Monday, February 02, 2015

Morocco and France Mend Fences but Tourism Down

According to pundits the French are staying away from Morocco with holidays being cancelled and French bookings becoming increasingly rare

Media24 reports tht French tourists traveling to Morocco has registered a 30% to 40% decline in January. Last week was marked by a near total freeze of the volume of bookings by French tourists, it added.

The downward trend in French bookings and departures to Morocco, which started in September 2014, has apparently intensified in the wake of the terrorist attacks in France that claimed the lives of 17 people.

The terrorist threats from the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) seem to have also contributed in the decline of the numbers of French tourists travelling to Morocco. Salafist demonstrations in Tangier and Fez in the last few days have not helped.

Christiane Taubira and Mustapha Ramid meet in Paris

Yet at the same time, the rift between France and Morocco which caused Morocco to suspend cooperation agreements with France a year ago, seems to be resolved. A joint statement from Moroccan Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid and French counterpart Christiane Taubira follows meetings on Thursday and Friday and, after months of discussions.

They said the new accord allows for deeper and more effective cooperation while respecting each other's laws and institutions. It didn't elaborate, but said the agreement adds to already strong ties between France and the North African kingdom.

The spat was triggered by French police turning up at the Moroccan ambassador's residence to question intelligence chief Abdellatif Hammouchi — who wasn't present — over a torture complaint filed by a French association. Hammouchi had been accompanying the interior minister for a four-country meeting.

At the same time, King Mohammed VI is reported to have flown to France last Friday for a private visit, thought it is suspected he is likely to meet French President Francois Hollande during his visit.

While there appears to be a flurry of positive activity on the diplomatic front, things are still rocky in other areas.

The Moroccan government is moving towards elevating the position of English in the Moroccan Curriculum and in the educational system of Morocco in general over French.

The Strategic Report of the Supreme Council for Education, Training and Scientific Research, soon to be submitted to King Mohammed VI, is recommending replacing French with English in Moroccan Curriculum, according to sources in the government.

The recent session of the General Assembly of the Council saw a heated debate over adopting the English language as a medium of instruction in Moroccan schools. Many members of the Permanent Committee on Curriculum, Programs, Trainings and Teaching Tools, hailed the proposal while others defended the use of French.

Visa delays

The slow processing and often refusal by French authorities to issue visas to Moroccans has long been a bone of contention between the two countries. The situation has not been improved even though there are discussions in Europe in relaxing restrictions.

French Consulate in Agadir "slow to issue visa"

A Moroccan man died Friday after setting himself on fire outside a French consulate in protest at delays in his visa application, a local NGO said.

According to Aziz Sallami, president of the local branch of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, Mustapha Riad (47) died a week after setting himself ablaze outside the consulate in Agadir "due to a lack of a response to his visa request".

Riad, who had lived in France for 17 years, had lost his French residency permit and applied for a visa.

Alexander Diebolt, a spokesperson for the the French embassy in Rabat, said the embassy regretted Riad's "tragic" death and added that France provides around 200,000 Moroccans with visas each year.

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