Tag Archive: Sufi Land of Morocco


June 28, 2018

TANGIERS, Morocco (AP) — Hundreds of protesters marched in Morocco’s capital Wednesday to denounce the convictions of a charismatic protest movement leader and three other activists, all given the maximum prison sentence of 20 years over mass demonstrations touched off by the death of a fish seller.

The show of public anger over the convictions signaled anew that the discontent among Moroccans, originally anchored in the northern Rif region, was shared around the North African kingdom. Protesters in the capital, Rabat, gathered in front of the parliament building and then marched up a central avenue. Earlier in the day, there were protests in the northern town of Hoceima, the center of the Hirak Rif movement that represents the biggest challenge to the kingdom since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

“Take us all to jail,” “We are all Rif” and “State, beware” were among the chants repeated by the many hundreds of protesters in Rabat as dozens of police office surveyed the crowd. Hirak Rif leader Nasser Zefzafi and the three activists were convicted late Tuesday of threatening state security. Fifty other activists in the 2017 Hirak Rif protests received sentences ranging from one to 15 years for lesser charges.

Mohammed Ziane, who represented the activists before they suspended their legal defense, said they would appeal. “The verdict will certainly not comfort spirits, especially since the Hirak demands have not been met,” Ziane said. “To send people to prison for 20 years for asking for their rights is clearly meant to scare. But we can already see it’s not scaring people.”

Protesters demanded that King Mohammed VI fulfill promises he made last year to build a school, a university and a hospital in the neglected Rif region. “May the people live, and may those who abuse power fall,” protesters cried out.

Zefzafi’s father told The Associated Press by telephone that his son received news of his conviction and sentence in a Casablanca prison five hours after the verdict. “He told me when I visited today that he doesn’t care if they imprison him for 20 or 30 years as long as he still believes in the cause,” Ahmad Zefzafi said.

He said his son smiled, adding that “hearing that the people are rallying behind him in protest makes him prouder to be where he is.” The seeds of the protest began in October 2016 when an impoverished fish seller in the Berber Rif region was crushed to death trying to retrieve a valuable swordfish seized by police and tossed into a garbage truck.

Zefzafi, who was arrested in June 2017 after a manhunt, quickly became the movement’s public face, demanding development and the creation of jobs in the Rif region, which has lagged economically. The uprising briefly spread to other parts of Morocco.

The Rif maintains a strong identity apart from Morocco, due largely to a brief stint as an independent republic from 1921-1926, when its legendary rebel leader, Abd el-Krim, defeated the Spanish army.

In 1959 and 1984, the current king’s father, Hassan II, crushed uprisings in the Rif — and never set foot in the region. Son Mohammed has traveled there. Soon after the 2017 protests, the Moroccan monarch promised development projects for the region and pardoned some of the hundreds of protesters who had been detained.

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February 16, 2018

Algerian authorities announced they would increase the number of border surveillance posts on the Algerian-Moroccan borders by building 10 new posts “that will be added to the 24 surveillance posts it had set up in 2015 to activate control measures and stop smuggling between the two countries.”

Akhbar el-Yom newspaper, which reported the news on Thursday, stated that this move that it described as “dramatic,” comes “tighten electronic military surveillance by providing support to the work of the units that are in charge of guarding border security based on intelligence reports briefings”.

According to the same newspaper, “10 border Algerian posts will be built, and so the total number will jump to 24 security surveillance posts that Algeria has established over the past two years, under the pretext of strengthening surveillance and hindering the smuggling networks between the two countries.”

According to preliminary evidence, the Algerian border posts are to be established in six Algerian border towns: “Ghazaouet, Bab El Assa, Maghnia, Marsa Ben M’Hidi, Souani, and Beni Boussaid”. These are classified as very sensitive border points by security reports, which are often used by widely-spread smuggling gangs.

The newspaper quoted military sources as saying that “the Algerian border posts will be supported by military engineering equipment and about 33 border surveillance cameras, and they will be tasked to track smuggling networks and ISIS’s (Daesh) terrorist groups and cover the large border crossings with surveillance devices that will be functional 24 hours a day non-stop.”

According to the same sources, the “Command of the Second Military Zone of the Border Guard formed a work and follow-up cell on the construction of border posts, which are scheduled to be opened before the end of April, to raise the border guards’ security vigilance and support them with new security equipment to combat organised and cross-continental crimes.”

The Algerian border posts will be built along the line of contact with the cities of Oujda, Berkane, Taourirt, as well as Jerada. The border guards will be increased to provide security information, control the movement of smuggling networks and face the terrorist threats that are coming from the Sahel and Sahara and that seek to break though the region.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180216-algeria-reinforces-its-surveillance-over-its-borders-with-morocco/.

February 15, 2018

Spain has said it will respond to the Amazigh World Assembly’s (AMA) request concerning the use of chemical weapons by King’s Alfonso XIII military during the Rif War from 1921-1926 but has fallen short on agreeing to apologize for its actions.

Spain’s Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis confirmed that the request had been made to Madrid and “as a result of the request of the King, the [AMA] were received in the Spanish embassy to submit their demands and also examine possible ways of cooperation.”

Speaking during a parliamentary meeting, Dastis answered questions from Joan Tarda, a member of the Esquerra Republicana, who has been pushing for the Spanish government to admit its use of chemical weapons in the Rif war.

However, though showing his willingness to hear the AMA’s demands, Dastis fell short of expressing his country’s readiness to apologize for its use of chemical warfare on civilians.

The conflict lasted from 1920 to 1927 between Berber rebels led by Mohamed Ibn Abd Al-Karim Al-Khattabi against Spanish colonial forces in Morocco’s Rif region. Following the defeat of Spanish troops in the Annoual battle in July 1921, Spain reportedly used chemical and toxic gas indiscriminately against the Rif civilian population in order to inflict maximum damage. The chemical attacks were a violation of the 1919 Treaty of Versaille which prohibited the use of chemical weapons.

The AMA filed a request calling on Spanish authorities to officially apologize to the Rif people and to compensate the victims and families for the tragedy. A similar request by AMA was last made in 2015 to King Felipe VI.

The Moroccan Center for Common Memory, Democracy and Peace echoed calls by AMA and called on the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs to honor previous pledges to respond to the requests of Moroccan civil society organisations calling on Spain to recognize its culpability.

As a result of the chemical warfare, many of those in the Rif have suffered the highest rates of cancer than in any other region in Morocco with 80 per cent of cases of larynx cancer in Morocco found in the Rif region.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180215-spain-falls-short-of-apologising-for-1920s-use-of-chemical-weapons-in-morocco/.

2018-01-23

RABAT – Morocco’s king appointed five new ministers on Monday, a government statement said, after several top officials were dismissed in October for failing to improve the economic situation in a region shaken by protests.

King Mohammed VI named ministers for education, planning, housing, health and for African relations, the statement said.

In October the king had dismissed ministers and top officials after an economic agency found “imbalances” in implementing a development plan.

Protests erupted in the Rif region around the northern city of Al-Hoceima in 2016, triggered by the death of a fishmonger whose produce was confiscated by police.

The man’s crushing to death in a garbage truck during a confrontation with police became a symbol of corruption and official abuse.

Protests, also fueled by economic underdevelopment, continued there this year.

Political protests are rare in Morocco, where the palace remains the ultimate power.

The protests, the largest in Morocco since the days of the 2011 “Arab Spring”, were directed at the government and the king’s entourage rather than the monarch himself.

Police confiscated fish they said the fishmonger had bought illegally and then dumped it in a garbage truck. Desperate to recover his stock, Fikri jumped inside and was killed by a rubbish crusher.

In July the king pardoned dozens of people arrested in the protests and blamed local officials for failing to quickly implement development projects which stoked public anger.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86886.

2017-12-26

RABAT – Thousands of people protested in northeast Morocco on Monday against economic marginalization after two young men died while digging in an abandoned coal mine.

The deaths on Friday of the two brothers, aged 23 and 30, sparked a wave of anger in the city of Jerada, according to Moroccan media.

On Monday several thousand people gathered for a second day in a row to denounce harsh living conditions, Said Zeroual of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights said.

“The whole city is observing a general strike” in solidarity, he added.

The demonstrators have adopted the slogans of the Al-Hirak al-Shaabi movement that staged a string of protests this year in the neighboring Rif region.

Jerada, long dependent on mining, suffered a major blow in the late 1990s with the closure of a coal pit that employed 9,000 people.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86564.

2017-12-17

Morocco’s ruling Islam­ist Justice and Devel­opment Party (PJD) has turned the page on populist former Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane with the election of current Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani as its secretary-general.

Othmani won votes from 1,006 of the 1,943 PJD delegates against 912 for Fez Mayor Driss el-Azami, who was reportedly backed by Benkirane. This is Othmani’s second term at the helm of the PJD, which he led from 2004-08.

Othmani succeeded Benkirane, who had stayed at the head of the party for nine years, promoting a populist platform to garner support. Benkirane led Morocco’s govern­ment for more than five years before being dismissed by Moroccan King Mohammed VI in March after the former prime minister failed to form a coalition government.

Analysts differ on whether Othm­ani would fundamentally change the party’s political approach and steer it from the Muslim Brotherhood’s sphere of influence.

However, his election is a clear break from Benkirane, who was per­ceived as representing an “extremist current” in the PJD. Although deny­ing direct links to the Muslim Broth­erhood, Benkirane’s policies were initially influenced by the group’s orientations.

Abdelhakim Karman, a Moroccan researcher in political science and sociology of organisations, attribut­ed Benkirane’s loss to the failure of the PJD leadership to absorb the his­torical, constitutional, institutional and sociological realities in Morocco.

“It was normal that opposing voices from within the PJD came out against the current of extrem­ism led by former secretary-general as desire to adapt and preserve their interests in the Moroccan political arena and thus continue to partici­pate in the government’s work and political game,” Karman told the London-based Al Arab daily.

Karman warned against expecting that the PJD had changed its identity permanently.

“The exchange of roles between the party’s leadership came after it thought that it was backed by ‘the street’. It then tried to isolate and en­able and control the wheels of state and society,” he said.

“It is a leadership that accepts cer­tain tactical concessions and forms of political accommodation and moderate speech, an equation de­rived from the thought and referenc­es and behavior of Islamist groups themselves,” he added.

However, Abdessalam al-Aziz, secretary-general of the National It­tihadi Congress (CNI), said Othmani won the election thanks to the Unity and Reform Movement’s support (MUR) and that nothing had changed in terms of the party’s Islamist ap­proach.

“I think the PJD leadership’s ties with the MUR will strengthen more after Benkirane’s departure,” said Aziz.

The MUR is the PJD’s religious and ideological wing and has been the threshold for many PJD members, including Mustapha el-Khalfi and Bassima Hakkaoui, who are minis­ters in the current government.

Aziz said “the PJD’s elite, includ­ing many ministers, backed Othma­ni to lead the Islamist party because they want to carry on their partici­pation in the government” despite the past rumors of a party split fol­lowing the national council’s vote against an amendment that would have allowed Benkirane to run for a third term as PJD secretary-general.

“Benkirane’s populist speeches, which drew massive crowds, will no longer continue under Othmani’s leadership,” said Aziz.

Unlike his predecessor, Othmani, a psychiatrist and scholar, is a quiet and calm politician who avoids me­dia confrontations.

Othmani’s government has sought to fight corruption, a problem that the previous government failed to tackle despite Benkirane’s repeated promises.

King Mohammed VI recently im­posed sanctions against scores of Interior Ministry officials, less than a month after he sacked several min­isters and senior officials for failing to improve the economy in the long-neglected Rif region.

Othmani pledged to address shortcomings of the National De­velopment Model, which has been criticized by the king, and curb dis­parities between regions. The gov­ernment is aiming to carry on ma­jor structural reforms to promote a more diversified economy.

Experts said Islamist parties in the Maghreb are being torn between old pro-Muslim Brotherhood lean­ings and the need to walk away from that legacy to integrate their own political environments and help their countries meet socio-economic challenges.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86454.

Sunday, 10 December, 2017

Morocco’s ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) held on Saturday its 8th national congress to elect a new leader, after its former leader Abdelilah Benkirane bid the party farewell, confirming that the party is determined to proceed with the reforms despite the party’s difficult situation.

Speaking at the inaugural session at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, Benkirane indicated that national congress comes this year following several issues the party suffered from and after its success in the 2016 elections.

He stated that PJD managed to win the elections and defeat its opponents, hinting at its political rival Authenticity and Modernity opposition party.

King Mohammed VI chose Saadeddine Othmani as Prime Minister, which Benkirane described as a “huge blow” to the party.

“The party was supposed to take a very difficult stance and become part of the opposition, however, we eventually decided to react positively to the statement of the Royal Court,” stated Benkirane

“I know that a lot of brothers and sisters in the party treasure me, if not all,” he said. “But I am also human, anything could happen to me. In all cases, even if I were a good man, eventually I would have to leave the party,” he added in his farewell speech.

Benkirane had previously condemned PJD members who did not support him in his re-election for a third term.

“It is because of me that the party made political and electoral progress,” he said, adding that: “despite the tense and difficult conflict the party witnessed, we made the decision based on our internal laws and democracy, despite the fact that they suffer from shortcomings.”

“Perhaps, we made a mistake. We could have discussed the issue within the congress, but it’s too late for that now. You will have to choose a new secretary general. I ask you to listen to all candidates and make the right decision. May God be with you,” he concluded.

The leader of PJD is supposed to be announced on Sunday, following Benkirane’s two mandates, which started in 2008, where he led the party to three major wins in Morocco’s local and parliamentary elections, in 2011, 2015 and 2016. He also led the government from 2011 to 2017.

However, after failing to form a government following five months of post-election deadlock, King Mohammed VI decided to replace PM Benkirane with Othmani, which created a huge political turmoil within the party.

The king took the decision “in the absence of signs that suggest an imminent formation” of a government and due to “his concern about overcoming the current blockage” in political negotiations, the royal statement said.

The king thanked Benkirane for his service as prime minister, praising him for his “effectiveness, competence and self-sacrifice”.

Observers expect Othmani to rule the party following Benkirane, in order to avoid any conflicts between the positions of party’s secretary general with the presidency of the cabinet.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1108916/moroccos-justice-and-development-party-elect-new-secretary-general.

Tuesday, 14 November, 2017

Huddling against a hillside in northern Morocco is a tourist town famed for the striking blue of its buildings, and now the mayor is mixing in another color — green.

Chefchaouen — known locally as Chaouen — wants to become a model for sustainable development at a time when the northwest African kingdom has shone a spotlight onto its commitment to the environment and a greener future, said an Agence France Presse report on Tuesday.

Take Aziz, a local council employee in his forties. He whizzes silently around town on an electric bicycle doing his job as an inspector of building sites.

“It’s a practical and eco-friendly way of getting around!” he says.

“It respects the environment and allows us to get around easily without using polluting modes of transport,” Aziz says, wearing a fluorescent safety vest and with a helmet firmly on his head.

Mohamed Sefiani, mayor of the town of some 45,000 residents where visitors come to admire hundreds of hues of blue, says Chefchaouen began to go green more than seven years ago.

“In April 2010, the municipal council took a unanimous decision aimed at transforming Chaouen into an ecologically sustainable town,” he says.

Local political commitment to the project is strong, the mayor says, but much still needs to be done.

“Chefchaouen isn’t an ecological town yet, but it certainly has the will to become one,” says a smiling Sefiani.

“We are in a transition phase. At a Moroccan and African level, we’re among the most advanced towns in this respect.”

A newly inaugurated municipal swimming pool equipped with solar energy is near an “ecology center” built from recycled containers where the town’s green projects, funded mainly by the European Union and backed by several NGOs, are highlighted.

France’s GERES — Group for the Environment, Renewable Energy and Solidarity — was asked to help transform Chefchaouen.

“It was at the town’s request that we came here to support its energy and climatic transition,” says the NGO’s Virginie Guy, who is coordinating the project.

Among the initiatives is an “info-energy” center to raise awareness about energy savings, photovoltaic panels at several sites, such as the municipal library, that contribute to electricity production, and an environmentally oriented museum is also nearly complete.

The info-energy center’s Houda Hadji explains the basics of eco-construction, energy efficiency and the benefits of energy-saving light bulbs, among other green topics.

“There’s very strong interest” from visitors to the center, says the young guide, her hair concealed under an elegant veil.

“This is the first initiative in Morocco working on energy upgrading in buildings, and providing information about savings, targeting both businesses and individuals,” she adds.

Chefchaouen is one of 12 southern Mediterranean locations to benefit from a European program that has granted it around 10 million dirhams ($1 million, 900,000 euros) and declared the town “a model and initiator of change in sustainable energy management”.

But not everything is green yet in the little blue town, said AFP.

“The public dump is not yet up to standard,” Mayor Sefiani concedes.

“We’re working on a landfill and recovery center, and I think that by 2021, we will have ironed out all the problems.”

With “green” mosques, solar and wind farms, electric buses and a ban on plastic bags, Morocco has been forging ahead with environment-friendly policies over the past few years.

It regularly trumpets its proactive strategy in terms of green energy, instigated by King Mohammed VI.

Late last year, in the southern city of Marrakesh, the country hosted the COP22 international climate conference, and has begun an ambitious plan to develop renewable energy.

In a country devoid of hydrocarbon resources, the aim is to increase the share of renewable energies nationally to 52 percent by 2030 (20 percent solar, 20 percent wind, 12 percent hydro).

A massive flagship project was inaugurated by the king in February last year. The Noor solar power plant is on the edge of the Sahara desert, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) outside Ouarzazate.

Spread over an area equivalent to more than 600 football pitches, the plant’s half a million metal mirrors follow the sun as it moves across the sky and store the energy collected from its rays.

Despite pushing its green credentials, Morocco still has many environmental hurdles to clear on its way to cleaner horizons.

A recent World Bank report covered by Moroccan media spoke of “alarming” peaks of atmospheric pollution in the country’s major cities.

And a number of eco projects announced to great fanfare during the 2016 COP22 conference remain just that — announcements.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1083591/morocco-blue-tourist-town-turning-green.

2017-10-11

RABAT – In a country where nearly half of people with mental disabilities are unemployed, one restaurant in the Moroccan capital is part of a pilot project tackling the problem.

When a customer enters the Hadaf restaurant in the capital’s business district, nothing indicates that many of the staff are disabled in any way.

Take Amr, an enthusiastic 28-year-old in a crisp white shirt and black trousers.

He scouts the street for prospective clients as front of house staff add vases as the finishing touches to tables.

“I first learnt in the canteen,” Amr said.

“Now I take orders from customers in the restaurant — I like the contact with them, getting to know each other,” he added.

The experiment was launched by a local association created by parents to shake up prejudices and serve as a springboard for young people with mental disabilities.

The jobless rate for such people is 47.65 percent, four times the average in a country which has 2.3 million disabled, according to a study published last year by the families ministry.

Soumia Amrani is on the board of a human rights group and the co-chair of a disability-focused collective.

She believes the battle to integrate must begin at an early age.

“You can’t prepare children to be sociable and learn to join society if they stay on the margins of that society,” she said.

“They must be inside society to learn with everyone else.”

– Constitutional rules –

In the kitchen at Hadaf, 28-year-old Moed, chef’s hat perched on his head, is delighted to have a trade after spending just three years in primary school.

“I’ve learnt a lot from my colleagues. I’m very happy and my family is proud of me,” he said.

Morocco’s 2011 constitution says those with disabilities should be able to “integrate and rehabilitate into civil life”.

But things are different in reality. Just 41.8 percent of disabled youngsters aged between six and 17 go to school, and in the six to 11 range that figure falls to 37.8 percent.

Another indicator that there is a problem is that a third of homeless people suffer from some form of disability.

“This restaurant? It’s a good thing for me and the customers,” said Moed as he chopped parsley for the salad of the day, all grown from the restaurant’s own organic garden.

Other young people busied themselves at the kitchen work surfaces as skewers of meat sizzled on the flames.

The restaurant is part of the Hadaf Center — Hadaf means “goal” in Arabic — that was established 20 years ago by a group of parents and friends of people dealing with mental disabilities.

Today, it looks after 90 young people in the greater Rabat area, with more on the waiting list.

In addition to the catering business, others undergo training in such diverse areas as gardening, jewelry-making, carpentry and sewing.

Their studies have to be paid for, unless families are too badly off to afford them.

– Strength in numbers –

Amina Mesfer is the driving force behind the project. She has an adult son of 38 with mental and sight disabilities.

“It became clear to me very quickly that I couldn’t do everything on my own, but that getting a group together meant we could work on solutions,” she said.

“There were care structures in place, but only until they were 21 — as if a mental disability miraculously evaporates at that age — and then our children were left to their own devices.”

In the dining room at Hadaf, business was brisk as Fati Badi polished off her creme caramel.

“It’s the first time I’ve been here, and I’m very pleasantly surprised,” she said, having come to dine with a friend.

“Nice surroundings, the quality of the service and the food — it’s all here.

“They’ve set an example — it’s a way of empowering people with disabilities in the best way possible.”

The Hadaf Center also has a guest house that provides some income and gives the young people the chance to socialise, said Mesfer.

Since 2016, a center funded by the Mohamed VI Foundation has provided training and diplomas.

Five students trained by Hadaf have already been able to obtain certification there — basically a passport to a job.

Which is exactly what Amr hopes will happen.

“When I’ve learnt my trade well, I’d like to work in a restaurant or hotel,” he said, a great big smile on his face.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85337.

2017-10-11

CASABLANCA – Rabat rejected Catalonia’s secession bid and expressed its commitment to Spain’s sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity, according to statement issued Wednesday by Morocco’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Morocco called Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont’s decision to proceed with the secession “a source of instability and division not only in Spain but throughout its European neighborhood.”

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took the first step on Wednesday towards suspending Catalonia’s political autonomy and ruling the region directly to thwart a push for independence.

He demanded that the regional government clarify whether it now considered itself independent following a speech by Puigdemont on Tuesday night during which he said that he would proceed with the secession but would suspend it for a few weeks to facilitate negotiations.

This requirement is a necessary step before triggering Article 155 of the constitution, which would allow Madrid to suspend the region’s political autonomy.

“Morocco is confident in the ability of the Spanish government to wisely manage this situation with a view to preserving the constitutional order and to act in the supreme interest of the Spanish Nation and the European Continent,” said the statement.

“Consequently, Morocco does not recognize this unilateral process which runs against the international legality,” it added.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85347.