Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kiteboarding Championships in Morocco

The second stage of the 2011 Kiteboarding World Cup kicked off on Tuesday night in Dakhla with the participation of over 70 international riders and 10 Moroccan atheletes.
The five-day contest for freestyle and wave events is held under the patronage of HM King Mohammed VI and is organized in collaboration with the Professional Kitesurf Riders Association (PKRA).

Notable attendees of the event included 2011 world champions Australian Andy Yates, Dutch Youri Zoon and Spaniard Alex Paster in addition to accomplished female kiteboarders Spanish Gisela Pilido , five-time world champion, the Polish Ania Grwelinska , 2008 world champion and the Italian Erik Volpe , triple world junior champion.

The opening of the five-day leg of the kiteboarding tournament was given by the Wali of the region of Oued-Eddahab-Lagouira-governor of the province of Oued-eddahab, Hamid Chabar, in the presence of elected officials and community leaders.

The first day of this tournament stage was devoted to registration of riders and heats. In a press statement, the president of PKRA Mauricio Toskano highlighted the distinguised the participation of riders from different countries including the United States, Brazil, Australia, the Netherlands and Canada.

Toskano said that the choice to host this international event in Dakhla is dictated by the natural and climactic conditions that characterize the region, which has over the years become a favorite of amateur and professional boating sports.

The first leg of the kiteboarding championship was set on the beach of Hua Hin in Thailand from March 14 to 19.

Morocco is the only country hosting two stages of the Kiteboarding World Cup, which spans a total of 12 stages.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mountaineering in the Moroccan High Atlas

Until recently anyone wanting detailed information on climbing in Morocco would turn to the 1942 edition of Le Massif du Toubkal by Jean Dresch and Jacques de Lépiney. Now that has all changed. The View from Fez just received a copy of a new book that is destined to become the definitive guide. The book is Mountaineering in the Moroccan High Atlas by Des Clark. Here is our review.

Mountaineer and mountain guide Des Clarke is a man of many talents. Not only does he climb, take great photographs, but now he has shown that he can write.  Mountaineering in the Moroccan High Atlas is subtitled "walks, climbs and scrambles over 3000m" and, that is what makes it a superb guide for many more people than simply experienced mountaineers.

A couple of practical points. The book is small enough to put in your pocket and the plastic-coated cover means it will stand up well to life in the mountains. The contents are just as well thought out. The first section of the book deals with all the basic information you need from grading and routes to practicalities such as visas, planning and maps, to respecting the environment. It is all well laid out and clearly explained.

 Toubkal South Ridge 

The main sections of the book are divided between the various climbing areas and describe some 50 routes and 30 main peaks. Each route is extremely well described with suggested equipment, time needed, rating of climb and starting point.

Illustrated with coloured sketch maps and photo-diagrams, the book is as pleasure to browse and a definite inspiration to grab your ice-axe, crampons and get going.

 Jebel Tinergwet 3551m (just north of Taroudant) 

This is the first book of its kind in English and is sure to remain an essential guide for a long time to come.

The book is available on-line with Amazon. CLICK HERE

The publishers also have it on their store and one of the benefits of buying it from them is that you can either the hard copy OR the eBook OR both together for a discounted price.
The link for this is: CLICK HERE

Daylight Saving in Morocco Announced

Morocco will spring forward for daylight saving time on April 2 ! This was announced by the Ministry of the Modernization of the Public Sector. Morocco will resume its standard time on July 31, 2011 at midnight.

A draft decree has been drafted in this respect and will be presented at the next cabinet meeting!
The important thing to remember is that on April 2 you must turn your clock forward by one hour (GMT + 1).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Eating Out in Fez ~ Palais Amani

The location of Palais Amani makes it a popular choice for people who want to stroll through the Medina after dark. Although it is possible to take a taxi to Oued Zhoune in the northeast of the Medina, it is just as easy, and probably less expensive, to walk from Bab R'Cif up through Place Seffarine and then past the Tanneries to Derb El Miter. In the future, the redevelopment at Place Lalla Yeddouna  (see our story here) will make this an even more popular destination. Lunch is served on the terrace. In general, the food is Mediterranean during the day and Moroccan in the evening.

The rooftop bar serves cocktails in a pleasant atmosphere with gentle background music. The wine list is good with a selection of fine Moroccan wines at reasonable prices. The French wines are at French restaurant prices.

The splendid gardens (pictured above) are are a wonderful setting for dinner on a warm summer evening. On cooler nights the interior dining room is a mix of traditional and modern design with a minimalist touch. However, it would benefit from some wall hangings or curtains to dampen the acoustics.

The evening set menu is a good mix of traditional recipes balanced by modern presentation. The portions are just right. A light Moroccan entrée was followed by a superb slow-cooked beef on artichoke hearts and fresh green peas. The flavours were perfect.

The final course was a version of a traditional French dish, poached pear with subtle spices. The spice balance was wonderful, although it would have benefited from being served warm.

Overall, it was a delightful meal served by very friendly and professional staff. Our resident food critic gave it a well-deserved 8 out of 10. Prices were mid-range and reasonable.

Details: Palais Amani, 12 Derb El Miter, Oued Zhoune, Hay Blida, Fez Medina
Telephone: +212 5 35 63 32 09
By taxi: Ask for Oued Zhoune in the northeast of the Medina. On arrival ring Palais Amani and they will send someone to guide you to the restaurant.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Moroccan Bank Blends Traditional and Modern Design

BMCE (Banque Marocaine du Commerce Exterieur) contracted architects Foster + Partners to design their new branches in Casablanca, Rabat and Fez. The first part of the project is now complete with only Fez remaining. This is Foster + Partners first project in Africa.
Exterior - Photo World Architecture News

World Architecture News reports that the first regional headquarters branches BMCE have opened in Rabat and Casablanca, with the Fez branch due to complete shortly. The banks’ contemporary interior is wrapped by a traditional, energy efficient envelope and their design is based on a modular system, which utilises local materials and craftsmanship to create a striking new emblem for BMCE.

The design follows a ‘kit-of-parts’ approach, with variations in colour and scale according to the bank’s location. Each building comprises a concrete frame, with an entrance colonnade and a series of bays repeated on a modular grid. The bays are enclosed by glazed panels and 200mm-deep screens, which provide shade and security. The screens are cut from sheets of stainless steel – a special low-iron mixture that does not heat up in the sun – which are curved to create a geometric design, based on traditional Islamic patterns.

Interior - Photo World Architecture News

The branches are designed to be highly energy efficient and use locally-sourced materials, such as black granite and grey limestone. All BMCE flagship branches feature an ‘earth tube’, an electricity-free cooling system: fresh air is drawn into an empty pipe that encircles the building underground, where it is naturally cooled by the earth and released into the branch.

The dome, a recurrent element in each bank, is a reference to the design of a number of new schools in Morocco, which have received philanthropic support from BMCE Bank Foundation. The interior of the dome is rendered in tadelakt, a local plaster technique, while the exterior is clad in zellige, traditional ceramic tiles. The dome form sweeps down into the banking hall to create a sculptural curved bench.

How your Fez photos can assist orphanage

Fred and Cathy at Riad Laaroussa have a wonderful new project to raise money for the Hospital Ghassani orphanage in Fez.

Having recently adopted a child themselves, they saw the need to assist with the orphanage's material needs such as supplies of baby milk. The project is called “Fez through your eyes" and you can help by emailing Fred and Cathy with what you consider to be your best photographs taken in Fez.

Fred and Cathy

Fred says, "Please send us the best pictures you took in Fez (black and white or colour) in high resolution. Try to select the 5 best for example. It can be anything, a face, a street, a detail, a view… We will select from your photos some to develop and frame. Once this is done, we will hold an exhibition and promote these pictures to sell them locally to tourists or locals. It will be held in our boutique in the main street of the medina, where we organize regularly this kind of event, as well as at Riad Laaroussa."

Cathy explains that the total amount of the revenues will be spent in buying supplies for the orphanage. They will also keep contributors precisely updated about the way the money is spent.

The View from Fez thinks this is a great initiative and will report on its progress. You can email your photographs to:

A Cultural Week in Fez

It has been a big week for social events in Fez. The View from Fez was out and about in the thick of it. Our team reports:

Helene George with The View from Fez's Suzanna Clarke

The UNESCO Expert Panel on Cultural Diversity met in Rabat during the week and despite being involved in cultural affairs, our correspondent reports that the expert panel had no chance to enjoy any cultural events. Indeed, they lodged in a modern hotel rather than a riad. Determined to rectify the situation, Helene George from Australia, journeyed to Fez and stayed in a traditional Riad in the Old Medina. Thankfully, Ms George says the trip more than fulfilled her expectations. In Fez she attended a lunch with women involved with hammam (traditional bath house) restoration and preservation, and enjoyed a performance of Gnaoua music. The lunch was held at the Makhfiya Hammam.

Naima Lahbil dancing in the Hammam!
Local women at the Hammam lunch

Naima Lahbil attending the Hammam lunch

Hammams were also the focus during the week when Fez hosted  the opening of the Hammamed Exhibition at the Cherratine Medersa. There are beautiful panoramic photographs, architectural models  and aerial views of the cities of Damascus, Cairo and Fez, where hammams are being restored. The exhibition is called "Hidden Door - Living Treasure" and it runs 10am to 6pm until April 8.

ADER Director General Fouad Serrhini at the exhibition opening


Italy's Ducci Foundation hosted an evening of splendid early music at the beautiful Ducci Foundation headquarters in Fez, Kssar Annoujoum.

Kssar Annoujoum

 Guests were greeted by the founder of the Foundation, Paolo Ducci (pictured above), and then treated to a well chosen programme, performed by the Duo Girolamo Frescobaldi - Maria Palumbo (spinet) and Lorenzo Colitto (baroque violin).

The programme included two fine works by Frescobaldi (1585 - 1634) as well as the sonatas prima and secundo by Dario Castello (before 1658). However, as in any well constructed receital, the duo saved the best for last and delighted the small but discerning audience with G.A. Pandolfi Mealli's beautiful La Castella (Sonata op 3). It was a memorable performance presented by the Ducci Foundation in conjunction with the Foundation Esprit de Fes.

Maria Palumbo

Lorenzo Colitto

Other guests included Mme Danielle Mamane, the respected author and culinary expert, Faouzi Skali, Director General of the Spirit of Fez Foundation and Essaid Ben Amar Amrani, head of the Division of Cultural Affairs in Fez.

Essaid Ben Amar Amrani

Mme Danielle Mamane

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fez to host Morocco's first flamenco festival

A press release from excited Spanish dancers in Madrid is eager to inform us that "the imperial city of Fez will host Morocco's first Flamenco Festival in April with more than sixty artists hoping to bring the traditional Spanish art to the Moroccan public."

Photo Lois Greenfield

The festival, to be held by the Cervantes Institute of Fez on April 4-9, is an opportunity to entertain the public with "the essence and tradition of Spanish musical art represented through Flamenco in multiple forms: music, song and dance," several Spanish media outlets quoted organizers as saying.

Its purpose is also to celebrate a Spanish art whose roots can be traced back to Gitane musical traditions and Andalusian musical folklore.

Fez, known for its annual Festival of Sacred Music, was chosen as the venue for the artistic event thanks to its position as the spiritual and musical capital of the Kingdom, organizers explained.

The festival coincides with UNESCO’s declaration of Flamenco as part of the "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity"

 Intangible Cultural Heritage?  Now, that's a phrase to mull over! 

Annual Marche Maroc Fes Artisanal craft fair begins April 1st

The United States Peace Corps and USAID have announced the date for the annual Marche Maroc artisanal craft fair in historic Fes. The fair begins on Friday, April 1st, from 9:00 – 18:00. The fair will continue on Saturday, April 2nd from 9:00 – 18:00, and on Sunday, April 3rd—the fair’s final day—from 9:00 – 14:00.

The craft fair will take place in the open-air courtyard of the Cultural Complex, Al Hourya, Avenue de la Palestine, in Ville Nouvelle. The fair is within walking distance of Gare de Fes, and a short taxi ride from the medina.

Marche Maroc Fes will feature the work of an array of Morocco’s diverse artisan groups. The artists themselves will sell their goods in a comfortable, haggle-free atmosphere. Some of the artisans will demonstrate their craft at the fair—woodcarving, couscous rolling, wool spinning, and others. There will also be a henna artist in attendance.

This fair brings artisans directly to the customer in a market that is often dominated by middlemen. This is an opportunity to support the culturally rich artisan community of Morocco and gain access to fine examples of the country’s handicrafts.

The Marche Maroc series also organizes artisanal craft fairs in Marrakech, Rabat, and Essaouira.

A major new project planned for the Fez Medina

A major new project is planned to transform a neglected section of the Fez Medina. Suzanna Clarke prepared this exclusive report for The View from Fez

In one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Fez-el-Bali, where artisans such as tanners, copper and brass smiths create their wares, is the Bin Lamdoun bridge. The name means “between two cities” and the bridge links the two river banks where the city was founded. Yet most buildings have their backs turned to the river which, in dry periods, becomes a dumping ground for rubbish.

Within two years, it is planned that a US$13m architectural project will transform this section of the Fez Medina, known as the Place Yalla Yeddouna, into a thriving, vibrant location. The project is aimed at revitalising the area of 7,400 sqm and improving economic and educational opportunities for artisans and other local people.

An international competition was held to redesign the area and the winning design was announced in the Ville Nouvelle on Sunday night. The US$55,000 winning entry is by London-based Mossessian and Partners, with Casablanca-based architects Yassir Khalil Studio. Their vision includes public squares, shops, residences, a hotel, restaurants, an art gallery and lots of space for artisans’ workshops.

Michel Mossessian & Yassir Khahlil

“It is a space where the artisans can be busy and active,” says design principal Michel Mossessian. “The local authorities and government wanted to maintain the nature of the space and the environment of production. It’s a way forward for the 21st century.”

You can see the winning entry, along with the other 174 competition entries, on display at the Palais de Congres in the Ville Nouvelle until March 30.

It is intended that the Place Lalla Yeddouna project be completed within two years. “The money needs to be spent by 2013,” says Richard Gaynor of the Millenium Challenge Corporation - a bilateral development fund set up by the Bush administration in 2002.

“The US government has made an agreement with the Moroccan for a $700m dollar investment in agriculture, artisanal fishing and the Fez Medina project, which involves vocational, educational and literacy training and enterprise support.”

The $42.4m Fez Medina project, administered by the Agency of Partnership for Progress (APP), with its implementing partner, the Agency for the Development and Rehabilitation of the city of Fez (ADER-Fès), includes the refurbishment of four fonduks and the improvement of Ain Noqbi as well as the redevelopment of Place Lalla Yeddouna.

Although some may view such a major revamp of a section of the World Heritage listed Fez medina with concern, it seems the jury panel comprising international architects and the Moroccan Prime Minister, Abbas El Fassi, have chosen the winner well. Rather than going for the “wow” factor, Mossessian and Partners’ winning entry for the redesign of Place Lalla Yeddouna uses traditional forms, with careful consideration for cultural, historical and environmental issues.

The firm is known for the inclusive way they involve stakeholders from the outset. Their previous projects include the Carmine Building, at Five Merchant Square in London and the design for Barahat Al-Naseem Square in Doha, Qatar.

“All too often the end users are ignored”, Mossessian says.

The design is intended to blend in and enhance what makes the city so special – a difficult task to achieve in two years, when the Medina has developed organically over more than a thousand.

Mossessian says he understands the need to maintain the complexity of the fabric of the Medina. “What we have tried to do is to enhance the inherent values the medina is already offering; to enrich our thinking of what the space wants to be,” he said. “We kept the pattern that the Medina tells us. Here, there is a very strong hierarchy of open, public and private space."

While some historically significant buildings will be preserved, others will be replaced. “We have measured the space of rooms by that which the artisans need to do their work and that defines the shape of the buildings...But the emphasis is the space between the buildings. The medina is not on a grid and keeping the streets narrow provides more shade; breaking the linearity of them enables the pattern of the wind to be altered.”

Enabling spaces where people can meet and linger – either alone or together – is an essential part of the life of the city and a major economic catalyst. “We tend to respond much better to conditions where we can meet and exchange,” he says. “Successful spaces are those where people can enjoy being together.”

In contrast, public spaces in European cities were built as public statements reflecting the power of kings, queens and popes. “It’s about showing the power in place. Here we are talking about the city as a tool, to meet and exchange which generates value.”

“(Our approach has been) to listen to the way the space can be occupied naturally. There is a notion of protection in these types of cities (such as the Fez Medina). The city is a protective environment for people to be alone or in groups. It’s totally the opposite of the mode of functioning in Western cities developed in the last 50 years, where most public spaces – such as shopping malls and airports - are designed not to stay in. They end up being places where it is not pleasant to be; where people get in your way, rather than it being an opportunity to meet.”Locations such the Fez Medina, “challenge our rational grid...matrix type of thinking,” Mossessian says.

Whereas Western cities have developed almost interchangeable forms of architecture, “there is more value in listening to an environment for its cultural and historical notions than trying to say something new. When we talk about sustainability, we have to talk about how previous generations did without electricity and the consumption of resources (we take for granted). We need to change the way we use space and energy and this is a beautiful model.

“What I am aspiring to respond to is sculpting the void. We are in a void today in knowing how to create values. Values are not just the economy, but cultural, about society, about the ownership of a place where you live and what you receive and give back.”

You can see the entries from the Place Lalla Yeddouna architectural competition on show at the Palais de Congres, Ville Nouvelle, until March 30, 10am to 8pm.

For more information visit here:
Place Lalla Yeddouna

Monday, March 21, 2011

Morocco's RAM and Russia's Aeroflot sign Memorandum

They may not be heavyweights in the world of aviation and for years one of them has been the butt of jokes about safety, but now they have linked arms. Last Thursday Morocco's flag carrier RAM and Russia's national flag carrier Aeroflot met in Moscow and signed a memorandum of understanding to consolidate cooperation in the aviation field.

During the signing ceremony, vice-director general of RAM, Abderrafie Zouiten, said that this agreement allows both companies to reinforce their presence in the field of air transport linking the countries of Eastern Europe, Africa, Latin America and Southern Europe.

He added that the Moroccan and Russian companies are distinguished by their quality of service, which enables them to face competition and attract new customers.

Morocco's Ambassador to Russia, Abdelkader Lachhab, said that this memorandum is part of the strengthening of cooperation and bilateral economic relations.


Finally came the important news - Lachhabe added that on Tuesday RAM launched an air route linking Moscow to Casablanca, and will operate three flights weekly. Now that is great news!

Casablanca could bid for 2020 Olympics !

Casablanca could be set to launch a bid for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, Morocco's Sports Minister Moncef Belkhayat has revealed. This report, by Duncan Mackay in Marrakech, was first posted on Inside the Games and is reposted with permission.

The country's largest city, with a population of three million, has long been touted as a possible candidate to be the first in Africa to host the Games.

Belkhayat has now confirmed that serious planning has already taken place about a possible bid.

"Morocco has committed itself to becoming a great sport nation that stages great sporting events," Belkhayat said during the Africa International Sports Convention (CISA) here.

"Casablanca has a very good chance of positioning itself as a great sports city and organising the Olympic Games.

"One day Casablanca will be organising the Olympic Games."

Belkhayat refused to commit Morocco to a bid for the 2020 Games but left the possibility very much open.

"We will bid for the Olympics soon - whether that it is 2020, 2024 or 2028," he said.

National Olympic Committees (NOCs) have until May 16 to let the International Olympic Committee (IOC) if they are interested in bidding with a final deadline of September 1 to name an applicant city.

Work has already started on a new $300 million (£185 million) state-of-the-art stadium in Casablanca (pictured above) to host the final of the 2015 African Nations Cup, which Morocco was awarded earlier this year.

The Grand Stade de Casablanca is being built in an old quarry and will feature passive solar design with concrete fin-like blades that promote natural ventilation.

Construction on the 80,000 seat stadium is expected to begin shortly and then be completed some time in 2013.

The new stadium is due to replace the Stade Mohamed V, which hosted the 1983 Mediterranean Games.

Belkhayat, a former senior executive with Olympic sponsors Proctor & Gamble before entering politics, wants Morocco to try to host more major events.

They bid for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, losing by only four votes to South Africa.

If Morocco does decide to put forward Casablanca, which is located on the Atlantic Ocean, for the 2020 Olympics then South Africa could again pose an obstacle.

Durban are widely expected to put in a bid but Sam Ramsamy, the South African who is a member of the IOC's ruling Executive Board, said here that if Africa decides to bid for 2020 then the whole continent should get behind one candidate.

Belkhayat, who replaced International Olympic Committee member Nawal El Moutawakel as Morocco's Sports Minister in July 2009, has a big vision for Morocco.

"The sky is the limit," he said.

Moroccan courtyard at New York's Metropolitan Museum

The Metropolitan Museum in New York is installing a new Moroccan courtyard, handcrafted by Moroccan artisans.

photo: New York Times

Navina Haidar of the museum's Islamic Department explained to the New York Times that the institution was embarking on the most ambitious rethinking and rebuilding of its Islamic art galleries in its history, a $50 million endeavor. At the heart of those galleries, which will open this autumn after being closed six years, it dreamed of showcasing the defining feature of Moroccan and southern Spanish Islamic architecture: a medieval Maghrebi-Andalusian-style courtyard, which would function in much the same way such courtyards still do in the traditional houses and mosques of Marrakesh or Fez, as their physical and spiritual center.

A group of highly regarded Moroccan craftsmen, most of whom had never set foot in New York, took up residence at the Met last December, to build the 14th-century-inspired courtyard.

With world attention focused on the Middle East, the courtyard has taken on an unforeseen importance for the museum; for the Kingdom of Morocco itself, which has followed the project closely; and for a constituency of Muslim scholars and supporters of the Met. They hope it will be seen as a symbol, amid potent anti-Islamic sentiment in the United States and Europe, that aesthetic and intellectual commerce remains alive between Islam and the West.

The work is being undertaken by a company of craftsmen, Arabesque, founded in Fez in 1928 and now run by Adil Naji and three of his brothers, who are great-grandsons of the founder.

Over the course of two months a reporter and photographer were invited to watch as the space began to transform slowly from a 21-by-23-foot drywall box — illuminated by an LED panel in the ceiling cleverly mimicking daylight — to a courtyard with zellij (mosaic tile) patterns based on those in the Alhambra palace in Granada, above which rise walls of fantastically filigreed plaster, leading to a carved cedar molding based on the renowned woodwork in the Attarine Medersa in Fez.

Earth Art in Fez

A team of 8 artists and 10 facilitators will lead 100 students that represent 50 schools with active environmental clubs in a group art project on Friday, April 22nd at Bab Boujloud square from 9:00am – 12pm.

The project will highlight the interconnectedness of global environmental issues and develop the students’ sense of the positive impact of community-wide environmental awareness. Artists will lead students in making organic dyes from plants and spices to paint an ‘Earth Art’ mural. Participating schools will receive a framed group photo of the participants in front of the finished piece.

The concept has been developed by the photographer Omar Chennafi. The View from Fez will attend and report on the event.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Moroccan Protests Calm and Ordered

The "February 20 movement" called for today's protests to go ahead despite King Mohammed VI announcing sweeping democratic reforms last months, including an elected prime minister and broader personal freedoms. The first indications are that the turnout has been smaller than expected with only a few hundred people protesting here in Casa.

According to several sources, around 2,000 people, including many Islamists, rallied in Rabat earlier today. Analysts say that quick action by the King in announcing reforms has blunted the protests. His reaction was seen as positive by a majority of Moroccans.

AFP are also reporting small but vocal demonstrations."The Moroccan people demand change!" protesters shouted in the city, calling for the government to resign and holding up placards reading: "For the freedom and dignity of the Moroccan people."
No major police presence could be seen.

is also reporting only several hundred people protesting in Casablanca, chanting "No to corruption and cronyism."

The situation in Fez was also calm, however some shopkeepers in the Medina have shut for the day.

Later in the day the reports varied about the number of people marching. UK news sources estimated housands joined protests in Casablanca, in Tangiers in the north, and in Agadir on the Atlantic coast where witnesses said several thousands were marching.

A government official said at least as many were protesting as on February 20 when interior ministry estimates were 37,000.

Protests were expected in other Moroccan cities to mark a month since demonstrations first erupted in the country as part of a tide of contestation sweeping the Arab world.

Cheikh Abdeslam Yassine’s Islamist association “Justice and spirituality” known as “Adl Wal Ihsan” called on its troops to join the March 20th rally, as an attempt to regain attention and to try to stick closer to the February 20th Facebook movement, although there is no ideological harmony between the two movements.

Supporters of the 83-years old Sheikh marched in Rabat and Casablanca, but refused to merge alongside with the young Facebook leaders who they judge are "infidels who eat during the holy month of Ramadan”. Therein lies the paradox of a movement in clear regression, but nevertheless who wishes to recover through melting together within the “Arab Spring” protest movements. Movements that are mostly using social network tools to reject the repository advocated by Islamist Sheikh Yassine organization and ask instead for more freedom and openness in Moroccan society.

Locally, the message apparently has been heard at the very highest level and King Mohammed VI launched in a speech on March 9th the most ambitious reform program ever witnessed in the Arab world through the establishment of a reform commission given the task to amend the constitution. The commission, led by respected jurist Abdellatif Mennouni, is to propose more executive power to the prime minister and to parliament, and implement the decentralization program which will be voted by this summer.

The king’s speech, welcomed by Moroccans as well as by the international community, would greatly displeased Al Adl Wal Ihsane organization and widened the gap between their demands and those of young Moroccans.

Despite the fact that Morocco has remained calm during so much international unrest, there has been an impact on tourist numbers. Many hotels and guesthouses report cancellations. Tourism experts say that although there is a shortterm downturn, the future looks bright as people realise that Morocco is a safer destination.

Moroccans Evacuated from Japan

After the devastating 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan, Morocco has acted quickly to repatriate its citizens. The first group was small, just five persons and an infant. They arrived in Casablanca on Saturday.
Two more groups will follow. According to reports from the Mohammed V airport, a group of six will fly in around midday today.

A third, much larger group, expected to be around 89 people, is expected to touch down after midday on Monday.

The Moroccan government continues to monitor the situation through its diplomatic staff in Japan. They have also established two crisis telephone numbers for members of the public concerned about family and friends.

Locally people can call Rabat : 00 212 5 37 72 64 05 or the Embassy in Tokyo : 00 81 354 85 71 71.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dh10 000 raised for Women's Centre in Fez Medina

The recent Diva's Dinner celebration of the 100th International Women's Day was a huge success, reports Vanessa Bonnin, one of the organisers. More than 50 Fez women turned out in their most glamourous garb to eat, drink, chat, celebrate but most importantly, dance the night away at the Majestic Restaurant

The dinner was a charity event with proceeds going to the IPDF Women's Centre in Batha, and towards a forthcoming exhibition, also in honour of IWD, called Cycle, showing in the autumn. A raffle with prizes donated from generous local businesses also helped to raise funds for the IPDF.

Event organisers Vanessa Bonnin and Beccie Eve were delighted with the response from the local community.

"The total money raised exceeded all our expectations," Ms Bonnin said. "We collected almost Dh10,000 for the Women's Centre and almost Dh2000 for the Cycle exhibition.

"We were really pleased with how many women supported the event and it was wonderful to see everyone come together and celebrate women's achievements in the past 100 years. We've come a long way and the energy on the night was so positive, it made me proud to be part of such an amazing group of women."

Vanessa Bonnin and Beccie Eve


Possible uses for the money raised were discussed recently between the organisers and Laure Fonteneau, coordinator of the Centre. It was decided that the most pressing need was the refurbishment of a room for the creche facility, which is currently a damp, cold, windowless space.

"The women and children who use the shelter facility at the Centre are unable to use the space that was originally designed as a creche and learning area as it's unsuitable," Ms Bonnin said.
"But if we remodel it and add better educational tools then we will have created a warm and bright area where the children have room to play and learn in a more spacious and comfortable environment.

"If the children are well-taken care of then the mothers can focus on their vocational training and work harder towards becoming independent."

The Cycle exhibition also received a boost towards its implementation. Exhibition organiser Jess Stephens said:

“Enticing the traditional into the now, Cycle is an exhibition that will bring together female artists from all over the world to present their works and show their strengths in a creative and artistic field.

"Incorporating performances and film screenings in its two-week program, Cycle will celebrate women's creativity and enhance the power of women globally and now.”

A percentage of the art sales will also go to the IPDF Women's Centre, thereby continuing the support of the Centre that was begun through the International Women's Day 'Diva's Dinner'.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Moroccan News Briefs

Maroc Telecom to drop Tunisia Bid.

Speculation has been rife in the Moroccan media about the possibility that Maroc Telecom was about to involve itself in the Tunisian telco sector. Now reports are reaching us that the venture is off the table. However some insiders suggest that this is "just for the moment".

Morocco's Foreign Minister to Hold U.S. Press Conference.

Next week, His Excellency, Taieb Fassi-Fihri, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation for the Kingdom of Morocco, is visiting Washington, DC to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other senior U.S. Administration officials to discuss the recent wave of unrest in North Africa and the Middle East and how Morocco's decision to accelerate its reforms can promote stability, security, and democracy in the region.

The Press Conference will be held on Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 12:30 pm at The National Press Club 529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor, Murrow Room

Worldbank lending Morocco 300 million dollar for modernising cultivation

The Worldbank have announced to grant a loan of more than 300 million dollar to Morocco. The money is meant amongst others for the modernisation of the agrarian sector. In a statement the Worldbank announced that 205 million dollar is earmarked as assistance to the green plan started by the government in 2008. The
aim of the project is a.o. to finance small farmers and irrigation management and improving the irrigation structure.

Agriculture supplies 15% of the Gross National Product of Morocco. With the green plan the government require a better use of the water supply in the country. Also the project is meant to fight poverty and the increasing use of fertilzers will be dealt with. In addition the government want to increase the number of jobs in the agrarian sector and to decrease the area of wheat in favour of competing crops, such as vegetables, fruit, citrus and olives.

Problems in the Moroccan textile sector

Foreign-owned textile manufacturer Mornatex closed four factories in Sale, across a river from Rabat, in September. Some 1,500 people were made redundant, former workers say, after they were told by their bosses the financial crisis imposed the closure.

Economic woes in European markets, Morocco's largest export destination, raised fears for the future of a sector which accounts for around 16 percent of exports.

Competition from clothing suppliers such as China and India has not helped a country with high poverty and unemployment and without the oil wealth of other Arab states.

The industry lobby AMITH says 10,000 jobs had been lost over the previous two years. While it does not yet have the final number of factory closures in 2010, AMITH says about 30 shut in Sale alone.

But with signs of recovery emerging and some European clients coming back to Morocco because of its proximity, AMITH says things are slowly improving.

"Demand in destination markets fell at the end of 2008 and in 2009 but since the end of March 2010, we have seen monthly improvements ... compared to 2009 and 2008," AMITH director general Mohamed Tazi said.

"In the first quarter of 2010, revenues fell 30 per cent compared to 2009 ... but month after month we started to reduce the gap and ended the year with a 4.5 per cent rise."

He said AMITH was working on "urgent" vocational training plans to boost employment in the sector and attract investment, without giving further details.

While unemployment officially hovers around a contested nine per cent, the government has not been able to create even half the jobs it has pledged over the 2007-2012 period, partially due to the effects of the crisis.

To limit the damage from the global crisis, the government granted manufacturers incentives including tax breaks.

Along with industry experts, it has opened a fashion and textiles school in Morocco's biggest city Casablanca, Labour Minister Jamal Aghmani said.

"After the international economic crisis, the government decided to help certain industries, especially export-oriented ones such as textile and garments," Aghmani said.

"The sector has been recovering lately, but this does not mean the end of difficulties for some since our help was conditional". The government would only help employers who pay social insurance for their staff and taxes, he said.

Morocco is an ally of the West with a reformist monarch and growing economy, seen by some experts as less susceptible than its neighbours to the unrest sweeping the Arab world.

Amid revolts in Tunisia and Egypt and demands at home for reform, Rabat added 15 billion dirhams to the 17 billion dirhams allocated by the 2011 budget for the subsidy fund called Caisse de Compensation.

At the same time, plans to give public-sector jobs to an estimated 4,000 highly-qualified graduates were announced last month in an apparent bid to defuse the potential escalation of almost daily protests by jobless graduates in the capital.

"Today, Morocco is considered an alternative base for manufacturing, not just versus Asia but also from a security point of view in light of what has been happening in the region, in Tunisia and in Egypt," Tazi said.

In Sale, former Mornatex workers want the government to do more. Dozens stage almost-daily protests outside, calling for help from officials after they say their former manager, an Australian, left Morocco. Company officials were not reachable for comment.

British Paramedic to run Marathon for Charity

Nikki Smith, along with her colleagues Chris Davies and Jenny Pedder, who all work for the East of England Ambulance Service, will take part in the Marathon des Sables – described as the "toughest foot race on earth".

The intrepid trio are hoping to raise as much money as possible for their chosen charities - Cancer Research, Brooke Healthy Working Animals and Help for Heroes.

They are facing extreme heat and cold temperatures, scorpions and camel spiders, heat exhaustion and blisters - just a few of the dangers associated with the challenging course.

Nikki, Chris and Jenny are flying off at the end of the month to commence the marathon on April 3, with completion on April 9.

Previous races have witnessed extraordinary examples of courage and survival. Unlike the Marrakech marathon, which takes place in January when temperatures are relatively cool, the Marathon des Sables is held when temperatures reach up to 50 degrees Celsius.

The run will take them over the roughest terrain imaginable covering 250km over the six days. The course is equivalent to running six regular marathons.

Abdellatif Laâbi wins The Benjamin Fondane International Prize

The Paris-based Institut Culturel Roumain decided to award Benjamin Fondane International Prize for Francophone literature to Moroccan poet Abdellatif Laabi.

Abdellatif Laabi

The prize will be awarded to the Laabi on March 24 in Paris, said a statement of the French cultural institute.

The Paris-based Institut Culturel Roumain offers the prize each year in memory of the late poet and philosopher of Roman origin Benjamin Fondane to distinguished francophone writers whose mother tongue is not French.

Born in 1942, Abdellatif Laâbi is an eminent figure of Morocco’s francophone literature. He lived in Paris suburbs since 1985 and received the renowned Goncourt prize for Poetry in 2009

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hammam Exhibition in Fez: update

On 11 March, The View from Fez posted an article about the forthcoming Hammam Exhibition (see it here). We now have more details.

The exhibition Hammam: Hidden Door - Living Treasure will be open from 10h00 to 18h00 from 22 March to 8 April at the National School of Architecture in the Cherratine Medersa in the Fez Medina. The inauguration of the exhibition is at 17h00 on 22 March.

This Euromed project is financed by the European Union, and in Morocco, has ADER Fes as a partner. Hammams in Damascus and Cairo, as well as the Seffarine hammam in Fez, are being restored to their former glory as an extremely important part of the community structure.

The exhibition will include objects, video installations, panoramic photos, architectural models and documentary films to give an insight into the history, the present, and the future of this public institution. It shows architectural features, handicraft technologies and social values as well as the intergenerational impacts of the hammam.

Route for Moroccan Cycle Tour

We recently published a story (see here) about the upcoming cycle tour of Morocco. Here is the updated info.
On Friday 25 March, the 132 athletes from 22 teams attending the 24th Tour of Morocco organized by the Moroccan Cycling Federation will run 1554 km through 6 regions. Note that this Tour will help organize humanitarian actions giving 200 bicycles to school children.

Schedule of the Tour :

Step 1 (25 March): El Jadida - Safi (156 km)
Step 2 (26 March): Safi - Essaouira (130 km)
Step 3 (27 March): Essaouira - Agadir (170 km)
Step 4 (28 March): Ouled Berhil - Marrakech (170 km)
Step 5 (29 March): Marrakech - Ouarzazate (190 km)
Step 6 (30 March): Ouarzazate - Tinghir (168 km)
Step 7 (31 March): Imilchil - Béni Mellal (150 km)
Step 8 (1 April): Béni Mellal - Azilal (120 km)
Step 9 (2 April) : Azilal - Khouribga (150 km)
Step 10 (3 April) : Khouribga - Casablanca (140 km)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Charles and Camilla to Visit Fez

HRH The Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall, will include Fez in their Spring Tour itinerary. Helen Ranger reports.

The British royals will be visiting Portugal, Spain and Morocco from 28 March to 6 April, and will be guests of HRH Mohammed VI in Rabat. The BBC reports that the main themes of the tour will be trade and investment promotion, as well as climate change and the construction of low carbon economies.

With protests still ongoing in much of the Arab world, Clarence House has said security arrangements for the royal couple would be monitored "closely".

The Guardian reports that the long-planned three day visit is going ahead on Foreign Office advice in a bid to improve trade and cultural links. Britain exports £300m of goods to the country each year. It will also be welcomed by the Moroccan authorities as an endorsement of the recent constitutional changes announced by HM King Mohammed VI.

Prince Charles and Camilla will also be visiting an environmental project at the Errachidia oasis. And in Fez, the Prince will discuss inter-faith dialogue. The View from Fez wonders if the visit will be a prelude to Prince Charles attending the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music in which Prince Charles has long had an interest.

Marrakech Airport Bus Introduced

The days of having to haggle with taxi drivers at Marrakech airport may be over.For tourists arriving in the country for the first time, the effort to get a taxi for the six kilometre journey into the city has always been a problem and one that often leaves an unpleasant first impression. Although there have been attempts to control taxi drivers, until now it has had little effect.

The new bus service, operated by Spanish company Alsa City, will run every thirty minutes from Menara Airport and we are told it will stop at several popular destinations along the route.

The bus has been designated "number nineteen" and a one-way ticket costs 20 dirhams (£1.55) or just 30 dirhams return (£2.30) as long as you return within a fortnight.

24th Cycle Tour of Morocco

The 24th cycle tour of Morocco will take place March 25 to April 3. So far seventeen teams from Africa and Europe have confirmed that they will participate.

Morocco has decided to field four national teams. To prepare for this important event, 29 riders are training at the training centre Tahannaout in Marrakech. They will continue to do so until March 19.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Moroccan shares Arabic Literary Prize

Moroccan author Mohammed Achaari and Saudi Arabian writer Raja Alem will share this year's International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

The chair of the judges, Fadhil Al-Azzawi, says both books deal with problems facing the Middle East. Achaari's book "The Arch and the Butterfly" describes how Islamic extremism and terrorism have destroyed Arabic society, while Alem's book, "The Doves' Necklace," describes the lesser known side of the Saudi city of Mecca.

The winners were announced at an awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi on Monday. The prize was established in 2007 to recognize contemporary Arabic writing and is modeled on Britain's Man Booker Prize. It is managed in association with the Booker Prize Foundation in London.
The two authors will split the $50,000 cash prize between them, and will have their novels translated into English.

Moroccan Evacuees from Libya Banned by Italy

The Italian government has this evening announced that it was denying entry into port of a Moroccan chartered ship carrying 1,770 passengers of Moroccan and Libyan nationality, departed from Misurata which had reportedly tried to push to Malta and later to Sicily. The Maltese government has denied reports that it pushed back the ship.

The news was reported by Italian news agency ANSA, quoting “reliable sources” in Italy who have been monitoring the ship since it’s departure from Misurata.

According to the Italian report, the ship was steaming North towards Maltese territorial waters and later advanced into Italian waters where it has been blocked by Italian naval vessels.

An Italian government spokesman has said that there is no certainty that the passengers are genuine evacuees.

Investigations carried out by MaltaToday have confirmed that the ship is chartered by Moroccan nationals and not by the Moroccan government as was previously suggested.

The ship - an Italian flagged ferry named 'Mistyral Express' is said to be carrying 1,770 passengers and has left Misurata with Moroccan and Libyan nationals. It was originally declared to be heading for Morocco. However, the ship has re-routed to Augusta in Sicily for re-fuelling.

It remains unknown however why the ship decided to re-route to Sicily.

In a statement, the Maltese government has categorically denied any push-back or having any knowledge of the ship.

Moroccan Writer in Shortlist for Arab Booker

The winner of the International Prize for Arabic Literature, known as the Arabic Booker, will be announced sometime today (Monday 14th March) in Abu Dhabi. The 2011 fourth round of the Booker will be attended by all the short-listed authors and their publishers and the committee will publish selected parts from all six shortlisted novels, which will also be translated into English.

The committee of judges for this round includes the Iraqi critic, Fadhil Al-Azzawi, the Bahraini researcher and critic Munira al-Fadhel, with the Moroccan writer and critic Said Yaktine.

Bensalem Himmich

The shortlist includes Moroccans Bensalem Himmich for "My Tormentor" and Mohammed Achaari for his book of poetry “The Arch and the Butterfly", Saudi writer Raja Alem for “The Doves’ Necklace”, Egyptians Khalid Al-Bari for “An Oriental Dance” and Miral El-Tahawy for “Brooklyn Heights” and finally, Amir Taj Al-Sir from Sudan for “The Hunter of the Chrysalises”.

Of all the nominated works, “The Hunter of the Chrysalises” seems to have the best chance of winning, bearing in mind the difficulty for an Egyptian winner. There were two Egyptian winners in the first and second round, Bahaa Taher and Youssef Zeidan, so Miral El-Tahawy and Kahlid Al-Bari’s chances are low.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A walk in the park, Fez-style

While The View from Fez reported that the Jnan Sbil gardens were officially opened by Princess Lalla Hasnae back in June last year (see the story here), it wasn't until a month ago that the gardens were opened to the public after several years of restoration. This report from Helen Ranger. Photographs by Sandy McCutcheon.

The public, both Fassis and tourists alike, are flocking these ancient gardens, situated just outside the medina to the west of Place Boujloud. They provide a welcome green lung for the city. The tranquil atmosphere is enhanced by a lake and streams, with a working waterwheel and several fountains.

Some of the plants are original, such as the grand avenue of magnificent palm trees, while other beds are newly planted with indigenous plant material.

And it's not just people enjoying the park; we spotted several butterflies and other insects, as well as colourful birds.

The Jnan Sbil gardens are open from 10h00 to 17h00 daily except Mondays.