Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Moroccan News Briefs #126

Feature: Morocco's Counterterrorism Success Story

Our feature article is an important piece written by Ahmed Charai for The National Interest. Ahmed Charai is publisher of the weekly Moroccan newspaper L'Observateur and president of MED Radio, a national broadcast network in Morocco, MEDTV network and chairman of the board of Al-Ahdath al-Maghrebiya Arabic daily newspaper. As an expert on Morocco and North Africa, he sits on the Board of Trustees of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He is a member of The National Interest's Advisory Council.

It’s been a good week in the struggle against terrorism: Italy busted an ambitious plot by Islamic extremists to attack the Vatican; French police arrested a jihadist before he could attack Paris churches; and in Boston, the prosecution rested in the penalty phase of the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev. But the United States is on high alert—or should be—as ISIS sets its sights on American targets.  Meanwhile, from the mass killing of university students in Kenya to the bombing of the Spanish embassy in Libya to a rash of attacks in Egypt, reminders pour in across the Arab and Muslim world that whether you’re a functioning democracy, a military-led regime or a failing state, you are vulnerable.

Over a recent multileg trip from my home in Casablanca to Paris to Zambia, I met with actors in politics, civil society, the private sector and state government—and noticed that the April uptick in terror schemes, foiled and otherwise, has provoked a growing debate on the tools of counterterrorism. There has been a growing divide, moreover, in prescriptions for the developed democracies of Europe on the one hand and Muslims states in the developing world on the other. The former face popular pressure to ratchet up security measures and loosen the laws that restrain them. The latter, by contrast, encounter calls from friends in the West to do the opposite—press the “national security state” to relax its hold on the population, and bolster political reforms toward the rule of law and policies to alleviate poverty and marginalization.

As a participant in these conversations, I’ve found that nearly all parties were curious to know more about my own country, Morocco—which over the past ten years has proven to be one of the safest countries in the world.

With its new constitution guaranteeing a prominent and credible role of an elective government alongside the monarchy, it stands in between the variety of political structures found in countries East, West and South. As such, it bears relevance to all of the above, and merits scrutiny and an effort to extract some lessons.

In 2003, the country experienced its own “September 11”—a triple suicide bombing claiming forty-five lives; the deadliest in its history. The risk of further attacks was seen to be high: Morocco prides itself on being open to the world, and welcoming tourists from the West, migrant workers from the South and, alas, ideological overtures from the East. With its large population of poor and underprivileged citizens, prospects were great that outside jihadist elements could exploit domestic grievances and target the pro-Western establishment, local patriots and foreign visitors.

King Mohammed VI, who had recently taken the helm from his late father, vowed a three-pronged approach to fighting the scourge of political violence: On the one hand, he would beef up security measures. At the same time, he would institute systemic reforms to enhance the rule of law. Meanwhile, he committed to employing aggressive anti-poverty measures, including razing the shantytowns, fighting unemployment and the corruption that exacerbates it and upping educational opportunity. And finally, he would reform the religious establishment—by evicting jihadist preachers from the country’s mosques and investing heavily in the spiritual, Sufi strand of Islam—its traditions deeply rooted in Morocco’s history and culture.

Twelve years later, the effect can be seen at any division of the Central Bureau of Investigation (BCIJ), the country’s equivalent of the FBI, which has gone through a major overhaul over the course of the monarch’s ongoing rule. Together, its investigators—both men and women—pursue a holistic approach of probing terror groups alongside other criminal networks, such as those that traffic in drugs and people. They know intimately the symbols and rites of the different religio-political streams, both inside the country and in the broader region. They have cultivated sources, moreover, in a variety of institutions and from the big cities to the villages to the border areas. But they have been schooled to perform their sleuthing in accordance with new laws that are almost as severe on security officers as they are on the criminals they pursue. Human-rights education being an integral part of cadets’ training, today’s enforcers follow these laws not just because they have been instructed to do so, but because they believe in them.

And the population knows it: Morocco is perhaps the only country in the world in which counterterror agents interact with the population in a manner structured like the model of “community policing.” These officials know that by establishing a warm rapport with locals, trust between the BCIJ and the local population will grow and the locals may even serve informally as the BCIJ’s eyes and ears. Considerably more than in the past, these citizens feel enfranchised: They know that their needs matter to the government, and their votes select and check the people who lead it. More of them are educated. More of them are working. And fewer than ever before identify with jihadist elements in the region that would threaten the country’s security.

Moroccans feel that their country can serve the counterterrorism struggles now being waged in Western countries, the Arab world and countries south of the Sahara in two important ways: as a model and as a partner.

Though the countries of the West are wealthier and their police units more technologically advanced, they tend to lack the nuance necessary to patrol Muslim citizens with the dignity that is due them. They are still home, moreover, to underprivileged communities—the lion’s share of whom are Muslim—who badly need their living conditions to improve and to feel enfranchised in the system. And while their grievances are no excuse for terrorism, they are victims of the poisonous ideals taught to them by religious preachers that their host governments have long permitted to lead and instruct. For Europe’s police and policy planners, Moroccans can share knowledge and expertise and also become an exporter of enlightened clerics.

The same applied in the developing world. But in addition to similar security, public policy and cultural-religious needs, these countries badly need to enhance the rule of law—a necessary condition to keep the police in check and build confidence between civilians and the establishment. On this score, Western states are further along than Morocco, but do not provide a model that developing countries can readily apply. The gradual steps Morocco has taken, by contrast, show how a poor country with similar struggles has made considerable strides in a short period of time. The takeaways are more relevant—and the potential outcomes more promising.

General News and Gossip

Morocco Expecting Record Grain Harvest

Morocco expects its cereal harvest to hit a record 11 million tonnes after good rains this year, up from 6.7 million in 2014, the agriculture minister said on Monday. Agriculture accounts for more than 15 percent of the north African country's gross domestic product (GDP).

In 2013, the harvest hit 9.7 million tonnes, including 5.2 million tonnes of soft wheat.

"This campaign is exceptional on all levels," agriculture minister Aziz Akhannouch (pictured above) said at the opening of the annual agriculture fair in Meknes.

Morocco will raise the custom duty on soft wheat imports to 75 percent from 17.5 percent, from May 1 to Oct. 31, to protect the local harvest, the government announced this month.

Morocco's GDP is expected to grow by 5 percent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.4 percent and against 2.5 percent in 2014, as the government expects farm output to expand.

Agricultural output rose by 12.5 percent in the first quarter of 2015, including growth of 8.8 percent in the cereal production, according to Morocco's Planning Agency.

World Bank Backs Morocco's Health and Energy Goals with Cash

The World Bank has approved two loans totalling US$248.95 million to support Morocco in its national health strategy and to promote clean energy and energy efficiency.

In the health sector, a US$100-million loan will finance increased access to and improved quality of public services for poor and rural populations in disadvantaged regions, the institution said in a statement.

Investment in the energy sector will support the country's ongoing efforts to reduce its dependency on imported fossil fuels.

"This project will help to strengthen primary care across nine regions to address disparities in health outcomes and upgrade management information systems and sector accountability," said Enis Baris, World Bank's health, nutrition and population practice manager for Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region.

Morocco has achieved significant improvements in health outcomes, with reduction in child and maternal mortality rates of 64 percent and 66 percent respectively over the past 20 years.

The World Bank said inequality in access to health services coupled with limited resources allocated to the sector called for a strategy to improve the distribution and quality of health services.

The Health Sector Support Programme for Results Project is designed to underpin that strategy.

The second project -- Clean and Efficient Energy Project -- will be co-financed by a US$125-million loan from World Bank and a US$23.95-million loan from the Clean Technology Fund.

This project will support Morocco's state-owned electricity and water company to develop its first set of three mid-sized decentralised solar photovoltaic plants.

Since 2011, the World Bank's private sector arm, International Finance Corporation (IFC) has stepped up its engagement in the country and invested US$590 million to support private sector development.

Moroccan Real Estate Set to Boom

The real estate market is one of the best indicators to monitor the health of a national economy and in Morocco this sector appears to be gearing up for a season of full recovery after a crisis from which it has undeniably not recovered yet.

The weak signs registered a few months ago are growing stronger and British think tank Oxford Business Group in its report - partly published by the website La Vie éco - described the real estate market in the Kingdom as going through a positive phase for sales, especially in the so-called residential segment.

What is occurring, paradoxically, finds an explanation in the economic crisis which, as is always the case, pushes down real estate prices, leading buyers to invest in different types of real estate acquisitions. A confirmation comes from data concerning sale contracts last year, which registered a 17% increase for apartments while commercial spaces jumped 13.5%.

The sector, however, suffered from housing policies brought forward by the government, which increased social housing (with highly competitive prices compared to traditional ones), thus limiting the number of those willing to buy.

In addition, the government's fiscal policies had a positive impact in this circumstance, including partial tax cuts and lower VAT for low incomes.

Now - and this is the most positive aspect - the market appears to have stabilized, after the boom registered in 2007 (before the start of a worldwide economic crisis) and subsequent years of recession.

Thus the sector is once again enticing buyers, including foreigners who have established themselves in Morocco over the past few years and are highly courted by the market.

Another Fatal Bus Crash

According to a report carried by Maghreb Arab Presse (MAP) there has been another major road accident. This follows the fatal road accident of Tantan that claimed the lives of 34 people. aThe latest accident occurred this morning near Ouarzazate and took the lives of 14 people with 21 injured.

A passenger bus travelling between Meknes and Ouarzazate overturned in a dangerous winding road of Torjaddal area, about 45 kilometres from Ouarzazate.

Civil protection teams and local authorities were dispatched to the scene of the accident to rescue the victims.

Every year between 60,000 and 70,000 traffic accidents occur in the country, which result in the death of an average of 4000 people, the equivalent to about 11 every day. The estimated cost of these accidents to the State’s budget is 11 billion dirhams ($1,5 billion), which represents between 2 and 2%5 of the country’s GDP.

Morocco - Party Destination of the Stars

Former footballer David Beckham turns 40 on May 2 and is reportedly planning to celebrate his birthday in Marrakech, where he and wife Victoria Beckham renewed their wedding vows in 2008.

Guests are likely to include Gordon Ramsay and Tom Cruise, as well as Guy Ritchie, Liv Tyler and her boyfriend Dave Gardner, as well as Beckham's former Manchester United teammate Gary Neville.

Last weekend there was another lavish party in Marrakech. Lebanese billionaire and former prime minister Najib Mikati celebrated his son’s wedding on Saturday at the El Badi Palace.

Sources say over 1,000 people attended Malick Mikati’s wedding, including Lebanese fashion designer Elie Saab and Egyptian singer Amr Diab.

The Mikati family also hosted a brunch party at the La Mamounia luxurious hotel on Sunday.

Morocco and New Zealand Top Film Locations

The UK Guardian newspaper has ranked Morocco and New Zealand among the top 10 film destinations for international film-makers in the world.

The Guardian reports that Morocco is currently “the first choice of American film-makers seeking a safe stand-in for the Middle East – a common demand these days, with Iraq war films still in heavy demand.”

Following the likes of Body of Lies and Green Zone, Morocco’s capital Rabat was also the choice of American director Clint Eastwood to film his movie American Sniper.

Eastwood turned Rabat into “a reasonable substitute for the shrapnel-strewn streets of Fallujah,” the Guardian said.

According to the newspaper, Morocco has also successfully “masqueraded” as Somalia (Black Hawk Down), Tibet (Kundun), ancient Rome (Gladiator) and even Games of Thrones’s imaginary Westeros.

Morocco was in first place followed by New Zealand, Cape Town, Greystone Mansion, Prague, London, Monument Valley, Utah (United States), Griffith Park, Los Angeles, and Almeria, Spain

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