Saturday, January 24, 2015

Security in Morocco ~ Travel Forums Reflect Concerns

Concerns about security issues and recent events in France, Belgium and Germany have fuelled travellers' fears about safety. The most asked question, in relation to Morocco is: "is it safe to visit?"

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, many tourists wishing to visit soon in Morocco solicit
the opinions of several of online discussion sites such as TripAdvisor or Fodor to overcome their fears. The View from Fez also receives frequent questions on security and solo travel in Morocco.

The question that comes up most often is: "Can I get safely to Morocco after the French
attacks?" This is despite the blindingly obvious fact that Paris is some 3000 kilometres away!

Thankfully, most responses rightly point out that the attacks took place in France and terrorist risks relate more to France than Morocco. They also point out that Moroccans strongly condemn the recent attacks and has a valued reputation as a safe hospitable destination.

Other potential tourists seem anxious because they wrongly equated Moroccan people as supporters of ISIS. It can not be stated more clearly - the Moroccan government and the population despise radical groups and Moroccan Security has an ongoing and successful campaign against dissident elements.

On other sites as, users are unanimously reassuring potential tourists by pointing out Morocco's stability and and control of security issues.

While it is true that nobody is able to predict where terrorists will strike, foreigners on
holiday or living in Morocco praise the efficiency of joint police and military patrols. See our story on Morocco's enhanced security plan "Hadar" HERE

Unfortunately, some foreign governments security warnings appear to be out of touch with the reality on the ground. While it is understandable that governments err on the side of caution, some are less than realistic in their assessments of conditions in Morocco.

The Australian "Smart Traveller" website that, despite recent events, has not been updated since October last year,  warns:

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Morocco because of the threat of terrorist attack against Western interests. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

There is a possibility of retaliatory attacks against Western targets in Morocco. The Moroccan authorities have warned of an increased threat linked to the number of Moroccans belonging to international terrorist organisations operating in Syria and Iraq.

We have received reports that terrorists are planning attacks against a range of targets, including places frequented by tourists. Tourist areas have been attacked in the past.

You should monitor the media for reports of protest activity and avoid large gatherings and demonstrations as they may turn violent.

You should exercise particular caution on weekends, including in the period surrounding Friday prayers.

There is a general threat of kidnapping against Westerners in North Africa. You should maintain a high level of vigilance at all times and especially when travelling in southern and border areas of Morocco.

As an Australian resident in Morocco pointed out, "There have been no kidnappings of tourists in Morocco. However, the warning that appears to be the view from the embassy in Paris, it certainly is out of touch with the reality here in Morocco. Maybe they should come see for themselves."

In contrast, the American government travel warning website, lists problems in Libya, Mali, Syria. Ukraine and other hotspots, but makes no mention of Morocco as a country where tourists are more at risk than they are in any place.

Common sense dictates that travellers should always be alert but this applies just as much to Sydney, New York, London or Paris as it is does to Marrakech. Have a safe trip!

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Morocco Proposes a "Return Programme" for Expatriates

It is estimated that there are some five million Moroccans living abroad. The skills and knowledge of these Moroccans represents a valuable resource which Morocco is keen to tap into

While not all Moroccans living abroad are financially well-off, there are many who are able to invest at home or return with their skills. For those struggling with the social and economic problems in their countries of residence, the government has pledged that 2015 will see a continuation of the efforts it has already made to assist them. This will involve improved social services at consulates abroad, and development of the partnership with national associations working in the field of Moroccan expatriates and migratory affairs.

Authorities will also put in place a "return programme" to integrate returnees into Morocco's social and economic fabric. In addition, the government intends to provide suitable conditions to guarantee that Moroccans living abroad can easily contribute their skills to the various development projects launched in the kingdom. The minister responsible for Moroccan expatriates and migratory affairs, Anis Birou, has expressed this determination on several occasions.

Anis Birou, Minister for the Moroccans Residing Abroad and Emigration

The ministry plans to establish a detailed profile of the Moroccan diaspora, which is estimated at five million people. Up to now there have been general figures, but they would benefit from being broken down into more detail to give a clear idea of the Moroccans who have settled in the different host countries.

According to official data, more than 16% of Moroccan expatriates are studying or working in the best foreign universities and establishments. The Quebec region alone, for example, has more than 350 Moroccan professors. There are also some 8,000 doctors identified around the world, whilst Morocco has a shortage.

Birou says that the government is very aware of the importance of expats skills for Morocco's development. "Our country has launched some major projects and embarked on far-reaching reforms in all sectors, and those plans need greater involvement of the Moroccan expatriate skills base," the minister said. "Morocco has committed itself to some major projects, particularly in aerospace and the car industry, and yet has not managed to put together skilled human resources in these two specialist fields. This situation requires that we identify Moroccan skills, get them involved, listen to their needs and improve their networking capabilities."

Meanwhile, the minister for higher education, scientific research and management training, Lahcen Daoudi, indicated the time had come to review the methods aimed at attracting Moroccan skills abroad to contribute to the country's development. He announced his government was ready to finance scientific research and any other project put forward by skilled Moroccan expatriates designed to contribute to the country's development.

Karim Zidane
To achieve these targets, it will be necessary to adopt a national action plan involving all stakeholders to benefit skilled Moroccan expatriates. That message was underlined by Karim Zidane, who chairs the German-Moroccan Skills Network (DMK).

The objective is to bring together all the efforts and individual initiatives currently under way to increase the diaspora's contribution to the various development programmes, Zidane explained.

In the field of investment, the government has promised to provide guidance for Moroccan expatriates looking to participate in the kingdom's economy.

According to Bouchaib Rami, president of the Moroccan Expatriate Investors' Club (CME), administrative and bank procedures are no longer an obstacle to investment. He pointed out that efforts have been made by the public authorities and the banking sector, which has not held back from financing projects put forward by Moroccan expatriates.

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African Blue ~ A New Niche Market for Morocco

Moroccan berry growers have begun developing Australian blueberry varieties in order to fill a gap in global production.  The two month window between the end of Chilean production and the commencement of Spanish berries gives Morocco a unique opportunity to enter the European market

The Australian blueberry varieties developed for plantings in Morocco have shown that the interaction between the fruit and the Moroccan soil and climate produces a high quality yield.

“Moroccan blueberry production is well-positioned and can offer fruit during a unique window,” explained Jean Cesar, supply chain manager for African Blue. “Chile finishes its season by February, and the next country that can supply blueberries in the Northern Hemisphere is Spain, which starts around mid-April. From February 15 to April 15 no other country can offer quality Kirra blueberries during this period.”

Kirra blueberries are African Blue exclusivity, they have excellent size, colour, sugar and texture, noted Jean Cesar, making them an attractive option for consumers. While local consumption skews toward strawberries, demand for blueberries abroad has been robust.

“Demand is very high, and it will continue to grow as more consumers become aware of the healthy benefits of blueberries,” said Jean Cesar. “African blue will offer 3000 tons of berries this season, and we should reach 7,000 tons by 2017.”

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Joe Cocker Tribute Concert in Tangier ~ January 24th

Joe Cocker died on 22 December, leaving behind a musical legacy that will continue to accompany the music lovers for many generations. A true legend of the "Blues-Rock," with 40-year career behind him, he will be honoured in Tangier tomorrow night

The tribute has been organsed by the Hotel Oumnia Puerto, Tangier-Tetouan Pocket, and sponsored by The American Language Center. The concert will bring together five musicians well known to the Tangier audiences - Amine, Adil, Ismael, Sarah and Hicham.

The concert will take place in the Grill Restaurant La Terrassa Hotel Oumnia Puerto which has been transformed into a concert hall for the event, and can easily accommodate up to 300 people.

50 Dh entry to the concert with a soft or beer consumption
Ticket on sale at the hotel with the concert taking place January 24 from 21h. For more info: Hotel Oumnia Puerto, La Terrassa Grill, Tel. 05 39 93 34 30 - 06 61 92 87 97

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Moroccan News Briefs #124

Europe moves to scrap visas for Moroccans

Good news emerged on Monday from an EU meeting in Brussels, where it was announced that the EU is moving to scrap visas for Moroccans.

The process, however, could be long and slow. Monday's meeting comes a year after the green light was given by the EU Council for the conclusion of a visa facilitation agreement with Moroccan nationals to ensure a smoother mobility between the EU and Morocco. In June 2013 the two parties reached a Mobility Partnership which paved the way for negotiations on such an agreement.

The agreement when and if it comes to fruition will not be an immediate end to the hassle of obtaining visas. It is likely that the initial stage will cover students, researchers and businessmen.

Former President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has assured Moroccans that in the long term, the EU would support a move towards full mobility without visas for Moroccan citizens.

French-Moroccan diplomatic relations remain cold

The cancellation of the visit of the head of the Moroccan diplomacy in Paris reflects the  tense relations between the two countries.

A meeting scheduled for Friday between Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar and his French counterpart Laurent Fabius has been postpone. This visit was intended to restore a high ­level dialogue following nearly a year of frozen  judicial and security cooperation between the two countries.

Salaheddine Mezouar and his French counterpart Laurent Fabius

Despite the fact that France and Morocco  are allies in the fight against terrorism and traditionally bound by strong ties of friendship, the relationship has been running cold since  February 2014 when a Parisian magistrate issued a summons against the head of Moroccan intelligence, Abdellatif Hammouchi, in connection with an alleged torture case.

Yet, the two countries have more that links them than divides them. The jihadist threat is a common cause, with hundreds, even thousands, of citizens enrolled in the civil war in Syria alongside the Islamic state or al­Qaeda, with clandestine support networks within their territory.

To break the deadlock, Paris and Rabat are negotiating a revision of their judicial collaboration. This is to avoid a repeat of the incident at the origin of the quarrel, but also to reframe the relationship between the two countries.

Controversy over Hollywood using Moroccan army resources

The French language magazine Telquel reports the controversy over the use by film crews of vehicles, weapons and personnel of the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces (FAR). The latest occasion was in the filming of American Sniper, a film based on Chris Kyle’s autobiography “American Sniper: The autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History”.

American Sniper, which was partly shot in Morocco, is said to have also featured real Moroccan army personnel in one of its battle scenes. Telquel says that Moroccan soldiers are suitable for American films because they have been trained by US military instructors so they move and fight like their American counterparts.

Eastwood’s American Sniper grossed an estimated $105 million over its first weekend in wide release.

Other films to utilise Morocco's army resources include Ridely Scott’s Gladiator (2002), Kingdom of Heaven (2005) and other American mega production films.

Film crews may also have access to military bases of the Moroccan army, the source said.

New Meters for Moroccan Taxis

According to Amjad Hemidach, writing for Morocco World News, the Moroccan Ministry of Commerce has ratified six models of new meters for small taxi drivers to promote transparency and quality service for clients.

During a meeting to announce the initiation of marketing new meters certified by government departments, Hassan Jalal, representative of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Investment and the digital economy in Casablanca, said the initiative aims at increasing the quality of services provided to the customer.

Hassan Jalal added that current meters are illegal and are not subject to any local or international standards. He also ascribed the delay in implementing the new meters to the need for a transitional period from the meters being used now. He claims the ministry is working hard to achieve its goal.

On September 16th, 2012 the ministry endorsed a law which would put in place strict and standardised measures for legal small taxis meters, but until the meeting the law had been just ink on paper.

Taxi drivers say that a large proportion of the current meters do not meet the standards of quality and transparency because some are very old or contraband devices from China and are used illegally within the urban areas of major Moroccan cities.

According to the same source from the ministry, technicians will monitor these new meters prior to the obtainment of an installation certificate to ensure that the meters cannot be manipulated in a fraudulent manner. The certificates will act as proof of the meters’ legitimacy.

Taxi drivers in Casablanca, numbering approximately eight thousand, will be required to change their meters in accordance with the new law.

Haj Mohamed Bouzoubaâ dies aged 75

The great master of the art of malhoun Haj Mohamed Bouzoubaâ, died Wednesday in Fez following a long illness. Haj Bouzoubaâ  died early Wednesday at the age 75 and will be buried today after Asr prayer at Al Lakbab cemetery in Fez. Haj Bouzoubaâ, whose health has deteriorated since last year, had suffered a stroke which required admission to the University Hospital of Fez.

Born August 20, 1939, Haj Bouzoubaâ was a major figure in the art of malhoun in Morocco and enriched the repertoire of radio in Fez with over 170 songs and kassaides. He also practiced as a teacher of music at the Conservatory of Music in Fez.

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