Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Marrakesh feels the strain of mass tourism

We have written before about the downsides of mass tourism and as the weather improves and the number of tourists skyrockets, the debate will surface again.

A really interesting article by Tom Pfeiffer has just appeared on Alertnet. In the article he looks at various aspects that were raised in a recent survey.

"Tourism brings only illnesses and social deviance," said one young man in a recent survey of local attitudes.

"You're wrong," interrupted his mother. "It is thanks to these people that we have bread to eat."

The government wants to double the number of tourists to Morocco to 10 million per year by 2010. Last year it approved investment projects around Marrakesh worth over $2 billion.

The aim is to divert some of Europe's wealth and narrow a glaring wealth gap.

Marrakesh may be only an hour by plane from Spain's Costa del Sol but it lies in a country that last year ranked 123rd out of 177 in the U.N. Human Development Index, which measures such factors as child mortality and health care.

The city's population has doubled in two decades as droughts led to a gradual exodus from the surrounding countryside.

Tourists are drawn to the old medina's narrow streets where mules and scooters jostle just yards from the trickling fountains of shaded traditional riad courtyard homes.

But veiled women sit begging near marble-clad riad hotels that cost up to 3,000 dirhams ($350) per night. Security guards are posted at the doors of new shopping malls.

Foreigners have bought and restored more than 1,000 riads in the medina, creating much-needed work for local craftsmen but also forcing house prices up five-fold in 10 years.

Some tourists flout travel advice and dress scantily, or sunbathe on their hotel terraces, shocking the local women hanging out their washing.

Ageing European men can be seen socialising with young Moroccan women in the city's night clubs, stirring suspicions that sex tourism is growing.

Europeans complain of being hassled to buy gifts -- without realising competition is fierce. One purchase could feed a shopkeeper's family for days.


Morocco's moderate Islamists, tipped to do well in parliamentary elections this year, say they would not reverse the government's tourism drive if elected.

But they say European tourists and home-buyers must respect local customs and pay decent wages to Moroccan employees.

"Some foreign residents took maids and security guards but did not pay them proper wages, just giving them old clothes and a few coins -- they saw luxury at a low cost," said Younes Bensliman of the Islamist Justice and Development Party.

Local activists say poverty and the breakdown of family ties leave many young people vulnerable to exploitation: newspapers have written of street orphans lured with gifts to houses where they were abused and filmed by foreigners.

"It's a growing phenomenon," Adil Abdellatif of Moroccan human rights group AMDH. "There are cases we know about but we know there are others. It's the tip of the iceberg."

Police have told worried locals that child sex tourism is not widespread and the situation is under control.

Little escapes the authorities because of Morocco's traditional network of "moqaddems" -- government agents who keep a close eye on local life and pay car park attendants and cigarette sellers for information.

In over 80 cases of child sexual abuse documented in Marrakesh since mid-2004 by the association "Ne touche pas a mon enfant" (Don't Touch My Child), eight involved foreigners, Abdellatif said.

Many Marrakshis hotly deny they are swallowing their pride for the sake of tourist dollars and say they want visitors not just for their wallets but for the diversity they bring.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A quick break - in Paris.

What with internet outages in the medina of Fez and some pretty ordinary weather (4 to 14 degrees Celsius and rather damp) we decided to take a break and head to Paris for a little R & R.

We should be back on deck around March 2nd - and resume posting all the news that's fit to eat. Also, The View from Fez team have invested in some brand new, top of the line, photographic equipment so that we can increase the number and quality of the pictures with our stories.

Coming up will be a new series on day trips from Fez, interviews with the house renovators and restoration experts and hopefully a series on the various bloggers active around Morocco.

Later in the year we will have full coverage of the Fez Sacred Music Festival and other cultural events. So stay tuned.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Morocco Raises Security Alert Level

Morocco has raised its security alert amid the threat of an Al Qaida strike.

Moroccan security sources said authorities have raised the threat alert to Code Yellow in wake of an intelligence report that Al Qaida-aligned insurgents have infiltrated the North African kingdom. They said the insurgents intend to conduct a series of attacks in Morocco.

"We believe that the terrorists have come from Algeria," a security source said.

The sources said Code Yellow, one below the highest level of alert, required authorities to increase security at all installations regarded as critical and sensitive. They said this included Western embassies and diplomatic residences.

Following the recent movements of terrorist groups in the region, Morocco has taken the required measures to ward off any attempts to harm the security and stability of the country and to guarantee the security of its citizens and their properties.

The statement was made Thursday by Communication Minister, Spokesman for the Government, Nabil Benabdellah who quoted Interior Minister, Chakib Benmoussa as saying that such measures take into account the events and operations that took place in the region, and the dismantling of a number of terror networks.

These measures are also geared towards "raising the level of awareness of the public opinion about these dangers and mobilizing everyone for the protection of our country," Interior Minister said during the weekly cabinet meeting held this morning.

Benmoussa also assured that these actions are purely domestic.

They affect the transit points in ports and airports, and aim to raise the vigilance against the movements of the cells watched over by the security services due to the significant upsurge of the degree of threats weighting on the region, he said.

The minister’s statement came few hours after the announcement, Thursday, of the arrest of seven alleged members of the group "Salafia Jihadia" in the Moroccan central city of Meknès.

Reliable source told MAP the group members are aged 24 to 26 and are university-educated. They were allegedly preparing to commit criminal and terror acts against military bases, universities, hotels and government buildings.

Four of them were released, while three others were kept in custody pending further investigation.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Morocco moves to ban child maids.

"We aim to create a Morocco that is worthy of its children." - Yasmnia Baddou

As we reported last year, Morocco has been active in the fight against all forms of child labour. For some time concerns have been raised about the number of very young girls being taken from their rural homes and put to work as domestic servants.

Yasmnia Baddou (pictured above), Morocco's secretary of state for family, childhood and the disabled, last year said that the new law she was introducing aimed to "create a Morocco that is worthy of its children" and would focus on "regulating domestic labour and punish all use of little girls as maids."

According to the US rights group Human Rights Watch, Morocco has one of the highest child labour rates in the Middle East and North Africa. This is despite the fact that Moroccan law bans children under 15 from working.

However, a survey carried out by Morocco's employment ministry, the rights group International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) and the World Bank, found that some 600,000 children between the ages of seven and 14 work in Morocco - 11 percent of the country's children in that age group.

The Human Rights Watch's report issued in December 2005 said that "girls as young as five work 100 or more hours per week, without rest breaks or days off for as little as six and a half Moroccan dirhams (about 70 US cents) a day. These girls are often exposed to physical and even sexual abuse and denied schooling."

New Initiatives

Morocco has now launched a national program to fight employment of little girls as maids and help them enjoy a better life.

Dubbed Inqad (rescue in Arabic), the programme provides for an array of measures and calls for pooling efforts to reach the goals of the ten-year National Action Plan for the Childhood aiming to eradicate the employment of little girls, through opening new vistas for a better future where they can enjoy all their rights.

Yasmina Baddou said employment of children under the age of 15 decreased from the 2004 level of 600,000 to 177,000, and pointed out that at the heart of the problem was illiteracy, school drop-out, illegal immigration and large network of intermediaries involved in the illegal activities.

Baddou highlighted the efforts made by her department to encourage girls' schooling in rural areas, increase the minimum ages of children's access to employment from 12 to 15 years, prohibit the use of children under the age of 18 to carry out dangerous work and consolidate coercive laws.

Inqad, which was devised by the State secretariat in charge of Family, Childhood and the Disabled, also aims at re-integrating these domestic servants into society.


Problems booking a riad in Fez?

I know how frustrated you must feel. You have sent off an email asking for the Magic Grotto room in your favourite riad - and nobody has replied. You tried ringing and nobody answered. Well imagine what it is like at the other end of the line. The phone won't work and the internet has been down for five days. That is five days being unable to conduct your business. No bookings, no confirmations from intended guests. It is not hard to imagine that thousands and thousands of dollars is being lost every day.

The internet outage in the Medina.

One of our anguished readers travelled into the Ville Nouvelle in order to find an internet cafe so she could send in this personal response:

The god with the winged feet has been hobbled and the red planet appears to be travelling backwards. Of course it isn't, it's an optical illusion. But Mercury being retrograde, all forms of communication are at risk, as are machines and vehicles. This is the time when the washing machine breaks down, the flight's grounded, your phone charger goes on the blink or, indeed, emails won't go. Vast swathes of the medina are affected and while we can sometimes get on line and receive emails, we certainly can't send them unless we come to the Ville Nouvelle.

This has been going on for about 5 days. It means that the general Fez-visiting public must think that all the guesthouses and Fez Riads are ignoring them, that we don't want their business and they can just all go to Marrakech instead. Far from the truth - there is much tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth. Please put this on The View from Fez! I'd put a banner across the top of my website too if I could get on line! Oh, and Mercury will be retrograde until the 12 March. Will I have any teeth left to gnash or hair to tear by then?
So, if you have been trying to contact Fez Riads, or even just your friends, please be patient. They still love you and will be online again soon, inshallah.


Last chance for discount accommodation in Fez

A reminder about the discount of 40% is being offered by Riad Laaroussa - It is only for a very limited time and you will probably need to be quick. The discount is only available for the first week in March.

Discount accommodation is almost unheard of in Fez, but one of our favourite super-riads has decided to make a move in that direction. It is a good sign of competition in the market place and hopefully other riads will respond by lowering some of their prices. The value-adding of free Moroccan cooking lessons is also a smart move as Moroccan cooking has become popular worldwide and a chance to learn in Morocco is bound to be popular.

Contact Riad Laaroussa,
3 Derb Bechara, Fes-Medina, Morocco .
+212 74 187 639


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Fodor's Travel Guide to Fez

While many people pack a copy of Lonely Planet, one of the other guides worth looking at comes from the famous Fodor imprint. While there is a wealth of information in their new edition about Morocco in general and Fez in particular, they also have a quick version on the net. Here is a sample from their weblog.

Fez is one of the world's best-preserved medieval cities, and provides Morocco's most challenging and rewarding urban experience. However, for first-timers it can be a confusing place, so we've pulled together some tips on getting around and where to stay, plus other helpful information.

Spend More Than One Day

In their rush to see as much of Morocco as possible, many visitors rush through Fez, spending only one night. This is a mistake, as Fez is not only the root of Moroccan history, tradition, and culture, but becomes more enjoyable the longer you stay. On your first day, the time-capsule medievalism may overwhelm you with its intensity. It'll take another full day of losing yourself in the labyrinth of anonymous derbs (tiny alleyways) to gain the confidence to find the treasures that lie just off the main auto-accessible road.

Stay in a Riad

The reason to come to Fez is to explore the medina, the labyrinthine old section of every Moroccan town. There's no better way to do it than to stay in a riad (a traditional medina house-hotel built around a courtyard). Fez has riad hotels for all budgets and in all styles. Each bedroom usually has an en-suite bath and sitting area, but keep in mind that televisions are rarely found in bedrooms. You can book a room, as you would at a regular hotel, or rent an entire riad and live like pashas of old. Check out some listings at agencies like Marrakech Medina and Terre Maroc. A room in a riad can cost anywhere from 600 dirhams a night (about $60) in a simple place to 5,000 dirhams a night for a sumptuous suite. Make sure to double and triple check your reservations, as it's not uncommon to arrive and be told that your three-room reservation has been changed to two-rooms. Also, call your hotel upon arrival to arrange a pick-up, as riads are often hidden down tiny streets and might be hard to find while dragging your luggage.

Be Sweet to Your Feet

You'll be doing a lot of walking. Wear comfortable, closed-up shoes, especially if you're visiting the tanneries, as there are often mysterious puddles or donkey droppings. When your legs and brain need a break, duck into one of the myriad havens behind the unremarkable medina doors. For example, if all you need is a quick mint tea break, sit at the delightful café on the roof of the Musée Nejjarine, at Place Nejjarine near the center of town. Otherwise, treat yourself to a decadent lunch at Palais Mnebhi, located on Souikt Ben Safi, just steps away from the medina's major sights. The interior is magnificent, and the food -- a multi-course bonanza of chicken tagines, couscous, Moroccan salads and sweet pastries -- is outstanding.

Get a Guide

You can get by without a guide in most parts of Morocco, but a guide on your first day in Fez is indispensable. Although getting lost and finding your way out of the maze of streets is a must-do experience, you still need to see the sights, and there's almost no hope of finding them on your first day alone. Your hotel can arrange to have a guide pick you up from your hotel, or you can hire one through the tourist office (guides are about $35, or 350 dirhams for 7 hours). You can arrange guided walking tours for as long or as short a period as you wish. Expect to pay around 150 dirhams for a long afternoon tour.

To Market to Market...

Fez is basically one enormous, overwhelming market. Learning the rules of the game will keep you from getting fleeced, and help you come away with souvenirs you actually like. First, don't buy anything on your first day; instead, compare prices in different shops and get an idea of what's out there. Secondly, bargaining is everything, and confidence is key. Even if you have no idea what you're doing, knock off about half the quoted price of any object you want and pretend to leave if they don't budge.

The Ensemble Artisanale, on Rue Alla Ben Abdellah, a short taxi-ride away in the Ville Nouvelle, is a great shopping option. It's a government-run cooperative, so prices are set according to actual guidelines (you still have to bargain a bit, though). Each of the major crafts -- pottery, ironwork, woodwork, rugmaking -- is represented by a single workshop with specially trained craftsmen. The lanterns made by Haddadi Ali are especially recommended, as they're of much higher quality than most lanterns you'll find in the medina. Many merchants will wrap items well and ship them home. (You can also arrange for shipping through the DHL office on Avenue des F.A.R. However, it's a good idea to pack an empty bag in your luggage for items you'll buy on the trip.)


"What should I wear?" is one of the most-often asked questions by first-timers to Fez. Fez is probably where you'll see most locals in djellabahs (the traditional long dress worn by men and women), so visitors should dress as conservatively as possible while still being comfortable. Since so many visitors to Morocco are French, the fashion bar is set pretty high. Temperatures are in the 80s for much of the year. However, men should always wear long pants (shorts are strongly frowned upon in Morocco, except at the beach). Women in tank tops can get a lot of stares, so you'll probably feel less conspicuous in a top that has at least short sleeves.

Other Tips

Look around when you hear the word "Balek!" This is roughly Arabic for "Watch out!" Donkeys fill the entire width of the street, and you'll often have to press yourself against a wall to make way for the beasts of burden or for men carrying goods on wheelbarrows.

Make sure you have plenty of small change. Tipping people five or 10 dirhams is expected for almost every small service rendered, from showing you around the tanneries to providing directions.

Drink lots of water. The city streets can get hot and close during the afternoon. When buying bottled water on the street, check that the seals on the lid have not been opened. Sometimes people fill bottles with tap water. The safest thing to do is to drink bubbly water, which can't be faked. Sidi Ali is a good local brand, and you can get a small bottle for about 5 dirhams.

Try Royal Air Maroc. There are no direct flights to Fez from the U.S. The easiest way to get there from the U.S. is to take the nightly Royal Air Maroc flight from JFK to Casablanca and get the short connecting flight to Fez. The flight usually costs between $650 and $900, depending on the season. Spring is high season in Morocco, but fall is also a great time to visit, provided you avoid Ramadan, when the entire population fasts during daylight hours.

Here is another example of their hit list.

Destination Morocco: Fez and Marrakesh

Fez and Marrakesh continue to be Morocco's most popular tourist destinations, and with good reason. Fez is the Arab capital of Morocco, its center of learning and culture, and home to the oldest university in the Western world. Marrakesh, the dreamy burg at the base of the High Atlas Mountains, is perhaps more sensual than Fez, but history and archaeology buffs will find it no less compelling. One could easily spend a month -- or several -- in either city, but if time is limited, here's a quick-hits tour of both cities.


Bab Boujeloud
This gate is 1,000 years younger than the rest of the medina, but it's generally considered the city's most beautiful point of entry.

Andalusian Mosque
One of Fez's most imposing structures, the mosque was erected in AD 859. The detailed carvings in the eaves are the main attraction.

Attarin Medersa
This is arguably the loveliest medersa in Fez, famous for its graceful proportions and elegant, geometrical carved-cedar ornamentation as well as its excellent state of preservation.

Bou Inania Medersa
First organized in the 10th century, the university is considered by many to be the Western world's first center of higher education, predating Oxford, La Sorbonne, and Bologna.

Nejjarine Museum of Wood Arts and Crafts
The museum displays Morocco's various native woods, 18th- and 19th-century woodworking tools, and a series of antique wooden doors and pieces of furniture.

Kairaouine Mosque
One look through the doorway will give you an idea of the immensity of this place. It was Morocco's largest mosque until Casablanca's Hassan II Mosque came along in the early 1990s.

Dining Tip: Al Firdaous (10, rue Zenjfour) has mastered the art of Moroccan tagines, pastillas, and couscous. Expect belly dancing, Berber Gnaoua music and exceptional service.


Menara Garden
A popular rendezvous haunt for locals, the garden is a peaceful and refreshing removal from the intense hustle and bustle of the city itself. (photo, right)

Ali Ben Youssef Medersa
North Africa's largest such institution, the medersa is an extraordinarily well-preserved 16th-century Koranic school.

Djemâa el Fna
Centuries-old meeting place of regional farmers and tradesmen, the Djemâa stretches as far as the eye can see, flanked with small mosques and a series of cafés.

El Badi Palace
This 16th-century palace's vast sandstone ruins are now a serene nesting ground for storks. Along the palace's south wall are a series of underground dungeons and corridors, which you can freely explore.

Saadian Tombs
The mausoleum complex was discovered only in 1917 during the French Protectorate. The central mausoleum, the Hall of Twelve Columns, which contains the tombs of Ahmed el Mansour and his family, is dark and lavishly ornate.

The medina's well-preserved walls measure about 33 feet high and 7 feet thick. Until the early 20th century, the gates were closed at night to prevent anyone who didn't live in Marrakesh from entering.

Dining Tip: Dar Marjana (15, Derb Sidi Tair, Bab Doukkala, opposite Dar el Basha) has exquisitely delicious couscous, lamb tagine, and a troupe of lively Gnaoua musicians. Do try the mahia -- fig liqueur. The staff is charming and the fixed price includes unlimited drinks.

Find out more here: FODORS


Fez Medina suffers internet outage.

To live in the ancient Medina of Fez and be able to check your email or post to your blog has always seemed something of a miracle. Surrounded by all that ancient history, and yet enjoying modern communications is a wonderful thing, however, this week the internet problems returned to the Medina with many users suffering a total loss of connectivity.

The exact nature of the outage is unclear at this stage, but we are assured that Maroc Telecom is on the case and that normal service will soon be resumed - inshallah.


Film news from Morocco.

For the last three weeks or so a 16th century palace in Marrakech has been transformed into the infamous American prison camp in Guantanamo Bay to set the scene for a movie being shot there, Moroccan media reported on Tuesday.

South African director Gavin Hood is using the castle as a backdrop for his political "Rendition", starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon and Peter Sarsgaard.

The film tells the tale of a CIA analyst in Cairo who witnesses an unorthodox interrogation of an Egyptian chemical engineer suspected of being a terrorist.

The El Badia palace has, according to the Moroccan daily Aujord'hui, been completely transformed to resemble Guantanamo, even featuring Moroccans walking around in the American camp's notorious orange jumpsuits.

The Moroccan part of the shoot is scheduled to last for eight weeks, and will include a scene shot in Essaouira.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Seismic Danger in Northern Morocco

Following on from the latest earthquake, (A 6.3-magnitude quake, whose epicenter was located 160 kilometers off the Portuguese coasts, was felt on Monday in various cities of Morocco, in addition to the region of Lisbon, Andalusia and Madrid) Morocco and Spain are launching a project to assess the danger of seismic activity in Northern Morocco

According to the Spanish scientific website Andalucia Investiga, the project, funded by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECI), will be carried out by the Jean University (Andalusia), Grenada University and Mohammed V University in Rabat.

Stage one of the project will see scientists collect data about the seismic risks in the North of Morocco, and the potential damages that can be generated by an earthquake.

The Moroccan and Spanish experts will, in the second stage, analyse the geotectonic studies in the region to accurately determine the level of seismic risks and the potential consequences of potential earthquakes.

This region, the most important in terms of seismic activity in Morocco, has been of particular interest after the 2004 earthquake in Al-Hoceima, which claimed 600 lives and caused important material losses.

The work team will also elaborate a "viable and thorough seismic catalogue" of the region, which includes all data about earthquakes in Morocco.


Palm tree looting in Morocco!

One of the most unusual stories to come from Maghreb Arabe Presse in recent time is that of the case of the looted palm trees. Yes, that's right, some evil rascals are out and about ripping up palm trees and then planting them in their own plots. Not easy work one would imagine, but certainly profitable.

For their part, the Moroccan government are not amused and has warned against the behaviour. The looting of palm trees apparently is a phenomena in the south of the country where date palms contribute 60% of the agricultural incomes of 1 million people in the region.

According to the news agency, the warning came in a statement by Secretary of State in charge of Rural Development Mohamed Mohattane who recalled that Morocco had adopted a new law and sketched a national programme to combat all forms of palm trees looting.

We are uncertain as to the number and variety of forms of this behaviour, but Mohamed, who was on a visit to Ouarzazate, said that the law recently passed by the two chambers of the Parliament aims at fighting all risks that ravage this oasis product.

He explained that that measures are being taken to restructure and promote this sector, insisting in particular on the need to conduct awareness-raising campaigns. Under the new law, offenders will be fined between USD 450 and 900, and will also be compelled to hand back and replant the looted palm trees, at their expenses. Don't say you haven't been warned.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Travel Writing about Morocco - Part 15

Continuing our occasional series on travel writing in which we look at the good, the bad and the indifferent, our scouts picked up an anonymous piece written for the Olive Press, the East Andalucian fortnightly newspaper. It is a pity the author's name did not appear as we could have paid them a vague compliment for the style, while deducting a heap of points for the tabloid mention of Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, David Beckham and actor Orlando Bloom. Yes, and there are those dreadful cliches "Morocco a country of rugs, riads and snake charmers" - but overall we found it a readable though worrying about the kind of people such writing would entice. Maybe a few extra Pommy expats over from Spain for the weekend.


See that land mass shimmering on the horizon? That is Morocco a country of rugs, riads and snake charmers. Now it is accessible as it is hip thanks to an incredibly quick new 35-minute hydrofoil service from Tarifa.

One part fashion shoot, one part giant bazaar, it has never been easier to spend a couple of days in the magical kingdom where Brad Pitt and Angelina, David Beckham and actor Orlando Bloom have recently been on holiday.

Sure, you have heard the stories about the rip off merchants, bag snatchers, ropey food and hygiene standards. And yes, you will have to be a little careful with what you eat – not to mention be prepared for something of a culture shock. But that is
all part of the fun and if you take my advice as a regular visitor, you should
avoid some of the obvious pitfalls and fall in love with Morocco’s vibrant colours, smells and breathtaking mountain scenery.

For me, the journey held particular interest, the route once being travelled by thousands of expelled Moors and Jews from Ronda (where I now live), who went on to settle in Chefchaoeun. Retracing their steps I wanted to compare and contrast the enduring architectural legacy they left behind in Spain with the mountain escape they went on to create. Arriving in Chaouen, as the locals call it, is always a curious sensation having first turned up on the bus for 20p, two decades earlier. A much needed escape after a whistle stop tour of the Imperial cities of Fes and Meknes, I will never forget how the excitement turned to irritation and rapidly to panic as a friend and I got attached to a particularly virulent hustler straight off the bus. We were easy prey, two fresh faces sixth formers on a week’s tour of Morocco and we were soon being led into the medina with the promise of the cheapest rooms available. Naturally, we ended up in a rabbit hutch with our guide Abdul sitting on the end of the bed smoking the strongest marijuana cigarette imaginable.

Abdul was one of the many pushers who once gave the town a disturbing edge. We ended up paying him well over the odds to leave us in peace and woke up to find my personal stereo gone in the process. Thankfully, we did not see him again (we later heard he had been stabbed in a street fight) and went on to enjoy the stunning hill town, which was then only visited by a raggle-taggle band of hippy travellers who gave the place a somewhat downbeat and dreary feel...

Oh dear... read the full article here: Through the Moorway to Africa

Earlier Travel Writing stories:

Travel Writing Fourteen.
Travel Writing Thirteen.
Travel Writing Twelve.
Travel Writing Eleven.
Travel Writing Ten.
Travel Writing Nine
Travel writing eight
Travel writing Seven
Travel Writing Six
Travel Writing Five
Travel Writing Four
Travel Writing Three
Travel Writing Two
Travel Writing One


Morocco feels the earth move.

Although most people in Fez were oblivious to it - the earth did move on Monday at around 10.30 GMT. Yes, another earthquake, although according to a number of reports it only lasted a few seconds and resulted in no damage and no injuries. The interesting thing according to seismologists is that this appears to be part of an earthquake cluster with the last two earthquakes hitting on the 30th of January. In that case it was probably a primary quake and an after-shock, as this first was just over seven on the Richter scale and the second down to level five.

Monday's quake was reported by news agencies in the region with the Kuwait News Agency saying that the people "rushed onto the streets" and saying that it struck Rabat, Kanitra, Al-Jadida and Casablanca. According to the Moroccan Geophysics Institute, the weak magnitude of the earth tremor was so low that it was unable to produce a tsunami.

Head of the service of earthquake surveillance at the ING, Jebbour Nacer, told a Moroccan TV channel that the tremor, registering 6.3 points on the Richter scale, and we can expect it to be followed by weaker quakes.The epicenter according to ING was about 260km offshore from the capital, Rabat.

The Facts

The U.S. Geological Survey report states that the 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck at 1035 GMT 335 kms (210 miles) from Lisbon and 345 km (215 miles) north-west of Casablanca in Morocco.
Portugal's press also reported the quake being felt in Lisbon and the Spaniards were saying it hit Andalucia. Reuters was reporting that "Mobile phones briefly stopped working as people made urgent calls to check relatives were safe. The tremor revived painful memories of an earthquake in the Moroccan town of Al Hoceima in 2004 which killed nearly 600 people and made thousands homeless."


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Affordable hoilidays for Moroccans.

While we have addressed hundreds of issues concerning visitors to Morocco, very little attention has been paid to internal tourism. Now, according to Sarah Touahri for writing for Magharebia in Rabat, all that is to change and one of the destinations chosen to be featured in April - is Fez.

In a bid to eventually double the number of holidays spent in recognised commercial accommodation from the current level of 1.1 million per year to 2 million by 2010, Morocco plans to promote internal tourism, according to Abbas Azzouzi, chief executive officer of the Moroccan National Tourism Office.

Sociologist Jamal Choufani explains that even though Moroccans have always travelled, the majority stay with relatives or friends to avoid paying for a hotel. He believes Morocco has not yet managed to develop a full range of hotel services or tourist facilities which adequately meet people’s needs in terms of affordability and flexibility.

For that, the tourism office plans to develop products that all Tunisians can afford. Azzouzi says that his department based its plans on a survey by an international agency on the behaviour and expectations of Moroccan holiday-makers. The survey, in which 6,000 people took part, showed that 73% of domestic tourists favoured family accommodation.

Plans are under way to create packages catering to the needs of every segment --campsites, tourist residences, family holiday villages -- as well as integrated tourist zones in various regions of the country.

A theme-based promotion timetable has been drawn up taking school and national holidays into account. At the beginning of this year, the focus will be on the south, in particular Ouarzazate, Zagora, Merzouga and Errachidia. In April, destinations with significant natural potential such as Tetouan, Chefchaouen, Ifrane, Fes and Meknes will be promoted to Moroccans.

The strategy is based primarily on "Kounouz Biladi" (The Treasures of my Country) -- a plan involving the creation of eight different tourist zones in major national tourist destinations and offering competitive prices. Partnership contracts have been signed with three travel agencies to implement the plans and promotional campaigns are planned to take place before the launch of each of the three initiatives.

Read the full article here: Maghrarebia.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Moroccans call for Guantanamo closure and freeing the abducted.

This week Moroccan Human rights organizations repeated their call for the shutting down of the infamous Guantanamo detention centre, "cemetery of the living" and "scandal against humanity."

The call was made at a conference on "Guantanamo and Globalization of Human Rights Violations", on the occasion of world campaign to shut down this shameful detention centre.

Secretary General of Moroccan Observatory of Prisons, Abderrahim Jamai, said what is going on in this detention centre will have repercussions on all over the world, underlining that, legally speaking, the people there are "not detainees but abducted ones"in prisons beyond any control.

He said the testimonies of former "abducted people" reveal the absence of the most basic rights of prisoners as worldwide recognized (right to know detention reasons, trial date and conditions and right to defence).

Echoing Jamai, president of association “Adala” (Justice), Abdelaziz Nouidi, underlined that meetings with former Gitmo detainees revealed the dangerous abuses of international law, notably arbitrary detention and torture incriminated by international conventions.

These testimonies, he said, revealed that detainees suffered from human rights’ abuses, as they were electrocuted, with their eyes folded and their hands tied and deprived of food.

President of Amnesty/Morocco, Mohamed Sektaoui underlined that Guantanamo symbolizes the violations perpetrated during the “war on terror” campaign, calling for releasing all the innocent detainees and conducting fair trials conform to international standards.

According to the Pentagon report, issued on May 16, 2006, there were 759 detainees in Guantanamo prison, including 18 Moroccans, accused of belonging to Al-Qaeda and Talibans.

The US administration has released nine Moroccan detainees (five in August 2004, three in February 2006 and one in October 2006), while it transferred five others, holding double nationality, to their residence countries in Belgium, Great Britain, France and Spain.

See all our earlier stories on Guantanamo.


Surfing Morocco in March

If you are reading this in the UK, you are most likely freezing cold and recovering from the snow storms. The notion of going surfing is probably the last thing you can imagine, but here is a thought. Join a surf trip to Morocco and head down Taghazout, a small village just outside Agadir. The trip runs from March 18 to 25.

Find out the details on ArtiZany


Friday, February 09, 2007

Moroccan tourism update

Recently we mentioned that there was expected to be an influx of Italians coming to Morocco (a 30% increase is the figure given) and now according to our friend BO18, the Russians are on their way. While the possibility of a new air route between Agadir and Moscow would be a great help, the groundwork was laid last year as we reported in November - The Russians are coming - King Mohammed VI has sent a message via Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, offering Russian citizens visa-free entry. Putin responded by giving strong support to the move and issued a message which said in part..."The decision will definitely encourage tourism and business contacts between our nations."

Last year we also mentioned the growth in trade between the two countries: According to the latest full year figures issued by the Moroccan trade statistics office, the country imported 6.72 billion dirhams (615 million euros / 719 million dollars) worth of Russian goods, particularly clothing, other fabrics and paper and packaging materials.

Its exports to Russia that year, worth 727 million dirhams (about 66 million euros / 78 million dollars), consisted mainly of fish and fisheries products, canned foods and textiles.

Meanwhile, Morocco Savvy, is reporting that Royal Air Maroc is about to start flying into Atlanta and that Ryanair is cancelling the route between Girona (Barcelona) and Marrakech, which were due to start next month. As we have reported previously, Ryaniar seems to be in all kinds of trouble and has still not sorted out the mess that began when it jumped the gun, advertising flights for which it did not have approval.

In an interesting post to Technorati "sturky" had this to say:

Two weeks ago I booked a flight from Marrakesh to Girona for April.

By accident, I found out on the internet they would drop the route.(A press release from ryanair) Funny, two days ago it was still possible to book the flight, but now it is not a part of their network anymore. The route Was planned to start at the end of March and tickers were for sale since +/- 1 month.

So, Ryanair is playing with me and they stay within the rules of the European Airline. That rule says that they can cancel flights at least 2 weeks before departure without any reason. Btw, they didn't sent me an email yet, nor anything to see in my booking on the website. they have time enough. Ok, i get my money back but have to search for a alternative for this piece of my trip.

That means, Ryanair can just offer flights on new rout(es) and if the interest for the route not is what expected, they just cancel the flights and route for another route wich give more profit. And ....if they cancel your flight, You have to ask back the money.

It is a free and the best market test for ryanair

What "sturky" didn't mention is the fact that Ryanair refuse to repay the tax component of the bookings. Many people have attempted to recoup them, but come up against a coperate stonewall. Shame Ryanair Shame.

But, to happier things. With tourist numbers up in Morocco, there remains one important question to be asked. How many Moroccan tourist guides speak Azerbiajani. Why? Because according to a report from Baku, the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Morocco, Sabir Agabeyov, has announced that there is a plan to create an Azerbaijan-Moroccan Intergovernmental Economic Co-operation Commission. The Ambassador said that the Governments of both countries have already begun the negotiations on this issue and that tourism was part of the plan.


Morocco's road toll continues to climb

The number of accidents on Moroccan roads continues to climb and this week Fez was the scene of the most recent addition to the statistics. In the latest incident, three people were killed while on the side of the road, pushing their broken-down car when a van, heading from neighbouring Sefrou to Sidi Yahia, ran into them. All of the victims died on the scene.

The government has a programme to cut down the road toll, but until driver education is increased and policing improves, we can expect the carnage on the roads to continue.


A boost for disabled sport in Morocco

The paralympic mascot for Beijing

Good news for the disabled in Morocco comes today from the announcement that in 2007 the Royal Moroccan Federation Sport for Disabled (RMFSD) will implement a project to develop and promote sport activities for persons with a disability. The RMFSD is officially recognized as the National Paralympic Committee of Morocco by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

According to the IPC, the goals are to facilitate social integration and personal development through participation in sport. The project is composed of several activities, including training for sports instructors and support for organizations for persons with a disability to develop physical and sport activities. In addition, the project will promote sport events for persons with a disability to inform the public and media as well as encourage dialogue and exchange among Moroccan organizations.

Additional project partners include the Moulay Rachid Sports Institute, the Moroccan State Secretary in charge of the Family, Solidarity and Social Action and the Moroccan Association of Sports Press.

Charity & Sport, a Dutch organization that aims to bring the worlds of sport and charity closer together and which became a funding partner of the IPC in 2005, together with the Dutch National Co-operation and Development Organization, have committed Euro 13,000 to support the project.

For more information on the project, please contact the RMFSD at For more information on Handicap International please visit their website


Guantanamo - An Australian perspective.

Just for a change of view, here is a little glimpse into the way Australians view the horror that is Guantanamo Bay. The issue is very hot in Australia because it is the only country that has refused to try and get its citizens out of American hands. The last Australian, a young man called David Hicks, was unfortunate enough to be in Afghanistan when the war was declared. He actually never fired a shot and under Australian law has not committed any crime. The public are outraged by the indifference of the Government. For five years he has been abused, humiliated and locked away, chained to the floor. Almost 80% of Australians want him set free.

This year there is an election and suddenly the Prime Minister, John Howard, is aware of the public mood and is attempting to change his previous stance.

In the animation that was produced for the national newspaper The Australian, features first of all Alexander Downer then (down the bottom) "Little Johnny" Howard... others to make a guest appearance are George Bush and "Rummy".

Enjoy the Australian sense of satire here: Guantanamo - Hick's Lucky Day.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hot gossip from the Medina. #2037

Well you know spring is here when Louis da Fez packs his bags and heads to the hills. In this case the hills are the twin peaks of Chefchaouen. Now, not content with just taking a break while his major domo -Mouaniss runs the renovation and restoration project of his unusual and interesting house, Dar Mernissi, Louis da Fez is actually seeking to increase his property portfolio.

Louis has been down this track before and goes into the deal with his eye wide open: My experience with an ex partner before should have warned me about getting involved in another project of that type but hey ho you only live once, and people over here leap into projects with such abandon and spirit of adventure that its refreshing although probably not rational.

The story seems to be that the last time he and Aussie Pete and Karen were in Chaouen, they had a high old time and fell in love with a house. So, if you are in the mood for a bit of "what the hell - let's do it" investment. Make contact with the big man.

Over at Dar Rouah, Jenny and Jon have started the long hard slog on renovation of their really cute little house: The courtyard is a real mix of traditional beldi (traditional) and romi (new) Moroccan decoration. The walls and are highly decorated with carved plaster, carved and inlayed wood and zelij (mosaic) however all of the plaster has been painted over in thick white paint. The wood was covered in thick brown paint but this has since been removed by us. Unfortunately the courtyard floor has modern tiles.

And while we are talking of the renovation crowd, mention must be made of the Dar Mystere blog, which has also sprung back into life after the recent rain.

Something that struck me on my last visit to Morocco was the apparent drought. When I had visited Fez for the first time almost exactly a year before, I travelled down from Tangier with Louis on the train and was pleasantly surprised at how verdant the country appeared. The meadows were awash with wild orange, yellow, white and blue flowers and the fields green with what looked like broad beans (or fava beans). It turned out they were to, and my first dish at Riad Norma that night was a broad bean soup. Good stuff - apparently broad beans help your body produce serotonin, the chemical that keeps you happy, also the chemical that us old ravers may have depleted slightly in the 90s having too good a time. Anyhow, this year things were looking browner in the campo and there has been much less rainfall.

It seems things are getting better, or wetter in the past few weeks, and that must be relief for the farmers.

The crew from Dar Mystere also report on a trip to Sidi Harazem to "take the waters."

Now for a hot rumour!

There has been much disquiet about the rules and regulations concerning rental properties in Fez. The short term holiday rental market has been on hold until the overly restrictive situation changes. Well, we are happy to report that our spies suggest a change is soon to be announced. We will keep you posted.

Bringing your kids to Fez.

Three recent emails asking us about how safe it was to bring children to the Medina seemed a bit of a worry. I'm not sure where the idea came from that it might not be safe, but I can assure you from experience that children love Fez and Fez loves children.

Over the past few years when I have been with families that have young children they have all been astonished at how warm the locals are to their children. The downside? Well, your kids had better enjoy being kissed, cuddled and given treats.

By the way, Dar Mystere is actually planning to have a child-friendly and child-safe guest house.

Mouaniss with Nathan & Nisha (photo credit Mark Siung)


Sunni versus Shia - we are all losers.

All the while, as alliances of convenience are forged, and as the big powers play out their ambitions in different parts of the region, hostilities between Sunnis and Shias grow. The Middle East is heading for a period of sectarian and civil war. It will not be the only loser.- Zaki Chehab

Recently our friend Zaki wrote a really interesting article for the New Statesman in which he explores the clash that has the potential to do more damage to the Arab states than anything the Americans can do. Zaki Chehab is the political editor of the Arabic TV station al-Hayat-LBC, and was the first journalist to broadcast an interview with members of the Iraqi resistance. Zaki is the author of Iraq Ablaze - Inside the insurgency.

Here is an excerpt from Zaki's article followed be a link to the original.

The clash between Sunni and Shia Muslims across the Arab world is already the greatest single cause of strife around the globe. It is taking place within countries and between countries. It has been brewing for years, but only now do governments appreciate the dangers. The hanging of Saddam Hussein in late December took the problem to a new level. Sunnis saw the timing of the execution, on the eve of Eid al-Adha, one of their most significant festivals, as a deliberate insult. Shias worldwide celebrated the death of a man whom they saw as an oppressor. Now the United States and the rest of the western world are attempting, belatedly, to stabilise a situation that they themselves played a major role in creating.

Two years ago, King Abdullah of Jordan warned that a "Shia crescent" was being established across the region. He was referring to the growing influence of Iran in Iraq, Iran's support of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the strong alliance between Tehran and Syria. The resurgence dates back to the 1979 Iranian revolution, when the religious Shia regime of Ayatollah Khomeini ousted the secular, pro-western shah of Iran. The eight-year Iraq-Iran war could have turned into a Sunni-Shia conflict, particularly as, in the eyes of many, Saddam appeared to be fighting on behalf of all the Sunni regimes in the Gulf. That it did not was because thousands of Iraqi Shias saw it as an Arab-Persian conflict, rather than a sectarian war between Sunnis and Shias in both countries.

Shias constituted the bulk of the Iraqi opposition in exile, and Saddam's downfall ensured that it was only a matter of time before the majority group would seek to regain control. The Sunnis' refusal to accept the change coincided with the arrival of extreme elements associated with al-Qaeda and other Sunni organisations in Iraq. Now, two parallel battles are raging in Iraq: the one of resistance to the American-led occupation, the other a sectarian war.

Read the full story here: Sunni v Shia.


Casablanca Book Fair - Moroccan Creation: New Tendencies


A few days ago we reported on the Casablanca International Book Fair - a really great event which runs from today until the 18th of February. Well, yesterday it was launched by the King's younger brother, the very charming Prince Moulay Rachid.

However, it was not the charming prince that caught my eye, but the promotional line used as the fair's motto - The Moroccan Creation: New Tendencies. Thrilling! Exciting! My heart pumping with anticipation! NOT. Now I don't know if it suffered in translation. Maybe it sounds particularly interesting in French or Arabic - but it was yet another time when a great event had a less than inspiring theme. For some reason the PR and publicity folks in Morocco tend to go for the uber-bland when it comes to themes. You have probably seen the kind of thing I am talking about. For example, a season of new plays: Dramaturgical Variances - Maghrebian thematics. Or... Diverging Tributaries; Semantic discourse, for a poetry reading. Now, I confess that I did make those up, but you get my drift. For the book fair, well, I would love to hear your suggestions. Go wild, email me!

Being serious again, (quoting from Maghreb Arabe Presse) according to organizers, this year's edition aims to index and analyse the new tendencies of creation in Morocco, while taking account of the changes that took place in the different fields of daily life.

With 600 exhibitors from 59 countries, the fair is meant to be a place of exchange and discovery in favour of the new generations of creators, initiators say, adding that the cultural event wants to promote the works of young writers in front of a large public. The 2007 edition includes meetings, round tables, shows, conferences, lectures, presentations and book signing ceremonies.

Prince Moulay Rachid also handed over the Morocco Book Award of 2006 offered in several categories, including "literary creation", "literary and artistic studies", and "translation". Hopefully next year there will be a category called - "Really exciting new books"!


Morocco sells Tangier!

No, don't be alarmed. We mean not "sell" as in dispose of, but "sell" as in to promote the benefits of! You have to give it to the Moroccans, they are certainly on the ball when it comes to the promotion side of the equation. With the new Tangier port being seen as gateway not only to to Morocco but all of North Africa, the operators of the port are keen to promote the benefits of doing business in Tangier.

Often when we think about the sea links to Morocco we forget about Gibraltar. Not the Moroccans. Yesterday the new port operators took up the invitation of Gibraltar Tourism Minister Joe Holliday which was given last year when he visited Morocco.

Joe Holliday ( the tall guy) at TangierMed last year

The operator of the new Tangier port made a presentation yesterday to interested parties about the benefits and opportunities in the new port

A presentation and press conference took place yesterday as part of events organised by the TangerMed port authority in conjunction with InvestGibraltar of the department of trade and industry.

The new TangerMed port says it will be one of the largest in the Mediterranean in respect of container services. The meeting was also informed that it will have RoRo and passenger facilities and other services. There are special customs and fiscal regimes, and abundant workforce with wages starting at $0.8 per hour for unskilled workers.

And now - The Italians.

Italian travel group Alpitour and the Moroccan government are set to sign a three-year partnership agreement with the aim of doubling by 2010 the number of Italian tourists to Morocco, which now stand at some 19,000.

The document will be signed on February 9 at Hotel Mansour Eddahbi in Marrakech in the presence of Daniel John Winteler, president of Alpitour's global unit Alpitour World, and Morocco's Tourism Minister Adil Douiri.


The Jewish Museum of Casablanca

You will find the Museum of Moroccan Judaism at 81 Rue Chasseur Jules Gros, in Oaisis, Casablanca. It is certainly worth a visit and for those who know little or nothing of its history and the history of Jews in Morocco, then you will probably find the article "Curating Casablanca" by Eric Trager (2006-2007 Islamic Civilizations Fulbright grantee based in Cairo) worth a read.

At first glance — given the recent history of Jews in Arab lands — the statistics for Morocco’s Jewish community are unsurprising, even if startling. A population of roughly 265,000 in 1948 has dwindled to merely 5,000, as most Moroccan Jews have immigrated to Israel, Europe and North America. Yet Morocco, almost an entire continent removed from the Arab-Israeli conflict and Gulf-based radicalism, maintains a decidedly different outlook toward Jews when compared to most other Arab states.Copies of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” prominent staples of any newsstand in Beirut or Amman, are not noticeably available on the streets of Rabat or Casablanca. Old Jewish quarters, virtually forgotten and replaced in Alexandria and Damascus, have been meticulously preserved in Marrakech and Fez. And synagogues — heavily guarded in Egypt, even when not in use — stand without patrols in all of Morocco’s major cities. Jewish schools and synagogues in Morocco receive government subsidies, while King Mohammed VI retains the counsel of a Jewish senior adviser — a truly remarkable gesture in this part of the world.

This relative comfort historically enjoyed by Morocco’s Jewish community is brought to life at the Moroccan Jewish Museum of Casablanca, which prides itself on being the only museum of its kind in the Arab world (oddly, it is also the only museum in the Casablanca area). Founded in 1996 in the posh suburb of Oasis, roughly 15 minutes from downtown Casablanca by taxi, the museum serves as the base for the greater effort of the Foundation of Jewish-Moroccan Cultural Heritage to conserve and present the Jewish history of Morocco.

The museum primarily features a wide range of Jewish artifacts from all over Morocco, including synagogue furniture from Meknes, Larache and Tetouan; traditional Jewish garments from Fez and Rabat, and an assortment of scrolls, menorahs, mezuzot and ark lamps. Furthermore, it maintains a catalog of (French-language only) videos on Moroccan Jewry, as well as a photographic exhibit on Jewish communities of the 1960s. Perhaps most interestingly, the museum displays a collection of texts and plaques written in the unique Moroccan Jewish dialect: Arabic, interspersed with Berber words, written in Hebrew characters. A guided tour of the exhibits costs 30 dirhams (about $3.50) and takes about an hour.

The museum was founded thanks to the efforts of Simon Levy, who continues to serve as director. Levy, a retired university professor and the author of a French-language book on Moroccan Jewish history, presents his heritage with an overwhelming sense of pride and purpose. “Moroccan Jewry is the most important in the world, culturally,” he said. “Every Moroccan rabbi was a scholar and recorded the history of [his] community, which has preserved our knowledge of these communities. Morocco is the only place in the world where Jews lived continuously, with at least some rights, for over 2,000 years.”

The rest of the article is here: Curating Casablanca

The details:

81. rue chasseur Jules Gros
Director: Simon Levy
Curator – Zhor Rehihil
Telephone: (212) 22 9949 40


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Moroccan bloggers and the secrets of e-commerce

I get the feeling your blog’s success is not measured in unique visitors or page views but the number of comment spam caught and back links from content scrapers stealing your stuff. - Baron VC

In the last couple of days we received a large number of visits from people who posted comments such as: Great site. I will add a link. Please visit my site at or or russian brides etce etc... All very boring and it is taking some time to clean up (our comments will be back up once we have completed the housekeeping). But it did start us thinking about the quote we posted above, from Blogger Baron VC.

Is spam a sign of success? Well, we take Baron's point, but figure we could do without such attention - flattering or not.

At the same time we had been looking around the Moroccan blogosphere in response to a comment from a Finnish blogger, Pentti Halonen, who had written saying he found it interesting that so few Moroccan bloggers were involved in e-commerce. He had been hunting and found some interesting though probably not highly accurate statistics.

With blogs that have been running for more than a year or so he found that around 60% of them carried no advertising content. The 40% who did so, appear from what he could ascertain to be based in Casa or Marrakech. Also a majority of them were French language blogs. Some sites, such as Bloggal org are in fact nothing but advertisements and it has to be asked just how much traffic such a site will get without having any content.

So why is this interesting? Well, according to our correspondent Pentti, 'Sixty percent of Moroccan bloggers are missing out on potential earnings. The problem for most bloggers is that there are probably few adsense-type services that will pay into Moroccan bank accounts. However some should allow postal payments via cheques.'

So are Moroccan bloggers missing out? Or is the so-called e-commerce bonanza a lot of hype and hot air? Our feeling is that (to quote"Content is still king. But if you venture into my little world, you’ll find that packaging is queen, promotion is the crown prince and a baity title is the Sword of Excalibur."

And the latest form of promotion that a great number of the Moroccan bloggers have employed is link baiting and social media marketing - where your blog is linked into a social network of "friends". Mybloglog is one form of social network building that is packed with Moroccan bloggers and it probably has contributed to much more linking between sites. However, at the end of the day, if the content of the posts is not particularly interesting, you are not likely to spend much time on a return visit. It was the experience of Mybloglog, that in the early days bloggers were linking to almost anyone in return for a reciprocal link. What this produced was meaningless lists of "friends" with content not even slightly related to any common theme.

Link baiting (or linkbaiting) is a bit of a buzz word at the moment and has come to be the preferred way to natural link building.

It means to create something that naturally attract backlinks for your web page by getting people to talk about it, discussing it on forums, blogging about it, posting it on and linking to it from their sites. It also attracts a lot of visitors.

The secret, according to the experts lies in the title. Your post may be interesting, but unless the headline grabs a reader you might as well not bother. There are even sites now that advise how to write headlines.

The sites that are used to promote stories work on a voting system which, sadly, is open to manipulation. Here are the sites most often used by Moroccan bloggers.

  • Toot. This is a site that gathers together Arab bloggers. It is still small but growing. Because of its small base it does not take many votes to get to number 1! As we discovered. It does however deliver readers with common interests.

  • Digg is a huge site which is weighted towards a techie audience
  • Delicious - which is the one used by The View from Fez and a lot of webmasters and bloggers

  • Netscape seems to be the tabloid area - and not frequented by the techie crowd.

  • StumbleUpon is another bookmarking site that we get a large number of hits from, though we have never worked out quite why!

  • Finally there is Technorati ( which we also use) which assembles posts by topic tags. For example when you click on the "morocco" tag below you are presented with a list of 2,795 blog posts tagged Morocco. Enough to keep you reading for a while,

    Our thanks to our reader, Pentti for the info.


    Spring in Fez

    Another wet week with the night temperatures around 7 degrees Celsius and a high of around 17. But things are about to get better. Clear skies mean that the evening temperatures will be lower heading up to the weekend, but by Saturday we should be comfortably around 21 to 22 during the day. All of which means - Spring is on the way and after the rain we should be seeing the wild flowers come out.

    This is the time of year when it is an absolute delight to get out of the Medina and head to the hills. Locally, that can mean Mt Zallagh, but a trip to Meknes, or up to Ifrane and beyond is worthwhile, just to experience the carpet of flowers that appear at this time of year. Enjoy it now because in a couple of months you will be hanging out for the shade and a cool breeze.


    Tuesday, February 06, 2007

    International book fair in Casablanca

    The annual Casablanca international book fair starts on Friday, so if you are after a copy of Abdelhadi Tazi's Histoire Diplomatique du Maroc or Al-ahbas al-islamiyya fil-mamlaka al-maghribiyya or even Fihris al-makhtuutat al-'arabiyya wa-amazighiyya and Al-Manaahil: Al-'Imaara fil-maghrib qadimaan then this is the place for you.

    Not only old manuscripts but more than fifty Moroccan writers and a special exhibition of the work of the French speaking Belgium community.

    So, if you are in Casa - this is your chance to stock up on a bit of culture. Enjoy!


    Monday, February 05, 2007

    British robber may be exchanged for terrorist.

    According to the Kent News (UK), Lee Murray could soon be on his way back to Britain. As a key suspect in the £53 million Securitas robbery he could well be part of a prisoner exchange.

    Back in June last year we reported how Murray was arrested in the Moroccan capital Rabat, with friend Paul "The Enforcer" Allen. (See our story here.) The arrests were a joint operation with Kent Police in connection with the £53 million Securitas raid - Britain's biggest cash robbery, in Tonbridge, Kent, which took place on 21 February 2006. Kent Police are seeking the extradition of Murray for questioning in connection with this robbery. No extradition treaty between the two countries exists. Murray, who has a Moroccan father, was arrested with friends who were found with a quantity of hashish and cocaine. If found guilty of this, Murray would need to serve time for it in Morocco first

    It has now been reported Mr Murray could be returned to Britain in exchange for suspected terrorist Mohamed Karbouzi, who lives in London, and is wanted for questioning over bombs that killed more than 40 people in Casablanca in 2003. Spanish police also want to question him over the Madrid train bombings which killed 191 in 2004.

    Derek Parker, Mr Murray's solicitor, said: "We know that during this meeting the Moroccan delegation requested the extradition of Karbouzi. I have been told by a legal source in Morocco that Lee is likely to be extradited, but we don't know when."

    A spokeswoman for Kent Police would not comment on reports of the swap deal, saying only: "Extradition proceedings are underway."

    Eleven people charged with robbery and kidnapping over the Tonbridge robbery are due to go on trial at the Old Bailey on April 16

    Morocco has tried and convicted Karbouzi, 44, of terrorism in his absence but under UK law he is still innocent. If Karbouzi is sent to Morocco it would be an unprecedented move - Britain does not extradite people to countries with the death penalty. However, by April, the Moroccan death penalty may well be a thing of the past (See our story here)


    Climate change has impact on Morocco's fisheries.

    Australia is a about as far from Morocco as you can get, but research being conducted by an Australian could well have huge implications for Morocco's fishing industry.

    Dr Helen McGregor, of the University of Wollongong in Australia, has been conducting research off the north-west coast of Africa that shows global warming has already changed ocean currents in a way that could have a serious impact on fisheries. The warming has led to an increase in a phenomenon called "ocean upwelling", in which deep, cold water, usually rich in nutrients, moves upwards to replace warmer surface water.

    "Our research suggests that upwelling will continue to intensify with future greenhouse warming, potentially impacting the sensitive ecosystems and fisheries in these regions," Helen said.

    Her team collected sediment cores off the Moroccan coast to obtain a record of sea surface temperatures for the past 2500 years. It showed water temperatures off Morocco dropped by 1.2 degrees during the 20th century, and the period from 1965 to 1998 was particularly cold. Helen said this was the result of global warming altering coastal wind patterns in a way that strengthened the ocean's cold-water pump.

    Dr McGregor's report, which has just been published in the journal Science, said there was evidence of similar upwellings in the Arabian Sea, off California, Peru and Chile, also apparently driven by higher temperatures and shifts in winds tied to greenhouse gases.

    The upwellings could be commercially important because areas where cooler waters rise near coasts provide about 20 per cent of the world's fish catch even though they cover less than one per cent of the world's ocean surface. However scientists at research institutes in Germany, Australia and Romania, do not predict whether fish stocks would get bigger or smaller because of the increased upwelling.

    "Upwelling extremely high levels of biological activity, yet the ecosystem response in these regions is dependent on a complex balance of temperature, ocean chemistry, ocean circulation, and fishing pressure," it said. The report, reconstructing a 2,500-year record of temperatures based on seabed sediments off Morocco, said surface waters were the coolest from 1965-98 because of cool waters from the depths.

    "These results strongly imply that upwelling may continue to intensify with future increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and global warming," Helen said.

    Morocco's Fisheries - a quick snapshot

    As the only North African country without oil, Morocco has had to make the most of its other advantages. The ocean off Morocco's Atlantic coast is one of the richest fishing grounds in the world. All together, Morocco's coast line covers 2,141 miles along the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Fishing has been a major industry in Morocco since the 1930's and the industry experienced tremendous growth during the 1980's. Since 1983, the annual catch has exceeded 430,000 tons.

    By the early 1990s exports of fish and fish products were equivalent to 8% of total exports. Over 100,000 Moroccans are employed in the fishing industry. The industry's importance is underscored in both the employment sector and by the over $600 million of foreign exchange that is reaped from the industry each year.

    The fishing industry is comprised of two distinct sectors: the costal fishery and the high seas. Moroccan coastal fishery is made up of primarily smaller, wooden boats. These boats catch mainly low-priced fish including sardines, mackerel and anchovies. Morocco's boats are older, poorly managed and lack technical equipment such as fish finding gear. Therefore, the boats engaged in this fishing only stay out at sea for up to three days. Due to their lack of technical accoutrement, specifically coolers, they often times bring back damaged catches.

    The coastal fleet consists of approximately 2,609 vessels, of which 378 are trawlers equipped with mechanisms that assist with catching deep dwelling fish such as octopus and squid. This sector of the Moroccan fishing industry is facing stiff competition from more modern, better equipped, European boats, primarily from Spain.

    The major species harvested in recent years were sardine (763 689 tonnes), mackerel (25 890 tonnes), horse mackerel (12 268 tonnes) which with anchovy (47 393 tonnes), account for almost 83 percent of the overall landing in quantity.

    Landings of white fish have remained relatively stable over the last years. The inability to expand is partially explained by the fact that the stocks are heavily fished.

    The most important catches are currently landed in Laayoun. This is due to fish stocks migrating southward. This port and Tan Tan, receive around 80 percent of the total national landings and their importance is steadily increasing.

    The fishing area from Safi to Agadir, which supported the largest fishery until the seventies, witnessed a severe drop in resource abundance, which occurred in the early eighties. Consequently, the coastal fleet transferred its activity southward, and the production in the area has been on the decline for nearly 10 years. The downward trend over the last decade made the supply of the canning industry in the area a real issue.

    This report compiled with the assistance of the FAO database.

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