Thursday, March 24, 2011

Morocco In the News: March 17 - 24

Rural Moroccans set to gain from UN-backed anti-poverty project.
15 March 2011 – Tens of thousands of poor rural Moroccans are expected to benefit from a new United Nations-backed scheme worth nearly $40 million that is aimed at dramatically boosting the production of olives, almonds, honey and red meat.
The scheme, backed by a $22.5 million loan and a $500,000 grant from the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), is designed to reduce poverty and strengthen the local economy in Morocco’s mountainous Taza province.
IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze and Morocco’s Ambassador to Italy Hassan Abouyoub today signed a financing agreement for the $39.2 million agricultural value chain development programme in Rome, the headquarters of the UN agency.
IFAD is hoping that the scheme will promote more profitable agricultural commodities by adding value to them and making them more adaptable to markets, with honey production tipped to increase by as much as 200 per cent.
Mounif Nourallah, IFAD’s country programme manager for Morocco, said the project should also “enhance value-added at the farm level through processing, packaging and direct access to profitable markets.”
Local processing enterprises will receive assistance in developing their own labels and marketing channels for their products, while rural financial services will be strengthened as well.
An estimated 48,000 poor rural people – including many landless farmers and young unemployed – will benefit from the scheme, according to an IFAD press release issued today.
TELL ME A STORY: The Princess and the Pauper (a Moroccan folktale)
adapted by Amy Friedman and illustrated by Jillian Gilliland / Saturday, March 12, 2011
Long ago in Morocco there lived a princess who was driving in her carriage from the palace into the city when suddenly the sky opened, and a dragon swooped down out of the heavens and picked her up.
It was the work of the Jinns, evil spirits who had sent the dragon to capture the princess. They put her under a spell and hid her away.
When word spread of the capture, many princes attempted to rescue the princess, but no one returned to the king with good news. Rather, each prince came and said, "Alas, I could not find her."
Time passed.
One day a poor orphan who was all alone in the world decided to go to the city to find work. Abbas was the young man's name, and he began the wearisome trek from the countryside.
After he had walked all day, he came upon a tall, crumbling structure. It began to rain lightly outside, so Abbas decided to stop at this place.
He knocked on what was left of the door.
When no one answered, Abbas cautiously walked inside, calling into the darkness, "Is anyone home?"
Suddenly, out of the dark shadows, a hand carrying a lighted candle floated toward Abbas. A finger beckoned to him.
Abbas was a fearless young man, so he walked toward the hand. Soon he discovered he was walking down a dark flight of stairs.
At the bottom of the stairwell, Abbas saw an alluring palace. He followed the hand into an extravagant room rich with tapestries and tile. In the room was a table laden with food.
Abbas was starving, and without stopping to think, he began to eat until he was full. Then he turned and saw the hand beside him. Once again the finger beckoned.
Again he followed, this time down a hallway into another room. In this room was a big bed, and on the coverlet laid a silk dressing gown.
Abbas dressed in the gown and climbed into the bed. He slept deeply through that night, until the hand tapped him on the shoulder at dawn….
Moroccan filmmaker highlights women's issues.
By Naoufel Cherkaoui 2011-03-15
A new film tackles the controversial roles of women in Moroccan society, ranging from brothel owners to working mothers.
Moroccan filmmaker Saad Chraibi's new movie "Women in Mirrors" gets up close and personal with women from diverse social and cultural backgrounds.
The film's premiere Tuesday (March 8th) in Rabat coincided with International Women's Day.
"I decided to give women a special gift, which is my latest release," the director said.
The movie "looks at the reality of Moroccan women during the last 15 years, especially after the Family Code was launched in 2004… and showcases women's gains, expectations, and aspirations, tracing women's efforts to find themselves a place in society", Chraibi told Magharebia.
The film is the last of a trilogy that started in 1998 with "Women and Women" and was followed by "Gem" in 2004.
Asked about his zeal for women's issues, Chraibi said, "It is natural to pay attention to a category that constitutes half of society. Similar to men, women need to be given an opportunity to express themselves, though theirs is still not to be compared to that of men. Therefore, women's endeavours to develop Moroccan society ought to receive some recognition."
Commenting on International Women's Day, Chraibi said, "I wish it could extend to encompass the entire year. I decided to give women a special gift, which is my latest release."
"The movie shows the different routes of a group of women, both rich and poor, well and poorly-educated," actress Bouchra Hrich, who attended the screening, told Magharebia. It is "in line with Chraibi's creative movies, where he continues to search for the ideal image for women, the image we are aspire to, where women feel equal, reassured and reconciled with society."
Hrich added, "The movie reflects real-life images of the Moroccan women, though there are even worse situations in reality. As for Moroccan women's lives, several steps need to be taken so as to improve women's conditions."
Latifa Ahrare, actress in the movie, told Magharebia, "I am happy I was able to watch it on Women's Day. I am equally happy it addressed an issue of interest in our reality. Women were a tool in demonstrating the lack of communication we are currently witnessing."
Ahrare added that women need to bring up their children based on values of equality, so they would eventually respect all women.
"I have a few reservations; for instance, the woman who ran a brothel and who was portrayed as lesbian, and the dancer in one of the bars who was trans-sexual. I think those ideas are copied from foreign societies and were foisted on the movie," movie critic Mustapha Taleb said, noting that the movie failed to accurately mirror Moroccan women's reality.
But he said it was a good thing that the director continued to address women's causes. The critic applauded the director's effort to highlight the suffering of a group of women, such as a woman who had to work to support her family, another one who had to put up with her husband's infidelity, an ambitious girl who just got home from abroad and had to deal with her relationship with her late father and to a woman who ran a brothel.
Morocco expects economy to grow by 4%
- Jihad Taki    Saturday, 12 March 2011
Rabat - Morocco's economy shall grow by 4% in the first quarter of 2011, almost the same performance recorded last year, Morocco's planning and statistics authority (HCP) said.

"In the first quarter of 2011, the economic growth prospects remain favourable as a whole, despite a relatively less buoyant international environment compared to 2010, marked by a moderation of global activity and trade," said the HCP in its note on January's economic situation.

This performance is due to the growth of non-agricultural activities that would remain around 4.4% in the 1-st quarter of 2011, driven by service sector's momentum, the HCP said, noting that the value added in agriculture could almost stagnate.(MAP)
Worldbank lending Morocco 300 million dollar for modernising cultivation
The Worldbank have announced to grant a loan of more than 300 million dollar to Morocco. The money is meant amongst others for the modernisation of the agrarian sector. In a statement the Worldbank announced that 205 million dollar is earmarked as assistance to the green plan started by the government in 2008. The
aim of the project is a.o. to finance small farmers and irrigation management and improving the irrigation structure.
Agriculture supplies 15% of the Gross National Product of Morocco. With the green plan the government require a better use of the water supply in the country. Also the project is meant to fight poverty and the increasing use of fertilzers will be dealt with. In addition the government want to increase the number of jobs in the agrarian sector and to decrease the area of wheat in favour of competing crops, such as vegetables, fruit, citrus and olives.

Source: Pleinchamp 
Morocco faces demographic change.
By Siham Ali– 18/03/11
Moroccans are living longer, marrying later and reducing their fertility rate, according to a recent state report.
Moroccan society is witnessing massive demographic and social shifts, a recently released National Demographic Survey concluded.
While the average Moroccan born in the 1960s had a life expectancy of 47 years, it has now risen to 74.8 years, the findings conducted in 2009-2010 revealed.
"There has been an increase of 28 years, resulting from the drop in mortality rates in the various age groups. The speed at which these rates have changed is, as we know, strongly related to the extent of improvements made in sanitary and living conditions," explained High Commissioner for Planning Ahmed Lahlimi at a Rabat press briefing on Monday (March 14th).
The Morocco infant mortality rate, though still high, has fallen considerably. In the early 1960s, almost one child in every seven died before their first birthday, compared with one in 33 today.
Recent years have seen a sizeable reduction in fertility, according to Lahlimi. In 2004, the fertility rate was 2.46 children per woman. But in six years, it has dropped approximately 2% per year. "This is quite a remarkable phenomenon when the fertility is already low," he said.
According to the official, these transformations in reproductive behaviour suggest underlying changes in marital practices. The marriage age has increased considerably in the past fifty years. In 2010, women married at an average age of 26.6 and men at 31.4, which is 9.3 and 7.5 years later, respectively, than in 1960.
The indicator is higher in urban areas than in the countryside, with rural men marrying on average 2.5 years earlier than those living in towns and rural women tying the knot 1.8 years earlier than city dwellers. Today, nine out of ten women aged 15 to 19 years are still unmarried.
Endogamy, which has traditionally been encouraged as a way of maintaining family cohesion or safeguarding family assets, fell from 33% in 1987 to 29.3% in 1995, reaching 21% in 2010. The current divorce rate is 10.5% compared with 31% in the 1960s.
Far-reaching changes had occurred in value systems and social behaviour, against a backdrop of considerable cross-fertilisation of Moroccan populations under the effect of immigration, Lahlimi said.
The falling demographic rate can also be seen in the reduced population under 15, which made it possible to increase inputs into education and improve the quality of those entering the labour market, he explained.
Economist Saâd Beddari told Magharebia that the importance of such a study lies in the identification of new needs, so that changes can be made to match the society transformations.
The working population, essentially made up of young people, is without doubt a considerable asset, he said, but that requires the state to step up its rate of investment in leading sectors. This, Beddari argued, can partly be done by adjusting the education and training system to match the new requirements.
Detailed analysis is needed to bring practical solutions to the emerging problems, according to sociologist Samir Kassimi.
"We have seen, for example, more and more single people – both men and women – because of socioeconomic problems," she said. "We see more and more older women who do not work and are not married. They are looked after through family solidarity. The state needs to take new these changes into account in order to plan suitable support mechanisms."
Washington Post: Morocco trendsetter in the region
Sunday, 13 March 2011
Washington - The speech delivered by HM King Mohammed falls within the framework of consolidating a process of sweeping reforms, the Washington Post wrote on Sunday, saying that the Kingdom "can serve as an example to others in the region."

"Morocco can serve as an example to others in the region that the best defense against both Islamic radicals and secular revolutions is a modernizing country that provides young people with the opportunity for economic success and political freedom,” said the US paper in an article on the political situation in North Africa and the Middle East.

Highlighting HM the King’s firm commitment to giving a strong impetus to the dynamic and deep reforms, the article’s author, Jennifer Rubin, noted that the Royal speech of March 9 builds on an already launched reform process.

In this respect, he recalled that HM the King “championed a new family code that granted rights to woman unprecedented in Muslim countries in the region.”

Rubin also shed light on the launch of Morocco’s large-scale anti-poverty programme, the National Initiative for Human Development (INDH), pointing to the results it has achieved in terms of building infrastructure at a furious pace.

“A group of journalists who returned from a recent trip describe a country that looks like one giant construction site,” he added.

The INDH, he said, focuses on disadvantaged communities and seeks to make regional capitals more attractive and livable, with modernized roads, medical facilities, and schools as well as new roads, and water and sanitation systems. (MAP)
Moroccan, Saudi authors share Arab fiction award.
Mon Mar 14, 2011
LONDON, March 14 (Reuters Life!) - A Moroccan and a Saudi author shared the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction on Monday, the first time the annual award has been given jointly to two people in its four-year history.
Morocco's Mohammed Achaari won for "The Arch and the Butterfly," in which a father receives a letter from al Qaeda informing him that his son, who he believed was studying in Paris, died fighting Western forces in Afghanistan. He shared the prize with Saudi Arabia's Raja Alem, whose "The Dove's Necklace," explores the "sordid underbelly" of life in the holy city of Mecca, according to organizers of the award which is funded by the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy.
The honor is also supported by the Booker Prize Foundation, the charity behind the Man Booker Prize for English language fiction, and by the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. Winners were chosen from a shortlist of six authors, all of whom received $10,000. The extra $50,000 normally given to the winner was split equally between Achaari and Alem.
Both books will be translated into English, which is likely to boost readership and global recognition.
"They are two wonderful novels with great literary quality and they both deal with important and realistic problems in the Middle East, problems which have been reflected on banners during the recent protests that have shaken the Arab world, demanding change," said Iraqi writer Fadhil Al-Azzawi, chair of the judging panel.
The remaining four nominees included two Egyptian authors writing about Arabs who live abroad -- Khalid al-Bari's "An Oriental Dance" and U.S.-based Miral al-Tahawy's "Brooklyn Heights."
Morocco's Bensalem Himmich imagined an innocent man's experience of extraordinary rendition in "My Tormentor," and Sudan's Amir Taj al-Sir's "The Hunter of the Chrysalises" told of a former intelligence agent who comes under police scrutiny.
The previous winners of the award are "Sunset Oasis" by Bahaa Taher (Egypt), "Azazel" by Youssef Ziedan (Egypt) and "Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles" by Abdo Khal (Saudi Arabia). (Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)
Will Morocco’s King Deliver on Reforms?
King Mohammed VI’s March 9 pledge to sponsor broad constitutional reforms following moderately-sized protests on February 20 distinguishes him from other leaders in the region, most of whom have offered too little in terms of reforms and offered them too late in the process of uprisings to make a difference. On the surface, King Mohammed’s proposed reforms are significant. But the lack of specifics about the depth of these reforms creates doubt in view of past experiences.  
King Mohammed announced in a televised speech a process of constitutional change that will be put to a popular referendum. Proposed reforms would increase the parliament’s powers in unspecified ways, create a more independent judiciary, and grant elected officials executive powers at the provincial and local level within a decentralization scheme first introduced in 2010. Decentralization will redistribute power from an appointed governor to new regional representatives to be elected by the people. Under the reforms, the prime minister would have greater executive powers, and the revised constitution would contain greater assurances of political and civil liberties and human rights.  
A commission headed by constitutional law expert Abdelatif Mennouni is tasked with consulting with representatives of labor unions, political parties, civil society, and other interest groups to discuss the scope of these reforms over the coming months.  The 18-member commission will include representatives from professional syndicates and human rights groups (such as Amina Bouayach of the Moroccan Organization of Human Rights), political activists, judges, as well as technocrats such as Omar Izziman and Lahcen Oulhaj (who represents Amazigh/Berber interests). The committee’s recommendations will be reviewed in June and then put to a national referendum. The king indicated that as soon as these reforms are ratified, they will be implemented.
For reformists, the king’s proposal is promising, but some skepticism remains. The largest parties —Istiqlal, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), and the Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD) —have lauded the initiative and hailed the king as a statesman, while some on the left have criticized the appointed commission, saying it should have been elected and pointing out that many of those on the committee (particularly Mennouni) are too close to the monarchy. Most of the organizers of February 20 protests reacted in much the same way; they indicated that the commission does not represent them and demanded a decisive stand against corruption, release of political prisoners, and greater freedom of the press. All are waiting to see whether reforms will impose any checks on the king’s powers, the true test of their credibility. 
Mohammed VI’s approach fits a strategy that he has adopted since taking the throne in 1999, when he distanced himself from the repressive policies of his father Hassan II. Among his first acts as a new sovereign was to dismiss Driss al-Basri, his father’s feared interior minister and close confidant. Mohammed VI supported the leftist-dominated of Abdelrahman al-Yussoufi, an outspoken critic of the policies of King Hassan II. At that moment Morocco seemed on the way to real change. The al-Yussoufi government started with high hopes and undertook an agenda of progressive reforms, but much of what was promised never materialized.
Nonetheless, the king emerged from this experience with a popular reputation as a reformer, while the politicians and technocrats were blamed for the failures of what he billed as foray into progressive politics. What followed was ten years of superficial change suggesting that the king was more concerned with making an early impression than with embarking on genuine reform. 
The new chapter of promised constitutional reform could turn out to be similar in the sense that the king is once again outmaneuvering elected officials. The initial response of the government to the February 20 protests—promising to create jobs for several thousand recent university graduates—was a transparent attempt to tame and co-opt youth groups. The king’s subsequent initiative calls on groups across the political spectrum to take ownership of the reforms and become accountable for their failure or success. Even if this initiative is genuine, it will put pressure on the politicians who have clamored for a chance to lead and have long complained that the king does not give them room to operate.
Mohammed VI is trying to get out in front of demands for change rather than be chased by them. What is still unclear is whether he will agree to reforms that would place checks on his power and move Morocco toward becoming a true constitutional monarchy.  For now at least and until the protesters speak again, the 47-year-old king is trying to cement his position by making himself an ally of the protesters rather than their target. 
Intissar Fakir is a special assistant to the Deputy President of the National Endowment for Democracy. The views expressed in this article do not reflect those of the National Endowment for Democracy.  
Ahmed R. Benchemsi
Yes, King Mohammed VI’s March 9 speech was indeed historic. But no, it is not because it announced a major constitutional reform. If this speech is to be marked, it is because, by delivering it, a Moroccan King surrendered to popular pressure – a spectacular first since the country’s independence in 1956. This alone demonstrates that history, in Morocco, is already in the making.
The monarchy and the people engaged in arm wrestling on February 20. That day, 120,000 Moroccans prompted by young Facebook activists hit the streets of no less than 53 cities and villages in Morocco, claiming – among other things – a democratic constitution. In order to avoid Arabic revolutions’ contagion, the government let the demonstrations go unchallenged. As a consequence, the demonstrators realized how numerous they were, and the wall of fear suddenly collapsed.
Since then, numerous sit-ins were held in the four corners of the Kingdom and abundant op-eds were published in the press and on the Internet, all of which increased the democratic pressure--from substantial in February, to intolerable in March. On the 9th, the King appeared on television announcing a spectacular constitutional reform. Among his many promises: the “rule of law”, an “independent judiciary” and an "elected government that reflects the will of the people, through the ballot box." Go for democratic victory chants? Wait a minute…
Whoever reads the speech carefully will notice the devil in the details. Boldest case: by promising to “consolidate the status of the Prime Minister”, the King envisions the latter as the head of “an” executive branch, rather than “the” executive branch. Meaning: there will be another one elsewhere – in the royal Palace, for example. With or without constitutional reform, the “executive monarchy” (as King Mohammed himself puts it) is not done encroaching on the government’s territory. It’s as if you were stepping on somebody’s feet and instead of stepping aside, you promise this person new shoes…
The problem is obviously not with the Prime Minister’s powers. It is with the King’s – especially his spiritual powers, given that Islam is Morocco’s state religion. During his March 9 speech, King Mohammed firmly stated that those “immutable values of sacred character” shall not be debated. The Constitution’s articles 19 and 23 assert that the monarch is the “Commander of the faithful” and that his person in “sacred”. Add to this that article 29 gives him the right to govern by issuing dahirs, which are non-questionable and non-opposable royal decrees.
Long story short: the King of Morocco can do absolutely anything he wants, and no one is granted the slightest power to stop him – all of this in the name of Islam. In 1994, late King Hassan, who crafted this unanswerable argument (pretending it was “immemorial tradition”), once justified it by quoting the Prophet Muhammad: “Those who obey me obey God, and those who disobey me disobey God”. How clearer could that be? Said Mohammed VI: democracy supposes that people in charge are accountable. Yet this doesn’t apply to him. You can’t really ask for accounts from the “representative of God on earth” – as the allegiance act to the King of Morocco puts it.
On another hand, the reform’s scope is likely to be lessened by the identity of its enforcers. The day after his speech, the King appointed a constitutional reform commission formed by 18 local experts, the overwhelming majority of whom are loyal civil servants. Little independent spirit is consequently expected.  The commission’s president, Abdeltif Menouni, 67, is a member of this flock of law experts that was hired in the 1980s by former regime strongman Driss Basri in order to provide some legal justification to King Hassan’s autocracy. A fine connoisseur of constitutional law, Mr. Menouni proved skilled in this exercise. He once explained the notion of “royal prerogative” as “the monarch’s discretionary privilege to act for the good of the country in the absence of constitutional provisions or by his personal interpretation of any.[1]” It is hardly imaginable that this man, who just reached the peak of his career, would dismantle the autocratic “prerogatives” he himself defined.
Yet, despite his ensnared speech and his barely credible commission, Mohammed VI has put himself in a difficult position. Whatever the final draft constitution looks like, it will have to be validated through a referendum. If only because of that, the King will be forced to open the system one way or another. Having the “No” campaigners speak on public TV would already greatly challenge the supposedly untouchable “sacredness” paradigm. How can the royal palace admit that some Moroccans may reject a proposition from the Commander of the faithful? Put under pressure, the monarchy is reaching its ultimate contradiction: Sacred or democratic? It is now time to choose.
The protesters, who are not necessarily aware of these profound political stakes, are waiting on their part for tangible signs of change. The repression of a Casablanca March 13 peaceful protest already casted doubts on the regime’s intentions. Why such violence, only days after the King promised democracy? What if he was not sincere?
Bigger scale protests are scheduled starting March 20. It seems that the government has no good options. Dropping the mask by meeting the demonstrators with brutal repression may well escalate their anger. Up until now, the King himself was spared by the street slogans. This could change, paving the way to an Egyptian-style scenario, indeed the authorities’ worst nightmare. On the other hand, allowing the demonstrations to happen freely would empower the people and encourage them to hit the streets more, thus increasing pressure on the monarchy.
Sooner or later, Mohammed VI will have to make new concessions. When and to what extent? The highly unstable situation makes that hard to predict. One thing is certain: the democratic Pandora’s box is open, and will not be closed again.

[1] A. Menouni in Revue juridique, politique et économique du Maroc, Mohammed V University, Rabat, January 1984 (p. 42)
Dune struck in Morocco.
Diane Armstrong From: The Australian March 19, 2011
THE desert landscape of Morocco unfolds in front of me, with sculpted golden dunes undulating as far as I can see.
It could be a scene from David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. I fancy I look the part too, with my head and the lower half of my face muffled in a Berber scarf to protect from sun and sand.
But there the resemblance ends. Unlike the movie hero galloping across the desert sands, I am gripping the reins of my camel with white knuckles. Perched on top of this spindly-legged beast, I feel I am riding on top of a skyscraper during an earthquake.
Camera poised, my husband Michael calls out to me to turn around so he can immortalise this moment, but I am rigid with terror. Like a latter-day Lot's wife, I am convinced that turning around will turn me into a pillar of sand.
I am having enough trouble just trying to hold on. No matter how much I wriggle and shift, I can't find a spot on the bone-hard saddle that doesn't chafe or rub an intimate part of my anatomy.
Instead of swaying languidly through the desert, the camel keeps sinking into the soft sand on one side, and then with a lurch sliding down on the other, so that I feel my spine being rearranged with each jerk.
Suddenly there's a shout and our caravan comes to a halt. There are nine of us on this tour of Morocco, but only eight of us are on camels. Sue, the oldest member of our group, has opted to walk in the Sahara instead.
Having had two hip replacements shortly before the tour, she insists she couldn't ride a camel, but when our guide Sayeed tries to persuade her to stay behind at the inn in Merzouga until we return the following morning, she refuses.
Faced with her recalcitrance, Sayeed has no alternative but to walk beside her, but after 10 minutes of sinking into the soft sand in the searing heat, she staggers and collapses, and begins to talk utter gibberish.
While we wait, wondering what will happen, Sayeed and Ali, one of the camel boys, manage to hoist Sue on to a camel and Ali holds on to her as we move off again. By now the sun is beginning to set, and as the camels tread along the knife-sharp creases of the dunes, the sky glows crimson and the shadows of the camels lengthen on the golden sand. It's so magnificent I almost forget my aching rear and the cramp in my thighs.
After a couple more hours, I notice occasional clumps of desert grasses and realise we are nearing our destination.
The idea of spending the night in a Berber camp in the Sahara sounds impossibly exotic and my first sight of the large square tent enclosed by colourful hand-woven carpets is very exciting. I'm thrilled that for one night I'll have a chance to share the life of these desert dwellers.
We eat our dinner sitting uncomfortably cross-legged on the sand, and long for a chair. Even a cushion would do.
After a tasty meal of spiced lentils, chicken tagine, couscous, spinach and pumpkin prepared by our hosts, two of the Berbers beat out an evocative rhythm on their djembae drums while Sayeed, in his sapphire-blue djellaba, dances to the music with sensuous movements, his face glowing in the firelight. Throughout the evening we glance anxiously at Sue, who is still lying in one corner of the tent, semi-conscious and confused.
Her husband explains that she has had similar episodes in the past, but Sayeed, whose jovial personality and beaming face have endeared him to us during the first week of our tour, looks very concerned. He does whatever he can to make her comfortable, and moves his mattress close to hers so that he can watch over her during the night.
Darkness falls quickly in the Sahara and after one last incredulous look at the brilliance of the star-studded sky, Michael and I crawl under the tatty carpet roof of the tent.
I'm lying in the dark, exhilarated at the prospect of spending the night in the desert, when I hear what sounds like a whip cracking. It's the tarpaulin sheet across the opening flapping wildly in the wind. Within a few minutes, sand is trickling down through the threadbare carpet, stinging my face. A sandstorm has blown up and I listen to the wind howling through the desert, rearranging the dunes.
For the next few hours, the sand whips my arms and lodges in my hair, my ears and my blanket. I desperately need to go to the toilet, but there's no way I am going to stumble around in the dark looking for the toilet tent in this gale. As I try to brush the sand from my face and spit it out of my mouth, I long for a hot shower and a flushing loo; I gain new respect for desert dwellers.
Relieved to see a spear of light gleaming through a crack in the tarpaulin after what feels like the longest night of my life, I stagger from the tent. I am tousled, sand-strewn, grotty and irritable. But all is forgotten as I gaze at the miracle of sunrise in the desert.
We are packing up to leave but Sue is still incoherent and confused. She's in no state to ride a camel. She needs a car but this poses a daunting challenge. The dunes have shifted overnight, making it difficult to find us, let alone to drive out here, as it seems impossible to describe where we are. To add to Sayeed's problems, he cannot get a signal on his mobile phone.
Throughout this drama, which Sue has caused by her obstinacy, Sayeed never loses his good humour or displays any irritation. He remains calm and positive, and after sprinting to the top of a steep dune, he finally gets a signal and manages to find a driver with a four-wheel-drive who is prepared to try to find us.
As Sue's husband doesn't have any cash, Sayeed pays the driver to transport them to the French Hospital in Marrakech, 170km away. As soon as they've left, we mount the camels for our return trip to Merzouga.
By now the sun is painting the sky with streaks of peach and apricot, and gilding the dunes with an intense light.
I look around at a glorious expanse of desert where man has left no footprints, and I soon forget the discomfort of the saddle and the lurching of the camel's gait.
By the time our group reaches Marrakech a few days later, Sue has almost recovered and joins us for dinner at a terrace restaurant overlooking the snake-charmers, monkeys and magicians in Djemmaa el-Fna square.
On the last day of our tour, Sayeed presents Michael and me with a box of luscious pastries.
Inside he leaves us a brief but heartfelt note: "Every blessing to you."
But I have seen sunset and sunrise in the desert of Morocco and already feel deeply blessed.
A model modern Muslim state
The Middle East uprisings — demanding freedom, democracy and prosperity from corrupt, autocratic rulers — give the United States a unique historical opportunity to redefine its policies in the region and regain creditability.
To do so, it should look to Morocco.
While seeking to curb extremists from taking advantage of the unrest, Washington must change its habit of blindly supporting friendly autocrats, who favor stability over freedom. The U.S. must also work with its regional allies on reforms to create a blueprint for the model modern Muslim state.
This model has yet to emerge. Many looked to Turkey. But the struggle between its military and political echelons, and its inability to harness the spirit of this Arab awakening, rule it out. Iraq's nascent democracy was also considered, but its political stability remains questionable.
Morocco's progress in recent years, however, has been significant. Since becoming king in 1999, Mohammed VI broke away from his father's brutal policies during the "Years of Lead" and immediately began a series of liberalizing reforms.
These include permitting the return of political exiles, holding legislative elections, enhancing investing to alleviate poverty, modifying the criminal code and setting up the first truth and reconciliation commission in the Arab world to help mend the wounds of the past and set a new course.
While there is more to be done, a foundation for reform has been established. Perhaps most noteworthy, Morocco has passed these reforms in a specifically Islamic context. Many of its liberal values are also shared by the West — yet they were not born in the West, rather from the Mahgreb itself.
While protests have taken place in Morocco, they have largely been sporadic, and in support of further economic and political reforms alongside the tradition of Morocco's 1,200 years of uninterrupted monarchy.
In response, the king announced the formation of the Economic and Social Council. "We are not only injecting fresh momentum into the reform process I launched shortly after I assumed the leadership, my loyal people," Mohammed announced, "but we are also underlining the close link between genuine democracy and the achievement of human advancement and sustainable development."
He made a rare appearance on Moroccan TV soon after, to announce a public referendum on significant constitutional reforms. He described this as "a major phase in the process of consolidation of our model of democracy and development."
Washington is taking notice. After meeting with Morocco's Foreign Minister Tibri Fassi Fihri last month, Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns labeled Morocco "a model of economic, social, and political reform."
"The partnership between the United States, Morocco and the Moroccan people," Burns said, "is a very high priority for President Obama and Secretary Clinton. It's never been more important than at this moment."
Seizing this moment requires the United States to work with Morocco on a blueprint for systematic political and economic reforms that proactively respond to the region's spreading unrest. A U.S. effort to help Morocco achieve a balance between these reforms and reverence for its own history and religious tradition would be a crucial symbol for the developing Middle East — and its growing ties with the West.
Even more important, a U.S.-supported program to encourage greater media freedom, economic development and open political debate could jumpstart a path for Morocco to realize its leadership as a model for re-shaping the Arab world.
This plan could be implemented and monitored to communicate and advance a U.S. platform for supporting the growth and change called for by the peoples of the Middle East. It could counter the prevailing view that Washington only props up authoritarian regimes that serve its interests, rather than helping the people of the region.
Developing a successful Moroccan model could replace the sweeping unrest with a much-needed wave of economic growth, political freedom, justice and peace. The United States must be prepared to help Morocco achieve all this, and, in doing so, effectively advance U.S. interests and stability across the broader Middle East.
David Avital is an executive committee member of Israel Policy Forum. David Halperin is a policy analyst at Israel Policy Forum and the Center for American Progress.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is a member of the Politico Network.

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