Friday, October 19, 2012

Moroccan News Briefs #75

Moroccan King visits Syrian refugee camp

On Thursday, as part of a wide-ranging trip, King Mohammed VI toured a field hospital treating Syrian refugees in northern Jordan -- the first Arab head of state to visit the desert compound.

On the second day of his trip to Jordan, where he held talks with King Abdullah II, Mohammed VI inspected a Moroccan field hospital in the Zaatari camp, which houses around 36,000 Syrian refugees. “Long live Morocco,” chanted a group of refugees as they greeted Mohammed VI, who shook hands with some of them before ending his 20-minute tour amid tight security, according to AFP.

After his 20-vehicle motorcade left the camp, around 100 Syrians gathered, chanting: “The people want to arm the Free Syrian Army, regime forces are traitors.”

Earlier in Amman, Mohammed VI and King Abdullah II discussed the Syrian crisis, a palace statement said. “King Abdullah warned against the dangerous repercussions for the entire region,” it added.

He called on “the international community to keep helping Jordan to provide services for more than 200,000 Syrian refugees in the kingdom.”

Did Salafists destroy ancient carvings? Claim and denial

A disturbing story has emerged this week claiming that petroglyphs (stone carvings) in Morocco's High Atlas mountains dating back more than 8,000 years and depicting the sun as a pagan divinity have been destroyed by Salafists. A local rights group confirmed this on Wednesday.

Stone carvings depicting the sun as a pagan divinity in Morocco's High Atlas mountains (AFP, Simon Martelli)

"These stone carvings of the sun are more than 8,000 years old. They were destroyed several days ago," Aboubakr Anghir, a member of the Amazigh (Berber) League for Human Rights, said.

"One of the carvings, called 'the plaque of the sun,' predates the arrival of the Phoenicians in Morocco," Anghir said. "It lies in a well-known archaeological site in the Yakour plain south of Marrakesh, 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Mount Toubkal."

"There are several Salafist groups active in the region and it's not the first time these pre-Islamic sites have been attacked. We have sent a message to the ministry of culture, but have not yet received a reply," he added

Salafists, Muslims who adhere to a hardline Sunni interpretation of Islam similar to that practised in Saudi Arabia, which strictly prohibits "idolatry," have enjoyed a surge in strength in Arab Spring countries, benefiting from wider freedom.

Meryem Demnati, of the Amazigh Freedoms and Rights Watchdog, also confirmed the destruction of the petroglyphs and added that residents in the area blamed Salafists.

However, despite the claims of destruction by a number of groups, officials at the Moroccan culture ministry denied that Salafists had destroyed stone carvings dating back more than 8,000 years in the High Atlas mountains.

The report is "totally unfounded," it said in a statement, adding that an investigation had been carried out with local and regional authorities. "This kind of incident, contrary to our values, can not take place in Morocco," it said. But such sites "can suffer, like elsewhere, the effects of natural and even human degradation, sometimes through vandalism and trafficking."

“The reports that these stone carvings were damaged, as you can see, is not true,” Communications Minister Mustafa Khalfi told journalists, on a government organised trip to the Yagour plateau.“It is one of our goals to protect these pre-historic monuments, which reflect Morocco’s cultural diversity and the deepness of our history,” Khalfi said

Amazigh, or Imazighen, lived in north Africa long before Muslims set foot in the land in the 7th century. While there are no official figures on their numbers, Morocco is widely believed to have the biggest Amazigh community in the world.

Amazigh activists say Moroccan authorities were partly to blame for failing to protect ancient artifacts and other Amazigh archaeological sites.

"Some 37,000 Amazigh petroglyphs like the one that was destroyed this week have been smuggled out of Morocco in the past 20 years," said a spokesperson.

Fez -Barcelona link announced by Vueling

On Tuesday evening the Catalan airline Vueling presented its strategic plan for the next two years, which plans to transform Barcelona El Prat Airport into Europe’s main hub for short and medium distance flights by 2014. In order to reach this objective, Vueling will link Barcelona to 100 destinations from summer 2013. It will add 28 new routes, including 5 destinations that have never been directly connected to Barcelona El Part Airport: Dresden (Germany), Rennes (France), Rhodes and Kos (Greece) and to the delight of many in Morocco the list includes Fez.

Details of schedules are yet to be announced.

Morocco's digital divide.

Naoufel Cherkaoui writing for Magharebia in Rabat reports that, according to a recent study, Internet access is still restricted to urban areas in Morocco. Despite the government efforts to bridge Morocco's digital divide, discrepancies in access to information technologies remain in the kingdom.

[Photo AFP/Abdelhak Senna]

"Internet access is still restricted to urban areas and educated categories in cities," according to the first-of-its-kind study released on October 2nd by the Open Society Foundations (OSF) in association the Institute of Graduate Management Studies (HEM) think tank.

Decision-makers are now aware of the digital divide and believe that full access to the digital world is the goal that the state has to realise, the New York-based NGO said at a Rabat seminar.

The National Telecommunications Regulatory Agency (ANRT) launched the strategic programme "Digital Morocco 2013" to expand access to new information technologies. The government also worked to mainstream information technology in public education.

Still, "Morocco hasn't yet joined digitisation, given that there has been only partial migration to digital communication", according to the report.

"Most households are not equipped to access content provided by digital media, while the state is still the only monopoly in terms of media ownership, controlling radio and television and their online platforms," the study concluded. "It also exercises significant influence on political party newspapers and has a legal and economic arsenal to control and manage the competition."

An Eiffel tower in Fez?

The oddest news this week courtesy of Larbi Arbaoui writing for Morocco World News, is that the eccentric Mayor of Fez, Hamid Chabat, who is also Secretary General of the Istiqlal Party, has inaugurated a project to build a replica of France's Eiffel tower in a square in Zouagha, not too far from his home. In addition, the mayor of Fez intends to build a gigantic arc like the “Arc de Triomphe” (Arc of Triumph ) at the entrance to Fez on the road to Meknes.

The people of Fez are probably wondering why Chabat intends to build such a monument which was built by Napoleon Bonaparte for the French to remember the victories of their army in the Battle of Austerlitz, instead of renovating and restoring the historic and crumbling buildings in the historic Fez Medina that have a significant and a special place in the history of the Kingdom and in popular memory.

It is worth mentioning that Hamid Chabat has already promised the people of Fez to build an artificial sea in Fez in addition to his determination to set up huge projects that will challenge the famous landmarks in the global cities. This project has never come into being.

Essaouira buzzing with Game of Thrones

Iain Glen and Emilia Clarke on the set in Essaouira

The top-rated TV show Game of Thrones is filming several sequences in Essaouira. Although security is tight, one of our readers and another local have managed to get some shots of Moroccan extras rehearsing as well as some glimpses of the stars. Essaouira is the location for Astapor, a city in Essos where Daenerys Targaryen travels. The photo of Emilia Clarke shows the "Queen of Dragons" with an iPhone.

Storage area for props and set dressing
Moroccan extras doing drill training
Emilia Clarke and her iPhone
Moroccan extras in costume
A sneak preview of some great costume design
The old and the new - a star with fans!



Anonymous said...

The major of Fez is crazy and should be replaced as soon as possible. An eiffel tower? Is this for real? I hope not! Fez and her inhabitants deserve a profesional major with some common sense and organisation skills and not this strange man who probably thinks he is Napoleon himself.

Captain Pugwash said...

The unfinished, mini Eiffel Tower is pointless, stupid, insulting and another waste of public money. Has Chabat been watching Spinal Tap? This is an affront to Fes and will succeed in making it a global laughing-stock. Wait til this is posted on FCBK,which will be soon!!