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Remembering Algeria 1992: The First Arab Spring That Never Became A Summer

Mon, 01/09/2017 - 22:30

Middle East Eye
Peter Speetjens

The forgotten Algerian civil war that killed as many as 200,000 people set the tone for the ‘Arab Spring’ and the paradox of democracy.

On 11 January, it will be exactly 25 years since Algeria’s military staged a coup to prevent the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) from winning the first multi-party elections after the country’s independence.

What could have been the start of an early Algerian spring – years before anyone dared speak of a so-called Arab one – instead triggered a cruel and dirty decade-long civil war.

Murder, torture, disappearances and the slaughter of whole villages became commonplace. An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people were killed in what is today a by and large forgotten chapter.

An Algerian spring

Unfortunately, the Algerian conflict bears some remarkable parallels with the events that have been unfolding in the Arab world since the end of 2010.

For example, it all started in a very similar fashion with a series of mass demonstrations and riots.

As the oil price fell and Algeria’s economy went into crisis mode, the country’s disenchanted youth in 1988 took to the streets in protest against rising unemployment and poverty levels. This, in addition to a widely shared belief that the country’s immense gas and oil riches never reached the pockets of the common man.

In response to the protests, which saw hundreds of people killed, the National Liberation Front (FLN), Algeria’s sole political entity, amended the constitution to allow for free multiple-party elections for the first time since independence.

Thus, in 1989, the FIS was born. Strongly influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, the party quickly gained in popularity. It became the biggest party in the municipal elections of June 1990 and went on to win the first round of the parliamentary elections in December 1991 with twice as many votes as the ruling FLN.

Supporters of the FIS gather in the streets of Algiers a day after the first round of Algeria’s free parliamentary elections on 27 December 1991 (AFP)

The latter, however, has always been intimately linked with the military, which by then had become seriously concerned at the prospect of losing power and privileges. They were not the only ones that started to worry.

Blessings of the West

The Americans were not pleased with the FIS’s outspoken opposition to the first Gulf War, nor its pro-Palestinian stance.

Algeria’s former colonial ruler France, which continued to have a strong hand in the country’s economy, grew increasingly nervous about the FIS’s rhetoric to phase out French language, culture and influence.

Hence, Washington and Paris gave the green light for the Algerian military on 11 January 1992 to cancel the parliamentary elections’ second round and declare a state of emergency. Two months later, the FIS was banned altogether.

A member of Algerian security forces arrests two FIS sympathisers in the Bab el Oued quarter of Algiers on 31 January 1992 (AFP)

Seeing the Egyptian coup of July 2013 and subsequent ban of the Muslim Brotherhood, it seems the Egyptian military had not forgotten the early Algerian spring.

“We pursued a policy of excluding the radical fundamentalists in Algeria even as we recognised that this was somewhat at odds with our support of democracy,” former US Secretary of State James Baker later explained.

The Algerian people were to pay a heavy toll for the America’s selective love of democracy. Following the coup, tens of thousands of FIS members and sympathisers were arrested. Those who did not end up in a Sahara detention camp went into exile or took up arms.

Arrival of the mysterious GIA

At first, the struggle was dominated by the Armed Islamic Movement (MIA), which was linked to the FIS. Soon, however, the mysterious Armed Islamic Group (GIA) appeared.

Operating in and around Algiers, it was mainly the GIA that committed the most gruesome atrocities. Decapitations, for example, were a regular occurence in Algeria long before the Islamic State (IS) videotaped them and shocked the world through YouTube.

While nominally Islamists, it is today painfully clear that the GIA was infiltrated by Algeria’s secret services. Several former Algerian intelligence officers have admitted as much.

The aim of committing atrocities was to show the country’s Islamists in a bad light, break their support base and force the Algerian people to embrace the regime as the lesser of two evils. Some argue that the Syrian regime, at least to some extent, has taken played a similar game with IS.

One could argue that from an Algerian regime point of view the strategy worked. Gradually, the violence declined and the war ended with the death of the last GIA emir Antar Zouabri in 2002.

Repressive legacy

The country is still ruled by a triangle composed of the military, FLN and security services. Although the state of emergency was lifted in 2011, it is they who decide on the country’s main policies, postings and spheres of influence.

Illustrative of the general state of affairs in Algeria is that for many years the country’s most powerful man was General Mohamed “Toufik” Mediène, head of the Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS). From 1990 until 2015, Algeria’s spy chief could make or break anyone.

Meanwhile, Algeria has hardly moved an inch up the liberty ladder. The freedoms of expression, association and assembly are severely restricted.

One journalist in 2016 was detained for questioningPresident Bouteflika’s health, another for questioning corruption.

Corruption is rampant in Algeria. In 2010, the Sonatrach scandal erupted. Good for some 98 percent of the country’s foreign currency receipts, Algeria’s state-owned oil company has excelled in bribes and kickbacks for people linked to those in power.

One Italian firm, for example, allegedly paid company officials $207m to obtain a contract worth $8.4bn. The country’s main highway connecting east and west is said to be the world’s most expensive road ever built.

Still, while countries such as neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt were confronted with popular uprisings, Algeria in recent years remained relatively quiet.

A mix of minimal political reforms and a rise in public sector expenditure seems to have done enough to keep people happy and off the streets.

The question is for how long? In terms of freedom, fair representation and equal distribution, hardly anything has changed in the country since the late 1980s.

Yet, as in the late 1980s, the oil price has crashed and Algeria is confronted by a growing economic crisis.

Exports in 2015 nearly halved, the local currency decreased in value, while the fiscal deficit nearly doubled and youth unemployment increased to close to 30 percent.

If the authorities are forced to cut some of the many subsidies that keep the poor on their feet, 11 January 1992 may suddenly seem a whole lot less than 25 years ago.

– Peter Speetjens is a Dutch journalist who lived in Lebanon for 20 years, regularly travels to India and has a special interest in how 19th-century writers helped shape our conceptions of the world today.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Several thousands of FIS supporters attend a campaign rally at the Algiers Olympic Stadium, three days before the first round of legislative elections on 23 December 1991 (AFP)

Chariot Oil & Gas Looks Forward To Drilling Now Morocco Deal With Eni Is Complete

Mon, 01/09/2017 - 15:19

Proactive Investors
by Jamie Ashcroft

“This agreement continues to demonstrate Chariot’s ability to deliver on its strategy of securing third-party validation through partnering, and we are excited that we will now take one of our priority targets through to drilling,” said Chief Executive Larry Bottomley.

Chariot Oil & Gas Limited (LON:CHAR) has confirmed that its farm-out deal with Eni, bringing the Italian major into the Rabat Deep project offshore Morocco, is now complete.

Eni now becomes the operator and a 40% stakeholder in Rabat Deep where a well is planned for 2018, following an environmental impact assessment and the hiring of contractors.

Chariot retains 10% of the project.

The terms of the farm-out deal mean that Chariot’s participation in the proposed well will be paid for by Eni.

Chariot Chief Executive Larry Bottomley said: “We are pleased to have satisfied all conditions precedent and welcome Eni as the operator of the Rabat Deep acreage.

“This agreement continues to demonstrate Chariot’s ability to deliver on its strategy of securing third-party validation through partnering, and we are excited that we will now take one of our priority targets through to drilling.

“Retaining a 10% equity interest in this well has the potential to create transformational value in the success case due to the large scale prospective resources, excellent contract commercial terms and robust economics.

“Success will also materially de-risk other targets we have identified within our neighbouring Mohammedia permits in which we hold a 75% interest.”

Tourism Revenue Of $6 Billion Boosting Moroccan Budget

Mon, 01/09/2017 - 13:23

Tourism Review
Top story

Morocco reported record tourism revenue for 2016 – 59.4 billion dirhams (about 5.8 billion dollars) at the end of November 2016.

The Kingdom of Morocco announced the biggest tourism revenue on the African continent. Abderrafie Zouitene, Director General of the Moroccan National Tourist Board, said in an interview: “Before, Morocco received on average 800 to 1,000 tourists per month, and today our resorts welcome more than 6,000 visitors per month.”

According to the American channel CNN, Marrakech is one of the top tourist destinations in the world. The city was even named 7th destination to visit this year by the famous British channel National Geographic as well as 3rd world destination worth visiting according to Trip Advisor. No doubt, Marrakech is popular, and not only for stars!

It should be noted that Morocco is already making more use of the tourism industry with 52 hotel projects already launched, another record on the continent.

Morocco: Security Services Gains As Terror Threat Grows

Sun, 01/08/2017 - 13:13

Modern Tokyo Times
by Lee Jay

Moroccan investigators arrested an alleged jihadist with links to al-Qaeda in the city of Azrou in November. The man, a computer engineer, had disseminated jihadist propaganda and was suspected of involvement in online banking fraud that had allowed him to seize large sums of money, according to the authorities.

Reports quoting the interior ministry linked the man to al-Qaeda and Jabat Fateh al-Sham in Syria (Morocco World News, November 20).

The arrest follows the successful dismantling in June of a supposed Islamic State (IS) terrorist cell, composed of six people with links to IS in Libya. The group was operational in the cities of Agadir, Amzmiz, Chichaoua and Laqliaâ and was planning suicide attacks, according to Moroccan authorities (Tel Quel, July 2016). In May, the security services arrested a 33-year-old Chadian man accused of leading an IS cell in Tangiers. He was suspected of planning an attack equivalent to the devastating Casablanca bombings in 2003, in which 33 people were killed; in November, a court jailed him for 20 years on terrorism charges (Morocco World News, November 11).

Morocco has seen a number of attacks since the 2003 Casablanca bombing, including one blamed on al-Qaeda that killed 17 people in Marrakesh in 2011. But for a country that is a key exporter of Islamist recruits to jihadist causes abroad – by some estimates at least 1,500 Moroccans are fighting for IS in Syria and Iraq, and that number may even be higher – its security services have proved relatively successful at countering terrorist threats at home (Daily Sabah, November 8, 2015). Its foreign intelligence service also maintains good relations with its European counterparts. Following the attacks in Paris in 2015, the Moroccan authorities tipped off French police leading to the raid on the flat where the attacks’ alleged mastermind, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgium national of Moroccan origin, was hiding out.

The success is partly a matter of experience – the authorities have been tracking Moroccan fighters at least since the 1979–1989 Soviet-Afghan war, in which hundreds of Moroccans took part. But Morocco also benefits from having one of the region’s more open political landscapes, which has allowed it counter negative socio-economic factors such as high youth unemployment. Morocco’s successful weathering of the “Arab Spring,” and its measured response to the recent protests over the killing of a fisherman – he was crushed to death in a garbage truck after refusing to pay a bribe to police – are a testament to this (New Arab, October 30).

Nonetheless, the Moroccan authorities must remain vigilant. In an audio recording obtained by al-Jazeera in May, the head of the so-called Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, threatened attacks on Morocco (al-Jazeera, May 4). While it is highly doubtful al-Sahrawi’s group has that kind of capacity, the recent arrests indicate Morocco remains at risk from attacks by domestic terrorist cells.

The Jamestown Foundation kindly allows Modern Tokyo Times to publish their highly esteemed articles. Please follow and check The Jamestown Foundation website at http://www.jamestown.org/

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Photo Source: Site of the 2011 Marrakesh bombing (Source: Reuters) provided in the original article by The Jamestown Foundation.

Publication: Terrorism Monitor
By: Alexander Sehmer
The Jamestown Foundation

$10m Grant To Mohammad V Foundation In Morocco

Sun, 01/08/2017 - 05:51

Gulf News

Shaikh Mohammad’s gesture comes in line with the strong relations binding the leaderships and people of the two countries.

Abu Dhabi: His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, granted $10 million to the Mohammad V Foundation for Solidarity in Morocco.

Shaikh Mohammad’s gesture comes in line with the strong relations binding the leaderships and people of the two countries and their cooperation in various fields, especially in humanitarian work.

The foundation’s board members extended their profound thanks to Shaikh Mohammad for his gesture.

Fears On ‘Arab Spring’ Seeping Into Algeria

Sat, 01/07/2017 - 15:05

ASHARQ AL-AWSAT

Algeria- Seven years ago, a regional wave of protests to topple authoritarian regimes in the Arab world came to be known as the ‘Arab Spring.’

The same popular uprisings against corruption in power have become a great threat to order in the North African state Algeria.

Algeria’s government loudly sounded its concerns following street protests that witnessed acts of arson and vandalism of public and private property.

Imams across the nation have complied with the government’s request on delivering a Friday speech which raises awareness on the down side to compromising national security. Imams are the religious priests which not only lead prayers at mosques but also deliver speeches concerning the Muslim community.

All Imams had received a statement from the Ministry of Religious Affairs on Thursday night which gave a number of directives that strongly stress the importance of security and stability, also as a core principal to Sharia law, and a religious duty that falls upon all citizens.

The directives relayed to national Mosques keep in line with the strong language used by Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal when commenting on the protests ripping through eastern provinces on Monday and Tuesday.

Speaking during a ceremony for the 2015 copyrights fee payments at the Culture Palace in Algiers, the Premier said that “unknown parties are behind the recent protests that occurred in some regions of the country, notably in Bejaia, and which try to destabilize the country.”

In his first remarks since the outbreak of these protests, Sellal said that “Algeria is a stable country,” and that “any attempts to destabilize it will not be successful,” adding that these protests “are not related to the Arab Spring.”

The State “will block any attempt aiming the destabilization of Algeria,” he underscored.

Describing those incidents as “positive lessons” which will incite his government to work more, the minister welcomed the position taken by the Algerian youth and families, and the reactions of the organizations and the political parties-from all tendencies- which have shown “political maturity during these incidents.”

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

Arab Winter: Dispatch From Algiers – OpEd

Sat, 01/07/2017 - 14:56

Eurasia Review
by Vijay Prashad

At the mouth of Algiers’ fabled Casbah sits the decommissioned Serkardji prison. During the struggle to free Algeria from French rule, combatants and militants found themselves housed in this awful jail. “It is hell,” wrote Rabah Bitat, one of the founders of the National Liberation Front (FLN), who had spent time in the prison. “Men are beaten with iron bars, the heat is horrible and they are given salted water to drink.” The prison sits silent now and is being turned into a Museum of National Memory.

Commemoration of the war of independence is everywhere inside Algiers. A short walk from Serkardji, inside the Casbah, is a water tap encased in a beautiful tile overhang. The plaque above says that the water tap is in honour of four militants, each of whom was guillotined in Serkardji in 1957: Touati Said, Radi Hmida, Rahal Boualem and Bellamine Mohand. Certainly, streets are named for the great heroes of the FLN—Larbi Ben Mahdi and Mourad Didouche—and there are statues in the major squares of the great figures of national liberation such as the 19th century rebel Abdelkader. But these are memorials of the state. The little water tap is a more modest, more popular memorial. So too are pictures on the walls of restaurants and shops. A restaurant at the Circle of Martyrs is named for Abderrahmane Taleb, a young chemistry student who was the main bomb-maker for the FLN in Algiers in the 1950s. Taleb was guillotined at Serkaradji in 1958. “For Algerians,” Taleb said at his trial to his French judge, “the guillotine will henceforth have the same significance as the cross in your churches.”

Down the road from the water tap, past many men on crutches, veterans of one war or another, is the workshop of the carpenter Khaled Mahiout. On his wall, he has pictures of old Algeria. In the midst of the gallery is a shrine to Zohra Drif, the woman who had bombed the Milk Bar, a frequent stop for French settlers between trips to the beach and their homes. That bombing deepened the French attack on the Casbah, the heart of the resistance inside Algiers. The bomb blast was in retaliation for the killing of FLN militants at Serkadji. When challenged about the bombings of civilian areas, the FLN leader Abane Ramdane said: “I see hardly any difference between the girl who places a bomb in the Milk Bar and the French aviator who bombards a mechta [village neighbourhood] or drops napalm on a zone interdite [restricted zone].”

The morality of the anti-colonial war was stark. Harsh racism and violence was visited upon Algerians. It was common for the French to refer to the Algerian as sale raton, dirty little rat, which morphed into ratonnade, the rat hunt, which was the French phrase for their massacres of Algerians. “We were not brought up to hate,” said Zohra Drif many years later. She remembered Larbi Ben Mahdi’s interaction with a French journalist, who asked him if it was not cowardly to use “women’s baskets to carry bombs”. He answered, “Doesn’t it seem even more cowardly to attack defenceless villages with napalm bombs that kill thousands of times more? Obviously, planes would make things easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our baskets.”

Akram’s caution

A young boy, Akram, runs past me. He is on his way home from school. The Casbah is known as a place of great poverty although what one sees is a great dignity. Corrugated iron roofs are repaired with strips of plastic, held down with bricks. TV dishes sprout like mushrooms beside colourful bedding, which is drying in the winter sun. Old buildings seem perilously close to collapse. Children run through the streets, cheerful. Akram is like them. I ask him innocently: “All good with you?” He bristles at my question. “How can we be good? You know our situation,” he says with his hands gesturing to the area.

A decade ago, Boudina Mustapha, a former death-row prisoner at Serkadji who escaped the guillotine, told the government newspaper El Moudjahid about his concerns for the youth. “It’s a disaster,” he said. “Today we see 20-year-olds throwing themselves into the sea to flee this country. While I, when I was the same age, was sentenced to death.” To commemorate the foundation of the country is one thing; to provide hope to young people in the present is another.

A new report titled “Researching Arab Mediterranean Youth: Towards a New Social Contract” shows that Algeria suffers from a youth unemployment rate of 32 per cent. This is a striking figure. Mustafa Morane, who teaches sociology and population studies at the University of Khemis Miliana, authored the chapter on Algeria. He says that the government’s approach to youth unemployment is to offer grants for entrepreneurship. But the education system, he says, does not “provide the minimum needs of the labour market”, meaning that the youth do not have the skills necessary to take advantage of the loans. Migration, Morane writes in his study, is a “last resort” for the youth. There is a great deal of potential for the youth in Algeria, an oil-rich country, says Morane, but the government does not have a policy for the youth.

Meeting Abdelhakim Bettache, Mayor of Algiers Centre, provides a window into the problems faced by the country. Bettache is sitting across from the old post office, which is closed and which will be renovated into another museum. I ask him about the situation of the unemployed, almost one in three young Algerians. “They are the luxury jobless,” he says with a smirk. “They have a packet of cigarettes, an iPhone and a cup of coffee.” There is, Bettache says, “no problem of the unemployed. There are no protests for jobs.” His certainty is unnerving.

There is no point raising the issues of the Mouvement des Chomeurs (the Movement of the Unemployed) with Bettache. On July 5, 2012, Tahar Belabes, from the provincial town of Ouargla, led a protest in Algiers’ May 1 Square. The protest was the first major action of the National Committee for the Defence of the Rights of Unemployed Workers. The state arrested some of their key activists. They are still in operation, hoping to bring the question of the youth, such as young Akram, to the centre of discussions about Algeria’s future.

War and Oil

The Casbah is marked not only by the Algerian war of independence against the French but also by the “black decade” of the 1990s when the Algerian state plunged into war against extremist elements (formed around the Islamic Salvation Front and the Armed Islamic Group). In 1962, a popular slogan that echoed across Algeria was Seba’a snin, barakat! (Seven years, that’s enough!). The slogan suggested the exhaustion of the Algerian people with the privations and dangers of the war of independence, which lasted from 1954 to 1961. But three decades later, Algeria lurched once more into a terrible war that claimed tens of thousands of lives. There are few monuments to this war. It is not only an embarrassment but also a festering sore.

No stomach for rebellion

The Arab Spring did not come full-throated into Algeria largely because of the experience with civic disorder in the 1990s. What has happened to Libya and to Syria further discourages any kind of rebellion. There is no stomach for it. Extremism was not expelled from Algeria. The army was able to defeat the Armed Islamic Group with ferocious violence, but its hardened fighters lurk on the margins of Algeria (which is a vast country, four times the size of France). One of its allies, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda and became the core of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The AQIM operates in the Sahara, across terrain that cuts through southern Algeria to link Libya to Mali. Old veterans of the “black decade” in Algeria and of the Afghan wars—such as Mokhtar Belmokhtar and Abdelhamid Abou Zeid—led the AQIM to victory in northern Mali and then led attacks on Algerian oil installations. Their presence dampens any possibility for protests in Algeria.

In 2013, Belmokhtar’s unit seized the gas fields at Amenas in southern Algeria and took 800 people hostage. The Algerian army fought them off but only after considerable loss of life. Striking the gas and oil fields in the south points a finger at Algeria’s great vulnerability—it relies on oil and gas to maintain its social peace. With energy prices low, Algeria’s state exchequer suffers. Any attack such as this threatens the stability of the country. Foreign investment will dry up and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will downgrade Algeria’s ability to borrow money to cover its fragile balance of payments.

Over the past decade, the Algerian government has hoped to enter into private-public partnerships to reinvigorate its energy sector. Foreign energy companies and the IMF have urged Algeria to liberalise its economy. In 2000, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika selected Chakib Khelil to run the Oil Ministry, Abdul Latif Benachenhou to be the Finance Minister and Abdulhamid al-Tamar to be the Minister of Privatisation. These were the “economic reformers” who would deliver Algeria to globalisation. In 2005, these men, with backing from the army, pushed a new hydrocarbons law that allowed foreign domination of Algeria’s essential sector, energy. The Workers’ Party, led by Louisa Hanoune, and others fought against the sale of oil and gas to foreign companies. A few years later, the government changed its mind. The “reformers” found themselves out of job and Algeria retained its old laws.

Samia Zennadi, who runs the publishing house APIC Editions, told me about the role played by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in this struggle. When Chavez heard that Algeria, a crucial country in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), was going to privatise its oil, he made an unscheduled visit to meet Bouteflika. Chavez made the case that selling the oil would weaken Algeria and open it up to colonial intervention. Bouteflika, who had not taken the protests as seriously as he should have, listened intently to Chavez. The oil and natural gas reserves are located in the south of the country. Chavez warned that foreign interference would push for the partition of the country, just as in Sudan, with the oil wealth in the hands of a weak pro-Western government and poverty to be managed in the other half. Bouteflika reversed his decision.

There is no Chavez to counsel Bouteflika now. Khelil, who was sacked in the middle of a corruption scandal in 2013, is back at the helm of the Oil Ministry. He will once more push to liberalise the oil industry. None of these “reformers” will take seriously the Mouvement Anti-Gaz de Schiste (Movement against Fracking of Natural Gas). Samia Zennadi believes that the political contest within the ruling bloc is not settled. Many people still believe that Algeria should not sell off its oil and gas reserves. Whether they will prevail is to be seen.

Small Voices of History

In a basement in Algiers is the office of the Democratic and Social Movement (MDS), the former Communist Party of Algeria. The party’s leader, Hamid Ferhi, and a young activist of the party, Fahem Dahi, tell me about their aspirations for Algeria. In January 2011, during the high point of the Arab Spring, the MDS joined other parties to form the National Coordination for Change and Democracy. Yacine Teguia of the MDS told journalists at that time: “We are sick of seeing young people having no prospect but to kill themselves. Today, we have workers who are threatening to commit collective suicide. We can either get together and express ourselves democratically and develop collective solutions, or we can leave people facing a wall, facing death.” The pressure by the organisation moved Bouteflika to end the state of emergency that had been ongoing for two decades. But Bouteflika did not allow any demonstrations to take place.

The MDS, nonetheless, has been involved, says Ferhi, in a number of initiatives on a consistent basis. The shadow of the “black decade” hangs over our conversation. Fahem shows me around the MDS office, which is being converted into a people’s art gallery with a coffee shop and a performance space. One room has bundles of clothes and a washing machine. Fahem tells me that this is for homeless people. The party has to do something for the social crisis. Fahem has a warm smile. These small gestures pave the road for something grander. He has great hope for Algeria.

This essay originally appeared in Frontline (India).

About the Author

Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT. Prashad is the author of seventeen books. He can be reached at: vijay.prashad@trincoll.edu

Morocco Eyes AU’s Membership

Sat, 01/07/2017 - 12:48

Nigeria News Agency NAN

Botswana has supported moves by Morocco to return to the African Union, Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi has said.

After 32 years of absence, Morocco is expected to re-join the Africa Union (AU) during the block’s summit this month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, APA said on Saturday.

According to statement, Venson-Moitoi said “only by working together, will we minimize the obstacles hindering the pursuit of good living opportunities for our peoples.”

Venson-Moitoi revealed this following a meeting with Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Salaheddine Mezouar in Rabat.

“During this meeting, we discussed various aspects of cooperation between Morocco and Botswana, with the aim of strengthening and developing this cooperation to serve the interests of our two peoples,” Venson-Moitoi said.

She expressed her conviction that Morocco and Botswana could serve as a “model to follow for the African continent”.

The Botswana minister also hailed the strong commitment of the Moroccan presidency of 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in favour of environmental protection.

She called for the two countries to join forces to face poverty and create employment for young people.

Moroccan leader recently embarked on diplomatic shuttle to African countries, including Nigeria, to drum support for the country’s bid to re-join AU.

Morocco’s Economy Grows 1.2 Per Cent In Fourth Quarter

Sat, 01/07/2017 - 03:38

Gulf Today
Reuters

Morocco’s economy grew 1.2 per cent year-on-year in the fourth quarter, the country’s planning agency said on Thursday, at the end of a year in which a harsh drought hurt the key agriculture sector.

The agency forecast national output would expand 3.9 per cent in the first quarter of 2017, buoyed by a surge in farming output which slumped 12.3 per cent in the final three months of 2016 following North Africa’s worst drought in decades.

Morocco said 2016’s cereal harvest plummeted 70 per cent to 3.35 million tonnes from 2015’s record 11 million tonnes. Agricultural output would increase 11.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2017, the agency said.

Farming accounts for more than 15 per cent of Morocco’s more-than $100 billion economy and is the country’s biggest employer.

Growth in Morocco’s non-agricultural sectors accelerated to 2.5 per cent in the fourth quarter from 1.9 per cent in the previous three months, the agency said. Morocco’s central bank predicts economic growth will jump to 4.2 per cent in 2017 from an estimated 1.2 per cent last year on the back of a sharp increase in agricultural output.

Morocco has done more than most North African countries to make painful reforms required by international lenders to curb deficits, such as an end to fuel subsidies and a freeze on public sector hiring.

It is also preparing to introduce a flexible exchange rate system later this year.

Reuters

Euronews: Morocco’s Energy, Health Sectors, Success Stories In Africa

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 12:40

The North Africa Post

Euronews has recently published a report shedding light on some of the projects that turned out to be success stories at the continental level, making the kingdom a model to follow in Africa.

“Morocco has been taking solid steps to apply its development strategy to improve its economic growth and presence in regional markets,” said the European news platform, adding that the success of the projects led by the Moroccan enterprises is largely driven by two sectors: energy and health.

In this regards, the European news outlet zooms on the projects launched as part of Morocco’s export promotion strategy, Maroc Export, in collaboration with the African Development Bank.

In the energy sector, special attention was given to Fabrilec a firm that put up to 800 km of power lines across Burkina Faso in addition to Energy Transfo which has recently won a Great Africa award for its work highlighting “Made in Morocco” across the continent.

As for the health sector, Euronews highlights the breakthrough made by CooperPharma in Rwanda where it will build a new factory.

Posted by North Africa Post

North Africa Post’s news desk is composed of journalists and editors, who are constantly working to provide new and accurate stories to NAP readers.

Panic In Algeria Over Potential Eviction Of Polisario From AU, Jeune Afrique Says

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 12:34

The North Africa Post

As soon as Morocco expressed and submitted its reintegration request to the African Union, panic spread among the kingmakers in the Algerian regime amid prospects of an upcoming eviction of the Polisario from the pan-African organisation, France-based Algerian journalist Farid Alilat wrote on Jeune Afrique magazine.

The journalist, who is well versed on Algerian domestic politics, gave an analysis showing Algeria’s desperate schemes to foil Morocco’s bid to regain its legitimate place within Africa’s institutional family. Citing several editorials of Algerian regime mouthpieces such as EL Moujahid newspaper, Farid Alilat writes that the military junta in Algiers is set on hindering Morocco’s African endeavor.

Alilat notes that Algerian officials have been so far orchestrating a propaganda campaign through the media claiming that Morocco’s return to the African union will create divisions within the organization.

Moreover, Algerian media and diplomacy has indulged in a vicious circle of terminology manipulation by saying that Morocco is rather seeking an “adhesion” or “integration” of the African union instead of a reintegration or return.

In this respect, the journalist quotes Ramtane Lamamra, Algeria’s foreign minister saying that “Morocco is welcome as a 55th member of the African union on an equal footing in rights and obligations with the other current 54 members.”

The journalist notes, however, that the Algerian political class is not unanimous in showing hostility to Morocco. Lakhdar Brahimi, Algerian United Nations diplomat and former foreign minister, recently called for normalizing ties with Morocco and opening the closed land borders.

The Polisario Front has been warned by one of its continental backers that there are odds that its seat as member of the African Union is at risk as several countries aligned with Morocco are set to vote for the eviction of the separatist front and its self-proclaimed pseudo Sahrawi Republic (SADR) from the Union.

A team led by Legal Affairs Adviser of the outgoing chairperson of the African Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has travelled to Tindouf camp in Algeria to inform members of the separatist movement of the future loss of their seat within the pan-African organization, Moroccan daily Assabah reported recently.

At the latest African Union summit, 28 states expressed full support for Morocco’s reintegration of the African institutional family and called for suspending the membership of the Algerian-backed polisario separatist entity. The number of backers of Morocco’s return to the AU has since then increased to about 40.

Posted by North Africa Post

North Africa Post’s news desk is composed of journalists and editors, who are constantly working to provide new and accurate stories to NAP readers.

CIA Warns Morocco Of Daesh Attacks

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 09:06

Middle East Monitor

The US Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA, has warned Morocco that Daesh could carry out attacks in Morocco and Tunisia using trucks similar to those in Berlin and Nice in the coming days.

Morocco’s Al-Sabbah newspaper revealed yesterday that the CIA has warned Morocco specifically that Daesh may have instructed its members to return to their home countries for the purpose of organising truck attacks and targeting crowds at important, well-populated events.

The CIA report noted that nearly 30 per cent of Daesh foreign fighters have recently escaped from conflict zones in Iraq and Syria and returned to their home countries.

Algeria has recently tightened controls at its border with Tunisia fearing returning members of the Jundullah terrorist group may hit strategic interests in the country.

The Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations (BCIJ) estimated that some 1,500 Moroccan have joined Daesh.

Hilton Continues Moroccan Expansion With First Hotel In Casablanca

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 03:19

EIN NEWS

Hilton (NYSE: HLT) (www.Hilton.com) has signed a management agreement with Group Sadiki (www.GroupSadiki.com) to open its first hotel in Casablanca.

The news follows the conclusion of a landmark year for Hilton in Morocco which saw it re-establish a presence in the country in March 2016, with the opening of Hilton Garden Inn Tanger City Center.

The mid-scale Hilton Garden Inn brand (www.HGI.com) will now be soon represented in Morocco’s largest city, with construction set to begin this year.

Hilton Garden Inn Casablanca Sidi Maarouf will consist of an initial 118 guest rooms with space available on site for further expansion. The hotel forms part of a mixed use development with a 550sqm ballroom and Moroccan-oriental restaurant also to be built in the vicinity. The Hilton Garden Inn will contain three dining options on property, in addition to another 300sqm of event space to the complex. It is forecast that the hotel may welcome its first guests in 2021.

Carlos Khneisser, VP, Development, MENA, Hilton Worldwide said: “Casablanca is a market we’ve been looking at for some time and we’re confident that we’ve now identified the right partner and the right location for our debut property. Sidi Maarouf is rapidly establishing itself as not only the gateway to the city center, with the construction of its new suspension bridge, but as a significant business district in its own right.”

Sidi Maarouf is located in the South West of Casablanca and has emerged as the city’s new business district with several multinationals establishing a presence in recent years. It enjoys an enviable location for hosting meetings and events, at just 25km from Mohamed V Airport and also directly accessible by tramway.

Abderrahim Sadiki of Group Sadiki said: “It is a privilege for us to bringing the Hilton name to Casablanca for the very first time. As more and more businesses seek to locate their operations in Sidi Maarouf we see a demand for an increase in the levels of accommodation. In taking the decision to expand our existing operations at this site to include a hotel, we are pleased to be doing so in partnership with a major international operator such as Hilton, who we believe will help us achieve optimum results.”

John Greenleaf, Global Head, Hilton Garden Inn, said: “Having successfully launched our brand in Morocco earlier this year we are confident that Hilton Garden Inn Casablanca Sidi Maarouf will serve the needs of travellers seeking a trusted yet affordable international hotel brand. Hilton Garden Inn is known across the world for offering amenities and services for travellers to sleep deep, stay fit, eat well and work smart while away from home.”

The construction site of Hilton Garden Inn Sidi Maarouf will be located in close proximity to the interchange between three main highways, the N11, A7 and A5 making it an ideal choice for travellers with interest both in Casablanca and in greater Morocco.

Distributed by APO on behalf of Hilton Worldwide.
Media Contact: Huw Harrow Hilton Worldwide Huw.Harrow@Hilton.com+971 (0) 56 416 1323

About Hilton Garden Inn: The award-winning Hilton Garden Inn hotel brand (www.HGI.com) provides guests with upscale accommodations and the modern amenities needed for a successful and comfortable experience for both business and leisure guests. The satisfaction promise affirms that Hilton Garden Inn will to do whatever it takes to ensure every guest is satisfied, or they don’t pay. You can count on us. Guaranteed™. Approachable Team Members operating at more than 700 hotels around the world are committed to guaranteeing today’s busy travelers are appreciated and have everything they need to be productive during their stay. Hilton HHonors members who book directly through preferred Hilton channels receive instant benefits, including an exclusive member discount that can’t be found anywhere else, free standard Wi-Fi and digital amenities like digital check-in with room selection and Digital Key (selected locations) available exclusively through the industry-leading Hilton HHonors app. For more information about Hilton Garden Inn visit www.HGI.com or News.HGI.com or connect on social media at Facebook (www.Facebook.com/HiltonGardenInn), Twitter (https://Twitter.com/hiltongardeninn), YouTube (www.Youtube.com/hiltongardeninn), and Instagram (www.Instagram.com/hiltongardeninn).

About Hilton: Hilton (NYSE: HLT) (www.Hilton.com) is a leading global hospitality company, comprising more than 4,800 managed, franchised, owned and leased hotels and timeshare properties with nearly 789,000 rooms in 104 countries and territories. For 97 years, Hilton has been dedicated to continuing its tradition of providing exceptional guest experiences. The company’s portfolio of 13 world-class global brands includes Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Canopy by Hilton, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, DoubleTree by Hilton, Embassy Suites by Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton by Hilton, Tru by Hilton, Homewood Suites by Hilton, Home2 Suites by Hilton and Hilton Grand Vacations. The company also manages an award-winning customer loyalty program, Hilton HHonors®. Hilton HHonors members who book directly through preferred Hilton channels have access to benefits including an exclusive member discount, free standard Wi-Fi, as well as digital amenities that are available exclusively through the industry-leading Hilton HHonors app, where Hilton HHonors members can check-in, choose their room, and access their room using a Digital Key. Visit http://News.HiltonWorldwide.com for more information and connect with Hilton on Facebook (www.Facebook.com/hiltonworldwide), Twitter (www.Twitter.com/hiltonworldwide), YouTube (www.Youtube.com/hiltonworldwide), Flickr (www.Flickr.com/hiltonworldwide), LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/company/hilton-worldwide), and Instagram (www.Instagram.com/hiltonworldwide).

About Group Sadiki: Group Sadiki (www.GroupSadiki.com) is a private corporation which was founded in 1980 and based in Casablanca, Morocco. Group Sadiki is a family owned and operated business, which through its subsidiaries, operates in a wide range of activities, which engages in the following sectors: • Oil and Gas sector; operating auto service stations through multinational brands • Auto Mechanic Services • F&B Outlets • Food Catering and Event Planning Services • Real Estate • Hospitality • Philanthropy Group Sadiki aims to be the driving force in Morocco in redefining industries across key sectors that Group Sadiki currently operates in as well as other underdeveloped fields in Morocco and it’s region.

Contact: Angle 10 Mars et Boulevard Abdelkader Sahraoui, Sidi Othman, Casablanca, Maroc 20700. Email: contact@GroupSadiki.com; Website: www.GroupSadiki.com. Group Sadiki Office: +212 522 37 84 42 or +212 522 37 15 57.

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Morocco Picks Financial And Legal Advisers For LNG Import Plan

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 02:49

Hellenic Shipping News
in Freight News
by Aziz El Yaakoubi

Moroccan state-owned power utility ONEE has picked HSBC Middle East Limited as financial adviser for its plan to boost its imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG), ONEE said in a statement.

It has also chosen the law firm Ashurst LLP as legal adviser for the same plan.

The HSBC contract is worth $7 million while Ashurst will earn around $2 million, the statement said.

The entire project, worth up to $4.6 billion, includes the import of up to 7 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas by 2025, the construction of a jetty, terminal, pipelines and gas-fired power plants.

Source: Reuters (Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Adrian Croft)

Polisario Chief Transferred To Hospital In Spain

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 17:05

Sahara News
by Ali Haidar

The Polisario leader, Brahim Ghali, who is reportedly critically ill, was flown to Spain and admitted to a specialized hospital in Madrid, according to corroborative sources.

Ghali must undergo surgery for a cancerous tumor in the stomach, according to medical sources in Madrid.

Before Brahim Ghali was flown to Spain, where he is summoned to appear before the National Audience for “torture, forced disappearances, illegal detention, rape and sexual abuse, and serious human rights violations”, the Algerian government had to ask Spanish authorities to suspend the arrest warrant issued against him because of his serious health condition.

Since 2008, the torturer of the Tindouf camps has been summoned to appear before the National Audience, the highest Spanish criminal court, to answer for the crimes he committed as a senior executive of the Polisario in the Tindouf camps and also against some thirty fishermen from the Canary Islands. The fishermen were killed at his orders, while he was leading an armed militia operating off the Western Sahara between 1976 and 1989.

But Brahim Ghali never appeared before Spanish judge Pablo Ruz who summoned him after he heard the testimonies of several of his victims.

The arrival of the torturer of Tindouf in Madrid did not go unnoticed. Several Spanish and Sahrawi associations have demanded that he be arrested after his recovery so that he answers for the crimes he is being charged with.

Another Spanish Judge, José de la Mata, decided last summer to reopen the case of crimes committed in Tindouf between 1974 and 1988, following two complaints. One of the complaints was filed by the Sahrawi Association for the Defense of Human Rights (ASADEH) against Brahim Ghali and 28 other individuals, including Polisario members and senior officers of the Algerian army.

At their hearing before the National Audience, the victims of these torturers gave heartbreaking testimonies about the tortures and the inhuman treatments that they had undergone in the Polisario jails.

These survivors also unveiled before the Court the names of the Sahrawi detainees who died under torture as well as the names of the authors of these crimes.

Now that the main defendant is on Spanish soil, his fate depends on the ability of the justice to convince the Spanish executive to arrest him when he leaves the hospital.

Morocco’s PM To Form Government Of Former Majority

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 14:49

Asharq Al Awsat
by Hatim Betioui

Head of National Rally of Independents Aziz Akhannouch received a proposal concerning the new cabinet from the appointed Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane.

On Wednesday, Benkirane received Akhannouch in his home in Rabat where the two discussed the formation of the new government. With Istiqlal Party (IP) not likely to be included, Akhannouch has achieved a partial victory.

But, the great win goes to Benkirane himself who has the support and of IP with 46 members of the parliament. Istiqlal Party considered it was part of the majority formed by the PM even though the party won’t participate in the government.

Akhannouch said he received an offer from the appointed PM and described the meeting with Benkirane as “important”.

He added that he will discuss the matter with his allies: Secretary General of the Constitutional Union Party Mohamed Sajid and Popular Movement’s Secretary-General Mohand Laenser.

Akhannouch didn’t give any further details concerning the proposal, yet he said he would announce it to the public within two days, the duration Benkirane granted to Akhannouch to deliberate the matter with his partners before giving his final response.

Informed sources at Justice and Development Party’s (PJD) and National Rally of Independents told Asharq al-Awsat that the new government is formed of the same previous majority which included: PJD, National Rally of Independents, Popular Movement, and Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS).

Secretary General of PPS said that both Akhannouch and Laenser informed him of Benkirane’s intentions of forming the new government from the former majority.

It seems that Benkirane still hasn’t forgiven Sec-Gen of Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) Idris Lashkar for not clearly stating his opinion and being vague when the discussions about government’s formation first began.

Earlier, Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported that Benkirane will suggest to the secretariat two governmental formations. The first one will be as follows: 125 seats for PJD, 37 seats for National Rally of Independents and 12 seats for Party of Progress and Socialism, while the second formation includes 395 seats composed of the above three parties in addition to the Popular Movement.

Asharq al-Awsat also mentioned that Benkirane asked during the meeting whether the seats that were supposed to be given to IP should remain for the Justice and Development Party or should be distributed to some technocrat candidates, close to Istiqlal Party.

The Dazzling Art Of Morocco

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 14:34

Travel pulse
Destination & Tourism
by Carson Poplin

Morocco has a long, rich history that today lives on in traditional arts and crafts. The native Berber culture has been influenced by so many cultures that have left their mark on the area: Arab, Jewish, Andalusian and French. If you travel to Morocco, Fez and Marrakech are must-see cities and home to many artisans who make typical Moroccan arts and crafts.

Tours like Intrepid Group’s North Moroccan Adventure Tour make sure you get a good taste of their historic medinas, which are the older, walled and maze-like parts of town. Within these walls, merchants sell all kinds of goods and craftsmen sell their products. Seeing them being made is as uniquely Moroccan as you can get.

Technique generally adheres to guild traditions where masters pass their trade down to apprentices, even father to son through many generations. Today the survival of crafts depends on tourists and foreign support; and oftentimes tour groups may have deals with certain shops they take their customers to. In the end, you can rest assured knowing that you get authentic Moroccan souvenirs.

Ceramics

There’s no escaping the beautiful tile work that exists all throughout Morocco. Much of the architecture is Moorish design, which consists of three elements: stucco, painted and carved cedar wood and mosaic tiles, called zellij. One of the most impressive examples of mosaic tilework exists in Casablanca, in the Hassan II Mosque. Other ceramics famously made in Fez utilize the local fine red clay. They are still hand painted and assembled by skilled craftsmen. Workshops are open to visitors who wish to watch and see the ceramic making process.

Leather

The largest and oldest leather tannery is in the medina of Fez, called Fez el-Bali, and is pushing a thousand years old. The tradition of Moroccan leather-making is well established, and was even featured in an episode of the Amazing Race during season 25. Vessels are filled with mixtures that make the hair and other excess parts of the hide easy to remove. Then they are soaked in another mixture containing pigeon poop that prepares the hide for dyeing. All the work is done by men who knead the hides with their feet to soften the leather. The hides can be dyed a variety of colors, and still resist synthetic materials by sticking to natural dyes.

Metal work

Metal work is prominent in Moroccan architecture on doors and windows as elaborate decorations on hinges, knockers, knobs and grills. Other workshops make items for the home out of brass, silver and pewter. A big purchase for any Moroccan family is a teapot, which should be of such good quality one is enough for a lifetime. They can be as elaborately decorated as one wishes, and used daily to serve the Moroccan favorite, mint tea.

Rugs

The Berber tradition of rugs is over 2,000 years old. Each one produced is unique, and traditionally hand-made by women. Traditionally, rugs represent a story that is never finished. This is expressed through the tendency to have fringe only on one edge.

The opposite side won’t have fringe because it represents the continuation of time. Just like with leather, the dyeing materials are usually natural and remain so to this day. Rugs are very popular as collector’s items for tourists.

READ MORE: 4 Reasons Morocco is Best Experienced By Group

The Moroccans are known for a number of other goods as well, including textiles and jewelry. Additionally, each city may specialize in its own craft or version of a craft that makes it unique.

There’s no way to leave Morocco without some genuinely special souvenirs.

For more information on MOROCCO
For more DESTINATION & TOURISM NEWS
MORE BY CARSON POPLIN

Morocco To Close Schools Allegedly Linked To Turkish Preacher

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 13:49

Yahoo News
AFPJanuary 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

United Nations Peacekeepers Killed In Attack By Armed Group In Central African Republic

Wed, 01/04/2017 - 22:31

Express.co.uk

TWO United Nations (UN) peacekeepers have been killed and two others have been wounded in an attack by an unknown armed group.

The UN peacekeepers (not pictured) were killed by an unknown group in the Central African Republic.

The peacekeepers, from Morocco, were killed in the southeast of the Central African Republic (CAR), the UN mission said.

The group was escorting fuel trucks on Tuesday afternoon about 60 kilometres (37 miles) west of the town of Obo when they were attacked, before the assailants fled.

No claim can justify individuals directing their grievances against peacekeepers

Parfait Onanga-Anyanga

Head of the mission Parfait Onanga-Anyanga said in a statement: “No claim can justify individuals directing their grievances against peacekeepers whose presence on CAR soil is only aimed at helping the country emerge from the cycle of violence.”

Central African Republic descended into chaos in 2013 when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian nation, ousting then-President Francois Bozize and sparking a backlash from Christian militias.

The UN mission has 13,000 peacekeepers on the ground, but some civilians complain that it does not do enough to protect them against dozens of armed groups.

The UN last month said violence was spreading throughout the country

The UN has 13,000 peacekeepers on the ground in CAR.

Last month, UN sanctions monitors said that violence was spreading despite successful polls that elected a new government last February.

Human Rights Watch said a new armed group had killed at least 50 civilians in a growing campaign to control parts of the northwest.

Seeing Demand, Morocco Approves First Islamic Banks

Wed, 01/04/2017 - 10:04

US News & World Reports

Morocco has become the latest Muslim-majority country to authorize Islamic banks, amid growing market demand for Sharia-compliant banking.

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Morocco has become the latest Muslim-majority country to authorize Islamic banks, amid growing market demand for Sharia-compliant banking.

The Moroccan central bank announced this week it has approved five such banks, fulfilling a long-standing promise of the Islamist party leading a coalition government since 2011.

Among them are leading national banks Attijariwafa, linked to the royal family, state-owned Banque Centrale Populaire and private BMCE Bank of Africa. All three hold increasing assets around French-speaking Africa. The others are CIH Bank and Credit Agricole du Maroc.

Four of the five will be partnerships between Moroccan banks and Islamic financial institutions in the Gulf, according to a statement from the central bank.

The approval of Islamic banks was long awaited by the market and the political scene.

Morocco had been reticent about Islamic finance, seeing it as politically sensitive, but now sees it as a growth prospect. The Islamist PJD party had made the opening of Islamic banks one of its campaign promises in 2011, when it won parliamentary elections.

The regulatory framework was updated in 2015 with a law authorizing independent Islamic institutions labeled “participative banks.” A board was created within Morocco’s Supreme Council of Islamic Scholars to rule on the conformity of financial products to Sharia, or Islamic law. Sharia forbids interest, which is key to most banks’ operations.

The central bank also allowed the subsidiaries of three leading French banks to sell Islamic products in Morocco: Societe Generale, BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole.

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