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.”
A great deal of real and tangible progress has been made in Morocco to allow for popular expression through a flourishing civil society and free elections. Current efforts to address the needs of the poor through projects like the National Human Development Initiative and affordable housing programs continue to contribute to raising the standard of living of the most disadvantaged sectors of society. And while much more remains to be accomplished to advance further political reforms, the King's latest effort to undertake a thorough overhaul of the judiciary to ensure its independence is yet another progressive step forward that distinguishes Morocco from other countries in the Middle East and North Africa where regimes have been slow to rebuild a positive relationship between the State and the people. 
Some analysts lately have pointed out that the King of Morocco enjoys popular legitimacy and support in the country by virtue of his role as the Kingdom's religious leader and his responsibilities as Commander of the Faithful. While this is true, it is not the whole truth. In fact, the King’s legitimacy in Morocco is, as importantly if not largely, the result of his efforts to redefine the citizen-State relationship through the kind of steady reforms that are lacking elsewhere in this region. Morocco has never held itself out as a model for others and has not undertaken these reforms in order to offer anyone any lessons. Reforms in Morocco are Moroccan inspired and have been the product of a consensus between the monarchy, political parties, civil society, and the people themselves through a process of dialogue and public debate. 
While Morocco’s experience and the specifics of its ongoing process of liberalization may not be possible for other societies in the MENA region, there are certainly some lessons to be learned here. The international community, particularly the United States, should note that long term peace, prosperity, and stability in the Middle East and North Africa will require encouraging the kinds of reforms that Morocco has been implementing for more than a decade. Morocco didn’t wait for a crisis to begin its progressive policies. Morocco confronted similar challenges by making choices that promote both stability and democracy. Those who wish to promote peace, freedom, growth, and prosperity in the region would do well to recognize and provide meaningful support to those already on the right road and seek their quiet advice and counsel on how best to help those who are struggling to move forward without destabilizing their countries. 
Edward M. Gabriel served as U.S. Ambassador to Morocco from 1997 to 2001, and currently advises the government of Morocco.
ETF examines human capital development in Morocco 11-02-2011
Morocco’s vision of vocational education and training needs better coordination, and should be more oriented towards social inclusion, according to a review of human capital development in the country conducted by the European Training Foundation (ETF). The ETF recently held a seminar in Rabat to discuss the results of the review, undertaken in the framework of the ETF’s Torino Process. The meeting gathered all key institutions involved in vocational education and training, and the labour market.
“In Morocco there is no shortfall of institutions and initiatives that aim at improving human resources,” said Mariavittoria Garlappi, who handles relations with the Moroccan authorities at the ETF. “The challenge is rather in the coordination and in making sure that various activities build on each other and contribute to the same goal.”

A press release said the ETF’s Torino Process facilitated this coordination by bringing to the table all key stakeholders: ministries and government agencies, education institutions, social partners and donors.

The meeting, held on 26 January, gathered officials of the Ministry of Vocational Training (DFP), Departments for Higher Education, General Education, and Literacy, as well as the National Institute of Statistics (HCP), the Union of Employers (CGEM), and the main provider of vocational education and training in Morocco, the Office de la Formation Professionnelle et de la Promotion du Travail (OFPPT). Representatives of trade unions, the Union of Women Entrepreneurs, and donors, including the World Bank and the French Agency for International Cooperation, were also present.

The report on Morocco identified a number of problems in the vocational education and training system in the context of a challenging social and economic situation. It also recognised the political will in the country to tackle them.  The report also draws attention to the informal sector and to the question as to how to integrate it with the rest of the economy.

The question is not only an economic one,” said Ms Garlappi. “The grey economy is where marginalized groups are and where many illiterate people end up. So integrating them is an important social policy challenge. The vision of vocational education and training should be more oriented towards social inclusion.”
The European Training Foundation is an agency of the European Union established to contribute to the development of the education and training systems of the EU partner countries. With an annual budget of €18 million, its mission is to help transition and developing countries to harness the potential of their human capital through the reform of education, training and labour market systems in the context of the EU's external relations policy. (ENPI Info Centre)
Workshop spurs Moroccan women in politics.
By Siham Ali 2011-02-11
Despite recent electoral victories, Moroccan female councillors struggle to make their presence felt.
Moroccan female communal councillors suffer from discrimination, male-dominated thinking and problems in attaining decision-making roles. To help overcome these obstacles, a Moroccan NGO organised a series of training sessions in all 16 regions of the Kingdom.
"Among the main conclusions was the need for continuing training for women in the political field to meet their needs," Nouzha Allaoui, co-ordinator of network "Women for women", said at the conclusion of the January 27th event.
"So the network is working on plans to create a school for women with the aim of enhancing their skills so that they can get into political life," added Allaoui, whose group organised the Rabat workshop.
The event, which brought together over 700 Moroccan female councillors, revolved around a number of subjects, including ways to prepare a local development plan and forge alliances within local councils.
Although the 2009 communal elections brought 3,428 women into public office, women "suffer from the marginalisation tactics used by men", according to attendee Asmae Drissi Azami.
"Men organise meetings outside the council, and sometimes in the evenings," she told Magharebia. "Some elected women are also unfamiliar with procedures and find themselves faced with legal problems."
Azami added that the workshop enabled women "to overcome their fears" and learn about "political work and management in the process".
Trainer Khalid Sabri said that it was time to develop women's management capabilities so that they can occupy their due place in politics.
"If men can leave the business of running the family home to women, then women are also capable of managing local affairs," Sabri said. "By their nature, women are better suited than men to managing institutions."
He stressed that women must take positions of responsibility, rather than remain content to be in the background. The aim, he said, is to have more and more women chairing committees and councils.
"We're not just looking for numbers here; we want effective, high-quality work," Sabri said.
The training session concluded with adopting a list of recommendation. Attendees encouraged female local politicians to organise themselves into associations dedicated to their needs. They also called for defending women's political rights and stemming discrimination, urging political parties, charities and unions to play their part in training women.
According to Alaoui, the hope is to step up the pace of training in the run-up to the legislative elections. In addition, there will be lobbying to pass electoral laws to increase women's representation in the Parliament.
"In the end, our aim is to arrive at the principle of equality," she stressed.
In Casablanca, only Jewish museum in Arab world
By Philippe Sauvagnargues (AFP)
CASABLANCA, Morocco — A white building tucked into a residential neighbourhood of this cosmopolitan city holds a treasure trove few here know about: the Arab region's only Jewish museum.
"To be frank, I didn't even know there were Jews of Moroccan origin," said high school student Sidi Ahmed, who visited the Museum of Moroccan Judaism of Casablanca with his class from the Western Sahara town of Dakhla.
"Thanks to this visit, I found out there were Moroccan Jews in Fez, in Meknes and in other cities" in Morocco, Ahmed added."I am happy to have learnt this."
Founded in 1997, the Jewish museum assembles a hodgepodge of objects -- clothes, tools, even a jeweller's studio -- that attest to the rich history of the country's 2,000-year-old Jewish community.
"It's the only Jewish museum in the Arab world," said museum curator Zhor Rehihil, a Moroccan civil servant who is Muslim.
Some 5,000 Jews live in Morocco today -- including 2,000 in Casablanca, according to Rehihil's estimates.
The school visits "show to Moroccans that there are other Moroccans with other religious beliefs," she said.
And the museum's philosophy?
"That the Jews of Morocco did not disappear without a trace," says 76-year-old Simon Levy, who has directed the museum since its creation.
He wants Morocco to acknowledge its Jewish heritage in other ways -- namely in history textbooks, which he says is not currently the case.
"That means that for a Moroccan youngster today, a Jew is simply somebody who kills someone in Palestine, even if Jews have contributed enormously to this country," said Levy, a longtime political activist and fighter for Morocco's 1956 independence from France.
"I want this Moroccan youngster to know his country in its historic diversity," he said.
Present since antiquity, Morocco's once-vibrant Jewish community grew steadily over the years, bolstered by the arrival of Jews expelled from Spain by Catholic monarchs starting in 1492.
In the late 1940s, it counted some 250,000 members, or 10 percent of the population of this North African country.
But the numbers of Jews here have since dropped dramatically. A large majority flocked to Israel after the founding of the Jewish state, in 1948. More followed after the 1967 Arab-Israeli six-day war.
Still others headed for France, the United States and Canada.
The Jews who remain in Morocco still leave an imprint. Major cities have synagogues, including Casablanca, which has several along with two Jewish schools -- which Muslim as well as Jewish students attend.
Then there is the museum, which aims "to preserve Moroccan heritage in its totality," curator Rehihil said.
Museum director Levy also hopes that strides in Middle East peace talks may someday bring Morocco's Jewish diaspora back to their home country.
"Each time there's an improvement in the Middle East climate, a certain number of Moroccan Jews move back to Morocco," he said.
For curator Rehihil, the museum attests to the religious tolerance of her fellow Moroccans.
"We need to end this pejorative image of Muslims who not interested in others, who are not tolerant," she said.
Still, such sentiments are not universal. A police officer stands watch in front of the museum -- testament that this institution celebrating Jewish culture does not please everyone.
The museum's website is http://casajewishmuseum.com/.
Morocco: It's complicated.
The rapid-fire events in Tunisia and Egypt have caught people everywhere by surprise. That's especially true in the neighborhood (North Africa and the Middle East). As I headed for Morocco for a weekend conference, I hoped to emerge with a far clearer understanding, both of what sparked these popular upheavals now, and what might lie ahead. What I found were people torn between a euphoric hope, especially at the unleashing of freedom of speech, and uncertainty laced with fear for the future. It's very complicated and the tale is far from over.
We rehearsed the familiar explanations for discontent: failures of leadership, repression of dissent, human rights abuses, massive and visible corruption - a political science litany. The geopolitics of it all are played out hour by hour in public statements and contradictions, so open and fast-moving that new events may best be seen on Facebook. The general wisdom seems to be that the best course for great powers (and especially the United States) now is to back off. But is that feasible?
There are the social realities: the combustible mix of a large youth bulge as the largest ever generation of young people have grown to maturity; high unemployment; flawed education systems. A graphic comparison of basic statistics by the Guardian among countries in North Africa highlights the common thread of high unemployment, albeit with significant differences in size and wealth among the countries. In Morocco, with some two million migrants working in neighboring Europe, close ties to that continent are part of the economic reality. People talk with concern about growing inequalities between the very rich and the poor (strikingly, Morocco's gini coefficient, a measure of inequality, is almost exactly the same as the United States).
The role of religion, which means Islam, remains a puzzle, both in terms of how belief is driving activism, and the roles that specific religious leaders and movements are playing. The early face of the protests are hailed as secular, a basic human urge for democracy and voice that has nothing to do with a specific culture and religion. But the fear of extremism and fundamentalism is very present, and there are good reasons for concern, with fresh memories, in the region, of violent incidents and harsh rhetoric.
One theme that comes out again and again is respect. To some degree this is tied to both the culture and to religion. The cultural part is the emphasis on a common (and especially male) sense of dignity: that's an explanation for the self-immolation of the young Tunisian after, it is said, a woman policeman slapped him. But it also echoes the strong theme in poll after poll: that Muslims feel a lack of respect for their commitment to faith, and for the faith itself. I heard again and again that it was this breach of respect and dignity that brings the crowds to the street.
Most analysts are confident that Morocco will continue to be the exception, affected by events further east but strong and stable enough that major uprisings and challenges to the regime will not develop. Morocco shares many of the same challenges as Tunisia and Egypt--high unemployment, deep problems with the public education system, and perceptions of growing corruption (Wikileaks has already brushed Morocco with stories about corruption). Palace intrigue is the stuff of daily speculation, mostly but not entirely out of the public press. Yet Morocco has progressed, with decent economic growth that has cut into poverty. Telling statistics include an increase in life expectancy from 55 years in 1970 to 73 in 2009. Births per woman have declined sharply, from 6.3 to 2.3.
Morocco's political system is indeed different. It is a constitutional monarchy, stable (the monarchy has reigned for over 300 years), with active politics at work. King Mohammed VI (who has ruled for 11 years) is seen as truly committed to the welfare of his people. He has pushed reforms, of the economy, education, and women's rights (notably the path-breaking Moudawana, which, despite slow implementation, is seen as uniquely forward-looking in the Muslim world). Morocco is actively engaged in dialogue across many cultures; the meeting I attended, a "Global Visioning effort" led by the King's Religious Council and a Japanese Buddhist organization (Toda Institute) was one of many such activities. Next week will see the next stage of a dialogue with American evangelicals about climate change and other topics.
A part of Morocco's confidence in its uniqueness is its distinctive religious qualities. The King is the nation's religious leader, termed the Commander of the Faithful, and traces his descent to the prophet of Islam, Sidna Mohammed, via the prophet's daughter Lalla Fatima Zohra. The Royal family settled in Sijilmasa, in the Moroccan South, in the middle of the 13th century. Morocco is giving a new and vibrant meaning to the rather maligned term "moderate Islam." Lively public debates about the role and meaning of religion take place every day. Morocco's Sufi-inspired, deeply held faith gives many there hope that, as the region navigates the exciting but also dangerous upheavals of 2011, this country will change also but in ways that link its culture, religion, and history with the best of democracy and modern life.
Katherine Marshall is a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, a Visiting Professor, and Executive Director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue.
Morocco a feast for the senses.
Ann Rickard | 7th February 2011
THE singing woman dressed in colourful traditional clothes and bells was shimmying her way towards us.
My fellow travellers looked at one another with flashes of nervousness as we were plucked from the crowd to join the swirling action on the dance floor. It was hard not to laugh at one another as we were robed in bright outfits and bungled through dance steps in time to the local folk band.
We were high in the Atlas Mountains at Midelt, Morocco, almost a week into our 14-day Gecko's guided tour, which had started in Casablanca. Together with our helpful and friendly guide Yusuf, our group of 15 travellers from Australia and the UK had visited this city's towering King Hassan II Mosque.
Finished in 1993, this national religious structure was built into the sea by more than 6000 craftsmen using natural resources, such as cedar, marble and granite.
Travelling overland by modern train and bus, our next stops included historic Meknes — once an imperial city under Moulay Ismail in the 17th Century — and then the bustle and bedlam of Fes with its more than one million residents. Long known as a political and artistic centre, the UNESCO-listed city's car-free medina, Fes El Bali, is believed to be the largest in the world and includes homes, shops, mosques, a tannery, and the oldest continuously functioning university in the world, the ninth century University of Al Karouine.
After exploring the jam-packed alleyways of the souk, it was refreshing to travel south across plains and mountains to tranquil Midelt, where we walked through olive and corn fields to a rugged river gorge for sunset.
The next day, the landscape changed to a sea of shimmering orange sand as our group headed west towards Merzouga and the Sahara. Here, local tribesmen, dressed in brilliant blue, helped us on to camels that led us effortlessly past 150-metre high dunes to a simple camp of tents and carpets. Spending the night beneath a clear starry sky and getting up early to watch the sun rise over one of the world's largest deserts was a definite highlight of the tour.
Returning to civilisation, we headed to the oasis of Todra Gorge.
This spectacular canyon narrows around the road to about 10m wide in places and tempts rock climbers with 160m high rock walls.
Continuing along the road to Marrakesh, we saw many mud-brick villages and kasbahs, including the 17th Century high-walled garrison town of Ait Ben Haddou. But finally we wound our way safely through the high mountain pass Tizi 'n' Tichka (2260m) to the city below.
Founded in 1070 by Berber leader Abu-Bakr Ibn-Umar, Marrakesh is today home to more than one million people.
We dove in headfirst with a visit to the main square, Jemaa el Fna, which is reported to be one of the busiest in the world. At all times, especially from sunset, this iconic cultural space bubbles with the noise and energy of snake charmers, monkey handlers, fire breathers, fortune tellers, acrobats, dancers, storytellers, and medicine men. There are also stallholders selling everything from king-sized dates to bowls of warmed snails.
It is easy to while away hours watching the spectacle but there are many other sights worth seeing, such as the former royal palace (Palais el-Bahia), the city's many beautiful gardens, or simply exploring the mindboggling range of shops in the souk.
But we were after a slower, relaxed atmosphere to end our two-week journey and headed for the pretty port of Essaouira, a few hours bus ride away.
Featuring white-washed homes with blue shutters and a long inviting beach, the fishing town's peaceful vibe and cool sea breezes force you to unwind.
As we dined on freshly caught seafood, it only seemed natural to make a toast to this amazing and beautiful country, with its proud heritage, diverse landscapes, intricate architecture and friendly people.
Morocco is a true feast for the senses.
The writer was a Gecko's guest and received a tour discount.

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