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

Trumped by outsiders: Uncertain Iowa caucuses kick off US primaries (par...

Al Qaeda Killed My Friend

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.

"We Just Want to Go To England"

I spent a few days reporting in northern France on the refugee crisis. I wrote a guest post on the Florence of Arabia Blog:


Beautiful Documentary on Syrian the Refugee Crisis

A very sweet documentary, with a beautiful cast of people (Syrians and Tourists who meet in Lesvos) that tells the stories of hope and sadness of Syrians trying to reach Europe. 

Synopsis: Every summer many European tourists travel to the Greek island Lesbos for a sunny holiday. This year thousands of refugees crossed the sea from Turkey and arrived on the island as well, looking for a safe haven in the European Union. Filmmakers Philip Brink and Marieke van der Velden invited tourists and refugees to talk one another about life while sitting on a little bench overlooking the sea. The result is a short documentary with conversations of war, fleeing, home, work, love, but also cars and pets. It's an ode to humanism and shows what happens when we take time to sit down and talk with each other in stead of about each other. (23 min)

You can watch here: http://www.theislandofalltogether.com

Moroccan medical students decry working conditions

Rabat, Morocco - Moroccan medical students have defeated a government plan that would have required them to spend two years in a civil service programme after graduation, but concerns persist about the state of the country's healthcare system.

After months of protests, striking students signed an agreement this month with the health and higher education ministries that abandoned the mandatory civil service programme, which would have required them to work for two years in an area designated by the state - most likely an under-serviced region. The government promised to work out a new programme that integrated students' feedback.

But the proposed programme has drawn attention to Morocco's troubled healthcare system. In September, hundreds of students from across the country, clad in white lab coats, clustered on the boulevard in front of parliament in the capital Rabat. Protesters belted out slogans such as "no to obligation, no to slavery".

Soukaina Sakab, 23, a sixth-year general medicine student at the Faculte de Medecine et de Pharmacie de Rabat, said she thought the civil service programme should be voluntary instead: "We can accept that. People are going to be very willing to do this type of work. Personally, I am willing to go tomorrow."

"It was a favourable deal for the state but not for doctors," added Anas Oulmidi, 27, a member of the National Coalition Movement of Medical Interns and Residents and an ophthalmologist based in Marrakesh. "We are asking the state to reconsider the place it gives to the dignity of doctors."

The programme aimed to remedy the lack of access to healthcare in Morocco's rural regions. Nearly half of the country's doctors are concentrated in Rabat and Casablanca, although these regions are home to just one-third of Morocco's population.

The government's annual healthcare spending averages just $64 per person in Morocco, compared with $183 in Tunisia and $233 in Algeria, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The North African kingdom has just 1.5 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants, while the WHO advises a minimum of 2.5.
The protesting medical students argued that not enough of the funds spent on healthcare go towards improving infrastructure and providing patients with basic resources.

Oulmidi said medical students have been silent for too long, leading to low wages and a lack of equipment and medicine in teaching hospitals. Medical school is free in Morocco, but Oulmidi said students pay the country back by working and paying taxes.

Doctors who work for the state in Morocco make between 3,000 and 10,000 dirhams ($300 to $1,000) per month, while the country's minimum wage is 2,500 dirhams. 

"It was a populist project based on the lie that doctors refuse to go to remote regions," Oulmidi said about the proposed civil service bill. "The problem is that the government is not recruiting enough doctors to answer the country's needs."

Some Moroccans in rural areas were not pleased with the plan either. In a village near the town of Ouazzane in northern Morocco, Asmae Fahmi, 21, said she was not keen on having student doctors sent to fill the void.

"We need more hospitals. We need specialists, not just general medicine students. We need medical materials," she said. "Ouazzane doesn't have any of that. No specialists, no good doctors and no hospitals."

Minister of Higher Education Lahcen Daoudi declined Al Jazeera's request for comment. Minister of Health Houssaine Louardi could not be reached for comment, despite several requests.

In a televised speech in parliament following the agreement with the students, Louardi stood by the necessity of sending doctors to remote areas of the country, despite the new agreement scrapping the compulsory programme.

"The compulsory service will give students two years to consider options," he said. "It will allow to not have 45 percent of doctors concentrated in one area. It will also allow to reopen all the medical dispensaries that are closed."

Louardi maintained that doctors are reasonably paid, and that the two years of mandatory service were intended to provide them with training. "Those [doctors] who are sent there will get adequate wages," he said. "We will take our time to negotiate. Nothing will be decided until we all agree. We welcome any realistic demands."

While Morocco has made improvements in the last decade, with better health coverage and a huge drop in infant mortality, access to healthcare remains one of the country's main challenges, according to the WHO.

Mohammad Hassar, a WHO consultant and former president of the Pasteur Institute in Morocco, said the biggest issue facing Morocco's health sector is finding doctors to provide care in rural regions.

"The [minister of health] wanted to implement [the new bill] without any conversation," he said. "There is no easy solution."

Hassar believes a shorter period of mandatory service would be preferable, noting working conditions in rural medical centres must first be improved. "These people will be in the countryside without tools or medicine, and after two years they will forget what they have learned if they don't practise in good conditions."

Sakab, the medical student, said conditions in Morocco's hospitals were unacceptable.
"In our hospitals, every day people come - we know they have a heart attack because they are dying, but we can't give an EKG because it doesn't work," she said. "The CT scan doesn't work much more... It will be out for months at a time, and then work for a week. It's all very old equipment from the '70s."

Moroccan doctors say it is a challenge just to meet the basic needs of their patients.
"Yes, hospitals are free, but there is nothing. Patients even have to buy their own surgical sutures," Oulmidi said. "When I am on duty, I don't even feel fatigue, but just a very heavy emotional charge to not be able to provide the adequate care."

Although the students have returned to class, medical interns and residents remain on strike to protest against what they describe as low wages and decrepit conditions in Morocco's hospitals.

The article is available here. 

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Q&A: The gender imbalance in Moroccan politics

By Aida Alami

Rabat - Nabila Mounib, 55, is the first woman to lead a major political party in Morocco. In January 2012, she was elected secretary-general of the Unified Socialist Party, a secular and socialist party created in 2005. A lifetime political activist and advocate for women's rights, Mounib also teaches biology and endocrinology at University of Hassan II in Casablanca. 

When protests demanding change broke out in Morocco in 2011, Mounib was among the people who demonstrated to ask for a parliamentary monarchy. During the 2011 constitutional referendum that followed, she called for the boycott of the vote because she believed the constitution did not offer enough separation of powers. Over the years, she has remained a vocal critic of the Moroccan regime. 

Mounib recently received much media attention when some questioned her legitimacy to lead a delegation to Sweden to negotiate a diplomatic rift between Sweden and Morocco over the Western Sahara. In Morocco's recent provincial elections, the first time Mounib ran, she did not win in her district but her coalition made gains.

Al Jazeera spoke with Mounib about her career and the challenges of being Morocco's first female political party leader.

Al Jazeera: As a woman, what hurdles stood in the way of you becoming a politician in Morocco?

Nabila Mounib: I did not become the head of the Unified Socialist Party overnight. I had been involved in politics since I was a student, and I have been running campaigns for decades.
When I attended the university to study science, I was elected to the student council. Throughout my career, I was a member of different committees and organisations, and I was a union representative for many years in Casablanca. In the 2000s, I was a coordinator of foreign affairs for my party, which is what gave me experience in understanding conflicts.

Al Jazeera: How would you describe the level of women's influence inside the party?

Mounib: I belong to a leftist party, which has always been avant-garde in defending women's rights in Morocco. The party has always defended these rights fiercely, every time there was an opportunity, and has participated in all the struggles to advance them.
In 2003, we worked hard to get one million signatures to change the family code [regulating all matters pertaining to family life, such as marriage and divorce]. The party has always advocated to integrate women in the country's development. I inherited this legacy and the natural outcome of this journey was to elect a woman to lead the party.

Al Jazeera: How would you assess the role of female activists in the political landscape in Morocco, and what obstacles stand in the way of having more women represented in politics in Morocco?

Mounib: Women's participation in politics in Morocco is unfortunately very low, and it's a very regrettable fact. It is due to a number of factors: one is that we are not a democratic country. There isn't a full sense of citizenship yet. Women suffer, and not only from poverty, but also from what comes with living in a patriarchal and sexist society. Women have to do 10 things at the same time, which doesn't leave much time for getting involved in politics.
Politics is also a rotten game, which doesn't make it attractive to women and youth. There is also a huge deficit in education... The media are also responsible because they perpetuate mediocrity. That is why we need a democratic system, where institutions can be held accountable by the people.

Al Jazeera: As a member of the February 20 movement, can you talk about how the movement came about, and what has become of it now?

Mounib: The February 20 movement started in Morocco at the same time as the revolutions that swept the Arab world. Young Moroccans showed that they had political consciousness. At the Unified Socialist Party, we agreed with the 20 points they demanded, which included asking for a parliamentary monarchy and for the release of political prisoners. Unfortunately, other leftist parties did not support the movement and aligned themselves with the system in place.
Today, thanks to the February 20 movement, discussion around the constitution has been reopened, although it is not the constitution that we had been waiting for. It is really thanks to them and to nobody else.
Today, after four years, the movement has weakened - I hope only to return in another form. These young people want what is best for their country... There are demonstrations every day in Morocco. People are demanding the implementation of rule of law and for their country to have a credible state. There are really interesting things in the works.

Al Jazeera: What are the most important sociopolitical issues that Morocco needs to tackle?

Mounib: The short-term plan is to make the left stronger. Something interesting happened at the last communal elections: big personalities who led regional councils were voted out of office. We are observing a rise of consciousness. People are starting to realise that an alternative project is possible.
Our party allied itself with other groups with similar political leanings, and we worked very hard at rallying behind us people who believed in the same global democratic project. We constituted the Federation of the Democratic Left and worked hard to reassure people that their vote could make a difference.
Our project is not limited to forming the federation. We want to offer something else to Moroccans. We are advocating for a democratic transition of our political system that will lead to implementing a parliamentary monarchy with a real separation of powers. Our focus will be to push for a system where people's rights are respected. We are also pushing for the release of political prisoners and for gender equality.

You can read the story on the Al Jazeera English website