Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The 20th edition of the Essaouira Gnaoua Festival

This year's Gnaoua World Music Festival opens later this week in Essaouira and runs from 29 June to 1 July. As before, the event will open with an all-singing, all-dancing, multi-coloured opening parade through the centre of the port city. The festival programme features Moroccan Gnaoua groups as well as world music artists from several continents. Lynn Sheppard reports for The View From Fez

All Moroccan summer festivals have experienced timing challenges since Ramadan has fallen in the summer months, reducing the number of weekends available for the organisation of festivals so that they don't clash with either the Muslim holy month or each other. Following several years of deviation from the usual timing of the third weekend in June, the festival is almost back to its habitual calendar slot, albeit immediately after Ramadan, which may cause some practical issues in terms of preparation during the Eid public holidays. Nonetheless, the stages are already in place in Essaouira and this promises to be an exciting edition of the festival now in its 20th edition.

This year, the format has changed slightly, with the festival only running three days and the addition of new venues such as perennial gnaoua residence, Dar Loubane and the Zaouia Issawa. The elimination of the final Sunday afternoon concert is likely to disappoint many local families, who were always in high attendance, as timing made it attractive for mums and grannies to bring young children. There is also scant information available as yet about daytime activities such as the Arbre à Palabres held at the Institut Francais. This year's Forum will take place "Creativity and cultural policies in the digital age." However, the morning timing means that this event is normally a talking shop of the usual suspects and local dignitaries while the rest of the festival goers sleep off the festivities of the night before!

A welcome addition to the official festival schedule is a two-day programme of musical and cultural side events organised by the Regional Council of Tourism. Unfortunately this programme wasn't available far enough in advance to anyone booking from overseas, but if they happen to be in town for the festival a couple of days early, it is well-publicised on flyers and posters around Essaouira and features free encounters with gnaouis and artists of other Sufi traditions in zaouias and open spaces around town.

Band of Gnawa

Essaouira is, of course, well known for the fusion gigs that take place at the end of each evening's concerts and feature a gnaoua group on stage with a group or artist from overseas. These collaborations are exciting and occasionally spawn musical collaborations which continue long after the festival ends. One such collaboration is 'Band of Gnawa', created by French musician, composer and producer, Loy Ehrlich. He is no stranger to inter-continental partnerships, having also worked with Youssou N'Dour and Touré Kunda among others. This year, he returns to the Essaouira stage 10 years after the creation of Band of Gnawa (the name is an homage to the Hendrix album, Band of Gypsies) with gnaoua fusion mash-ups of well-known rock hits of the late 60s/early 70s Marrakesh Express era, when Hendrix himself is rumoured to have visited Essaouira.

Hamid El Kasri : photo Sandy McCutcheon

As for the other fusions, on Friday, Festival favourite and gnaoua crossover superstar, Hamid el Kasri will guest with a range of international artists including Algerian drummer Karim Ziad (also responsible for the programming of the festival). This gig promises to be an Essaouira classic, featuring several artists who know the Essaouira crowd inside out. On Saturday, US Blues artist Lucky Peterson will be on stage with Marrakechi Gnaoua Maalem, Mustapha Baqbou, which promises to bring the blues and gnaoua heritage right back to their sub-Saharan roots.

See the full programme here: Gnaoua Festival


Monday, June 26, 2017

Opinion: Why Morocco chose to be neutral on the Gulf crisis

The attempts to blockade Qatar are an extraordinary exercise in opportunism, brought about in part by the ineptitude of President Trump. While the situation drags on, the citizens of Qatar are being supported by a group of nations, including Morocco. Not only has the Kingdom despatched plane loads of food, but have also offered to moderate in the dispute. Samir Bennis is a political analyst with more than eight years of experience as a political adviser with an Arab mission to the United Nations in New York. In a recent article he examines Morocco's stance.

Why Morocco chose to be neutral on the Gulf crisis

In the past week, Morocco's decision to send planes loaded with food to Qatar has been criticised in light of the internal problems the North African country has recently been facing. People accused the Moroccan government of trying to aid a foreign country before responding to the grievances of its own people. Such a critique, however, is superficial and fails to take the historical context of regional relations and Morocco's foreign policy ambitions into consideration.

Certainly, Moroccan government is currently facing serious problems in several regions of the country and it needs to address them efficiently without further delay. To solve these problems, the government needs to embark on several large-scale projects.

The Moroccan government must address the needs of the citizens who have been protesting in Al Hoceima and elsewhere in the country. It needs to acknowledge the need to listen to the oppressed and work seriously to improve their living conditions. A weak response to the demands of these protesters will surely precipitate additional problems.

A humanitarian decision

However, the state's commitment to addressing internal problems cannot come at the expense of its foreign policy interests. Putting their emotions and hasty judgements on the issue aside, Moroccans should be proud of this symbolic, yet humanitarian, decision demonstrating Morocco's political savoir-faire.

By announcing that it would be sending food supplies to Qatar, Morocco showed that it would not take part in an unwise dispute among the Gulf countries. Instead, it confronted the crisis with a well-reasoned and balanced approach calculated to reflect its leadership on the world stage.

Morocco's decision to play the card of neutrality in the Qatar-GCC rift is strategic and the country may soon take up a bigger role in this crisis by acting as a mediator.

By staying neutral and deciding not to follow countries' that are blockading Qatar, Morocco is preserving the balanced relationship between King Mohammed VI and the other kings and princes of the Gulf.

In so doing, the country is preserving the independence of its foreign policy decisions, and proving that its moves in the international arena are not based on the agendas and stratagems of other countries. The decision is courageous as it distinguishes Morocco's foreign policy from Saudi Arabia.

Morocco's decision to send food aid to Qatar, which came only days after the king offered to mediate between the parties, demonstrates that the country has learned its lesson from its hasty 2009 decision to sever relations with Iran because of Bahrain.

Not only was Morocco's decision to aid the people of Qatar politically wise, but it will likely be beneficial to Morocco, in the short, medium and long terms. Morocco is in urgent need of foreign investment to embark on necessary large-scale infrastructure projects. Qatar and its people will never forget Morocco's symbolic humanitarian gesture in their time of need.

Strong relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE

Morocco's decision to send food to Qatar is unlikely to harm its relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Relations between Morocco's king and the leaders of these two countries are currently too strong to be affected by a decision like this.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE's strong relations with Algeria also influenced Morocco's decision to continue its relations with Qatar. Algeria has been trying to destabilise Morocco and establish an independent state in the Western Sahara for over four decades. Yet King Mohammed VI has not asked the Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to sever their ties with Algeria. In fact, both countries are working towards strengthening their relations with Algeria and the UAE is among the largest foreign investors in Algeria.

Its renewed ties with Iran were also influential over Morocco's decision to stay neutral in this crisis. Morocco restored its diplomatic relations with Iran last October, after more than six years of severed ties due to Iran's conflict with Bahrain. The decision to renew ties came at the height of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, because of Iran's nuclear ambitions and the war in Syria. Despite this, Morocco's decision to restore ties with Iran did not affect its relations with its Gulf allies.

Similarly, in Egypt, Morocco did not immediately recognise General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's presidency after the coup against Mohamed Morsi, although Saudi Arabia and the UAE did so. Since Sisi seized power, relations between Morocco and Egypt have not returned to the same level as before 2011 and remained tense. Yet, while relations between the two countries have not improved, this has not affected relations between Morocco and its Gulf allies.

In the past month, King Mohamed VI cancelled a trip to a summit in Riyadh and a visit to Egypt at the last moment and these decisions were neither arbitrary nor coincidental. It is far more likely that Morocco received intelligence that the outcome of the conference would not serve its interests. Therefore, by cancelling these visits, the King aimed to avoid being trapped in regional calculations of the Gulf states.

Morocco's decision to play the card of neutrality in the Qatar-GCC rift is strategic and the country may soon take up a bigger role in this crisis by acting as a mediator.

Samir Bennis is a political analyst with more than eight years of experience as a political adviser with an Arab mission to the United Nations in New York. 

He is the co-founder of Morocco World News, and an expert on Morocco's foreign policy, UN-related issues and the Maghreb.


"Les Chants des cèdres" - Ifrane Festival

The singer Hatem Idar and the Franco-Moroccan rapper Lartiste will open the second International Festival of Ifrane from 7 to 9 July under the sign "Les Chants des cèdres"

This festival, presented under the patronage of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, has invited a wide range of musical talent including: Abdelwahab Doukkali, Egyptian singer, Sherine Abdelwahab, Lebanese pop star, Wael Jassar and Moroccan-Iraqi singer Shada Hassoun.

According to the national president of the Fez-Saîss Association, Driss Alaoui Mdaghri, after the first edition that focused on spectacular evenings and the discovery of the culinary facets of the Kingdom, the programme of this 2nd festival offers, in addition to the musical festivities, numerous activities with a cultural or playful aim.

Festival opener: Hatem Idar

The festival, which is organised by the Ifrane Forum for Culture and Development in partnership with the Fez-Saiss Association, offers a host of activities including ta forum "Environment, Mountain and Spirituality". There will also be opportunities to discover of the local fauna and flora, star gazing, painting exhibitions, a chess tournament and workshop, mountain walks and a "waste hunt".

Driss Alaoui Mdaghri says that the festival is a good opportunity to shed light on the important cultural and artistic landscape of Morocco "where diversity is everywhere celebrated, where the sap of the trees nourishes the creativity and where the winds Desert, sea and mountains combine the dreams of its men and women beyond the oceans and at the top of the highest peaks".


Return of Daylight Saving in Morocco

From this Sunday, July 2, at 02:00 in the morning, the legal time in Morocco will be advanced by 60 minutes (GMT + 1), according to the Ministry of Reform of Administration and Civil Service

Switching to Daylight Saving Time (DST) in the spring and switching back to standard time for the duration of Ramadan, has been criticised by some Moroccans who claim it disrupts their sleep patterns. For their part, the government says that daylight saving increases the competitiveness of the national economy by reducing the cost of energy bills and facilitating transactions with regional economic partners, mainly in Europe.

Travellers are reminded to double check their flight times.

Daylight saving ends on Sunday, 29 October, when at 03:00:00 clocks are turned backward 1 hour.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Eid Mubarak!

Sunset - then waiting for the new moon sighting

According to a communique published by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, after a number of legitimate measures and calculations run by special moon-sighting committees across the country, it was established that Monday is the first day of Shawwal, marking the first day of Eid Al Fitr in Morocco.

Monday June 26, will be the first day of the month of Shawwal and thus Eid Al Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

However, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, France, Qatar and Turkey, all announced on Saturday night that Eid El Fitr would be celebrated on Sunday. The sighting of the moon in most Muslim countries coincides with the astronomical calculations and predictions made by the International Astronomical Centre.

On the occasion of the advent of Eid Al-Fitr, HM King Mohammed VI, sent messages of congratulations to the Heads of State of the Islamic countries, expressing to them His sincere wishes for health and happiness and to their brotherly peoples further progress and prosperity.

In these messages, HM the King said, "It is a blessed opportunity which, because of its deep meaning and the noble values it bears, prompts us to reaffirm, through our faith and our conduct, our attachment to the teachings of tolerant Islam. It also urges us to incarnate the ideals of our religion which advocates fraternity, unity, and moderation, as well as the rejection of any form of division, discord, fanaticism, violence or extremism."


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Eid al Fitr - Expert Predictions?

While Moroccans await the official statement from the Moroccan Ministry of Habous and Islamic Affairs on the exact end of Ramadan, there are a couple of astronomers with a good record of forecasting the end of the holy month.
Abdelaziz Kharbouch and Hicham El Issaoui, say that on the basis of their calculations, which do not exclude observation of the crescent moon. "It will be invisible on Saturday evenings, in the east as well as in the south of the country". They claim that the month of Ramadan will go until the end of its thirty days and that "Eid al Fitr, will be celebrated in Morocco on Monday, June 26th".

It remains that a small margin of error and doubt will persist until the last minute on Saturday night when the observation of the first crescent of the month and the confirmation of its appearance in the Moroccan sky through the Official statement of the Ministry of Habous and Islamic Affairs.

On the other hand, if you ask Google, the answer is unequivocal. Google says Eid al-Fitr 2017 will begin in the evening of Sunday, June 25 and ends in the evening of Monday, June 26th.

Eid Mubarak to all our readers!

This is also the time for Zakat and Sadaqat al-Fitr

The significant role played by Zakat in the circulation of wealth within the Islamic society is also played by the Sadaqat al-Fitr. However, in the case of Sadaqat al-Fitr, each individual is required to calculate how much charity is due from himself and his dependents and go into the community in order to find those who deserve such charity.

Sadaqat al-Fitr plays a very important role in the development of the bonds of community. The rich are obliged to come in direct contact with the poor, and the poor are put in contact with the extremely poor. This contact between the various levels of society helps to build real bonds of brotherhood and love within the Islamic community and trains those who have, to be generous to those who do not have.

Zakat Fitr (alms of the fast breaking) is mandatory for "anyone who has food for a day and a night" and "has a surplus of food." It must be paid on behalf of any dependents. For example, a family man with three children will pay Zakat for himself, his wife and three children. This offering may be paid in cash, or food.

The amount to be paid is set by the Ministry of Religious Affairs which this year set it at around 15 dirhams.