Friday, December 14, 2012

Moroccan News Briefs #81

A snapshot of the latest news from around Morocco

World leaders recognise Syrian opposition in Marrakech meeting

World leaders including Morocco's King Mohammed VI, US President Barack Obama, and French President François Hollande have now joined the global alliance in calling for a speedy transfer of power to end the violence in Syria that has taken more than 42,000 lives and caused thousands to flee to neighbouring countries.

In his address, King Mohammed urged members of the UN Security Council, over which Morocco currently presides, to adopt "a unified, resolute stance as quickly as possible to spare the Syrian people further tragedy and suffering, and to support the transfer of power in Syria for the establishment of a democratic, multi-party system."

King Mohammed applauded "the dynamism of the Syrian opposition for unifying the full spectrum of political opinion, at home and abroad," which he said "culminated in the Doha Declaration on the establishment of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, headed by Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib."

"This is a major political achievement for the Syrian opposition, which gives it legitimacy in the transition period," as it works to fulfil the hopes of the Syrian people in building a democratic Syrian state, said King Mohammed. He added that this should also facilitate efforts by the international community "to provide support to the coalition in a collective, efficient and orderly
manner, according to each one's capabilities and competencies."

Earlier this year, King Mohammed ordered the setting up of a Moroccan field hospital at the Zaatari camp in Jordan - which he visited in October - that has aided more than 40,000 Syrian refugees. As part of a broad international humanitarian aid effort, Morocco has also sent 2,000 winterised tents, tons of foodstuff, medicine, and blankets to benefit the refugees in both Jordan and Turkey.

Death of  Sheikh Abdessalam Yassine

The leader of Morocco's main opposition group, Islamist al-Adl Wal Ihsane (Justice and Spirituality) group, Sheikh Abdessalam Yassine (pictured left), died on Thursday. According to Hassan bin Najeh of the group's youth section, Yassine, who was born in 1928, had been suffering from influenza.

The group, which Yassine formed in 1981, is banned from formal politics but is believed by analysts and diplomats to be the only opposition organisation capable of mass mobilisation in Morocco.

The group was a major player in protests last year that led the monarchy to institute constitutional reforms to dilute some of its extensive powers.  It was not clear who would succeed Yassine.

Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane accompanied by Minister of State and Minister of Justice Baja Mustafa Ramid in the house of the late Abdessalam Yassine to offer condolences

King inaugurates Casablanca tram route

The King, Mohammed VI, has inaugurated Casablanca’s first tramway. The new 31km line – the longest line to be built as part of one project – links the city’s east and south-west districts, calling at 48 stations.

In 2009, Casablanca’s transport authority awarded Alstom a 120 million euro contract to supply 74 Citadis trams. Subsequent agreements have also been made with Alstom to install signalling and power supply systems.

The Citadis trams, which were manufactured and assembled at Alstom’s Reichshoffen plant in France, are 65 metre-long double units and can accommodate up to 606 passengers.

Morocco’s Honorary Consul in Aleppo assassinated

Mohamed Aladine Kiyali, Morocco’s Honorary Consul in Aleppo, was assassinated on Tuesday, reported Morocco’s official news agency Maghreb Arab Press (MAP). According to MAP, Armed men riding a taxi mortally shot Mr. Kiyali as he came out of a hotel in Aleppo at 7:00 p.m. local time.

Some Moroccan observers are accusing the regime of Basharal-Assad of being behind this terrorist act. The Assad government has been critical of King Mohammed support of the Syrian rebels. Damascus is furious at Morocco’s decision to host the next Friends of Syria meeting scheduled for December

In the past, the Chabihet, Assad’s regime thugs, attacked the Moroccan Embassy in Damascus to protest Rabat’s decision to organize a pro-rebels special meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers.
Previously, the Syrian representative to the United Nations (UN) threatened to support the Algeria based Western Sahara Separatist Polisario guerrilla fighting Morocco. Assad’s ambassador the U.N. offered the Algerian government help and political support as a token of appreciation for Algiers pro-Assad positions and as a “warning” to King Mohammed VI.

Born in 1961, the late Kiyali, a Syrian national, served as Honorary Consul of Morocco in Aleppo since April 2001.

King Mohammed VI has sent a condolence message to the family of late Mohamed Alaeddine Kiyali. In the message, the sovereign expressed to the victim’s family members and through them to the Syrian people, deep sadness and strong condemnation of the “criminal and abject” attack.

The message condemned the killing as “going against the prescriptions of our noble religion, and against all heavenly religions, the values of humanity and the ideals of democracy,” reiterating firm support for the Syrian people in achieving its “legitimate aspirations for freedom, democracy and dignity,” within the “the sovereignty and national and territorial unity of Syria.”

The King hailed the lofty values of the victim, adding that his death is a “great loss for the Kingdom” taking account of the strong ties of friendship of loyalty to his second country, Morocco, and his efforts to consolidate the brotherly and solidarity ties between the two countries.

Female "human chain" denounces violence against women

Hundreds of people formed a human chain in Rabat on last weekend to denounce all forms of violence against women.

Women in Rabat form a human chain denouncing all forms of violence against women.

"We are here to denounce physical, verbal and moral violence, as well as the harassment of women," said a member of "Spring of Dignity," a coalition of 22 groups defending the rights of women. According to one AFP report, the chain, accompanied by street entertainment, ran from parliament to the justice ministry.

In a country of 32 million, around six million women are victims of violence, more than half of them within marriage, according to government figures.

"Morocco's laws should be adapted to the international conventions that Morocco has ratified, particularly those dealing with the rights of women," one organiser said.

Little progress on corruption in Morocco: NGO

The NGO, Transparency Morocco, this week accused the government of failing to achieve any major progress in its battle against corruption, despite the ruling Islamist party promising to do so on coming to power. Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane's Party of Justice and Development (PJD) won parliamentary elections in November 2011 pledging to tackle endemic corruption in Morocco, and insists it has made progress in doing so.

In its annual Corruption Perceptions Index for 2012, which came out on Wednesday, Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International dropped Morocco eight places, to 88, out of 176 countries rated.

The Moroccan branch of TI also charged, in its open letter to Benkirane that the government's declarations and limited measures were the "best ally" of corruption, which it described as "systematic".
"Your government has not made any major progress in the desired direction, and it has not even presented ... its goals in the short or long term in the fight against this scourge that threatens our social cohesion and economic efficiency" - Transparency International Morocco.
The NGO said the government must take "concrete steps" to end the impunity of officials, to "activate" the judiciary and inspectors appointed to scrutinise public administration, and introduce laws to protect whistleblowers.

Government officials were not immediately available to respond to the NGO's claims.

Protestor who impersonated king arrested

A Moroccan anti-government protestor who dressed up as King Mohammed has been arrested and accused of possessing drugs, the man's lawyer and human rights activists said on Thursday.

Idris Boutarada, a member of the 'February 20' movement that led Arab Spring protests in Morocco last year, was detained by police on Monday after taking part in an anti-government protest near parliament in Rabat two days earlier.

Arab Spring protests spread to Morocco last year after uprisings in Egypt in Tunisia brought down veteran rulers. The protests faded after the king introduced some constitutional limits to his powers and allowed an Islamist party to form a cabinet after winning early elections.

But some small demonstrations have continued, mainly led by unemployed graduates. February 20 activists have also staged protests including one against the monarchy's share of the budget that police broke up last month.

Boutarada's lawyer Smail Amar said his client was dressed in a traditional Moroccan djellaba and red hat, which the king often wears. He also walked with a crutch. The king has appeared in public on several occasions with a walking stick. Photographs of Boutarada dressed in this way circulated on social media.

The rise and rise of Facebook in Morocco

With one of the highest internet speeds in Africa, Morocco has taken to the internet with enthusiasm. The latest figures available claim that there are more than 5 million Facebook users in the country. Looking at the statistics Facebook is undoubtedly the first web site visited  by users when they log in. That puts Facebook ahead of Youtube videos and the omnipresent Google search engine. The figure of more than five million Facebook users  places Morocco in 36th place worldwide.

OPINION - How Dangerous Are Morocco's Salafists?

When the Salafist group Ansar al-Sharia first appeared on the social networks, little was known about them. TelQuel magazine has done some digging...

What are some of the features of Ansar al-Sharia in Morocco? First is their flag, which is identical to that of their counterparts in Libya, Yemen and Tunisia. It is a black flag displaying the slogan “there is no God but God.” They claim to have no connections to foreign countries, but they do not hide their sympathy for extremist movements around the world, first among them al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Their leaders? Until a few days ago, nobody claimed to be their leader. But on Sunday, Oct. 21, police arrested a certain Younsi Hassan in Tetouan, when he was visiting a few “brothers.” Known among Salafists for his activism, the former inmate presented himself as one of the leaders of Ansar al-Sharia in Morocco. A local source said, “We suspect that this group is recruiting jihadists to fight in Syria, especially in Tetouan.”

Is there reason to fear the latest Salafist unrest? Mohamed Darif, a political scientist and expert on Islamist movements thinks not, at least with regard to Ansar al-Sharia in Morocco.
“I think the movement’s name scares people because it is associated with those movements that advocate violence and that emerged in the wake of the Arab Spring.” According to Darif, Ansar al-Sharia in Morocco revealed its program when it declared itself against secularism but not against the regime.

“Let us remember that in 2005, King Mohammed VI told El-Pais that Morocco is not a secular state,” said the researcher. But what about the violent acts by militants proclaiming Salafism? “I think what happened in Salé was an individual act. What we should fear is organized violence,” said Darif.

In conclusion, Darif believes that we should not exaggerate violent acts committed by “Allah’s madmen” because that may lead to other abuses. It is understood that some security organizations may benefit from the legitimization of human rights violations, as was the case after the May 16, 2003 attacks. Meanwhile, Salafists — be they jihadists or not — are not hiding anymore. Not a week goes by without them demonstrating in several Moroccan cities.

Read more: Al Monitor


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