Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Morocco In the News: March 11 - 16

More government jobs slated for Moroccan youths.
By Sarah Touahri– 07/03/11
Experts and youths lauded Morocco's decision to temporarily boost state employment for university graduates, but some see it as a move to contain the problem, rather than solve it.
Morocco will employ 4,304 graduate degree holders for government positions, officials announced March 2nd. The move comes as a concession to university graduates who had staged frequent demonstrations outside Parliament.
The job integration will take effect starting March 1st, Yassine Affani, member of the national committee of unemployed doctors, said. All that is needed now is to implement various administrative procedures. In its statement, the committee hailed the state efforts to address the youth unemployment problem in Morocco.
The government team has shown great flexibility in finding a favourable resolution to the issue, Communications Minister Khalid Naciri said on March 3rd.
Young graduates will now be recruited into the public services directly without taking competitive entry examinations. The government passed a decree on February 24th, and the arrangement will only apply during 2011.
This temporary solution, although welcomed by all sides, will not resolve the problem of unemployment in Morocco, a number of specialists warned.
According to economist Karim Machidi, the government's generosity towards unemployed graduates has been dictated by the current Arab regional context. The measure will cool things for a while, he explained, but other groups of jobless youths will emerge and exert more pressure on the executive.
He called for the introduction of a well-defined strategy to reduce unemployment by changing the general trend of university education to favour areas of study which are in greatest demand on the labour market.
"With the emergence of new professions and the adoption of modern production techniques, the labour market in Morocco needs skills which will match the developments being seen in a number of growing sectors," Employment Minister Jamal Rhmani said at a March 3rd conference in Rabat.
Business leaders have been urged to play their part in this area and open up the doors of business training to young people. The General Confederation of Moroccan Businesses (CGEM) on March 3rd proposed a raft of measures, such the creation of initial experience contracts, the integration of people with disabilities, the introduction of a redundancy compensation system and reform of the labour code to encourage more flexible employment.
This platform also includes measures to help match supply with demand in the labour market, such as speeding up the reform of the special training contracts (CSF), developing apprenticeships, building better bridges between enterprises and universities and involving businesses in career guidance for pupils and students. The confederation also proposed special conversion training for graduates in subject areas with no economically viable openings.
Parents also need to guide their children according to the needs of the market, sociologist Samira Kassimi said.
"Today, the private sector is the most promising, and provides the majority of jobs. Young people must grasp this idea in order to prepare for the needs of the workplace," she said.
Moroccan Feminism
Emancipation with the Koran?
Moroccan family law is regarded as one of the most progressive in the Arab world, yet conservative judges still often rule against women's interests. Muslim feminists have begun using the Koran to combat patriarchal interpretations of Islamic law. Nevertheless, their secular counterparts are sceptical of their approach. By Wolf-Dieter Vogel

Fouzia Assouli leaves no room for doubt: "We want to change the conditions on which male dominance is based." A secular Moroccan feminist, she has been fighting this battle for many years. As the head of the LDDF women's league, Assouli is in charge of numerous projects that provide aid and support for women and girls. Examples include the Tilila women's house or the women's refuge "Centre d'Ecoute" in the heart of Casablanca.

She has also spent many years fighting for legal equality between men and women. This is why 2004 was a very important year for Assouli, the year in which King Mohammed VI reformed the Moudawana, the Moroccan family code.

"A good deal has changed since then," Assouli confirms, speaking cautiously of progress. Before the reform, women had to obey their husbands; now men and women are equal before the law. Men can no longer repudiate their wives, and women can now file for divorce of their own accord.

It is no longer Islamic clerics but state family judges who deal with separations. The monarch also raised the minimum age for marriage to 18 and ruled that men are no longer allowed four wives – with some exceptions.

These rulings gave Morocco some of the most progressive family laws in the Arab world. "The idea of gender justice found its way into legal practice. That has created new norms," says Assouli. In her eyes, however, the greatest practical success of the Moudawana is the new divorce law.
"Most women don't know their rights"
Assouli's colleague Khadja Tikerouine, who works in the Centre d'Ecoute, points out the limitations of the new legislation. "It is still difficult for women to file for divorce because of their economic situation and attitudes in society," she says. Only very few women come to the refuge, and many are unaware of their options, particularly in rural areas. "Most women don't know their rights."

About 56 per cent of Moroccan women are illiterate, while in some regions only one in ten women has ever attended school. "How is a girl who can't read and write supposed to know she's not allowed to be married under the age of 18?" asks Assouli.

Studies conducted by her organisation confirm that the concrete successes of the Moudawana have in fact been modest to date. Girls are still being married off because they are pregnant. Around ten per cent of married women are under 18; some are forced into marriage at the age of 13, says Assouli.

"Exceptions are still made for polygamy and the marriage of minors, which creates a huge grey area," she explains. The number of applications for marriage to minors even rose from 30,000 to 42,000 between 2006 and 2009, and the law allows judges a lot of room for manoeuvre. Conservative judges in corresponding settings can still rule in the interest of the traditional man's world.
Sharia-oriented reform
The Islamist politician Bassima Haqqaoui considers this critique "propaganda" and a "false debate" that has been imported from abroad. "The problem does not arise in that form in Moroccan society," is her unequivocal comment. If a woman is sexually mature, she says, it is better to allow marriage than to tolerate an illegal relationship.

Haqqaoui, a social psychologist, has held a seat in parliament for the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) for eight years and was a front-runner candidate at the last election. The PJD, the second-largest parliamentary party in Morocco, also supported the Moudawana. Haqqaoui explains why the party approved the law, pointing out that the reform remained within the bounds of the Koran and focused on the family rather than women themselves.
Is she in favour of complete gender equality? "We are in favour of equality in the sense of justice." She explains in more detail using the example of inheritance law, which is still closely based on the Koran, providing for different shares for sons and daughters. "Men get more in some cases because they have to protect and provide for the family," says Haqqaoui, emphasising: "I believe in God's justice."

Secular feminists mistrust the PJD's women's policy. The party initially refused its support. It then changed its mind and gave its approval under questionable circumstances: the PJD was under pressure in the wake of the 2003 Islamist terrorist attacks in Casablanca.

"In everyday politics, the party continues to make proposals that contradict the spirit of the law," criticises the women's league president Assouli. By way of example she points to the PJD's sceptical statements on the increase in divorces.
Critique of patriarchal interpretations
The Moroccan doctor and writer Asma Lamrabet is also fighting "from within Islam for the rights of Muslim women," as she puts it. Yet she does not want anything to do with the PDJ. She feels closer to her secular sisters.

The "Islamic feminist", as she defines herself, is working on a "Third Way" that is clearly distinct from fundamentalism and based on humanist ideals that she finds in the Koran. The holy book, says Lamrabet, speaks of women's autonomy and right to freedom. To date, she claims, the Koran has only been interpreted on a "patriarchal and discriminatory" basis, bringing Catholic liberation theology into the equation.

"We have to free religion from political aspects," is Lamrabet's call. In her view, it was political Islam, Islamism, that first made faith a source of oppression. For her, feminism is a universal approach, which she has adopted from within the context of the Islamic state of Morocco.
Scepticism on all sides
Muslim scholars and clerics have problems with her work on religious philosophy: a high council rejected her most recent book The Koran and Women. However, many secular feminists are also sceptical. They find Lamrabet too reserved on the subject of polygamy, for example, saying her insistence on an "Islamic identity" places her suspiciously close to Islamist ideology.

The head of the women's league, Assouli, is not keen on her approach either: "I'd like to see an Islamic women's movement that's in favour of complete equality," is her irony-laden reaction, before going on to ask what the chador and polygamy have to do with emancipation.

Aside from that, says Assouli, the feminist movement is fighting against inequalities between the genders and needs no further labels. Her opinion on the Islamist PJD is even clearer: "They are taking feminism hostage and want to bring us back to obedience and slavery. As far as we are concerned: those days are over."
Wolf-Dieter Vogel
© 2011 Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire  Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/
A half-baked theory on the great croissant controversy.
Guy Hedgecoe
I have to admit, when it comes to the recent debate about the state of Spanish croissants, I’ve come to the table rather late. The furore itself was sparked by a blog post by food writer Mikel López Iturriaga in early February, in which he attacked his country’s version of the croissant on several fronts: from its outrageous size and criminally stale dough, to that utterly redundant glaze that so many bakers apply. By the end of his article, the croissant was, so to speak, toast.
“All these examples of baked, varnished paste which thousands of Spaniards consume for breakfast each day do not deserve to be called croissants,” he thundered.
It’s a harmless enough issue to tackle, you might think. López Iturriaga wasn’t wading into the tribal terrain of Spanish domestic politics, say, or defending the Libyan regime. But the post drew a passionate and overwhelming response, with nearly 700 comments on his blog, and an ensuing debate that included Spanish television, the international media (yes, I’m guilty) and, inevitably, Facebook and Twitter.
Interestingly most of the comments in reply to the article actually agreed with López Iturriaga, who compared the Spanish croissant (or cruasán, as it’s known here), unfavourably with its French counterpart.  For a country that is so proud of its burgeoning haute cuisine, Spain is more than willing to give its breakfast fare a good kicking.
There was, of course, also a certain amount of wanton hostility of the kind the internet seems to breed. If you like the croissants in France so much, wrote one gastronomically challenged patriot, go and live there. But such idiocy apart, López Iturriaga was right. Something terrible happens to the croissant, and to a lesser extent pastry in general, when you cross the Pyrenees and enter Spain.
Bakery teacher an online bread expert Javier Marca, who is cited in the original blog post and is also appalled at the quality of his country’s croissants, turned the question around when I consulted him.
“I don’t expect to find a good paella in France,” he told me. “They will never have a good paella there. So I think we will never have a good croissant here.”
He says both the process and the ingredients are at fault. French bakers are trained, drilled and even given exams in making their croissants appropriately crisp, flaky and light. They use very specific ingredients, particularly the butter, which must be first-class. In Spain, no such tradition exists, so no such rigour is applied to the process in most bakeries. Moreover the butter or -whisper it- margarine often used, isn’t up to the task.
When the spiritual home of the croissant is just across the border, it seems a shame not to allow some of its doughy dogma to waft over. But no, Spain resists. And resists might be the right word here. As Marca also pointed out to me, summarizing decades of historical baggage with a shrug: “We don’t like French stuff in Spain.”
Decades of superiority in the kitchen probably hasn’t helped in that regard, but now it is the Spanish, not French, who have the upper hand as the molecular gastronomy of a generation of chefs takes the world by storm. The ladle is in the other hand. Twenty years ago, I could have put the inferior Spanish croissant down to inferior culinary skills. But now, poo-pooing the rigid diktats of French croissant-making is one way Spain can say: don’t tell us how to do things; don’t even tell us how to bake. And for that, maybe I can forgive Spanish bakers just a little.
Author: Guy Hedgecoe is a Madrid-based journalist who has lived in Spain since 2003. Between 2006 and 2009 he was editor of the English edition of El País newspaper and he has covered Spain for Al Jazeera, CBC, CBS, France 24 and Associated Press. Previously he covered the Andean region where he was founder/editor of the Ecuador Focus weekly report and reported for the Financial Times, The Miami Herald, National Public Radio and CNN
Uncovering Jewish Morocco
By Amy Sommer  |  March 06, 2011

Lisa Niver Ranja will share travel tips for and information about the Jewish side of Morocco.
We've heard so much about North African turmoil of late that it is easy to forget that this part of the world is the cradle of history for most of our planet's inhabitants and that despite the political unrest, these are great travel destinations.

Lisa Niver Ranja will talk about one such trip, "Uncovering Jewish Morocco", at Stephen S. Wise Temple's Udko Annex on March 24 7pm-8:30pm.

The presentation will explore Jewish roots and how the Jews of the region people followed in the footsteps of Maimonides from Spain through Morocco and finally to Israel.

The presentation will include photography of the Marrakech synagogue and the Mellah (Jewish Quarter) in Fes el-Jdid with its extensive Jewish Cemetery and other highlights from Niver Ranja's own three-week journey in the country. Complimentary maps and other enticements to be us
ed on a future trip of yours will be given out.

As Niver Ranja says, "travel stories help us find a unique side of ourselves and our ancestors, through travel we are brought together to discover the common bond of humanity that ties us despite the vast lands and time that separate us".

So take the first step and attend the March 24th lecture -- who knows, you might like it.

About the Speaker:
Lisa Niver Rajna is an accomplished travel agent, author, blogger and member of the Traveler’s Century Club, a unique travel club limited to travelers who have visited one hundred or more countries. She traveled for seven years to six continents with Club Med and with Princess Cruises, Renaissance Cruises and Royal Caribbean International as youth staff and Senior Assistant Cruise Director. She and George Rajna spent eleven months wandering from Indonesia to Mongolia and have a book in process about the journey. Their blog,, is listed in the Top 100 at with a #5 travel blog rating out of 1445 travel blogs in January 2011.
Morocco’s Model: Uniting Democracy-Building and Sustainable Development.
Written by Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir  08/03/2011
With socio-revolutionary movements in North Africa and the Middle East and governments in the region seeking to identify and implement viable models for political reform and development, Morocco is fortunate to have been raising public awareness during the past two years about its decentralization plan. 
Morocco’s approach to promoting both democracy and development – which King Mohammed VI often discusses and did right after the nation-wide protests of February 20th – is to wed the two together so that each is advanced by way of the other.  In practice, this means that Moroccan people at the local level are to engage in participatory democratic planning and managing of development initiatives that are intended to benefit them.  Moroccan sustainable development is to occur through democratic exchanges and consensus-building, and democracy is to be built during the process of creating sustainable development.  Decentralization, which transfers managerial authority, skills, and capacities to sub-national levels, is Morocco’s chosen framework to synergistically advance democracy and development from the bottom-up.
Considering Morocco’s stated goal of decentralization, it follows that its organizational arrangement emphasizes the “participatory method.”  This democratic approach is to be applied by local communities together assessing their development challenges and opportunities, and creating and implementing action plans that reflect their shared priorities, such as job creation, education, health, and the environment.  Since 2010, the Charter of Communes in Morocco (Morocco is composed of approximately 1,500 Communes that make up the most local administrative tier) mandates that communities’ own development plans be created and submitted to the ministries of Interior and Finance.  Based on studies by the World Bank , USAID, UN development agencies, and numerous others, the participatory method is becoming understood to be the sine qua non of sustainable development because people’s participation in the determination of projects intended to benefit them provides the needed incentives for local people to maintain them.
Although exacting to effectively implement, as will be discussed, Morocco’s model is potentially useful to other countries in the region since it responds to popular calls for people’s direct engagement with democratic practices, while at the same time closely identifies with the Islamic concepts of: shura (participation and mutual consultation in governing based on dialogue regarding all matters involving the whole community and its leaders); ummah (a decentralized yet integrated and diverse worldwide Muslim community that brings about human rights and social justice in a peaceful evolutionary process that builds national solidarity and international cooperation); and ijma (consensus-building).
One major requirement of decentralizing through the participatory method is to train an ever growing supply of “facilitators” – or a position title sometimes called animator, catalyst, change agent, consultant, extension agent, field worker, information broker, intermediary, interventionist, mediator, or planner-researcher.  Whatever their title, their essential functions are the same: to help coordinate community planning meetings, remove barriers to participation, encourage community dialogue, ensure all voices are heard (women, youth, the elderly, ethnic groups, the disadvantaged, the sick, and the disabled), consider and explain macro factors that affect local projects, understand the needs of the poor and power relations, manage competing interests, build confidence and self-reliance (to counteract people’s sense of powerlessness), form diverse partnerships, inform beneficiaries of what government and other resources may be available for given activities, develop analytical skills, promote democratic practices, and serve as a bridge among people, government, NGOs, technicians, and academic institutions.  Facilitators are nonauthoritarian with communities, specialists in the relationships between people, and absolutely vital at least during the initial stages of a community’s development process until it is self-sustaining and the facilitation techniques have been transferred to project beneficiaries.
In Morocco, based on my own study and observation, a productive ratio of number of facilitators per general population is 1:500.  The cost to experientially train (in the field with an actual community) one facilitator with post-training professional guidance is $2,000, or $140 million to train 70,000 facilitators – enough to engage every Moroccan rural village and urban neighborhood (including 35 million people) in the participatory method for planning projects.  Groups of people to target for participatory training can include: elected members of Communal councils and parliament (which would inform how they govern and their political campaigns), workers of village and neighborhood associations, local representatives of public service and nongovernment agencies, forestry guards, university students, school teachers (in rural areas, they are typically young), religious leaders, retirees, and interested citizens.
In addition, the cost to implement priority projects (for example, clean drinking water, fruit tree agriculture, women’s cooperatives, and youth centers) that will generate critical socio-economic and environmental improvements for a rural population of 10,000 Moroccan people, is $1 million, or on average $100 per person.  The very low cost of participatory projects relative to the number of beneficiaries is the combined result of utilizing local resources and know-how, and the method generating a range of important in-kind contributions and local commitment to projects.  Four billion dollars could developmentally transform Morocco utilizing the participatory approach to decentralization.  The approach does require granting fiscal powers to sub-national elected governments – arguably the Communal level in Morocco’s case.  Where taxes previously set and levied by the central government were not transferred to local authorities (such as occurred in Brazil, Côte d'Ivoire, and Ghana during the 1980s), local governments were starved for resources and unable to support development, and questions were raised as to the central governments’ real intentions to decentralize, like cutting national deficits.
Nominal progress toward participatory training and projects was achieved by the National Initiative for Human Development (NIHD), Morocco’s ambitious and ongoing project that was launched by the king in 2005 and is based conceptually on the participatory approach directed toward the most marginalized rural and urban people.  NIHD measurably raised national awareness of matters related to sustainable development, at least in part due to the king constantly touring the country in support of its projects.  In fact, mainstreaming and drawing attention to the ideals of participation in development have helped NIHD prepare the nation for decentralization to some degree, and perhaps has helped decentralization avoid simply being a vehicle for transferring power from national elites to local ones.
However, as the king and the National Human Development Observatory acknowledged, the levels of community participation in planning and managing NIHD projects are less than ideal or even inadequate.  This outcome is likely in large part attributable to the fact that the NIHD is implemented by host ministries (mostly the Ministry of Interior) whose modus operandi is top-down management.  The NIHD naturally took on the character of the highly centralized government which implements it.
Morocco’s participatory decentralization will require reforming the Ministry of Interior, whose purpose is the internal security of the nation – just as it is in most countries in the region.  This Ministry that has traditionally created feelings of fear and suspicion among the public being the primary charge of human development is counterproductive.  The Ministry of Interior’s responsibilities related to development should be handed to social service ministries, including, among others, the Ministry of Agriculture who carries the mission of integrated development in rural areas, and the new decentralization agency that will likely be created, that should act primarily as a coordinating body among the different ministries, sectors, and administrative tiers to create integrated initiatives, similar in principle to how Morocco’s Ministry of Environment is charged to function.  Protocols requiring notification of the Ministry of Interior of community planning meetings and project implementation activities should be phased out.  Genuine decentralization involves a level of local activity that will increasingly make this kind of reporting an administrative burden for local communities and the Ministry, and it seems quite unnecessary in any case. However, the Ministry of Interior could play an important role in building institutional partnerships by making available to the public, via the Internet, information related to the mission, region, and how to contact the tens of thousands of nonprofit Moroccan associations.
While offering an innovative model that unites democracy-building with sustainable development, Morocco’s implementation must be absolutely bold to be successful.  Clearly, based on the Moroccan model, the monarchy is open to transformative change of the whole of society, but through a bottom-up process driven by developmentally empowered and self-reliant local communities that are integrated in a decentralized national system and whose elected leaders are chosen based on their ability to help forge and respond to the consensus decisions of their constituents.

Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir is a sociologist and president of the High Atlas Foundation (, a nongovernment organization dedicated to community development in Morocco.  The views expressed in the article are his own.
The caravan moves on
Lalita Panicker, Hindustan TimesMarch 12, 2011
Barbary pirates once roamed the Atlantic seaboard of this poor nation at the edge of the fierce Sahara desert. Ruled by an all-powerful royal family, it’s curious as to why the jasmine revolution, which has consumed neighbouring Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, has not reached Morocco in any significant measure despite the odd protest or two.
Unlike Egypt, a vast necropolis, which was ruled by a brutal dictator, life in Morocco seems touched by the lazy charm of Rick Blaine in the immortal classic Casablanca. On a visit once, I was hyperventilating to get to Casablanca. In its cobbled streets sloping down to the ocean, I almost expected Humphrey Bogart’s smoky voice to say, “Here’s looking at you kid.” The romance of Casablanca is alive and well, even if Sam is not playing anything one more time for old time’s sake and Rick’s has been replaced by Turkish coffee joints.
I was struck by how many people sat around in cafes all day long, shooting the breeze. But, not once did anyone have a bad word for King Mohammed VI in a region where people love nothing more than to run down its strongman rulers. The king is obviously a lot smarter than the dictators in the region. To counter the excesses of his father’s rule, he set up the Arab world’s only truth and reconciliation commission, encouraging the growth of human rights bodies.
He has also slowly created more space for the opposition, for a robust press and for civil society, quite a change from the Gaddafis or Mubaraks with their insatiable appetite for real estate in Europe and bulging Swiss bank accounts. It helps that the Moroccan royal family has been part of the scenery for centuries and in modern times have, by and large, kept their noses out of political manoeuvrings. Much like the Thai king, this has given them the power to intervene in times of crisis as King Mohammed is doing now.
As in all countries of that region, corruption is an issue which exercises young people, but given the numerous anti-corruption institutions which exist, they have recourse for redressal, something which keeps them off the streets. The enormous tourism industry has also exposed people to outside influences, marginalising the growth of Islamic fundamentalists. Yet, much of the architectural landscape is Islamic. One is the spectacular Hassan II mosque in Casablanca. It puts the Vatican in a shade with its Murano glass chandeliers, its glass floor over the Atlantic ocean, its laser lights targeted at Mecca and a roof which slides back allowing the faithful to worship under the stars. What was impressive was that no one seemed to mind me wandering about inside and even taking pictures, though I imagine I would have been in the clink in one of the more orthodox Islamic countries had I done that.
While Morocco is poorer than say Algeria or Tunisia, there does not seem to such a huge disparity in income. There are no overt signs of poverty, just as there are no overt signs of plenty. Again, to take the young as a yardstick, education has been a priority for the government. But where it has faltered is in employment generation which has led to many young people trying to leave for Europe which is less than welcoming. The refreshing aspect of Morocco was how free and candid women were and how they held their own with men in every sphere.
This is probably why, to mangle Rick’s dialogue, of all the gin joints in that region, if I had to walk into one, it would be in Morocco.
Testing Mars Missions in Morocco
This site is called Moon 2,” says Gian Gabriele Ori of the International Research School of Planetary Sciences (IRSPS).  He pauses, looks around, and then says with a laugh, “I don’t remember the reason why.”

In fact, the wide plain where Ori is standing resembles the planet Mars much more than the dusty grey Moon.  This valley east of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains has a profusion of red, black and tan rocks scattered about as far as the eye can see.  The distant mountains on the horizon call to mind the walls of an ancient impact crater as photographed by the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.  Even the volcanic origin of many of the rocks here is similar to the geological history of Mars. 

Ori and his colleagues recently brought a group of scientists to this remote region near the Algerian border, where many of the instruments being developed for the upcoming ExoMars missions will be put through their paces.  The missions, joint ventures of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), will study the martian atmosphere, geology, and water cycle, and also search for signs of past and present life on Mars. 

For the first ExoMars mission, slated for launch in 2016, an orbiter will analyze the gases that make up the thin atmosphere of Mars.  The orbiting satellite will be keeping a keen eye out for methane -- a gas that, on Earth, is often a sign of microbial life but also can be produced by volcanic activity.  Previousdetections of methane in the martian atmosphere have generated a great deal of speculation about the possibility for life on Mars.  The ExoMars missions could help answer the question of whether microbes are living in protected regions underground on Mars today, and expelling methane gas as a waste product just as some microbes do on Earth……………..
Review Morocco: Day 2 Eat, Pray & Love!
Eat, Pray and Love!  This vacation is like a movie.  Colorful costumes, extensive scenery, and just the right amount of drama!  We continue to eat the local cuisine.  We are fascinated by the regular hours of prayer... over the loudspeakers.  And we are loving every minute of it. 
Read more:
Review Morocco: Day 5 All Aboard the "Marrakech Express"
Our Marrakech stint ended early Tuesday.  Steve, Shawn and James  are headed back to the States by way of a Madrid overnight stint.  Dick is staying in Madrid until Friday. Cridlin is vacationing in Barcelona until Sunday.  Bon journee!
Review Morocco: Day 6 FES-cination!
Our total time in Fez is less than 60 hours!  Decisive action is needed to ensure we see the town during our beat-the-clock scenario.  Advice from gone-to-Fes friends and guidebooks give the same message: count on being lost in the labyrinth.   We decide to hire a guide!  To give Jen a bit of a respite, we choose an English-speaking guide.  The cost with him AND a cab to drive us is 600 dirhams ($75-ish) for 3-4 hours.  Very cheap when split between five people.  (yep, Roger is down again with the "Moroccan misery.")    Read more:
Review Morocco: Day 7 Mr. Bojangles Guides the Brat Pack.
To get the most of Fes, we request the return of Mr. Bojangles (our tour guide is a Moroccan Sammie Davis Jr) to lead the brat pack through the medina.  It's the second day of the souk buns-of-steel work-out and Smiley has dropped two  Read more:
Review Morocco: Last Day Trains, Planes, and Automobile Plus a few cabs!
The Fourth Walsh on 03.12.11
Before the crack of dawn, Smiley and Willie depart the riad to fly to London for the next part of their journey.  
And then there were four...
It's time to leave the Riad Dar Gmira.  A lovely and spacious 5 bedroom house with pool.  The riad staff is a French-speaking family of five, two parents, two kids and a grandparent.  The precocious nine year daughter will take you anywhere in the neighborhood for a pastry.  Not getting lost costs an eclair... it's worth it! The 'petite guide'  points out potential robbers and boys with bad hair. Just like the riad in Marrakech, the hospitality and genuine desire to please has been incredibly touching.  With common rooms to gather, a riad is such a better alternative than a hotel for a group.  Despite the early hour, the mother and grandmother rise early to make coffee and breakfast and kiss us goodbye.  So sweet!  …..
Explore the charms of Morocco on a short break.
Morocco is a striking land of contrasts and there's no better way to get a close-up look at the country than by exploring it for yourself!
Even if you only have time for a short walking holiday in Morocco, you'll find its vibrant, colourful cities, exciting snow-capped mountains, lush green valleys and rippling gold sub-Saharan sand dunes provide the perfect setting for a brilliant getaway. And by combining various modes of transport - including guided walks and transfer by mule - you'll have a first-hand experience of Morocco that will provide you with plenty of memories of your holiday in the years to follow.
Morocco Proposed Reforms: I wasn’t expecting it!
New York -- Morocco Board News--Frankly, I wasn’t expecting it. I was expecting something bland, written in traditional makhzenite with blurry objectives and pompous expressions inherited from the glorious era of Hassan II. I was referring to the speech-writers of course (well, the constitution is bound to be changed, so I can afford to discuss the speech, am I not?) But no.
The one thing that eluded the Monarch since he inherited the throne, the constitutional reform is finally on the table. When previous speeches read and minutely deciphered, the upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East, and domestically the stalwart dedication of ‘February 20th’ movement did play some significant part in gently pushing the core policymakers into a major shift in their political tactics (I still have doubts whether there’s a sensible strategy, or any organized thinking on the long-term)
 I should admit my gut-feeling over this: it is a historical day. Not for the upcoming constitutional referendum -a consultation on which I will most certainly vote ‘No’, unless some very, very unexpected project is presented to the People’s will. It is historical because less than two months ago, what was considered to be a definitely confirmed balance of political strength heavily in favour of the Monarchy, has been suddenly reset to a different equilibrium. We have moved from an executive monarchy –with no constitutional reform agenda in sight- to a blitzkrieg-style commission with a June 2011 deadline. In 10 years reign, it is going to be His Majesty’s first constitutional referendum: such electoral consultation is quite different from regular general and local elections. It is a decisive test no doubt. And contrary to ‘classical’ elections, He needs a clear win, overkill: even a 70-80% win is a half-defeat for him. This is my view of the referendum, but then again I am getting ahead of myself.  Overall, the official line is likely to be that of a giant political and institutional spring cleaning, but not in the ‘right way’ (i.e. a genuine political reform agenda). I should exercise caution here, a ‘wait-and-see’ till the commission members are officially called up. Caution doesn’t prevent one from expressing views, or speculating about the future, does it?
With a lawyer like Abdellatif Mennouni heading the commission, I would find any proposal (again, unless there’s some fireworks surprise) well below my minimal set of grievances: I’d very much doubt the new constitution would abolish altogether Art. 19 or change the succession rules to be gender-neutral. I don’t expect the new constitution to even get close to confirm institutions like the Kingdom’s Mediator and existing institutions as constitutionally independent like the Supreme Court, the Court Audit or the Central Bank, I wouldn’t expect the King to relinquish all executive powers and perform essentially honorary duties. And most of all, I don’t expect the new constitution to write a precise notice of establishing a constitutional convention for all core institutional changes. But still, this is an opportunity window (small, cloistered and actual reforms are unlikely to fit in) but still, a window. I have to pluck up my good faith and summon all my hopes to say that this is a historical opportunity (again, historical because it has been broached on us, and for a long time!)
I’m actually in two minds: best case scenario, the commission gets out of (Royal) hands; a maverick like Mohamed Sassi would do wonderful damages to the cranky Makhzenian legislation, and we end up with a ‘moderate’ but certainly workable constitution that gets unanimous support. Hopefully an election is called up and a strong coalition rules with a charismatic Prime Minister. There’s another dream scenario, whereby the government calls up for a constitutional convention in a year or two years time with nationwide debates, but this is too orgasmic for me to contemplate…
Worst case scenario, the only real thing that changes is the ‘regionalization’ stuff, with an upgraded version of the 1997 local government bill. End of story, end of constitutional changes, end of the line. Next. It depends on how bald His Majesty’s moves are going to be, and whether His circle would now understand it is high time they dealt out substantial scores of Royal prerogatives and transfer them to the people’s representatives.
Realistically, it is not going to be satisfactory for those close to my political leanings, nor would it meet the set of grievances put forward by the Feb20 movement and the non-mainstream political parties supporting the protest. But it does show that somehow, somewhere behind the walls of Bab Assoufara, the policy-makers finally awoke to the need to change the fuse. An acquittance of mine has this interesting theory about the Makhzen and its favourite fuses:  whenever a crisis looms, Makhzen elite either hold on to the existing fuse (a political party like the USFP in 1998, or the Sahara issue since 1975) or when the incumbent burns up, there’s a quick switch, and a brand new fuse is brought in and manage to exhaust the dissidence (the fuse in question can be a technocratic don like Jettou in 2002 or Azzimane in 2010, a turned-out dissident like Herzenni or Sebbar), which gives the impression of deep reforms but concedes in reality nothing substantial. It is not remote from the realm of possibility that this seemingly audacious announcement is  a smokescreen constitutional changes.
Moroccan film wins top prize at African film fest

Sunday, March 6, 2011
OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso -- The Moroccan film "Pegase" has been awarded the top cinematic prize at Africa's biggest film festival Saturday.
The Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, known as FESPACO, is being held in Burkina Faso's capital through March 5. Eighteen feature films were competing for the top prize, the Golden Stallion of Yennenga, in the 22nd edition of the festival.
"Pegase", directed by Mohamed Mouftakir, tells the story of a young girl who is the victim of rape and incest and is manipulated to believe that she has become pregnant with the devil's child.
Morocco won the same prize in 2001 with "Ali Zaoua" by Nabil Ayouch and in 1973 with "Les Mille et Une Mains" by Souheil Ben Barka.
Morocco: What's your father's Name? 03/10/11 Fatmi Chiboub
One day, When I was a teenager, growing up in Casablanca, i walked right up the police "fargonette", it was not courage on my part,  but rather a lack of attention. I realized what had happened when it was too late for me to run away. It was a well known fact , in those days,  that if  one gets caught up in the police net when they are out randomly checking  IDs, one would most likely end up getting beat up and spend a couple of days in the local police dungeon, regardless of wether one is a law abiding citizen or not.
The cop sitting at the front of the car was a bit perplexed seeing that I just walked up to them and that I looked sure of myself.
He asked me "What's your father's name?".
"Euh, huh... Si Lahcen,officer " i blurted, a dead give away that the family name is rather lowly.
The Cop retorted with a loud voice, "get the hell out of here, quickly, before i put your butt in the cellar, go ahead beat it, scram !!!!"
That day i realized the importance of one's family name in Morocco...
Which brings us to the debate of job discrimination and/or the "fassi" families issue in Morocco.
When I say the "Fassi" families, it does not indicate the people of the city of Fes, but rather a limited number of families, mostly living in Casablanca, with known last names that have been riding the gravy train from the time of the French protectorate. It also does not mean that everyone with those famous last names has made it. The larger issue is that a  number of families in Morocco have cornered vast areas of the national economy, including the labor market, or rather the attractive positions that are supposed to be filled by competitive candidates. Anyone who tries to make this issue to be an ethnic attack on the people from Fes is obviously acting on bad faith.
There are so many places in Morocco where having the right fassi last name is a requirement to be considered for the job. To name a few: Meditel (Most all the upper management is basically held up by a "fassi cartel"), most all the advertising agencies, Royal Air Maroc (managerial, non-technical positions), ...etc.
The apologists for this nepotism argue that the Fassi are better educated and therefore they deserve these positions. One should know that, as an example, to be admitted to the Medical schools in Morocco, the bar was lowered for graduates of the French education "missions" system (where most of the "Fassi" families send their offsprings). the "ISCAE", the top school of commerce in Morocco, only requires a mere 12/20 grade from the French Mission graduates to be admitted but requires a 15/12 grade for graduates from Morocco's public schools, home of the Hoi polloi, or "khoroto" in other words.
This deliberate discriminatory policy is not based on merit. In the Moroccan engineering schools where an an exam is still required, the graduates of the French Mission do not fair any better than graduates of public schools. In the prestigious French engineering school "Ecole Polytechnique", you will find that Moroccans coming from the "mission" school system do not fair any better because admission to the school requires EVERYONE to take an exam. The Moroccan medical schools used to require an admission exam but they dropped it and adopted this discriminatory policy that allows average performers from the French mission schools to get in while closing the door in front of the average candidates from the public schools. The time has come to open this issue of job discrimination and shine some light on it.
Can anyone claim that two candidates, graduates from the same school, one with a fassi name, the other with an "aroubi" name, applying for a marketing job at Meditel would get the same treatment? I don't think so.
In Morocco, we have a situation that is similar to what happens in France for candidates applying for jobs with with Arab names. It is called Job discrimination.
Ibn Battuta: Contemporary Witness or Impostor?
Lewis Gropp
The Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta is regarded as the Arabian Marco Polo. But now German oriental scholar Ralf Elger claims to have discovered that Ibn Battuta faked most of his travel accounts. The professor's theory dulls the polished image of one of the most revered figures in Arab cultural history.
There are good reasons why the Moroccan Ibn Battuta still commands such huge respect in the Arab world to this day – with the legendary greatness of the Islamic empire captured as it is in his travel journals. His accounts serve as a confirmation of an Islamic self-image that is still intact – like a mantra Ibn Battuta accentuates the virtuousness of Islamic life and how misguided the unfaithful are.

For the Arab world, which has found itself in rather bad order for some time now, the travel accounts of Ibn Battuta have come to symbolise the heyday of Arab civilisation.

With his book "Die Wunder des Morgenlandes" (The Wonders of the Orient), publisher Ralf Elger has not translated what is thought to be the original account by Ibn Battuta, but the abridged version by Muhammad al-Bailuni, a little known 17th-century Syrian scholar.

Travels through the entire Islamic world
Ibn Battuta begins his travels as a pilgrim to Mecca, he was then drawn via Mesopotamia to the Silk Road, he journeys along the coast of East Africa, his route then leads from Mecca via Constantinople to the Sultanate of Delhi, then eventually to China via the Maldives, back to Mecca again and from here via Tangiers to Moorish Spain and via northern sub-Saharan Africa back home.

By his own account, during his travels Batutta repeatedly served in the role of qadi, or judge ruling in accordance with Islamic law. Batutta claims to have performed this function in the Maldives – an Indian Ocean archipelago where Islam is the official religion to this day. In his report he portrays himself as someone who was not squeamish in the face of his duty:

"The islands' inhabitants are pious, righteous and peace-loving. They only eat permitted things and their prayers are heard. Their bodies are weak. They have no sense of the war, their weapon is prayer. When I was qadi there, I once issued the order to cut off the hand of a thief. Some of those present at the court then fainted," writes Ibn Battuta dismissively.

Condescending generalisations
An especially striking leitmotif in Ibn Battuta's account is his encounters with respective rulers and the particular goodwill that these people show to the strange traveller. Batutta is honoured with treasures by every sultan and emir he meets: pieces of gold, treasures, horses, slaves and women. Ibn Battuta comments on the generosity of the monarchs in laconic fashion, as though it were perfectly natural and wholly to be expected.
His remarks on the gifts presented to him by a West African ruler, however, are particularly derogatory. He derides the Sultan of Mali as an "absolute miser". When a messenger announces that he is to receive a gift from the ruler, Battuta assumes that it must be either clothing, horses or money. He is soon to be disappointed…

"It was nothing more than three flat breads, a piece of roast beef and a hollow pumpkin full of soured milk. I laughed at the stupidity of these people and amused myself at the thought of how highly they valued such small things." The arrogant judgement of an indulged world traveller.

A hint of cultural chauvinism
Ibn Battuta makes no bones about it – for the man from Morocco, there is no pleasure to be gained from sub-Saharan Africa. As he writes: "Then (…) it occurred to me that I should improve my knowledge of these countries. In doing so I realised that there is nothing good about them."His judgement of the Russians whom he claims to have met is an apodictic statement that they are "Christians with red hair and blue eyes who are ugly and brimming with faithlessness." Of China, Batutta writes: "Although there is much good to be found there, I did not like the Chinese nation, it actually repelled me because it was ruled by unbelievers."

Ibn Battuta evaluates strange people and customs casually and flippantly with ill-considered generalisations.

The great Ibn Battuta – a plagiariser?
But just how credible is this report? In his epilogue, Ralf Elger writes that there are numerous indications that Ibn Battuta's travel account is not based on his own observations – for example in the case of descriptions of rulers who verifiably governed before or after Battuta's lifetime; there are also many inconsistencies in the geographical details.

Most notable are however the striking resemblances to various writings of his era, primarily to a pilgrimage account written by a certain Ahmad Ibn Jubayr. Pages of this work were either slightly reworked or copied word for word: "Many of Ibn Battuta's accounts do not provide us with his immediate travel impressions at all, but rather confront us with his skill as a plagiariser," says Elger.

In this context, Elger also has a plausible explanation for why Ibn Battuta repeatedly mentions the generosity he was shown by all the rulers he encountered.

Opportunist fabrications
"If you appreciate Ibn Battuta's account as an implicit demand for a sumptuous gift, then it is very easy to explain many of the passages," says Elger.

"The reader may well have wondered how it could have been possible for an unknown traveller from Morocco to gain access to the world's leaders and be honoured as such by them. The correct answer is probably that these contacts were invented for this very purpose, to proffer himself to the Sultan of Fez."

The descriptions of his work asqadi can also be interpreted in this light: If I have served as a judge throughout the entire Islamic world, reads the message to the Sultan of Fez, then all the more at your behest in my homeland Morocco.
No interest in criticism
Although Ibn Battuta is still viewed to this day by many Arabs as a great explorer and traveller of the Arab and Islamic world, doubts were raised as to the authenticity of his reports even during his lifetime. The great Arab historian Ibn Chaldun reports for example that there were several people at the court of Fez who did not believe the accounts were genuine.

But there is no interest in a revision of Ibn Battuta's work in the Arab world today – proof says Elger that Ibn Battuta continues to serve many Arabs and Muslims as a symbol of their former cultural greatness. This faith is of course thrown into question if he is revealed as an impostor – as the oriental scholar Ralf Elger has done with this volume. Among other things, this is why early indications of plagiarism in the text were not only brushed aside by large sections of the Arab public, but also by those carrying out academic study of the texts.

"A scandalous occurrence," says Elger "that proves that much has changed for the worse in the Arab world since the 14th century." In this sense, the book Wonders of the Orientmakes an important contribution to the process of rectification and clarification, with a message that should be of particular interest to the Arab world.

Article was first published by
© 2010 Translated from the German by Nina Coon
Ibn Battuta: Die Wunder des Morgenlandes (The Wonders of the Orient), C.H. Beck Munich 2010

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