Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Dagger Makers of Azlag

South Central Morocco has been a melting pot of cultures and ideas for many centuries and is home to many thriving artisan communities. This melding of cultures has produced arts and crafts which are distinct from other African Nations. A fine example of this is craft work of the Azlag Dagger Cooperative from the Berber Village of Azlag in the province of Tinghir. The name Azlag means - “come together.”

The art of dagger making goes back over 700 years in this region of Morocco The cooperative (La Cooperative Artisanale Des Poignards Azlag) was found in the early 1980s with the help of the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism. This group is the only one of its kind in the whole country and their craft is an integral part of Moroccan culture. This traditional handicraft provides a livelihood for over one hundred families (almost 1000 individuals) in the village.

Their handcrafted daggers are a blending of designs from Roman, Jewish, Berber, and Islamic influences. One design is the Southern Cross which represents the constellation the Jews used to guide them through the desert. Another symbol is the Hand of Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed, which is said to have had healing powers in her hand. It also represents protection from the evil eye, along with representing the five pillars of Islam. In the local culture, daggers are given as gifts at weddings and at other local celebrations; daggers are common items in household décor.

A dagger made for a wedding present was decorated on one side for the groom and on one side for the bride. The bride’s side usually is made of gold with silver (white) on top to symbolize protection from the hand of Fatima. The groom’s side is usually made only of silver with the Hand of Fatima symbolism throughout the design.

The cooperative is located in the town of El Kelaa M’gouna which is just 90 km East of Ouarzazate and 78 km West of Tinghir on the M-10 – the main road that connects Marrakech to Errachidia. Their site has a large showroom which houses many different styles and sizes of daggers and knives. The location also has over 55 individual work spaces and many of the artisans showcase and sell local jewelry, carpets, hand-woven baskets, rose products and other trinkets from local artisans. Visitors can see the intricate steps of the dagger making process. The showroom is open every day of the week from 10am to 6pm, except during religious holidays where the hours are scaled back.

For more information and to view their photo gallery please visit their Facebook page: Azlag Dagger Cooperative

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ramadan is fast approaching... Ramadan m'barak

The biggest event this week is the approach of Ramadan and the moment when the tiny sliver of moon is sighted to herald the start of the Holy month.The four weeks of Ramadan are observed by fasting during daylight hours and eschewing sexual intercourse and smoking. Exempt are pregnant or breastfeeding women, small children, those travelling and the sick and elderly. Helen Ranger reports

The aim of Ramadan is to remind Muslims of their commitment to God and as a spiritual purification. I don't hear any moans, and people seem pleased to take part and of course have great support from the entire community. It’s also the time to wear traditional clothes; the djellabas are beautifully embroidered and the pointy-toed babouches new and shiny.

Photo: Anita Breland
Fez can be an interesting place to spend Ramadan. Throughout the medina, café tables are piled high with deep-fried sweet pretzels, samoosas and sausage-shaped rolls filled with almond-dotted sesame paste dripping with honey. There are large plastic buckets hanging above the displays which you can buy to take home your purchases. And when you've spent a day wishing you could eat something, a sugar rush from these sweetmeats is probably not what your body needs, but certainly what it craves.

Fez may be the spiritual capital of Morocco, but it's also the home of b'stilla, an extremely thin pastry that makes strudel or phyllo pastry look positively leaden. There's a large plastic bowl of mixture, and men are making the pastry. They take a fistful and roll it onto a griddle with the heel of the hand, as thin as can be. It takes but seconds to cook, and is then whipped off, added to the pile of sheets, and oiled with a pastry brush.

Housewives cram around the pastry cooks and haggle for sheets of the wafer-thin delicacy. They fashion sweetmeats from it, or make the famous b'stilla pies that contain pigeon meat and almonds and are dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon. It's the taste of Fez — sweet yet savoury — and definitely worth trying. B'stilla is always available; it's just that at this time of year it's doubly valued.

Alcohol is forbidden during Ramadan; bottle stores close a few days beforehand, and stay closed for a few days after Eid. If you're a foreigner and really desperate, you can show your passport to a retailer, or go to an upmarket hotel to drink at the bar. Of course, alcohol is forbidden anyway for Muslims, but somehow Morocco has a thriving wine industry and it’s common for people to drink alcohol — except during Ramadan.

Breaking the fast

The fast is broken each evening in homes and cafés across the country as soon as the sun sets.  The iftar, or f'touh food differs little from place to place. There's always harira soup, a delicious concoction of vegetable or lamb stock with tomato paste, chick peas, small pasta, lentils, rice, red pepper, fresh coriander and perhaps some lamb or chicken. It's served with dates and some honey-drenched pastries, delicious pancake-type breads, some stuffed with egg and onion, bread, fruit or vegetable juice, hardboiled eggs with salt and cumin and afterwards, mint tea.

Later in the evening, between 10pm and midnight, supper is served. Here's the meal that the women have spent their day preparing — in between watching Egyptian soaps — from b'stilla to couscous to tagines resplendent with the wide range of fresh vegetables available in the markets.

For more information on Ramadan visit here: MOROCCO IN RAMADAN

Also check out Anita's Feast - Sweet countdown to Ramadan

Photo: Suzanna Clarke
The team at The View from Fez wish all our readers a peaceful Ramadan

Beni Amar’s donkey festival

That will do donkey!

The View from Fez livestock reporter, Rose Button reports from the Beni Amar donkey festival

Any visitor to Morocco will not move far without seeing, hearing or smelling a donkey. So of course you would expect an annual Donkey Festival in Morocco – well it did come as a surprise to me, as a local in Morocco, and I was lucky to experience ‘Festibaz’ the donkey festival of a small town of Beni Amar, which was hosted at Moulay Idriss this July.

What happens at a Donkey Festival? Let me educate you... from my eye witness, on location donkey watching experience!

Donkey’s, and their owners, travel from all regions to participate in the fastest donkey, the prettiest donkey and the best dressed donkey competitions. The stakes were high with each winner winning 2500Dh (250Euros), a bag of donkey feed and high prestige.

The event all started when I could hear cheering from the main square in Moulay Idriss, and being particularly nosey I asked locals what was going on – it is the donkey race and it was being won by the donkey’s from Beni Amar ‘they are just so good!’ the local shouted.

‘she was so gorgeous, she was white and had these most beautiful lips and long nose’.
"She was so gorgeous..."
 Next there was a crowd gathering round the stage where the judging was taking place for the Most Prettiest Donkey. Prior to this I would have thought that a donkey is a donkey, which is just a donkey... but no, the most prettiest donkey was a very pretty donkey. It was described by local’s as ‘she was so gorgeous, she was white and had these most beautiful lips and long nose’. Seriously, that is what not just one, but two people, said to me when I asked them.

At this stage, it was all far too exciting and I grabbed my camera and be part of the action... I slid through the crowd to be ringside for the judging of the best dressed donkey.

It was fabulous! Each donkey was decorated with flowers, balloons, sparkly things. Anything that you would expect a best dressed donkey to display. Each were paraded around and the highlight was the man that danced with his donkey. The donkey’s front hoofs were on his shoulders and they danced around, the waltz I thought??. Half way through the judging there was Gnawa music and dancing and finally the winners were announced. With each announcement there was spontaneous dancing and celebration from the owner of the donkey and his friends. The dancing donkey came second and the winner, the donkey with the flower behind her ear.

Dancing queen...

It was an amazing occasion and I look forward to the Beni Amar Donkey festival in 2012. As I was leaving, a local said to me ‘the tourists don’t think we take care of our donkey’s and this shows that we do’ quickly followed by ‘’take care of your donkey and you take care of you’. Sweet sentiment I thought.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

British Tourists Return to Morocco

In one of the first signs of a turn around in the tourism slump that has hit Morocco following the Marrakesh bomb attack in April 2011,a UK firm reports that holiday bookings to Morocco are returning to a level that is more in keeping with this time of year.

With the explosion taking place at Cafe Argana, located in one of Marrakesh's most popular tourist spots - Jema el-Fna square, it was certainly intended to hit one of Morocco's most important industries – tourism.'s Managing Director Mark Kempster who was in Marrakesh at the time of the attack commented, “To see our booking levels to Morocco return to what we are used to at this time of year is really encouraging. Not only do we promote travel to this beautiful country but it's a personal favourite of mine too, and the bomb attack was very sad news for Marrakesh and Morocco. However, recent figures show our bookings are bouncing back which is fantastic news and once again I think this demonstrates just how resilient British holidaymakers are.”

The latest travel advice published by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is that there are no travel restrictions in place for Morocco. However, for those holidaymakers who are planning on travelling to Morocco it is worth visiting the FCO website to check on their latest advice, plus the site also provides travellers with some excellent guidance regarding travel around the country more generally.

Morocco's Souks Under Siege

The souk or open-air market, has for centuries been an integral part of any cultural discourse in the Middle East and the Muslim world in North Africa. From Muscat in Oman to Fez in Morocco, the souks have also attracted the Western tourist hungry for bargain deals on carpets, delectable ethnic wares, or simply a slice of life in “exotic lands.”  The "Arab Spring" has had an impact on tourism and now the souqs are  suffering. However, the problem may be deeper than that as the the investment website Thomas White pointed out in a published a "postcard from Morocco" which highlighted the plight of the souks. Here is an edited extract.

Morocco has had a rich souk culture because of its appeal to both the Western tourist and the local consumer. Geographically, the nation is not just a place where Africa meets Arabia, it is also close to Europe and, therefore, highly cosmopolitan. And, thanks to the French influence on the country, souks in Morocco have always offered sophisticated or discerning tourists more upscale goods, such as Berber rugs with intricate patterns or modern kaftans.

For Moroccans, souks have historically been a way of life. These are places where they have always met to exchange gossip and buy goods in bulk. In fact, a survey conducted in January reveals that 51% of Moroccans purchase their groceries in large quantities in order to save money. Unfortunately, this is one factor that is now working against souks in the country. With bulk-buying consumers increasingly shifting to modern retail channels and supermarkets, and malls mushrooming throughout the country, profit growth has been slowing for businessmen operating in souks.

So, much like the repeated discounts offered on the lacework in that iconic scene from Casablanca, the Moroccan souk is losing currency these days because of a retail boom in the country. The trend is expected to worsen in the future as Morocco’s retail sector, which accounts for approximately 13% of the country’s GDP, is projected to grow 5% a year. Domestic supermarket players are now firmly entrenched in the country, while foreign firms are expanding rapidly. For example, the no-frills, low-cost Turkish supermarket chain BIM has plans to expand its store network from 45 to 150 by next year. Since it sells discounted bulk items, BIM is expected to do well in the country. Local player Aswak Assalam is also growing its supermarket and hypermarket network. The company now has 11 outlets and it plans to open at least two new ones every year. Some of the other major retail firms that are growing in Morocco include the owner of convenience store chain Hanouty Group and supermarket chain Marjane Holding. Locally-owned Label’Vie has partnered with Carrefour, the world’s No. 2 retail company in terms of revenue, to run Morocco’s first Carrefour hypermarket. French firms such as Galeries Lafayette and Fnac are also planning to set up shop in Morocco.

Having always been a part of Morocco’s cultural ethos, the souk clearly had not bargained for this dramatic change in consumer habits. Perhaps it is time for the souk to market itself better and give Moroccan consumers the hard sell.

Hassan Zaoual - dies in France

Regular visitors to the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music will be saddened to hear of the death of Hassan Zaoual. Hassan had been a guest at the Fez Forums on several occasions. Hassan Zaoual died last week at age 60 in Lille, France.

A brilliant development economist and professor at the University of Littoral Côte d'Opale in Dunkirk, Hassan was known for his theory of symbolic sites of belonging. "I claim that human beings can only function from a symbolic site. The symbolic site, these are beliefs, practices and meaning. (...) A village, a neighborhood, city, region may be symbolic sites. A company too," he explained during a meeting in Fez in 2005. He continued his desire to build cultural bridges between North and South and maintained a strong attachment to his native Morocco.

Friday, July 22, 2011

14 Dead 35 Injured in Moroccan Bus Crash

A head-on collision between two buses killed 14 people and injured 35 in southern Morocco yesterday (Thursday).

The accident occurred in the morning just outside Tinghir, some 420 kilometers south of the capital Rabat, a local government source said, requesting anonymity.

The injured were taken to a hospital in the southern town of Ouarzazate, the source said, adding that the death toll could rise because seven of the injured were in critical condition.

“The cause of the accident seems to be fatigue [of the drivers] and excessive speed,” the official added.

Moroccan roads are among the most dangerous in the world. More than 4,000 people died in traffic accidents in the country in 2009, according to official statistics.

The timing of the accident was bad news for the Government who had just announced a drop in fatal crash numbers for the previous year. The death toll from road accidents in Morocco dropped by 6.53% in 2010 compared to 2009.

According to statistics of the Transport and Equipment Ministry, 3,778 people were killed in 65461 road accidents in 2010.

The number of seriously and slightly injured individuals decreased by 8.53% and 3.55% respectively.

Whiffenpoofs deliver a supurb concert in Fez

The Whiffenpoofs - Every year, 14 senior Yale men are selected to be in the Whiffenpoofs, the world's oldest and best-known collegiate a cappella group. Founded in 1909, the "Whiffs" began as a senior quartet that met for weekly concerts at Mory's Temple Bar, the famous Yale tavern. Today, the group has become one of Yale's most celebrated traditions. And last night they gave their first ever concert in the Fez Medina.
Photo: Tom Fakler

Over one hundred people attended Fez Cafe, for the concert that was sponsored by ALC-Fez/ALIF and Jardin des Biehn. It was probably the most incongruous setting for men in formal dress and yet it worked well. The one moment when the lights failed was rescued by the singers whipping out their phones and illuminating themselves!

Photo: Tom Fakler

It was a huge success. Not only was the music superbly performed, but the humour that accompanied the introductions had the audience in fits.

The ambiance added much to the performance and for a group who have been on tour to over 20 countries, there was no sign of performance fatigue. The Whiffenpoofs were obviously having a great time.

Stand out moments were the beautiful rendition of the traditional Irish folksong, The Sally Gardens, with a fine solo by baritone, Scott McCreary and the surprising and brave inclusion of the James Taylor song, "New Hymn". The song is a rare gem that does not appear on any James Taylor album.

But when we thirst in this dry night
We drink from hot wells poisoned with the blood of children
And when we strain to hear a steady homing beam
Our ears are balked by stifled moans
And howls of desolation from the throats of sisters, brothers, wild men
Clawing at the gates for bread

The chilling lyrics were given a superb delivery by first tenor, Andrew Maillet.

Photo: Suzanna Clarke
The concert at Fez Cafe was sponsored by ALC-Fez/ALIF and Jardin des Biehn

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fez Sacred Music Festival 2012 ~ Re-enchanting the World

The Fez Sacred Music Festival (Le Festival de Fès des Musiques Sacrées du Monde) has announced the 2012 dates: 8-16 June.
The theme is "Re-enchant the World"


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Disgust at Casablanca Art Deco Demolition

In September, The View from Fez published a story on the architectural heritage of Casablanca (see the story here), where we drew attention to the fact that the city has a wealth of Mauresque and art deco buildings. Now that heritage has taken a major blow.

The beautiful Piot-Templier building
In January this year the heritage association, Casamémoire, informed us that the administrative Tribunal of Casablanca had authorised the demolition of the beautiful Piot-Templier building situated on the corner on Boulevard Mohamed V and Rue Chaouia, opposite the Marche Central. The puzzling thing about that decision was that the very same building had been placed on the Historical Monument list by the Minister of Culture.

Now comes the sad news that, despite being on the Historical Monument list, the building has been demolished.

"What is disgusting is they did this under cover of the weekend starting late on Friday - obviously as a way to create a fait accompli" - local resident
The reaction in Casablanca and beyond has been one of anger and disgust

"Destruction of the building Piot-Templar - heritage bleeding continues." - Aufait Morocco

The Piot-Templier building was constructed in 1925 by architect Pierre Ancelle and was alongside the Hotel Lincoln. It housed the well-known Templier china shop and upstairs, the famous restaurant Etoile de Marrakech.

Etoile de Marrakech before and after

Casamémoire reports that many culturally-important buildings are being destroyed to make way for yet more concrete block constructions, and they describe this is as very short-term thinking. Many Casablanca buildings have met the same fate as Piot-Templier - schools like the Ibn Tofail college, villas such as the important Villa Cadet in Oasis, and factories such as Hamelle, while others are in danger of imminent destruction.

It seems odd that on the one hand, the authorities seem to recognise the importance of the rich cultural heritage of Casablanca by deciding to retain the Bessoneau building (Hotel Lincoln) and yet on the other, approve the demolition of Piot-Templier. And all this while the application for recognition of Casablanca as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is being considered.

Casamémoire had started a petition to help save the building but alas, this has failed.

The fact that the building was demolished in spite of a stay initiated by the governor indicates that governance in Casablanca is a mess. As one local tourism operator told The View from Fez "... when things like this happen one feels helpless. Sadly, these vultures move quickly and I can only capture for you the void where once stood a lovely piece of architecture. The cronyism and corruption that permit things like this to happen has to stop".

According to Casamémoire the demolition of the Piot Templier building was..."Not so amazing if you live in Casablanca and elections are coming up - Mayor Sajid approved the destruction, which was done stealthily, beginning Friday night, in spite of a ban on demolitions in the historic district signed by the Governor of the Arrondissement. Now a six-story office building will replace some of Casa's history".

Casamémoire says such aberrations are not lacking in Casablanca! "Saving the Lincoln Hotel, which threatens to collapse at any moment and destroying an old building that was still standing, is absurd, even reckless.

"We are disappointed that the building is being destroyed, while in January, the governor had issued an order forbidding the demolition of prefectural historic buildings in the territory of the prefecture," said a Casamémoire spokesperson.

How was permission to demolish issued? It is odd, given the protection decisions given by various courts According to Abderrahim Kassou, president of Casamémoire, "Sajid has decided to allow the demolition of the building to ground floor plus one floor on behalf of the real estate company Mouyasmama. But it is not only whether the demolition is legal or not, but whether the state at large, really wants to act for the preservation and enhancement of our heritage ".


Friday - the destruction begins
Saturday morning and the top has gone
Sunday and the damage is done

a lone dancer grieves
And the protesters begin to gather
"I am stunned and saddened that Mayor Sajid has allowed this demolition even after a hold had been put in place by the Governor. I hope there will be an official explanation as to how this could be justified." -  Kathy Kriger Rick's Cafe Casablanca


Aufait Morocco's article. "Association for the Protection of the architectural heritage of the twentieth century in Morocco"

Concert in Fez Medina tomorrow night

The debonair songsters, the Yale Whiffenpoofs, are set to serenade the Fez Medina at a free concert on Thursday night at 8.30pm.

The Whiffenpoofs will be performing Fez Cafe, sponsored by ALC-Fez/ALIF and Jardin des Biehn. It's an opportunity to see a premier a capella group in action. See our story here.

If you don't know the way to Jardin des Biehn/Fez Cafe, meet in front of the Hotel Batha tomorrow night at 8.10pm.

New Flights ~ London to Agadir

British Midland International has announced new flights to Agadir commencing on October 29th 2011.

The direct flights to Agadir will operate twice weekly from London Heathrow on Tuesdays and Saturday. Economy return fares start from just £299 including taxes. The launch of the Agadir route follows bmi’s launch to Marrakech and Casablanca earlier this year and the subsequent increase in flights to Marrakech from three to five per week from 1 October 2011.

Joerg Hennemann, Chief Commercial Officer, bmi, commented: “The addition of Agadir will enable us to meet the increasing demand from both corporate and leisure customers. Agadir is a vibrant city on the Atlantic coast renowned for its year round climate, enjoying over 300 days of sunshine per year. Its unspoilt charm and location near the foot of the Atlas Mountains means whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach holiday or something more adventurous the area has something for everyone.”

According to a company press release, bmi will offer a full service Business Class and Economy cabin with conveniently timed schedules for both business and leisure customers. Seating in the Business Class cabin will be in a 2:2 configuration, with the middle seat kept free to offer more space to work or just to relax. A full Business Class service, including hot meals and a fully stocked bar service will be served on all flights.

Customers in Economy will enjoy bmi’s full service benefits such as free checked baggage to a total weight of 20kg and a complimentary food and beverage service, including full bar, throughout the day.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Changing Coffee Culture in Morocco

The composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, known for sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra and solo performances, loved coffee so much he wrote the "Coffee Cantata" and immortalized the drink in the song "How sweet coffee tastes! More beautiful than a thousand kisses, sweeter than muscatel wine!" and he also wrote: "Without my morning coffee, I'm just like a piece of roasted goat fat." How he would have enjoyed sitting in a Moroccan cafe. For, despite the fact that many people associate Moroccans with mint tea, it is coffee drinking that plays a major role in Moroccan social and business life. Yes, mint tea is refreshing and yes, it is probably the subject of more tourist photographs, but Moroccans drink far more coffee. And Moroccan coffee is superb.

Take a stroll past a café anywhere in Morocco and your will see coffee drinkers taking their time over an espresso. The time thing is interesting. The French or Italian habit of a quick caffeine hit, standing at a bar, on your way to work, is not the Moroccan way. Here a single espresso can be sipped for an hour while the day's business is got underway. Sit for a while and you will see that the café is also the "office" from which enterprises are run. The first impression - that of men simply wasting their time in the café - is wrong. Business is being done. People come and go, delivering messages, parcels and money.

While the café is still a mainly male domain, this, like much of contemporary Moroccan life, is changing. Women tourists have broken down the stereotype and their Moroccan sisters have been quick to follow their lead. On a recent trip to the beautiful town of Moulay Idriss, almost thirty percent of the café crowds were women. The upper terrace rooms of most cafés were traditionally the preserve of women, but now they are moving down through the "glass ceiling".

A casual observation would suggest that the women coffee drinkers tend to drink "nus nus", the half-half milky coffee that men might only drink first thing in the morning. The sight of a Moroccan women having a cigarette with her espresso is still rare in the more conservative cities such as Fez. But Marrakesh? Casablanca? Here coffee drinking democracy is in full force.

If making a great cup of coffee is a barista's art, then Morocco is a land of artists. The coffee in many instances is Arabica grown in Côte d'Ivoire. But the best coffee in Morocco is more than simply a good bean well roasted. For the connoisseur there is spiced coffee. In the souqs of Morocco are small stallholders making a living selling coffee and spices. For thirty dirhams (about $3.50) you can purchase half a kilo of Arabica beans that are then ground with a mixture of up to nine spices. These include; nutmeg, black pepper corns, cassia (Cinnamon) bark, sesame and cumin seeds. One of the delights in drinking this spiced coffee is that each shop seems to have a slightly different mixture.

Given the quality of Moroccan coffee, it seems surprising that the large coffee chains should make an inroad into Morocco. Imagine our surprise to find a Facebook page entitled "Bring Starbucks to Morocco!!!" (their exclamation marks, not ours). The group has 450 members all keen to drink fancy coffee. And, even more surprising, the founder of the page claims links to the World Health Organisation. Of course, Starbucks is an acquired taste, but it is a world away from a real Moroccan coffee in both taste and cost.

Then there is the health issue. According to France's le Post, "Un cappucino frappé qui équivaut au quart de la ration calorique d'une femme en bonne santé, c'est possible chez Starbucks. Sur, on apprend ainsi que le Frappuccino en version 50 cl, produit phare de la marque, contient entre 450 et 550 calories en moyenne. Colossal." You do not need to understand French to comprehend that 550 calories is... is, er... well, "colossal'!

And if Starbucks wasn't enough, the latest news from the coffee front is that the Canadian retailer, The Second Cup Coffee Company, has plans to open four new locations in Morocco Mall, Casablanca, with its regional franchise partner, Groupe Amarg, in pursuit of its global expansion plans. The Morocco Mall is also a Starbucks site.

The, company, which has presence in 16 countries across the world, said the new locations are the first four of 20 coffee cafés to open in key locations in Morocco and they will be run in conjunction with Moroccan partner Groupe Amarg. Speaking on behalf of Groupe Amarg, Zouhiar Idrissi said, "We are delighted to be given the opportunity to demonstrate to everyone in Morocco what Canadians have known for decades - that Second Cup is simply the best coffee cafe chain. This is a brand that has a great core product, and we have been enthused by the whole Second Cup team and their passion."

Second Cup International president Jim Ragas said the new locations are scheduled for opening in the Morocco Mall in October, 2011. "Second Cup believes that having strong local owners as operators is instrumental to delivering a superior guest-experience," Ragas said.

According to Groupe Amarg, the Second Cup experience will cater to the Moroccans who are looking for a premium café experience driven by value.

The coffee retailer's international expansion, which started in 2003, has opened cafés in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Syria, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Turkey, the US, Cyprus, Romania and Lebanon.

The company offers espresso-based beverages and iced drinks, signature foods, indulgent treats and premium beverages. We suppose they will also have spiced coffee.

While it is certainly right that Moroccans can choose to have any kind of coffee they like, what is sad is that many visitors may head for the familiar chains and miss out on a cup of real Moroccan coffee in a street café. It is a bit like visiting Morocco and only eating at McDonalds. We could go on, but right now it is time to head to the café for a nus nus. Oh, and it will only cost me five dirhams.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Moroccan Economic and Telco News

A share of the Moroccan Government stake in Maroc Telecom to go on sale.

The Moroccan government said today it wants to cuts its 30 percent stake in Maroc Telecom. It is understood that this stake (based on Maroc Telecom's closing price on Friday) should be worth as much as $1.10 billion (8.86 billion dirhams). If the sale goes as intended the government would retain a share of around to as low as 23 percent.The sale will be through the Casablanca bourse.

The finance and economy ministry said in a statement that on Sept. 7 it would open bids it had received by financial firms to advise and lead the sale of up to a 7 percent stake in Maroc Telecom. It did not say when it expects the transaction to be completed.

In related news, Majd Hosn, a telecoms analyst for Pyramid, says Morocco's telecom sector revenue will see a 4.1% annual growth rate over the next five years. The telecommunications projections position the industry at $5.47-billion in 2015.

Moroccan communications ministry official Ibrahim Saeed told ITNewsAfrica that he is hopeful that these projections will maintain excellent prospects.

“We have worked hard to build a strong IT and telecom sector and hopefully Pyramid’s report will turn out true,” says Saeed.

“The leadership changes and popular uprisings that have spread in North Africa will take their toll on the stability and growth of Morocco,” adds Pyramid.

“However, (the country will) maintain a strong position compared to other Middle Eastern and North African communications markets.”

Tourism receipts up

Despite the present instability in the region, tourism receipts over the the first half of the year rose 9 percent to 24.7 billion dirhams and migrant remittances climbed 7 percent to 26.7 billion dirhams. According to data from the Office des Changes - the foreign exchange regulatory authority - this result is mitigating the potential impact on the availability of foreign currencies.

At the same time, Morocco's trade deficit jumped 24.5 percent in the first half of the year from a year earlier to 93.2 billion dirhams fuelled by higher oil and wheat import bills.

A Museum for the Rif - announced in Al Hoceima

HM King Mohammed VI sent an opening message to the participants in the two-day international seminar in Al Hoceima on "The Rif Cultural Heritage: What Museography?" and announced that a special museum would be constructed to preserve the heritage and history of the northern Rif region.
Driss El Yazami

The message from the King was read by the President of the National Human Rights Council (CNDH) Driss El Yazami.

"The project aims to showcase the heritage and history of the Rif and to seek the means to preserving the collective memory of this northern region," El Yazami said.The Museum will be designed to promote the Rif heritage and highlight its contribution to Moroccan history, added El Yazami.

Local people hope that situating the museum in El Hociema will also attract more attention to the northern Rif area and bring more visitors to the region. With spectacular scenery, mountains and beaches, the northern Rif has great potential for tourism and thus job creation for local people.

In his message HM King Mohammed VI pointed out that "...due attention should be paid to preserving the collective memory of Moroccans, as an essential step on the path to building a full-fledged democratic society. This is a far-reaching project that we are all trying to preserve and consolidate, while pressing ahead with our endeavours to reconcile Moroccans with their history, transcending the shortfalls of the past, and focusing rather on preserving the present."

No date has been announced for project's completion, but two scientific committees have been set up to move the project forward.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Free concert in the Fez Medina

A group of men dressed in dinner suits, singing in the middle of the Fez Medina, sounds an unlikely proposition. But that’s what will happen this Thursday July 21 at 8.30pm at Fez Cafe.

The Whiffenpoofs are a cappella songsters who come from Yale University, Connecticut, and follow a long tradition.

Founded in 1909, “the Whiffs” began as a senior quartet that met for weekly concerts. Today the group numbers 14 and has become one of Yale’s most celebrated traditions.

And the origins of their unusual name? An early member, Denton ‘Goat’ Fowler, was tickled by a joke featuring a mythical dragonfish named the Whiffenpoof, and suggested the name to his companions. They thought the name reflected the light-hearted atmosphere engendered by the group’s gatherings. The name stuck.

The Whiffenpoof repertoire features a diverse selection of songs, ranging from traditional Yale songs to original compositions to hits from every decade. These include the likes of All You Need is Love by the Beatles, Someone to Watch Over Me by Gershwin and When the Saints Go Marching In. There is also the original Whiffenpoof song, which has been recorded by Rudy Vallee, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong, and countless others.

The concert has been organized by ALC-Fez/ALIF and the Jardin des Biehn.

When: Thursday July 21, 8.30pm
Where: Terrace of Fez Cafe, Jardin des Biehn
Cost: Free

Daylight saving ends in Morocco on July 31

Just a friendly reminder for those with flights or trains to catch on Monday August 1, Morocco's clocks will be wound back one hour on Sunday, July 31, as daylight saving ends in the country.

The timing of the return to standard time is set to coincide with the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.

Courtesy of Going Kookies Blogspot

Morocco's National Zoo Nears Completion

The old Temara Zoo in Rabat was the focus of criticism from animal rights campaigners and thankfully it is no more. However, if all goes according to plan, in less than three months the new Rabat Zoo will finally open to the public and, unlike the old zoo in Temara, Rabat will be more than a menagerie of animals.

According Abdeladim El Hafi, High Commissioner for Forestry and CEO of the Moroccan National Zoo, the inauguration will take place in late September or early October. "I think that time-frame is very achievable, since most of the work is now done. We are now in the final stage to deliver the project," he said during the launching ceremony of the promotion operation of the new zoo in Rabat.

The draft plan of the zoo is impressive as are the projected visitor numbers. The zoo hopes to have some 3,000 visitors per day and over a million a year. There will also be a state of the art veterinary clinic and a botanical area.

The zoo has been built on an area of 50 hectares, half way between Rabat and Temara, on a site surrounded by a green belt. An interesting point is the division between the "day zoo" with an area of 25 hectares, and a "night zoo" which will be used for a "Night Safari", reserved for nocturnal animals.

"The design and layout of the new zoo is based on an open concept, with animals in the wild and immersing visitors in the context of a nature reconstituted." ~ Abdeladim Lhafi, High Commissioner for Forestry.

The day zoo is themed so that instead of caged animals visitors can see the richness and diversity of wildlife in various environments such as, Moroccan Saharan Africa, the desert, the Atlas Mountains, African savannah and swamps and rainforest.

According to Abdeladim El Hafithe animals will be arriving soon. "Virtually the entire collection of animals are available. But technically, the zoo will be ready to receive animals in July,"says El Hafi.

There are spaces for entertainment, recreation and edutainment in the last stages of coimpletion. At the entrance visitors are welcomed into a "village home", a kind of gateway offering various services. The village home has four restaurants, cafes and a souvenir shop with a view of the animals and the petting zoo. As one moves inside the zoo, there are more rest areas: five kiosks selling drinks and sweets and restaurants spread over three thematic areas and whose design is carefully tailored to the environment.

Finally, a conference room is available, for outreach and education about the environment and for the general public.

"Morocco has never has a zoo that meets international standards. It will definitely attract many people, as long as there is no competition in that niche at the national level," said the High Commissioner for Forestry.

The price of the ticket is 50 dirhams for adults, 25 dirhams for children (those under 2 years are exempt) and 150 dirhams for families. In addition, special rates are offered to school groups. The objective according Abdeladim El Hafi is to "democratize access to the zoo, while maintaining a balance so that the peak does not exceed the carrying capacity."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

USA - MOROCCO - Happy 225th Anniversary!

Yesterday (July 15) marks the 225th anniversary of the longest unbroken treaty relationship to which the United States is a party. It was Morocco that first recognised the USA as a nation.

J. Peter Pham is director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center at the Atlantic Council and writes for The Atlanticist. Here is an excerpt from his interesting article. For the full story click this link : Atlantic Council

On July 15, 1786 (18 Ramadan 1200), in Marrakech, American agent Thomas Barclay was handed the final protocol of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship by his Moroccan counterpart Taher Ben Abdelhack Fennish. Certified translations of the articles would be incorporated in a document eventually signed by Thomas Jefferson and John Adams as ministers plenipotentiary and ratified by Congress the following year on July 18, 1787. The long-term success of the partnership which emerged from the treaty contains lessons which are still relevant as Washington seeks to strengthen or forge links with other African countries, especially those along the Atlantic coast of the continent.

Although Sultan Mohammed III ben Abdallah al-Khatib was the first foreign sovereign to recognize the independence of the United States when, in December 1777, he included America in the list of countries to whom Morocco’s ports were open, the relationship nearly floundered when Benjamin Franklin was convinced by his Parisian hosts to ignore the overtures of Etienne d’Audibert Caille, a merchant in Sale whom the monarch entrusted with initiating contact with the new country. Fortunately, Caille was persistent and went over Franklin’s head and appealed to the Second Continental Congress which, after some delay, commissioned Jefferson and Adams to negotiate a treaty, recognizing the value of the offer of diplomatic and economic relations to a young nation still struggling for acceptance in the international community.

King Mohammed VI and Hilary Clinton - a great friendship

The treaty relationship between the United States and Morocco was by no means assured, especially given the various obstacles that had to be overcome in order to even sign the accord, much less to permanently renew it in 1836. Nevertheless, more than two centuries after its signing, the pact has proven to have justified both the farsightedness of Mohammed III and the efforts of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. If today the balance has shifted in favor of what Morocco gains from close ties with an America that has grown immensely since the treaty of friendship was negotiated by Barclay and Fennish, nonetheless it remains a vital asset for the United States to continue having the kingdom as moderate – indeed, reformist – ally in the Maghreb as well as a political and commercial springboard for links presently being forged in the geostrategically increasingly important areas along the Africa’s Atlantic coast.

Moroccan Agave - Flowering Season

The Agave plants can be seen in many parts of Morocco and their most well known product, the "cactus silk" that is used in fabric making is famous. At the moment the plants are in flower and it is worth a visit to the countryside to take a look at the sea of yellow flowers on the hillsides.

The Agave only flowers once before it dies and some members of the same family may take decades before flowering. For example the Parry Agave flowers only after twenty-five years. In some parts of the world they are commonly called the "Century Plant".

While described by many as "agave cactus", this description is incorrect. The perennial plants not a cactus. The genus is placed in the subfamily Agavoideae of the broadly circumscribed family Asparagaceae. Looking at the huge spikes of flowers the "Asparagaceae" tag makes sense.

The plant has many uses other than the production of fibre. It is used to produce a nectar, skin lotions and much sort after as a landscaping plant by architects. Also, by the amount of bee activity, it must produce an interesting, if rare, honey.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Micro-credit in Morocco

While in traditional banking terms, half a million dollars is not a huge amount of money, divided into micro-loans, it has the power to change the lives of hundreds of Moroccan families.
A majority of  loans are made to Moroccan women. (Photo Suzanna Clarke)

Yesterday in Casablanca, Grameen-Jameel, the first social business in the Middle East, signed a loan agreement for $500,000 to help finance micro-credit association Al-Karama and support its growth.

The signing took place in between Julia Assaad, General Manager of Grameen-Jameel and Mr. Abdelmajid El Gasmi, President of Al-Karama microcredit, according to CPI Financial.

Founded in 1999, Al-Karama has made loans totalling almost $5 million to around 16,000 borrowers across the eastern region of Morocco since 2009. They focus on those most affected by poverty who would otherwise be unable to access credit. Their average loan is $300 and the majority of their clients are women. Al-Karama aims to extend its services to reach 60,000 clients by 2014.

This follows the pattern set up by 2006 Nobel Peace Laureate Muhammad Yunus. In 1976 he was the head of the Rural Economics Program at the University of Chittagong and loaned $27 from his own pocket to 42 people in the tiny Bangladeshi village of Jobra. These women needed just enough credit to purchase the raw materials for their trades. The borrowers repaid his small loans and inspired Yunus to establish the Grameen Bank Project.

Since then, micro-finance has assisted millions, most of them women, to set up or expand their small businesses. It has been found that those who take out micro-loans pay them back at a higher rate than lenders from traditional institutions. The loans are secured by peer pressure. If a woman defaults on her loan, no-one in her lending circle will receive another loan.

However, the micro-credit scheme is not without its critics. Studies have found that women can act as collection agents for their husbands and sons, who spend the money, while the women bear the credit risk. It can also mean that borrowers remain in the informal economy rather than seeking waged work. And the promotion of micro-credit by governments as anti-poverty programs has the potential to displace public safety-net programs and encourage cuts in public health, education and welfare programs.
New York economic journalist, Gina Neff says that, “many women are using their loans to buy food rather than invest in business.”

However, given the current credit squeeze, making finding finance difficult even for the urban waged, if the micro-credit system serves to assist a percentage of poorer families its merits cannot be discounted.

Waiting for the Moussem in Moulay Idriss

While waiting for the late night moussem at Moulay Idriss, Suzanna Clarke,one of  The View from Fez photographers, went out into the town to capture the atmosphere. With thousands of visitors the entire town was in festive mood with parties in peoples' homes as well as music through to around 3.30 in the morning.
With packed streets, the best view was from on high

As the sun went down over Moulay it was time for the festivities to begin

The last Moussem event this year is on July 21.
You can read about the Moussem of Moulay Idriss here: The Moussem

The Details:

Getting there.
Take the train from Fez and get off at the 2nd stop in Meknes. (ticket 20 dirham for 2nd class). Take a small taxi to grands taxis station. Ask for Moulay Idriss. Cost for two people is 60 dirhams or if you share it - 10 dirhams per person.

In Moulay Idriss, leave the taxi and walk up the hill to the main square. Here you will find cafes and down one side street a lot of small street restaurants that serve good cheap food.

At the top of the square are steps leading to the Moulay Idriss Mausoleum, which on Muslims may enter. However you can take the stairs at the side of the entrance way and climb to the top of the city for a fabulous panoramic view.

Staying overnight and using Moulay Idriss as a base for visiting Volubilis is recommended. Book in advance on +212 (0)618108175.

Visit Dar Zerhoune at or book through Fez Riads