Monday, May 2, 2011

Morocco In the News: April 25 - 30

Morocco attack 'by remote-control' From: AFP April 30, 2011
A POWERFUL blast in a Marrakesh cafe that killed foreign tourists was set off by a remote-control device.
At least 15 people died, including French, Dutch and British tourists, and 20 more were injured in the attack, which Morocco's interior minister said was detonated by remote-control.
Previous reports suggested the attack may have been from a suicide bomber.
The cafe bombing is most likely a bid by hardline Islamists to retake the initiative in Arab politics after being sidelined by pro-democratic revolts across the Middle East, experts said.
A Muslim extremist group such as al-Qaida's North African arm was probably to blame, experts said.
Jean-Yves Moisseron, editor-in-chief of specialist journal Maghreb-Machrek, said al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) had been trying to set up a cell in Morocco for several months, despite a string of arrests.
"The mode of operation suggests a professional organisation, because Djemaa el-Fna square is under tight surveillance," he said. 
The choice of a target in a city with a reputation for 'fast living' was also a sign, he said. 
Marrakesh has a reputation among conservative Islamists as a haven for the parties and prostitution denounced by al-Qaida.
"The Argana cafe is a place that attracts foreigners," he explained.
Islamic radicals have been drowned out by the 'Arab Spring' series of popular revolts in the Middle East, where crowds have demanded democratic freedoms, not Islamic theocracy.
By bombing a popular cafe, Muslim radicals are trying to restore their voice in the political debate, said Mr Moisseron.
"Since the start of the Arab Spring, al-Qaida networks have fallen silent because they did not know how to position themselves," said Anne Guidicelli, a consultant specialising in terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa.
Authoritarian regimes in the region - now under threat from the popular uprisings - had brandished the threat of al-Qaida to justify their repressive response to the revolts, and so actually shared a common cause with the terrorists by trying to emphasise their importance, said Ms Guidicelli.
Under the High Patronage of His Majesty King Mohammed VI FIAF presents World Nomads Morocco May 2011
FIAF’s annual World Nomads Festival is a New York City
destination that celebrates 21st-century transculturalism through the arts while advancing critical thinking and dialogue among cultures. The integrated platform offers opportunities for an exchange of ideas and artistic expression among traditional and contemporary cultures.
The Festival's fourth edition arrives this May at a historic time to celebrate the many facets of Morocco.
One of the highlights of the Festival will be the Key Note Talk on May 11 with André Azoulay, Royal Advisor to His Majesty King Mohammed VI, and Faouzi Skali, a widely recognized cultural and intellectual figure in Morocco.
The festival is conceived by the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF) and organized in partnership with leading Moroccan and U.S. cultural institutions. The Festival is curated by Zeyba Rahman, Chief Curator, and Lili Chopra, FIAF’s Artistic Director.
World Nomads Morocco is made possible with the collaboration and generous support of the following partners, co-presenters, and sponsors.
I am currently visiting my brother who teaches English at a University in Fes, Morocco. One of his roommates is Chris Witulski, a doctoral candidate in ethnomusicology from the University of Florida currently researching indigenous Moroccan music. A big part of Chris’ work is devoted to transcribing performances of certain types of Moroccan folk music, and Monday he hosted a group of Gnawa musicians at the house to perform a series of songs.
As Chris and a few Moroccans told me, Gnawa is rooted in West African music and primarily uses pentatonic scales, although more Arabic-sounding melodies with half-steps and microtonal vocal intonations evolved once the tradition reached Morocco. Monday’s performance featured three musicians, two who played iron castanet-like instruments called krakebs and one who played a three-stringed bass-like instrument called the hajhuj. The hajhuj player led the group through the songs, which often featured call-and-response passages.
Although the raw materials of the Gnawa music I heard were very straightforward – repetitive rhythmic grooves supporting tunes rooted in a simple melodic language – I was struck by the unpredictable phrasing. Rarely were lines repeated in a cookie-cutter manner, and most of the time there was little sense of antecedent-consequent relationships in the songs’ melodic framework. The music simply moved along from one piece of text to another, stabilized by the rhythmic drone of the krakebs.
Of course, I am no expert on this music and I dislike describing this music to you after so little contact with it. So, below is a link to a video of an earlier performance by this same Gnawa group. Note Abd ar-Rzaq, the ma’alem, or leader and the dual function of thehajhuj as a melodic and rhythmic part of the ensemble. The animal skin wrapped around the main body of the instrument not only helps it resonate, but also acts as a drumhead, which he taps from time to time.
Moroccan children send messages of solidarity to earthquake-hit Japan.
By Aniss Maghri
RABAT, Morocco, 25 April 2011 – Hafsa Zerhouni, 10, understands what Japanese children are going through following last month’s earthquake, even though she lives thousands of miles away in Morocco.
Al Hoceima in northern Morocco was hit by an earthquake in 2004. The disaster killed hundreds and destroyed infrastructure throughout the city. Japan was one of the countries that sent assistance.
Children joining together
Now it’s time to give back. “We want to show that Japanese children are not alone, we are with them,” said Hafsa, who is a student at Imzouren primary school. “Though we have experienced a similar situation, the damage has been more serious for the Japanese children.”
Hafsa was very young when the earthquake struck Morocco, but she still remembers the feeling of terror. “Mum woke me up. It was dark and I could hear shouts and screams,” she said. “Just after leaving our house, it collapsed right in front of my eyes. What were hard were the aftershocks, we spent a long time in fear."
The Japan Committee contributed $171,000 to relief efforts in Morocco. The aid funded back-to-school programmes for about 35,000 school children in Al Hoceima, and was used to provide psycho-social support for children and teachers.
© UNICEF Morocco/2011
Children in the Moroccan city of Al Hoceima have produced more than 8,000 illustrated postcards to inspire children in earthquake-hit Japan.
© UNICEF Morocco/2011
In light of recent events, students from 11 elementary schools in Al Hoceima have been making artwork in support of Japan’s recovery.
"Our children and teachers in 2004 benefited from psycho-social support and know very well that such support counts a lot in this kind of situation,” said Lahcen Bousmaa, Director of the Regional Academy of Education and Training.
Messages of support
Al Hoceima have produced 8,000 postcards with artwork printed with messages of solidarity. These cards will be delivered to primary schools in the disaster-hit zone in Japan where UNICEF is supporting back-to-school programmes.
The artwork was handed over to UNICEF Representative in Morocco Aloys Kamuragiye on the one-month anniversary of the earthquake. The Japanese community in Morocco also attended the ceremony.
Those taking part said they hoped the drawings would make children in Japan smile and remind them not to lose hope. Such a sincere display of solidarity deeply touched an official from the Japanese Embassy. “The gesture of these children reflects the strong friendship between people of Morocco and Japan," said Huré Yukiko of the Japanese Embassy in Rabat.
By Mosaic News APRIL 25, 2011,
Thousands of people demonstrated in Rabat today to demand the release of political detainees and the prosecution of corrupt officials in response to a call by Morocco’s February 20 Movement, Al-Alam reports that number of other Moroccan cities witnessed similar protests, as demonstrators demanded political reform and a new constitution that would reduce the king's power. Protestors are also demanding that the government and parliament be dissolved.
Al-Jazeera reports that a number of people were reportedly killed and several others injured when Syrian security forces, backed by armored trucks and tanks, entered the southern city of Daraa at dawn this morning. Human rights organizations believe that over 300 people have been killed since protests began last month. Activists are referring to the Syrian government’s crackdown on protestors as “a brutal war to eradicate all those demanding freedom and democracy.”
Dubai TV reports from the southern Yemeni city of Taiz, where ten people were injured when security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas on a group of people demanding the immediate ouster and trial of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The protestors renewed their rejection of the Gulf-brokered initiative, which the opposition had accepted “with reservations.” According to the initiative, Saleh would step down within one month in exchange for immunity from legal prosecution.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a “dangerous atmosphere dominates the Middle East,” as a result of the precedent set by Libyan fighters' dependence on Western support. Lavrov said these armed fighters are convinced they are capable of toppling Muammar al-Gaddafi’s regime because NATO is on their side. He added that protestors in other countries are now hoping to receive help from the international community to overthrow their rulers. According to the BBC, US Senator John McCain stated the US should increase its participation in the attacks against the Libyan regime to avoid a stalemate that might lead to an intervention by al-Qaeda.
In art exhibit entitled, "History in the Making: the Egyptian Revolution," 350 images were showcased to commemorate Egypt’s peaceful January 25 Revolution. Nile TV reports that the exhibit “aims to keep the spirit of the revolution alive in the hearts of citizens, and to expose the former regime’s corruption.” The Egyptian Women’s Movement for Change was created to honor the essential role of women in society. The movement seeks to raise women’s public awareness in Egypt and ensure their participation in the new political scene.
RABAT, April 28 (Reuters) - A bomb attack on a busy tourist cafe in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh on Thursday killed 15 people, most of them foreigners, and struck right at the heart of the North African country's economy.
The bombing bore the hallmarks of Islamist militants who have been trying unsuccessfully to stage a big attack in Morocco since 2003, when they killed more than 45 people in simultaneous suicide attacks in the commercial capital, Casablanca.

Bombing a cafe in Marrakesh is easier than going after much better-protected government or police targets. Yet it will have a massive economic impact: the Jamaa el-Fnaa square where the blast happened is perhaps the best-known tourist spot in Morocco.
“The bombing was intended to cause maximum casualties and was explicitly an attack on tourism,” said Henry Wilkinson, senior analyst at Janusian security consultancy.
Geoff Porter of North Africa Risk Consulting said the likely downturn in tourist numbers as a result of the attack would have dire consequences for the Moroccan economy. Tourism is Morocco's second biggest employer after agriculture.
“Tourism ... is fickle and tourists flee at the slightest possibility of violence,” he said. “The loss of tourist revenue will spell economic trouble for the monarchy, which is already experiencing widening budget deficits because of high oil and food prices.”
Up to now, Morocco's violent Islamist militants have been locally-based, with only very tenuous links to international militant networks. Any sign of al Qaeda involvement in Thursday's blast would therefore be a concern for Moroccan security services, and their Western allies.
Their fear is that Al Qaeda's north African wing, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has been able to reach out beyond its strongholds in neighbouring Algeria and in the Sahara desert, and gain a foothold in Morocco -- something it has been trying, and failing, to do for years.
The Casablanca attack eight years ago was the work of a local group called the Moroccan Islamic Combatants Group, with no evidence of al Qaeda ties.
“Would-be attackers in Morocco are usually youths from deprived urban areas who have low terrorist capabilities and no connections with established groups,” said Anna Murison of Exclusive Analysis.
But several analysts said they suspected AQIM involvement in the latest bombing. U.S.-based corporate intelligence firm Stratfor said an attack on a soft target popular with tourists, as in the Marrakesh blast, “fits AQIM's target set.”
The attack happened at a time when Morocco's authorities are struggling to prevent the wave of uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world from reaching its towns and cities.
There have been nationwide protests -- some of which turned violent -- and more big demonstrations are planned for Sunday.
Morocco's ruler, King Mohammed, has promised constitutional reform but some Moroccans say that is not enough.
Islamist militants have seen their message of global jihad eclipsed by the overwhelmingly secular Arab uprisings, and it is unlikely the Marrakesh attack has any ideological connection to the protest movements. It is however, possible that the Moroccan government's preoccupation with the protests created an opportunity for the extremists.
“AQIM -- or a new or related group ... -- might find operating easier now that the government is distracted with protests about greater unrest,” said Stratfor.
There is a potential side-effect for the protest organisers.
There were already signs on Thursday they feared their movement could be caught up in a security crackdown in the wake of the attack.
A group of about 250 jobless graduates marched through the centre of the capital Rabat, soon after the blast was reported, chanting: “We will not be intimidated by terrorism!” and “We will not be intimidated by a police state!”
Past experience suggests the Moroccan authorities will mount an intensive security crackdown which will disrupt attempts to carry out more bombings -- at least for a while.
After the Casablanca attacks, hundreds of suspected Islamists were arrested, prompting allegations from some rights groups that the arrests were indiscriminate.
“The Moroccan police are ubiquitous and their public profile will be more conspicuous. The police also operate without many of the constraints that structure counter-terrorism investigations in Europe and the US,” said Porter.
“Consequently, it is expected that the government will claim to have identified and captured individuals associated with the cell in the coming weeks if not days. In the long term, Morocco is not likely to become a hotbed of terrorist activity.”
'Cedar mafia' threatens Morocco's cherished wood
By Omar Brousky (AFP) –
AJDIR , Morocco — Revered as the "king of the forest" in Morocco, the native cedar tree is under increasing threat from illegal logging -- a crime which also threatens the country's main water reserve.
In the Ajdir forest, in the heart of the Middle Atlas mountain range, these imposing trees once covered every slope. Now their numbers are in rapid decline, to the bitter dismay of the local Berber-speaking population.
"Each year thousands of trees - some of them several centuries old - are illegally felled as many forest wardens turn a blind eye," human rights activist, Aziz Akkaoui, told AFP.
A favourite of cabinetmakers, cedar is a symbol of power and opulence in Morocco's stately homes and its natural oils have been known to act as an insect repellent.
Now the conifer, which covers about 134,000 hectares (330,000 acres) of the North African country, is at risk of disappearing.
Just a few metres from a forest warden's hut, by a tree-lined lake, lies the stump of a freshly-felled cedar.
"This tree was felled with a saw whose noise the forest wardens could not help but hear," said Akkaoui, from the Moroccan Association for Human Rights. "There are the poachers who cut the cedar illegally; the carpenters who buy the wood; there are some corrupt Water and Forestry agents and some corrupt justice ministry officials," he said.
"So you can talk about a cedar mafia, an organised mafia."
Within the forest, some inhabitants admit that they themselves have cut down cedars illegally in order to survive in this poor mountainous area.
A villager named Ahmed said: "We don't have much choice. There's nothing here."
"But to cut down a tree you have to give bribes to the warden -- between 2,000 and 3,000 dirhams (190-280 euros/270-400 dollars). It depends."
"Each time a group of locals want to go cut down a tree they give a forest warden a fee," he added.
Each cedar, which take up to 30 years to reach maturity, can earn illegal loggers up to 800 euros. If lawfully traded, villagers can benefit from a sum three times that.
Every year communities hold wood auctions which bring in around one million euros. Furious locals say they no longer profit from the trade, however.
"Look around you, there's nothing," said Ahmed. "Here we are dirt poor. Why don't we benefit from the revenues of our village after the legal sales of the cedars?"
"There's no work, no schools, no hospitals. We want jobs, facilities, projects to help us and improve our lives.
Those responsible for managing the area's water and forest programmes deny the villagers' claims.
"When someone is caught, he's obviously going to accuse a forest warden. But there's no proof to say that he gave a warden money," said Mohamed Chedid, from the Centre for Development and Protection of Forest Resources.
Observers have warned for many years about the effect of the illegal trade in cedars, which hold water and reduce erosion in an area regarded as Morocco's main water reserve.
"Uncontrolled logging leads to erosion and desertification, which threatens the ecological balance of the region," said academic Abdeslam Ouhejjou.
"The Middle Atlas forests are Morocco's main water reserve and any disruption there has repercussions for the rest of the country," he warned.
Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved
 Surf and Yoga: A New Way to Experience Morocco
Posted: 04/29/11 Karin Badt Associate Professor of Cinema and Theater in Paris
I would travel the world to find such a place, and I was surprised it even existed: an oasis to surf, do yoga, and eat gourmet meals before the ocean, the sound of the waves a constant -- and nearby a tiny traditional town with little girls in burqas hopping through the streets, boys carrying boogie boards on their heads, and old men sipping tea. I had simply googled surf and Morocco, and found this place: SurfMaroc in Taghazoute. Yoga and surf go together, I learned: the balance of one informs the balance of the other. The surf-yoga combo is a hot new trend--at least in a handful of countries...
Read more here:
Lalla land: a boutique farmstay in Morocco.
A remote farm-turned-boutique guesthouse in Morocco's deep south is big on old-fashioned farming methods – and first-class homegrown food
thought argan was a rare gas or a catalogue store for those who can't spell ("don't shop for it, Argan it"). But argan is, I discovered, a slow-growing thorn tree similar to the olive that's found in just one place on the planet – southern Morocco's coastal strip.
There, apart from these rare trees, you'll also find Lalla Abouch, a small farmstead-cum-boutique-guesthouse in Tidzi, 30km south of Essaouira. Its design is archetypal: solid stone outer walls surround a small white sun-shiny courtyard. Gaudy splashes of bougainvillea add to the dazzling effect.
Across a dusty field is a caged-off area filled with rabbits, chickens and ducks. The effect is improbably hoppity, flappity, quackity cute. But cuddly fluffiness is no bar to me imagining duck on the menu, which is handy because this place has a reputation for its home-grown grub.
Lucrezia Mutti bought the farm a couple of years ago with the intention of preserving traditional farming methods. She's introduced some of her own practices too, and harvests according to the heavens: apparently the full moon is excellent for olives and aromatics. But this isn't just for show – the farm supplies the guesthouse with first-class produce. The concept is simple and works, literally. Some visitors find the urge to press olives the old-fashioned way (in a mill powered by a dromedary plodding around in circles) irresistible...
Read more here:
Sacred heart of Morocco: putting Moulay Idriss on the tourist map.
Once a no-go area, Morocco's holiest town is starting to woo tourists, with a friendly new guesthouse and branch of Fez's coolest restaurant
Until 2005, non-Muslims were not permitted to stay overnight in Moulay Idriss. Guide books warned the tourists who dared to visit to be out of town by 3pm. This is what Edith Wharton had to do in 1919 when she visited the town, known as the holiest place in the country, to research her classic travel memoir In Morocco. Although there was nowhere for her to stay, she claimed she was the first foreigner to witness the town's frenetic moussem – the music- and dance-drenched summer celebration considered by many Moroccans as an alternative to the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
Well, there are places to stay now, and an intriguing new restaurant run by Mike Richardson, former maitre d' of the Wolseley and the Ivy who recently became the first foreigner to buy a property here. The red-headed pioneer moved to Fez, an hour east, five years ago to set up Café Clock (concept: crazy Moroccan souk meets Venice Beach-style cafe, with camel burgers) and now intends to do the same thing in Moulay Idriss..
Read more here:
America’s Next Top Model Review: The Wild, Barren, and Desert Morocco
April 30, 2011 by Savannah DuBois  
The dry Moroccan desert served as the spirit of this week’s ANTM performances as a few of the models delivered wild and uncultivated work at the go-see and the photo shoot while the one of the girls’ work teetered between vegetative and barren, and Tyra forsook her warning to one of the girls.
Upon arrival to Morocco, the top five models toured the streets and marketplace and met up with Mr. Jay Manuel and Miss J. Alexander where they learned they’d be treated to an authentic Moroccan lunch and taken on a fashion tour of Morocco.  After lunch, the girls arrived at a local boutique and met Vogue fashion editor and ANTM judge Andre Leon Tally who introduced the girls to Marrakeshi fashion designerNoureddine Amir.  Each girl tried on a dress and walked for Andre and Amir.  Since models usually wear sample sizes, which are around size 2, unfortunately, Kasia, almost brought to tears, ran into the classic conundrum all ANTM plus sizes models have encountered at one stage of the competition when they modeled clothes for a designer – finding something, anything that will fit her voluptuous body.  Although Kasia did not have a size 2 body, she had a leg up on the other models who made the classic model mistake of forgetting to bring their heels, and Alexandria even wore socks while modeling her gown.  Although it wasn’t a challenge, she didn’t have heels, and she didn’t put her hand on her hip at all, Brittani, according to Andre, came the closest to having a runway-ready walk.  Away from the boutique, Andre met the models on a Moroccan rooftop, shared tea with them, and chatted about the competition before he told them that the rooftop actually sat atop their new home in Morocco ….
Read more here:
Morocco earmarked $ 2.8 bln to agricultural sector in 2010, Minister says
Meknes - Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Aziz Akhannouch, said Tuesday in Meknes, that 2010 was marked by the launch of several projects in the agricultural sector, worth nearly 22 billion dirhams (some $ 2.8 bln).
    Speaking at the opening of the 4th symposium on Agriculture, the Minister said that these projects will benefit approximately 400,000 farmers.
    He added that the World Bank has loaned to the kingdom some 150 million euros to finance Morocco's Plan Green, highlighting the strengthening of the banking sector's contribution to agricultural investment and the establishment of a legal framework on agricultural land.
    The Minister also said that the state pursues its efforts to promote fruit tree planting, vegetables growing, livestock sector as well as income-generating activities for farmers.
Clinton highlights Morocco's Family Law
Washington - United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighted women's gains in some Muslim countries, hailing notably Morocco's 2004 Family law.
    "Muslim women have long enjoyed greater rights and opportunities in places like Bangladesh or Indonesia. Or consider the family law in Morocco or the personal status code in Tunisia," said Clinton at at the Eighth Annual US-Islamic World Forum, held in Washington on April 12-14.   
    "All over the world we see living proof that Islam and women's rights are compatible," She pointed out. 
    The Eighth Annual US-Islamic World Forum brings together a galaxy of leaders and intellectuals from around the Muslim world to engage in dialogue with US officials and policy makers and promote  relations between the US and Muslim countries.

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