Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Gulf Co-operation Council

A club fit for kings

A Gulf club is set to beef itself up

 The Gulfies want to hug Morocco’s hoodie
BUFFETED by the wind of democratic change but determined not be blown over by it, the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has surprised the rest of the Arab world by declaring that it would accept a request by Jordan to join the club and would encourage Morocco to do the same.
The reaction, especially in Morocco, which had never asked to join, was one of bemused incomprehension. The government in Rabat was respectful but cool, noting Morocco’s commitment to the Maghreb Arab Union. Jokes were traded on Twitter, with a #funnygcc hashtag, wondering how the different cultures of the Arab world’s easternmost and westernmost people would get on. Moroccan women worried half in jest whether, as in Saudi Arabia, they would no longer be allowed to drive. The republic of Yemen, by contrast, has been asking in vain for membership since 1999.
Abdullatif al-Zayani, the GCC’s secretary-general, a Bahraini who has been trying to mediate an end to the turmoil in Yemen, disclosed few details of the club’s planned enlargement. But the aims were evident. For one thing, the GCC sees itself as a bulwark against Iran, which all the club’s members, led by its most powerful, Saudi Arabia, view as a rising threat. Jordan’s King Abdullah II was the first Arab leader to speak darkly, in 2004, of a “Shia crescent”; Morocco’s King Muhammad VI cut off diplomatic relations with Tehran in 2009, accusing the Islamic Republic of trying to spread its sect of Islam in his stoutly Sunni kingdom. Aside from Oman, whose sultan follows Islam’s Ibadi school, all GCC members are Sunni-ruled. Jordan and Morocco have also given security support to GCC countries. A Jordanian contingent joined the recent Saudi-led intervention to suppress Shia protesters in Bahrain, and Moroccans have long provided brains and brawn to the UAE’s emirs.
There is an economic angle, too. Morocco and Jordan are relatively poor—and lack oil. The rich Gulf states have backed both with billions in aid. For Moroccans and Jordanians, many of whom work in the Gulf, the open borders and labour markets enjoyed by the GCC’s current sextet, which plans a customs union by 2015, is another lure, though today’s GCC members will not give the newcomers all the same privileges from the start.
Monarchical solidarity is, of course, the ultimate bond, at a time when the republican dynasties of Egypt, Libya, Syria and Tunisia have come unstuck or look shaky. A common joke these days is that the GCC should be renamed the “Gulf Counter-Revolutionary Club”.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

On The Church

There is a Catholic Church in Agadir. It is difficult to imagine a place where you will find more people, with less in common, happily gathered together. Also, the diversity of the congregation makes for a very interesting Mass from a linguistic point of view.

Start with the French. Large parts of the Mass are in French. As the old colonial power it is one of the established languages of Morocco. There are plenty of old French retirees spending their golden years in Agadir. Not only that but lots of Black West Africans, also French speaking, have made there way up there from countries to the South but kept the Catholicism of their home country.

Next the English. English is the international language, widely spoken in all international communities. Not only that but Agadir is a quick flight from London so there are a large number of English speaking tourists who spend their mini-breaks there.

Then the Spanish. Spain is Morocco’s closest European neighbor, separated only by a handful of kilometers of water across the straight of Gibraltar. Spain’s influence on the continent and in Morocco is powerful, from their African held World Cup victory, to the old trading city in Morocco that is still Spanish territory.

Not to mention the Portuguese. Though perhaps not as powerful and widespread as the Spanish, the Portuguese did have their say in the history of Morocco.

Now the German. Wealthy German sunbirds can be found all along the Mediterranean rim. And as anyone who has seen the film Casablanca knows, Germany wielded its influence across the country until that dastardly American, Rick, found the courage to stand up to them.

And the lastly the Polish? Polish was part of the service and there were a number of fluent polish speakers ready to sing when their time came. What a dozen elderly poles were doing at a Catholic mass in Morocco is anyone’s guess.

With so many different people and languages gathered under one roof, there is one simple and obvious solution. Latin. After all it wasn’t that long ago that all Catholic Masses were conducted in Latin. Thus, Latin was also heavily featured during the Mass, leaving everyone equally clueless as to what was going on.

Ridentem dicere verum quid vetat.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Morocco In the News: May 17 - 24

WB grants Morocco $4.35m to address climate change.
Washington - The World Bank's Board of Directors on Tuesday approved a US$ 4.35million grant to Morocco to increase small farmers' resilience to climate change, it said in a press release on Wednesday.
   It pointed out that the grant is designed to strengthen the capacity of institutions and farmers to integrate climate change adaptation measures in projects which are implemented under the Plan Maroc Vert.
    The press release noted that the Government of Morocco will co-finance the grant with an investment of US$27 million.
     The project "Integrating Climate Change in the Implementation of the Plan Maroc Vert" will finance climate change adaptation measures among small farmers in five regions of Morocco.
    It will include a climate change adaptation component in about ten pilots, targeting about 2,500 small farmers, it said.
Morocco to craft youth charter. By Hassan Benmehdi 2011-05-12
As part of a push to heed young people's demands, Morocco seeks to devise a comprehensive youth empowerment strategy.
Morocco on May 23rd-24th will host the first of a series of youth meetings aimed at adopting a national strategy for the rising generation. The event, set to take place in the small coastal town of Bouznika, comes as a result of young people's heavy involvement in the reform process.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Soap operas and development

Good trash

How television and radio shows can improve behaviour

In the radio drama “Nau em Taim” (“Now is the time” in Pidgin) aired in Papua New Guinea, a widowed father takes up dynamite fishing—profitable but disastrous for the reef. Then he meets a dashing marine scientist who warns him off. The idea is that by the end of the drama, which debuted in February, both he—and the listeners—will renounce dynamite for sustainable fishing.
The show’s producer, the Population Media Center (PMC) in Vermont, has been a pioneer of programmes with the goal of fostering development. But other groups have increasingly followed suit. In Vietnam Khat Vong Song uses radio drama to teach its listeners about domestic violence. In Kenya Mediae promotes civil rights with a television soap called “Makutano Junction”.
Evidence that radio and television soaps can change behaviour was first spotted in the 1970s. But solid academic research was lacking until a few years ago. In 2008 economists at the Inter-American Development Bank, for instance, found that Brazilians receiving Globo, a television network, had fewer children and got divorced more often. Another study discovered that, as cable television spread, the fertility rate in rural India dropped by as much as if women had received five additional years of education.
Some thought that this was because couch potatoes were less likely to make babies. But research in Ethiopia showed that dramas can have a direct effect. Demand for contraceptives rose by 157% among married women who listened to the soap operas “Yeken Kignet” and “Dhimbibba”. Male listeners sought tests for HIV/AIDS four times as much as male non-listeners.
“The best results are when people identify with characters,” says Betty Oala of the PMC. This is why the organisation does extensive research, takes on local writers and uses native languages.
Not only are soaps effective, but they are also cheap. Radio programmes can cost as little as three cents to reach a listener in Africa. Yet trying to influence the poor can be controversial. Although producers do not hide their agendas, Charles Kenny, an economist, thinks that there could be a “quagmire of a debate over morals and a tangle of regulation”. An increase in divorces, say, may seem like good news to a woman activist, but bad to a Catholic priest.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Testimony of Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams House Committee on Foreign Affairs “Peace Corps at 50” May 11, 2011
Madam Chairman, Ranking Member Berman, members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today about the steps the Peace Corps has taken to improve the safety, security, support, and care of our Volunteers.
As Director of the Peace Corps, and as a former Volunteer, I am part of the extended Peace Corps family. The health, safety, and support of every member of that family is my number one priority. Peace Corps Volunteers represent the best America has to offer, and we owe them our best in return.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Moroccan’s Facebook profiles

Moroccan’s Facebook profiles are not like other nations Facebook profiles.

To begin with, the profile picture is never of the person whose profile it is. Moreover it generally isn’t even a picture of a person. Typically it is a picture of a flower, a cartoon or a digital character. Sometimes it is a saying or a favorite football team’s logo. The number one all time most likely profile picture? A heart!

Secondly, the name of the person whose profile it is isn’t always the name used. Nothing is odder then getting a Facebook request from someone you know but who, for whatever reason, has decided to name his or her internet persona Hospital.

From all this it is obvious to conclude that Moroccans are not happy with using their own countenances and only sometimes happy with their own names, when interacting on Facebook.

Beyond these important things, the actual profile doesn’t contain much in the way of accurate information either. All the pictures tagged as containing said person in them are actually just pictures that they like, like drawings of hearts. There is no job, next of kin or date of birth information either. This makes sense for the Moroccans whose date of birth wasn’t recorded and so can really only say, “I was born during the harvest.” Facebook doesn’t allow The Harvest as a birthday option. But even though some Moroccans don’t have birthdays, many do, but don’t include them. In fact the only accurate information on a Moroccan’s Facebook profile is generally their favorite music, tv shows and quotes.

The most unexpected difference between Moroccan’s Facebook profiles and other nations Facebook profiles however, is that even though Moroccan’s Facebook profiles contain almost no real information about themselves and seemed to be designed so that they can not be traced back to their originator, they still use them solely for the purpose of communicating with people they know. Rather then trolling the world of Facebook for unsuspecting and naive victims as all this secrecy and misinformation might portend, Moroccans still use Facebook for it’s intended purpose, sharing a digital friendship with someone who is your real life friend.

But what they really share is a bond of mutual understanding that their Internet friendship shouldn’t be burdened with the lesser trivialities of reality.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Morocco In the News: May 9 - 16

Morocco to craft youth charter. By Hassan Benmehdi 2011-05-12
As part of a push to heed young people's demands, Morocco seeks to devise a comprehensive youth empowerment strategy.

Morocco on May 23rd-24th will host the first of a series of youth meetings aimed at adopting a national strategy for the rising generation.

Monday, May 16, 2011

On Six Months To Go

On may 24th, 2009 I wrote my Peace Corps Aspiration Statement. In it I expressed a hope to “peal back the layers of myself, like an onion and get to know myself” as well as a desire to promote development “without feeling like a tool of globalization and an opponent of a slower, more natural, prelapsarian world.”

It has been almost two years since that day. With my service coming to an end in six months on November 16th 2011, I took the time to reread my Aspiration Statement and take stock of the Peace Corps Morocco experience.

Ignoring the horrible clichés, I can say that I have learned a lot and grown a lot. I now know the fantasy of a prelapsarian world existing somewhere beyond the reach of the modern world is just that, a fantasy. Having never read Thoreau I can’t categorically say he was wrong, but he probably was.

I think the biggest lesson I have learned is that, no matter how much time I spend, I will always be an outsider here and I am ok with that. I have become far more aware and proud of the culture and traditions that make me, me.

There is a lot more I could say on the subject, but the time, if it ever will come, has yet to arise for waxing philosophical. What I can say is that at this point the closing line of my Aspiration Statement is undoubtedly true, “Personally, I think that having volunteered in the Peace Corps, I will be able to look back at that fact and feel proud of myself and pleased at the person I have become as a result.”

Saturday, May 14, 2011

On Branding

People don’t realize how important branding is. A recent economist article titled ‘Clothes May Make the Man, but it is the Label that Really Counts’ written on the subject had this to say: “A new piece of research confirms what many, not least in the marketing department of fashion houses, will long have suspected: that it is not the design itself that counts, but the label… such clothes do bring the benefits promised: co-operation from others, job recommendations and even the ability to collect more money when soliciting for charity. But they work only when the origin of the clothes in question is obvious.”

Apart from perception, branding serves a very specific purpose, it creates trust, because you have no idea just how crappy a garment can be at first look. Clothing quality can vary widely, with many defects not being readily apparent. While the durability of fabric is easy to feel, the quality of zippers, buttons and stitching is more difficult to determine. If it is high quality it can last for years. If not it may break after a week or two. Branding is important because it provides some insight about the quality you can expect.

Living in the developing world where brands are not as prevalent or policed as in the developed world you realize this lesson very quickly. Cheep clothes, made in china and bought at souk do not last. Moreover brand tags are often fakes, added onto inferior products to lure the unsuspecting. It may be the case that nowadays brands more often serve to stratify societies into haves and have-mores. Still it is nice to know that they did originally have a very useful purpose. Without them one must live by the old adage: Buyer Beware!  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

On Eurovision

I have been a follower of Eurovision since 2008. In that year the people of Europe chose Russia, who at the time was enjoying an above average amount of influence because of the rising cost of oil and gas, as the victor. This victory directly precipitated Russia’s invasion of Georgia and the war that ensued, which cost several hundred lives.

This year the running favorites are France and the UK. Thus, it is expected to be a referendum on those countries roles in the situation in North Africa.

With all this geopolitical influence at stake, one could easily forget that Eurovision is a song contest. And yet it is more then that. It is the most far reaching democratic system ever devised, in which the citizens of more then forty countries have a direct say in the results.

In summary, Eurovision is awesome. You should check it out:

The 2nd semi-final is Thursday May 13th at 8 GMT and the Final is Saturday.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Morocco's Wealth Distribution in Dollars

A low level government employee in Morocco makes $16 a day and is provided with housing, a Peace Corps Volunteer makes $8. 
From http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/05/poor_economics 
Accessed Tuesday, May 10, 2011 07:45 Zulu

Morocco In the News: May 1 - 8

Reform in Morocco: caught between terror and the king.
James Sater  May 6, 2011
Despite being one of the poorest Arab countries, the kingdom of Morocco has been spared the widespread protests seen elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East.
Just last week, however, the regime suffered the strongest reminder that serious reforms are not a luxury, but a necessity. The Marrakesh bombing has been the deadliest in a series of violent incidents that have occurred on a yearly basis since the Casablanca bombings of 2003, when 45 people died in an attack that involved 12 suicide bombers. The attacks that killed 16 and injured 21 others on the Jamma El Fna in Marrakech targeted Morocco's core industry, tourism, and with it the foreign tourists who have visited the country by the millions over the last decade.
This newest attack reveals some of the details of the Moroccan situation that are difficult for Arab neighbours to the east and European neighbours across the Strait of Gibraltar to understand.
Morocco's traditional monarchy is based on the centuries-old idea that the monarch is the "Commander of the Faithful" - Amir Al Mu'minin - of Morocco's religious community. Effectively, this means that contesting the supreme role of the king is sacrilege. Most Moroccans, especially in rural areas, have rallied in support of the king on many difficult occasions since Morocco gained independence from French colonial rule in 1956. The bond between Moroccans and their ruler is not based solely on fear, as has been the case in some other states in the Middle East. Rather, it is profoundly religious.

The king's religious role has significantly reduced the scope of protest action. It is inconceivable to hear public calls for the king's removal, and even privately, it has been an idea limited to a handful of intellectuals and political activists. This is true in spite of two attempted military coups during the early 1970s.
Consequently, opposition to the regime and calls for reforms have limited themselves to calls for greater public accountability, greater participation of political parties in the national government, and for increasing the scope and protection of human rights.
Since the early 1990s and especially under King Mohamed VI, who has ruled since 1999, the regime has responded positively to such demands and has even taken the initiative, while insisting on an implicit bargain in which the opposition would refrain from asking for reforms that might touch upon the supreme position of the king.
For example, the current 1996 constitution allows the king to appoint the prime minister without consideration of electoral outcomes, and to appoint all senior positions from the minister of justice, and the minister of interior, to high-ranking military officers. He is the supreme commander of the armed forces, and the royal office is the primary initiator of most, if not all, pieces of legislation.
From a position of strength, the king was able to grant substantial political freedoms. These included a multi-party system, a guarantee of free and fair elections for almost 20 years now, complete with supervision by international observer groups, and in 2004 the establishment of a public truth and reconciliation commission. Here, hundreds of victims of human rights abuses were able to talk on national TV about the tortures they suffered under King Hassan II, who ruled until 1999.
However, this relative freedom also pushed many parties and citizens to call for a Spanish-like transition from authoritarian rule to constitutional democracy, a demand that the king and the royal advisers, called makhzen, have tried to quell. When mass protests brought down Hosni Mubarak and Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, timid protests inside Morocco repeated the long-standing demand of a constitutional democracy in a movement called 20 February. In response, the monarch caught his adversaries by surprise by announcing a constitutional reform that would, as in the 1990s and before, be approved by referendum.
Unlike Tunisia (but similar to Egypt), there was no constitutional assembly that was charged with instituting reform, but a commission hand-picked by the monarch himself. The 20 February Movement continued its protests, which accelerated after one rally was violently dispersed in Casablanca on March 13. Again in response to this dissatisfaction, the monarch began a heightened process of political consultation. Political parties - all more royalist than even the king himself - were requested to submit their proposals for reform, as were some activists of the 20 February Movement in an attempt to co-opt them into the political space. The pro-reform weekly newspaper TelQuel wrote on April 22 quite accurately that "the revolution is the king".
In this situation, the effects of the Marrakech bombing are likely to be disastrous for any substantial constitutional reform. Throughout its history, and particularly since the Casablanca attacks, the Moroccan kingdom has always been able to portray itself as the guarantor of stability. If pro-constitutional reform activists were initially confident in calling for substantial changes following the Tunisian or Egyptian examples, their constituency may now be a lot smaller than it was before.
An emphasis on economic reforms, such as an increase in the minimum wage or more subsidies, will also become more prominent in an effort to deflate the economic causes of violence and terror. Reformers will also look to neighbouring Tunisia, where in spite of the revolution, unemployment continues to cause young graduates no shortage of despair. This will ultimately limit the role played by the Tunisian model, which has otherwise served to inspire waves of enthusiasm since January.
James N Sater is an associate professor at the department of international studies at the American University of Sharjah


Casablanca, May 5, 2011 – Finishing a visit to Morocco today, World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick said that Morocco’s economic reforms and decade of good economic growth could be expanded through further reform and greater civic participation. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

On Prostitution

In all likelihood prostitution exists in every country in the world, with the possible exception of the Holy See.

Prostitutes in Morocco can be found both high and low. They range in price from hundreds of dollars to only two or three dollars. Some travel around, working at different souks, while others stay in one place, earning their town a reputation.

Most westerners will come into contact with prostitution at the country’s nightclubs. Across the country, nightclubs are just as much a sex market as a place to dance.

The industry works like this. Working girls gain entrance to nightclubs for free. In exchange the club gets a cut of their earnings. Also, most nightclubs are in hotels, for everyone’s convenience.

Sex is not always what is on sale however. Similar to the geisha system, Moroccan men also will pay for the pleasure of having a woman to spend the evening with, with no intention of actually having sex.

The end result of this is that many tourists can spend their evenings surrounded by commercial sex workers without realizing it. For those who are slightly more informed however, it is a depressing sight to see, especially if you just came to dance.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

On Sugar

Morocco is addicted to sugar. Moroccans consume such vast quantities of sugar it defies comprehension.  It is part of the national identity. As the saying goes, all you need to get married is “Sugar and sheep.”

Toothlessness and diabetes are widespread. 

"Would you like some tea with your sugar?"

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Morocco's monarchy

Reform or fall

Has the king’s promise of reform come in the nick of time—or not?

WHEN a protest movement sprang up in Morocco on February 20th King Muhammad VI chose to ignore it. The next day he spoke of speeding up reforms, but ignored calls for radical change. This infuriated pro-democracy campaigners, who promised to protest again. But then, on March 9th, he suddenly changed tack, calling for a drastic overhaul of the constitution, echoing the protesters’ main demand. Parliament and the courts, he said, would become more independent. Power would be devolved to regional councils. The prime minister would have more clout. And the Berbers, known as Amazigh, would have more rights too.
Overnight, Morocco’s generally malleable political leaders and newspaper editors, who had at first rubbished the demand for a new constitution as subversive, became the keenest of reformers. They hailed the appointment of a committee headed by a leading lawyer to produce a draft by June, for endorsement in a referendum in September, as a sign that Morocco would undergo a “peaceful revolution”.
The king’s allies abroad rushed to congratulate him. Alain Juppé, France’s foreign minister, called his speech “courageous and visionary”. Hillary Clinton, the American secretary of state, praised his proposals, saying that Morocco was “on the road to achieving democratic change.” A recent tour of the country by Britain’s Prince Charles “confirmed that Morocco is stable”, according to the prime minister, Abbas el-Fassi. The promise of constitutional reform has been widely welcomed by Moroccans and may, for a while, avert the turmoil that has engulfed much of the region. But protesters have continued to take to the streets in big numbers every weekend since March 20th. Many say that a constitutional commission appointed by the king is bound to reaffirm his executive power. A Spanish- or British-style monarchy is not yet, they sigh, in the offing.
Use the interactive "Graphics Carousel" to browse our coverage of unrest in the Middle East
Though most of the protesters express respect for the person of the king, criticism of the manner in which his monarchy operates has grown. Too much power is said to be concentrated in his palace circle. Complaints are growing that the royal family owns too much of the country. The National Investment Company, known by its French initials, SNI, is said to control Morocco’s biggest bank, insurance company, dairy and cooking-oil firms, as well as a large acreage of real estate—and is now often castigated for its anti-competitive practices. The denigrators even carp at the king’s cultural policies and call for the Mawazine festival, an annual musical extravaganza held in the capital, Rabat, to be cancelled on the grounds of excessive cost.
Such outright criticism of the monarchy, which has become widespread, itself marks a small revolution. The protesters have also taken on the main political parties, whose leaders have previously tended slavishly to echo whatever the king says. This in turn has forced some of those leaders to become more critical. Journalists who had been exiled or kept out of print by the government in recent years have resurfaced online, with websites sympathetic to the protesters. In one dramatic case online journalists have aired a litany of corruption allegations against Moncef Belkhayat, the minister of youth and sports, challenging him to answer questions about the dispensing of government contracts. He has denied the charges, but such scrutiny is unprecedented.
Citizens’ initiatives are sprouting, with local councils and firms accused of corruption and overcharging for municipal services. The king’s constitutional initiative may lead to the institutional breakthrough many hoped for at the start of his reign in 1999. But if it stalls, a wave of even angrier protest may well erupt in September. So the next few months will be critical to the king’s survival.