Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Moroccan News Briefs #67 - (Updated)

Morocco Sends Water Bombers to Assist Spain

On Tuesday Morocco sent two water-bombing planes to help Spain battle a stubborn 10-day-old wildfire that has scorched nearly 10 per cent of the land on the Canary Island of La Gomera, including internationally renowned ancient woodlands.

The wildfires are the latest blazes in a summer forest fire season that has been one of the worst in recent memory for Spain and Portugal.

Drought-like conditions and high temperatures have made it extremely difficult for authorities to extinguish the fires. But Canary Island regional government spokeswoman Candelaria Ceballos said the extra planes and a drop in temperatures were raising hopes that firefighters might finally control the blazes that have burned 30 square kilometres inside and outside the Garajonay National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site.

August 14 - Oued Eddahab - Allegiance Day

Since August 14, 1979, this day has been a national holiday, symbolising the unity of the country and crown after the long struggle for the perfection of Morocco's territorial integrity. On that day, at the Riad palace in Rabat, a 360 person-­strong delegation was dispatched by the population of the region to renew before King Hassan II the oath of allegiance and their attachment to the Alaouite throne. The sovereign then delivered a historic speech in which he vowed to guarantee their defence and security and endeavour for their well­being.

Morocco's Budget Deficit On The Rise

If it was an Olympic final, the Moroccan budget would win gold in the high jump. Morocco's budget deficit jumped almost five-fold in the 12 months to end-July. Analysts put the result down to the impact of higher wages and pensions for the public sector.

The budget deficit stood at 23.6 billion dirhams during the January-July, 2012 period up from 4.2 billion dirhams a year earlier, finance ministry data showed.

The public sector wage bill rose 13.4 percent to 55.9 billion dirhams by end-July while spending on subsidies stood at 31.9 billion dirhams, which is 57.5 percent above its level in January-July, 2011, the data showed.

HM King Opens New Coastal Highway

King Mohammed VI on Saturday (August 11th) inaugurated the final segment of a new 700 million-euro Moroccan coastal motorway.

The 507-km road, which began construction in 2007, will reduce travel time between Saidia and Tangier by three hours. It also aims to help boost employment and tourism revenues and employment in the northern region.

With the new highway, some 120 km of beaches that had been hard to access could now "become attractive for both nationals and foreign tourists", Transport Minister Rebbah Aziz said.

According to Aziz, tenders will be launched for the creation of marinas and various sports tourism projects.

Arab Oil Does Not Translate To Olympic Gold

Abdalaati Iguider - one bronze for Morocco

Those who thought that the Arab Spring would give the Arab countries a boost in the Olympics were sadly disappointed. Although the oil-rich countries could afford superb training facilities, it did not result in the medals expected.

Morocco's performance has been described as "quite a flop".  Amidst doping scandals and controversy over the failure to have their uniforms bear the name of their country, Morocco emerged with only a single bronze. Not good enough for a team that consisted of  72 athletes in 12 sports. This was probably the greatest Olympic Arab disappointment, given a country relatively rich in past Olympic success.

According to Morocco World News, there has been a strong negative reaction to the lack of Morocco's name on the athletes' jerseys.

“This is a huge mistake. It is disappointing to see that Morocco is the only exception of the rule,” a Moroccan sports fan told MWN. “This shows the amateurish and incompetent manner in which officials deal with international competitions; they have to be held responsible,” he added.

“It is simply a lack of responsibility and professionalism from the Track and Field Federation,” said Reda Benazzouz, a student at the University of Ottawa and Canadian junior champion in the 400m relay and bronze medalist in the 800m. “I was watching the 3000m steeple chase and couldn’t retrieve the Moroccan runner among competitors; I had to wait for the final results to see what rank he had,” he added.

Moroccans labeled the participation of Morocco in the ongoing games as the session of “Golden scandals.”

Mariem Alaoui Selsouli, one of the favorites for the 1500m gold medal, was banned from participating, following her positive dope test.

Marathon runner Abderrahim Goumri was also suspended on the same grounds.

Amine Laalou, the Olympic hopeful for the 1500m also missed the games after the IAAF alerted the International Olympic Committee that he tested positive to a banned substance.

It remains to be seen whether the officials at the helm of the Moroccan Olympic Committee as well as the Track and Field Federation will take responsibility for this disappointing participation as well as for damaging Morocco’s reputation.

The Arab Medal Haul

Notable medal gaps came from the Levant who were under-represented in the award ceremony, and also the well- sponsored UAE who failed to live up to expectations of making a significant mark in the Games.

Still, other Gulf states had something to celebrate: Bahrain, who had 12 athletes entered in 3 sporting categories, landed a bronze medal, which was the first in their history.

Kuwait the tiny oil rich kingdom managed just a bronze medal out of 4 sport events and 11 contenders.

Egypt had many more athletes competing, but still only cobbled together a couple of silvers. Not quite enough for the populous nation who put forward 119 athlete in 19 sports.

KSA: The Land of the two Holy Mosques landed itself a single bronze medal, which was arguably a decent enough performance for the less expectant Desert Kingdom. 19 athletes in 5 sports also had between them their first female athletes to race for Saudi.

Tunisia: the Jasmine pioneer that was first to the post in the Arab Spring race did itself proud, nabbing a gold and bronze. Though with 71 athletes playing 17 sports, some said the North African nation could have done better.

Algeria: 39 athletes in 12 sports came out with a gold which they could not be faulted for. Again, their sporting history indicated that they should have scored more medals.

Qatar: A couple of bronzes between 12 sports players in 4 events for the Gulf emirate saw the Qataris quite pleased with themselves.This national pride did not stop one Al Jazeera news-anchor came down harshly on the nation's revelries, saying that modest bronze medals did not merit a party.

Study Claims Morocco is Becoming Less Religious

According to an article by Hassan Al-Ashraf in Al Arabiya, Moroccans are becoming less religious. The article is based on a study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a U.S.-based think-tank. The study related the change to apprehensions over the current rise of political Islam.

According to the report the level of religiosity in the Middle East and North Africa has receded to 60 percent, particularly in Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt.

According to Moroccan expert on Islamic affairs Montaser Hamada, Moroccans are in the middle when it comes to the degree of religiosity.

“In Morocco, 60 percent of the people are religious while in Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia the percentage rises to 80 percent and in former Communist countries drops to 50 percent,” he told Al Arabiya.

Hamada, however, admitted to a remarkable change in the degree of Moroccans’ piety owing to a variety of reasons.

“The emergence of groups that call for a secular state as well as others that promote deviating away from religious practices has increased; much like a group in Morocco that called for breaking fasts in public during the day in Ramadan Add to that those gay rights groups that have been active lately,” said Hamada.

Another factor, Hamada added, is the rise of political Islam in the region as well as in, Morocco and which has made people more apprehensive of anything religious.

“The rise of Islamists to power in Morocco made people worry about restrictions that would be imposed on their freedoms especially in the light of the already negative impression people have about political Islam and Islamist rule,” Hamada said.

Mohamed Musbah, researcher at the Moroccan Center for Contemporary Studies and Research, argued that despite the change, religion still occupies an important place for Moroccans.

“The study does not show the Moroccans no longer believe in basic religious principles like the existence of God, the afterlife, etc., but they rather differ on the way they interpret religion and apply it to their daily lives,” he told Al Arabiya.

The Pew Forum study, he added, was in line with several other studies conducted about the same issue since 2001.

“All those studies proved that the Islamic faith comprises an integral part of the Moroccan identity and most Moroccans still practice Islamic rituals,” Musbah said.

Musbah pointed out that the position of Sufis and Shiites in Morocco is also quite confusing when it comes to conducting such studies.

“Around 1 percent of Moroccans identify themselves as Sufis while for many Shiites are not considered Muslims.”

The marginalization of Shiites, he noted, comes down to several government decisions, such as closing the Iranian embassy in 2009 and an Iraqi school suspected of promoting the Shiite faith.

“There is also a problem in schools, since different sects are not taught. This makes Moroccans unexposed to religious differences,” said Musbah.

Comment: religion or superstition? 

Whatever the difference, while 40% of Moroccans may not consider themselves religious, we are not surprised by the figure that 86% of Moroccans believe in the existence of djinns (spirits). 78% believe in witchcraft and 80% believe in the "evil-eye".


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