Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Morocco in the News - November 9th

Whitewillow64 | 03 November 2011
In a recent interview with Tunisia Live, US Ambassador Gordon Gray gave some specifics into the structure of the new USA Peace Corps program that will be reintroduced in Tunisia in 2012.
“There will be 20-24 in the first class focused in two areas:  youth skills development and English language training,” according to Ambassador Gray.
Ambassador Gray stressed that while the initial number of volunteers may seem small, should the program be deemed a success, the size of the program could increase in the future.
Rob Prince, a Professor of International Studies at the University of Denver and a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Tunisia, welcomed news of the reintroduction of the Peace Corps.  “I was in the Peace Corps from June 1966 through October 1968 teaching English at the Bourguiba School on Rue De La Liberte.  I also taught in Sousse.  It was one of the best experiences of my life.”
The Peace Corps program in Tunisia was much larger during Prince’s era numbering nearly 300 volunteers.  The program focused on teaching English, child care and architecture.  “Although a good 225 of us were teaching English, I know one of the child care volunteers who was in Gabes is now a Professor at Harvard and there are many buildings, even mosques in Tunisia today that were designed by Peace Corps volunteers,” Prince said.
While the Peace Corps program in Tunisia was terminated in 1996, President Barak Obama announced that it would be reintroduced after a 16 year hiatus during his October 7th press conference with Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi at the White House.
The Peace Corps is a volunteer program managed by the United States Government.  Established by an Executive order of President John F. Kennedy in 1961, the mission of the Peace Corps is to assist partner countries with their need for trained people, help people outside the US understand American culture and vice versa.
High Atlas Foundation's Moroccan Film Festival in New York City:Celebrating the Moroccan Arts While Embracing Human Development
New York, November 3, 2011 - The High Atlas Foundation is proud to announce the Moroccan Film Festival: Second Edition on November 18-19th, 2011 at New York City's Tribeca Cinemas. Ticket purchases and new Festival sponsors will directly enable rural Moroccan communities to plant fruit tree nurseries, and advance HAF's 1 Million Tree Campaign.
The Film Festival has set the stage to showcase on an international screen Morocco's voices, multiculturalism and filmmakers. The two-day Festival event will show the complexity and beauty of life in Morocco through nine feature films, preceded by Moroccan student films from the Ecole Supérieure des Arts Visuels de Marrakech (ESAV).
The Opening Night is on Friday, November 18th, starting at 6:30pm with cocktail reception, host presentations and photography silent auction, followed by the U.S. premiere at 9:00pm of the featured film La 5ème Corde (The Fifth String), directed by Selma Bargach, and selected ESAV student film. Saturday, November 19th, showcases eight dramatic, documentary and comedic Moroccan films.
The generous Sponsorships of the Film Festival by the Moroccan National Tourist Office, Western Union, Exotic Imports and important others enable all ticket sales to support the 1 Million Tree Campaign that profoundly benefits rural Moroccan families. The saplings do not require pesticides (almond, cherry, fig, pomegranate, prickly pears and walnut) - and the fruit yields more than double household incomes on average and prevent erosion and desertification.
The High Atlas Foundation was founded in 2000 by former Peace Corps Volunteers. HAF is a U.S. 501(c)(3) organization and a Moroccan association, and since 2011 has Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. The Foundation and its many partners planted 329,800 fruit trees greatly benefiting approximately 2,500 Moroccan families as the trees mature.
The Moroccan Films screened at the Film Festival on November 18-19th are: Deux Femmes Sur la Route (Two Women on the Road)Une Minute de Soleil en Moins (A Minute of Sun Less)All I Wanna Do (Documentary); Le Blues des Sheikhates (Sheikhates' Blues) (Documentary); Mektoub (Predestined)Ali Zoua: Prince of the StreetsTerminus des Anges (Angels' Terminus)Amours Voilées (Veiled Love); and La 5ème Corde (The Fifth String) on opening night.
For more information about the Moroccan Film Festival on November 18th and 19th in New York City, as well as excellent sponsorship opportunities, please contact:, Tel. (US): 646-688-2946; (Morocco): 212(0)610-641-603.
A New View of America.
September 5, 2011
Marcel Proust once said “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes”; I have never come upon anything that summed so perfectly my life and my dreams. As a young child, I always reached to foreign movies in times of sadness and sorrow. I always felt so inspired after watching these movies. I realized that I needed the world to live, grow, learn and most importantly, share. A book about India, with its crowded streets, rich of culture, colors and spirits, feels inspiring. A picture of Paris, with its Eiffel tower and night lights, makes my heart beat faster. I cannot resist feeling so intense every time the world was brought to me. In my head, my luggage was packed and I was ready for the adventure.
I remember hearing about the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange Study program for the United States in an email. At the time, the opportunity seemed both unreal and unattainable, but I decided to give it a try. I was a 16 year old teenager, with no significant life experience, and whose dream was suddenly within reach. Was this my moment?
After several months, I was selected as one of 25 Moroccan students chosen to  participate in the YES program. My happiness was beyond what can be described with words. Life had set its shine over me, and I was longing to spread my wings and release all my potential to the world.
Once in America, my life turned into a tornado of ups and downs with extreme feelings at different points of time. My entirely theoretical and somehow perfect conception of the United States fell apart, and a more realistic and mature perspective emerged. America is not only New York, Chicago, beaches in Florida, casinos in Las Vegas, or Hollywood, America is also little towns in the middle of forests and cornfields where everyone knows everyone. I starting to grow new eyes, and the sight was inspiring.
My experience was priceless and I am very grateful for the opportunity. I admired a lot in America, especially its values of freedom and equality,  diversity, and the possibility to go as far as one sets their mind to. The educational system and community service inspired me to improve my home community, and share my experiences. During the exchange I met many people, some were great and deeply changed me, and others were not as much of a pleasant experience but definitely contributed to my unavoidable growth in America.
In a year, I grew from a young girl with big dreams into a realistic human being with great ambitions and expectations in life. Now, I am motivated to give to the world as much as it has.. and is about to give me.
Tilouguite Elementary School Bathroom Project – Morocco
Iztat Water Project - Morocco
Khoukhate Water and Sanitation Project - Morocco
Ait-Zelton School Improvement Project - Morocco
Morocco's jobless rate rises for 2nd straight qtr
Thu Nov 3, 2011
RABAT Nov 3 (Reuters) - Unemployment in Morocco inched up 9.1 percent in the third quarter, clocking the second increase in a row due mostly to a drop in construction activity, official data showed.
The jobless rate stood at 8.7 percent a quarter earlier and at 9 percent in the third quarter of 2010, the state's High Planning Commission (HCP) said on Thursday.
Unemployment in urban areas showed unemployment declined to 13.5 percent in the third quarter from 13.8 percent a year earlier. Half of Morocco's employed are in rural areas where the majority tend small subsistence farms.
The jobless rate among those below the age of 34 rose to 31.4 percent from 30.1 percent in the third quarter of 2010.
"Two out of three (jobless Moroccans) have been without work for over a year, the same proportion as in the third quarter of 2010. But the percentage of those who have been looking for a job for at least five years rose from 21.1 percent to 25 percent," HCP said.
Net job creation by the $95 billion economy stood at 120,000 in the 12 months till end-September mostly in retail and industry branches in urban areas. Construction meanwhile recorded a marginal but second straight quarterly drop for the 1-million-employee sector.
Agriculture is Morocco's top employer with around 40 percent the total workforce while 450,000 is in tourism. (Reporting By Souhail Karam)
Gender laws Morocco uphold dignity and the rights of women
Fatima Outaleb – WNN Opinion
(WNN) Opinion Rabat, MOROCCO: According to a recent study by Morocco’s High Commission for Planning, the national institute for statistical analysis, 68 per cent of Moroccan women have experienced domestic violence and 48 per cent have been subjected to psychological abuse.
This is a shocking statistic and reveals how much more there is still left to be done in terms of women’s rights. But the encouraging news is that women’s organisations in Morocco over the past 20 years have managed to transform the issue of domestic violence from a private concern to a public and political issue.
Women’s rights associations began emerging in the 1990s to raise awareness about the alarming violence and discrimination women were subjected to and to change the situation.
The Family Law, which was first drafted in 1957, allowed marriage at a young age and stipulated that the onus was on women to prove they were victims of domestic violence if they wanted to use this as a reason for divorce. The law also meant that women wishing for divorce could be forced by a judge to return to their husbands if they had tried to leave and been asked to return. In this way, violence against Moroccan women was “legitimised”.
Changing this reality became the priority of the women’s movement in Morocco. To achieve reform, women’s rights groups organised roundtable discussions, petitions and workshops to analyse and modify legislation. One such campaign, led by The Union of Women’s Action (UAF) in 1992, called for reform of the conservative personal status code for women and raised public awareness about the increase in incidents of violence against women – something that had not been explicitly acknowledged by the government or by the general public.
In 1993, the UAF petition led to legislative amendments to the personal status code. One of the main changes was that women gained the right to designate their own guardian, a male relative who signs a marriage contract in the name of the woman. Previously, women had no say in this matter. With the revision, however, a marriage could no longer be performed without at least the indirect consent of the woman.
Although these actions introduced only minor changes to women’s rights in the country, at the very least, women’s issues had clearly made it to the public sphere.
In 2002 the Minister of Women’s Affairs – a position created in 1998 – developed a national strategy to combat violence against women in partnership with women’s organisations. Since then, they and the Ministry of Social Affairs, Solidarity and Family have organised a yearly national campaign calling for measures and mechanisms that protect women from sexual harassment and domestic violence.
As a result, the issue of violence against women has received attention from political leaders and the general public. Many government departments have since created units on gender issues. And to address gender inequality, Morocco adopted gender responsive budgeting in 2006, a process in which women’s issues are taken into consideration in national plans and actions.
By ratifying the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1993 the Moroccan government undertook measures to harmonise its national laws with CEDAW provisions. Between 2002 and 2007, it reformed the personal status law even further, along with the labour code, the penal code and the nationality law which, when revised, allowed women to pass their nationality to their children.
In addition, the constitution was amended in June 2011 to address the supremacy of international gender laws over national ones.
Under significant pressure from civil society, Morocco committed to implementing national legislation to end violence against women and to work actively to implement international agreements with the same goal.
A coalition called Spring of Dignity, comprised of 22 women’s organisations, submitted a memorandum to the Minister of Justice last year with recommended amendments to the penal code. Their concern is that the code does not punish perpetrators in cases of rape. In fact, according to the penal code, both the victim and the rapist can be considered guilty of engaging in prostitution, especially if the victim is 18 or older, regardless of any other circumstances, such as the victim having been trafficked, which would then require special consideration and treatment.
Women’s groups are fully aware that reforms to the family code, the penal code, the labour code and the nationality law could not have occurred without the close collaboration of all stakeholders and without major mobilisation by diverse women’s organisations. Though some forces are trying to hinder the progress of democracy and women’s rights, Morocco has embarked upon a process of change. A recent amendment of the penal code that legalises abortion – subjected to certain conditions – is another symbol of hope for Moroccan women.
We know that the journey towards true social justice is long and that there is still much to do, but if women’s organisations continue their work with the same strength and commitment as they have demonstrated in the past 20 years, they will achieve their goals and ensure that future generations enjoy their rights – regardless of their gender.
Fatima Outaleb is a member of the Union of Women’s Action (UAF) Board of Directors in Morocco.
©Women News Network – WNN
WNN encourages conversation. All opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Women News Network – WNN. This op-ed is part of a series on peace and world views through an ongoing WNN partnership with CGNews.
No part of this commentary (op-ed) may be reproduced without prior permissions from WNN &/or the author.
Mountain boarding school gives hope to Moroccan girls
By Omar Brouksy (AFP) –
AIN LEUH, Morocco — In the heart of the snowbound Atlas mountains in central Morocco, a boarding school takes in young girls from isolated villages in a bid to fight poverty and illiteracy.
There are more than 300 such schools in Morocco, with another 30 planned for construction next year. They are now both home and class to almost 16,700 girls, who are often living far from their families. More than 70 percent of them come from a rural background, according to official figures.
"The criteria for admission to the dormitory? They are simple and clear: poverty and remoteness. A committee studies requests and the girls are swiftly selected on the basis of these two criteria," said Souad Arkani, the headmistress of the establishment in the village of Ain Leuh.
The dormitory has taken in 35 young women, just a little way from the school they attend each day.
Despite landmark changes in the family code known as Mudawana, pushed through by King Mohammed VI in 2004 against tough opposition from religious conservatives, many women are still second-class citizens in the north African country. In conservative rural zones, only one out of every two girls finishes middle school and only two out of every 10 goes to high school.
The king promoted the boarding schools -- for both boys and girls -- soon after he took power, in 1999.
"My parents live a few dozen kilometres from here. But thanks to this home, I'm doing my studies in good conditions because I'm looked after and the school is just nearby," Khadija, 19, told AFP.
"They are taken in hand, with a precise programme from morning to evening: breakfast, going to the nearby school, lunch at 12:30 pm, studies and, finally, lights out at 10:00 pm," Arkani said.
The boarding school is financed and jointly run by the ministry of social development and a local non-governmental organisation, the Islamic Association of Charity (AIB).
Ain Leuh is located in the province of Ifrane, 300 kilometres (185 miles) east of the capital Rabat, at the heart of mountains covered with cedar trees where it often snows in winter.
"From November, it begins to get very cold because the region is mountainous. The girls stay in the home all week, but they can spend the weekend with their relatives or close family," Arkani said.
To see her parents, Khadija must first take a "big taxi" (a collective taxi) for several dozen kilometres. Then she needs to walk down a track for at least an hour to get home.
When he encouraged these boarding schools, the king stated that he wanted to make up for the lack of infrastructure in rural regions, but according to some of the staff at Ain Leuh, inaugurated by Mohammed VI in 2003, the means are limited and help from any quarter is welcome.
"Local communities, the ministry (of social development) and our association participate in the finance, but we have to struggle to balance our budget," said Mohamed Bouyamlal, vice-president of the AIB.
"We have to make choices which are sometimes difficult and choose the strict minimum, which is to say food," he added.
The headmistress only earns 1,200 dirhams a month (106 euros / 148 dollars), which is less than the national minimum wage of about 125 euros.
But in spite of the difficulties, the results are promising. The schools say their success rate in graduating girls runs between 80 and 100 percent, and more than half the boarders end up following university studies.
Overall, the rate of illiteracy among rural women has dropped from 64 percent in 2006 to 40 percent in 2011, according to official figures.
And the rate at which girls drop out of school in rural areas has fallen from 14 percent in 2006 to 10 percent in 2010, thanks to this programme. School is by law compulsory in Morocco until the age of 15.
Apart from the studies, Ain Leuh offers otherwise isolated girls a new social network, to exchange views and open their minds.
"When I arrived from my distant home in the country, I was very shy," said Souad, one of the students. "The home has broadened my horizons and I have realised I can be autonomous and independent."
"I have ambitions and I see my future differently," she added proudly. "I want to be a mathematics teacher."
2011 AFP
Moroccan writer comes out as gay, defies taboo.
December 31, 2010  Omar Brouksy Agence France Presse
TANGIERS, Morocco: Novelist Abdellah Taia, who has won acclaim in France and from readers abroad, has challenged a taboo in his native Morocco and refuses to back down: he is the first Moroccan writer to come out as gay in a country that bans homosexuality.
For 37-year-old Taia, who has lived in Paris for the last decade, being homosexual and Muslim are not mutually exclusive. He “feels Muslim” and is from a country where Islam is the state religion.
“I am the first Moroccan writer who has spoken openly about his homosexuality, to acknowledge it, but without turning my back on the country I’m from,” he told AFP on a recent visit to Morocco.
“My homosexuality, I already felt it from the age of 13, at school. But despite this, I feel Muslim. There is no incompatibility between Islam and choices of sexual identity.”
Taia, who writes in French and has been translated into Spanish and English, emerged from obscurity to make a splash on the French literary scene with novels such as the 2005 “Le Rouge du Tarbouche” (The Red of the Fez), an autobiographical account of his life in Paris, where he moved in 1999.
In November, the Moroccan was awarded the prestigious 2010 Prix Flore for young authors.
A soft-spoken man with a timid smile, the writer was born in a working-class neighborhood in Sale, the twin city of the Moroccan capital Rabat, into a childhood marked by deep poverty.
“My father was a chaouch (messenger) at the national library in Rabat. We were nine children who lived on top of each other in two rooms,” he recalled.
“There was nothing to eat. You had to fight to eat. We spent our days on the streets. We were barefoot.” His mother, a housewife, was illiterate.
After studying French literature at university in Morocco, Taia, then 26, moved to Paris, pursuing a doctorate at the Sorbonne and writing his first novels.
“Le Rouge du Tarbouche” describes his “dream of writing” in Paris, “a city that doesn’t lift you up if you fall.” The book, his second, was also the first to mention his homosexuality.
Notoriety back home came two years later, in 2007, when Taia openly proclaimed his homosexuality in a frank interview with “TelQuel,” an independent Moroccan weekly known to take a critical line towards the government.
The writer quickly came under fire from part of the press and from Islamic circles in Morocco, where homosexuality – as in most Arab states – is considered a criminal offense.
In Morocco, it is punishable by six months to three years in prison but like liquor and wine consumption – proscribed for Muslims under Moroccan law – is tolerated, provided practitioners don’t flaunt their difference.
“For me,” Taia said, “homosexuality is not a cause, but a personal freedom. It is normal that I defend homosexuals because they are oppressed individuals.”
Despite the scandal, Taia continues to spend much time in Morocco, where “obviously the fact that I am a writer published by big French houses protects me” from being persecuted for his sexual orientation.
Taia said he is “very attached to Morocco” and that “despite everything, I feel here like everybody else. I come from the same world.”
He also feels the country is slowly changing and becoming more tolerant of differences. “Despite some regression in Morocco, over the last 10 years,” he continued, “there have been extraordinary things in terms of declarations of personal freedoms by many parts of Moroccan society.”
For Taia, the vocal conservatives who often dominate debate in the Islamic world are not a true reflection of how most Muslims feel.
“These trends, which are in the minority, are the result of the failure of social policy in the Arab world,” he said.
“What interests me is the overwhelming majority, people who are simply Muslims and to whom I feel I belong.”
Audience Questions to Moroccan Prince
By Liz Rodriguez-FloridoTuesday, October 11, 2011Source: Yale Daily News
The Arab Spring came under scrutiny Monday night as 100 students, faculty and community members gathered in Linsly-Chittenden Hall to hear a prince of Morocco speak about developments in the Middle East.
At the talk, which the Arab Students’ Association has been working for over a yearto organize, Prince Moulay Hicham ben Abdallah el-Alaoui discussed the causes of the Arab Spring and his predictions for nations that have experienced revolutions in recent months. After the talk, he took questions from audience members, many of whom were eager to question his views.
Ben Abdallah el-Alaoui said outcomes of the Arab Spring will include successes, failures and perceived successes in which power will actually fall back into the hands of the regimes that were initially overthrown.
“Tunisia seems like it’s in the most promising phase for democracy,” he said, adding that Egypt is in a state of incomplete transition, while Libya faces the greatestchallenges in democratizationbecause of the previous regime’s totalitarianism.
Though many have emphasized the importance of social technology like Facebook and Twitter in enabling people to mobilize during the Arab Spring, ben Abdallah el-Alaoui said the role of social technology should not be exaggerated. Many regimes have had the power to blackout “liberation technology,” he said. The true power behind the uprisingslies inthe capacity of citizens to mobilize onthe ground, he added.
The largest demographic leading the protests and rebellions over the last year has been the “new young generation,” ben Abdallah el-Alaoui said, which is motivated by disillusionmentwithregimesthat have tried to overstay their welcome.
He added that all monarchies in the Middle East and North Africa will eventually face calls fordemocratic change, though they may be able to buy time before this happenswith monetary incentives or cultural symbolism.
During the question-and-answer period, a member of the audience compared the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to those in the Arab Spring — a comparisonben Abdallah el-Alaouirejected as invalid because the regime changes in those countries did not come from“within the fabrics of society” but rather from external interventions.
“[Iraq and Afghanistan] are a totally different animal,” he said. “We need to be conscious of outside intervention. With outside intervention you lose legitimacy in the eyes of the people.”
Three audience members said they wishedben Abdallah el-Alaouihad discussed Morocco’s current political state more during the talk.
Khadija El-Hazimy, a staff member at Sterling Memorial Library who lived in Morocco until the age of 13, said she identifiedwith ben Abdallah el-Alaoui’s perspective.Still, she said he should have talked more about current issues in Morrocco, such as new youth organizations.
Ben Abdallah el-Alaoui attended Princeton for his undergraduate years and Stanford for graduate school.
Morocco falls in love with plastic surgery
By Nora Fakim, November 8, 2011 BBC News, Morocco
The number of Moroccan women having plastic surgery to improve their looks is growing every year, despite some religious scholars saying that it is un-Islamic.
Clinique Slaoui is situated on one of Rabat's main roads, in the upmarket suburb of Souissi, making it very visible to passing, well-healed residents.
The modern and brightly painted building is in stark contrast to many of Morocco's grim hospitals, and Prof Salehdine Slaoui, the owner, says business is booming.
"Moroccan women are increasingly becoming more independent and are working harder," he says.
As their social and economic status rises, they are more able to afford to change their physical appearance.
Their reasons for going under the knife vary.
Next time I want to have something done to my face and even liposuction”
End Quote Khadija, 37, after her breast enlargement
Some women do it more now to prevent their husbands from cheating on them, others are influenced "by the European look", he says.
Religious edicts do not seem to be a concern for many.
In fact, such is the demand for plastic surgery, the professor says, there are not enough surgeons to cope.
"The number of surgeons has not progressed. Up to now there are still just 50 plastic surgeons in Morocco," he says.
Some 20 clinics attract a significant number of clients from abroad, some of them lured by cheaper prices than they would pay at home. But the majority are Moroccan.
'God would approve'
On the day I visit, the waiting room is full of wealthy-looking clients, mostly women.
Khadija, 37, has come for her check-up after her breast enlargement operation a week ago.
Wearing jeans and a sleeveless top, she seems very pleased with the results and has no religious qualms about opting for more surgery.
"After my operation I stayed at the clinic for three days... a nurse stayed with me 24/7," she says.
"Next time I want to have something done to my face and even liposuction."
“Start Quote
I'm not scared having this done. It's very important - as you can see I am flat-chested and I want to be more feminine”
End Quote Fatima, 25
Breast implants cost around $4,000 (£2,500) - way out of reach for the average Moroccan who only earns about $600 a month.
On the top floor of the clinic, where the in-patients stay, the rooms are immaculately well furnished - like a five-star hotel.
A teenage girl can be seen recovering from a nose job. Her eyes are bruised and with a huge bandage on her face, she is barely able to keep her balance.
Another patient, 25-year-old Fatima, is about to have her breasts enlarged.
She has short bright bleached blonde hair and is waiting nervously with her veiled mother, who is holding her hand.
"I'm not scared having this done. It's very important - as you can see I am flat-chested and I want to be more feminine."
She said the operation would help her psychologically.
"God would approve of that," she said.
'Moral conflict'
But plastic surgery is a controversial matter in what is still largely a conservative, Muslim country, especially in rural areas and urban districts which are less well-heeled than Souissi.
The debate reflects how this North African kingdom is torn between modernity and traditional Islam, and its links to Europe and the Middle East.
"The role of the body is more spiritual than these superficial inconveniences," says Islamic scholar Ahmed Boukilil.
"It is forbidden in the Koran to change a part of the body [for cosmetic purposes]," he says.
"People forget that their role on earth is not to be too obsessed by the body but more the spiritual side."
Sampling views at cafes in Rabat, women in their twenties and thirties were also divided in their opinions.
"It's very sad how people want to change themselves and do not accept how they usually are," one said.
"But those who have accidents, I can understand that they want to change themselves to how they looked before."
Another said she understood the "moral conflict".
"But if it helps you reach your ends and helps you get through society, why not?"
Morocco to host first solar farm in €400bn renewables network.
The vast solar and windfarm project across North Africa and the Middle East may provide 15% of Europe's electricity by 2050
Morocco has been chosen as the first location for a project to build a vast network of solar and windfarms. Photograph: Michael Melford/NGS/Corbis
Morocco has been chosen as the first location for a German-led, €400bn project to build a vast network of solar and windfarms across NorthAfrica and the Middle East to provide 15% of Europe's electricity supply by 2050.
The Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII), a coalition of companies including E.ON, Siemens, Munich Re and Deutsche Bank, announced at its annual conference being held in Cairo on Wednesday that "all systems are go in Morocco", with construction of the first phase of a 500MW solar farm scheduled to start next year. The precise location of the €2bn plant is yet to be finalised, but it is expected to be built near the desert city of Ouarzazate. It will use parabolic mirrors to generate heat for conventional steam turbines, as opposed to the photovoltaic cells used in the UK.
The 12 square kilometre Moroccan solar farm will, said Paul van Son, Dii's chief executive, be a "reference project" to prove to investors and policy makers in both Europe and the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region that the Desertec vision is not a dream-like mirage, but one that can be a major source of renewable electricity in the decades ahead.
Van Son described Desertec as a "win-win" for both Europe and MENA, adding that the Arab spring had created both opportunities and "questions" for the ambitious project. Discussions are already underway with the Tunisian government about building a solar farm, he said, and Algeria is the next "obvious" country, due to its close proximity to western Europe's grid. Countries such as Libya, Egypt, Turkey, Syria and Saudi Arabia are predicted to start joining the network from 2020, as a network of high voltage direct current cables are built and extended across the wider region.
German companies and policymakers have dominated the Dii conference, reflecting the nation's recent decision to totally phase out nuclear power by 2022 in reaction, in part, to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in March. By comparison, not a single representative from the UK was at the conference.
Jochen Homann, the state secretary at Germany's Federal Ministry for Economics and Technology, told the conference: "We undertook major reforms in German energy policy this summer and Desertec opens up an opportunity for us. We want to enter the age of renewables with sustainable sources of electricity supplying 80% of our power generation by 2050. As we accelerate our phase-out of nuclear power, we need to safeguard an affordable supply of electricity and we will be interested in importing renewables supplies in the future. Germany's government will continue to support Desertec. It is an inspiring vision which is good for foreign, climate and economic policies."
But Homann stressed there would be "pre-conditions" for guaranteeing long-term support from the Germany government. He said there must be "liberalisation" of the energy markets across the MENA region: "North Africa still provides huge subsidies for fossil fuels. There will need to be regulatory improvements. Only then will renewables be able to compete and a common market created. And other European states must participate, too."
Hassan Younes, Egypt's minister of electricity and energy, told the conference that Egypt was keen to participate and that it hoped to have a 1,000MW windfarm built by 2016 in the Gulf of Suez, adding to the 150MW "hybrid" gas-solar power plant that opened 100km south of Cairo earlier this year.
The conference was told via a Dii promotional video that the network of solar and windfarms across the MENA region would help to "halt migration" into Europe, by fast-tracking the rise of the region's youthful population out of poverty and unemployment.
The Desertec plan was welcomed by many in Germany, including chancellor Angela Merkel. However, some German critics argued that the concept of transmitting solar power from Africa to Europe was not proven and that a billion dollar project does not fit in to the country's green energy plan.
German development NGO Germanwatch raised concerns that local people should benefit from the scheme, though Desertec representatives said the energy generated will first be used by the people of north Africa before being exported. Andree Böhling, energy expert at Greenpeace Germany, said: "We have to avoid European companies getting their hands on local resources, therefore we will follow the project carefully."
• This article was amended on 3 November to remove an incorrect reference to Germanwatch and neocolonialism
Tenesol powers up 26,000 homes in Morocco
Friday, 04 November 2011 06:47
Tenesol, the global solar power provider, is bringing power to more than 163,000 people in Morocco for the first time. The company, in partnership with Morocco’s National Electricity Office (ONE), installed rural electrification systems at more than 26,000 homes in the country’s rural provinces. The 16 year project is scheduled to complete in 2018 at a cost of €25 million. 
In Morocco, Tenesol operates under a subsidiary called Temasol which is supplying, installing and maintaining the PV systems. Established in 2002, Temasol is one of the largest electricity providers in Morocco. The company operates 14 offices in the country and employs more than 80 people. 
In addition to this current project, Temasol also provides solar water pumping systems, solar generators for remote telecommunications infrastructure and grid connected PV systems across the country. 
The 50 Wp, 75 Wp and 200 Wp rural electrification systems (depending on which Solar Home System the customer chose) consist of a PV panel connected to a battery. This allows households to store energy during the day and use it at night. Temasol also installed power sockets to offer easy connection for lighting, televisions, radios and refrigerators. 
More than 1.6 billion people in the world live without access to electricity, the vast majority of whom live in rural areas. Morocco’s rural provinces are home to around 45 percent of the country’s population. 
Modules on the move
Rural locations are often remote and isolated. Accessing such areas carrying PV panels, storage batteries and installation equipment can therefore prove tricky. In Morocco rain and snowfall, particularly during winter, can disrupt transport networks. Muddy road surfaces can also become treacherous and hard to negotiate. 
For the Moroccan market Tenesol’s equipment is supplied from the company’s manufacturing plant in Cape Town, South Africa, and transported by sea. Once in Morocco, Temasol works closely with all available resources to transport the equipment to end-user homes across the country. Occasionally this means panels complete their journey by donkey, horse or on foot. 
Stable structures
When it comes to installation, Temasol can draw on Tenesol’s 27 years of experience working in developing areas where houses are constructed from whatever materials are available. In Morocco wood, brick and metal are used, which means buildings vary in structural stability. Temasol engineers must evaluate each home and provide a suitable solution that will stand the test of time. 
Train to maintain
Temasol also provides maintenance for 10 years to each individual installation to ensure all systems operate efficiently. This service began when the first installations were completed in 2002 and will continue until 2018 when responsibility for systems will pass to ONE. 
“We are delighted to be involved in this life changing and highly rewarding project,” said Jacques Mathan, export sales director at Tenesol. “Rural electrification is a major part of a country’s socio-economic development and this project reflects Morocco’s commitment to assisting and improving rural communities. Many of the families we work with have never had access to electricity but solar energy is fast becoming the renewable answer to their power needs.”
Winds of Change in Morocco's Energy Market (AfDB)1 November 2011 SPONSOR WIREOn 28 October 2011, the governing bodies of the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) approved updates to Morocco's investment plan under the Clean Technology Fund (CTF) and an associated program to develop a wind/hydro hybrid generating system and a rural electrification project that aims to increase capacity by 1,070 MW and bring electricity to 79,436 households in 24 of Morocco's most isolated and vulnerable districts. In addition to the technical support it has lent to investment plan and project development, the African Development Bank (AfDB) also plans to contribute U.S.$ 250 million from its own resources and channel a majority of the CTF concessional financing being allocated to Morocco (U.S.$125 million of a total U.S.$ 150 million will flow through the AfDB).
Morocco's public utility, Office National de l'Électricité (ONE), is overseeing the program, which features a wind/hydro component to maximize production from wind, use excess wind energy to store water for the later production of hydroelectricity, and supply water to generate hydroelectricity during the dry season. It will also support new transmission infrastructure and water storage facilities.This initiative is in line with Morocco's energy strategy formulated in 2009 to address the structural challenges of its energy sector. It calls for 10 percent of energy generation to come from renewable sources by 2012.
This figure is being backed by ONE, which plans to install 2,000 MW each of wind, solar and hydro energy to increase installed renewable energy capacity to 42 percent by 2020. Morocco's current installed wind capacity is about 280 MW, but exploitable potential is as much as 25,000 MW.The AfDB anticipates that channeling concessional financing to Morocco will inspire increased investor confidence and participation. The U.S.$ 150 million of CTF funding is expected to leverage an additional U.S.$ 2.24 billion in funding, representing a leveraging factor of 18. Without AfDB and CTF funding, ONE's financial capacity to launch the program would be significantly compromised and the program could be delayed or its scope reduced. ONE's financial equilibrium would be made vulnerable by the higher cost of wind generation and the associated infrastructure, compared with the average cost of energy generated by ONE using conventional sources.
Morocco needs a new social contract to promote stability.
Lahcen Achy  Nov 3, 2011 
The social package implemented by the Moroccan government in the first few months of the year has cast a shadow over the preparation of next year's budget. The budget deficit is expected to be around 6 per cent of GDP by the end of the current fiscal year, a level unprecedented in the last decade.
The Moroccan government - in an attempt to preserve social peace and avoid any escalation in the protest movement sparked by the Arab Spring - increased civil servants' wages by about $70 (Dh260) a month, announced plans to hire more than 4,000 unemployed college graduates and doubled subsidies to preserve the price stability of fuel and basic consumer goods whose prices have risen considerably on the world market.
The worsening of the budget deficit in Morocco comes at a time of scarce liquidity in local banks and public dissatisfaction with the privatisation process, which has played a key role in the country's economy over the last few years by allowing the sale of public assets to keep pace with high public spending. The high interest rates on loans in international financial markets, due to the sovereign debt crisis and the repercussions of the Arab Spring, have seriously reduced the government's margin for manoeuvre.
The postponement of the budget law's approval ahead of critical legislative elections scheduled for the end of November reveals Morocco's vulnerability to structural imbalances. The country needs frank and transparent dialogue among the various stakeholders to come up with a social contract that ensures stability and balances current social demands and future economic growth goals. This requires an ambitious, yet realistic development strategy whose implementation may take years.
Policymakers need to focus on three structural distortions. First, Morocco suffers from a large trade deficit: it imports almost twice as much as it exports. This situation reflects the inability of Moroccan producers to compete globally and the inefficiency of economic policies that have failed to develop the local industrial sector and bolster its potential to compete in foreign markets. Morocco has grown accustomed to covering its increasing trade deficit with income from the tourism industry and remittances from emigrants, but these will both pose a challenge for the Moroccan economy over the coming years.
Despite their high resilience during the past decade, the long-term sustainability of remittances should not be taken for granted. New waves of emigrants are critical to support the continued growth of remittances. But policy barriers to Moroccans' traditional destinations have been increasing. The inability, so far, of the European Union's member states to develop a common migration policy has seriously impeded legal migration flows to Europe.
The ageing of former emigrants and the migration of entire families tend to cause a decline in remittances. New generations, born abroad, continue to remit, but less so than their parents' generation. Most of them have acquired the citizenship of their host countries and have different consumption and remitting habits.
More educated emigrants also tend to remit less and instead use their savings to invest in real estate in their country of residence.
And in the current climate, Europe's slow economic growth, high unemployment and austerity measures to reduce public deficits are likely to affect remittances negatively.
Morocco faces a second structural distortion because it will not be able to build a strong and competitive economy without a skilled and well-trained labour force. The government needs to allocate more human and financial resources to its adult literacy strategy to increase its efficiency and extend its coverage. Policymakers need to remove barriers to participation in literacy programmes and adapt their content and time schedules to fit the needs and desires of recipients.
The third structural weakness is that despite Morocco's efforts over the past decade, poverty rates have remained persistently high, particularly in rural zones, and inequality has been on an upwards trend. The poorest 10 per cent of the population accounts for 2.7 per cent of total consumption. At the other extreme, the richest 10 per cent makes up one-third of total consumption.
Consumption and income inequality are only part of the story, as inequality of ownership is even worse. Data on the distribution of agricultural land indicate that 5 per cent of farmers own one-third of all land.
Policymakers need to reinforce public redistribution policies to reduce inequality among individuals and territories. They should fight tax evasion, implement a more progressive taxation system and increase taxes on property and wealth. They also need to cancel full tax exemptions that benefit the entire agricultural sector, regardless of the size of a particular business and the income it generates. This exemption, which has been in force since the mid-1980s, is socially unfair and economically inefficient.
The next government, which will enjoy greater powers under the new constitution, should establish its priorities to ensure a balance between immediate popular demands and the requirements for economic growth based on human capital and the stimulation of investment, and to establish an equitable tax system to ensure a sustainable social peace.
Lahcen Achy is a senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut
Morocco GDP growth to ease in Q3: planners
Wed Nov 2, 2011
RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco's economic growth likely slowed to an annual rate of 4.1 percent in the third quarter, below the country's full-year target after a slowdown in mining and tourism, the planning authority said on Wednesday.
"This slight slowdown has stemmed mainly from declines in the growth rates of non-agricultural (sectors)," the High Planning Commission (HCP) said in a report.
The annual growth of the mining sector's value-added likely slowed to 2 percent during the third quarter from 2.3 percent in the second quarter and 14 percent a quarter earlier. The HCP did not explain why.
The HCP also expects the added value of the tourism sector to record a quarter-to-quarter decrease of 1.8 percent in the July-September period, which coincided with political turmoil in the region and economic uncertainties in the European Union, Morocco's main source of tourists.
The central bank last month said hotel and restaurant activity recorded a 3.8 percent drop in the second quarter, its worst quarterly performance since the first quarter of 2009.
Tourism contributes close to 10 percent of Morocco's economy and directly employs 450,000 people.
After growing by 4 percent to around $95 billion in 2010, Morocco's gross domestic product grew 5 percent during the first quarter of this year and 4.2 percent in the second, according to the central bank.
The finance ministry forecasts a 5 percent growth for all of 2011.
The HCP also forecasts inflation to be at 1.1 percent by the end of 2011. The rate, as measured by consumer prices, fell to an annual 0.8 percent in September having hit 2.2 percent in August.
Core inflation would however rise to 1.4 percent in 2011 from 0.3 percent in 2010 in what the HCP attributed to a rise in domestic food prices reflecting increases in global markets.
Tree goats of Morocco are unbleatable climbers.
You've goat to be joking - meet the nine tree goats of Morocco, who like nothing more than climbing branches in search of tasty fruit.
This Moroccan Argan tree visibly strains under the weight of the agile goats who clamber up in search of its olive-like fruit.
One even makes it to the top branch - some 17ft from the ground below.
Photographer Gavin Oliver took the snap after spotting the amazing scene near the Todra Gorge, Morocco.
The 38-year-old Australian told The Sun: 'There were about 30 goats, with the ones in the tree already in place when we were driving past.
'The tree branches were bobbing up and down under the weight of the goats every time they moved.
'The herd of goats were being looked after by a young teenage shepherd, who you can just make out behind the tree.'

Read more:
New export opportunities for Morocco By Siham Ali for Magharebia 2011-11-08
Though Morocco has made strides to achieve its long-term economic goals, there is still a long way to go.
Morocco needs to diversify its export market to attain its strategic development goals, according to the government.
"It is a difficult market, due in particular to the Chinese presence," Economy and Finance Minister Salaheddine Mezouar said. "But it's still possible to achieve good performance there."
Morocco's export portfolio is still largely dominated by phosphates and derivative products, economist Ali Jadouani explained, while the value of imports is increasing due to rocketing prices for energy and food products. This has widened the trade gap.
Foreign Trade Minister Abdellatif Maazouz struck a similar note. He stressed the need for development in the sector, and identified West Africa and Central Africa as potential markets for Moroccan exports. As of August 2011, 63% of Moroccan exports went to Europe, compared to 75% in 2007.
In 2009, the government launched the Morocco Export Plus strategy. The programme is a decade-long plan to triple the volume of Moroccan exports. Steps in the process include balancing trade by 2014, doubling the value of exports by 2015 and trebling it by 2018, particularly by developing exports using sector-based strategies.
Maazouz said that despite some missed targets, efforts made over recent years have started to bear fruit. According to the foreign trade ministry, the contribution of exports to the
The minister expressed his satisfaction at a press briefing in Rabat on October 11th.
"Exports grew by 32% in 2010, a rate not achieved for 20 years," he said. The number of exporters also rose from 5,243 in 2008 to 5,495 in 2010.
Chairman of the General Confederation of Moroccan Businesses (CGEM) Mohamed Horani said that Morocco has good potential, but the lack of diversity in products being exported and the low number of exporters are weaknesses that must be overcome.
He said that just a hundred or so businesses provide 80% of exports. "This needs to be widened. Among other things, this can be achieved through training and the development of relationships between business and universities to promote the entrepreneurial spirit. The aim is to produce young people with the skills to set up and manage businesses in the export field."
Morocco ups prices for local sugar beet, cane
Tue Nov 1, 2011
By Souhail Karam
RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco has agreed to raise prices paid to local farmers of sugar beet and cane to cut reliance on raw sugar imports and encourage planting after heavy rain marred the previous two campaigns, industry sources told Reuters on Tuesday.
Sugar beet farmers will obtain 80 dirhams per tonne -- or close to a 20 percent increase -- spread over two years starting in 2012, said three farmers, including Ahmed Ouayach who chairs the Moroccan Confederation of Agriculture.
"Sugar cane farmers will obtain 45 dirhams per tonne also spread over two years," said Ouayach who noted that the increase was the first since 2006.
"This is a significant increase that should restore some order. Prices have not changed since 2006, while rising input costs have eroded farmers' margins in recent years," he said.
An agriculture ministry spokesperson could not immediately comment.
Prices of sugar -- like wheat flour and fuels -- are regulated by the state. Cosumar, in which a holding controlled by the ruling royal family is the biggest shareholder, holds a monopoly in the processing of the local sugar beet and cane harvest and refining of raw sugar imported mostly from Brazil.
Thousands of sugar beet farmers threatened earlier this year to boycott the delivery of next year's crop to Cosumar to press for better terms.
Reinforcing their words with actions would have meant increased imports of raw sugar by Cosumar which has an annual refined sugar output of 1.2 million tonnes.
"The harvest this year was average after the floods we have had for two years ... We were penalized a bit," said Ouayach.
Local sugar cultivations contribute between 40-50 percent of the country's sugar needs depending on the sugar content in the local harvest. This year, Morocco produced 3 million tonnes of sugar beet and 720,000 tonnes of sugar cane.
Morocco's public finances have faced an unprecedented surge in food and energy subsidies which have almost trebled from what was initially budgeted for 2011 as rulers sought to head off the discontent that sparked revolts rocking regional neighbours.
Some farmers felt the increase was not good enough.
"The majority of farmers haven't sowed this year because the two previous campaigns 2010 and 2011 were disastrous," said Driss Ghezlaoui, an industrial-scale sugar beet farmer from the Doukkala region, which accounted for 39 percent of Morocco's beet harvest in 2010.
"We are boycotting the planting, 100 percent," added Ghezlaoui.
"If things carry on the way they are the beet harvest will be lower than 2011 ... We are thinking of alternative crops to end this situation of unfair trade," he said.
Lifting the lid on Morocco
I am fortunate to have a partner who likes to buy me lovely kitchenware. I think it is to keep me cooking. He says "buy her top class and she will make top class". I'm not complaining, as over the years he has bought me items I would not necessarily have bought myself.
It is true that good-quality equipment works better and produces superior results. Included in my list is my elegant Emile Henry tagine. It is made from black earthenware, with a 30-centimetre circular base and a matching cone-shaped top. When it is not sitting on the stove, it takes pride of place in my kitchen, to be admired by all.
The tagine is an ancient cooking vessel traditionally used by the nomads of North Africa – part of a portable oven designed to fit over a charcoal burner. The cone-shaped lid acts like a steam oven. When it seals with the base, it retains heat and moisture so you can cook over a low heat and with very little liquid – it does not evaporate.
It is quite ingenious, and the technique of cooking with the charcoal base is still used today.
Cooking in a tagine is an excellent way to braise food, and I use my tagine for many different recipes. The food remains very moist and tender, and the flavours infuse much more than in a regular pot.
Tagine is also the name given to dishes that are prepared in a tagine, and the recipes are many and varied.
It is food from North Africa – specifically, Morocco. This cuisine uses a vast array of culinary taste treats, and the use of spices is alluringly aromatic. Flavours such as cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, nutmeg, turmeric, paprika, cayenne, fennel and caraway abound, as do saffron and sumac, pomegranate, rose water, dates and preserved lemons, almonds and pistachios, apricots and figs.
It sounds exotic, and it tastes exotic as well. The influences on the cuisine are equally varied: Berber, Arab, Mediterranean, Moorish and French all resonate in what is produced at the table.
I love to play around with these tastes and the ingredients to make my own versions of the spice mixes. I love to use chickpeas, making falafel and hummus, and chickpea puree.
Preserved lemons are an essential component in this cuisine, providing an intense sour hit: lamb seasoned with an intense array of spices, eggplant puree, haloumi cheese with pinenuts, and dates and lemon juice.
There are two Moroccan spice mixes that can be the base for both vegetarian and meat tagines. You can build the meal around the use of them to provide intensity of flavour. The first is ras el hanout (head of the shop), a spice mix that is as individual as the person who makes it – the number of spices used is reputed to reach 100 in some cases. (The version I am giving you is more like 10.) The other is harissa, basically a mix of chillies and garlic. Again, the recipes for this vary considerably but the base ingredients are always there.
The menu today is a combination of tagine, harissa and couscous and salads. The salads act as a contrast to the rich, spicy tagine.
Mix 1 tsp each of coriander, cumin and fennel seeds. Toast in a dry pan until they become aromatic. Grind in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. Combine with the following: 1 tsp each of ground turmeric, cinnamon, paprika and cayenne; 1/2 tsp each of ground ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves and salt. Store in a sealed jar.
1 roasted red pepper
1 tsp tomato puree
1 tsp each: toasted, ground coriander and cumin seeds
A pinch of saffron
2 hot chillies
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp olive oil
Combine all the harissa ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. This will last in the fridge for about a week. It is delicious with many different dishes – try it with vegetable dishes as well as fish.
Feeds 4-6
1kg boneless lamb shoulder
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
2 Tbsp ras el hanout
1/4 cup fresh coriander
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp saffron
1/2 cup beef stock
1/2 cup pitted prunes
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Cut the meat into 4cm squares. Heat a large tagine or casserole, add the oil and the lamb and brown on both sides. Remove from the pan and keep warm. Pour off any excess fat, then add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook for five minutes. Add the ras el hanout and cook for a minute. Return the meat to the pan and add the coriander, honey, saffron and stock. Reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour. Add the prunes and cook for a further half an hour. Adjust seasoning and add sesame seeds before serving.
Half an eggplant, cut into cubes
2 zucchini, cut into cubes
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, finely sliced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
400g cooked chickpeas
2 medium potatoes, cut into cubes
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
2 Tbsp ras el hanout
1/4 cup fresh coriander
4 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp saffron
1/2 cup vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Heat a large tagine or casserole and add the oil. Saute the onion, garlic and leeks.
Add the eggplant, zucchini, pepper and ginger and cook for five minutes.
Add the ras el hanout spice mix and cook for a minute.
Add the chickpeas, coriander, saffron and stock. Turn down and simmer for about 45 minutes.
Adjust seasoning before serving.
Serve with couscous.
1 green pepper, charred over a direct flame and peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
3 tomatoes, cut into chunks
1/2 cucumber, peeled and seeded and chopped into chunks
1/2 red onion, sliced
Bunch of Italian parsley, chopped finely
10-12 black olives
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Combine all of the ingredients and make the dressing from the oil and lemon juice. Toss well.
1 cup grated apple
1 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup chopped coriander
1 clove of garlic
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp ground cumin
Combine all of the ingredients and toss well, and sprinkle with toasted chopped almonds.
Travel Diary: Memories from Morocco
by Laura Aumeer on 27 Sep 2011
Morocco is a country full of clichés and travellers “finding” themselves.  Despite this, I didn’t quite know what to expect when I arrived. It seemed difficult to imagine that you could land anywhere completely different on a twenty quid Ryanair flight from Spain.
When I first arrived in Marrakech, the first hostel I stepped into fitted all of the clichés: colourful sequined cushions, mint tea and shisha, and only minutes away from the Djemaa el-Fna, with its heady mix of snake charmers, performing monkeys, and food stalls selling harira soup, snails and hot herbal teas. However, the first people I met were not soft-spoken hippies, who could “feel the love”, but a group of Glaswegians drinking vodka on the roof terrace. Needless to say, I felt at home. And before you tut about Brits abroad, they were going to Pacha Marrakech, with the largest sound-system in North Africa and in fact a very Moroccan experience.  Young Moroccans in Marrakech are more likely to spend a night there than by snake charmers in Djemaa el-Fna; in fact, the club was full but with very few tourists.
But, this was not a clubbing holiday, and I soon wanted to get out of the tourist-traps that are the old Medina and souks of Marrakech. In two and a half weeks, I travelled to the imperial cities of Casablanca and Fes, the kitesurfing and surf town of Essaouira, the arts centre of Asilah and, my favourite place, the beautiful, relaxed town of Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains, where everything is painted blue. Travelling by a variety of local buses was an experience in itself, and I soon realised that bus culture differs quite markedly between countries. In London, it is only teenagers “misunderstood-by-society” at the back of the top-deck that play tinny music from their mobile phones; in Morocco it was everyone, including middle-aged men. And then there were the sellers on the buses: the most surprising piece of merchandise being Quranic verses on cassette, demonstrated by a man playing one from a 1980s style boombox as he walked up and down the aisle.
Morocco’s differences are its main draw. I soon got used to the bartering, and the local differences in the charade that has to be played out to make sure you don’t get (very) ripped off. And while some Moroccans’ views of England consisted solely of fish and chips, David Beckham and the Queen, and someone offered to buy me for 5,000 camels, most Moroccans were friendly and relaxed, not thinking twice of inviting tourists to share with them as they broke fast. Moments such as seeing goats up a tree in the argan fields on the way to Essaouira, eating chickpeas from a paper-cone on the beach, or watching old women pick prickly pears kept reminding me that it really was possible to get somewhere so different on a twenty pound flight.
Unfortunately, it was apparent that many others had realised this too, and while I relished the chance to meet so many other travellers, at times, experiences were marred by crowding and poor-quality, unnatural, expensive services, goods and food aimed at rich Western tourists. Two very different trips to waterfalls made this stand out most. From Marrakech I went to the Cascades d’Ouzard, the largest waterfalls in North Africa. These were undeniably stunning, but crowded, and surrounded by expensive food and guides who wouldn’t leave you alone. In comparison, in the Rif Mountains, after trekking with ten other travellers in the heat, we came across seemingly untouched waterfalls that were ours to cool off in. We saw no other sign of life, apart from some local boys who came to cliff jump (proving to be much braver than ourselves) and the local fauna and flora, including a rather timid monkey.
With Morocco being such an easy destination to reach, it would be easy to assume that it cannot provide the beauty, mystery and culture of other further afield destinations, and some areas are merely imitations of former glories. But, from browsing the souks in Fes and surfing in Essaouira to walking the blue paths of Chefchaouen, I’ve seen that not only is it possible to get somewhere wholly different in a few hours on a budget flight, but a few hours on a bus can take you to a landscape that’s completely unexpected.

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