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Friday Couscous: Morocco’s Most Valued Tradition

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Rabat – Couscous is also a traditional meal in Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, and Libya, and North African Jews also brought the dish to Israel. Throughout Europe and North America, instant couscous, which is pre-steamed and dried, has found widespread popularity as a healthier alternative to rice and pasta. 

While the origins of the dish are disputed, most sources point to the Imazighen, who are the indigenous people of North Africa. After Islam reached the Maghreb in the 7th century, eating couscous after Friday midday prayers gradually became an authentic Moroccan tradition. Couscous has been a staple in the North African diet for centuries, and remains so today.   

The various “couscous wars” over the true genesis of the dish point to the importance of couscous in the national heritage of the Maghreb and beyond. Most notably, Morocco and Algeria tend to quarrel for recognition of ownership over the dish. 

Read Also: The Diplomacy of Couscous in the Maghreb

Despite this dissent, couscous truly belongs to no one and everyone—its cultural significance cannot be confined to modern conceptions of borders and nations. 

Just as the history of the Amaizgh people cannot be bound to a single bordered territory, the cultural legacies of North Africa’s natives trespass contemporary political and social spaces.  

In Morocco, Friday couscous constitutes more than just a nice meal. In this communal society, the tradition is especially valuable as it provides regular opportunities for families to gather. 

“The taste of couscous reminds me of my family,” says a 22-year-old man from Rabat. “Fridays aren’t complete without it.”

On Fridays in Morocco, children and teens have the afternoon off from school, and many businesses and offices close for a few hours to allow employees to enjoy the meal–some workers even get the whole day off. Not everyone stops working, of course, but the streets become rather empty as Muslims head to the mosque for prayers.    

When prayers are over, the calm abruptly ends. The unlucky drivers that happen to be passing by a mosque after the final sala inevitably get stuck in a swarm of worshippers heading home or stopping to pick up dessert at the fruit carts that gather around mosques during prayer.

As soon as everyone arrives at home, the meal is served. Couscous can be rolled into balls and eaten by hand or with a spoon. Regardless of one’s personal method, proper couscous etiquette includes washing your hands thoroughly before eating and sticking to your own section. 

After the meal, families snack on fruit, take naps, lounge, and chat at home for hours. Most will venture out to a cafe to meet with friends, run some errands, pray again, and then return home for tea time between five and seven. Others have to go back to work, but not until a few hours after eating.  

Moroccan couscous has come to be associated with the country’s renowned hospitality. The meal has been enjoyed by tourists and travelers for decades, and even celebrities and public figures have declared their love for the traditional meal. 

Spending a Friday in Morocco is the best way to experience first-hand the country’s mouth-watering cuisine, as well as the more casual side of the country’s variable atmosphere.

Apart from the post-prayer rush from the mosques, Fridays in Morocco are rather calm–that is, until the souks, streets, and other social spaces come alive after the sun goes down. 

Although Friday is not an official day of the weekend in Morocco like it is in other Muslim countries, relaxation, for many, begins after enjoying a generous heap of couscous.  

Morocco

Spanish Ports Expect 1 Million Passengers From Morocco in September

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Rabat – With the end of summer vacation around the corner, one million passengers are expected to leave Morocco for Spain before September 15.

Spanish news outlet Diario de Sevilla reported on August 20 that Spanish ports, will see the vast majority of travelers crossing into Spain. Spanish police have reinforced checkpoints in Algeciras and Tarifa in preparation for the inflix.

Lucrecio Fernandez, Government delegate in Andalusia   isited the Algeciras port, its the civil protection service center , and health services. A delegation from Morocco’s Mohammed V Foundation for solidarity is ready at the port to help passengers. 

Fernandez called the port’s preparation to receive travelers “a well oiled machine.”

Read Also: Marhaba 2019: Tangier-Med Port Records New Diaspora Arrival Peak

As of Monday, August 20, 589,262 people in 133,228 vehicles have already returned to Europe via Spain, Fernandez said. She explained that 70% have arrived in Algeciras from Ceuta and Tanger-Med or in Tarifa from Tanger-Ville.

Diario de Sevilla said that the number of passenger arrivals this year is higher than the same period in 2018, representing an increase of 8.2 % of passengers and 9.8 % of vehicles.

The news outlet added that with the end of theEid Al Adha holiday,  Spanish ports are expected to see the peak of passenger arrivals from August 20 to September 2.

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Bank Al Maghrib Releases Commemorative Banknote for 20th Anniversary of Throne Day

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Rabat – On Wednesday, August 21, Morocco’s Bank Al Maghrib announced the release of a commemorative banknote  of MAD 20. The banknote’s release celebrates the 20th anniversary of the King Mohammed VI accession to the throne.

Morocco celebrated Throne Day on July 31.

The central bank said that the new banknote is “characterized by a vertical design, which carries a photo of King Mohammed VI.”

The back of the notebank includes drawings of some of the major projects completed under the leadership of the King, such as the “Mohammed VI” bridge, the solar power plant Noor II in Ouarzazate, the Mohammed VI satellite, and the high speed train, Al Buraq.

The achievements, according to the statement,  represent “different aspects of a contemporary Morocco committed to taking the path of progress.”

“At least 10 robust security elements were included on both interfaces, most notably microscopic texts and anti-scanning patterns that were inserted in different parts of the paper,” the bank said. Bank Al Maghrib said that the security elements aim to protect the banknote from counterfeiting.

The bank said that it will issue a limited number of the MAD 20 commemorative banknotes in September 2019.

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The ‘Green Morocco’ Plan Strengthens Localized Irrigation

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Rabat – The “Green Morocco” Plan (PMV), the infrastructure program for Morocco’s primary sector, agriculture, has already reached the majority of the objectives set by the government for completion before 2020.

In 2016, the plan exceeded a million hectares of land planted with olive trees. By the end of 2018, it achieved several other objectives such as the production of cereals and fruit trees.

The summer of 2019 marked a new achievement, the strengthening of localized irrigation. 

This objective is one of the three major components of the Irrigation Strategy developed in the framework of the PMV, alongside the promotion of public-private partnerships and the extension of irrigated areas.

Irrigation Strategy 

The National Program of Water Economy in Irrigation (PNEEI) is part of the PMV. Its objective is to equip, in localized irrigation, nearly 50% of the total agricultural area across Morocco.

It aims to reduce water stress, considered as the main limiting factor to the improvement of agricultural productivity.

The PNEEI program consists of a massive shift from surface and sprinkler irrigation to localized irrigation, over an area of nearly 550,000 hectares for a period of 10 years. 

This means an average equipment rate of nearly 55,000 ha/year.

The strategy’s development witnessed a period of stagnation in 2018 when fewer than 10,000 hectares were newly equipped, while the annual average between 2008 and 2017 was 40,000 hectares.

At the beginning of 2019, however, the total area equipped with localized irrigation increased, exceeding 550,000 hectares, the initial objective of the strategy.

“Green Morocco” Plan

Moroccan agriculture developed considerably thanks to the “Green Morocco” plan, inaugurated by King Mohammed VI in April 2008.

The PMV project aims to make agriculture one of the first sectors of productive development and to modernize it. It also intends to promote agricultural investment, ensure food security, stimulate exports of agricultural products, and promote local products.

The PMV aims to transform agriculture “into a modern, value-added, high-productivity agriculture that meets the demands of the market,” says the State’s department of communication.

The plan encourages private investment and development of  Moroccan agricultural exports and industrial activities.

It also focuses on improving the living conditions of small farmers and fighting against poverty in rural areas. For this purpose, the plan relies on increasing agricultural incomes in the most vulnerable areas and promoting solidarity farming through farmers’ cooperatives throughout Morocco.

Since its creation, the PMV  has largely contributed to the creation of agricultural cooperatives in various branches of agriculture.

It has also developed cooperation between the State and the professionals of agriculture through livestock improvement projects, intensifying agricultural mechanization, and managing the water economy.

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Paleontologists Discover Oldest Ever Stegosaur Bones in Morocco

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Rabat – Paleontologists from the UK’s National History Museum, in collaboration with their Moroccan counterparts, have discovered a new species of stegosaurian dinosaur.

Not only is it the oldest definite stegosaur ever found, estimated to be 168 million years old, but it is also the first stegosaur to be found in North Africa. Previously, stegosaurs have been found in North America, Asia, and Europe.

The species has been named Adratiklit boulahfa, a tribute to Morocco. The name is derived from the Berber words for mountain (Adras) and lizard (tiklit). Boulahfa refers to the mountain where the specimen was found, in Morocco’s Middle Atlas.

The study was led by Dr. Susannah Maidment, a dinosaur expert at the museum. “The discovery of A. boulahfa is particularly exciting as we have dated it to the Middle Jurassic,” said Dr. Maidment in a statement from the museum.

“Most known stegosaurus date from later in the Jurassic Period, making this the oldest definite stegosaur described and helping to increase our understanding of the evolution of this group of dinosaurs.”

The landmark discovery could possibly lead to even further revelations for paleontologists, as more dinosaurs bones could be uncovered.

“What is exciting about this is that there could be many more armored dinosaurs to find in places that until now have not been excavated,” added Dr. Maidment.

Read also: Ministry of Culture Continues Excavation on Dar El Baroud Site in Sale

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Western Sahara and Alhurra TV’s Affront to the Moroccan People

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Washington D.C. – The timing of the interview was a shock for viewers. That the video was aired on the day that Moroccans were celebrating the 66th anniversary of the King and the People’s Revolution, was an affront to Morocco and its people.

August 20, 1953, holds a special importance in the hearts of the Moroccan people.  It signaled a major shift in Moroccans’ struggle against the French protectorate, and by extension against the Spanish in northern and southern Morocco, including in Western Sahara.

The current territorial dispute would not have existed had not France and Spain signed a secret accord in October 1904.  By virtue of the agreement, Spain was given full possession and sovereignty over a large swath of southern Morocco, including Western Sahara. This historical fact has been systematically overlooked in the traditional narrative about the conflict. 

By airing an interview with the leader of a separatist movement- which has been used for four decades as a proxy by Algeria to stymie Morocco’s ambitions to complete its territorial integrity- Alhurra TV has shown clear bias in its reporting about the conflict, and a total disregard for the feelings of millions of Moroccans. 

What raises even more questions about the rationale behind such an interview is that it comes during a period of stagnation. There have been no major developments in the conflict in recent months. Since the Security Council adopted Resolution 2468, there has been zero progress in the political process. More still, the chances of seeing significant progress in the foreseeable future are very slim, following the resignation of now former UN envoy to the Western Sahara, Horst Kohler, in May. 

The only developments to take place in the region in recent months are the series of arrests that the Polisario has made against its political opponents and the hunger strikes that many political prisoners in the Tindouf camps have been observing over the past three months. 

Read Also: Solution to Western Sahara Requires More Than American Political Will

Casting Morocco as the villain

Against this backdrop, the intention and the agenda of the interview was clear-cut. It was a thinly veiled opportunity for  Ghali to appear as a respectable leader and the head of genuine liberation movement. Speaking to the journalist, he styled himself as the advocate of a people who have been victimized by a country intent on perpetuating their suffering in the Tindouf camps. It was, then, not surprising to see a one-sided interview where the interlocutor was given free rein to lash out at,  and demonize its adversary . 

Ghali could not have dreamed of a better opportunity, especially in the regional and international context in which the interview was aired. The Polisario  has been losing steam in recent years and has suffered a number of setbacks. Among them, the recent report of the UN Secretary General and subsequent resolution of the Security Council, which ended the myth of “liberated territories,” long propagated by the Polisario. In the same vein, the Security Council is progressively moving towards considering Algeria fully-fledged party  to the conflict. 

Meanwhile, many countries that previously recognized the self-styled Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), have either suspended or withdrawn their recognition. Malawai, Panama, Haiti, Paraguay, Mauritius, Barbados, El Salvador,  Zambia, and Suriname are among a long of list of countries that have withdrawn their recognition of the self-proclaimed SADR. 

In addition, the Polisario has been beset by a growing protest movement in the Tindouf camps, with an ever increasing number of Saharawis questioning its leadership. To top it all, there have been a number of reports, such as the recent report in the Wall Street Journal, suggesting that the US opposes the establishment of a new state in southern Morocco. The former Mauritanian President, Mohamed Ouled Abdel Aziz spoke along the same lines earlier this year when he told Palestinian journalist Abdelbari Atwane that neither the US nor the EU are in favor of the creation of a state between Morocco and Mauritania.

Soft-ball journalism

It was appalling to see the journalists asking the Polisario leader easy questions to which he responded in the same way as Polisario leaders have always done: that the Saharawis have been the victims of Morocco’s expansionist agenda. He argued that the Saharawis have nothing to do with Morocco and would never accept the option of autonomy, because they are not Moroccans. He gave the predictable answer that Morocco is the main party to blame for the deadlock in the political process because it has persisted in its attempts to prevent the holding of a referendum of self-determination to allow the Saharawis to decide their fate.

Simply put, the Polisario leader was given a golden opportunity to question Morocco’s commitment to the UN political process and to dismiss Morocco as a “regime” that has been lying to its population and the international community “to the point that it starts believing its lies.” Ghali, who took on the mantle of a head of state, went as far as describing Morocco as an “undisciplined” member of the African Union, who seeks to create problems, instead of working towards advancing the AU development, security and prosperity agenda. 

Had the Polisario leader been in front of an impartial, professional and truth-seeking journalist who sought to provide the audience with even-handed views about the matter at hand, the journalist would have challenged Ghali. For example, he would have told him that, contrary to his allegations, Morocco plays a leading role in the development agenda in the AU by being one of the leading foreign investors on the continent. 

A true, impartial journalist would also have told Ghali that Morocco plays a prominent role in guaranteeing food security in Africa. This role was lauded only last week by Nigerian Muhamady Bouhari who tweeted his praise for Morocco’s role in bringing Nigerian agriculture to a higher level.

Morocco’s goal in ensuring food security across the continent is poised to grow in the future through the many agreements it has signed with African countries, including Nigeria and Ethiopia, where Office Cherifien of Phosphate will build multi-billion-dollar fertilizer plants. 

Read Also: David Keene: Influential Lobbyist & Faux Humanitarian

Had the journalist’s main aim, and the interview’s main goal been to enlighten the audience about the multifaceted aspects of the conflict, and Morocco’s growing role as heavyweight in Africa, he would have mentioned the leading role Morocco has played over the past six years in speaking about migration on behalf of Africa in international forums, and calling on the international community to shoulder its responsibility in helping Sub-Saharan Africa cope with the issue of undocumented immigration. 

While Algeria has been accused of dumping thousands of African immigrants in the desert, and an Algerian minister even accused the immigrants of causing the transmission of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, Morocco has launched two campaigns to regularize the situation of undocumented immigrants. More than 50,000 Sub-Saharan immigrants benefited from these two campaigns, turning Morocco into the first north African country to take such a measure.

At the regional and global level, Morocco has also been at the forefront of the fight against terrorism. Morocco’s anti-extremism initiatives include the  spread of the noble values of Islam through education. For example, over the past four years, Morocco has trained more than 3,000 imams from several African countries

All these facts refute the allegations that Ghali made against Morocco, but the interviewing journalist was not interested in providing an honest and impartial report to Alhurra’s viewers.   

Additionally, at no point did the journalist try to interrupt Ghali or challenge him with hard or embarrassing questions, or even facts that contradict his allegations. No questions were asked about the reasons behind the Polisario and Algeria’s refusal to allow the UNHCR to conduct a census of the population in the Tindouf camps. Neither did the journalist try to challenge Ghali’s claim that the Saharawis are not Moroccans by pointing out that many founding members of the Polisario, such as Bashir Dkhil, Brahim Khalil, Omar Hadrami, defected and returned to Morocco over a decade ago, and have since denounced Algeria’s hijacking of the Polisario. 

No questions were posed either about the series of human rights abuses the Polisario has committed in recent months against political opponents, nor its heavy-handed policy to stifle dissent in the Tindouf camps. Human Rights Watch denounced these violations in a report it released last month. 

In the report, HRW called on the Polisario to free three detainees, who were arrested and jailed without due process. Polisario detained the three activists for simply denouncing “absence of dialogue” and the “lack of alternatives to repression”. They also also said Polisario’s “corrupt leadership” was “trembling [in reaction] to what is happening to their masters in Algeria” and demanded that the Polisario show more willingness to engage with Morocco to find a solution to the conflict. 

Brushing evidence under the carpet

No questions were asked about Ghali’s views on the protests taking place in Algeria, and whether he fears that a democratically elected president would stop providing diplomatic political, financial, and military support to the Polisario movement. Instead the journalist chose to ask a trivial question about whether the political situation in Algeria would have any impact on the latter’s support for the Polisario. 

When the journalist asked Ghali about the reports documenting the systematic embezzlement of humanitarian aid devoted to the Tindouf camps, the Polisario leader dismissed them as mere lies “invented and propagated” by Morocco. while Ghali engaged in a tirade against Morocco, the journalist failed to interrupt him or challenge his claims by citing the report conducted by the European Union Anti-Fraud Committee, known as OLAF. 

The report was conducted between 2003 and 2005 but was only released in 2015. It documented, with irrefutable evidence, how Polisario and Algerian leaders have been misappropriating the humanitarian aid destined for the camps for the past four decades. 

The heavily redacted report gives damning and troubling details on how Algerian and Polisario officials have resorted to all sorts of schemes to enrich themselves to the detriment of the very people they claim to defend and represent. The report documents how the Polisario takes high quality donations, such as milk, to sell on the black market in Mauritania and Mali. The high quality produce, intended for the Tindouf camp’s inhabitants, is then replaced with lower quality goods. The profits of the enterprise go straight into the pockets of the Polisario leadership. 

In addition to the embezzlement schemes, the Polisario used Moroccan prisoners to build several administrative facilities and then billed international donors for the construction of the infrastructure, as if the manpower was provided by the Saharawis themselves.

Alhurra’s links with the UAE

Many Moroccans must be wondering why Alhurra TV has all of a sudden decided to shift its editorial line on the Western Sahara and give the Polisario a platform to demonize Morocco and market itself as a genuine liberation movement that has been engaged in a struggle to recover its territory. 

The interview is reminiscent of the report aired by the Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV last January, in which there was a clear pro-Polisario narrative. The common denominator of the two reports is the hidden hand of the UAE and its determination to retaliate against Morocco for not siding with the Saudi-led coalition against Qatar. 

It has become an open secret in recent months that Alhurra TV has come under the grip of the UAE through an alleged, undisclosed link between the channel’s original owners and the Middle Eastern country. For almost a year, readers and viewers of Alhurra have noticed a marked and substantial shift in the channel’s reporting about the Middle East, with the spotlight being shined on countries that don’t align with the UAE agenda. 

The vice-President of Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN), which owns Alhurra, Alhurra Iraq, Radio Sawa, Alhurra.com; RadioSawa.com; Irfaasawtak.com; MaghrebVoices.com; ElSaha.com, is none other than Jordanian Nart Bouran. Bouran previously worked for seven years as the head of the Abu-Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia. 

Immediately after his resignation from Sky News over a year ago, he set out to establish his new work team in Alhurra headquarters in Springfield, Virginia, bringing with him many of his former colleagues form Abu-Dhabi. 

That Alhurra’s editorial line shifted immediately after it was taken over by Bouran is very telling. Viewers can be left in no doubt about which country is calling the shots at Alhurra, and the agenda it is now pursuing.

With the airing of yesterday’s interview,  the new direction of Alhurra and its perspective on the Western Sahara issue were drawn into sharp focus for Morocco. This ultimate provocation to the Moroccan people is evidence that Morocco can no longer rely on the lip service that some Arab countries have paid to the kingdom’s position on Western Sahara. 

The Al Arabiya and Alhurra’s episodes demonstrate that countries which, until very recently, were thought to be indefectible Moroccan allies, are ready to strong-arm Morocco and stab it in the back if it does not follow their diktats and aligns with their agendas. The Moroccan government should take note and act accordingly to prevent any party from undermining its strategic interests, its national security, and stability.


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