Category: Sufi Land of Morocco


2017-06-07

ALGIERS – Dozens of Syrian refugees remained stranded in no-man’s land between Morocco and Algeria on Tuesday, non-governmental groups said, despite an Algerian offer to help.

Algiers said last week it would take in the refugees after the United Nations urged both sides to help the Syrians, who include a pregnant woman and have been stranded in the desert area since April 17.

“The Syrian refugee families are still blocked on the border between Algeria and Morocco. Authorities on both sides are passing each other the buck,” said Noureddine Benissad of the Algerian League of Human Rights.

Saida Benhabiles, the head of the Algerian Red Crescent, said a joint team from her organisation and the UN refugee agency have been waiting on the Algerian border since late Monday.

“There’s no obstacle on the Algerian side,” she said. “But the problem is they’re in Moroccan territory and we can’t go to get them.”

In a statement, non-governmental groups including the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, International Federation for Human Rights and the Algerian League of Human Rights urged “authorities in both countries to find an immediate solution”.

The zone between the two countries has been closed since 1994. The North African rivals have very difficult relations, especially over the question of Western Sahara.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=83429.

2017-06-08

BERLIN – Early Homo sapiens roamed Africa 300,000 years ago, sporting modern-looking faces that would not stand out in a crowd today, according to research published Wednesday that pushes back our origins by a hundred millennia.

A groundbreaking fossil discovery in Morocco obliterates two decades of scientific consensus that our forefathers emerged in East Africa about 200,000 years ago, according to two studies published in the science journal Nature.

The findings may also re-organize the human evolutionary tree and eliminate certain extinct Homo relatives as potential human ancestors.

Two teams of researchers reported on skull and bone fragments from five ancient humans, along with the stone tools they used to hunt and butcher animals, from a prehistoric encampment at Jebel Irhoud, not far from modern-day Marrakesh.

“This material represents the very root of our species, the oldest homo sapiens ever found in Africa or elsewhere,” said palaeoanthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

“Regarding Homo sapiens, what we say is that the dispersal of the species predates 300,000” years ago.

Previously, the oldest dated Homo sapiens remains, at 195,000 years, were from Ethiopia. This led to the contention that East Africa was the evolutionary “Garden of Eden” where our species arose before spreading through Africa and beyond.

– If they wore a hat… –

The new results suggest the so-called cradle of humankind was continent-wide, the teams said.

The same types of “Middle Stone Age” tools found with the Moroccan group, and dated to roughly the same period, have been found in several spots around Africa, but were previously thought to have been made by a different Homo predecessor.

Now it seems likely that they were produced by our own species, living in separate groups spread throughout the continent.

“Long before the out-of-Africa dispersal of Homo sapiens, there was dispersal within Africa,” said Hublin.

With few fossil remains to work with, the evolutionary history of modern humans is full of holes and relies heavily on conjecture.

It is believed that our lineage diverged from Neanderthals and Denisovans more than half-a-million years ago, but evidence for what happened since is hard to come by.

The new data suggests that an archaic version of our own species shared the planet with related groups such as Neanderthals, Denisovans, the more ape-like Homo naledi and the pint-sized Homo floresiensis or Flores “hobbit”.

Remarkably, the small, flat face and jaw shape of those ancient Homo sapiens closely resembled today’s humans, the team said.

Brain size was similar too, though arranged in a flatter, more elongated skull.

“If they would have a hat, probably (they) would be indistinguishable from other people,” Hublin told journalists ahead of the study release. “It’s the face of people you could cross in the street today.”

More likely to give them away would have been a strong, stocky, muscular body.

– ‘A more complex picture’ –

Human remains, including a skull, were first discovered at the Jebel Irhoud site by miners in the 1960s.

The fossils were initially dated to about 40,000 ago, and later to about 160,000 years.

For the new study, the teams relied on these old fragments but also newer ones dug up since 2004.

Dating was done by thermoluminescence, a pinpoint-accurate technology which measures the accumulated exposure of stone minerals to radiation generated by heat from the Sun, a volcano, or a human cooking fire.

They used the technique on burnt flint stone flakes discovered with the skull, tooth and long bone remains belonging to three adults, a teenager and a child of about eight.

The researchers said their work revealed a “rather more complex picture” of the physical evolution of our species, with different parts of the anatomy changing at different rates.

While the face shape was determined almost from the start, today’s high, rounded skull took millennia to evolve.

“The story of our species in the last 300,000 years is mostly the evolution of our brain,” Hublin said.

This fits with genetic analysis showing a series of mutations in the modern human lineage, compared to Neanderthals and Denisovans, in genes involved in brain development.

“Maybe what we see in terms of gradual change in the brain case… might be the effect of the accretion of these mutations,” said Hublin.

– What distinguishes us? –

What set our species apart, even from this early phase?

Compared to Neanderthals, early Homo sapiens had a larger cerebellum — the part of the brain that governs body movement.

“So it looks like we, our lineage, is the lineage where we started to grow a bigger and bigger cerebellum already at this stage,” said Hublin.

“It’s one of the features distinguishing us along all these hominins.”

Experts not involved in the research praised the findings.

The Jebel Irhoud fossils “now represent the best-dated evidence of an early ‘pre-modern’ phase of H. sapiens evolution,” said Chris Stringer and Julia Galway-Witham from the Natural History Museum in London.

“This is a major extension of the evolutionary record of our species,” added Lawrence Barham, an archaeology professor at the University of Liverpool.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=83441.

June 2, 2017

The Moroccan Foreign Ministry yesterday stated that King Mohammed VI has cancelled his attendance of the 51st Summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) because Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has also been invited.

In a statement the ministry said King Mohammed VI had planned to visit the Liberian capital, Monrovia, on 3-4 June to attend the 51st ECOWAS Summit, which was expected to examine Morocco’s request to join the regional group as a full member.

The statement added that, “During this Royal visit, a meeting with the President of Liberia, talks with ECOWAS Heads of State and a speech at the Summit were all scheduled.”

However, over the last few days, major ECOWAS member states have decided to reduce their level of representation at the summit, to the bare minimum, due to their disagreement with the invitation handed to the Israeli prime minister. The statement also noted that other member states also expressed their astonishment at this invitation.

The Foreign Ministry’s statement also mentioned that King Mohammed VI “does not want his first appearance at the ECOWAS summit to take place in a context of tension and controversy, and wants to avoid any confusion.”

During the summit, members of ECOWAS will decide on the admittance of Morocco as a full-fledged member of the regional bloc.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170602-morocco-refuses-to-attend-african-summit-due-to-israels-presence/.

2017-02-26

RABAT – Morocco said Sunday it will pull back from a zone of the contested Western Sahara that has raised tensions with Algeria-backed Polisario Front separatists.

“The Kingdom of Morocco will proceed from today with a unilateral withdrawal from the (Guerguerat) zone,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

It said the decision was taken by King Mohammed VI at the request of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Rabat now “hopes the secretary general’s intervention will allow a return to the previous situation in the zone concerned, keep its status intact, allow the flow of normal road traffic and thus safeguard the ceasefire”, it said.

In a telephone call to Guterres on Friday, the king called on the United Nations to take urgent measures to end “provocation” by the Polisario Front threatening a 1991 ceasefire.

Morocco insists that the former Spanish colony is an integral part of its kingdom, but the Polisario is demanding a referendum on self-determination.

The two sides fought for control of the Western Sahara from 1975 to 1991, with Rabat gaining control of the territory before the UN-brokered ceasefire took effect.

In the phone call, King Mohammed VI condemned “repeated incursion by armed Polisario men” in the Guerguerat district.

Tensions flared last year after the Polisario set up a new military post in Guerguerat district near the Mauritanian border, within a stone’s throw of Moroccan soldiers.

The move came after Morocco last summer started building a tarmac road in the area south of the buffer zone separating the two sides.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=81693.

2017-01-06

RABAT – Morocco has ordered the closure of schools it says are linked to a US-based Islamic preacher that Turkey blames for a failed coup last year, the interior ministry said.

“Investigations on the establishments of the Mohamed Al-Fatih group, linked to Turkish national Fethullah Gulen, showed they use education to spread the group’s ideology and ideas contrary to the principles of the Moroccan educational and religious system,” a ministry statement said.

After a series of warnings from the education ministry, “it was decided all the group’s educational establishments would be closed within a delay of one month”, it said.

The statement did not say how many schools or pupils would be affected but said the government would strive to ensure the students continued their education in other schools.

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999, has denied any involvement in the July 15 failed coup aimed at toppling Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The preacher heads the Hizmet group which includes schools, associations and companies.

Turkey, which calls it the Fethullah Terror Organisation (FETO), has embarked on a massive crackdown of the group.

Since the coup, Turkey has piled pressure on the United States to extradite Gulen, a one-time Erdogan ally.

In August, an official Turkish delegation visited Morocco to convince the authorities of the danger of Gulen’s group.

A school director from the Mohamed Al-Fatih group at the time rejected any link with Gulen for seven schools teaching 2,500 students including 2,470 Moroccans.

He said 90 percent of their teachers were also Moroccan nationals.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=80692.

2017-01-05

AL-HOCEIMA – Police have dispersed a protest in Morocco’s northern city of Al-Hoceima, a rights group said Thursday, months after a local fishmonger’s death in a garbage truck sparked unrest.

Security forces broke up the protest in the city center late Wednesday as the demonstrators did not have a permit to protest, Mohamed Bassiri of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH) said.

Footage circulated on social media showed police chasing dozens of protesters from the city’s main square after asking them to end the sit-in with a megaphone.

It showed protesters on the ground who appeared to have been bruised, and other demonstrators being arrested. The protesters were later released, according to the AMDH.

Mouhcine Fikri, 31, was crushed to death on October 28 in a garbage truck as he tried to protest against the seizure and destruction of swordfish, which were not allowed to be caught at that time of year.

His death in the Rif — an ethnically Berber region long neglected and at the heart of a 2011 protest movement for reform — triggered protests nationwide.

Those protests have now stopped but activists in Al-Hoceima have continued to call for a thorough investigation, alongside broader demands for an end to widespread unemployment and corruption.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=80688.

Monday 31 October 2016

Our story starts with a 31-year-old Riffian man named Mohsin Fikri who lives in the city of Hoceima in northern Morocco.

Like the majority of Moroccans, Mohsin was extremely poor. He was Riffian, meaning that he was both an Amazigh and also from the Rif, a mountainous region in the north where many Amazigh live – and one of many non-Arabised zones in Morocco that the government has completely marginalized to the point that some cities still don’t have electricity, water or hospitals.

On Friday, Mohsin, who was a fisherman, was caught by the makhzen (the Moroccan police) trying to sell swordfish that he obtained illegally. They confiscated the fish.

Like the government, and every other institution in Morocco, the police is a corrupt organisation. Motivated by the low salaries they get from the government or just simply by the greed in their hearts, they usually make citizens pay an amount of extra money in order for them to act like they didn’t see anything out of place.

As we said, Mohsin was a humble man who barely had any money for himself or the rest of his family. His job as a fisherman was his only source of money to stay alive and survive in a country where it is almost impossible to find a job.

When police asked for money in exchange for letting him sell the fish, obviously, he couldn’t afford to pay.

The police then proceeded to throw all the fish he was going to sell into a nearby garbage truck. Mohsin, who along with four friends watched all of his work tossed into the trash, attempted to jump into the truck and save some of the fish so he could sell it and at least get some money for him and his family members who all depended on him.

The police, surprised by his actions, reacted in a really cruel way: they went to the back of the garbage truck, and saw the four men in there, looking for the fish.

They all jumped out in time – except for Mohsin, who was still there when, as a video released shows, the police told the garbage truck driver to press the buttons and crush the trash while saying t’han mo (‘crush him’ in Darija, a language derived from Moroccan Arabic).

It was too late to stop the machine. Even as they screamed for it to stop, Mohsin Fikri was already dead.

‘It could happen to any of us’

Events like this happen all the time in Morocco, but they don’t get recorded like this one.

And even if they do get recorded, the manipulated media in Morocco won’t show them, and that’s one of the reasons why so many Moroccans are clueless about some topics in our country: the government won’t show anything that goes against them or King Mohamed Vl.

This Amazigh man’s death has opened the eyes of an entire nation and has made them say “enough”.

On Sunday, thousands of people in Hoceima left their houses and marched in the streets together to protest the incident.

“If it happened to him, it could happen to any of us, this must stop, this is not fair,” one of the protesters could be heard saying in the live streaming video of the march.

They marched from their city to a village called Imzouren which was 22km away, to attend Fikri’s funeral, and to show his family support. Every store in Hoceima closed. Taxis offered to carry people to the funeral for free in solidarity.

The Amazigh struggle in Morocco is alive, the government’s pan-Arabist ways have affected all the Amazigh population in Morocco, treating the people, the language, and the culture as “savage traditions”.

The incident in the Rif region – the killing of Mohsin – was just the last straw, the thing that made people fed up with the situation here in Morocco.

Even though it tends to happen more in marginalized regions, police brutality can happen everywhere in Morocco. No one is safe, and that’s one of the reasons why every city in Morocco is now protesting in front of government buildings, demanding and asking for change.

Very important cities have shown solidarity with Mohsin Fikri and the Rif, and they have asked the government to care for the people.

Fearless and ready to fight

Meanwhile, the king, Mohamed Vl, is enjoying a tour of Africa. People have seen him in jewelry shops, obviously spending the Moroccan people’s money, while some can’t even afford to pay for medicine to stay healthy or send their kids to school.

And, of course, he has not said a word about this whole situation.

People have been waiting for a revolution in Morocco to start, but the oppression and the fear has always been an obstacle on their way to freedom. But this time is different. This has never happened in Morocco before.

People are fearless and ready to fight for what they want: a democratic Muslim republic, not a corrupt monarchy like the one we have right now. Not a Moroccan monarchy formed by the dynasty of Alaouites, who were the symbol of traitors during the colonization, who sold our country to the colonizers and, to this day, keep doing it for their own benefit. Not a dynasty that always took the West’s side.

With all this said, we hope that Mohsin’s death brings the change to the beautiful country that Morocco is.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/last-straw-why-revolution-morocco-has-started-1900174284.

October 09, 2016

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Morocco’s national election observer body says voting last week was largely free and fair, though it is investigating sporadic cases of vote-buying and expressed concern about low turnout.

The moderate Islamist Party of Justice and Development won Friday’s legislative election, beating out a party with close ties to the royal palace. The PJD, which first won elections in 2011 after Arab Spring protests, is now working on building a coalition government.

The National Council of Human Rights, which oversees election monitoring, released a preliminary report Sunday noting sporadic irregularities. Council president Driss El Yazami told reporters the elections took place in a “serene and transparent climate.”

However, he expressed concern about the 43 percent turnout rate. Some Moroccans see voting as futile because ultimate power rests with the king.

October 07, 2016

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Millions of Moroccans hit the voting booths on Friday, with worries about joblessness and extremism on many minds as they choose which party will lead their next government. Adultery scandals and thwarted election-day attacks have marked the unusually venomous campaign in this country, which is allied with the U.S and seen as a model of stability and relative prosperity in the region.

Top contenders are a moderate Islamist party and an up-and-coming rival party seen as close to the royal palace. The palace pledged to loosen control over Moroccan politics after Arab Spring protests five years ago, but retains control over major policy decisions.

Since the last legislative elections in 2011, the Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD) has dominated parliament and led a government coalition comprised of several parties with differing ideologies.

The PJD faces tough competition from the Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM), widely regarded as close to the palace. It was founded in 2008 by Fouad Ali El Himma, childhood friend of King Mohammed VI and a current royal adviser.

Abdelilah Benkirane, current prime minister and head of the PJD, has come head-to-head with Ilyas El-Omari, head of the PAM, in a number of public spats ahead of elections. “He is a liar,” Benkirane told The Associated Press this week. “I don’t consider them (PAM) a political party.”

Benkirane slammed El-Omari for comments he made to the AP suggesting that state-funded associations were among groups involved in radicalizing Moroccan youth. With high unemployment rates coupled with relatively low literacy, Morocco has been fertile recruiting ground for extremists, with as many as 1,000 Moroccans joining the ranks of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

On Monday, authorities dismantled a 10-member terror cell comprised entirely of women with alleged ties to IS. Abdelhak Khiame, head of Morocco’s Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations, said that the cell planned to carry out attacks on election day, Friday, according to Morocco’s state news agency MAP. Seven of the 10 members were under age, Khiame said.

In addition to security, voters will be deciding on which political party’s program is most suited to address Morocco’s economic ills, marred by youth joblessness and record high foreign debt. For some parties, like the Federation of the Democratic Left, the choice between the PJD and the PAM is like choosing between a rock and a hard place.

“Our vision represents a third way,” says Nabila Mounib, secretary general of the Federation, comprised of three leftist parties. Their message resonates with many voters, who have expressed frustration with the status quo, especially throughout rural areas where Mounib has been campaigning.

Imad Agrili, 31, a painter from the rural town of Skoura, is voting for the first time and has opted for the federation. “They seem clean and transparent,” he says. For others, like the banned Islamist Adl wal Ihsan (Justice and Charity) movement, elections in Morocco are futile. The movement has repeatedly denounced the centralization of power and decision-making by the monarchy.

“The person who governs is the king and his entourage and they have deeply-rooted powers,” says Hassan Bennajeh, spokesperson for Adl wal Ihsan, which is boycotting the elections. The movement is able to mobilize thousands for its causes.

Low turnout may prove a problem. More than 15.7 million Moroccans have registered to vote out of some 20 million eligible voters. Last time, voter turnout was only around 5 million, says Abdul-Wahab Kayyali, doctoral candidate in political science at George Washington University.

“These elections, specifically, matter a lot,” Kayyali said. According to him, the elections “will show whether 2011 was just a blip on the radar screen,” in terms of gauging Morocco’s path toward reform. The 2011 Arab Spring uprisings have left a mixed legacy in North Africa — Tunisia built a fragile democracy, Egypt elected Islamists who were then ousted by the military, Libya descended into deadly chaos.

This year’s election in Morocco has also been clouded by sex scandals. Two high-ranking members of the PJD party’s ideological arm are currently facing charges for engaging in relations outside of marriage. Their charges are punishable by up to six months to three years in prison if found guilty, according to Morocco’s penal code.

While many observers will be monitoring the elections, not all have been welcome, with a drop in foreign accredited observers, including the rejection of the Atlanta-based Carter Center’s request to observe.

Friday’s election will determine the makeup of the upper chamber of parliament, comprised of 395 seats, 90 of which are reserved for the women and youth quota. Nearly 7,000 candidates are running with 28 different parties in 92 voting districts throughout the country. Definitive results are expected Saturday.

September 17, 2016

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Morocco’s elections next month will draw attention from around the region and beyond — but not all eyes will be welcome. Election authorities approved 4,000 national and international observers for the Oct. 7 legislative elections, rejecting requests for about 1,000 others, as new regulations on vote monitors are being put to the test. Among those rejected were observers from the U.S.-based Carter Center.

More than 30 political parties are running in the elections, which will determine the makeup of the government and political direction of the kingdom, a U.S. ally and important regional economy. It’s only the second time Moroccans are voting for parliament since thousands took to the streets in 2011 demanding reform through the February 20th Movement. Since then, a coalition of several parties led by the Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD) has governed, coming to power alongside a new constitution and new laws intended to meet the demands for reform.

One law passed in 2011 dictated the terms and conditions for national and international election observation in Morocco. Civil society groups had wanted a law spelling out the rules, but some now fear it could be used to stifle criticism of the election process.

“Election observation in Morocco has been taking place since 1997, but it was only in 2011 that the Moroccan government instituted a clear, legal framework,” said Nadir Elmoumni, director of studies at the National Council of Human Rights.

The council is charged with overseeing the observation process, including reviewing requests to observe from both international and national organizations. Requests must also be approved by a commission including representatives from the Interior Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the Communication Ministry.

The council told The Associated Press that it has accredited 92 foreign observers affiliated with five international organizations. The council did not explain why the numbers are lower this year. The council received requests to accredit some 5,000 Moroccan observers — from political parties and local non-governmental groups — but approved only 4,000, according to state news agency MAP.

The Moroccan government denied accreditation to at least one international organization, the Atlanta-based Carter Center. “We’re disappointed by that,” said David Carroll, director of the Carter Center’s Democracy Program. “The Carter Center has a long history of impartial election observation, having monitored 103 elections in 39 countries, and we hope our observers might be welcome in Morocco’s future elections.”

The National Council of Human Rights said the organization submitted its request directly to the Moroccan government, not to the council. “I suspect it had to do with the wording of their request,” says Ahmed Taoufik Zainabi, the council’s director of human rights promotion.

Moroccan government spokesperson Mustapha El Khalfi did not respond to requests for comment. A U.S. group, the National Democratic Institute, was accredited but says it won’t send an observation mission due to funding constraints. NDI’s report after observing the 2011 legislative elections describing the voting process then as “by and large, procedurally sound and transparent” but “not without flaws.”

Eric Goldstein, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, says the rebuff to the Carter Center “could well be part of the trend since 2015 of expelling international NGOs that monitor freedoms in Morocco.”

“It’s a shame to see Morocco destroy its standing among countries in the Middle East and North Africa that are most transparent with respect to international NGOs,” said Goldstein, whose group was long active in Morocco but came under pressure from the Moroccan government last year.

Many of these NGOs monitor human rights in the contested Western Sahara territory, which Morocco annexed in 1975. Within the past year, the Moroccan government has dealt harshly with those it perceives as undermining its claims on the territory, including the European Union and the United Nations.

Official campaigning for the elections begins Sept. 23, with the Islamist PJD and rival Party of Authenticity and Modernity among the top contenders. A law bans political polling in the weeks ahead of the elections, in an effort to avoid swaying voters.