Tuesday, February 28, 2006

36 Swedes in bus crash in Morocco

A bus carrying 36 Swedish passengers in Morocco crashed on Tuesday morning, Sweden's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said.

According to reports, the bus was carrying Swedes from Agadir to Marrakech, a popular tourist destination, and drove off the road at around 9am.

"Two people are seriously injured," Swedish foreign ministry spokeswoman Sofia Karlberg told Svenska Dagbladet. Many others are believed to be hurt, according to news agency TT.

The passengers have been taken to hospital in Morocco.

The bus trip was coordinated by travel agency Fritidsresor. The company has approximately 200 employees in Morocco, including one employee who was on the bus with the Swedish tourists.

Fritidsresor announced in a press release that its managing director and other company representatives, along with doctors and psychologists, are on their way to Morocco from Sweden to deal with the accident.


Monday, February 27, 2006

A Call for Peace - From one of Islam’s Great Holy Cities

Musicians from all over our planet fly to Morocco’s ancient holy city of Fes from 2 to 10 June this year to take part in the festival renowned as a clarion call for peace from the Islamic world. 2006 marks the 12th year that the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music has brought together great performers to showcase the finest music from the world’s spiritual traditions. They do this in an atmosphere of respect and mutual appreciation. This is the arena where Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, shamans etc: celebrate what they have in common – rather than squabbling over what divides them. The theme of the 2006 festival is Harmonies.

Headlining the Fes Festival this year is the maestro form Mali – Salif Keita. A world music mega-star, he will be on stage for the finale on 10 June in the magnificent setting of the Bab Makina palace courtyard. Other highlights include the hugely popular, passionate and powerful Pakistani singer Abida Parveen. She performs at the Bab Makina on 3 June. In the more intimate ambiance of the gardens of the Batha Museum, the acclaimed Spanish viola da gamba player Jordi Savall and the singer Monserrat Figueras present a programme of Christian, Sephardic and Arab-Andalusian music on 6 June. Also at the Batha, festival audiences will enjoy performances by the Tibetan diva Yungchen Lhamo (5 June) and Black Voices – a five-woman acapella group from England (8 June). The festival opens on Saturday 2 June with the legendary Franco-American master of the Baroque William Christie conducting Les Arts Florissants.

The Fes Festival was founded by the Sufi scholar and humanitarian activist Faouzi Skali and the Festival’s President Mohammed Kabbaj. Mr Kabbaj is a former advisor to King Mohammed of Morocco and is now the Mayor of Casablanca. Both men were appalled by the implications of the first Gulf War and decided that a positive initiative was needed. There was an emblematic first performance in 1994 featuring a Palestinian singer and a Jewish guitarist.

Today the Fes Festival occupies a firm position on the moral high ground. Its celebration of spiritual values, pluralism and cultural diversity is increasingly recognised as an axis of hope in our troubled times.

In October and November 2006 the second Spirit of Fes roadshow will tour more than 20 cities across the United States. The first Spirit of Fes tour took place in 2004 – presenting the Fes experience to American audiences with the magic of sacred music and the message of the Fes Encounters dialogue.

The Fes Festival is enormously good fun. During a week of concentrated musical excellence, visitors can take in three or four performances a day. The Batha Museum in the afternoon, Bab Makina in the evening, free concerts in the vast Bab Boujloud square and ecstatic late night Sufi gatherings in the Dar Tazi gardens. If there is time and energy left over, social life buzzes in the city’s hotels and restaurants and the Fes medina is a World Heritage Site. Shoppers can get happily and safely lost in the world’s largest medieval souk.

For complete programme details and further information go to www.fesfestival.com

Or contact Mary Finnigan T 0117 330 6350 M 07808 988405

See our wrap up of the highlights here: Fes Festival of World Sacred Music Program


Music Festival in Essaouira

The sixth edition of Essaouira's spring musical festival (Le Printemps musical des Alizés) will offer an exceptional programme of classical music on April 20-23, making it worthy to figure alongside the great international festivals of chamber music and lyric art.

Over the years, this event has established itself as a meeting place of the world's star performers: violinists, ‘cello players and pianists internationally acclaimed. This year's “Printemps musical des Alizés” will see the partication of artists from Austria, Egypt, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Spain, Russia and elsewhere in an extraordinarily rich programme.

A list of all the musical masterpieces to be presented in this festival is too long to be given, but among the works to be offered to the public are Schubert's Trout Quintet, a Schumann quintet, a Dvorak quintet, an unusual quintet for guitar, castanets and strings (“Fandango”) by Boccherini and one of Beethoven's well-known string quartets.

Lyric art will see a representation of Cavalli's baroque opera “La Calisto”, in period costumes and instruments.

Essaouira, a meeting-place of all cultures, offers as the climax of these musical crossroads the concert by the “Choeur des Trois Cultures” (Choir of the Three Cultures). This group, created in Seville thanks to the determination and involvement of the Fondation des Trois Cultures (Foundation of the Three Cultures), is made up of voices of different nationalities and religions. It will sing works in Arabic, Hebrew and Latin.

Young people are not forgotten in this festival. In a “Festival of Young Talents” (“Festival jeunes talents”), young Moroccans and foreigners, after music classes in Rabat, will also be singing. In addition, master classes are being organized every day for the young people present in the town on the occasion of the festival.

This music and these songs reveal the face of a Morocco ready to show its difference in the face of exclusion, a peaceful Morocco, meeting place of cultures and rich with a diversity that has fashioned its conviviality.

The picture (above)of Essaouira is from the collection: Moroccan photos from Junior Bonner photography.


Cartoon Crisis - European double standards?

An Austrian court has recently sentenced British historian David Irving to three years in prison for denying the Holocaust. The decision proved that there are limits to freedom of expression, and hence showed Europe's double standards when it comes to handling the blasphemous cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

So says Imran Khan, a Pakistani researcher and contributor to Morocco Times, who goes on to say:

To avoid confrontation with other religions, Europe must have the standards to judge the limits of freedom of expression. If Europe considers that freedom of expression has limits, then it must not only be used in the case of the holocaust. The widening gap between Islam and Europe could only be bridged with equality and justice.

Read the full story here: European double standards.


The storytellers of Marrakesh

A light but interesting tale about a storyteller in Marrakesh's Jemaa el Fna, is published in the New York Times by writer Marlise Simons. Link to the full article below the extract.

It's time for work and Mohammad Jabiri heads for Jemaa el Fna, the main square of Marrakesh, often called the cultural crossroads for all Morocco.

Stooping a little, he weaves through the crowds, past the snake charmers and their flutes, the racket of drummers and cymbalists, the cheers for the acrobats and the shouting of the kebab vendors, until he stakes out a quiet spot for himself.

Jabiri is a storyteller, a profession he has practiced for more than 40 years. Every day, he conjures up a real or imagined past that is filled with ancient battles and populated with sinners and prophets, wise sultans and tricky thieves.

For this he needs few props: He puts down a small stool and some colored illustrations. The rest is performance. His eyes can grow large and magnetic, and his voice booms or whispers, depending on the intrigue.

Jabiri, 71, is one of eight bards still performing publicly in the Marrakesh region of southern Morocco.

But most, like him, fear that their generation may be the last in a line that is as old as this medieval city.

Link: Of sultans, sinners and great battles fought

And while you are browsing, check out The Vagabond's Journal latest entry on Morocco: The Pace of Technology


Some great photographs of Morocco

From time to time we discover some great pictures of Morocco and here are some more. Below the picture of the ruins of the Chellah in Rabat, you will find a link to 104 interesting pictures by Junior Bonner photography. My thanks to Phil for permission to reproduce this one and the two others I will post in coming days.

Link: Moroccan photos from Junior Bonner photography.


Sunday, February 26, 2006

The travels of The View from Fez.

The Team from The View from Fez are travelling at the moment - so we will not be posting as frequently for almost two weeks. We are sorry about that but will be back at full strength as soon as possible.

At the moment I am in Perth in Western Australia, attending a Writers Festival and dropping in on an international Islamic Conference. Next week I will be in the city of Adelaide in South Australia, for another writers festival before travelling to Brisbane in Queensland. Then Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory before heading to Dubai in the first week of May and then on to Casablanca a few days later and finally - back in Fez.

Setting up a new internet connection in the Medina will take us off line - for maybe two weeks in mid-May.

After which we hope to resume our normal blogging - insh'Allah.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Bird Flu on Moroccan border

The first case of bird flu death has been registered in Tindouf, south Algeria, where thousands of Moroccan Sahrawis are detained by the so-called Polisario movement.

Arabic language daily Annahar al Maghribya said, according to sources from the detention camps, that the death was caused by the food received as humanitarian aid to the area, and included contaminated chicken.

The aid was sent to the Tindouf population after recent torrential rains that left an estimated 50,000 Moroccan Sahrawis homeless.

The newspaper added that the camps received aids form countries where bird flu was detected, including “Algeria, Spain, and Italy”.

After the disease reached some countries of the European Union (EU), and recently Nigeria and Egypt, Moroccans have become more concerned about any possible infection of the national poultry.

No case of bird flu has been detected in Morocco so far. A preventive policy against bird flu started in early October, as the government worked out a national action plan to avert any potential risk of the disease, imposing stricter quarantine measures on poultry farms, border posts and slaughter houses.

The Moroccan authorities also banned the importation of poultry from avian-flu infected countries and activated the National Commission for the Monitoring of Avian Flu , presided by Prime Minister Driss Jettou.

Early this month, an Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) regional meeting was held in Tunis to discuss the threat of the H5N1 virus on the region.

A Tunisian ornithologist, Abd Al-Majeed Dabar, urged Europe on Friday to set up advanced bird flu monitoring stations in Morocco and Tunisia, which are on the route of migratory birds flying from and to Europe, reported AFP.

“Tunesia and Morocco are located in two of the three corridors of seasonal migration. It would be beneficial for countries like Spain, France, Italy, or Germany to set up stations of monitoring, ” said Dabar, who is also president of the Association of Bird Friends (AAO).

The third corridor of migration Europe-Africa-Europe goes through Turkey, which is already contaminated by the disease.

“Birds never change their migration routes and know no boundaries,” he added, stressing that the set up of monitoring stations will allow early detection of bird flu cases.


Friday, February 24, 2006

Moroccans win prize for Arab Culture

Three Moroccans won prizes at the 9th edition of the Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture.

The Sharjah Prize - which includes a monetary award of USD 25,000 for each laureate - was created by the Executive Board of UNESCO in 1998 thanks to funds provided by the government of Sharjah.

Moroccan Youssef Rayhani won the second prize in the drama category for his play "Al Faratit la taltafit khalfaha" (butterflies do not look back). The 1st prize went to Egyptian Abdel Mounim Mohamed El Akbi and Imad Daoud Nakhnoukh.

The second Moroccan, Abdellatif Ait Nila was awarded the 3rd prize in the short story category for his work "Kabd Errih" (clasp of the wind). The two first prizes were grabbed by Jordanian Sana Ahmed Kamil Shaalan and Syrian Abir Younes.

The novel "Badwoun ala l'hafa" (Bedouins on the Brink of the Cliff) by Abdelaziz Rachdi (Morocco) got the 3rd prize in this literary genre also shared in ex-aequo with Emirati Fatima Souidi. The 1st and 2nd honours went to Egyptian Taher Mohamed Ali El Barbari and Syrian Ismail Rifai.

Other literary awards were handed out at this edition which was contributed to by 361 artists from several Arab countries, including poetry won by Jordanian Abdallah Amine Abou Chmis, youth literature by Syrian Mohamed Nouri Khourchid and literary criticism by Egyptien Mehdi Salah Ali Hassan).

Initially awarded every two years, the prize is now given out annually to honor individuals, groups or institutions that have contributed in a significant way to the development, dissemination and promotion of Arab culture in the world, as well as to the preservation and revitalization of intangible Arab cultural heritage.

In 2001, the first prize was awarded to Professors Abdulaziz El Makaleh (Yemen) and Na Zhong (China). In 2003, the prize was given to Moroccan writer Bin Salem Himmich and Bosnian professor Esad Durakovi?. The 2004 laureates were Tunisian researcher Abdelwahab Bouhdiba and Spanish historian Juan Vernet Giné.


Concern over Polisario propaganda

According to Moroccan government spokesman, Nabil Benabdallah, Morocco will face "Polisario propaganda that distorts the facts."

Speaking at a press briefing following the weekly cabinet meeting, Benabdallah said "there is an attempt to organize a folkloric event in the buffer zone, in a bid to give credence to this illusion (of separatists)," underlining that the separatists "mobilized important means, notably the embezzlement of aids that were destined to Moroccan citizens sequestered in Tindouf."

In mid-seventies, the Algeria-backed "Polisario" misled thousands of Sahrawis through propaganda into leaving their homes to Tindouf camps, at the same time waging war on Morocco claiming the separation of the Moroccan southern provinces, known as the Sahara, retrieved by the motherland from Spanish rule in 1975, under the Madrid accords.

Morocco deplores that the buffer zone could be used to give credence to the thesis that a freed or retrieved territory exists, while it is an inhabited buffer zone, Benabdellah noted.

He recalled that in a letter to the UN Secretary General, Morocco had drawn UN attention to buffer zone violation, underlining that "this zone is considered buffer by virtue of the ceasefire agreement and none can use it organize any event."

Earlier this month, Morocco had sent a letter to Kofi Annan, wherein Morocco draws UN attention to the seriousness of the actions, at the buffer strip, of the other parties to the Sahara issue, who "in disregard of international law, are laying ever-greater obstacles in the path of the international community's efforts to reach a negotiated political solution on the Sahara dispute."

The spokesman noted that the tragic situation in Tindouf camps following the latest floods, is “due to the stubbornness of our neighbors and the separatists and to the embezzlement of aids destined to the camps.”

Benabdallah reaffirmed that this situation is due to the stubbornness of the separatists that persist in rejecting the genuine solution to this issue, which offers security and stability to the populations on the Moroccan territory and in the frame of Moroccan sovereignty.

He also voiced compassion to the citizens sequestered in Tindouf camps, underlined that efforts will be carried on to ensure their return to their motherland as soon as possible and to allow the UN HCR to have access to the camps and carry out a census to put an end to any illusion.


Great news for a Moroccan River - and the Tanneries.

Sebou River pollution is to receive thirty million Euro from a French Agency - and that is great news for Fes.

The French Development Agency is lending the Water and Power Utility of Fès Euro 30Mn to carry out a program on the depollution of the Sebou River draining basin and the protection of the environment and water resources in this north central region of Morocco.

The loan convention is to be signed on February 28 by the "Agence française de développement" (AFD) and the "Régie autonome de distribution d'eau et d'électricité de Fès" (RADEEF).

The Sebou River, which flows some 300 km from the Rif Mountains westward to the Atlantic town of Kenitra, is polluted by home sewage and industrial liquid waste, notably tanning and oil processing concerns of the town of Fès. The pollution from the famous tanneries has long been a problem and this new program could be a major step towards cleaning up the effluent from the historic site.

The program aims at preventing health hazards deriving from water-born diseases to the populations living downstream of the river, as well as increasing water resources for RADEEF and protecting the environment.

A water purification plant and several liquid waste drains to channel used water to the plant are to be built under the program close to Fès. The total program funds are estimated at around Euro 90Mn to be contributed to by several Moroccan departments.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Morocco suspends poultry imports.

Morocco has suspended imports of one-day-old birds and poultry from countries where the bird flu virus has been declared, and placed an order for 10 million vaccine doses.

The measures were decided by the inter-ministerial crisis management commission (CIGC) in charge of controlling the H5N1 virus. It said as of Monday the government will vaccinate all non-confinable birds to ward off possible infection from migratory birds.

The concerned birds include ostrich, duck, partridge, bustard, and pheasant, said the source, adding that the supply commission is seeking to purchase more drugs and protection means .

The government has recently taken measures aiming at compelling the confinement of certain poultry species in some fifty sites close to wetlands to prevent contact with wild or migratory birds.

Vigilance is a must, said the commission, although no case has been recorded, noting that on Wednesday alone some sixty analyses were made.

On Wednesday, Premier Driss Jettou, who along with a number of ministers visited a poultry farm, stressed that there was not a single case of avian influenza in Morocco.

He told the press "the public and the international opinion will be informed automatically and without any hesitation in case the H5N1 virus is detected in Morocco."


Nadia Yassine update

In a follow up to our earlier story about Nadia Yassine, her lawyer requested the right for her to leave the country. According to reports from Rabat the leading member of the non-authorised Islamic movement Al Adl Wal Ihssane, has been allowed to leave the Moroccan territory despite the charges against her.

Judicial sources said that Rabat's First Instance Court accepted the request made by Yassine's lawyer demanding his client's right to leave the national territory.

The Criminal Investigation Department of Rabat's First Instance Court had decided on Dec. 28 to defer to a later date the case of Yassine as well as those of two journalists of the weekly Al Ousbouya Al Jadida.

The decision to postpone the case was demanded by the defendants' lawyers to prepare the defense.

The Criminal Investigation Department of Rabat's First Instance Court had summoned Yassine on June 6 for anti-monarchy statements in an interview with the weekly Al Ousbouya Al Jadida.

So - will Yassine leave the country? Watch this space.

Link to our earlier story: What to do about Yassine


Morocco's 600,000 ha Biosphere.

Some 600,000 ha of natural areas, divided among four provinces in the north of Morocco, will be the Mediterranean's first reserve of the intercontinental biosphere, said Wednesday an official in charge of the network of the protected natural spaces of Andalusia.

The project, to be approved by the UNESCO in June, will cover another 400,000 ha in the south of Spain.

It will be presented to UNESCO's Man and Biosphere (MAB) Committee next winter in Malaga, said the same source.

MAB is an international Programme concerned with the field of biodiversity conservation, sustainable development, and capacity building and information sharing. It also aims at promoting the biosphere reserve concept, the World Network of Biosphere Reserves and its constituent regional networks.

In Morocco, eight inland biological and ecological sites will be part of the project, in particular Talassemtan, Jbel Bouhachem, Jbel Qarrich. Ten other coastal ones will also figure including, Jbel Moussa, Koudiet Taifour, Gomara, and El Jebha. These areas are in the Wilaya of Tangier and Tetouan, and the provinces of Larache and Chefchaouen.

On the Spanish side, the biosphere reserve will incorporate a number of protected areas, including four in Andalusia (Sierra de las Nieves, Sierra de Grazalema, Los Alcornocales and El Estrecho) and a number of natural monuments in Malaga.

The creation of the biosphere reserve aims at boosting development in the northern region through the promotion of rural tourism and biological culture.


Le Journal Hebdomadaire - massive fine.

Managing editor Abubakr Jamai and deputy editor Fahd Iraqi, of Le Journal Hebdomadaire were fined three million and 50,000 dirhams (350,000 euros) for defamation on 16 February by a civil court in Rabat.

The fine, which is equal to 138 years of a minimum wage salary in Morocco, is the highest ever given to journalists in the country.

The newspaper was sued by the Brussels-based European Strategic Intelligence and Security Centre (ESISC), after Le Journal Hebdomadaire published an article questioning the objectivity of a ESISC report on the Polisario movement, which opposes Morocco's annexation of Western Sahara. Lawyers for the two journalists said they would appeal.

The complaint that led to the sentence against the newspaper was laid by the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Centre (ESISC), after Le Journal Hebdomadaire published a report questioning the objectivity of a critical report carried out by this “institute” into the separatist Polisario.

Reporters Without Borders Shocked.

“The Moroccan authorities never give up and gagging newspapers and their journalists is their latest weapon", said Reporters Without Borders. After sentencing Ali Lmrabet to a ten-year ban on practising his profession and imposing fines totally 177,000 euros for libel on the weekly Tel Quel over a period of less than three months, it is the turn of Le Journal to pay the price for this policy of stifling the investigative press”.

"In exploiting a foreign-based fake NGO, the government is reminding journalists of the red lines they should not cross. In the same way anything connected with the Palace or the Western Sahara is taboo.”

Jamai and Iraqi, already fined 50,000 dirhams (5,000 euros) in the criminal court were handed down the latest fines on 16 February by a civil court in Rabat which also ordered them to publish the grounds for the decision in three weeklies, Le Journal Hebdomadaire, Maroc Hebdo and El Ousboue. Lawyers for the two journalists said they would appeal.

Editor of Le Journal Hebdomadaire, Ali Amar, said that “at no time had the speeches focused on the alleged object of the libel. The plaintiff’s lawyer said that it was in reality a political trial and the court was as a result invited to judge the newspaper’s editorial line and opinions and not the object of the complaint. The lawyer for the centre produced in evidence previous front pages of the newspaper that dealt with sensitive issues, arguing that it was damaging Morocco’s image abroad.”


Over 2,940 ha of cannabis destroyed

Some 2,940 hectares of de cannabis, out of a total of 3,143 hectares, were destroyed in 2005 in the north-center region of Fès by the Regional Command of the "Gendarmerie royale."

The gendarmerie January-March magazine ran a study on the efforts of the rural police in the fight of drug trafficking, goods smuggling and contraband and the banned growing of cannabis.

The study shows the campaign to destroy cannabis farming and arrest the culprit farmers has helped cut down the output of cannabis through the destruction of 6,016 ha in 2000 through 2004.

Law enforcement authorities in the Fès region also dismantled a narcotics trafficking network and seized close to 03 tons of hashish. The Gendarmerie Command prosecuted over 1,000 drug trafficking cases and arrested 914 people in this respect.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

New American Atrocities

The damage done by the Danes, French and other Europeans over the cartoon crisis, is about to be joined by an American outrage. Whether it inflicts the same damage and creates as much anger is yet to be seen. But it makes Abu Graib, Guantanamo and Baghram with their sorry history of torture and abuse, cover-up and lack of accountability, pale into insignificance.

A new report, out tomorrow, is expected to detail at least 80 to one hundred cases of prisoners held by the Americans being so badly tortured that they died. Many of the cases are described as "homicide". Yet the culprits escaped even a serious reprimand. In once instance a homicide by an American commander was "punished" by 60 days confined to base.

The report- by the respected Human Rights First group is to be released tomorrow. The View From Fes obtained a quick look at a draft document and can state that it does not make for pleasant reading.

Human Rights First
is a leading human rights advocacy organization based in New York City and Washington, DC. Since 1978, we have worked in the United States and abroad to create a secure and humane world – advancing justice, human dignity, and respect for the rule of law. All of our activities are supported by private contributions. We accept no government funds.

The BBC has aired a story about the report and says:

Almost 100 prisoners have died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since August 2002, according to US group Human Rights First.

The details were first aired on BBC television's Newsnight programme.

Of the 98 deaths, at least 34 were suspected or confirmed homicides, the programme said.

The Pentagon told Newsnight it had not seen the report but took allegations of maltreatment "very seriously" and would prosecute if necessary.

The report, which is yet to be published, draws on information from Pentagon and other official US sources.


Human Rights First representative Deborah Pearlstein told Newsnight she was "extremely comfortable" that the information was reliable.

The report defines the 34 cases classified as homicides as "caused by intentional or reckless behaviour".

It says another 11 cases have been deemed suspicious and that between eight and 12 prisoners were tortured to death.

But despite this, charges are rare and sentences are light, the report says.

Speaking on the programme, the US ambassador to Iraq said the "overwhelming number" of troops behaved according to the law.

But Zalmay Khalilzad said abuses did exist.

"They are human beings, they violate the law, they make mistakes and they have to be held accountable and the good thing about our system is that we do hold people accountable," he said.

Investigation call

UK MP Bob Marshall-Andrews told the Press Association that the report confirmed "in statistical terms the appalling evidence already available in footage".

"If it is indeed systemic, then the responsibility for it must go right to the top, and that would apply to both British and American governments," he said.

A spokesman for Amnesty International UK called for a probe into the deaths in custody.

"Deaths in custody during the war on terror are a real matter of concern to us and we want to see the US and its allies allowing a full independent and impartial investigation into these deaths, as well as mounting incidents of alleged torture and other mistreatment," he said.

He said Amnesty had raised the issue of "overly lenient sentences" for those found guilty of mistreating prisoners.

Last week, an Australian TV channel (SBS) broadcast previously unpublished images showing apparent US abuse of prisoners in Iraq's Abu Ghraib jail in 2003.

At least 108 people have died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to figures compiled by the Associated Press news agency.

Most deaths were violent and some 25% are being investigated as possible abuse by US personnel, the agency said.

The death toll - far higher than previously thought - was based on information the agency obtained from the US army, navy and other officials.

The Pentagon said it was important to bear in mind the context of each death.

Some had died of natural causes, others had been victims of insurgent attacks on US detention facilities and some killed in violent prison uprisings, a spokesman told the BBC News website.

"That said, each of these deaths is investigated to determine the circumstances and whether there is any accountability," he added.

More than 60,000 people have been taken prisoner since the US-led wars in Afghanistan, in November 2001, and Iraq, in March 2003. Most have been freed.

Abuse report

The AP found that of the 108 deaths in US custody:

* At least 26 have been investigated as criminal homicide involving the abuse of prisoners

* At least 29 are attributed to suspected natural causes or accidents

* Twenty-two are blamed on an insurgent mortar attack on Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in April 2004

* At least 20 are attributed to "justifiable homicide", where investigations found US troops used deadly force appropriately - primarily against rioting, escaping or threatening prisoners.

Last week, a Pentagon report to Congress into prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan cited only six prisoner deaths in what it called "closed, substantiated abuse cases" as of last September.

The report's author, Vice Adm Albert Church, blamed the abuse on a breakdown of discipline, but did not directly criticise any high-level officials.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it was "unacceptable" that no-one at the highest levels of government had been held accountable for the abuses.

"Despite the military's own reports of deaths and abuses of detainees in US custody, it is astonishing that our government can still pretend that what is happening is the work of a few rogue soldiers," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero.

The reaction, by even the most moderate members of the Islamic community around the world, is not going to one of silence.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Islamaphobia - a cultural cancer.

Since The View From Fez posted our story on the rise of Islamaphobia, we were inundated with emails from people who thought we had it all wrong. The common thread of most emails was that Islam is the problem. The hate expressed by those who felt the need to correct us appears to be little more than a mask for their own fears.

Sadly, the internet and the tabloid press have become the weapon of choice for those whose own Islamaphobia spurs them to communicate it to others. The headlines and posts tell the story.


Free governments are coming to understand that one cannot dialogue with Muslims. They have their way or else. If it does not agree with Allah, then it is non existent. Treaties, United Nations sessions, trips from Washington to the Palestinian Authority�all this is a waste of time and energy. Muslims honor none of this. They only honor guns that praise Allah.

Free countries must deport all Muslims to Muslim countries. Free counties must see that no Muslims ever enter again. Free countries must teach the next generation the killing cultic truth about Islam. Free countries must stand together, for instance, regarding Hamas and snuff it out economically by not providing it with any funds.

The author of this little diatribe is one J Grant Swank and it is no surprise to find he is a member of the Christian Fundamentalist rightwing who believes ... "That's the state of the world right now. It's God verses Satan."

In a column commenting on the recent violence linked to cartoons in European newspapers that satirized the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter suggested that Islam is "a car-burning cult," and wrote that Muslims have "a predilection for violence."

From Coulter's February 8 column:

One [cartoon] showed Muhammad turning away suicide bombers from the gates of heaven, saying "Stop, stop -- we ran out of virgins!" -- which I believe was a commentary on Muslims' predilection for violence. Another was a cartoon of Muhammad with horns, which I believe was a commentary on Muslims' predilection for violence. The third showed Muhammad with a turban in the shape of a bomb, which I believe was an expression of post-industrial ennui in a secular -- oops, no, wait: It was more of a commentary on Muslims' predilection for violence.


Muslims are the only people who make feminists seem laid-back.


The belief that Islam forbids portrayals of Muhammad is recently acquired. Back when Muslims created things, rather than blowing them up, they made paintings, frescoes, miniatures and prints of Muhammad.

But apparently the Koran is like the Constitution: It's a "living document," capable of sprouting all-new provisions at will. Muslims ought to start claiming the Koran also prohibits indoor plumbing, to explain their lack of it.


Making the rash assumption for purposes of discussion that Islam is a religion and not a car-burning cult, even a real religion can't go bossing around other people like this.

Coulter's attacks on Muslims are nothing new. One day after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Coulter wrote of Muslims: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." These comments resulted in her being fired by the conservative National Review. In her most recent book, How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must): The World According to Ann Coulter (Crown Publishing Group, 2004), Coulter wrote: "I am often asked if I still think we should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity. The answer is: Now more than ever!" She reiterated this stance on the October 4, 2004, edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

COLMES: Would you like to convert these people all to Christianity?

COULTER: The ones that we haven't killed, yes.

COLMES: So no one should be Muslim. They should all be Christian?

COULTER: That would be a good start, yes.

And the problem is not confined to the USA,

In Great Britain the Sun Newspaper seems to think Islamaphobia is more acceptable than anti-semitism and is fanning the flames with stories like this:

The strict Islamic legal system — which in extreme cases involves punishments such as STONING and AMPUTATION — applies in hardline Muslim countries. NEARLY half of all Muslims living in Britain want harsh Sharia law in THIS country.

Yesterday an ICM poll found 40 per cent of UK Muslims would favour the laws in predominantly Muslim areas. And 20 per cent admitted “sympathy with the motives” of the London suicide bombers — even if they did not think the attack was justified.

Media ‘hate’ columnists feed Islamaphobia

A REPORT on Islamaphobia in the UK concludes prejudice against Muslims has grown over the last five years. The report, by a special commission on Islamaphobia set up by the Runnymede Trust charity, blames 9/11 and the emphasis on Muslim terrorism in the media for encouraging and spreading negative attitudes.

The report is short on fact and concentrates on the results of interview with Muslims in four cities including Manchester. It also draws heavily on articles - both pro and anti Muslim - published in the media noting that over 60 per cent of people who were asked said their attitudes towards Islam and Muslims were a product of media influence.

It says that the demonisation of refugees by the British tabloid press has also increased Islamaphobia, the word "asylum seeker" being seen as a coded attack on Muslims.

Of the many anti-Muslim passages quoted in the research perhaps the most typical is from The Sunday Times columnist Melanie Phillips who wrote: "We have a fifth column in our midst...Thousands of alienated young Muslims, most of then born here but who regard themselves as an army within, are waiting for an opportunity to help to destroy the society that sustains them. We are now staring into an abyss, aghast."


  • See our previous story Islamaphobia - a rising tide

  • The wisdom of Ann Coulter.

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    Morocco not relaxed about bird flu.

    According to a poll in the Morocco Times, 62% of Moroccans believe that the country will be hit by bird flu, 27% consider it possible, while only 9.8% say it will not happen. The High Commissioner for Water, Forest, and Anti-Desertification, Abdeladim El Hafi, however, said that Morocco is fully prepared to face any potential risk of avian flu.

    After the disease reached some countries of the European Union (EU), and recently Nigeria and Egypt, Moroccans have become more concerned about any possible infection of the national poultry.

    “Morocco is now on a state of surveillance,” El Hafi said in an interview with Arabic-language daily Assahra Al Maghribia.

    “This concerns 40 different regions… which receive migrating birds.”

    Last week, the Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Sea Fisheries, Mohand Laenser, and the Minister of Health Mohamed Cheikh Biadillah assured that no case of avian flu has been registered so far in the Kingdom, drawing attention to the necessity of staying on high alert as to the deadly strain of avian flu, the H5N1 virus.

    Earlier this month, the Health Minister took part in an Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) regional meeting in Tunis to tackle the global bird flu threat.

    The five UMA member states considered the challenges imposed by the spread of the disease in the world, and looked into the ways to counter any possible appearance of the H5N1 virus in the region.

    Morocco started a preventive policy against bird flu in early October, as the government worked out a national action plan to avert any potential risk of the disease, imposing stricter quarantine measures on poultry farms, border posts and slaughter houses.

    The Moroccan authorities also banned the importation of poultry from avian-flu infected countries and activated the National Commission for the Monitoring of Avian Flu, overseen by the Prime Minister, Driss Jettou.

    Set up in 2004, the commission was created to keep an eye on the development of the disease in the world, report on the situation in infected countries, and guarantee the protection of the country from the disease.

    Morocco has been monitoring possible outbreaks of bird flu since the start of 2005, putting poultry farms and wild birds under the watchful eyes of the agriculture ministry's veterinary departments.

    “The period of surveillance hangs on the state of avian flu in the regions hit by the disease,” El Hafi underlined.

    “If there is a global mobilisation to fight bird flu in the places it generates from, by taking the necessary preventive measures, then we will have made a considerable step in eradicating the disease.

    “But since it (avian flu) is still spreading in its original source and has not yet been stamped out, we will remain here (in Morocco) on high alert,” he concluded.

    In December last year, doctors and officials from the health ministries of the five Arab Maghreb Union states convened in Rabat to elaborate policies and strategies to prevent any possible contamination by avian flu.

    Last month, 33 countries and multilateral institutions met in Beijing, pledging USD 1.9 billion to fight the disease.

    Until now, studies showed that there has been no human-to-human contamination.


    Arrest of Indian migrants in Morocco on the rise

    The arrival in Morocco of illegal Indian migrants trying to make their way to Spain is on the rise, with police detaining some 95 Indians this year.

    In the latest incident, nine Indian migrants have been arrested in Ouled Settout near the northern Moroccan city of Nador, police said Tuesday.

    The Indians were attempting to reach the nearby Spanish enclave of Melilla in order to cross over to mainland Spain.

    Moroccan police services dismantle human-smuggling network.

    Police recently held 70 people on charges of belonging to a criminal ring that brought Indians and Pakistanis through western African and Gulf countries to Morocco, which they were using as a gateway to the West.

    “Some 70 people have been arrested as part of this operation,” General Director of National Security Hamidou Lâanigri had declared after the network was dismantled.

    “The operation also allowed police services to seize five cars, considerable sums of money in foreign and Moroccan currency, important means of communication, as well as documents related to the network's activities,” he added.

    The majority of those arrested in the operation are currently in Nador where they will be referred to justice.

    In other news, 570 illegal immigrants were repatriated from the eastern city of Oujda on February 1st through 16. The illegal immigrants, 376 sub-Saharans, 130 Algerians, 52 Indians, a Bengalese, 9 Pakistanis and 2 Syrians, had entered the Moroccan territory via Algeria.

    A government source noted that five Africans were arrested for possessing false certificates of the UN High Commissioner of Refugees Rabat bureau. The investigation revealed that these immigrants bought these documents in the Algerian city of Maghnia from Algerian individuals.


    “Our Maghreb, a common future”.

    The Friedrich Ebert Foundation is organising a writing contest for youth from the Maghreb countries dealing with regional issues. The contest aims at inciting young people from the Maghreb region to enrich their reflection on the future of the region and also on the issues related to the political participation of youth and the problems they face in political, socio-economic and cultural fields.

    Youngsters from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria are invited to submit their contribution under the theme “Our Maghreb, a common future”.The contest will allow students from the concerned countries, aged from 15 to 18, to express their views and expectations on the future Maghreb.

    The participants should submit their articles to the organising committee before the deadline of May. 15. The selection of the best articles will take place in June.“The selected articles will be published in the supplements of the papers which are partners of the foundation. They will be in booklet form, which will be distributed in schools to stimulate debates on the issues,” underline the committee.

    To carry out this project, the three offices of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria created partnerships with public institutions, local associations, syndicates and newspapers from the three countries.

    The Friedrich Ebert Foundation is a non-profit German political foundation committed to the advancement of public policy issues in the spirit of the basic values of social democracy through education, research, and international cooperation. The foundation, headquartered in Bonn and Berlin, was founded in 1925 and is named after Friedrich Ebert, a founding father of the Weimar Republic, Germany’s first democracy after World War I. Today, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation has six adult education centers and 12 regional offices throughout Germany, maintains branch offices in over 90 countries and carries out activities in more than 100 countries.

    Die internationale Arbeit verbindet die Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung mit Partnern in über hundert Ländern der Welt. In den meisten dieser Länder arbeiten Vertreter der Stiftung mit eigenen Büros für Demokratie, Entwicklung und Frieden in ihren Gastländern. Ziel der Arbeit ist es, zu mehr Partizipation, Pluralismus, Rechtsstaatlichkeit, sozialer Gerechtigkeit und gewaltfreier Konfliktregelung in Staat und Gesellschaft beizutragen. Zu den Partnern der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung zählen Parteien, Gewerkschaften, Verbände, Forschungs- und Bildungseinrichtungen, Bürgerbewegungen, Organisationen der Zivilgesellschaft, aber auch Parlamente, Regierungsinstitutionen und internationale Organisationen.


    Operation Smile in Fez

    According to a report in the Morocco Times, the Operation Smile Morocco association is organising its first mission in Fez on March 9-18, to restore smiles to the children of the region. It will work in Omar El Idrissi Albatha hospital. After having successfully carried out more than 3,400 operations throughout the kingdom since 1998, Operation Smile Morocco will head for Fez in March to help 150 children suffering from cleft lips, cleft palates, tumours, burns and other facial deformities.

    For eight days, a group of Moroccan and foreign volunteers will carry out free consultations and surgical operations for children and adults suffering facial malformations.

    Operation Smile Morocco, a branch of Operation Smile International which is headquartered in Virginia (USA), was founded in 1998. The organisation has carried out over 3,000 surgical operations throughout the kingdom, notably in Agadir, Casablanca, Laayoune, Marrakech, Meknes, Rabat and Tangier.

    Founded in 1982, Operation Smile International has brought new hope and new lives to tens of thousands of children and young adults by providing free reconstructive surgery.


    Monday, February 20, 2006

    Morocco's Equity & Reconciliation Commission - Update

    The news that the Moroccan government will implement all the recommendations in a report released last month by the Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER) into past abuses, has been greeted with enthusiasm from most commentators in the world press and by governments around the world.

    The Moroccan goverment is pleased with the result but keen to show that they are continuing to work on reform. "We want to show that Morocco remembers what happened here, recognizes its errors, and has the will to put in place all measures necessary to prevent a repetition," said government spokesman Nabil Benabdellah. "Then we can turn the page on this part of our history and look forward to the reconstruction of our future."

    Mr. Benabdellah said the decision to establish the IER and follow its recommendations represented an unprecedented act of political courage.

    "We are practically the only country in the world that has decided to look into the sins of its past within the same regime," he said. "We were not forced to do this through coup d'etats or anything like that."

    Among the recommendations outlined in the report are changes to the constitution that would:

    •Make international law on human rights override internal law.

    •Ensure a presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial.

    •Clarify basic freedoms and rights, including the freedoms of speech and expression.

    •Prohibit arbitrary detention and genocide.

    •Reform security, justice and penal policies.

    The IER, chaired by former political detainee Driss Benzekri, arrived at its recommendations after hearing searing testimony from thousands of people, much of which was televised nationally.

    Victims of human rights violations described forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, false imprisonment, torture and sexual abuse at the hands of authorities.

    "The hearings were very moving and presented historical significance," said IER member AbdelHay Moudden. "Never have you seen victims of human rights abuses explain their suffering in front of an entire country and accusing the state at the same time. There is no precedent."

    The IER verified that 743 Moroccans were killed by the government during the period under study and said 65 others remained "missing" as a result of forced disappearances.

    The United States welcomed the commission's findings and recommendations. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Jan. 13 that the report "demonstrates the kingdom of Morocco's willingness to contemplate serious reform."

    The establishment of the truth-seeking commission was among a host of reforms initiated in the past year by Mohammed VI. Others include reforms to help the rural poor, to allow more press freedom and to give women more rights.

    The government has agreed to provide financial compensation and other reparations to some 9,000 victims and their families who brought their grievances to the IER. No provisions have been created to punish the perpetrators.

    Mr. Herzenni, who remembers the names of some of his torturers, said most victims do not need revenge to feel at peace.

    "Most Moroccans share the mood of forgetting and moving forward," he said. "For me, what matters most is not that I get revenge, but that what happened never repeats itself.".


    Islamaphobia - a rising tide

    The West seems to be in the grip of a rising tide of Islamaphobia. At first glance it could be seen as a reaction to terrorism, to the over-reaction in some states to the cartoon crisis sparked by the Danes and fuelled by the French and other Europeans. And yet, while it may seem like a natural reaction, there is another side to the story. Right of centre intellectuals in countries as far apart as France and Australia are feeding the simmering missunderstandings, hates and prejudices. Politicians are using fear of Islam as a path to popularity.

    The ultra-conservative Frontpage Mag.com is typical of the kind of journalism being used to fuel the flames instead of seeking dialogue and understanding. Writing of the riots in France, Andrew G. Bostom, an Associate Professor of Medicine at Brown University Medical School, and occasional contributor to Frontpage, attempts to put the present troubles in an historic perspective. But he does so in an inflamatory way by talking of the recent French riots as "Intifada 2005" and raising the spectre of "Eurabia" which Bostom claims is "a global movement that is transforming Europe into a new continent of dhimmitude within a worldwide strategy of jihad and da’wa, the latter being the pacific method of Islamization."…

    He further claims that - "this policy of dhimmitude for the Euro-Arabian continent…entitled “Dialogue between Peoples and Cultures in the Euro-Mediterranean Region” was accepted by the European Union in December 2003. Unfortunately, the policy of “Dialogue” with the Arab League nations, willfully pursued by Europe for the past three decades, has promoted European dhimmitude and rabid Judeophobia."

    At no time does Bostom attempt to understand the seeds of the troubles, but rushes headlong to judgement and is soon in full flight...

    "It is within this harrowing context that one must view the apologetics regarding the French riots, or “intifada,” by pundits across the political spectrum, and on both sides of the Atlantic, who denied or trivialized the role of Islam. For example, although twelve Christian churches were desecrated and/or burned by the overwhelmingly Muslim rioters in France, these bigoted acts were barely reported by investigative journalists or bloggers, and ignored altogether by pontificating commentators.

    Apologetic assessments further ignored the existence of ominous and influential Islamic entities such as the Arab European League—a hideous group which equates the assimilation of Muslims within a European context, to rape—or the European Fatwa Council, headed by Muslim Brotherhood “spiritual” leader Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who sanctions homicide bombings against Israeli non-combatants, and issued a public fatwa on December 2, 2002, calling on Muslims to conquer Europe, stating, “Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror and a victor after being expelled from it twice – once from the south, from Andalusia, and a second time, from the east, when it knocked several times on the doors of Athens.” Qaradawi’s fatwa ruled, in addition, that Muslims should re-conquer, “former Islamic colonies to Andalus (Spain), southern Italy, Sicily, the Balkans and the Mediterranean islands

    There is much more like this, but you get the picture all of which concludes:

    "Denying any Islamic etiology for the major problems confronting Europe, thus begets more Islam as the “solution,” and accelerates Europe’s seemingly inevitable trajectory towards complete Islamization, with implementation of the Shari’a."

    Islamaphobia comes in all shapes and sizes and in Australia the ultra-concervative Prime Minister is peddling what could be described as Islamaphobia-lite. Under-attack from the Muslim community, Howard said he stood by his comments outlined in a book to mark his 10 years in power, claiming sections of Australia's Muslim population are antagonistic to Australian culture.

    He said a commitment to jihad and extreme attitudes towards women were two problems unique to Muslims that previous intakes of migrants from Europe did not have, and that Australia wanted people to assimilate and adopt Australian ways.

    The Islamic community were outraged. Islamic Council of NSW spokesman Ali Roude responded "If the PM has a personal preference for assimilation rather than the strategy of multiculturalism which has been the strong bipartisan position in Australia since the days of the Fraser government, that is his personal right and he is entitled to it".

    "As moderate Muslims and as moderate Australians we condemn all forms of extremism and discrimination at home and abroad. Where Muslims are extremists or bigots we condemn their misguided attitudes and actions.

    "However, to suggest that Muslims alone are extremists in our society or that anyone except the smallest minority of Muslims in Australia act in this manner, or that Muslims as a group cannot adapt and embrace Australia's ways, is as invalid an argument as it is offensive and ignorant."

    Lebanese Muslims Association spokesman Keysar Trad said yesterday that Mr Howard was "unfortunately just pandering to the Islamaphobia out there by making these comments".


    Sunday, February 19, 2006

    Maghreb - flavour of the month.

    The 12th edition of the Maghreb des Livres book fair scheduled for 25-26 February in Paris will highlight the Maghreb contribution to French culture, according to the Coup de Soleil association, organiser of the event. About 230 French and Maghreb authors are expected to sign their books during the fair, which will present "1,000 novels released in France in 2005 on the Maghreb and integration, a huge bookshop of 10,000 books on these recently published themes, and a best of Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian editorial production for 2005".

    At the same time, Maghreb cinema will be in the spotlight at film festival in Bahrain

    The Tunisian-French film "Le Prince", directed by Mohammed Zran, was screened at the opening of the five-day Arabic and French Film Festival in Manama on Saturday (18 February). "This festival is a real opportunity to show great award-winning movies that are unknown in the Middle East," said Alliance Francaise events co-ordinator Nassima Chebel. The schedule of the festival for the rest of the week includes Moroccan films "Le Grand Voyage" by Ismael Ferroukhi and "Ali Zaoua" by Nabil Ayouch, as well as Algerian film "El Manara" by Belkacem Hadjadj.

    Le Grand Voyage, Ismail Ferroukhi's full length film, tells the story of a father and son who have very different visions of their trip to Mecca. The two principal characters of Ferroukhi's film were almost strangers to each other. But, during a trip from France to Saudi Arabia, they had the opportunity to understand and like each other.

    The Moroccan film has been presented in many film festivals and awarded many prizes.

    It has been presented in the Fameck Arab Film Festival, in France, which spotlighted Morocco in its 16th edition, and in the first Maghreban Film Festival of the Eastern Moroccan town, Oujda.

    Le Grand Voyage also received the special mention of the jury during the fifth edition of Rotterdam International Film Festival.

    "Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets," a contemporary Moroccan coming-of-age drama that played the 2001 festival circuit and went on to win a handful of international awards.

    The title character is a homeless boy killed in the film's first sequence who becomes, in death, a martyr to Moroccan social neglect and an inspiration to a trio of other Casablanca street urchins who are the film's protagonists.

    The film is exceedingly grim, depicting a juvenile street world of harrowing abuse, casual rape and wholesale drug addiction (the kids are all confirmed glue-sniffers).

    At the same time, director Nabil Ayouch balances the pessimism with gorgeous wide-screen photography, a wistfully hopeful conclusion and a succession of gracefully animated sequences designed to show his characters' more gentle inner worlds.


    A not so secret meeting.

    The headlines claimed one thing:

    "Secret meeting: Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz meets with Morocco's King Mohammed VI at his palace."

    "Labor leader says he is interested in introducing diplomatic initiative, opening new channels of dialogue with Arab world."

    However, the meeting was far from secret.

    Peretz flew to Morocco early Friday along with Uriella Ben Tzvi, who is in charge of foreign liaison at Labor's campaign headquarters for a meeting with King Mohammed VI at his palace.

    The meeting followed a personal invitation extended by the king. In the meeting, Peretz and the king conversed in Arabic. A representative of Morocco's Jewish community was also present at the session.

    The two figures met for more than an hour, with Peretz noting that in light of the dead-end created in the wake of Hamas' recent elections victory, he decided to introduce a diplomatic initiative aimed at opening new channels of dialogue with the Arab world.

    Peretz added that in the current state of affairs Morocco can play a crucial role in advancing dialogue in the Middle East. The Labor party leader stressed "we are engaged in an uncompromising war with Hamas and with terror organizations, but not with the Arab world."

    The king himself spoke about the great significance he attaches to his meeting with Peretz and noted he views the new initiative as a courageous, valuable step.

    While Peretz was busy launching his diplomatic initiative in Morocco, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert held a strategic discussion on the ramifications of Hamas' rise to power.

    The meeting participants, including Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra and heads of the defense establishment, decided not to allow Hamas parliament members living in the Gaza Strip to travel to the West Bank for Saturday's parliament meeting in Ramallah.

    Therefore, the Palestinian Authority plans on airing the swearing-in ceremony of the new Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza through satellite.

    The meeting attendees reached a number of other decisions defined as "secret." Hopefully those "secret" meetings looked at the inevitability of negotiations with Hamas - afterall, negotiations with a diplomatically elected government is a better option that a return to the days of rocket attacks and suicide bombers. To have Hamas in government is a very positive step towards peace - but don't hold your breath for Israel to reveal publically what they are doing behind the scenes. That may take a while.


    Saturday, February 18, 2006

    Serious Concern for Sahrawi Camps

    Rabat is "seriously concerned" about the terrible situation of the Morccan citizens held in the Tindouf camps, south-western Algeria, following the heavy rainfall that affected the area earlier this month, destroying half of its homes. Minister of Communication and Government Spokesperson Nabil Benabdallah said that "Moroccans pity their compatriots who are sequestered (in that region), considering this appalling situation a direct result of the other parties' decade-long reluctance and constant hindrance to any solution allowing the repatriation of the abducted to Morocco."

    According to a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on February 9-10 rare torrential rains caused severe flooding in three of the five Sahrawi camps in Tindouf, leaving an estimated 50,000 Moroccan Sahrawis homeless. More than half of the homes, most of which are make-shift tents and unstable mud-brick houses, were either severely damaged or completely destroyed.

    Benabdallah stressed that “the genuine solution to this deteriorating situation is to allow the Moroccan citizens held captive in Tindouf to join their homeland (Morocco), where they will live with dignity."

    This can be reached, said the government official, only through providing the requisite conditions for the ultimate success of the political solution suggested by Morocco to maintain sovereignty over its Southern Provinces, known as the Sahara.

    The Association for Freeing the Sahrawis Sequestered in the Tindouf Camps has called for an urgent intervention to avoid another humanitarian disaster there, following the floods that invaded the area.

    The association also expressed concern over the spread of diseases and epidemics as a result of the lack of medicines and basic supplies, to say nothing of the fragility of the dwellings.

    It called on the UN and all the humanitarian and human rights organisations “to intervene towards ending this tragedy."

    Tindouf is the stronghold of the Polisario Front, which claims the separation of the Moroccan Sahara from the rest of the Kingdom.

    The conflict over the Sahara dates back to 1975, when Morocco regained its Southern Provinces, formerly colonised by Spain, under the Madrid Accords signed by the two kingdoms and Mauritania.

    The Polisario, then, started claiming sovereignty over the Sahara, taking advantage of Algeria's political and logistical support.

    The dispute over the vast desert area ignited a long and bitter guerrilla war that culminated in a UN-brokered cease-fire in 1991.


    500 Kilo Hashish Haul

    Spanish police on Saturday seized a 500-kilo (1,100-pound) haul of hashish hidden aboard a plane arriving from Morocco and arrested eight alleged traffickers from a handful of countries. The drug ring used airplanes to "get around increasingly tight border controls intended to prevent illegal immigration" from Morocco.

    In addition to making the hashish haul, police arrested eight people aboard the Cessna 207 Skywagon right after it flew in from Moulay Ali Chrif in Morocco and landed at a regional airport outside the southern city of Murcia. The two South American pilots, and three Spaniards, two Italians and a Moroccan national aboard were arrested. Spanish police were tipped off to the drug ring by Italian police.

    Spain made its largest hash seizure ever in October 2005, when it discovered 27 tonnes of the drug in a truck in the southern port of Algeciras that had arrived from the Moroccan city of Tangiers.

    In additional drug news, two Moroccans were arrested by Spanish security forces on Thursdayy in Fuerteventura with 12kg of hashish they were attempting to smuggle into the Canary Islands.
    The hashish was concealed in a car that landed from a ferry linking Lanzarote and Fuerteventura and found by the Spanish Guardia Civil.

    The arrest is part of a surveillance operation carried out by the Spanish law enforcement agents to detect drug smuggling activities in the Canary Islands.


    Formula One - on the road to Morocco?

    According to racing buffs Morocco is in the headlights of a few Formula One planners. But as the article emailed from a fanatic F1 friend suggests - don't hold your breath. I must admit I am not sure I agree with the sentiments about tourism stagnating and neither do I really think that Formula One is some sort of economic saviour. It is a costly, noisy big-boys-toys affair and I for one will be happy if it goes to Cape Town.

    Formula 1 has been looking at Morocco for a long time. In 1997 Bernie Ecclestone's envoy Philippe Gurdjian spent several months in the country visiting different cities to try establish the best possible venue for a Grand Prix. The study concluded that a Formula 1 race was exactly what was needed to boost tourism in Marrakesh and enhance the image of the country in general. At the time tourism was increasing all the time and the idea of a race was dismissed because it was too expensive.

    Since then much has changed. The old ruler King Hassan II died in 1999 and was replaced by King Mohammed VI, a man with a taste for speed. At the same time, tourism has stagnated because of international tension and the fear that Muslim extremists may be able to operate in the country. This was seen in May 2003 when a series of terrorist attacks caused considerable damage in Casablanca. In 2004 the country signed a free-trade agreement with the United States and began a series of economic reforms designed to make the country more attractive to foreign investors.

    In many respects, therefore, Morocco is in a similar situation to Bahrain and may benefit from an F1 event if it is willing to invest in the construction of a racing facility and the fees needed to pay for the racing. From an F1 perspective Morocco is a good location as the sport has long been looking for a way into Africa. Morocco is close to the southern tip of Europe and is on the same basic time zone as mainland Europe.

    However, one should always be careful about such stories as more often than not rumours of new races exist because negotiations are going on for a race somewhere else. South Africa has been pushing hard for a Grand Prix for some time and it may be that the sudden talk of Morocco is more to do with a race in Cape Town than it is to do with a race in Marrakesh


    Friday, February 17, 2006

    In Search of Shamash

    "In Babylonian mythology, Shamash was the sun god and god of justice and divination. He gave laws to mankind and was the source of inspiration for Hammurabi's code of laws. This blog is about Middle East reform, a search for justice in the land of Babylon."

    Given the quote above - you will not be surprised to find that the In Search of Shamash blog has a great range of links and resources. I am only just exploring it now but it seems to have a lot of interesting topics. Check it out.


    Master of the Jinn

    It seems to be a day for literature and literacy! No sooner had I finished posting about newspaper circulations and the poetry blog - when a comment came in from the author of a new book. So, once again I delved into cyberspace and came up with a book that certainly looks like a fascinating read.

    Irving Karchmar, the 59 year old author of Master of the Jinn, holds a Masters degree in Philosophy from DePaul University in Chicago. He has been a poet, writer, editor and publisher for many years, and a darvish of the Nimatullahi Sufi order since 1992. He now lives in Sag Harbor, New York, where he is currently at work on his second novel, a sequel entitled Tale of the Jinn.

    Here is a tale set on the Path of the Heart, a mystical adventure wherein a modern-day Sufi master sends seven companions on a quest for the original Ring of Power, and the greatest treasure of the ancient world - King Solomon's ring. It is the very same seal ring of a hundred legends, given to King Solomon by God to command the Jinn, those terrifying demons of living fire.

    By sea and across deserts, they are led by a strange faqir guide of many names. Through the mightiest of storms and into a lost city, the travelers come at last to the gateway of the Subtle Realm, the land of the Jinn.

    But the quest has a strange effect on everyone chosen to go: visions enter their dreams, remembrances and tears fill their hearts, and mysteries abound; unearthly storms and unending night, the Gates of Heaven open at last, and invincible demons of smokeless fire.

    It is a tale woven of ancient legends found in the Old Testament, the Talmud, and the Koran, and although it is set in the present, the search for the truth of the ring leads them into a circle of ageless destiny, where the companions discover not only the fate of the Jinn, but also the Path of Love and the infinite Mercy of God.


    A Poetic Blog.

    One of the joys of the blogosphere is discovering weblogs that have style and content worth returning to time and again. So when I recieved notification that a blog had kindly linked to The View From Fez, I went looking and was rewarded with finding myself in the elegant world of El Jerroudi and the blog CONTACTPOESIE

    Even though I struggle with French, I was soon aware that this was a place that would encourage my understanding of the language. The posts revolve around poetry, art and literature - and are well worth a visit. Merci El Jerroudi!


    Press Freedom Monitor Announced.

    The Union of Arab Journalists (UAJ) has announced the creation of a regional observatory for the freedom of press, to follow up the practice of journalism in the Arab World and the Moroccan capital, Rabat, has been chosen as its headquarters.

    The observatory will be in charge of compiling annual reports on press freedom in the Arab region, conducting studies and holding activities bearing on the subject, said Saif Charif, President of UAJ's freedom commission in a press conference held Tuesday in Rabat.

    Charif noted that the observatory's main office will be inaugurated in May, when UAJ will hold an international colloquium on press freedom in the Arab World, with Arab and foreign media actors taking part.

    The creation of the regional press freedom watch comes in response to the recommendations of the 10th UAJ Congress, held in Octobre 2004 in Cairo, seeking the development of the practice of journalism in the Arab World, UAJ officials say.


    Thursday, February 16, 2006

    Morocco's newspapers: 13 copies per 1,000 inhabitants

    When I read the latest circulation figures from Morocco, I decided to look into the implications of low readership of daily newspapers. What I discovered was fascinating. Studies have long proved that newspaper reading is associated with high social capital and that getting people to read newspapers matters. The more informed a population, the better they can participate in political and social life. With that in mind, the latest figures from Morocco are cause for concern.

    According to Latifa Akherbach, Director of the Rabat-based Higher Institute of Information and Communication, Morocco's newspapers circulation rate is 13 copies per 1,000 inhabitants. This compares with an average circulation rate of 55 copies per 1,000 inhabitants in Arab countries and 285 copies per 1,000 inhabitants in France.

    Speaking at a round table on the Maghreb Arab media, she noted that the circulation of newspapers in Morocco decreased from 300,000 to 250,000 in 2005, stressing that the Moroccan newspapers circulation is "weak" compared to some Maghreb countries.

    Also of concern is the fact that although Arab-speaking newspapers represent 60% of the sales, they attract only of 30% of the advertisements run through the media.

    All the research seems to indicate that higher newspaper readership equates with both quantitative and qualitative increases in political participation due to the resultant civic literacy. This is a plus for any state as it also creates better socioeconomic outcomes since informed individuals can better identify the effects policy options have upon their own interests and those of others in their community. In a nutshell, high civic-literacy societies are more likely to attain long-term optimal economic outcomes. However in low civic literacy societies the interests of the economically disadvantaged carry less weight since they are more often excluded from informed political participation through lack of civic competence.

    Getting people to read newspapers matters.

    So are there ways in which Morocco can increase newspaper readership? Naturally basic literacy is a must, but beyond that the examples set by the Nordic countries stand out. In that part of the world, reading daily newspapers remains an unquestioned part of everyday life. And this is not by accident. Efforts are made to encourage newspaper readership at all levels. For example, the daily newspaper 8 Sidor (8 Pages) is published in simple Swedish and distributed to those with low reading skills. Cassette recordings of the daily newspapers are sent out free of charge to people with dyslexia or vision impairments

    If newspaper reading is associated with high social capital what about the impact of television? It is a fair question because many of my Moroccan friends who don't read newspapers claim they don't need to as they watch television. But according to American research TV viewing equates with low social capital (Putnam, 1995). Indeed, Putnam indicts increased TV viewing as the main culprit for the decline in social capital. Television, he argues, destroys social capital by taking time away from civic engagement and by making viewers less trustful of the world outside their homes.

    Maybe the Moroccan government can follow the Nordic example in other areas as well. Norway, Finland and Sweden subsidize daily newspapers that are not leaders in their markets to an amount averaging around 11 percent of their income, and accounting for 3 to 4 percent of all newspaper revenues.

    Whatever the answers, at least now Morocco is aware it has a problem.

    In related news Al Bayane has published the figures on books published in Morocco in the period 2002 to 2004. The numbers are not good. Less than 3000 books published and many with a print run of less than 2000 copies. According to The Literary Salon weblog: Almost a third -- mainly the 'literary' stuff -- was apparently published basically at the authors' expense (i.e. vanity or essentially self-published). More than three-quarters of the books were published in Arabic, and about a fifth in French.

    As a published author my heart goes out to my literary brothers and sisters in Morocco.