not protected in many Middle Eastern countries that claim to practice Islam. I present these inequities, which result from the survival of patriarchal traditions, by examining three countries and their breach of women’s rights as protected in Islam and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.


The subjugation of women in Afghanistan today cannot be attributed solely to the Taliban’s rule—rather, its roots were planted long before and continue to exist today. Even before the fundamentalist group took control, its past as a patriarchal agrarian society created a legacy of distinct gender roles and “…tribal traditions where men exercise unmitigated power over women,” (Ahmed-Ghosh 1). The structure of Afghan societies—especially in rural areas—is based around strong tribal and ethnic divisions with honor systems playing a major role in the various groups’ customs and their attitudes towards women. These honor codes center primarily around the preservation of their purity and morality. Women are used as pawns that help create and seal alliances between tribes through marriages, which are usually planned without the consent of the brides. In these unions, “…total obedience to the husband and his family is expected, and women are prevented from getting any education,” (Ahmed-Ghosh 2).

The Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, have a complex honor-based society that exemplifies the way tribal traditions have continued to define women’s roles today. Pashtunwali, translated literally as “the way of the Pashtuns” is the foundation of this people’s identity. Violation of any of the various stipulations prescribed by the code places the defier at risk of being shunned by his or her tribe, making adherence the obvious choice. The izzat, or honor of the Pashtun individual, is crucial to their membership in the group—without it, “…he or she is no longer considered a Pashtun, and is not given the rights, protection, and support of the Pashtun community” (Kakar 3). Members of self-sustaining agrarian communities are interdependent, eliminating exile as an option for survival.

The most important pillar of this extensive system is the purdah, often referred to as the symbolic veil separating the men’s sphere from the women’s sphere—a segregation necessary to uphold honor. In agrarian societies of Afghanistan, this is often practiced through the division of labor based on gender. Women are “…left to care for the household while the men are out shepherding the flocks for days and weeks” (Kakar 5). They are expected to remain within their respective sphere and it is common knowledge that consequences arise when these boundaries are crossed. For women, these consequences include getting, “…beaten, accused of dishonor, and even perhaps expelled from the community” (Kakar 5). The purdah and izzat are crucial to the survival of the Afghan system of patriarchy because the honor of the male head of a family is directly dependent on his wife’s virtue. In fact, “it is often said that Pashtun men customarily see women as comprising the essence of the family. If a woman earns a bad reputation, her whole family, which includes the men, is sullied” (Kakar 8). Places where mixing of unmarried or unrelated members of the opposite sex is prevalent are regarded as areas where moral defilement is likely to occur—unfortunately these places often include schools and even hospitals. This explains why such drastic measures are often taken to separate the women of Afghanistan from anything that may bring shame to their families—even if it comes at the expense of their basic human rights.

Though many may confuse the tribal traditions practiced in Islamic countries with the religion of Islam, it is important to note that, “…though the Pashtuns were Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school of law, it was their Pashtun tribal code, Pashtunwali, which governed them before all else,” (Kakar 2). Afghan society is structured around tribal divisions and although its people are practicing Muslims, the religion is ordained through tribal leaders who rarely recognize the line that lies between cultural customs and Islamic laws. They conveniently fail to enforce parts of the religion that could potentially obstruct the continuity of their patriarchal system, and the steps they take to preserve their ways are often in clear violation of not only Islam, but also the universal standards of human rights.

The fact that the first word of the Quran revealed was iqra, which translates to the command, “read” or “learn” in Arabic, is proof enough of the impact that Islam places on the education of its followers. However, there are numerous other places within the scripture and also in the hadiths (words or deeds of the Prophet, peace be upon him) in which the education of both males and females is emphasized. The Prophet (pbuh) used to say, for example, that, “education is obligatory on both Muslim men and women, even if they have to go to China to seek it” (Bhutto). The reiteration of the importance of learning in Islam is in clear opposition to the current practices of the Taliban in Afghanistan today—a group still deeply entrenched in ancient tribal practices. As of 2009, more than 630 schools have been shut down by the Taliban because they have been deemed “un-Islamic” (IRIN). Ironically, it is the closing down of these educational institutions that are against the tenets of Islam and in comparison, the tribal traditions they have carried throughout the years that condone such actions.

With respect to the forced marriages and subservience to men that is expected of women in Afghan tribes, these actions are also condemned in Islam where, “no one – not even her father can force her to marry against her expressed consent. And a woman does not cease to be an individual after marriage” (Bhutto). A woman’s humanity and singularity is acknowledged in Islam and she is not regarded as property to be beaten and abused as is the case in patriarchal Afghan societies. Tribal leaders abuse their absolute power and, by labeling cultural traditions as religious, they manage to maintain their sexist system of hierarchy.

According to the UN Universal Standards of Human Rights, the institutionalized patriarchies of Afghan societies violate several articles, including the document’s core premise that “…the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.” Women in Afghanistan live in the constant fear that they will bring shame upon their families. They live their lives in fear that they will be punished for simply desiring access to an education or healthcare in a public place alongside their fellow human beings. Afghanistan’s tribal rituals, as demonstrated by the Pashtunwali, are also in clear violation of Article 16 of the Universal Standards, which declares that only marriage between two consenting spouses is humanely permissible. In addition to its transgression of many other standards, the Afghan tradition of segregation—often depriving women of an education altogether—breaches Article 26, which ultimately acknowledges that all human beings have the right to an education.


Similar to the tribal system in Afghanistan, Iran’s history of patriarchies is framed within a monarchical patrilineal heritage. Males were placed on a much higher scale than women were during Iran’s dynastic era, which contributes to the subordinate place in society that women fill today. As was done in the tribal societies of Afghanistan, where marriage unions were created to facilitate alliances between groups, marriages in Iran were carried out more as eternal business deals than meaningful relationships. According to Sedghi, this system:

…ensured patriarchal domination…and permanent marriage analogous to a commercial transaction, in which the woman, the object of the contractual transaction, is exchanged for the mehr (brideprice). The brideprice specifies saman-e boz or the price for a woman’s sexual organ. The marriage contract approximates a commercial contract in Islamic Law, where saman (price) is exchanged for the mabi (object for sale). Marriage is thus a contract for the legalization of sexual intercourse, not for love… (28)

These transactions were arranged and conducted by the bride’s father and groom without ever receiving her consent. In fact, many of the marriages that took place in Iran involved young nine or ten-year-old girls. Essentially the unions symbolized a transfer of the female’s sexuality to the possession of her new husband—her role was to serve as a sex object and reproductive machine.

From their childhoods and onward, women were taught to be ashamed of their gender. During the late 18th to early 20th centuries, under the rule of the Qajar Dynasty, it was considered a social disgrace to give birth to girls. The consequences of a female birth, “…usually meant disappointment to the father and fear in the mother, who might face abandonment or punishment by her husband or his close relatives or her own father,” (Sedghi 27). During this period of time, it was common for members of the royal family or wealthy landlords to take on as many as 300 wives at a time—some legitimate and some servants that were taken on as concubines. Having many wives maximized the husband’s chances for having male children to carry on his name—this was important for members of royalty especially because of the legacy of their dynasties. This number of spouses, though disproportionate to that found in Iran today, further entrenched a patriarchal system that doted on males and subordinated females to the role of domestic baby-making machines.

Contrary to popular belief, polygamy is not encouraged in Islam and is only allowed under certain conditions:

And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course. (Qur’an 4:3)

During the time of the Prophet (pbuh), it was appropriate to take on more than one wife (but only a maximum of four were permitted) because the wartime conditions during this period left many women widowed and even more orphaned—marriage was seen as an act of charity that helped save and support these women. 300 wives would not be permitted as there would be no feasible way in which the husband can provide equal time and care to each of them—another stipulation to this “luxury” of polygamy. This is another example of the misrepresentation and exploitation of Islam through cultural practices.

Even the way women were forced to dress during the Qajar Dynasty was an indication of their lower status in society simply because of what the various articles of clothing were widely known to symbolize. Women wore a “…three-piece dress consisting of…very loose trousers…that signified their separate world; it assured them space and identity as…the weak and status as…those obedient to men’s will,” (Sedghi 26). This dark, uniform clothing represented their isolation from the world of men and the clearly distinct sphere they were made to live in as part of the male-dominated world that ruled them.

The patriarchal dynasty of Iran during the Qajar and Pahlavi monarchical rule came to a halt with the 1979 Revolution. The series of protests and demonstrations against the rule of the kings united most of Iran’s citizens against the patriarchal structure that had so staunchly defined Iranian families. Women were strongly represented among the protesters and they, “…themselves began recognizing their strength in numbers. An egalitarian spirit prevailed in the streets during this period of the Revolution,” (Fathi 132). This inkling of hope for women remained just that, however, because the traditional Iranian family structure that was entrenched under Iran’s dynastic rule was too engrained in the culture to be overcome by a renewal of ideas—no matter how radical.

Rule under then Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and now Khamenei’s theocracy was similar to the monarchs before them, but now hidden under the pretext of Islamic rule. Soon after coming into power, Khomeini enforced the hijab head covering for all women venturing out into public, and reaffirmed their domestic roles in the household and away from the public sphere by denying them access to political power. He also went so far as to have women arrested who violated certain dress codes. Both Khomeini and Khamenei are known to carry out inegalitarian punishment for things such as adultery, giving women the short end of the stick (Sedghi 202). The theocratic leaders’ rule served the same purpose as that of the monarchs—keep women subservient to men. The former leaders under the umbrella of the Islamic Republic of Iran, simply added a religious spin to their actions and, “in an attempt to ‘Islamicize’ women’s position, they resorted to coercion, passed inegalitarian laws, and mobilized female morality squads or…the gender police, to enforce its codes of propriety” (Sedghi 202).

An oft-publicized and debated subject about Islam is the issue of women’s dress and covering. While it was imposed upon women in Iran, the Quran mentions it as advice directed towards women and not towards men or anyone else to mandate:
“Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty…” (Al-Mu’minun 24:30-31).

Ultimately, it is a Muslim woman’s choice to practice modesty how she sees fit and this decision does not religiously fall within any Ayatollah’s jurisdiction. This freedom is also in accordance with the UN Universal Standards of Human Rights which recognize every individual’s, “…right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference.” Under the scriptures and the human rights document, no entity should have the power to tell any individual how to express themselves—whether it be through imposing the donning of the veil or not.

Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, the extended family is a crucial part of the country’s society. The way various roles within these families were organized, especially, led up to the norms we see today. Even before Islam arrived in Saudi Arabia in the 7th century, division of labor was divided by gender. Similar to Afghanistan and Iran, “the primary male roles were as providers and protectors of the family, working outside the home. The primary female roles were as nurturers and managers within the home, in which all women in the family tended to band together to influence family decisions,” (Long 36). These various positions in society that the two genders held and traditions of secluding the women away from the public lives of men were entrenched in Arabian society even before its origination of Islam. Included in these customs was the issue of female modesty—this was a common theme prevalent in many civilizations at this time. The, “…virtue of female modesty, including its assocation with women’s apparel in public, is expressed in Genesis 24—65: ‘And Rebekah lifted up her eyes and when she saw Isaac, she asked the servant, ‘Who is that man walking through the fields to meet us?’ And the servant replied, ‘That is my master;’ then she took her veil and covered herself” (Long 36).

This atmosphere that placed such a large emphasis on women’s modesty (similar to the honor codes of Afghanistan and the dress of women in traditional Iranian families) set up the backdrop for future violations against women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

In a society trying desperately to hold on to its beliefs and traditions amidst the oncoming waves of development and progression of women in the public sphere, Islam remains a static, sentimental piece of the world they firmly hold on to. The modest woman as depicted in the Quran symbolizes the antithesis to the Western woman, according to Saudis—the latter is one they do not want existing within their patriarchies. As a result of their attempts to prevent “Western thoughts” from permeating their close-knit, delineated gender roles, they have implemented many laws including mandatory head to toe covering, lax punishments for perpetrators of domestic violence and the banning women from driving. As mentioned before in the examinations of the previous countries, covering is up to the woman and not something that should be mandated by a state or other unaffected individual. Domestic violence, as in other Abrahamic religions, is not condoned and the woman has a right to divorce with her husband providing for her: “[65:7] The rich husband shall provide support in accordance with his means, and the poor shall provide according to the means that GOD bestowed upon him. GOD does not impose on any soul more than He has given it. GOD will provide ease after difficulty.” As for driving, according to the Hadiths, Aisha, the Prophet’s wife (pbuh) rode her own camel while fighting in battles as did his prior wife, Khadijah. Once again, the religion of Islam has been used in a Middle Eastern country as a scapegoat in order to preserve the patriarchal status quo.


It can be simple to blur the line between culture and religion when referring to the Middle East and its various countries’ violations of women’s rights as accorded to them naturally and specified in the UN Universal Standards of Human Rights. However, when one looks at first the examples of Afghanistan, then Iran and Saudi Arabia, it becomes clear that the patriarchal cultures in each of these societies developed from tribalism, patrilineal dynasties, and roles in extended families, outlasted and often outshined the Islamic religion that was practiced in their midst. The bonds of culture and traditions are too strong to take the backseat to religion and are often spread and implemented under its pretext—especially by the dominant male ruling group to justify their patriarchal societies. When one looks at the actual teachings of the Islamic religion, however, it becomes clear how they have been used in these countries to propel their ruling, male-dominated class’s agendas forward and how in reality, they mirror the universal standards of human rights.

Works Cited

Ahmed-Ghosh, Huma. A History of Women in Afghanistan: Lessons Learnt for the Future. Diss. San Diego State University, 2003. Print.
Bhutto, Benazir. “The Prophet Preached Equal Rights; Now the Task Is To Restore Them.” Asiaweek 25 Aug. 1995. Print.
Fathi, Asghar. Women and the Family in Iran. Leiden: Brill, 1985. Print.
“IRIN Asia | AFGHANISTAN: Taliban Forces Students out of Schools into Madrasas | Asia | Afghanistan | Children Education Gender Issues Conflict | Feature.” IRIN ” Humanitarian News and Analysis from Africa, Asia and the Middle East – Updated Daily. Web. 11 Mar. 2010. .
Long, David E. Culture and Customs of Saudi Arabia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2005. Print.
Sedghi, Hamideh. Women and Politics in Iran: Veiling, Unveiling, and Reveiling. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. Print.
“Tribal Law of Pashtunwali and Women’s Legislative Authority.” Diss. Harvard University. Web. .
“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Welcome to the United Nations: It’s Your World. Web. 11 Mar. 2010. .
“Human Rights Concerns.” Amnesty International USA – Protect Human Rights. Web. 11 Mar. 2010.
Article first published by Prospect Journal of International Affairs.

Norman Greene 02/21/2011
At Les Enfants Terribles Restaurant on a Sunday in February, in New York City, I attended with a number of other friends of the High Atlas Foundation a Sunday morning presentation on Amazigh music as part of HAF’s “Eat, Drink and Share” series.  These are events designed to showcase HAF’s work, bring together those tied by a shared interest in Moroccan culture, and foster new friendships and relationships.  I have attended a number of these and other HAF events, from the recent Moroccan film festival to a presentation and exhibit of Moroccan carpets and photographs.
The featured guest was musician Abdel Rahim Boutat, a “Moroccan Berber from the town of Kenifra in the Middle Atlas Mountains.”  He commented on two instruments: the bandir (a wooden frame drum) and loutar (a 4-stringed skin-faced lute). They “go together and are played together,” he said.  Mr. Boutat “began playing the loutar as a young boy in middle school at local social events and weddings in Morocco before migrating to Canada and later settling in New York.”  His concerts have included those sponsored by organizations, such as “Le Festival du Mode Arabe de Montreal, World Music Institute, the Brooklyn Maqam Arab Music Festival, and the Chicago Festival.”

By way of background, Abdel observed that the Imazighen were among the first people to come to Morocco and did not “speak a dialect but a language.” He mentioned the unique nature of the language structure as displayed in the Amazigh songs. The songs frequently reference their subject metaphorically rather than directly.  So when one sings of a woman’s body, one sings of what it is like, not directly what it is. The songs are about family, country, social policy, love, longing (missing one’s city), or the problems of everyday life.  The lyrics are family-friendly. He learned the music through practice and from oral and musical traditions passed on from others, not at a music school. He then gave a spirited rendition of an Amazigh song to his enthusiastic tapping on the table and the spirited accompaniment (and similar tapping) of others.

The conversation moved, among other things, to Moroccan cultural solidarity; how important it is to have it for the Moroccan community to thrive in another country, such as the United States; and how to accomplish it.  Such solidarity also strengthens the relationships of Moroccans-Americans to other Americans and to Moroccans at home. Among other ways, it may be achieved through the presentation of music, dance, art and literature. The program concluded with a discussion on the current projects of the High Atlas Foundation and strategic plan for the future.

Author: Norman Greene  lives in New York, N.Y., he has written a number of articles on Morocco and the Moroccan-American community in the United States and related conferences and events.

Unlike their Arab brothers and sisters in Tunisia and Egypt, Moroccan protesters are asking for modest amounts of change. For now.
When I was living in Morocco in 2007, I often noticed that foreign journalists were completely confounded by the country. And understandably so, because, depending on whom they talked to, the country was either on the verge of full democratization or about to have a Russian-style revolution. Elections were going to bring about an Islamist tsunami or the leftist coalition would surprise everyone by its strong showing. The recent family law reforms had brought in real change for women or it did not matter because the judges were not applying the new law anyway. The Equity and Reconciliation commission was proof that the infamous Years of Lead -- a period during the 1960s to 1980s characterized by widespread extralegal detentions and torture -- were being reckoned with or that the victims of abuse had been unwittingly co-opted by a wily government. The Francophone elite was fleecing the country or it was the country's only chance of moving forward in an era of globalization. The king's right-hand man had quit his post and run for a parliamentary seat because he had fallen out of favor in the palace or he had quit because he was going to be appointed prime minister.
The truth was, nobody knew.

Nobody could know, because no one who wanted to write these overview pieces was prepared for the simple truth, which is that it is not possible to summarize the incredible complexity of Morocco, a country of 31 million, in just one article. And yet they tried, and the result was usually an article that reiterated what was by then a well-established narrative: Morocco is a country "where modernity collides with religious traditions," where "tensions between feminists and conservatives" remain high, where national challenges include "poverty, illiteracy and corruption," but where the "reform-minded king" was working to keep it a "liberal beacon" in the Arab world. Women -- or, more accurately, their clothing choices -- always merited a mention. They wore "long, flowing headscarves" or they "would not look out of place in New York or Paris," and it was usually clear which ones had earned the writer's sympathies. These sentence fragments could be rearranged in any number of ways, like magnetic pieces on a refrigerator door, to produce newspaper or magazine articles about Morocco. And in all the time I've spent reading them, they made about as much sense to me as refrigerator poetry.
Now it is four years later, and the country is still confounding foreign analysts. The tide of change that has swept across the region -- bringing down Tunisia's Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak -- has begun to affect Morocco. Simultaneous marches took place in nearly all regions of the kingdom on Feb. 20, modeled on protests that have taken place elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East. Early estimates put the number of protesters at 37,000. But, in contrast with protesters in other countries, the Moroccans who started the Feb. 20 movement for change have not called for the king's overthrow. Instead, their focus has been on meaningful constitutional reform, which limits the powers of the king and affirms the independence of the legislative, judiciary, and executive branches. And, despite looting incidents that took place after the protests, the demonstrations throughout the country seem to have been generally peaceful and free of violent rhetoric.
There are three reasons why the movement for change is focusing on a parliamentary monarchy rather than a republic. One is that the institution of the monarchy is well established: Morocco has had native, hereditary rulers, of one sort or another, for nearly 1,200 years. Even when the French colonized the country, Muhammad V, then sultan of Morocco and grandfather of the present monarch, managed to hold on to his throne and, after a brief period of exile, return as a liberator. Since the era of independence, the monarchy has only consolidated more power in its hands. The constitution adopted in 1962, for instance, gave the king the power to act as head of state, appointing and dismissing government ministers at his discretion.
The second reason for these evolutionary -- rather than revolutionary -- demands is that King Muhammad, at 47, is relatively young. He has been in power for 12 years, which, in comparison with long-serving autocrats like Mubarak or Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi, makes him seem like a newcomer. Furthermore, he and his wife often grace the pages of society magazines and present, both to the country and to the outside world, a glamorous image that stands in sharp contrast to the gloomy one adopted by his father, King Hassan.
But the most important reason is that, over the last 12 years, King Muhammad has successfully co-opted many positive forces for change in Morocco. The family law reform, for instance, which was proposed by feminist activists, had been languishing in parliament for years until he threw his support behind it. The Equity and Reconciliation commission, established in 2004 to document thousands of cases of torture and abuse during the Years of Lead gave him an opportunity to distance himself from his father's brutal reign. And he regularly offers financial support, through one of his numerous charitable foundations, to civil-society projects that have acquired prominence and popularity, thus getting credit for some of their achievements. As a result, Moroccans often blame the rampant corruption in all state institutions on the cabinet, even though each and every member of it is appointed by and accountable to the king.
Still, many Moroccans are fully aware that the king's absolute power -- as stipulated in the current constitution -- has resulted in an unbalanced model of governance. Parliament's role is mainly to rubber-stamp royal decrees. Judges routinely hand down prison sentences against independent journalists who dare to even mildly criticize the king. WikiLeaks cables have shown that the Omnium Nord-Africain, a private financial and industrial group in which the king holds a large stake, is involved in nearly every major real estate project in Morocco. And, as a January 2005 cover story by Driss Ksikes and Khalid Trikti in Tel Quel magazine revealed, King Muhammad costs the Moroccan taxpayer $270 million per year, which is more than the queen of England costs the British taxpayer.
All this is why the Feb. 20 movement has made it clear that it wants a king who reigns, but does not rule. The reaction to these demands has been quite strong. Although the king remained silent, government ministers and their proxies tried to discredit the protesters by calling them foreign agents. (This trick has been used in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and now Libya.) The day before the protests, the official news agency of Morocco released a statement saying that they had been canceled -- an attempt to limit turnout.
Still, all the marches took place as scheduled, and the Feb. 20 protesters stayed on message: They want an evolution to a parliamentary monarchy. But, as we have seen in Bahrain, this does not mean that they will not ask for something more tomorrow --something more revolutionary. It is patently clear, based on the steadfastness of the protesters and the regime's virulent campaign against them, that both sides know this. Already, Moroccans of all walks of life are choosing between these two camps. It is now up to the king to make clear where he stands: change or status quo.
But, in a speech given Monday to announce his new Economic and Social Council, the king made no reference to the Feb. 20 movement or to the protests. Instead, he highlighted the need to "revamp the economy, boost competitiveness, promote productive investment, and encourage public involvement." He also stressed his desire to "forge ahead with the Moroccan model" in which "new reforms will shore up the current process, thus reflecting the deep, mutual understanding and cohesion between the throne and the loyal Moroccan people." Tellingly, however, the words "parliamentary monarchy" did not pass his lips.

There has been a lot of talk about revolution lately.  And that’s very normal considering the fact that this latter is always considered a radical choice for political and social and economic changes by political romantics all over the world.  And it is not a surprise that the same sort of talk basically goes back to times as ancient as the prophet  Isaiah. And we obviously know that a lot of intellectuals and philosophers had done greatly good job contributing to the same talks by elaborating and pondering upon the definition of Revolution but only to come out with a plethora of theories that differ in the cultural implication of the term as well as its application in the concrete field of political affairs.  Some have elaborated about the word Revolution directly in their writings, others, ironically, did it without knowing that their writings were revolutionary in essence.
Some thinkers such as Jean Jacque Rousseau and the author-poet John Milton have even considered revolution as a necessary demand and therefore a natural right, without it, it would be ridiculous to achieve change in human society at all.
But no matter how this device, called revolution, might be useful in digging up for change, and no matter how a great agent of freedom it might be in its core, the truth that sometimes if not most of the times throughout history it always proved to be a change towards the worst instead of the best.  Hitler, Stalin, Gadaffi all claimed revolutions.
But while some countries in the Arab and Amazigh world in the actual moment are pretty qualified for genuine change through revolution, such as Tunis, Egypt, Libya and Algeria, I am merely brave to say that Morocco for instance is not a country qualified for such an extensive brutal treatment.  Given the remarkable changes that were sweeping Morocco since the King Mohammed Six has become king I do sincerely declare here that a radical revolution is not at all what would be suitable to the nature and historical process of this country, for the cultural fabric with its human history just would not allow to absorb an attempt of acquiring certain necessary rights via this violent medium.  And I am not defending nobody here, for I do actually admit that the causes for revolution and the sharp contrasts of policies led by some fractions of the establishment as well as the increase of stresses and strains that could lead to such revolutionary sentiments are all there, but regardless of these causes I think what I am worrying about here is not those elements but the nature of the process that would, God forbid, be taken in order to protest those political, social and economic cramps.  It would be definitely a plain chaos and nothing would be achieved after all, and take my word for it. I am not trying to be a devil’s advocate or anything but I am just highlighting what would be happening on the ground of reality if this approach called violent revolution takes place in a great country with a lovely civilized people such as Morocco?
Therefore, the solution, which I recommend, is that there should be no other alternative to ask for amendment arrangements in the system except by flexible and peaceful continuous protests and intelligible demands.  No violence or destruction please!
And now that the world is watching it is time for all divisions which constitute the country, whether political society including the judicial branch or the civil society along the private sector to engage in comprehensible dialogue and persistent honest work of reform that has already began since King Mohammed Six had took the reign.  This sequence of dialogue and rational dealing is what will give Morocco a chance for a rapid change, therefore not through radical and violent means but by civilized rational evolutionary mechanisms instead.
A lot of people might wonder whether my judgment is rational and whether it emanates from a realistic ground but the truth is that I would be a liar if I claimed that I am not a revolutionary, but I also would be a hypocrite if I claimed that I am a counterrevolutionary.  We are all revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries sometimes. It all depends on which side of the aisle one stands on the terra cotta of political landscape.  The whole affair may even look like a dilemma in appearance for some people when confronted by the issue but not for a person like me. 
I know that I am acquainted with all aspects of the definition of the term Revolution and I know what I am talking about. And even on the reality ground as a concrete observer I feel convinced about what I am talking about. For I grew up in an environment where protests were more than a normalcy, that is in the heart of the Campus of the University of Dhar El Mahraz, Fez, where historical escalations and confrontations of great caliber took place on daily basis.  I grew up a witness of history, and world revolution was taking place in front of my eyes everyday as I woke up to face the day. Protests, Shouting of revolutionary political slogans of various tones and rhymes rang in my ears like lullabies songs for other children. The cracking-up on student protesters and the fight between uniformed police and these students was to me the equivalent of watching Indians and Cowboys films.   So I grew acquainted with several players in the game of revolutionary struggle, I knew so well the agent of order, the Police and their role at fighting the disorder, and I knew so well the agents of revolt, mainly students, who inquired for their rights which they never agreed to accept as some sort of a bogus privilege.  But I observed carefully all groups of actors in this blood-spattered theatre, and I helped out each of them when they fell down on the ground and swam in pools of their own blood, I helped each of them when they could not find solace from no one around them. I was there along other kids of my generation. It was a truly impressive tragic experience but also an educating and humanizing one. 
So, to be sincere as I was impressed and familiar with the whole revolutionary concepts, I was also sort of aware of certain sterility in the process with which those concepts were used as ends for achieving goals, Violent Revolution, my dear Moroccans, as a method just always ended in blood shed and losses in all struggling camps and without significant results. 
Thus, I saw since early age that the best way for dealing with political matters is best through persuasiveness, even through civil disobedience but not through violence when it came to Moroccan political scene.  I saw that violent behavior only engendered anarchy and more confusion within the Moroccan society; it worsened the misunderstanding and deepened the disparity among the classes.  I saw that there never was an agreement between political fractions in the campus, and blood shed was the answer to all unanswered questions, the process was always a horrible drama. 
But as a child I also sometimes was lucky to see when peaceful protests of students have been able to achieve great goals by simply resisting the tricky maneuvers of bureaucracy through straightforward negotiations and soft rebellions. 
And in the whole I saw all those revolutionary active elements in the political scene talking about radical changes, and heard all those revolutionary voices speaking about reform, and I listened and watched carefully as if in a lucid dream. The campus where I grew up was to me like Amersterdam, it was the only place when you can utter and hear hardcore political terms without being afraid that a hidden eye is watching you or that a spying ear was glued to the wall on which you lean. Then I saw those who paid for the causes they believed in with their lives or by jail.  And then I saw horrible casualties within the security forces, and I saw when I became a neutral student myself, how some people I knew have become security agents with the job of beating those who protest or make their voices loud, and saw other political factions fighting their ultimate enemy which is another political faction with different agendas, and I saw fractions within fractions getting fractioned, and those sub-fractions fighting each other like enemies do in bloody wars.
And I saw how, now and then, entered the other ultimate fighter called the Islamists who fought everybody in my Amsterdam where people were Leninist, Marxists, Glaglia, Kaadiine, who mostly were atheist and eat Ramadan. And there was always chaos near the house where I grew, and my family and I felt always compelled to take a role equivalent to that played by the Red Cross, The Blue Star or the Red Crescent or whatever the hell you want to call that body of volunteers who hate blood-shed and yet feel enforced to heal the wounds of anybody called human being.  The scenes I grew up with at the end were gruesome and ugly but they gave me great opportunity to reflect upon them and on their causes and motives.
And with all that chaos and mayhem, and all that reiteration of revolutionary words such as Revolution, I honestly saw nothing getting done, problems always remained unsolved, political fractions died away and others emerged, and the struggle remained the same with no development in these political affairs. And this led me to think whether the word revolution is in fact real or not, and whether its ending effect is real or not. 
And I concluded that most of the times as the feelings in some revolutionaries always remained high and exciting after the outbreak of any violent revolution the truth is that this attitude always end up short lived.  When the confrontation of reality follows these same revolutionary elements they always find themselves needing another form of revolution all over again.
Cultural Voyeurism in Tangier.
November 27, 2010|By Rick Steves
Check it here:

No comments:

Post a Comment