Saturday, October 22, 2011

Morocco in the News, October 22nd

Morocco wants companies to contribute to new social fund.
Thu Oct 20, 2011  By Souhail Karam
Oct 20 (Reuters) - Morocco's government plans to have companies contribute to a new social solidarity fund but aims to exempt banking, telecom, cement and insurance firms in its budget bill for 2012, Finance and Economy Minister Salaheddine Mezouar told Reuters on Thursday.
It is the first time a government minister has acknowledged that such contributions were included in the budget for 2012, a first draft of which the government withdrew in late September just before submitting it to parliament.
Investors are keen to see how the final version of next year's budget looks because the government must find the cash to cover increased spending plans.
But Mezouar added that the government that comes in after parliamentary polls due on Nov. 25 will have to decide on whether there is a need for those firms to contribute to the 2 billion dirhams ($245.3 million) National Fund for Social Solidarity.
"We have decided to let the next government decide on whether to impose contributions from some private firms to the National Fund for Social Solidarity," Mezouar said on the sidelines of a news conference by a new coalition of political parties led by his National Rally of Independents party.
The fund was set up to alleviate the growing burden on public finances of food and energy subsidies which have almost trebled from what was initially budgeted for 2011 as the North African country sought to prevent any spillover from revolts rocking countries in the region.
Officials say the new fund will be key for the reform of the subsidy system in the medium term, making sure that resources benefit those who need them the most.
The state plans to raise cash for the fund also from taxes on tobacco and through a direct contribution from the state budget.
Most analysts think that given the frail state of public finances and the scale of social and economic challenges facing the country, future governments will have to reform the tax system. But they also caution that taxing private firms may hurt job creation and further erode their competitiveness amid depressed economic conditions in the EU, Morocco's main trade partners. ($1 = 8.152 Moroccan Dirhams)
Morocco inflation falls in September on food prices. Thu Oct 20, 2011
RABAT Oct 20 (Reuters) - Inflation in Morocco fell to an annual 0.8 percent in September, led by a sharp slowdown in food prices, official data showed on Thursday.
A surge in food and education costs had pushed the consumer price index to a year-high in August when it hit 2.2 percent.
Compared with their level a year earlier, consumer food prices rose 1.5 percent in September, data from the state's High Planning Commission (HCP) showed.
Underlying inflation, a gauge used by Morocco's central bank to set the benchmark interest rate that excludes state tariffs and volatile prices, rose by an annual 1.4 percent in September. (Reporting By Souhail Karam; editing by Anna Willard)
“In Morocco, journalism is the only opposition to tyranny”
Sulaiman BIN SHEIKH, editor in chief of Zameni magazine, on the readiness of the Arab world for freedom
By Ihor SAMOKYSH, The Day
The 7th Global Investigative Journalism Conference opened in Kyiv on October 2011. More than 450 media workers from all over the world are convening to exchange their experience. The most prestigious investigative journalism awards worldwide, the Daniel Pearl Award and the Global Shining Light Award, will also be adjudged. On the eve of the Conference, The Day spoke with one of the participants, a Moroccan journalist and editor in chief of the first history journal in the Arab world Zameni (“Time” in Arabic), Sulaiman BIN SHEIKH.
Many observers emphasize the exceptional role of the net in the Arab revolutions. What do you think?
“Social media played an important role in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. It’s quite possible to say that Morocco’s February 20 Movement [a movement for the restriction of the monarch’s rights and a greater social justice. – Author] also coordinates and plans its actions due to Facebook and Twitter. Many activists are active bloggers as well. But this is not the first time something like this has happened. Similar practices were used during the revolution in Iran [the so-called ‘green revolution,’ protest actions in Iran in 2009 following the formal announcement of the results of the presidential election. – Author].”
How do you see the situation in the Arab world after the so-called “Arab Spring”?
“In Morocco we have a very peculiar situation because we are a monarchy. It differed from what Tunisia’s Ben Ali or Egypt’s Mubarak had, because the king of Morocco is not elected. On July 2011, Moroccans voted for the new constitution [the document, despite partly limiting the monarch’s rights, still vested the king with full power. – Author] 99.8 percent of the population supported the new constitution. However, this number is unreal and essentially anti-democratic, even if the King were popular.”
It is quite clear that it takes a lot of time and effort to build a democratic society. Are the Arab countries ready for the challenges of freedom?
“I think it would be a mistake to say that our people are not ready for democracy. It’s a wrong idea. Also, a democratic revolution does not happen in a day. I am not saying that tomorrow democracy will rule the Arab world, although as far as Morocco is concerned, it is in demand. Thus, the monarchy’s reaction to the rise of the February 20 Movement wasn’t democratic. In his speeches the king always says that we, Moroccans, should opt for a democratic path, but I wish he practiced what he preaches.
“In my view, Tunisia still has a chance for democracy, it’s easier to gain democratic changes there due to the smaller population. In Egypt everything is extremely complicated because it has the army, the Islamists, and a strong Christian minority. You might have heard that more than a week ago there was some unrest involving Muslims and Christians there. In Libya everything is also complicated due to the ongoing civil war. We saw the revolution in Iran. Now we are witnessing the dissent movement in Europe. In the US, too, protests have begun. In a word, the whole world is troubled. But until now the Arab countries have been separated from the rest of the world, because our countries were ruled by dictatorships instead of popular will. Now we can see changes happen.”
You have come to Ukraine to take part in an investigative journalism conference. Is it hard to do investigative journalism in your country?
“Of course, it is. For instance, a certain Moroccan woman journalist was assaulted by a secret police agent after she published an article about the disappearance of an opposition politician. Investigative journalism isn’t typically practiced in Morocco. For instance, we don’t have journalists who specialize in investigating economic problems. It is dangerous, besides, media workers cannot get hold of any documents or data on transgressions of the law. Ministers and civil servants will not comment on anything in the media.
“Another example: there are quite a lot of rich generals in Morocco. Of course, this is the result of corruption: they profit from fishing, which is a flourishing business in Morocco. Even if you are lucky to find out about the name of one of such individuals, or the name of the owner of a fishing company, nothing will come out of it. If, for instance, a soldier sees that his officer is corrupt, and makes this information public (and we have had several such cases), very often it is the soldier himself who ends up in the dock.
“We also have an example of a journalist who investigated corruption in the army ranks. He was an only journalist to have specific information and sources among the military. Now he is in prison. I, for one, don’t have any contacts there, and no one will talk to me. You can interpret and analyze, but it has always been complicated to find facts and their proof. However, it is much easier to carry out journalist investigations in the social sphere: it is not the army, or economy, or political and private scandals of government officials.
“In the early 2000s, there was a magazine in Morocco which published journalist investigations. Now the regime has closed it down. The Moroccan press is now going through hard times.”
How high is the likelihood of the Egyptian or Tunisian scenario for Morocco? What role do you think journalism plays in it?
“It’s hard to say… maybe, it will take more time. But in any case, it will mean a chaos, a revolt. It seems to me that the press cannot support radical actions, and call to attack administrative buildings and embassies.
“Over the recent 20 years Morocco has become a more liberal country than it was three decades ago. Small political parties have sprung up, which are less dependent on the regime in power. The independent press and Internet media are performing the function of the opposition, standing up for freedom of speech and defending prisoners of conscience.
“However, the situation with regional press, even if compared with that in Ukraine, is really deplorable, with as little as 1.3 copies per 1,000 people. This is the lowest index worldwide. In Egypt, for instance, this index is eight copies per person, while in Tunisia, even under the dictatorship, 12. But at any rate, it is journalists that oppose the lawlessness of the movers and shakers in politics and economy.”
Morocco moves to ban underage maids.
By Siham Ali for Magharebia 2011-10-20
After years of pressure from civil society, Morocco is finally inching toward a full ban on child domestic workers.
Female underage labour has been a long-standing concern in Morocco. With a bill recently approved by the government council, the country is closer than ever to eradicating the problem.
"We have worked for a long time to produce a draft bill to help stamp out the scourge of child housemaids," Social Development Minister Nouzha Skelli said. "This will help us realise the objectives of our educational policy for young girls in rural areas, particularly through the National Human Development Initiative, government action and the work of civil society."  The draft law adopted on October 12th bans work by girls.
"People need to know that whistle-blowing is a civic duty, which will help girls from underprivileged backgrounds to live a normal life and go to school, like all children of their age," she told Magharebia.
Some members of the public are anxious for the law to come into force so that they can play their part in solving the problem. Teacher Salima Hamraoui told Magharebia she knew a number of households that "shamelessly" employed little girls but could do nothing to report the incidents.
When the law comes into effect, it will allow publicising and preventing cases of "modern-day slavery", she added.
The draft law covers all categories of domestic workers. It gives the workplace inspector the power to work as a conciliator between the employer and the employee. The measures contained in the bill cover employment conditions for domestic staff, weekly rest periods, annual leave, holidays as well as pay and sanctions.
New Moroccan law protects graft trial witnesses.
By Siham Ali for Magharebia 2011-10-18
Just-passed legislation will enable Moroccan citizens to speak out against corruption without fear of retaliation.
After a months-long wait, the Moroccan parliament has finally ratified a law to protect witnesses in cases of corruption, embezzlement, influence peddling and misappropriation of public funds.
The measure, passed on October 5th, will encourage members of the public to help raise standards in political life, whether by reporting crimes of corruption or by appearing as witnesses in the courts, with complete freedom of speech and no pressure, Justice Minister Mohamed Tayeb Naciri said.
The government will also revise the penal code with a particular emphasis on bringing it in line with the UN Convention against Corruption, especially in terms of safeguarding witnesses, experts and whistle-blowers, the minister vowed.
The law envisages a raft of measures, including ways to protect the families of graft trial witnesses and guarantees to prevent any material or moral harm to witnesses. The legislation also provides for the protection of the property and interests of those involved in such cases.
A special telephone number will be made available to notify the police should trial witnesses receive threats or have any concerns about their safety or that of their family. The witness, expert or whistle-blower will be granted anonymity during the trial and will not be named in case documentation.
Measures have also been set out to prevent intimidation or violence towards the person concerned and members of their family, such as the provision of protection officers.
In addition, the law will also prosecute anyone reporting a supposed crime with malicious intent or making unfounded allegations.
The newly ratified legislation received mixed reactions from civil society and lawyers. Abdesselam Aboudrar, head ofMorocco's central anti-corruption body, championed the measure and stressed its importance in curbing corruption.
But some civil society groups feel that the law does not go far enough. According to Transparency Maroc, without further initiatives to support people, the announced arrangements will be ineffective.
Among the public, opinions are divided between those who doubt the new law will be implemented effectively, and those who feel that it is a major step forward that needs to be backed up by an awareness campaign.
The ball is now in the public’s court, to speak out against corruption and play their own part in efforts to stamp out this problem which is rampant across Moroccan society, said nurse Fatima Chaouni.
Student Salim Zohairi was more sceptical. The state must now prove that it is capable of protecting witnesses and whistle-blowers, because experience has shown that in spite of the existing laws, impunity is very much the order of the day, he argued.
Amazigh Film Festival celebrates minority cultures.
By Naoufel Cherkaoui 2011-10-13
The fifth International Amazigh Film Festival in Agadir provided a venue for minority artists to express themselves.
The rich and varied legacy of under-represented cultures was on display for four days in Agadir. This year's International Amazigh Film Festival (FINIFA), which ended last Sunday, paid a special tribute to minority movies from across the globe.
The organisers chose the American Indian cinema as guest of honour, though 20 short films and documentaries were played.
Honorary festival chairman Houcine Ourid regarded the four-day event as serving the promotion of the Amazigh cinema and improving the visibility of long-time banned Amazigh culture.
Ourid opined that the real battle Amazigh culture faces is linked to art.
"The event aims at making the Amazigh film reach the largest audience possible, and go beyond the usual native-speakers viewers. It also aims at showing the characteristics of the Amazigh community in North Africa, through films," current festival chairman Rachid Bouksim told Magharebia.
Bouksim explained the lack of popularity of the Amazigh cinema due to illegal downloads and the fact that the media avoids topics related to Amazigh culture. Amazigh film also lacks state funding and skilled artists.
Chancellor of the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture Ahmed Boukous shared a different opinion. He claimed that the Amazigh culture is becoming richer every year with new film productions. According to Boukous, this is a sign of an active culture regenerating itself in a dynamic environment.
Algerian filmmaker Ayet Alfan Jamel explained that some Amazigh filmmakers use the term "minority cinema". "Minorities use that term to acquire more visibility, given all the political and economic issues they have to deal with…. For instance in the Kabylie in Algeria where most of the so called 'minorities' films in the Maghreb are made", he said.
"I come from Corsica and there, too, there is a long-lasting conflict between the dominant culture of a given country and the culture of the minorities," French filmmaker Christian Lorre said. "Cinema remains an efficient way to rehabilitate the minorities' culture and the best way to spread its ideas."
Lorre's film "Izenzaren, weapons-like lyrics" won the top award at FINIFA. The film sought to illustrate the influence wielded by the Moroccan band "Izenzaren" on the Amazigh community, despite its absence from the media.
The award was shared with "The language of Zahra", a film by Algerian director Fatima Sissani. The film focused on the importance of the Amazigh culture for a Kabylie family living in France for many years.
Moroccan growth eases as tourism slows.
Tue Oct 18, 2011
(Reuters) - Morocco's economy grew by 4.2 percent in the second quarter, down from 5 percent in the first three months of the year, due in part to a rare drop in tourism-related activities, the central bank said on Tuesday.
The economy depends largely on farming and tourism.
Bank al-Maghrib said output of agriculture, which employs close to 40 percent of the country's 11.6-million workforce, picked up to 4.6 percent during the second quarter above a 3.7 percent growth in the first quarter of this year.
Hotel and restaurant activity recorded a 3.8 percent drop in the second quarter, its worst quarterly performance since the first quarter of 2009, the bank's data showed
Activity in the transport sector, which is tied to the number of tourists visiting the country, rose 4.3 percent, its weakest performance since the third quarter of 2009.
The bank did not explain the drop in tourism-related activities but analysts say Morocco could face a rough ride if the financial crisis worsens in Europe, its main trade partner and key source of foreign tourists.
Tourism contributes close to 10 percent of Morocco's economy and directly employs 450,000 people directly.
Tourism Minister Yassir Znagui in May said tourism receipts were expected to grow faster this year than in 2010 despite regional unrest and a deadly bombing in April that targeted foreign visitors in the main tourist destination of Marrakesh.
The manufacturing sector, consisting mostly of production of textile, electric cables and electronic components, posted its worst performance in a year. It grew 2.3 percent during the second quarter versus 2.7 percent in the first quarter and 4.5 percent in the last quarter of 2010.
Morocco's GDP rose 4 percent to 779.1 dirhams last year.
The budget deficit rose 17 percent to 22.7 billion dirhams in the eight months to end-August, the central bank added, as the government raised public sector wages and boosted food and energy subsidies to prevent a spillover from revolts that have shaken countries in the region since January.
Much has been made of the Feb20 demonstrations, mainly as a sign of middle class unrest and discontent with perceived unfair distribution of wealth and political power. While it is understood only too many citizens have been excluded from, or ruled themselves out of,political representation – because of the generally corrupt and inadequate partisan political apparatus, the same argument cannot be made as easily about economic retribution;
 The middle class in Morocco is both a political and economic maze to the observer, remain a tricky and elusive set of individuals, and any proposed criterion to determine the broad characteristics of such population is bound to trigger gainsay and recriminations for its arbitrary, almost deterministic approach. And yet, these are the people that may well hold the key to appease social and economic resentment, drive forward both the political process and the economic transition away from its current quagmire and into genuine prosperity.
My proposed definition of “Middle Class” does not stray from HCP established nomenclature; first because my own back-of-the-envelope computations tend to be vindicated by HCP findings, and second because the less controversial course is to settle for the Median Income as an indicator of the economic characteristics. The modus operandi is pretty straightforward: households are ranked per income, and then broken down into uniform quintile group (that is, per 20% sub-groups). The median quintile is therefore the third 20% -as it leaves as many households on its left as it does on its right. Then, we consider each quintile’s respective share in gross national income (GNI). Unfortunately, consistency isn’t HCP forte, and the IMF world data fields only 5 dates for the income distribution, further completed with some punctual HCP late figures on the matter: 1985, 1991, 1999, 2001 and 2007.
As we set in to track the median national income between 1999 and 2007, the findings point out a marked decrease in median share, down from 14.97% in 1999, to 14.54% in 2007, and the trend is to be confirmed by subsequent surveys. This dent in median wealth (-2.87%) almost mirrors the average GNI per capita growth over the same period (+2.83%) In simple words, the median income share has gone down at almost the same rate GNI per capita has gone up. And it seems all other quintiles but one have experienced similar trends. The only quintile households with a healthy 3.41% improvement were the top 20%, that is, those earning more than MAD 207,000 per annum (2007 figures).
But let us dig deeper in the “Middle Class malaise”; while it is understood their share in income has fell over time (a tale-telling sign of income concentration in this country) their real income has also gone down. The stated implication is not necessarily true: the share pie per person has grown some 3% a year, so even though it has grown smaller with respect to the whole pie, it may have grown in absolute terms nonetheless. But sadly for the Middle Class, that did not happen; quite the opposite.
But what about real income?
Between 1999 and 2007, median income per household has grown 1.48% in nominal terms. However, when adjusted for average (CPI) inflation,the real income has been steadily decreasing at 0.18%. This means the median households have accumulated a real loss in purchasing power of MAD 13,000 over the considered period. What does this tell us about all these economic policies carried ever since 1999?
And it is not like the median households are the only ones who bore the brunt of economic inequity; again, the top 20% are the only ones who actually improved their real income by MAD 11,000 overtime.The bottom 20% have increased their real income though: an accumulated MAD 51 over the considered 8 years – the top 20% improved their real income 215 times more than the bottom 20%. This is worse than a zero-sum game, it is, quite simply, a game heavily skewed towards the affluent, and public redistributive policies (i.e. fiscal policies) have done nothing to allay the inequity; it has only made it worse.
What holds in 2007 holds equally true for 2011 (even by the most optimistic projections of a stabilized income share with respect to the 2008 survey) as the median 20% saw their income share fall further to 13.2%.
A country with a weak middle class who cannot enjoy the proper benefits of growth, cannot sustain itself without serious risks of social unrest and discontent. What is worse, these subsidies the government has been so generously putting on the table only beat the inequity further in, as they benefit those with the highest absolute consumption levels.
Now that these numbers have put in perspective the ailing of our Middle Class, the guileless observer would now understand why a deep, structural change within our institutions and the economics of wealth redistribution need to be thoroughly reviewed.
79% of Moroccans Would Like More Access to Direct Payments with their Visa Cards
Recent Visa survey indicates acceptance is a main facilitator to the growth of digital currency in Morocco Casablanca, Morocco: October 19, 2011 -Visa recently commissioned a consumer survey, conducted by Synovate North Africa, a global market research company, in order to determine the perceptions of accessibility and convenience of using payment cards in Morocco. The survey finds that the biggest obstacle to using payment cards in Morocco is the overall lack of points of sale (POS), or places where digital currency is accepted. The vast majority of Moroccans polled (79%) said that the fact that payment card machines are not available in most consumer outlets inhibits their use of payment cards, instead forcing them to use cash. 
International research firm Moody's[1] indicates that credit and debit card usage delivered an additional $1.1 trillion to the global economy cumulatively between 2003 and 2008, representing 0.5% increase in total annual GDP. The study claims that the use of digital currency expands consumer markets, making it easier for consumers to make purchases; digital currency also increases access to banking systems, and creates more macroeconomic efficiencies.
According to the survey, in Morocco cash withdrawal from ATM machines remains the most common use of payment cards, despite the findings which show that the majority of respondents are aware that their cards can be used for direct purchases. This finding is due to respondents' perceptions that many merchants do not accept payment cards (55%) or their machines are not working properly (38%). Despite the obstacles related to the payment card acceptance culture in Morocco, respondents continue to use their cards regularly, with 89% using their cards 4-6 times per week for both direct purchases (26%) and cash withdrawals (74%).
The majority of respondents (68%) convenience as the primary benefit to using their payment cards as opposed to cash. Building on payment card benefits, respondents also cited situations in which they felt their payment cards were most useful: emergencies (81%) and travel emergencies (13%).
"At Visa, the feedback we receive from individual cardholders is crucial to our business and helps to inform the innovative ways we develop mutually-beneficial relationships with all stakeholders," said said Mohamed Touhami El Ouazzani, General Manager, Morocco and West and Central Africa, Visa. "The results of the survey clearly indicate that acceptance is a main facilitator to the growth of digital currency in Morocco. As a market leader, Visa will continue to work with industry stakeholders to encourage payment card acceptance and usage in order to give cardholders the ability to use them when and where they choose."   
Visa's objectives for increasing acceptance include focusing on both card acceptance infrastructure and further development of points-of-sale (POS). There are three areas Visa has been targeting in these efforts; working with businesses to increase the number of POS's in Egypt, the infrastructure and availability of POS, making sure they are working properly, and building strategic partnerships with card issuers and merchants for the overall benefit of all stakeholders.  These strategic partnerships are encouraged by several Visa initiatives such as, competitive pricing, exclusive partnerships with banks, and merchant incentives so that all parties benefit, while facilitating card usage for consumers. 
Visa undertook the survey in order to identify payment card habits in Morocco, examine common perceptions and misperceptions about payment card usage, and determine the best ways to communicate new products and campaigns to customers.  A total of 1000 Moroccans between the ages of 25 to 45 were interviewed, equally split between men and women.
All data was taken from a consumer survey conducted by Synovate North Africa in July 2011.
Some data is subject to revision and amendment by Visa's financial institutions subsequent to the date of its release. 

About VisaVisa is a global payments technology company that connects consumers, businesses, financial institutions and governments in more than 200 countries and territories to fast, secure and reliable digital currency. Underpinning digital currency is one of the world's most advanced processing networks--VisaNet--that is capable of handling more than 10,000 transactions a second, with fraud protection for consumers and guaranteed payment for merchants. Visa is not a bank and does not issue cards, extend credit or set rates and fees for consumers. Visa's innovations, however, enable its financial institution customers to offer consumers more choices: pay now with debit, ahead of time with prepaid or later with credit products. For more information, visit Corporate Backgrounder.
[1] The Impact of Electronic Payments on Economic Growth; economic analysis from Moody's Economy.com
© Press Release 2011
Barah Mikail
Washington / Morocco Board News --     Since the onset of popular upheavals across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), French President Nicolas Sarkozy has sought to position France as a regional leader. Most notably, France’s lead on NATO’s military intervention in Libya marked a turning point in French policies in the region. Yet France’s attempts to project itself as defender of an ethical foreign policy in the MENA meet skepticism. A lot of attention has been paid to France’s apparently proactive leadership in response to the Arab spring.
But in fact the changes in French policy have been relatively limited in nature. While France has certainly helped drive forward some useful initiatives in support of Arab reform, president Sarkozy’s penchant for unilateral opportunism does not augur well for consistent and coherent European support for the Arab spring.
Sarkozy’s new value-based regional brinkmanship contrasts with France’s past performance in the region. French foreign policy in North Africa sided with autocrats for the sake of short-term interests, with little attention to democracy or human rights. France was late in grasping the scope of the Arab spring. When mass demonstrations swelled in Tunisia in December 2010, France stepped in on President Ben Ali’s side. It then continued to support Hosni Mubarak when protests hit the streets of Egypt. Only upon Mubarak’s ousting from power did France finally make a U-turn in promoting military operations in Libya, proclaiming its aim to ‘protect Libyan civilians’.(I)
France claims to have made a qualitative shift in its foreign policy. Portraying itself as a force for good in the Mediterranean, it aims to re-gain its long-lost regional leadership. Yet the changes remain largely superficial, focusing on discourse rather than concrete goals.
Sarkozy’s actions have reflected his opportunistic attitude as opposed to genuine concern for humanitarian considerations. He has traditionally proved willing to collaborate with autocrats when it has coincided with his country’s interests, but equally quick to abandon them when events have corresponded to wider regional changes in popular demands. Most recently, he has criticized Libya’s Qaddafi and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, but not Bahrain’s Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa or the semi-autocratic leaderships in Algeria and Morocco.
Moreover, France’s solo attempts in the MENA have highlighted its limitations both as a bilateral player in the region and as a multilateral actor within the EU. In spite of NATO’s  
military success in Libya, France’s aim to take advantage of developments in the MENA to reaffirm its own leadership position in the region and in the EU are unlikely to prove optimal either for the Middle East or for European interests.
As the Arab world continues to stir, France still has the chance to play a more constructive leadership role, consolidating its own interests as well as enhancing the EU’s capacities. Yet Sarkozy is unlikely to spearhead the necessary change of attitude towards a constructive multilateralism. His policies in the Mediterranean are beset by ethical inconsistencies, the primacy of commercial interests and a desire to restore French leadership in the Mediterranean.
Prior to the MENA uprisings
French diplomacy has historically been closely interwoven with events in the
Arab world. More recently, France has maintained its status as an influential player in the region through its engagement in Lebanon during the country’s civil war ending in 1990, its participation in the 1991 Gulf War, and the privileged political and economic relations it enjoys with many Arab states.
However, France is no longer the great puppet master in the Mediterranean. As the battle for power in the region grows, France has aimed to maximize its influence over strategic issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Western Sahara conflict and energy security, by seeking to exploit its political connections with the Gulf, Algeria and Libya. Realpolitik drives French Mediterranean policy.
Many in the Arab world link current French policy in the region to the personality and idiosyncrasies of the incumbent president. When Sarkozy became president in 2007, many believed his attitude towards the Middle East would be determined by his part-Jewish origins, his decidedly pro-American attitude, and his declared attachment to the promotion of democracy and ‘Western values’. Yet most of these expectations proved erroneous. From the outset, Sarkozy displayed a strong leaning towards political pragmatism. While his speeches and statements focused predominantly on human rights, democracy and the need to build peace in the MENA region, rhetoric was not matched by action. Instead, the French president proved willing to compromise on normative ideals in his dealings with almost every leader and government of the region.
Evidence for this duplicity abounds. The speeches and statements Sarkozy issued when he was head of the Ministry of Interior demonstrated his deep aversion to political Islam.(II) But, perhaps unsurprisingly, this did not stop him from pragmatically deepening relations with Wahhabist Saudi Arabia. With Tehran’s nuclear program dominating considerations, Sarkozy’s attitude towards Iran proved far tougher, and he did not meaningfully seek to improve ties between France and Iran.
France’s high stakes in trade, technologies (including for military purposes) and infrastructure have traditionally given its policies in the region an economic focus. Sarkozy has sought to strengthen the presence of French companies in Iraq; foster France’s contribution to the United Arab Emirates’ cultural and educational infrastructures; become part of Saudi Arabia’s defense strategy sector; and deal directly with diplomatically-emerging Qatar. Although previous French presidents had also sought to consolidate their commercial interests in the region, under Sarkozy business has been an especially integral part of politics.
Yet Sarkozy has shown little consistency across countries. He heavily criticized Iran’s domestic political situation, as reflected in his denunciation of Iran’s fraudulent elections in 2009;3 his calls for tougher action against Tehran during the G-20 summit of 2009;4 and his warnings of the need for dramatic action in case of the failure of nuclear talks during one of his annual addresses to France’s ambassadors.5 Compare all that to his decision to open a French military base in the United Arab Emirates on May 2009.
Sarkozy’s attitude towards Colonel Qaddafi proved particularly pragmatic. Libya’s leader had long been considered a pariah. Even though his announcement to give up developing weapons of mass destruction broke his isolation from 2003 onwards, few Western leaders proceeded fully to normalize their relations with Libya. Sarkozy, by contrast, offered Qaddafi political, economic and technological cooperation, visited him in Tripoli in July 2007, and welcomed him in Paris in December of the same year.6 This attitude was heavily criticized at the national level: opponents considered that Qadhafi’s official declaration of repentance, his liberation of detained Bulgarian nurses, and even his agreement to provide financial compensation to relatives of UTA flight 772’s victims did not justify such a generous and early recognition of the Libyan dictator. Aside from economic considerations, it became clear that Sarkozy was also pursuing another objective: creating suitable conditions for the success of his pet project, the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM).
Sarkozy also reversed his predecessor’s policy of increased distance from Syria. French-Syrian relations had deteriorated from 2004 onwards, following hostility between Bashar al-Assad and Jacques Chirac. In 2005, the assassination of Lebanon’s then-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri led to France and Syria suspending their political and economic relations. A few months into his presidency, Sarkozy decided to offer his hand in reconciliation to Syria. From then onwards events evolved rapidly, with Assad attending the official ceremony of the July 2008 launch of the Union for the Mediterranean.  

The Union for the Mediterranean debacle
Before becoming president, Sarkozy had made it clear that he aspired to a greater leadership role for France at both the regional and international levels. To achieve this, Sarkozy often chose individual leadership over the soft power of multilateral diplomacy. While former President François Mitterrand had promoted strong relations and tight cooperation with Germany, and Jacques Chirac had expounded the benefits of a multilateral world, Sarkozy chose to act on his own. But as his presidency advanced, the lack of coordination with his European partners frustrated them, most notably Germany.
The Union for the Mediterranean was the most unsuccessful of Sarkozy’s initiatives to revive French leadership in the Mediterranean. Despite his nominal claims to a value-based foreign policy, the UfM spectacularly failed to address the issue of human rights in MENA states.
Revamping the stalled Barcelona Process – the EU’s multilateral policy framework in the Mediterranean – became a personal project for Sarkozy. Following an initial high profile launch in Paris, which was widely considered a diplomatic success for the French, the UfM suffered from over-ambition. The French President was unable to convince some of his counterparts to sign up to his ideas for a political union, namely Germany’s Angela Merkel, Algeria’s Mohammad Bouteflika, Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.7
Both sides of the Mediterranean reacted coolly towards Sarkozy’s UfM project. Some opponents (such as Germany) considered that Sarkozy had no right to redefine the shape and fate of Euro-Mediterranean relations on his own, and less so using strong-arm methods to bring reluctant states to fora for dialogue. They also considered that the Barcelona Process was a common European project that would be undermined by unilateral national leadership.  Many stressed that the UfM would neither overcome the weaknesses of the Barcelona Process, nor give them sufficient political guarantees for the future. Due to its complicated relationship with France, Algeria was reluctant to assent to the French initiative while Sarkozy had yet to offer apologies for France’s role during Algeria’s colonial period. On the Syrian side, the main objections were the political tensions that had preceded Sarkozy’s presidency, coupled with Damascus’ fears that it would be forced to normalize its relations with Israel.
Most importantly, however, the UfM was perceived by critics not as a European or Euro-Mediterranean but as a French, ‘Sarkozian’ project, and as such, an attempt to institutionalize French domination of the Euro-Mediterranean agenda. As Sarkozy ignored the divergent preferences of both his EU and Arab partners, neither European nor Southern Mediterranean states ultimately proved ready to believe in, invest in, or pursue his project. Despite being aimed at strengthening Euro-Mediterranean relations, the UfM ultimately highlighted France’s and the EU’s weaknesses.

France and the Arab spring
Sarkozy’s opportunism and regional leadership aspirations have come to the forefront again in the wake of the 2011 MENA upheavals as he has sought to position himself as the implicit leader of European diplomacy, highlighting France’s capacities in the region compared to its European counterparts.
Sarkozy’s realpolitik in the Southern Mediterranean became unsustainable when Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak were ousted in the early spring of 2011. Both cases were particularly sensitive for France, as Ben Ali and Mubarak ranked amongst the country’s closest allies. This partly explains France’s backing of Ben Ali when Tunisian demonstrators were demanding his removal; and the lack of French solidarity with protestors during similar demonstrations against Hosni Mubarak. The French government’s posture towards the Tunisian protests turned into a PR disaster, leading to the resignation of then Foreign Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie.8 As Sarkozy admitted later, France had at this point underestimated the significance of the protests. It lacked a broader vision of current dynamics in the Mediterranean. Only when the Egyptian President – Sarkozy’s co-chair of the Union for the Mediterranean – was forced from office did France finally understand that a serious shift was underway in the region, and adapt its policies.
Sarkozy again demonstrated his fickleness when anti-regime protests grew stronger in Libya. He shifted his unquestioning support for Qaddafi towards a firm backing of the rebels, becoming the first foreign head of state to recognize the Transitional National Council (TNC) as the legitimate governing authority of Libya.
However, in contrast, demonstrations in Algeria and Morocco engendered only mild reactions from the French President. France kept a discreet distance from events and adopted a timid stance: in mid-February 2011, French MFA spokesman Bernard Valero stated that ‘what is important from our point of view is the respect for freedom of expression and the possibility for demonstrations to be organized freely and without violence’.9 When Algeria subsequently announced its own agenda of reforms, Alain Juppé congratulated President Bouteflika for this process: ‘all of this is following the right direction’.10 France maintained this vague and uncritical tone during Juppé’s official visit to Algeria in June 2011, which avoided any specific mention of the protests.
In Morocco, when waves of protests rippled through the streets of Rabat in late February, the French government proved equally reluctant overtly to criticize the Moroccan regime. The lack of criticism of Morocco can partly be attributed to France’s traditionally warmer relations with Morocco than with Algeria. King Mohammed VI’s reputation as a ‘moderate’ and his diplomacy with Western countries were also contributing factors. France seemed to take comfort in the fact that the repression of demonstrators was not nearly as violent as in neighboring Algeria, and that King Mohammed VI publicly promised reforms in the near future. The French MFA called the King’s speech of 9 March ‘responsible and courageous’, adding that France stood ready to accompany the Kingdom in view of ‘the determination of the people and of the Moroccan authorities to achieve the announced reforms and to develop their own democratic model’.11 The positive tone did not match the situation on the ground. Mohammed VI has yet to implement many of his reform promises.
France’s stance towards Bahrain also illustrated its inconsistent support for human rights. Its initial reaction to the regime violence against protestors was to suspend exports to Bahrain (including the selling of anti-riot equipment and gear). Since then however, France has limited itself to official statements which assert its ‘concern’ over events, the need to end violence, and its desire for controlled change. The moderate tone towards Bahrain suggests that Sarkozy has been reluctant to condemn a majority Shi’a country so closely watched by Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s implicit influence is also discernible in French reactions to events in Yemen. One of the first to react, the French MFA initially stated strongly that ‘the excessive use of force’ against demonstrators was unacceptable; ‘the authors of such violence should be pursued’; and President Ali Abdullah Saleh should implement his proposals for reforms.12 Paris also pushed for EU sanctions. Yet two months later, when Saleh refused to sign a text that could initiate a transitional period for his country, France merely deemed his behavior ‘irresponsible and unacceptable’.13 France’s initial heavily vocal stance against the regime’s brutal repression of protestors subsequently became more restrained. Three main reasons may explain this relative detachment: Yemen does not form part of France’s traditional sphere of influence; the tribal state’s complicated internal dynamics make it hard to design a helpful response; and France is reluctant to alienate Saudi Arabia, which is keen to keep foreign actors away from the Yemeni scene.
While France was one of the main promoters of the idea of military engagement in Libya, it has not advocated the same for Syria. With the domestic situation deteriorating rapidly in Libya, France lobbied Security Council members to adopt two resolutions (UNSCR 1970 and 1973) which paved the way for military intervention. But although the situation in Syria has grown equally serious, France has limited itself to tame statements affirming Bashar al-Assad’s ‘loss of legitimacy’. Having invested so much in bringing Bashar in from the cold, Paris remains concerned that a vacuum of power might have profoundly destabilizing effects if the Syrian regime were to fall precipitously.
At the European level, Sarkozy officially advocated a more prominent role for the EU in the MENA, and echoed EU statements on the region’s events. However, this was done in a way designed to back up French national initiatives. In parallel, France acted unilaterally on several occasions. It backed EU funding but channelled most of its support through national programs. While the European Commission announced in March 2011 that it would make 258 million euros available in financial support to Tunisia,14 France declared two months later, during the G8 summit, that it would contribute 1 billion euros bilaterally to the democratic transitions in both Tunisia and Egypt.15 Sarkozy’s behavior towards his EU partners during the Arab spring suggested that he saw no contradiction between valuing strategic EU MENA initiatives as a high priority while advancing specific French interests and priorities via unilateral moves.
This gap between French unilateralist and EU multilateralist thinking also affected immigration issues, which became more urgent in the wake of the Arab spring. Increased numbers of immigrants from North African countries did not sit well with the French public’s traditional stigmatization of Arab and Muslim communities, and were instrumentalized by the French government for political purposes.
As France prepares to enter its pre-electoral period, Sarkozy has focused increasingly on internal over external issues in the domestic sphere, including security, economy, the place of religion in society and immigration. The events of the Arab spring coincided with a reshuffle of the French government and the nomination of Sarkozy’s former chief of staff, Claude Guéant, as Interior Minister, who was known for his particularly belligerent views on immigration. Guéant has since stated his desire to reduce the numbers of immigrants on French soil and limit residence permits for foreigners, professing that ‘integration [in France] has failed’ and unemployment rates are the highest amongst non-European foreigners.
With an increasingly immigration-averse French public, domestic electoral considerations influenced Sarkozy’s Mediterranean policy. Qaddafi used migration control as a means of pressure on the EU, allowing refugees to embark freely from Libyan shores whenever he wanted to push European countries to compliance. With Qaddafi gone and effective Libyan coastline control suspended, France feared that its support for ‘Operation Odyssey Dawn’ would result in even greater numbers of Libyans reaching its territories. So Sarkozy presented his toughest stance yet, at the risk of breaking with EU protocol – not to mention the law.16 While Italy chose to issue some 22,000 six-month temporary residence permits to Tunisian migrants, French border police blocked rail traffic between France and Italy. France’s decision to protect its territory showed a lack of solidarity with its southern neighbors and a damaging divergence from EU norms.
French policy is still reactive, devoid of long-term vision and overly expedient in its use of the EU level. Sarkozy’s repeated forays into unilateralism in the context of the Arab spring are not helping the EU or France. The lack of internal EU cohesion and coordination must be overcome for effective European leadership to take root, especially now that the decade-long inertia of Euro-Mediterranean relations has ended. For the first time, the opportunity for a mutually beneficial partnership with a newly emerging democratic, progressive Middle East is within reach.

A switch to idealism?
Sarkozy’s successive shifts of attitude from pro-democracy (2007) to pro-realism
(2008) and back to pro-democracy (2011) reflect his strong pragmatism, realism and opportunism. Before his election in 2007, Sarkozy repeatedly voiced his desire to be known as ‘the human rights president’.17 He also made it clear that he did not believe in ‘the realpolitik that makes people give up values without winning contracts’.18 France had a duty to defend its principles.
But Sarkozy’s first months as president proved the contrary. His diplomacy was characterized by a willingness to renounce certain values in order to win large commercial contracts; a desire to be the architect of a renewed era between Europeans and Arabs; and an ambition to distinguish himself on the stage of European leaders. The aforementioned UfM preparations and his dealings with every single Arab leader (save Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir) demonstrated as much.
Faced with criticism for his close relations with Libya’s Qaddafi and Syria’s Assad, the French President stood by his decisions. For instance, when asked about his relations with Libya and his decision to sell weapons and artillery to Qaddafi, he answered: ‘Are you going to blame me for finding jobs and markets for French workers?’19 He maintained that boycotting certain MENA states was counter-productive to both the West’s interests and its potential to exert influence. Sarkozy preferred instead to promote a kind of ‘winwin’ situation, with France and its Western partners dealing directly with leaders in the region, and gaining in return strengthened strategic alliances, improved diplomatic ties and beneficial economic contracts.20
But paradoxically, Sarkozy’s approach and actions have weakened his country’s standing in the region. In 2007, when former President Jacques Chirac ended his second term, France enjoyed a positive image in the MENA region, thanks to Chirac’s pro-Palestinian convictions and his opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Although Sarkozy came to power insisting on the need for an EU-MENA rapprochement and a distancing from American standpoints, this view did not prosper beyond the rhetoric. As a result, France’s traditional diplomacy in the Middle East and North Africa found itself handicapped.
Although some of its biggest national companies – Total, Suez, Veolia and Alsthom, as well as defense companies – are doing very well in the region, France has not always obtained the opportunities it expected. Total’s limited presence in Syria and Libya and EADS’s difficulties in lobbying Saudi Arabia to buy more defense equipment showed how the quality of French equipment does not necessarily guarantee contracts. Even Sarkozy’s decision to open a French military base on the shores of the UAE, although welcomed by Arab states wary of Iranian dominion, did little to reinforce French-Emirati cooperation other than in terms of existing cultural relations. 
The Arab spring underlined some of France’s inconsistencies. Initially supporting Ben Ali and Mubarak undermined France’s image as ‘the mother country of human rights’, while praising Morocco and keeping silent on Algeria contradicted its official attachment to political openness and strong reforms in the region. Finally, Sarkozy’s stance on migration issues, including the closing of its borders with Italy to avoid the entrance of refugees, showed that the President was prepared to dissociate himself from his close counterparts, even if at the EU’s expense.
The 2011 events in the MENA have only confirmed the balance of power that previously prevailed between influential international actors. Arab governments have traditionally preferred securing the backing of the US, rather than merely relying on the military arsenals of Russia and China. The latter two have failed to lure various Arab states away from US monopoly. Although France kick-started the recent military operations in Libya, the United States ultimately led the strategy before handing over to NATO.21 France found itself obliged to tow the American line. Sarkozy avoided expressing overt criticism since he believed in the advantages of intervention in Libya and expected successful operations to reflect France’s assertiveness amid EU hesitation. The Arab spring has proved how difficult it is for France to offer capacities which it does not really have. 
In sum, France has scrambled to react to changes in the region, but its policies are still inconsistent and partial. This suggests that the change in approach is shallow, not a deep-rooted adoption of a normative foreign policy.
At present, a more systematic support for reform after the May 2012 presidential elections does not look likely. If Sarkozy is re-elected in 2012 nothing indicates he will change his recent stance towards the MENA region. But if the Socialist party wins, changes to the French diplomatic agenda could be on the cards. This would not necessarily involve a radical shift in policy, but rather new methods and rhetoric.
Three main candidates are in the running to lead the Socialists: François Hollande, Martine Aubry and Ségolène Royal. Although these candidates have yet to clarify their views on the situation in the MENA, so far nothing indicates that they would dramatically change the current direction of French policy in the region. The Socialist party has repeatedly asserted its attachment to democracy, respect for human rights, and consideration for the people’s will.  
21. Le Monde, 25 March 2011.

All leading figures of the Socialist party made official statements following the fall of Ben Ali in January 2011 that insisted on the need to meet the people’s demands. The Socialists would likely preserve the equilibrium Sarkozy has found in denouncing the most flagrant human rights abuses (Syria, Yemen) while adopting a lower profile on other cases (Algeria, Morocco, Bahrain). Nonetheless, they would probably be more cautious about a military intervention such as that spearheaded by Sarkozy in Libya, particularly if it were driven by the US.
Why France cannot lead unilaterally
Sarkozy’s grand projects have so far failed to achieve their aims in France’s
southern neighborhood. In the last five years, France’s unilateral initiatives have been continually rebuffed. The attempt to revive Euro-Mediterranean relations under French leadership via the Union for the Mediterranean was unsuccessful. Another blow came with Israel’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’ against the Gaza Strip in early 2008. Seeking a way out of the diplomatic deadlock facing the EU, Sarkozy embarked on a tour of several Middle Eastern countries, including Syria, in order to convince their leaders to exert pressure on Hamas to stop its rocket attacks on Israel. They rebuffed his demands, and the Israelis refused his request to end or even diminish their actions against the Gaza Strip.
Sarkozy’s open-hand strategy did not always go down well with Qaddafi in Libya. When he visited Tripoli in the summer of 2007, the French president officially proposed to Qaddafi the development of a civilian nuclear program on his territory, arguing that Libya needed energy to desalinate water. Qaddafi never answered this proposal, and eventually proved reluctant to step up commercial ties to the degree that France had hoped. France’s efforts as a regional leader in the MENA are achieving much less than might be expected considering the country’s privileged relations with certain countries and its long-established diplomatic and commercial ties.22
The success of French trade and investment in the MENA contrasts with the country’s limited diplomatic performance in the region. Political relations have not kept up with the fast pace at which France has developed commercial ties with MENA countries. In North Africa, France remains Morocco’s first commercial partner.23 Tunisia also ranks among France’s privileged partners in the MENA, with an average of 90 million euros of foreign direct investment (FDI) per year. France’s FDI in Algeria doubled in the past decade to 220 million euros in 2009.24 Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent decision to appoint former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin as France’s special envoy for the promotion of economic cooperation between the two countries is also a step forward. Yet in all these cases, France has struggled to wield any greater influence at the political level.
Political ties also lag behind economic relations between France and the Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia is one of France’s major commercial partners primarily due to French sales of Airbus planes to the Kingdom. Yet the Saudis do not consider France a political partner as important as the US or China. France is only the tenth most important supplier of the United Arab Emirates, far behind China (first), Germany (fourth), the United Kingdom (sixth) and Italy (eighth).25 Indeed, France’s relations with the UAE focus on cultural and educational fields, not economics. The same is true of its relations with Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.
In the Levant, Egypt, Lebanon and Israel are France’s three main commercial partners. Yet France has little influence on negotiations in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and Sarkozy’s attempt to convince the Israelis to stop hostilities towards the Palestinians yielded no meaningful results. Neither did French diplomacy in Lebanon, where France unsuccessfully sought to limit the capacities of Hezbollah. Finally, Sarkozy’s proposal to name then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as co-President of the UfM did not serve to improve France’s image in the region. Instead it backfired by damaging France’s legitimacy at the European level.
All this demonstrates that France will only be able to achieve meaningful political results in its Mediterranean diplomacy if it acts in coordination with its EU partners. The pursuit of different and sometimes contradictory agendas amongst EU member states, combined with the EU’s tendency to plan policies without taking into account available military resources, has made it hard for the Europeans to rally behind a clear, single agenda on the Arab spring, and most notably Libya.
In agreeing to be part of the UfM, MENA states acknowledged French intentions and acted with the diplomatic courtesy necessary to maintain open channels with France that could generate economic and strategic benefits in the long term. But they did not recognize Paris’s claim to regional leadership. Sarkozy was mistaken to think that his pragmatism and France’s close ties with the region favored his country as a potential leader, both economically and politically. His approach did more to weaken France’s image than bolster it. Neither France alone nor the EU as a whole are currently fit to steer the new geopolitical dynamics in the MENA. 

The apparent shift in France’s policies towards its Southern Mediterranean neighbors
in the wake of the Arab spring has been more superficial than substantive. Sarkozy’s aspirations to restore France’s geopolitical weight in the MENA, fueled by his desire to maximize his chances of re-election in 2012, have if anything strengthened the French government’s unprincipled unilateralism, to the detriment of any prospective effective multilateralism under EU leadership. The Libyan intervention is now presented as a success, but even here it remains to be seen if over the long, institution-building phase France can exert significant influence.
Paris should continue to build its own network in the region, but avoid acting alone. The more France contributes initiatives, advice and resources to the EU as a whole, the more it will be able to strengthen its position as one of the key architects of EU foreign policy.
France should seek to strengthen the EU’s political position through member state cohesion. France’s traditional influence in the MENA should be converted into a positive asset for the EU as a whole. It should undertake its political and economic investment in the MENA as part of an overarching EU strategy. 
Paris must develop relations with every possible partner in the region (whether officially or unofficially) especially in the context of the ongoing Arab spring. One of the French government’s main handicaps to date has been its disconnect from certain essential segments of MENA civil society (namely Hamas and, to a certain degree, Hezbollah). This has restricted France’s potential for engagement in the region, as seen when France tried to open a channel of debate with Hamas in the wake of Israel’s 2008 Gaza siege. By dealing openly and pragmatically with all actors, France would enhance its chances of playing the honest and active broker between some of MENA’s traditional enemies.
Above all, France must acknowledge the intricate relationship between domestic policies and foreign perceptions of France. Many argue that Sarkozy’s attitude towards immigration and the role of Islam in public life has not been dissimilar to the far-right positions of Le Pen’s Front National. As France heads towards its 2012 presidential elections, with Sarkozy likely to run for a second presidential mandate, he will probably try to appeal to the majority of the Front National’s potential voters (15-20 per cent of the electors according to most surveys). But engaging in such tactics not only disconnects Sarkozy from a large part of the population; it also encourages a negative perception of France abroad and especially amongst North African Arab states. This in turn will impact on the role France wishes to play in the region.
The statements released by France regarding the ongoing MENA uprisings should be both more coherent and more consistent. France runs the risk of acquiring a reputation for hypocrisy if it criticizes certain states for their lack of reform whilst praising the symbolic window-dressing of others. France does not want to repeat its dealings with the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, coming out in support of soon-to-be-toppled dictators. If it applies the same criteria to all leaders of the region and develops arguments based on common principles, France will be more respected at the European level and in the MENA region. It will also be more likely to gain the popular support of civil society which is already shaping the region’s future.
Barah Mikaïl is a senior researcher at FRIDE. Prior to joining the organisation, he was senior researcher on Middle East and North Africa and on Water Issues at the Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques (IRIS) in Paris (2002-2010). Barah has been lecturer at the Collège Interarmées de Défense at the French Ministry of Defence (2005-2007); at the Université Paris-8 Saint-Denis (since 2005); and at Sciences-Po Lille (2004-2005). In 2003, he also worked as an analyst on Middle East issues at the French Ministry of Defence. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the Université Paris 8 Saint-Denis; an MA in Political Science from the Université Paris Dauphine; and an MA in International Relations and an MA in Arab and Islamic Civilisations from the Université Marc Bloch.
He specialises in the Middle East and North Africa region, covering topics such as EU and US policies, and security, political and economic issues. Other areas of expertise include ethnicity, tribalism and Islam in the Arab world, and water political issues and stakes. 
His most recent publications include: ‘Syrie: lent retour en grâce pour “l’enfant terrible” du Moyen-Orient’, RAMSES 2011, September 2010;  ‘Al-‘Alam, expression d’un échec médiatique iranien?’, Confluences Méditerranée 69, Spring 2009; ‘Lourds enjeux hydrauliques dans le monde nilotique, ou les risques d'une fragmentation régionale en gestation’,Maghreb Machrek 196, Summer 2008 ; ‘Un fleuve sous haute tension: le Nil. Vers une configuration belliqueuse dans le bassin du Nil?’, Futuribles 346, November 2008; “Iran and the « Shi’ite Crescent » Theory: How to Transform a Scarecrow into a Giant”, Shi’a Affairs Journal, Winter 2008; and ‘La Syrie dans la ligne de mire’, in B. Courmont, Ed.,Washington et les Etats Voyous: Une stratégie plurielle? (Dalloz, 2007).
He has also authored three books : « La politique américaine au Moyen-Orient », Dalloz, 2006; « L’eau, source de menaces ? », Dalloz, 2008; « La Syrie en cinquante mots-clés », L’Harmattan/Comprendre le Moyen-Orient, 2009.
Derek Workman 10/20/11
Marrakech is a place of amazing contrasts as a stroll around the souks will quickly demonstrate. However, before our roving correspondent, Derek Workman leads you around the Medina streets, pause to consider a little real estate opportunity.
A breathtaking traditional Moroccan palace in Marrakech at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, has been listed for sale via an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate for a staggering $28 million.
Boasting nearly 50,000 square feet of interior space, the magnificent interior has been designed and furnished with exceptional taste in the colloquial style with every possible luxury and refinement. There are four incredibly spacious bedrooms and four spa-style baths in the main part of the residence.

The exclusive grandeur of the charismatic architecture offers luxurious living spaces. Finished with exquisite craftsmanship, every detail has been done by hand with liberal use of precious marbles, mosaics and stone. Set amidst a magnificent garden with pools, flowing water, fountains and secret passages, it has been situated to guarantee absolute peace and tranquility to its owners.

Marrakech has long been a fashionable destination for stylish jet setters. The late Yves Saint-Laurent maintained a vacation house there and fellow French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier still does.
Derek Workman decided the "absolute peace and tranquility" was not exactly his style, so decided on a slightly cheaper option - a stroll in the Medina.
I took a stroll around the souk in Marrakech yesterday afternoon, watching the artisans at work, and an interview I did with a Spanish hotel owner a while ago came to mind. He’d spent a couple of years working in Marrakech and had built up a lot of contacts in the small workshops. He told me that there’s no such thing as discounts for buying in bulk because the idea of mass-production almost doesn’t exist. For example, if you negotiated with a lamp maker to take his production of perhaps twenty lamps a week, that was about the best you would get. If you wanted two hundred a week either you’d have to go to ten makers yourself or have someone do it for you, preferably a local who knows ten lamp makers, who would then add his commission. You’d get the quantity you wanted, but it would actually cost you more than the first lot per item you bought from the original small workshop. So there you go.
It never ceases to amaze me, the quality of workmanship that comes out of a workshop measuring about four metres square. There are certain parts of the souk dedicated to particular products; the metal workers souk, the djellaba sellers souk, but if you drift out to the periphery, away from the tourists around Djemaa el Fna, you come to what are basically workers suburbs, but not suburbs as we might know them.
Lined along the streets and in tucked-away little back alleys, a barber with one chair patched with electrician’s tape and a cracked mirror will work next to a tin-smith slowly turning a piece of metal, as he punches ornate designs into it to make the beautiful lamps that cast starbursts of light when illuminated; alongside him woodcarvers and masonry workers etch intricate designs into their chosen materials, a butcher whose sole stock consists of a camel’s head suspended from a hook and a pile of congealing grey innards. (If you want to find out what camel’s meat taste like, get down to the food stalls in Djemaa el Fna at night and you can delight your taste buds.)
Dark caverns are lit by a single flourescent tube showing olives, olive oil and vats of preserved lemons for that emblematic Moroccan dish, poulet au citron. Single-portion tajines cook on a hot-plate beside a food stall, made from a couple of paper-covered low tables and a few old stools, with the cook selling battered fish deep-fried in a blackened old frying pan. A shop with a collection of beautiful antique tea pots on display shows, on further inspection, shelves of second-hand kettles for sale at the back.
Those who can’t afford a shop will have a carton of Marlboro open on a cardboard box counter, selling cigarettes individually, (you can recognise the itinerant cigarette seller by the sound of the coins he jingles in his hand as he walks around); a family-sized block of almond chocolate is cut into narrow strips, each offering four small, square bites; carrots tied in small bundles and spicy green peppers sold in threes, just enough for a tajine.
Estate agents buy, sell and rent from bedraggled hidey-holes furnished with a beaten-up old desk and a couple of 50s tubular steel kitchen chairs. Their properties must all be filed in their heads because there is no sign of paperwork. Five-hundred-year-old doors with great studded nail-heads, lacquered with layers of ancient brown paint, stand open to reveal walls tiled in a mixture of gaudy seventies factory rejects. And above all, there is the ubiquitous mint tea.

Derek Workman is an English journalist living in Valencia City, Spain – although he admits to a love of Morocco and would love to up sticks and move there.
Conquering Marrakesh with the Baboush's Condiment Kings.
From the guys who brought you Medina, a new menu and a new neighborhood show a different side of Morocco. By Scott Reitz Thursday, Oct 20 2011
In late 2007, when Yaser Khalaf and Sam Benoikken opened Medina, a small Moroccan restaurant with a loungey, modern feel in Victory Park, they expected expansive condos, bustling shops and plenty of hungry diners walking past. But those expectations eventually withered. A faltered economy halted new construction, and the project only realized a small portion of its potential. They're still alive, with help from a great menu, but when I paid them a visit recently the restaurant lacked energy and animation.
Not so in the West Village, the bustling Uptown development finished in 2001, where shops and restaurants buzz and money is spent in fistfuls on weekends. Here, Khalaf and Benoikken saw the numbers of potential diners had already come to fruition; the pair just had to envision a dining room that would get those passersby off the sidewalk and in the door. They took their old Medina concept and spun it anew, this time focusing more on small, shareable plates. They named the restaurant Baboush and opened doors in August.
Opening any restaurant is a gamble, but the odds are better here, where a young clientele with discretionary income (or maybe just working credit cards) fills the apartments above and a network of bars and restaurants creates an environment that coax people to stay close to home. On a Saturday night the gamble pays off, and the owners are rewarded with a packed dining room, filled with the din of dining chatter and clanking silverware — a restaurant's version of the melodic tones of a casino floor. Their menu proves worthy of the crowds, too, loaded with dishes that stand up in a competitive neighborhood filled with restaurants.
On my first visit, I wandered in and ordered a pine-cardamom from the "sexy drinks" menu, and sucked it down at the semi-circle bar on the back wall. The cocktail made use of a vodka infused with cardamom and roasted pineapple, shaken into a vigorous froth over ice and garnished with a fire-engine red maraschino cherry. It's a bust, though — nowhere near as seductive as the menu suggests. That cherry was tacky, the cardamom lost, and drinks like this should be stirred gently to chill instead of shaken to oblivion.
But the dining room was a win, small and eclectic, with benches in leather and wicker and velvet, and tables in wood and brass and tile — small Chiclets in blue and cream that echoed the back wall.
On that cool and breezy evening, diners spilled out onto the sidewalk and wrestled their menus from the wind, chased napkins that wouldn't sit still and listened to a mashup of '80s pop and ethnic beats — REM meets Morocco, played in a loop. They were young and attractive, well-dressed and energetic, and they sat around tables grazing on shared plates and shared conversation.
Dips and spreads adorn a platter that works well for that sharing, and also serves as an introduction to a meal that unfolds like a journey. Hummus and babaganoush play it safe, the chickpeas bright with lemon in a smooth puree, the eggplant smoky with loud garlic. The Moroccan sweet tomato brings the unexpected, as sweet as jam. With intense tomato flavor, the spread is best tempered with a drizzle of the aioli that sits in the center of the platter.
That aioli, made on-site and itself hopped up with house-made harissa, proves to be Baboush's greatest tell. House-made condiments embellished with house-made condiments illuminate a kitchen with drive and ambition. Balanced flavors demonstrate that their work is not wasted.
Khalaf and Benoikken are more than mere restaurateurs. They're condiment professionals, and every dish that leaves the kitchen is served with a little something on the side — small porcelain cups so delightful that at times they outshine what's at the center of the plate.
It's what you'd expect from the duo that opened Ketchup this year. The burger joint, also in Uptown, doesn't use Heinz but instead fashions burger toppings and embellishments from scratch. Here at Baboush that attention to detail, combined with a menu that pinpoints Moroccan flavors, pays out big.
Shrimp kebabs delight, with crisp blackened tails and a mild tomato salad. Chicken kebabs sing, stained yellow with turmeric and served with a garlic spread so intense it deserves a warning label: Enjoy with caution, but only if your date does too. Beef is chewy and uninspired, but it comes with tzatziki, a thick and supple yogurt flavored with mint and cucumber. If only your local gyro came with a sauce this good — you'd lunch there daily. Each of the meat skewers is small but the flavors are mostly big. (But avoid kefta, which is bland and dry despite gentle cooking.)
A fatoush salad is misnamed. For what's commonly a bread-driven salad, the kitchen reduces the crispy shards of pita to a component of the dish, not the centerpiece. Still, crisp romaine, creamy feta and a lemony dressing all play well together, whatever the name.
The Tangier is a salad cliché or a classic, depending on your viewpoint. Pear and Gorgonzola dance on a stage of arugula and tomatoes in a combination that works well, even if the fruit's a little limp.
Street Plates close the menu with dishes that bend tradition, sometimes working and sometimes not. Falafel is packed with green and herbal flavors, adding cilantro and fava beans to traditional chickpeas and parsley. The flavors are there, but the texture's a no-show. The favas make for a soft and pasty puree, but that earthy tahini, hopped up with garlic and lemon, reduces the texture to an afterthought.
The dolma's texture is soft, too. Tomatoes added to the traditional mix of rice, herbs and nuts leave the stuffed grape leaves feeling a little limp.
Chicken and beef shawermas stay true to their roots, and for a menu that offers shared plates that skew small, they offer the most bang for your buck, perching the shaved meats on an ample portion of hummus.
You wouldn't likely find a spinach and goat cheese cigar on the streets of Marrakesh, but you might find a spinach pie. Baboush rolls up the phyllo dough like a crispy egg roll. Cut the cigar with your fork and knife and watch the creamy goat cheese ooze. The chicken pastila cigar gets a similar treatment, filling a phyllo tube with saffron-laden chicken, an aromatic aria, and finished with a dusting of cinnamon and powdered sugar. A sweet twist on savory that harkens dessert.
The simple but worthy encore offers three choices: a light and lemony sorbet, baklava and pistachio gelato. The gelato may be store-bought, but it doesn't disappoint. Served with a dusting of green pistachios it makes for a compelling close. And that plate of baklava stows an unexpected treat: a single date pitted and stuffed to the hilt with soft mascarpone cheese.
By now, amongst so many small plates, you're surely well versed in sharing. But just this once you should embrace your more sinister side. Pounce quickly and selfishly, and capture the prize all for yourself in one bite. Cutting the date renders the gem a mess.
They're all flavors you could find at Medina, but dining there, in the void of Victory Park, feels like shopping in an empty mall, even if the options are tailored and refined. With Baboush, Khalaf and Benoikken breathe new life into their Moroccan menu. The restaurant feels alive and busy — not quite the bustling insanity of the markets of Marrakesh, where you're as likely to find that earthy tahini as you are to have your pocket picked, but not far off, either.

Southampton Woman Returns From Three Peace Corps Stints.
The Southampton Press By Colleen Reynolds   Oct 11, 2011
Sharon Keld, who has served multiple stints abroad with the Peace Corps, has recently returned to Southampton. COLLEEN REYNOLDS
As soon as she returned to American shores this summer from her latest Peace Corps service in Armenia, the first thing Sharon Keld wanted to do was donate blood. She was thwarted.
She could not do so yet, she was told, because of mandatory time constraints based on her travels to far-flung points of the globe.
No doubt the enterprising 52-year-old marketing specialist, who has served three Peace Corps stints in recent years, will jump at the chance to donate as soon as she can. That is, unless she finds another job abroad first.
Ms. Keld, who lives in Southampton Village, is not one to sit still. So if the most recent items on her resumé are any indication, she will not be staying long at the Barons Lane house where she currently resides.
She hopes to speak about her travels and service at the Rogers Memorial Library and she hinted at wishing to write a book about her travels.
From January through July of this year, she served in the ancient city of Yerevan, Armenia’s capital and largest city, as part of the Peace Corps Response program, a United States service program open to alumni of the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps, established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, has the goal of promoting world peace and friendship. Its mission includes helping men and women in interested countries help themselves and promoting a better understanding of Americans as well as of people in other countries on the part of Americans.
During her six months in the former Soviet republic, which shares borders with Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran and Georgia, she worked as a public relations consultant for the Millennium Challenge Account—Armenia, writing articles for quarterly bulletins and drafting press releases. A secondary assignment included helping Armenian artisans through the Non-Governmental Organization, or NGO, Homeland Handicrafts.
What should Americans know about Armenia?
“The Armenians, especially the American-Armenians, want the genocide to be recognized. They had a genocide in the early 20th century,” Ms. Keld replied, referring to the controversial death of more than a million citizens toward the end of World War I and shortly after. “It’s a beautiful country, but it’s a country where a lot of the men have to leave to get work. There’s a lot of subsistence farming.”
Before finding herself in the landlocked Asia Minor country, Ms. Keld spent a short amount of time in New York, helping her sister launch a fitness application for the iPhone, iPad and Android. But for much of 2010, she was serving another six-month stint in the Peace Corps Response. That time, in a land very different from Armenia: the Southeast Asian archipelago of the Philippines. Based in metropolitan Manila, she served as a resource development and marketing strategist for Habitat for Humanity, the organization that functions under the belief that everyone should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live.
But after a pair of typhoons, Ondoy and Pepeng, swept through the country, Ms. Keld said she found herself drafting disaster response proposals and helping organize efforts to provide homes for people living in slum conditions.
As she easily flitted back and forth speaking of the people, languages and customs in one country and then another, disparate country on Friday, Ms. Keld had a dove necklace dangling from her neck, symbolizing peace. For her, peace is a goal to work toward at any age, not just in the immediate post-college years.
“I went into the Peace Corps in my late 40s. I thought before I left that the Peace Corps was for 23-year-olds. It’s nice to see that they welcome someone with mid-career experience,” she said. “I thought, I’m single. I rent. I’ve always wanted to live in another culture.”
Over bottled water, the Wharton School MBA graduate lit up when speaking of the people she encountered abroad, especially Abdou, the carpet seller she calls the nicest man in Morocco.
The cool mountains in the Kingdom of Morocco was where her Peace Corps experience started, for a two-year stretch from 2006 to 2008. While there, she advised and trained six local artisans and three regional women’s weaving cooperatives, among others, in small-business skills.
She laughed when recounting how someone in Morocco once asked her to imagine what it would be like not to be able to read certain documents, and she replied that she could imagine it—because she didn’t read Arabic.
That first taste of a culture so different from her own has triggered her wanderlust for the future, she said—even though as of Friday, she had not yet received the results of a parasite test.
Peace Corps Trains Moroccan Youth in Journalism.
18 October 2011
Washington — A journalism workshop held recently for Moroccan youth aimed to point them toward further journalism training in the future.
"My goal is to get Moroccan youth in a variety of training programs so that they can continue their interest in journalism long after my service," said Peace Corps/Morocco volunteer Maureen Sieh, of Syracuse, New York, who organized the four-day workshop in southern Morocco for more than 50 secondary school and college students.
The U.S. Embassy in Rabat donated more than 100 journalism books and other materials to the workshop, which ran from September 7 to 10 and focused on news reporting and photography. Sieh's efforts were publicized in an October 7 Peace Corps press release.
During the workshop, participants formed a journalism club that will meet twice a month to develop an online youth newspaper written in Arabic, English and French. They also learned about using social media to report community events. They created a Facebook page, which now has more than 200 followers, to share local news until the newspaper is launched.
"The students are really excited about the club," Sieh said. "Nearly all of the workshop participants attended the first club meeting, and they brought friends who had heard about how great the workshop was."
A graduate of Indiana University, Sieh has 20 years of experience working in journalism. Her career began in Liberia, where she was a newspaper reporter covering the Liberian civil war for six months before leaving on a Fulbright Fellowship in 1990 to pursue graduate studies in the United States.
Peace Corps/Morocco volunteers Erik Syngle and Aaron Zimmerman assisted Sieh during the workshop, teaching sessions in photography techniques.
There are 289 Peace Corps volunteers currently serving in Morocco. They are assigned to projects in five primary areas: youth development, health, environment, nongovernmental organization (NGO) development and small business development. Volunteers are trained and work in the following languages: Darisha (Moroccan Arabic), French, Tamazight and Tashelheet.
President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961, by executive order. Throughout 2011, Peace Corps is commemorating 50 years of promoting peace and friendship around the world. Historically, more than 200,000 Americans have served with the Peace Corps to promote better understanding between Americans and the people of 139 host countries.
Today, 8,655 volunteers are working with local communities in 76 host countries. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. They commit to serve for 27 months.
From Morocco: Packing up and saying goodbye.
By Alexandra Cash 
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
It is difficult to believe but after 26 months here in Morocco it is time for me to begin packing and start getting ready to say goodbye. I’ve enjoyed sharing my experiences with you over the last two years and I hope you have enjoyed reading them. In just over three weeks I’ll be boarding a plane with my bags in tow holding all my possessions that I will go back home with. Many of those possessions are things I have acquired here in Morocco. Things I can wear and things I can display at home to remind me Moroccan culture. However, some of the things I will be bringing back cannot be seen.

I’ll be coming back with many lessons learned. I’ve learned so much about myself and the world. I’ve learned that it is possible to adapt to a situation no matter how strange it may at first be. Learned how to walk into a house full of strangers and have it become a home full of family.

I’ve been lucky to be a part of several families during my time in Morocco. In most cases I’ve been welcomed into several homes like a daughter or a sister and I won’t ever forget the kindness that many Moroccan people have shown me.

In addition to family I’ve developed many unique friendships. Unique in the sense that we are from different cultures and raised in different ways. My best friend here was married at age 17 and now at age 23 rarely leaves the house because her husband would be jealous. She lives the reality that many Moroccan women live. What is not unique to my friendships here is the conversation that I have gotten to have with these young women. While being far from my own friends and the feeling of a normal life I have gotten to have friendships that remind me of my ones at home.

While I look forward to my future back home it’s difficult not to look back to my past two years here. Some of the relationships that I have formed will hopefully last a lifetime. I will be happy to rejoin my family and friends at home, but sad to leave my relationships here. However, with today’s technology some of my relationships are just a mouse click away.

I can still remember all the emotions that I went through during this journey. It seems like yesterday that I ate my first breakfast of bread and tea at my first host family's house. A whole mix of thoughts was running through my mind, most prominently was, what the heck am I doing here? I asked myself that question during several hard times. Now that I am near the end it became much more clear exactly what it is I am doing here. The abnormal became so normal that I no longer am able to ask myself that question.

Stay tuned for one more entry after I return to the USA where you can read what it was like for me to come home again.

Born and raised in Jackson, Michigan Alexandra Cash is a graduate of Jackson High School, Jackson Community College, and Michigan State University. At MSU she earned a degree in journalism with a focus in international relations. Alexandra is currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in a small town near Casablanca in Morocco, North Africa. She will be working in youth development until November 2011.


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