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.

Most see the King ‘speech and government officials’ promises for the soon-to-be-implemented reforms as nothing more than temporizing. At a time of economic austerity and political upheaval, Moroccans are galled by a butt-shaking Shakira who pockets a million dollars for a fifteen minutes appearance on Mawazin; it may not be true, but that is the word in the street – hada ‘ar, hada ‘ar, Shakira dat melyar (this is a shame, this is a shame, shakira was paid a million) people chanted in shar’e eshjar (officially know as Driss Elharti street) in Casablanca. Moroccan are no longer duped by the government’s diversionary methods; in comparison to previous years, Mawazin 2011 was largely boycotted; Argana restaurant bombing in Marrakesh failed to rally the people behind the government; the Algeria vs. Morocco soccer game this coming weekend will not succeed in besotting the population.
The political parties failed to take the initiative; they are reeled by the sudden change and waited too long to align themselves with the popular reformist movement. It is clear that they have never had a vision. The appearance of their representatives before Abdellatif Menouni and the eighteen members the Consultative Commission for the Review of the Constitution to present their proposals was a contest in political impotency; their vision was unambitious and unimaginative. The little credibility they had shriveled like a penis in frigid water.
Against such mounting, sullen defiance, the Moroccan authorities responded in the feral fashion that has always been integral to the pathology of dictatorship. It unleashed its baton-wielding philistines to club the demonstrators into obsequiousness; it deployed its basij style security force to kick defenseless women and bash the heads of their teenage kids with the heels of their government issued boots. They cordon the peaceful crowd in a well practiced maneuver and run them through a gauntlet of raining sticks, fists, and kicks as if they were a herd of cows that had run amok. These so called security forces, shielded from accountability, are capable of the most criminal acts to terrorize the people; they are the ones that, much like it happened in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen, will shed their uniforms and mingle with the populace to snipe demonstrators, kidnap and rape women, and burglarize institutions if directed to do so by their commanders. They do not question orders and, much like the ruthless usurpers that command them, they dehumanize the population to better mortify it. You can hear it in the insults they indiscriminately bark out. It was reported that in a Ramadan day in 2008, before he shot and then kicked Tariq Mouhib, a uniformed police officer who pulled him over for a mundane traffic violation, Hassan Yacoubi, the husband of the aunt of king Mohammed VI, Lalla Aicha, had said to him:” you and your lot are nothing by flies. How dare you pull me over?” (Hassan Yacoubi was never presented to justice for his crime.) Indeed, that is how Morocco’s government intent on denying the Moroccan people a breakthrough to dignified living sees the country’s young reformists. These potentates orchestrating the defenestration of democracy are the ones we are awaiting on to implement reforms.
The more the government uses violence to suppress demonstrations, the more the people will take to the streets to voice their dissatisfaction. We are not far from the day when young demonstrators will stop running, and instead clench their fists on the throats of those uniformed brutes and their walkie-talkie totting commanders. The odds for a peaceful transition are slim. I fear the worst is yet to come.

Morocco:From Souks to the Seaside. June 3, 2011 All photos: Lucy Dixon
Nestled in the North-Western most tip of Africa, Morocco undoubtedly offers something for everyone. Due to its rich and varied history, the scenery, culture and infrastructure alters dramatically depending on region. Be it the traditional Berber dynasties, the arrival of the Arabs, or the French colonisation between 1912 and 1956, Morocco bears the scars of a dynamic and ever-changing past.
The tourist industry is still in its youth, reflected in the cost of travel and leisure. Currency is in Moroccan dirhams, and there are approximately 12.9 dirhams to one pound. Nothing in Morocco has a set price, so a holiday here will be sure to increase anyone’s ability to strike a bargain. Along the streets and winding corners of the medina, refuse to eat at a restaurant for above 40 dirhams, as it is almost guaranteed the waiter will give in.
Spend nothing above 60 dirhams for a four person taxi, where luggage will be precariously balanced in roof baskets. For the female traveller, be warned of any offers of camels proposed to your male friends in exchange for ownership of you; they will be numerous. Ideal for a group (although not if you are intending to drink as Morocco is a Muslim country, so alcohol is scarce), Morocco is diverse, inexpensive and culturally rich.
Be it the traditional Berber dynasties, the ­arrival of the Arabs, or the French colonisation between 1912 and 1956, Morocco bears the scars of a dynamic and ever-changing past – but the tourist industry is still in its youth.
The most common city to fly to, Marrakech can be quite overwhelming on first impressions. The main square, Jamaa el-Fna, exudes an atmosphere reminiscent of an annual street festival rather than an everyday market place. It is one of the biggest of its kind in the world, and features everything from monkey trainers and women sitting on stools selling henna tattoos to caleches (horse-drawn carriages) and orange juice stalls.
By night, the square transforms into a bright and fiery hub of burning incense, coloured lanterns and dancing. Temporary stalls line part of the square and are erected each evening to form mobile restaurants, where the customers watch food being cooked on open air barbeques, the steam billowing up into the night.
The best place to stay is as close to Jamaa el-Fna as possible; again, there are endless guesthouses, or riads as they are called, but staying so close to the main square in the main city of the country drives the rates to between £17 and £40, depending on the level of luxury you are seeking. Situated north-west of the medina, these are a must see, and entry is 30 dirhams.
Marrakech is also the best place to organise excursions into the tip of the Western Sahara, with numerous companies offering trips of between two days and two weeks into the desert. These can cost anywhere upwards of £50 including food – make sure you browse websites and pre-book to find the best prices. With traditional Berber camps housing you overnight, local men teaching ancient songs on drums around a warming fire, steaming delicious tagines and lying on the sand dunes spotting constellations in the clearest night sky you will ever see, these trips are not to be missed. Of course, the camel rides usually included add to the enjoyment, even if they are painful in the following days (especially for the men).
The coastal resort of Essaouira is a perfect getaway from the bustle of Marrakech. There is no train line as yet, so the best way to get there is either by coach (about 70 dirhams one way, and be sure to book in advance as they fill up quickly).
Relatively unspoiled by tourism, Essaouira is ideal to experience authentic Moroccan culture in a relaxed, seaside setting. The architecture blends French style and Moroccan colour – whitewashed buildings with bright blue shutters line every street up to five storeys high. Essaouira is also known for its art scene, with several small galleries through the town.
You’re likely to spend time strolling leisurely through the souks passing donkeys carrying goods, or browsing ornate teapots, Berber carpets and spices such as saffron. You can walk along the old ramparts which used to form the port in the sixteenth century, when Essaouira was a key stop off in Atlantic trading. The current port is a hub of activity, with all kinds of seafood being sold along the harbour-side. Whole fish can get quite expensive, but a dish should cost around 40 dirhams after some healthy bargaining.
The beach is just along from the port, stretching for miles around the bay. Although lovely to walk along, be warned: Essaouira is not called the windy capital of Africa for nothing, as howling gales driving in from the Atlantic causes the sand to blow horizontally for a large proportion of the year. Essaouira may also be a good place if you want to try out a hammam – the public baths for Moroccans – separated strictly by gender. Usually organised through your hostel owner, tourists have to pay a premium to be allowed in, but an hour’s massage and wash should cost around 70 dirhams and involve a full body massage with a local expert. This is definitely an experience you may not ever get (or want) to repeat, as the partial nudity means you’ll become a lot more acquainted with not only your friends, but many other Moroccans too.
Seven hours by train from Marrakech, the city of Fes stands inland in the north of the country. With an approximate population of one million, it consists of three main parts: the old medina inside the ancient city walls, new Fes containing the Jewish quarter (the mellah) and the Ville Nouveau, created by the French.
The old medina is by far the most charming and beautiful part of the city. Endless riads line the narrow winding streets and generally cost between £12 and £25 per night. Many are small family run properties, with extremely welcoming owners.
Day trips into the Middle Atlas mountains only have to take a day, costing around 200 dirhams (approximately £17). The endangered monkey, the Barbary Macaque, lives in the forests here and in places are so tame that you can feed them from your hand.
Navigating the supposed 9,400 winding streets that make up the old medina of Fes is another potential hazard. Hiring a tour guide is highly advised, and inexpensive at around 20 dirhams for a morning.

Quincy Jones produces Arabic charity record.
From Rima Maktabi, CNN June 1, 2011

Rabat, Morocco (CNN) -- Quincy Jones has joined some of the biggest names in Arab music to produce a charity single aimed at helping a new generation of artists and musicians.
Jones, the veteran music producer who has worked with Michael Jackson, Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra, worked on the single called "Bokra" -- an Arabic version of his song "Tomorrow (A Better You, A Better Me)" -- with Badr Jafar, an Emirati social entrepreneur.
The artists involved include Lebanese star Majida El Roumi, who wrote the lyrics; Moroccan-born Grammy-winning producer RedOne, who co-produced the track with Jones; Kadim Al Sahir, from Iraq; Saber El Rebai from Tunisia; Amr Diab, from Egypt and Asma Lmnawar, from Morocco.
It is 26 years since Jones produced the iconic record "We Are The World," which sold tens of millions of copies to raise money for victims of famine in Africa. A contemporary version of the song was also released last year to aid the victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

Jones, who first toured the Middle East and North Africa in 1953 with the jazz musician Lionel Hampton, said: "I have long been a vocal proponent of music and the arts being a great asset in building bridges between people and cultures."
He added: "I believe that given a choice, people want to live in a world of peace and prosperity, and it is my hope that this song will serve as a clarion call for the people of the Middle East and North Africa who share that desire for peace, hope, unity and a better tomorrow to come together to achieve that dream."
The money raised will help finance educational arts and culture scholarships and projects for children in the Middle East and North Africa.
Jafar said in a press release: "This song comes at such an important time for the Middle East and brings together the region's leading talent to produce a song of inspiration and hope for all.
"There is no better time in the region's history than now for us to be producing a song of this magnitude, and we have the very best people in the industry behind it."
The Arabic lyrics, written by Roumi, are aimed to provide a beacon of solidarity and hope for the region, the organizers said.
I have long been a proponent of music being a great asset in building bridges between people and cultures.
--Quincy Jones, music producer
RedOne, the co-producer who has worked with artists such as Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, and Enrique Iglesias, told CNN: "It's such an honor to have been chosen by Quincy Jones to join the team and recreate this legendary song.
"We will be trying this new thing, inspire young people, the new generation thinking about peace, thinking about a better tomorrow."
The song was recorded in Rabat, Morocco, during the 10th edition of the Mawazine Festival Rhythms of the World.
Kadim Al Sahir, an Iraqi singer and composer who fled the violence in his own country, said the project was an opportunity to bridge divisions across the Middle East.
Al Sahir said it's not the first time he's worked with Jones, adding "he called me personally to ask for my help in doing the song in Arabic with an Eastern melody. I was happy then because I enjoy songs composed for humanity."
The team is also creating a music video for the song, as well as a behind-the-scenes documentary that will trace the "Tomorrow/Bokra" project, incorporating footage from various countries in the region where artists involved will be performing.
"Bokra" is expected to be released after Ramadan, which will run throughout August.

A Weekend in Essaouira, Morocco. By Myrisa Luke
The handsome barman, wearing a bow-tie and serving cocktails in the Orson Welles Bar, is the spitting image of Humphrey Bogart. My friend and I are at the Hotel des Isles, on the first night of our weekend in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic coast.

“Here is Orson Welles standing at this bar, when he was filming Othello,” he says, pointing to a black and white photograph above the bar. The film won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1952. “And this is him with his daughter, when he came back to visit afterwards. We love him because he loved Essaouira.”

The bar is a gem, and must be preserved, even though the hotel, the first of several built along the beach promenade, is currently being renovated. Further down the coast is the new Mogador Resort, with a Gary Player design golf course and views over the Atlantic.

Out to sea are the Purple Islands, now an uninhabited bird sanctuary. Centuries ago, the islanders extracted a dye from Murex sea snails to make the prized imperial purple cloth for the Roman Empire.
Stormy Weather
Next morning, we head towards the main square, Place Moulay Hassan, for a walking tour of the medina. Mohamed, our guide, leads the way, the black tassel on his red Fez hat rotating, beige selham cloak swaying, and his footsteps revealing decorated insoles in his yellow babouche slippers.

Through the streets of the medina or walled city we go; then up a ramp to the circular north tower of the Skala de la Ville. Three miles of ramparts surround the citadel of Mogador, as it was called when built by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Along the wide walkway, cannons line up, pointing out to sea.
The sky is a forbidding gray, instead of the usual friendly blue. Seagulls coast on the alizés, or coastal breezes, whipping up the Atlantic Ocean. Thundering waves crash against the walls beneath us, lash out and rise up higher than twice the height of jagged rocks, spitting drops of water at us.

We return to the medina, a laid-back, bohemian kind of place that attracts local and international artists, musicians, and film makers. The movie “Alexander” was filmed here in 2004, followed by Kingdom of Heaven in 2005. Shops, workshops, and art galleries line the streets of the old Jewish quarter and old diplomatic area. “This was Orson Welles’s favorite hammam,” Mohamed tells us on a street corner, “where Iago was filmed killing Rodrigo in Othello.”

Traditional arts and crafts of the region are displayed in the Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah Museum, named after the sultan who built the medina in the 18th century. It is one of the easiest medinas to find your way around in Morocco, because it is designed on a grid system. The medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a combination of Moroccan and European styles, white walls, windows painted blue, and limestone trims.

In the days when camel caravans arrived here from Timbuktu by way of Marrakesh, merchants would stay in the old caravanserai where the courtyard is paved with different sizes of pebbles arranged in patterns. Mohamed demonstrates how, after long hours standing on their feet, traders would rock to and fro on the pebbles to give themselves a foot massage, or relieve an aching back. The cafés around the courtyard are good places to enjoy a mint tea break.
The slate gray sky is getting darker by the minute. It starts bucketing down. Plans to see the fishing port, or go riding with turbaned horsemen on the beach have to be canceled. The Atlantic is now a raging, elemental force of nature. The beach is buried under wave after wave of foaming surf, crashing in and spilling over onto the road, and the Purple Islands seem like a figment of the imagination, lost behind an impenetrable curtain of mist and rain.
By nightfall, the storm is over. Rachid, a Moroccan friend, invites us to a smart party in a marquee on the beach.
The evening’s highlight is a performance by gnaoua musicians, who belong to a religious brotherhood. Rachid translates some lyrics. “O my God, you know what I have in my heart.” It is said that their music can send people into a trance.

Singing joyous songs and playing compelling music are six gnaoua dressed in blue, wearing caps decorated with cowrie shells. Their leader is Hamid Al Kesri, one of the most popular guembri (three-stringed bass instrument) players. His deep, resonant voice combines with the notes from his three-stringed guembri, to sound like one sublime musical instrument.

A gnaoua leaps off the stage, down to the dance floor; gliding from side to side as if his feet are roller-skates. For a while, six guest musicians from different countries join them on stage.

It is an exhilarating experience. People are dancing and jumping up and down on the dance floor. This must be a taste of what it is like, when The Gnaoua and World Music Festival are held here in June each year.
Wind and kite surfers are back on our final day, taking advantage of the sea breezes, skimming the waves off the beach. We explore the medina at leisure, and chat with friendly shopkeepers selling jewelry, rugs, wooden boxes, and carved and inlaid objects made from fragrant thuja wood.

Along an alley just inside the city walls, we stop and admire the work of tailors and artisans making musical instruments. The Espace Othello art gallery and riads with inviting courtyards draw us in through open doorways.

The walls of Hisham’s apothecary shop, near the fish market, are lined with clear jars of herbs, spices, and pigments. He offers us tea, and fetches a tray, a teapot of hot water, and glasses. Then he drops a bit of this and that into the pot. It tastes harmless and pleasant enough for us to happily accept a second glass.

Before leaving, we discuss perfumes, special spice mixtures created by his mother, and pigments (used to color paints and dye wool or cloth) with evocative names like Mogador Blue.

Baskets of snails and the day’s catch of moray eels, rays, and bream are spread out on the fish market stalls. On the way out, Ahmed stops us for a chat, urging us to buy his solid perfumes with these words of wisdom: “Amber is for women to attract men. Musk is for men to attract women.”

It is night when we leave Essaouira, as it was when we arrived. On our two-hour journey here by bus across the plain from Marrakesh, the sunset lingered on for well over an hour with the sky ablaze, darkening, lighting up again. Rekindling like the embers of a fire, red, orange, and charcoal gray.
Tonight, we drive past the beach where groups of people stroll up and down the long, wide, curved, and spot-lit strip of sand; past the hotel where the barman looks so much like Bogart, on the way to Casablanca to catch our flight back home.

Myrisa Luke caught the travel bug at an early age. She is a travel writer whose work and photographs have been published in the U.K., America, Australia and Canada.

Global Beat Fusion: How Morocco Can Inspire the World.
Saturday, 28 May 2011
When Americans reflect on Morocco in 2011, the initial image brought to mind will most likely fall on April 28, when 16 people were killed in Marrakech during a suicide bombing at the touristy Argana Café. Reports of Al Qaeda were invoked in this usually stable country, and though having denied any involvement, Islamic terror reigned once again during the American 24-hour news cycle. It's the sad reality of a predatory media environment that covers almost exclusively messages of doom and destruction while generally ignoring great strides forward. One of the main dangers of this mental association game -- Islamic country=terrorism -- is that when amazing displays of humanity emerge, they fall on deaf ears. urrently celebrating the tenth anniversary of the momentous Mawazine Festival in the capital city of Rabat, in which two million people converge to celebrate indigenous Moroccan music (such as Gnawa, Berber and Sahawari), Arab pop, and a broad swath of sounds from all over Africa, Asia, Europe and America, Morocco has plenty to teach the Muslim world, as well as America and our current relationship with the arts. The small country in North Africa not only avoided the Arab Spring (outside of a few regional protests), but may also prove to be a blueprint for the future of the Islamic world.
Most festival officials and random Moroccans that I met while spending four days covering Mawazine this week referenced the forward thinking policies of King Mohammed VI as an explanation as to why the country remained relatively quiet during this heated season of revolts and unrest. After assuming this role in 1999, following the death of his father, at the young age of 36, Mohammed's tenure has included a series of rewritten laws that promote gender and social equality. He has also ramped up his nation's economy (I was told of 5% annual growth) with a strong emphasis on infrastructure. When protesters peacefully crowded around Parliament in February (an elected body that assumes a good deal of power) and demanded constitutional changes, the king declared he would concede to such amendments, including limitations to his own power. Egyptian and Libyan leaders have much to learn from such an attitude. The changes might not be fast enough for some, but they are being set into motion without bombs or armies.
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