Religious Freedom in Morocco? Not Yet...
by Sammy Ketz (AFP, December 13, 2006)
Rabat, Morocco - They might have Islamic names like Mohammed or Ali, but every Sunday these Moroccan converts to Christianity go discreetly to "church" -- to the ire of Islamic militants and under the suspicious eye of police.
"There are about a thousand of us in around 50 independent churches across the big cities of the kingdom," explained Abdelhalim, who coordinates these evangelical Protestant groups in Morocco.
"As we are tolerated, but not recognized (by the state) we must, for security reasons, conduct ourselves as a clandestine organisation," said the 57-year-old, who preferred to use a pseudonym.
"As soon as a church has 20 worshippers it splits in two," said Abdelhalim, a doctor who converted to Christianity 16 years ago when he was living abroad.
Islam is the state religion in Morocco, a country of 30 million people that counts only 5,000 Jews and 1,000 Christians, according to figures given by the two groupings.
Although you cannot be sentenced if you convert to Christianity, it is illegal to proselytize under Moroccan law.
And while official Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches are recognized by Morocco, they are only for foreigners living in the country. Moroccan Christians have no right to pray in these churches.
However when Abdelhalim returned home seven years ago, he said he was astonished by the growing number of converts to Christianity.
"At the beginning of the 1990s there were 400 of us, four years ago around 700 and today more than 1,000," he said.
Most of the converts belong to the middle classes and work in the private sector or as engineers. But these new evangelical Christians also count among their numbers craftsmen, housewives, students and young unemployed people.
Christianity was established in North Africa in the third century AD but was supplanted by Islam in the seventh century. In the early 1990s, Christianity started to get a new foothold when foreign missionaries passed on the word to Moroccans.
As for Morocco's main cities, seven of these "free churches" -- not linked to any international Protestant church -- are in Marrakesh, six in Casablanca, five in Rabat and even one in El Ayoun, the regional capital of the western Sahara.
"Television and the Internet are very efficient methods and in our church a soldier became Christian through the Al Hayat channel," said 30-year-old Youssef, who also preferred to use a pseudonym.
"For many of us, Islam is perceived as a social straitjacket and not as a real faith, and Christianity as a religion of tolerance and love," said the businessman, who converted at the age of 19 and was later followed by his family.
Yet in the eyes of the state they remain Muslim.
"Officially, my son and I are Muslim," said Abdelhalim. "We hold Christian marriages and bless the young couple but this is not recognized by the state. They must go before the Muslim clergy and marry according to Sharia (Islamic law). If they don't do this, they can be charged with adultery."
The same goes for death. "I cannot be buried in a Christian cemetery, only in a Muslim one," he said.
Jack Wald, 55, an American and pastor of the Rabat International Church -- one of the "official" Christian churches -- who has lived in Morocco since 2000 also cites the role of technology.
It "means that a country or religion cannot isolate itself from the rest of the world. This happened in eastern Europe and is happening in China and North Korea. The same is true with Muslim countries," he said.
"Radio, television and the Internet have opened up doors for people to hear a different message than the one the imam preaches on Fridays."
Youssef estimated that 60 percent of the Moroccan converts became Christian through personal contacts, 30 percent via television or Internet and 10 percent via missionaries.
Three evangelist Christian satellite channels which are beamed into Morocco in the Arabic language give witness accounts, hymns and prayers: Al Hayat and Sat 7 from Cyprus, and Miracle from Canada.
Discretion is the order of the day for Morocco's Christians, with the faithful holding services in their homes, against a background of suspicion from the Islamic world.
"We have to be careful because ordinary people cannot understand that we can be Arabs without being Muslim. For us the biggest danger is ignorance," Abdelhalim said.
The Christian converts also have article 220 of the penal code hanging over their heads, which provides for prison sentences of between six months and three years for anyone who tries to undermine a Muslim's faith or to convert him to another religion.
"I have been summoned to the police station dozens of times," said Youssef. He nonetheless says that Morocco is considered more tolerant than other Muslim countries thanks to King Mohammed VI, who has encouraged reforms to fight poverty, boost women's rights and thwart any slide towards Islamic extremism in the kingdom.
Radouan Benchekroun, the president of the council of Muslim scholars in Casablanca is, however, unaccommodating.
"To deny one's religion, it is the biggest sin that a Muslim can commit," he said.
Islamic militants insist these conversions "are not accepted by the population," according to Lahcen Daoudi, a deputy for the Islamist Justice and Development Party.
"As long as it remains at the individual level we can turn a blind eye. The problem is on the social level. If there is proselytism or if children or teachers come to school with the Crucifix, we cannot tolerate that," Daoudi said.
Not related to Morocco - but by far the strangest spam of all time.
In my spam folder today:
Satan Has No Chin When we learned irrefutably that Satan has no chin, we began to see him everywhere.
It gets better:
Now, though, in an unprecedented coup,
the Irony Party of Australia has obtained pictures of alien worlds
beyond even the wildest dreams of the US-based Space Agency.
But this time Batman's are not merely the fantastic invention of
Hollywood hacks. Fortresses in General are much more Harmful than
The weirdest part is that much of it is very coherent and addresses Israel's aggressiveness, new media, and Bush in a way that I kind of dig. Bu that shit about Australia?
Morocco Under Assault of "Islamists"
In fact not a week goes by without a story of arrests of alleged terrorists, radical imams and cells preparing youngsters for the Jihad in Iraq.
Back at the end of November, authorities dismantled a cell in the same Casablanca slum where the fourteen bombers of the May 2003 originated. This cell composed of 13 men was headed by Abu Zubair Al Maghribi who had been watched by police for a few months because of his contacts with the Algerian terror group GSPC.He had recruited very rapidly 12 men, martyr candidates for the Jihad in Morocco and Iraq. In fact, they had planned to build a training camp in the Atlas mountains and had picked targets they could attack in Morocco. Including the British and US embassies and consulates alike.
On December 1, Morocco fired 31 imams for their radical sermons.
Also authorities have been focusing on the city of Tetuan and especially its Mezwak mosque where over a dozen young men were recruited to commit suicide attacks against coalition forces in Iraq. Interestingly, most of the alleged perpetrators of the Madrid March 11 2004 attacks were also attending this mosque. A Moroccan goes as far as calling the Mezwak mosque "a factory of suicide bombers", the Saudi owned daily Asharq Al Awsat calls it " the highway for suicide bombers to Iraq".
Considering these facts, it is not surprising that CIA agents have come to Morocco to investigate the extent of the recruiting for Iraq's suicide missions. Indeed the number of Moroccans fighting in Iraq has skyrocketed in the past few years. According to the Spanish El Pais, over 500 suicide attacks have occurred in Iraq since the start of the war, 90% of them have been perpetrated by foreigners and a majority of them have been Moroccans.
But not only Americans are showing up in Tetuan, Spaniards are also swarming around the mosque to get their share of info related to the Madrid bombings and the potential recruitment of likely terrorists.December 11, 2006 08:40 PM
Moroccan Pick-Up Lines
Compliments of TelQuel and my husband, I present...Moroccan pick-up lines:
Jlaleb ou lqoualeb = Girls who wear djellabas look so traditional but are also smart and sexy.
Koullek zebda ou mnin nebda = You're all butter, where can I start? (Implication - she's soft and easy)
Wach hada karr walla douar al askar = Is that an ass or a military camp? (karr = butt/ass)
Allah yatina chi nsiba nddiwouha l'haj = Hey girl, I want to bring your mother on the hajj (and be my wife)
Na'at mlioune a'ala smar alloune = I will give a million for a girl who has brown eyes.
Shibh jazirat allouhoum al arabia = You're originally Arab (wow, that's a good pick-up line, genius)
Dak sder a'ndek dial lbatata ou zitoun = Your breasts would look beautiful with potatoes and olives. (Reference to Moroccan tajine with chicken breast)
Ntouma tzayrou ou hna ntkhayrou = You wear tight clothes and we choose (between you)
Nass hazza lhem ou nti hazza lhemma = People carry problems and you carry pride.
Well damn. For one, it's pretty incredible that they printed karr. And two, EW.
My trip to "Morocco"...
Last night I joined the group of students and professors who created the Virtual Morocco mentioned in my last entry...What an amazing project! We met outside the Hassan II Mosque, took a tour inside, got a free tarboosh to wear, and I even met a Moroccan professor teaching in the U.S. (he remarked how unbelievable it was that he was speaking to an American in his country via a program based in California - good point technology!)
I hope there are no copyrights, because I took a couple of photos of the meeting. I'm the one without a body, unfortunately - apparently Second Life has a few little bugs, but on the whole, it was a fantastic adventure to meet with a bunch of virtual bodies in virtual Morocco.
Remember, I'm the bodyless mass of hair wearing a tarboosh
A Virtual Morocco!
From the NMC Campus Observer:
A group from Johnson & Wales University has teamed up with the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism to create a Virtual Morocco using the program Second Life, a gaming platform designed for multi-player virtual reality.
The New Media Consortium states:
Virtual Morocco contains monuments and experiences from Casablanca, Rabat, and Marrakesh, and includes space for projecting real-world events into the virtual environment. The goals of this multidisciplinary team project are to provide an immersive experience that educates visitors about Moroccan culture while enticing them to think about Morocco as a travel destination.
Tonight, the New Media Consortium will be hosting a "Teachers Buzz Group" at 2 am GMT to take a field trip to Virtual Morocco. Anyone is allowed to attend. The meeting spot can be found here, but first you must download the Second Life program, which can be found by following the previous link.
I'll do my best to be there; look for taamarbuuta.
I'm a 22 year old blonde American female...am I safe in Morocco?
Go to any travel forum and you'll find questions just like this. The age and nationality (but never the hair color) vary, but the questions follow the same pattern of sheer, utter terror when it comes to visiting Morocco. Although my true desire is to scream, "NO, YOU'RE NOT! DON'T COME!" my honesty and desire for money to filter into Morocco gets the best of me and I only reply in a slightly snarky manner.
The most absurd thing, however, is how defensive I get of Moroccans when this question is asked. I mean, the truth is that I always feel SAFE in Morocco, but I certainly don't always feel at ease, relaxed, comfortable, unbothered, or any number of other delightful adjectives. So why my defense? There's a number of reasons.
#1 And people say Moroccans treat tourists badly.
Which is not entirely untrue, of course. Moroccans frequently up their prices threefold for tourists (which is in my opinion justifiable, but that's not the point); tourists, on the other hand, often deserve it. Not because they're so wealthy or anything trite like that - because the tourists treat the Moroccans like crap! This is most prevalent in Marrakech; I remember a time last November...I was in Marrakech for a couple of days for a conference and had a bit of time to shop, so I was running around like a chicken with her head cut off trying to find the exact items I needed. At my last stop, intent on buying two Moroccan shirts, I waited behind a British tourist purchasing a djellaba. The shopkeeper (as many in Marrakech do) spoke perfect English and told her the djellaba would cost 300 dirhams. She, of course, found this price absurd and took the advice of the guidebooks and bargained. "200," she said. Now, any veteran knows that it's important for anyone, tourist or otherwise, to cut the initial cost in half to start one's bargaining, but regardless, she did her duty. The man replied, "290," not being a man of large increments. After a bit of back and forth, they eventually agreed on 250 dirhams which is a decent price for a Brit if you ask me. The woman stepped out of the shop for a moment to speak with her friend (small shop, nowhere to stand) then returned and said "I only have 200 dirhams." Djellaba already in hand, she gave the man the cash and walked out before he had a chance to say anything.
My eyes must have been popping out of my head, because the man laughed and said it happens all the time. And then, after engaging him in a brief, simple and polite Arabic conversation, he priced each shirt I'd chosen at 50 dirhams each (which is extremely reasonable for a tourist). I said "45 each," he said "done" and I went on my merry way, knowing that I'd just paid somewhere around what my husband would pay in another city. Which brings me to my second point...
#2 - Bitch, please. The whole world doesn't have to speak English.
This coming from me, a girl who just recently picked up a second language, and not even fluently. Even better - I don't speak anything fluently aside from English, but I manage to garner respect no matter where I travel. It's really not too difficult - learn "please," "thank you," "excuse me," "how much," and the numbers in any language, and you're good to go. Now, I can't say I always play by this rule - when visiting Germany and the Czech Republic this year, I didn't get beyond please or thank you because everyone seemed so eager to speak English. There, it was a reasonable request, given that English is the second language of both countries. But in Morocco, where the second language is French, it makes a huge difference if you can speak a few words of that or Arabic.
I'm not a boastful person, however, when I meet other foreigners who've just been shopping, I'm always tempted to ask (and sometimes do) how much they paid for items which I've purchased in the past. More often than not, I find that I paid somewhere between 70 and 90 percent of what they paid. A "Touareg" scarf, which is priced anywhere between 20 and 50 dirhams in the big cities, should only cost about 15-20 and shouldn't bleed too badly when washed. Bilgha (babouches), Moroccan slippers, can cost a tourist up to 120dh (depending on quality of course) but should only cost 40-50dh.
Why the discrepancy if we're all white and look to be about the same income level (and age)? The fact is, if you don't make the effort to appreciate Morocco and Moroccans (which requires a little bit of language skill), sellers have no reason to respect your wallet. A little "Salam aleikum" will go a long way. So will dressing properly...
#3 - Outside of Agadir, you oughtta leave your shorts at home, girl.
I wish I could show you photographs of some of my Moroccan students. I have a few who saunter into class wearing knee-high stiletto boots, miniskirts, midriff showing, big gaudy earrings, way too much makeup - sometimes I'm almost certain they're headed to work afterward, if you know what I mean. Sixteen-year-olds! In fact, they're just exercising one of the few freedoms that teenage girls have - dressing as they like.
You do not have that same freedom. Well, you do of course, but I can guarantee you're going to get ten times the hassle they do. Why? For one, you're not Moroccan, two you're probably not Muslim, and three, you may very well look like the girls they see in those favorites of Western film, girls who tend to have few scruples.
So how can you avoid being mistaken for that kind of girl? Not dressing like that kind of girl, of course. It can be frustrating in some ways, wanting to be yourself and not hold anything back - but I've found that being myself even in terms of fashion is possible, if I follow a few ground rules:
-Don't wear anything that falls more than an inch above the knee (men, just don't wear shorts please - they look stupid anyway).
-Your breasts are far sexier than your upper arms - worry less about long sleeves and more about cleavage.
-Don't cover your hair - most Moroccan girls don't and if you're not otherwise dressed Islamically, you'll just look stupid. Besides, hijabis get hit on by Moroccan men too, you know.
-You can be as colorful as you want in your own style, but wearing Moroccan clothes will mostly just make you stand out.
I wear short sleeves, I wear my hair down, I wear jeans nearly every day. I only don a djellaba on the occasional Friday for couscous, and I never wear jewelry other than earrings, my wedding ring, and a small necklace. Am I still myself? Certainly. Am I drawing a whole lot of attention? Well, not for that reason anyway.
More next time.
Lost in Sidi Moumen...
Yesterday, my husband and I took a trip to the American Consulate to start some immigration stuff (have no fear, we're not going anywhere anytime soon, but as citizenship would allow for him to continue our nomadic aspirations, it's our best option). Now, I don't like Casa very much, but I couldn't believe I'd never seen the Twin Towers or photographed any of the fantastic architecture. So, I experimented with car-window photography. Here are the slightly odd results (and Casa is, I've decided, one of the strangest places in this country):
On the road again...(Why does it always feel like we're on Mars?)
From the road...
Slightly varying masjid architecture...
Horses on the overpass?
The world's largest banquette? (text: Richbond, the name of the company)
An attempt to photograph things that would be interesting to me were it not my thousandth time seeing them.
A bit of color in a rather drab city...
The slightly impressive Twin Center.
This little kid was hilarious - he approached us selling gum for 5 dh. My partner in donkey-riding crime bought a pack, then proceeded to engage the kid for a few minutes. I remarked that he was "so little" and the youth mimicked back, "So little." He continued to do this for a few minutes, then moved onto his next quest. As he was parked outside of a fancy department store and it was 3:00 pm, I have a feeling his mother was nearby.
Odd sight in a Muslim country, aye?
This fella was pretty close to our car.
This mosque actually SPARKLES!
(Here's where our sense of direction got messed up)
Say "Sidi Moumen" and most people here will automatically think of it as where the terrorists live...In the past few years, the suburb of big bad Casablanca has made news for being where the Madrid and Casablanca bombers are from, for having curfews imposed on its residents by Islamic parties, and for its extreme poverty. As we discovered yesterday upon getting lost on our way to the autopiste, it's not somewhere I'd want to end up...
It doesn't look so bad from here.
Construction in this method is a fairly normal sight, but in Sidi Moumen most of the buildings look to be in this state.
Espace Sportif et de Distraction de Sidi Moumen. Does "distraction" have a different implication in French?
And on our way home, more of those awful trucks. This one in particular, carrying three layers of Butagaz (used for cooking, heating water, and heating the house - highly necessary), almost ran us over.
Next time, I'm heading south.
Cosmetic Surgery Boom Hits Morocco...
Reprinted with permission from Magharebia.com
By Sarah Touarhi for Magharebia in Rabat -- 08/12/06
[File] Moroccans are increasingly going under the knife in pursuit of beauty.
Cosmetic surgery is booming in Morocco. Specialists in the field are delighted with the progress already made after just a few years of business, thanks to Moroccans' infatuation with beauty. Practices in Europe and the United States are taking root in Morocco.
According to plastic surgeon Ramzy Rachid, Morocco is seeing a growing number of clients. The majority of practices have seen the number of patients double or even triple over the last few years. "Many patients come to us for simple size reductions," Rachid says. He says 60% to 70% of cosmetic surgery patients are younger than 40. "We are a long way from the average age of the past, which was sixty years. There's no typical profile."
The consumer "ends up being influenced by new images and techniques shown constantly on television. Cosmetic surgery has become a solution for many people. In the past, it was restricted to the elite. Today it has become accessible to people from all layers of society," Sociologist Abou al Mahacine Ali says.
Prices in Morocco are within reach for many in the country. In fact, prices do not follow any set rule -- with no fixed prices, patients can haggle. The same operation will cost one patient twice what it costs another.
Liposuction can cost from 10,000 to 40,000 dirhams, a breast implant from 20,000 to 30,000 dirhams. Lift surgery prices start at 25,000 dirhams. A face and neck lift will cost between 25,000 and 35,000 dirhams. Cosmetic surgery to eyelids is from 8,000 to 12,000 dirhams. A new nose costs between 5,000 and 15,000 dirhams. Hair transplants go for between 6,000 to 10,000 dirhams per session.
According to Dr. Ahmed Bourra, a pioneer in hair transplants in Morocco, these prices are not inflated. "Certainly, people on the minimum wage cannot dream of cosmetic surgery. But some people can have cosmetic procedures thanks to credit."
Morocco has also become a destination for medical tourism. Westerners use have their procedures done in the country because of low prices and the discretion of being abroad. Tour companies are increasingly offering packages that include cosmetic surgery.
Morocco is starting to train specialists who are heading out to the smaller towns or country areas to practise cosmetic surgery and surgical dermatology. Funding, however, is a problem. Insurance companies consider cosmetic operations a luxury, and do no pay for these procedures.
Still, in the university hospitals of Rabat and Casablanca, officials are starting to show an interest in the sector. The two university hospitals have a plastic and cosmetic surgery centre, a burns unit and a cosmetic dermatology centre.
Professor Fahd Benslimane says that patients are not always warned of the risks, and it is not always possible to improve certain imperfections. "Ethics require the doctor to be frank with his patient, who must be informed that cosmetic surgery is carried out principally to improve their condition, but other imperfections may appear."
hors de prix!
Western Sahara Autonomy
A Moroccan council has proposed autonomy for Western Sahara, an action which is likely to fuel tension with the Polisario, reports Reuters.
For months, Morocco has been planning this proposal; clearly there is little hope that Morocco will accept the Polisario Front's bid for independence for the Saharawis. Khali Henna Ould Errachid, chairman of the Royal Consultative Council for Sahara Affairs said today, "The draft plan offers a solution to the territory's problem on the basis of an autonomy. It offers self-determination via autonomy but it does not propose a self-determination that leads to separation and independence...The plan would be a final and complete solution to Western Sahara because it satisfies all the historic demands of the Saharawis."
So long as the King is receptive, the Moroccan government will work on garnering support for autonomy in Morocco and throughout the diaspora.
The Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco in 1975 after Spain withdrew from the region. The area is quite rich in phosphates and fisheries. Since 1991, the region has been subject to a U.N. ceasefire however, conflict with the Polisario Front (which is backed by Algeria) continues. The agreement promised Saharawis the opportunity to vote in a referendum on independence but such a vote has never occurred.
Ould Errachid stated that "Polisario fears our plan. They see it as a tsunami because it offers an alternative to the Saharawis." He also claimed that one of the aims of the proposal is to put pressures on Polisario's leadership in the hope of weakening it and its support by the Saharawis. Ould Errachid also claimed that only 800-1,000 Saharawis are truly in support of the Polisario; the rest support autonomy.
The Rabat Zoo Part II
Awhile back, you may recall, I sent a round of e-mails out regarding the Rabat Zoo. I was sure I'd posted about it here, but a quick search revealed nothing. Anyhow, here are some examples of the horror:
Most zoo exhibits elsewhere would not include Assiri containers.
Steve Irwin is rolling over in his grave (no harm intended).
That water's not fit for stray dogs!
That is indeed a sheep, two zebras, and a few cows. Interesting choice.
I'm not an elephant expert, but he just doesn't look all that healthy to me.
Anyhow, I contacted plenty of people about this. I got responses from PETA, The Humane Society of the U.S. and SPANA. Unfortunately, the former two couldn't do a whole lot (though Carly Ikuma at Humane Society International referred me to SPANA, who were ultimately able to help).
SPANA, however, sent me an e-mail today, with the following quote from their Technical director:
“Although we have not had any other formal complaints recently I did spend some time at the zoo recently. Although it is undoubtedly under resourced, in need of maintenance, has some questionable feeding practices and some of the animals are undoubtedly too confined, I did not see any obviously sick or undernourished and all had drinking water. You would not ideally keep animals in some of the enclosures / cages and I hope this will change when the zoo moves location. SPANA Morocco has made itself available to assist and advise on planning at any stage. We have always kept contact with the zoo staff and will continue to pass on any concerns and hope that future co-operation can improve things for these animals long term."
Insha'allah, word will be kept.
The Meknes Bar Report
On the LP Thorntree, people are always asking about where they can get a drink in this city or that city...I can honestly tell you I've only drunk once in Fez (at the Palais Jamai, hello 55dh Heineken!), and in Marrakesh have always preferred to purchase my own wine and take it to wherever I'm staying. Rabat is dead after 10 pm, and I don't set foot in Casa unless I have to. But Meknes, ah Meknes! For such a two-horse town, you'd be surprised at the great number of drinking holes.
My personal favorite is Novelty. For those of you who've been to Morocco, I'm sure you're all too familiar with the big ugly bars with perhaps an Amstel sign and pastel-painted door out front; the kind no woman in her right mind would ever set foot inside. Novelty used to be one of these; somehow and for no known reasons, an older Italian man bought it out and fixed it up with some nice woodwork, good food, TAPAS, cheap prices, and get this - draught beer! It's quite lovely, I feel totally comfortable there with Hamza or alone, and I've never gotten sick from the food. Additionally, they stay open quite late and they have Corona for less than 50dh - a rarity in this country. (Rue de Paris, Hamrya)
A next good bet, though pricey, is the classy Le Pub. All sorts of rumours have flown about this place, but I have confirmed not one of them. There's a bar upstairs with a nice restaurant (which serves real STEAK!) and a rousing bar downstairs with a house band. They also serve prawn crackers. I take all visiting foreigners to this place. Try the lasagna, the steak, or the crab ravioli, and please...have a cognac, just because you can (Allal ben Abdellah, Hamrya)
Hotel Rif is another favorite, perhaps because their shisha is cheap and so are their beers. Usually live music, plenty of snacks going around (including CHEESE), and lovely seating. Kind of sketchy, but what bar in Morocco isn't? (Antisirabe, Hamrya)
Other good bets:
Hotel de Nice - tiny bar, good snacks, no hassle, cheapish beer.
Zaki Hotel - Would be more highly recommended if it weren't so far; plus, the bar is overpriced and somewhat boring.
Hotel Ibis - only if you're jonesing for a panini with your beer.
Hotel Transatlantique - Only in summer, when there's a fantastic medina view served up with your 50dh Heiny.
Hotel Malta- the bar's too loud but it's got some of the cleanest bathrooms in the city!
The terror of the road to Fez.
Ever seen one of these? We don't like to pass them very much.
Here's a front view.
Despite the fact that they're stacked higher than Paul Bunyan's pancakes, I've never seen one tip. On the contrary, three fairly normal buses have tipped in the past couple of months.
A Letter from the president of the disputed Saharawi Republic to Gen. Kofi Annan
Reposted from Sahara Presse Service, inaccessible in Morocco due to government censorship.
"Mr. Kofi Annan,
Secretary-General of the United Nations
Bir Lehlou, 3 December 2006
On Sunday, 25 November 2006, a new tragedy occurred in the Atlantic coast of the Saharawi territories under Moroccan occupation where 50 Saharawi citizens were drowned when their three boats sank while they were trying to reach the Spanish coast.
25 Saharawis youngsters died in the beginning of October 2006 under similar circumstances, while there are 15 others who remain missing after they had disappeared under unknown circumstances to which we referred in our letter addressed to your Excellency on 25 June 2006.
All the information that we have received from the survivors and the families of the victims in addition to reports and testimonies gathered by independent human rights organisations point to the involvement of the Moroccan occupying forces in this horrendous operation, which comes within the context of a systematic policy aiming at eliminating the Saharawis and draining the occupied Western Sahara of its own inhabitants.
Since the illegal occupation of Western Sahara on 31 October 1975, the Moroccan colonial authorities have been engaged in a series of eradicationist policies involving assassination and forced deportation of Saharawis into Morocco in addition to genocidal practices, kidnapping and disappearance perpetrated against hundreds of Saharawi civilians.
Since 21 May 2005, the date of the beginning of the Saharawi peaceful resistance, the Saharawi cities have witnessed an overwhelming presence of Moroccan oppressive security forces including police, gendarmerie and the army that have been deployed solely to smother the Saharawi civilians and put their neighbourhoods under permanent siege.
The colonial authorities have been targeting the active young people and subjecting them to a myriad of terrorist practices including assassination, burning, killing in premeditated traffic accidents, kidnapping, unfair detention, severe torture, and disposing of victims in remote places. These have also been coupled with policies of starvation, impoverishment, forced unemployment and repeated intimidation against individuals and communities in order to force them not only to renounce their convictions but also to depart their country and families.
These gross violations, which have resulted from the denial of a fundamental right, namely the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination, are the same violations to which we have repeatedly drawn attention and which were reaffirmed by the Office of the Higher Commissioner for Human Rights following the visit of its mission to the Territory in May 2006.
Reliable information indicates that there are active and organised mafias funded by the Moroccan occupying authorities, which operate in the Saharawi occupied territories and on the coast in collaboration with Moroccan oppressive apparatus that provide them with all logistical assistance in order to drive those young people, victims of the persecution of that apparatus, to migrate clandestinely and risk their lives in unknown journey across the ocean.
The death of a large number of innocent Saharawis, particularly young people, within a short time and in a territory that is under the United Nations responsibility is utterly unacceptable. For that reason we call on you to intervene urgently to put an end to this tragedy.
The Frente POLISARIO calls for an urgent international inquiry into the involvement of the Moroccan occupying authorities in the death of those young people and the ethnic cleansing against the Saharawis as well as the policies aimed at draining Western Sahara of its inhabitants and driving them, under duress, to go somewhere else.
In view of these actions that are in contravention of international law and conventions, we renew our call for an immediate extension of the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara so as to encompass the protection of the safety of the Saharawi population in the occupied territories and safeguarding their fundamental rights, whilst working to enable to the Saharawi people to exercise, without delay, their inalienable right to self-determination in accordance with the Charter and resolutions of the United Nations.
Please accept, Mr. Secretary-General, the assurances of my highest consideration.
Secretary-General of the Frente POLISARIO
For those of you in Morocco without proxies...
From the Sahara Presse Service:SADR/MOROCCO/OCCUPATION
Polisario Front warns against a new "Srebrenica" in Western Sahara
London, 03/12/2006 (SPS) Polisario Front warned the international community against a possible massacre in the Western Sahara Occidental, similar to that of Srebrenica in Bosnia-Herzegovina, indicated Saharawi members of the Pan African Parliament, who were participating Thursday to a conference on the "human rights situation in the occupied cities of Western Sahara".
The enlargement of the mandate of the Minurso to include the defence of the human rights in the Western Sahara will answer the claims of Polisario Front and of many international human rights organisations, the Saharawi Parliamentarians indicated in a statement to the Londons Bureau of the Algerian Press Service, APS.
"Seen the explosive situation in the Western Sahara due to the odious policy of oppression of the Saharawi peoples peaceful intifada, any delay in the enlargement of the mandate of the Minurso get us close to a second Srebrenica", the Saharawi Ambassador to South Africa had declared in his intervention during the aforementioned conference.
The South African Committee for Human Rights organised on Thursday a seminar under the theme "the human rights situation in the occupied territories of the Western Sahara" and declared the "emergency of enlarging the mandate of the MINURSO", according to a press release issued by the Saharawi Ambassador to South Africa, it should be recalled.
The seminar, which was organised at the seat of the South African human rights organisation, was attended by representatives of the diplomatic corps in Pretoria, representatives of South African political parties, NGOS, searchers and journalists, the press release indicated.
In his intervention, Mr. Mtselsio Thipanyane, Executive Director of the Committee put forward "the serious human rights violations in the occupied territories of the Western Sahara, perpetrated by Morocco, which are periodically denounced in international reports and in concordant testimonies of Saharawi citizens".
"This is a major concern for our organisation and our seminar aims to put the head lines of a work programme that will be organised in coordination with our partners to ensure a better defence of Saharawis, so as to consecrate the Saharawi peoples right to self-determination and independence", he added.
During the seminar, many personalities intervened, including Mr. Ebrahim Saley, Director of the Department of North Africa in the South African FA Ministry, Mr. Eddy Makue, Secretary General of the South African Council of Churches, Mr. Oubbi Bouchraya Bachir, Saharawi Ambassador to South Africa, Mr. Timothey Othieno, from the Institute of Global Dialogue and Mr. Ali Salem Tamek, Member of the Collective of the Saharawi human rights defenders and ex-political prisoner.
The South African Committee for Human Rights exposed, on the margin of the seminar, pictures of the Saharawi victims of the Moroccan repression showing people injured Saharawis savagely tortured, burned alive or assassinated. (SPS)
**Note from taamarbuuta: The Moroccan government bans all news sites related to the ongoing struggle in the Western Sahara.
So let him. End of story.
From Reuters, 2 December 2006:
RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco's most popular satirist urged foreign artists attending the country's biggest film festival to be aware of what he called the Muslim kingdom's obsession with censorship.
Ahmed Snoussi, known as Bziz, is popular with millions of Moroccans, even though he said the state had excluded him from its radio and television stations, and theatres, since 1988. The government says he is not banned or censored.
"I'm telling the festival guests that the event they are attending is a fake setting that is unable to veil the real plight of freedom of thought, opinion and press in Morocco," he told Reuters by telephone from the Marrakech Cinema Festival which opened on Friday.
"The only show the authorities are offering to me is about my own ban and exclusion. They are obsessed by censorship because they see threats coming from every place."
Actors, producers and directors from Europe, Africa, Asia and the United States are attending the nine-day festival, part of a government drive to promote Morocco's physical and cultural assets to foreign film-makers.
Bziz, which means buzzing wasp in Moroccan Arabic dialect, has been hugely popular in theatres and university campuses since the early 1980s with jokes about crackdowns on dissidents, vote-rigging and the royal monopoly on power and wealth.
Bziz performs at university camps and festivals, and other events organised by opposition leftist groups and civic associations. He also distributes records and CDs of his act.
Morocco is widely regarded as the most open Arab state but rights groups there complain there are restrictions on freedoms of speech and opinion.
"There is a contrast between the good image of Morocco abroad because of the state propaganda and the reality of freedoms on the ground which is not good," said Abdeslam Abdellah, spokesman of the independent Moroccan Human Rights Association.
"We asked the government repeatedly to lift the ban on Bziz but he is still banned. That is an example of the gap between government talks about respect of rights and reality," he told Reuters.
That last quote says it best.
Earlier this year, the Moroccan government began banning websites. Livejournal, photo sites, other similar blogging sites; to protect the people against what other people could possibly be freely posting on those sites (of course the government missed the point and left open all sorts of other blogging sites such as this one).
Before that, and for as long as Moroccans have had newspapers, I'm sure, the government has been marking subjects as taboo for the magazines and papers of Morocco. Of course, those such as Le Journal Hebdomodaire and Telquel regularly push the boundaries, unfortunately the boundary-pushing articles are usually about sex, a subject which is no longer titillating enough to be taboo, apparently. Just two weeks ago, both magazines wrote about sexual dissatisfaction of married couples in the country - how...fascinating?
In 2003, the editor of Demain and Douman, a French- and an Arabic-language weekly, was cut off by his printer after a scandal wherein he "insulted the person of the king" - the cutoff was a harsh blow on top of the fact that he faced three to five years in prison for his crime.
So while sex is alright, and Le Journal Hebdomodaire published an article on the still-underground Moroccan hip hop scene this week and public figures like Hamidou Laanigri can be made fun of, the king is entirely taboo. "The person of the king is inviolable and sacred," according to article 23 of the Moroccan constitution (Reporters Without Borders). He can be photographed on a jet-ski, but how he paid for that jet-ski and hundreds of other things? Forbidden.
So now, the Marrakech Film Festival, held in the schizophrenic city of Marrakech where girls ride around on motorbikes and nightclubs are open 7/7, but the city eats, breathes, and sleeps by the sound of the muezzin will host hundreds of foreign film artists, bringing potentially millions of dollars...
And ROMAN POLANSKI is the head of jury. Polanski is of course best known in the United States for fleeing the country in 1978 days before his sentencing for raping a 13-year-old girl was supposed to occur. He is also known for being the widower of Sharon Tate, who was murdered along with her unborn child in 1969 by Charles Manson and his cult. In 1989, the judge who had been in charge of Polanski's case retired, stating that he couldn't wait anymore for Polanski to return.
How interesting - one of the most controversial film figures in the United States (controversial by AMERICAN standards!) is now appearing in Marrakech. I have two sets of words for this, of course - one is "good for him," the other is as Bziz said: "be careful."
Bush thinks we're terrorists!
From CNN.com 1 Dec 2006:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Without notifying the public, federal agents have assigned millions of international travelers, including Americans, computer-generated scores rating the risk they pose of being terrorists or criminals.
The travelers are not allowed to see or directly challenge these risk assessments. The government intends to keep the scores on file for 40 years.
The scores are assigned to people entering and leaving the United States after computers assess their travel records, including where they are from, how they paid for tickets, their motor vehicle records, past one-way travel, seating preference and what kind of meal they ordered.
The program's existence was quietly disclosed earlier in November when the government put an announcement detailing the Automated Targeting System, or ATS, for the first time in the Federal Register, a fine-print compendium of federal rules.
Eighty-seven million people a year enter the country by air and 309 million enter by land or sea, the Department of Homeland Security reports.
The government gets advance passenger and crew lists for all flights and ships entering and leaving and all those names are entered into the system for an ATS analysis, said Jayson P. Ahern, an assistant commissioner of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection agency.
He also said the names of vehicle drivers and passengers are entered when they cross the border and Amtrak is voluntarily supplying passenger data for trains to and from Canada.
Ahern said that border agents concentrate on arrivals more than on departures because their resources are limited.
You have GOT to be kidding me! Well then, I'm fucked. Six or seven or eight or so entries and exits from Morocco, other Arabic in my passport, bank stamps from Bank al-Maghrib, I order halal meals when I don't fly RAM because they taste better and kosher meals when those don't exist, I always choose aisle seats because I pee a lot. I'm just fucked, huh?
When all of this Homeland Security bullshit started, I wasn't old or involved enough to care - which is shameful; but now that it affects me so directly I can't help but be infuriated. What's next, Bush Admin? Are you going to start digging through my shit? Analyzing my urine samples? Checking up on who's in my bed?
I think now that I'm married to a Muslim, an Arab, a Moroccan, whom I love so dearly, I'm bound to defend his side a whole lot more - not that there are, or should be, sides, but this is fucking personal. A few weeks ago we went to apply for a Dutch tourist visa for Hamza - we had our application in line, our marriage certificate, six months of bank statements, a letter of support from his father, travel insurance, EVERY FUCKING DUCK IN A ROW AND THEY STILL REJECTED HIM.
We're appealing, but this is exactly the bullshit I'm talking about - let's take every Arab male between the ages of 18 and 30, quickly glance at his photograph, and decide that, regardless of the fact that his bank account is stuffed (or maybe in spite of), he's got to be a fucking terrorist.
You know, I frequently sit here and bitch about Moroccans - they can't count change properly, they certainly can't drive, and the men harrass me like no men anywhere else, but NO ONE deserves to be rejected on the basis of the fact that his ancestry is Muslim and Arab. Or on any basis for that matter.
And now Homeland Security is going to start analyzing me on the basis of WHAT I EAT AND WHERE I SIT and I don't have any say in the matter, nor can I look at my own "rating?"
Time to start fighting.