The moroccan press

The Government Council of April 2017

The moroccan press - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 11:22

Head of Government  Presents Governmental Program Before Parliament

Head of government Saad Eddine El Othmani presented on Wednesday the governmental program during a common plenary session of the parliament's two houses.

The said program has five broad lines: the first focuses on supporting the democratic choice, the principles of the rule of law and extensive regionalization.

Categories: The moroccan press

These Trash Pickers Used To Have Miserable Jobs. Now They Run Their Own Recycling Cooperative

Western Sahara Worldnews - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 10:15

PRI’s The World
Credit:
Rebecca Rosman

Najat Rabat and Yassine Mazzout used to work picking trash from a landfill outside Morocco’s capital. Now they work together at the new recycling cooperative.

After his father died when he was only a teenager, Yassine Mazzout started working nights at the landfill next to his home near Morocco’s capital Rabat, salvaging items that could be recycled or sold from the mountain of filth.

“At 15, I should have spent my evenings playing with other kids,” said Mazzout. “But I spent all of my free time [at the landfill] to make money for my family.”

Mazzout is one of hundreds of residents of the small village of Accreche who relied on the landfill — one of Morocco’s largest — as a source of income. Residents would spend hours working in squalid conditions, often fighting one another over the most valuable materials.

Yassine Mazzout at the site of the former landfill outside Morocco’s capital Rabat, where he worked as a trash picker as a teenager. Mazzout is now the president of the At-Tawafouk recycling cooperative.

Credit:
Rebecca Rosman

But in 2010, the local municipality decided to shut it down and build a modern waste facility.

That was good news for the environment — landfills can be a big source of water and air pollution — but not so good for the people who depended on the dump for their livelihoods.

But in an unusual twist on a story of misery common to as many as 15 million dump pickers around the world, this one has a happy ending. Instead of leaving the workers without any job, the local government decided to open a recycling center at the new waste site, and to hire all the former trash pickers to run and manage it. Not only do they still have jobs, they have vastly better jobs, including benefits like health insurance, equal salaries, set hours and even free transportation to work.

“Before, I could work up to 13 hours a day in horrible conditions,” said Najat Rabat, who spent 10 years working at the landfill. “Now it’s only six hours, and in much better conditions.”

And they’ve pivoted from the competitive, dog-eat-dog culture of the landfill to working together in a new cooperative. It’s called “At-Tawafouk,” which loosely translates from Arabic as “Trust.”

But getting to this point wasn’t easy.

“[They] worked at a landfill without any rules,” said Mehdi Guedi, a consultant who helped oversee the transition. “So the state said to them, if you want to keep working, you need to have rules.”

In setting up the cooperative, the workers decided that everyone would make the same salary, work the same hours, and have equal input on any decisions made by the cooperative.

They also chose a president to represent them — Mazzout — who’s now 31 years old, and has been the face of the cooperative since it was founded.

As president, it’s Mazzout’s job not just to organize his colleagues, but to stand up for the cooperative’s interests with management. Everyone credits the cooperative’s success to Mazzout’s calm, intelligent instincts and strength as a leader.

“He’s a superstar,” says one of his coworkers.

Even managers admire him.

“Yassine was not what you would call in French a ‘Benny Oui Oui’ — like a doormat,” says former manager Gerard Prenant.

“When you suggested something, he wouldn’t just say yes. He defended the interests of the cooperative. But we always found a compromise, and it allowed us to innovate this kind of relationship.”

The former trash pickers went from competitors for junk at the dump to co-workers at the new recycling facility. Together they recycled more than 12,000 tons of trash in 2016. Backers hope the new facility will be a model for others around the world.

Credit:
Rebecca Rosman

Today, most cooperative members say they couldn’t imagine going back to the way things were at the landfill.

And the difference At-Tawafouk has made for the environment is also noteworthy.

In 2016, the cooperative recycled more than 12,000 tons of trash. They hope to double that number this year with a new processing line. That’s only a small slice of Morocco’s waste, and the facility employs only a small number of its waste pickers, but it could be the start of something much bigger.

“Given the success story of At-Tawafouk, I think this is something that can definitely be replicated,” said Maria Sarraf, an environmental economist at the World Bank, which helped fund the cooperative. At-Tawafouk was the first one, but if we come back in a few years there should be many more of them.”

Sarraf says the World Bank is already helping launch 18 similar projects in Morocco, which are expected for create 1,000 formal jobs for waste pickers. Sarraf also believes the model could spread elsewhere, to help transform the lives of some of the millions of trash collectors around the world.

For his part, Mazzout wants to be part of that process of creating more recycling cooperatives in his country. He regularly travels across Morocco to speak to similar communities about the success of At-Tawafouk.

But things move slowly in Morocco, and for now at least, At-Tawafouk remains the only one.

It’s not perfect, Mazzout says, but it’s a huge step forward.

“There’s lot of things we’re missing, but we have a real source of work. … The spirit of the cooperative is work.”

Not to mention dignity, decent working conditions, and a living wage.

Morocco's Economic Outlook is Expected to Improve in Mid-Term, WB

The moroccan press - Wed, 04/19/2017 - 12:52

Over the medium term, Morocco's economic outlook is expected to improve, provided the forthcoming government remains committed to pursuing prudent macroeconomic policies and implementing structural reforms, said the World Bank (WB) in its "MENA Economic Monitor".

Categories: The moroccan press

SIAM 2017 Banks on Drawing One Million Visitors

The moroccan press - Wed, 04/19/2017 - 12:48

The International Agriculture Fair (SIAM 2017) banks on drawing 1 million visitors who will discover the multi-faceted Moroccan and international agriculture.

A mass inflow of visitors and professionals will be touring the different stands during the event's 12th edition which set the bar high this year.

The 2017 edition has beaten the record with 1,230 exhibitors from 66 countries.

Categories: The moroccan press

Ambassador Hilale Puts Down Venezuelan Counterpart at UN Headquarters

The moroccan press - Wed, 04/19/2017 - 12:44

Morocco's permanent representative to the UN, ambassador Omar Hilale, has put down the ambassador of Venezuela to the United Nations during a discussion Tuesday at the UN headquarters on the financing of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In his repeated ideological-political crusade against Morocco, the representative of Venezuela said that the achievement of the SDGs will be accomplished by taking into consideration the occupied territories, such as Palestine and the Moroccan Sahara.

Categories: The moroccan press

EU Supports Morocco’s ‘Crucial’ Role in Africa, Mediterranean (co-chair of Morocco-EU Joint Parliamentary Committee)

The moroccan press - Wed, 04/19/2017 - 12:35

The European Union (EU) is supporting Morocco’s "crucial" role in Africa and the Mediterranean, co-chair of the Morocco-EU Joint Parliamentary Committee, Ines Ayala Sender, said Tuesday in Rabat.

The EU aspires to revive Morocco's role in the EU-Morocco-African Union triangle, Sender told MAP following her meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Nasser Bourita.

Categories: The moroccan press

WB Satisfied With Level of Partnership With Morocco

The moroccan press - Wed, 04/19/2017 - 12:32

Vice President of the World Bank for the Middle East and North Africa Hafez Ghanem voiced, on Tuesday in Rabat, the WB's satisfaction with its partnership with Morocco and the huge success both parties have achieved together.

Ghanem lauded, during this meeting with head of government Saad Eddine El Othmani, the Moroccan model for its political stability and the ongoing development of its economy which will enable the Kingdom to achieve the ambitious goals set as part of the country's economic development, investments and social reforms.

Categories: The moroccan press

8th Annual Meeting of Morocco-EU Joint Parliamentary Committee Kicks Off in Rabat

The moroccan press - Wed, 04/19/2017 - 12:28

The 8th annual meeting of the Morocco-European Union (EU) Joint Parliamentary Committee opened on Tuesday at the headquarters of the House of Representatives in Rabat.

The event will focus notably on the results and achievements of this important body for political cooperation between Morocco and the EU.

Categories: The moroccan press

Algiers To Host Algeria-Russia Counter-terrorism Consultations

Western Sahara Worldnews - Wed, 04/19/2017 - 00:47

The North Africa Post
Kamailoudini Tagba

Russia and Algeria are to meet up this Tuesday in the Algerian capital for the second consultations on the cooperation against terrorism established by both countries last year, reports say.

Announced by the Algerian foreign ministry, the meeting will be a platform to ponder over regional and international cooperation against terrorism, to address hotbed conflict zones such as Libya, Syria, other crisis such as Mali, the Western Sahara issue, local Algeria media Algerie Patriotique reports.

The delegations will also discuss the fight against cyber-terrorism as well as cyber criminality in addition to terrorism and organised crimes.

The Algerian delegation will be led by Abdelkader Messahel, Minister of Maghreb Affairs, African Union and League of Arab States and the Russian side by Venediktov Alexandre, Representative of Russian Security Council.

Both countries established the consultations last year in the Russian capital to coordinate efforts and share best practices in the fight against terrorism.

Messahel was in Washington early this month where he attended the 4th session of US-Algeria cooperation on security and fight against terrorism.

POSTED BY KAMAILOUDINI TAGBA

Kamailoudini Tagba Independent Journalist, Freelance Interpreter and Toastmasters International Competent Communicator (CC), speech writer, based in Togo, West Africa Attended Central China Normal University (China), MA in Linguistics and Communication. Kamailoudini Tagba is UNESCO scholarship Alumni, interested in International Relations studies and Security Studies.

Kamailoudini Tagba, trained as journalist at Togo state radio, worked for the African Network of Culture Promoters and Entrepreneurs (rapec) as news writer. Studying to become Middle and Near East Politics expert for Africa

Dublin Airport Announces New Service To Morocco

Western Sahara Worldnews - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 20:06

Dublin Live

The new route is one of 11 new services that will be launched at the airport this year.

Dublin was the third best airport in Europe for customer service last year in a tie with Malta, Porto, and Zurich airports.

Dublin Airport has announced a new service from the capital to Agadir in Morocco, starting in October.

Air Arabia Maroc will operate twice weekly flights on Wednesdays and Sundays.

The airline is Morocco’s largest low cost carrier and part of the Air Arabia Group.

It currently operates flights to 48 European routes from five cities in Morocco: Casablanca, Fez, Tangier, Marrakech and Nador.

Its new Agadir base will have flights to seven European cities, including Dublin.

Dublin Airport Managing Director Vincent Harrison said: “We are delighted to welcome Air Arabia Maroc to Dublin Airport and to Ireland.

“This new service means that once again Irish holidaymakers will have a direct scheduled service to Agadir, which is a very popular winter sun destination.”

Adel Al Ali, Group Chief Executive Officer of Air Arabia, added: “We are pleased to link Dublin with our newly launched base in Agadir. Dublin is the latest city to join Air Arabia Maroc’s ever growing destination network connecting Europe with Morocco.”

The new route is one of 11 new services that will be launched at Dublin Airport this year.

Morocco Plans Local Sukuk Issue Before Summer – Minister

Western Sahara Worldnews - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 18:47

Reuters
by Samia Errzzouki

Morocco plans to issue a local sukuk before summer but has no immediate prospects for an international sukuk bond sale, the finance minister said on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Samia Errzzouki; writing by Patrick Markey)

Sound Energy Announces Mobilization Of Rig To Sidi Moktar, Morocco

Western Sahara Worldnews - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 15:02

World Oil

Sound Energy, the African and European focused upstream gas company, is pleased to announce the mobilization of a rig to the Company’s Sidi Moktar asset, onshore Morocco.

The Sidi Moktar licences cover 2,700 km2 in the Essaouira basin, central Morocco and contain an existing gas discovery in the Lower Liassic (Kechoula) and significant deeper potential. Sidi Moktar is close to existing infrastructure, including the large scale Moroccan state owned OCP Phosphate plant.

Two wells have already been drilled at Kechoula by previous operators and have been estimated to have an unrisked mid case original gas in place (GOIP) of 293 Bscf (gross). As previously announced by the Company, the Sidi Moktar licences are also estimated, similar to the Company’s Eastern Morocco positions, to have significant pre-Jurassic exploration potential from the TAGI and Paleozoic in excess of 1 Tcf unrisked GOIP (gross). The Company notes the quantitive assesment prepared by a previous operator in 1998, which referred to exploration potential of the Sidi Moktar licences of up to 9 Tcf unrisked GOIP (gross) in the TAGI and Paleozoic. The Company will require the reprocessing of existing 2D seismic, acquisition of new 2D seismic and drilling results before forming its own volume estimates for the exploration potential of the Sidi Moktar licences.

The Company announces that the SAIPEM rig used to drill the Company’s most recent Tendrara well (TE-8) has now been mobilized to Sidi Moktar. The rig will, upon arrival in May 2017, execute the re-entering and testing of the two existing wells on the Kechoula discovery which, subject to initial well results, may include a sidetrack and an extended well test thereafter.

Given the Company’s strong financial position, the Company also announces that it has decided not to proceed with the previously announced proposed farm out of Sidi Moktar, and to instead retain its 75% operated position in the Sidi Moktar licences.

Once the workovers, and any sidetrack and extended welltest are complete, the Company intends to renew the Sidi Moktar licences (which currently expire on Aug. 28, 2017) thereby starting a new eight year period. The first activity following the renewal of the Sidi Moktar licences will be 2D seismic reprocessing and the acquisition of new 2D seismic, scheduled for 2018, after which the deeper pre-salt horizons can be drilled.

Morocco To Start Liberalising Dirham By June – Cenbank

Western Sahara Worldnews - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 08:23

Reuters
by Samia Errazzouki

* Morocco working with IMF on currency reforms

* Cenbank sees gradual liberalisation of dirham

* Finance minister says local sukuk before summer (adds currency rate, trade deficit)

Morocco plans to start the process of floating its dirham currency by June, the central bank governor said on Tuesday, setting a tight schedule for a key part of an economic liberalisation programme agreed with international lenders.

In comments to Reuters, Abdellatif Jouahri also said the process to full exchange rate flexibility might take 15 years.

North Africa’s biggest energy importer, Morocco has been working with the International Monetary Fund on liberalising its currency as its finances have strengthened, helped in part by lower global oil prices.

Late last year, the government said the first stages of a move to a flexible exchange rate would be implemented in the second half of 2017.

On Tuesday Jouahri signalled an earlier start.

“We will begin the first phase of liberalising the dirham in the second quarter,” he said at an Arab finance ministers meeting in Rabat. “I can’t tell how long the duration of each phase will take, it depends on the market.”

The dirham’s exchange rate is currently tightly controlled via a 60 percent weighting to the euro and 40 percent to the dollar. On Tuesday one dollar bought 10.03 dirham.

Last year sources told Reuters that Morocco was considering widening the official fluctuation bands for the currency by around 5 percent in 2017.

A source at the central bank said there had been discussions about pushing back the start of the currency liberalisation process to the second half of 2017 due to delays in setting up a government after last October’s election. A new government was finally formed in April under Prime Minister Saad Eddine el-Othmani of the Islamist PJD party.

Finance Minister Mohamed Boussaid said on Tuesday the planning had been for the second half of the year, but if the central bank decided on the second quarter it would be opportune because of the strong value of the dirham.

He said delaying currency reforms could fuel inflation, which would reflect some of the difficulties faced by Egypt after it floated its pound currency last year.

SUKUK BEFORE SUMMER

Boussaid also said Morocco planned to issue a local sukuk bond before the summer but there were currently no prospects for an international sukuk. Last year, he said Morocco would issue its first ever domestic Islamic bond in the first half of 2017.

Islamic banks and insurers are setting up in Morocco after it adopted legislation allowing them into the domestic market. The central bank has set up a central sharia board with the country’s body of Islamic scholars to oversee the new industry.

Morocco’s trade deficit rose 20.6 percent to 45.47 billion dirham ($4.53 billion) for the first three months of 2017 versus the same period a year ago as imports increased, the state foreign exchange regulator said on Tuesday.

Wheat imports fell 27 percent from a year earlier to 2.54 billion dirhams as a higher rainfall improved the harvest.

Total exports rose 3 percent from a year earlier to 60.13 billion dirhams, helped up by a hefty rise in phosphate exports.

Tourism receipts fell by 4.9 percent, while remittances from the 4.5 million Moroccans who live abroad fell 2.3 percent to 13.82 billion dirhams. Foreign direct investment fell 23.2 percent to 6.6 billion dirhams.

(Reporting by Samia Errazzouki; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by John Stonestreet)

Morocco’s Trade Deficit Rose 20.6 pct To 45.47 Bln Dirhams In 1st Qtr – Regulator

Western Sahara Worldnews - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 08:00

Reuters
by Samia Errazzouki

Morocco’s trade deficit rose 20.6 percent to 45.47 billion dirham ($4.53 billion)for the first three months of 2017 versus the same period a year ago as imports increased, the state foreign exchange regulator said on Tuesday.

($1 = 10.0320 Moroccan dirham)

(Reporting by Samia Errazzouki; writing by Patrick Markey)

Morocco Foresees Bump Cereal Harvest To Exceed 10 Mln Tons

Western Sahara Worldnews - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 04:20

Global Times cn
Source:Xinhua

Morocco expects its cereal harvest to hit a 10.2 million tons, an increase of 203 pct in cereal harvest year-on-year.

The forecast was made on Monday by agriculture minister Aziz Akhannouch in a meeting at the eve of the opening of the annual International Agriculture Fair in the northern city of Meknes.

In 2015, a severe drought hit the country, which compromised the 2016 agriculture production, and on the top of which cereal harvest.

Agriculture accounts for more than 15 percent of the north African country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The good rainfall since October has helped Morocco’s economy grew by 4.3 percent in the first quarter of this year compared with 1.7 percent in the same period of previous year, according to the official High Commission for Planning.

The commission said in a note on the Moroccan economy that this growth was mainly due to the rise in agricultural output by 12.9 percent in the first quarter this year, up from nine percent last year.

Morocco’s International Agriculture Fair, which invited Italy as its guest of honor, will be held on April 18-23

Molinari Makes Magic In Morocco

Western Sahara Worldnews - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 01:15

Golf365

Edoardo Molinari: A winner again.

Edoardo Molinari clinched his first European Tour title in seven years as he beat overnight leader Paul Dunne in a play-off at the Trophée Hassan II.

Molinari finished his fourth round with an eagle to snatch the outright lead but Dunne held his nerve to card a birdie at the last to get to nine under and take the contest to a play-off.

Molinari then boxed his par putt from two feet out for the win after Dunne made five at the first play-off hole.

“It’s fantastic,” Molinari smiled afterwards.

“I’ve been through some very hard times with injuries and bad form.

“To be able to win this week deletes a lot of bad memories and hopefully I can keep going down this road.

“It just shows that you should never give up, you should always keep trying, keep working hard.

“I’ve probably been the player who has spent the most time on the driving range over the last three years. This is a great reward for so much hard work.”

Englishman Paul Waring was alone in third on eight under after carding four birdies and a bogey in his final-round 70.

The venue for the year’s final major, the PGA Championship, is a Pete Dye masterpiece.

The World’s Most Discreet Hotel: Inside Morocco’s Royal Mansour

Western Sahara Worldnews - Mon, 04/17/2017 - 15:52

Daily Mail UK
By Naomi Leach For Mailonline

228K3974_cmjn.jpg

> Royal Mansour opened in 2010, taking three years to build. It sprawls over 1.5 hectares, with 1km of tunnels
> Hand-crafted by over 1,500 artisans, the prestigious address owned by the king had a limitless budget
> The team on Amazing Hotel: Life Beyond the Lobby go behind the scenes to discover unmatched service

A luxurious sanctuary in the ancient medina of Marrakech, the Royal Mansour is arguably one of the world’s most discreet hotels.

Staff navigate one kilometre’s worth of tunnels snaking beneath the lavish property so that service is unrivalled, intuitive and barely seen by guests.

Hand-crafted by over 1,500 artisans, the prestigious address was said to have a limitless budget – and it has a number of spectacular details. The team on BBC show Amazing Hotel: Life Beyond the Lobby visit to unearth its many treasures.

 

A luxurious sanctuary in the ancient medina of Marrakech, the Royal Mansour is arguably one of the world’s most discreet hotels

 

Staff navigate one kilometre’s worth of tunnels snaking beneath the lavish property so that service is unrivalled, intuitive and barely seen by guests

 

Hand-crafted by over 1,500 artisans, the prestigious address was said to have a limitless budget with a number of spectacular details.

Presenters Giles Coren and Monica Galetti go behind the scenes of this glamorous property in the latest episode of the BBC show.

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Royal Mansour opened in 2010 having taken three years to build. It contains over 1.5 hectares of gardens, pools and day pavilions with each guest staying in an individual riad around a ‘medina within the medina’.

The iconic property is owned by King Mohammed VI of Morocco and is designed to regal high standards.

The team on BBC show Amazing Hotel: Life Beyond the Lobby visit to unearth its many treasures. From the private butlers to the silk carpets and opulent chandeliers, the team discover an unexpected magic, hidden in the frenzied chaos of Marrakesh

Royal Mansour has four restaurants overseen by Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alleno.

Monica visits a farm where saffron used in these eateries is picked by Berber women.

Royal Mansour opened in 2010 having taken three years to build. It contains over 1.5 hectares of gardens, pools and day pavilions with each guest staying in an individual riad around a ‘medina within the medina’

Privacy is of the utmost importance, with each of the 53 riads boasting three floors where guests can unwind in their own living room, bedrooms and on rooftops that come complete with their own pool and sun loungers.

Hotel guests can indulge in the hotel’s spa, which features a hammam, or take a day trip to the Atlas Mountains.

Here there are opportunities to ride camels over the sand dunes, dine under Bedouin tents or take a hot air balloon over the Sahara.

Privacy is of the utmost importance, with each of the 53 riads boasting three floors where guests can unwind in their own living room, bedrooms and on rooftops that come complete with their own pool and sun loungers.

Hotel guests can indulge in the hotel’s spa, which features a hammam, or take a daytrip to the Atlas Mountains.

The iconic property is owned by King Mohammed VI of Morocco and is designed to regal high standards.

 

The hotel opened in 2010.

In the fourth episode, restaurant critic Giles Coren dons a butler uniform and heads into the labyrinth of tunnels to see how high levels of service are delivered to heads of states, holidaymakers and royalty alike.

He also has an opportunity to test drive the hotel’s luxury fleet of ten cars, driving a Bentley while working as a chauffeur.

Chef Monica Galetti, meanwhile, discovers the intricate detail that goes into the hotel working with executive housekeeper Laurence, who hand sets 350 pairs of curtains.

In the fourth episode, restaurant critic Giles Coren dons a butler uniform and heads into the labyrinth of tunnels to see how high levels of service are delivered to heads of states, holidaymakers and royalty alike

Chef Monica Galetti, meanwhile, discovers the intricate detail that goes into the hotel working with executive housekeeper Laurence, who hand sets 350 pairs of curtains

Hotel guest have the opportunity to take luxury excursions including riding camels over the sand dunes, dining under Bedouin tents or taking a hot air balloon over the Sahara

Each guest has their own roof terrace in their riad so that they can unwind under the stars in absolute privacy

A luxurious sanctuary in the ancient medina of Marrakech, the Royal Mansour is arguably one of the world’s most discreet hotels
Royal Mansour has four restaurants overseen by Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alleno.

 

Monica visits a farm where saffron used in these eateries is picked by Berber women.

From the private butlers to the silk carpets and opulent chandeliers, the team discover an unexpected magic, hidden in the frenzied chaos of Marrakesh.

Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby will screen on BBC Two on Monday 17 April.

Morocco’s Security Strategy, Practical Model to Fight Terrorism in Sahel: Potomac Institute

The moroccan press - Mon, 04/17/2017 - 14:10

Morocco’s couterterrorism strategy seems to serve as ‘a practical model’ to fight violent extremism in the Sahel, according to a report released by The Inter-University Center on Terrorism Studies (IUCTS) and the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.

“In sum, Rabat’s holistic security strategies, ranging from expanded international cooperation (e.g., joining the African Union) to developing tolerant Islamic approaches, seem to serve as a practical model to bring potential terrorist threats to manageable levels,” the source added.

Categories: The moroccan press

Morocco, North African Oasis which Offers Vision of Stability: Australian Newspaper

The moroccan press - Mon, 04/17/2017 - 13:05

Morocco is a North African oasis which offers a vision of stability, Australian journalist Greg Sheridan wrote in an article published by "The Australian" newspaper.

"Of all the Arab states of North Africa and the Persian Gulf, none has a serious case for emerging from the Arab Spring in better shape than Morocco," the author of the article pointed out.

Its economic growth rate is better than 4.5 per cent and it has democratic elections ultimately producing stable governments, the newspaper’s foreign editor noted.

Categories: The moroccan press

Morocco: 9,000 Streets & 40,000 Dead Ends

Western Sahara Worldnews - Mon, 04/17/2017 - 12:25

National geographic Traveller
By Pól Ó Conghaile

From the labyrinthine Medina of Fez, and the sparkling blue city of Chefchaouen to the mysterious holy town of Moulay Idriss — if you want to get to know Morocco, take a road trip in low season, and get talking to the locals

I’m pinned to the floor of a centuries-old hammam in the foothills of Mount Zerhoun. A bald and bearded attendant in shorts is holding me down like a toddler, scrubbing my skin with a bristly kessa (exfoliating glove) and rinsing the soap off with sloshing buckets of hot water. Just when I think we’re done, he starts stretching me into positions that would make an MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter blush. At one point, my spine pops, chiropractor-style. A steaming group of local men and boys, washing themselves in the small chamber, observe with glee.

If I’d asked for Morocco like a local, this would’ve been the moment I got it. The hammam lies underground in the holy town of Moulay Idriss, northern Morocco. Its chambers are heated by burning thick chunks of aromatic olive wood. The scrub-down peels away embarrassing amounts of dead skin, leaving me the colour of smoked salmon. Steam continues to rise from my head as I return through the medina alleyways to my homestay. It feels like a hazing ritual is complete; that momentarily, this bruising baptism has made me part of the village.

Forget camels and carpets. I’ve come to Morocco in the off-season, seeking to dive deeper than sand dunes and sun resorts. I’d flown into Marrakech, but didn’t stay long. The following morning, I rose early and struck out with a guide and driver towards the Atlas Mountains, starting an itinerary that would also include the hive-like Medina of Fez and the blue-washed walls of Chefchaouen. It’s winter, and tourism is barely a trickle.

“If you want fresh news in Morocco, you need to talk to two people,” says Majid Rouijel, my guide in Moulay Idriss. “The baker and the barber.”

Majid is a honey-voiced local man, born and bred in the tangled-twine alleyways of this hill town (“I spent five years working in insurance in Casablanca,” he tells me. “I didn’t like it. I did an about-turn.”) Majid wears a creamy djellaba (the long, hooded cloak traditionally worn by Moroccans) and seems to know every single soul we pass. When we find the baker, he’s sitting watching a tiny TV perched among shelves loaded with bread. Many families make their own mix in the morning and bring it here for baking, Majid explains. “If a person who usually brings two loaves comes in with four, then something is going on,” he winks.

My walk with Majid is magical because it is so ordinary. Moulay Idriss is a holy place, named for (and home to the remains of) the Prophet Muhammad’s great-grandson. Every August, a religious festival packs out the town, with pilgrims dancing in the streets. It’s just a few miles from the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis, but few Westerners get this far — in fact, non-Muslims weren’t even allowed to stay overnight until 2005. We see a tailor, twirling threads together from an old nail outside his shop. We listen to the call to prayer, and stand aside to let a young man riding a donkey while engrossed in his smartphone go past. We chat about Islam, Morocco’s young population, its European flavours. ‘Bonjour’ is a common greeting here.

At one point, Majid pauses by a studded townhouse door. He points out its modesty, the lack of frills, and hinges containing the Hand of Fatima to ward off the evil eye. Medina houses rarely give much away about who or what lies within, he says. “You never really know until you step inside.”

Luckily, I get to do just that at La Colombe Blanche, a modest riad converted to a guesthouse by Mohamed Zaimi and his wife. That night, we chat in the kitchen as a couscous, chicken and chickpea stew steams and taktouka (a salad of chopped tomatoes and peppers) simmers on the stove. “Moroccan bread is one-day bread,” Mohamed says, when I describe my visit to the baker. “You can’t have it the next day. We like things fresh and in season.” When dinner is ready, we gather around a table surrounded by mosaic tiles, tucking into a hearty feast, followed by a plate of fresh oranges with stems and leaves attached.

After the meal, Mohamed confers with my guide. “Would you like to go where we’re going?” they ask. “Where’s that?” I ask. “The hammam. We’re going for a bath.”

Hamid Filali, a coppersmith at work in the Medina of Fez. Image: Pól Ó Conghaile
It was back in Fez that I’d first asked to meet the owner of a riad (traditional Moroccan house arranged around a courtyard). Mohamed Merri, my guide and translator, took me to Rachid Azami’s home — a 200-year-old building just inside the medina walls. Several generations of Rachid’s family used to live here, he told us over a cup of sweet mint tea, but in recent years they’d converted it into a guesthouse, and had just finished developing another — a ritzier riad just a short walk away. True to Moroccan form, we were soon touring Riad Marjana, with its sparkling tilework, artisan-crafted wood carvings, glittering pool and lush cushions and drapes. The epitome of exotic Moroccan luxury — all it needed was floating flower petals.

“You can go to a hotel anywhere,” Rachid said, proudly posing for a photograph. “But in a riad, you get to feel history as well as see and hear it.”

Bit by bit, my sense of Morocco was filling out. Holidaymakers have been warier of North Africa since the Arab Spring and recent terror attacks, but the Moroccans I spoke to were keen to distinguish their country — as a gateway between East and West, a place with Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, rich in Arabic and Berber heritage, but also with French, Andalucian, Jewish and other threads of influence. Of course, there are niggles — jarring clashes of poverty and wealth, litter in the countryside, Morocco’s infamous faux guides, and the need for a thick skin in souks (particularly for women). Common sense, regular tea breaks and a firm ‘no, shukran’ (no, thanks) should help you keep your cool, however.

The drive from Marrakech to Fez takes nine hours, with stops. From there, it’s almost four hours to Chefchaouen, 3.5 hours looping back to Moulay Idriss and another three to Casablanca. All bum-numbing, but fascinating. The dusty, ochre-tinted outskirts of Marrakech give way to a landscape dotted with olive farms and shepherds tending flocks. In Azrou, storks nest atop of a minaret. In M’Rirt, a man walks an ostrich down the street. Banged-up old Mercs, Peugeots and Renaults trundle along and roadside shacks are commonplace, with fresh flanks of mutton and beef hanging in the open air. We stop at one, ordering a few chops to have grilled over charcoal at the cafe next door.

“My father did this,” the butcher tells me, thwacking the meat so hard with his cleaver it sends specks of bone into the air. His belly is big; his yellowing teeth looking like the last pieces on a chessboard. But he speaks almost perfect English. I ask about the sprigs of mint and coriander tied to the cuts beside us. “The meat is killed and we refrigerate it for about two days,” he says. “Then it’s ready. Moroccans don’t like frozen meat.”

Within a few minutes, the mutton is grilled and delivered — along with a loaf of bread, tomatoes and onions — to our table. We sprinkle pinches of salt and cumin over the meat. It’s messy, finger-lickin’ Moroccan street food. In Fez itself, all roads lead to Fez el Bali (listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the name Medina of Fez). Dating from the ninth century (‘New’ Fez followed in the 14th century, with a later wave of French development completing the mix), the medina is reputedly one of the largest car-free urban zones in the world. “Inside are 9,000 streets and 40,000 dead ends,” quips my guide, Ghazali Hicham, who grew up and went to school inside this maze. “It’s the biggest labyrinth on the planet.”

Fez, a former capital of Morocco, has other attractions — not least the Royal Palace; a busy Jewish Quarter where we stop to taste sfenj (fried Moroccan doughnuts); and Art Naji, where I watch artisans shape, paint and bake their meticulous mosaic tiles and ceramics. But its medina is the highlight. Viewed from the surrounding hills, the old quarter is a dead ringer for Granada’s Albaicín — albeit much, much larger; its chino-coloured houses stacked so densely you can’t see the alleys between them. Inside, it’s like stepping into medieval times.

Two or three turns is all it takes for me to get lost. “What about that one?” Ghazali smiles, gesturing to the dimly-lit laneway ahead. “Is it a way out, or a dead end?” Gradually, we wind our way towards the markets. I marvel at the blue hands of a clothes dyer; at a camel’s head suspended from a hook; at men washing hides in the great colourful vats of a tannery — overhead, tourists watch from the balconies of leather shops, holding mint under their noses to ward off the stink.

If Djemaa-el-Fna, in Marrakech, can seem like a carnival, this is pure street theatre. Wasps buzz around sticky treats. Antique shops glimmer. Keyhole doors lead to centuries-old schools and mosques. You might catch the whiff of goat’s cheese, or hear the whirr of a loom. School kids brush by with satchels; men wander past, Jedi-like in their djellabas. Every now and then, there’s a cry of ‘balak!’ (‘watch out!’) as a worker barges by with a cart or a mule. There are hidden riads and restaurants like Cafe Clock — established by Mike Richardson, the former maître d’ of London’s The Wolseley and The Ivy (I stop by, and am persuaded to try the camel burger). All of human life seems packed into this ancient honeycomb.

On Place Seffarine, coppersmiths hammer pots and pans, as they have done for centuries. I ask one of them, Hamid Filali, what his apprenticeship was like. “The kiss was as sweet as the bite was tough,” he replies cryptically, beating out the metal to a hypnotic rhythm — bam-bam-ba-bam, bam-bam-ba-bam…

I feel like a time traveller, but wonder how long it’ll all last. Ghazali’s father was a shoemaker here, but he didn’t want his children to be. “It was just too hard a life,” his son tells me.

Chefchaouen, three hours north in the Rif Mountains, is similarly exotic. The old town here is an Instagramer’s paradise, almost completely painted blue. Why? There are several theories — one that the limewash helps keep mosquitoes away; another that it originated with Jewish residents, who believed the colour echoed the sky, encouraging a more spiritual life. Whatever the origin, it’s enchanting — Morocco’s ‘Blue Pearl’ is like the pueblos blancos of Andalucia taken to another, almost psychedelic level. Brightly coloured flower pots, shady vines, lazing cats, bunches of mint and hanging rugs punctuate the backdrop.

Of course, Chefchaouen is no longer really a ‘secret’ — in warmer months, Moroccan visitors and travellers taking the ferry from Spain clog the streets (there’s no shortage of souvenir shops or laminated menus). But visiting in low season skips both the heat and the crowds — as does getting up early.

At 5.30am, I’m woken by the twin alarms of cocks crowing outside the Dar Echchaouenhotel and calls to prayer moaning from the minarets. I grab a quick breakfast, before hiking a 20-minute trail up a mountain behind the hotel for a view over the town. ‘Chaouen’, as locals call it, takes its name from the Berber word for ‘horns’, sitting as it does between two peaks. Walking back down through the medina, I chance on a Thursday market where women from Berber villages have laid their wares out on blankets — tiny turnips (“very small, but very delicious,” as Mohamed says) and milk in reclaimed plastic vessels. Some wear traditional straw hats and red-and-white-striped aprons. I ask what kind of milk they’re selling. “Moo!” replies an older lady, and we share a chuckle. With Mohamed translating, we swap little details about our children and the weather, and we exchange blessings. As we take our leave, I ask one of the ladies if I can take her photo. She demurs. “Mafi mouchkila,” I say — using one of the most adaptable Arabic phrases I’ve learned on my trip. “No problem.”

One place the women’s turnips won’t end up is in the belly of Mustafa Bakkali, whom I find flitting between the kitchen and dining rooms of Bab Ssour. Three years ago, this intimate clutch of rooms — which we enter via a small grocery shop — was a family home. Today, the same food is being cooked by the same women in the same kitchen, only now it’s served to a mix of locals and tourists sitting elbow-to-elbow in a restaurant. Voices snap from a kitchen visible through an arched gap in the wall (“It sounds like they’re arguing, but they couldn’t be happier,” Mustafa says), and I gobble up a goat tagine that arrives sizzling in a skillet and costs all of 35 dirham (£2.70). “It’s the same food we eat at home,” Mustafa adds. I wonder which dish is his favourite. “I eat it all,” he replies with impressive gesticulations for such a small space. “Except turnip.”

After a week exploring the cities, towns and villages of the north, driving into Casablanca feels like a return to the real world. Snarling traffic marks the entrance to Morocco’s biggest city, and any romantic notions based on the 1942 movie are quickly scotched (there’s a replica Rick’s Bar, a gin lounge and restaurant dating from 2004, but the Humphrey Bogart classic was shot on a Hollywood sound stage). I stay for a night, moseying around the medina, Hassan II Mosque, corniche and art deco strips, stopping for a final mint tea, poured from a silver teapot near Place 16 Novembre.

It’s all well and good, but I’m surprised how quickly I begin to pine for Fez, Moulay Idriss and Chefchaouen. “Hello, friend! Bonjour!” a hustler hisses. “Berber market? Berber market, this way!”
“No, shukran,” I reply.

ESSENTIALS
Getting there & around

Royal Air Maroc flies from Heathrow to Casablanca. TAP Portugal also flies via Lisbon; as does Iberia via Madrid. A range of airlines, including British Airways, Ryanairand EasyJet, fly from the UK to Marrakech.

Average flight time: 3h 15m.

Trains, buses, and grands (collective) and petits (local) taxis cover most of Morocco. Self-driving (on the right) is an option, with regular police checkpoints and a decent network of motorways.

When to go

Avoid the peak-season (July-September) heat and mayhem; spring and autumn are less crowded with fresher weather. Winter can be cold, but you’ll be one of very few tourists. Ramadan is 16 May-14 June.

More info
visitmorocco.com

How to do it

Intrepid Travel offers a nine-day North Morocco Adventure, starting from Casablanca and travelling to Moulay Idriss, Fez, Chefchaouen and Tangier before finishing in Marrakech. From £530 per person, including accommodation, transport, guides, activities and selected meals (flights extra).
Published in the May 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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