Western Sahara Worldnews
US President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with King Mohammed VI of Morocco in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Nov. 22, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Jason Reed)
With a new administration in the White House, Morocco’s need for foreign political and economic support could lead it to turn away from its long and friendly relationship with the United States and look more toward China and Russia to safeguard its interests.
Morocco is a traditional ally to the United States. The kingdom was brought up multiple times during the 2016 US presidential campaign — but not for praise. At times, Morocco became the center of Donald Trump’s efforts to discredit Hillary Clinton, as he described her relations with Morocco as a “pay-for-play” policy.
The uproar resurfaced when the Trump camp used footage of immigrants crossing from Morocco into Spain in a political ad about the wall Trump intends to build on the US-Mexico border. The business mogul and former reality TV star responded with a controversial comment, dismissing Moroccan concerns by saying, “It was just footage.”
Morocco is one of the leading promoters of the United Nations’ environmental agendas, and recently hosted the Conference of the Parties to fight climate change — which President Trump has repeatedly called a “hoax.”
Other indications of deteriorating relations between Morocco and the United States emerged in April 2016, when the State Department issued its annual human rights report, which found that “systematic and pervasive corruption undermined law enforcement and the effectiveness of [Morocco’s] judicial system,” adding that “impunity was pervasive.”
Moroccan officials criticized the report, calling it “truly scandalous,” as reported by Morocco’s official news agency, Maghreb Arabe Presse.
However, military, economic and security cooperation has been the barometer of Moroccan-US relations, and each subsequent US administration has recognized the necessity of continuing to develop such an alliance, even to this date.
Samia Errazzouki, a Moroccan-American writer and co-editor of the online magazine Jadaliyya, believes the US-Moroccan connection is too important to be dismantled by the Trump administration.
“I think US-Moroccan relations are bigger than the Trump administration,” she told Al-Monitor.
“Morocco has cooperated with international intelligence agencies for the past few years when it comes to monitoring [the Islamic State], and I don’t believe the US is in a position to give that up.”
Since 2014, the United States has increased its counter terrorism military assistance to North Africa by 93%. The United States is the world’s top military arms exporter, and Morocco has been on the receiving end of numerous grants and contracts with various American companies.
In December 2016, the State Department agreed to sell Morocco $108 million worth of anti-tank missiles and related support.
“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a major non-NATO ally that continues to be an important force for the political stability and economic progress in North Africa,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a news release. “This proposed sale directly supports Morocco and serves the interests of the Moroccan people and the United States.”
The United States also agreed to grant $7 million worth of military aid to the Moroccan Royal Army in 2016.
Morocco has international allies, including the United States, because of its strategic geographic locations, as it borders Europe. But Trump’s attitude differs significantly from that of his predecessor. Trump has explicitly expressed his determination to make foreign countries pay their “fair share” for security costs. Morocco could be included in the club that might suffer from these cuts.
During the past week, the new American administration has already shown an interest in disengaging from global trade treaties and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
Morocco, however, seems to have found new heavyweight partners such as China, which has been competing with the United States to be Morocco’s third-largest external supplier. In May 2016, Morocco’s king visited Beijing to meet with President Xi Jinping and sign a strategic partnership to develop bilateral ties.
“Morocco has already begun courting China, with talks of a Chinese-built industrial city in Morocco and greater trade connections between the countries. Morocco’s foreign policy is being guided by the vision that all options must remain open, and if that means courting China, it will do so,” Errazzouki said.
Spain remains Morocco’s largest trade partner, followed by France. Both European countries have supported Morocco’s controversial claim on the Western Sahara in the UN Security Council for more than 40 years.
Morocco has also sought closer relations with Russia. Moroccan King Mohammed VI paid a state visit to Moscow in March 2016 to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In December 2016, the king went to Nigeria to discuss developing a gas pipeline that would cross through Morocco to Europe. This effort also seems to be drawing the interest of Russian officials.
“So far, it seems that Trump is in support of greater American isolationism, and that could mean giving way for greater Russian influence in Morocco. We somewhat already see that happening with King Mohammed VI’s visit to Russia last year and high-level Russian officials visiting Morocco as well,” Errazzouki told Al-Monitor.
On the other hand, the Western Sahara question has also shaped Moroccan foreign policy, as Morocco seeks to maintain its control over the disputed region. On Jan. 30, Morocco was readmitted to the African Union after a divorce related to the disputed area that lasted more than 32 years.
Now one of Morocco’s priorities is to secure powerful allies on the UN Security Council to back its claims over the territory. Trump’s approach has already revealed his nationally based interests, which have caused chaos all around the world. Other factors such as the continuous rise of alt-right movements in Europe — in France in particular — could also increase the possibility of a stronger Russian-Moroccan alliance.
“With the far right on the rise in France, Morocco has to ensure support from a country with vetoing powers on the UN Security Council,” Errazzouki said. “If that means giving up on the United States and France in favor of Russia and/or China, Morocco will do whatever is necessary to ensure the support of a powerful country to maintain the status quo when it comes to the Western Sahara.”
Amid this fierce competitiveness and shifting geopolitical dynamics, Morocco could also use its tourism strength to get Trump’s attention. Morocco is relatively secure amid the instability in the region, especially compared with Tunisia, its main touristic rival. In 2014, Morocco welcomed more than 10 million tourists.
“Morocco is a major tourist hub in North Africa,” Errazzouki said. “With resorts and golf courses on the rise in Morocco, it could be an attractive site for Trump investments — but such a decision would be under heavy scrutiny both in the US and Morocco.”
Morocco has always enjoyed a special relationship with the United States and was the first country to recognize US sovereignty and its independence from England. European and American interests often intersect in Morocco. But as the United States pulls back, China and Russia stand to gain significant economic and political influence in the region.
Morocco will contribute 5.1 million dollars towards the construction of a 10-billion-dollar new capital for war-torn South Sudan, the two countries announced during a visit by Moroccan King Mohammed VI to the current capital Juba.
Located more centrally than the southern Juba, Ramciel has been planned as a new capital since South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011.
The city will be modernized and expanded starting this year, officials said after Morocco agreed to contribute to the project late Wednesday.
The expansion, which is due to be finished in 2022, is estimated to cost 10 billion dollars – a huge sum for South Sudan, where a military conflict between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar has ravaged the oil-based economy since December 2013, analysts said.
Morocco will contribute 5.1 million dollars towards feasibility studies evaluating the possibilities of expansion, Moroccan Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad said.
Morocco and South Sudan also signed other cooperation agreements in sectors including agriculture, industry, mining and vocational training.
Mohammed VI was visiting South Sudan a few days after the African Union decided to readmit Morocco as a member following a 33-year absence over the organization’s recognition of the independence of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara.
Morocco reportedly wanted to rejoin the body in the hope of promoting its economic interests and diplomatic influence in sub-Saharan Africa, where it intends to lobby against Western Sahara’s membership in the AU.
We speak to oil and gas expert Malcom Graham Wood about Sound Energy PLC after the explorer estimated the potential for up to 31 trillion cubic feet of gas in Western Morocco.
The analyst discusses this week’s resource estimates, Sound Energy’s success to date in Morocco, and the exciting, upcoming TE-8 well.
by Aziz El Yaakoubi
Morocco is considering tapping international debt markets in 2017 through around $1 billion of bond issues, a senior official in the finance ministry said.
The North African kingdom needs around $3 billion in financing this year to plug a budget deficit expected to reach 3 percent of gross domestic product. It plans its first ever Islamic bond in the domestic market in the first half of 2017.
The official, who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the press, said the government sees favourable market conditions this year with attractive rates.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; editing by Patrick Markey and John Stonestreet)
Morocco on Tuesday hailed its return to the African Union (AU) after a 33-year absence from the pan-African organization.
“It is so good to be back home, after having been away for too long!” Moroccan King Mohammed VI said in a speech at the 28th AU summit in Addis Ababa.
Rabat’s return bid won support from 39 of the 54 leaders attending a closed-door meeting of AU heads of state and government on Monday, Moroccan media reported.
Local media outlets hailed the readmission of Morocco to the AU as a “victory” for the country and a “demonstration of the overwhelming support the country enjoys on the (African) continent.”
Morocco left the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the AU, in 1984.
“The massive, outspoken support Morocco has received is proof of the solid bonds that unite us,” the Moroccan king said.
Last September, the North African country made an official request to rejoin the organization, and the Moroccan king toured many African countries to seek support.
During its absence from the AU, Morocco maintained strong ties with many countries in the continent, particularly in French-speaking states in west and central Africa.
Morocco is the top investor in west Africa and the second largest African investor in the continent.
In addition, Moroccan firms have a strong presence in many African markets, especially in banking, insurance, air transport, telecommunications, and housing sectors.
The Moroccan king, in his speech, said since 2000, Morocco has signed nearly a thousand agreements with African countries on cooperation in various fields.
In addition to economic ties, Morocco has also maintained strong cooperation with many African countries, particularly in the fields of security, peacekeeping, and managing religious affairs.
After its return to the AU as the 55th member, the king said, Morocco looks to expand its influence in the continent and join hands with other member states to meet the countless challenges facing the continent.
Morocco is committed to building a “safe, solidarity-based future,” the king said. “We, peoples of Africa, have the means and the genius; together, we can fulfill the aspirations of our peoples.”
World Bulletin / News Desk
Morocco was readmitted into pan-African body this week following absence of more than three decades.
Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary-General Yusuf Bin Ahmed al-Othaimeen hailed Morocco’s return to the African Union (AU) following a 33-year absence, according to a Tuesday statement.
Al-Othaimeen expressed hope that the move would enhance the AU’s weight on the international level, thereby making it easier to find solutions to the continent’s myriad challenges.
The OIC chief also congratulated Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahmat for his election as new AU Commission chairman.
At the AU’s 28th Summit in Addis Ababa on Monday, Mahamat was elected to replace Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who stepped down after four years at the helm of the AU Commission.
Al-Othaimeen also commended the close ties between the OIC and AU, saying he was “looking forward to working with the new chairman with a view to cooperating in areas of mutual concern”.
Morocco was readmitted into the AU on Monday following an absence of more than three decades.
In 1984, Morocco left the Organization of African Unity — the predecessor of the AU — after the union formally recognized the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic in the Western Sahara region, which Rabat considers Moroccan territory.
Morocco took a seat at the African Union (AU) headquarters after the AU formally admitted the North African Kingdom as a member on Tuesday, 33 years after Rabat withdrew from the predecessor organization.
King Mohammed VI, who had been campaigning since last year to join, waved to applauding heads of state and delegates at the end of an annual summit in the AU headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital.
“It is a beautiful day when one returns home after too long an absence. Africa is my continent and my home. I am finally home and I am happy to see you. I missed you all,” the monarch told the closing ceremony.
The Kingdom’s return to the fold comes a day after 39 of the AU’s 54 member states agreed to allow Morocco back in the fold, despite stiff resistance from countries such as South Africa and Algeria over the status of Western Sahara.
Morocco quit the then Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1984 after the bloc admitted the Western Sahara as a separate member.
Morocco maintains that the former Spanish colony under its control is an integral part of the Kingdom, while the Polisario Front, which campaigns for the territory’s independence, demands a referendum on self-determination.
Some had feared Morocco would demand the expulsion of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as a precondition for its own return to the AU, however the country agreed to return without conditions.
“From the moment that Morocco did not impose conditions … we take their word for it and accept that Morocco be admitted to the African Union,” said Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, foreign minister of the SADR, which claims sovereignty over the entire territory of Western Sahara.
Salek said that having Morocco in the same room would allow the SADR to pressure them into fulfilling their obligations and allowing a referendum in accordance with a 1975 decision by the International Court of Justice.
“Now (if) Morocco is blocking (it) will be questioned by the head of states: Why are you afraid of a referendum? Why don’t you allow the Sahrawi to choose their future freely?”
By Ed Cropley
Morocco rejoined the club of African states on Tuesday, 33 years after quitting over recognition of Western Sahara, bringing one of Africa’s largest economies into the fold and raising hopes of a softening of one of its thorniest territorial disputes.
Capping a year-long charm offensive that mirrored a broader investment push into Africa, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI was cheered as he took his seat for the first time in the Addis Ababa headquarters of the 55-nation African Union (AU), one of the few international fora to recognise rival Western Sahara.
Rabat left the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, in 1984 in anger at its acceptance of the phosphate-rich territory on Africa’s north Atlantic coast as a full-blown member.
However, African support for Western Sahara – which the United Nations defines as a non-self-governing territory – has ebbed as the importance of Morocco’s $110 billion economy, Africa’s fifth largest, as a trade and investment partner has grown.
At an AU summit this week, Morocco was re-admitted to the fold, with 39 countries expressing support and only 10, believed to be led by Algeria and South Africa, expressing reservations.
“Africa is my home and I am coming back home,” King Mohammed said, to applause from other heads of state. “I have missed you all.”
For Morocco, a relatively liberalised economy and firm Western ally, readmission to the AU should smooth its entry into fast-growing African economies to the south and help reduce its reliance on stagnant European markets to the north.
In the last few years, Moroccan firms have made significant investments across Africa in everything from financial services to housing projects to fertilizer plants. King Mohammed made clear this was just the beginning.
“Africa is indispensable to Morocco and Morocco is indispensable to Africa,” he said.
During his 20-minute speech, King Mohammed gave a nod to the tensions over Western Sahara, which has been contested since Spanish colonial powers left in 1975, but made clear he was not interested in making them worse.
“We don’t want to divide the continent,” he said.
Morocco claimed the territory after Spain’s exit and fought a 16-year war with the Polisario independence movement, that established the self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic with support initially from Algeria and then from across Africa.
Since a 1991 ceasefire, Western Sahara has been split by a earthen berm, with U.N. peacekeepers monitoring the Moroccan forces in what Rabat calls its southern provinces and guerrillas in the Polisario-controlled area bordering Algeria.
U.N.-backed attempts to hold a referendum on self-determination have been deadlocked since 1991 and Rabat has presented its own autonomy plan.
Sahrawi foreign minister Salem Ould Salek described the AU’s admission of Morocco as a ‘major step’ towards full international recognition since it would now be in the same room, on equal terms, with its rival.
“It’s a positive step for the people of Western Sahara,” he told Reuters. “After 33 years, Morocco has realised that it has to sit with the Sahrawi Republic. We hope that Morocco will have the goodwill to resolve this conflict and withdraw its troops.”
The return to the AU comes at a sensitive time.
Last year, Morocco expelled some U.N. staff from Western Sahara after then-U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon visited Sahrawi refugee camps in southern Algeria.
In August, U.N. peacekeepers intervened when Moroccan forces crossed into a U.N.-mandated buffer zone and Polisario forces dispatched troops in kind to the remote area near Mauritania.
(Additional reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Tom Heneghan)
The North Africa Post
Nigeria will receive in the few coming days the first shipment of Moroccan fertilizers following the deal sealed lately during King Mohammed VI’s visit to this African country.
According to press reports, the first shipload is made of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (NPK) fertilizers. It will enable the Nigerian government to alleviate farmers’ burden as the commodity will be sold at N5,000, which is half the current price.
Nigerian minister of agriculture Audu Ogbe, who disclosed the news, said his country targets about 700,000 to 800,000 tons of fertilizers per year.
Last December, King Mohammed VI and Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari presided in Abuja over the signing ceremony of a partnership accord to build a fertilizers plant in Nigeria.
The new plant, to be built by Morocco’s state-run phosphates company OCP, seeks to promote the use of agricultural inputs including access to adequate fertilizers, which is expected to improve agricultural productivity and farmers’ income.
OCP, a world leader in phosphate and its derivatives, is committed to the development of agriculture in Africa. This landmark project has been launched within the frame of win-win partnerships with African countries and south-south cooperation.
During the royal visit to Nigeria, the two African countries also agreed to build a gas pipeline that will stretch along the coast connecting Nigerian gas wells with West African countries all the way up until reaching the Kingdom.
The pipeline will add momentum to economic integration in West Africa and will help promote efforts to boost electrification in the region. The project is also meant to help Nigerian gas reach Europe.
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.
By Fiona Keating
A general view taken shows the 26th presidential summit of the African Union held in January 2016 in Addis Ababa, EthiopiaTONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
After months of intense lobbying, Morocco has been readmitted as a member of the African Union (AU). The North African country left the organisation after an acrimonious row in which the AU recognised the independence of Western Sahara, which was viewed by Morocco as part of its historic territory.
After the backing of a huge majority of states, Morocco regained its membership within the AU on Monday (30 January). Previously it was the only African country that was not a member of the body.
More from IBTimes UK
- Kenyan troops to rejoin UN mission in war-torn South Sudan as fighting continues
- HRW urges African Union to release probe into ‘unlawful’ killing of 14 civilians by Ethiopian forces
Enigmatic government notice sparks debate about the sale of burqas in Morocco
“There was a very long debate but 39 of our 54 states approved the return of Morocco, even if the Western Sahara question remains,” Senegalese President Macky Sall told the media.
Member states decided to leave the question of the disputed territory of Western Sahara for another time, and take Morocco “back in the family,” according to AFP.
“From the moment that Morocco did not impose conditions … we take their word for it and accept that Morocco be admitted to the African Union,” said Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, foreign minister of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which claims sovereignty over the Western Sahara.
Morocco left what was then known as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1984 after the organisation admitted the former Western Sahara as an independent member.
There were concerns that Morocco would seek the expulsion of the SADR as a condition for returning to the AU.
Summit delegates at the 28th AU summit in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa held a tense and emotional debate. South Africa and Algeria were vehemently opposed to the re-entry of Morocco.
Morocco has been mooting a return to the AU for many years, hoping to enhance its economy and recognising that being a member of the pan-African body would be financially beneficial. For the AU, the return of Morocco, the sixth largest economy in Africa, will be highly profitable.
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, who has been lobbying hard for his country’s return, will deliver a speech on Tuesday (31 January) in front of the African leaders in Addis Ababa.
In June 2016, the chair of the summit, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, visited Rabaat, where he received Morocco’s highest state decoration.
Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar has led a concerted diplomatic campaign in recent years, meeting with the presidents of Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Senegal, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast and the prime ministers of Libya and Ethiopia to strengthen its economic and diplomatic relations with those nations.
By Ed Cropley
* New chair replaces outgoing South African commissioner
* Morocco gains sufficient support for readmission – sources
* The Hague-based court has split continent (Adds details on Moroccan readmission)
African Union leaders chose Chad’s candidate to chair the 54-nation body on Monday at a summit where the divisive issues of Africa’s relationship to the International Criminal Court and Morocco’s readmission to the AU were on the agenda.
In the last round of voting, Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat beat Kenya’s top diplomat Amina Mohamed to secure the post as head of the commission of the AU, which is headquartered in the Ethiopian capital.
A Chadian official told a group of reporters that his nation’s candidate had secured 39 votes in the final round.
Faki, born in 1960, has served as foreign minister since 2008. His previous posts also included a stint as prime minister.
In a race usually resolved in behind-the-scenes talks before a summit vote, three of the AU’s four major regions vied for the post – the south, the east and the largely Francophone west – with some regions pushing more than one candidate.
Outgoing commissioner, South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, stayed in post an extra six months after leaders failed to agree a candidate in July. She is now tipped as a contender to succeed her ex-husband, Jacob Zuma, as South Africa’s president.
The question of Morocco’s re-admission was also divisive, although by Monday evening, two delegates leaving the talks said it had the support of 39 nations, enough to provide a guarantee. However, reservations held by 10 AU members meant the confirmation of its new status would have to wait until Tuesday.
The North African kingdom quit the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, three decades ago amid a dispute over the body’s recognition of Western Sahara, most of which has been controlled by Morocco since 1976.
Western Sahara’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Salem Ould Salek called progress on Morocco’s readmission a “positive step” since it would put it on equal footing with a region it has until now refused to acknowledge as anything other than its own territory.
However, King Mohammed VI has been making diplomatic efforts over the last year to try to win Rabat’s readmission.
Continental heavyweights Algeria and South Africa have been backers of the Sahrawi Republic, the domestic political movements that lays claim to the territory along the northern Sahara’s Atlantic seaboard. Neither has said explicitly it will oppose Morocco’s re-entry.
Preliminary meetings have also been dominated by disputes over the International Criminal Court (ICC), which countries such as South Africa and Kenya say is a tool of Western imperialism that unfairly targets the continent.
Conversely, Nigeria, Botswana and other states say the Hague-based court is an important legal backstop for countries whose domestic justice systems have been compromised by civil conflict.
“You have all these calls for unity but actually if you look at the AU now, it is more divided than ever – over Morocco, the regional divisions and the ICC,” said Liesl Louw-Vaudran, an AU expert at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria. “It’s unprecedented.”
During Dlamini-Zuma’s time in charge of the AU, the medical doctor has focused on reforming the AU’s dysfunctional internal bureaucracy and drawing up a long-term plan for improving the lives of Africa’s underprivileged citizens, especially women and children.
However, she has been criticized for failing to heal the rifts created by her election and not doing more to prevent conflict in countries such as South Sudan, which the United Nations says is tilting towards genocide. (Additional reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Edmund Blair and Toby Chopra)
Forty years in a refugee camp
Morocco has been readmitted as a member of the African Union (AU) after months of intense lobbying.
Morocco left the organisation in 1984, after it recognised the independence of Western Sahara, regarded by Morocco as part of its historic territory.
It was the only country in Africa that was not a member of the continental body.
AU leaders also voted for Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat to be the next head of the AU commission.
Mr Faki Mahamat beat Kenya’s top diplomat Amina Mohamed.
The race is usually settled behind the scenes before the vote but this went to seven rounds of voting.
Outgoing commissioner, South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, stayed in the job an extra six months after leaders failed to agree a candidate in July.
Africa Live: Updates on this and other stories
Could Dlamini-Zuma be South Africa’s next leader?
Find out about Western Sahara
Mr Faki garnered 39 votes in a hotly contested election at the ongoing heads of state summit in the city.
Moussa Faki Mahamat was at the forefront of the fight against Boko Haram
While campaigning for the job, he said he dreamt of an Africa where the “sound of guns would be drowned out by cultural songs and rumbling factories” and pledged to streamline the bureaucratic AU during his four-year term in office.
Analysts say he was considered an outsider but being at the forefront of the fight against Islamist militants in Nigeria, Mali and the Sahel may have worked in his favour.
Western Sahara is the last African case on the United Nations decolonisation committee.
A referendum was promised in 1991 but never carried out due to wrangling over who is eligible to vote.
BBC World Service Africa editor James Copnall says the issue is likely to remain contentious despite Morocco’s readmission to the AU.
Western Sahara row
1975-76: Morocco seizes two-thirds of Western Sahara after colonial power Spain withdraws.
1975-76: Polisario Front declares the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), with a government-in-exile in Algeria. Thousands of Sahrawi refugees flee to western Algeria to set up camps.
1984: Morocco leaves the Organisation of African Unity (which later became the African Union) in protest at the SADR’s admission to the body.
1991: UN-monitored ceasefire begins in Western Sahara, but the territory’s status remains undecided and ceasefire violations are reported. The following decade sees much wrangling over a proposed referendum on the future of the territory but the deadlock is not broken.
March 2016: Morocco threatens to pull its soldiers out of UN global peacekeeping missions in Western Sahara, after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon uses the term “occupation” when referring to the territory.
May 2016: Long-time Polisario Front leader Mohamed Abdelaziz dies aged 68
The Associated Press
by Elias Meseret
Western Sahara and African Union sources have told the Associated Press that Morocco has officially been admitted back in to the continental body after 32 years of isolation.
The decision for Morocco to rejoin the AU came Monday at the African leaders summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“Morocco has been admitted to join the AU with a view that it will become the 55th member of the continental body. That’s made with the understanding that Western Sahara will remain a member of the AU,” said Lamine Baali, ambassador of Western Sahara to Ethiopia and the African Union. “All the debates were focused on (the issue) that Morocco should respect the internationally recognized border of Western Sahara.”
An African Union source who followed the debate for Morocco to return to the continental body told the Associated Press that 39 countries supported Morocco’s bid but 9 countries voted against it.
The nine “were countries in Southern Africa, except Swaziland,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. “Most of the debate was related to the border (with Western Sahara). But the decision has finally been made for Morocco to rejoin the AU and become the 55th member. It is now adopted.”
Morocco left the pan-African bloc in 1984 after a majority of the member states recognized the disputed territory of Western Sahara as a member. It claims the territory in defiance of U.N. resolutions for a referendum on the independence.
This story was corrected to show that Morocco left the African Union in 1984.
by Saurabh Mahapatra
Originally published on CleanTechies.
Morocco’s thrust in the renewable energy sector could yield the additional benefits of creating numerous green jobs.
A new report published by the Mediterranean Forum of Institute of Economic Sciences claims that Morocco could have up to half a million jobs in the renewable energy sector by 2040. Most of the renewable energy jobs are expected to originate from the Noor-Ouarzazate solar complex, which will host a number of projects based on different solar power technologies.
The Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (Masen) recently increased its target to set up 4 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2020 up to 10 gigawatts by 2030. The Noor-Ouarzazate solar power complex will likely be the backbone of such large-scale expansion.
Saudi Arabia-based ACWA Power is aggressively working on several power projects that will form part of the solar power complex. The company has already commissioned a 160 megawatt concentrated solar project based on parabolic trough reflectors — Noor I — and is working on Noor II (also based on parabolic trough reflectors) and Noor III (based on solar tower technology).
Additionally, ACWA Power is also working on a 120 megawatt wind energy project. The company signed an agreement with Vestas for the supply of 40 units of its V90-3.0 turbine for the Khalladi wind park being developed in Tangiers.
Morocco’s enormous investment in renewable energy is completely justified as the country is almost entirely dependent on imported fuel. Morocco spends 10-12% of its gross domestic product to import energy. The possibility that Morocco could have half a million renewable energy jobs by 2040 is remarkable as, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), globally around 8.1 million renewable energy jobs existed in 2015.
African Heads of State pose for a group photo ahead of the start of the 28th African Union summit in Addis Ababa on January 30, 2017.
The African Union decided Monday to allow Morocco back in the fold after a 33-year absence, despite stiff resistance from some member states over the status of Western Sahara.
After an emotional and tense debate, member states decided by consensus to leave the question of the disputed territory of Western Sahara for another day, and resolve it with Morocco “back in the family.”
“From the moment that Morocco did not impose conditions … we take their word for it and accept that Morocco be admitted to the African Union,” said Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, foreign minister of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which claims sovereignty over the entire territory of Western Sahara.
Morocco quit the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1984 after the bloc admitted the former Western Sahara as a separate member.
Some had feared Morocco would demand the expulsion of the SADR as a precondition for its own return to the AU.
Morocco maintains that the former Spanish colony under its control is an integral part of the kingdom, while the Polisario Front, which campaigns for the territory’s independence, demands a referendum on self-determination.
Salek said that having Morocco in the same room would allow the SADR to pressure them into fulfilling their obligations and allowing a referendum in accordance with a 1975 decision by the International Court of Justice.
“Now (if) Morocco is blocking (it) will be questioned by the head of states: why are you afraid of a referendum? “Why don’t you allow the Sahrawi to choose their future freely?”
– Family solutions –
Delegates attending the summit in the Ethiopian capital described an emotional and tense discussion, with heavyweights like Algeria and South Africa against the re-admission of Morocco.
AFP / ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres gives a press conference on the sidelines of the 28th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa on January 30, 2017
“Morocco is now a full member of the African Union. There was a very long debate but 39 of our 54 states approved the return of Morocco, even if the Western Sahara question remains,” Senegalese President Macky Sall told journalists.
“As we have said, if the family grows bigger, we can find solutions as a family,” he added.
Morocco has been angling to return to the AU for several years and King Mohammed VI formally announced his intention to do so in July last year. Since then he has criss-crossed the continent lobbying for support.
Morocco is increasingly looking southwards to expand its economy and has realised it cannot drive an agenda on the continent without being in the AU, observers say.
The membership of affluent Morocco — the sixth biggest economy in Africa — could be a boon for the African Union, which lost a key financier in late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi and is working on ways to become financially independent.
– Chad takes helm –
The 28th African Union summit began with the swift election of Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat, 56, as the new chairperson of the AU Commission, beating four other candidates.
Faki won in a final battle against his Kenyan counterpart Amina Mohamed after seven rounds of voting, the Kenyan government said in a statement.
Faki, a former prime minister, has been at the forefront of the fight against Islamists in Nigeria, Mali and the Sahel and has promised “development and security” will be top of his agenda as chief of the 54-member continental bloc.
Meanwhile Algerian diplomat Smail Chergui was re-elected to the key post of peace and security commissioner.
Faki takes over from South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who is credited with advancing women’s issues and moulding the ambitious Agenda 2063, but is seen to have dropped the ball on peace and security.
– ‘Turbulent times’ –
The choice of a new leader is crucial for the future of a bloc which is undergoing deep introspection on how to reform to become more relevant and better respond to crises on the continent.
AFP / ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame criticised “chronic failure to see through African Union decisions (which) had resulted in a crisis of implementation and a perception that the AU was not relevant to Africans”.
Tasked with leading the reforms, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame delivered a “biting” report to heads of state on Sunday, according to a statement from the Kenyan government.
He criticised “chronic failure to see through African Union decisions (which) had resulted in a crisis of implementation and a perception that the AU was not relevant to Africans”.
Kagame also slammed “over-dependence on (donor) funding” which accounts from 70 percent of the AU budget, according to the Institute for Security Studies.
The AU is also grappling with its relationship with US President Donald Trump’s administration, sounding the alarm over an immigration ban affecting three African nations.
“The very country (where) our people were taken as slaves… has now decided to ban refugees from some of our countries,” outgoing AU Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told some 37 heads of state and leaders from across the continent.
“It is clear that globally we are entering very turbulent times,” she added.
New Vision Ug
The African Union will mull a divisive bid by Morocco to rejoin the bloc at a summit next week where stagnating South Sudan peace efforts will also top the agenda.
The AU’s 54 member states will gather in Addis Ababa on Monday for a packed two-day meeting in which they will also have to elect a new chairperson — after failing to do so at a summit six months ago.
Analysts say the election is likely to be complicated by fractures over key issues such as membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and whether Morocco should be allowed back in the club.
Morocco quit the bloc 33 years ago in protest at its decision to accept Western Sahara as a member, but announced its intention to rejoin last July. King Mohammed VI has since been criss-crossing the continent lobbying for support.
“Morocco’s economic expansion on the continent is important for it… the AU has become more and more relevant so Morocco realises it cannot drive an agenda on the continent without being in the AU,” said Liesl Louw-Vaudran, a consultant with the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Addis Ababa.
‘Not a done deal’
The membership of affluent Morocco could also be a boon for the AU, which lost a key financer in late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi and has long sought financial independence. Currently foreign donors account for some 70 percent of its budget, according to the ISS.
However, Louw-Vaudran highlights that “it is still not a done deal”, with heavyweights such as Algeria and South Africa lobbying hard against the move.
Both have long supported the fight for self-determination by Western Sahara’s Polisario independence movement. Morocco maintains that the former Spanish colony which it annexed in 1975, is an integral part of the kingdom.
“The question now is whether Morocco’s reintegration means Western Sahara will now be excluded. This is where there are very clear divisions in the AU,” said Senegal-based political analyst Gilles Yabi.
Another issue which has divided leaders on the continent is growing anger with the ICC. Burundi, South Africa and The Gambia decided late last year to pull out of the court, claiming it unfairly targets African nations.
Others such as Kenya have threatened to follow suit while Botswana and Senegal have argued in favour of the court.
Fragmented regional interests are likely to make it harder for one of five candidates from Kenya, Senegal, Chad, Botswana and Equatorial Guinea to win a two-thirds majority and be elected chairperson of the AU Commission.
Half the bloc abstained from a vote in July last year with many claiming the candidates suffered from a “lack of stature”.
Kenya’s foreign minister Amina Mohamed, Chad’s former prime minister Moussa Faki Mahamat and Senegal’s veteran diplomat Abdoulaye Bathily are the newcomers and frontrunners in the race.
They are vying to replace South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who is credited with advancing women’s issues, but is seen to have dropped the ball on peace and security.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has been tasked with overhauling a lumbering bloc weighed down by bureaucracy, and is set to present his first report on suggested reforms during the summit.
‘Out of ideas’
As usual several crises on the continent will be on the summit agenda, such as turmoil in Libya, radical Islamism in Mali, Somalia and Nigeria and ongoing political tensions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
One of the most pressing is the conflict in South Sudan, where ethnic violence continues with no solution in sight. Tens of thousands have died since war broke out in 2013 and more than 3.1 million have been displaced.
A 4,000-strong regional protection force mooted at the last AU summit has been mired in delays and disputes as South Sudan’s government insists the force is no longer needed.
“There hasn’t been a sense of urgency to save lives and get this force up and running. I think it is just South Sudan fatigue, they are out of any ideas of how to solve this,” said Louw-Vaudran.
A new era
The summit comes after several shake-ups on the international stage: the election of US President Donald Trump and a new head of the UN, Antonio Guterres, who will be at the summit.
Louw-Vaudran said even though it wasn’t an official agenda item, the Trump presidency — whose vow to put America first has raised fears of how it will approach its relationship with Africa — will be a hot topic at the summit.
The US is one of the main contributors to the fight against Shabaab in Somalia, and the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has already been hit by funding cuts from the EU.
Factories play a central role in President Trump’s parade of American horrors. In his telling, globalization has left our factories “shuttered,” “rusted-out” and “scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.”
Here’s what you might call an alternative fact: American factories still make a lot of stuff. In 2016, the United States hit a manufacturing record, producing more goods than ever. But you don’t hear much gloating about this because manufacturers made all this stuff without a lot of people. Thanks to automation, we now make 85 percent more goods than we did in 1987, but with only two-thirds the number of workers.
This suggests that while Mr. Trump can browbeat manufacturers into staying in America, he can’t force them to hire many people. Instead, companies will most likely invest in lots and lots of robots.
And there’s another wrinkle to this story: The robots won’t be made in America. They might be made in China.
Industrial robots — which come in many shapes and perform a range of factory jobs, from huge, precisely controlled arms used to build cars to graceful machines that package delicate pastries — were invented in the United States. But in the last few years the Chinese government has spent billions to turn China into the world’s robotic wonderland.
In 2013, China became the world’s largest market for industrial robots, according to the International Federation of Robotics, an industry trade group. Now China is working on another big goal: to become the largest producer of robots used for factories, agriculture and a range of other applications.
Robotics industry experts said that goal could be a decade away, but they see few impediments to China’s eventual dominance.
“If you look at the comparisons in investment between China and the U.S., we’re going to lose,” said Henrik Christensen, director of the Contextual Robotics Institute at the University of California, San Diego. “The investments in China are billions and billions. I’m not seeing that investment in the U.S. And without that investment, we are going to lose. No doubt.”
There’s a way to address this problem, but it’s politically perilous: The United States should invest in robots. Mark Cuban, the internet and sports entrepreneur (and Trump nemesis), recently called on the president to offer $100 billion in funding for robotics. Frank Tobe, the publisher and editor of a trade magazine called The Robot Report, said government investment was imperative.
“We better do something, or we’re going to be behind the gun,” he said. “We should be in the robot business, not just users of foreign robots.”
If we don’t, robot scholars said the president’s plans for a resurgence in manufacturing could backfire. Today, we buy a lot of stuff made in China by Chinese people. Tomorrow, we’ll buy stuff made in America — by Chinese robots.
How China learned to love robots is instructive. For years, China’s chief selling point was cheap labor. But over the last couple of decades, its population has gotten older and richer, and its workers’ wages rose faster than the rate of economic growth. Chinese leaders worried that manufacturers would get priced out. In the same way that America lost manufacturing to China, Chinese manufacturers would lose work to India, Vietnam and other developing Asian economies.
So the Chinese did what the Chinese do: They centrally planned a revival. Over a succession of five-year economic plans, the government pushed a series of manufacturing reforms. One of its central ideas is automation. Local governments have offered billions in subsidies for companies to buy and manufacture robots. The government has been especially interested in building robots that can be installed in China’s car factories, which have been criticized for poor workmanship. Robots that build cars would not just save labor costs; the government also believes they would build better cars. In 2014, Xi Jinping, China’s president, called for a “robot revolution.”
Like other centrally planned initiatives, China’s robotics initiatives have not proceeded without trouble. There have been overinvestment and waste, and many Chinese robotics companies aren’t making very good robots.
“Many are low quality, and safety and design standards are really not good,” said Dieter Ernst, a senior fellow at the East-West Center, an organization that aims to improve Asian-American relations. “There are supposedly a bit more than 100 Chinese robot companies. I would say about 50 of these companies may survive.”
But the Chinese government and its companies are persistent. Mr. Ernst expects slow, steady gains in the Chinese robotics industry. And in five to 10 years, he predicts, China’s robot business will be producing industrial robots that are on par with those from Germany and Japan.
Pushing a robotics revival in the United States would be more difficult than in China, where there hasn’t been much outcry from workers over the government’s embrace of automation.
“There is not a public conversation in China about the pluses and minuses of automation,” said Scott Kennedy, a China scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They don’t talk about the losers in society from globalization or potential automation.”
In the United States, on the other hand, losing is all we seem to talk about. Mr. Trump rose to power in part because he crystallized a feeling among voters that we have lost our edge to China. He promised to bring jobs back to America. In a hot-take political climate that can’t stomach nuance, an investment in robots would be seen as a betrayal of the manufacturing workers he promised to save.
But that would be a mistake. Mr. Christensen of the University of California, San Diego, pointed out that even the most automated of factories still employ people. To the extent that an investment in robotics might make it easier for companies to build their factories in the United States rather than in China, it might well create new jobs in the United States.
What’s more, America enjoys many advantages in robotics that China lacks. Some of the world’s leading roboticists work at American universities. The United States has a start-up culture that knows how to create big new companies. And America has a head start in the most advanced robotics technologies. For instance, American companies are the leading purveyors of surgical robots, and they are at the forefront of “collaborative robotics,” in which robots can work side by side with humans.
“All of this robotics technology was invented in the U.S., but we basically let other companies take it from us and make it cheaper, and now we’re buying it from them,” Mr. Christensen said. “In some sense, we’re not being very good at making sure we remain competitive in areas that we’re leading.”
And that’s how huge government funding can help, the robot experts said. As in China, an infusion from Mr. Trump could turn some of the most far-out ideas in robotics into a structural advantage for the American economy.
“What we can learn from the Chinese example is that the government plays a nurturing and fostering role for developing the robotics industry,” Mr. Ernst said. “We can do the same. We must do the same.”
Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @fmanjoo
The Straits Times
The city of Tangier (above) boasts both the ancient, such as the old walls of the medina (left), and the modern, in the form of new construction projects in the main city district. The city of Tetouan (far left) in northern Morocco and a souk (left)
The town’s water comes from the surrounding mountains and tastes subtly sweet.PHOTOS: GURVEEN KAUR, MOROCCAN TOURISM BOARD
Mountains meet the sea in the Moroccan city of Chefchaouen, where the buildings are painted blue, while history comes alive in Tetouan and modernity sneaks up on Tangier.
I have stepped into an all-blue realm inside Morocco.
The walls, doors and even window grilles of houses in the medina, or ancient quarters, of Chefchaouen are awash in vivid shades of azure, cornflower blue and cyan.
The soothing palette runs across staircases, narrow pathways, central squares and even flower pots.
Drenched in blue, Chefchaouen (pronounced shef-sha-wehn) is like a beautiful illusion.
The ancient quarters of Chefchaouen are awash in shades of azure, cyan and cornflower blue.
Yet Chaouen, as the locals call it, has been continuously inhabited since it was founded in 1471.
It has an otherworldly allure, which I also discover in two neighbouring cities, Tetouan and Tangier, during a five-day trip to northern Morocco.
Each town offers a portal into the mysterious past through the medina, a significant microcosm of Moroccan life.
A hop, skip and a jump away from Spain, there might be no iconic Sahara Desert in this part of the African continent, but it is rich in other natural wonders and European influences.
Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, northern Morocco is also home to the Rif Mountains, a gargantuan chain of rolling ranges I encounter each time I travel between the three cities.
My starting point is the luxurious Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay (www.banyantree.com) in Fnideq, a seaside town popular with wealthy Moroccans in the summer – akin to the Hamptons in the United States.
Launched in September last year, the resort is the home-grown Banyan Tree hospitality brand’s first outpost in Africa and Morocco’s first all-pool villa resort where all 92 villas come with a private pool.
Any prior wish to stay in a riad (traditional Moroccan house) for an authentic experience is forgotten the moment I step into my spacious villa. It is an opulent space with Moorish and Andalusian touches paying homage to its surroundings.
The city of Tetouan (above) in northern Morocco and a souk withstalls selling fresh produce and more. PHOTOS: GURVEEN KAUR, MOROCCAN TOURISM BOARD
I try out a hammam or bathhouse experience – a routine among Moroccans who visit public hammams – as part of the resort’s signature Rainforest Indulgence spa treatment, and leave the room feeling cleaner than I have ever been before.
As I lie naked across a marble slab, the sweet-looking masseuse vigorously scrubs every part of my body. I am reduced to being a helpless child who has spent too much time jumping around in mud and is now being purified at the mother of all baths.
From the resort, when we embark on a 11/2-hour drive to Chefchaouen for a day trip, I spy endless rows of palm trees lining the sparkling clean roads.
Security on the roads is tight and we are regularly stopped by the police as the area is in such close proximity to Europe.
There are existing concerns of illegal immigration: Africans have sought to enter Europe through Spain, and Morocco is its closest African neighbour.
Nature is never too far away here. There are many glimpses of the sea as we drive through the Rif Mountains, home to villagers including the Berbers, the original inhabitants of the country from as far back as 4BC.
We come across a pair of Berber women, easily recognisable by the red-striped “fouta” – or piece of cotton cloth worn sarong-style across their waists – as we stop to take photos of the landscape.
CHEFCHAOUEN: BLUE BEAUTY, PURE LIFE
We meet our guide for the blue city, Mr Ahmed Achtot, 62, who is wearing a pale yellow djellaba (traditional loose-fitting outer robe with a distinctive conical hood) and a red tarboosh (a hat shaped like a truncated cone with a tassel).
A resident of Chefchaouen all his life, Mr Ahmed takes one look at this city slicker and says the people here live a “pure life”, free of work stress.
Within the medina, its serene residents walk everywhere, including up steep staircases and slopes.
I notice a significant elderly population here as they slowly go about their business, oblivious to curious tourists.
There is no direct flight from Singapore to Tangier, Tetouan or Chefchaouen in northern Morocco.
Fly Qatar Airways (www.qatarairways.com) to the neighbouring Moroccan cities of Casablanca or Marrakech, then transfer to a domestic flight to Tangier or Tetouan. Chefchaouen does not have an airport.
Alternatively, after flying to the airports of Casablanca or Marrakech, catch a train, taxi or bus to the three northern cities.
WHERE TO STAY
The resort Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay (www.banyantree.com/en/em-morocco-tamouda-bay) is located less than two hours by car from Tangier, Tetouan or Chefchaouen.
It can organise tours to this trio of cities plus the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. It also arranges recreational activities such as scuba diving, biking and crafts for children at its Kids Club.
Banyan Tree, which opened in September last year, has 92 luxury villas with a private pool each. Villa rates start at 4,260 Moroccan dirham (S$604) for the Bliss Pool Villa, which has a king-size bed and a spacious living room.
• The best time to visit the northern part of Morocco is spring (mid-March to May) and autumn (September to October).
Try to avoid summer as that is when Europeans travel to Morocco and the locals also head to the cooler north.
• Money-changers in Singapore do not supply Moroccan dirham so it is best to convert Singapore dollars into US dollars, euro or British pounds, which can be exchanged for dirham when you arrive in Morocco. Cash is the preferred method of payment across the country. Before leaving Morocco, exchange remaining dirham for US dollars, euros or pounds.
• Unlike in Tangier, the residents of Tetouan and Chefchaouen dress conservatively. Female travellers are advised to wear loose clothing that are not too revealing and to carry along a scarf, in case there is a need to cover up further.
WHAT TO EAT
The cuisine of northern Morocco is hearty and bursting with flavour. A traditional meal is well-balanced, with healthy portions of vegetables and meats or seafood dressed with a blend of aromatic spices.
Moroccan mint tea
Upon touching down, travellers will love a cup of soothing Moroccan mint tea. Made with green tea and mint leaves, it can be drunk at all hours of the day and is a good accompaniment with meals to aid digestion. It is customarily served in an elegant Moroccan metal teapot.
This refers to both the distinctive cone-shaped casserole dish and the food that is prepared in it – a hearty slow-cooked stew.
The tagine dish has meat or fish and vegetables, all beautifully marinated in fragrant spices such as saffron, turmeric and paprika. The stew either sits atop a bed of fluffy cous cous – another Moroccan staple – or is served with Moroccan flat bread.
Make sure to mop up the remnants of the sauce at the bottom of the pan. That is where the most intense flavours lie.
Pastilla or b’stilla
Considered the north African nation’s version of a meat pie, the savoury flavours of the meat intermingle with the sweet dusting of icing sugar and cinnamon on the flaky filo pastry.
Pigeon meat is typically used, but chicken is a popular alternative. Along with the meat, the pastry is stuffed with almonds and onions.
Pair the main course with zaalouk, a refreshing, summery salad of Mediterranean flavours: eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and spices. It can be served hot or cold and is best scooped up with slices of flat bread.
I ask Mr Ahmed about the origin of the town’s colour and he says it is to keep flies away; the insects dislike clear, flowing water, which is how the blue-washed walls here presumably appear to them.
Not the most poetic answer, but after I do my own research online, I discover that there are other explanations too. One theory is that the idea came from the Jewish community, which had settled there in the 1930s. The colour mirrors the sky, with its allusion to divinity, hence bringing the Jews closer to God.
Look upwards and the top floors of buildings are in white, however, as the residents do not have ladders tall enough to reach that high.
I discover a hole-in-the-wall bakery where women send their kneaded dough daily to bloom into fluffy Moroccan flat bread that is eaten at almost every meal.
The town is a good place to look for souvenirs such as exquisite handwoven Berber rugs and straw hats adorned with colourful pom- poms.
The air is comfortably cool within the medina and the water is from the surrounding mountains. I drink straight from a hose randomly perched on a ledge and the water is subtly sweet.
As we prepare to depart, I notice an elderly man staring off into space with a smile. Surrounded by such beauty, I would be content too.
TETOUAN: MOORISH ALLURE, SOUKS GALORE
We move from blue to pristine white in Tetouan, a bigger city with more of a Moorish charm.
Early Berber dynasties and the Andalusians battled for control of Tetouan as it was destroyed and rebuilt before it became the capital of the Spanish protectorate of Morocco from 1912 to 1956.
What has emerged is a harmonious relationship among the Muslims, the biggest religious group in Morocco, and the Jews and Christians here.
Though the Jewish and Christian communities are minute today, there are still traces of them in Tetouan.
Look out for the stately Iglesia de Bacturia, the sole surviving Roman Catholic church built in 1926.
The streets are unmistakably busier in Tetouan than in Chefchaouen as we manoeuvre through the hectic roads to meet our guide Rashid, who is accompanied by a muscular and stoic man who does not say a word.
I learn that he is part of the tourist police force. I wonder if this is necessary as I have not been feeling unsafe – the Moroccan people I have met are courteous. But the locals must know better.
Along the way, I notice that the cafes lining the streets are packed with only men – no women – seated outdoors with their chairs arranged such that they face the road, an echo of European sidewalk cafes.
I feel watched and question Amine, the resort’s recreation supervisor who accompanies me on all day trips. He jests that they are there “to ogle at the ladies”.
We head into an important portal to Tetouan’s past – the medina, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Filled with twisting alleyways with no end in sight, I am thankful for Rashid’s presence. One wrong turn and I will probably still be finding my way out.
Mountains of fruit and vegetables are placed on mats on the ground and piles of Moroccan bread greet me as we enter the souk or open-air marketplace. It is a cacophony of bargaining, heckling and chatter.
I gleefully spot a stall selling tagines, the conical earthernware pots in which Morocco’s most popular dish of the same name is stewed. A trip to Morocco would not be complete without a customary photo of these distinctive vessels.
There is plenty more to see as there are souks centred on non- food products too.
In one, locals peddle pre-loved items that range from wind-up toys to pagers.
At the back of a tannery that dates to the late 15th and early 16th centuries in the medina, Rashid points to three cemeteries in the distance. Each is linked to a different religion – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – and it is a poignant reminder that Muslim-dominated lands have tried to live harmoniously with minorities.
TANGIER: CAMEL RIDE, JUSTIN BIEBER
My final stop in northern Morocco is Tangier, an up-and-coming port city where Africa’s first high-speed rail is being built.
Fought over by the Moroccans, British, French, Portuguese and Spanish, Tangier has a chequered past.
A popular getaway for artists and writers such as Matisse and Truman Capote in the early to mid-20th century, the appeal of this rising city lies in its contrasts of old and new.
Cranes sprout high in the sky and, in the main city district, most Moroccans are dressed in Western clothes.
We first make a pit stop at one of the most popular attractions in Tangier, the Caves of Hercules, located about 14km outside the city.
The forces of nature have carved an opening in the cave that looks like the map of Africa. A wondrous sight, but perhaps not worth the detour if you have only a day in the city.
Do look out, however, for the camels resting incongruously on the beach. It may not be the Sahara Desert, but where else will one get to ride a grumpy camel by the Atlantic Ocean?
After checking the camel ride off my bucket list, we make our way to the old walled city of Tangier, with its quiet cobbled lanes and architecture with touches of European influence.
There are plenty of physical reminders of the past here as I regard the weathered bricks and peeled paint and imagine the city’s storied past.
I meekly interrupt a group of boys playing marbles as I walk between them. A few hundred metres ahead, we encounter another group of older teenage boys listening to the latest Justin Bieber hit on a smartphone.
A jolt to my senses, the contemporary song is out of sync with this ancient enclave.
Yet, this odd modern moment is of minor consequence in a country where remnants of the past are so treasured.
•The writer’s trip was hosted by Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts and Qatar Airways.
by William Clarke
Morroco’s record wheat imports will be even bigger than previously thought, US officials said, responding to recent tender activity.
The US Department of Agriculture’s Rabat bureau lifted its forecast of 2016-17 wheat imports by 500,000 tonnes, to 5.5m tonnes.
“This change is based on increasing import demand as a result of tightening stocks and the results of the most recent tender,” the bureau said.
Wheat production in Morocco plunged to a nine-year low last year, pushing imports to record levels.
Stocks have tightened dramatically, with heavy imports needed before the next harvest, which may be delayed due to slow plantings.
“As of January 1, 2017, Morocco estimates its total stock of common wheat at 150,000 tonnes, durum wheat at 60,000 tonnes, and barley at 100,000 tonnes,” the bureau said.
“According to the trade, these stocks will cover domestic demand only through the end of February, and consequently, imports are expected to increase.”
Tariff-free licences issued
Last week Moroccan grains agency awarded licences to import 390,000 tonnes of soft wheat from the European Union at a preferential tariff rate, as part of a tender process.
The volume was up from the 363,636 tonnes of licences indicated as available in the tender when it was announced last month.
The agency also last week announced 359,998 tonnes for reduced tariffs shipments from the US, in separate tender process.
And the current Moroccan wheat crop has been delayed.
“The 2017-18 season started very late, due to rain delays and some areas sowing did not finish until the end of December 2016,” said the bureau.
The Moroccan agriculture minister last week saw wheat and barley plantings at a combined 4.8m hectares.
Total wheat and barley harvest area was 3.2m hectares last season, according to USDA figures.
Trial reopens and goes to ordinary court from military tribunal.
An appeals court in Rabat is starting to examine the case of Gdeim Izik, a bloody event connected to the disputed Western Sahara. For the first time, a case so far examined by military tribunals will be tried by an ordinary court.
The case is highly controversial in Morocco’s political scenario with its indigenous Saharawi people pushing for self-determination and a call for controlled autonomy from the Palace. A former Spanish colony, the area was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Since then it has been at the center of a long-running territorial dispute between Morocco and the Saharawi, led by the Polisario Front.
The case dates back to 2010, when 11 Moroccan officers were killed during operations to clear a camp in Gdeim Izik, set up in protest a few kilometers from Laayoune, in the disputed Sahara.
In 2013, 25 defendants were sentenced to jail terms ranging between 20 years and life. Two defendants were set free, one was released from prison due to poor health while another was tried in absentia. Twenty one are currently in prison.
The case will be handled by an appeals court after a law was approved, banning military tribunals from dealing with cases that concern civilians. The legislation will also enable the families of victims to be plaintiffs in the case and rid the trial of any ambiguity that can be part of military sentences.
As of Monday, Morocco will be able to shed light on the case by hearing witnesses testifying and the defendants’ version of events with both State attorneys and the defense contributing to define the responsibilities of the two sides. (ANSAmed)