Haitian artists give everything to Jacmel carnival

Under the warm midday sun that lit the city of Jacmel on Sunday, a colorful procession of spectacular masks and costumes took over the streets of the Haiti's arts capital.
The coastal city turned into a giant 24-hour party, which started at noon and ended the next day, setting the stage for a parade of strange and elaborate artwork.
But the event was more than just a street party. Under the theme “Change,” it sought to send a message to the world about the will of people in Haiti to develop the country. The artistic creations expressed the joys, frustrations and hopes of the population.
“It is one of a kind it’s like not any other carnival people will see in the world,” said Lee Rainboth, 33, who runs the newly renovated art centre of Jacmel, a space that stopped functioning for a few years after the 2010 earthquake killed its former manager and damaged the building itself. It is now slowly being renovated and expanded, and has become the vibrant hub for artists who go there to exchange ideas, support and inspire each other.
“The costumes that are created and the kind of art that you will see in the Jacmel carnival is wild and out of this world,” Rainboth added. “The papier-mâché creations alone are the best that you will see anywhere, they are what makes the Jacmel carnival what it is.”

You can read the rest of the story on the Euronews website

Haunted by Memories of Syrian Torture, Saved by Art

FONTENAY-LE-COMTE, France — Najah al-Bukai cannot forget.

As an accomplished artist in Syria before the war, Mr. Bukai had long thought his photographic memory was his greatest asset, allowing him to recreate scenes on his sketch pads and canvases days, months and even years after he witnessed them. But now, after he has survived two stretches in the Syrian government’s notorious detention centers, his sharp memories only serve to haunt him.
One day recently, home with his family in Fontenay-le-Comte, a sleepy city in the Loire valley, he methodically opened boxes containing dozens of drawings he has made of the images burned into his brain. It is the only way he knows of coping with the traumas he witnessed, and suffered, in Syria’s torture chambers.

In one, men wearing only their underwear carry a corpse in what looks like a sheet or blanket, for eventual disposal, Mr. Bukai says, in the back of a truck in a pile of other bodies. He recalls a number, 5535, on the young man’s chest. They had been ordered to strip to their underwear, Mr. Bukai explained, so they could be easily spotted if they tried to escape.

“Art saved me,” he said, while laying the drawings out on a tabletop.

His art reminds many critics of the work of the Slovenian artist and Holocaust survivor Zoran Music — haunting, dark and extremely realistic. In his drawings, some prisoners hang by their hands and others undergo other forms of torture, all while their cellmates eat their meals calmly, desensitized to the displays of inhumanity around them.

“I was observing everything and making art in my head,” he said about his time in a crammed cell, where prisoners had to take off their clothes because of the unbearable heat.
He still remembers the smell of rotten flesh, the screams of other prisoners and how, horrifically, he and others grew accustomed to it all.

You can read the rest of the story on the New York Times' website here

She Accused a Moroccan Pop Star of Rape. Online, She Was Vilified.

MARRAKESH, Morocco — Many women who have spoken out against sexual aggression by celebrities have received sympathy, and the men they have accused have often turned contrite in the face of public scorn.

Not so for Laura Prioul, a 21-year-old Frenchwoman, who says she was beaten and raped last year in a Paris hotel, where a housekeeper found her partially naked and bruised in a hallway.
The man she accuses — a 32-year-old Moroccan pop star, Saad Lamjarred — has a music video with a half-billion YouTube views, a zealous fan base, a prominent family and fame enough that King Mohammed VI helped hire a top-shelf legal team to defend him, according to the Moroccan state news agency.

Since Ms. Prioul pressed charges last year, she had been so threatened by his fans that she has gone into virtual hiding. The case has reverberated through the Arab world and North Africa, where it has illuminated the risks women may face when they speak up against sexual violence in countries where rape is often excused and women are more likely to face condemnation, and even prosecution, than the men accused of aggression.

Mr. Lamjarred has publicly maintained his innocence in this case, as well as in two others where he was also accused of assault and the women later withdrew their complaints.

Ms. Prioul says she is determined to seek justice. This month, she released an internet video from an undisclosed location, describing it as a desperate attempt to air her story, clear her name and protect her family.

“I finally felt ready, although it was particularly difficult, to publish my story,” Ms. Prioul wrote in an email. She and her mother had not granted any interviews since the episode but spoke by telephone to The New York Times. “Finally we are giving a voice to victims of sexual violence around the world.”
After Ms. Prioul pressed charges, Mr. Lamjarred was arrested and spent several months in detention in France before being freed on bail in April. Upon his release, he published a video showing himself dancing and singing in the streets of Paris. He is now awaiting a potential trial and cannot leave France.

For her part, Ms. Prioul, who works in the hotel and restaurant industry, has removed herself from social media and doesn’t go out much for fear of being recognized.

“You will pay for this, you will die,” reads one of the messages she received and showed to The Times. “We are going to kill your mother in front of you.”

Ms. Prioul, then 20, was visiting Paris with friends when the assault occurred, she said. Since then, she has returned only when the court or the police summon her. She says that many websites have smeared her, saying that she was a professional escort.

“The purpose of my video is to give my testimony in all sincerity and to stop the rumors about me for a time, to get a little break,” she said.

Continue reading on the New York Times' website.

ANALYSIS: Deadly food stampede exposes Morocco's hidden poverty

MARRAKESH, Morocco – They began gathering at 2am on Sunday to wait in line for cooking oil, sugar and flour that a local imam and his association were distributing at the market in Sidi Boulaalam, a village near the coastal city of Essaouira.

Later that morning, when the group began handing out the free food, the crowd that had gathered quickly became violent and turned into a stampede. Fifteen women died as the imam and others stood by and watched.

“The main concern of the distribution managers was to film the distribution,” a woman cited by the local media said. “People were asking the organisers to intervene to help the victims, but they did not pay attention to these calls and continued to film."

Police are still investigating what exactly provoked the stampede in this tourist city known for Argan oil production, a widely-used ingredient in beauty products.

They have since summoned and subsequently released the imam, Abdelkbir El Hadidi, a well-known figure with a significant internet following.

Still, many observers believe focusing on the food distributors ignored the desperate conditions of the people that led to the deaths.

“They’re looking for culprits to satisfy public opinion,” said Fouad Abdelmoumni, an economist and activist who was jailed under Hassan II, the current king's father.

Some have linked the deaths to wider dissatisfaction with poverty, human rights abuses and the grand infrastructure projects the government has embarked on since the Arab Spring.

According to the World Bank, Morocco has eradicated the extreme poverty that many of its citizens have known for generations.

While the official poverty rate fell to less than 5 percent in 2014 - the most recent data available - almost 16 percent of the country’s 35 million inhabitants live on just $3 a day, according to the World Bank. Unemployment stands at 10 percent, according to government statistics and is much higher among young people. A third of the population still cannot read or write.

Read on the rest here

Morocco Food Stampede Leaves 15 Dead and a Country Shaken

MARRAKESH, Morocco — At least 15 women died and five were wounded in a stampede during a food distribution operation on Sunday morning in rural Morocco, government officials said.
The victims were crushed as hundreds of people, mostly women, gathered to collect baskets of food at the market of a small town, Sidi Boulaalam, according to news accounts. The town is about 40 miles from the coastal city of Essaouira.

In the aftermath of the stampede, clothes and other personal items were left scattered across the ground.

It is unclear what led to the stampede. The Moroccan Interior Ministry, which reported the death toll, said it had opened an investigation. The donor who organized the food distribution has not been publicly identified.

Morocco, with a population of 35 million, is generally regarded as much healthier economically than neighboring countries. According to the World Bank, its poverty rate fell to 4.2 percent in 2014, and tourism remains a robust part of the economy.

But that can mask the conditions in rural areas like Sidi Boulaalam, where things are far more dire. Nearly 19 percent of the rural population lives in poverty, and about 15.5 percent of Moroccans live on about $3 a day.

Continue reading on the New York Times' website.

Proud to be a part of this amazing project

From my dear friend Zahra Hankir (Lebanese/British writer and editor based in London): So pleased to share that I'm working with Penguin Books on a book of essays by some incredible Arab women journalists who will reflect on their personal experiences covering the region.

This is a project that's very dear to my heart, mostly because I'm a massive fan of strong, Arab women who tirelessly work to raise awareness on the region and who dispel the many myths swirling around it. The book is long overdue and will hopefully help shape the narrative on the Arab world, one that's often dominated by men or non-Arabs.

The anthology will feature the works (personal essays and photography) of women who I've admired for years, including Hwaida Saad, Zaina Erhaim, Nour Malas, Rawan W Shaif, Maria Abi-Habib, Lina Attalah, Natacha Yazbeck, Eman Helal, Aida Alami and several others. I'm thrilled I'm going to be working with so many creative minds, and can't wait to hear their stories.

Click here to read Zahra's original post

The man who drove Malcolm X around and introduced him to Fidel Castro

Photo by Gianni Cipriano

One September evening in 1960 during a United Nations’ summit in New York City, Cuban leader Fidel Castro moved his delegation into Harlem’s historic Hotel Theresa to stay among African Americans: He felt they would welcome him.

That same evening, Luqman Abdul Hakeem drove to the hotel – up Lenox Avenue in his Volkswagen, with Malcolm X at his side. The Cuban flag hung over the building, where crowds of anti and pro-Castro protesters had gathered.

“We went up to his room and sat on a bed,” said Abdul Hakeem, holding a black and white photo of himself, Malcolm X and Castro sitting and smiling at each other. “He [Malcolm X] was part of the committee that welcomed him [Castro] to Harlem. Malcolm was considered a grassroots leader. He was very popular in Harlem.”

The meeting marked a turn for Malcolm X in his attempt to internationalize the African-American struggle and build ties with third-world countries.

To Abdul Hakeem, now 83, the event was one of the first steps in a long personal journey that would lead him to move to Morocco, where he has lived for 32 years, raised a family and runs two Aikido dojos. The move fulfilled his desire, shared by some Muslim African-Americans, to return to a country that’s majority Muslim.

“I didn’t want my children growing up in that racism in America,” he said.

Finish reading here.

Activists on trial in Morocco for violating national security after using app

MARRAKECH, Morocco – The trial of seven Moroccan writers and pro-democracy activists has again been postponed, some accused of undermining national security, amid a crackdown on pro-democracy voices.

The seven have been accused for allegedly promoting independent journalism, after teaching citizen journalists how to use Story Maker, a smartphone app that produces and publishes news stories.
Five stand accused of violating national security and could face up to five years in prison. The other two are accused of benefitting from foreign funding to harm the image of Morocco.

“This trial is political,” said Maati Monjib, a Moroccan historian at Mohammed V University in Rabat who is among those charged with a national security violation. “Its aim is to silence us.”
A court in Rabat on Wednesday postponed the trial, for the ninth time in two years.

You can read the rest of the story here

Morocco’s Stability Is Roiled by Monthslong Protests Over Fishmonger’s Death

AL HOCEIMA, Morocco — The house, down a dusty dirt track in a small village near the city of Al Hoceima in northern Morocco, looked dreary outside, with its unpainted facade, but inside the mood was cheery. Friends and family were celebrating the return of a young singer and human rights activist who had just been released from jail.

King Mohammed VI pardoned the young woman, Salima Ziani, 23, late last month after his annual speech commemorating his ascension to the throne, which is usually followed by mass pardons.
Ms. Ziani had been eating dinner with her three cellmates in Oukacha Prison in Casablanca when she was summoned to the office of the prison warden. The warden gave her a flower and said she was free to return to her hometown, Al Hoceima, in the mountainous Rif region along Morocco’s northern coast.

She had been jailed for two months for her role in leading the protests that have been shaking the Rif since the gruesome death of a fishmonger in October. What began as a spontaneous movement calling for a serious inquiry into the tragedy has turned into one of the longest protest movements in the region since the Arab Spring.

Continue reading on the New York Times' website

[Video] Morocco: Protests continue in Northern Rif region

In a Fight for Land, a Women’s Movement Shakes Morocco

OULAD SEBATA, Morocco — For most of her life, Saida Soukat’s days were filled with the routines of the farm, working the fields and minding the cattle. A recent Tuesday found her doing something far different, though, speaking before a group of women during their biweekly protests to demand a halt in the state-sanctioned privatization of traditional tribal collectives, called the Sulaliyyate lands.
“One foot up, one foot down. For my land, my blood will shed,” she chanted in a megaphone.
The Sulaliyyates, as the women are known, began their protests 10 years ago and have since assembled a powerful grass-roots organization fighting not only for the tribal lands but for equal ownership rights in a country where women, by law, inherit less than men.

“This is really the first movement that is shaking the patriarchal foundation of the society,” says Zakia Salime, an associate professor at Rutgers University who has extensively studied the movement. “They are saying no, you cannot give land to men, and they are asking also that, in case you privatize the land, we need to have our equal share.”

This is all happening against a backdrop of economic and social change in Morocco that figures prominently in the women’s movement.

The Kremlin Connection, François Fillon's Sinking Ship (part 1)

Morocco Said to Ban Sale of Burqas, Citing Security Concerns

CASABLANCA, Morocco — Morocco has banned the burqa, the full-body veil worn by some conservative Muslim women, according to local media reports.

Although the government did not confirm the ban, the reports said vendors and merchants had been notified on Monday by representatives of the Interior Ministry that they would no longer be allowed to sell or manufacture the religious garment because of security concerns. They said they were given a 48-hour deadline, but it was unclear when the rule would take effect.

Morocco, a majority-Muslim country and former French protectorate where the influence of Western secularist ideals remains, has been trying to foster more moderate expressions of Islam and subtly warn Islamists not to go too far, though acts of extremism remain rare.

The government of King Mohammed VI may have conceived the ban as a gesture to get that point across. Relatively few Moroccan women wear the burqa, which is much more common in conservative Muslim societies like Afghanistan and Pakistan, but many do wear traditional dresses and head scarves. In any case, by targeting people who sell and produce the burqas, there is less risk of a public outcry, like the one in France last summer after the government banned the burkini, a full-body swimsuit favored by some Muslim women.

Le360, a news site close to the Moroccan Interior Ministry, quoted an unidentified ministry official who confirmed the ban on the sale of the garment, which is often blue and covers the head. The official did not confirm whether the ban would be extended to wearing the burqa.

The Interior Ministry did not respond to requests for comment. It also has not yet published an official statement on the specifics of the ban, and it is unclear what kind of religious full-body veils have been specifically targeted. Morocco’s official religious authorities have not taken a position on the issue.

Hammad Kabbadj, a conservative preacher and member of the Justice and Development Party who was not allowed to run in last fall’s legislative elections in which his party prevailed because he was deemed too “extremist,” denounced the ban on Facebook.

He said he thought the ban was meant to create tensions that would ultimately hurt his party, which has been trying unsuccessfully to form a coalition government since October.

“It is unacceptable,” he wrote. “It’s a perverted behavior by the public authorities.”

The ban has spurred a fierce debate between Moroccans who see the move as repressing the religious freedom of women and those who applaud it as a liberation for women.

“I am against the culture of banning in principle,” Ali Anouzla, a Moroccan journalist, said on his Facebook page. “But just to be clear, the Interior Ministry didn’t ban the hijab or niqab but banned the burqa, and the burqa isn’t part of Morocco’s culture.”

Stephanie Willman Bordat, a founding partner at Mobilizing for Rights Associates, a Morocco-based nongovernmental organization, said many Moroccans saw the burqa as a neocolonial import from the Gulf states.
“Obviously the government’s interest is first and foremost security rather than women’s rights,” she said. “It’s unsurprising given the current security context and the concern the government has with maintaining security and stability and cracking down on the terrorists’ networks.”

Farah Chérif D’Ouezzan, the founder of the Center for Cross Cultural Learning in Rabat and an expert in comparative religion with a focus on women and Islam, said that there was a great deal of confusion and that a confirmed ban would be difficult to implement.

“If it is true that there is a ban, to me, the ban is justified for security reasons,” she said. “But at the same time, there is not evidence for associating the burqa with security threats. I would like to know how many people they have arrested.”

“I believe that men or women should have the right to choose how to dress,” she added. “The number of women who wear the burqa in this country is still insignificant.”

Article on the New York Times' site

Morocco Says Crushing of Vendor in Garbage Truck Was Homicide

MARRAKESH, Morocco — Moroccan officials on Tuesday called the death of a fish vendor who was crushed in a garbage truck an involuntary homicide, and said that 11 people would be brought before the courts as part of a criminal investigation.

The vendor, Mouhcine Fikri, 31, was killed on Friday after he jumped into the compactor at the back of the truck to recover his swordfish, which the police had confiscated because the fish is a protected species. Cities in Morocco have since been consumed by protests, by some estimates the largest in years.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mohamed Aqwir, the public prosecutor for Al Hoceima, the northern port city where the death occurred, said that a preliminary investigation had established that there was no order to kill or harm Mr. Fikri.

The statement offered the following account of his death.

Mr. Fikri had bought 500 kilograms, or 1,100 pounds, of swordfish from fishermen at Al Hoceima. The species is protected, and may not be fished between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30.

Mr. Fikri asked someone to drive the fish from the port. The vehicle was not examined when it left the port, but security officers subsequently stopped and inspected it.

A representative from the country’s Agriculture and Fishing Ministry arrived and cited the driver for violations. The police informed the prosecutor’s office, which ordered the fish confiscated and the driver detained.

A veterinarian found that the fish were unsuitable for consumption because their origin could not be documented. The fish were ordered destroyed, and officials summoned the garbage truck to carry out the task.

The operator of the truck requested a formal order before destroying the fish. The officials delivered such an order to the head of the company, but that document turned out to be a forgery, investigators found.

As the truck was loaded, Mr. Fikri and several friends climbed into the back to save their merchandise.

“At that moment, the compactor began running, following the activation of machinery on the rear right side of the truck, which caused the death of the deceased, Mouhcine Fikri,” the statement said.
It was not clear how the compactor was activated. The prosecutor’s office concluded that the death was an “involuntary homicide.”

Investigators interviewed 20 people over three days, and referred 11 of them to the courts; eight people were detained.

The government’s account of the death could not be independently verified.

Since Sunday, thousands have taken part in protests, demanding that those responsible be held accountable for Mr. Fikri’s death. The city hall of Al Hoceima has been the site of raucous protests.
Facebook Live videos showed hundreds of people in the city’s main square, shouting, “Down with the Makhzen,” a word that refers to the political system in Morocco, which is a constitutional monarchy.

In 2011, as uprisings swept the Arab world, Moroccans agitated for democracy and social justice, though almost none for an overthrow of the monarchy. King Mohammed VI introduced constitutional changes in response to the protests, but some critics have called them inadequate.

“Since 2011, people are no longer afraid,” said Abdelhak El Amrani, 26, who attended a protest in Marrakesh on Sunday. “Moroccans today are alert to what hurts their dignity. The serenity of the social climate will never be guaranteed without the rule of law. No justice has been rendered. Today, deep wounds have opened.”

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

Morocco's Al-Hoceima protests reflect 'a heavy legacy'

Marrakesh - Moroccans protesting over the gruesome death of a fish seller have vowed to continue demonstrating until the full truth surrounding his death is known.

Mouhcine Fikri, 31, was crushed to death in a rubbish truck on Friday, as he reportedly tried to protest against a municipal worker seizing and destroying his wares.

"We want them [the authorities] to know that the children of this region want to end the oppression," said Faysal Awssal, a member of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights.

"People here want respect for the people of Al-Hoceima. People are [politically] aware. We want an investigation that determines what happens," he told Al Jazeera in a phone interview.

Nourredine el-Maalem, 47, another activist in Al-Hoceima, said that people were not only demanding a thorough investigation that will bring justice to Fikri, but also a change that will prevent these things from happening in the future.

"The city is still very sad," he told Al Jazeera. "People are demanding the truth and the prosecution of those responsible for the death of the martyr Mouhcine Fikri."

Last Friday evening, police had confiscated all of Fikri's merchandise - about $11,000 worth of swordfish, according to media reports - a species protected in Morocco. Moments later, Fikri and his friends tried to retrieve as much of the fish as they could.

In a video recorded by a mobile phone that went viral over the weekend, his friends are seen jumping out of the lorry. Fikri, who was slightly heavier and less agile, remained stuck inside and was crushed by the grinding mechanism of the truck.

A photo of his lifeless body inspired outrage nationwide.

While it is still not clear what exactly happened or who activated the machine that ended Fikri's life, protests were held all over the country to demand the prosecution of those responsible for the tragedy - widely seen as an act of police brutality and oppression.

Moroccan authorities did not intervene during the protest, letting people express their outrage as Fikri's death was compared by many observers with the fate of Mohammed Bouazizi, the street vendor whose death sparked the Tunisian revolution in 2011.

Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane called on Moroccans to end the protests. Many political parties, such as the Authenticity and Development Party, close to the palace, demanded in a statement a thorough and speedy investigation.

The Moroccan Interior Minister, who presented his condolences to the family in person, also sided with the protesters. "Our King doesn't want such incidents to recur in our country," he said in a statement. "The investigation will make sure people are held accountable."

Still, people of Al-Hoceima continued demonstrating on Monday - a day after thousands of people took part in the funeral procession for Fikri - hoping to press for justice.

A Facebook live video showed hundreds of protesters on one of the main squares of the city chanting "Mouhcine is a Martyr" and "Down with the Makhzen", referring to the system of power in Morocco.

In 2011, when protests swept the Arab world, Moroccans also took to the streets. Demonstrations, led by the February 20 movement, demanded more social justice and more freedoms but never called for a regime change.

King Mohammed VI quickly responded by pushing for a new constitution that was passed after a referendum. A few years on, the country is still facing most of the problems that sparked the demands for change.

Some fear that Fikri's death will ignite a new wave of protest in Morocco. Fikri's father told the Moroccan news site Hespress that the country's stability was most important to his family. 

On Monday, shops in the city reopened and people went back to work. Students, however, did not go to school and gathered on one of the city's main squares during a sit-in that lasted hours.

Located in the north of Morocco, the Rif region has always had a complicated history with the monarchy, marked by a violent rebellion in the late 1950s that attempted to get its independence from the rest of Morocco.

The Rif region, from where one of the most emblematic Moroccan leaders, Abdelkarim Khettabi, hails, has always been difficult to tame. In 1958, Hassan II, who was the 29-year-old crown prince at the time, crushed a rebellion by the Rifian Berbers in the north and severely punished leaders of the upheaval. During his reign, he neglected the region in terms of economic developments, leaving it lacking in infrastructure and access to services available in the rest of the kingdom. When Mohammed VI became king in 1999, one of his major projects was to open up the region, and many tourism and development projects were subsequently launched.

"The Rif has been structurally and symbolically severed from the rest of other regions in Morocco," said Abdeslam Maghraoui, a Duke University political scientist and North Africa expert. "Language, geography, and the quest for some political autonomy has a lot to do with it."

Maghraoui described King Hassan's policies towards the Rif as neglectful, if not hostile. 

"King Mohammed VI's more personal and conciliatory touch didn't change the deep structural problems. Today's tensions reflect this heavy legacy."

You can read the story on the Al Jazeera English website

Protests Erupt in Morocco Over Fish Vendor’s Death in Garbage Compactor

MARRAKESH, Morocco — Protests erupted across Morocco over the weekend after the death of a fish vendor who, according to witnesses, was crushed by a compactor after he jumped into a garbage truck to retrieve his merchandise.

Grainy images of the man, identified in news accounts as Mouhcine Fikri, 31, circulated after his death on Friday night, in the northern port city of Hoceima. The city immediately erupted in protests, which spread on Sunday to cities like Marrakesh and Rabat, the capital.

King Mohammed VI of Morocco ordered the Interior Ministry to conduct “a careful and thorough investigation,” and to bring charges against anyone who had broken the law, the state-run Maghreb Arabe Presse news agency reported on Sunday.

According to news accounts, Mr. Fikri and several friends dived into the garbage truck after the authorities confiscated his merchandise, around $11,000 worth of swordfish, a protected species in Morocco. As the compactor started operating — it was not clear how or why — the friends jumped out, but Mr. Fikri was stuck inside.

A witness cited by local news reports said he had heard one of the police officers involved in the episode ask for the trash compactor to be activated to scare away the men, who had surrounded the truck. According to the news reports, officials described the death as an accident.

In a statement, the Moroccan interior minister, Mohamed Hassad, promised a thorough investigation that “will make sure people are held accountable.”

On Sunday, thousands of men marched on a hill above the Mediterranean Sea behind Mr. Fikri’s coffin.

“Don’t forget us. Don’t forget Al Hoceima,” one of the people taking part in the funeral march could be heard saying on a Facebook video of the event.

Many shops in Hoceima were closed in solidarity with Mr. Fikri’s family.

Mr. Fikri’s death had the potential to become a volatile and potent symbol. The death of Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor in Tunisia who set himself on fire in December 2010, became a catalyst for the pro-democracy and other protests that came to be known as the Arab Spring.

Mounir Agueznay, a human-rights activist from the area around Hoceima, said that while news reports were emphasizing the political dimensions of the tragedy, the protesters were seeking only justice, not the destabilization of Morocco.

“Authorities are nowhere to be seen,” Mr. Agueznay, 30, said by phone. “They are letting the protesters do whatever they want.

“People are very aware about these matters,” he continued. “After the funeral, they plan to peacefully protest. They want to pressure the authorities so this never happens again. Tomorrow, it could happen to me or anyone else.”

The Party of Authenticity and Modernity, a political party founded by an adviser to the king, called for a speedy investigation, while Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, who leads the Justice and Development Party, a moderate Islamist group, appealed for calm.

Hoceima is part of a mountainous region of Morocco, the Rif, that has had a rebellious history with the monarchy. The Berber population in the region waged war against Spain, then Morocco’s colonial ruler, in the 1920s, and the Rif was home to a violent rebellion against the monarchy in the late 1950s, shortly after Morocco won independence.

The region is poor and isolated, but has started to get more attention from the government in recent years. Hoceima has become one of the favored vacation spots, and has been home to several tourism and development projects.

Story one the New York Times' website.

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.