Moroccan youth turn junk into income
2011-10-07 Text and photos by Maria Tahri
At Morocco's urban street markets, scrap vendors find a way out of unemployment and shoppers find solutions.
Street vendors have long been part of the economic landscape in Morocco, but for some of those working in the "informal economy", trash is treasure.
Other people's cast-offs and garbage provide them with an income. These itinerant traders know that for every discarded or broken item, there is a potential buyer.
"This is the source of my daily livelihood," street salesman Abdul Hadi says about the items laid out on the sidewalk. Empty bottles once used for ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard, plastic containers used for oils or mineral water, old clothes: this is merchandise, not garbage. And people are willing to pay for it.
Another merchant, Mohamed Ibrahim, says he keeps everything – from broken games to broken cups – inside his house for later re-sale. He saves empty boxes, iron screws and other odds and ends retrieved from the garbage.
"We do not compete with any of the merchants, not even street vendors, because our goods are not their wares and we do not reap huge profits," the father of three tells Magharebia.
"They are only daily pennies, enough for us to meet our needs and not beg."
Abdullah, on the other side of the sidewalk running the length of the famous Souk El Kouriaa market in Casablanca, sells old CD cases. Even though many are cracked, people buy them.
Other sellers stand behind cardboard and wooden boxes filled with rusty keys, picture frames, broken toys, and many things that appear to have no meaning or use. These Moroccan street vendors are of a different breed than those selling vegetables or clothes. Their customers are looking for something that cannot be found in stores or traditional market stalls.
Here, junk sells.
Mustafa a father is poking around among a pile of nails and bolts. "A small screw went missing from the cover of the pressure cooker my wife uses in the kitchen," he explains. "The pot is no good anymore, since she can't tighten the lid, so I am looking for a small screw to replace the lost one."
"I could buy a new cooker for thousands of dirhams, but if I can find the right screw here, it will only cost me two or three dirhams," he says.
Farid is under 30 but has to support his retired father, an elderly mother and several young brothers. He worked as a porter, a travelling salesman and a security guard at a Casablanca building but ended up jobless. One day, a friend proposed that he accompany him to a garbage dump. Everything has a use, his friend explained.
He took the advice and went into business. "Now I keep everything I find until someone comes along to buy it," Shaab says.
"I pick up glass containers, and then wash and clean them to offer in the market," he tells Magharebia. "The price is very low but it is significant for me, because I do not want to remain idle and complain about my condition."
"Perhaps one day I may have to resort to other means to get money, but for now, I prefer working out here. My joy is great when someone finds exactly what he is looking for," he says with a broad smile.
A woman haggles over an outdated juice machine without a cover, while another holds an old alarm clock. It still has numbers and clock hands, but she and the seller go back and forth over her demand for a reduction in price. After all, she says, it may continue to work or break after a couple days. There's no way to tell until she gets it home.
The scrap market is not only frequented by the poor. Citizens from all social circles come here because they may not find what they need anywhere else.
"Necessity is the mother of invention," says merchant Ibrahim Guidoum. "You find young people looking for a specific item. They may not know what it's called, but they know it as soon as they see it."
He adds: "Those who frequent the scrap metal sellers are trying to find wires, devices, tools – all the old home necessities they can't find in shops, or where the spare part cost is too high."
Rabia, an employee, says she goes to the junk market without embarrassment, to find something valuable at a low price, or a piece suitable to fix a kitchen appliance.
"I'm obsessed with frequenting these haphazard spaces," Rabia tells Magharebia. "They give me the pleasure of shopping and digging and searching for what is rare."
A recent study commissioned by the Ministry of Trade revealed that Morocco has 238,000 street vendors, 90% of whom are men. And since some 70% of them never went beyond primary school, their employment options are limited.
Abdul Razzaq is like many of his peers who sell goods on the street. He was in desperate need of a job, but doors closed in his face and he nearly lost hope in life. Then his uncle suggested he accompany him to the market.
Within a year, he had absorbed the secrets of the profession and become self-reliant through the collection and resale of junk and scrap metal.
The Moroccan government is paying particular attention to helping these itinerant merchants. Economic Affairs Minister Nizar Baraka told Magharebia that help is on the horizon: "The main thing is to bring about a transition from the informal to the formal sector, that's what needs to happen."
Local authorities, meanwhile, have been working to regulate Moroccan street vendors within special areas, Abdul Razzaq says.
"They've been showing a kind of indulgence recently, as if they understand our situation and our unemployment," he says.
"We hope to get a permanent space," the young scrap salesman says. "That would help us earn a livelihood without resorting to begging or theft or falling into problems we can do without."
Two Directions for Moroccan Cuisine. By JULIA MOSKIN Published: October 4, 2011
MOURAD LAHLOU and Paula Wolfert would not seem to have much in common. He is the 43-year-old chef of Aziza in San Francisco, his arms decorated with tattoos that signify “strength” in Arabic, a son of Casablanca, Morocco, who works wonders with spices and preserved lemons, sous-vide and meat glue.
She is a 73-year-old daughter of Brooklyn, an industrious ex-hippie and renowned culinary anthropologist in Sonoma, Calif., whose favorite kitchen tool is an unglazed clay pot.
But for more than 40 years, both have been immersed in the flavors, aromas and techniques of the Moroccan kitchen. And now each has written an authoritative, enticing cookbook — from diametrically opposed perspectives.
Ms. Wolfert, the outsider, is the stickler for authenticity and tradition.
“He has made this incredible jump,” Ms. Wolfert said of the food at Aziza. “But his food is not the Moroccan cooking I know. He took steps that only he could take.”
Mr. Lahlou, the native son, is the activist for change and modernity. “We started from the same point in time in Morocco, but she looks backward, and I look forward,” he said.
As much as he respects Ms. Wolfert’s work, Mr. Lahlou said that her depiction of Morocco may have kept Americans — and even Moroccans themselves — from tasting its true potential.
Ms. Wolfert’s new book, “The Food of Morocco” (Ecco), is a magisterial rework of the book that put her on the map in 1973, “Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco.” After its publication, she lived in Morocco for several more years, then moved on to study other Mediterranean cuisines.
“I didn’t think there was any ‘Son of Couscous’ to be done,” she said.
Mr. Lahlou’s book, “Mourad: New Moroccan” (Artisan), is a more personal, idiosyncratic work that flows mostly from two small rooms: his family’s kitchen in Marrakesh and his own in San Francisco. It perfectly illustrates his mission: to use the tools of the modern chef to rethink Moroccan food from the ground up.
“Why are we still cooking the vegetables so much? Why does the meat have to be so dry?” he asked, referring to the traditional slow-cooking methods that make the most of less-than-sparkling ingredients. “Why can’t we enjoy the flavor of the meat and use less spices? Everything starts to taste the same.”
The native food culture of Morocco was that of the Berbers who lived there, on the northwest edge of the Sahara; later, successive bastings in Arab, Persian, Spanish, Turkish and French influence made the cuisine rich and complex.
“Lamb with honey and prunes, chicken with olives, couscous,” said Mr. Mourad, who came to the United States as a college student in 1986. “The first time I went back, I was stoked to eat,” he said. “It was amazing the first day, but then it became apparent to me that there was not going to be anything else.”
The food of Morocco, Mr. Lahlou said, is extraordinary but has become stuck in a few narrow ruts.
“Changing the herb garnish on a tagine is still considered daring,” he said. “Cooks are afraid to change the way things have always been done.”
And, he said, the old-school dishes do not reflect modern Moroccan reality; now there are high-quality ingredients, ample refrigeration and skilled cooks with access to food media, the Internet and foreign travel.
“The Morocco I was born into was very poor and very rural,” he said. At that time, Ms. Wolfert said, about 80 percent of the population lived outside major cities; electricity, running water and cooking stoves were rare. Today, that proportion has been reversed, and Moroccans, many of whom speak French and English fluently along with Arabic, have become sophisticated food consumers.
Mr. Lahlou’s book is a persuasive attempt to engage cooks with this modern Morocco. The first seven chapters are devoted to tradition (one is called “Dude, Preserved Lemons”); the rest, to the recipes that he has served at Aziza, like artichokes and saffron-braised onions in cumin broth, or beef cheeks with carrot jam and harissa emulsion.
(Ms. Wolfert, the purist, does not even consider harissa to be Moroccan — it is Tunisian, she said — although it is now ubiquitous on Moroccan tables, like ketchup.)
The sweet earthy spices, velvety textures, complex braises and tangy flavor sparks of Morocco are only the starting point for Mr. Lahlou’s cuisine.
“I came from that culture, so what is intriguing to me is what else is out there,” he said.
That is just what Ms. Wolfert was looking for in the late 1950s, when she left the United States to live abroad as a 19-year-old literary-feminist beatnik.
“I was young, and excited about words, and Jack Kerouac told me I had great legs,” she said. She was drawn to Morocco, along with many young Europeans and Americans, by the country’s enlightened reputation and cheap cost of living after it won independence from France in 1956.
In 1968, when Mr. Lahlou was born in Casablanca, Ms. Wolfert was living outside Tangier, around the corner from the American writer Paul Bowles, and was a suddenly single mother of two small children (her husband having left her for a Swedish painter he met during the student strikes in Paris). She sated her restlessness in the kitchen, where the cook, Fatima, taught her to grind spices, preserve lemons in salt and strip the stalks of freshly cut wheat to prepare the berries for the mill.
“The work of feeding one family was all-consuming,” Ms. Wolfert said.
Eventually, her interest led to the childhood home of the Moroccan consul general to the United States, where she was tutored by his mother and her brigade of cooks, and where she began the revolutionary act of writing down how the traditional dishes were made.
“There was no tradition of sharing recipes in Morocco,” said Mr. Lahlou, describing the significance of Ms. Wolfert’s work. “Cooking jobs were very valuable, literally handed down from generation to generation, and they were not about to give their secrets away.”
In 1973, she published the book that introduced a generation of food-loving bohemians to Moroccan cuisine. The fragrant recipes and evocative photograph of Ms. Wolfert in a soft green caftan, with vendors in a dusty marketplace, put a thousand tagines onto American tables.
At the time, Mr. Lahlou was 5, the constant companion of his family’s chief food supplier: his grandfather, who did the daily shopping. (Mr. Lahlou’s father had also left his wife and children, a situation that was considered so tragic that others spoiled the young Mr. Lahlou with food and attention to make up for it, he said.) He, his brother and his mother, Aziza, lived with her extended family in a compound that encompassed grandparents, cousins and aunts — but only one kitchen.
Like most Moroccan boys, he was never taught to cook. But, he said, he was immersed in food as the family spent an hour at breakfast debating what to have for lunch, and another hour at lunch debating the relative merits of eggplant, okra and peppers with dinner.
As a college student in San Francisco, he began cooking as a way to manage homesickness, and followed his older brother into a job as a waiter at Mamounia in the Richmond district, one of the first upscale Moroccan restaurants in the United States.
When the brothers decided to open a restaurant instead of proceeding to graduate school, he said, backers assumed that belly dancers and waiters with pointy-toed slippers would be prominently featured. He refused.
“I wasn’t going to open a Moroccan Disneyland, and I wasn’t going to make Moroccan ’70s hotel food,” he said.
From there, he said, he developed a style on his own that, in the book, reads like a very hyphenated, modern cuisine, as much American as Moroccan.
In their new books, both authors push beyond what Americans think they know about Moroccan food. For example, bread, not couscous, is the everyday and much-loved staple of Moroccan tables. (Mr. Lahlou said that his family went through eight loaves a day.) Tagines are never spooned over couscous, but scooped up with bread: in cities, with bits pulled from yeast-risen loaves, but among the Berbers, with round flatbreads baked on griddles.
The Berbers use an unusual leavening method that gives a warm, earthy aroma to the loaves: a mix of semolina flour, water and garlic cloves that quickly ferments into a pungent starter. The recipe provided by Ms. Wolfert requires three kinds of flour and takes two days, but is richly rewarding in flavor.
Mr. Lahlou, on the other hand, has invented entirely new breads like harissa-spiked rolls, grilled semolina flatbreads and delicate lacy pancakes (beghrir) made with almond flour. In Mr. Lahlou’s family, only his mother is considered expert at making beghrir, and as a traditional Moroccan cook, she did not share her recipe even with her son. So he worked for years to develop a foolproof method for Aziza’s pastry chef, the pancakes dripping with melted butter and honey.
Many of the skills of the traditional kitchen — how to roll couscous, how to slow-preserve meat in the desert, how to make the paper-thin pastry dough called warqa — are disappearing fast, the authors agree.
They also agree that the daily lives of Moroccan cooks are better without such labor-intensive practices. But there is a fundamental conflict between them: the traditions that Ms. Wolfert has gone to such pains to record are the very ones that Mr. Lahlou is trying to change.
“Moroccan women now are the equivalent of American housewives in the 1950s: they want to use the pressure cooker to make tagines, they want to go to the supermarket,” Ms. Wolfert said. “I don’t want to tell them they have to go back into the kitchen, but something is being lost. I’m out to preserve what I can still find.”
One of the signature photos people always take home with them from Morocco is of heaping piles of spices in a variety of enticing colorful displays. These setups aspire to overwhelm visitors with the enchantment of a new and undiscovered place – and to encourage wide-eyed tourists to part with their dollars.
Diane Rice of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, captured a singular image of one of those remarkably shaped groupings of spice cones, a monument to Morocco's exotic qualities.
Spice shops are located all over the place, inviting visitors to try a sniff. Ras el hanout, or "top of the shop," is the country's signature spice blend. There may be dozens of ingredients involved, including nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon and cardamom - and everyone has their own variation. It is these same spices that lend Moroccan foods a special flavor.
"I've traveled extensively in Europe, but nowhere than can match this experience," Rice said. "Whatever exotic dream I had of Morocco before I went was more than confirmed. It was way better than I ever expected, and by far the farthest thing from our life in the U.S. that I have ever visited."
Rice was visiting her son-in-law's family in Morocco and wasn't sure what to expect during her May 2011 trip, but any fears were quickly dissipated by the hospitality - and tastes - she encountered.
Two popular meals are the tajine (or tagine) and the pastilla. The former is a style of slow-cooked stew often filled with meat and vegetables, and is named for the special pot in which it is cooked. The latter is a Moroccan meat pie often made with pigeon or chicken.
"My experience with the food was amazing, but different because I was eating in private homes, prepared by real, traditional Moroccans," she wrote. "I had every conceivable tajine recipe and loved all of them. I had some clean, lemony salads and some creamy, delicious couscous that I remember vividly."
Jessie Faller-Parrett of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, shared a photo of the colorful array of vegetable foodstuffs one might find in just one course of a Moroccan meal. Multiple courses with many different components and local breads are common when eating in Morocco.
Like Rice, Faller-Parrett spent time eating with Moroccan locals during her travels, so she also got the non-touristy perspective on food.
"I was fascinated during one of our first breakfasts, as the hosts at our riad served us three different kinds of bread, hard boiled eggs, cheese, jam, cocoa, honey, butter, olives, orange juice, coffee and mint tea."
She enjoyed immersing herself via the varied foods available in Morocco, including the tajine and pastilla. She also made sure to try a sheep's head and brain straight from a stall in Marrakech's Jamaa el Fna, the country's most famous market.
"Meals are a wondeful experience, with many different courses and new tastes," Faller-Parrette said. "Be adventurous and try everything from the many delicious types of bread and vegetables to pigeon pastillas and boiled sheep's head."
If you go to Morocco, you'll also find that tea is steeped into the culture. Swishing a paper tea bag in a steaming coffee mug can be heavenly on a cold day, but it's a far cry from the elaborate rituals of the East. Residents drink a special green tea several times a day. It's a part of daily life, and a component of hospitality shown to guests.
"The ubiquitous mint tea was ever-present," wrote Rice. "Every shop, hotel, restaurant and home."
The tea is prepared with mint added to it, and then sweetened to varying degrees by regional preference.
Visual presentation is a big part of the ritual, and the preparer typically uses a tray with glasses and pots. There may be an elaborate preparation technique designed to affect the taste and consistency of the drink. Pouring is done from a distance to ensure a certain foaminess, which is a practice that can be found in many other countries around the world.
Vivienne Chapleo and Jill Hoelting , who run WAVEjourney.com, visited Morocco and participated in a tea ceremony with a Berber family just outside Marrakech in the Ourika Valley. The Bend, Oregon, bloggers said the tea ceremony was a treasured experience featuring more than just tea, and plenty of attention from their hosts.
"They also served warm, fresh bread from flour they had stone ground themselves. Accompanying the bread was honey from their own bees, butter from their cow and olive oil from their olive trees."
The traveling pair made sure to record a video of the elaborate preparations for the tea.
"The mint tea was served with copious amounts of sugar and was an absolute treat to see being prepared."
Faller-Parrett says she also enjoyed tasting the tea with meals or just to relax wherever she went.
"Mint tea is such a huge part of Moroccan culture, and I enjoyed taking a moment after meals to drink it and talk about all of the delicious foods we ate or to take a break from a day of exploring to sit for a moment at a café, soak in my surrounds and drink tea."
Have you ever been to Morocco, or are you a fan of the country's cuisine? We'd love to hear from you. We're curious what you would recommend and what you've enjoyed. Share what you think a traveler should eat, and any food-related adventures you've had in the comments area below.
CNN's Destination Adventure series takes a look at great places for eager explorers. Each week, we'll feature favorite regional foods, secrets from the locals and the best photos and stories from readers. Have you been to Morocco? Share your story with CNN iReport. And next week, we'll journey to Nepal.
Sahara Solar Project to Present First Plant Design in 2012
October 05, 2011
By Stefan Nicola (Adds Dii strategy, quote from analyst in last three paragraphs.)
Oct. 5 (Bloomberg) -- The Sahara solar initiative backed by German turbine maker Siemens AG and Deutsche Bank AG will sketch out plans in 2012 for its first power plant, a 600 million-euro ($800 million) station in Morocco, its project manager said.
Desertec, the venture aiming to generate power across the North African desert for Mediterranean-area consumers, needs a few more months of planning for its initial 150-megawatt pilot plant, Paul van Son, chief executive officer of Dii GmbH, the project management company, said in an interview in Munich.
Dii’s talks with European and North African governments to back the initiative are advancing “step by step,” even as upheavals during the Arab Spring ousted leaders in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya this year, van Son said. “I’m very confident that we will see concrete steps in 2012.”
The project founded in 2009 envisions an Egypt-to-Morocco network of solar-thermal plants, in which mirrors concentrate sunlight to heat liquids for powering turbines, as well as photovoltaic panels and wind farms. Electricity would be sold to the region and the excess exported to Europe, providing as much as 15 percent of the continent’s demand by 2050.
Overall investments may total as much as 400 billion euros, Dii has said. So far, no facilities have been built, which has Logan Goldie-Scot, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, concerned that the project may not be realized.
North African countries are moving ahead with their own projects more quickly than Desertec, Goldie-Scot said. Morocco targets 2 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2020, with bidding for the construction of a 125-megawatt solar-thermal plant in Ouarzazate “in the final stages,” Goldie-Scot said by phone.
“Until Desertec actually puts a project on the ground and provides details on financing and the different stakeholders, it’s nothing more than nice ambition and a series of public announcements,” he said.
Dii shareholders including Deutsche Bank, Italy’s UniCredit SpA and Abengoa SA of Spain, are working to carry out the project while access to financing is becoming increasingly difficult amid the European debt crisis.
About 1.9 billion euros in investment are needed to develop the first 500-megawatt phase of Desertec, Dii says. Shareholders, including insurer Munich Re, may help provide financing or equity to build the first plant, van Son said.
The pilot plant should supply Morocco and Spain by 2014 if photovoltaic panels are used, and about two years later if it relies on solar-thermal technology, he said.
Dii chose Morocco to host the first plant as the country is stable, has a government that backs renewable-energy expansion and is linked to Europe via two undersea cables stretching about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) across the Strait of Gibraltar, van Son said. The cables have free capacity of 400 megawatts to 1,000 megawatts, he said.
“Morocco is especially cash-strapped, and that’s why they’re eager to attract foreign investments and more willing to meet Desertec’s terms than some of the other North African countries,” said Samuel Ciszuk, an energy analyst for the region at Colorado-based IHS Global Insight Ltd. He spoke by telephone from London.
Aside from commercial and shareholder financing, the Munich-based initiative is in negotiations with governments in North Africa and Europe to secure state-backed grants and loan guarantees, van Son said. Dii then hopes for governments to buy the electricity via a power-purchase agreement, he said.
The company is preparing a study that simulates power network conditions in Morocco to find out more about the ideal technology for the first plants, van Son said. The study will run until the end of the year and its results may help convince potential investors, he said.
Dii aims to expand installations in North Africa and the Middle East with a wider goal to transfer clean technology, create jobs and meet the region’s entire electricity demand from renewable sources by 2050, van Son said.
The initiative is working on a feasibility study for possible projects in Tunisia and has talked to officials in Algeria, Egypt and Libya, countries that have seen upheavals during the Arab Spring uprisings.
“We’re seeing the start of a period of change in North Africa, and some countries may look very different in a few years,” Ciszuk said. “If Desertec can get things under way in Morocco, why shouldn’t there be more opportunities in Tunisia and Egypt in the mid-term?”
--Editors: Todd White, Randall Hackley
To contact the reporter on this story: Stefan Nicola in Berlin at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at email@example.com
Moroccan student entrepreneurs compete for Arab prize
Morocco will participate in the annual INJAZ al-Arab Young Arab Entrepreneurs Competition, which opens in Amman on October 18th. After six months of preparation, student teams from across the region will vie for the "Best Company of the Year Award" before their peers and a panel of judges.
"The world economic crisis has stimulated a record increase in youth unemployment in the MENA region, making it one of the biggest challenges facing governments and society," judge Ahmad Shuqairi said. The event organisers work to "combat this problem by recognising the importance of self-employment as a career option", he added.
Operating in 12 countries across the Middle East and North Africa region, INJAZ al-Arab says it works with Ministries of Education to equip Arab students with practical business-related skills, as part of the regular educational curriculum, to enable their success in the global economy.
You never saw just one of them: Los Ifninos, the surfers of Sidi Ifni. They always walked together, two or three, and drove around together, four or five, in a dusty Renault, blasting the Sublime song that goes:
Early in the morning, rising to the street,
Light me up that cigarette and I strap shoes on my feet
Got to find the reason, reason things went wrong,
Got to find a reason why the money's all gone.
The Renault would stop in front of the old hotel that held the Ifni surf shop and you would hear four sets of feet go inside and up the six flights of stairs to the rooftop terrace where they could check the surf out front and yell down at their friends on the street. If three of four surfers run around together in America they are friends. In Morocco, four surfers feels like a political movement. Everywhere they go becomes their place. When they paddle out to the break at Legzira they turn it into their performance space, yelling and cursing each other, dropping into the hollow waves there, getting swallowed whole by tubes and racing against each other for the best waves.
Our first conversation. I introduced myself: a surfer from California.
"California! You are a great surfer then!"
"We are going to Legzira. You must come."
"The waves are better there?"
"Yes. Yes. Much better at Legzira. It is beautiful there. Long beach. Big arches."
What about the waves here? I pointed out at the break in front of my hotel, a nicely shaped A-frame breaking outside.
"No, no. Too far out. Too much paddle."
They were a crew, a band of brothers. They wanted ride fast waves close in where their friends on shore could see how good they were.
"Come with us to Legzira! First we get the beers! Then we get the waves!"
We piled into the Renault and everyone put on sunglasses and began singing, "Early in the morning, rising to the street..."
On the road to Legzira, a few miles up the coast, we talked about waves and women, which in Sidi Ifni are the two eternal subjects, one chasing the tail of the other. Waves and women: you can talk about them forever and never repeat yourself. They are the same because every single one of them is different: each wave, each woman arises from different conditions, products of storms and pressures, born of the longings and fevers not only of their individual origins but of the whole ocean. Each has its own personality, each must be addressed differently and to catch it you must look directly into it and read its heart before it can be caught.
Nabil, the Ifnino seated next to me, told me about his trips into the dance clubs of Agadir, a city of a half million up the coast.
“Every night I go and dance and meet women." Talking to Nabil is like talking to your id in knock off Ray Bans. He is a wave-riding Casanova, a Moroccan Borat, describing impossible conquests. The only difference is that he knows the joke is on him.
At Legzira, we roll to Oscar's house, a pink three storey built into the side of a blood red cliff. There are people setting up outside with boards and wetsuits. Inside a gloriously fat woman works in the kitchen. Upstairs a dozen locals sit around about drinking Especial, a lager brewed in Casablanca. A beach house like this is everything you could want: a clubhouse, a promenade, a dive, a school, a restaurant and a theater to watch your friends ride the fat swells the Atlantic unfurls at you.
After a few drinks, we pull on our wetsuits and paddle out. It does not look good. The waves, while big, are crossing each other at bad angles, canceling each other out and making a mess of the water. Where there should be clean lines of waves passing through the water, there is instead a storm-tossed anarchy that the eye can barely make sense of, like an endlessly rumpled bedspread. I catch a couple waves but after an hour of battling the chop my arms are exhausted. Paddling in, one of the crew tells me that Nabil dropped in on a big wave and snapped his board in half.
Casablanca / Morocco Board News -- My kids were born in the US and did not have time, nor the desire to take the trip into the city to deal with the Moroccan Embassy in Washington.
So I had the bright idea to register my kids in Morocco. So I started my Quest.
The first step is to create what is called a "hala madania"/ or family Civil Record book. You get this in the "Moukataa" / or the local government Office where your father or you were born. If you were not born in Morocco, you go to the "Moukataa" / Local government Office where your father registered you. Once you do this, they give you the "extrait" or copy from your father's "hala madania" / family Civil Record - you then take this with your marriage contract (notarized of course) and the Hala Madania location of your wife and put in your request for the "Hala Madania" (family Civil Record) book.
Once you get the "hala madania"/ family Civil Record, you then have to go to the "Moukataa" / Local government Office where you live in Morocco and visit the "Hala madania" section, once there, you give the women there a copy of your kids birth certificate and a copy of your name page from your "Hala Madania" book and your wife's page from her "hala madania" book - they will then give you a paper that says that your child is NOT registered. This then allows you to begin the process of registering your child in Morocco...
The Next step is the court house. You go to the Court house "Sandoq" (box area) - at the "Sandoq" they will expect you to NOT have all of the paperwork you need, but you will see the expression of surprise on their face if you come prepared! You need to bring your kids original birth certificate, and a copy of it (no need to translate it, it seems) You also need to bring another notarized copy of your marriage certificate, your father's "hala madania" / family Civil Record book, and two of those green "akd alziad"/ Birth Certificates , one for yourself and the other for your wife. You then start what amounts to a full day project and one picture of yourself and a letter from the equivalent of the law office across the street - very cheap for them to write the letter for you, they know what to put in it, you just have to make sure they don't make any spelling mistakes. Remember, EVERYTHING in Moroccan courts is done in Arabic.
Now here is the key to getting this done in ONE day, you have to follow your own file from one place to another. It is actually almost comical, as you go to one room where they stamp the paper, then you go to the room next door to get it signed, then you go upstairs to have another guy sign it, and then to another room to get it stamped, I am NOT kidding, in all you end up going to 6 different rooms - TWICE!! Essentially, you visit 6 offices in order to get the paper ready for the Judge to sign it and you have to visit each of those same rooms to have them notate that the Judge has signed it before giving you the one piece of paper. But if you start at 9 am, you can get the letter - equivalent of order to register your kids on your hala madania by the end of the day.
Once you get the piece of paper, you make a photo copy of it, and you take the original and leave photo copies of your kids birth certificates and an "extrait" or copy from your "hala madania" /family Civil Record and come back about a week later to pick up the "hala madania"/ family Civil Record a with your kids inside of it.
Once you get this "hala madania"/ family Civil Record with your kids names inside of it, you take it to the CNSS office and you can have your kids registered in your CNSS (moroccan Social Security) This will allow you to collect 200 DH per month for each of your first two kids from the Govt - additionally this entitles you to include them in your government sponsored Health Insurance - for example a visit to the doctor for the kids check up costs 200 DH - you will get back 140 DH - the good part is that you also get back 70% spent on all prescription drugs/immunizations.
I suggest that you be patient, smile when you feel like yelling and maintain a pleasant disposition. There are some very good people who work within the court system, and some very good people at all points along the process - but there are a few angry people too... bottom line, it is like anywhere, you have good and bad. The big downside, is that there is no real place where your complaints will be taken seriously - but the same is true if you ever decide to file a complaint against a police officer in NYC... they can attack you with a baton for no good reason, you can take pictures of the bruises, have video and the Civilian complaint review board will still come back with a standard, "not enough evidence to proceed" letter - that is unless you are white and rich and get media attention for your incident prior to beginning the process. Money and power in the US go hand in hand.
Morocco announces pay hikes for imams.By Hassan Benmehdi 2011-10-07
A salary increase for imams aims to curb the spread of fundamentalist ideas in Moroccan mosques.
Forty-six thousand imams across Morocco will receive a pay boost starting the beginning of next year, the Ministry of Habous and Islamic Affairs announced last week.
An estimated 541 million dirhams will be allocated to benefit imams. In addition, the monthly supplement paid to religious preachers will be up by 300 dirhams.
The government will continue to work to improve the financial, professional and social standing of imams to reflect their important role in society and the work they do in the mosques, the religious affairs ministry said in a statement.
The reactions to the announcement ranged from applause to scepticism to outright criticism.
The decision will motivate imams to "become more involved in reforming religious life, and fighting the wave of extremist ideologies flooding in from abroad and undermining Morocco’s spiritual and religious unity", a member of the Religious Council of Ulema in Casablanca said on the condition of anonymity.
According to journalist Hassan Mennani, it is important to understand that extremism lingers in the background of the Moroccan religious scene. The state always demonstrates that succumbing to fundamentalist disorder is not an option, he added.
"The announcement of the pay review for imams, who are the main actors in religious reforms and the guarantors of spiritual stability, fits perfectly into that context," said Mennani, who specialises in religious affairs.
Some preachers think that the measure is long overdue.
"They should have started off with this, or restored the mosques which are falling down, rather than providing televisions for the mosques, for example," said preacher Si Hassan, whose monthly salary is 4,000 dirhams (360 euros). Si Hassan went on to say that most imams ran a small business alongside their religious activities to provide for their needs and relied on patronage.
"We are going to continue campaigning for a real re-structuring of our profession," vowed Si Abdellah, an imam in the old medina of Casablanca. "We also want to see the Ministry of Habous become a democratic department. We are determined to keep up our efforts until that happens, but in the meantime we hope the Ministry of Habous will manage to engage in a responsible dialogue with the imams."
The harshest reaction came from the League of Imams of Amir Al Mouminine. The body, which represents Moroccan imams, on Monday (October 3rd) released a statement, describing the move as pointless and ridiculous. The increase will do nothing to improve imams' daily lives, they said.
The league criticised what they described as the unilateral way in which the ministry deals with the imams' demands and suggested that imams be integrated into civil service on a minimum monthly wage of 3,000 dirhams.
Nevertheless, they insisted a dialogue should take place between the religious affairs ministry and imams, and that their grievances and demands be dealt with through a modern and democratic institutional framework.
Imams in the mosques run by the ministry receive a minimum monthly allowance of 1,100 dirhams, in addition to a supplementary allowance of 500 dirhams for any imam who also works as a khatib.
In their first-ever protest, imams last June staged a sit-in in Rabat to air their discontent and complain about a lack of respect towards them.
- Amina Murtada Friday, 07 October 2011
Global Arab Network - As rail passenger numbers continue to multiply, the construction of Morocco’s planned high-speed rail network, set to enter service in 2015, is picking up speed. The project, which is being developed along with plans to upgrade and increase the capacity of the standard-gauge rail network, is attracting major institutional financing, Global Arab Network reports according to OBG.
The number of Moroccan rail passengers increased to 31m in 2010, up by 4.7% on 2009 figures. Passenger numbers have risen every year since 2004, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 9%. The distance passengers are traveling has been growing even faster, rising by 5% to 4.4bn km in 2010, with a CAGR of approximately 10% since 2004.
Rail freight has had a tougher ride, with both tonnes transported and freight tonne kilometres (FTK) having fallen during the global downturn in 2008 and 2009. However, both rebounded strongly in 2010, with tonnes transported growing by 44% on 2009 figures to 36m tonnes in 2010, while FTK jumped by 36% in the same period.
The upward trajectory looks poised to continue through 2011, with rail passenger numbers in the first half of the year growing by 13% on the same period in 2010 to 17m. An additional 3.6m people used the train network in July for a total average of 120,000 customers per day, compared with an average of around 84,000 in 2010.
In line with this growth in demand, the Moroccan government is investing heavily in both rolling stock and track. The largest investment project by far is the country’s planned high-speed rail line, which will run between the economic capital Casablanca and the major north-eastern port city of Tangier. The project will cost an estimated Dh20bn (€1.78bn) and is set to begin service in December 2015. It is expected to reduce the travel time between the two cities from five hours, 45 minutes to two hours, 10 minutes, with a maximum speed of 320 km per hour along a 200-km stretch of the line. The authorities predict that 6m passengers will travel on the high-speed network annually.
In late July Mohamed Smouni, the director of development for the National Office for Railways of Morocco (Office National des Chemins de Fer du Maroc, ONCF), told press that the project was proceeding on schedule, assuring that the ONCF and its partners were in the process of wrapping up preparatory works and were moving towards commencing work on the civil engineering phase of the project.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy in early September indicated that he would travel to Tangier at the end of month to attend the beginning of construction works on the line, a reflection of the fact that French companies are heavily involved in the project. French national railway company SNCF will be in charge of designing, building and operating the rolling stock and maintaining the track.
The French firm Alstom in December last year signed a €400m deal with the ONCF to provide 14 high-speed double-decker trains that are to be assembled in Morocco, each able to carry at least 533 passengers. In June Alstom also signed an agreement with French cable manufacturer Nexans to create a joint venture firm that will produce cables and other equipment to be used in this project, as well as in the Casablanca urban tram network project, in which Alstom is also involved.
France, along with a number of other European countries, is also channelling loans and grants to the Moroccan project, worth some Dh2bn (€177m). Financing has come from further abroad as well, and in July the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development agreed to provide a loan of Dh712m (€63m) towards the high-speed network.
Other segments of the country’s rail system are also attracting financing. In March the African Development Bank finalised an agreement to lend Morocco €300m towards a planned Dh5.1bn (€453m) project to increase the capacity of the Marrakech-Tangier line as a whole. The line accounted for 16m passengers in 2010, just over half of all Moroccan rail traffic. The capacity expansion project is part of a wider Dh12.8bn (€1.14bn) railway investment programme to be carried out between 2010 and 2015. (OBG)
Moroccan health sector criticised in corruption probe
By Siham Ali for Magharebia 2011-10-04
Corruption may be a persistent problem in Moroccan hospitals, but the agency charged with fighting it says many people fail to report instances of fraud.
The Moroccan health sector has a bad case of corruption. Yet few members of the public are prepared to speak out. A recently published study by the Central Authority for the Prevention of Corruption (ICPC) found that few incidents were reported by citizens.
Less than 1% of the population said that they had spoken out against a corrupt activity, according to the study, the results of which were presented September 26th in Rabat.
Where people have spoken out against corruption, it most frequently involved private clinics. None of the reported cases of corruption involved public health centres, even though the problem remains significant. Three out of every ten people said they had resorted to bribery to receive healthcare, according to the report.
Members of the public remain sceptical that reporting corruption will result in convictions. Sixty-three per cent of those surveyed said that reporting corrupt activities was pointless or that officials would not be prosecuted. The remaining 37% said they simply hope they don't run into problems.
In order to address the issue and change public attitudes, the ICPC signed an agreement with the health ministry September 27th. Health Minister Yasmina Baddou admitted that the problem exists, but she said it should not be overstated.
Baddou said that raising awareness was essential to prevent the public from falling victim to corrupt activities in public hospitals, where a number of measures have been introduced.
"The public need to know their rights. For example, a list of drugs to be supplied to patients has been put on display. Patients must not pay for them," the minister said.
ICPC President Abdesselam Aboudrar called for a targeted approach, dealing first with the corruption hot spots. In particular, he said there should be an effort to establish good citizenship values, a restoration of confidence in health services, improvements in how equipment and supplies are managed, and greater controls, with better regulation and monitoring.
Health professionals interviewed for the study blamed corruption on members of the public. According to an account from a nurse at a provincial hospital in Casablanca, "patients and those accompanying them now arrive planning bribery to receive favourable treatment, or simply to receive the services to which they are entitled."
Users say that corruption in health services has become an everyday occurrence. For more than half of those interviewed, it has become normal, widespread behaviour.
Meanwhile, members of the public interviewed by Magharebia said that no one wants to throw away their money and that it was the healthcare professionals who extorted patients.
Mehdi, a 27-year-old man, told Magharebia that he went to the University Hospital in Rabat two months ago after falling down the stairs at home. The doctor refused to treat him, claiming he should go to the centre in Sale, where he lives. In the end the doctor examined him, after his brother slipped him 300 dirhams.
Mehdi did not report the incident. Instead he took the doctor's number so that he could seek his help on future occasions.
ZOUHAIR BAGHOUGH 10/02/11
New York / Morocco Board News-- The next government will have to sort out a swelling Compensation Fund, an unfair taxation system, a galloping bureaucracy, with the implications that unpopular policies will have to be implemented. Another reason why the Democratic/Radical left engaged in boycotting next elections:
The idea is, the next government is very likely to collapse before us, partly because the crisis -upcoming or current- will force its disintegration, and force the regime to resort the the last card on the table, a genuine democratic reform. I wish that was possible (but without the crisis bit, obviously) but the thing is, we need a strong, homogeneous government to carry out these policies, because otherwise it is going to be the same set of targets: Belkhayate, Baddou and Abbas El Fassi, for all their perceived weaknesses and corruption, are not really answerable to the people, first off because they need not to account for before parliament, and second because government coalition is too stretched on the ideological spectrum to afford a United We Stand, genuine collective responsibility. Amazing though it may be, El Fassi Government, originally predicted to fall within months or few years, held forth and completed a 4-years tenure with minor adjustments.
The economic policies I was referring to are not those bombastic lines displayed on makassib.ma I am referring to the disturbing Article IV presented before IMF in September, and the willingness displayed by finance minister Mezouar to carry on a 10% budget cut. I am trying to figure out how: if indeed the 10% cuts are aimed at unnecessary expenditures, then all the talks about good government ever since DVD have been idle, and bureaucracy, rather than dying away, is back and well and alive. That’s almost MAD 30Bn off the book…
The 2010 Bank Al Maghrib annual report has been released a week ago: as usual, a great deal of effort has been put in assessing the “Mood of the Nation’s Economy”. Governor Jouahri has been quick to point out that government debt has grown to alarming levels:
“Cette évolution s’est traduite, malgré le léger redressement des recettes fiscales, par un creusement du déficit hors privatisation, passé de 2,2% à 4,6% du PIB ainsi que par une rupture de la tendance baissière du ratio de la dette publique directe qui s’est établi à 50,3% au lieu de 47,1% du PIB. [...]
L’exercice budgétaire de l’année 2010 a été essentiellement caractérisé par une accélération du rythme de progression des dépenses, accompagnée d’une modification notable de leur structure. En effet, les dépenses de compensation ont plus que doublé d’une année à l’autre, sous l’effet du renchérissement des matières premières, portant à 7% le taux de progression des dépenses ordinaires, contre une baisse de 3,5% en 2009. En revanche, dans un contexte de consolidation de la croissance non agricole, les dépenses d’investissement du Trésor ont marqué une quasi-stabilité après quatre années de hausse rapide.” (pages 5 & 87)
Not that we are back to the dark years of 1980s, but he has worried that compensation expenses and the increase in public sector manpower might further the strain on public finances, and subsequently, the economy as a whole. More interesting though, the report introduces a new tool in its motley of charts, a tool I believe might give us good indications on what we might not know. (I recommend a great read on the model, as delineated in the 2007 annual Monetary Report, pages 27-29)
The fan-chart computes expected levels of inflation over a pre-specified time frame. Because these projections are not fixed, the modernised variables are randomized such that expected inflation has such and such confidence probability to be within the boundaries of specific levels. Now, I trust BAM economists to be highly competent and dedicated to their tasks, but I would very much like to know the effective impact of government debt on their computations; it is a given to consider government debt -especially domestic debt market- to push inflation upwards. The intuitive argument being,the Moroccan government has to pay back its debt with some nominal (face-value) interest rate. But, they can get away with it by “printing money”, or even if they don’t, the expenditure would take care of it, for instance by increasing public service payroll at a rate higher than, say, GDP Growth, the famous “Too Much Money Chasing Too Few Goods” line. But expected inflation remains very stable around 2%. I would argue that no inflation rate at such (low) level can be achieved without a drastic halving of public deficits (as Debt-to-GDP ratio remains within acceptable limits)
A left-wing government would go “tax & spend”: close tax loopholes, re-institute -if they can- the agricultural tax and the 42% marginal income tax, institute a wealth tax on millionaires, cut VAT and Corporate tax deductions for real-estate developers, etc. all of which can expand considerably government receipts for 2-3years, enough to payback debt and bring it within acceptable limits, while avoiding unnecessary social unrest. A right-wing government would go “slash & burn”: keep the tax loopholes or go further in alleviating the tax burden on corporates and individuals, while cutting public expenditure, compensation fund or other. Government pay-check could also be balanced, but to the risk of social unrest, food riots, and social resentment going berserk. The next finance minister will have to be a bold wizard to conciliate seemingly contradictory economics.
And so, the need for a strong government coalition is not only in the interest of Haves, but the Have-nots would also benefit from clear-cut decisions: either their last safety net will fall and they shall stand up to a fairer income distribution (a message the Feb20 movement can carry on pretty well) or benefit from a change from within designed to bridge income and wealth gaps. In any case, a weak coalition will just keep on postponing the inevitable: on minimum wage, on income inequality, on healthcare coverage, on employment, pussyfooting is not in the interest of anyone. I would welcome a homogeneous right-wing government coalition -very similar to that of the Mâati Bouabid government in 1979- as long as they have a free hand to implement their policies, because we will then engage in a policy debate. With a weak coalition, disharmonious voices within a fragile ship would deflect public awareness from what the government does, to what petty politics goes inside it. Grown up politics, and genuine care for those who will bear the brunt of any economic crisis do dictate embracing the idea of strong government, so as to level up both the playing field and civic awareness.
More than ever, “it’s the Economy, Stupid” rules all, and parties with convincing messages across the economic topics can carry sympathy and votes with the electorate.
Arab Art as an Early Indicator of Revolution. By AIDA ALAMI Published: October 5, 2011
MARRAKESH, MOROCCO — Newly deposed Arab dictators might have been well advised to have paid attention to the works of their home-grown artists more closely: Many visualized the revolutions in their countries long before they happened.
Take the photograph by the Moroccan Hicham Benohoud, one of the pieces by dozens of artists shown at this year’s Marrakech Art Fair, which was held from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3: It shows a child physically tied to his environment, and it speaks with contempt for the country’s social inequalities.
For the fair’s organizers, there could not be a better moment to display these works as the world is watching the region, and showing a particular interest in the art being created here.
According to Brahim Alaoui, who curated one of the fair’s shows, “Images Affranchies” (Liberated Images), current events caught up with the works of the 18 artists shown in the photography and video exhibition. While freeing themselves from traditional formats, the artists have managed to break taboos to show the simmering discontent that led to explosion, while at the same time expressing a craving for personal freedom.
“Many of these artists have tried to convey messages, ideas that converge toward the demands of people across the Arab world: freedom of speech, social justice and emancipation,” said Mr. Alaoui. “The general context eventually proved them right.”
The works on show reflect the adamant demands by protesters across the region that led to the toppling of leaders in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, showing the discontent and desperation in countries crippled by corruption and injustice. They also position these artists, whose desire for freedom was strongly reflected in their works, as visionaries of the changes these countries were to undergo.
The Moroccan artist Mohammed El Baz, whose complex installations combine sculpture, video, light and photography, said his works were an attempt “to build a space of possibilities to heal the incurable.”
Viewing them, they represent an endless search for a solution to a grim fate. In his previous works, he also imagined bodies caught on fire long before the Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself.
The Egyptian photographer Moataz Nasr tells the story of his country’s people through a series of poignant pictures, among them, photos of “Eish,” the flat bread that is so vital to the Egyptian people.
The Tunisian artist Faten Chouba Skhiri says that even the arts were politicized under former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali: For years, the state regulated the arts and decided what artists should produce. Now, the revolution has energized artists, while also giving them hope and newly acquired freedom that they are still learning to work with.
“The revolution is not over yet,” she said. “The real fear is that the revolution fails. We are in a transitional period and we are still digesting extremely intense changes. There is a very strong need for structures to encourage artists. We don’t even have an art museum to see the evolution of our art.”
Giving visibility to the artists was one of the main accomplishments of the Marrakech Art Fair, being held for the second time. About 48 galleries were invited, attracting buyers, such as the prestigious Pompidou Center in Paris, interested in this new generation of contemporary artists.
The French heiress Elisabeth Bauchet-Bouhlal, who inherited the Es Saadi Palace that hosted the fair and considers the country her home, has also helped to finance it. She says she is a lifelong believer in the promotion of artists and insists that collectors should fully realize how much they could help local artists by buying their pieces instead of shopping for art abroad.
People in the Arab world “are starting to understand that interesting things are happening in their own countries,” she said. “They are realizing that they can find fine pieces of art here without having to go abroad. It is great to start having a Tunisian presence in art fairs. And since the revolution, slowly more collectors are starting to pay attention to what our artists are producing.”
Some say that while the artists are getting more exposure, the Arab Spring is only the bud waiting to bloom.
“Before expecting foreign art collectors to buy the works of our artists, it’s extremely important that we encourage them locally,” said Lilia Ben Salah, owner of the gallery Al Marsa in Tunis, standing in front of a photograph of street graffiti of scrawled messages of freedom taken by Rym Karoui during the Tunisian revolution.
Although many of the films shot in Morocco ostensibly deal with the country's social problems, they tend to ignore the real social and political ills...
At the beginning of September, the Zentrum Moderner Orient and the Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art in Berlin, Germany, organized a film festival entitled "Upheaval and Diversity – The Moroccan Film Days".
The nine films screened during the event were produced between 2001 and 2010. During this period, a total of 120 film productions were completed in Morocco.
According to co-organizer Sonja Hegasy, the selection criteria for the Berlin program was to present work that broke the silence on controversial issues in Moroccan society and to show that the country has been undergoing a gradual change over the course of many years.
Diversity of life experiences in Morocco
The Moroccan Film Days opened with a showing of Narjiss Nejjar's Les Yeux Secs (al-Ouyoun al-Jafa, France/Morocco 2003), a recipient of numerous prizes, which deals with the issue of prostitution in Morocco. Director Mohamed Cherif Tribak's first feature length film, Le Temps des Camarades (Zaman al-Rufaq, Morocco 2008), focuses on the conflicts between Marxist and Islamic student groups in the early 1990s.
In her documentary film Nos Lieux Interdits (Amakinouna al-Mamnouaa, France/Morocco 2008), Leila Kilani portrays the work of the truth commission set up to address human rights abuses under King Hassan II. Yasmine Kassari's film L'Enfant Endormi (Arraguad, Morocco/Belgium 2004) examines the lives of women left behind when their husbands go to seek work in Europe. Mirages (Ayam al-Wahm, Morocco 2010) by Talal Selhami combines elements of horror, thriller, and fantasy films to reveal the abyss of the contemporary work environment in the country. The program was not only prolific in terms of topics, but also cinematic styles.
Almost all of the films, however, seem aloof towards their characters and unfamiliar with the country or the topic of the film. What could be the reason for this? In part, the phenomenon can be explained by the fact that many of the directors do not live in Morocco and, in some cases, were born abroad.
These filmmakers have been especially targeted to make their films in Morocco, as the state has been investing in cinema production for the past few years. Morocco has long been a popular film location for historical Hollywood dramas. A whole industry has been built up in the oasis city of Ouarzazate with the goal of attracting foreign investment. Now, domestic film production is also meant to profit from this infrastructure.
There haven't been enough interested filmmakers in Morocco to spend the allotted funds exclusively within the country, which is why cineastes with a Moroccan immigrant background from abroad have been welcomed to apply for the film subsidies. At the same time, hardly any film can be completed solely on the basis of Arab financing. Co-productions with European parties are therefore necessary to ensure production costs.
Definitory power of history and politics
The dissonant aspects of the films might also be explained in social or political terms. In developing and emerging countries, access to financing for film production, an extremely expensive proposition, is in most cases limited a very narrow group of upper and middle class individuals with good connections to Europe. Accordingly, they make films that attract financing, usually on themes dealing with backwardness and poverty in the widest possible sense.
The films rarely provide an insider's view of any given situation, but, instead, social, economic, political, and ethnic conflicts find themselves written into the subtext of the film, making use of the definitory power of historical and political values.
The difficulty with breaching taboos is that although this can often be pertinent, there is the simultaneous tendency to simplify, sometimes falsify, and only rarely to analyse.
Les Yeux Secs, for example, is set in a remote Amazigh (Berber) village in the Atlas Mountains. For generations, only women have lived in the village. Men can only set foot here under a full moon and exclusively for money.
The three main characters, Hala, Mina and Fahd, are played by professional actors considered to be among Morocco's celebrities. The TV star and singer Siham Assif plays Hala, while Khalil Benchegra, who portrays Fahd, has played in main or major supporting roles in Hollywood films that have been shot in Ouarzazate. Raouia, who plays Mina, was last seen in European cinemas in Xavier Beauvois' Of Gods and Men.
All of the other performers were cast from three villages in the region. In the film, they only speak Amazigh, whereas the professional actors communicate in Arabic. During casting for the well-paid jobs as extras, the women were told that the film would deal with the issue of prostitution. Details were not discussed.
After the extras had viewed Les Yeux Secs in the cinema in the city, they realized that the completed film reduced the problem of prostitution to the Atlas Mountain region and thereby attributed the problem solely to Berber women. Thirty-five women, supported by eight men, attempted to have further screenings of the film banned.
Trafficking of women who are then sexually exploited is a massive problem in Morocco, although Moroccan women are primarily trafficked abroad in other Arab countries and in Europe. For years, the UNHCR has criticized the government for remaining inactive on the issue.
The Berber women had no real chance of success with their suit, as the director had concluded written contracts with the illiterate extras before the start of production and was thereby legally protected.
The region around Tizi Nisly, where the film is set, is primarily known in Morocco for the bloodiest uprising by Berber tribes against the French colonial powers. The region was subsequently punished with a 24 year long embargo, which was upheld after independence by the Moroccan Arab royalty. To this day, the Berber population is still fighting to obtain basic infrastructure such as roads, running water, and electricity.
Wilfully ignoring facts
In her documentary film Nos Lieux Interdits, Leila Kilani focuses on four families of former political prisoners and victims of torture under the reign of King Hassan II. The current king, Mohammed VI, wants to examine the political injustices that took place under his father and has set up a truth commission. The commission is controversial in that perpetrators are not allowed to be named in statements by witnesses.
The documentary, financed by the Moroccan truth commission and various French film subsidy organisations, opens with historical information for the viewer. Among other things, it states that "in 1956, the Kingdom of Morocco achieved its independence. Since the early 1960s and increasingly in the 1970s and 1980s, Moroccan authorities have employed torture and kidnapping in order to silence opposition."
There is no mention of the fact that previously, under French colonial rule, and later, under the current monarch, political imprisonment, violence, and torture in prisons took place and takes place now. This is a clear political stance, which raises many questions about the film.
Film programs about foreign cultures by their very nature present small, often distorted excerpts of life that should be accompanied by critical material. When a film is given a proper context and setting, then even isolated examples can offer a deeper glimpse into the complexities of a country.
Great photos of Morocco: Morocco’s ancient wonders
We arrived in Tissa in the early morning. Festivities and competition was not due to start until around 9.30 am, so we spent time chatting with locals and checking out the magnificent horses as they were prepared for the big event - the Fantasia. In the hours before the competition began, the contestants and their mounts were extremely busy. Every last detail of equipment was checked, saddles made ready and the rifles, that play such a dramatic part in the event, were loaded and discharged.
There was also a fair bit of horse-trading, with good horses selling for between 4000 and 9000 Euro. The Tissa Horse Festival re-lives Morocco's rich and often war-like history. It's still extremely daunting to see a line of warriors dressed in white charging straight towards you on their spirited Arab stallions. Stopping within centimetres of the wooden fence at the finish, they fire muzzle loaded rifles in a deafening volley. On occasion a horse can't be restrained and breaks through.
While the Tissa Horse Festival is held in honour of a local patron saint, a fifteenth century Holy man, called Sidi Muhammad ben Lahcen, the displays of skilled horsemanship are primarily about speed, team work, discipline and manoeuvrability.
Teams are judged by officials who watch from in front and on both sides. The criteria involved includes the neatness of the formation as it charges, the ability to charge right up to the fence at the end of the field and the discharging of the rifles in unison. It was an extraordinary event that thrilled the more than four thousand spectators. There is no doubting the skills involved in this "sport" - and no way of avoiding the fact that is also dangerous. There were several minor spills, cuts and bruises during the morning events, but, thankfully, only one serious incident in which a horse fell and crushed the rider beneath him.
What was so impressive was the speed in which first aid was available. It was no more than five seconds after the accident before the ambulance officer sprinted assist. The injured man was transported to hospital and his condition was not serious. By the middle of the day, the competition was over and the teams paraded in front of the official tents. It was good news for the local team, who took out the first prize, closely followed by the horsemen of Fez.