“My Land Knows Me” vs ‘‘The Lost Land’’: An Interview with Filmmaker Rabii El Jaouhari

I found this interview of Rabii El Jaouhari on the Morocco World News site. Rabii El Jaouhari is the director of a new documentary film titled My Land Knows Me which is a response to The Lost Land by the French director Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd. Vandeweerd depicted the Moroccan Sahara issue in a very biased way in his film. This helped to generate many false ideas about Morocco’s history in Europe. As the name suggests, The Lost Land depicted a land that native inhabitants are struggling desperately to try to regain. This is the distorted European view of Sahara conflict. El Jaouhari worked to portray the North African view of the conflict in his new documentary. I found the interview of of the film maker particularly interesting and illustrative of the current situation in the Sahara. It also nicely highlights differences in European and North African thought. Here it is for all Eyes on Morocco readers.

Those who have seen both films noticed that you have not rewritten only the title but stylistic and aesthetic aspects of the French film. How can you explain this?

In his film, Yves Vandeweed constructs the security zone established by Morocco as the wall that separates Sahrawis from their lands and families which urged me in my film to refer more than once to the crimes of the Polisario, particularly those of kidnapping, with the complicity of Algeria the and Spanish media. Through my film, I want to tell the viewers that the security belt came to stop these crimes that were extensively practiced during the seventies and eighties under the European media blackout.

So, I rewrote the film of Yves Vandeweed by giving a voice to the activist Mustafa Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, to explicitly reveal many sensitive issues that were ignored by the Spanish and European media, such as the recruitment of children, the violations of human rights, and the involvement of Boumedienne and Gadhafi in these abuses. Through the story of Mustapha, I pointed out to the issue of freedom of expression within the camps; an issue raised by Mustapha was kidnapped and tortured due to his public support to the Moroccan resolution.

The movie ‘The Lost Land‘ separates the sound from the image, silencing its voice, as it does with the identity of the land through testimonies of people whose names are unknown, which leads us to question the credibility of the film’s content. We do not even see those people while speaking, which form an obstacle between the viewer and the theme. Such fallacy was justified by an aesthetic choice of the filmmaker, which he explained to European journalists. But, this approach was not robust and only resulted in forming a gap in the film. In my film, however, my main concern was to give voice to Mustapha Salma, producing an image to break all the barriers set up by the French filmmaker.

What are the main difficulties you faced while shooting your film?

First, I would like to mention that it was too difficult for me to enter Mauritania with my camera and professional equipment, so I had to use my mobile phone. Besides, I did not get the shooting license from the Moroccan Film Centre (CCM) on time. However, my mobile recording gave credibility and realism to the film, demystifying all the prejudices in the French film ’The Lost Land‘. Apart from some shots taken from Youtube, others were shot with a small 3ccd camera with the absence of lighting and sound equipment due to the refusal of Moroccan Cinema Center to fund my project about Mustapha Salma. These difficulties do categorize my film within the trend of “Imperfect Cinema”. It also has something to do with “Third Cinema,” which is characterized as works filmed with modest equipment and which tackle the marginalized themes.

Who are ‘My Land Knows Me’ interviewees?

My film traces the story of Mustapha Salma through interviews with Spanish, Polisario, and Moroccan interviewees. The points of view of Bouchraya Byoun, the Polisario representative in Spain and their former minister, the Spanish former minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, and the journalist Ignacio Samprero, (who is known for his articles supporting the Polisario stance) are all presented in the film to provide different and contradicted attitudes to the viewers. These interviews reveal the complicity of Spanish media and journalists as illustrated by Ignacio Samprero’s words.

Don’t you fear criticizing the Moroccan Film Center?

No, simply because the CCM has already stripped me of any support. This, by the way, made people in charge at the CCM think that I might stop working on my documentary, which definitely wasn’t the case. I can use my knowledge about cinema trends that struggle against the odds and use modest equipment and ways to depict reality. The proof is what’s now happening regarding the Arab Spring and how the mobile videos compensate the professional camera that requires permissions and expensive equipment.

Interview of the Director Rabii El Jaouhari

Interview was conducted by Yassmine Zerrouki and editing done by Benjamin Villanti

Morocco’s trailblazing female golfer is going for Olympic gold

In early February of 2012, CNN published an article about Maha Haddioui, the first Arab woman to compete in a professional golf tournament. Maha Haddioui was born in Morocco and desires to pursue Olympic gold in Brazil. Golf will return as an Olympic sport in 2016 after an absence of more than century from the Olympic line-up. Haddioui’s life ambition is to follow in the footsteps of Morocco’s legendary middle-distance track and field athletes and bring Olympic glory back to her home nation. In an interview with CNN she stated

We have had some great Moroccan athletes like Hicham El Guerrouj that have made the country proud, and my dream is to follow in their footsteps.

Maha Haddioui is the first Arab woman to play golf in a professional tour event. She aims to earn her card on the Ladies' European Tour and LPGA in the United States.

Haddioui described her upbringing in the interview and stated that she was fortunate to be raised by a liberal family who did not insist on the traditional dress code. She was able to practice on a local golf course near their home in Agadir. Haddioui’s aptitude earned her support from Morocco’s ministry of sport. She then spent four years playing golf at Lynn University in Florida and earned accolades as a top-ranked NCAA Division II women’s golfer.

Her graduation from college in the United Stated coincided with the events of the Arab Spring last year. Haddioui stated her opinions about the events in Morocco stating

I am a big supporter for freedom and peaceful change. We had a couple of peaceful protests in Morocco which have led to major changes in the constitution of the country, but we have enjoyed our freedoms in Morocco for decades.

As a teenager, Haddioui would spend up to 10 hours per day practicing on her home course in Agadir.

I think that Maha Haddioui is a great role model for Arab women. She represents an empowered generation of women able to work hard to pursue their dreams. Haddioui’s success also indicates the freedom that women possess in Morocco. King Mohammad VI has addressed women’s rights throughout his reign and has helped to decrease gender inequalities. Many of the gender divides and inequalities in Morocco continue out of tradition. Haddioui stated that she was lucky to be raised by a liberal family. Her family’s supported allowed her to practice her sport and enter avenues where women had been historically restricted. One hurdle that remains for Morocco women is to overcome family traditions and deep-seeded societal practices. The King supports increased rights for women but now it is time for society to embrace these ideas. Strong female figures like Maha Haddioui will certainly facilitate this process of acceptance.

To read more: http://edition.cnn.com/2012/02/07/sport/golf/golf-morocco-haddioui-olympics/index.html

Fostering ties with Asia is a top Diplomatic Priority

Moroccan Minister delegate to the Foreign Minister, Youssef Amrani, stated today in Rabat that strengthening ties with Asia is  one of Morocco’s top priorities in terms of foreign relations. Amrani’s statement came after a meeting with the Vietnamese deputy foreign minister Nguyen Thanh Son. The Chinese deputy foreign minister also made a recent trip to Morocco and Morocco’s foreign minister Saad Dine El Otmani just returned from a trip to Japan.

Meeting between Vietnamese and Moroccan officials in Rabat.

Morocco’s interest in increasing diplomatic relations with Asian nations reflects the platform of the Justice and Development Party to increase international relations. In the past Morocco, has profited from strong ties to Europe and the United States but has had little ties with Asian countries. Economic troubles in Europe and the emergence of China as an economic powerhouse has prompted Morocco’s shift in diplomatic priorities.

Amrani and the Vietnamese deputy foreign minister discussed the latest developments in the Moroccan Sahara conflict and the efforts taken by Morocco to settle the dispute. Amrani stated that, “Vietnam supports the political resolution and dialogue at the UN on our national cause, the Moroccan Sahara.”

I feel that Morocco’s move to increase relations with Asian nations will enhance the country’s sphere of influence and strengthen its global standing. In the past, Morocco has been highly dependent upon European countries such as France and Spain. With European economies struggling, I am glad to see that Morocco is being proactive and working to foster relations with Asian nations with rapidly growing economies. I also feel that Morocco’s stance on building ties with Asia speaks to the growing power of the Justice and Development Party. This suggests that recent political reforms are moving Morocco in the right direction in terms of international affairs.

To read more: http://moroccoworldnews.com/2012/03/fostering-ties-with-asia-tops-moroccan-diplomacys-priorities-official/30109

Man jailed for flying Israeli flag

A Moroccan man has been sentenced to six months in jail for flying the Israeli flag over his home. According to an Al-Arabiya report, Mohammed Jadidi, 42, raised the flag over his home in Nador, a predominantly Amazigh town, to protest the local authorities after electricity and water were disconnected to his home. Jadidi was arrested last Monday and charged with sacrilege by undermining the Moroccan national flag.

Jadidi’s mother is currently protesting his arrest stating that he only raised the Israeli flag to attract the attention of the senior government officials to the compromised conditions of his family. The local Rif Association for Human Rights also slammed the court’s ruling as baseless. The human rights organization affirmed that flying a foreign flag over one’s home cannot be deemed as undermining the Moroccan flag.

The following video has circulated on Moroccan websites in which Jadidi’s mother appeals to King Mohammad VI to release her son.

I feel that the arrest of Mohammed Jadidi reflects two deep seeded conflicts: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Amazigh-Arab identity conflict in Morocco. Jadidi is from a predominately Amazigh town were anti-Moroccan sentiments are likely to percolate. The Amazighs in Morocco have become increasing vocal demanding recognition of their rights as a minority. They want the Amazigh language to be recognized as an official language and want increased development in impoverished Amazigh regions. Although the article does not identify Jadidi as Amazigh, the video suggests that he lives in one of the impoverished Amazigh communities where anti-Moroccan sentiments are common. This suggests one of the reasons for his decision to actively protest Moroccan authorities by flying the Israeli flag.

It is extremely upsetting that flying the Israeli flag would precipitate such a fierce response. Anti-Israeli sentiment is commonly expressed throughout the Arab world; however, Morocco has historically possessed a certain level of religious freedom within its borders. In the past Jews and Christians have been allowed to freely practice their respective religions in Morocco. I think that the Moroccan court went too far in sentencing Mohammed Jadidi to six months in prison. Perhaps it was an ill-fated choice to display such a politically charged symbol, but in this case the punishment far exceeds the crime.

To read more check out http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/03/02/198200.html


Agricultural season in Morocco under threat

This article was written by Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat. Magharebia is an AFRICOM sponsored online news website dedicated to coverage of North Africa.  Since Oct 2004, Magharebia is the only regional website that publishes content identically in three languages: Arabic, English and French.

”]This article is about the recent cold snap in Morocco which is likely to reduce this year’s harvest. According to the Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhennouch, Morocco has seen temperatures as low as 6°C (42°F)  which has slowed crop growth around the country. In addition, rainfall levels are 60% below normal which has greatly affected sugarcane and potato production. The Moroccan government has allocated 110 million dirhams to support the struggling agricultural sector.

Economist Moha Zerouali reported to Magharebia that agriculture contributes to 20% of Morocco’s GDP and employs 40% of the national workforce. Poor agricultural yields will cause large perturbations in the Moroccan economy. The government had already revised its growth forecast from 5% to 4.3% for 2012 because of the projected reduced harvest. I hope that trouble within the agricultural sector does not lead to heightened unrest and continued protests throughout the country. With many farmers struggling this year, disillusionment with the King and government is likely to continue. This is unfortunate because Morocco needs time for the recent Constitutional reforms to take root and the affects to percolate throughout society. Reduced crop yields are likely to inflame farmers and prevent them from seeing any positive affects from the new reforms. Farmers’ feelings towards the government will be contingent upon the government’s ability to cover their losses and support the struggling economic sector.

To read more: http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2012/02/29/feature-03

Moroccan Foreign Minister Incites Debate

The Moroccan Foreign Minister, Saad Eddine El Othmani’s, unexpected proposal to rename the “Arab Maghreb Union” as “”the Maghreb Union”  has re-energized the debate over the social, linguistic and political status of the Amazigh people in “post-Arab Spring” North Africa. Currently five nations make up the Arab Maghreb Union: Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Mauritania. Delegates from Tunisian and Algerian immediately rebuked the Moroccan Foreign Minister’s proposal.

Saad Eddine El Othmani's current proposal to rename the Arab Maghreb Union has sparked debate across the Maghreb

El Othmani believes that the removal of the word “Arab” from the name will better reflect the populations of five union states where a sizable number of citizens are not of Arab descent.  The Amazigh language and culture has been seriously diminished in North Africa countries. These countries have long been identified as Arab and Arabic speaking. El Othmani and the Amazign people believe that dropping Arab from the name will better reflect the Amazigh character and personality of North Africa. Algerian and Tunisian Foreign ministers oppose El Othmani’s proposal and argue that the word Arab refers to the geographical location of the five nations that compose the Union rather than describe the racial makeup of its inhabitants. Amazigh groups consider the Algerian refusal to change the name an attempt by the Algerians to keep the demands of its sizable local Amazigh populations at bay.

Emblem of the Arab Maghreb Union

Emblem of the Arab Maghreb Union

Even though it was the Moroccan Foreign Minister who proposed dropping the term Arab, there is still a great deal of opposition among Moroccans. Moroccan religious organizations are not in favor of the move as they believe the current name accurately reflects the Muslim heritage of the North African societies. In addition, some Moroccans are weary of the mounting activism of  Amazigh groups in Morocco. These groups are especially prevalent in the North and have been displaying anti-Moroccan slogans and sentiments.
I believe that having Maghred in the name of the trade organization illustrates the Arab influence in the region. I agree with El Othmani that dropping Arab from the name will make it more inclusive and acceptable to both Arabs and non-Arabs in North Africa. I believe it is a good compromise between the Arab elite who desire to cling to their beloved Mashreq and radical Berbers who want to return to pre-Arab Tamazgha.

Overseas Press Club of America (OPC) Reproves King of Morocco for Jailing Satirist

I found this letter addressed to the King of Morocco posted on the website of the Moroccan Times. The letter was written by two members of the Freedom of Press Committee. The letter criticisms the King’s recent actions that infringed upon Moroccan citizens’ freedom of speech. I thought the letter was an interesting compliment to early posts about the imprisonment of Moroccan protesters for criticizing the king.

February 22, 2012

H.M. King Mohamed VI

c/o Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco

1601 Twenty First Street, NW‎

Washington, DC 20009‎‎

Fax: (202) 265.0161

Your Majesty:

Over the last several years, you have punished journalists for writing about your health and in one case, publishing an offending cartoon about the wedding of a relative.  So perhaps, we at the Overseas Press Club of America, along with journalistic organizations around the world, should not be entirely surprised that your government sent an 18-year-old juvenile to jail for a Facebook post that offended you.

Maybe, we should not be surprised either that you have sentenced to jail a 25-year-old for uploading a satire of you to You Tube.  But while there is precedent for your sensitivity to criticism in print; until recently, Morocco has had a reputation for fairly free exchanges on the Internet, the mark of an enlightened leader.

According to international media and Internet freedom groups, Walid Bahomane, 18, is being held for “defaming Morocco’s sacred values” with a satirical Facebook post.  We understand also that 25-year-old Abdelsamad Haydour has been jailed in the city of Taza for a You Tube video that gave you offense.  These actions are depressing and reactionary.

Your government seems to be reviving the bad old days of 2009 when you prosecuted three journalists for “criminal defamation” for writing about your health.  Since then, it has seemed that Morocco had modernized.  You permitted those three journalists to be released after brief incarcerations.  In one case, a year-long sentence was suspended.

Then, after massive national protests last year coinciding with the Arab Spring uprisings, your government amended your Constitution to guarantee significantly more freedom of speech. Defaming the monarchy can still be a criminal offense, but in practice, is a You Tube satire of you so damaging as to be criminal?  If so, that suggests your leadership may be more fragile than the world realizes.

We urge you to halt this descent down the road to repression and suggest that instead, you re-affirm your constitutional values. That includes dropping the charges against the juvenile Bahomane, freeing Haydour and recognizing that prosecuting journalists will in no way seal off your regime from the openness of the Internet.  All it will do is call world-wide attention to weakness.

Respectfully yours,

Robert Dowling                                                                                   Larry Martz

Freedom of the Press Committee

Source:

http://www.moroccotimes.cn.ma/

UN to Hold Talks Between Morocco and Rebel Group

United Nations spokesman Eduardo del Buey announced today that the UN plans to host negotiations between Western Sahara rebels, the Polisario Front and the Moroccan government from March 11 through March 13. Representatives from Algeria and Mauritania will also be present at the talks which are scheduled to be held at the Greentree estate on Long Island.

The Polisario Front  is a Sahrawi rebel group whose main goal is to achieve independence for the Western Sahara. Conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front began in 1975 when Morocco moved into the Western Sahara after the Spanish colonisers left. After Spain’s withdrawal, Morocco took over Saguia El Hamra while Mauritania took control of Rio De Oro. The Algeria-backed Polisario Front then proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic on February 27, 1976, and waged a guerrilla war against both Morocco and Mauritania.

Disputed Region of the Western Sahara

For the next two years, the Polisario Front movement grew tremendously as Sahrawi refugees continued flocking to the camps and Algeria and Libya supplied arms and funding. The rebel army expanded to several thousand armed fighters.  The rebel army began to acquire more advanced weapons and increase their firepower. Camels where replaced by modern Jeeps and 19th-century muskets were replaced by assault weapons. The reorganized army was able to inflict severe damage through guerilla-style hit-and-run attacks against opposing forces in Western Sahara and in Morocco and Mauritania.

Coat of arms of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

In 1991 the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front agreed to a ceasefire but still have not resolved their differences. In April 2007, the government of Morocco suggested that a self-governing entity, the Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs take control and govern the area with some degree of autonomy from the Moroccan State. The Polisario front desiring full independence, drafted their own proposal to the United Nations. The stalemate caused the UN Security Council to request that both parties enter in direct negotiations to reach, “a mutually acceptable political situation.” The two sides are yet to resolve their differences with Morocco continuing to offer autonomy while the Polisario Front calls for full independence. Hopefully, renewed talks will allow the two sides to come to an agreement about the status of the Western Sahara. I believe, however, that it is unlikely that either side will be eager to make concessions. No progress has been made in 20 years so I feel that it is unlikely that the coming debates will drastically change the current situation in the region.

Separated families meet up again during a family visit in Western Sahara. Photo: UNHCR/S.Hopper

A Sahrawi woman walks in the desert near the Western Sahara refugee camp in Tindouf, Algeria (AFP/File, Dominique Faget)

Sources

European Woes Spell Trouble for Morocco’s Economy

In the past Morocco’s economy has benefited from the country’s close ties to Europe. Currently, 2.5 million Moroccan migrants live and work in Europe. Moroccan migrant workers are generally based in France, Spain and Italy and work blue-collar jobs. Relatives in Morocco depend on whatever cash their relatives abroad can wire home. Remittances from migrant workers generate more revenue than Morocco’s top export, phosphate sales. The blue collar jobs held by many Moroccans are the most vulnerable to cuts when economies slow. This means that economic austerity in Europe is likely to spread to Morocco.

Morocco’s economy has  performed well during Europe’s debt crisis thus far. Part of the reason is the government’s increase in social spending to maintain political stability during last year’s Arab Spring. Finance Minister Nizar Baraka estimated this week that the economy grew 5 percent last year, up from 4 percent in 2010. Salwa Karkari, an economic expert and member of the parliament from the opposition USFP Socialist Union party said

“We have yet to see the full extent of the repercussions of the euro zone crisis on our economy.”

2012 looks to be a difficult year economically for Morocco. Around 60 percent of Moroccan export revenues are generated by trade with the European Union. In addition, 80 percent of Morocco’s foreign tourists come from Europe. The tourism industry  provides 400,000 jobs and 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Karim Tazi, chair of the AMITH, an industry lobby group said

“The forecasts for 2012 are not very optimistic…The conditions for 2012 should be more difficult. Exporters now have visibility only for the short term. France and Spain are our main markets.”

Economic troubles will test the power of the new constitution. Increased economic strife will fuel the protesters’ message and is likely to lead to more protests throughout the country. Morocco has managed to avoid a regime toppling revolution; however, economic disparity will continue to challenge the king and prime minister. The king and new government will have to work hard to maintain a level of satisfaction with their governance and economic policy.

To read more about the connection between Moroccan and European economies check out

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/17/us-morocco-europe-idUSTRE81G1X820120217

Source: Reuters

Social Networking and Freedom of Speech

https://www.facebook.com/groups/249511808456583/

Here are some caricatures and political cartoons mocking King Mohammad VI taken from the Facebook page titled “Mohammad VI, My Liberty is More Sacred Than You.” The title of the Facebook group reflects the idea that until the 2011 Constitutional Reforms the Moroccan King was viewed as sacred. Social networking sites were essential to the organization of the student protests that began last year in Morocco.

Earlier this month a teenager was arrested and appeared in court to face accusations of “defaming Morocco’s sacred values” by posting unflattering images and videos of the king on Facebook. The arrest of Walid Bahomane has inflamed free speech advocates. It also addressed what power the Moroccan government should have over social networking sites. I  think is is fascinating that Facebook can be used to spark government and political reform. Facebook is not an innocuous website that teenagers use to socialize. Facebook can be made highly political and employed as a vehicle for societal change.