Monday, January 03, 2011

Moroccan News Briefs

Morocco's Medical Support Programme

Two years ago Morocco began a pilot project for a medical support programme for the poor.. The project was held in Tadla Azilal. Next month, the programme, called "RAMED", will finally go nationwide.

"To ensure the scheme is successfully rolled out, the health ministry has made a lot of changes, including increasing the drugs purchasing budget to 1.4 billion dirhams in 2010, compared with 50 million dirhams in 2008," Health Minister Yasmina Baddou said.

Health Minister Yasmina Baddou is facing criticism for delays in broadening the medical aid programme.

Despite some delays, she said the programme has been a success.

RAMED will release many people from the obligation of presenting a certificate to prove poverty before receiving free treatment at state-run health centres.

The medical assistance is aimed at 8.5 million Moroccans, 4.5 million of whom are in relative poverty, with the remaining 4 million in absolute poverty. Among the beneficiaries are 100,000 prison inmates, orphans and homeless.

Australia says Morocco is important.

Morocco is the most important country in North Africa with which Australia ought to develop economic and political relationships, "The Australian" says.

"If ever there were a state in North Africa that Australia ought to be developing an economic and political relationship with, it's Morocco," foreign editor Greg Sheridan underlines, highlighting the relevance of Morocco's innovative approach in the religious field.

"Morocco is determinedly on the side of the friendship with the West, and on the side of moderation. It co-operates closely on security with the US and the European Union," he adds.

On the other hand, Sheridan says that since the terrorist bombings that rocked Casablanca in 2003 "Al-Qaida in the Maghreb has tried hard to infiltrate Morocco, but without great success."

Greg Sheridan was part of an Australian parliamentary delegation, who paid a four-day visit to Morocco to inquire about the local development process in the southern city of Dakhla.

The members of the delegation also held a series of talks with several Moroccan officials and businessmen on ways to strengthen bilateral cooperation.

Facebook First?

In a first of its kind, Moroccan minister for Youth Affairs and Sports offers to publicly exchange thoughts on his Facebook page, once every week, with fellow netizens. And he is doing well with over 21,000 friends and his tone is very laid back. "Moncef Belkhayat Chers amis, tous mes voeux de bonheur, de santé et de prospérité pour cette nouvelle année 2011!". Expect him on Twitter soon. You will find him here

Politics and Religion

The idea of separating politics and religion is stirring up fresh controversy in Morocco, following a debate hosted last week-end by students at Casablanca's Institut des Hautes Etudes de Management (Institute of Higher Management Studies).

Mohamed Sghir Janjar, anthropologist and publication director of academic journal Prologues, was very blunt about the subject. "Morocco is experiencing secularisation at a faster pace than was seen in European countries. This is due to colonisation, changes in the nuclear family and urbanisation," he said.

In his view, there has been a change in the role of religion and the religious era. He called this "latent secularisation".

"There is a gap between what is said and the situation in reality," Sghir Janjar said. "While religious ideas are promoted, there is latent secularisation which is experienced but not consciously thought about. This is why when you ask people if they are in favour of adopting a degree of secularism, they reject it, even though they are experiencing it."

Ali Bouabid, a politician and member of the USFP (Social Union of Popular Forces) central office, asked several questions. "Is the separation of religion and politics beneficial for a country such as Morocco? Might this not be divisive?

Korean Contract

South Korea's Daewoo Engineering and Construction last week announced it has signed a 1.2 trillion won ($1.04 billion) deal to build a thermal power plant in Morocco.

Daewoo said in a statement it will complete construction by April 28, 2014, under the deal signed with a company called Jorf Lasfar energy company

Cyber Terrorism Thwarted

Moroccan authorities have announced that they recently arrested six extremists suspected of using the Internet to plan acts of sabotage involving the use of car bombs both inside and outside the country.

"Ring members developed considerable expertise in bomb-making" through the Internet and planned to "carry out acts of sabotage involving the use of car bombs," according to a statement issued by the interior ministry.

It said the suspects were targetting "some foreign interests in the kingdom as well as several key national installations and security posts."

Authorities did not say exactly when the ring was dismantled, but an official speaking on condition of anonymity said the six were arrested around December 10 in the northeastern towns of Oujda and Nador as well as in Casablanca.

He said this marked the first time a cell "specializing in terrorism via the Internet is hunted down and arrested" by Moroccan security.

Marrakesh Marathon

Over 5,000 marathon runners will meet in the stunning city Marrakech, where they will race around the 42,195 kilometre circuit on 30 January 2010. The marathon is famous for being one of the prestigious marathons in the world and most of the world’s top international marathon runners will be in attendance.

The event is a good occasion for runners and non-runners alike as thousands of visitors head to Marrakech to take in the palm filled city and enjoy the temperate winter climate. Temperatures average around 20 degrees centigrade during the winter months so January is a good time for an event like this.

The festivities will take place over three days with the opening ceremony kicking off the event on 28 January 2010. Youngsters can take part in the children’s race on 29 January 2010 with the full marathon taking place on 30 January 2010.

Visitors are likely to check into Marrakech hotels for the entire weekend, which means that hotels will be at full capacity.

Lek Boonlert, marketing head at commented: “The event is one of the prestigious marathon’s across the world and many famous names will travel to the city to run in it. Runners and non-runners can soak up the beautiful setting but are advised to book hotels in advance as the best ones will fill up quickly.”

Algerian Singer Causes Unrest

French-born Algerian singer Faudel stirred controversy during a concert in Morocco after refusing to hold the Moroccan flag on stage and raised speculations about the role of politics in a cultural event.

While singing at the Festival International Rawafid Azawane in the southern city of Laayoune, Faudel angered audience and officials by repeatedly refusing to hold the Moroccan flag.
When one of the audience lifted a little girl who carries the Moroccan flag to the stage, Faudel’s manager did not allow the girl to advance towards the singer except after taking the flag from her.

In another incident, an elderly man went up the stage with the Moroccan flag and started dancing while trying to put the flag on Faudel’s shoulder. Faudel, however, kept evading the man politely and resumed singing. After a few minutes, the man withdrew with his flag.

The majority of the attendees, whose numbers reached 25,000, were indignant at Faudel’s reaction, which was captured by several journalists and witnessed by several officials present at the event. According to them, Faudel should have held the flag since Morocco is the host of the festival.

Chess comes to Marrakech – for a second time

Originally the Arabs brought chess to Europe – now France is paying back the debt with a pilot project in Morocco. The French Chess Federation President and vice-President went to Marrakech to distribute 200,000 pamphlets to school children. Their enthusiasm moved the visitors to tears. Jean-Michel Péchiné, editor of Europe Echecs, reports:

We were taken to see an orphanage and a college in Aït-Ourir, around 40 kilometers outside of Marrakech. It was a pilot project. They are distributing 200,000 chessboards, with the rules of the games printed as a pamphlet, to the pupils of the "South League of Morocco". Together with that was distributed a text I wrote, which was published in French and Arabic, on the subject of what chess owes to the Arabs.

The visit was incredibly emotional. Just take a look on the photo below and try to picture all these young the boys and girls shouting like the crowd in a football stadium. Just because we were there and Larbi Houari and his team were distributing a small pamphlet. Jean-Claude Moingt, Joanna Pomian and myself, we just cried. The smile and joy of little children is sacred!

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