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.
The Moroccan regime is selling this new draft constitution by celebrating the birth of a new "constitutional monarchy," but buzzwords are meaningless without accompanying reform. Early on in his term, King Mohammed VI referred to himself as the "Democratic Executive Monarchy." His father and predecessor, King Hassan II (who ruled for 38 years) often opted for the label "Hassanian Democracy." The promise of democracy was heralded, but never fulfilled.
The king of Morocco's main working office is located behind the towering ramparts of the royal palace in downtown Rabat. Two government departments are also headquartered behind these walls: the Royal Armed Forces and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. This architecture provides, in raw structural terms, a window into Moroccan rule: the king as commander of the military and "commander of the faithful." The new draft constitution will not alter this fundamental setup. In fact, it cements the monarch's omnipotence, securing his place as military, religious and political leader. An old Moroccan saying reflects this continued reality: "Three things cannot be overcome: fire, flood and the Makhzen (palace)." The constitution could have offered a political system strong enough to check the raw power of the monarchy. But it didn't.
News reports have honed in on one amendment in particular. The king promised that the prime minister would actually come from the top finishing party (this hasn't always been the case). CNN called this the new constitution's "most radical change." But after the 2002 elections, the king already said that he would do this. Sure enough, following the last elections, in 2007, he appointed the head of the Istiqlal party (the top vote getter) to that position. Such a move did little to enhance the office then and, sadly, it will do little now.
Yes, the parties will now have more legislative maneuvering room -- more influence within committees, more say in appointments -- but the king still hovers above all. (The graph at this link displays this power structure better than any written description ever could.) The new prime minister -- the office that some had falsely promised would be a "super prime minister" -- will be busier. But there is a catch: most of the time, he will still need the king's sign off. The PM can dissolve the lower house of parliament, but only after getting approval from the king. The king will still chair the Council of Ministers, but can delegate to the PM only if he abides by a certain agenda. The king will also still have final say on most major appointments, including that of influential governors.
The process by which this new constitution came about is itself telling. The king unilaterally appointed the draft writing committee, personally handpicking the representatives. He then diverted from their rumored findings, and set the date for referendum on his own. Moroccans were supposed to have until September to study and make up their mind about the draft; now they have less than two weeks. An entire nation (including the more than 40 percent who are illiterate) will have to digest 180 new articles in less than 13 days.
The debate over the constitution promises to be one sided. Press freedoms in Morocco remain severely restricted. A week before the king's speech, a popular journalist was sentenced to one year in prison for publishing articles that offended the monarchy. (Two days after the speech, protesters campaigning for even greater reforms were allegedly beaten by pro-government forces.)
Many in Morocco, particularly current members of the establishment, have suggested that the changes are a move in the right direction. One politician said that the country will probably need another constitution in 15 years, but that it should take things slowly and not rush democracy. But this smacks of pre-Arab Spring paternalism: that young Arabs somehow aren't yet ready for democracy. Protesters have made it clear that this is simply not the case.
Why be so tough on Morocco? Shouldn't we applaud reform in any form -- take change any way we can get it? The U.S. has spent the last decade effusively praising Morocco -- each of the last four administrations dubbed it the model of reform. But is this really the most the Arab world should strive for: a watered-down authoritarian system with an accompanying constitution to support it? Is this the future of Arab democracy?
Perhaps because Morocco is relatively calmer than its neighbors, it has often gotten a pass. In the 1990s, it didn't break out into full-scale civil war (like Algeria), so it was a model of tranquility. In early 2011, its leader didn't slaughter protesters, so it was a model of restraint. Now, as its monarch becomes the first in the region to propose his own constitutional reform, it's supposedly a model of democracy. But relative success is just that: relative. We should expect more from a country that aims to be a model.
Avi Spiegel, a former Fulbright Scholar and Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, is an assistant professor of political science at the University of San Diego and a fellow at the Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas, Austin. He is currently writing a book on young Islamists and the Arab Spring.
Kansas women in the Sahara Desert? It must be reality TV.
By AARON BARNHART The Kansas City Star Gilles Mingasson
Sisters Kelsey Fuller, Mackenzie Fuller and Lindsey Haymond battle desert dunes in the first episode of “Expedition Impossible.” The sisters, who call themselves Team Kansas, traveled to Morocco to compete in the show.
For the Fuller sisters of Overland Park, what started out as a quest to get on “The Bachelor” ended up in the middle of the Sahara Desert, looking up at a ridiculously steep sand dune.
“I turned to my sisters and said, ‘This is a joke, right?’ ” recalled Kelsey Fuller, 22.
Instead of finding out how they could get their hearts broken on national TV, the Fullers stumbled upon a webpage advertising tryouts for the first-ever edition of “Expedition Impossible,” an ABC reality series from the man behind “Survivor,” Mark Burnett.
“Next thing you know, we’re making a video over Thanksgiving,” said Kelsey’s 27-year-old sister, Lindsey Haymond.
ABC wants you to know that “Expedition Impossible” is so not “The Amazing Race” — except it kinda is, with a few “Survivor” atmospherics thrown in, like the dash through the desert.
Calling themselves Team Kansas — the junior partner, 18-year-old Mackenzie, skipped prom at Blue Valley Northwest to compete — they qualified for the series, which filmed this spring in Morocco. Not that it felt like spring. As we join them in tonight’s episode, we find the Fullers in 102-degree heat as they struggle up the “sand dune of death,” only to discover a team of camels awaiting them on the other side.
“We don’t have camels in Kansas!” one of the sisters is overheard saying. Which is exactly the kind of sound bite you expect to hear during a reality competition show in the desert involving Americans.
Television has this magical ability to make short people look like NBA stars, but not Team Kansas. It’s clear the sisters have their work cut out for them.
“There was all this required gear, and we three girls were expected to carry the same as the boys,” said Haymond, a high school teacher in Houston. “We thought we could lighten our packs, but no.”
Kelsey Fuller tried to fall on her sword, volunteering that “I was the weakest link,” but big sister overruled her.
“I’m the oldest, I took charge, and I wound up making the dumb mistakes,” Haymond said. “My sisters bailed me out.”
With two strong personalities on the link, Mackenzie Fuller let her sisters do most of the talking during our interview. She did offer this: “I’m the youngest competitor by far.”
And not to spoil anything, but she and her sibs do put some of the guys twice their size to shame in stage one.
“I think KC will be proud of us,” Kelsey Fuller said. “This was the experience of a lifetime, and we couldn’t imagine doing it without each other.”
Tonight ‘Expedition Impossible’ premieres at 8 p.m. on ABC.
To reach Aaron Barnhart, call 816-234-4790 or send email to email@example.com. Read more from Aaron on his blog, TVBarn.com.
Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/2011/06/22/2965914/overland-park-sisters-compete.html#ixzz1QJb9cDQO
Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/2011/06/22/2965914/overland-park-sisters-compete.html#ixzz1QJb9cDQO
|MOROCCO: PSST, Y'WANT BUY A CARPET?|
|Fez / Morocco Board News-- Tales of carpet scams in Morocco, of unethical salesmen, and of mint tea overdoses are popular post-holiday dinner party chat. But are they really all as bad as that? Is every Moroccan carpet salesman a con artist and are most tourists simply gullible? When we did some digging around we discovered the truth is not that simple.|
Tale the first
Dale (name changed) would describe himself at the time of his visit to Morocco as "naive". It was his first trip outside Australia and, as he puts it "I really hadn't done my homework." Dale was travelling with his elderly mother, a formidable woman with a passion for carpets.
Their initial experience with a carpet salesmen was on their first day in the Fez Medina and was enjoyable until they returned to their hotel. As the sugar-high from the mint tea wore off, they checked their receipts and calculated the exchange rates. Somehow, in the buzz and excitement, they had managed to spend three times their budget and spent around 21,000 Australian Dollars (175,000 Dirhams). "I felt physically sick at my stupidity," Dale's mum recalls.
Now in most travel horror stories, that's where it ends. But while naive, Dale wasn't stupid. He contacted a friend in Fez, who rang the carpet shop and made an appointment for the following day. The next morning Dale and his mother used a guide to find the shop again and after a little haggling, had the carpets returned and the credit card bill annulled.
The story ends happily with Dale's mother going shopping again two days later, armed with a pocket calculator. As she tells it, "I bargained like a Berber andspent exactly what I intended, got the rugs I wanted and the nice man even threw in a small runner for free."
Tale the second
Deb and Dave are the folks behind the popular site The Planet D: Around the World Adventure Couple, Last winter their friends Gail Burgin and her husband, Frank Marino (who took the photographs below), travelled to Morocco and while in Fez had what can only be described as a "carpet adventure". Luckily for us, Gail shared her experience in a guest post on Planet D.
Gail described her experience as "one of the most frightening and expensive experiences of my life". A link to the full story is below, but here is an edited extract:
When you arrive in Morocco you know you must leave your Western ways and assumed certainties behind, but no matter how prepared you think you are, nothing prepares you for the carpet sellers.
Abdul, our tour guide, a pleasant, knowledgeable guy, who seemed very western to us, despite wearing a traditional djellaba (caftan) and bernousse (cap), led us through a very small door into a large room with a gorgeous skylight, its walls covered floor to ceiling with carpets. Within two strides of our entering the room we are introduced to Mohamed, who seemed to appear from nowhere.
In one complete breath he asks – “Where are you from? Do you like Morocco? What are your names?, he gives orders to the ceiling for mint tea, and he yells something to the walls in Arabic. In four seconds two people arrive and simultaneously throw carpets at our feet; a cacophony of colour unfurling before our eyes.
Mohamed scoops up one of the carpets and brings it to my face, “Can you see the detail in this carpet? Four women worked on this carpet at the same time. Look! Look at the stitching, one woman went blind while making this carpet. If you buy this carpet, you will be helping 1000 people – a whole village!! Every stitch is done by hand. It is only 6,000!”
I squeek out – 6000 dirhams? ($1,800. Canadian dollars). No, not dirhams, Euros. 6000 Euros!! That’s 8000 Canadian dollars!
By this time we are surrounded by no less than six people, one person is guiding us to walk on the carpets, someone else is serving us tea, two people are continuously throwing carpets at our feet. Mohamed is IN MY FACE repeating over and over the value and provenance of the carpets, and Abdul, all pretense of westernism tossed aside, is speaking into my ear – “How much do you want to pay? 4000? 3000? You can trust these people, they have the best carpets in Morocco!!”
Then I am separated from Frank who is immediately engulfed by his own team of carpet sellers. I blurt out, “How can 1000 people be involved in this carpet – I can’t believe it”.
Without missing a beat, Mohamed pushes the carpet back up into my face – “Look at the stitches, look at the colours. The four women who made this carpet support eight families, LOOK AT THE STITCHES every one made by hand!! 100 people take care of the sheep, 100 people work the land, 100 people take care of the donkeys, 100 people take the wool from the sheep, 100 people spin the wool, 100 people dye the wool. THE WOMEN, THEY GO BLIND MAKING THESE CARPETS!! And Abdul keeps repeating into my ear – “Buy two carpets, you’ll get a better deal, two is better, yes, two!”
I shout: “Two!! How much for two?” From across the room Frank is mouthing the word “TWO??”
I say, “1000!!! We can only afford 1000 Euros.” Abdul is by my arm and he has switched sides again to support my efforts. From the high of 6000 Euros for one carpet, we are haggling over 1000 Euros for two. Mohamed retrieves Frank who is dragged forward and asked, “What is wrong with your wife, how can I sell two carpets for 1000 Euros. It has to be 2000 – I am beggaring myself, think of the blind women, 2000 it must be.” Frank and I look at each other, acknowledging that we should just give in, so he nods his head in assent and is immediately whisked off by Mohamed to pay.
We ended up paying 4000 Euros or $6000 Cnd for two carpets, — it turns out it was 2000 Euros per carpet that Mohamed beggared himself for — and we comforted ourselves with the knowledge we improved the lives of a thousand Moroccans. (I wish)
And as the months and the sting of spending $6000 have passed by, whenever we walk on our gorgeous Moroccan carpets, we are filled with nostalgia for more travel.
SO, WAS IT A SCAM?
When we read the post, we were intrigued by the sense that their "carpet experience" had been a scam. While everyone who has experienced the wild theatricality of the carpet sellers will talk about the pressure and the polished selling style ("Madam, buy this side and you get the other side for free"), in the end, a good deal is when seller and buyer are both happy. So, armed with Frank Marino's photographs, we went carpet hunting.
Three local experts in Fez agree that the carpet pictured above is fine example from the High Atlas. More specifically, from the Taznakt region and probably from A'it Ougherda. They also say it would NOT have been made by four women, but by one.
When it comes to the price, although there was some disagreement, all the estimates put the resale value at between 15,000 and 21,000 Moroccan dirhams (1300 Euro - 1800 Euro). As one carpet expert put it. "It could actually be a bit higher. This is a fine example and such pieces can be a little bit expensive."
At the end of the day, while Gail and Frank probably paid more than they intended, they were not totally ripped-off and have ended up with a beautiful reminder of their time in Morocco ... and a great story to tell.
|LIFE AFTER IMMIGRATION LOTTERY JACKPOT|
|Joe Sciarrillo San Francisco / Morocco Board News-- Benyounes, a soft-spoken, slender man with olive skin, speaks of his experience as an immigrant coming to San Francisco as if he’s reciting poetry, reminiscing on his adjustment to his new life in the Bay Area. He shares memories of bustling in the kitchen of Volare Pizzeria on Haight Street, serving slices of pizza over the hot oven, while welcoming customers in his native Moroccan accent to “Enjoy while it’s hot.”|
Since leaving Volare Pizzeria, Benyounes has moved on to search for teaching jobs, similar to his profession in Morocco as a high school chemistry and physics teacher, but openings are limited, and many only hire applicants who are fluent in English.
Like countless other immigrants in the Bay Area, Benyounes’s story is similar to many who hop between jobs in the service sector while searching for the right fit. Yet when he reflects on his personal journey, he looks you in the eye and recalls his rocky struggles, first with unemployment in San Francisco to the odds he faces now competing for jobs in the U.S’s economic recession.
In 2006, Benyounes arrived from Morocco to San Francisco on the Diversity Visa Lottery with his wife and two boys. Soon after, Benyounes came to the African Immigrant & Refugee Resource Center seeking assistance with employment and housing. More importantly, he was looking to connect with friends to guide and support him in navigating his new home. The obstacles began to mount when his family could no longer comfortably stay at his sister-in-law’s house after the first month. Tempers flared between his relatives, sparked by conflicting expectations on living arrangements, and personal differences. The complex social dynamics of living in an unfamiliar city with new expectations were just his first barriers. He left with his two children to go back to Rabat, Morocco in February of 2007, so they could live in a more stable environment with his sister. Shortly splitting from his wife, in the Bay Area, he returned alone to San Francisco a few weeks later. Although a part of him seemed to remain in Morocco, he began a new journey as a single man in San Francisco.
After returning from Morocco, having spent thousands of dollars on plane tickets, Benyounes’s first steps were to apply for a Social Security card, a California ID, and start everything short of a new life. He began coming to the African Immigrant & Refugee Resource Center in March of 2007 and explained to the caseworkers his frustration in finding affordable housing and livable paying jobs that do not require high-levels of English. The Center provided listings of affordable housing and signed him up for several housing wait-lits. Instead, he preferred to avoid the backlog of public housing and found a more comfortable, personal setting at a Tenderloin apartment with an Algerian friend. The Center referred him to a technological training at Cartridge World, but no related jobs panned out.
One of this biggest obstacles was navigating through the red tape and bureaucratic barriers to employment, housing, and qualifying for certain medical benefits as a legal permanent resident. Yet, he was gaining a familiarity with such obstacles after having gone through the rough fourteen month process of the Diversity Visa Lottery. The United States Department grants roughly 50,000 permanent resident visas annually to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States through this lottery. Most participants come from Asia and Africa, and must meet specific educational or occupational requirements. Having taught high school chemistry and physics for years, Benoyoune met the criteria and in 2006 was able to apply with his wife and two children, allowing them to work and reside in the U.S. as legal permanent residents. For the 2008 Diversity Visa Lottery (which refers to the lottery that took place in the fall of 2006, and allows visa recipients to enter the U.S. in 2008), more than 10 million individuals participated. Benyounes constantly reminds himself that his family has already overcome the odds in coming to the U.S.
While attending prayer services at the Attawhid mosque on Sutter and Polk in the Tenderloin, Benyounes met Abdel Mokrani, the Volare Pizzeria manager. He recalls their first encounter in 2007, “I was looking for any work - part time. Abdel needed someone to open and to start the oven and clean up. I made fish one day for him - he found out I was a good chef so he pushed me to try cooking pizza. He even gave me his secrets (for sauce and pasta) and I improved them because I’m a chemist.” Together, Benyounes and Abdel altered and improved their recipes as well as the restaurant’s interior and exterior design.
Benyounes reflects in French on the unexpected skills he has picked up, “Je ne savais rien,” meaning that he had no experience in managing a restaurant whatsoever, crediting Islam and his spirituality for this. “You must have, above all, faith,” explaining that patience is one of its main virtues. Patience, he attests, is the first thing that helped him when it seemed all solutions and support were gone as a newly arrived immigrant in the U.S.
Volare Pizzeria stands out as one of the many city hot spots that is run and staffed by African immigrants. Most staff are North Africans or maghreb, which makes it a resource for news, celebrations and connections among San Francisco’s maghreb community. In fact, the number of Africans in San Francisco still remains “countless” and unknown because there is little conclusive census data - only extensive statistics on the number of residents who consider themselves “Black.” In fact, several staff of Volare Pizzeria joined the San Francisco Immigrant Legal & Education Network on APril 16, 2008, at City Hall to meet with Supervisors to explain the language and social service needs of the growing African population.
“I need to learn English, to help my position as manager,” Benyounes states just after one month and a half on the job. Often times working along at the pizzeria in the late nights, managing the cashier and kitchen, he would find time to practice his English. “I study English when it’s slow…I practice English with customers. I understand a little but it’d hard.” He notes that picking up on the slang of customers and nearby residents has been the hardest part of the language. With his eyes bright and wide, as if revealing a piece of hidden wisdom, he exclaims, “I noticed that Americans are really polite…that really makes me happy. When they know I don’t understand [what they're saying], they try to help me.”
Benyounes insisted “on peut jamais rester sans faire ren, il y a toujours travail” - there’s always more to do at work. “I never thought I’d be giving so much of my life to pizza!” Though he has moved on to look for higher-level jobs, his eyes squint with melancholy, speaking with gratitude about the support he has received at Volare Pizzeria and the a new community center called the African Advocacy Network.“I can’t tell you how much this has done for me. They are some of my only friends (in the U.S.). They’re my soutien (support).”
This article is a series of stories highlighting the different experiences of immigrants in San Francisco. Story written by Joe Sciarrillo of the African Advocacy Network.
Morocco’s leading fertiliser producer is expanding its activities in east and west Africa.
The world’s largest exporter of fertiliser, the Office Chérifien des Phosphates (OCP), has had a productive, if trying, month.
On 8 March, OCP signed a deal to provide Kenyan company MEA with 100,000tn of fertiliser each year. Continuing Moroccan companies’ moves into sub-Saharan Africa, OCP also signed a deal to help create a map of soil fertility in Mali, with an eye to providing the necessary chemicals to boost production.
Malian businessmen recently purchased 25,000tn of fertiliser from OCP, signalling the beginning of a longer-term relationship between Malian agriculture and the company. Privatised in 2008, OCP is in expansionary mode, with the aim of creating 10 new production units over the next decade. It has co-production agreements with Brazilian, Indian and Pakistani companies.
Morocco holds three-quarters of the world’s phosphate supplies and controls 40% of global exports.
In these days of tighter oil and food prices, it is a strategic asset, which may explain the muscular police intervention to break up a sit-in organised by the children of OCP pensioners protesting that local jobs were being given to outsiders. More than 60 people were injured and 200 arrests were made during the confrontation outside the offices of the company in Khourigba on 15 March.
Morocco's young activists urge referendum boycott.
RABAT, Jun 22, 2011 (AFP) - Morocco's pro-reform February 20 Movement on Wednesday urged a boycott of the constitutional referendum proposed by King Mohammed VI and called for peaceful nationwide protests.
"We call for a boycott of this draft constitution which we reject," the youth-based group said in a statement on its Facebook page, restating its demands for "dignity, democracy and social justice by peaceful means."
It called for peaceful protest demonstrations in several cities on Sunday.
"We call on citizens to rally peacefully across Morocco to protest against this plan which does not meet the conditions of a democratic constitution," it added.
In a speech to parliament Friday, King Mohammed VI proposed to devolve some of his wide-ranging political powers to the prime minister and parliament, among other changes.
Under the new draft constitution to be put to a referendum on July 1, the king would remain head of state and the military and still appoint ambassadors and diplomats, while retaining the right to name top officials of unspecified "strategic" administrations.
Most political parties have reacted favourably to the proposed reforms, which would boost the powers of the prime minister while preserving the king's pivotal political and religious role.
Campaigning for the referendum kicked off Tuesday and will end on June 30.
Communications Minister Khalid Naciri said that all political parties participating in the referendum will be able to speak freely to state-owned media.
Most political parties have urged a "yes" vote. But three leftist parties have called for a boycott.
The February 20 Movement, which was inspired by popular uprisings that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, was named after the date of Morocco's first nationwide protest in a series of demonstrations this year.
After the February 20 protests, the king pledged major reforms including a strengthening of the independence of the judiciary and separation of the government and royal house.
Access to this article is subject to specific terms and condition.
Trekking in Morocco next Adventure Program.
Program is June 20 06/18/2011
By Kurtis Kelly Special to the Trail-Gazette
T he Estes Valley Library`s summer series titled "Our Wonderful World" continues this Monday, June 20 with a presentation by local resident and traveler Kathleen Bennett titled "Trekking in Morocco" . The event will be held at the Park Village Playhouse at National Park Village at 7 p.m. Admission is free.
"For Westerners, Morocco holds an immediate and enduring fascination," posts the website Rough Guides. "The country`s physical make-up is also extraordinary: from a Mediterranean coast, through four mountain ranges, to the empty sand and scrub of the Sahara."
Through images and narrative, Bennett`s presentation will take attendees through the adventures of her trek into Morocco`s Rif and High Atlas Mountains. Using as bases the Berber villages of Chefchaouen in the North, Imlil and Agouti in the South, Bennett journeyed with guide and mule, reaching Morocco`s highest village, Tacheddirt. Other hikes included Morocco`s beautiful Todra and Dades Gorges en route to Erg Chebbi for a camel safari into the Sahara Desert. Interspersed between treks, Bennett explored the Roman city Volubilis and the ancient medinas of the imperial cities Fes, Meknes, and Marrakesh. In the seaport city Tangier, she had a chance meeting with travel writer Rick Steves before sailing to Algeciras.
Bennett`s presentation will include many tips for adventurous and economical solo travel in Morocco.
With safaris in 82 countries to date, Bennett frequently combines adventure travel with volunteer teaching. While working for three years in Kenya, she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya twice, and trekked in Uganda`s Mountains of the Moon. She recently returned from a teaching assignment in Ghana. She holds Instrument and Commercial Pilot licenses and works to support women pursuing aviation careers.
The "Our Wonderful World" series celebrates the learning and understanding of our planet through the stories and images of those who have ventured to extraordinary destinations. The library extends a special thank-you to National Park Village and Scott Webermeier for generously providing this summer`s event space. The Playhouse is located at the corner of Moraine Avenue and Marys Lake Road. For more information about upcoming programs in the Our Wonderful World program series, visit EstesValleyLibrary.org or call (970) 586-8116.
Children's book review: 'Mirror' compares 2 boys' lives
3:13 AM, May. 30, 2011
Ingeniously designed and impeccably executed, Jeannie Baker's new picture book for children, “Mirror,” is a marvel. It tells two stories. One story shows a day in the life of a boy in Australia. One story shows a day in the life of a boy in Morocco.
The book opens like a standard Western book, the book cover being flipped from left to right. Once the book is open, readers discover that the book's binding is not traditional. There are no pages attached to the spine of the book.
Rather, the Australian's story is bound on the far left. The pages turn like a standard Western book. The Moroccan story is bound on the far right. As a result, the pages flip from right to left. The idea is for readers to turn two pages at once, one page for the Australian boy, the corresponding page for the Moroccan boy.
Since the stories are told entirely through pictures, readers can at a glance see the differences and similarities between the boys' lives.
The two boys live in two different countries and are accustomed to different daily routines. As different as the boys' lives are from one another, they do have things in common.
Both of them wake up in the morning to the warm familiarity of parents and siblings. Both participate in the preparation and eating of their morning meal.
The boys' lives are not just a series of parallels, though. Baker creates a compelling portrait of how each boy's life affects the other boy's life. As the Australian boy and his dad get in the car and go the store, the Moroccan boy and his dad get on their donkey and head to the market.
The Australian boy and his dad are shopping for a rug to go in front of the fireplace. The Moroccan boy and his dad are taking a rug they made to the market to sell. Their rug ends up in the Australian store where the boy and his dad see it, love it, and then buy it.
The illustrations in the book are photographs of collages Baker made using mixed media. She uses natural and artificial elements such as sand, dirt, plastic, tin, paint and pieces of fabric. Baker fills each of the two worlds with captivating details: light and shadows, merchandise for sale, crowds of people.
Landscapes, townscapes and people are textured and colorful. Baker eyes each world with respect and love. She conveys the natural beauty of each country as well as the beauty and dignity of the people in each country.
Baker's “Mirror” is a compelling, unforgettable tribute to the fact that the world is full of diverse wonders, yet it is still one world.
Look for this book in the Buncombe County Public Libraries. Visit www.buncombecounty.org for more information and for a schedule of weekly story times at each library location.
|MOROCCO: THE DEBT BURDEN|
ZOUHAIR BAGHOUGH 06/24/11
|New York / Morocco Boad News-- The times of thrift and fiscal prudence are long gone. In its effort to defuse social discontentment, the government spent billions of Dirhams either by subsidizing further strategic commodities, or by increasing dramatically wages in the public sector.|
The result of these unexpected expenses led to further borrowings, and the time might come very soon when the unfortunate government of the day will be compelled to implement austerity plan measures, to slash some -if not all- of these subsidies, or to privatize more assets to pay up for interest on this unexpected debt, all of which would have been the result of unsound economic policies no one will be ultimately responsible for. Parallel to these public spending cuts, the social cost in terms of purchasing power losses and unemployment will exacerbate further existing social tensions.
Morocco has come a long way: the IMF-led painful structural adjustments plan the country submitted to in 1983 because of its abysmal deficit and debt record left economic decision-makers from then on very adverse to any debt-financing scheme, or at least to be adverse to any foreign borrowings; There were even times when relatively high domestic public debt was a sound economic policy that prevented inflationary pressures from getting out of control, and thus preventing ‘hot money’ foreign currency flowing in, with all its subsequent disastrous implications witnessed during the Singapore ’97 crisis for instance. That explains a successful policy in bringing down the size of public debt, but at the expense of any real economic growth, as the World Bank itself recognized:
“Toward the end of the 1980s, the Bank was excessively bullish it its assessments of Morocco’s economic future. Progress in public enterprise and financial sector reforms was considered excellent. [...] The Bank’s overoptimism continued through 1993, despite the fact that there had been hardly any economic growth since 1990. Growth slowed from almost 5 percent a year in the second half of the 1980s to 2 percent in the early 1990s”.
And though great efforts have been made in upgrading the Moroccan economic structure, a potential austerity plan applied to the economy is most likely to finish off these sectors that have not been entirely reformed, namely private investment, rural areas, health and education. Furthermore, the economic growth -our official panacea for all structural economic growth hardships- has been too low to sustain real wealth creation. The consensus around Morocco’s economic growth potential is estimated around 5-6%. The 2011 Budget estimate for nominal growth is 5% with a 2% inflation, that is about 3% real growth. A poor showing indeed, considering how other comparable emerging countries manage to score higher growth figures. An austerity plan will most likely bring us into depression, an economic outcome too gloomy to contemplate, and yet very likely if the government continues in their folly trying to buy off loyalties and peace of mind.
Is the austerity plan likely in Morocco? Haven’t we managed to borrow the whooping sum of € 1 Billion a year ago? Aren’t the financial markets confident in our sound economic policies? not quite.
Consider the level of public debt in Morocco: According to the Finance Ministry’s debt figures, total public debt represents 49.3% of GDP (late 2010) much less than the 80.5% level recorded two decades ago. The foreign-held public debt -our subject of interest- accounts for about half of it i.e. 22.4% of GDP, an 8% increase compared to the 2009 period, an increase in total contradiction with the decade-long average trend of a 9% annual decrease. Now, these figures are nothing like those recorded in the early 1980s (when foreign-held debt was 110.9% of GDP in 1983) and the potential danger is certainly not that of a debt crisis where the Moroccan government would be unable to honour its debt. The danger looms domestically, because of the constraint national foreign currency holdings represent, economic authorities will be obliged to halve many public spendings; and because much of the budget is about non-productive expenses, the axe will primarily fall on the subsidies.
One of the reasons why Morocco’s rating is not Investment-Grade across all rating agencies is due to its weakness on foreign currency. The latest Bank Al Maghrib figures on that matter testify on our economy’s inability to field enough foreign currency to sustain economic resilience. Foreign holdings as of June 2011 are about MAD 182.8 Bn, a 6% dent compared to the MAD 194 Bn reserves held on December 2010. Already the effect of these policies can be felt on these reserves; the pressure on the foreign reserves can be linked to the public debt: indeed, as the graph shows, Morocco resorts more and more often to foreign debt, and so since 2005: even though domestic debt remains the preferred debt vehicle for government spendings, foreign-held debt stock have increased 33% over the last 5 years, compared to the 12% for domestic stock over the same period.
This, of course, is due to the gluttonous borrowings the Finance Ministry has engaged in to pay for many expenses: the new military acquisitions, the various “Grand Design” workshops, the subsidies, etc. have taken the annual domestic public borrowings from MAD 42 Bn in 2005 to MAD 54.2 Bn in 2011 an average of 4.34% annual increase, a commensurate variation to nominal GDP growth’s, about 4.84%. On the other hand, the budget circa 2005 records an additional MAD 7 Bn of foreign borrowings, compared to the MAD 18.05 Bn in 2011, a far larger annual increase of 17.1% a year. This is evidence that government spending resorts more and more to foreign borrowing, thus building on an increasing stock of foreign debt.
The debt is also getting more expensive to pay back: even though the ‘super-borrowing’ of June-September carried only a 4.57% coupon interest, the overall foreign debt paid since 2007 has steadily gone up with an increasing interest/principal ratio, while the economy does not grow fast enough to create enough exports and attract foreign investments, in order to match the required payments.
The debt problem has also another feature, perhaps more concerning: the short-term debt (exclusively domestic) increases at inflationary proportions. The same Finance Ministry figures attest to that: early 2007, overall short-term debt amounted to MAD 15.3 Bn. Projections for debt service mid 2011 are MAD 18.22 Bn. This is due to the fallacy of low interest paid on short-term debt: 3-months treasury bonds pay a coupon of 3.44% while 5 years bond yield 3.94%. Though it is cheaper for the government to pay for short money, it also compels it to continue to borrow short in order to meet its most urgent expenses, and these have been quite numerous these last days.
Debt on itself is not such a bad thing: it can help public authorities benefit from leverage effect when important investments such as infrastructure upgrade or education and research facilities spendings are involved; They can provide value by expanding potential growth. But when subsidies equate the amount spent on public investment (about MAD 53.85 Bn for investment, about MAD 45 Bn for subsidies) the only outcome is future austerity plan and economic depression. Of course, these can be avoided, provided a deep-range fiscal reform, including an end on amnesty over agricultural taxes (who benefit to those owning more than 10,000 ha) and the tax breaks that benefit annually up to MAD 7 Bn, exclusively to the 10-20% richest individuals and households in Morocco.
Morocco's monarchical Micawberism
King Mohamed VI of Morocco silences the doom-mongerers and softens his stance on democratisation and political reform, notesGamal Nkrumah
The first major Moroccan monarchical nationwide televised statement since the Arab Spring was subdued but deadly serious. The spirit of comity and royal courteousness is unlikely to last long if a popular pro-democracy uprising on the scale of those that occurred in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Yemen erupts.
However, if the royal composure does continue in face of increasing demands for democratic reforms, it will strengthen the political clout of Morocco's King Mohamed VI and tighten his grip over his country. So far the king has not flinched and his compatriots have not cringed.
The Arab monarchies are drawn into an ever closer embrace. To a large extent it is a relationship of common interests, a marriage of convenience. Morocco and Saudi Arabia are very different political entities. Morocco is a 400-year-old dynasty and the current king acceded the throne in 1999 after the death of his dictatorial father king Hassan II.
On the face of it the two kingdoms have a few things in common such as the religious authority of the monarch and his sanctimonious role. However, the authorities in Rabat, the royal Moroccan capital feigned surprise when the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) last month invited Morocco to officially join the oil-rich monarchies together with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Morocco was a reluctant GCC candidate because it has its eye on European-style institutions.
For Morocco, the message from the metaphor of being courted by rival suitors is clear. Europe is eager to extend its reach into Africa. Saudi Arabia, at the helm of the Arab oil-fuelled supertanker, wants to consolidate the conservative club of Arab royalty. It is up to Morocco to decide which suitor will prevail in Morocco's quest for economic upliftment, what role it will play in its voyage to the panacea, and to what extent it wants to pay for the ride.
The first sign of a softening in the royal attitude came as it emerged that the king vowed that "Morocco's new style of government would reflect the will of the people through the ballot box." The king insisted on sweeping constitutional reforms that pleased his Western allies -- and were no doubt drawn up with their able assistance. United States State Department spokesman PJ Crawley applauded Mohamed VI as "a reformer responding to his people's aspirations". The pro-democracy activists, however, complained that the constitutional reforms propounded by King Mohamed VI were not enough, and were merely cosmetic.
What Morocco so desperately needs is stimulus and not rectitude. Though the drive may still seem quixotic to many Morocco-watchers, the Moroccan monarch has in recent months unveiled a series of measures that aim to provide his people with greater citizenship rights, civil liberties, better infrastructure and higher living standards. The king is reasonably comfortable with his retinue of experienced technocrats running the day-to-day affairs of the Arab world's westernmost kingdom.
The oil-rich Gulf Arab states are the biggest benefactors of the impoverished kingdom, with a burgeoning population of 34 million people, 60 per cent of them under 20 years of age. Western powers, including the former colonial master France and Morocco's chief political ally the United States of America have been surprisingly reluctant to cough up proper grants or direct lending to help shore up Morocco's battered public finances. The kingdom is economically dependent on earnings from tourism and remittances from Moroccan workers abroad. The poverty-stricken majority of Moroccans insist on greater social justice.
Now the Moroccan monarch appears belatedly to be drawing the logical consequences of such demands for better employment opportunities and social welfare provision. This awareness came across loud and clear in his speech this week in which he promised to improve social, political and economic conditions in the kingdom. Many observers saw this as an unprecedented step forward. Morocco in their reckoning could emerge as the ultimate emerging market of the Arab Maghreb.
King Mohamed VI's posture could pose a challenge for him later in his reign. Morocco cannot afford to pretend to be a Middle Eastern autocracy. Moroccans yearn to be a budding Mediterranean democracy. The country is firmly on African soil, but it has long aspired to merge into the European continent. Its Arab credentials are questionable as the majority of the Moroccan people are non-Arab Amazigh even though Arabic is the official language.
Sceptics will be watching to see whether the king sticks to his word. The draft constitution proposed by Mohamed VI "provides for the promotion of all linguistic and cultural expression in Morocco," the king assured his Amazigh subjects.
One telling moment was when he referred to economic reforms that are seen as more important than the cultural rights of country's ethnic groups. Even as political reforms are slow to reach Rabat, financial reform is even slower.
But the tougher test for him is to frame radical democratic policies. The problem is that the king's ideas are ultimately static in content while his opponents are fast growing impatient with the slow pace of change. The reason for the U-turn is the ideological light in which the reform plans were cast. Morocco is not immune to the Arab uprisings sweeping North Africa and the Middle East.
Key advisors to the king believe that it is better now to press on with what are marketed as the radical democratisation changes proposed by the king than to wait for the Arab Spring to catch up with Morocco. Conceivably this could work with the king's blessing. The king has moved to the left, though cautiously, to avoid renewed accusations of flip-flopping.
As always it is in the changing detail that the devil resides. Resource-poor Morocco is reluctant to proceed on the road to ruination that some other Arab states are taking. The exodus of Moroccans seeking better employment opportunities in greener pastures across the Mediterranean continues to be a major irritant with Europe.
The challenge now for Morocco is that while rightly wanting to build on what has already been achieved, it retains the distinctive features of its own parochial monarchical system. The Moroccans' devotion to their monarchy is not matched by a constitutional monarchical system that meets European standards.
Morocco is still uncertain how far removed from the Saudi Arabian model it should become and conversely how close to the Spanish model it must be.
It remains to be seen exactly how the legislation the king proposes will now change the country's political system. However, it is clear enough that many crucial parts of the Old Guard are on the chopping block. What matters is the direction of change.
This turns the king's original democratisation thrust on its head. The pace the Moroccan opposition parties and pro-democracy activists aimed for was always excessive as far as the king and his entourage were concerned. King Mohamed VI pledged that he intended to carry out a ground-breaking institutional restructuring. His subjects are waiting patiently to see what he will do and how he will go about executing change and instituting reforms.
"Something will turn up" Charles Dickens had the incessant optimist Wilkins Micawber postulate in the Victorian's classic David Copperfield. At times it has seemed as if Micawberism has defined the response of the Moroccan monarchy to the Arab Spring. Fearing the impact of the spread of the Arab pro-democracy uprisings, the king is forced to pledge reform. There is nothing wrong with this strategy if Rabat truly believes that it is capable of instituting radical democratic changes. But whether this belief is justified is another matter. In the past, the king has promised political reform. But this has proved wide off the mark.