Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Moroccan News Briefs #91

PM Benkirane in Rome to represent HM the King in Rome

At the inauguration ceremony of Pope Francis, the leader of the government, Mr. Abdelilah Benkirane, praised Rome's unwavering commitment to Morocco as a triumph of the values ​​of peace, understanding and cooperation among peoples and followers of divine religions. Benkirane said his presence in the Italian capital to represent HM King Mohammed VI, demonstrates the values in international relations.

The head of government remarked on the secular nature of relations between Morocco and the Vatican "We are convinced that the future can be built on friendly relations based on cooperation, understanding and tolerance in the service of peoples and nations in general, and Muslims and Catholics in particular".

Benkirane arrived in Rome in the early evening yesterday to join an expected total of 132 delegations, including some including heads of state. The official ceremonies will be held on Tuesday from 9:00 to (8:00 GMT). The new pope was elected last Wednesday and becomes the 266th Pope in the history of the Catholic Church.

35 immigrants rescued aboard makeshift boats

On Monday Spanish Maritime Rescue Services intercepted 35 illegal immigrants trying to cross the Strait of Gibraltar aboard makeshift boats to reach the Spanish coast. The 35 migrants from Africa had embarked on four inflatable boats. The Red Cross was able to rescue nine of them before a passing ship helped rescue 26 migrants traveling in the other three boats.

Illegal migrants in a boat attempt to reach Spain

Rescuers distributed blankets before returning to the port of Tarifa, on the coast of Andalusia, in southern Spain.

At the end of October, at least 16 illegal immigrants were killed while trying to reach the Spanish coast from Morocco. Spain has tightened security around its enclave of Melilla by enhancing border fence after an attempted incursion of sixty illegal migrants. The enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, both on the northern coast of Morocco are the only land border between Africa and Europe. Fifty migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, however, were able to cross the border at Melilla a week ago. In that attempt 12 people were wounded according to the Spanish authorities. But the Moroccan Association for Human Rights puts the figure at 25. Since the summer, hundreds of other migrants have tried to force their way through the border. The humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which is preparing to leave Morocco, denounced last week an increase in "violence" inflicted by Spanish and Moroccan police against illegal migrants from sub-Saharan Africa trying to reach Europe.

Casablanca: beware the false policemen

Casablanca police have had a small triumph of fact over fiction - by arresting a fake policeman. District police in the Hay Hassani area nabbed an alleged fake police officer who, along with two others were the subject of complaints, says a police source.

Their last victim was suspicious of the behaviour of three alleged police who threatened first take him to the police station before demanding money for their "services". If he paid up he would be allowed to go free, he was told. The victim gave them 4500 dirhams, but the fake police said it was not enough and demanded he write a cheque payable to the bearer as collateral and then find the rest of the agreed amount.

Investigations by the real police were aided by detailed descriptions of the false police and were quick to identify the the crooks. Once surrounded by investigators the crooks were discovered to be intoxicated and tried to resist by flashing a knife. They attacked the police but were finally subdued and taken into custody.

19th International Festival of Mediterranean Cinema

Twelve films will compete for the Grand Prize at the 19th International Mediterranean Film Festival in Tetouan. The festival is scheduled to run from March 23 to 30. The films in competition are from ten Mediterranean countries: Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Palestine, Spain, France, Italy, Croatia and Romania.

The Italian producer, Grazia Volpi, will chair the feature film jury alongside Moroccan director Abdelmajid R'chiche, actress Teresa Taba from the Ivory Coast, Egyptian actor Fathy Abdelouahab and Portuguese director Pedro Antonio Vasconcelos.

This 19th edition of the festival will open with the Franco-Romanian film "Beyond the Hills" and closed by the Moroccan film "The Horses of God". This year the festival will feature Algerian and Portuguese cinema by screening an anthology of film's such as "Chronicles of Years of Fire" by Mohamed Lakhdar Hamina, and the film "La Montagne de Baya" by Azeddine Meddour. The festival will also pay tribute to many Mediterranean cinema greats, including the Egyptian actor Ahmad Hilmi who will be present at the screening of his latest film "Ala Jottati" (2013), the Tunisian director and filmmaker Reda Bahi and Spanish director Fernando Trueba.

Moroccan cinema will also be honoured in the person of actress Touria Alaoui whose film "Bab Tarfaya Labhar" will be screened and director Saad Chraibi whose film career is traced through the films "Jawhara, Daughter of Prison", "Thirst", "Women and Women", "Islamour" and "Women in Mirrors".

Boxing at Jardin des Biehn

A reminder that the boxing training with Christophe Tendil begins Saturday, March 23 at 9:30.

If you decide to attend, please let the good folks at Jardin des Biehn if you need boxing gloves.

Le Jardin des Biehn is not all about the pugulistic art - the stomach is also being catered for with the news that on Monday, March 25, there will be a dinner concert at Fez Cafe Restaurant.

Rocked by the talented Leo and his Oud, intoxicated by the Chef Hicham, the fixed-price menu is 220 dirhams per person.  The concert begins at 20h and it is suggested you make a reservation.

Menu - 220 dirhams

- Terrine of sole, celery root and saffron
- Chicken breast stuffed with mushroom polenta, artichokes and beans
- Strawberry Mousse

This week The National Interest ran an interesting article by Ahmed Charai "The Great Potential of a U.S.-Moroccan Relationship".

The West faces a serious dilemma on the African continent as French forces begin the process of withdrawing troops from Mali in April. As the New York Times noted this week, French troops were critical in routing Al Qaeda-linked militants from the northeastern part of the country, where the extremists had managed to conquer a territory the size of France itself and subject the population to a reign of terror. The enclave was fast becoming a bastion of support for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other affiliated groups below the Sahara—whose growth on the African continent poses one of the most grave terror threats to global security today.

The reason for Western concerns about French withdrawal is that the coalition of African armies with whom they are now allied lack the capacity to hold the territory on their own. “No amount of exercise or training in the next couple weeks or months can, in itself, prepare African forces for their new role in Mali,” U.S. counterterrorism specialist Benjamin P. Nickels told the Times. And so at precisely the time when most Western governments wish to reduce their military commitments abroad in light of trying economic circumstances, they face pressure to do the opposite.

This problem, in turn, is only part of a larger challenge Europe and the United States face in Africa, a continent which, though formidable, poses opportunities as well as risks. As Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson noted in a statement earlier this year, “It is my firm belief that Africa represents the next global economic frontier. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to weather the global economic crisis more successfully than other regions, and is home to six—and soon to be seven—of the ten fastest growing economies in the world.” Yet he also noted in substance that American entrepreneurs lack the knowledge base and network on the continent to take advantage of the opportunity.

Meanwhile, elites in the U.S. private sector have observed that foreign direct investment in Africa, while promising in terms of its potential to develop and enrich the continent and investors, could easily be reversed through capital flight should Al-Qaeda gains imperil the security of multinational installations.

In order to scale back military commitments, strengthen indigenous military capabilities, and benefit from the business opportunities Africa poses, the United States would do well to find a local partner that can facilitate all three. A strong candidate to play this role is a staunch US ally, the Kingdom of Morocco: Since Muhammad VI assumed the throne in 1999, the country has worked to establish goodwill, political and economic ties, and a strong security footprint across the continent—both north and south of the Sahara.

King Mohammed VI visited three countries in sub-Saharan Africa last week: Senegal, Gabon, and Ivory Coast. As in forays to seven other African states since February 2005, he brought along teams of intelligence, political and cultural advisors, as well as Moroccan entrepreneurs. This mixed portfolio, unleashed in a series of working sessions with counterparts in each country, reflects the monarchy’s approach to building ties deep into Africa while bolstering continent-wide security as well.

King Mohammed appears to believe that security in any developing country rests on a combination of military operations, intelligence work and policing on the one hand, and anti-poverty measures, the promotion of religious tolerance and opportunity-boosting political reforms on the other. This is the approach he has employed in his own country since a 2003 triple suicide bombing rattled the kingdom. It was recently consolidated by a new constitution that grants sweeping domestic authorities to an elected chief of government, mandates equal opportunity for women and minorities, and democratizes domestic security by establishing a consultative security council bringing the monarchy and elected officials together.

In accordance with these principles, Morocco has established goodwill in much of Africa through a series of development projects. Among the more prominent examples, the kingdom’s National Office of Electricity is now electrifying rural areas along the Senegal River, affecting 550 villages and 360,000 people. Along the way, the venture trains Senegalese experts in techniques honed inside Morocco, thanks to a homegrown project that brought electricity to 98 percent of villages countrywide.

Other Moroccan-led ventures are improving health services on the continent. For example, the kingdom’s pharmaceutical giant, Sothema, was tapped to establish a branch in Dakar which now makes and exports affordable drugs to treat cholera, malaria, and diarrheal diseases in Africa’s poorest countries. These projects, along with the Moroccan private sector’s investments in many sub-Saharan states, are facilitated by a Moroccan banking network spanning 20 African nations. Human resources for the work are typically drawn from a combination of indigenous talent and Moroccan expatriate communities across the continent who lend their bilingual, bicultural skills to these bilateral ventures.

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