Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Morocco In the News: June 19th - 28th

The Future of Arab Democracy? 06/23/11
By Avi Spiegel (RPCV/Morocco)
Political Science Professor, Fellow of International Security and Law, Middle East Analyst
When the king of Morocco announced plans for a new constitution last week, Fox News hailed it as "revolutionary." A leader of the largest Islamist party in Morocco's parliament, the Party of Justice and Development, called it a "huge step for democracy." The official Moroccan press agency opted for the term "landmark for democracy."
With Libya at war, Syria mired in brutality and Egypt and Tunisia in a holding pattern, it's hard not to be smitten by an Arab leader who, in the relative calm of stability, takes to television and announces a new constitution, the first in 15 years. But this effort sadly falls dramatically short of real reform. The protesters on the streets of Morocco these past three months have not been asking for incremental, administrative change (the kind this new draft promises). Instead, they have been calling for a brand new political system, one where the king ruled symbolically, and the elected government did something revolutionary: It governed.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Morocco In the News: June 13th - 18th

Braintree Couple Volunteers at Morocco Special Olympics for Peace Corps.
Jacqueline and Jim Stewart helped at the Special Olympics Games in Tangier, Morocco last month.
By Joseph Markman | Email the author | June 15, 2011
For Jacqueline and Jim Stewart, volunteering with the Peace Corps halfway across the world from their hometown of Braintree means teaching English and helping with community health initiatives. But last month it also meant hanging a gold medal around the neck of a 12-year-old Moroccan boy who had just won a 50-meter race with his four-wheeled walker.
The Stewarts were among more than 20 American Peace Corps volunteers who helped 250 athletes with intellectual disabilities compete at the Special Olympics games in Tangier, Morocco on May 25.
"It was rewarding to see the children excited about the competition,” Jacqueline Stewart, whose husband Jim handed the boy his medal, said in a statement. “Some were just happy to finish and it wasn’t about winning. The affection they have for one another was really wonderful.”
It was the first time that the Peace Corps participated in an official capacity with the Moroccan games. The Special Olympics were created by Peace Corps’ founding Director Sargent Shriver’s wife, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, in 1968. The Corps were established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Morocco's king 'to unveil constitutional reforms'

Morocco's King Mohammed VIKing Mohammed VI has promised greater democracy for the people of Morocco

Related Stories

Morocco's King Mohammed VI is expected to announce constitutional amendments in a landmark televised speech.
The reforms will reduce his political and religious powers, according to AFP and Reuters news agencies which have seen drafts of the speech.
In March the king promised "comprehensive constitutional reform" in the north African country.
Thousands of Moroccan pro-democracy protesters staged protests in February similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt.
Some activists have urged caution, saying that Morocco's 400-year-old monarchy has a long history of enacting superficial reforms.
The speech is due to be aired at 2100 local time (2000 GMT).
The proposals - drawn up by a reform panel appointed by King Mohammed - will see the prime minister become "president of the government", AFP says.
The prime minister will be able to appoint government officials, taking over a role previously held only by the king, and be able to debate state policy at weekly government council meetings in the absence of the king, the draft says.
'Key power-broker'
Under the existing constitution, only the cabinet chaired by the king can decide state policy.
However, the monarch will remain a key power-broker in the security, military and religious fields, Reuters adds.
The proposals will be put to a referendum in July.
In March, King Mohammed promised to promote greater democracy by strengthening the roles of the prime minister, parliament and the judiciary.
He said more powers would be given to Morocco's regions to "help consolidate our model of democracy and development".
Morocco has been facing severe economic problems with high unemployment and rising levels of poverty.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On Morocco’s Housing Bubble

A google search of “Morocco’s Housing Bubble” reveals no hits. Which is surprising considering the reality on the ground. Houses pop up from the dusty land continuously never to be occupied. The windows are put in, the walls painted but no one ever moves in. The moonscape around Marrakech is patchwork of one housing development after another, all of them empty.
This does not necessarily mean that there is housing bubble. Many Moroccan nationals work abroad but own a home in their ancestral village. Remittances are a large part of the Moroccan economy. The exchange rate of euros to dhrm is very favorable, which means Moroccans can buy homes that they might only see once a year for a week during the big holiday. So while the developers may be selling them faster then they are built, the fact remains that a multitude of houses in Morocco are owned but empty.
The following article provides some insight: 

Morocco c.bank says housing market not stagnating
Thu Apr 29, 2010 12:51pm GMT

By Tom Pfeiffer
RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco's property market is likely to pick up in coming months, the central bank told Reuters, playing down fears of prolonged stagnation that could hold back economic growth in the north African country.
The price slowdown "has been quite brief and (the market) should very probably continue to resume its dynamism in the coming quarters," the central bank, known as Bank Al Maghrib, said in emailed replies, received on Wednesday, to questions from Reuters.
It said prices have begun rising again and the sector should "continue to present important investment opportunities given that most ... analyses suggest that demand significantly exceeds supply, especially in social and mid-income housing."
A Moroccan construction boom continued during the global economic downturn, helping prop up the economy even as local exporters faced slumping demand from recession-hit Europe.
Most of the building activity is in real estate after banking reforms gave middle-income families easier access to mortgages and thousands of apartment blocks sprang up to replace slums in the kingdom's teeming northern cities.
Housing growth has also underpinned the Casablanca stock market as local investors poured money into local real estate companies such as Addoha, which now accounts for over 10 percent of the bourse's capitalisation, according to traders.
Property prices have stagnated and sales have slowed since late 2008. Local analysts have voiced concern that prices were stagnating now because, prior to the end of 2008, Morocco had been experiencing a property bubble.
But the bank rejected that, saying that a 7 percent rise in property prices between the first quarter of 2006 and the third quarter of 2008 "is below that seen at the international level in the same period."
The rise over that period "in no way reflects an overheating of the property market," the bank said. "It is explained, in our view, by a catch-up effect."
Strong lending growth that has underpinned real estate projects in recent years continued in January, with mortgage lending still up 13 percent compared to a year earlier, according to central bank figures.
More Moroccans have been encouraged to open bank accounts and borrow as the banking network grew to reach more of the 34 million population.
Banks have been able to lend at lower rates and remain profitable because their bad debts have tumbled to around 5.5 percent, from a high of 19 percent in 2004 that was a hangover from risky lending in the 1990s.
Moroccan banks should continue to "further lower their levels of bad debts and reinforce their equity base," the central bank said.
Analysts have suggested that Moroccan banks are still too weak to finance some major projects in the local economy.
Asked if more mergers were needed among Moroccan lenders, the central bank said the sector was "characterised by a relatively high concentration of actors, the top three banks controlling 66 percent of the market".
"This concentration and consolidation of financial resources allowed the reinforcement of banks' capacity to finance the economy and the emergence of important financial groups that adopted strategies to deploy on the continent and in Europe."

© Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved

Monday, June 13, 2011

Morocco In the News: June 5th - 12th

In This Week’s News:
·      Peace Corps Volunteers Partner with Special Olympics Athletes in Morocco  
·      Fez sacred music Festival celebrates wisdom.
·      Renewable energy to boost Morocco jobs.
·      UNAIDS: HRH Princess Lalla Salma takes part in First Ladies' meeting in NY
·      Morocco, WB sign $4 mln-donation agreement to integrate climate change in development of Morocco's Green Plan
·      Best things to do in Morocco
·      Sacred Music Sparks Dialogue at Fes Festival.
·      Game of Thrones
·      MOROCCO: Reform as a path to a genuine constitutional monarchy
·      Peaceful anti-government protests allowed to proceed, more planned
·      Young Moroccans show political maturity.

Peace Corps Volunteers Partner with Special Olympics Athletes in Morocco   June 08, 2011

Washington, D.C., June 8, 2011 – More than 20 Americans serving as Peace Corps volunteers supported 250 athletes with intellectual disabilities at the Special Olympics games in Tangier, Morocco on May 25, 2011. The athletes competed in track & field, table tennis, bocce, or gymnastics. Volunteers supervised the competition, kept score, cheered, and awarded medals at the closing ceremony of the games.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Morocco In the News: June 1 - 4

Washington / Morocco Board News--   The next Protests by the Feb-20th Youth Group are supposed to be held next Sunday, June 5, Across the country. The group is calling the "citizens to protest against repression" and "to demand democratic reforms". The protests will take place two weeks before the advisory committee, appointed last March by Morocco's King Mohammed VI, to provide proposals for a constitutional reform.
The Feb-20 Group is calling "all democratic forces [...]of citizens to participate massively in the peaceful demonstrations on Sunday, June 5th, everywhere in Morocco, and even in some Western countries… " Several political parties, trade unions and NGOs are supporting the demonstrators who are protesting against , among other things, "the repression of peaceful demonstrations that have become routine [...] and to continue to support legitimate democratic demands of the Feb-20th Group" said a press release.

Fear of further slippage

Although peaceful, the protests could lead to violent excesses by over reaching demonstrators, or over zealous law enforcement forces. Last Monday,  the European Commission expressed its concern over violence against  demonstrators, during Sunday protests in Casablanca and Tangier, in particular. "We are concerned by the violence that has been used during demonstrators in Morocco, this weekend" said Natasha Butler, spokesman for the European Neighborhood Policy.

Following a suspicious bombing in Marrakech that killed several tourists and locals, the government has shown an ever increasing hard line policy against dissent. An editor of the largest daily has been jailed and accused of various offenses, the demonstrators are systematically chased and clubbed. The government spokesman said that the Islamists and leftists are piggybacking on the current wave of protests and using it for their own purposes and hurting the country' economy.

There is an ever increasing danger of serious slippage with the current policy of repression. It may provide a fortuitous spark to radicalize the majority of protesters who are, so far, calling for democratic reforms and not an end to the regime as in Libya and Syria.
Last week's reports have shown officers clubbing a woman holding a child. Such scenes showcase how easy it is for events to go out of control and for a seminal and powerful scene to happen and to be instantly transmitted for everyone, which will lead to an increased radicalization, and a larger dissent among the public.
Recent development in neighboring countries have shown that increased repression often leads to bigger opposition because the wall of fear has crumbled across the region.

There is a consensus among Moroccans that the brutal clampdown of demonstrators was ordered by Moroccan Interior Minister Taieb Cherkaoui who in turn received his guidance from his King. Many believed that after Mohammed VI’s bulleted speech outlining his schedule for an attempted constitutional reform, the situation would show improvement. The wave of demonstrations rumbling through the main streets of many Moroccan cities today indicates that the woes of Moroccans are deep and intractable and the government and the political parties are dispassionate and guileful; now that the stone wall of fear has tumbled down, grievances that have long been stifled are bubbling at the surface. Resentment against a government no longer trusted, nor feared by the people, runs high.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

On Flying Royal Air Maroc

Royal Air Maroc is the national airline of Morocco run out of its hub in Casablanca. As an airline it is a microcosm of Morocco, what it values and honors is what Moroccans value and honor, what it regards as unimportant is what Moroccans feel to be unimportant.

The first thing that Royal Air Maroc considers to be unimportant is punctuality. Flights are frequently more then two hours behind schedule. This is not surprising to find in a society where time is considered to be flexible. In the larger scheme of things this de-emphasis on punctuality is only a problem if you have a connecting flight to catch.

Royal Air Maroc also considers general airline safety procedures, common throughout Europe and America, to be unimportant. Stewardesses will never ask you to put on your seatbelt, close your tray table or put your seat in the upright position for take off. In fact, they might not even ask you to be seated for take off. Moreover, luggage in the isles and overhead bins being open throughout the flight are par for the course. While this de-emphasis on safety measures which most other airlines regard as essential is worrying, Royal Air Maroc makes up for it in other ways.

What Royal Air Maroc values more then anything is food. No set of stewardesses anywhere else in the world can bring out more food more quickly. It is an impressive feat. The carts literally fly down the isles, their polite pushers willing to run over anything that tries to come in between them and their client’s full bellies.

The thought that there are airlines in the world that regularly commit the sacrilege of not including meals, or charging separately for them, or taking more then ten minuets to serve the entire plane is intolerable, incomprehensible to Royal Air Maroc.

All and all, Royal Air Maroc would be a much better airline if it were on time. The souk bus mentality of “O just catch the next one” doesn’t work so well when there is one flight a day. On the other hand, all other airlines would be much better if they focused on procedure a little less, and on food a little more.

Still, at the end of the day, if you don’t want to end up sleeping in an airport, chose a different airline.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Morocco In the News: May 25 - 31

Oldest Peace Corps volunteer returns home to Sebastian after 27 months in Morocco
By Ashley Blanchard May 27, 2011
SEBASTIAN — Muriel Johnston remembers when Kennedy inaugurated the Peace Corps program 50 years ago.
At the time, she was at-home with several young children. Although she considered it a wonderful program, it was something she thought she would never do.
But when she was 84 years old, she added it to her bucket list.
In the fall of 2008 one of her daughters suggested she apply to the Peace Corps. Little did she know that her daughter Eileen had already researched the application process and found there was a special program for candidates older than age 50.The average age in the Peace Corps is 27, and only 5 percent of the volunteers are older than age 50."I never thought in my wildest dreams that they would accept me because of my age," said Johnson. "I thought it was just for college graduates."
The Sebastian resident and mother to six returned home last month from a two-year assignment in Morocco. At age 86, she is the oldest volunteer to have served in the Peace Corps.
The application process was complicated and grueling. A complete physical was required. In October 2008, Johnston got the call to go to Morocco in February 2009. Her stint would be 27 months, with a three-month training period and a two-year placement.
People would ask her why she wanted to do this at her age.
"I wanted to accept the challenge and know that I could do something worthwhile no matter how small," she said.