Saturday, November 10, 2012

Moroccan News Briefs #78

Morocco welcomes Obama's election victory

The response among Moroccans to the victory by US President Obama was overwhelmingly upbeat. The feeling among Moroccans of all classes was also shared by the nation's media who heaved a collective sigh of relief at the defeat of Mitt Romney.

The first official response came from HM King Mohammed VI who sent a message of congratulations to Barack Obama on his re-election. In his message, the King renewed the will of Morocco to continue working in cooperation with the US and to further develop and expand the bilateral ties.

Your re-election for a second term reflects the vibrancy and effectiveness of American democracy. It is also a strong indication of the great confidence placed in your wise leadership. This re-election attests to the high esteem in which you are held, given your human qualities, your political acumen and your wise decisions based on consultation, realism and compromise.

Allow me to take this opportunity to say how much I value the solid, longstanding relations between our two nations, and how keen I am to continue working with you, Mr. President, to further develop and expand our bilateral ties. The strategic partnership between our two countries has undoubtedly given fresh impetus to our bilateral relations and opened up vast, promising prospects. -King Mohammed VI
Full text of the message: HERE

Slow progress in Morocco's fight against corruption

Siham Ali, reporting for Magharebia in Rabat, writes that Morocco's Central Authority for the Prevention of Corruption (ICPC) in delivered its annual report to Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane last week, criticised the pace of progress in tackling graft.

Abdelilah Benkirane's government under fire for the slow pace of reform  [photo: AFP/Abdelhak Senna] 

The 2010-2011 report, released to the public on Friday (November 2nd), stated that the situation in Morocco has not improved significantly and the government's policy still lacked a strategic dimension and an effective commitment to tackling corruption.

The ICPC also highlighted the lack of co-ordination between the various bodies in charge of inspections, monitoring and accountability due to the absence of close institutional ties between them, a lack of co-operation and sharing of expertise and information, and legal loopholes which are hampering efforts to curb corruption.

The authority has called for a genuine and serious commitment to tackling corruption, monopolies, privileged and dominant positions before embezzled funds can be recovered and public resources can be protected.

Since the current government took office, the prime minister and his cabinet team representing the Party of Justice and Development (PJD) have trumpeted their desire to tackle the issue.

The opposition has taken the government to task over its failure to act. Hakim Benchemmas, the parliamentary leader of the Party of Authenticity and Modernity in the Chamber of Councillors, has said that the government's pledges and words about this subject have not translated into anything concrete.

Civil society has also raised the alarm. Transparency Maroc has drawn attention to shortcomings in the law. It has said that the Law on the Protection of Witnesses and Whistle-Blowers falls short of expectations and that the identities of witnesses should be omitted from statements. It also claims that existing measures to guarantee the safety of witnesses and whistle-blowers are inadequate.

Michele Zirari, the deputy secretary-general of Transparency Maroc says, "If, for example, someone becomes aware of a corrupt act within their institution and reports it, they risk losing their job on the grounds of breach of professional secrecy,"

Marrakech scores "Top African Destination" award

The Moroccan city of Marrakesh, known for its enchanting charm that attracts tourists from all over the world, was elected by the 19th World Travel Awards (WTA) as “Africa’s Leading Destination” for 2012.

The WTA which has just unveiled the leading travel brands in Africa for 2012 pointed out that the ancient medina of Marrakech saw off competition from many tourism resorts like the Kalahari Desert (Namibia), Kruger National Park (South Africa), Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) or Cape Town (South Africa) to win the coveted title of “Africa’s Leading Destination”.

Properties in Marrakech also enjoyed top honours. Amanjena was voted “Africa’s Leading Luxury Resort”, whilst the Royal Mansour was named “Africa’s Leading Hotel” in a category that included The Palace of the Lost City (South Africa), Fairmont the Norfolk (Kenya) and Grand Hyatt Cairo (Egypt).

The comprehensive WTA programme, hailed as the ‘Oscars of the travel industry’ by the global media, highlights and rewards those travel brands that have made the greatest contribution to the industry in quality, innovation and service, over the past year.

Morocco and Australia to strengthen ties

According to visiting Australian Senator Gavin Marshall (pictured left), Morocco and Australia are two countries with "common challenges" ahead. He says that thew countries are expected to further strengthen their political and economic relations, taking advantage of the huge opportunities that could offer such cooperation.

"There are opportunities available for both countries, which face the same challenges, to strengthen their political and economic relations," said Marshall, in a statement to the press after his meeting with Minister delegate to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and cooperation, Mr. Youssef Amrani.

Regarding the issue of the territorial integrity of the Kingdom, Australian senator welcomed the permanent dialogue "to reach a mutually acceptable solution to this issue." This "is very encouraging," he said.

He has also said that discussions with the Moroccan official also focused on regional and international issues of common interest, including the latest political and security developments in the region.

Australian Senator Gavin Marshall made ​​a working visit to Morocco at the head of a parliamentary delegation.

Marrakech Film Festival to honour Zhang Yimou

The International Film Festival of Marrakech (30 Nov — 8 Dec 2012) is to honour the career of Chinese director Zhang Yimou 張藝謀.

Zhang Yimou

The Moroccan festival will play his most recently completed film The Flowers of War 金陵十三釵, starring Christian Bale.

The festival said that Zhang has received some of the world's most prestigious awards including the Cannes Grand Jury Prize for To Live 活著 (1994). It also noted that his films had been selected three times as China's foreign-language Oscar representative.

Zhang received a lifetime achievement award last month at the Mumbai Film Festival.

The 12th Marrakech International Film Festival will also have the largest ever Indian delegation of actors and filmmakers attending. While the event marks the Indian film's industry's centenary, there will also be a special tribute ceremony for Amitabh Bachchan, president of the Indian delegation.

In a press statement, Bachchan said: "I am deeply honoured and delighted to be attending the Marrakech Film Festival to be held on November 30th. I would also like to thank the relevant authorities for giving the respect and relevance to the Indian Film Industry which, I believe, will form a special section in this year's Festival.

"I remember with deep gratitude my last visit to Marrakech in October 2003 and the warmth and hospitality that was extended to us during our short stay. I wish the Festival all success and do look forward to the pleasure of being there again."

The Festival will welcome the largest Indian delegation ever assembled at an international festival, including Jaya Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra, Arjun Rampal, Ileana D'Cruz and Karan Johar.

The festival will include a series of open air screenings at the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square, including a special screening of Jab Tak Hai Jaan as part of a special tribute to the late director Yash Chopra.

Moroccan authorities detain eight "terrorist cell"" members

The Interior Ministry announced this week that authorities had arrested eight people suspected of plotting attacks against strategic sites. The news came less than a week after the kingdom announced it had dismantled a "terrorist" cell.

The latest arrests involved a group called Ansar al-Sharia in the Islamic Maghreb. An interior ministry statement said they had dismantled the cell whose eight members planned to "commit acts of sabotage against strategic sites". The cell's targets included "sensitive buildings, security headquarters and tourist sites in several Moroccan cities," it added.

The suspects "were developing contacts with terrorist groups linked to Al-Qaeda," whose North African franchise is active in the Sahel region and in northern Mali, the statement said. A security official reached by a French news agency (AFP), said one of the cell members "was preparing a trip to the Sahel to get financial support from Islamist groups in that region."

They added the arrests were made in Rabat and several other cities. One of the suspects had previously been detained under the kingdom's anti-terror laws. Morocco announced the dismantling of a "terrorist cell" several days before, comprising nine members plotting to set up a training camp in the Rif region, in order to attack "the authorities".

Hassan Younsi launched a web page to attract
people to the Ansar al-Sharia movement in Morocco.

The operation came less than two weeks after the arrest of Hassan Younsi, founder of the "Co-ordination of Ansar al-Sharia in Morocco". The new group had made its presence known on September 17th with the launch of a Facebook page and the posting of a doctrinal document on jihadist forums.

Younsi, who lives in Salé, was arrested October 21st in the northern Moroccan city of Tétouan after visiting Sheikh Omar Hadouchi where it is believed he had asked the Sheikh to help resolve his dispute with the leaders of "Co-ordination for the Defence of Islamist Prisoners in Morocco", which includes veteran Moroccan jihadists who returned from Afghanistan.

Hadouchi, however, disavowed "Ansar al-Sharia in Islamic Maghreb", warning Salafist Jihadists against joining the new group.

It is not yet known whether Younsi is the leader of the cell dismantled on November 5th.

The tricky question of tax - is it Zakat?

Just a few months ago, before the Moroccan elections Abdelilah Benkirane and the Party of Justice and Development (PJD) mentioned in their manifesto the necessity to incorporate Zakat in the state’s budget.

Zakat one of the five pillars of Islam - a compulsory donation that has to be given by any Muslim whose income as exceeded a certain amount during the year. This sum is set at 2.5 % of the Muslim’s assets once they reach a value of at least 85g of gold.

From a religious point of view many consider it as a personal matter between themselves and God. However, there are a number of Muslim countries that have created Zakat funds which allow those governments to increase the budget for social welfare.

Since coming to power the PJD, through the Islamic Affairs Ministry, have been working towards the creation of a national Zakat fund. According to Najb Boulif, Minister Delegate of General Affairs and Governance, they are “working on a management model” so that “the government can create implementing mechanisms”.

Some Moroccans believe that the government will have a better way of managing Zakat funds and avoid individuals donating to private charities. On the other hand, there are those who believe that Moroccan citizens already have a hefty tax burden. So adding a new compulsory Zakat tax might make their already difficult economical situation worst. The response from critics is an interesting one. They believe that the 38% tax that is taken from all Moroccan citizens should be considered as Zakat.

Beauty contest photo shoot cops flack

Pictures of candidates for Belgium Beauty Queen 2013 taken at Morocco’s largest mosque have stirred controversy and local authorities have been quick to shift the blame.

The pictures, being circulated on line, raised questions about the responsible government agencies that granted the license for the photo shoot of a bunch of Belgian belles in their tank tops and short shorts in the square of Casablanca's Hassan II Mosque.

The photo shoot did not go down well with Attajdid, the paper of the ruling Party of Justice and Development (PJD) "This behaviour could provoke discord and instability. It's an attack on a place of worship," the paper wrote in an editorial yesterday. "Who authorised these young women to pose right in front of the mosque?" it demanded.

The picture also prompted furious outbursts on Moroccan news websites.

"I'm outraged by these photos, which touch our identity and our religion," wrote one commentator on, one of the most popular sites.

Popular Moroccan news website Hespress quoted a source from the ministry of Islamic affairs denying any role for the ministry in the incident and pointing fingers at the mosque’s administration, which is in charge of the overall management of one of the world's largest Islamic landmarks.

Casablanca’s city council has also distanced itself from the incident. One of its members said the council did not authorise the photo shoot at the mosque.

A newspaper close to the opposition Socialist Union Party quoted a source at the mosque’s administration as saying that a company behind the photo shoot was granted the permission by the Moroccan Cinema Centre (MCC).

The Ittihad (union) newspaper reported that the centre gave the license to the Radio Télévision Belge Francophone (RTBF), the public broadcasting body of the French Community of Belgium.

Hespress quoted prominent religious preacher Sheikh Abdul-Bari Zamzami as holding the interior ministry responsible for the incident.

Some people saw the incident as unacceptable and called for the responsible parties to be hold accountable. Others expressed disinterest stressing the mosque lacks serious religious significance because it was built as “tourist destination not as a house of worship.”

But it was left to  As-Sabah, another Moroccan daily to bring a little commonsense to the fracas. They made light of the subject, running an article entitled "Ladies in Wonderland."

"It's a storm in a teacup. Allah loves beauty and there is nothing wrong with these young beauties posing in front of the Great Mosque."

The "eye of Sauron" discovered in Morocco

The discovery of a skull fossil in Morocco has revealed a new species of giant, meat-eating dinosaur. Palaeontologists have named Sauroniops pachytholus. Which if your Greek is a bit rusty let's remind you means "eye of Sauron". It sounds like a joke or a cunning promotion for the about to be released Peter Jackson film "The Hobbit"... but no, it is for real.

Palaeontologists say the Sauron's Eye was native to North Africa, and the meat-eater was as big as the Tyrannosaurus rex. The fossil was discovered in Morocco in 2007,but a research paper on the discovery has only just been published.

The tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings comes about due to the creature's fossilised eye socket. Palaeontologists only found part of its skull, that was the fossil's most defining characteristic. According to Andrea Cau, the paper's lead author, "The idea of a predator that is physically known only as its fierce eye reminded me of Sauron, in particular as depicted in Peter Jackson's movies."

It is to be hoped that the Dark Lord of Mordor is suitably flattered.

Finally... the weather

Definitely autumn  weather all week throughout Morocco. Fez temperatures dropping to as low as 4 Celsius at night and reaching between 17 and 20 Celsius during the day. Marrakech mostly fine with a temperature range from 8 to 23. Rabat a showery weekend and average highs of 17. Casablanca can expect some showers on Sunday, but otherwise fine - 11 to 21 degrees most of the week. Tangier should also have weekend showers and a temperature range from 11 to 18 Celsius.


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