Friday, September 04, 2015

Morocco Votes 2015

Today was the day Moroccans went to the polls for local and regional elections.  Some 15 million Moroccans are expected to vote by the time the polls close early evening

The Interior Ministry said polls had opened without any hitches in the vote for 30,000 local council seats and nearly 700 regional assembly posts among nearly 30 parties. First results were expected late on Friday evening.

The pundits say that Morocco's ruling Islamist party, the Justice and Development Party (PJD) is facing a major test of its dominance. Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane's PJD ran on a platform of changing "old regime" ways and fighting corruption but has never challenged the king as the country's ultimate authority, nor has any group or party except for a small leftist coalition.

The PJD held only a few towns in the 2009 elections and this vote will show to what extent they have made a difference at grassroots level after rising to power in the wake of the Arab Spring revolts.

While criticised for failing to make a dent in corruption, Abdelilah Benkirane can boast of a significant reduction in the public deficit (more than 7% to less than 5% of GDP), thanks to reforms subsidising gasoline and other consumer products.

Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane

Since his appointment in early 2012, Benkirane, has  endeavoured to maintain relations with the royal palace, which retains broad powers, while at the same time keeping a close watch on the misadventures of other Islamist movements in the region, Tunisia and in Egypt.

Most opposition parties have campaigned on a very limited range of issues such as anti-corruption platforms and against privileges for the elite. There is also a scepticism amongst the population as many citizens feel that no matter who they vote for, nothing will change.

The Authenticity and Modernity party (PAM) may well make gains, although experts say PAM has been weakened by the loss of its leader, an associate of the king. It was also criticised as a symbol of corruption by protesters in 2011.

Some leftist groups and the largest Islamist movement in the country are tougher in their criticism of the monarchy, have boycotted the political process and the election.

Attention will also be focused on the number of voters. As the independent daily Akhbar al-Yaoum editorialised this week, "in a Morocco that is learning to walk along the path of democracy, participation in elections is not a luxury; rather it is the first step along the road to building the future,"

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Moroccan Tourism Bounces Back

After a sluggish start to the year, tourist arrivals in Morocco increased by 15% in July. The source countries show a positive effect of promotions, particularly in the German speaking countries. Morocco hosted 79.9% more tourists from Austria, 19.8% from Germany, 6.2% from the UK and 10.5% from North America
More Germans and Austrians visiting Fez now the weather has cooled down

The catch up has been welcomed by tourism professionals some of whom had expected the beginning of year slowdown to continue.

According to a statement from the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism, six million tourists visited Morocco during the first seven months of this year.

The same upward trend was observed for overnight stays. In classified tourist facilities, they increased by 12% compared to July 2014. This increase in overnight stays has particularly boosted the major tourist destinations in the kingdom such as Casablanca and Marrakech.

The cultural capital, Fez, has experienced a slightly slower recovery, but with the cooler weather and accommodation bookings picking up in September and October, tourism professional are upbeat about the coming months. Ironically, visitors report that they are delighted to be experiencing the delights of Fez without hordes of tourists.

Major German magazine Geo Saison recently featured Fez

Foreign exchange tourism revenues have also recorded an increase of 16% compared to the same month of the previous year, reaching more than 5.975 billion dirhams.

Observers believe that the tourism sector in Morocco suffers from two negative factors - the ailing European economy and regional unstable security situation following the terrorist attacks on Tunisia.

According to the Tourism Ministry the recovery recorded last month was due to the promotion policy, communication and tourist packages adopted by Morocco, and the diversification of tourist markets adopted by the tourism administration. Tourism professionals are quick to acknowledge that the Ministry of Tourism is working well for the industry.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

American Abrams Tanks for Moroccan Military

The first fifty American Abrams tanks (M1A1) will be delivered to the Moroccan military in November 2016. The order is for two hundred, to be delivered in instalments

An M1A1 Abrams, firing its US built M256 120 mm tank gun

This sixty-one ton "third generation" version of the main American battle tank will replace the T72 tanks that the Moroccan armed forces acquired from Russia. With laser range finder, a gyro-stabilised gun and sophisticated computer firing system the Abrams is superior to the T72.

The Moroccan versions of the M1A1 Abrams tanks will be equipped with the Rheinmetall 120 mm, a smoothbore tank gun designed and produced by the West German Rheinmetall-DeTec AG company and produced under license for the Americans. The American version, the M256, uses a coil spring recoil system instead of a hydraulic system.

The Abrams has a crew of 4 men and can travel at 72km / h, with a range of 465 km.

However, the M1A1 is not the latest version of the Abrams. Since the early 1990s the Americans began producing the M1A2 with technological improvements of the basic M1A1 design. Outwardly similar in appearance to the M1A1, the most notable exterior changes on the M1A2 are the redesigned Commander's Weapon Station (CWS) and the addition of a Commander's Independent Thermal Viewer) on the left side of the turret forward of the loader's hatch. Internally, however, the M1A2 has been radically redesigned to take advantage of newer technology.

Approved for implementation in 1995, the M1A2 SEP (System Enhancement Package) is a technology upgrade and standardisation program, whereby the Army's fleet of M1s and M1A2s will all be brought to a common standard. It is unclear at this stage if the Moroccan versions have been standardised.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, said the foreign sales are key to keeping the Abrams line and workforce at the plant running for the U.S. Army’s future needs. Portman began talking to Moroccan officials two years ago about the Abrams tank program and integrating the Abrams tank into the Royal Moroccan Army.

The Army awarded a contract to General Dynamics Land Systems for $17 million to provide removal and disposal of 50 M-1A1 frontal turret armor packages and installation of the M-1A1 situational awareness frontal turret armor packages

For the Abrams tanks the Moroccan Army will provide air cover with the US F16 although analysts suggest that in the future there will be more reliance on drone technology.

The US has already granted General Atomics an export license to sell the unarmed Predator XP drone to Morocco, but is unclear if they will be purchased. Other sources have suggested that the U.S might consider selling armed MQ-9 Reapers to Morocco.

However, drones may come from another country. The Israeli newspaper Maariv reported on its website that the Israeli Military Industries, a government-owned weapons manufacturer, sold Morocco drones over the past year through a French company.

"Heron" UAV's have a range of 350km and can operate for up to 52 hours without refuelling

The Moroccan army took delivery of three Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at the end of last April, via the French company Dassault Aviation, which acted as the mediator in the deal. The Aeronautica Y Astronautica magazine published a document which confirms that Morocco bought the Israeli-designed aircraft. The army also possesses four US-made UAVs.

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Final Campaigning for Moroccan Elections

Campaigning for the upcoming municipal and regional elections in Morocco is in full swing and the various parties have teams out on the streets attempting to convince people which way to vote

To an outsider it all looks a little chaotic. Election posters are everywhere, particularly on the poster walls, where parties are given spaces in which to attach their posters.

The phenomenon of the poster walls is not exclusively Moroccan. Similar arrangements can be seen in Japan, France, Tunisia, Italy and Senegal. It is a remarkably low tech way to reach potential voters.

The parties are often referred to by their symbol, rather than the actual party name. Hence, the party of the "Lamp" or the party of the "Balance" or the "Eye". It is a tradition the goes back to the time when a majority of the voters were illiterate but could recognise the individual party logos.

When it comes to filling in the ballot papers, an illiterate voter simply selects the appropriate logo.

Possibly the biggest problem for Moroccan democracy is convincing the citizens that their vote will count. The level of scepticism is high and there are groups actively campaigning for a boycott of the elections.

No, it is not a campaign for a "donkey" vote

Alongside the serious campaigning and political rallies, the scene on the street is full of surprises, with animals adorned with posters and young people singing, chanting and handing out leaflets. The sight of a donkey covered in leaflets was not part of a campaign to cast invalid votes. In the West such a vote is described as "a donkey vote".

The campaign themes are remarkably similar in tone and themes. What differs is the ability to harness the media. Abdellatif Zaki is a professor of Languages and Communication at Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II, Rabat wrote an interesting article for Morocco World News in which he points out that parties such as Istiqlal, USFP, PAM, and PJD, because of their financial capacities, their acute awareness and skilful use of the power of advanced information and communication technology and their internal electoral mechanisms, have produced campaign audio visuals in which the presence of figures of the nationalist movement, militant chants from the resistance era and quotations of charismatic leaders of the decolonisation struggle are used to confirm a heritage, link to a tradition and establish a stock of trust. Parties which deal in religion or with a deeper anchor in Islamic ideologies put forward speakers with prayer marks on their foreheads and a more intense and higher frequency use of religious words and theologically overloaded figures of speech.

Abdellatif Zaki goes on to say that the literature disseminated by FDG seems to stand out as analytical, more measured and more modernist. Unlike the long lists of promises not meant to be honoured presented by most parties, FDG proposes a program that seems to be grounded in a systematic rational analysis of the socioeconomic and political situation of the country. This is certainly no coincidence. In fact, the Federation of the Democratic Left – which groups three former political organisations, namely PADS – The Party of the Democratic and Socialist avant-garde, CNI – the Ittihadi National Congress , and PSU – The Unified Socialist Party speaks the language of its leadership and its membership. In fact, FDG is a crucible of individuals with scientific, engineering, business, economics, law, political science and arts backgrounds whose minds are used to the analysis of complex systems, team work, evaluation, planning, optimising resources, problem solving and implementation of optimal solutions. A huge disadvantage of this party is paradoxically what makes its strength, specifically, its discourse is not populistic and may not be appealing to the vast majority of voters used to the comfort of simplistic language and dreamlike promises that commit neither those who make them nor those who buy them. Another disadvantage of this party is that it is of a too recent creation to be widely known and to have contingents of militants comparable to those of its adversaries.

You can read the full article here: Morocco World News

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