Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cirque du Soleil Brings Saltimbanco to Casablanca

Saltimbanco is a Cirque du Soleil signature show inspired by the urban fabric of the metropolis and its colourful inhabitants. Decidedly baroque in its visual vocabulary, the show's eclectic cast of characters draws spectators into a fanciful, dreamlike world, an imaginary city where diversity is a cause for hope. Saltimbanco in Casablanca opens on April 06, at the Complexe Mohammed V (Salle couverte).
Saltimbanco is the oldest major touring show of Cirque du Soleil that remains active in some form. Saltimbanco ran from 1992 to 2006 in its original form, performed under a large circus tent called the Grand Chapiteau; its last performance in that form was in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on December 10, 2006. A new adaptation of the show started touring North America on July 31, 2007, with its first stop in London, Ontario, Canada. The current version is staged in arenas, with shorter stops in each city it visits.

The show is described by Cirque du Soleil as a celebration of life. Its creators say they developed it as an antidote to the violence and despair prevalent in the 20th century.

English has lost the word 'saltimbank' from current usage; but it is still familiar in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian as 'saltimbanco', and in French as 'saltimbanque', meaning 'street acrobat' or 'entertainer'.

Pablo Picasso  Family of Saltimbanques, 1905
This scene of fairground performers was Picasso's most significant work at the time. The name of the painting comes from the Italian words saltare, meaning "to leap," and banco, "bench," which refers to the stage on which the acrobats usually performed. Saltimbanques were the lowest order of acrobats; Picasso pictured them as vagabonds with simple props in an empty, desertlike landscape. He was familiar with earlier representations of clowns and harlequins from eighteenth-century art, which frequently included figures from the commedia dell'arte, a popular theatrical form featuring stock characters and their antics.

The Cirque du Soleil Saltimbanco takes spectators on an allegorical and acrobatic journey into the heart of the city.

Saltimbanco is inspired by the urban fabric of the metropolis and its colourful inhabitants. Decidedly baroque in its visual vocabulary, the show's eclectic cast of characters draws spectators into a fanciful, dreamlike world, an imaginary city where diversity is a cause for hope.

The show is only one of numerous that Cirque du Soleil has on tour at any given time -- is glitzy and illuminated with colourful bursts of light and the performers are costumed with a similar explosion of hues. Anyone familiar with Pablo Picasso's painting of saltimbanques will think it feels familiar, but with the saturation boosted.

The show is not recommended for children under 5 years old and a word of warning - enjoyment can be marred by the loud volume of the live band that performs throughout the show.

For information and booking (essential), visit the Saltimbanco website.


Chastity Day - A Good Idea, Or Out Of Touch?

The call by a prominent Moroccan preacher to mark a national Chastity Day has stirred controversy in Morocco with some advocating the promotion of chastity, others regarding the initiative as an insult to Moroccans and others saying that the call is a dangerous warning of how out of touch with young people some of the older generation are. Ibn Warraq reports from Casablanca

If we ever needed proof that the victory of the Justice and Development Party in the elections would prompt radical minorities to believe they could further a more conservative agenda for the country, then Sheikh al-Idrisi Abu Zeid has provided it. The Quran reciter is a leading member of the Islamic organization al-Tawhid wa al-Islah (Monotheism and Reformation) and he did not wait long after the elections to call for an annual promotion of chastity and suggested calling it National Chastity Day. This day, he said, will aim at fighting all “unchaste” phenomena that have lately invaded the conservative Moroccan society.

Young Moroccans enjoy a modern lifestyle

Given the power of television, the internet, mass media and the social networks, Idrisi probably has as much chance of winning this fight as he does of closing down the new Casablanca Mall.

What Sheikh al-Idrisi Abu Zeid does not seem to realise is that Morocco has far greater problems than that of "chastity". He would have found a more sympathetic audience among young people if he had called for action on poverty, unemployment and corruption. Saïda, a twenty-four year old from Hay Hassani told me that the call is out of touch with the lifestyle of young Moroccans. "Chastity,"Saïda says,"has always been a vexed issue because the expectation of chastity was put on women, while young men ignore it completely".

 For sociology researcher Mohamed Boulouse, promoting chastity is a must, but one day a year, he told  Al Arabiya newspaper, will not be enough. “We need campaigns that would last for weeks and months in order for chastity to become part of our society again and to counter all phenomena that are stranger to all society,” he told Al Arabiya.  Boulouse cited examples of “indecent” films, TV serials, festivals, and different artistic expressions that aim at “sexual arousal.” Such campaigns, Boulouse added, should also include food, clothes, actions, and words that should all be in line with Islamic principles. “There should be a focus on curbing sexual desire and abstaining from all lustful actions.” This campaign, he explained, cannot be launched by one person and all Moroccans who demand the return of decency to their society should be part of such initiative. “Several initiatives can be launched to reintroduce ethics and religious teachings to different aspects of life and to invite people to take part in activities that promote chastity.”

Clubbing is now part of many young Moroccans' lifestyle

However, more reasoned voices disagree. Islamic studies researcher Saeid Lakhal argued that the Tawhid and Islah Movement is starting to interfere in the cultural and artistic scene in Morocco following the electoral victory of the Justice and Development Party. “The movement and the party have always objected to festivals and cultural activities to no avail. Now they think they can do what they haven’t been able to do for years,” he told Al Arabiya.

 For Lakhal, statements by Idrisi and other movement members as well as advocates of their initiatives aim to test the waters and see how Moroccans and civil society will react. “There are several democratic powers that have fought for long to create a multicultural Morocco that accepts all intellectual, artistic, cultural, and ethnic differences and those who launch such initiatives are trying to see how they would respond.”

Many young people agree with Lakhal, who argues that the Chastity Day initiative is an insult to Moroccans since it assumes they are not chaste in the first place. “The initiative means that Moroccans have lost chastity and need to restore it. As far as I know, national days are dedicated to urgent issues concerning specific sectors or echelons of society that are facing problems that need to be addressed.” Lakhal said that instead of dedicating a day to chastity, national days should better be dedicated to poverty, homeless children, marginalization, or rural isolation. “There are several social ailments that need to be addressed and society is in bad need of initiatives that achieve extremely important demands like equality and social justice,” he concluded.

Marrakech lifestyle is modern and cosmopolitan

For the moment, young people will simply ignore Idrisi and his fellow conservatives as they feel confident the new government will tackle the real issues. However, should Idrisi push further against movies, music and festivals, he may find he has taken on modern Moroccans in a fight he can not win.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Last year saw a big jump in the number of ATMs in Morocco, with the installation of 480 new terminals, to bring the total number to 5,024. This is an increase over 2010 by 10.6 percent.

The number of credit cards in circulation in Morocco also rose last year with a 13.6 percent increase compared to 2010. The total now is over 8 million cards issued. Just over 85% of the cards (6.9 million) were issued under the brand names of VISA, Mastercard and Moroccan brand CMI.

Last year, the number of transactions through credit cards reached 187.5 million for a total value of 160.3 billion dirhams(19 billion USD) This amount represents a 15.9 percent increase on a yearly basis. In 2010, the number of credit card transactions in the Moroccan market reached 178.3 million, with a total value of 145.9 billion dirhams. Foreign cards totaled only 9.7 million transactions for 14.4 billion dirhams. However, according to CMI, the sustained growth of the Moroccan cards made up for the slight decline in activity for foreign cards.

By type of operation, payments dominated over 93 percent of total operations. Foreign cards accounted for 38.3 percent of the payment value with 5.5 billion dirhams, a slight decline of 1.8 percent compared to 2010.

In regard to withdrawals of cash, international cards represent 61.7 percent of total ATM transactions in the kingdom with 8.9 billion dirhams, down 0.8 percent compared to 2010. Meanwhile, Moroccan credit cards were used in 272,000 transactions abroad, including withdrawals and payments, for a total of 534.2 million of dirhams, up 30.8 percent over 2010.

In 2011, the total amount of online transactions in Morocco reached a turnover of more than 513 million dirhams. This figure reflects a spurt of 72 percent compared to the turnover recorded in 2010, which amounted to 298 million dirhams. During the past year, some 714,000 e-payment transactions were made, more than double (116 percent) compared with the previous year.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Medinas and Motorbikes - a growing problem

Since 2006 The View from Fez has been campaigning to ban motorbikes from the Medina in Fez. The constant complaints about the Marrakech motorbike menace should act as a warning to ban motorbikes from the Medina. We have not been alone in complaining; our readers have also been taking action. The motorbike problem is still growing and yet little or no action is forthcoming from the police.

Locals and tourists cover their noses against the fumes from a motorbike in the Medina

Richard from Fez wrote to us in 2008 with details of his campaign against the motorbikes. "For some years I have been trying to convince local authorities in meetings and by letter (to the pacha, wali, prefecture etc) that the introduction of motorbikes, three-wheelers and 'hondas' will soon destroy the ambience and charm of the Mcdina. None of these people have taken the slightest notice. Now, as tourism in Fes returns and wages rise and the bikes become cheaper, the médina in parts is crawling with motorbikes/mopeds. 

It appears that those involved in tourism and therefore with most vested interest are those least aware of the problem: they never venture out of the VN and also have absolutely no idea of the current situation in Marrakech, where bikers have become so aggressive that both vistors and locals are starting to shun the médina entirely.

In February this year a higly-placed member of the CRT, during a private meeting with me, called the Chief of Police and asked him about the notices banning motorised vehicles that were supposedly being prepared, to be installed on each main gate of the médina. The response, in front of me, was that these notices had already been placed at Bab Boujloud and Bab el Guissa. Has anyone seen them yet? Was this police official being economic with the actuality? And,if so,why?

Yet, apart from a very rare police action, nothing has happened and locals and tourists are convinced nothing much is being done.

Trying to enjoy a meal with motorbike noise and fumes is not easy

And in Marrakech, the problem is out of control. Jenny from Marrakech says: It would very good if Fés learns from the mistakes in Marrakech. Here the noise, pollution and danger of mopeds and bikes is a very big problem and our guests most common complaint is about nearly being run over. It would be so easy to ban them here, but nobody seems to understand what a problem it is. Fes should act now while the number of bikes is still small.

Our Marrakech correspondent, Derek Workman, reports from the Red City:
As you are wandering through the souks, you spend half your time dodging mopeds. At least the mule carts and bikes travel at a sedate pace, but the mopeds are pretty nippy and it can give you a moment’s nervousness to be staring the rider in the eyes at a distance and speed that makes you wonder which one of you is going to come off worse in the inevitable collision. Fortunately they usually nip past without doing any physical or emotional damage – but that’s not to say it never happens.

Eight years ago, on my first visit to Marrakech, I’d just walked away from Jmaa el Fna and the handlebar of a moped brushed my side. It was summer, and I was wearing a lightweight shirt, and as I felt the handlebar touch me I turned into it to avoid anything serious happening. The rider was full of apologies, but I just patted him on the back, said something to the effect, “It’s okay, no harm done,” and he smiled and rode off. I turned to continue my walk, and felt a light breeze around my midriff, where the handlebar had torn my shirt right across the middle, leaving my stomach exposed. I hadn’t felt a thing or, in all the hubbub, heard anything either. I was more amused than anything else that I’d actually patted the chap on the back and parted with smiles, and here I was exposing my paunch for all of Marrakech to see.

The Medina is no place for motorbikes like this one in Seffarine

And today, when an actual collision between man and moped did occur, I still walked away with a semblance of a smile.

I was ambling my way back to my riad in the Sidi ben Slimane area, not taking a great deal of notice of anything, when I heard a moped rev up. I looked up, and about two metres away I saw a small boy on a moped careering towards me, and it was obvious by the panic in is eyes that he’d only learned how to go forward, he hadn’t quite got the hang of braking and steering yet. If it had been a scene in an Indiana Jones film, where the hero was walking through the souk and an evil assassin was attempting to run him down, although it would probably have been a Harley Davidson in that case, and not just a tiny 50cc Yamaha, Harrison Ford would have dived out of the way at the last second, probably doing a roll through piles of antiques lamps and collapsing the tent poles that supported the awning to the shop. Me, I’m no Indiana Jones, I’m neither quick witted enough or know how to do forward rolls to end a neatly executed dive, so I just stood there and watched the panic stricken ten year-old hurtle towards me. (Although to say ‘hurtle’ is probably gilding the lily a bit.) I made a half-hearted attempt to get out of the way but he hit my leg with the front wheel, which was probably the bit of steering assistance that turned him to the right out of any other harm’s way.

When I turned around he’d managed to stop, and was on that point where he could well have burst into tears. Behind me I heard a man shouting at the lad, but as he didn’t look at me it could well have been that he was pretty brassed off because the nipper had ridden the moped in the first place. I turned around, just as an old woman joined in the tirade. When I looked at the boy again he was even closer to tears, so I just waved my arms around a bit in a huffy sort of way and walked off.

But I did have a bit of moped malarkey earlier in the day. I’d gone to do an interview with a delightful young chap who is the only hand-made football maker in Morocco – more of that another day – but stupidly, I’d left my recorder in the riad, on the other side of the Medina. By one of those delightful quirks of serendipity, he lived about three streets from the riad, and offered to take me there on his moped.

Why is it so difficult to outlaw bikes in Morocco's medinas?

I got a chance to see life from the other side of the handlebars. We dodged and weaved through the crowded narrow alleyways, and there were times I thought my kneecaps were getting just that bit close to the walls. As we left the tighter alleys of the souk he took some of the wider streets, in deference to it being my first ride on the back of a moped, with a rear seat which clearly wasn’t built for someone my size. I think I’d stick to a bike if I’m piloting something through the souks myself in the future.


Tug Boats for Morocco

The Ibrahim I in Halong Bay

It is a very long way to come, but recently, two Damen Stan Tugs 2608, the Ibrahim 1 and the Jacques, were shipped from the anchorage of Halong Bay, Haiphong (Vietnam) to Casablanca by the Atlantic Winter, an 800t lifting capacity HLV chartered by Danish Heavy Lift carrier Thorco from Reederei Heino Winter.

After having taken the necessary preparations and rigging of the lifting gear, both tugs were nicely loaded into their prepositioned cradles on deck in a two day operation.

one of the tugs on the Atlantic Winter
The tugs were ordered by JL Tug and Fedala Tug. Both are Moroccan, privately owned, maritime services companies that have long-time relationships with Damen Shipyards.

The two tugs stowed on deck before leaving Halong Bay
The Ibrahim 1 will be operated by JL Tug in the Port of Jorf Lasfar and the Jacques will be operated by Fedala Tug in the Port of Mohammedia.

The Jacques that will work in Mohammedia

The Fedala Tug company in Mohammedia, takes its name from the original name for this port city, in northwestern Morocco. It lies along the Atlantic Ocean 15 miles (24 km) northeast of Casablanca. The harbour, at what is now Mohammedia, was frequented in the 14th and 15th centuries by merchant ships from Europe seeking cereals and dried fruits. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was intermittently an official grain-export entrepôt for Christian merchants. The modern port facilities were initially developed by French businessmen after 1913. The name of the city was changed from Fedala in 1959 to honour Muḥammad V, the king of Morocco (ruled 1927–61). Contemporary Mohammedia is both a popular seaside resort with a casino and a major industrial port. Imported crude oil is refined at Morocco’s largest refinery directly southwest of the city, and Mohammedia also has many fish canneries and a factory that produces chlorine and sodium carbonate.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ibn Battuta Google Doodle!

Born in Tangier on 24 February 1304 CE, Ibn Battuta was the greatest traveller of the 14th century. Although often compared to Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta covered more ground and was much more adventurous than the European. Born Abou Abdallah Mohammed Ibn Abdallah Ibn Mohammed Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Mohammed Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Youssef Alaouati Attangi, but more snappily known as Ibn Battuta, the intrepid traveller set out on his first trip in 1325. He left Tangier for Mecca, and in fact made the pilgrimage three times over his lifetime. His journey lasted 28 years and covered 120 000 km across 44 states on three continents: Africa, Asia and Europe.

To mark his birthday on the 24th of this month, Google put up a "scrollable Ibn Battuta doodle" that depicts his journey through six slides, starting and ending in Morocco via Egypt, Turkey, India, China and other countries. The doodle also shows Delhi's Qutub Minar.

The last slide shows Ibn Battuta back in his home country Morocco dictating an account of his journeys to Ibn Juzayy, that would become his book Rihla.

The Ibn Battuta doodle is Google's 1311th doodle since the first ever Google doodle back on August 30, 1998.

Google recreated the long journey that Ibn Battuta undertook seven centuries ago on the doodle that it put up on its home page in the Arab countries to commemorate the birthday of the Moroccan explorer.

Ibn Battuta had served as a Qazi in India for about six years during Muhammad bin Tughluq's rule and travelled extensively across the country. He began his travels in 1325 at the age of 21.

Read more about Ibn Battuta


The Marrakech Biennale 2012

The Marrakech Biennale is biennale of contemporary international culture. On the 29th of February of 2012, Marrakech Biennale launches its fourth edition, Free Thinking Surrender, featuring key figures in literature, film and visual arts. The festival runs until the 4th of March, with public screenings, talks, performances and debates at venues around the city.

Alan Yentob, creative director of the BBC, returns this year as the organizer of the film program, and Omar Berrada with Elizabeth Sheinkman will organize the literature events.

Carson Chan and Nadim Samman
One of the highlights will be Higher Atlas, an exhibition curated by Carson Chan and Nadim Samman (pictured above), will open on March 1st and be on view until June 3rd. The exhibition is a starting point for a series of trips, both virtual and physical; Other worlds begin at one’s feet. This thesis is explored through site-specific art, architectural, musical and textual interventions. A layered context emerges from the particularity of the exhibition experience, articulating the blurred boundaries between historically discrete spheres, and the conjunction of local and global conditions.

 the Théâtre Royal - Photos by Alia Radman
Dispersed among the Théâtre Royal, a building that remains incomplete; the Koutoubia cisterns, which lie beneath the foundations of a previous mosque; the Bank Al-Maghrib building, located on the south side of the perpetually bustling Djemaa el-Fna square; the Cyber Parc Arsat Moulay Abdeslam; and at Dar Al-Ma’mûn foundation, Higher Atlas engages Marrakech by underlining the contemporary relevance of civic, rural and historical sites through the work of international participants. The exhibition, which features work from thirty-seven international artists, architects, writers, musicians and composers including Karthik Pandian, Aleksandra Domanovic, CocoRosie, Jon Nash, Juergen Mayer H and Turner Prize nominated Roger Hiorns. The exhibition seeks to engage in an expansive dialogue with the city.

Co-curator Carson Chan notes: "While trying to curate an exhibition that could become part of a contemporary Moroccan cultural identity, we can also challenge the received methods of biennale making that is routinely practiced elsewhere. Do we have to show art? Why not commission a novel, a symphony, an album or a prayer?"

the Koutoubia cisterns
With each biennial, Marrakech Biennale strives to collaborate with local universities and craftsmen, to build a platform that promotes Marrakech’s position within the international sphere. Through partnerships with African and international voices, the Biennale aims to support a Moroccan cultural identity that is both locally rooted and internationally relevant. Developed for this upcoming edition, the Marrakech Biennale will establish workshops for children lead by local and international cultural practitioners to promote access to contemporary culture for all ages. These three months aim to highlight Morocco as a dynamic hub for current ideas and to establish its continued intellectual involvement on an international stage.

Past participants have included Francis Alys, Yto Barrada, John Boorman, Richard E. Grant, Edmond El Maleh, Tracy Emin, Pieter Hugo, Isaac Julien, Abdellah Karroum, Joseph Kosuth, Julien Schnabel, Zadie Smith, Abdellah Taia.

The History
In 2004 with the rise of global tensions, Vanessa Branson envisioned a cultural festival that would address social issues through the arts, using them as a vehicle for debate and discussion and to build bridges between diverse ideologies. Marrakech Biennale would become a celebration of creativity in a city that has been the focus of artistic exploration for centuries but with limited emphasis on contemporary art.

Beginning in 2005, as a gathering of arts enthusiasts who organised literary events and exhibitions. Marrakech Biennale has grown to become an internationally recognised biennale with a thriving visual arts, film and literature programme. The festival’s role has evolved along with the climate of the times. With today’s events in North Africa, the organisation’s goals could not be more pertinent for the cultural identity of the region. This festival aims to show the outside world that Morocco is an open society that encourages freedom of expression and debate, as well as sponsoring significant and lasting benefits for the area and its inhabitants, socially, economically and culturally.

The Biennale and the British Council
As a leader in the educational and cultural field, the British Council Morocco is one of the major partners of the festival. The British Council is working with the Biennale on an internship programme for students at the Faculty of Letters of University Cadi Ayyad.

Marrakech Biennale and the British Council have created for this edition of the Biennale an internship programme for students in English and French departments at Cadi Ayyad University. The aim is to create intercultural links and exchange between the students and the artists of the Biennale.

During the long period when the Biennale artists have been preparing and creating their work, each artist have each been teamed up with a student-intern who has acted as host for the city as well as in some case, assistants in the actual work of the artist.

The professors of Cadi Ayyad University have supported the students to take the internship one step further, by encouraging them to base their term paper on the Biennale as a way to intellectually process this experience.

The aim of the Internship was to create intercultural exchange through a mutually beneficial internship. A diploma will be issued to the students that have shown dedication to the internship programme and given some of their time to the preparation of the Marrakech Biennale.

Also, a series of arts workshops will pair up to 8 participating artists with 150 girls from a local dorm in a collaborative style to create a dynamic art installation piece to be put on display during the festival.

For more information visit the Biennale Website


Casablanca - the Light Rail System is Coming

The View from Fez team visited Casablanca this week, to inspect progress on the new Casablanca light rail project. We are pleased to report that work is well underway and continuing around the clock. Although the bold prediction was that the system would be up and running by the end of 2012, we are told that 2013 is a more realistic date. Here is our updated report on a project that will change the face of Casablanca.

Construction is underway 24 hours a day. (Photo: Sandy McCutcheon)

Construction of the first of four light rail lines began in 2010 with a planned completion in 2012. The first line will be 29 km long. A contract with train providers Alsthom was signed for delivery of the first cars in 2011.

Casablanca tram development company Casa Transports has appointed the consortium of Systra and Moroccan firm CID Engineering: Development Consultants as project manager for the city's light rail scheme.

Systra drew up preliminary designs in 2008. As consortium leader it will now be responsible for management of the 6·4 bn dirham project, including detailed design work, organising the tendering and supervising construction.

The first stage route plan

The 29 km Y-shaped first phase will run from Grand Stade to Hay Hassani and Facultés, with 50 stops and 38 trams. Traffic and utility diversion is causing problems in the city, with local drivers reporting that, "everybody is angry with the disruption at the moment". Water, electricity, sewage, public lighting and telecom deviation is underway in six corridors in the city. “The deviation works in the boulevard Mekka and the first part of the boulevard Okba-Bnou-Nafi (2 km each), which began last September have been completed, they have started on the boulevards Ba-Hmad, Panoramic, Abdelmoumen and Okba “ said Mr Youssef Draiss, CEO of Casa Transport S.A., the Tramway General Contractor.

Some people wonder why they entire area was not closed to allow for the work to go faster, but the CEO of Casa Transport said that studies have previously shown that the best way to minimize traffic disruption is to work on alternate stretches of 200 or 300 meters on each side of the road.

Now the construction work has reached Mohammed V Boulevard in the city centre, starting from the train station Casa Voyageurs. The approach is to start work from the suburbs and converge toward the center, and as such, Boulevard Hassan II will be the last affected for to maximise traffic flow.

The opening was planned for December 12, 2012 but insiders told The View from Fez that it will certainly now be well into 2013. However, residents are confident that the final outcome will enhance economic opportunities and benefit both locals and tourists in Casablanca.

Longer term plans include four lines totalling 76 km.

The end is in sight - but another year at least before completion. (Photo: Sandy McCutcheon) 

Casablanca Transports SA was founded in 2008 specifically to own and manage the tramway. Its shareholders are the Moroccan state, the Greater Casablanca Region, local authorities, Hassan II Fund for Economic & Social Development, as well as the State Pension Fund, national railway ONCFM, and Banque Centrale Populaire.


Maghreb of Fez Wins the African Super Cup

Yesterday the people of Fez had a major sporting win to celebrate - and celebrate they did. The event was the final of the African Super Cup being held in the Rades Stadium in Tunisia between Esperance of Tunisia and MAS - the Maghreb Association of Fez. MAS won in a penalty shootout, 4 - 3. It was a sweet victory for the team from Fez as the Esperence coach, Nabil Maaloul, had been boasting "We proved our superiority over the continent this year. No African team can beat us" Sorry Nabil.
Samir Bennis from Morocco World News reports on the match and some of the issues creating controversy in the world of Moroccan football.
MAS celebrates in Tunisia

The Maghreb Association of Fez (MAS) won, on Saturday in Rades Stadium in Tunisia, the African Super Cup after it defeated Esperance of Tunisia on penalty shootouts (4-3).

The final score of the game was 1-1. MAS took the initiative early in the game, when Hamza Bourezzouk scored the first goal for his team at the 20th minute.

After the goal and throughout the game, MAS players dominated the midfield and prevented the Esperance players from developing their game.

MAS held on to its advantage throughout the game until the additional time when Bin Chemam scored the equalizer for the Tunisians. The goal came at the 100 minute.

This the second time that a Moroccan team wins the African Super Cup, after Rajae of Casablanca won the title in 2000. This is also the first time that the winner of the African Cup of Confederation won the Super Cup over the winner of the Champions’ League.

This is the second title that MAS won in less than three months after the Throne Cup in early November and the African Confederation Cup two weeks later. In two of them, Morocco’s best team for the last 2 years won through penalty shootouts.

The Super Cup is an annual football match organized by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), between winners of the previous season’s CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup competitions.

Maghreb of Fez is winner of the 2011 CAF Confederation Cup and Espérance ST had won the CAF Champions League.

This victory comes amid a heated controversy in Morocco stirred by Morocco’s national coach, Eric Gerets, who made disgraceful statements to the press early this week where he belittled Moroccan coaches. In a interview given to the daily newspaper Aujourd’hui le Maroc, he dared to criticize them and say that a Moroccan coach had never achieved anything meaningful with Morocco’s national team.

This victory won by a team managed by national coach comes timely and should push Gerets to reconsider his statements and present an official apology to all Moroccans.

This victory comes three weeks after the humiliating elimination of Morocco in the first round of the African Cup of Nations, which was in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea from January 22 to February 12.

While being considered by most observers as the frontrunner for the Cup, Morocco lost its first match in the competition to Tunisia (2-1), and its second match to Gabon (3-2). The disgraceful performance by the Moroccan team was blamed on the arrogance of Eric Gerets, his bad coaching during the matches and his decision to call up players who were not ready for that continental competition.

First published in Morocco World News and reprinted on The View from Fez with permission..


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Handy Hints - Arriving in Casablanca

For many people Casablanca is the city they fly into when visiting Morocco. If you have come from the USA, Australia or New Zealand, jet lag it can make the first few hours little difficult. So here are a few hints from people who have done the journey to Casablanca and onwards many times.

The Mohammed V International Airport is operated by ONDA (National Airports Office). Located in Province of Nouaceur, a suburb 30 km south-east of Casablanca, it is the busiest airport in Morocco with almost 7.25 million passengers passing through the airport in 2010. There are now three terminals and the general condition of the airport is much improved, although it is reported that HM King Mohammed VI was less than impressed with renovations and improvements when last he did an inspection.

(1) Money
Make sure you withdraw Moroccan dirhams from an ATM before you leave the airport building. Because of credit card charges on overseas withdrawals, it is wise to get out the maximum daily limit. This is usually 3000 to 4000 Moroccan Dirhams.

(2) Transport
Decide in advance of your arrival as to your mode of transport into the city. Rail is inexpensive and takes around forty-five minutes to an hour. There are 36 trains, one departure every hour in each direction. If you take the train you should disembark at Casa Voyageurs station. The downside of the train is that if you have just missed one you will have an hour's wait. The train is also not the finest in the country by a long way and can often be very crowded and many people experience difficulty with lack of luggage space.

There are alternatives to the train. The taxi service operated by "grand taxis"will get you to your hotel or the Casa Voyageurs railway station for a supposed set fare. You must agree on this before getting in the car as they do not have meters.

The easiest (and our preferred) method is to book an English speaking driver before you leave your home country. An email to will save any confusion.  You can check them out online at Aeroport Transfer.  The charge between the airport and downtown Casablanca is 250 dirhams, cheaper than most quotes we could get from drivers of grand taxis. Note: in the city taxis are the small red taxis and carry a maximum of three people. Do insist they use the meter.

Hassan II Mosque
Photo: Suzanna Clarke

(3) Staying in Casablanca?
 Make a decision about whether or not to stay at least one night in Casablanca before you leave home. After a long-haul flight and the problem of jet lag, it is often preferable to have a night to recover. There is much more to see and do in Casablanca than is first apparent. Staying overnight will give you a chance to visit the Hassan II Mosque, find a really decent restaurant and get a feel for the city before moving on. There are hotels for every budget but the location of the "cheap and cheerful" Ibis chain (located right beside the main Casa Voyageurs railway station and also in the city centre), are the ones to pick if convenience is more important than luxury.

(4) Eating out in Casablanca.
Port de Pêche - Casablanca Harbour. If "eat where the locals do" is any guide, then Port de Pêche is a winner. Seafood tagines as well as fried and baked dishes are on offer. Go for the fresh fish. The setting and style is delightfully informal with none of the "French restaurant" nonsense seen in some of the cities eateries. Dinner costs about $30. They bring the fish to the table to make sure it's what you ordered. Go early as by 9 pm the queue outside will be growing longer by the minute. This is a favourite with the crew from The View from Fez.

Rick's Cafe is a must and another of our favourite places. "Come to Casablanca and live the dream", says Kathy Kriger, owner of Rick's Cafe in Casablanca. And if you're a fan of the film, it's a wonderful way to spend an evening the atmosphere is stunning and the food ranges from good to great. They also know how to make fabulous cocktails. See our review HERE

Find Rick's Cafe at 248 Boulevard Sour Jdid in Casablanca's Medina. Ph 0522 27 42 07/08
Rick's Cafe Website

(5) Other things to do in Casablanca.
Visit the Hassan II Mosque. The Hassan II Mosque is the largest mosque in the country and the 7th largest mosque in the world. Its minaret is the world's tallest at 210 m (689 ft). It stands on a promontory looking out to the Atlantic. A total of 105,000 worshippers can gather for prayer at the mosque simultaneously, 25,000 inside the mosque and another 80,000 on the mosque's ground outside. Built on reclaimed land, almost half of the surface of the mosque lies above sea water of the Atlantic. This was inspired by the verse of the Qur'an that states "the throne of Allah was built on water." Part of the floor is glass and offers a view down at the sea.

Visit the Jewish Museum. It is certainly worth a visit and for those who know little or nothing of its history and the history of Jews in Morocco, then you will probably find the article "Curating Casablanca" by Eric Trager (2006-2007 Islamic Civilisations Fulbright grantee based in Cairo) worth a read.

81 Rue Chasseur Jules Gros
Director: Simon Levy
Curator – Zhor Rehihil
Telephone: (212) 22 9949 40

Visit a shopping mall? Yes, why not? Morocco Mall is said to be the fifth largest mall in the world, and is expected to receive more than fifteen million visitors a year with sales approaching five billion Dirham (600 million US dollars). Just ask any taxi driver.

A walking tour of Casablanca architecture is truly interesting. The style of colonial architecture found in abundance in Casablanca is known as Mauresque and came into being during General Lyautey's term of office as Resident Governor of Morocco between 1912 and 1924. See our suggested route here.

(6) Leaving Casablanca.
Trains depart from Casa Voyageurs station for most Moroccan destinations. The prices are very reasonable and a first class seat to Fez, for example, is only 165 dirhams. Do ask for a window seat. If possible, book at least the day before you intend to travel. You will find all the train details on the ONCF Website. You can also get an app for your smartphone that has all the latest train times. TRAIN APP HERE

A car and English speaking driver is a superb way to see the country, stop for coffee or to take a photograph when you want and travel in comfort. As an example, an English speaking driver for up to three people going from Casablanca to Fez will cost 1500 dirhams with some transport firms. Others will cost up to 2000 dirhams.

Once again, we suggest you book a driver before arriving in Morocco. Here are our suggested options:

Website: Chrif Trans or email or phone Michele Reeves (212) 642 704 601.

Website:  Aeroport Transfer or email or phone Mohamed Bahraoui on
(212) 676768189.

(7) General Information about Morocco
Make sure you read our page of basic information about Morocco. Morocco Basics
Also check out our: suggested reading list


Thursday, February 23, 2012

The UK as Hot as Morocco?

If there was ever a question about the climate changing and normal patterns going topsy-turvy, then the debate can be put aside. Just a few weeks ago Britain and Europe were undergoing extreme cold with a Siberian cold front sweeping south. Now, the weather has changed again. British newspaper, always keen to boast about warm weather, are glowing with pride that Britain is as warm than Morocco - at least today.

The Daily Mail says, "If you're thinking about flying south in search of some winter warmth, you may be wasting your time. Britain will be as hot as Morocco and Barcelona today as the mercury nudges 18C (64F). This is around 10C warmer than average for this time of year – and puts the UK on a par with northern Africa."

And it will also be milder than Athens, where it will reach just 13C (55F). The highest temperatures in the UK are expected in the Midlands, north-east Wales, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, while London and much of Scotland are predicted to reach 16C (60F).

As one Daily Mail reader said "Do you think that a Morocco Newspaper has the headline! WEATHER SHOCK. WE'RE COLDER THAN PONTEFRACT!" - Well, actually, Simon, yes!

Meanwhile, in Morocco Fez is 16 Celsius, Rabat 19 and Marrakech 17.

Up in the Atlas mountains it is a different story. Magharebia is reporting that the Moroccan government is promising to look into the needs of isolated communities hard hit by an unusually severe winter.

Magharebia says that people living in remote regions of Morocco were hard hit this winter by an unprecedented cold snap, with some villages cut off from the rest of the country by snowfall. But residents could soon see assistance thanks to a programme run by the Mohammed V Foundation and the interior ministry.

Reaching some High Atlas villages is difficult at the best of times

Beni Mellal resident Hajja Fadma told Magharebia that during the 65 years of her life, she has seen women dying in childbirth and babies dying of cold and isolation because of a lack of assistance and chaotic driving conditions on the roads.

"The cold is so bad that we feel we're going to die and there is little we can do to keep ourselves warm," she said.

To address the situation, the Mohammed V Foundation allocated six million dirhams on to an assistance programme run with the interior ministry and the Royal Gendarmerie. Launched February 8th, the project aims to help those living in remote mountain villages in the Azilal-Beni Mellal region and elsewhere.


Fez Film Festival Aims to Rejuvenate Cinema

A scene from François Truffaut's 1976 film L'Argent de Poche

Held in the nostalgic Art Deco surrounds of Cinema Rex, this weekend's French Film Festival, Cinema et Enfance ("Cinema & Childhood") offers more than just screenings - it's also an event to encourage cinema in Fez.
The Cinema et Enfance festival, organised by the Institut Français Fes, in partnership with the Association Fes Soleil, is an opportunity to revisit some favorite films, as well as others from different backgrounds that may have never been seen. Films to be screened are from Morocco, France, Iran and Japan.

One of the highlights will be François Truffaut's L'Argent de Poche ("Pocket Money"), screening this Saturday at 7.30 PM. It is a comedy with a serious message, based on the daily lives of young children in Thiers, France. It portrays the difficulties and responsibilities faced by children, such as the ongoing story of a boy's experience of an abusive home. Scenes include a baby and a cat perilously playing on an open windowsill, a girl causing confusion with a bullhorn, a double date at the movie theater, a kid telling a dirty joke, and a botched haircut, as well as many scenes about school life. One of Truffaut's most popular films, it gives a message of resilience in the face of injustice.

Meetings, debates and reflections around these films will hopefully take the experience beyond mere projection.

Festival Cinema et Enfance is on Friday February 24 and Saturday February 25 at 5 PM and 7.30 PM at Cinema Rex in the Ville Nouvelle. Cost - students and members 10 dhs; non-members 20 dhs.

See the full program for Cinema et Enfance HERE.


Fresh Vision for Cultural Life in Fez

The new director of the French Institute in Fez, Philippe Laleu, has brought a breath of fresh air to the artistic life of the city, writes Suzanna Clarke.

Far from being simply an administrator, Laleu is also a practicing video artist, who has a broad understanding of the arts and is taking a creative approach to increasing the number and scope of cultural activities.

Since Laleu assumed the post last November, new initiatives have included renting the Art Deco style Cinema Rex, in Fez's Ville Nouvelle - a French film festival is showing there this weekend. (See story above.) There will also be a festival of documentary films from April 24 to May 4.

Laleu is also keen to expand the artist's residency program at the French Institute's Dar Batha premises in the Medina to include artists of many nationalities. "We want to create a meeting platform; a window onto the world," he says.

Rather than having a residency program where artists and experts come and "teach" locals, Laleu sees the opportunity to create a catalyst; an artists' hub, "where ideas can be exchanged and creativity stimulated".

Other activities planned for Fez include the Change Your Class program, where a classroom in the medina is taken over and transformed, with the help of the pupils, over a two week period. This will be happening from March 16-31 at a local school.

Literary events are also a feature of the French Institute program, with French writer and poet Eric Sadin due to give readings and workshops in Fez from March 16 to April 30.

New director of the French Institute in Fez, Philippe Laleu

Laleu's experience with enhancing the cultural life of cities is extensive. Between 1983 to 1990, he trained in painting and art installation in the French city of Cergy, at one of the new breed of French art schools, opened by the Ministry of Culture. Following this, he did a stint as an artist in residency in the Japanese city of Kyoto. "From my first trip to Japan in 1989, I loved it and wanted to go back,"he says.

He got that opportunity when between 1999-2005, when he programmed the cultural calendar for Alliance Francaise in Bangkok, before becoming the director of the French Institute in Yokohama. During his tenure there, Laleu established a number of contemporary events in collaboration with budding venues; huge warehouses lining the Yokohama Bay, which were transformed into massive independent exhibition spaces. Events he programmed included the Yokohama Video Collection, with three French curators creating a show around a common theme. After this, Laleu returned to Bangkok to launch a new art center there.

His posting in Fez came about almost by accident. Laleu had long been enthusiastic about coming to the Maghreb. "In September I passed by Paris, and was encouraged to apply for the posting in Fez." With the winning combination of his artistic talents and administrative aptitude, his appointment was quickly decided.

Laleu's own artistic work has toured extensively in different countries. His 2010 exhibition at St Denis in Paris, Private location ou ses doigts bruns élégants comprised photographs and videos, and a sculpture combining "art toys" - manufactured products and crafts. His artist's statement said, "Philippe Laleu offers a personal view of Asia where clichés, exoticism, modesty and poetry intertwine subtly."

The early signs for Laleu's program in Fez are excellent and the development of his vision, as he learns more about the city, Moroccan culture and his way around the sometimes arcane bureaucracy is keenly awaited.
He has many experienced hands on board to help him. "I have a great team of thirty people here," Laleu says.

You can see the cultural program of the Institut Français de Fes HERE. 


Fez Sufi Festival 2012 - Starts Next Week

Just a reminder that the 2012 edition of the Fez Sufi Festival starts next Thursday. The View from Fez will once again be giving the most comprehensive coverage with reviews and other stories. Our Sufi Festival coverage will be headed by Derek Workman who has arrived in Fez and will be report and review on the entire festival.

Here is the Sufi Festival program.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

10am :  Official opening of the Festival
11 am:  Lecture: The literature of hikam in the Sufi tradition.
4pm:    Conference: Hikam and poetry in the work of Muhammad Iqbal.
8.30pm: Concert of the brotherhood "Nidhamouddine" New Delhi: India

Friday, April 13, 2012

10am: Hikam and path of spiritual chivalry (futuwwa).
4pm:   Conference hikam and culture.
8:30 p.m: Samaâ of the Tariqa Khalwatiyya Turkey.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

10am: Conference: "Can one teach knowledge? "
4pm: Roundtable: "From Eva Vitray Meyerovitch reader of Iqbal: Islam in Motion"
8.30pm: Closing Concert: Music and Arab-Andalusian Sufi brotherhoods of Samaâ

Samaâ of the Tariqa Khalwatiyya Turkey

6ième Édition du Festival de Fès de la Culture Soufie

Jeudi 12 avril 2012
10 H : Ouverture officielle du Festival
11 H : Conférence : La littérature des hikam dans la tradition soufie.
16 H : Conférence : Hikam et poésie dans l’œuvre de Muhammed Iqbal .
20H30 : Concert de la  confrérie « Nidhamouddine »  de New Delhi : Inde
Vendredi 13 Avril 2012
10 H : Hikam et voie de la chevalerie spirituelle (futuwwa).
16H : Conférence hikam et culture.
20H30 : Samaâ de la Tariqa Khalwatiyya de Turquie.
Samedi 14 Avril 2012
10H : Conférence : « peut‐on enseigner la sagesse ? »
16H : Table ronde : « De Eva de Vitray Meyerovitch lectrice d’Iqbal : l’Islam en mouvement »
20H30 : Concert de clôture : Musique arabo‐andalouse et Samaâ des confréries soufies du

If you want the latest program for the Fez Sacred Music Festival 2012 in English CLICK HERE


Moroccan Tourism Holds Steady

Instability caused by the Arab Spring has slowed tourism growth in Morocco

In a press conference held yesterday in Casablanca, a Moroccan tourism official, Kamal Bensouda, reported that despite the turmoil of the Arab Spring and the instability it has created, the Moroccan tourism sector remained stable. Bensouda told the media that 9.34 million tourists visited Morocco in 2011 - 1% increase over 2010. Overall revenues were up 4 percent to 59 billion dirhams (about 5.7 billion Euros) "despite a difficult environment."

Tourism operators and officials in the tourism sector say that the Arab Spring has affected tourism in Morocco even though, overall, the numbers are similar to 2010. The political developments last year in North African countries, including Morocco, Tunisia and Libya, have decreased the demand for Morocco among foreign tour operators.

According to a hotel owner in Agadir, the political changes in recent months in Morocco, including the rise of the Islamists, have created doubts in foreign markets. "During the last referendum on the new constitution and thereafter the general elections on November 25, we observed a wait and see trend among foreign agencies towards Morocco,'' he said. However, he added that, "Today, there is a slight rise in bookings for March."

The same view is shared by the president of the National Federation of Tourism, Ali Ghannam, who said that, "The year 2011 was a difficult year for the sector.'' He noted that, globally, Morocco ranked 24th in terms of arrivals and 36th in terms of tourism receipts.

In analysis of the Moroccan tourism sector by the Jordanian based news organisation, Albawaba, Agadir, one of the preferred destinations for tour operators, illustrates 2011's drop in tourist activity. Last January, Agadir registered in its classified hotels a total of 48,367 arrivals and 266,633 overnight stays, a drop of 19.93 percent and 23.36 percent respectively compared to the same period in 2011.

recent days have seen a slow increase in tourists visiting Fez

The situation in Marrakech and Fez reflects the same downturn. Riad owners in Fez report that the last few months have been the hardest they can remember. Many are cutting back on staff and advertising, with at least two saying that they are considering putting their properties on the market. Others are quick to point out that decreasing advertising during a slow period can be counterproductive.

Meanwhile, the new Moroccan Minister of Tourism, Lahcen Haddad, believes that 2011 was still a good year. Despite the local and regional events, Moroccan tourism has had good achievements, he conveyed. "The sector, which contributes about 9 percent of the GDP, achieved satisfactory results in 2011 despite a difficult world and declining travel demand due to the economic crisis which hit the main tourist source markets of Morocco,'' said the Moroccan minister, whose remarks were reported by the MAP news agency. 

It is to be hoped that the Moroccan Tourism authorities can get the message out that despite turmoil in other countries, Morocco remains an extremely safe and welcoming destination.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

From Morocco to Australia - the Healing Power of the Fez!

The Humour Valets ready for action

It was a case of "if the hat fits; wear it". One of the most unusual requests that the team at The View from Fez received in recent months was an appeal from a bunch of clowns for thirty Fez hats - literally from a bunch of clowns. The clowns are the Humour Valets of Australia and were about to embark on some medical research with dementia patients. According to the theory, a dose of laughter may be just the medicine elderly people need to combat dementia.

Accordingly, The View from Fez found the thirty Fez hats and dispatched them to Australia. Then we received an urgent email saying that the programme was about to start and the hats were all too large. Another thirty Fezes were procured and mailed to Australia. This time we were taking no chances and included an assortment of sizes.

Some of the hats preparing to head to Australia

Thankfully, either the hats were big enough or the heads small enough and the Australian Humour Valets launched into action. The Valets are part of the work of Jean-Paul Bell, a man whose face is described as 'the face that could launch a thousand laughs'. Jean Paul Bell is one of Australia's great 'Humour-manitarians'  He believes that humour helps put life into perspective. It helps us understand the orthodox, tolerate the unpleasant, overcome the unexpected and survive the unbearable.

Jean-Paul Bell
Since creating and co-founding the Humour Foundation and their Clown Doctor Program in 1996, Jean-Paul has moved on to found a new company of Valets who are busy showing the world that laughter is the best medicine. In 2010 he wrote Laughter is the Best Medicine which chronicles the experiences of a number of Humour Valets as they do their rounds in children's hospitals around Australia.

Jean-Paul takes big risks, taking his physical comedy to war-torn countries like Afghanistan and East Timor. He proves that the more stressed or threatened people are the greater the potential for laughter: "Humour can have an effect similar to an 'out of body experience', where you look down from the position you are in and embrace the absurd and the ridiculous. Comedy in these situations is more like an extreme sport!" He has also spent an extended time in staying in Fez, a city he feels "totally at home in".

Jean-Paul Bell's great passions are health and education. For twelve months he was involved in a unique project, The Smile Study, a federally funded randomised trial with the Dementia Collaborative Research Centre at UNSW, visiting 18 aged care homes delivering fun and laughter to elderly people suffering with dementia. "I am a great believer in the collaboration of the Arts and Sciences in developing ways of communicating with elderly people suffering from dementia. As we age, more and more funding will be needed to cope with the swelling numbers of Baby Boomers entering this difficult part of their lives," says Jean Paul.

Vera Gracie with Dr Jean-Paul Bell at Whiddon Group Aged Care Facility 

Since December, staff at a number of aged care centres have been joking around with residents all in the name of good health. That is where the Fez hats come in. The staff don fez hats and special uniforms as part of a humour therapy program called Play Up.

An initiative of the Arts Health Institute, it was developed during a study by the University of NSW Dementia Collaborative Research Centre, which looked at the effects of humour therapy on 400 people in 36 aged care centres.

The research findings found that humour therapy could be used to manage agitation experienced by people living with dementia. More than that, the therapy was found to be as effective as anti-psychotic drugs that are used to treat people with dementia.

It can also improve communication and trigger memories.

Jean-Paul Bell, says the type of humour used could penetrate the foggy and confused world of dementia to improve people's quality of life. "We like to provoke them and push them around," he said. "Slapstick also works really well and there is a certain wisdom that only people with dementia have and it's quite remarkable to see."

A film about the work of Jean-Paul and the Humour Valets is about to be released. See the trailer: The Smile Within

The work of the Humour Valets is going so well, that today The View from Fez received a new order for Fez hats, which will soon be winging their way to Australia.

Trivia Fact:  A lot of the best quality Moroccan Fez hats are made from felt-wool from Australian and New Zealand sheep. So for part of these hats it is a return home! 

See also our story: Fezes are Cool