Friday, August 31, 2012

Moroccan News Briefs #70

Free Ceuta (Sebta) and Mililla activists detained

Moroccan activist make their statement 

Four Moroccan activists from the Committee to Free Ceuta (Sebta) and Melilla were briefly detained at dawn on Wednesday this week after trying to occupy the Penon de Velez de la Gomera fortress off the Moroccan coast. Both Ceuta and Melilla are considered by Moroccans as their territory.

A total of seven activists reached the fortress, on a peninsula 130 kilometers west of Melilla. Arriving on foot at 6.30am, they tried to place flags from their movement. Stopped by Spanish military border police, three activists fled while the other four were questioned, identified and then released, said a Spanish enclave government delegate, El Berkani.

Committee activists have made several attempts to occupy Spanish-occupied rock fortresses recently, El Berkani said. In 2002, the landing of Moroccan troops on Spain's Perejl Island in the Strait of Gibraltar caused a diplomatic incident between the two countries.

The Casablanca tramway - nearing completion

The construction work on the first tramway in Casablanca is nearly completed with October the 15th set as the date for test driving trains in actual traffic conditions and checking all equipment. The October  date is nearly two months before the expected commissioning of the giant urban development.

Work on the railway platforms is on schedule with finishing touches underway with full completion expected on September 10.

The 22 km of overhead contact lines are in place and 15 km has already been electrified.

The control centre of the operation will initially run 37 trains, but capacity has been built into the system to accommodate 49 trains and in anticipation of new line extensions or an increase in the number of trains.

The first tramway line, which crosses the city from east to west covers a distance of 30 km, linking the main areas of the city include 48 stations and stops travelers. Each train, with a length of 65 m, can accommodate 600 passengers with 100 seats, an expected number of 250,000 travelers daily via a fleet of 37 trains.

To give a new visual identity, it is also planned the construction of two large squares - UN and Casa Voyageurs and the planting of 2,000 trees. In all, some 90 hectares of the city of Casablanca which will be fully refurbished.

"Human Rights" delegation criticised

Human rights observers held meetings with tribal leaders, peacekeepers and Moroccan officials on Monday as they wrapped up a visit to the Morocco's Western Sahara.

Their visit comes amid a row between the United Nations and Rabat, which has demanded the replacement of new UN peace envoy Christopher Ross, whom it accuses of "bias" in efforts to resolve the status of the territory.

The delegation, led by Kerry Kennedy, of the Robert F Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights, and Mary Lawlor, director of rights group Front Line Defenders, held morning meetings with tribal leaders and the region's governor, an AFP reporter said.

In the afternoon, the group visited the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping mission.

On Sunday, the delegation held a closed meeting at their hotel with Sahrawi pro-independence groups, who repeated their demands to see the mandate of the peacekeeping mission extended to cover human rights. It also met pro-Moroccan groups.

However there has been widespread cynicism about the biased nature of the trip. Richard Miniter, writing for an on-line journal criticised "...chumming around with a group credibly linked to terrorists who are at war with the United States, and consorting with drug smugglers who are essentially at war with all civilized peoples."

Morocco is a frontline state in America’s war against “Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb” (AQIM), a branch of the late Osama bin Laden’s terror network. This is the group that plotted to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Bamako, Mali. It schemed to kidnap drivers on the Paris-Dakar road race. It has held for ransom more than a score of Europeans.

AQIM also plots to kidnap or kill American diplomats all across North Africa. Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected government, so undermining it hurts a vital U.S. ally in both the war on terror and the war on drugs.

Miniter claims that both the terrorists and the drug lords have been repeatedly linked to the Polisario Front — the same anti-Moroccan rebel group that hosted the Kennedy women.

Miniter is scathing about the visit saying "Two scions of the Kennedy clan went to Morocco and came away with a breathless tale of police brutality against separatists. The problem? The separatists represent the Polisario Front, a brutal rebel group linked to al-Qaida and drug smugglers. Their first-hand account, which was published by The Huffington Post, doesn’t mention that their radical chic tour continued to the Polisario Front’s remote Saharan camps in Southern Algeria, where the rebels used the naïve Kennedy women for all the propaganda value they could wring out of them." Read the full article here

A source within the Moroccan government, not authorized to speak on the record but with direct knowledge of the circumstances surrounding Kennedy's visit, expressed concern for the peace process. "Kennedy and her team, after asking for Moroccan assistance to organize the trip, refused to meet with anyone not supportive of the Polisario." Further, the official was adamant that the Moroccan government communicated to Kennedy and the RFK Center they were "welcome here (Morocco,) could stay as long as they want, and we are pleased to arrange meetings with Moroccans and Sahrawis with differing views than those within the Polisario."

Inquest into couple's deaths in Morocco

A joint inquest into the deaths of a couple from Worcestershire killed in separate falls while on holiday in Morocco is due to take place today. Roger and Mathilde Lamb, from Pensham near Pershore, were with their four sons in the tourist resort of Essaouira last August when they died in separate incidents.

Mrs Lamb, who was 43, is believed to have fallen from the apartment her family were staying in on August 17. She died the next day.  Mr Lamb, who was 47, died after falling from a separate building a few days later.

Mechanisation gives Argan oil a boost

A Moroccan university professor’s interest in the economic preservation of the declining Argan tree has resulted in women harvesting the tree’s valuable oil increasing their income by more than ten times.

Zoubida Charrouf (pictured above), a professor at Mohamed V. University in Morocco, initially developed an interest in the tree and its oil for conservation reasons, but has since improved the extraction of oil by establishing processing cooperatives – such as the Ajddigue and Taitmatine cooperatives – run entirely by local women. This commercialisation of Argan oil has boosted business in the cooperatives and emancipated the women by offering them a meaningful livelihood. Charrouf says that Argan Oil “should readily find a place of choice amid the most profitable oils for human health”. Celebrities as diverse as Sophie Dahl, model and writer, and Heston Blumenthal, one of Britain’s leading chefs, are fans.

The commercialisation was achieved by mechanising some of the tedious production tasks, such as grinding the nuts and pressing the oil. This sped up the operation and also improved the quality of the oil, doubled its shelf life, and reduced waste. Membership in the cooperatives now ranges from 35 to 40 women, who now earn about $8.60 a day, an increase of more than ten times from when the projects began in 1997. Argan oil is now a high value niche product on the international market, and what began as a cottage industry could now provide more employment to Moroccan women.

”At the time [the project started], we were losing more than 600 hectares of Argan forest each year,” says Charrouf. “But we also wanted to convert this ecological problem into an economic opportunity. I knocked at several doors, but no one believed in my project. Now Argan oil is known around the world.” The economic opportunity that Charrouf uncovered for Moroccan women is now being supported with grants from the Moroccan government and the European Union.

“Being part of the cooperative freed me from tedious domestic work in people’s homes,” said one member of the Taitmatine cooperative. “Now I’m learning to read and write and I’ve learned how to ensure the quality of the Argan kernels. The cooperative has made me more independent. I’ve been able to visit other cooperatives in other provinces. I’ve seen how girls and women like me have been able to shape their own destiny and move ahead to develop their cooperatives.”

The hunt for oil in Morocco heats up

Morocco is becoming an increasingly attractive prospect for International Oil Companies (IOCs) looking for new exploration opportunities to add to their portfolios .With one of the most attractive tax regimes in the world and political stability unlike many of its neighbours, companies like Cairn are moving into Morocco.

Cairn will buy 50 percent of the Foum Draa blocks in Morocco, a third purchase this year after acquiring North Sea explorers Agora Oil & Gas AS and Nautical Petroleum Plc. After investing nearly US$ 1 billion in Greenland and still looking for results Cairn needs to diversify its exploration efforts in new areas and Morocco and the Mediterranean fits the bill. Cairn has sold most of its Indian holdings and thus has money to invest.

Much of Morocco remains unexplored and although there have not been significant finds yet the 3 D seismic surveys and geographical data are promising , particularly for offshore. The Edinburgh-based Cairn will pay US$ 60 million for fifty percent stake in a license shared with a number of small companies at Foum Draa block located in the western offshore of Agadir.

The current license holders San Leon, Serica and Longreach will hold interests of 14.2 percent, 8.3 per cent and 2.5 percent respectively, while the Office National des Hydrocarbures et des Mines (ONHYM) will hold 25 per cent.

Recent news flow from Morocco is a “very positive indicator” for Tangiers Petroleum which has significant acreage in the sought-after stretch of coastal north-west Africa, according to City broker Old Park Lane.Genel Energy has farmed into the Sidi Moussa block, and its investment together with Cairns amounts to deals worth in excess of $100 million and committments to drill two wells in the area.

Morocco has become a honey-pot for the ambitious mid and large-cap exploration groups as the geological understanding of coastal West Africa has increased.

Alongside Genel and Cairn, are Total , Repsol , Anadarko and Kosmos which are all active in the waters of the country’s coast.

Compared with its near neighbours Morocco is still largely under-explored, although this is changing with the latest influx of oil companies.

Moroccan Sufi expert dies

The specialist on Moroccan Sufism, Zakia Zouanat, died this week.

Zakia Zouanat Anthropologist, specialist of Moroccan Sufism and author of an important work on the extensions of this heritage in the world, died Thursday night at the age of 55, following a long illness.

Zouanat, who was a researcher at the Institute of African Studies of the Mohammed V University in Rabat, is particularly known for her work on the Sufi heritage aspects of Morocco and its influence around the world. Her seminal work on this subject is "The Kingdom of the Saints" (le Royaume des Saints).

"In the era of globalization the soul is desperate. How does one give to the other if one does not know oneself; if one has not preserved what we value most, our identity? Sufism is the central part of the Moroccan identity!"  Zakia Zouanat

The Germans are coming

Lufthansa launches new flights to Marrakech. September 1, 2012 will see the start of flights to Marrakech from Berlin and Dusseldorf, with two weekly frequencies. These air links will meet the ambitions of Morocco in relation to the German market, which in 2011 accounted for 4% of the tourist activity in Marrakech, with arrivals and overnight stays exceeding 70,000 and 165,000 nights respectively. Morocco has set a goal of doubling the number of German tourists in 2020, from 200,000 to 400,000 tourists per year.

Forest fires threaten rosemary plantings

Between January and this week, 326 forest fires have occurred in Morocco, according to figures from the Office for Water and Forests and the Fight against Desertification (HCEFLD). 3406 hectares of vegetation were destroyed, the equivalent of 3,400 football fields went up in smoke. The East is the region most affected by the fires. Near Nador, Berkane and Taourirt, 1866 hectares of vegetation burned in the latest fire. Commercial rosemary is almost certain to sustain damage.


Morocco Is on the Path to Change

Hicham Ben Abdallah el Alaoui is a consulting professor at Stanford University's Center for Democracy Development and the Rule of Law, and is the president of the Moulay Hicham Foundation. He is a cousin of King Mohammed VI of Morocco and third in line for the throne. He wrote this piece for the New York Times

The Arab monarchies have survived the turmoil in the Middle East for several reasons. First, the monarchic institution remains deeply linked to national identity in many of these countries because of anticolonial struggle and the historical importance of the institution itself. Second, monarchies have traditionally arbitrated conflicts between different groups and classes, acting as benevolent caretakers of society. They have also allowed other institutions, like parliaments, to represent the people, thus staying above the political fray.

Like Jordan, Morocco is trying to satisfy its citizens by liberalizing instead of democraticizing.

These factors have earned Arab monarchs a respite from the wave that swept away regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and possibly Yemen, but the respite will not last forever.

In the Gulf, enormous oil revenue has permitted monarchies to initiate new welfare and development programs to deflect public pressure. Geopolitics matter too: it has become clear that Saudi Arabia will not permit the crisis in Bahrain to truly threaten the existence of its monarchy. Likewise, at the international level, the United States and the European Union have little desire to encourage any more instability in this economically vital area.

The issue of monarchical survival has become inextricably entangled with the dynamics of Sunni-Shiite sectarian tension, which pits Iran against the Arab Gulf kingdoms. This discourse has grown hegemonic: not just the monarchies but also oppositionists have internalized these fears, blunting the demand for political reform.

Morocco and Jordan — the two oil-poor monarchies — are trying to satisfy their citizens by liberalizing instead of democratizing. They have turned to controlled political openings cloaked in the language of freedom but intended to perpetuate the status quo. Limited constitutional reforms, tolerance of more opposition and new parliamentary elections are welcome steps, but such measures do not devolve power away from the palace.

And such policies cannot indefinitely quiet the restive middle classes, who are no longer satisfied with constrained pluralism and demand genuine participation. What they desire is not revolution but reformation toward constitutional monarchy, a new system of governance that embodies the spirit of democracy while retaining the historical role of monarchism in these societies. The path to change may be uneven, and sometimes even chaotic, but it has begun.


Moroccan Women On The Move

Morocco is entering a period of unprecedented democratisation, and Moroccan women couldn’t pick a more interesting role model to watch than Meriem Bensalah Chaqroun, President of the General Confederation of Enterprises of Morocco (CGEM). David Martosko, writing for the Daily Caller, has this profile of the first woman to preside over the Moroccan employers.

Meriem Bensalah Chaqroun  -  Photo A / Alaoui

Meriem Bensalah Chaqroun leads Morocco’s General Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises (CGEM), a giant trade association roughly analogous to the U.S. chamber of Commerce. Bensalah is also a licensed pilot, a Harley-Davidson rider, a race car driver, a competitive golfer — and a 49-year-old mother of three.

Already the CEO of Morocco’s largest bottled water and soft drink company for 23 years, Bensalah has never been a lightweight. She leads the company’s holding corporation, which also includes insurance, real estate, grain trading and tourism subsidiaries.

Her unanimous election by CGEM’s board earlier this year to be its first female president made her the first of her kind in the Arab world, and it was no fluke: Every other candidate withdrew after she announced her candidacy.

Doing business in the new Muslim world

 She’s bullish on her nation’s people, even to the point of thoughtful patience with the Islamist Justice and Development Party (known by its French acronym “PJD”) that voters elected last November to lead the parliament for five years.

The PJD made waves after its ascent to power for quickly discarding its promises about economic prosperity in favor of a series of hard-line ideological reforms. First came a proposed — and failed — ban on live-TV broadcasts of poker and other gambling activity in favor of broadcasts of the Muslim call to prayer, five times a day. Then the PJD moved to ban alcohol advertising. Businesses that depended on tourism dollars to survive pushed back.

“In a democracy, you see, everyone has a useful role,” Bensalah explained. “Our role is to make sure that the economy stays at the center of the government. If I have to lobby, I lobby. But always for something, never against them.”

The fragile PJD-led ruling coalition has a lot on its plate, she said, and is by no means out of the woods. “If they don’t work properly among themselves, you know … It’s a very bizarre coalition. It’s the PJD with communists. The communists are revolutionary. They have no — shouldn’t be with each other. So it’s very specific to Morocco. … We had never seen a coalition like that in any country. So it’s one of a kind. We are very curious to see how they’re going to mesh.”

And the ruling Islamists’ growing pains, she suggested, were both predictable and forgivable. “Their profile — their educational profile — they are more [rooted] in theory. … They are not managers. We managers have to adapt. We are quick.”

Bensalah is conscious of the warp-speed with which Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has moved his country into the post-Arab-Spring 21st century. “We are a young country,” she assured TheDC. “And when you’re young you’re positive.”

Morocco’s geographic isolation in a distant corner of Northern Africa makes it different from the rest of the Arab world – something the United States has known for centuries. Its transatlantic handshake has sustained America’s longest continuous treaty, and Morocco was the first sovereign nation to recognize America colonists independence from Great Britain in the late 18th century. “We have an Islamic state that is modern,” she explained. “By definition, Muslims are [classically] liberal like traders.” And while the PJD’s hard-liners “don’t have the big picture,” she cautioned, “they have a picture of liberalism in terms of commerce. They buy. They sell. But … we want them to have an entrepreneurial spirit.”

Bensalah, entrepreneurial herself, started as an assistant manager at a family-controlled bank and worked her way up the ladder, later diversifying her family businesses and earning millions. And at a time when American businesses are clamouring for a predictable tax and health care environment before they commit to expanding and hiring, Bensalah manages to articulate the needs of her industry stakeholders in a way many American leaders would instantly recognise. “What we’re saying to the government is, ‘Let us be competitive,’” she said. “We want flat, clear, sustainable conditions … and a clear vision of what our fiscal goal is. We can be competitive if we have predictable conditions.”

Read the full article here


Royal Moroccan Airforce Acquires NEW F-16s

The final three of 24 F-16s for the Royal Moroccan Air Force have departed Lockheed Martin’s facility in Texas on their way to their new home in Morocco. Morocco is in the process of upgrading its armed forces and is buying large amounts of military equipment, including fighters, trainer aircraft and frigates. 

As almost all significant combat equipment was acquired between 1978 and 1981, Morocco is moving ahead with an upgrade programme for its Mirage F1s and is also engaged in the acquisition of new equipment that will ensure the air arm remains credible and effective. The most important type is the F-16, which was designed to keep up with Algeria's purchase in 2007-2008 of 28 Su-30MKAs.

The final F-16 destined for Morocco performed its first flight on March 15 from Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base and the final the three Block 52 single-seat aircraft left the base on August 22.

The Royal Moroccan Air Force on August 4, 2011, took delivery of the first four F-16s at a ceremony at Ben Guerir Air Base north of Marrakech.

Major General Margaret Woodward of the US Air Force at the time told reporters in Marrakech that another seven aircraft would be delivered at the beginning of this year and the remaining 13 in the following months.

“The delivery of these aircraft places Morocco among the very elite group of air forces of the world who operate the advanced multirole F-16,” said Ralph D Heath, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Aeronautics business.

Morocco is the 25th nation to order the F-16 – more than 4 500 have been built to date - in fact, the 4 500th F-16 was a Block 52 destined for Morocco. In December 2009 Morocco placed an US$841.9 million contract with Lockheed Martin for 18 single-seat F-16Cs and six two-seat F-16Ds.

"We are modernizing our fleet and we've chosen the F-16, not only because it is a high-quality airplane, but also because of the close relationship we have with the United States," said Deputy Inspector of the Royal Moroccan Air Force, Brigadier General Abdelali Houari.

The RMAF has around 60 warplanes and a substantial number of helicopters that are able to undertake combat operations as well as performing general support tasks. The air force’s inventory is being upgraded and swelled by new purchases, such as four Alenia Aeronautica C-27J Spartan transport aircraft. The Moroccan Air Force is also upgrading 27 of its Dassault Mirage F1s under the MF2000 project, which is giving them a capability similar to that of the Mirage 2000-5. The first upgraded aircraft flew in 2009.

Moroccan F-16s are based at Ben Guerir Air Base, which is a former US air base located about 36 miles (57 km) north of Marrakech and once used as a transatlantic abort landing site for the Space Shuttle.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Buying Moroccan Carpets in Fez - Take Your Time!

Mary Toothman and Philip Murphy - Carpets bizef!

Buying a carpet should never be a snap decision and yet many people don't leave enough time in their schedule to really investigate what is on offer. Recently The View from Fez team accompanied Mary Toothman and Philip Murphy as they set out to find "the right carpet".

Philip Murphy has been living in Fez for some time, while Mary has only recently arrived, so Philip's local knowledge and excellent language skills meant he was well equipped to tackle the task.

Over a two hour period Philip and Mary looked at more than one hundred rugs from a various Berber tribes from the High Atlas, Middle Atlas and Anti Atlas. Their investigation styles were completely different; Philip sat quietly taking it all in, while Mary walked on, felt and stroked almost every carpet.

A rare example of a design showing human figures

"Eventually we came down to three we really liked," Philip said "but we are going to take the evening to think about it and make a decision by tomorrow or the next day."

a particularly fine Beni Ouarain

The carpet shop, Coin Berbère, owned by the Bouzidi-Idrissi family, is renowned for its quality, prices and most of all the fact that there is absolutely no pressure to buy.

“It’s one of the best antique and carpet shops in Fez,” said David Amster, a 17-year resident who has outfitted his guesthouse, Dar Bennis, with textiles and wooden furniture from the store. “The owners are friendly, honest and fair,” he said. “But of course you have to bargain a bit.”

Coin Berbère is at 67 Talaa Kebira in the Haddadine quarter of the Fez medina (212) 0535636946 email:



Horse Riding in Fez

Morocco has long held a reputation for extraordinary horses and Fez has its fair share of these. Yesterday Suzanna Clarke visited an equestrian centre on the outskirts of the city

Head groom Bell Aziz with his favourite horse, Mezziana

Riding through olive groves on the outskirts of Fez, on a stallion with a spring in its step has to be one of the best ways to experience the countryside.

We were following guide and head groom, Bell Aziz, mounted on his magnificent grey mare.
Aziz told us later that he had spent 26 years in the Garde Royale; the mounted division of the police, and had been twice the Moroccan show jumping champion in the 1980s.

He said he had grown up around horses all his life. He finds horses sympathetic, because, "they really like people; they want to please."

Centre Equestre Ain Amyer has 20 horses in its stables and many of them are the famed Moroccan Barb species. Developed on the North African Barbary Coast, the Barb horse is a desert breed with hardiness and stamina, renowned for its fiery temperament. However, the horses that we rode were well trained and mannered. "But they are not boring," said fellow rider, Saffron Kay.

Saffron Kay enjoys riding through the olive groves near the Centre

We only had a small amount of time, so our ride was limited to the nearby olive groves and some of the new housing developments mushrooming up around the outskirts of Fez. However, it is possible to go for an extended ride of several hours in the forest or deeper into the countryside. You can even take take trips from four to fifteen days, discovering aspects of other Moroccan regions which are hidden to those who choose mechanised forms of transport.

For those who would like to improve their riding technique, private classes are also available in the dressage ring at the Centre.

Owner of the Centre Equestre Ain Amyer, Azzeddine Msefer 

The owner of Centre Equestre Ain Amyer, Azzeddine Msefer, is also the president of the National Association for Owners and Breeders of Barb and Arab Horses in Morocco.  "I began this venture in 1986," he said. "My first commercial venture was a 120 kilometre guided ride from Fez to Tissa."

After your ride, you may like to dive into the refreshing and very large swimming pool at the Centre. It also offers bed and breakfast accommodation with five rooms and even a night club.

Centre Equestre Ain Amyer can be found 2.5 kilometres along Route d'Immouzer (turn right at the L'ESIG building). For more information, phone 06 61 174404 or contact - 


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Alcohol Sales May Cease at Marjane Supermarkets

Marjane stops alcohol sales

Friday was to mark the date of resumption of the sale of alcohol by different distributors in Morocco (supermarkets, taverns, etc) This year, Marjane delivered a surprise. After Eid, three of its stores have failed to re-opened their alcohol shelves. There is talk of at least seven stores stopping sales and the list may grow. The information had been circulated during the month of Ramadan but had not been taken seriously by most suppliers and customers of these supermarkets before they discovered the sad truth firsthand.

The stores imposing the alcohol ban are expected to include; Derb Soltan, El Massira, Khouribga, Beni Mellal, Ain Sebaâ, Salé and Morocco Mall.

UPDATE - "Idle, drunken, rodents"

According to an informant who asked not to be named, the decision not to resume the sale of alcohol in the supermarkets at the end of Ramadan was made in response to the presence of "the many illegal dealers." This is a reference to individuals who buy alcohol and then set up illegal resale. The ban, it is hoped, will "...end the fighting caused by dozens of idle, drunken, rodents near three of the hypermarkets." An official from Marjane also told AFP that the problem was the supermarkets being close to "sensative" neighbourhoods ".

This decision has not been taken under pressure from Islamists, said the official.

Repeatedly contacted by AFP, the group's management could not be reached this week. In the absence of official communication, "everyone has his theory but the most common reason for this decision is that some (hypermarkets) are located in sensitive areas," also reported Les Echos, a French business daily paper.

Marjane arrête l’alcool.

Vendredi dernier devait marquer la date de reprise de la vente d'alcool par les différents distributeurs au Maroc (grandes surfaces, débits de boisson...). Cette année, Marjane Holding a créé la surprise. Après l'Aïd, trois de ses magasins n’ont pas ré-ouvert leurs rayons alcool. Et la liste risque de s'allonger. L'information qui avait déjà circulé pendant le mois de ramadan n'avait pas été prise au sérieux par certains fournisseurs et clients de ces hypermarchés, avant qu'ils ne constatent sa véracité de visu, la semaine dernière, au lendemain des fêtes. En tout on parle de sept magasins, à savoir, Derb Soltan, El Massira, Khouribga, Béni Mellal, Aîn Sebaâ, Salé et Morocco Mall.


Weekly Cultural Events in Fez

Visiting Fez is about much more than wandering in the Medina, visiting the tanneries or sampling the wonderful street food. Every week there are a variety of cultural offerings at one of the cultural centres, the French or Spanish Institutes or the American Language Centre

It can add to your enjoyment of Fez to take in some of the local culture and so we would like to remind you about the weekly programme at Cafe Clock. It varies from week to week, but this week is a good example.

Clock Culture this week 27 August – 02 September

Cooking School
Learn to cook traditional Moroccan food in the heart of the medina
with Clock Kitchen. Fez’s first dedicated cooking school.

Discover the sacred art of calligraphy with master
Mohamed Charkaoui.

Fez Download
Let us introduce you to Moroccan culture, customs and language
with Khalid. In 1:30hrs you will wow your way round the souks.

Give your hands a fancy look with a beautiful henna tattoo.

Learn to play with master musician Mohamed Semlali. Oud provided.

Wild Djemmbe rhythms with Yassine. Djemmbe provided.

Jam Session
Every Wedbesday from 6pm to 8pm. All musisians are welcome.

Will start in the beginning of September.
If in Cafe Clock ask manager for details.

Art Exhibitions
Hand woven and dyed wool rugs from Co-operative Chorouk

Prints from Habibi by Craig Thompson


Tuesday @ 6pm Nhar Tzad Tfa Dow Directed by Mohamed Karrat
with Rachid Elouali, Houda Rihani and Hassan Foulan.The movie is in
Darija with French subtitles (free)

Thursday@ 6pm Pirates of the Caribbean 3 
Directed by Gore Verbinski with Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom.
The movie is in English with French subtitles. (free)

Sunday Concert @ 6pm
Nomad fusion music with djemmbe, hajhouj & percussion (20dh)



Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Secret Side of Fez ~ Clandestine Croquet


Thanks to the latest technology, The View From Fez is able to reveal secret footage taken at a clandestine meeting in Fez. Although readers will be shocked by these images, our undergroud reporter, Ibn Warraq, managed to smuggle his Teddy Bear cam into a secret meeting participants in a croquet game taking place in Fez.

The Teddy Bear Hidden DVR Camera is a first of its kind. This Completely Covert Hidden Teddy Bear DVR Camera comes with a motion activated DVR, Hi resolution 480 TV line hidden color camera, a 20 hour rechargeable battery, 8 GB SD card for 64 hrs video recording, RCA Cable, Manual, and remote control for easy operation.

The Camera is hidden in the front on the bow. The DVR is completely hidden inside the bear for total covert operations. Just set in a room and begin recording then use SD card to view on your PC. The Motion-activated recording captures all the action and has a remote for manual recording as well. The RCA cable allows you to connect to a TV to view footage or set up camera. Can be set to overwrite old information or can be set to stop when SD card is full.

"Hit me!"

What we can reveal, is that, right in the heart of Fez, groups of consenting adults are meeting in order to feed their addiction to croquet - a decadent game that involves dubious use of mallets, hoops and coloured balls - accompanied by cries of "Hit me" or "Hit him hard!"

The following images were captured by placing the Teddy-cam either on the ground or by hand holding it in an affectionate manner.  

WARNING Younger readers are advised to seek parental advice before viewing these shocking images.

Two antique mallets and four coloured balls -
NOTE: the iron hoop to the left was made in Fez by an unsuspecting ironmonger

This arcane game requires the use of implements not usually found in Morocco (see photographic evidence above).  We were shocked to learn that these implements are all of foreign origin except for the sets of iron hoops that were made in Fez.

One participant claimed to have a mallet made in Fez from Moroccan cedar, though we could not substantiate this bizarre claim.

A colourfully dressed croqueteer uses a mallet to hit a red ball between the prongs of an iron hoop!

The coloured costumes of the players was obviously designed to confuse opponents.  According to sources familiar with the rituals, hats and scarves must be worn at all times. Players must also pause between hitting other people's balls in order to refresh themselves with cucumber sandwiches and glasses of something called "Pimm's" - a brand of fruit cup, which may also be considered a liqueur. It was first produced in 1823 by a croquet player named James Pimm.

The "Godfather" - smoking Old Toby pipe-weed from "the Shire"

At each match we observed a man referred to as "The Godfather" who sat taking wagers, dispensing Pimms and ajudicating. This individual appears to have immense power and respect in these circles as he was never expected to wield a mallet himself.

The Godfather records that latest wagers. His face has been pixilated to avoid recognition and possible legal action.

No other photographs of participants were possible because a small dog carried the teddy-cam away. It did however produce some interesting shots of what dogs do when they are by themselves. We  can report that the players were multi-lingual - fluent in French Arabic, Portuguese, Finnish and Cambridge (not Oxford) English. There was also an American cowgirl player who surprised everyone with her yodelling each time she "hit someone real good"!

It is our understanding that this is not a one-off incident, but that teams of clandestine croquet players take part in regional tournaments. The underground croquet scene is rumoured to include teams such as the Casablanca Cowboys, the Marrakesh Red Stars,  the Oujda Oddballs and the Fez Falcons. We will continue our infiltration of this sect and report in due course.

The Game

The origins of croquet are a little cloudy. Croquet has been traced back to the 1300's. It is thought that it may have been an in-door version of lawn-bowling to be played in times of inclement weather. It was then played in more confined spaces. The players enjoyed it enough to bring it back outside for the summer. Originating in France, the game was called "paille-maille" which means ball-mallet.

The MacNaghten - Spratt Theory

One theory is that the game traveled from Ireland to England around 1851. A Miss MacNaghten observed peasants in France playing a game with hoops made of willow rods and mallets of broomsticks inserted into pieces of wood and introduced it in Ireland. Sometime around 1850, she passed the idea to a Mr. Spratt and is evidenced by a copy of Spratt's rules in 1851.

Miss MacNaghten may well be in this photograph

Spratt then passed the game on to John Jacques which Jacques disputed claiming he made equipment from patterns he bought in Ireland and had published rules before Spratt introduced the subject to him. Whatever the case, Jacques was the first to make equipment as a regular business and in 1864 published his first comprehensive code of laws. Since then, the manufacturing of equipment by Jacques has been passed down through generations.

After intense research, The View from Fez can bring you historical (hysterical) proof of earlier outbreaks of croquet in Morocco.

A secret croquet society game in Fez in 1890

Footnote: Our Teddy-cam has dog damage. If anyone is a qualified Teddy-cam repair specialist we would like to hear from you.

Story: Ibn Warraq
Photographs: Teddy-Cam


More Turbulence for Morocco's Troubled Airline Industry

At a time when Morocco's tourism industry is being rocked by the withdrawal of a large number of flights by low cost airlines and the failure of the National Airport Authority ONDA to sort out the mess it created with Easyjet and Ryanair, the last thing Morocco needed was international attention on its baggage handling fees.

The U.S. Department of Transportation this week fined Royal Jordanian Airlines, Egypt Air, and Royal Air Maroc for violating the Department’s expanded airline passenger protection rules that took effect in January. The rules have been in place in other countries for some years and are normal customer protection standards. The rules require the disclosure of fees for baggage and the inclusion of assurances in its customer service plan allowing consumers to cancel a reservation without penalty for 24 hours after they book a flight

Royal Jordanian Airlines violated the rule on full-fare advertising and the rule requiring the disclosure of fees for baggage and was assessed a civil penalty of $70,000.

Egypt Air violated rules and was assessed a civil penalty of $60,000.

Royal Air Maroc also violated the rule requiring the disclosure of fees for baggage and was assessed a civil penalty of $60,000. Although this is a paltry amount, the Department also ordered each carrier to cease and desist from further violations.

Under the new rules, all government taxes and fees must be incorporated in the fare. The rule applies to both US and foreign airlines as well as ticket agents. The Department discovered the violations during its ongoing review of carrier websites to ensure compliance with its consumer protection rules.

Airline passengers deserve to be treated fairly when they fly, and that means knowing the full price of their trip, including charges for checking baggage, as well as being given the opportunity to cancel a reservation without penalty for 24 hours after booking”  - U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

It is ironic that the issue of handling is at the heart of ONDA's problems with Easyjet and Ryanair. Ryanair claimed the Moroccan government’s airports authority had “reneged” on an agreement“ by imposing a new monopoly handling company on Ryanair which would have resulted in a massive increase in charges for the airline”.

Just like Easyjet, the Irish company complains of increasing taxes for the use of Moroccan airports, but goes further. Ryanair considers that by passing this measure, ONDA has violated the rules of the contract that bound them. According to Ryanair, will result in fewer flights to Morocco and the loss of 100,000 tourists per year and cause an annual loss in tourism spending and job losses for the Moroccan economy estimated at 50 million euros.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Moroccan News Briefs #69

AFP Correspondent Attacked By Police While Covering Protest

On Wednesday a demonstration outside parliament in Rabat turned ugly when, according to news reports, the police over-stepped the mark while breaking up the demonstration and injured an AFP journalist.

The journalist, Omar Brousksy, was reporting on a protest by various groups and NGOs against the beiya ceremony - a traditional oath of loyalty to the king. This unfortunate incident not only angered organisations calling for greater press freedom, but had the potential to cause a diplomatic incident with the French government.

Brouksy told Reporters Without Borders, "It was 6:15 pm. I was covering the protest outside parliament when policemen asked me to leave. I showed them my press card but they shouted, 'Leave, leave!' And then they began to hit me everywhere, including the mouth. A colleague from Reuters shouted that I was an AFP journalist but it made no difference. They kept going. My nose is still bleeding."

Reporters Without Borders has strongly condemned the attack by police officers on Agence France-Presse correspondent and called on the Moroccan authorities to investigate the attack on Brouksy and punish those responsible.

"The press is the mirror of a society and if we break it, the effect will be to distort the face of power...One police officer of the National Brigade of Judicial Police told one of our reporters: "Listen, the country can live without press, but it can not operate without any security" But what security? ...that is the question." 
Taoufiq Bouachrine, editoral in Akhbar Alyoum.

Newspapers reported that the attack has embarrassed the Benkirane government, which is concious of that in these troubled financial times the last thing they need is an increase in tension with France; Morocco's major political and economic partner.

Aware of the negative image the incident has caused, Minister of Communications Mustapha El Khalfi, was quick to react to the overzealous law enforcement. The minister contacted the management of the AFP to apologize on behalf of his government for the incident and announced a decision of the Minister of the Interior, Mohaned Laenser, to set up an investigation to probe the circumstances of the assault against the reporter.

Morocco's fourth heat wave in three months cripples crop production

Damage from extreme heat waves that raged during the months of July and August have seriously affected the next citrus and olive crop. Poultry farming and market gardening have also suffered losses to varying degrees.

A sunburnt landscape in the drought

This is the fourth heat wave experienced by the country in less than three months - the first was declared at the end of June. The recurring phenomenon attests to the increasing influence of climate change, notes leading business journal L'Economiste.

The most affected sector is poultry farming, followed to a lesser extent by fruit growing and market gardening. The poultry sector is facing substantial losses, with at least 10% of dead animals and has recorded losses estimated at 131 million dirhams, after the first wave of heat that raged from June 25-28. Since then, prices of broilers, turkeys and eggs have soared during Ramadan.

Soft fruit such as apricots, nectarines, grapes, melons, watermelons and tomatoes had to be sold off at half price or less because of heat induced early maturity and insufficient storage space. Citrus plants and olive trees have been badly damaged and citrus fruits are likely to be in short supply, L'Economiste reports.

The increase in forest fires accross the Mediterranean region is also a worrying trend. Morocco remains heavily dependent on its agriculture for income and employment and coping with increased adverse climactic variations will remain a serious challenge. It comes down to the availability of water and irrigation systems and adequate storage space for foodstuffs.

Morocco's economic growth slows

Morocco's growth slowed slightly in the second quarter of 2012, with GDP up 2.6%, down from 2.8% in the previous quarter, according to figures released on Thursday by the Moroccan High Commission for Planning (HCP).

Third quarter GDP growth is projected at 2.9%, HCP said.

A 9.8% drop in added value from the agricultural sector was behind the slowdown, according to La Vie Eco newspaper. That sector was down 8.3% in the first quarter. Hard wheat, soft wheat and barley dropped 39.3% over 2011, the paper said. Non-farming sectors performed well at +4.6% in the first quarter, +4.7% in the second quarter, and up a projected 4.8% in the third quarter.

Morocco plans for high speed broadband

Rachid Jankari, writing for Magharebia in Casablanca, reports that as part of a new technological trend, the Moroccan government has decided to adopt a ten-year national plan to develop ultra-fast broadband connections.

Azzeddine El Mountassir Billah
"Specifically, the ultra-fast broadband plan, which has been approved by the government, will give the entire population access to telecommunication services within ten years – that is, by 2022," said National Telecommunications Regulation Agency (ANRT) chief Azzeddine El Mountassir Billah.

The ANRT will implement the ambitious plan in two phases. The first phase will involve a number of aspects, including the rollout of 4G mobile technologies from 2014 onwards and opening up the Wi-Fi band to telecom operators with a view to providing access to outdoor high-speed networks.

In parallel, ANRT plans to launch pilot projects to give housing estates access to fibre-optic cabling and establish procedures for connecting new developments to telecom networks. This emphasis on boosting fibre-optic coverage stems from the fact that telecom networks currently cover just the main urban areas but not remote parts of the country.

The second phase of the 2022 ultra-fast broadband project will focus on two aspects. Firstly, telecom networks will be boosted so that they offer better service quality for the various data networks and good connectivity between networks in different built-up areas and backhaul networks. Secondly, it will explore a variety of technological solutions to speed up the process of expanding access to high-speed networks.

"The implementation of this nationwide plan will include legal and regulatory measures to encourage the sharing of infrastructures and pooling of investment," said Billah.

The regulatory body also plans to update the legal framework, including Law no. 24-96 on postal services and telecoms, as well as decrees concerning the use of networks and anti-trust litigation.

At present, virtually the entire population of Morocco is covered by 2G mobile networks with more than 37.4 million active mobile lines and a penetration rate of 115%. Mobile broadband (3G) services are also available in big cities. There are now more than 3.7 million internet users in Morocco, 83% of whom use 3G internet services and 17% of whom use high-speed internet.

Essaouira. Food poisoning strikes nine hotel employees

Nine employees of a hotel in Essaouira were struck down by food poisoning on Wednesday night. According to a medical source, the victims has all just eaten a meal at the hotel. After suddenly becoming ill, the victims, which include four Senegalese, were transferred to the provincial hospital of Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah in Essaouira, to receive the necessary care. Their health status is considered stable,


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Faces in the Medina ~ Australian Radio Stars in Fez

You can imagine the astonisment of a couple of members of The View from Fez team, when they encountered two of Australian Radio's living legends dining at Fez Cafe in the Medina. Rod Muir and his wife, Kathy, in company with 'Uncle Doug' ("I'll cop you later") Mulray and his wife Liz.

We recently wrote about how Australians and New Zealanders are coming to Morocco in droves. It seems to be true.

Rod Muir

It must have been around 1980 when Rod Muir changed the sound of Australian radio. It was back then that he flicked the switch that sent 2MMM to air. Over the next decades he became the radio "boss of bosses" with an ear for the best talent and great programming. While Mulray (and a member of The View from Fez team) worked with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Double J (later Tripple J) it was Muir who poached Mulray and our talented friend (and former colleague) Stuart Cranney away from the ABC.

Rod Muir (left) and broadcaster Stuart Cranney
Rod is in Fez, staying at the fabulous Riad Laaroussa with broadcaster and comedian Doug Mulray and his wife Liz (Rod Muir's sister). On their Moroccan journey they have visited Marrakech and are now enjoying the Fez Medina.

Doug Mulray

For our Australian readers, a quick reminder about "Uncle Doug". One of the distinctive features of his Triple J / Triple M shows was its cast of fictional characters and comedy skits. One of his best known was Jack Africa, a permanently paranoid chap who was constantly convinced that the chooks (Australian slang for chickens) were out to get him. Also featured were the Prime Mincer, a parody of Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke (which originated on Triple J as a parody of former PM Malcolm Fraser, voiced by Ken Stirling)), and Gloria, a parody of Sydney AM radio talkback host Alan Jones. Others included Hymie Fymie, who made an art form of using the phrase "son of a bitch", and Madam Zenda, whose cosmic predictions of the future were accompanied by the punning entreaty, "Cross my palm with saliva".

Doug in a Fez!

One of the strange coincidences is that The View from Fez has a rather blurred photograph of Doug wearing a Fez! Today he told us, he bought the genuine article. We wish them a happy stay in Morocco.

A genuine Fez for 'Uncle Doug'


Morocco's Heat Wave ~ Is The End Is In Sight?

Birds cooling off
During the fasting month of Ramadan, Morocco experienced some extreme heat wave conditions with temperatures reaching up to 48 degrees Celsius. Of the major centres, Fez and Marrakesh both bore the brunt of the heat. In marked contrast, the coastal cities of Tangier, Rabat and Casablanca only suffered highs in the low 30s.
A beach near Rabat - a good place to beat the heat

Probably the only people who enjoyed the heat wave are the manufacturers of bottled water. According to one local shopkeeper in Fez, he couldn't keep bottles in his refrigerator long enough to get really cold. 'Every time I filled it up, more people would ask for bottles," he said.

So, when will the heat wave end?

Mohamed Belouchi
The spokesman for the National Directorate of Meteorology, Mr Mohamed Belouchi, predicts that the weather will improve, with a drop in temperatures starting on Friday (tomorrow). He says that the normal temperatures for this time of year should become the norm again soon.

"The heat wave that knows Morocco for more than a week will continue tomorrow, Thursday, but on Friday there will be cuts that will be progressive on until early next week when they will return to the normal the temperatures of the season," Mohamed Belouchi said yesterday.

However, when you visit different weather forecasting websites, there are variations in what they predict. This is particularly true of the minimum temperatures predicted. 

The BBC weather forecast with lower minimums
The Weather Channel - getting to sleep at night might soon be possible!

The forecast below from Weather,  says minimum temperatures should be between  25 and 30 degrees. Others such as The Weather Channel (above) or the BBC (above) forecast lows of between 15 and 18 Celsius. Hopefully the BBC has it right and those of us without airconditioning will be able to get a good night's sleep - maybe even have to use a sheet! Please note: The weather forecast below automatically updates the present conditions. 


Moroccan Students Protest Lack of University Places

Siham Ali, writing for the online journal Magharebia, reports from Rabat that Moroccan students who succeeded in their baccalaureate exams are feeling increasingly frustrated. Many struggle to understand why they cannot pursue their dreams.

Their high marks have not guaranteed them entry to Morocco's best universities, so they created the Union of Students for Education System Reform. They also began staging demonstrations.

[Photo: Siham Ali] Moroccan graduates protest

Wiame Tahri always dreamed of becoming an architect. She scored an average mark of 17.26 in this year's bac, but the National School of Architecture requires an average of 17.27. All of her hopes and dreams were dashed, and she feels "humiliated".

Many others have to face the same bitter reality.

Fatima Bakkali's daughter, Meriem, earned a mark of "very good" but will not study at one of the country's prestigious grandes écoles.

"My daughter has always been a high achiever," she said. "I had no doubt that she could get into a grande école. Her average of 16 wasn't enough to realise our hopes for her. Now she'll have to continue her studies at a college alongside other students who scored averages of barely 10."

Minister of Higher Education, Training and Scientific Research Lahcen Daoudi blamed the situation on the low intake capacity of Morocco's grandes écoles, which have to follow a pre-selection procedure before the competitive entrance process begins.

The low quotas for some institutions are due to high demand from students which far exceeds the number of places available. "The rapid rise in the number of students who pass the baccalaureate has not gone hand in hand with development of the existing infrastructure," he pointed out.

At medical schools, for instance, the number of available places is 2,000, whereas the number of applicants has reached 25,000. Even universities, which are shunned by top baccalaureate achievers because of the poor employment prospects they offer, are oversubscribed.

In Agadir, for example, the teacher-student ratio is one to more than 250, whereas the international standard is one teacher to no more than 30 students, the minister said.

"I have been in charge of this ministry for only a few months," he said. "Reforms will take time. Those who have the means are able to send their children abroad to study. Other families bring financial ruin upon themselves so that their children can continue their studies abroad. The children of poor parents are in a tough situation."

Daoudi mentioned that his department has a clear strategy designed to change this situation, which will include the creation of international universities in Morocco among other things. A number of agreements have already been signed. These universities will be private, but a certain number of places will be reserved for outstanding students from poor families.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Moroccan News Briefs #68

Morocco's Speed Cameras May Be Privatised 

According to authoritative sources, the Ministry of Equipment and Transport has been putting the finishing touches to a project to delegate to private industry the installation and operation of speed cameras. The company will  be delegated to place and maintain, 960 advanced type radars to control speed on national roads. According to the same sources, the company will also have 120 aircraft equipped with cameras to monitor compliance.

In addition to monitoring, the successful bidder will also be able to establish the offenses recorded and pass the information on to the organisations authorized to issue tickets.

The Department is continuing its efforts to improve the monitoring of speed as it is the main source of the carnage on the roads. The Department expects to receive a new delivery of radars of which 120 will go to the police and 230 to the gendarmerie. With the new equipment he police will be able to increase the number of monthly checks from 4964 to 6000, and the gendarmerie from 2460 to 4000 checks per month.

These provisions were instigated after a meeting of the National Committee for the prevention of traffic accidents that decided to increase this type of control, knowing that 80% of road accidents are due to human error.

Observers say that this move is a positive one that will help stamp out corruption. It is to be hoped this proves correct.

More flights to Casablanca

Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, will increase its services to Casablanca to provide daily flights from March 28, 2013.

Etihad currently flies five times a week between Abu Dhabi and Casablanca and in June, celebrated the seventh anniversary of operations to the Moroccan capital.

The daily service will support traffic growth between Abu Dhabi and Casablanca and connecting traffic to many popular onward GCC destinations including Jeddah, and a choice of Asian cities such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, and Sydney. The additional services will improve the connectivity in Abu Dhabi by 50 per cent.

James Hogan, Etihad Airways’ president and chief executive officer, said: “The Moroccan capital has been a successful destination for us and retains strong volumes of business and leisure passengers throughout the year. We believe there are good prospects for further growth in the region.

“Abu Dhabi’s geographical location makes it ideal as a gateway for air travellers from Morocco to connect to markets in Australia, the Far East and throughout the Arabian Gulf easily and quickly.”

The daily service will also strengthen connectivity with code share partner, Royal Air Maroc, allowing Etihad Airways passengers more choice to connect to domestic Moroccan destinations and other points in West Africa.

Etihad Airways operates a three cabin A330-300 aircraft between Abu Dhabi and Casablanca, configured to carry eight passengers in Diamond First class, 32 passengers in Pearl Business class, and 191 passengers in Coral Economy class.

Fez: City of Saints - Release in September

The Medina of Fez

In March 2011, on the eve of the 'Arab Spring', leading Islamic scholars convened in the ancient city of Fez for a summit seeking hope and a new vision for the future of the Muslim world. Among the international participants in this historic summit chaired by Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah was Habib Umar bin Hafiz, a prominent scholar and founder of the renowned Dar al Mustafa Seminary in Tarim, Yemen.

Habib Umar in the Qarawiyyin Mosque

It was Habib Umar's first trip to the Maghreb. The film captures his travels and responses as he journeys through a land brimming with spirituality, knowledge and history. From the serene courtyards of University of Qarawiyyin to busling souk streets, from walled city of Fez to the mountainous sanctuary of Moulay Idris, the film shares the spiritual secrets of the places and their stories.

The beauty of the great city of Fez, founded by descendants of the Prophet is shared by a visitor, Habib Umar, who is himself a descendant of that great household. The result is a moving meeting of two traditions that form the very core of great Islamic narrative.