Morocco: Test time for Islamic PJD Party

The political drama in Morocco has launched with a bang as the country gears up for Friday's legislative elections.
The ruling Islamic Justice and Development Party (PJD) is vying for a second consecutive term in office after winning the 2011 vote for the first time.
Mass protests that rocked much of the Middle East in 2011 and challenged the balance of power in many Arab countries lit a spark in Morocco, paving the way for the adoption of a new constitution and for the PJD to come to power.
If the PJD manages to win and lead a new coalition government for a second consecutive term, it will be the first party in the modern history of the kingdom to do so.
But the battle will not be easy. PJD is expected to face stiff competition, especially from the opposition Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), which is said to be close to the palace.
In the absence of a strong Moroccan left, which is experiencing some of its toughest challenges yet, PAM is considered the PJD's main competitor, and could gather enough seats in parliament to head up the next government.
But the race is too close to call. PJD has a strong urban electoral base, while PAM enjoys support from rural areas.

'Threat is over'

Some analysts say the PJD's attraction has waned and the Islamic party has played its role. It successfully helped in absorbing Arab Spring revolutionary spirit and managed to convert the challenge into reform.
According to Duke University political scientist Abdeslam Maghraoui, a North Africa expert, Morocco's monarchical institution is unlikely to still view PJD leader Abdelilah Benkirane as a real partner, now that the threat of uprisings is over.
"The PJD basically helped the monarchy navigate the pressure of the youth uprisings in the region," Maghraoui said, adding that the monarch has emerged more powerful in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Rest of the story on the Al Jazeera website

Morocco: A two-speed country

While Morocco takes pride in its pro-market, macroeconomic reforms, which spur competition and foreign direct investment, the economy’s progress as a whole - which still depends on agriculture - falls short of sizzling growth.
The kingdom's major infrastructure projects include modern highways, tourism, a growing manufacturing sector, a nascent aeronautics industry, a new port and free trade zone near the city of Tangier in the north, and a massive solar plant in the country's remote southern desert with a renewable electricity goal of 40 percent by 2020.
Such projects, however, are not generating enough employment in a country where - according to the World Bank - more than a fifth of young people are out of work.
This has created a two-speed Morocco.
The country's business community is gaining higher exports from the "new" industries [cars, aeronautics, and electronics], while this year's poor harvest drags down total GDP growth below two percent in 2016.
"Morocco’s economic model, based on attracting foreign investment in carefully selected sectors and building major infrastructure projects, is not really sustainable in the long term," Riccardo Fabiani, a senior analyst of Eurasia, told Al Jazeera.
Corruption in Morocco remains widespread in both the public and business spheres, Fabiani said, leading the country to slide backwards in terms of high unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and stalling living standards.
"The mega projects are rarely supported by a buoyant, local business environment. Their impact is limited by these structural weaknesses," Fabiani added.
"In addition, in the past five years the government has reduced spending by cutting public sector jobs and subsidies. This has pushed many young Moroccans to look for precarious jobs in the informal sector, despite having university degrees."
To the detriment of Moroccans, improving access to health and education are considered low priority compared with the push to build mega projects, said Omar Hyani, a Rabat-based financial analyst and city councilor.

Rest of the story on the Al Jazeera Website

My conversation with Algerian Director Salem Brahimi: 'Algeria learned the lesson through bloodshed'

The feature film Let Them Come, by Algerian director Salem Brahimi, revisits Algeria's Black Decade, when the country was struck by continuous attacks that killed about 200,000 people in the 1990s. 
The film, which details the plight of a family in the crossfire between government forces and religious extremists, was shown at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris in April and will be released in the city's theatres this autumn. The film won two awards: the Jury Award in Dubai in 2015 and the Kosmorama New Directors Award in Trondheim, Norway, in 2016.
Brahimi, 43, the son of veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, made the film based on a book of the same title by Algerian author Arezki Mellal, published in 2000. Salem Brahimi has directed two previous documentaries in Algeria: Africa is Back, about the 2009 Pan-African Festival of Algiers, and a 2014 documentary film about the historical Algerian figure Emir Abdelkader.
Al Jazeera spoke with Brahimi about his film and his reflections on the political developments in his country and throughout the Arab world.

Al Jazeera: Why did you decide to work on this film?

Salem Brahimi: It was a slow process. I had already made a few films in Algeria, but there was always the elephant in the room: the Black Decade. I wanted to tackle it in a narrative feature because it is more personal, more experiential, so people could feel the reality of the Black Decade.
My producer [Michèle Ray-Gavras] stumbled upon the book Let Them Come, and it was love at first sight. I was shocked when I read the book, because it made me think about, how did we become a country plagued by terrorism? It was an overwhelming feeling.
You always wonder as an Algerian citizen about how we created a society where people could raid a village and kill children. I asked myself, "How did we generate that barbarity?" People who did that were our neighbours, our brothers. It's easy to say the bad guys are the others. It's very hard to admit that they came from our midst, and everybody should be asking themselves about this.
Right now, the French should be asking themselves the same question, about why they were struck by terrorism ... I think that each society needs to take a hard look at themselves.
Why did we create these young men and women who are candidates for terrorism? I ask the question as an Algerian in my film.

Al Jazeera: Why do you think Algeria plunged into terrorism?

Brahimi: It's a mix of factors. One of the original sins: the war in Afghanistan between the mujahideen and the Russians. When the Russians left Afghanistan, all those people returned to Bosnia and Algeria and became a trouble in their own societies. The riots in Algeria in 1988 were very similar to what happened during the Arab Spring in the rest of the region. 
In October 1988, the youth were in the street, and the army shot at them. The army opened up the political game, and we realised that the most organised force of opposition was the Islamists, but when the Islamists were denied victory, their movement became a big recruitment base.

Al Jazeera: Do you have memories of what the country was like during the Black Decade?

Brahimi: I returned for brief periods ... You could feel the decay, the fear, and friends and families would tell you about their daily ordeals. You leave in the morning to work and never know if you are coming back in the evening. I was very fortunate in the sense that I didn't experience that on a daily basis, because my family lived abroad at the time. 

Al Jazeera: What's the main message of the film?

Brahimi: There's a feel, not necessarily a message. It's for the people to feel the decay, the fear. Terrorism is not just the act of violence. It basically stabs the society and bleeds it. It generates a culture of fear where people do not trust each other any more. The film also pays tribute to the many people who actually are the unsung heroes against terrorism.

The general population resisted in small, subtle ways, continuing to try to live their lives as normally as they could, refusing to succumb to fear. It was a very discreet, yet very real act of resistance. I wanted to give a sense of that. This is not a film about Islamism; it's more universal, I hope.
It's a film about barbarity. It's about human history. This was our experience with barbarity as other cultures have had their own experiences with it. You cannot negotiate with barbarity; you cannot dance to its music. The moment you do that, you become barbaric yourself.

Al Jazeera: What do you think the Arab world can learn from the Algerian experience?

Brahimi: As the French say: "Comparison is not reason." We can never predict what will happen. People are still in shock when something like 9/11 happened, or when the Paris attacks happened. We are always a step behind in history. One should be very humble about it. I don't know how many lessons can apply.
Syria and Iraq will get over the nightmare for separate sets of reasons. The dynamics of Algeria are very different. The central government in Algeria, whatever you think about it, is nothing like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. October 1988 is a stain that will haunt the regime as they shot at protesters. While the regime tried later to open up the political game, in Syria, the regime stuck to its guns.
Algeria learned the lesson through bloodshed. Extremist groups were so barbaric that the population sided with the central government. Iraq and Syria may stop the violence, but when it is far too late, just like Algeria did after 200,000 civilians were killed.
I believe that there is always a point where exhaustion and common sense somewhat prevail. After years trying to find a military solution, that will only create more victims; things are bound to change.
It's the nature of war. The war is not meant to go on for ever. None of the players of this deadly game have gotten to that point. Right now the idea seems to be, "Let's continue to the last Syrian."

Al Jazeera: Now that Algeria is calmer, what's the cultural life like?

Brahimi: Algeria, like many Arab countries, has always had thinkers. Because of the socialist backbone of the state in Algeria, we have intellectuals and others who are a voice of contestation. What is sad is that we aren't doing enough. Artists, and people who create culture, lost their role in society; they're marginal, and that's dangerous.
The availability of culture is a real challenge. We don't have enough cinemas. We have a vibrant book scene, authors who are published internationally, but it's very sad that there is an elitist nature to culture. Books are available, but not that available. This wasn't so much the case in the 1970s, and we lost that.
The real priority is to create a culture that encourages the public to attend movies. The cultural scene is not developed enough. 

Al Jazeera: Is Algeria opening up more to the world?

Brahimi: It is, but too slowly. Over the past 10, 15 years, it is opening more and more. But old habits die hard. We are obsessed with sovereignty and closed to foreign investment, but I think it makes us too removed from the world. We confuse sovereignty and what it takes to function in the world. It will change through younger generations and through practical reasons. The oil prices will force us to interact with the world.

Al Jazeera: What about political change?
Brahimi: When you look at Algeria 20 years back, 30 years back, you can't say that the country didn't change. We had a unique one-party system, then the Islamists won, then a civil war. We do have freedom of expression in the press to a certain extent. We do have a multi-party system and an opposition. The problem is that right now, we don't know what is on the horizon. 
If you're very honest, the political game is locked. We don't know what the next step is going to be in terms of governance, ideas.
None of the political parties really do have a plan. I was in Algeria just after the so-called Arab Spring. Many said, good luck with that, "we've been there 20 years ago. We would love for our Tunisian brothers to learn from our mistakes, but we don't want any of that."
It's a dangerous factor of immobility; people want change but they're afraid of it. It's a politician's job to propose change. The vaccine of terrorism has played its part. Many want stability over everything else. It's a very sad way to look at stability. But vaccines can wear off.
We have quite a lot of stuff happening. Our old demons are not far from us. I am glad that we learned some lessons from the past, but it should not justify a standstill. Algerian people deserve better than that - and that should be our future.
Source: Al Jazeera


Going green: Morocco bans use of plastic bags

Rabat, Morocco – As a ban on the production and use of plastic bags comes into effect across Morocco on Friday, green campaigners say that the country's consumers may need years to fully comply with the new law.
A landmark bill passed by the Moroccan parliament last October banned the production, import, sale and distribution of plastic bags across the country.
The bill, which became law on July 1, is part of a larger environmentally conscious effort across the North African country to go green.
Morocco ranks alongside Costa Rica, Bhutan and Ethiopia as one of the world’s greenest countries, a fact partially due to its ambitious goals to crackdown on carbon emissions.
Recent sustainability measures have turned the country into a green leader among developing nations, and the city of Marrakesh is due to host a global climate change conference in November 2016.
But as the July 1 deadline approached, shops, street sellers and retailers across the country scrambled to stockpile reserves of reusable bags. The change, they say, will not be easy.
The country’s battle with the plastic bag has been in the works for years. Efforts in 2009 to ban the production and use of black plastic bags, which litter the country’s streets and beaches, were only partially successful, as authorities struggled to curtail informal production of the bags.

Morocco is the second-largest plastic bag consumer after the United States. It uses about three billion plastic bags a year, according to the Moroccan Industry Ministry. That means, on average, that each one of Morocco’s 34 million people uses about 900 bags a year.
A blanket ban on the use of plastic bags will take some getting used to, says Jennie Romer, a New York-based lawyer.

“It's a big cultural shift with that type of broader law,” she said. “As long as the government has the motivation to really enforce that. There is a lot of potential. The government entity that is implementing it has to be completely on board in order to make that really happen in practice.”

While Industry Minister Moulay Hafid Elalamy, the initiator of the bill, did not return requests for comment, he said on his Twitter account that “several alternative solutions” will be made widely available, such as bags made of paper and fabric. He added that “freezer bags were excluded.”

For weeks now, awareness campaigns throughout the country have been warning Moroccans against the use of bags, which take hundreds of years to degrade. Their message is simple: plastic bags are unhealthy and dangerous for the ecosystem in a country that struggles to clean its streets and where fields of rubbish plague the local environment.

“They do it to promote the image of Morocco as an environmentally friendly country, which is partly true, but not completely,” Mamoun Ghallab, a sustainable development consultant, told Al Jazeera during a recent beach clean-up event in Casablanca. 

Ghallab said the government hasn’t done much to raise environmental awareness. Some campaigns about littering have been done, he added, but their cartoonish design made them only marketable to children.

“If citizens are not aware of the concerns and the challenges we’re facing, things will go much slower,” Ghallab said. “Everything begins and ends with the citizens.”

But the UN Environmental Performance Review of Morocco, which has analysed the country’s environment protection progress since 2012, reported that Morocco “fails to address environmental challenges, which can gradually become economic and development challenges”.

Moroccan cities only collect 70 percent of solid waste, according to a 2013 study released by the German Society for International Cooperation. And the World Bank has reported that less than 10 percent of collected waste is disposed of in an “environmentally and socially acceptable manner.”

Yassine Zegzouti, 30, president of local advocacy organisation Mawarid, said it is possible for Morocco to totally ban plastic bags, but that changing consumer habits will be the most challenging part.

The government has shown a commitment to putting the ban into practice, he said, not only through TV spots encouraging citizens to change their habits, but also by investing millions of Moroccan dirhams into encouraging the industry to transform their production of the bags.

“The formal sector will need four to five years to comply with the new law,” said Zegzouti.
“But the use of plastic bags is anchored in [consumer] habit,” said Zegzouti. “All actors need to change these habits to not have any damage in the future.”

This story was produced in association with Round Earth MediaElaina Zachos contributed reporting. 
Link to the story on Al Jazeera English. 


Tangier, Morocco: The Fixer -- Foreign Policy Magazine -- May Issue

Femmes du monde arabe : entre espoirs et désillusions

Chaos, riots as France dismantles Calais migrant camp called the 'Jungle'

CALAIS, France — Rahmanjan Safy scrambled to salvage anything valuable from the demolished tents and makeshift shelters at this Calais migrant camp Wednesday, even as riot police and bulldozers destroyed the site.

Food, clothing, spoons — he picked up everything he could find.

Safy, 25, from Jalalabad, Afghanistan, has been in France since 2009. He once lived in this camp but now works with an organization that helps the migrants and refugees. Driving his big white truck, he moved these precious commodities to a section of the camp still intact, so people could still use them.
“I once was in the same situation as them,” he said. “I never forgot. I want to help them.”

A judge gave the green light last week for the French government to tear down part of the Calais “Jungle,” as the camp is commonly called, but riots broke out this week amid the resulting chaos.
Police and bulldozers began pushing migrants out of tents and temporary shelters Monday, tearing apart the ad hoc camp that houses an estimated 6,000 people.

Camp residents fought back, starting fires and attacking police with rocks. The situation Wednesday was calmer, if not less tense. Confusion, uncertainty and sorrow still hang over the camp and the people who have no place to go.

Ahmed Salah from Sudan stood amid trash and debris, mourning the loss of his home of seven months. He says he wants to leave but can't.

“I would go anywhere, not just to England," he said about wanting to cross the English Channel to the United Kingdom. "I don’t want to stay in France. They don’t respect their own laws.”

The French government initially announced its plan to dismantle the southern part of the camp — closer to the highway — in early February. Migrants in that section would attempt to jump on trucks crossing through the Chunnel, despite barbed wire set up to protect the road.
The rest of the camp is being left alone — for the moment.

French authorities defended their move to dismantle part of the Calais camp, while also saying France remains open to refugees.

“Our policy is to support those who are in vulnerable situations,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said before the dismantling operation began. “The state will continue its strategy of accompanying migrants toward a humanitarian solution that lives up to the values of our country and our tradition of welcoming those who seek asylum in France.”

But volunteers described how people rushed to collect their few belongings in a short amount of time and tried to salvage parts of their shelters for protection against the cold weather.

“They gave people one hour to assemble their belongings,” said Christian Salomé, founder and head of L’Auberge Des Migrants, the main organization that distributes food and clothes at the Calais camp. "It is sad and inhumane to expel people from their homes in the winter and by destroying their shelters."

Other volunteers call the entire situation shameful.

“It is a political decision not to address this issue,” said Paul Bejannin, 30, a volunteer from Paris. “France has the means to accommodate everyone. And the only state presence we ever see here is the riot police.”

Many fear that with the conflicts intensifying in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the wave of refugees will be even greater this year.

“The only way to solve this is to move the UK to another place that doesn’t face Calais,” said Christophe Ruggia, an award-winning French director who mobilized dozens of artists to protest the country’s resistance to welcoming war refugees. “They are constantly reacting without a long-term vision.”

In downtown Calais, just a few miles from the camp, outrage over the situation has been growing for more than a year. Business owners like Jean Claude Burei, who has a restaurant in town, want the government to find a long-term solution because the bad publicity over the camp keeps tourists away.

“The location of the camp has been a disaster for the city,” he said. “Some of these migrants are escaping war, but others have no reason to be here. ... We also need to expel those who create trouble, like smugglers who take advantage of people’s misery.”

French President François Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron will meet Thursday in Amiens, France, to discuss the ongoing migrant crisis ahead of next week's EU summit on the issue.

Hundreds of British volunteers at the Calais Jungle, like Malcom Mitchel, 69, do what they can.
“The 6,000 here is smaller than a crowd that goes to a (soccer) match,” he said. “There are a lot of people with potential here — doctors, engineers. We should open borders and let everybody in the United Kingdom.”

Amine Khan, 31, from northern Afghanistan, helplessly watched the bulldozers Wednesday and said his "home" will likely be next.

“I have no choice, I don’t know where I will go,” he said. "I will just keep trying to reach England.”

You can also read the story here

Loubna Abidar, Moroccan Actress, Finds Fame Tinged With Fury

PARIS — The first indication the actress Loubna Abidar had that her life was about to change was on the flight home to Morocco after the premiere of the movie “Much Loved,” in which she plays a prostitute. She was shocked when a flight attendant told her she was “a disgrace for Morocco and Moroccan women.”

Ten months later, Ms. Abidar, 30, is still a celebrity in her homeland, albeit an infamous one who is now in exile. She has received hundreds of hate messages and threats on social media. She is also poised to earn France’s top honor in film — a César — this month.

“People are scared of the truth,” she said, referring to the angry reactions in Morocco to “Much Loved,” which depicts the crude realities of prostitution there. “We shouldn’t be a country that is scared of art. I want the Moroccan woman to wake up.”

Ex-Guantánamo Detainee Is Freed From Moroccan Prison

WASHINGTON — A Moroccan judge on Thursday ordered the release of a former detainee at the Guantánamo Bay prison who had remained in custody for nearly five months despite diplomatic assurances that he would probably be freed shortly after his transfer to Morocco.

Though the former detainee, Younis Shokuri, walked free for the first time in 15 years, he still faces the possibility of criminal charges related to allegations that he was involved with a Moroccan Islamist group before his capture in 2001; he has denied the allegations.
“This is a positive step,” said his Moroccan lawyer, Khalil Idrissi. “We hope that it will be followed with the charges being dropped.”

Mr. Shokuri’s case has drawn scrutiny because the Moroccan authorities apparently told the United States that they would most likely release him without charges within 72 hours of any transfer, but instead kept him in custody and opened the criminal investigation. His situation highlighted the difficulties that the United States has faced in paring the ranks of detainees at its prison in Cuba.
The New York Times published an article about the dispute on Sunday. Two days later, Mr. Idrissi said, he asked the judge to release his client on bail.

“Younis at first couldn’t believe it even when he was told to pack his clothes,” Mr. Idrissi said. “When I joined him at the prison, he was in a state of disbelief.”

A Moroccan news website, Hespress, published photographs and a video showing a smiling Mr. Shokuri leaving the prison. Mr. Idrissi said his client had declined a request for an interview, adding that Mr. Shokuri was resting while he waited for relatives, who live several hours away, to arrive.
Ian Moss, the chief of staff in the State Department office that negotiates transfers from Guantánamo, declined to comment. But he has previously said that the United States has continued to talk with Morocco.

Cori Crider, a lawyer with the international human rights group Reprieve, which represented Mr. Shokuri in a habeas corpus lawsuit in the United States, said the organization was delighted.
“Younis should have been home with his family months ago, but we rejoice that he will be with loved ones tonight, and hope he will see his wife soon, after 14 years,” she said.

Mr. Shokuri left Morocco for Pakistan in 1990 and later moved to Afghanistan. After the United States began bombing Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he was captured near the Pakistan border and transferred to Guantánamo.

You can read the story here

Guantánamo Prisoner Sent Home to Morocco Remains in Legal Limbo

WASHINGTON — Younis Shokuri, a Moroccan detainee at the Guantánamo Bay prison, said he feared being repatriated to his native country. But the Moroccan government told the United States that it would probably release him without charges 72 hours after any transfer. So last September, Mr. Shokuri went home — reluctantly, but voluntarily.

But despite its assurances, Morocco has kept Mr. Shokuri in custody and is weighing criminal charges, apparently focused on allegations that he was involved with a Moroccan terrorist group before his capture in Afghanistan in late 2001. Mr. Shokuri’s lawyers have demanded that the Obama administration press Morocco to live up to what they thought was a deal.

Both governments have said little to explain the discrepancy.

Several officials familiar with behind-the-scenes legal and diplomatic discussions are now shedding light on the murky episode.

Beyond its importance for Mr. Shokuri, his situation illustrates how difficult — and messy — it can be to winnow down the ranks of detainees viewed as posing a lower-level security risk at the Guantánamo prison, which the Obama administration still wants to close in its final year in office.

Of the 91 remaining detainees, 34 are recommended for transfer, and a parole-like review group has been adding names to the list. Each man presents a problem: The government has to find a place that is willing to take him and that can be trusted to keep an eye on him without abusing him.

Republicans in Congress who oppose closing the prison frequently criticize transfers, noting that some former detainees have gone on to engage in terrorist activity after their release. Human rights groups have criticized the rare instances when the United States has forcibly repatriated detainees to countries that have questionable records on human rights.

The Moroccan government initiated prosecutions of all 11 Moroccan citizens repatriated from Guantánamo during George W. Bush’s presidency; four were convicted and the rest were released for insufficient evidence, a leaked cable shows.

Three of the 11 reportedly went to Syria and were killed in the civil war there, fighting with an Islamist rebel group.

Rights groups have accused Morocco of torturing terrorism suspects, although American officials say it has lived up to diplomatic assurances not to abuse the former Guantánamo detainees.

Against that backdrop, Cori Crider, a lawyer for Mr. Shokuri with the London-based international human rights group Reprieve, said the American government appeared to have gotten rid of him in a “dishonorable” way.

“At best the United States did not do enough to correct the record with the Moroccans before sending him back and are doing nothing now because keeping their promise to Younis is just not a priority,” Ms. Crider said. “And at worst they tricked him.”
Ian Moss, the chief of staff in the State Department office that negotiates detainee transfers, said he could not comment on sensitive diplomatic conversations.
“We continue to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the government of Morocco regarding its nationals formerly detained at Guantánamo,” Mr. Moss said. “Questions regarding ongoing judicial processes in Morocco are best directed to the government of Morocco.”
Moroccan diplomatic and security officials did not respond to several inquiries.
Mr. Shokuri, now 48, left Morocco around 1990 and went to Pakistan, according to military and court documents. He eventually came to live in Afghanistan and frequently interacted with other Moroccan expatriates.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when the United States began bombing Afghanistan, he attempted to flee but was arrested by Pakistani security forces and transferred to Guantánamo.

Mr. Shokuri said he had been doing humanitarian work in Afghanistan, but the United States government suspected that he was a part of a terrorist organization focused on overthrowing the Moroccan monarchy, called the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, or G.I.C.M. In 2003, the group was linked to a suicide bombing attack in Casablanca.
In all, 14 Moroccan men were brought to Guantánamo from the Afghan war zone. Most were repatriated by the Bush administration, but Mr. Shokuri was still there in 2009, when the Obama administration created a six-agency task force to review the remaining detainees. It recommended transferring him, too.

But at the time, at least, the United States did not seem to think he was innocent. State Department cables from October 2009 that were leaked by Pvt. Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley Manning, show that “a key factor in the approval” of putting him on the transfer list was the understanding that Morocco would prosecute him, meaning he would stay locked up after his return.

Meanwhile, however, in a habeas corpus lawsuit, Mr. Shokuri’s lawyers argued that the evidence that he was part of the Moroccan terrorist group was dubious, saying it traced back to “tortured confessions” from prisoners in Moroccan custody and unreliable jailhouse informants.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Muslim Conference Calls for Protection of Religious Minorities

By Aida Alami

MARRAKESH, Morocco — At a recent conference held by Muslim scholars to confront violence in the Islamic world, a representative of the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq and Syria said his people desperately needed protection from the Islamic State.

“Please help us,” said Hadi Baba Sheikh, the Yazidi representative. “They are killing us and kidnapping our women and children.”

The gathering here of about 300 muftis, theologians and scholars last month responded far more broadly by issuing the Marrakesh Declaration, which calls for Muslim countries to tolerate and protect religious minorities living within their borders — among them Christians, Jews, Hindus and Bahais as well as Yazidis and Sabians.

They cited the Charter of Medina, established by the Prophet Muhammad after he fled to Medina, in what is now Saudi Arabia, from Mecca in the seventh century to escape an assassination plot.

“The Medina Charter established the idea of common citizenship regardless of religious belief,” said Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah, a Mauritanian religious scholar and a professor of Islamic studies in Saudi Arabia who helped convene the meeting, in a speech. “Enough bloodshed. We are heading to annihilation. It is time for cooperation.”

Since it was issued last Wednesday, the declaration has been welcomed by many, though with some skepticism, and it is only now beginning to gain wider circulation. Some experts said they doubted that the meeting would have lasting impact because it did not include representatives of more extremist movements, like the Muslim Brotherhood. They also said the groups that did attend do not have great sway over young people.

“These efforts are compromised from the get-go because of their association with states that don’t have legitimacy among young, angry, frustrated Muslim youths in the Arab world,” said Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington and the author of “Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam is Reshaping the World,” who did not attend the conference. “It’s something that appeals to Western governments, but what’s the follow-up?”

“The targeted audience should be people who are predisposed to radicalism,” he continued. “A young Muslim who is intrigued by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria would be more likely to listen to a Salafi scholar than a traditionalist scholar.”

Yet for the representatives of persecuted religious minorities who attended the meeting or followed the proceedings from afar, the gathering and the document it produced were a hopeful sign that influential Muslim leaders and scholars were grappling with a serious problem.

“I think the declaration is important because it sets a standard for accountability,” said the Rev. Susan Hayward, director of religion and inclusive societies at the United States Institute of Peace and a minister in the United Church of Christ, who attended the conference. “This is a call for action.”

She said those who took part in the conference had the clout to cultivate sustainable peace efforts in their homelands. Muslim participants came from 120 countries, and the conference also drew representatives of many other faiths. It was sponsored by King Mohammed VI of Morocco and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, which is based in the United Arab Emirates.

“Conditions in various parts of the Muslim world have deteriorated dangerously due to the use of violence and armed struggle as a tool for settling conflicts and imposing one’s point of view,” the declaration said.

“This situation has also weakened the authority of legitimate governments and enabled criminal groups to issue edicts attributed to Islam, but which, in fact, alarmingly distort its fundamental principles and goals in ways that have seriously harmed the population as a whole.”

President Obama hailed the conference last Wednesday at a ceremony held in Washington to honor recipients of the Righteous Among the Nations Awards, which honor non-Jews who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

“We know that there were Muslims — from Albanians to Arabs — who protected Jews from Nazis,” Mr. Obama said. “In Morocco, leaders from Muslim-majority countries around the world just held a summit on protecting religious minorities, including Jews and Christians.”

The conference did not address tensions within Islam itself, or the discrimination and persecution Muslims sometimes face at the hands of other Muslims. It also did not address the concern that many of the participants represented countries with poor human rights records.

Hatem Bazian, a lecturer in Near Eastern studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and editor of The Islamophobia Studies Journal, was doubtful that the declaration would amount to much. He did not attend the conference, but followed it closely via the Internet.

“Overwhelmingly, Muslim populations will be in agreement with this declaration,” he said. But “the overall picture is that civil society discourses have been captured by extremists across the board.”

you can read the story on the New York Times' website

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Q&A: Egypt's autocratic history through art


Paris - On the eve of the fifth anniversary of Egypt's uprising, French-Egyptian director Jihan el-Tahri has released a documentary chronicling the country's post-colonial history.
Tahri, 53, the daughter of an Egyptian diplomat, was born in Lebanon and worked as a political journalist throughout the Middle East in the 1980s. She spent five years collecting footage, photographs and interviews for Egypt's Modern Pharaohs, a three-part series about former Egyptian presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak.
For decades, the military and religious establishments have been battling for power in Egypt. Tahri's work explains how Egypt has evolved since the people rejected the British occupation and overthrew King Farouk in 1952, and how the succession of events made the 2011 uprisings inevitable.

Al Jazeera spoke with Tahri about the making of the documentary and her views on Egyptian society today.

Al Jazeera: Why did you make this film?

Jihan el-Tahri: I didn't intend to. As for most of my films, I don't decide in advance. It is something that keeps going in my head and starts obsessing me.
I am my first spectator; I make films for me to understand. I had questions haunting me. A lot of my films are about the same questions: post-colonial Africa. What happened? There was so much hope.
If you look at the first generation of independence leaders, they had great visions; they had true plans for the country. A lot of my films are about the process by which that happened. I have been trying to put my finger on where it goes wrong.

Al Jazeera: Were you able to answer what goes wrong?

Tahri: There are multiple answers. It's really at the moment of transition that these grand visions and dreams of liberation movements are then faced with the reality of power.
When I went back to Egypt, two or three days after Mubarak fell, on Tahrir Square, people were selling black-and-white photos reflecting a nostalgia of the past. Photos of Muhammad Naguib, Oum Kalthoum, Abdel Hakim Amer. I found that very interesting.
So I asked a friend of mine who works at the official magazine if I could look in their archives. I found photos from 1951, of people carrying placards saying "bread, freedom and social justice", which were the same slogans of what people chanted in Tahrir. So 60 years later, they were asking the same thing.
I wanted to find out: Is this uprising a consequence of the failure of the post-colonial state? I wanted to look at the trajectory that made the revolt inevitable.

Al Jazeera: Your film takes a close look at the "modern pharaohs" of Egypt. How did they build today's Egypt?

Tahri: Each ruler came thinking that his vision and his vision alone would be the salvation of Egypt, and returning it to its ancient glory. And then, the only way to continue implementing this vision becomes impossible, except if repression is used ... So the slide into dictatorship has been very much based on good intentions. The road to hell is based on good intentions.
There were major turning points where the projects were aborted. For example, Nasser had a clear industrialisation and development project, which was based on the hard work of the army because it was the only disciplined group that he could assign a task to that would be done without discussion, military-style.
But then, the Yemen war in 1967 just smashed the entire project and the man, leaving the country in a great level of destruction. Sadat decided to start from scratch. He really saw the solution from a completely different angle. He sold the idea of Palestinian/pan-Arabism/pan-Africanism down the river and embraced the American vision. He embraced the idea of globalisation that we live in today.
The idea of Arab unity was definitely not his thing. He needed Saudi Arabia, and he got it by lining up with the Americans. The Saudis were on very bad terms with Nasser. The country that would obviously align with Sadat's capitalist project would be Saudi Arabia.
The end of the pan-African project was quite dramatic. Under Nasser, Egypt had become the big man of a continent. Egypt broadcasted in 18 African languages ... With Nasser, Egypt had a godfather; with Sadat, all radios were gone.

Al Jazeera: What made the 2011 revolt inevitable?

Tahri: People had been saying 'no' since 2004. People were out on the street every week since 2004. 2011 was the culmination.
But what does democracy actually mean? The issue is having a voice as an individual; [but] as a people, you need to learn how to be a part of a political game. All Egyptians know is how to delegate to a voice of a ruler.
Is it uprising? Is it revolt? Is it revolution? 1952 was a coup d'état. It became a revolution. Very quickly after the event, they came up with a manifesto that was revolutionary. And three, four months after, they started implementing land distribution.
For 2011, I am not sure what to do with it - what label to tag onto it. Yes, it was much more a revolution in that sense of the word than 1952, because people rose to say no.
It didn't become a revolution; it was hijacked. The Mubarak infrastructure was not touched. If it had been touched, what happened in 2013 couldn't have happened. That was another realisation.

Al Jazeera: Can Egypt only be ruled by the military or the Muslim Brotherhood?

Tahri: In a very clear way, to consolidate power, Egypt's rulers exert the most efforts in decapitating the middle ground. This dance between the governing party and the Muslim Brotherhood is part of that. All the democrats, all the liberals that are neither one extreme nor the other, are the first to be erased, the first to be silenced.
Look at what happened today: Who's in prison today? There are many episodes with different presidents, and alternative visions that are neither Islamic nor military were never allowed to thrive. Crushing civil society has always been the tool of power.
Others are just not part of the equation. They are used in the game between the two forces, which are the only existing forces.
In 2011, there were finally elections that were supposed to be free. Who do we come with? Mohamed Morsi or Ahmad Shafik. It was one of the saddest days in my life. Finally, I could vote in my country, but who was I going to vote for? Mubarak's prime minister or the Muslim Brotherhood? Neither one of them was the real instigator of the revolt, but [both were] the hijackers of the revolt of the people.

Al Jazeera: What do you make of the state of affairs in Egypt now?

Tahri: My film ends in 2011. We, the people of Egypt, make our pharaohs. The idea of stability that Mubarak had so ingrained in the Egyptian people, as though stability and security are a political project, has meant that they were the only things that we could aspire towards. During Nasser's reign, there was an aspiration for development. There were political projects for the country to move forward.
It's very ironic how making this film that ends five years ago feels very much like I am doing current affairs. What happened in 1954 is exactly what we went through during 2012 and 2013. The debate around military rule is still on the table.

Al Jazeera: Your film also tackles religious extremism. Who is ultimately to blame?

Tahri: I am not into the blame game. I tried to understand: Where do they come from? Egyptians are a very docile population and very hospitable. How did these ideologies gain such strength?
I guess, from my research, all three of these presidents were responsible. The keyword for extremism is repression. Repression equals extremism. Shukri Mustafa came from the prisons of Nasser. The dialogue with this extremist thought, especially after Sayyid Qutb, was never had.
Today, it's the same. We have learned no lessons from our own history. Maybe it's because we make an effort to erase our history.

Al Jazeera: What do you make of the art scene in Cairo?

Tahri: I think one of the most amazing things that happened with 2011 was this explosion of artistic expression. Every wall in downtown Cairo was a gallery. Street art exploded. All these different galleries, jewellry designers, etc.
But then, look at what happened a couple of weeks ago: The Townhouse Gallery was raided by the censorship authority and the police and was closed down - something that never happened during the Mubarak regime. Look at the journalists ... who are in prison.

We have returned to the domain of fear. We know how to function with fear. During the Nasser era, we used to say, "The walls have ears." The ears went deaf for a little while, but now they're hearing again.