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Morocco News meets the World

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    Casablanca- Moroccan journalists and news organizations are the targets of a cyber-attack, according to a study recently presented by two Google engineers, during the Black Hat Conference on hackers, held in Singapore on Friday.

    Shane Huntley and Morgan Marquis­Boire, two engineers working for Google, have recently shared a study with Reuters that may “freak out” Moroccan journalists and news organizations. 

    The two engineers told Reuters that cyber-attacks on news organizations and journalists have become a recurrent phenomenon today.

    “While many of the world's biggest media players have been targeted in these [cyber] attacks, small news organizations, citizen journalists and bloggers were also targeted,” Huntley told Reuters, citing as an example hacking attacks on journalists in Morocco.

    Luckily for Moroccan journalists, Google has access to important information that can help protect them from these cyber-attacks, or at least help them localize the hackers.

    “If you're a journalist or a journalistic organization we will see state-sponsored targeting and we see it happening regardless of region,” Huntley told Reuters.

    “We see it from all over the world both from where the targets are and where the targets are from," he added.

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    Morocco, Wife of Former Minister Allegedly Buys a Hyena For Witchcraft

    Casablanca- The world of witchcraft in Morocco never ceases to surprise us. A woman believed to be the wife of a former Moroccan minister was recently arrested while trying to buy a hyena, known for being used in witchcraft rituals.

    A woman said to be the wife of a former Moroccan minister was recently arrested in Dakhla, in southern Morocco, as she was negotiating the price of a hyena with a huntsman, according to daily Akhbar Al Yaoum.

    Accompanied by her housemaid, the woman met with a huntsman who was supposed to sell her a dead hyena for MAD 110,000. Police found the sum of money in the suspect’s car, according to the same source.

    The suspect was subsequently released after the police received a call said to be from high-ranking people, according to the same source. The housemaid and the huntsman were interrogated and then released.

    The hyena is sold in Morocco and other African countries for witchcraft rituals. Its price ranges between MAD 100,000 and MAD 160,000, and may cost more in some cases.

    Hyenas’ brain, called "Mokh dbaâ" in Moroccan Arabic, costs 500 DH a gram in Morocco. Their brain is used in witchcraft rituals to presumably render people loveable and successful individuals in their society.

    Hyenas’ brain is only one among a plethora of other notorious witchcraft ingredients used in Morocco. Witchcraft practitioners in Morocco may sometimes request shocking things from their clients in exchange of their “supernatural services.”

    © Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed

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    Cairo- Moroccan former Olympic champion and vice-president of the international Olympic committee, Nawal El Moutawakel, was honored on Saturday in Cairo by the Egyptian youth and sports ministry.

    During the ceremony that took place in the presence of Egyptian youth and sports minister, El Moutawakel, winner of the inaugural women's 400 m hurdles event at the 1984 Summer Olympics, presented her life as a champion, former minister at the Moroccan government and vice-president of the International Olympic committee, encouraging young people to respect sports values and persist in endeavors to fulfill their dreams.

    First Moroccan and first woman from a Muslim country to win an Olympic gold medal, El Moutawakel said she dedicated her life to associations, through the "sport and development" association she established in 2003.

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    Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper

    Montreal - The event "Morocco's year in Canada 2014" is an optimum tribune to underline Morocco's expanding economic potential, said Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

    In a letter read out on Saturday evening at Dar Al Maghrib in Montreal, Harper noted that this event, held by Al Maghreb chamber of commerce and industry in Canada, is a great opportunity to underscore business and investments potentials existing in Morocco.

    Trade activities have been considerably progressing in the late years, thanks to the excellent ties between the two nations, he went on, stressing that the Canadian government's keenness to open new markets is behind the project to conclude a free-trade agreement with Morocco.

    Themed "Morocco, a gateway to Africa," Morocco's year in Canada event will be held through December 31. It seeks to improve the contribution of Moroccan expatriates in Morocco's economic development and give a chance to Canadian enterprises to get better access to the Moroccan market.

    With MAP

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    Geneva oriental film festival

    Geneva- Twelve Moroccan movies, including four long movies, are competing for the awards of the Geneva oriental film festival, taking place from April 4 through 13, according to MAP. 

    Moroccan novelist and poet, Tahar Benjelloun, was selected to be the honorary chairman of the festival jury.

    He will also chair the international contest jury, the same source added.

    The 2014 edition will focus on Syrian cinema, featuring ten movies from this Arab country.

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    Criminals Attack a Company, Security Officer Loses His Hand

    Rabat- Three armed robbers were arrested and one gendarme lost his hand on Saturday in a clash between Royal Gendarmeries and an armed robbery gang near Sale, Morocco.

    A five-man gang of armed robbers entered a textile company in Bouknadel, setting off a security alert. The robbers cut off a gendarme’s hand during the clash with security.

    After weeks of planning, the robbers decided to carry out the robbery operation on Saturday. But as they broke into the target building, “they were surprised to find Royal Gendarmeries surrounding them,” reported Assabah.

    According to the same source, the local gendarmeries had already been informed of the operation, and they decided to ambush the robbers and arrest them in the act.

    The armed robbers resisted the security forces and used weapons, while the gendarmeries did not use their guns. Trying to deter the suspects’ from escaping, the gendarmeries were forced to endure a bloody clash, in which one of the armed suspects cut off a gendarme’s hand.

    Eventually, the Royal Gendarmeries took control of the situation and arrested three suspects after reinforcements arrived, while two other suspects fled the scene.

    The three arrested suspects admitted during police interrogation that the gang was behind many previous robbery operations on the same company, because it is in an isolated location.

    Edited by Jessica Rohan

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    Benkirane and Chabat

    Rabat- Secretary General of the Independence Party Hamid Chabat called Benkirane’s government of Benkirane “the Religion Dealers”, accusing them of stealing the dreams of the Moroccan people.

    Following criticism and a series of attacks against the government by the Independence Party, the party’s secretary general called the Justice and Development Party (PJD) “the religion dealers” while he was chairing the 5th Session of the Central Committee in Rabat.

    Chabat pointed his finger at the government, accusing the PJD of using the “Arab Spring” to take power and stealing the Moroccan people’s dreams, Assahah reported.

    According to the same source, Chabat claimed that the government is leading Moroccans to the “precipice.”

    Expanding on his theory, Chabat explained that the economic, social and political indexes give clear signs that Morocco’s situation is “worrying” and it will be “worse” in the future.

     In particular, the government diminishes  citizens’ ability to weather the economic crises by increasing the prices of staple goods.

    In this regard, Chabat accused the government of bowing to the orders of the financial institutions, “ignoring” the workers unions’ demands to increase staff wages, and increasing the prices of staple goods, including fuel and subsidized flour prices”.

    Chabat added that Morocco has become a “hostage” in the hands of international financial institutions, after the government strained the country’s resources with huge amounts of external loans.

    This has pushed Moroccans to “a precipice by causing a national economical crisis,” Chabat warned.

    The Secretary General of the Independence Party concluded that the Moroccan people still have the chance to take back their “stolen dreams” and hopes by following the “True Moroccan Spring” – referring his party’s campaign against the government - “that will continue until Moroccans take back their dreams.”

    Edited by Jessica Rohan

    © Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed

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    Prince Moulay Hicham

    Casablanca- Prince Moulay Hicham has seemingly lured the eyes of curious citizens into his life. A French citizen originally from the Maghreb was recently arrested in Paris for stalking him.

    A French citizen, Merzak Stephan, was recently arrested at Paris-Orly Airport for stalking Prince Moulay Hicham, according to the news website Alfapost. During a police interrogation, the suspect admitted that he worked for two Moroccans who had asked him to watch over the Prince.

    The Prince was checking in at the Royal Air Maroc’s office in Paris-Orly Airport when some employees noticed that three people were stalking the Prince, according to Alfapost.

    The French police arrested only one of the three stalkers, while the other two managed to flee. The arrested suspect subsequently admitted to working for two Moroccans who had assigned him the mission of stalking the Prince in Paris.

    According to the same source, the suspect told the police that he did not know the person he was stalking was a Moroccan prince until he was arrested.

    The police found pictures of Prince Moulay Hicham in the suspect’s phone and discovered that the suspect had criminal records. After checking surveillance cameras in shops nearby the hotel where the Prince was staying, the police discovered that the three suspects were stalking the Prince and taking pictures of his every move. 

    The police are still unsure why the three suspects were stalking Prince Moulay Hicham. The identities of the Moroccans who sent these stalkers remain unknown.

    © Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed

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    Comedian Jamel Debbouze

    Casablanca- After the “humiliating” way in which Moroccan Foreign Affairs Minister, Salaheddine Mezoua, was treated at Paris Charles De Gaulle airport last week, Moroccan-French humorist Jamal Debbouze recently experienced a similar treatment at Paris-Orly Airport.  

    According to Anass newspaper’s issue of Monday, Moroccan-French humorist Jamal Debbouze was with his wife, the journalist Milessa Theuriau, when security services at Paris-Orly Airport asked him to take off his shoes and belt.

    His wife was spared the security procedure, according to the same source.

    The same source reported that the way Jamal Debbouze was treated at Paris-Orly Airport stirred the indignation of many people who were present at the airport.

    Jamal Debbouze’s “humiliation,” according to Anass newspaper, poses many questions regarding the “degrading” way the French authorities have recently started treating Moroccan personalities, drawing a link between these “humiliations” and the recent diplomatic tension between Morocco and France.

    © Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed

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    Morocco desert

    Taroudant, Morocco-  The 2014 report released on March 19 by World Travel Tourism Council (WTTC) classified Morocco first tourist pole of the North African region.

    Entitled “Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2014 World,” the report included 184 countries and 24 geographic and economic regions in the world. It ranked Morocco first in the Maghreb and world’s 38th ahead of Algeria 111th and Tunisia 49th.

    According to the WTTC report, the impact of tourism on the Moroccan economy is “undeniable and promising,” and the kingdom is doing well comparing to the countries of North Africa.

    According to the same report, the total contribution of Travel & Tourism to GDP was US$ 19.7 billion (MAD 165.8 bn) which is 18.7% of total GDP, and the direct contribution of Travel & Tourism to GDP was US$ 9.0 billion (MAD 76.1 bn), which represents 8.6% of total GDP in 2013.

     contribution to GDP

    According to the same source, the tourism sector created 814,000 direct jobs in 2013 (7,6% of total employment), and is expected to create  864,000 in 2014.

    contribution to employment

    “Visitor exports generated US$ 8.78 billion in 2013 which is 25.2% of total exports. This is expected to rise by 10.1% in 2014,” says the same report.

    Despite regional troubles caused by the Arab Spring revolution, the kingdom, thanks to its stability, managed to place itself on the top tourism destination in North Africa.

    Exotic cities, pristine mountains and vast desert are popular tourist destinations, but recently the kingdom became a destination for professional surfers, who found in the Moroccan coastlines ideal conditions for their sport.

    In terms of Travel & Tourism, 2013 was a good year for nearly all the countries of the world.

    David Scowsill, President and CEO of WTTC, says it has been another really good year for the sector but many governments’ lack of openness is restraining their country’s Travel & Tourism potential.

    © Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed

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    Emir of Qatar Receives Morocco’s Speaker of Upper House (Photo courtesy Qatar News agency)

    Doha -  Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani received, on Monday in Doha, Speaker of the House of Advisers (upper house) Mohamed Sheikh Biadillah who is on a visit to Qatar at the invitation of chairman of the Qatari Shura Council Sheikh Mohamed Bin Muburak Al Khalifi.

    Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani expressed, during the audience, his esteem for achievements made in Morocco in all fields, under the leadership of King Mohammed VI.

    Underlining the importance of reinforcing relations between the two brotherly countries in different areas, the Emir of the State of Qatar highlighted the need to continue the implementation of decisions taken during the 5th Moroccan-Qatari joint committee.

    Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani asked Biadillah to convey his heartfelt greetings to King Mohammed VI and his wishes of further progress and prosperity to the Moroccan brotherly people.

    With MAP

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    Citizens Call For a March Against Criminality In Casablanca

    Rabat- Last Friday, MWN reported that terrified citizens threatened to take to the streets against the insecurity in Casablanca; it seems that the citizens’ voice has been heard by the local authorities.

    On Friday, the police in the city started pursuingsuspects who created a Facebook page entitled Tchermil, in which they posted pictures of themselves armed with knives and swords, proudly displaying their loot.

    Within two days, the local authorities arrested over 600 suspects, according to Assabah. 

    According to the same source, thanks to this two-day operation, local authorities could identify man who created the Tchermil page. He has a criminal record of petty offenses, and now he is the subject of a national investigation.

    Reassuring the terrified citizens in the city, local authorities stated that the pictures on these so-called“Tchermil” pages  are staged, posted by teenagers to alarm the local population.

    Yet, police statements don’t change the fact that the crime is increasing throughout the kingdom. According to Assabah, “to date, over 103,714 arrests have been made this year in Morocco.”

    What is "Tsharmil"?

    "Tsharmil" comes from the Moroccan Arabic word "sharmal," which means "to marinate" in reference to food. Tsharmil in this context, though, refers to a criminal gang whose members specialize in extorting people’s belongings by threatening their victims using knives and swords. They are known for wearing expensive athletic clothes and having unusual haircuts.

    The word Tsharmil is a popular word in Moroccan prisons, commonly used by inmates to express anger at one another. When two people fight in a Moroccan prison, each of them tell the other “ana masharmal alik,” roughly translated, "I am mad at you." The members of Tsharmil are known for their hatred towards successful and rich people and for being ruthless with their victims.

    Edited by Jessica Rohan

    © Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed

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    Morocco's international player Mehdi Benatia

    Rabat- According to El Mundo Deportivo, FC Barcelona is ready to put up ($27 million US) for AS Roma defender Mehdi Benattia.

    After Mundo Deportivo published a picture of Mehdi Benatia on its cover, and proclaimed that Mehdi Benatia is the best replacement for Carles Puyol, the Catalonian newspaper announced on Sunday that Barca has made an offer to AS Roma’s management to sign Benatia for $27 million US.

    El Mundo Deportivo noted that Benatia has the qualifications to integrate with FCB and replace Carles Puyol, who will retire at the end of this season.

    Tata Martino is hoping to boost Barcelona’s defense with the Moroccan talent. Mehdi, 26, is proving in every game that he is one of the best defenders of the Scudetto.

    AS Roma recruited Mehdi Benatia from Udinese for € 13.5 million. The French club coach Rudi Garcia relies heavily on the player, but playing for the Spanish team could be a good opportunity for the Moroccan national, who was named the best Moroccan athlete in 2013.

    Edited by Jessica Rohan

    © Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed

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    Madrid - Morocco's presence in the state funeral organized in homage of former president of Spanish government and architect of democratic transition Adolfo Suarez, who passed away on March 23 following a long disease, is a testimony of the good relations between the two countries, said, on Monday in Madrid, Head of Government Abdelilah Benkirane.

    "Upon the instructions of HM King Mohammed VI, I came to attend the state funeral in homage of former president of Spanish government Adolfo Suarez to confirm the good relations between the two countries," Benkirane told the press before attending the funeral which took place at the La Almudena Cathedral in Madrid, under the chairmanship of King Juan Carlos I, Queen Sofia, the Princes of Asturias, and in the presence of the family of Adolfo Suarez, top officials of the Spanish State and foreign figures.

    Through this participation, Morocco also wants to show its esteem for this figure who contributed to the democratization of the modern Spanish state and was a member of the Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco, added the head of government, noting that his presence at this ceremony is intended to express Morocco's solidarity with the Spanish people after this loss.

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    Casablanca- King Mohammed VI chaired this Tuesday in Casablanca the signing ceremony of eight conventions associated with the "Wessal Casablanca-Port" project, says a release of the Royal office.

    During the ceremony, various components of the "Wessal Casablanca-Port", the first of a series of projects to be carried out by Wessal Capital, were presented to the Sovereign.

    It is a major and innovative project giving a strategic impulse and a prime place to an original cultural offer and to neighborhood ecological spaces.

    It also reflects the great trust enjoyed by Morocco at the international level, via the establishment of Wessal Capital, which is the most important African "fund of sovereign funds".

    This initiative, an additional evidence of the particular high-level partnership between Morocco and Gulf countries, is totally independent and distinct from the 5 million donations that have been extended recently to Morocco.

    Wessal Capital is a new generation investment tool, owned equally by the investing countries: the United Arab Emirates -through Aabar Investments PJS, the State of Kuwait - through Al Ajial Investment Fund Holding, the State of Qatar -through Qatar Holding LLC, and the Kingdom of Morocco- through the Moroccan Fund of tourism development, in addition to Saudi Arabia- via the sovereign Public Investment Fund, raising the overall invested amount to 3.4 billion Dollars (29 billion dirhams).

    The support of finance institutions, such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, and the World Bank illustrates the wide interest granted to this project which stands as a promise of shared prosperity, promoted by the Royal South-South triangular diplomacy, associating the continent's growth perspectives, through the west African hub of Casablanca, to the Gulf countries' financial capital and tourism know-how.

    "Wessal Casablanca-Port" consists in converting a part of the Casablanca port area, for a cost of 6 billion DH, through major upgrading affecting the entire city, through the establishment of a new urban center in the city and its outskirts, the development of the Medina old neighborhood and its coastal tourism attractions and the henceforth clear identification of the city as a major destination of cultural, business and cruising tourism.

    The local and human dimensions of the project, through the creation of public and green spaces, will improve ownership of environment by the Casablanca inhabitants and give a lasting impulse to the renewal of the economic capital.

    In accordance with Royal instructions, an additional amount of 300 million Dirhams will be earmarked by Wessal Capital to the project's upcoming stages of rehabilitating the old city.

    Rehabilitation will consist in consolidating the integrated strategy on a new ambition for the Medina, matching the inhabitants' legitimate expectations in cultural, socio-economic and urban matters in order improve their living conditions, upgrade the city's building and preserve the Metropolis's historical and cultural legacy.

    The various components of the Wessal Casa-Port project are conform to the social commitment sought by King Mohammed VI as far as social responsibility, human capital development and promotion of eco-environmental synergies are concerned.

    The project, to be carried out in partnership with the state, will help finance the shipbuilding yard transfer, the building of a new fishing ports and the development of a cruising platform.

    Following the presentation made in the presence of the Sovereign, the following eight conventions were signed:

    - Investment framework Convention between the State and Wessal Capital

    - Specific Convention related to the second phase of the Royal initiative for the rehabilitation of the Casablanca Medina (State/Moroccan Fund for tourism development).

    - Specific convention related to the development project of the Casablanca port's ship-building yards zone (State/Moroccan Fund for tourism development)

    - Specific convention related to the development of the Casablanca fishing zone (State/Moroccan Fund for tourism development).

    - Specific convention related to the development of a new cruising terminal at the Casablanca Port (State/Moroccan Fund for tourism development).

    - Financing convention between Wessal Capital and national finance institutions

    - Financing convention between Wessal Capital and international finance institutions

    - Strategic partnership convention between the Moroccan Fund for tourism development and the World Bank.

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    Taroudant, Morocco- According to the 2014 TripIndex Room Service Index released last week by the American website, TripAdvisor, Marrakech is ranked 5th among 48 cities with the best quality / price ratio for room service around the globe, including 15 American cities.

     Based on this ranking, Marrakech is in the top five in the cheapest room service preceded by Tunis, which offers "the cheapest cost in room service" for $18.41.

     With an average of $27 for the room service cost, the Moroccan ocher city is along with Tunis the only North African destinations included in the ranking.

     According to TripAdvisor, “the index compared the cost of in-room services like a club sandwich, water bottle, peanuts, can of pop, mini bottle of vodka and dry cleaning,” ranking the most and least expensive destinations for common hotel room items.

     The cities of northern Europe, such as Helsinki, Finland, and Oslo, Norway, are among the most expensive destinations, with $88.94 and $87.59 total room service cost respectively.

    The annual report, TripIndex Room Service, conducted by, provides annual reviews and ranking by comparing the cost of in-room services for more than forty-eight tourist destinations of the 50 countries, which receive the largest number of tourists.

    © Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed

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    The UN Human Rights Council

    Marrakech - Morocco is an active member of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which is tasked with the promotion and the protection of human rights worldwide, said, Tuesday in Marrakech, UN coordinator and resident representative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Morocco Bruno Pouezat.

    Morocco has committed itself to submitting to the UN body a periodic report on the progress and advances made in the Kingdom in terms of the protection and promotion of human rights, he said at a regional consultation meeting within the framework of the development of the national mid-term report on the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

    Pouezat also welcomed the participatory approach adopted by the Inter-ministerial Delegation for Human Rights (DIDH) for the preparation of this report which will be submitted in May to the UN Human Rights Council.

    He also commended the constructive partnership between UN agencies and the Moroccan institutions for protection and promotion of human rights.

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    New York (UN)-Moroccan foreign minister Salaheddine Mezouar underlined, in a letter Tuesday to UNSG Ban Ki-moon that Morocco has honored all its commitments and taken measures beyond those recommended by the UNSC, urging other parties to show a similar qualitative commitment.

    In the letter, also handed out to the 15 UNSC member states and to be issued as an official document by the executive body, Mezouar said that since the adoption of resolution 2099 last April, Morocco has honored all its commitments and taken measures beyond those recommended by the said body mainly regarding human rights.

    The minister stressed in the letter, few weeks away from the renewal by the UNSC of the MINURSO mandate, that the report by the UNSG which will be submitted in the weeks to come to the UNSC should take account, in its content, tone and recommendations, of the measures taken by the Kingdom.

    Morocco's efforts seeking to reinforce the promotion and protection of human rights in all the national territory stem from an approach that is intentional by HM the King, the minister recalled, enumerating actions undertaken over the past years, namely the report by the economic, social and environmental council on the new development model for the southern provinces which is on the way to becoming operational, pursuant to the parameters of local good governance as laid down in the autonomy initiative.

    He added that, out of keenness to foster the role and efficiency of the national council for human rights (CNDH), the government announced last March its decision to react to all complaints by the CNDH, mainly from its two committees in Laayoune and Dakhla within three months.

    Regarding the interaction with special procedures, Morocco was visited since last April by the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons and the working group on arbitrary detention. Morocco has also announced that it is ready to welcome a new visit by the UN Special Rapporteur for torture to examine measures taken in this field.

    With MAP

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    Moroccan University and Mosque al Qaraouiine

    By Peter C Smith II

    Ksar El Kebir, Morocco- Serving as American volunteers in Morocco, my wife and I were give a priceless gift.  That gift was the ability to see and experience another culture without the blinders of someone else’s views distorting our own. 

    As volunteers, we are routinely required to complete reports on mission progress, future goals and current status.  In our last report, we were asked a question about our integration into our current community.  What follows is the question posed and my response:

    “How integrated do you feel in your community?”

    While this question, on the surface, seems relatively simple, nothing could be more removed from the reality of it.  To begin to answer this question honestly, I must first decide what integration means, subjectively, to me.  After all, it is my question and my answer to give.  To determine how to respond, I only have my previous community “integration,” from the United States, upon which to base my answer.  I will use comparisons to illustrate my current view of my position and situation in my community of Ksar El Kebir, Morocco.

    In the US, I lived a very “normal” and somewhat privileged life.  As lawyers, my wife and I worked hard and were well known throughout our city and the legal community.  We went once or twice a week to the grocery store for food and sundries and we would socialize with friends on the weekends, provided it was convenient to all parties.  We lived routine lives divided between work and the weekends.  When it came to our families, who happened to live relatively close by, we would only speak to them once or twice a month and usually on Facebook or through a phone call.  Our logistics included driving everywhere in our city, even though the local store was only 3 blocks away.  We lived in a house with neighbors that both of us knew by name but with which we spoke rarely, if at all.  When my wife and I vacationed, we would always choose to do so abroad and rarely with family or friends.  This describes the situation that is my basis for comparison and a life which many in the US strive to achieve. 

    Many may describe our former situation as the “American Dream” realized.   However, as “integrated” into our community as we thought we were, we were, in hindsight, nothing more than cogs in a very large and somewhat dysfunctional machine.  I believe my comparisons shall make this point clear.

    Upon arriving in Ksar El Kebir, Morocco, we were, for better or for worse, instantly singled out as outsiders and looked upon with suspicion and skepticism.We were “those” people who did not belong and were the scuttlebutt of the town.  However, through constant personal interaction with virtually everyone we came into contact with, be he/she a beggar or a city council man, a young man or an old woman, we became a constant and visible presence in Ksar.  Daily perseverance, endless kilometers walked and unending smiles later, we have reached a point in our social and community standings that has redefined our personal beliefs as to what it means to be “integrated,” and furthermore, what it means to be happy. 

    As before, in the US, we are now known in our community but this time it is because people actually know us and for the reasons stated above, love and adore us.  We have shelved the titles that come with degrees in exchange for something far greater, the titles of Kareem and Miriam.  These people, Kareem and Miriam, are beloved and participating members of the community.  Where we once enjoyed the convenience of “food supermarkets” once or twice a week, we now have loving friends, who just happen to own carts or hanuts (small stores) that we visit daily.  Even before we make our requests for purchases, we are asked about our health, happiness and even our families back in the US. 

    These are people who know, more often than not, what we want, what we like and are very happy to share with us what they think we will like or need; whether it is how to properly prepare harira or just a new vegetable we have never tried.  And, the true beauty of this type of relationship is that each and every one, with whom we deal, absolutely has our best interests at heart and not just the prospect of selling us “stuff” and making a profit.  We see Driss, our dear old butcher that saves the “special” selections of meat for us under the counter. 

    We have Fatima, our motherly vegetable cart woman who would NEVER let us pick the “iffy” produce and laughs every time my wife holds out a hand full of change so that she may take what is due her, at the same time admonishing Miriam for doing so.  There is M’hammed, our sole source of fresh squeezed orange juice, who once left his cart just to walk us across town because we needed a pressure cooker and he wanted to ensure we got the “best” one.  (And, no, the money was not such that he would have made enough from a kickback to warrant leaving his prosperous and lucrative business.)  And of course, there are the brothers (twins) Atta Allah: Charif and Achraf, who, while apart from being very successful business owners in Ksar having both a farm and very popular restaurant, just happen to be two of the best friends I have personally ever had.

    These connections and friendships beg to be compared to those I previously had in the US.  Unlike my US friends, there is a level of caring, kindness and concern that comes naturally from Moroccans and it is unlike anything that I have ever shared or experienced before in my adult life.  If I am sick, there is a flurry of rapid inquiries from one end of the town to the other.  Offers of food, prayers and medical remedies, some of which involve interesting uses of raw garlic, come at a blistering pace.  By contrast, in the US, if I don’t see my friends for a week or so, no one thinks anything about that length of time.  After all, why should they, it’s only a week or two.  Here, if more than a day or two passes with no sight or word from us, the town begins to worry and the phones begin to ring, the door begins to seem more like a drum than a door and Facebook is flooded.  While this much attention is a double edged sword, it is quite a comforting feeling to receive such affection from so many people and we consider it a blessing.

    Socializing has also been redefined here in Ksar for both my wife and me.  We are constantly being invited to this gathering or that but gone are the nights full of wine, cocktails and constant talk of work.  What has replaced our former social gatherings is like nothing that we would have ever dreamed.  There is no such thing as a “small” get together with a “little” food.  Gone are the “strangers” that we don’t know and in their places are friends we just haven’t met yet.  And, the term late night has been completely redefined from 11:00pm to “when there is no more party.”

    Holidays are another area where our ideas of “normal” integration have been completely turned upside down.  In the US, especially at Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving, we will be cordially invited to someone’s gathering or dinner but these invitations, while often genuine, do not always carry near the heart felt attachment to them that those in Morocco do.  During Ramadan, Eid Kebir, Ashara and every wedding, birthday and couscous in between, we are bombarded with invitations that, should we refuse, would actually cause someone pain.  It is only because the invitations come from such a caring place that we have the power to deeply hurt someone’s feelings.  If this close connection is not a sign of considerable social “integration” than I am not sure what else could be.   

    As for family, I have never seen a community that rallies more honestly and deeply around the family unit as I have witnessed and become a part of here in Ksar and in fact, all of Morocco.  It is truly an amazing feeling the day you realize that you are no longer someone who lives in the neighborhood but that you have become part of a large family that just happens to live together in a neighborhood, town and by extension, a country.  With that realization comes a very comforting and yet humbling feeling.  When that day arrived for us, we knew that we were no longer foreigners living in Hay Andelous (our neighborhood) but part of a loving, caring and EVER watching family that included many, many people and businesses.  People in the US often ask us if we ever have fears living in Morocco, a Muslim country, to which we simply reply, “Why would we?  We live among some of the most loving, caring and wonderful people in the world.” 

    The original question was, “How integrated do you feel in your community?”  The very simple answer to that not so simple question is that we have not integrated into a “community,” but rather, we have simply become part of a very large family.  Hamdullah. 

    Peter C Smith II is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy

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    Ouarzazat solar energy

    Casablanca- The French police arrested 15 Moroccans last week at Sète Port, Montpellier in France, for allegedly stealing more than 2,000 solar panels in Italy.

    Fifteen Moroccan drivers holding Italian visas were arrested last week at Sète Port as they were allegedly preparing to ship more than 2,500 stolen solar panels to Tangier.

    “They were apprehended for organized gang robbery,” the Montpellier prosecutor Christophe Barret told French newspaper Oust France.

    According to the same source, French police in Sète were informed that a number of vans, loaded with stolen solar panels from Genoa, Italy, were about to board a ship bound for Morocco.

    The police immediately headed to Sète Port and awaited the arrival of the suspected vans.

     The 15 Moroccan drivers reportedly loaded their vans with around 2,641 solar panels and headed toward Sète port. The French police seized the 2,641 panels, according to the same source.

    Each panel is valued at around 300 to 600 Euros, meaning that the total number of stolen panels could profit the suspects roughly 1 million to 1.5 million Euros.

    The investigation into the alleged crimes of the 15 Moroccans remains underway. Initially, the suspects indicated that the solar panels were purchased in Italy and not stolen, but Italian judicial sources disagreed with this claim. Still, no concrete evidence has been obtained, according to the same source.

    Police investigators began questioning the story after noticing that the 15 arrested Moroccans did not use the easiest and fastest route to get to Tangier. This small detail left police doubting the claim that the Moroccans were attempting to smuggle the stolen solar panels.

    Edited by Liz Yaslik

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