Can't figure out who to blame? Blame the government!
Imagine a room of your countrymen, be they American, Dutch, French, Canadian, whatever. Imagine them discussing social problems in the country - sexual harassment, corruption, government inadequacies, press freedom. Imagine them, in all their vast and diverse intelligence, analyzing the problems and coming up with their own innovative solutions. Imagine them getting so excited when they realize their solutions could work.
And then, watch their crestfallen faces as they say, "It's the government's responsibility."
And worse, when they tell you, "But I refuse to vote."
This is the very case in Morocco. You fill a room with innovators, incredible people, intellectuals - give them a handful of important issues, and they will discuss them - no one can accuse Moroccans of being too quiet. And their ideas are good. But inevitably, someone comes up with the "it's not our responsibility" spiel, and then it's over.
Why? Take these results from a L'Economiste survey - of 776 young people from all backgrounds surveyed in fall 2005:
- 95% do not belong to any political party
- 68% do not trust politics
- 73% find that their representatives represent them badly
Interesting - and yet, with the voting age lowered to 18 a couple of years ago, one might think that Morocco's youth would try to take matters into their own hands regarding politics.
However, as Magharebia.com reported last June, "The majority of Moroccans continue to criticise political parties, the government and the parliament. This same majority thinks democracy does not exist in Morocco and subsequently refuse to 'politicise themselves.' Young people say this, intellectuals repeat it and as a result only 50 per cent of Moroccan people vote. This is not normal."
Now, of course there are barriers - much of the political process is Francophone, those living in the bled aren't being reached, but that first group I mentioned? Urban elite. So, why don't they vote? But more importantly, if they do believe that the government won't change (just as many young Americans do), then why not start their own grassroots organizations to fix these simple problems they complain about (lack of trash cans in Meknes, too many street kids sniffing glue). I suppose that's a question for another time.
Maghreb Music Awards
As I discovered this morning in MoroccoSavvy, Morocco has decided to throw together their very own music awards over here at the NextLine site - we're not talking aissaoua, though - more like Aissaoua style (though the popular H-Kayn song didn't get a mention because it was released in 2005.
I'll tell you, I'm shamelessly voting for people I've personally met. Awhile back I got to hang out on a Bigg/Ahmed Soultan video shoot where just about all of Morocco's big players in hip hop were. I got to talk to those who spoke English (Bigg is entirely fluent, which he claims comes from his young love of Whitney Houston in a TelQuel article a couple of months ago), and ended up appearing briefly in the video (but I've checked - you actually can't see me for all but one second, which I count as a positive thing - since they're quite talented, that is, and I don't want to be famous! For that anyway...)
So go vote for the Best Album, Best Video, Best Song, Best Fusion Act, Best Hip Hop Act, and Best Rock/Metal Act.
I've got a bit of a conundrum. No microwave, no couscoussiere. And so, I am officially offering an autographed copy of my book, Culture Smart! Morocco, to the person whose answer to the following question I find best.
That's the book. And here's the question:
What's the best way to reheat day-old couscous without a microwave?
Mind you, I will not buy any more kitchen equipment as I don't know long I'll be here. I have pots and pans, a wok, a stovetop, and an oven. And a teapot and a coffeemaker, but I don't see how those could be of help.
I'm open to and will test all answers received to determine which is best. I will screen the answers until I've received what I feel to be enough (or, you know, until Saturday when it comes time to reheat couscous and I can try them out).
p.s. If you're having difficulty commenting (which so many of you have told me you are), comment here.
Georgia: "Oh please, oh please, don't treat us like Moroccans!"
I found this article somewhat irritating. In summary, it discusses Georgia's future with the EU and NATO, and whether Georgia ought to be considered part of Europe or Asia. Aleksandre Rusetski, the Georgian interviewee on the matter, made it very clear that Georgia does not wish to be grouped with the European neighbors program (read: Muslim Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Morocco, Algeria, etc). His comment that Georgian culture is more similar to Italian, Spanish or French culture, "in short with nations who drink wine" was particularly um...nice.
More Bad Advertising...
Maroc Telecom, or Itissalat Maghreb's fixe line service, El Manzil, recently launched a new campaign (more info in English) which offers unlimited calling to other Maroc Telecom numbers domestically. A great campaign, sure, but the name leaves much to be desired.
You see, it seems the national telecom operator didn't pull its English-speaking team together on this one, creating an Engrish blunder.
|1.||not real or genuine; fake; counterfeit: a phony diamond.|
|2.||false or deceiving; not truthful; concocted: a phony explanation.|
|3.||insincere or deceitful; affected or pretentious: a phony sales representative.|
|4.||something that is phony; a counterfeit or fake.|
|5.||an insincere, pretentious, or deceitful person: He thought my friends were a bunch of phonies.|
I suppose we'll just have to wait and see if the new service lives up to its name.
The Meknes Restaurant Report
You've seen the Meknes Bar Report. But I suppose you have no idea where to eat in Meknes! Sadly, Meknes is not the restaurant mecca that its larger sisters Marrakech and Rabat purport to be, but she holds her own compared to Fez at least. So without further ado, I bring you...
The Meknes Restaurant Report
A Glass of Mint Tea to Dysfunctional!
Dysfunctional, a good web friend of mine and long time poster on the LP Thorntree, as well as general expert on all things related to Morocco travel, has finally done the unthinkable and...started a blog!
Anyhow, I'm terribly excited about his blog (as you can see) for the basic reason that Dys always has the information that no one else does. Go check out the blog
If the statistic posted here is true, then mobile phone ownership has surpassed literacy in Morocco.
16 million mobile owners, approximately half of the population (give or take, I'm no statistician). As the effective literacy rate lingers around 48% (a recent American magazine propped it up around 56%, but most Moroccans tell me that the government is of course faking the stats. I can't be sure, nor can I find a good English source online to cite).
Pretty incredible, this.
The 2007 Bloggies!
Still Booking it...
Snow, Ashora, Nichane, Aboubakr Jamai, Azrou and my bathroom have all managed to eclipse an important post - That which explained why and how I'm looking for books!
The amazing thing is that my post on Thorntree, a few pointed e-mails, and a quick jaunt 'round the blogosphere have all managed to secure donations of around 400 books...which is AMAZING! Mind you, we're hoping to have around 1,000 to justify turning a classroom into a library, but holy crap, what a start.
Why are we asking for donations? Well, the entire city of Meknes (population somewhere between 600,000 and one million) has three good but small bookstores, and those three bookstores probably have about 15 English books between them. Our school has a budget, but not for a library, and we're going to have to spend a ton renovating a space to make a library anyhow, so I volunteered to acquire some books.
So, I'd like to state that we're still looking for and accepting donations of any used books. If you need a better idea, here goes:
-Adolescent/pre-adolescent genre fiction, adult genre fiction (sci-fi, crime, "chick lit"), biographies, nonfiction related to business or computing, grammar books, young adult fiction, children's books.
Please comment with your e-mail or send me an e-mail for more information!
The (English language) Moroccan "Blogoma"
I wrote a small, now deleted, post about this a week or so ago, but would like to go back into the realm of the Moroccan Blogosphere, or "Blogoma," as one of my favorite sites, Global Voices Online, which does a weekly (or bi-weekly at times) roundup of Moroccan blogs, calls it. The Morocco Report got a mention in the last roundup!
I use Google Reader to keep track of my favorite blogs, most of which are listed on the right side of this page. I religiously follow six or seven blogs, eagerly awaiting the next entry, which I devour with abandon. Yesterday, one of those bloggers, Cat in Rabat, wrote about her experience taking Spanish class with Moroccan students, saying: "I haven’t yet decided whether Moroccan students are impatient or just naturally exuberant. Regardless of the answer, I want to strangle them all." Self-described as snarky, her musings crack me up on a regular basis.
A more recent find was My Marrakesh, written by American transplant to Marrakesh Maryam who has an interest in design and a knack for writing about it. Her most recent post on Moroccan traditional costumes, is enchanting, as are the photos that accompany it.
The View from Fez, which I refer to as my favorite because of its sheer breadth, reports on news, stories from the Fez medina, the woes of building riads, and so many other things it makes my head spin. Their several sister sites offer free Morocco classifieds and even a lifestyle guide (in which they were kind enough to include my post, The Meknes Bar Report).
Moroccan Musings discusses life as a rural volunteer in Morocco, and posts are often accompanied by gorgeous photos of Morocco's countryside or blad.
The best coverage of the Nichane case came from Eatbees Blog, the best post by far being A Black Eye for Moroccan Freedom. The blog also discusses truth, Moroccan locales, and of course, the author's feelings about living here.
Morocco Time is yet another good one; the author writes about a variety of things, from the hammam to ethical Moroccan-made clothing to the misuse of insha'allah.
For those of you dying to learn Moroccan Arabic (derija), Moroccan Vocabulary is a recent find that covers a word a day in the language - today's word is mshTa or "comb."
Another new find is The a la Menthe (Mint Tea, my friends, which you know I love). The post at top, on tourism in Morocco vs. Tunisia, really sparked my thinking spot. Yet another blog which has covered the recent news stories well.
Even Moroccan-American author Laila Lalami (Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits) has a blog!
Other links for Morocco news and information:
Magharebia.com - Maghreb news in English, French or Arabic
Maghreb Arab Presse - Morocco's state-run press finally posts in English too.
Lonely Planet Thorn Tree - Tourist information lies on the Africa > Morocco travel branch.
I bless the SNOW down in Africa?
Remember that song by 80s pop group Toto (which is, by the way, apparently still in existence)?
It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you/there's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do/I bless the rains down in Africa/gonna take some time to do the things we never had...
Now, he's talking about Kili, and I know we're up in North Africa, but but
I bless the SNOW down in Africa!
No joke, that was taken from my living room window. Hamza woke me up, saying "you've got to see this." I'm glad he did, because nearly an hour later, it's gone. But somehow, everything looks just a little fresher than usual.
Commercialism in Morocco
Leading up to the Christmas/Eid al-Adha season, there were advertisements for LG in all of the local papers featuring a Santa Claus in a sleigh full of electronic goods. Was the Moroccan paper catering to the small foreign Christian population? Not at all - these advertisements read "Aid Moubarak Said" (Basically translates to "Happy Eid," in celebration of Eid al-Adha, the day of sacrifice).
Image from Laila Lalami's blog
The next holiday on the Hijra calendar, having just passed the 1st Moharrem (Islamic New Year), is Ashora.
Now, when I first came to Morocco I admittedly knew very little about Muslim holidays, despite having read the Qur'an in university nearly all the way through. I particularly knew very little about Ashora, this mystery holiday that I had always thought was just for the Shi'a Muslims.
Even my "Islam for Dummies" type books (I have two, which I bought solely for research while writing my book, and both proved mostly useless, hence my omission of their titles. Incidentally, neither was actually from the "for dummies" series) skimmed over Ashora, referring to it as "a Shi'a holiday honoring Imam Hussein" and mentioning that "some Muslims fast on this day."
What's a girl gotta do to find out about Ashora?
So I decided to ask some Moroccan students. In one intermediate-level class, the second unit discusses holidays and events, with grammar focusing on structures such as "On Eid Al-Adha, it's the custom to..." or "During the month of Ramdan, it's expected for Muslims to..." Hoping to learn a little bit about the mysterious Ashora, I assigned the holiday as the subject for their homework.
The next day, I received a stack of papers. Eager to learn, I pored over the first: "Ashora is the day when children get candy." And the next: "Ashora is the day when we put toilet paper on houses." "Ashora is the day when kids get new toys." "...when we throw eggs at people and donkeys." "...when the Shi'a Muslims fast" (well, at least one kid is thinking about religion!)
Still without any real knowledge of the religious background of Ashora, I began to realize that in Morocco, Ashora is the holiday where kids do stuff that American kids do on Halloween. Put that on the blackboard and smoke it.
Oprah and other bleeding hearts (I use the term in kindness, and assume that you know my liberal stance) might make statements about how American kids only think about new sneakers and iPods, but they've never been to Morocco. Now, I know I work with the "rich" kids, or at least the ones who can afford around 800dh per 10 weeks of classes, but that's a growing demographic, and the majority of Morocco's 10 million or so city dwellers could probably swing it somehow.
But that isn't my point - what I'm getting at is that commercial holidays aren't just for America anymore. While you're out buying 100 Christmas cards at $2 a pop, Moroccan kids are looking forward to their new outfits on Eid al-Fitr and loads of candy on Ashora, and I'd put money on the fact that most of them couldn't tell you why they even celebrate the latter.
Now, after a bit of humiliating snarkiness, I can:
Ashora was designated by the Prophet Mohammed as a day of fasting from sunset to sunset, possibly basing it upon the Jewish fast during Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). Ashora commemorates two events: the day on which Noah left the ark and the day MOses was saved by God from the Egyptians. Later on, when the Prophet designated Ramadan as the month of fasting, Ashora became a voluntary fast for Sunni Muslims.
Shi'a, on the other hand, celebrate Ashora as a major festival, commemorating the day on which Hussein, son of Imam 'Ali and grandson of the Prophet, died. (Paraphrased from ReligionFacts.com)
So there you have it. Nevertheless, when Ashora comes up soon, you'll find that Marjane is having huge sales, extra candy vendors are roaming the streets, and kids are up to their usual pranks. It's just like being home.
The Wettest Bathroom in Morocco
When I moved to the apartment on Ave. des FAR in May, I was fortunate enough to be blessed with this gorgeous bathtub (cat not included). Not only is it a clean, full-sized tub, but it also has a handheld shower that also hooks up to the wall for a stand-up shower...a rarity in Morocco, indeed.
So you can imagine my surprise the first time I showered standing up and realized that I'd gotten water all over the floor.
See that structure in the bottom left of the photograph? That's a marble shelf and cabinet - while lovely, it makes it nearly impossible to hang a shower curtain in our tub with a normal rod, as the ones found at Marjane do not extend as far as the wall at the end of that cabinet. Our only option, it seems, would be to build a curved rod and buy two shower curtains to cover it.
So how do we get the water out of the bathroom? Moroccan-style! We take our enormous squeegee, the staple of any Moroccan apartment, and move the water from the bathroom to the hallway, from the hallway to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the laundry room, and down the drain. Around three corners. And we do this every, single day.
If anyone has a solution, please let us know! If you're a carpenter or just pity us...well, come on by.
Crowds Eagerly Await His Majesty King Mohammed VI
Avenue des FAR, Meknes.
The king is in Meknes! How do I know? Last night, while reading by the window, I heard a clanging noise. "The garbage truck," Hamza said. I checked - it wasn't picking up garbage, in fact, this truck was putting down...white fences, that is.
This morning, on my way to work, I figured out why exactly - King Mohammed VI had plans to visit Meknes' psychiatric hospital, located down a narrow dead end street off the main drag of Avenue des FAR (aka the road to Fez), where I live. Those folks in the photograph braved the rain for hours awaiting His Majesty's arrival, whilst I braved the ubiquitous police to take a few photographs. Residents of aforementioned narrow dead end street were required to close their shutters (two of my friends happen to live there - it's convenient, as they can tell the taxi simply to take them to the dar al humuk, or crazy house).
Fortunately for students, public workers, and police, His Majesty King Mohammed VI has returned to his Meknes residence, as the rain is still coming down...Alhamdullilah.
Debunking Morocco's "Expert Advice"
I've got to say, I'm quite tired of Morocco "experts." This is a class of people - some of whom are foreigners, others are Moroccans, most often with little grasp of English beyond "You are welcome in Morocco," but all of whom think they know it all and most certainly do not.
Mind you, I dispense advice on Morocco like it's going out of style. I've been known to hang around Yahoo Answers and the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum, but ever since I became aware of the expert phenomenon, I've been careful to state that anything coming out of my mouth (or IP address) is my opinion. I'm not passing anything off as universal truth, but I do believe that I often give correct answers.
So the individuals on those sites are of course subject to incorrect answers at times, and to be fair, both sites are forums, bound to get a variety of answers to every question asked. I understand, I sympathize.
What I do not sympathize with is when someone actually calls him or herself a travel expert and proceeds to answer a question incorrectly on a prominent news site, such as this example from the Times Online, web version of the UK's best selling newspaper. Their Travel "Your Say" column is based upon questions sent in by readers, which are then answered by a travel "expert" (who actually remains nameless on my site - good for him/her, as my critique is nothing s/he'd want his/her name attached to). Here's today's Q&A:
We are visiting Marrakech in February, and arrive in late at night with British Airways. As it's not possible to get any local currency before we get to Morocco, can we exchange money at the airport, as we need some straight away for a taxi? Name Withheld by The Morocco Report
A Sunday Times travel expert responds: The Moroccan Dirham isn't available outside of the country, but don't worry, even arriving late you have several options.
The bank in the arrivals hall at Marrakech's airport closes at about 6pm, but there are several ATM machines that you can use. Alternatively, Euros are the best currency to take, either in the form of travellers cheques, or in cash. Taxi drivers at the airport, in common with many other shops and restaurants in the city, often accept Euro notes.
That being the case, you should be aware of the current exchange rate against the Euro (in January 2007, 1 Euro = about 11 Dirhams), and as the lowest fare you are likely to be offered from a Petit taxi is 50 Dirhams; that's 5 Euros. For the larger taxi's, you'll should settle for about 100 Dirhams.
Abolition of the Death Penalty in Morocco? Maybe...
Morocco may be the 100th country to abolish the death penalty, and the first country in the so-called Arab world to do so. Although Morocco hasn't used capital punishment since 1994, death sentences are still being handed down to terrorists.
The international association Ensemble pour l'abolition de la peine de mort (Together Against Capital Punishment) held a press conference today in Rabat, just weeks before the 3rd World Congress Against Death Penalty.
Maghreb Arab Presse, the country's state-run news source, stated that "choosing Morocco to hold this press conference in preparation for the World Congress Against Death Penalty is a 'political and strategic choice' that supports Moroccan and Arab abolitionists."
Capital punishement, however, is supported by the PJD (Justice and Development Party), a moderate Islamist political party, due to the fact that punishment by death is consistent with Islamic Shari'a law.
Insha'allah, Morocco will take this step; I will then feel safer here than I do in the United States, officially.
On Sunday (it should've been on Saturday, but we're pretty sure that the man who determines the moon here is partly blind), Morocco celebrated the 1st of the Hijra (Islamic lunar) year, 1 Moharrem. Had it been on Saturday, I would've had a day off work, but as it landed on what was already my day off, my houseguest Sarah and I decided to take a brief jaunt to two of my favorite Moroccan towns...Ifrane and Azrou.
We started the day in beautiful Ifrane where, as you can see, the sky was a clear blue.
They were raising flags in case the King came through.
Azrou was also full of color.
This crown rests atop a natural rock formation just outside the city center.
Photographing the photographer (Sarah)
Man in djellaba.
Azrou's central mosque.
And delectable spice market.
A beautiful end to a beautiful day.
Meknes Ain't So Bad
The View from Fez just published a short article on the King's new initiatives here in Meknes - namely, a treatment plant for used water and a new generator just for us (which makes me wonder where the current one is) - the latter is especially important considering how often the lights seem to go out, particularly in the medina.
As Samir wrote in his article, Meknes is a bit sensitive to being referred to as Fez's little sister (and myriad other nomenclatures given to this diminutive city). While it's true that our medina is smaller, our people historically less prestigiously educated (though some might say less snobby!), and our ville nouvelle lacks the swank Meridien and other Fassi hotels, I believe I was a bit unfair in my last article when I said that Meknes lacks charm.
Seven babs (gates) grace the medina, we have a place that used to (and could still) rival the Djemaa al Fna of Marrakech, of which the walkways were recently renovated from shabby and broken concrete blocks to lovely brickwork, and our spice market is perhaps the best in Morocco. We have a pool (Heri es-Souani or the "Agdal Basin") not unlike Marrakech's Menara, and the finest Moroccan horses are born and bred at the Haras, or stud farm. We have all the necessary tourist amenities (Zaki Hotel rivals any fancy foreign chain, and my Meknes Bar Report will send you in the direction of drinks) and Meknassis are plenty hospitable - not to mention you won't get a fraction of the hassle found in the medinas of other cities this size.
And if you're lucky, you'll get to see the festival of lights, which gives a new meaning to Samir's post - set up for the king's visit, the whole city is decked out with varieties of this:
And tonight, for the first time in November, we finally got some rain.
Win a trek to the High Atlas or a chance to trail the LP Morocco author!
Two interesting contests with trips to Morocco are going on right now - Sprayway.com is offering a trek to the High Atlas mountains in June just by answering a simple question on their site and Lonely Planet is offering a trip to Marrakech where you can trail the author of the newest, unreleased Lonely Planet guide (I had dinner with him once, he's a cool guy!). All you've got to do for that one is make the best Bluelist (a travel-related list of your favorite stuff anywhere in the world.
If you win, bring me some flavored coffee or books as a kickback, okay?
Finding my Moroccan Voice
As all foreign bloggers living here surely do, I occasionally question my motivation and standpoint on blogging all things Moroccan. When a story such as the recent Nichane case emerges, it's hardly difficult for me to know where I stand, however, when there's little of note in the news and on the streets, I must question why it is exactly that I write.
Part of it, of course, is the fact that I live in Meknes - a city not exactly known for its charm or excitement. But surely, there's something to do here, and I travel often enough that it couldn't possibly be boredom that pushes me to my computer every night?
When I truly think about it, it's more than that. After all, they say "you're only bored if you're boring," right? I think what makes me write about Morocco is that feeling that I'm sure you all understand of being a part of something. Not of something big, necessarily, and I certainly have no illusions of expertise, grandeur, or making it big time as a writer based on my blog alone; rather, it's more like being part of the tiny seed taking root.
When I was a freshman in college, Livejournal was a fairly new site. Since then, it's grown and blossomed and become something I'm not as wholly interested in (and Morocco banned its access!) but back then, several years ago, when I joined and was assigned a membership number in the low thousands, I had no idea what it would feel like, awhile later, looking at the site's several million "customers." It felt fantastic! I'm sure the early MySpace and Friendster and Facebook users feel that way to some degree, and those who discovered YouTube at its inception. Even back in the beginning of the internet, AOL and Prodigy users probably now feel some small twang at being the first.
And so, nearly two years ago when I started this blog, typing "Morocco" into Google brought up mostly tour sites and hotels; now, the myriad French, Arabic, and English blogs are the first links to pop up, sites like Global Voices Online and the fantastic news site Magharebia.com summarize and support our blogs, we're linked in a circle (most of my visitors two months ago came from random internet searches, now other users like Cat in Rabat, The View from Fes, and My Marrakesh - as well as others - link in reciprocation to this blog and bring in the a good chunk of my 100 or so daily readers)
And that's part of what I enjoy the most - this feeling of camaraderie with other people who have or are experiencing something just like what I am. That ability to understand each other's experiences, laugh at how similar things are all over the country, and also to find awareness in the differences. I learn a lot from these others, all of whom have different backgrounds - some Moroccan, some European, others American like me. All of us different ages, here for different reasons, but finding unity in being a part of a number of bloggers that's still in the low hundreds, if that.
I salute you, fellow Moroccan bloggers!
Aboubakr Jamai Resigns, Cites Unpayable Fine
Aboubakr Jamai, managing editor of Moroccan weekly Le Journal Hebdomadaire, is resigning in a move that signals the obvious decline of press freedom in Morocco.
Jamai, a former Yale World Fellow, has been with the magazine since its 1997 inception, stated to Reporters Without Borders that: "Staying on as managing director and therefore as the person legally responsible for the 'Journal Hebdomadaire' would have endangered its survival. The threat is not hypothetical, as it already happened in 2004, when the authorities sold off some of the newspaper's property and seized funds directly from the distribution company Sapress as a result of an earlier damages award."
"For those who follow the Moroccan media closely, Jamaï's departure is a significant loss and marks the end of an era in which, despite the difficulties, it seemed possible to increase freedom of expression," Reporters Without Borders said. "Today this hope is becoming more and more tenuous, even if it has not completely disappeared."
Although the magazine has experienced several massive monetary blows, Jamai's resignation is a direct result of a $350,000 fine given to the magazine nine months ago in damages to Claude Moniquet, head of the Brussels-based security think tank European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, for libel claims. By resigning, Jamai will free the magazine of their monetary burden.
Jamai has also been a regular on the Washingtonpost.com blog, publishing in English articles which, in Morocco, would be considered too outrageous or controversial.
Perhaps the saddest part of the story is a rumour that Jamai will be pressured to exile, and has plans to leave Morocco.
Meknes to be Morocco's First "Town Without Shanties"
According to Magharebia.com, Meknes is soon to be the first of many Moroccan cities to succeed in the "Towns Without Shanties" program.
In 2004, Morocco began a project to get rid of the shanty towns or bidonvilles that had cropped up around the outskirts of major cities, mostly due to mass migration from the countryside of Moroccans looking for work.
[Photo: Sarah Touahri, Magharebia.com]
According to Social housing Director Mohamed Najib Halimi, nearly 230,000 Moroccan families reside in shanty towns in the largest cities of Morocco. In Casablanca alone, there are 64,000.
Although progress in Meknes, a large but spread-out city very close to many smaller villages, has been swift, Casablanca's deadline for ridding the city of shanties has been pushed back to 2012.
Morocco Toughens Regulations on Mosque-Building
On Tuesday night, Moroccan Parliament approved a new law that will make the building of mosques much more difficult in the future, according to several international sources.
Partially constructed mosque in Meknes.
Since May 2003, when 33 people were killed in five bombing attacks aimed at mainly Jewish and Spanish targets, Morocco has been trying to crack down on terrorism.
Islamic affairs minister Ahmed Toufiq introduced the bill to Parliament, stating that now, "No one will now be able to use places of worship for other ends and there will be no more clandestine mosques."
Opposition to the bill comes from those who claim that it will make the construction of mosques in rural areas more difficult.
A few nights ago, a co-worker and friend was over, having a few glasses of wine with us. My husband went to bed fairly early, but the friend and I stayed up late, talking. She left around 2:30.
The next day, she informed me that when she tried to leave through the front door of my secure apartment building, there was a drunk homeless man sleeping in the doorway, completely blocking the front door from opening. She tried to gently wake him, but after efforts fail, she pushed his legs to the side to exit. As she was squeezing through the front door, she noticed a tiny kitten perched on the man's chest, mewing ever so gently.
So it was not much of a surprise when, the next day coming home from Label'Vie, that the same friend and I discovered a tiny kitten in front of my doorway. My suspicion is that the homeless man found her somewhere and carried her with him, as her mother remains to be seen.
I rarely post photographs of myself, but in this case will make an exception. Without further ado, I present to you LC (Little Cat):
And since I haven't posted photos of Nus-Nus (our other Moroccan street cat) since his kittenhood last November, here's a photo of both kitties for good measure:
I also feel compelled to say "Yes Mom, that's my natural hair color." It just looks shiny because my half-Moroccan friend Youssef told me that putting flat beer in your hair will make it really pretty. He was right, but I think my co-workers are starting to suspect I'm an alcoholic.
The school I teach at is looking to acquire some paperbacks - if anyone reading (whether you're in Morocco or not) has English-language paperbacks they'd like taken off their hands, we're interested! Any level of fiction or nonfiction is appreciated, and if you are located in country, I'd be happy to come get them from you. Send me an e-mail or leave a comment!
Good News for Moroccan Press?
Driss Ksikes and Sanae al-Aji after hearing the verdict on Monday, January 15, 2007.
This afternoon, BBC News Africa reported that the 50 year old Moroccan press code shall soon be amended, so that journalists will not be able to receive prison sentences in the future (although fines and bans will most likely take some time to fade). This news comes shortly after the verdict that Driss Ksikes, editor, and Sanae Al-Aji, journalist, both of temporarily banned magazine Nichane, face only a three year suspended sentence and minor fines (which have been reported as being both 80,000dh each and 80,000dh combined; various sources are quoting different figures - either way, it's not as bad as it could be and the magazine will surely help them).
Outside of the courtroom, reports BBC News, the journalists were defiant.
"I don't regret what I wrote," said Ksikes, "because these are jokes produced by society...but there are so many layers of readers in our society, and that's why we apologized to those who felt offended."
Aboubakr Jamai, editor of French-language Moroccan weekly Le Journal said, "I'm afraid we are going backwards despite the relative clemency of the sentence. We could have advanced the cause of freedom of expression in the first place if the government had not prosecuted Nichane. But they decided to go ahead with it and then felt obliged to sentence them."
Last week I said that the government was catering to Islamists. Though I haven't exactly changed my mind, I think the judge in this case did his best to be as lenient as possible. The journalists are expected to file an appeal, and I would love to see it come to fruition.
Sadly, it seems that most Moroccans who would support free speech are either too busy studying or too lazy to come out and protest. Although the vast majority of my teenage students have said they do fully support the concept, very few of them would be likely to state that publicly, or better yet, protest in the streets for it. Too hshuma.
And then there are the other Moroccans, as the BBC News story quoted:
"They have insulted our God, our prophet and our religion. They should be punished," one woman was quoted as saying.
"There must be limits to freedom of expression. This is blasphemy," said another.
Limits to freedom of expression? It still strikes me really odd that people actually believe that. I suppose the only thing to do is work on the next generation.
Nichane Journalists Given Three Year Suspended Sentence
Nichane editor Driss Ksikes and journalist Sanae Al-Aji were each handed a three year suspended sentence today for having published an article considered "defamation to Islam."
In addition to the suspended sentence, the magazine was banned for two months and fined 80,000 Moroccan dirhams (about $9,320 USD).
The suspended sentence is long but the fine is light compared to past fines imposed upon journalists of both TelQuel and Le Journal Hebdomadaire. Ksikes and Al-Aji were also both at risk of being banned for life from working as journalists, however, no such ban was mentioned in the sentencing.
Personally, despite my anger at the Moroccan government in general over this matter, and my belief that they did nothing wrong, I'm relieved that neither will be facing a prison sentence, nor will either life be permanently ruined by the matter. If anything, the fame gained by both may allow them to work successfully abroad. My best wishes go out to both of them, and the entire staff of Nichane.
Verdict Due Today in Nichane Trial
According to Reporters Without Borders, a verdict is due today in the Nichane trial. Editor Driss Ksikes and journalist Sanae al-Aji face 3-5 years in prison as well as a lifetime ban on working in journalism for publishing popular Moroccan jokes told commonly on the streets. These jokes are said to "defame Islam" and "insult the king."
Over the past few weeks, local and international groups have condemned the trial and decision to ban the publication, calling it a violation of press freedom. One such group drew up a petition, posted on what appears to be Nichane's former website, carries the following statement:
We…strongly condemn the unlawful ban imposed on Nichane…and the legal proceedings started against the editor and a journalist working for the magazine…. We maintain that the ban is illegal and…reinforces the extra-judiciary repressive measures already in force. While we express our full and wholehearted solidarity with Nichane…we reiterate our plea for the amendment of liberticidal laws regarding freedom of the press and freedom of opinion and thought.
A group of Moroccan writers (including Ibrahim Khatib, Abdellatif Laabi and Abdelhak Serhane) have joined together in solidarity, issuing a joint statement denouncing the trial and resulting decisions. "A society which doesn't laugh at itself is a society condemned to all forms of bigotry and the creep of extremism," they stated.
The International Press Institute has issued a letter to the European Parliament, noting their "deep concern" for the prosecution of Ksikes and Al-Aji. A portion of the letter stated:
IPI views the action taken against Nichane and its editor and journalist as a severe violation of press freedom. We strongly believe that the threat of imprisonment is never justified in retaliation for the dissemination of news and information or for expressions of opinion, no matter how unsettling or offensive they may seem to those involved.
Hear ye! Hear ye! I just opened a shop on CafePress.com at the recommendation of a friend...Using my photography of Morocco, I'm selling shirts, calendars, mugs, tote bags, and some other nifty items.
I was discussing the execution of Saddam Hussein with a group of Moroccan students the other day. Personally, I feel as though the repercussions of choosing Eid al-Adha as the day of Saddam's execution are twofold: 1) It will spark further sectarian violence and 2) It will allow the decision to be pinned more easily on the United States. I also feel as though it was wrong to execute someone on a day during which "no blood should be shed."
One student raised her hand and said, "I just see it as the first sacrifice of the day."
And they say free speech is dead in Morocco...
In Morocco, a sad joke about press freedom
Although Americans can make light of their leaders, their enemies and even the Iraq war, a fundamental challenge to freedom of expression is happening just off our radar screen in Morocco. There, two of the country's leading journalists face five-year prison sentences, crippling fines and/or being banned from publication, all for an article about political humor.
Driss Ksikes is the editor of Nichane, a weekly magazine published in Morocco's local drija Arabic dialect. The magazine's name means "direct," and it launched in September with a goal of bringing a fresh perspective to a country still emerging from decades of brutal civil rights repression under King Hassan II, who died in 1999.
In a special edition of Nichane in early December, Ksikes published an insightful cover story by up-and-coming writer Sanae Al Aji on humor in Morocco. The piece, entitled, "How Moroccans Laugh at Religion, Sex and Politics," cataloged popular Moroccan jokes and invited social critics to analyze the punch lines. As humor typically touches on social taboos, the article discussed jokes mocking the king, Islamist imams and attitudes toward women.
This is an election year in Morocco, and both the monarchy and the opposition Islamist parties seized on the opportunity to make an example of Nichane. Islamist websites branded the magazine worse than any Danish publication and the editors got death threats. Prime Minister Driss Jettou issued an injunction banning Nichane from newsstands and shutting down its website. Declaring the magazine a threat to the "fundamental values of Moroccan society," prosecutors have now put Ksikes and Al Aji on trial in a Casablanca court for "damaging the Islamic religion, lacking proper respect for the king and publishing of writings contrary to public morals." A verdict is expected today.
Morocco had been a symbol of hope for reform in the Middle East in recent years. His father stifled public discourse and tortured opponents for decades, but King Muhammad VI has enhanced civil liberties, particularly for women. That Al Aji has become the first female reporter to face prison time in Morocco is a perverse sign of progress in gender equality.
Still, the door opened to a more vibrant public discourse. In 2005, Nichane's parent publication -- the French weekly TelQuel, aimed at the country's francophone elite -- ran a cover expose on the king's salary. Other TelQuel issues explored homosexuality and drug use in Morocco. The country got its first journalism school, and many of its top graduates work for Nichane. Now that staff is waiting to hear the verdict, and learn the fate of the magazine.
The banning of Nichane and the sentence hanging over Ksikes and Al Aji painfully illustrate the fragility of newfound freedoms. Across North Africa and the Middle East, dictators and Islamist political forces have been emboldened. The movement toward greater freedom that seemed unstoppable a few years ago is now being smothered.
Americans should see the fate of Nichane as a warning. The magazine offered a model of investigative journalism and open inquiry for the rest of the region. After all, the reporters did not invent the jokes in the "offending" article, but rather dissected popular humor to examine Moroccan society. This is the kind of critical journalism -- probing, relevant and with popular appeal -- needed in the Arab and Muslim world.
The Moroccan government must know that the world is watching. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are not liberties to be revoked at will. They are fundamental building blocks of a free society. Although Nichane's cover story used jokes as a bellwether of Moroccan society, the prosecution of the magazine's staff is a sad joke about where social reform in the Middle East may be headed.
FADOUA BENAICH is a Moroccan journalist based in Washington, D.C. JESSE SAGE directs the HAMSA project of the American Islamic Congress.
The King is coming (or so we may assume)
Meknes is not the cleanest of cities, not even for Morocco. Compare it with your average European or American city, and you'd be really surprised - people here don't hesitate to toss candy wrappers or even beer cans onto the sidewalk, and on Sunday mornings my sidewalk in particular is littered with pools of vomit from the previous night's debauchery.
When the King comes to visit Meknes, however, everything changes.
Now, this is no criticism of the king - not only would I prefer not to follow in the footsteps of the Nichane victims, but I know that it isn't his fault. No, it is the fault of the lazy PJD-run Meknes government which spends all year lazing around in cafes or harassing youths who pee in public parks. They don't pick up trash all year, nor do they clean the streets or paint the local buildings, until it comes time for the king's visit.
The last few nights, I've been lulled out of a deep sleep by the most bizarre noise coming from my front windows. Looking closer, I discovered that - lo and behold! - the culprit is a street cleaning machine. Someone is actually driving up my busy street, repeatedly, night after night, operating a machine which vacuums the street! They started three or four days ago, and each day (of course), people have continued their usual habits of tossing cigarette butts, empty lighters, beer cans, soda bottles, candy wrappers, used condoms, oil cans, and whatever else happens to be lying around in their cars onto the street, causing more trouble for the street vacuumer and giving him reason to repeat his obnoxiously loud actions nightly.
Better yet, they have not only vacuumed the street, but have also repainted the white dashed lines (albeit leaving the old ones, meters apart, which will inevitably result in confusion to already poorly skilled drivers) and the center, and trimmed the trees.
Avenue des FAR, in all its vacuumed glory:
Moroccan Youth Arrested for Making Death Threats to French Writer Robert Redeker
Photo from westernresistance.com
In September of 2006, French teacher and writer Robert Redeker, stirred up controversy with a piece entitled, "Face aux intimidations islamistes, que doit faire le monde libre?" or "What should the free world do in the face of Islamist intimidation?" The article was published in right-wing French magazine Le Figaro.
Upon publication, however, Le Figaro was immediately banned in Tunisia and Egypt. A Tunisian paper stated that the cause of the ban was that Redeker's article contained "harmful content offensive to the Prophet, Islam, and Muslims."
Reporters Without Borders agreed that the article was aggressive, however, stated that "Without taking a position on the content of the op-ed piece, which was very aggressive towards Muslims, we point out that it is up to Tunisian readers to form their own opinion and not for the Tunisian authorities to filter information."
After the publication of the piece, Redeker was subject to death threats, not supported by his own people, and forced to go into hiding.
Two days ago, a young Moroccan man was arrested for making death threats toward Redeker. He is only 20 years old, according to several international press sources.
I am choosing not to republish Redeker's article. Unfortunately, such fear is the reality when faced with the Muslim thought police.
Instead, a link to Redeker's article, translated into English, is here.
South African Elmer Symons killed in Morocco leg of Dakar Rally
Elmer Symons, a South African who had spent the past three years following his dream of racing in United States, was killed Tuesday between Errachidia and Ouarzazate on the fourth day of the Dakar Rally in Morocco.
Symons, 29, had been taking part in the Dakar Rally for the first time, and was currently in 18th place overall.
The rally has claimed 49 lives in its 29 years of existence, of which 24 were rally competitors.
Nichane Journalists on Trial for "Defaming Islam"
This story has been widely covered by the Moroccan press, as well as the international press, and of course, hordes of bloggers. Nichane Editor Driss Ksikes and journalist Sanaa al-Aji face up to five years in prison for printing jokes in an article titled "How Moroccans Laugh at Religion, Sex, and Politics." Jokes were not original, rather, the article was aimed at analyzing which popular jokes Moroccans find funny.
"All I did was report to readers what Moroccans are seeing in jokes and anedoctes," said Sanaa Al-Aji, on trial in Casablanca. She also stated that she has a deep respect for religion.
Although Morocco has a strong history of blocking free speech and press, both have seen significant new freedoms since King Mohammed VI ascended the throne in 1999. The banning of Nichane was the first of its kind in 2006, although in the previous year several magazines and journalists were fined.
Nichane was a relatively new magazine, having started printing in September 2006, and was popular, particularly with young people, who respected the fact that it published in derija, or Moroccan Arabic, which is not technically a written dialect.
In this case, Reporters Without Borders have taken up the cause, saying that it threatens media freedom in Morocco. It seems that the Moroccan government is hell-bent on catering to Islamists, rather than continuing its short run of open discourse.
A petition has been started up on Nichane's website, in support of Ksikes and Al-Aji.
Eatbees blog - excellent coverage in a story entitled "A Black Eye For Freedom"
(Getty Images) The offending Nichane cover (21 Dec 2006)
Back in the...U.S.S.R.?
We arrived back in Meknes on January 1st but since then I've had quite a run-in with what can only be tonsillitis (more on that in a few paragraphs). Hamza and I spent Christmas and New Years in The Netherlands with my parents (Amsterdam and Haarlem, to be precise), and truly never wanted to leave the latter, but since we've been back the weather here has been extraordinarily pleasant at least.
I won't load up my Morocco-related blog with photos of the Netherlands, but just to give you a sense of why we never wanted to leave Haarlem:
Between architecture like that, the abundance of waffles and ollibollen, freedom!, and films in English, what's not to love?
Back to Morocco, though...Now, I'm not a stranger to tonsillitis, in fact, we go way back. From the time I was five or six, I could count my strep and tonsillitis infections on both hands. It was a recurring part of my life until midway through university, and the doctors mentioned surgery (I thank my parents for never pushing me on that - the mere mention of the word makes me shiver). Fortunately, by the time I was in my mid-twenties it had disappeared.
Until now! On January 4, I woke up to - lo and behold - EXTREMELY enlarged tonsils, the inability to swallow and excruciating pain every time I tried to speak. I waited it out, but the next day (after little sleep) decided I must see a doctor, which in Morocco is usually a bust, for lack of a better word. Hamza selected a new one (the last was decidedly incompetent), a specialist in ears/nose/throat, and we headed off into the morning, me still tucked in my pajamas.
When we arrived, the doctor gave Hamza a cursory questioning as to my medical history, then beckoned me over to his examining area - he told me to open my mouth, then proceeded to violently thrust a cold metal object onto my tongue. I gagged. He then reached for my throat and squeezed it without any concern to the pain I was in - I let out a loud yelp! And after that? He moved to his desk, jotted down a prescription, and shooed us away, without so much as a diagnosis.
Now, I'm quite used to this - doctors here have a tendency not to diagnose, and they love writing up big prescriptions for which I'm most certain they get kickbacks. I've had doctors recommend five different drugs for stomachache, four for a urinary tract infection, and three for a headache! But this time, oh no, this time was too much.
Hamza took me home and went to pick up the medications the doctor had prescribed. He came back, prepared them for me (Moroccans for some reason LOVE powdered drugs, a fact which I find disgusting), and handed me a big glass of water. I took them begrudgingly.
It wasn't until an hour or two later that I had the good sense to check out my prescriptions on WebMd.
Amoxicilline - check. An antibiotic commonly used for ailments such as this, and quite familiar to me from my youth.
Doliprane - check. A safe, albeit weak, pain medication dropped into water like Alka-Seltzer.
Prednisolone - WHAT?
Prednisolone is a corticosteroid used sometimes as an anti-inflammatory (but also known for, strangely, preventing miscarriage and the onset of AIDS in HIV patients). As a corticosteroid, it's got a huge list of possible side effects, including:
- Lowered resistance to infections
- Blurred vision
- Frequent urination
Apparently, it also makes any concurring infection difficult to treat. HELLO! I HAVE TONSILLITIS! I don't need some steroid making it more difficult to treat!
In addition, the doctor also prescribed an incorrect dosage schedule for my antibiotic, at least according to the INSIDE INSERT IN THE PACKAGE.
I've had it with the incompetence of the Moroccan medical profession. I know this may all seem minor, and/or possible in other countries, but I promise it goes far beyond these little mistakes, of which there are far too many.
Anyhow, a Merry Christmas/Happy Hannukah/Eid Mubarak Said/Happy New Year to those of you I've covered in that sentence!