Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Moroccan News Briefs #133

Ikea's Moroccan saga 
The sorry saga of Ikea opening stores in Morocco is much like assembling their products. You get to the point when you have the item unpacked and discover there is a piece missing. It maybe something small like a screw or a small wooden plug - but without it things are screwed up

Putting the Ikea Morocco deal together looked like a good thing...

However, the news that Morocco has blocked the opening of the first Ikea store in Moroccan is reported to be because of a "missing piece" - to be more precise, Ikea was told it lacked a necessary permit.

Under normal circumstances Ikea’s project of opening five stores in Morocco would be seen as a huge investment plus for the country. What transpired, however, is that far away in Scandinavia, the Swedish parliament did something both unwelcome and unexpected by announcing that it was on the verge of recognising a self-proclaimed republic that was made in Algeria -the so-called Sahrawi Republic (SADR).

This should not come as a surprise to Morocco: the Swedish parliament voted to recognise the breakaway Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in 2011, but the Swedish government at the time rejected the motion.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry said at the time: “Sweden traditionally has a position regarding the recognition of new countries. There has to be independence, integration, and autonomy. The territory must be controlled by the government, and the population must be under its control, too.”

How did Morocco get into this position?

According to Majid Morceli, writing for Morocco World News, none of these conditions are satisfied, and yet the current Swedish parliament does not seem very interested in whether or not the conditions for recognising a ghost republic are met or not. "The reason is very simple: the enemies of Moroccan territorial integrity, with the unwavering support of Algeria, are fully committed to their cause, while Moroccan decision makers are reactionary and only react once the damage has already been done."

Morocco relies more on paid lobbyists and on France than on its own people to defend its cause. The civil population in and outside Morocco fights for the Palestinian issue, but does not fight for the so-called Western Sahara, which is neglected by every day Moroccans.

Morceli points out that the Moroccan authorities have no one to blame but themselves. Their diplomatic absence in Europe’s northern countries has left a vacuum that Morocco’s enemies are happy and ready to fill. Placing ambassadors in these countries is not sufficient to counter the schemes of those who want to divide Morocco.

Europe’s northern region has always been sympathetic to the separatist cause, and Morocco’s absence from the diplomatic scene in Sweden made it a fertile ground for those critical of Morocco.

Very few Swedes live in Morocco, yet Sweden has six diplomatic posts in Morocco. These are the Embassy in Rabat and consulates in Agadir, Casablanca, Marrakech, Oujda, and Tangier.

There are about 20,000 Moroccans living in Sweden, 15,000 in Norway, and another 15,000 in Denmark. Moroccans living abroad are totally disconnected from those who get paid to serve them.

Morocco’s foreign representation in northern Europe could have easily tapped into the Moroccan diaspora living in this region to defend the national cause. Instead, Morocco has not appointed an ambassador to Sweden for over 3 years.

Moroccan party leaders are supposedly preparing to visit Sweden as part of their efforts to convince the Nordic state not to recognise the separatists. Meanwhile the Swedish Foreign Ministry said that the country has not recognised the region as an independent state, but is conducting an internal review of its “Western Sahara policy.”

This could be bad news for Morocco: “reviewing the policy” is just a diplomatic way of saying, “completely revamping the policy.” This could be the start of many bad things to come. Denmark and Norway will most likely follow suit. This could have a lasting effect on any future negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario.

The strangest part of this saga (soap opera) is that blocking the opening of Ikea’s first store in Morocco is simply ill thought out and amateurish on the part of Morocco. This action will have no consequences in Sweden. Ikea was built by a joint venture, including the Dubai-based Al-Futtaim Group, Moroccan supermarket chain Marjane Holding, and Portuguese company Sonae Sierra. Cancelling the opening of the Ikea store gave more publicity to the rebels than anyone else.

We have many countries that are steadfast supporters of the separatists, and they are flourishing doing business in Morocco. South Africa and Nigeria come to mind. The Moroccan government is even handing out scholarship to Nigerians studying in Morocco.

Until the Moroccan authorities start becoming proactive and make the sacred cause actually sacred, there will be many setbacks, and one day, neither France nor the lobbyists will be able to come to our rescue.

So in the end, like the Ikea products, we have a screw or two missing in the saga - but are they made in Sweden, or Morocco?

A free health centre for refugees in Casablanca

While all the attention is on the plight of Syrian refugees in Europe, Morocco has been quietly showing its compassionate side. The number of Syrians in the Kingdom is estimated to be around 5000, of whom 1763 were registered by the UNHCR in August this year.

Unfortunately social and financial support of the refugees is lacking in many areas. Now, a Moroccan surgeon, Zouhair Lahna, is to launch a health centre in Casablanca for the poorest refugees. Free, services will be offered especially to pregnant women and young children.

Dr Zouhair Lahna, a surgical gynaecologist who spent several months of humanitarian mission in Syria, explains the reasons for the project called "Injab"

"For a while I was wondering about the feasibility of the establishment of a medical centre to help destitute and uprooted Syrians and sub-Saharan Africans who one sees every day in front of mosques and at major road junctions with children on their backs," he says on his Facebook page. "These women are asking for help,"laments the doctor. Dr. Zouhair Lahna says that the clinic would also provide free health care to needy Moroccans.

With the help of many local people, Dr. Zouhair Lahna has decided to open the centre in the district of Farah Salam Oulfa, on the outskirts of Casablanca. It is a neighbourhood known to house many sub-Saharan African and Syrian refugees and poor Moroccans.

Backed by a group of NGOs, the centre will offer preventive and curative medical care to people in need. The team will include a gynaecologist, two general practitioners, a midwife, a social worker and an administrative assistant.

The centre has formed partnerships with several clinics and hospitals and will perform surgical procedures at lower cost, says the NGO Yalla Morocco, who coordinates the project.

Financially, the centre will rely on fundraising carried out by the collective of associations partner with donors, governments and international cooperation, says the NGO.

You can donate or find out more through Yalla Morocco

24 Israelis Rescued

Good luck and a speedy response by local police saved the lives of 24 Israelis who found themselves trapped by a rockslide in the Anti-Atlas.

The travellers from Israel were on their way to a Jewish shrine in a mountain village when the road they were travelling on was swept away by falling boulders and a mudslide caused by the heavy rains on Sunday 27th. The Israelis, some over the age of 70, were visiting Morocco as part of their celebration of the Jewish religious holiday of Yom Kippur.

According to reports carried in the Israeli media none of the visitors were injured. However, they did find the experience frightening. "It was scary, and everyone started to cry, pray and cry out for help."

Thanks to the efficiency of the police they were able to safely return to their hotel in Marrakech

Morocco's Airports Show Increased Traffic

In August this year the Morocco's airports recorded 1.9 million passengers, an average annual increase of 6.3%.

This growth was particularly strong for Fez airport which had growth of 17.7% According to the National Office of Airports (ONDA) other airports have fared well with Tangier (12.6%), Essaouira (26.2%) and Al Hoceima (19.5%).

The Mohammed V airport in Casablanca welcomed 938,228 passengers, up 2.1% compared to August last year, a development that adds to that recorded a month earlier (21.4% in July 2015).

The daily attendance record was reached at Mohammed V airport on Sunday 2 August with 33,260 passengers.  In the months of July and August 2015, traffic in Morocco's airports totalled nearly 3, 5 million passengers, a new record this time of year.

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