Morocco pledges economic fair play after protests
Thu Apr 14, 2011
Thu Apr 14, 2011 6:09am GMT
By Souhail Karam
RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco's anti-trust body will be wholly independent before September to enforce transparency in the award of public procurements and licences to investors and to fight monopolies, its head said.
Since its inception in 2001, the Competitiveness Council has not been able to access government data to assess the scale of under-the-table deals involving licences and contracts handed to individuals or foreign firms without going through tenders.
Such licences have involved mining, fishing and public transport among other sectors as well as contracts worth billions of dollars to supply state-run firms with machinery and equipment.
Nor previously has the council been allowed to look into monopolistic industries, such as the refining of sugar and crude oil, or fight dodgy business practices among quasi-monopolistic entities.
Lack of investor confidence in a country without the resource wealth of other Arab states has also swelled the ranks of hundreds of thousands of jobless youths.
"All of this will change," the council's head Abdelali Benamour told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Benamour did not elaborate on which sectors would be prioritised. "We have never been allowed to initiate reports about the situation of monopolies in the country. The real work will start once the council's new statutes are approved".
Amid emboldened demands for deep political and economic reforms, King Mohammed pledged in a meeting with Benamour on Monday to review the council's legal framework to boost its autonomy and resources and expand its prerogatives.
The monarch has promised reforms that would curb his political powers after some of the largest anti-government protests in recent decades in Morocco.
The protestors have also demanded the king reduces his business clout. The 47-year old monarch is described as Morocco's leading businessman, a top shareholder in an holding company worth $13 billion in assets.
Benamour said noone will be spared. "The new statutes should end all situations of economic privileges ... The impact will be general. We will have a real economic democracy.
"That's what we need and that's what will work for us: To attract more foreign investors and create more jobs," he said.
"The ultimate purpose is for the council to become like the most efficient anti-trust organisations in the world based on key fundamentals: independence, decision-making, full and complete jurisdiction and investigative powers, nothing less than that".
He warned however that parliament may have only until September, at the latest, to approve the new statutes since a referendum is planned this year for a constitutional reform under study and parliamentary elections are due in 2012.
"We have already started working with the government on the new statutes.
"It will be catastrophic if parliament does not approve them under the current session which ends in June or September if we get a special extension.
"We have received assurances from the (royal) palace that this will need to be done immediately, before June," he said.
The head of the council will be appointed by the prime minister but parliament will be allowed to veto the suggested candidate to avoid conflict of interest, Benamour said.
© Thomson Reuters 2011. All rights reserved. Users may download and print extracts of content from this website for their own personal and non-commercial use only. Republication or redistribution of Thomson Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Thomson Reuters. Thomson Reuters and its logo are registered trademarks or trademarks of the Thomson Reuters group of companies around the world.
Morocco eyes rural development. 2011-04-11 By Siham Ali
A balanced rural-urban development is a key to long-term economic progress, according to experts.
Movements for change have not spared Morocco's rural community. Though the government has exerted efforts to support the countryside in recent years, experts and farmers believe that more robust measures are needed.
The sector continues to suffer from a number of limitations. They are related to access to equipment and basic services in education and health, as well as the isolation and remoteness from the centre, said economist Zohra Chihabi.
According to Istiqlal MP Mohamed Ansari, the deficit accumulated over decades cannot be absorbed in a few years. The actions to support rural areas, he said, must be doubled or even tripled in order to catch up with the delay.
The government has allocated 20 billion dirhams for 2011 to accelerate the existing programmes, namely strengthening infrastructures and basic services with regards to education, health, potable water and electricity supply, as well as connection to roads.
According to the finance ministry, the goal is to reduce the shortfalls that affect rural regions, especially mountainous areas that have a considerably low income. The rate of supply of drinking water in these areas increased by 6% in three years, reaching 91% in 2010. The rate of electricity coverage reached 98% in 2010, compared with 93% four years ago, according to the ministry.
The pace of the second National Rural Roads Programme has been accelerated to increase the annual length from 1500km to 2000 km, which will improve road access to rural areas by 80% next year instead of 2015 in the original plan. Infrastructure projects, however, are not enough, according to Chihabu. The government needs to provide suitable training for rural youth to launch income-generating activities.
"The support will also have to concern the local representatives so they can build external partnerships, both nationally and internationally, for the social and economic development in their region," she said. "Awareness, in this context, is necessary because sometimes we find several campaigns that are full of resources but are not cleverly exploited."
"We must ensure a balanced development between urban and rural areas in order to face the problems afflicting the rural world," said Justice and Development Party leader Saaddine Othmani
The state, he said, should provide citizens with basic services in a fair and balanced manner.
Spring' to arrive in Morocco
By Imrane Binoual 2011-04-06
Amazigh Activists in Morocco hope that the "Amazigh Spring" can showcase their demands for language recognition and other civil rights.
for Magharebia in Casablanca – 06/04/11
Preparations are under way in Morocco for the commemoration of the "Amazigh Spring" on April 20th. The day, which marks the anniversary of a security crackdown on Kabylie activists in 1980, presents an opportunity to press demands for constitutional recognition of Tamazight.
"For a long time now, the Amazigh movement has been fighting for the Amazigh language to be given preferred status," Amazigh federation chief in Oujda Ahmar Ahmed said at the April 2nd preparatory meeting in Rabat. The gathering drew nearly 80 associations from across the country.
In light of the current political environment, he said the upcoming event would be "a way of attracting the attention of decision-makers and members of the consultative committee on constitutional reform, so that they might consider the demands for the Amazigh language to be officially recognised and enshrined in the constitution", Ahmed said.
"I think there will be national support for this, because everyone is affected by constitutional recognition of Amazigh," he added.
The holiday was highlighted in a press release signed by a number of branches of the Amazigh movement, including the World Mountain Peoples Association (Morocco division), the World Amazigh Congress (CMA), the Youth Organisation, the Co-ordinating Committee of Amazigh Associations in Central Morocco, and the Amazigh Option.
"It is against this backdrop that the associations have come together as a credible source of new proposals and also to bar the way to anyone seeking to use the Amazigh question for their own personal gain," said attorney Ahmed Arrehmouch, a member of the executive board of the Amazigh Network for Citizenship as well as a participant of the Alternatives Sud forum.
The activist groups agreed to form a national committee to co-ordinate the activities of the various branches of the Amazigh movement and to follow up on the recommendations agreed at the end of the meeting. The working group will also be asked to develop the vision of the Amazigh movement concerning the constitutional reforms it would like to see. It will also work to prepare for the celebrations of the Amazigh Spring.
"There will be a national march and sit-ins in various regions across the country. The national march will take place on the weekend of either April 17th or April 24th. At the same time, young Amazighs, who were involved in the events of 20 February, will also suggest that the "February 20 Movement" organise a joint demonstration so that support for Amazigh demands can be expressed by all Moroccans," Arrehmouch said.
"The demands which were voiced at that time – April 20th, 1980 – were a way of speaking out against the position of Amazigh in North Africa," Arrehmouch said. But in light of the current political climate, celebrations of the historic day can now take on a "more grown up form", he said.
Indeed, this year Amazigh activists hope to celebrate the event for an entire week.
Youth unemployment persists in Morocco
By Siham Ali 2011-04-06
Despite recent efforts by authorities, young university graduates in Morocco still have difficulty finding jobs.
Created after the February 20th protests, Morocco's Economic and Social Council (CES) was tasked with addressing the thorny issue of youth unemployment. But despite action by authorities, including the recruitment of over 4,000 PhD students to public sector jobs, many young Moroccans remain unable to find work.
All possible ways of finding a solution to this extremely complicated situation must be sought by way of concrete proposals, including opportunities in certain promising sectors such as the green economy, according to CES Chairman Chakib Benmoussa.
The council identified a number of priority areas, namely youth employment, training and retention policies, and plans for the cultural integration of young people.
The government's policies have revealed their limitations, economist Ahmed Boundil said. He asserted that the council must start with vocational training, with a view to preparing young people to enter the labour market. He believes that the recent recruitment of thousands of people with PhDs and masters degrees to the public sector is not an effective or sustainable measure and does not solve the problem, because thousands of new graduates leave Moroccan universities every year.
It is understandable that young graduates are demanding the right to work, but their request to be recruited into the public sector is incomprehensible, Bank al-Maghreb Governor Abdellatif Jouahri told reporters on March 29th.
"We must open up both the public and private sectors to them, provide them with skills and reform the training system. Recruiting workers to the public sector to fill a gap will only have an effect in the short term, it won't solve the issue in the long term," the bank chief said.
The business intelligence unit established by the government in 2009 to help sectors hit by the global economic crisis also devoted its March 16th meeting to the issue of employment. The finance ministry said that steps would be taken to train young people while providing them a state-guaranteed income for the duration of their training.
Morocco will also negotiate with businesses on the recruitment of graduates at the end of their training. The aim is to create 150,000 new jobs in 2011, as compared with 120,000 in 2010.
There are a certain number of requirements that must be met if jobs are to be created, according to the General Confederation of Businesses in Morocco (CGEM). Those include the creation of a favourable business environment as well as one that is attractive to investors. Employers said that Morocco has the capacity to create between 2.5 and 3.5 million additional jobs by 2020.
CGEM also put forward its own programme for the government to tackle unemployment, focusing on vocational training in order to help those whose skills do not meet the needs of the labour market.
The intro to my 1975 Urban Studies thesis reads as follows: “The rate of urbanization today in Third World countries exceeds the rate of industrialization. This condition generates a high level of societal expectation but a low level of societal capability. It is predicted that the outcome of this dichotomy will be social confusion, social violence, and social stagnation. While the rate of urbanization is exceeding the rate of industrialization, the rate of migration is exacerbating this condition to an explosive level. This explosive situation is of major concern to the author of this thesis, and this concern is based on his realization that Third World problems must be solved by Third World people.”
In 1961, when I was 16 years old, my senior class paper entitled the Blessing of Liberty had the following introduction: “Liberty is Life and Life is Liberty, they are twins. For Liberty one can sacrifice Life but for Life one cannot sacrifice Liberty. Life is Liberty with honor and dignity. Without honor and dignity there is no Liberty and without Liberty there is no Life.”
What do these two introductions have to do with each other and how relevant are they to the reality in the Arab World and liberty and the democratization process in Morocco today? Allow me to try to show the relevancy:
Liberty is a human reality. Everyone wants to be free. Today, urban areas are the nest for the demand for Liberty; this is not to say that rural areas are immune to this demand. Yet, the lack of rural health has greatly contributed to the lack of urban health. It is easily observable that demographic growth and migration prompted by the economic motive to urban centers which have not industrialized exacerbates this lack of urban health. The lack of rural and urban health is fatal to Liberty, yet it feeds and strengthens the demand for Liberty.
Liberty is not an expectation of what elections may generate as opportunities because those misguided elected politicians, as has been the case wherever elections were held, end up furthering their own interest and agenda rather than the interest of those who elected them and the nation.
Economic development is the raison d’etre of Liberty, and the demand for Liberty is fueled by the lack of economic development. Can one safely state that without economic development there is no Liberty and that without Liberty there is no Democracy?
This leads us to Democracy, and it is known that Liberty is the soul of Democracy. It is also known that unhealthy rural and urban areas are the victims of lack of adequate education, training, employment, shelter, food, clothing, medical health, basic sanitation and recreational facilities for a young growing rural and urban population. Democracy that does not provide these services to its rural and urban citizens is a Democracy without soul. It is a Democracy which is void of Liberty.
Regardless of their political system and regardless of the percentage distribution between the rural and urban population within the human settlements of the Arab countries where violence is rampant and continues to be, why is it that the leadership of these Arab countries, which resorted to irreconcilable confrontation with its citizenry where life has to be sacrificed for Liberty, did not provide adequate rural and urban health delivery systems, thus avoiding social violence and social stagnation?
As explosive as the violent antagonistic situation is, is it safe to assume that those Arab countries where the line of reason has been crossed are ruled by misguided, hard-headed managers who held power for decades and had the time and the money to be responsible agents of change and yet chose to mismanage their countries’ affairs and resorted to violence against their own people who protested against this flagrant mismanagement? These managers and their advisers must be deaf, blind, greedy, incompetent, suicidal, or all of the above.
My first experience with the nuance of Democracy occurred when I was 15. I took an English test in Dar America in Casablanca where I was taking English courses. I made an A+. Guess what the test was? I had to fill in the blanks (use of prepositions) in the Gettysburg Address by President Abraham Lincoln. The speech ended with …“Government of the people by the people and for the people.”
As a Moroccan who spent about 50 years in the United States of America with many visits back to Morocco, I learned as a student of American democracy that the essence of the US Democracy objectives -- Life, Justice and the Pursuit of Happiness -- is economic development for a strong middle class. I also learned that the rich pay no taxes and the poor are on social welfare. The US tax-paying work horse is the middle class.
I am proud of the positive level of the democratization process in Morocco, which has saved the country from destructive clashes. The political maturity exemplified by the Moroccan people is proof of their understanding that the newly-born Moroccan Democracy must be nurtured, cherished and developed. The Moroccan people, whether rural or urban, are patient and know that it takes time for their young Democracy to deliver knowing full well that their Democracy is not a static but a dynamic Democracy.
2011 shows a new beginning under the leadership of the King Mohammed VI for whom I have a lot of affection, respect and admiration for the positive way he is managing the country’s affairs. What I like more about the King’s accomplishments in harnessing the Kingdom to face the challenges of economic development is that waste is being reduced and corruption is being tackled at all levels. The Moroccans and their King know very well that it takes time to rid the country of these two curses. No efforts will be spared to achieve that.
Economic development is the foundation of Nation Building. A progressive and adequate level of rural and urban health is the goal of nation building. The Kingdom of Morocco has embarked on assuring the attainment of this goal. The King and his dedicated advisers in their commitment to this goal have launched jointly with the Moroccan people a war against rural and urban poverty. The war against rural poverty is fought with the “Green Plan” and its aggregation phase which is geared to uplift poor and small farmers to a job market situation where the gap between the “Smig” and the “Smag” is reduced through a modernized agricultural activities. Moroccans with small farms will earn the same price for their exports as those from large farms. This will generate a higher income for the small farm too. This makes investment and employment in agriculture attractive, thus allowing the investors in agriculture to make a reasonable profit and the rural labor force to earn a decent salary, giving them dignity and stability.
Aggregation has made the small farmers in California successful. They contribute to California’s agriculture diversification and production of fruits, vegetables and nuts making California the 8th largest economy in the world. It is known that Morocco is an agricultural country and regardless of our different political opinions we all wish Morocco to attain its agricultural potential in the production of fruits, vegetables and nuts and thus generating revenues to reinforce the delivery of adequate rural health. Also more dams destined to irrigation and to the provision of electrical power and energy are being built with the hope that Morocco will reach 5,000,000 irrigated hectares for agriculture in the near future. Morocco has reached now about 1 million irrigated hectares.
As to the delivery of adequate urban health and the war against urban poverty, the King’s decision to eradicate shantytowns is commendable, and this program is welcomed by the Moroccan people. Any responsible Moroccan would want to see this subhuman habitat disappear out of the urban environment in Morocco within an acceptable, honorable and dignified displacement strategy. The King’s creation of the mushrooming new towns in Morocco as the outcome of the new poles of growth strategy has also been highly welcomed and so have the new low and moderate income housing programs as well as the new highway and rail and metro systems and ports and airports. Light manufacturing and agribusiness industries are also being built everywhere in the Kingdom, as are large tourism resorts, hotels and personalized Riads.
Morocco’s most important need which is energy is being partially met by heavy investment in the continuous building of dams for electrical power and energy as well as by heavy investment in clean solar and wind energy while protecting the environment. If the price of fossil oil continues to rise and if the construction of nuclear energy plants is stopped in the industrialized countries, perhaps the exploration and transformation of Morocco’s abundant oil shale can be profitable as in the US and Canada and will attract investments. The promising managerial team’s input in the phosphate production, transformation and marketing today is creating higher revenues. All these activities are creating thousands of jobs in agriculture, fisheries, tourism, construction, energy and mining for Morocco.
No one will disagree with the fact that the education, training and health delivery systems in Morocco need to be upgraded. This is necessary because of their cost/ benefit configuration which is heavy on the cost side. They eat up a large portion of the Moroccan annual budget. Moroccan think tanks are dedicated to developing workable plans to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse which have hindered these important components of the Moroccan economy from functioning efficiently since Morocco’s independence. It is hoped that new political approaches will be launched that will prevail with the labor unions input.
As to politics, political parties and labor unions are the force motrice behind the democratization process. An independent media is the watch dog which keeps this process an honest one. We all know that there are hundreds of news papers and magazines in Arabic, French and Spanish representing all the opinions and points of view imaginable about Morocco including the contributions in English of the Washington-based Morocco Board News.
Considering the number of political parties and labor unions in Morocco, it is known that all the political points of view or ideologies one can think of are each represented by these political parties, labor unions, non governmental organizations and professional associations in the arena of politics in Morocco. There is no doubt that the newly proposed future amendments to the Moroccan constitution will further the guarantee of inalienable rights to the Moroccan citizens.
The regionalization plan will create accountability because of the very close proximity between elected officials in the region and the electorate of the region. It will also open the door to the massive return of our Moroccan brothers and sisters and their families back to our Sahara regions from Tindouf, thus freeing themselves from continuous miserable sequestration in Algeria. They can come back home to Morocco and exercise the right to chose and elect their own leaders to run their regions’ affairs in the Sahara in the context of regionalization within a constitutional monarchy.
The new players in the Moroccan parliament will take their legislative role seriously by promulgating laws that promote democratic, social and economic development in a transparent way.
The judicial branch of the Moroccan political system will be blind in its execution of justice in a constitutional monarchy wherein the King is the protector of the rights of all his Moroccan subjects.
This is what a situation analysis of the Kingdom of Morocco shows me today. To me this is the relevancy of Liberty and democratization in Morocco as I understand it. This is why, God forbid, Morocco does not have the problems that other Arab countries, plagued with violence, have with their failed managers.
King Mohammed VI is committed to make Morocco a real constitutional Monarchy which is bound to become a unique modern democracy, a healthy rural and urban nation with a sound agricultural and industrial base. To enjoy Liberty and further democratization, there is a need for continued cooperation among the Moroccan people and between the people and their King. Accelerated economic development which contributes to bridging the gap between the rich and the poor is a prerequisite for nation building.
As the father of sociology and economics Ibn Khaldun advised in his Muqaddimah in the 14th century: “Towns and Cities with their large monuments, vast construction and large buildings are set for the Masses and not the Few. Therefore, united efforts and much cooperation are needed for them.”
Will Morocco’s King Deliver on Reforms?
INTISSAR FAKIR MARCH 16, 2011
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.
Between East and West in Morocco
DARREN HUMPHRYS, The West Australian April 8, 2011,
At the crossroads of Africa, Arabia, and Europe - and once known as the western edge of the then known world - Morocco is an exotic, vibrant, and exciting land of intriguing culture, mesmerising landscapes, master craftsmanship and renowned hospitality.
It is also a country of contrasts, where tradition and modernity can be seen living and working side-by-side every day.
Journey to Morocco today and you can still marvel at the quintessential North African images of ancient walled cities, desert-crossing camel caravans, mud-walled kasbahs shaded by tall date palms, minarets silhouetted against the setting sun, Arab intellectuals, and Berber nomads.
However, this is also a youthful country that is fast becoming a leading nation bridging the differences between l'Orient (the East) and l'Occident (the West).
Independent from the French since 1956, Morocco's largely under-40 population is being led into a complicated 21st-century by a young king - the jetskiing, mountain-hiking Mohammed VI - who is intent on retaining his kingdom's unique diversity and traditional customs while encouraging tourism as a major form of economic development.
A land of stability in a region currently facing serious political challenges, Morocco is filled with unforgettable travel experiences just waiting to be embraced. The following are some of them:
Within Morocco's walled medinas, you can immerse yourself in both the country's past and present.
Formerly safe havens from invaders and marauders, today's medinas are intoxicating combinations of traditional and modern, where ancient mosques, crowded souks, and workshops of skilled craftsmen sit side-by-side with trendy riad hotels, ambience-filled restaurants, and alfresco cafes.
Taking the time to wander around a medina's maze of streets, alleys, and lanes - expect a few wrong turns and dead ends - will reward you with a greater insight to these beating hearts of Morocco.
It's the national drink-jokingly described to Westerners as "Moroccan whiskey" - and is available anywhere, anytime.
Traditionally brewed slowly over a charcoal fire and sweetened by big chunks of sugar, the tea is poured from an arm's length height to aerate the brew. This is to be performed two to three times-and tasted after each pour-before the tea is considered ready to drink.
Jellabahs and donkeys
A jellabah (a traditional robe with a pointed hood) is still worn throughout the country by both sexes and all ages, and many Moroccans transport their goods, and themselves, by donkey.
This combination makes for a fascinating sight, especially in the bigger towns where the contrast of traditional and modern can be captured as pointed hood and four-legged beast plod by a KFC or McDonald's.
Spices are an everyday ingredient in Moroccan cuisine and can be purchased from establishments ranging from small medina stalls to big nationwide supermarket chains.
At the front of most spice stalls are the various spices displayed in tall, cone-shape mounds within brass or steel vats.
The vibrant colour of these mounds of henna (green), chilli (orange), paprika (red), and turmeric (yellow) sums up the exotic sights and smells of the country's medinas.
Do as the Moroccans do and take some time out during the day to sit down at a pavement cafe, order a coffee or tea, and watch the world go by.
In a country where bars and pubs are still largely kept out of sight, the cafe - thanks to 44 years of French occupation - has become a major social element in Moroccan society.
Moroccans come to chat, play endless games of checkers, conduct business meetings, watch soccer on TV, or simply catch up on the latest local gossip.
Morocco's craftsmen are among the most skilled in the world, with generations of families working in ceramics, jewellery, leather, metal and wood.
Many are located within the local markets, called souks, and this is where the shopping bargains are to be found. Often uncomfortable for Westerners, haggling is part of the routine for locals, and is an accepted and expected practice within the souks.
Morocco's traditional slipper is the leather babouche, which is worn by men and women of all ages and backgrounds.
Found in colours covering the spectrum of the rainbow, styles range from traditionally pointed to fashionable round-toe.
Walk through any market or souk in the country, and you're bound to find the local babouche quarter, where literally hundreds of babouches are displayed from floor to ceiling.
Politely ask the shopkeeper for a photograph of his collection, and don't be surprised if you end up with a pair for yourself.
The centrepiece of most sit-down meals in Morocco is couscous. Fine, grain-size pieces of semolina lightly steamed in an aromatic broth until light and fluffy, couscous can be served with any meat or vegetable, or a combination of both.
When dining with Moroccans, you'll be encouraged to scoop up a handful - use your "clean" right hand - and roll it into a small ball before tossing it into your mouth.
This is one of the main reasons why most dinner tables in Morocco are covered with plastic - and easily cleaned - tablecloths.
There's nothing like witnessing the beginning of a new Moroccan day from the crest of a dune on the edge of the Sahara.
Experiencing the desert's utter tranquility while feeling the cold, soft grains of sand between your toes can be one of the most serene, invigorating, and even spiritual reflective moments you'll ever have.
Darren Humphrys is the author of Frommer's Morocco, in which some of this information is contained.
This July, the former West Australian will be escorting the inaugural Moroccan Culture, Colours and Wildlife Safari for Coates Wildlife Tours.
The 16-day journey explores much of Morocco's fertile coastal plains and parched Saharan-fringed oases, traversing both the High Atlas and Middle Atlas mountains along the way.
Some of the fascinating experiences awaiting travellers include walks through the ancient medinas of Fes and Marrakech, lunch with a Berber family, a nature walk along the Todra palmeraie oasis, camel trek and overnight stay in a desert nomad camp, and quality birdwatching along Morocco's shimmering Atlantic coastline.
Accommodation is in an eclectic range of guesthouses and hotels, personally chosen by Humphrys, and travellers are assured of a daily palette of inspirational and interesting experiences thanks to his unique knowledge of the Moroccan and Australian cultures.
The safari begins and ends in Casablanca, from July 3 to 18. Cost is $5545 per person twin share and includes all accommodation, transport, entrances and most meals, as well as nice touches like bottled water with meals and all gratuities.
Visit Coates Wildlife Tours online at www.coateswildlifetours.com or phone 9330 6066.
New York / Morocco Board News --- As many may already know, one of Morocco’s plight is its abnormal number of political parties. This has been mistaken for democracy -and often used as an argument that ‘Morocco is a democratic exception in the region‘- and often overlooked as the result of a ‘divide and conquer‘ policy from the Makhzen regime to insure its own political hegemony. What follows is a scenario that provides enough conditions to sort out this motley of political parties, and without substantial threats to political diversity but prevents the undesirable outcome whereby small political parties act pivotal in coalition governments, as it is the case in countries like Israel or Italy.
First, we need to point out that many of these political parties have common history, ideology and even leadership at one time. As a matter of fact, many of the breakaways were mainly ego clashes more than anything else. This is mainly due to the fact that political organizations in Morocco, whatever their professed position on the political spectrum, have been strongly identified with their leader. And the lack of internal democracy, as well as non-existent mechanisms for pacific competition and clear rules of power brokerage, or even the refusal of dissent within political parties in Morocco, whether from the National Koutla heritage or ‘Administrative Parties‘, made it possible for ambitious leaders to justify their departure from the mother-ship.
Abdellah El Hammoudi‘s seminal work, “Master and Disciple” finds ample field application here: without too much generalization or extensive use of stereotypes, political parties in Morocco act like ‘Zawyas’ (زاوية) or religious covens, with a father figure(head), a ” زعيم” whose authority, by means of political capital (as a former resistant, or as a proxy for political martyrdom) is unshakable and uncontested. ThisZaim has some disciples gravitating around him (for the political world in Morocco is predominantly masculine) and, when the time comes (literally, when the leader is on his deathbed) a Dauphin is chosen. But it is often not the case; the leader clings to power so forcefully that, out of frustrated ambition, a disciple openly defies the master, and when the coup fails, the disciple leaves the political Zawias with his ‘Faithful’ flock and founds a new one, with him as the new Master, and so goes the story.
As a matter of fact, the splits have played a significant part in the founding myths of modern Moroccan politics: it is often claimed that the oldest political party in Morocco was the Istiqlal (founded with the well-known 1944 manifesto for Independence) what is little know was that earlier on, there were other pre-existing political organizations. Indeed, in 1934-1937, there was a rift between two main figures of modern Moroccan nationalism, both Fes-born Allal El Fassi, and Mohamed Belhassan Ouazzani. It seems a conflict of egos (as well as a dispute over Sherifian legitimacy, which Allal El Fassi lacked) led to a split between both man, and each one founded a new party out of the defunct Committee for National Action: El Fassi founded what became later on the Istiqlal and Ouazani Choura (or Democracy) and Istiqlal party.
The sociology of political parties however, is not always that linear. The script is not always observed, as there are from time to time attempts to unite, with a quasi-nostalgia for the ‘old days‘ when Istiqlal and UNFP, in face of adversity, tried as early as 1970 to build up a Koutla (the chosen word conveys the strong feeling about uniting the parties, at least in the leaders’ minds)
These structural weaknesses were exacerbated, if not outright created, by an explicit policy aiming at weakening the political field as much as possible to the benefit of the Monarchy: in 1959 with the UNFP breakaway from Istiqlal party, the Crown Prince was more than pleased to see the Istiqlal juggernaut split between its traditionalist clan and more left-wing faction. Even before, in 1957, and despite pungent opposition from Istiqlal civil servant, the Monarchy offered more than sympathetic support to the foundation of Mouvement Populaire (MP) as early as 1957.
These early examples of political intrigue look very benign when compared to the galloping rise in the number of political parties in the late 1990s. the late Interior Minister, Driss Basri elevated these breakaways to rarefied proportions: in the mid-1980s, and because of a minor row between stalwart monarchy supporter -and MP boss- Mahjoubi Aherdane and the late king Hassan II,Driss Basri orchestrated a breakaway led by a relatively young MP leader,Mohand Laenser. Aherdane had to leave and create his own political party, the MP (ever since, both parties, and a third one, Union Démocratique, coalesced back into the original MP)
This policy was even used against political parties that resisted the Royal Will: in 1996, and because of its uncompromising stand on the upcoming constitutional referendum tabled later that year, the Organisation d’Action Démocratique et Populaire (OADP) suffered a spin-off thanks -or because- of a discreet support from the Interior Ministry.
How would the political landscape look like in a federal monarchy? First, the number of political parties is likely to go down, but not in significant proportions: we stand now at about 30 parties, while a reduction to pre-2002 numbers would at least takes us back to more ‘reasonable’ levels.
Hopefully, with more democracy, transparency and accountability in the federal and regional institutions, political parties in Morocco will also learn that dissent within their organization is not a mortal danger, a fitna that needs to be put down as soon as possible, but the basic element of partisan democracy, and, in the long term, the essential ingredient for political vitality and political personal renewal. That would also mean a lowering in the average demographics from 70+ years old -for partisan politics is still, regrettably, a gerontocracy, though it can be argued that with age, wisdom withers away with politicians like Mahjoubi Aherdane, Mohamed EL Yazghi, Abbas El Fassi or the late Union boss Mahjoub Benseddik.
Some of the small parties have regional strongholds (sometimes because a party figurehead is popular there) and cannot go beyond that stronghold for a variety of reasons: difficulty to attract resources in an other area, not enough grass-roots activists to try and swing target constituencies back from other political parties, demographics, sociology, etc… But still, these parties, if given the opportunity to focus on local matters rather than over-ambitious nation-wide representation. In a federalist scheme (that has been ultimately rejected by the Regional Consultative Commission) there could be workable scenarii that can allow nationally small by strongly established in specific regions- parties to have a say in local matters, and at the same time retaining some leverage over federal issues, without stumbling into parliamentary civil war.
There can be no denying that political parties like USFP, Istiqlal, PJD or MP have de facto a nation-wide vocation for governing (real government in a genuinely democratic Morocco is a sine qua none working condition) In contrast, PSU, PADS and other smaller parties, cannot, with the current political arithmetics hope for sizeable numbers of seats on the federal level, but do retain strong majorities in specific areas, and could very well end up holding majorities in regional parliaments, or on par with the national parties.
On a local level, coalitions would therefore be established on ideological, rather than crude tactical reasons: I would argue that a left-left coalition in, say the Souss region encompassing the PSU, PADS and USFP would be much more powerful, much more coherent than the existing own between USFP and Istiqlal. In effect, homogenous coalitions are needed because, under my proposed schemes, regional houses need to send up representatives to the Federal Parliament, and usually these Members of Parliaments are supposed to reflect stable coalitions and some agreed-upon manifesto, all of which will be more difficult to sustain if currently observed patterns of alliances (with bizarre patchworks of centre-right RNI, centre-left USFP and conservative Istiqlal) are retained. Furthermore, and from a purely game-theoretical aspect, homogeneous coalitions (with respect to the local voters’ verdicts in local elections) tend to be closer to the peoples’ will, and for the senior coalition partners, a deterrent from straying away from manifesto commitment -otherwise, smaller parties can threaten to vote out the ‘consensus’ federal representative.
Does it sound familiar? Yes and no. Indeed, small parties will hold considerable leverage on nation-wide ones, directly on local matters, and indirectly by influencing their federal deputies. However, this mutual check mechanism ensures a ‘toe-the-line’ behaviour from the senior partners, something that is at odds with the observed pattern in governmental majorities since 1963 of weak coalitions and similarly weak governments; quite the opposite, I would argue that this seemingly unstable regional consensus ensure coherent nationwide majorities, and following, consistent parliamentary groups in the federal houses, thus enabling the very existence of a strong government. In effect, regional representatives are double checked and, held equally accountable: at a first level from the local constituents, and on a more institutional level, the regional coalition that send them up to Rabat.
With such heavy deterrent (not to mention party pressure to follow the party Whip’s lines) local representatives’ dissent or ‘transhumance‘ as they usually do will come at a high price for coalition partners, and in the intermediate run, to the dissenters themselves. On the other hand, federal representatives also know that their parties’ national majorities, when in government, are function of coalition agreements at a local level, and though deterrent pressure is mitigated as far as they are concerned, they remain equally compelled to bear with their parliamentary benches.
Of course, all of this is all right, but it remains fairy-tale as long as political parties themselves do not take actions in order to put order in their partisan houses: younger leadership, more transparent and meritocratic competition mechanisms, and more importantly, partisan democracy and the elevation of dissent from danger to democratic virtue.