Tuesday, May 31, 2016

An Unofficial Russian ‘base’ in the Med?

A group of eleven members of the European Parliament have complained to the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, about the presence of Russian vessels in the Spanish occupied enclave of Ceuta (Sebta)

 Since 2011 around 60 Russian warships have stopped in Ceuta to resupply and give their crews a rest. The vessels have included an attack submarine, frigates, destroyers, amphibious assault ships and auxiliary vessels.

The European parliamentarians say that the frequency with which Russian navy ships call into the port – at least 10 times a year – has turned the Spanish exclave into the main base of the Russian fleet in the western Mediterranean.

The Russian submarine ‘Novorossiysk’ in Ceuta

The Europeans are not alone in raising objections to the use of Ceuta by the Russians.  This month Republican Congressman Joe Pitts tabled a motion in the US Congress urging Spain to stop allowing Russian Navy warships to refuel in Ceuta.

The motion, earlier this month, coincided with the arrival of another Russian vessel, the frigate Ladny, which stopped at the port to refuel and two days after two British Royal Navy ships escorted another Russian frigate, the Admiral Grigorovich, through UK waters.

“The presence of the Russian Navy close to British territorial waters in Gibraltar presents significant intelligence and security risks for the United States, the United Kingdom, and the NATO alliance,” the Pitts' motion states.

The frigate Ladny

Spain rejects all criticism and points out that the Russian visits typically last around three days and generate revenue for a city. According to the Ceuta Port Authority, around 2,300 Russian sailors spent leave in the city in 2014, each changing around €450 of foreign currency. That adds up to over €1 million a year, with most of it going on local dining and shopping. In addition Ceuta gains income from resupplying. An amphibious ship needs around 300 tons of diesel fuel and 150 tons of water; an oil tanker might need as much as 3,750 tons of fuel.

The Russian embassy in Madrid expressed surprise at the fact that “such a common practice as calling into foreign ports” could be the subject of controversy.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative US think tank says that “Spain’s policy of allowing the Russian navy to use Ceuta is hypocritical in relation to its reluctance to allow NATO to make direct visits between Gibraltar and Spanish ports.”

“The US government should make it clear at the highest levels that it views any support of the Russian navy as completely unacceptable in light of Russian aggression,” adds a Heritage policy brief.

Russia's destroyer Vice Admiral Kulakov 

The brief points out that some of the visits by the Russian Navy have curious timing. For example, during the same week in April 2014 that the EU announced a new round of sanctions against Russia, Spain made a mockery out of the sanctions by hosting at Ceuta the Russian destroyer Vice Admiral Kulakov, and two Russian navy tankers, the Dubna and the Sergey Osipov.

The most recent visit was made by the Russian submarine Novorossiysk en route to its base in the Black Sea. The Novorossiysk, commissioned in August 2014, is one of Russia’s newest submarines and one of the quietest diesel-powered submarines in the world.


Beyond Bizarre - An Attempt to Ban Reading Newspapers in Public

News that the Moroccan Federation of Newspaper Editors (FMEJ) have called for the banning the free reading of newspapers in public spaces has been greeted with a mixture of derision and disbelief

What worries this very small group of editors is the fact that Moroccans share their newspapers. The FMEJ had previously presented a report to Mustapha El Khalfi, Morocco’s Minister of Communication, on the print media in Morocco. The media “has lost approximately $150 million per year due to the population’s access to newspapers that are left behind in public places,” the report said.

Even more astonishing than the Kafkaesque idea of banning reading a discarded newspaper in a coffee shop, is the fact that the Minister appears to have taken this surreal suggestion seriously. After a meeting with the FMEJ on May 24 the Ministry decided to ban the free reading of newspapers in public spaces.

“Newspaper editors are undergoing a crisis and we need to limit the damage. According to the FMEJ report, each newspaper copy is read by an average of five people,” Minister El Khalfi said in an interview with Huffington Post Maghreb.

Moroccans were gobsmacked and reaction on social media has been universally condemning of the idea. Many focused on the impossibility of enforcement.

"Will this mean creating a special uniformed Newspaper Police to arrest, detain 'illegal' readers and seize the offending newspapers - perhaps to be burned in the public square?"

Bringing a dose of reality to the debate the international auditing company KPMG reports that, “readers of written press constitute merely 1 percent of the Moroccan population.” This translates to no more than roughly 330,000 Moroccans out of a total population of about 33 million.

KPMG also explained that the problem is rooted in “various socio-economical factors including Morocco’s low literacy rate and the low and ineffective distribution of newspapers.”

According to a report carried by Morocco World News, the editors are asking for more money for carrying government advertising and for inclusion in negotiations scheduled with Google and Facebook concerning the alleged unfair position of the Moroccan online press in terms of online advertisements.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Free French Films in Fez

Syngué sabour, pierre de patience (The Patience Stone) directed by Atiq Rahimi

Somewhere, in Afghanistan or elsewhere, in a country torn apart by a war... A young woman in her thirties watches over her older husband in a decrepit room. He is reduced to the state of a vegetable because of a bullet in the neck. Not only is he abandoned by his companions of the Jihad, but also by his brothers. One day, the woman decides to tell the truth to him about her feelings about their relationship to her silent husband. She talks about her childhood, her suffering, her frustrations, her loneliness, her dreams, her desires... She says things she could never have done before, even though they have been married for the past 10 years. Therefore, this paralysed man unconsciously becomes syngue sabour, a magic stone which, according to Persian mythology, when placed in front of a person shields her from unhappiness, suffering, pains and miseries. In this wait for her husband to come back to life, the woman struggles to survive and live.

Tuesday, May 31, 7pm, Cultural Complex Al Houria - Free

Violette - directed by Martin Provost
Violette is a 2013 French-Belgian biographical drama film written and directed by Martin Provost, about the French novelist Violette Leduc. It was screened in the Special Presentation section at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.

During the last years of WWII, Violette Leduc lives with Maurice Sachs, who doesn't love her but who does encourage her to write. She seeks out Simone de Beauvoir and eventually presents her with a draft her first book. De Beauvoir rewards Violette's trust by reading and commenting on the book and by introducing her to contemporary intellectual icons Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Genet and Albert Camus. In 1964, the success of Violette Leduc's autobiographical bestseller La Bâtarde enables her to earn a living from her writing.

Wednesday 1st June, 7pm at Cinema Boujloud - Free


Thursday, May 26, 2016

French Airline Strikes Will Have Impact on Moroccan Tourism

While Morocco's tourism revenues were up 6.6% in first quarter 2016 reaching around $1 billion, there could be a negative impact from French airline strikes. Ryanair has announced the cancellation of more than 70 flights today (May 26). Other airlines will also cancel many flights

Further strikes are planned for June 3, 4 and 5, which will result in thousands of flights being disrupted across Europe - including services to and from Spain and Italy with a flow on impact on Morocco.

This is the sixth set of French ATC strikes in two months, and the 47th since 2009, according to Ryanair, which has called on the EU to take action.

"As we approach the peak holiday season, European travellers should prepare for a summer of discontent as there is absolutely nothing preventing these selfish unions from staging even more strikes in the coming weeks and months," said Kenny Jacobs, Ryanair's Chief Marketing Officer.

Members of air-traffic control unions are unhappy about proposed changes to working arrangements and retirement conditions, and what they call “The inability of our government to develop a human resources management policy”. They also claim their salaries are “significantly lower than those of their counterparts in other major providers”.

According to Riad owners in Fez, there have already been some cancellations and there are expected to be "a lot of people simply not arriving".


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Hot Weather Alert for Morocco

After a cool and wet spring, the hot weather has returned to Morocco. The coming week will be warmer across the country with temperatures in Fez in the high twenties and low thirties. However, it is unlikely that temperatures will reach Monday's heat, which saw some places record up to 40 degrees Celsius

According to Morocco's National Meteorology Directorate, maximum temperatures will range between 20 and 25 degrees on the reliefs of the Atlas, 25 and 30 of the Rif Mountains and near the coast, 31 and 40 in the Oriental and Saiss regions

On the plains of Tadla, Rhamna, Haouz, interior Souss, Chiadma, Abda, Doukkala, Chaouia and east of the southern provinces, temperatures will be between 36 and 42 degrees.

Minimum temperatures will vary between 6 and 12 degrees in the Atlas mountains, 11 and 16 in the Rif, and 15 and 20 near the coast.

Humidity is expected to remain low at around 30% in the Fez-Saiss region

And, while contemplating how to cool down, here is a little brain food ...

Minus forty degrees is the temperature where the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales correspond with one another (-40°F = -40°C). Forty is also considered a semi-perfect number owing to the fact that a subset of its divisors added together gives 40 (i.e. 1, 4, 5, 10, and 20).