Standoff Over Imider Silver Mine

“The Imider mine, on the eastern slopes of the Atlas mountains in Morocco, is the world’s seventh biggest producer of silver,” according to a feature article on reuters.com. “Instead of welcoming the mine, many local people resent it as a symbol of how Morocco’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of a privileged few while the rest of the population live in poverty.”

Hundreds of Imider villagers participated in cutting off the flow of water to the mine from a local well, and are now camped around the well to make sure it stays off. The decrease in the mine’s water supply has significantly impacted its productivity, which means that the people’s protest around the well cannot be ignored.

The protesters say that the presence of the mine has done more harm than good by creating pollution, depleting the local water supply and neglecting to help with development in an area of awful poverty. The mining company denies the pollution and water depletion allegations and contends that it has spent between 1 and 2 million dirhams each year to fund development in the region.

The fact that Morocco’s royal family is a major stakeholder in the mining company (and the Moroccan monarchy is the largest private shareholder in the country’s whole economy) does not help matters. The people are frustrated by the private network of court officials, businessmen and advisors who can do whatever they want because they are in cahoots with the royal court.

The conflict over the silver mine in Imider is symbolic of wide unrest due to wealth disparity between Morocco’s ruling elite and the people it governs.

“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

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


Secret Political and Economic Agreement between Spain and Morocco

Morocco World News has just published an article that details a currently developing secret agreement between the Spanish and Moroccan governments.

According to the article, during the Moroccan minister of foreign affairs Saâdedine El Othmani’s last visit to Madrid (purported to be sometime around February 1st, 2012), the two countries agreed to cultivate the deal. This agreement reportedly revolves around the concept of mutual assistance: due to their proximity and intertwined history, both countries would aid each other within their respective regions of influence. Morocco would aid Spain with its economic and political affairs in Africa, as countries such as France and the United Kingdom have almost always surpassed the country’s presence in the continent. Furthermore, Morocco is in a prime position in the African continent, according to the article, “…Where it could build amicable and economic relations with many countries.”

In return, Spain will use its deep-rooted relations with Latin America to give Morocco an economic entrance to the region.  Historically, according to MWN, Morocco has had trouble entering the region, thus it could benefit greatly from Spainish intervention.

Considering the historical tensions between the countries, this new agreement sounds like a step in the positive direction for relations between the countries.  On one hand, the deal also sounds like more of a one-sided situation, as Spain’s proximity to Africa definitely makes its relations with the continent more essential the than Morocco’s with the Latin American world. Yet, Morocco’s entrance into the Latin American world could also signify great economic success for the country, as the South American region is a large consumer in the phosphate market. According to Businessweek Magazine, Morocco is the world’s third largest producer of phosphates, and although phosphates are being produced in Latin America, there is a much larger reserve in Africa than in South America (the agriculture industry there is much larger than its phosphates industry); furthermore, King Muhammad VI owns more than half of the world’s phosphate reserves. (Article here: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_46/b4203080895976.htm)  The results of this agreement cannot be predicted until it has actually been reached, but it is clear that if such an agreement is reached, it could be mean a MAJOR increase in economic stability and job availability for Moroccans.

For further reading:  http://moroccoworldnews.com/2012/02/details-of-the-secret-agreement-between-spain-and-morocco/29172

Proposal to have “National Chastity Day”

About “Chastitiy Day initiative stirs controversy in Morocco”- from Morocco World News: http://moroccoworldnews.com/2012/02/chastity-day-initiative-stirs-controversy-in-morocco/29364

Recently, a prominent Moroccan religious leader has called for the Moroccan government to support a new initiative aimed at cultural reform. Sheikh al-Idrisi Abu Zeid, Qur’an expert and leading member of the Islamist-oriented “Justice and Development” party and the al-Tawhid wa al Islah (“Monotheism and Reformation”) organization, calls for one day out of the year to be dedicated to the promotion of chastity.  According to Idrisi, this day will aim to counteract all the “unchaste phenomena” that has allegedly been invading Moroccan society lately/

Some researchers, such as sociology researcher Mohammad Boulouse, believe that one day out of the year will not be enough, stating that “we need campaigns that would last for weeks and months in order for chastity to become part of our society again and to counter all phenomena that are stranger to all society,” to Al Arabiya news channel.  Boulouse then went on to cite various examples within Moroccan society, such as films, TV channels and programs, festivals, and artistic expressions that are aimed at “sexual arousal” and indecency.

He also stated that “there should be a focus on curbing sexual desire and abstaining from all lustful actions,” according to Al Arabiya.

However, Islamic studies researcher Saeid Lakhal argues that the Tawhid and other movements advocating for the establishment of a “National Chastity Day” are interfering with the burgeoning cultural and artistic scene in Morocco, directly following a new electoral victory for the Justice and Development party.

He recently told Al Arabiya: “The movement and the party have always objected to festivals and cultural activities to no avail. Now they think they can do what they haven’t been able to do for years.”

According to Lakhal, the statements made by Idrisi and other party members, are intended to investigate how the Moroccan people and civil society might react.

In my opinion, the movement and the statements made by Idrisi are intended to examine exactly how Moroccan society will react; it is almost at if Idrisi and his movement’s supporters are far they can go until Moroccan society becomes privy to their deception.  Idrisi is party of the Justice and Development party, the same party that Prime Minister Benkirane is part of.  There is no doubt that his recent electoral victory, indicated to the party that the Moroccan public would endorse and accept the party that promised to completely fix the recent wave of unemployment.  Benkirane, his party, and the government have failed to do this, slipping away with a mere 1 percent point reduction in unemployment since the September 2011 election.  Still, now that his party has taken the Executive Branch, Idrisi, is taking advantage of its position in Moroccan Politics and advocating for a law that is clearly intended to infringe on the artistic rights of Moroccans.  Idrisi, much like his newly elected party, is well aware that the recent electoral victory could indicate a willingness by the Moroccan public to follow the party back in time.

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.

“Clinton Should Urge Legal Reform,” says Human Rights Watch

Despite Morocco’s 2011 constitutional reforms, which signaled a move towards a more democratic and liberal society, there are still significant limits on freedom of speech for Moroccan citizens. There are still laws on the books that call for prison terms of up to five years for individuals who offend the government or Islam through speech. Human Rights Watch argues that these laws are not in harmony with Morocco’s revised constitution, and that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should push for change of these laws during her current visit to Morocco.

“Having praised Morocco’s 2011 constitution, Secretary Clinton should now urge authorities to revise both laws and practices so that they are in harmony with that constitution.” –Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch

Article 25 of the new constitution says that “freedom of thought, opinion and expression in all its forms is guaranteed”; and article 28 says “Press freedom is guaranteed and cannot be restricted by any form of prior censorship.”

However, article 41 of Morocco’s press code provides prison terms of up to five years for speech that “undermines the Islamic religion, the monarchical regime, or [Morocco’s] territorial integrity,” or that is offensive toward “His Majesty the King, and the royal princes and princesses.” Article 263 of Morocco’s penal code “provides prison terms for “gravely offending” public officials. Article 266 provides prison terms for “insulting” the judiciary or discrediting its rulings or attempting to influence the courts.”

It appears that the lofty commitments of the new constitution are not being matched by Morocco’s legal codes and authorities.

Source: http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/02/24/usmorocco-clinton-should-urge-legal-reform


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.

Violent Protests in Taza

Throughout the Arab Spring, there have been protests in which the Morrocan people have called for constitutional, economic, and human rights reforms.  On February 10th, the International Press Service released a story that detailed some of the latest protests that have occurred within Taza, many of which have been plagued by police brutality and violence.   While the Moroccan government has appeared to maintain a relatively calm political tide, the recent protests in Taza suggest that many Moroccans are all but content with the performance of their country’s government.  Yet, in order to monitor the drift of this political tide, it is important to understand the origins of this current civil unrest.

On July 1st, 2011, changes to the constitution were enacted which granted more power to the executive branch, while allegedly reducing the power of the monarch. These changes were granted in response to demands made by protestors throughout the country on February 20th, 2011, in an effort to maintain calm during a time of regional turbulence.  Furthermore, during the general elections of September 2011, Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane was elected while running on a partial platform of job-creation and economic reform. However, according to the article, almost nothing has been done to reduce unemployment throughout the country:

For instance, the promise to completely eradicate unemployment, which currently touches 19 percent of the working population, evaporated soon after his [Benkirane’s] appointment, giving way to a negligible decrease in joblessness of a single percentage point.” (IPS)

While the government determined that it would “completely eradicate” unemployment, it failed to present a viable way to do so. Furthermore, Benkirane’s promise to increase the minimum wage to 3000 dirham has been pushed back to 2016. Benkirane just presented his proposal to Parliament last month, and no increase to the minimum wage has been enacted, indicating that accomplishing the proposed goals has taken a backseat to creating the illusion of political calm.

As a result of this inaction, public opposition has been strong and incensed; in particular, recent college graduates have been protesting throughout the country, demanding jobs and economic reform.   On January 21st, 27-year-old unemployed graduate Abdelwahab Zaidouin set himself on fire at a political demonstration held by other graduates in front of the Ministry of Education in Rabat.

Three days later, Zaidoun died, igniting the current wave of violent protests within Taza; the most incendiary of which occurred on February 1st.

The new government violently quelled the protest, according to an eyewitness to the events:

“ ‘At first, the protests were peaceful. The police surrounded the city. They blocked Internet connections and cut off the telephone lines before beginning to club everybody,” he told IPS.’ ”  

The actions of the new government are a clear indication that the “Moroccan example” of political calm is not as true as it might seem; in my opinion, the Moroccan government has done a very good job of creating a front of political acceptance and tranquility, while operating with violence and indifference behind the scenes.  Although the government has decided to legislatively enacted changes, the Moroccan people have barely seen the results because the changes haven’t been physically acted upon. While preserving the Moroccan people’s civil rights and economic security might appear to be the new government’s number one priority, the recent use of violence to quell the Taza protests, and the government’s negligence in enacting economic reform, says otherwise.  It might appear that Morocco has a relatively calm political tide; yet, the new government is merely operating under a reputation bolstered by partial truths, and riding the resulting wave of international approval.

For further reading: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=106714

Obtained from http://www.presstv.ir/detail/224713.html

Taza citizens clash with police during Feb. 1st protest