Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Morocco gets first marrow-transplant facility

Morocco on Tuesday inaugurated at the haematology and paediatric oncology section of the "20 August" hospital in Casablanca its first marrow-transplant for both children and adults.

This four-bed capacity unit, which can handle 15 transplants per year, requires highly trained personnel and costs between 50,000 and 200,000 euros in Europe, depending on the nature of the surgery.

Morocco`s Health Ministry in partnership with "Agir", a local Association, initiated the project, whose cost is 600,000 euros.

Princess Lalla Salma, King Mohammed VI`s wife and chair of an Anti-cancer Association, officially opened the facility.

The contribution of the "Lalla Salma Anti-cancer Association" to the onco-haematology division includes medico-technical equipment and beds, as well as the necessary equipment for a classroom where children could continue their schooling and take advantage of the recreation facilities during their treatment.

The haematology and oncology section, having children and adults` units and a daytime hospital has a capacity of 37 beds. It has a medical staff of 59 members including 4 professors, 13 resident medical doctors, and 14 Registered Nurses.

This section receives annually about 1,200 patients from various regions of the kingdom. It performs 2,947 medical acts, 2,889 blood transfusions, and 5,913 chemotherapy operations.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Tropical storm batters Canaries

A tropical storm has lashed the Canary Islands, killing at least seven people and leaving a trail of destruction.

Many people are still without electricity, while some roads have been blocked by fallen trees and landslides.

At least six African migrants drowned when waves engulfed their makeshift boat. A man also died after being blown off his roof on Fuerteventura.

Twelve people on the same vessel as the six victims have been reported missing.

Winds gusted at up to 200 km/h (124 miles per hour) in parts of Tenerife, disrupting public services.

'Not normal'

More than 200,000 people have been without electricity in parts of the island, which is a popular holiday destination.

Several ports and airports were temporarily closed by Storm Delta, Reuters news agency reported.

Television showed images of mudslides, toppled walls and trees across the islands.

The storm also broke a huge rock and natural monument near Agaete, known as the "Finger of God".

"It's just not normal," Angel Riva of Spain's National Meteorological Institute (INM) told Agence France Presse news agency.

A storm forming off the Azores tends to brew up further south, he said.

"That it should then come east towards Europe, and to the zone and latitudes of the Canaries, is a very unusual phenomenon."

The storm then moved on to Morocco, losing intensity.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Tropical storm Delta expected in Morocco late Monday

The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami said Delta is expected to reach the Moroccan coast and the Spanish-controlled Canary Islands late Monday or early Tuesday.

Delta is the 25th named storm of the record-breaking six-month Atlantic hurricane season, which started on June 1 and officially ends on Wednesday. But forecasters warn that tropical storms and hurricanes can still develop in December.

The storm strengthened in the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday and threatened to strike the Canary Islands as it raced toward the Moroccan coastline.

“Gale-force winds are possible in the Canary and Madeira Islands today and could reach the coast of Morocco by late tonight or early Tuesday,'' the NHC said.

At 03:00 a.m GMT, the storm was centred about 1,280 km west of La Palma in the Canary Islands and was speeding northeast at 43 kph, reported Reuters news agency.

Forecasters at the hurricane centre said it is expected to move over or just north of the Canary Islands on Monday, sending gale-force winds across the archipelago, and then will dissipate over the southern Moroccan coasts in late Monday or early Tuesday.

Delta is a strong tropical storm with sustained winds just below hurricane level. For a storm to be named, it needs to have sustained winds reaching a minimum 62 kph, while a hurricane is a storm with a cyclonic wind circulation of at least 117 kph.

The current Atlantic hurricane season has broken some long-standing records, including the most tropical storms and hurricanes.

A total of 25 named storms have been registered between June and the end of November, breaking the old record of 21 during the 1993 season. Thirteen hurricanes have struck so far, shattering the 1969 record of 12.

The season has set another record of three category five hurricanes, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, the highest number in one season. Wilma would become the strongest hurricane on record in the Atlantic Basin, with a pressure of 882 mb, breaking the 1988 Gilbert recod held with a 888-mb pressure.

The season has also registered records for the costliest ever US natural disaster, caused by Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast in August.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


A French magistrate looking into the disappearance in Paris 40 years ago of Moroccan opposition leader Mehdi Ben Barka arrived in Rabat Sunday, the interior ministry said.

Patrick Ramael was originally due in Morocco at the end of October but postponed his visit at the request of the authorities until after the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

He is due to go to Casablanca to meet Moroccan magistrate Jalal Sarhane, in charge of the Moroccan end of the inquiry into the disappearance in October 1965 of Mehdi Ben Barka, the leader of the Moroccan left and opponent of the late King Hassan II, kidnapped in Paris outside a famous restaurant.

He is believed to have been murdered but his body was never found and the affair remains a mystery.

Sources in Paris said Ramael was due to interview a number of people in Morocco under the terms of an international warrant, provided for by a bilateral agreement.

Ramael will be talking to people who were unavailable for questioning by previous French investigators examining the case, they said.

His visit comes shortly before the final drafting of a report by the "Instance Equité et Reconcialition" on human rights violations in Morocco between 1956 and 1999.

The committee has spent 18 months investigating the issue and should give an indication of its findings on Wednesday.

In October 2004 the French defence authorities agreed to declassify information they held about the Ben Barka affair.

22 refugees feared dead in Spanish tragedy

As many as 22 Africans are feared dead off Spain's southern coast in the latest tragedy involving refugees trying to reach Spain by boat.

The victims were tossed into rough seas during a storm, according to coast guards who found the boat off the coast of Almeria province, Spanish radio reported.

Two maritime rescue ships were searching for missing passengers today, although the chances of survival in the icy waters were said to be slim.

The wooden boat, which set out from Morocco with about 44 African nationals, 36 men and eight women, was sighted by a freighter yesterday after the passengers used a mobile phone to call for help.

Survivors said the boat was hit by a giant wave which washed 22 people overboard. The body of one man has been found.

About 19 African would-be migrants drowned in a similar incident off the Canary island of Fuertevenura in October.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Dakar 2006 route unveiled

The 9043 kilometre 2006 Dakar Rally route has been unveiled in Paris. The 28th running of the desert classic starts on December 31, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal and after a 16-day trek finishes in the Senegalese capital Dakar on January 15, 2006.

The 508 competitors expect 15 demanding stages through Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Guinea and Senegal. A total of 4813 kilometres must be completed against the clock on the 15 special stages.

The Rally starts with a pair of long stages in Europe before a difficult Morocco section with the route running further east in the shadow of the Atlas Mountains.

Following the Moroccan stage finishes in Er Rachidia, Ouarzazate and Tan Tan the competitors reach Mauritania on January 5. The service points in Zouerat and Atar are followed by the rest-day in the capital Nouakchott on January 8.

Immediately afterwards the teams must complete the rally’s longest leg of 599 special stage kilometres on the road to Kiffa. The trip through Mali is capped off by two further stage finishes in Kayes and Bamako on January 10 and 11 before the rally crosses Guinea for the first time in many years, where servicing is prohibited at the half-way-point in Labé on the Marathon stage held there.

The final three competitive stages are on the agenda between January 13 and 15 on the run in to Dakar.

Date Departure > Arrival Liaison Special Liaison Total
31/12/05 Lisboa > Portimão 186 km 83 km 101 km 370 km
01/01/06 Portimão > Málaga 65 km 115 km 387 km 567 km
02/01/06 Nador > Er Rachidia 237 km 314 km 121 km 672 km
03/01/06 Er Rachidia > Ouarzazate 56 km 386 km 197 km 639 km
04/01/06 Ouarzazate > Tan Tan 187 km 350 km 282 km 819 km
05/01/06 Tan Tan > Zouérat 336 km 444 km 12 km 792 km
06/01/06 Zouérat > Atâr 10 km 499 km 12 km 521 km
07/01/06 Atâr > Nouakchott 34 km 508 km 26 km 568 km
08/01/06 Rest day - Nouakchott
09/01/06 Nouakchott > Kiffa 30 km 599 km 245 km 874 km
10/01/06 Kiffa > Kayes 1 km 283 km 49 km 333 km
11/01/06 Kayes > Bamako 50 km 231 km 424 km 705 km
12/01/06 Bamako > Labé 197 km 368 km 307 km 872 km
13/01/06 Labé > Tambacounda 7 km 348 km 212 km 567 km
14/01/06 Tambacounda > Dakar 107 km 254 km 273 km 634 km
15/01/06 Dakar > Dakar 38 km 31 km 41 km 110 km
TOTAL 1 541 km 4 813 km 2 689 km 9 043 km

Sahrawi human rights defenders awaiting trial

Since May 2005, the Sahara, particularly the town of Laayoune, has been rocked by a series of demonstrations. In many of them, Sahrawi demonstrators have expressed their support for the Polisario Front or called for independence from Morocco. These views are anathema to the Moroccan authorities, which have not only responded in a heavy-handed manner to the protests, thereby exacerbating tensions, but also widened the scope of the repression by arresting and detaining long standing human rights activists who were monitoring and disseminating information on the crackdown.

Eight of the activists are currently in detention and awaiting trial. Two of them allege that they were tortured during questioning.

Human rights defenders in the dock

Eight Sahrawi human rights defenders are currently detained in Laayoune Civil Prison awaiting trial. Seven of them who were arrested between June and August 2005 – Aminatou Haidar, Ali-Salem Tamek, Mohamed El-Moutaouakil, Houssein Lidri, Brahim Noumria, Larbi Messaoud and H’mad Hammad – are due to appear before the Court of Appeal in Laayoune on 30 November 2005, together with seven other accused who are being prosecuted for participating in demonstrations calling for self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. The eighth activist, Brahim Dahane, who was arrested on 30 October 2005, is also facing charges related to his human rights activities but his case remains under judicial investigation and he is expected to be brought to trial separately.

All eight human rights defenders have actively campaigned against human rights abuses in the Sahara for several years. Most recently, they have been instrumental in collecting and disseminating information about human rights violations committed by Moroccan forces against Sahrawi protesters in the context of demonstrations in Laayoune and other towns and cities in Morocco including the Sahara since May 2005. They have been charged on various counts related to participating in and inciting violent protest activities, but deny the accusations.

Each of them has also been charged with belonging to an unauthorized association. In the case of Mohamed El-Moutaouakil, Houssein Lidri, Brahim Noumria, Larbi Messaoud and H’mad Hammad, the charge may be related to their past membership of the human rights organization Forum for Truth and Justice – Sahara Branch. This organization was dissolved by court order in June 2003 on the grounds that the organization had undertaken illegal activities likely to disturb public order and undermine the territorial integrity of Morocco. The activities described as illegal appeared to relate solely to members of the organization exercising their right to express their opinions on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara, and disseminating views on human rights issues to outside bodies such as international human rights organizations. Although their organization was dissolved, they, as well as Aminatou Haidar and Ali-Salem Tamek, have continued individually to document human rights violations in the Sahara, thus putting themselves at risk of arrest and detention.

In the case of Brahim Dahane, whose trial date is not yet known to have been set, the charge is believed to relate to the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations Committed by the Moroccan State, a non-governmental organization of which he is president. He and a number of fellow activists have been seeking to register the organization in recent months, but have yet to complete the process due to a series of what appear to be politically-motivated administrative obstacles.

Two of the human rights defenders, Houssein Lidri and Brahim Noumria, allege that they were tortured during questioning by the Moroccan security forces. The Moroccan authorities say they have opened an investigation into these allegations which has not yet been completed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

HIV infection rising in Mid East

Levels of HIV infection in the Middle East and North Africa are increasing and better education and prevention are urgently needed, a new UN report says.

Some 510,000 people are now infected, with 67,000 new infections and 57,000 deaths, UNAids regional figures show. Worldwide 40.3m people are infected.

Sudan is the worst-hit, and two thirds of women there were unaware of condoms.

The report reveals that the chief means of infection is unprotected sex, with intravenous drug use also a concern.

Research pointed out that Iran and Libya had significant levels of HIV infection through intravenous drug use.

There were variations in infection patterns from country to country, but the report's authors said that a lack of adequate education was a key concern across the region.

Education needed

Sudan was by far the worst-affected country in the region, the report said.

"Only 5% knew that condom use could prevent HIV infection and more than two-thirds of the women had never seen or heard of a condom," the authors said.

Algeria recorded twice as many new HIV cases in 2004 compared with a year earlier, with the highest infection levels among sex workers.

Research in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, showed many of the people affected were married women who had been infected by their husbands.

Official figures from Egypt indicated that HIV infections were passed on mainly through unprotected sex.

"Across the region, there is a clear need for more, better and in-depth information about the patterns of HIV transmission," the report says, calling for "substantive efforts" to prevent the disease spreading in future.


The report says access to anti-retroviral treatments for HIV has improved dramatically, with many more people across the world able to access the drugs.

It says: "It is no longer only in the wealthy countries of North America and Western Europe that persons in need of treatment have a reasonable chance of receiving it."

But Dr Peter Piot, UNAids executive director, said: "The reality is that the Aids epidemic continues to outstrip global and national efforts to contain it.

"It is clear that a rapid increase in the scale and scope of HIV prevention programmes is urgently needed."

Overall, the report says more than 3m people died of Aids-related illnesses in 2005. Of these, more than 500,000 were children.

The report says Sub-Saharan Africa is still hardest hit by HIV/Aids.

Two thirds of the people living with HIV - 25.8m - are in this area.

In 2005, 2.4m people in Sub-Saharan Africa died of an HIV-related illness, and a further 3.2m were infected with the virus.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Marrakech's new Euro chic

It's a place that's softened around the edges, but thankfully, the air of mystery remains.

By Susan Spano, The Los Angeles Times

SOMEONE must have rubbed a brass lamp and let a genie out of a bottle. That's the only conclusion I can draw, given the changes to Marrakech since my last visit a decade ago.

In those days, the low, burnt-umber-colored city on the Haouz Plain in southern Morocco had the ambiguous charms of a Muslim imperial capital and the hurly-burly of a caravansary. Nearly everything cried out to be photographed.

But the city was dirty and difficult to navigate, with few street signs in the maze-like medina, and it had only a handful of hotels and restaurants suitable for tourists. At night, the nonexistent sidewalks of Marrakech were rolled up.

When I returned a month ago, I found the eight gates of the walled city, built in 1070, flung open wide.

With a burgeoning population of about a million, Marrakech is cleaner and more tourist-friendly. On my previous visit, I was surrounded by annoying would-be guides and touts whenever I stepped outdoors. For the most part, that's no longer the case.

An influx of Northern European snowbirds has slowed the retreat of the moneyed classes from the medina to the suburbs.

Many of the newcomers are architects and designers who have restored old townhouses as restaurants and guesthouses, helping to make Marrakech the coolest, chicest city in the Maghreb.

A European influence

THE Europeans brought their sense of style with them so that, these days, almost everywhere you turn in Marrakech you see something new: traditional djellaba robes and babouche slippers in fun, new fabrics; European-inspired gourmet twists on recipes for such old Moroccan standards as tajine, a ubiquitous stew; and a host of trendy new boutique hotels.

Best of all, people have rediscovered the elegant architecture of the hermitic medina, which blends austere Islamic abstraction with Moorish embellishment, sub-Saharan design and the colorful folk art of the Berber people of the Atlas Mountains.

The genie behind the city's transformation was the National Initiative to ready the country to receive 10 million tourists by 2010.

The program has encouraged foreign investment, especially in hotels, and new airlines, such as budget carrier Atlas Blue, to reach new Moroccan destinations such as Agadir, an Atlantic port in southwestern Morocco.

Of course, the city's transformation doesn't come without rubs. Many of Marrakech's repeat visitors rue spiraling prices for meals and accommodations.

Hot, new nightclubs, catering to the beautiful international set, have arrived, such as Le Comptoir Darna, an ersatz Garden of Eden with such un-Moroccan features as belly-dancing and martinis.

Chockablock condominiums and Wal-Mart-style discount stores are turning the suburbs into a greater Palm Springs.

Fortunately, the city's remarkable, main tourist attractions remain the same, if not in somewhat better repair than when I last visited.

Main attractions

THEY start with the Koutoubia mosque, a Marrakechi landmark, surrounded by sunstruck rose gardens and distinguished by a 230-foot, pink sandstone tower, the prototype of landmark minarets in Seville, Spain, and in Rabat, Morocco's capital.

Nearby is the Place Jamaa el-Fna, the heart of the medina and the liveliest, most un-reconstituted UNESCO World Heritage Site I've ever seen.

It yields to the city's incomparably seductive souks. Even on my last visit, no amount of self-discipline could keep me away. This time, I bought two Berber carpets and as many pairs of babouche slippers as it would take to shoe a caterpillar.

There are still no reliable tourist maps of the inner medina, which is the main reason that roaming there is fun.

If you can find your way north of the Place Jamaa el-Fna to the Ben Youssef Medersa, you can inspect one of the Muslim world's great educational centers.

Nearby is the recently restored, domed Qubba, a medieval water station, and the Museum of Marrakech, which puts contemporary art in the frame of a late 19th century Moroccan palace.

South of the Place Jamaa el-Fna, there are palaces, gardens, decorated gates and museums, such as Dar Si Said, dedicated to the arts and folk crafts of Morocco.

On twisting alleyways nearby is Dar Tiskiwin, an elegant townhouse, open to the public as a museum and full of Moroccan and sub-Saharan wonders collected by Bert Flint, a Dutch expatriate with a tall, lean frame and a shock of white hair.

As I left, he reminded me that historians study Morocco politically, as a western outpost of Dar al-Islam, even though it is geographically part of Africa.

To me, magnetic Marrakech will always be a little bit of everything: rough edges, deals to be made, djellabas and babouches, bright colors, energy, heat. I like the transformations that have come to it, but I hope the more it changes, the more it will stay the same.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Morocco third democracy in MENA, British study

London, Nov. 19 - A study on the degree of political and civic freedoms, carried out by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in 20 countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region ranks Morocco third most democratic countries in the region.

The study places Israel first with 8.20 points, followed by Lebanon with 6.55 points, while Morocco got 5.20.

Countries were marked according to precise criteria, including transparency in election laws, the right to form political parties, party presence in the opposition, transparency, participation of minorities, freedom of assembly, independence of the judicial system, freedom of the press, rule of the law and freedom of belief.

The study places Tunisia seventh, Algeria thirteenth, Syria nineteenth, despite the liberalisation efforts made by the president Bashar Al Assad, as noted by the study, while Libya brings up the rear with only 2.05 points.

Iraq and Palestine, in spite of occupation, share the fourth rank with 5.05 points, says the study.

Here’s the list:

Israel: 8.20
Lebanon: 6.55
Morocco: 5.20
Iraq: 5.05
Palestine: 5.05
Kuwait: 4.90
Tunisia: 4.60
Jordan: 4.45
Qatar: 4.45
Egypt: 4.30
Sudan: 4.30
Yemen: 4.30
Algeria: 4.15
Oman: 4.00
Bahrain: 3.85
Iran: 3.85
UAE: 3.70
Saudi Arabia: 2.80
Syria: 2.80
Libya: 2.05

Friday, November 18, 2005

IOM returns group of Pakistani migrants from Morocco to Pakistan

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced Friday that stranded Pakistani irregular migrants voluntarily returned home Thursday with IOM assistance from the Moroccan town of Casablanca. According to IOM spokesperson Jeremy Pandaya the migrants, all men aged between 18 and 37, said they paid up to USD 13,000 to smugglers to travel by air from Karachi to Bamako in Mali, then by land for a 12-day journey across the desert to Morocco. "The desert crossing was dangerous and we had to pay extra," said a 23-year-old irregular migrant. He added that it was very cold at night and we were hungry because we had nothing to cook the little rice and onions we were given to eat. Many irregular migrants from Asia and sub-Saharan Africa remain stranded and in distress in the Maghreb region whilst trying to reach the northern shores of the Mediterranean using smuggling networks. On 13 October, IOM chartered a plane to provide voluntary return assistance to a group of 220 stranded Malians from the northeastern Moroccan town of Oujda. Since October 2004, IOM has assisted 10 groups of stranded South Asian migrants to return home, mainly from Mauritania and Morocco.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Book Review: Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami

This book review for "Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits" by Laila Lalami appeared recently on the Oregonian. Laila Lalami is a Moroccan living in Portland Oregon. Her latest book is a collection of short stories on Moroccans' migration to Europe. Through the lives of a series of different characters, she depicts the root causes of this 'Moroccan Exodus'. Laila Lalami also maintains a blog moorishgirl, where she shares her work and thoughts. Read a lot about the book, but still couldn't get a copy. But thinks it's surely worth reading.

Clear-eyed stories of the Moroccan exodus

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Each year, thousands of Moroccans emigrate, hoping to find a better life, often entering Europe illegally through Spain just eight miles across the Straits of Gibraltar from Tangier. Their reasons for leaving are familiar ones: poverty and unemployment, poor health care, lack of educational opportunity and increasing political instability generated in part by pressure from Islamic fundamentalists. In recent weeks countries of the European Union have stepped up efforts to stem the tide of immigration by providing Morocco with financial aid, but mostly for increased border controls, not for economic development that might keep Moroccans in their home country.

This is the backdrop of "Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits," Laila Lalami's collection of loosely joined stories about the Moroccan exodus. Born and raised in Morocco, educated as a linguist in Britain and in California, Lalami now lives in Portland where she maintains her blog, an eye-catching compendium of quirky literary talk and thoughtful political commentary on economic and human rights conditions in Morocco.

The first story introduces several Moroccans making the illicit, treacherous journey from Tangier to the Spanish coast in a motorized inflatable boat. The remaining stories trace the characters' motivations for leaving, as well as the consequences of such a life-altering experience for those who are quickly apprehended and deported, those who survive and live illegally in Spain, and those who obtain legal visas and work permits and establish more-or-less permanent residence abroad.

Lalami interweaves the stories to show the local effects of globalization. Turn-of-century Moroccans have been set adrift from traditional cultural moorings, torn between desperate social and economic conditions at home and limited financial success abroad, which is in turn but a poor substitute for life with family and friends in a familiar cultural milieu.

One of the most affecting stories, "The Fanatic," is about a midlevel bureaucrat adept at trading favors with others to ensure privilege and advancement for his family. His teenage daughter, under the sway of militant Islam, questions his lifestyle and challenges his moral authority. Eventually, however, she pleads with him to use his influence on behalf of a friend failing in school. He refuses to intercede, using moral arguments that echo his daughter's earlier challenge.

"The Saint" is about a woman who risks emigration with her small children in order to escape an abusive husband. Lalami shows how a traditional "culture of silence" traps women in marriages that are cycles of intimidation and violence. At the same time, she establishes a web of community ties because of a folk belief that her son is a "blessed child" with magical powers. Neighbors barter to obtain his blessing, another cultural anachronism, in this case benign.

"Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits" is a slim book, the stories brisk, with a strong dose of realism about current conditions in Morocco. Lalami clearly admires how cross-cultural writers such as Salman Rushdie have created a world audience for novels and stories that paint a vivid picture of a particular time, place and worldview. But in her own distinctive contribution to this global literature she eschews the exoticism and magic realism that might cast culture in a romantic light. Not from lack of imagination, but from a reluctance to expose the most authentic details of a culture under siege.

Lalami knows most American readers see Morocco in images drawn by expatriate writer Paul Bowles, who lived in Tangier from the mid-20th century until his death in 1999, translating Moroccan folk stories and recording native Moroccan music for the Library of Congress. His collection of tales about cannabis, "A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard," published by City Lights, became a cult favorite of beatniks, hippies and rock stars who flocked to Tangier to meet him. Bowles' stories criticized the spread of Western values and their negative consequence for native cultures, but he also made Morocco seem a mysterious, exotic place, often brutal in the clash of cultures.

"The Storyteller" features Lalami's most sympathetic protagonist, Murad, a man obsessed with Bowles and his reputation as the interpreter of Moroccan culture. For a time Murad made a living guiding naive American tourists seeking a glimpse of Bowles' house or the cafes where he hung out with American celebrities. Now he works in a gift shop selling authentic antiques as well as replicas manufactured for the tourist trade. Two American women, Bowles aficionados, can't tell real artifacts from fake ones, just as they miss the meaning of the cool story Murad tells them, so intent are they on cheating him on the price of a rug.

Murad, like Lalami a careful observer and natural storyteller, longs for the stability of family, culture and homegrown economic self-sufficiency. But he knows the true price he has paid for daydreaming about a new life:

"He'd been so consumed with his imagined future that he hadn't noticed how it had started to overtake something inside him, bit by bit. He'd been living in the future, thinking of all his tomorrows in a better place, never realizing that his past was drifting. And now, when he thought of the future, he saw himself in front of his children, as mute as if his tongue had been cut off, unable to recount for them the stories he'd heard as a child. He wondered if one always had to sacrifice the past for the future . . . so that for every new bit of imagined future, he had to forsake a tangible past."

Murad's metaphoric muteness wryly echoes Bowles' "A Distant Episode," a perverse story about a foreign professor -- a linguist studying desert dialects -- held captive by tribesmen who cut off his tongue. We sympathize with Murad's (and Lalami's) dilemma. But isn't it an inevitable one? The future encroaches in any event, and alters or colors even when it does not destroy the past. We can wish we'd never left but we can't go back.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Scorsese returns to Morocco for film festival

Martin Scorsese has returned to Morocco to repay a debt by attending the opening of the fifth Marrakech International Film Festival, where he is the star attraction.

The festival is honoring Scorsese with a retrospective of his work, including the two films he shot on location in the Arab kingdom: "The Last Temptation of Christ" and "Kundun."

"I owe a great deal to Morocco, which left a lasting impression on my work and my life," he told the opening-night audience Friday.

Referring indirectly to current political tensions, Scorsese made an impassioned defense of world cinema.

"Now more than ever we need to talk to each other, to listen to each other and understand how we see the world, and cinema is the best medium for doing this," said Scorsese, who will give a master class in filmmaking.

The festival has attracted a fair smattering of European and Asian stars -- Scorsese was introduced to the audience by Catherine Deneuve, while Judi Dench, Terence Stamp, Daniel Day-Lewis, Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel and Maggie Cheung either already are in town or are expected shortly. But U.S. representatives are thin on the ground, with Scorsese, Gus Van Sant and Rebecca Miller the most notable attendees.

The festival opened with a screening of Stephen Frears' "Mrs. Henderson Presents" and closes Saturday with Enrico Oldoini's "Thirteen at a Table".

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Morocco: Internet as an alternative media against censorship

I just came across this article in the Lebanese daily The Daily Star. It talks about the growing influence of the internet in Moroccan Society as a way to spread information. Especially in cases where the authorities in Morocco have tried to silence opponents to the regime.

In Morocco the Internet is putting the censors under greater duress

By Mohammad Ibahrine
Commentary by
Monday, September 26, 2005

While satellite television often attracts the lion's share of analysis about new media and their effect on prospects for democratization in the Middle East and North Africa, another technology may already have had at least as large an impact: the Internet. In Morocco, where the regime has severely constrained, controlled or silenced independent print media through direct and indirect censorship, the Internet has become an important instrument for unrestricted flows of information, which in turn is leading to the emergence of a more vibrant public sphere.

The degree of Morocco's connectivity to the Internet is surprising. For a country that established its first Internet connection in 1995, Morocco has now about one million users from a population of about 32 million - one of the highest growth rates in the Arab world. The spread of cybercafes (now numbering over 1,500), as well as of Voice Over Internet Protocols for inexpensive long-distance phone calls, are helping to spread Internet use.

Since the introduction of the Internet in the political field in Morocco in the late 1990s, government ministries, political parties, and Parliament have been online. The same holds true for activists and civil society groups, which have a long tradition of developing and using independent media to promote their interests and facilitate communication.

Among the most important cases of political use of the Internet in Morocco was that of Abdul Salam Yassine, leader of Al-Adl wa al-Ihsan (Justice and Charity), a leading Islam-oriented political organization. Internet use for political purposes gained momentum in 2000 when the organization launched a Web site ( to publish an open letter in many European languages after the regime banned independent newspapers for publishing it. Entitled "To whom it may concern," the voluminous memorandum criticized the regime of King Hassan II and urged King Mohammad VI to redistribute the late king's wealth. Yassine's Web site featured information resources, news and audio and video clips, thus breaking the chains of censorship.

A separate but related recent case that shows how the Internet is facilitating political communication in the face of growing authoritarian tendencies was that of Nadia Yassine, daughter and unofficial spokesperson of Abdul Salam Yassine. In an interview published last June 2 in Al-Usbuiyya Al-Jadida, a Moroccan weekly, Nadia Yassine criticized authoritarian regimes and expressed support for a republic. She was charged with damaging the monarchy and, if found guilty, may face heavy fines and up to five years in prison. Following the charges, Nadia Yassine launched a Web site in Arabic, English and French ( containing detailed information about her life, ideas, and activities (including audio clips of her public lectures - for example one given at the University of California at Berkeley), as well as the full text of the interview that resulted in the case against her. The Web site has received numerous e-mail messages of support, mostly from highly educated Moroccans.

Nor have Islamists been the only ones to use the Internet to circumvent government constraints. Since January 1998 progressive intellectual and human rights activist Mahdi Elmandjra, denied access to regular Moroccan media, has used his Web site ( and e-mail lists to disseminate information and alternative viewpoints. Elmandjra recently launched the "Baraka Movement," similar to Egypt's "Kifaya" movement, which opposes despotism and monopoly of authority. In using his electronic networks with international and national human rights organizations, he is able to quickly publicize abuses, rights violations and repressive practices. He perceives information sharing as an important feature of political participation, as it empowers marginalized individuals and civil society groups to overcome regime censorship. Since 1998 his Web site has had more than 400,000 hits, a large number of visitors for a personal site in the Arab world.

Internet-based political activism in Morocco is still nascent, but it is growing at a fast pace and is likely to play an increasingly important role in accelerating political pluralism. The Moroccan regime is not ignorant of the power of the Internet and is attempting to stifle its effectiveness via legal constraints, such as the 2003 anti-terrorism law as well as technical methods such as filtering and blocking sites. But such methods ultimately are ineffective; even when a Web site is shut down, there are still e-mail list serves and blogs to take up the cause.

Mohammad Ibahrine is a lecturer in international and comparative communication studies at the University of Erfurt, Germany. This commentary is reprinted with permission from the Arab Reform Bulletin Vol. 3, issue 7 (September 2005) (c) 2005, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Morocco Grants UN Refugee Agency Access to Sub-Saharan African Migrants

The United Nations refugee agency has been given access to more than 40 sub-Saharans in Morocco with agency documentation and hopes to interview others later this week, an agency spokesperson said today.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last month sent a three-member team to Morocco to interview dozens of sub-Saharan Africans with agency documentation reportedly being held in various parts of the country after having been picked up by the authorities in a crackdown on irregular migration.

At the time, UNHCR called on the Rabat Government not to forcibly return them to a country where they might face persecution.

The UNHCR team spent three days last week interviewing more than 40 such migrants, on a list of 85 people of concern to the agency, in a civilian location near Guelmin camp in southern Morocco. Their claims for refugee status are currently being assessed, spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva today.

"Later this week, UNHCR hopes to get access to Nador camp near the Spanish enclave of Melilla to interview other individuals on the list," she said. "In cooperation with the Moroccan authorities, we are trying to identify the location of the remaining persons of concern."

Meanwhile, the agency is continuing to receive asylum requests in Rabat. "We are reviewing our internal asylum procedures so as to more rapidly and transparently identify asylum seekers with valid claims," Ms. Pagonis said. "We hope to clear our backlog of 1,700 pending cases in the coming weeks.'

Since 2000, a total of 265 people in Morocco have been recognized as refugees.

Morocco to join Galileo project

Morocco will join the European Union's Galileo satellite navigation programme, becoming the first African nation to participate in the project that will rival the US GPS system.

"The agreement reached today lays the basis for Morocco's active participation" in the 3.6 billion euros ($4.3 billion) programme, the European Commission said in a statement on Tuesday.

"It also represents a great opportunity for Galileo to become established in the western Mediterranean region," it said.

Morocco will be the fifth non-EU nation to join, though details of its participation have yet to be negotiated.

The Galileo project will comprise 27 satellites and has already elicited financial participation from China, Israel, Ukraine and India.

Discussions are under way with Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Norway, Chile, South Korea, Malaysia, Canada and Australia.

The EU will soon allocate an initial one billion euro from its 2007-2013 budget to fund deployment and commercial operations of the Galileo satellite system.

Scope for employment

The private sector will contribute two-thirds of funds for the project, which is expected to create more than 150,000 jobs in Europe alone.

Galileo is due to go online in 2008 and will more than double the coverage provided by GPS, providing satellite navigation for everyone from motorists to sailors to mapmakers.

The EU is developing its own satellite navigation system to reduce its reliance on the American GPS system.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Australia probes stowaway deaths in ship from Morocco

Australian authorities are investigating the death of two stowaways found on board a bulk fertiliser carrier that sailed from Morocco and docked in Western Australia on Tuesday.

The two men died while hiding in the cargo hold of the Furness Karumba, which left the Moroccan port of Laayoune on Oct. 7 and docked at Kwinana, south of Perth, police said.

The bodies of the men, who have not been identified, were discovered on Oct. 31, when the 12,000-tonne ship was at sea.

Two other stowaways, who were found alive by the ship's crew, were helped off the Panamanian-registered vessel and taken to hospital, where their conditions are being monitored.

A police spokesman said the four men were found by chance when crew members were checking the ship's hull for possible damage last week.

He said the survivors, Moroccans aged 32 and 22, appeared emaciated and were lucky to have survived.

"Anyone who knows these bulk carriers knows there is not much breathing space in the hold. Given the cargo they were travelling with, they are extremely lucky to be alive," he said.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Reporters sans frontieres calls for immediate release of editor who has completed one-year jail term

Reporters Without Borders has called for the immediate release of Anas Tadili, editor of the weekly "Akhbar al-Ousbouaâ", who should have been let out of jail on 29 September 2005 after completing a one-year sentence for libelling a government minister.

"We do not understand this unrelenting attitude towards Tadili on the part of the judicial authorities," the press freedom organisation said. Judicial and prison officials have turned a deaf ear to pleas from Tadili's family and lawyers.

Detained since 15 April 2004, Tadili is being held in especially harsh conditions. He is in a "high security" wing of Kénitra prison. He is banned from communicating with other inmates and using recreation areas. He has diabetes, high cholesterol, rheumatism and heart problems. He is also being treated for depression.

On 19 September 2004, a Rabat court sentenced him on appeal to a year in prison and a fine of 10,000 dirhams (approx. 900 euros) for reporting on 9 April that the police had caught a government minister in a homosexual act at a beach resort in northern Morocco. The report did not name the minister, but his identity was clear from the context.

Six days after the report was published, Tadili was jailed in connection with a 10-year-old case that was unrelated to his work as a journalist. A court ordered his imprisonment for debt on the grounds that he was unable to immediately pay a fine of 3 million dirhams (approx. 270,000 euros). The order was only lifted seven months later.

Tadili wrote to Reporters Without Borders on 20 September 2005 to complain about his continuing detention. Extracts of his letter are available at:

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Israeli president invites Moroccan king to visit

JERUSALEM, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Israel has invited Morocco's King Mohammed to visit the Jewish state, a spokeswoman for the Israeli president said on Wednesday.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav issued the invitation at a meeting with an adviser of the Moroccan leader in Jerusalem for a conference on Moroccan Jewry, spokeswoman Hagit Cohen said.

In their talks, "he (Katsav) stressed that we have to renew official diplomatic ties between the two countries," Cohen said.

The king's aide, Andre Azulai, said he would convey the invitation, she said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has said he hoped to improve ties with the Arab world after Israel's troop withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in September, ending 38 years of occupation on land Palestinians seek for a state.

"The iron wall that has defined Israel's relations with most of the Arab and Muslim world for generations is coming down," Shalom said in September at the United Nations General Assembly session where he met more than 10 Arab or Muslim colleagues.

Shalom was expected to attend a U.N. summit on information technology in Tunisia later this month.

Only two Arab countries have full diplomatic ties with Israel, Egypt which signed a treaty in 1979, and Jordan, in 1994.

Morocco was one of three countries, including Tunisia and Oman, that suspended low-level ties with the Jewish state after the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising in 2000. The ties had been launched after an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal reached in 1993.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Asylum-seekers start hunger strike

A group of asylum-seekers from Africa and Asia have begun a hunger strike at a detention camp in southwestern Morocco in an attempt to gain refugee status from the UN.

The asylum-seekers started their strike on Sunday to get their status quickly recognised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (MAHR) said in a statement on Monday.

The authorities in the city of Ghalmim said 71 illegal immigrants from the Ivory Coast, Congo, India and Bangladesh were on a hunger strike over the poor conditions of the military barracks where they have been held, as part of a group of 247 people, for the past two weeks.

A UNHCR official in Rabat, Johannes Van der Klaauw, said they had sent the Moroccan authorities a list of 85 names of immigrants who are recognised by the HCR as asylum-seekers but had so far received no reply.

"We have reason to believe that part of this group is in Ghalmim and we hope to go there. This request becomes even more urgent because of this hunger strike. For the moment, we have not received authorisation," Van der Klaauw said.

Flood of applications

However the HCR will be re-examining these cases "to make sure of the difference between economic immigrants and people who have fled for political reasons", he said.

About 1700 applications for asylum have been received and more than 40 arrive each day at the HCR.

"There is really a flood which doesn't allow us to quickly assess the cases and give refugee status to those who are entitled to it," the UNHCR representative said.

Under the current process a person seeking refugee status is registered and must pass an interview.

While waiting for the decision the person obtains a certificate valid for three months, but renewable, proving he is an asylum-seeker. There are currently 275 such people in Morocco.

If rejected, there are 30 days in which to make an appeal and a new inquiry process is started. During this time the applicant is under the protection of the UNHCR and cannot be returned home.

Protests erupt in Laayoune ahead of Morocco Green March anniversary: One person dies

Moroccan police were deployed in force on Monday in Laayoune, after several days of unrest in the run-up to the 30th anniversary of Morocco's annexation of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony.

"A large number of police" arrived early on Monday, said Hamoudi Igulid, a local representative of the Moroccan association of human rights (AMDH).

"The situation is calm as it is Ramadan," he said.

Over the past week, skirmishes have taken place almost daily between stone-throwing teenagers and police wielding clubs to disperse the anti-Morocco protesters, and one person has died, Igulid and local residents said.

The outbreak of violent protests comes several days before the 30th anniversary of the Green March, launched by Moroccan King Hassan II on November 6, 1975. On that date, about 350 000 Moroccans marched to the border with Western Sahara in a show of support for Morocco's claim to the territory.

On Saturday, a young Sahraoui man, Hamdi Lambarki, died of head injuries after probably being hit with a stone thrown by the demonstrators, according to police.

Witnesses, however, gave the victim's family a different account, claiming Lambarki was knocked down by a police car and then hit on the head by the authorities.

Lambarki was taken to hospital in a coma where he died early Sunday, a police source said, adding that the prosecutor had opened an inquiry into his death.

Lambarki's death sparked a new round of anti-Moroccan protests late on Sunday, Igulid said.

Police arrested a number of young people while the president of the Saharan association of human rights, Brahim Dahane, has been missing since Saturday, he added.

Dahane "was arrested by the police near his home, and since then we have had no further news" about him, Igulid said.

The Moroccan communications minister, Nabil Benabdellah, on Monday denied that Dahane has disappeared, insisting that the state "acts in strict accordance with the law."

He did confirm that arrests were made among the protesters, notably among a "a small group pushing separatist ideas and using violence".