Thursday, March 05, 2015

Call for Foreigners to Vote in Morocco's Local Elections

On Wednesday Morocco's National Council for Human Rights (CNDH) issued a series of recommendations which included allowing foreigners to vote for the first time in local elections

According to a memo which lists a series of 45 recommendations, the CNDH called for "expanding the electorate" to include "all foreigners legally resident in Morocco for a period of not less than five years."

Morocco officially estimates that there are about 80,000 French, 2,000 Spanish and 18,000 sub-Saharan Africa citizens many of whom had their status regularised during a special campaign launched in 2014.

Morocco's new Constitution, adopted by referendum in 2011, opens the way for foreigners to vote in local elections subject to signing of reciprocal agreements with their countries of origin. The CNDH also recommended the government to work for the strengthening "Women's access to elective mechanisms" at local and regional level, particularly through an increase in the "number of seats reserved for women."

People with disabilities or reduced mobility should also benefit from "easy access" to the polls and "electoral audiovisual material" should be available in sign language.

Local and regional elections are scheduled from 4 September, a prelude to the national elections the following year.

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Aït Benhaddou ~ Struggling to Survive

Aït Benhaddou is a village in need of rescue. Back in November 2014, heavy storms caused major damage and now, more than a year later, some of the buildings are slowly being restored but the site requires a massive commitment to save its World Heritage values for the future

Aït Benhaddou before the storm damage

Situated on the Ounila River in Souss-Massa-Drâa, Aït Benhaddou (Amazigh: Ath Benhadu, Arabic: آيت بن حدّو‎) is a fortified city, or ksar. It stands on the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech.

For years Aït Benhaddou has been a major tourist attraction as well as a location for a large number of films such as Sodom And Gomorrah (1963), Oedipus Rex (1967), Jesus of Nazareth (1977), The Jewel of the Nile (1985), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Sheltering Sky (1990), Gladiator (2000), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Babel (2006), Prince of Persia (2010) and Son of God (2014.)

In the fictional world of Essos in Game of Thrones, Aït Benhaddou is turned into Yunkai, the smallest of the three cities in Slaver’s Bay, and Pentos, the biggest of the Free Cities.

Welcome to Yunkai in Game of Thrones

Anne Allmeling*, writing for Morocco World News, reports that the repair work is tedious and worthwhile only for a few inhabitants.

Fighting for a Bit of Cultural Heritage

A pile of debris – coarse mud bricks, shattered timber planks, cracked bamboo – has piled up in front of one of the buildings in the mountain village of Aït Benhaddou in southern Morocco. The collapsed façade provides an open view of the inside of the house, which once must have been very grand as the many storeys and the nooks of the tower chamber – or what’s left of them – reveal.

Andreas Reinhartz drops by here on a regular basis, but he cannot get used to the sight of the house. The German-Austrian lives in Aït Benhaddou, is married to a local woman and knows every corner of the mud-brick fortress, or ksar, which consists of many centuries old buildings. In earlier times, caravans passed by here on their way from Timbuktu to Marrakech. Today, the town is off the main road that goes from Casablanca to M’Hamid and is one of the most popular destinations for travellers to Morocco due to its medieval flair. The caved-in house was long in need of repairs, Reinhartz tells me. It took only two consecutive storms in November to turn the old building into a ruin.

World Heritage - turned to rubble

Usually, the clay walls can stand up to it,” explains Reinhartz, who has long studied the traditional adobe construction methods in the region. He runs a hostel that was also built in the traditional manner in the new village on the other side of the river. During the storms, he and his wife used any rain-free hours to dry the drenched parts of their house as people have done here for centuries. Reinhartz makes sure to replaster the house regularly to keep the rain from soaking through the walls.

This was the fate of the collapsed buildings. It’s no wonder, for only a few of the houses in Aït Benhaddou are inhabited. Life in the old village, which is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site, is tedious in part because there is no electricity. In addition, maintaining the old adobe fortress requires a great deal of manual work. Clay, wood and rushes are required as construction materials – along with a great deal of physical strength.

Yet rebuilding is often not worthwhile for the locals, sometimes because the old houses are owned by large families that are slow to agree on decisions. All of the old established families have moved across the river to the new village where there are many hotels and restaurants.

Repair work is tedious 

Tourism is the primary source of income for the inhabitants of Aït Benhaddou. Many of them rent out single rooms or buildings in the kasbah to merchants from all over Morocco who sell souvenirs and jewellery there. Some of them offer their former living quarters in the old village as museums. Recently, two hotels also opened in the old adobe fortress. Their owners make sure that the storm damages to their buildings are mended as quickly as possible. Yet for most of the residents of Aït Benhaddou restoring the old structures is not worthwhile. They cannot earn money with it and have far different worries since the storms: the heavy rainfall not only damaged the kasbah, but agriculture as well.

“We lost one third of our farmland,” says Andreas Reinhartz. “It simply washed away.” His concerns are shared by most families in Aït Benhaddou. The flooding destroyed the harvest and uprooted and swept away the olive trees. It was a major loss for the entire region. Nonetheless, Andreas Reinhartz worries most about the kasbah. It draws throngs of tourists around midday weaving their way for an hour through the ksar on their way from Marrakech to Merzouga. What’s lacking, according to Reinhartz, is long-term, lasting commitment to the kasbah.

*Morocco World News is participating in an interesting journalistic exchange project “Close-Up” with the Goethe-Institut, in which journalists from Germany and Arab countries swap their workplaces for two to four weeks. The editorial journalist Anne Allmeling from Deutsche Welle in Germany is  a Morocco World News guest journalist for three weeks. In return, editor Tarik Elbarakah will be the guest of Deutsche Welle in February 2015. You can find more information at

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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Sufism ~ "a Bulwark Against Radical Islam"

In a recent edition of Le Monde, Faouzi Skali, the Director of the Fes Festival of Sufi Culture, was interviewed by Joan Tilouine. In the interview he shared some interesting observations about the role of Sufism in the modern era and particularly as an antidote to Jihadist movements. Here is an edited extract...
Moroccan Sufi followers at Sidi Ali

Joan Tilouine: Through your festival, you defend Sufism. Is it at risk?

Faouzi Skali: Throughout the Muslim world, from Asia to Africa, the Sufi culture is very large majority. Yet his spiritual heritage, artistic and literary often remains absent from public life.

The recent tragic events committed by individuals who claim a Wahhabi ideology and a simplistic and extremist conception of religion, monopolise the attention of public opinion.  Muslims themselves do not identify with this Islam. How can one identify with those barbaric acts in Mosul, in northern Nigeria, Paris or elsewhere? There is an optical effect which reverses the reality of Islam and the way it is lived and practiced. It seems to me that Sufism needs to be supported, explained, debated, to assert its reality in daily life.

A member of the Moroccan all female Hadra Chefchaounia 

Joan Tilouine: Can spirituality to cope with destructive impulses?

Faouzi Skali: It is urgent to change the perception of Islam as some Muslims may come to believe that the reality is that of computer screens showing the crimes filmed by extremists themselves.

When we say that Islam is tolerant and open to other religions, this may seem a minority discourse and a little naive. I created the Festival of Sacred Music Fes to make a demonstration. This festival was in harmony with the city, in harmony with its spiritual history, Arab-Andalusian heritage and multiculturalism.

It seems crucial to awaken the spiritual tradition of Islam that is the daily life of hundreds of millions of people. Witness, for example, the popular Sufi tradition, the rites of sama (ritual dance), songs and music. Or dissemination of works of the Persian mystic Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, the thinker Ibn Arabi, the Emir Abdel Kader and many others. This is far from marginal. But if many know Ibn Arabi, how many really read?

Joan Tilouine: Is Fez one of the major international places to counter the influence of the Wahhabism that is so very strong in Africa?

Faouzi Skali:  It would be too restrictive to say that it is to counter Wahhabism whose history is very recent [18th century]. It can not be compared to the rich Sufi heritage which born simultaneously with Islam in 8th Century.

To simplify: the same way that Saudi Arabia is an exporter of Wahhabism, Morocco, which is soaked in Sufism,  contributes this to Africa.

However, Moroccans are themselves not immune to the penetration of other Islamic currents and they need benchmarks. Fez is a place that allows thinking and free expression. It is a jewel of Islamic civilisation, facing the disarray into which ISIL plunges many believers.

A member of the Tidjannia Brotherhood at the mausoleum of Sheikh Ahmed Sharif Tidjane in Fez 

Joan Tilouine: For the uninitiated, Sufism may seem like a closed brotherhood. Is this what explains its privacy?

Faouzi Skali: The history of Sufism is first popular. In the past, Sufism was culturally and naturally integrated into the daily lives of Muslims. This reality is still very present, but it is less noticeable in modern culture.

With the Fes Festival of Sufi Culture we go beyond the limits of a particular fraternity, we bring this reality into the public arena. In Fez, strong links exist with the great mosque of Qarawiyine with the Tariqa Tijanya whose tomb of the founder Sheikh Ahmed Sharif Tidjane is located in the city and leads to a pilgrimage.  Sufi Islam's Maliki rites are widespread in West Africa and the historical relationship is very deep between the guilds and the theologians of both sides of the Sahara.

I think today we have to go beyond the marabout brotherhoods and Sufism. In Africa, I meet many scholars that are sometimes embarrassed that Islam is reduced to this. There are other riches in our civilisation shared: science, art ...

Joan Tilouine: How do you counter the proselytising by radical Islamist groups who have mastered the modern means of communication?

Faouzi Skali: Radical Islamists have a very materialistic background because they offer a consumer extremism. They do business, monopolising political and economic power in the name of religion to which they give a materialist appearance. Jihadism is the monstrous son of ultra-liberalism.

I think and I want to believe that there is a need for spirituality among youth, part of which is diverted by these groups. A young person who feels the need of a spiritual quest can be enlisted.

Whirling Dervish performers at Fez Sufi Festival 2014

Joan Tilouine: What about the political use of Sufism by states?

Faouzi Skali:  In Morocco, King Mohammed VI recognises and supports Sufism as a pillar of the country's history.  In Algeria for a long time, the authorities have reduced Sufism and heritage of the thought of Abdelkadder Emir, which was almost ignored. Today, Sufism has upgraded it. Is it a manipulation?

In Tunisia too, Sufism has been undermined but now finds renewed interest on the part of authorities. Defending a Sufi cultural heritage is an emergency escape route from the tendencies of political manipulation. Basically, it is a cultural war.

A member of a Sufi brotherhood to Massin, near Timimoun in southern Algeria

The Fes Festival of Sufi Culture runs from the 18th to 25th of April

Provisional Program for the 9th Edition of the Fes Festival of Sufi Culture

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Casablanca Introduces New Taxi Fleet

Casablanca taxis have had a colour change and a long overdue upgrade. Under a scheme that allowed operators a cash bonus of 80,000 dirhams for trading in their old taxi for a new model, the first of the new vehicles have taken to the streets

Out with the old...
...and in with the new

Given the meaning of "Casablanca" it seems appropriate that the old red colour as been ditched in favour of white taxis.

On Tuesday, Khalid Safir, the Wali of Greater Casablanca,  authorised the first 44 new vehicles owned by taxi operators who had qualified for the vehicle renewal premium.

The purpose of this operation is to encourage owners to abandon old vehicles and replace them with new models that meet new environmental standards and offer increased safety and passenger comfort.

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