Western sahara Major events

Morocco Central Bank Okays Islamic Financial Products

Western Sahara Worldnews - Sun, 03/05/2017 - 16:11

Iol
Reuters

Morocco’s central bank has approved the use of five types of Islamic banking transaction, giving a final regulatory nod for the country to launch an Islamic finance industry.

Islamic banks and insurers are setting up in Morocco after new legislation allowed them into the market, and the central bank has set up a central sharia board, a body of Islamic scholars, to oversee the sector.

The North African country long rejected Islamic banking because of concern about Islamist movements, but its financial markets lack liquidity and foreign investors, and Islamic finance could attract both of those.

In circulars published in the official bulletin over the weekend, Morocco’s central bank said any Islamic transaction would be subject to preliminary approval by the sharia board, called the Sharia Committee for Participative Finance.

The central bank said it was allowing five common types of transaction: murabaha, musharaka, ijara, mudaraba and salam. It also set regulations for conventional banks to open windows selling Islamic products.

It had given regulatory approval to three major Moroccan banks to open Islamic subsidiaries: Attijariwafa Bank, BMCE of Africa and Banque Centrale Populaire, as well as to smaller lenders Credit Agricole and Credit Immobilier et Hotelier.

Subsidiaries of Societe Generale of France, Credit du Maroc and BMCI have also won permission to sell Islamic products.

The circulars lay down conditions and regulatory frameworks for banks to manage deposits, funds and investments under sharia principles, which ban interest and pure monetary speculation.

Morocco’s government plans to issue its first Islamic bond in the domestic market in the first half of 2017; experts said that would stimulate business in the sector. However, parliament has yet to approve a bill regulating Islamic insurance.

Reuters

Morocco, The Western Sahara And Democracy

Western Sahara Worldnews - Sun, 03/05/2017 - 07:46

Middle East Monitor
Ali Anouzla

This issue will not be solved unless a solution to the problem of democracy in the region can be found.

In a unilateral move, Morocco has decided to withdraw from the Alkrkrat Sahara region, fuelling a conflict that was already on the verge of eruption in the area.

For those who do not know the geography of the region, Alkrkrat is a buffer zone between the southern border of the Sahara region and the northern border of Mauritania. It lies directly behind the sand barrier built by Morocco at the end of the 1980s to protect the cities in the Sahara from attacks by Polisario fighters. It is the longest military security fence in the world. The Moroccan army built the fence to protect the cities (and villages) of the Sahara region that were under Moroccan administration from attacks by the Polisario.

The Moroccan Army left a buffer area between the area and Algeria to the east, and between the area and Mauritania to the south, in order to avoid any friction with its two neighbours during its pursuit of fighters who used these two countries as a rear base to launch attacks against Moroccan troops. Polisario camps are still found in southern Algeria in the Tindouf area.

Morocco’s decision is judicious given that the area it has decided to withdraw from was considered a “buffer zone” and is nicknamed “Switzerland” by smugglers due to the absence of any government authority in the area. A small strip separates the last Moroccan customs point in the Saharan region and the first customs point on northern Mauritanian soil. Thus, the Moroccan decision to “retreat” is a political and a symbolic one, intended to send a message to the new UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, that the Moroccan state is extending a hand of cooperation to the UN, under the leadership of the new Secretary-General, to find a solution to the oldest conflict on the continent.

On the other side, the Polisario Front celebrated what it considered its “military victory”, exploiting it as positive publicity, particularly as this is the first major development to take place under its new leadership after the death of its former leader, Mohamed Abdelaziz. The group is facing a real test of its continued adherence to its project to establish a “Sahrawi state” in the region.

However, what it is now called the “Alkrkrat conflict” is only an echo of a diplomatic battle taking place within the corridors of the African Union, which Morocco recently rejoined more than 32 years after leaving. By sending its forces to an area considered to be an “isolated” zone, Morocco is seeking to confirm its “sovereignty” over the Sahara region, thus considering the region’s borders part of its own territory. This is in full conformity with the African Union’s Charter, which considers that the borders of its Member States are “sacred” and unchangeable. The Polisario Front is seeking to display its military force in this buffer zone to remind the African Union’s members of its struggle with Morocco, the “old/new” member of the organisation.

Evidently, this conflict has not been resolved by a war that has lasted for 16 years between the two parties, claiming the lives of many victims on both sides. Given that it will not be resolved by a new war, neither of the parties is seeking to ignite one, even if they pretend to wish to do so. Thus, the natural solution to this chronic conflict that has become a burden on the Maghreb region, from Morocco to Libya, passing through Mauritania, is a return to the negotiating table to engage seriously in finding possible solutions. Such a dialogue cannot be effective without the participation of a key party, Algeria, which hosts the Polisario Front in its territory and has the ability to influence its decisions.

So far, Morocco has put forward a proposal to grant the population of the region self-rule under Moroccan sovereignty, while the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, is holding onto the right of the “Sahrawi people” to “self-determination”.

Faced with the refusal of each party to alter their position, the conflict has reached an impasse. The victims of this conflict today are the thousands living in tragic conditions in the Polisario camps in southern Algeria, as well as the millions of people in Morocco and Algeria who are paying the billions of dollars a year being spent on arms. Added to these are the millions of residents of the nations of the Maghreb region who are, on a daily basis, paying for the absence of am Arab Maghreb Union able to establish a wider Maghreb market, grant its people dignity and save them from being forced to migrate to the West and beg at its doors. Instead, the conflict has created conditions for the transformation of their countries into fertile ground for the export of immigrants, smugglers, criminals, and terrorists.

As I have written many times before, the primary cause of the Western Sahara issue since the 1970s, before it being an issue between two or three parties, is the absence of democracy in the region, especially in Morocco and Algeria at that time. The continuation of the conflict today is the continuation of this great “deficit ” in democracy that the region still suffers from. The issue will not be solved unless the problem of democracy in the region is solved. But it seems that none of the parties to the conflict or those affected are trying to do this. So the crisis will continue, along with despair until the dawn of democracy shines over the region. But that is still in the distant future.

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadid , 1 March, 2017

Algerian diplomacy destabilized by Morocco’s application for membership to ECOWAS

Sahara News - Fri, 03/03/2017 - 11:22
The Algerian regime, which has closed its borders with its Moroccan neighbor since 1994 and which continues to support the Polisario separatists, is seemingly destabilized by Morocco’s application to become a full-fledged member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). After it failed to prevent Morocco from returning to the African Union, Algerian […]

Proposal To Include Western Sahara In Morocco-EU Agreement

Western Sahara Worldnews - Fri, 03/03/2017 - 08:09

The Fresh Plaza

The European Commission’s European External Action Service has proposed to find a legal basis to include Western Sahara in the EU Agreement with Morocco, which for FEPEX would entail formalising the agricultural concessions to this territory.

This proposal was made on Tuesday before the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture, given the EU Court of Justice’s ruling in December, which considered the Agreement with Morocco not to be applicable to the Sahara.

The representative of the European External Action Service (SEAE), Vincent Piket, mentioned the need to respect international law and comply with the ruling of the EU Court of Justice; however, he stated that “the consequence of the ruling is not the export ban on goods from Western Sahara, but the lack of a legal basis for the application of reduced tariffs to products from the Sahara.” Consequently, the European External Action Service has proposed to find a “legally sound solution, such as the inclusion in the Liberalization Agreement of a geographical coverage extension in order to include Western Sahara.”

He explained that the solution requires an urgent and close collaboration with Morocco in both political and technical fields, and in this sense, he reported that there have already been talks with Morocco, the first in mid-February and the second on 1 March. When these talks have ensured a solid technical basis, the representative of the EEAS explained that a negotiating mandate would be requested from the Council for the legal adaptation of the Agreement.

EU fruit and vegetable imports from Morocco have been showing a positive development. Between 2010 and 2015, imports grew from 856,919 tonnes to 1.04 million tonnes; a 22% growth. In the same period, the value of these shipments increased by 53%, reaching 1,263 million Euro, according to Eurostat. Spanish imports from Morocco have also grown strongly in recent years. Between 2010 and 2015 they have grown by 69%, totalling 242,173 tonnes. For FEPEX, the strong growth of fruit and vegetable imports from Morocco constitutes a major threat to the Spanish sector, given the considerable overlap in products and seasons and the expansion strategies of Moroccan horticultural crops.

Publication date: 3/3/2017

General Electrodynamics Corporation Finalizes Deal With Aerotechnic

Western Sahara Worldnews - Fri, 03/03/2017 - 07:47

Aviationpros.com
Tools & Equipment
General Electrodynamics Corporation

In a move that signals maturity for its AN60Z platform, General Electrodynamics Corporation announced the finalization of a deal with Aerotechnic in Morocco that will see Aerotechnic acquire a set of GEC’s low profile aircraft scale system.

While terms of the deal remain confidential, the move signals industry confidence in GEC’s scales which continue to break new ground in international aerospace markets. “We are seeing more and more MROs looking for long term partners in their technology procurement process. They are not looking for short term solutions. Continued after-market product support is critical in maintaining key relationships with OEMs and established end users like Aerotechnic,” said General Electrodynamics’ Chief Executive, Harold Thomas.

The Aerotechnic deal also marks a critical expansion of market share by GEC since the hiring of its new Global Director of Sales, Joseph Karoki who has set out an aggressive market share campaign. “We are looking to increase our global scale, strengthen our competitiveness, and provide our customers with expanded access to cutting-edge platform scales, technology and after-market services,” says Joseph who led the negotiations with Aerotechnic Industries.

Aerotechnic Industries S.A. provides line maintenance services on Boeing 737, 747, 757 & 767, Airbus A320 family aircrafts. The company is based in Marrakech, Morocco. Aerotechnic Industries S.A. is a joint venture between Air France-KLM and Royal Air Maroc S.A.

www.gecscales.comwww.gecscales.com

Morocco – Good Agricultural Season Ahead

Western Sahara Worldnews - Fri, 03/03/2017 - 07:37

Agroconsult
UkrAgroConsult

Excellent prospects for the agricultural season of Morocco according to the Ministry of Agriculture which announces a good level of rainfall and a correct rate of filling of the barrages.

Morocco has recently experienced significant rainfall over its entire territory. At the end of February, the average national average rainfall reached 287 mm, an increase of 7% from the normal (264 mm) and 136% higher than the previous season (122 mm) on the same date.

The reserves of dams for agricultural use amounted to nearly 7.32 billion m3 against 7.88 billion m3 on the same date of the previous campaign, ie a filling rate of 54% against 59%. The level observed at the start of the previous season was due to an earlier rainy season.

Morocco Boasts Success Fighting Terrorism

Western Sahara Worldnews - Fri, 03/03/2017 - 07:28

DW Germany

In 2003 and 2011 Morocco was targeted by terrorist attacks in Casablanca and Marrakesh – a shock to the country in the Maghreb region. “Morocco was really surprised by those attacks, especially in Casablanca,” says Mohammed Benhammou, an adviser to the Moroccan government on how to fight terrorism.

With his help, the North African country has been pouring its resources into fighting radical Islam and terrorism to make sure such attacks are not repeated.

Investigation continues into marrakesh explosion

One of those instruments is a new law that aims to crack down on terrorism and related activities. Anyone potentially preparing terrorist activities such as traveling to countries like Libya, Syria or Iraq and carrying out attacks either in those countries or in Morocco will face jail. This is where Morocco is going a different way compared to its neighbors, keeping an eye on it nationals not only at home but also abroad.

The Moroccan FBI

To be able to do that efficiently, Morocco launched its own version of the FBI, the Bureau Central d’Investigation Judiciaire (BCJI). Since it started its work in 2015, it has reportedly uncovered 40 terrorist cells and arrested almost 600 people.

The numbers are impressive but, says Benhammou, they come as no surprise. “They work really well together with other countries. That’s important, because terrorism outside Morocco can also be dangerous for us. For example, a little while ago terrorist suspects from Chad and Tangier were arrested because they were preparing attacks there. And we share all our information with European countries, because we all have the same enemy – terrorism,” he told DW.

Indeed, Morocco was one of the countries to warn Germany about the Tunisian man who was behind the attack last year at a Christmas market in Berlin. But now more than ever the BCJI has to focus on it’s own country. Ever since the “Islamic State” (IS) group began expanding in North Africa, Morocco has been facing an increasing threat. According to Adelhak Khiame, director of the BCJI, IS is specifically targeting Morocco by sending people who are not known to the intelligence services to form sleeper cells. “They even try to brainwash young girls on the internet to recruit them for an attack here,” Khiame told DW. The BCJI says it recently uncovered a cell made up of mainly minor-aged girls.

School for imams

Marokko kämpt gegen den Terrorismus (DW/W. de Koning)

Preaching moderate Islam is part of Morocco’s strategy to prevent young people feeling the lure of extremism

The bureau is just one part of Morocco’s strategy. In an attempt to nip the problem in the bud, the country is going back to school. In an effort to stop muslims from becoming extremists, the country has been educating its own imams for the past 10 years. In 2015 they took that one step further and opened an imam school where imams from all over the world can study and teach moderate Islam.

The school in Rabat currently hosts 250 Moroccans (100 of them are women) and 675 students from Mali, the Ivory Coast, France, Niger and French Guinea. Students are taught to accept different opinions and values. “People have different religions and cultures. Therefore, we need dialogue and acceptance from all sides,” the director of the school, Abdessalam Lazaar, told DW.

Marokko kämpt gegen den Terrorismus (DW/W. de Koning)

Students need to be given a perspective in life if they’re not to become susceptible to the “Islamic State” group

But becoming an imam is not a cure-all. A lot of young people who are poor see life as a jihadist as an attractive alternative. The institute therefore tries to counter those developments by offering courses in economics, history, philosophy and French. And those that do go on to preach in a mosque in Morocco are under strict vigilance, says Lazaar. “If someone exceeds the limits of the state’s religious understanding, then he must be excluded.”

Morocco remains vigilant

Vigilance is key in Morocco and people on the streets are aware that it is necessary. “Not only to stop terrorism, but also to protect the monarchy,” a young man from Rabat, who wished to stay anonymous, told DW. “A friend who worked for the police, once told me that I must not talk so much about problems in the country and just do my thing.”

A young woman from Casablanca shrugs her shoulders. “Everybody in Morocco is aware that you are being watched. If they have to do that to stop terrorists, we’re okay with that, we have nothing to hide.” The young man from Rabat agrees, but confesses that sometimes he’s a bit afraid. “I have a friend who has some weird ideas and put them on Facebook. A lot of his friends unfriended him because they – like me – don’t want to be watched because of him. I have nothing to hide – but you don’t know what they think. And here you don’t have the same rights as in other countries.”

Hundreds of Tunisians joining Islamic State

Government advisor Benhammou says Morocco’s methods are working. Aside from the arrests, fewer people from Morocco sign up with IS than from other North African or Middle East countries.

According to The Soufan Group, an international strategic consultancy firm, around 1,200 Moroccans traveled to Syria as of October 2015, while 6,000 came from Tunisia. “And bear in mind that Tunisia is four times smaller then Morocco,” said Benhammou.

Glencore Risks Investor Ire As Partner Resumes Hunt For Oil In Disputed Western Sahara

Western Sahara Worldnews - Fri, 03/03/2017 - 05:20

Telegraph.co.uk

A survey ship has resumed prospecting for oil in Western Sahara.

Glencore risks drawing further ire over oil exploration in Western Sahara after one of its partners resumed prospecting off the coast of the disputed territory earlier this month.

A ship chartered by private firm New Age Energy spent several weeks conducting 3D seismic scans of the sea floor in what it called “early stage” exploration for hydrocarbons.

Glencore owns 18.75pc of the Foum Ognit licence area, with Moroccan state oil company ONHYM holding 25pc, and New Age the remaining 56.25pc.

Many people in Western Sahara want self-determination.

The survey reopens a debate about the sovereignty of mineral rights in the African territory.
Western Sahara’s status is regarded as “undetermined” by the British government. A large part of the country has been occupied by Morocco since 1976, but the local Saharawi people have long campaigned for self-determination.

The UN ruled in 2002 that searching for oil in Western Sahara was not illegal, but that the exploitation of any resulting discoveries would have to respect “the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara”.

A number of pension funds have sold out of companies that explore for oil in the region, on the basis that Morocco does not have the right to bestow licences. In 2015, KLP, Norway’s largest life insurer, announced it would no longer invest in Glencore, saying its activity there ran an “unacceptable risk of violating fundamental ethical norms” and was unlikely to be consistent with international law.

Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg Credit: Reuters

Resource companies have argued that helping to develop an industry in Western Sahara is the best way to create jobs and boost its economy, which had an estimated GDP of just $908.9m in 2007.

In addition to its mining operations, FTSE 100 giant Glencore is one of the world’s biggest traders of oil. It acquired parts of two blocks off the coast of Western Sahara to explore for oil in 2014, but has so far not progressed its work. Since an industry downturn two years ago, it has been looking to prune parts of its portfolio.

An industry source said that Glencore was in advanced talks to transfer ownership of its stake in Foum Ognit to New Age, as it was unclear if the block would ever produce oil.

Glencore declined to comment.

Morocco To Withdraw Forces From Western Sahara Buffer Zone

Western Sahara Worldnews - Thu, 03/02/2017 - 15:20

France 24
Reuters

The standoff in Guerguerat began last year when U.N. troops stepped in after Moroccan gendarmerie crossed beyond Moroccan-controlled areas in what they said was a road clearing operation, prompting the mobilization of Polisario forces.

The Moroccan Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday, that King Mohammed had ordered “a unilateral withdrawal from the zone” in conformation with the U.N. Secretary General’s recommendations.

Polisario forces were not immediately available for a response.

The spokesman for the U.N. Secretary General had released a statement on Saturday calling on all parties to “unconditionally withdraw all armed elements from the Buffer Strip as soon as possible”.

Polisario accused Rabat of breaking the terms of the ceasefire last year by trying to build a road in the U.N. buffer zone. Morocco says it was just a clearing operation that broke no terms of the ceasefire.

U.N. peacekeepers had been stationed between Moroccan forces and a brigade of Polisario troops who were just 200 metres apart in an area between a Moroccan-built earth wall marking Moroccan controlled territory and the Mauritania frontier.

(REUTERS)

Morocco’s Attijariwafa Bank Signs Deals With Ivory Coast Defence Ministry

Western Sahara Worldnews - Wed, 03/01/2017 - 15:37

Reuters
by Samia Errazzouki

Attijariwafa Bank, one of Morocco’s biggest banks, has signed two agreements with Ivory Coast’s Ministry of Defence, according to a statement from the bank.

The agreements includes participating in financing of two new military camps as well as establishing a line of credit to finance housing for members of the Ivory Coast’s Armed Forces.

Like other large Moroccan companies, Attijariwafa Bank has been expanding in Africa. It has subsidiaries in Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Mali, among other countries, as well as branches in Europe.

The bank, controlled by Moroccan royal family holding SNI, said in a statement this week that the two agreements would “improve working and living conditions” for the Ivory Coast army.

No details about the total costs of the agreements were immediately available. The deals come over a month after soldiers in Ivory Coast reached an agreement with the government resolving a dispute over bonus payments that sparked a mutiny.

Morocco’s King has also been on a tour of Africa since last year, campaigning for Morocco to rejoin the African Union, which it did at an AU summit in January. Morocco is pushing its own solution for its Western Sahara dispute with the Polisario independence movement.

Due to problems left over from years of civil war and political turmoil, the Ivory Coast government has failed to bring significant reform to the army, which remains a patchwork of former rebel fighters and troops who stayed loyal to the government during the 2002-2011 crisis.

(Reporting by Samia Errazzouki; editing by Patrick Markey and Louise Heavens)

Morocco: China’s Gateway To Africa?

Western Sahara Worldnews - Wed, 03/01/2017 - 15:26

The Diplomat
By Joseph Hammond

China’s President Xi Jinping (L) and Moroccan King Mohammed VI wave during a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of People in Beijing, China (May 11, 2016).

Morocco is actively courting more Chinese investment and closer ties.

It’s the night before Morocco’s 2016 parliamentary elections, yet all one of the kingdom’s most influential bankers wants to talk about is China. Chinese-Moroccan relations have blossomed in the last year, and Brahim Benjelloun Touimi, the director general of BCME Bank and the chairman of the Bank of Africa, hopes to benefit from the change.

Seated inside a restaurant that was once a palace, Touimi enjoyed a traditional Moroccan stew over couscous and offered his views on China. BCME, he said, has over 500 branches in Morocco and recently opened its first full branch in Shanghai. “We are in Asia because of Africa; we opened the Shanghai branch because of Africa. Morocco can be China’s gateway into West Africa and beyond, where Moroccan companies and businessmen are already playing a leading role,“ he said.

Moroccan banks are interested in China, and Chinese banks are interested in Morocco. The Bank of China, China’s oldest financial institution, opened its first branch in Morocco this year. The bank seeks to manage its involvement in various African markets from Casablanca. Morocco’s largest city, Casablanca, is increasingly recognized as an important African financial center. This year Casablanca surpassed Johannesburg to be ranked the number one financial center in the Global Financial Centers Index, a survey of financial centers.

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Other countries such as Mauritius and South Africa have been hailed as China’s gateway to Africa, but few countries have positioned themselves aggressively for the position in the way that Morocco has. Last year, the government of Morocco hosted the first Sino-African Entrepreneurs Summit in Marrakech, where Morocco later hosted the COP22 summit. Similar forums are planned in the future.

The relationship dates back to November 1958, when Morocco became only the second country in Africa to recognize the People’s Republic of China. Ties deepened last year when Morocco’s King Mohammed VI made a state visit to China. It was the second such trip to China during his reign. Mohamed Boussaid, Morocco’s minister of economy and finance, believes that king’s trip in May 2016 played a major role in moving the relationship forward. “His majesty’s visit certainly helped open up business in the development of Tangiers as an export zone but, also in other sectors such as tourism,” Boussaid said.

The trip resulted in the signing of some important agreements, including the signing of a China-Africa investment fund and plans for a $10 billion industrial city to be built in Tangiers, Morocco’s northern hub. China sees in Morocco an opportunity to develop factories for export to the European Union, just across the straights of Gibraltar.

In February of this year, Moroccan-Chinese ties were further cemented when the speaker of Morocco’s House of Representatives, Habib El Malki, announced the creation of a friendship group involving parliamentarians of the two countries. El Malki is a senior member of Morocco’s Socialist Union of Popular Forces.

At the political level Morocco and China see eye-to-eye on some issues, most notably in the policy of non-intervention in state affairs. While the Moroccan press has occasionally reported on the oppression of faith in China, the government of Morocco has largely abstained from commenting on issues relating to China’s “core interests”: Xinjiang, Taiwan, or Tibet. In return, China has not commented on the Moroccan position regarding the Western Sahara.

“I think the Chinese position on the South is very pragmatic. The Chinese have looked at Dakhla and the South and taken economic opportunities where they exist,” said Foreign Minister Delegate Nasser Bourita, referring to one of Southern Morocco’s largest cities in the Western Sahara.

“Though China has contributed a lot of troops to the operation, China has no policy regarding the Western Sahara,” said a senior official UN official based in the Western Sahara. United Nations figures from August 2016 show that just 10 of the 2,639 Chinese soldiers deployed on United Nations missions abroad were in the Western Sahara.

However, the experience there has been memorable, at least for some of the Chinese officers. “In addition to the visible white bones everywhere, the black wind of the Sahara Desert is also impressive,” a Chinese officer wrote in reminiscences posted online by the Global Times.

China’s relationship with Taiwan is complicated by geopolitical rivalry with the United States and China’s territorial ambitions; in a similar fashion, the fate of the Western Sahara is closely tied to Morocco’s longstanding icy relationship with Algeria. Algeria has long-supported POLISARIO, a Socialist party that carried out a guerrilla campaign against Morocco until a ceasefire in 1991. China, for its part, has traditionally had stronger ties with Algeria than with any other country in Northern Africa.

However, the Taiwan-Western Sahara comparison can only be taken so far. In Morocco, one can easily visit and search websites linked to POLISARIO; it is far harder in China to read about Xinjiang or Tibet. That fact reflects that Morocco is a liberalized society and, since reforms implemented by King Muhammad VI, an increasingly democratic one. For its part, the Moroccan press has often reported on China’s lack of freedom of religion and restrictions faced by Chinese Muslims.

While individual Moroccans might grumble about the fate of their co-religionists, that hasn’t stopped the blossoming of ties. In June, Morocco dropped visa requirements for Chinese tourists, marking a new chapter in the long history of travel between the two countries.

In 1325, the famed traveler Ibn Battuta left Morocco for China, which he reached 20 years later after traveling far and wide. Today the journey would be less circuitous, but there are still no direct commercial air links between the two countries. The lack of a direct air link makes the sudden increase in Chinese tourism to Morocco all the more startling.

Some 42,000 Chinese tourists visited Morocco in 2016, an increase of 300 percent year-on-year. The figure is especially impressive given the visa requirement was in place for much of 2016. Before the visa requirement was lifted, Morocco received 1,000-800 Chinese tourists a month; that figure has reached as high as 7,000 per month since requirement was lifted. As such, Morocco’s goal to welcome 100,000 Chinese tourists in 2017 seems achievable. China is doing its part as well; an event held by the state-owned Global Times in February named Morocco the “best potential destination” in the world in a ceremony attended by a representative of the Moroccan government.

Not everyone is thrilled by the prospect of more Chinese tourists. Over the past two decades, roughly 2,000 Chinese citizens have moved to Morocco. The wholesale market in Casablanca’s Derb Omar district is home to many profitable Chinese-owned shops selling Chinese imports. “What does it say about us Moroccans, if Chinese can come here and sell more than us?” said Zaynab Mohamed, a resident of Casablanca. Despite the resentment, the chances of an incident like the 2009 anti-Chinese riot in Algeria remain small.

Ultimately, such relatively minor quibbles will have a minimal impact on Chinese-Moroccan relations.

“We think [Morocco] can be China’s liaison to some opportunities and we offer a stable place to do business,“ said Benjelloun Touimi, the banker. “There is room for everyone in Africa.”

Joseph Hammond is a fellow with the American Media Institute and former Cairo Correspondent for Radio Free Europe. He has been contributing as a freelancer to The Diplomat since 2010.

Sahara-Polisario: Algeria in disarray because of diplomatic defeat in Africa

Polisario-confidential - Wed, 03/01/2017 - 11:32
Algeria is trying by all means possible to cover the successive diplomatic setbacks suffered by the Polisario, so much so that Algerian diplomats disguise facts, deny proofs. Their latest whim? Zambia did not withdraw its recognition of the pseudo-Sahrawi republic, SADR. According to informed sources in Lusaka, Algerian diplomats bribed a shadowy civil servant to […]

Reducing Gender Inequality Can Boost Growth

Western Sahara Worldnews - Wed, 03/01/2017 - 08:28

IMF.org

Policies that better integrate women into the economy could help increase overall income and significantly improve Morocco’s growth prospects, IMF study finds.

Jamila is a 12-year-old girl living in rural Morocco. She is still in school when most girls her age are not—about 78 percent of girls between the ages of 12 and 14 are no longer in formal schooling in the country’s rural areas. Her dream is to become a doctor, and if she stays on track with her education she should be able to accomplish this goal.

But significant challenges stand in Jamila’s way—a slowing economy over the past five years, limited job opportunities (22 percent youth unemployment), and fewer women in the workplace as compared to men (25 percent participation rate compared to over 66 percent).

The government has started to implement policies that better integrate women into the economy, but more still needs to be done to help young girls like Jamila achieve their dreams.

Women and the economy

As part of the assessment of Morocco’s economy, we looked at the relationship between gender inequality and growth and found that policies that better integrate women into the economy could significantly improve the country’s growth. For instance, if there were as many women working as men currently are in Morocco, income per capita could be almost 50 percent higher than it is now.

Furthermore, Morocco’s population growth is slowing, and the United Nations projects that the dependency ratio—the age population ratio of those out and in the labor force—will rise by 2040. This means that there is a potential for more people to be out of work over the next few decades. Continuing to implement policies that eliminate gender gaps—such as increasing access to education and improving public transportation (making it safer and easier to get to work) for women, vocational training and literacy programs for rural areas—could offset these negative effects.

Improving women’s rights

The government has already initiated the following steps:

The family code was revised to expand the rights of women in marriage, guardianship, child custody, and access to divorce in 2004.

A constitutional guarantee for equality was enacted in 2011.

Maternity leave of 14 weeks at full salary was introduced in 2004.

The first and most advanced gender budgeting initiative in the Middle East and Central Asia region was launched in Morocco in 2002. Gender budgeting uses fiscal policies and administration, at the national, state, or local level, to address gender inequality and women’s advancement.

More reforms needed

Even with these improvements, our research points out that stronger and better targeted measures are needed to increase female labor force participation and employment, and to address gender gaps in education in Morocco.

For instance, our study found that:

Investing in public childcare facilities could free women’s time, enabling them to undertake more educational and training activities, and join the labor market.

Tax deductions or credits are currently only available to men, who as taxpayers are able to claim a dependent deduction for both spouse and children. A female taxpayer may not claim similar tax advantages unless she proves that she is a legal guardian.

Conditional transfer programs for education, as recommended in the recently-adopted national employment strategy, can promote better access to secondary education for girls. The transfer programs could also support literacy programs for women in rural areas, female entrepreneurship, and vocational training programs for all women.

If all these actions are implemented, there is no doubt that the barriers to Jamila’s economic participation would be greatly reduced, and she would have more opportunities to contribute to a more prosperous and inclusive Moroccan society.

Anta Ndoye and Vincent Dadam, Middle East & Central Asia Department Lisa Kolovich, Strategy, Policy & Review Department

Zambia confirms break up with Polisario and its “SADR”

Sahara News - Mon, 02/27/2017 - 12:20
Zambia confirmed on Saturday, through its Foreign Minister, Harry Kalaba, that it withdrew its recognition of the pseudo “SADR”, self-proclaimed by the Polisario, and severed all its ties with the entity. In a statement to the Moroccan news agency “MAP”, the Zambian top diplomat renewed his country’s position on the issue of Western Sahara as […]

The Oldest Friendship: U.S., Morocco Begin Flintlock 2017

Western Sahara Worldnews - Mon, 02/27/2017 - 08:00

DVID’S
Story by Maj. Nicholas Mannweiler
U.S. Africa Command

Military representatives from the Kingdom of Morocco and the United States held an opening ceremony for Exercise Flintlock 2017, Feb. 27 aboard the Tifnit training base in Morocco’s Southern Zone area of operations.

More than 2,000 military personnel from 24 African and Western nations are participating in the tenth annual iteration of the exercise, set to take place this year from Feb. 27 to March 16 across seven African host nations.

The exercise strengthens security institutions, promotes multilateral sharing of information and develops interoperability between counterterrorism partners from across Africa’s Sahara region. African partner special operations forces and Special Operations Command Africa jointly plan and execute the exercise, highlighting the sense of shared purpose across the continent as partners strengthen themselves and their regional network against violent extremists. For Morocco and the U.S., this partnership’s roots run deep.

Morocco formally recognized the United States by signing a treaty of peace and friendship in 1786 between U.S. Minister Thomas Barclay and the Sultan of Morocco, Sidi Muhammad, in the legendary city of Marrakech, according to the U.S. Department of State website. The relationship matured with the naming of James Simpson as the first American consul in 1797 in Morocco’s Tangier. Sultan Mawlay Suleiman gifted the consulate a building and grounds to use, marking the first property owned by the United States government on foreign shores. In all of American history, no other country has maintained its treaty relationship with the United States for as long as Morocco. Flintlock 2017 is the most recent in a long line of actions and expressions of solidarity between the two nations.

“Morocco plays a key leadership role in Africa and we are honored by the continued partnership and friendship between our two countries. We look forward to working with you over the next few weeks,” said MARSOC’s exercise instructor.

Brig. Gen. Mohammed Benlouali, operations commander for Morocco’s Southern Zone, delivered remarks on behalf of the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces.

“These types of activities, as well as other joint combined Moroccan-American exercises, are a golden opportunity to further enhance the ties of military cooperation between our two countries,” said Benlouali.

“We will stand ready and willing to take maximum benefit from this period of training to further promote our knowledge and know-how in the field of special forces. For these reasons, I urge all FAR SOF company members to take advantage of this experience,” he said.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Marines from Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command will train alongside their Moroccan peers, refining tactics, techniques and procedures across multiple full mission profiles. The two forces will specifically train on small unit special operations forces tactics, weapons training and fire support, lifesaving first aid and trauma care, command and control and force protection. The shared training experiences will develop the two SOF partners’ ability to plan, coordinate and operate as an integrated team and will strengthen the bond between the two countries. The Moroccan Royal Armed Forces have been a resolute contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world and provide a center of stability and security across the Sahel region.

The threat posed by violent extremist organizations around the world demands proficiency, coordination and enhanced interoperability in order to counter it. While regional security is the main focus of Exercise Flintlock 2017, the lessons learned and investments in relationships will allow us to share the burdens of managing conflicts and improve our ability to provide security solutions that meet threats at their origin.

Morocco Looks To New Markets To Boost Stagnant Tourism

Western Sahara Worldnews - Sun, 02/26/2017 - 19:00

News 24
AFP

Morocco’s key tourism sector barely grew last year amid security challenges, but operators are hoping Chinese and Russian visitors will boost their fortunes in the coming years.

While political turmoil and jihadist attacks have battered the sector in Egypt and Tunisia, Morocco registered 10 million visitors last year, according to the Moroccan Tourism Observatory.

That was a barely perceptible rise of 1.5% from 2015, it said.

But hoteliers in the narrow streets of the capital Rabat’s old city were cautiously positive.

“Last year was better than 2015. And the first two months of 2017 augured an even better year,” said Hanane, manager of a local guesthouse.

Tourists are easy to spot wandering through Rabat’s old city with its craft stalls, Andalusian-style houses and a 12th-century kasbah overlooking the Atlantic.

But while tourism revenues rose 3.4% to $6.3bn in 2016, visitor arrivals to Morocco have fallen far short of an ambitious official target of 20 million per year by 2020.

A growing number of visits by Moroccans who live abroad – counted as tourists when they come home – accounted for much of the sector’s buoyancy.

Foreign visitor arrivals last year were down by 0.9%.

Karim, owner of a travel agency in commercial capital Casablanca, said more work was needed to drum up new business.

“The situation is pushing us to look for new markets outside Europe,” he said.

“But overall, it can be said that there was a slight recovery in 2016.”

Authorities are hoping for an influx of Russian and Chinese tourists, who currently account for just one percent of total visitors.

That is far behind the French, who make up almost a third of arrivals – a figure that includes many of Moroccan origin.

“Europeans still top the list, but the number of Chinese visitors is growing,” Hanane said.

“Since visas for the Chinese were abolished in June, a door has been opened.”

‘Lacklustre’ performance

Tourism remains a vital pillar of the Moroccan economy and the country’s second biggest employer, after agriculture.

The sector accounts for 10% of national income and, along with exports and remittances from Moroccans overseas, it is one of the country’s main sources of foreign currency.

Former imperial city Marrakesh, with its Unesco-listed old town, and the coastal town of Agadir have long been key attractions.

They remain popular – in contrast to Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt, where visitor numbers have plummeted following the Arab Spring uprisings and repeated jihadist attacks.

Morocco has not experienced an attack since a 2011 bombing in Marrakesh’s famed Jamaa El Fna Square, which killed 17 people, mainly European tourists.

Today, security forces stand guard at Morocco’s main tourist sites.

The government, a key security partner of European countries, regularly announces it has dismantled jihadist cells.

But while the kingdom remains safer than other countries in the region, visitor numbers have stubbornly refused to rise.

The local press calls the sector’s performance “lacklustre and disappointing” compared with a 2010 plan to double arrivals.

Back then, “Vision 2020” envisioned creating 200 000 new hotel beds and attracting 20 million visitors a year by the end of the decade.

Since then, “many international factors” had disrupted the government’s efforts, Observatory chief Said Mouhid said.

“We will not reach 20 million in 2020, for sure, but it remains a symbolic figure to mobilise operators,” he said.

He defended last year’s performance as “respectable and positive”.

“We are in a difficult international context, marked by many obstacles to travel,” he said.

“These figures prove the resilience of Moroccan tourism, even if they remain below our ambitions.”

Morocco Says Forces To Withdraw In Western Sahara’s Guerguerat Standoff

Western Sahara Worldnews - Sun, 02/26/2017 - 18:52

Reuters
by Samia Errazzouki

RABAT Morocco on Sunday announced the withdrawal of its forces from a U.N. buffer zone in the disputed Western Sahara territory, where for months they had been in a standoff with troops from the Polisario independence movement.

The move took place days after a phone call between Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, and will reduce military tensions in Guerguerat, a remote area in Western Sahara near Mauritania.

The military moves last year were one of the most tense in recent years between Morocco and Polisario, which declared an independent republic in the disputed desert land in the 1970s and fought a guerrilla war with Morocco until a 1991 ceasefire.

The standoff in Guerguerat began last year when U.N. troops stepped in after Moroccan gendarmerie crossed beyond Moroccan-controlled areas in what they said was a road clearing operation, prompting the mobilization of Polisario forces.

The Moroccan Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday, that King Mohammed had ordered “a unilateral withdrawal from the zone” in conformation with the U.N. Secretary General’s recommendations.

Polisario forces were not immediately available for a response.

The spokesman for the U.N. Secretary General had released a statement on Saturday calling on all parties to “unconditionally withdraw all armed elements from the Buffer Strip as soon as possible”.

Polisario accused Rabat of breaking the terms of the ceasefire last year by trying to build a road in the U.N. buffer zone. Morocco says it was just a clearing operation that broke no terms of the ceasefire.

U.N. peacekeepers had been stationed between Moroccan forces and a brigade of Polisario troops who were just 200 meters apart in an area between a Moroccan-built earth wall marking Moroccan controlled territory and the Mauritania frontier.

(Reporting by Samia Errazzouki; editing by Patrick Markey)

Moody’s: Morocco’s Ba1 Rating Changed To Positive From Stable

Western Sahara Worldnews - Sun, 02/26/2017 - 00:00

CPI FINANCIAL
by Jessica Combes

Moody’s Investors Service has changed the outlook on the Government of Morocco’s rating to positive from stable and affirmed the issuer and senior unsecured ratings at Ba1.

The key drivers of the rating action are:

(1) Improving external position reflected in the build-up of foreign exchange reserves in the wake of dynamic new export industries and lower nominal oil imports;
(2) Declining fiscal imbalances, reflecting gradual but steady fiscal consolidation, supported by fuel subsidy and public pension reforms, which in turn increase the prospect of a gradual reduction in public-sector indebtedness.

Moody’s decision to affirm Morocco’s Ba1 rating balances an institutional environment, which is supportive of structural reforms, as illustrated by the country’s industrialisation and renewable energy strategy, against low wealth levels, a volatile and subdued growth pattern, and a comparatively high public debt stock relative to similarly rated peers. The Ba1 rating also captures Moody’s political risk assessment, which is based on the delays in the formation of a new government following the elections in October last year, in addition to potential regional tensions related to the disputed Western Sahara territory.

Morocco’s foreign- and local-currency ceilings remain unchanged, namely the long-term foreign-currency bond ceiling at Baa2, the long-term foreign-currency deposit ceiling at Ba2, and the long-term local-currency bond and deposit ceilings at Baa1. The short-term foreign-currency bank deposit ceiling remains unchanged at NP, and the short-term foreign-currency bond ceiling at P-2.

Ratings rationale

First driver: dynamic new export industries and lower nominal oil imports gradually improving the country’s external position

The first driver for Moody’s decision to change Morocco’s rating outlook to positive is the country’s improving external position in the wake of lower nominal oil imports and resilient export sectors, resulting in the build-up of a foreign-exchange buffer amounting to around 7 months of import cover at the end of 2016, up from 4.1 months at year-end 2012. As one of the most energy-import-dependent countries among Moody’s-rated MENA sovereigns, Morocco is one of the main beneficiaries of the lower-for-longer oil price environment, which supports the preservation of the buffer over the forecast horizon. The forex buffer also represents a necessary precondition for the central bank’s announced strategy to gradually move towards a flexible exchange rate system starting in the second half of 2017.

Morocco’s export performance is supported by the diversification into higher value-added automotive, aeronautics and electronics sectors, which have together overtaken the more traditional exports in the phosphate, agriculture or textile sectors, and which continued to expand at double-digit rates in 2016. Moody’s expects the country’s export performance in these new sectors to remain dynamic in response to their increased integration in the global production chain.

The country’s current account deficit has improved to an estimated 3.8 per cent of GDP at the end of 2016 from a deficit of 9.5 per cent in 2012. Moody’s expects the current account deficit to remain around the 4 per cent of GDP level over the forecast horizon, with oil prices projected to remain in the $40-$60 range. Morocco’s relative political stability has also bolstered foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows, which are mainly geared towards the real estate and the industrial sectors, and which balance nascent FDI outflows toward Sub Saharan Africa in support of Morocco’s regional trade diversification strategy. If sustained at current levels, Moody’s expects that net FDI inflows will remain an important source of funding for the country’s current account deficit, therefore limiting the build-up of external debt.

Second driver: institutional reforms likely to support gradual but steady fiscal consolidation
The second driver behind Moody’s decision to change Morocco’s rating outlook to positive is the country’s improving fiscal performance, reflecting a gradual but steady pace of fiscal consolidation, which is in turn supported by institutional improvements that are likely to reduce implementation risks in the future. The fiscal deficit has declined steadily to four per cent of GDP at the end of 2016 from 7.3 per cent in 2012, driven mainly by the reduction in the energy subsidy bill to about 1.2 per cent of GDP from 6.5 per cent in 2012. While the slump in oil prices played an important role, the complete elimination of fuel subsidies and the introduction of an automatic pricing formula in late 2015 shields the deficit from expanding again with increasing oil prices. Looking ahead, Moody’s believes that Morocco’s fiscal deficit is likely to continue to contract. Provided there are no major setbacks, the continued shrinking of the fiscal deficit raises the prospect for the central government’s debt-to-GDP ratio to begin trending downward as of this year and gradually move towards the 2020 60 per cent target envisaged by the government.

Similarly, the parametric public-sector pension reform, which the Moroccan government enacted before the October 2016 elections, has improved the financial sustainability of the public-sector pension fund, thereby reducing pressures on the budget over the medium term. Other reform initiatives, which have been undertaken with the technical cooperation of the IMF under three consecutive Precautionary and Liquidity Line (PLL) programmes since 2012, include the almost complete implementation of the organic budget law, the continued fiscal decentralisation under the Advanced Regionalization programme, in addition to tax reform with the objective of broadening the tax base, reducing exemptions and improving the business environment.

Rationale for affirming Morocco’s rating at Ba1

Moody’s affirmation of Morocco’s Ba1 government bond rating takes into account the continued progress in the country’s industrialisation strategy, which aims to increase the manufacturing share to 23 per cent of GDP by 2020 from 16 per cent currently, deepen its focus on renewable energy to reduce its energy import dependence, and expand the country’s geographical trade diversification into Sub Saharan Africa.

At the same time, Morocco’s rating reflects persistent structural constraints, combining low wealth levels with relatively subdued and volatile growth dynamics in comparison to peers because the county’s agriculture sector continues to contribute a significant 13 per cent of GDP as well as 40 per cent of the labour force. The Ba1 rating also takes into account the comparatively high central government debt ratio of an estimated 64.8 per cent of GDP in 2016, although the low foreign-currency share of the overall debt stock, and access to a large domestic funding base represent mitigating factors. As the main driver of event risk, the Moroccan banking sector’s foray into Sub Saharan Africa represents both an opportunity to diversify and to expand its market share, as well as a challenge in terms of cross-border supervision and risk management.

The Ba1 rating affirmation also captures Moody’s political risk assessment of Morocco, which takes account of delays in the formation of the new government following the elections in October last year, in addition to the potential for regional tensions related to the disputed Western Sahara territory.

What could change the rating up/down?

Upward rating pressure would arise from increased evidence that the country’s budgetary performance will be sufficiently robust in the coming years to firmly position the central government debt ratio on a downward trajectory, combined with a stabilisation of debt guarantees from state-owned enterprises. A resolution of the political stalemate that would secure the maintenance of fiscal discipline and the reform momentum – including the stated objective of easing the current currency peg in the second half of 2017 with the aim to moving to an inflation-targeting regime and easing capital controls over the medium term — would also be credit supportive.

If the Moroccan government proved unable to control the deficit, the debt burden and debt guarantees this would increasingly limit Morocco’s fiscal space and weigh on the country’s credit profile over the medium term.

A continued political stalemate or increased tensions with the Western Sahara territory would also be credit negative, as would an unforeseen deterioration in the external accounts due to a sharp and sustained spike in oil prices or as a result of the gradual transition to a flexible exchange rate system.

GDP per capita (PPP basis, $): 8,180 (2015 Actual) (also known as Per Capita Income)

Real GDP growth ( per cent change): 4.5 per cent (2015 Actual) (also known as GDP Growth)
Inflation Rate (CPI, per cent change Dec/Dec): 0.6 per cent (2015 Actual)
Gen. Gov. Financial Balance/GDP: -4.4 per cent (2015 Actual) (also known as Fiscal Balance)
Current Account Balance/GDP: -2.1 per cent (2015 Actual) (also known as External Balance)
External debt/GDP: 42.7 per cent (2015 Actual)

Level of economic development: Moderate level of economic resilience

Default history: No default events (on bonds or loans) have been recorded since 1986.
On 21 February 2017, a rating committee was called to discuss the rating of the Government of Morocco. Other views raised included: the issuer’s economic fundamentals, including its economic strength, have not materially changed; the issuer’s institutional strength/framework, have increased; the issuer’s fiscal or financial strength, including its debt profile, has not materially changed; the issuer’s overall susceptibility to event risk has not materially changed.

Tindouf: How Algeria covers the violations committed by the Polisario

Polisario-confidential - Sat, 02/25/2017 - 15:44
For how long can Algeria still hide the abuses taking place in the Tindouf camps, where thousands of Sahrawis languish under the iron fist of the Polisario, beyond any kind of international control? The question is posed again with the increasing number of reports by international NGOs, including Amnesty International, on the serious human rights […]

BRIEF-Moody’s Changes Outlook On Government Of Morocco’s Ba1 Rating To Positive From Stable

Western Sahara Worldnews - Sat, 02/25/2017 - 10:13

Reuters
Moody’s on Morocco

* Moody’s changes outlook on Government of Morocco’s Ba1 rating to positive from stable; ratings affirmed

* Moody’s says Morocco’s foreign and local currency ceilings remain unchanged

* Moody’s on Morocco says decision to change rating outlook is improving external position in wake of lower nominal oil imports, resilient export sectors Source text for Eikon: Further company coverage: [Moody’s on Morocco]

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