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.
The campaign also includes a competition for the best video or image of an act of good citizenship. An interactive CD illustrating 20 examples of responsible citizenship acts will be produced and distributed to all institutions.
"We're planning to create citizenship clubs to get young people together in order to share ideas," En-Nosse underlined.
For his part, sociologist Selhami Omar told Magharebia that a massive citizenship programme is needed because people's sense of citizenship and love of their homeland has long been diminishing.
"An attitude of 'I couldn't care less' is widespread among a large segment of the population. This is a very dangerous culture that has taken hold of society. Many young people do not value their country," he said.
In his view, this phenomenon is due to political and socio-economic factors and it is now time to enable young people to enter the political arena. According to Omar, better economic conditions should also reinforce their patriotism.
Mohamed Nadimi, a 22-year-old student, said that young people tend to become more selfish over time. "Of the people I know, not many are willing to make civic gestures like working for NGOs or getting involved in protecting the environment. On the other hand, they're willing to take help from other people."
Families and teachers must play their role by inculcating in youths a sense of responsibility towards their society and encouraging them to work for the good of the country so that they can reap the benefits of collective solidarity, Omar concluded.
All that glistens isn’t gold – or saffron TUESDAY, 01 FEBRUARY 2011 12:39
LAST year Spain produced 1,500 kilos of saffron but exported a contradictory 190,000 kilos thanks to packing and labelling loopholes. Saffron bought in other countries, principally Iran but also Morocco, India and Greece, is increasingly sold as Spanish to meet soaring demand.
Each kilo of saffron requires 250,000 flowers, with just three pistils removed from the middle of each saffron crocus to produce the spice that gives paella its yellow colour.
Saffron awarded the La Mancha denomination of origin fetches around €3,000 a kilo, tempting companies to market a product which the ASAJA agricultural union claims is not genuine.
Around 90 per cent of Spain’s saffron exports were probably fraudulent, claimed ASAJA and one producer, who asked not to be named said prices charged by some exporters were disgraceful “especially when they know it’s s—t.”
Much of the saffron sold as Spanish comes from Iran and costs between €1000 and €1500 a kilo but is of inferior quality, said Antonio Garcia, president of the La Mancha denomination of origin committee.
“It comes from intensive plantations where the ground is never allowed to rest and the strands are finer,” Garcia explained.
Several Iranian companies now have bases in Spain where Spanish companies take advantage of labelling ambiguities. “It’s not illegal, the product has been processed in Spain,” protested one exporter.
Spain requires only the name of the packer or exporter to appear on merchandise and although the country of origin is supposed to be shown “if its omission could confuse the consumer”, this is not obligatory.
At present Spanish saffron is a prestige product but as La Mancha struggles to meet the demands of companies with huge export orders, its reputation is becoming tarnished.
Analysis of Spanish saffron showed that between 40 per cent and 90 per cent of the strands came from other parts of the flower, according to a report printed in The Independent.
And although neither the Valencian Community nor Murcia grow saffron, they are nevertheless its biggest exporters, pointed out Antonio Garcia in La Mancha.
Morocco domestic abuse rate high, government study finds
A new Moroccan government study said that of the country's 9.5 million women aged 18-64, nearly six million (62.8%) suffered an act of violence last year, MAP reported on Monday (January 10th). High Commissioner for Planning Ahmed Lahlimi, who presented the results in Rabat on Monday, said that gender-based violence in Morocco was the worst in urban areas and that the phenomenon was the most prevalent among youth. The HCP study also found that the domestic abuse percentage was greater for women with illiterate husbands (6.8%) than for those whose husbands had attained a higher level of education.
Gender abuse prevails in urban areas, Moroccan report concludes. By Siham Ali 2011-01-20
A just-released report revealed what category of Moroccan women are especially vulnerable to violence.
Gender-based violence in Morocco is mostly common in urban areas, affecting particularly young disadvantaged women, according to a recent study released by the High Commission of Planning (HCP).
To reach its conclusions, the commission surveyed 8,300 women aged 18-65 and documented cases of abuse over the period June 2009 – January 2010.
HCP chief Ahmed Lahlimi concluded at a January 10th press briefing in Rabat that 62.8% of women aged 18-64 suffered at least one act of violence during a 12-month period leading up to the survey, with 63% of victims residing in urban areas.
The most frequent form was psychological violence, followed by the infringement on personal liberties.
Marital violence tops the list, accounting for more than a half of gender abuse cases. Almost 40% of married women fell victim to psychological abuse, and more than 6% experienced physical violence, "which is bound to have had an effect on over 925,000 children".
Young people, in particular, are affected by violence, both as aggressors and victims.
"Indeed, it should be noted that an increase of one year in a woman's age reduces the risk of violence by 1.9% within the context of marriage, with the risk of sexual violence falling by 2.2% and the risk of physical violence dropping by 0.7%," the report said.
More than half of perpetrators of physical violence in public places are people under 35. Less than one-fifth of these are reported to the authorities, with most of them involving blunt weapons or dangerous products. Meanwhile, only 3% of marital abuse incidents are reported.
A quarter of these cases ended with a police report and in 38% of cases, spouses agreed to drop the proceedings. Only 1.3% of complaints ended with an arrest.
The rate of physical violence among unemployed women is 140% of the rate among working women.
The fight against gender violence "requires action from anyone responsible for giving young people new ideals where. Just as in the struggle for our liberation, there is a commitment from the whole of society which goes beyond laws, habits and customs, to open up the way to the equal advancement of both men and women," the report said.
The most important thing is to work by raising awareness and changing attitudes as well as the culture which trivialises violence towards women, Social Development Minister Nouzha Skalli said.
"We must stop excusing violence by saying that it's normal for a man to be violent towards his wife because he is jealous, and that it's a sign that he loves her," she stressed at the launch of a campaign against gender-related violence at the end of last year.
For his part, imam and MP Abdelbari Zemzemi blamed the spread of marital violence on the lack of Muslim education.
"There isn't enough religious education in Moroccan society any more. Fifty years ago, divorce, like marital violence, was much less common," he said, adding that Islam sets out a framework for the relationship between spouses and exhorts men to treat their wives well and to respect them.
Sociologist Samira Kassimi stressed the need to put end to a culture of "tolerance of violence towards women". She also emphasised the importance of raising literacy levels among girls and involving young women in the workplace in order to reduce violence.
Cloe Erickson speaks about historic preservation in Morocco Feb. 3 in Big Sky.
Share this article January 25, 2011
Cloe Medina Erickson, a Montana State University graduate who is founder of the Atlas Cultural Foundation that is working with locals in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco on historic preservation, health and education development projects, will share her experiences at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 3, at the Big Sky Institute office in Westfork Meadows in Big Sky.

Erickson, who is based in Livingston, will speak about "Morocco: Mud Castles, Mountains and Misperceptions - challenges, lessons and adventures of community development in rural Morocco."

Since 2007, Erickson has coordinated MSU faculty and students in the restoration of an ancient igherm, or granary, into a library and community center in Zawiya Ahansal, a community in Morroco's Atlas Mountains.

Erickson has a Master of Architecture and Bachelor of Environmental Design from MSU. After graduation she started an architecture consulting business which allowed her the flexibility to pursue another passion of hers, the Arabic language. Erickson has studied in Morocco, Egypt and Yemen and is fluent in Modern Standard Arabic. She combines her traditional architectural training with her passion for foreign cultures to develop unique projects.

To learn more about Erickson's project, see: http://www.montana.edu/cpa/news/nwview.php?article=7713 orhttp://igherm.wordpress.com/.

Erickson's presentation is sponsored by the Big Sky Institute with support from the Big Sky Resort Area Tax District . Big Sky Community Education Partnership (CEP) allows Big Sky residents, business people, and visitors to take advantage of higher education resources and lifetime learning opportunities that MSU has to offer. CEP events are listed with the main BSI events .

The BSI Office in Big Sky is located at 3091 Pine Drive, Suite 2. BSI is an interdisciplinary science, education, and outreach institute that was created by Montana State University and like-minded members of the community to transform the role of science in our society by advancing and communicating objective and relevant place-based science and to increase the understanding and appreciation of the globally significant Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Jessie Wiese (406) 993-9355, jessica.wiese@montana.edu
DirectRooms.com – Morocco’s Largest Book and Publishing Fair is Held in Casablanca During 11 to 20 February 2011
DirectRooms.com reports that Casablanca will be hosting a major exhibition for members of the book publishing industry that will see thousands of titles on display and the presentation of the Morocco Book Awards.
Casablanca, Morocco, January 20, 2011 --(PR.com)-- Siel Casablanca 2011 will feature specialist publishers exhibiting titles across the whole range of book genres from children’s books and biographies to education and fiction. Newspaper publishers, journals, magazines and education institutes will also be exhibiting at the event to showcase the newest titles available to the market.

Previous editions of the show have been resided over by the king of Morocco, King Mohammed VI who was there to present awards for the Morocco Book Awards which are also staged at the event. Awards will be given out in different categories including literature creativity, literature and artistic studies and the best translation.

Attendees to the expo making their way from a Casablanca hotel will be meeting at the Office des Foires et Expositions de Casablanca over 11th to 20th February 2011.

Exhibitors at the show include more than 600 companies from home and abroad who will be presenting to the major book retailers and independents from the country.

Lek Boonlert, marketing head at DirectRooms.com commented: “This is Morocco’s premier event for the book trade featuring hundreds of companies and even higher numbers of visitors. Demand for hotels is going to be much greater as people come for the event so anyone attending can avoid complications by booking early enough online.”
Moroccan writer explains Islam to US children.
By Maria Tahri 2011-01-12
Farah Kinani hopes that her new book can dispel misconceptions about Islam while helping educate young children.
Moroccan writer Farah Kinani released her first book in an effort to explain Islam to non-Muslim children in the United States. "Ramadan" explores Muslim rituals during the holy month and the nature of the religion.
"We cannot stand still waiting for non-Muslims to find out the real face of Islam. It is our job to introduce our faith to others," Kinani said, adding that "the Islam I grew up cherishing means love and compassion, my Islam is lending a hand and embracing others; whether they are Muslims or not should be irrelevant."
"The way Islam is portrayed in the news nowadays does not represent me," Kinani told Magharebia, trying to explain why she felt it necessary to write about her faith.
Kinani, who worked as a journalist in Morocco for over 10 years before moving to the US to join her husband and work as a correspondent for Moroccan newspapers, said that the main objective of her book is to explain Islam and correct the mistaken vision some hold of the faith.
"It is our job as Muslims and foreigners to play the ambassadors we ought to be, in a country that opened wide to welcome us," she said.
Kinani said that her experience proved that people were eager to know more. "So many questions they had! Talking to people after I published my book and the presentation I gave about Ramadan, I realised that, just like Muslims, they want to hear our version of what the media is spreading. "
"I realised there are many misconceptions about Islam, and it is our duty – as Muslims – to set them right in the minds of the other. We cannot just remain helpless and simply feel sorry about those negative ideas. We need to take action, especially if we are in a country that endorses dialogue and is willing to listen to the other before judging them. All we need to do is take the initiative and master the art of persuasion," Kinani noted.
Having lived in Washington, DC for nearly 10 years and having met many in the American Muslim community, Kinani was able to probe into issues of adaptation and integration with a society that is so different from her homeland, Morocco, which proudly clings to its traditions and religious identity.
Kinani found that integration was possible in light of an open-minded, moderate dialogue that urges for tolerance and acceptance of the other, a dialog that renounces extremism, violence and imposing one opinion over another.
She thought the exchange of ideas should start with children, as education and orientation at an early age play a vital role in entrenching the right ideas. Kinani took that decision after an episode she had with the daughter of one of her friends.
In the preface of her book Kinani writes, "When Laila, my friend's daughter, did not attend lunch with her classmates, they did not understand anything. Some thought she was being punished. Some felt sorry for her and suggested that she hide so she could eat or drink. Laila was not punished. She was just performing one of the five pillars of Islam; namely fasting during one of the months of the Hijri calendar – the month of Ramadan."
The writer continues, "When she told me about it, I went to visit her school, and got the chance to briefly talk to students about Ramadan. I realised that a large number of children, and even adolescents in this country, are unaware of the meaning and significance of fasting. Hence, I decided to write this book through which I seek to present a clear and objective idea about the month of Ramadan in an attempt to address some essential issues. The book also showcases some of the festive traditions and customs observed by the American Muslim community in this month."
The 23-page book contains illustrations by Laura Diab and leans on the consultations of a number of scholars to verify some of the religious information it presents.
"I think it is our duty, as Muslim Americans, to explain to non-Muslims how we correctly practice Islam," the author said. "Since we have merged in this society and are benefitting from its culture and civilisation, it is our duty to communicate to people here what our own culture and civilisation are all about, since they will enrich the American culture and will not be foreign to it."
In addition to explaining Ramadan in simple and easy to understand language, Kinani talked about "Taraweeh," a tradition of praying in mosques at night, and "Lailatu Al-Qadr," a holy night on which Muslims become closer to God by praying until the early hours of the next morning. Farah also talked about reading the Qur'an back-to-back, which Muslim regard as a practice that boosts their relationship with Islam, and "Zakat al-Fitr," which helps Muslims understand the suffering of the poor and the needy.
Kinani did not forget to mention the elegant Moroccan attire, made up of traditional Jalabiya and Bulgha, which showcase Morocco's Islamic identity and fits the mosque where all members of the family, including young children, go to perform Taraweeh prayers.
"There is so much we need to explain to Americans, to shoulder our part in refuting many of the misconceptions that continue to distort the image of Islam and Muslims in Western societies. Therefore, I decided to communicate my message through other books in the near future," Farah Kinani concluded.
"After reading Ms. Kinani's book about Ramadan, my eight-year-old told me that at first, she thought that Ramadan was just another holiday to celebrate. Now she realises that Ramadan is more of a special holiday because she has a deeper understanding of why and how Muslims celebrate this holy month. It's a special privilege for us to get a glimpse of the Muslim world," Thao Nguyen said. Serbo-Croatian American Tamara Kondic agreed, saying the book is "a great introduction to a celebration of Ramadan. It provides a rare glimpse into special tradition and reasons why one should celebrate such a holiday. This book is meant to educate kids and teens. However, I would suggest it as a recommended read for everyone wanting to know about the spiritual experience of Ramadan."
Abisourour Boubker, an economist at the World Bank and founder of the Ibn Khaldoun Academy, said that "in the last 10 years a lot has been said and written about Islam and Muslims. This book is timely and had to be written to dispel some misconceptions and bias some people have about Islam and Muslims."
"In Ramadan, people see Muslims going in and out of the mosques and they must be wondering what those Muslims are doing in the mosques and what impact that could have on them and that is understandable, hopefully this book will answer their questions," Boubker said, saluting the initiative to educate the public.
"Farah Kinani is a very knowledgeable person, she knows our community and she understands American society, as religious and moderate Muslim she the best person to present our religion. We all needed the book, not just Americans but also our kids who are growing up in America," he said.
North Africa: Is Morocco Next?
Monday, 31 January 2011
James Badcock
So has the European Union actually backed a winner in Morocco? As the shockwaves from the unexpected uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt spread across the region, Morocco –the only North African country with advanced EU neighbor status– has seen relatively little unrest.
The cynical and ultimately short-sighted European approach to the regimes facing its southern flank was exposed when Tunisians exploded in outrage against a government Brussels had looked on kindly. The French, Italian and Spanish governments were all lobbying for Ben Ali’s regime to be given preferential partner status. Morocco, meanwhile, has made a number of strides towards democracy during King Mohammed VI’s 11-year reign. But appetites have been sharpened across the region. Even if Morocco escapes the wave of revolutionary fervor, the royal house should take it as a warning: stagnation, both socio-political and economic, is no longer a safe option.
Indeed, a number of young people have immolated themselves in a country that bears its share of the regional scourge of high youth unemployment. Among recent Moroccan graduates, joblessness stands at over 25 percent, and it is this collective which makes the most active use of internet and has thus claimed back a power for itself that demographics seemed to have thwarted. In recent years, the young unemployed have regularly demonstrated on the streets and staged other forms of protests – in the main remaining peaceful and being tolerated by the authorities.
The differences with the Tunisian regime, for example, are great in terms of social freedoms: in Morocco demonstrations are not uncommon; NGOs and political parties are active forces; the internet is a genuine outlet for expression; and, despite exceptions such as the persecution of journalist Ali Lmrabet, there is an impressive degree of plurality in the Moroccan media.
But elections and their outcomes are manipulated in more or less subtle ways, with the focus in recent votes being on keeping the PJD moderate Islamists from winning an outright victory (the banned Islamist movement of Sheikh Yassine is often said to be a potentially greater force, although this assertion is hard to corroborate). The fundamental check against genuine democracy in Morocco is the political role of the king, who appoints the government. For all his caché as a reformer, Mohammed VI has shown little willingness to loosen the iron grip his father handed on to him, continuing to retain key ministerial posts for his own trusted acolytes.
The contents of a US Embassy cable from December 2009 and recently made public by WikiLeaks are damning: “While corrupt practices existed during the reign of King Hassan II … they have become much more institutionalized with King Mohammed VI. Institutions such as the royal family’s holding company, Omnium Nord Africaine (ONA), which now clears most large development projects, regularly coerce developers into granting beneficial rights…”
In recent days, Rabat has moved to ease the heavy economic burden current global conditions impose on Moroccan families, boosting existing subsidies on basic foodstuffs and fuel. As in Egypt, food prices have historically been the touch paper for unrest. The Western Sahara standoff and the recent explosion of violence in that disputed territory is a serious drain on the economy, Morocco’s outlay on pacifying the region and bolstering its administrative framework. The danger now is twofold: fuel prices and global shortages lead to general price increases which Rabat cannot afford to disguise with subsidies; increased hardship transforms murmurings over corruption and bad governance into a cry of rage, amplified by the confidence borrowed from the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts.

But ultimately, Mohammed VI has far less potential to become a hated figure, even for young, educated Moroccans who have no time for the blind allegiance their forebears showed to Hassan II. He is seen as a young king with a mixture of good intentions and expensive tastes to be personally responsible for the evils of the land. He is no Mubarak or Ben Ali. But as they have mostly been seen grooming a son or relative to take over power, Mohammed VI seems to be encouraging the rise to (prime-ministerial) power of his boyhood friend and former Interior Ministry official, Fouad Ali el Himma, who recently set up his own Party of Authenticity and Modernity in order to agglutinate moderate political forces. El Himma is named in the same WikiLeaks cable as one of just three men in Morocco who make the country’s “major investment decisions”, along with “the head of the King’s private secretariat, and the King himself”.

It is impossible not to sense a decline in reformist zeal in the second half of Mohammed VI’s decade in power. Yet, the final report of the truth commission, which he himself set up to hear testimony of human rights abuse victims from his father’s reign, laid down the path to follow with its broad recommendations for a complete separation of powers in Morocco. Now would be a good time to revise the country’s power structures. As Egypt and Tunisia have shown, digging in seems an increasingly unviable option.
Morocco's Capitalism: A Gravy Train For The Few
Saturday, 22 January 2011
New York  / Morocco Board News    When the political parties in Morocco devise policies, they do sketch some feeble argument, it is so diluted that if it ever was put into practice, they wouldn’t know where to start first. On the other hand, policy-makers in Morocco lead the charge with formidable support from McKinsey-style consultancy firms. The trouble is, a country like Morocco cannot be run like a corporation. And even if it is so in the minds of the young fellows running the show, the corporation is certainly not run in the best interest of its shareholders, but for the board’s benefit.
 Policy and social engineering are worked out under the assumption that the objective is to maximize the country’s welfare. There remains a great deal of blur in defining what one might mean by that word: “welfare“. In fiscal matters, it may come to the idea of taxing individuals and companies more than others, while in social policy, it also means helping some social classes more than others. There’s also a great deal of ideology in policy-making, even among the high-brow circles of consultants: under the veneer of technocracy, there’s a political motivation behind strategic thinking like the ‘Plan Maroc Vert‘, ‘Halieutis‘ and the INDH or indeed anything of the sort like the high-speed TGV network.
Perhaps I am over-rating the Palace Cabinet ’s task force. A question that I often asked myself: how are decisions taken up there? Whether on economic policy, or on-the-spot crisis decisions  like the Aminatou Haidar case, or the  protest camps in Agdim Izik, how are decisions taken? Do they meet in a war-room, delineating scenarii, then discussing the likelihood of each one until they reach the best decision?  So it must be that the Royal Cabinet has some kind of modus operandi, I assume to be ultra-rational (given the high proportion of  engineering graduates from the French Grandes-Ecoles). And yet, my impression is that there is little competency at work. Allow me to expatiate; and ad absurdo reasoning would be best. Let’s consider the ONA-SNI case: if the firm is really set on pulling the country out of poverty and into prosperity, how come its dividend policy never shows it?
There is, among other things, a consensus that the private business of the king can pull the economy upward. The idea is that we need the Moroccan equivalent of Chaebol, the Korean conglomerate of Banks and Industries that played significant part in making South Korea what it is today: a first-class country that is now considered to be member of the G20 club, when, 50 years ago, its GDP per capita was lower than Morocco’s, and the best thing they could have ever manufactured at the time was T-shirts. The idea was therefore to imitate, as it were, the Korean experience with companies like SNI-ONA, or indeed Attijari Wafabank and other economic "national champions". The economic model sounds good: at the price of domestic monopoly, Morocco fields a first-class holding able to operate on global markets with the required size to win us some surplus that would be redistributed. In other words, the private monopoly captures the common surplus in order to expand, and then redistribute it through pay rise or investment in intangible assets. This is the semi-official line.
 ONA Shareholders per share. the only public fund -CDG- has a ridiculous 2.73% 
Unfortunately, the financial statements tell otherwise.
Now, doesn’t it strike you as odd that the fleuron of our largest firms should invest so little and distribute these high levels of dividends to the shareholders? Between 2004 and 2010 - prior to the smoke screen withdrawal of ONA SNI shares from the Casablanca Bourse- the holding distributed an average of about 3/4 of its benefits (which reached the billion of Dirhams at least); while the rare investments they undertook where mainly about mergers and real estate speculation.
The Chaebols, on the other hand, they had a gargantuan appetite for asset acquisition (which also meant that they favored a rigorous dividend discipline, translated into high levels of savings – something that did not prevent them from using audacious financial structuring) and are, at the end of the day, radically different from our own sketchy, greedy, money-grabbing conglomerate.

A central question that begs to be answered is: ‘who benefits from what?’. Plan Maroc Vert is a case in point: the official line states that small farmers would benefit from cutting-edge policies like ‘aggregation’. For those who are not familiar with the plan, it has two main implementation strategies: the first one is export-oriented, very monopolistic that favors already existing large domains, industrial-like farms ( like the Royal Domains) the other one, which looks like it was hurriedly put together, is designed to help ‘directly’ the small farmers. Cooperatives, micro-credit, etc… to keep their heads above the water. How could Plan Maroc vert be helpful when funding is so biased towards large, wealthy farmers? It’s always beneficial to  put things in prospective: MAD 80 billion is made available for 961 projects with only 562.000 farmers Vs. 545 projects for 855.000 farmers (Those that should be helped and supported) get no more than MAD 20 billion).  In other terms, 39% of the farmers (most of whom are quite wealthy) get 80% of the funding.
In economic terms, the policies are not, to say the least, caring about the majority. Unless they take the view that the common welfare is that of a privileged minority, the 10% of the population that receives 40% of the total national income, the sort of passengers able to pay for the TGV between Tangiers and Casablanca. Perhaps the idea is that already rich people would get richer and richer, till they reach a point of satiety such that they would spend money, to the benefit of the less-off. If that’s the view, this kind of rapacious capitalism is bound to engender serious resentment from the excluded.
Events in Tunisia have  proven that excessive concentration of wealth, power and legitimacy is, on the long run, is a disaster waiting to happen.
Rabat spelling bee fosters English language learning.
By Naoufel Cherkaoui 2011-01-24
The Moroccan Youth Ministry teamed up with the US Embassy in Rabat in an effort to boost English language education.
The Moroccan Youth and Sports Ministry held an English spelling bee on Thursday (January 20th) for five high schools in the disadvantaged Rabat neighbourhood of Yacoub El Mansour.
"I never expected to win this contest. I even signed up at the last minute," student Khadija Idammou said. "However, I took part in some programmes under the auspices of the US Embassy, which are always very important since they help students master English within convenient conditions."
In addition to English classes in school, Idammou said she practiced the language "by watching movies or reading newspapers, magazines and stories written by native speakers".
"I also try to take part in such contests that take place outside the high school, so as to improve my level. It is an opportunity to compete against students from other schools," Idammou added.
"The goal of this initiative is to urge Moroccan young people to speak English and give them a good motive," said Veronica Boring, an official from the US Embassy in Rabat. "More and more young people are now speaking English or wanting to learn it. I was delighted to see that many young people in the room speak English."
"I think we, at the US Embassy, will try to hold more contests so as to encourage children and youth to speak English," Boring added.
It is important to hold such competitions for young people in order to foster English language learning, agreed Moroccan Youth and Sports Ministry spokesman Younes El Jouhari. "Through the use of various incentives within contests that are held in state-owned venues such as the ministry building, we also seek to motivate students and teachers in order to boost their abilities, lift their morale and build their personalities so they could be active citizens in the future," El Jouhari told Magharebia
"We came to attend an interesting experience," Idammou's English teacher, Hakima Ben Fares said. "Such contests are very important, as they spur students to exert some effort in reviewing the language rules, while comparing spoken English to written English. Students generally encounter many problems in that regard."
"The language command of participants could have been much better, but most students do not pay much attention to the English language, except right before exams. Added to that is the ministry's decision to abrogate the group hours system, which used to give students an opportunity to correct their pronunciation of some English words. We try to hold similar contests in the department, but they are few in general, because of the lack of time," Ben Fares said.
Underage marriages increase in Morocco.
By Siham Ali 2011-01-26
Driven either by poverty or tradition, girls below the legal age of consent continue to wed in Morocco.
Despite the provisions of the Family Code, child marriages are on the rise in Morocco.
The Moudawana raised the minimum marriage age from 14 to 18 and required a judge's approval for nuptials with a minor. Still, five years after the Family Code became law, 33,253 females below the age of 18 tied the knot.
There were nearly 3,000 more child brides in 2009 than during the previous year, the Social Development Ministry reported.
Even though the practice is sustained by long-standing traditions, it is time for the government to take responsibility and bring an end to the phenomenon, MP Farida Naimi said at a November 23rd plenary session at the Chamber of Councillors.
Justice Minister Mohamed Naciri acknowledged that the reality speaks for itself in a number of Moroccan regions where parents marry their daughters off at traditional weddings (through the ritual of fatiha).
"In some places, girls aged 13 or 14 who are still single are regarded as old maids. Worse still, some parents pledge their underage daughters in exchange for 60,000 or 100,000 dirhams until they reach marriageable age," Naciri said.
The problem lies not in the legal domain but in people's attitudes, according to the minister. In several cases, judges are forced to give their approval in order to legalise traditional marriages for girls who are already pregnant. As such, a solution to the problem necessitates social development, especially in terms of education.
Tradition alone doesn't explain the persistence of underage marriages. Poverty is also a factor, said sociologist Ahmed Mrani. Many parents in rural areas prefer to marry off their daughters at an early age because "it means one mouth less to feed".
In his view, the better off families become, the less they will allow their young daughters to wed. To tackle this phenomenon, efforts must be made to encourage development in even the most remote regions, and access to education must be guaranteed, Mrani argued.
Civil society and the media also have important roles to play in raising awareness and highlighting the damaging effects of this practice, he noted.
There are many alarming cases. At the age of 24, Salima N. is already divorced and a mother of three children aged four, six and eight. Her childhood and life were destroyed at the age of 15, she said, when she married a 38-year-old man.
"I was humiliated in all sorts of ways. I didn't understand my role as a spouse or mother. After six years of marriage, I felt worn out. I dared to demand a divorce after several years of suffering," she told Magharebia.
Amazigh language rights focus of Rabat forum.
By Naoufel Cherkaoui 2011-02-02
Cultural and linguistic freedoms are indistinguishable from other rights, says CEDHD chief Lahbib Belkouch.
An international symposium on cultural rights last week in Rabat ended up focusing on the rights of the Amazigh community in Morocco and the long-standing issue of legal protection for the Amazigh language.
"The Amazigh do not live a life of discrimination, because parties, the administration, schools and the media are open to all the Moroccans, without discrimination," Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) director Ahmed Boukous told Magharebia.
"But, one can say that the Amazigh linguistic and cultural aspects have been neglected for years, and now there is awareness and movement in this direction," he added.
Boukouss, a featured speaker at the January 27-28 event, stressed the need for "legal and legislative instruments" to guarantee cultural and linguistic liberties.
"Before talking about practice, we must speak about the extent of understanding the concept of linguistic and cultural rights and placing them in their proper perspective, within the human rights concept," Boukous said.
The issue is of particular importance to Moroccan Amazighs, who have been fighting to incorporate Amazigh school curriculums and in the constitution.
"It is a basic requirement to guarantee the linguistic and cultural rights of the Moroccans in general. The institution had previously given its point of view in this direction, when it said that reforming the constitution must include this element, amongst other human rights elements," Boukouss said.
Last summer, Morocco presented a report to the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in Geneva on the efforts made by the country to end discrimination against Amazighs.
"We have overcome many obstacles, and opened a new page. We have reaped results and look forward to more gains. Among these gains were the establishment of the Royal Institute for the Amazigh Culture and the recognition of the Amazigh language, which is the official language in Morocco, whether we choose to accept this or not," founder of the Popular Movement Party Mahjoubi Aherdane said.
Still, the language is not adequately used. "Someone compared the situation of this language to a shoe that is left outside a mosque. An Amazigh, like me, uses the Arabic language in processing his or her administrative needs, leaving his language outside the door of the administration."
"However, we do not wish to stay outside the entrance anymore. We are in our country, and we should stop these practices," Aherdane said.
For his part, Centre for Human Rights and Democracy Studies (CEDHD) chief Lahbib Belkouch told Magharebia that "the real problem with cultural rights is that because they were marginalised, and manifestations of globalisation in the informational, cultural and economic level had developed a kind of identity isolation".
In an effort to restore the importance of these rights, the centre "conducted six studies about the countries of the Maghreb and Egypt, which conclude that cultural rights don't take their rightful position at the legal system level for protection".
Cultural and linguistic freedoms are indistinguishable from other sets of rights, including political, civic and economic, according to Belkouch. As such, they must be added to "the project of democratisation of societies".
"When we plant these rights firmly and create a dynamic society that enjoys them, we strengthen the democratic project in the region," he said.
Sarah Irving | January 30th, 2011
With countries across the Middle East – North Africa (MENA) region facing often fatal unrest like the food riots in Tunisia, it seems rather frivolous to be thinking about the travel industry. But with tourism a major earner for many Middle East & North African countries, the environmental impacts of international visitors isn’t an issue that is going to go away. Earlier in January Morocco became the latest MENA state to announce that ‘sustainable tourism’ is to become a key part of its national economic strategy. The government’s ‘Vision 2020 plan includes a doubling of visitor numbers for Morocco, but also demands that this happens hand-in-hand with much better environmental standards. Buzzwords like ‘sustainable growth’, ‘responsible custody of the environment’ and ‘authentic social and cultural life’ characterise the plans, and they focus on well-known destinations like Marrakech and the Mediterranean coast.
Morocco would seem well-placed to expand its sustainable tourism offer. Many of its higher-end tourism products emphasise authenticity – as with the Riad hotels which have become a feature of women’s and travel magazines over the last few years, and music festivals which also appear in the 2020 plan – and eco-tourism activities such as desert and mountain trekking, which would be enhanced by anticipated developments such as desert eco-lodges.
As Valere Tjolle, sustainable tourism expert at industry website TravelMole, noted: “On recent visits it was pretty clear that Morocco has been really successful in high end/low numbers tourism and the wellness industry. Moreover the cultural events are quite superb.”
However, Tjolle also raised the issue of Morocco’s mass tourism areas, such as resorts like Agadir, many of which were built with World Bank funding during the 1970s, and the potential difficulty of ‘greening’ them. And, as reported on Green Prophet earlier this month, Morocco has also recently taken steps which would seem to run counter to its ecological aspirations.
Recently in the news for political unrest, Egypt is another MENA country struggling to balance mass tourism, quality smaller-scale travel markets, and environmental impacts. At the time of writing it seemed unclear whether the current Egyptian government would soon be in any position to honour recent commitments, but whoever is in power in a few months or years, they will still have major economic and environment questions to answer.
But in December Egypt’s tourism minister Zoheir Garrana also promised that his country would be taking steps to green its massive tourist industry, in the interests of the nation’s long-term well-being. At the United Nations Climate Change conference in Cancun, Garrana was quoted as saying that “If we don’t deal with tourism as if we’re in danger, we’ll lose.”
Egyptian government data says that 12.5million foreign travelers visited Egypt in 2009, and international tourism arrivals rose by nearly 19% in August 2010 over the same period of the previous year. As one of the world’s top 20 tourist destination, tourism plays a huge part in Egypt’s economy. But the country’s infrastructure has some inherent contradictions when it comes to environmentally-friendly tourism, including the fact that many travel still enter via Cairo airport but then take short-hail flights to Sharm, Hurghada or other coastal resorts.
Perhaps surprisingly, the mass-tourism Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh was said to be the first in line for measures such as cuts to water consumption, waste reduction programmes and biodiversity protection initiatives. Red Sea sites such as Sharm and Taba rely heavily on the appeal of natural environments such as coral reefs to attract visitors, so it could be argued that eco-tourism measures are in their interests.
But with the analogy of turning a supertanker in mind, shifting the international chains and huge hotels of Sharm el-Sheikh into greener habits may be a huge, and lengthy, task. The challenge facing the Egyptian tourist industry is also emphasized by the fact that this isn’t the first time this type of plan has been announced.
In November 2008, at the UN World Travel Conference, Garrana declared that Sharm el-Sheikh wa slated to become Egypt’s first ‘carbon-neutral’ holiday destination. An international consultancy firm was brought in to do a feasibility study. But given the scale of the task, how quickly can mass tourism results like Sharm really be moved beyond token initiatives like volunteer clean-up days?
Magical Marrakech: Souks and the city in Morocco's most mesmerising metropolis.
By Wendy Driver 1st February 2011
It was 5am and still dark when I awoke with a start to the sound of hypnotic wailing. It was more than 30 years since I had last visited Morocco as a young backpacker and I had forgotten about the muezzin's call to prayer that rouses you from sleep every morning. Back in the Seventies there were few hotels within the old walled city of Marrakech, but now I was staying in the heart of the medina.
La Maison Arabe is situated opposite the Bab Doukkala mosque. From the outside it seems a fairly nondescript building, but step inside and you'll find yourself in a beautifully converted traditional home.
The rooms surround a small, open-air courtyard where rose petals float in a fountain and crimson bougainvillea clings to the ornate balcony.
Filigree lanterns cast a glow over the wonderfully carved wood-panelled corridors and rooms are decorated with hand-crafted furnishings and woven rugs.
My room had a private rooftop terrace with its own Jacuzzi where I could quite happily have spent the day relaxing, but after breakfast beside the pool I joined my guide, Rasheed, to explore the city.
It is easy to see why Marrakech has long attracted writers, artists and designers. French couturier Pierre Balmain lived here in the Thirties and his pink Art Deco riad has been converted into one of the city's top fusion restaurants, Dar Moha. 
The Majorelle Gardens, which fashion designer Yves St Laurent bought in the Eighties, are full of vibrant colours. Yellow and orange pots line the tiled walkways and his cobalt-blue villa overlooks lily ponds where tiny turtles bask in the sun.
One of my favourite places is the El Badi Palace, once the glittering centrepiece of the Saadian dynasty in the 16th Century. All that remains today are the massive ramparts which still tower over the city. I climbed the steep steps to the parapet, where storks guarded their nests, looking out over the flat roofs to the hazy mountains beyond.
A visit to the Palace dungeons sent a shiver down my spine as I stumbled through the claustrophobic cells with walls several yards thick. The only glimmer of light came from a hole in the vaulted ceiling high above my head.
The famous Djemaa El Fna Square has changed little since my last visit. Admittedly, it is now far more crowded with tourists and you have to dodge speeding motorbikes rather than donkeys and carts as I did in the Seventies, but go at dusk and you can still soak up its magical atmosphere.
Smoke from the food stalls wafted across the marketplace as the throbbing sound of drumming competed with musicians, storytellers and snake-charmers.
The nearby souks are a maze of covered alleyways where I was soon lost among the hundreds of stalls selling leatherware, ceramics, rugs and jewellery. Brilliantly coloured skeins of freshly dyed wool hung from the rafters, sweet pastries and sticky dates were piled high on wooden racks, and herbalists promised cures for every imaginable ailment.
That evening, I arrived back at the riad dusty and footsore so, after a glass of mint tea, I treated myself to a massage in the candlelit hammam.
After being scrubbed all over with black soap until my skin peeled off like a chameleon's, I was pummelled with argane oil, which purportedly nourishes your skin and hair.
It certainly did the trick. By the time dinner was served, I felt totally revived. The house speciality was a delicious lamb tagine with mandarins and caramelised aubergine.
I learned more about Moroccan cuisine when I joined a group cookery course at the hotel. Chef Aya Dada showed me how to braise spices, chicken and vegetables in the same clay pot before eating out of it. It definitely saves on the washing-up.
Next day, leaving behind the bustle of Marrakech, I set off for a retreat in the High Atlas mountains. The Kasbah du Toubkal is only a 90-minute drive from the city, but it's hard to imagine a more remote location. It was originally the fortress of a feudal lord and has been painstakingly restored. Standing high above the village of Imlil, it is accessible only on foot, so we piled our luggage on to a mule and hiked up through the walnut trees to the carved wooden entrance.
Kasbah du Toubkal is run by Berbers and profits are invested in the local community. Lahcen, the receptionist, dressed in the ubiquitous blue djellaba, was there to welcome us.
'We treat guests as personal friends,' he said as he sprinkled our hands with rosewater and offered us dates dipped in goat's milk in traditional greeting. No wonder Paul McCartney, Will Smith and Jude Law have all chosen to stay here.
The Berbers, though, are unfazed by celebrities. 'Everyone is a VIP here,' I was told.
Budget-conscious travellers stay in the small dormitories with upstairs galleries. Other rooms have exposed beams and pretty wooden balconies, while the garden house comes with a private sitting room and floor-to-ceiling windows. There are no televisions here and mobile phones are discouraged, although all rooms had hi-fi systems and laptops can be borrowed from reception.
At lunchtime, guests sit on rugs on the rooftop terrace with panoramic views. And at dinner, visitors eat at low tables beside a woodburning stove in the candlelit dining room.
Alcohol isn't served, but that didn't deter Don, an American climber who turned up every evening with bottles of whisky and wine, generously offering us all a glass. Don was one of the serious mountaineers who had come to climb Mount Toubkal. His trip sounded too strenuous for me, so I opted instead for a short trek to the Tizi n'Tamatert pass.
My group passed goatherds and heavily laden donkeys before scrambling up through Scots pines and across deep moraines with boulders the size of houses. Stopping for a rest on the summit, we looked down on the lush green terraces of barley far below.
On our last morning we woke to find snow had fallen during the night. The massive flanks of Toubkal had been transformed into walls of shimmering white ice.
As I said goodbye to Lahcen, I turned for a final glimpse, promising myself I wouldn't wait so long before coming back to Morocco.
And next time I'll remember to pack the ear plugs.
Gnawa World Music Festival set for Essaouira.
The 14th Gnawa Festival will open in Essaouira on June 23rd, MAP reported on Wednesday (January 12th). The three-day event will feature a unique mixture of sub-Saharan African, Amazigh and Arabic musical traditions. For last year's festival, the small Atlantic coastal community welcomed nearly a half-million Moroccan and international visitors.

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