Saturday, August 01, 2015

King Mohammed VI Announces 50 billion Initiative

An important initiative announced by King Mohammed VI in his Throne Day speech addresses Morocco's social disparities

In his speech the previous year the King had diagnosed the problems of slow development. Twelve months later and again on the occasion of the Throne Day, the monarch announced the launch of a major project to upgrade remote areas in the "the Atlas and Rif, arid Saharan areas and oases, as well as some villages in the plains and on the coast."

This is the second phase of the National Human Development Initiative and in this pre-election period, the King was keen to announce this project himself so as to avoid political parties claiming it in their campaigns.

The King has revealed that a study entrusted to the Ministry of Interior has identified more than 29,000 areas in 1272 towns, suffering from a deficit in "infrastructure and basic social services in both fields of education and health, as well as improvements being needed to water, electricity and rural roads". The Department of the Interior report covers areas with over 12 million citizens.

The King has announced a budget of 50 billion dirhams to continue the National Human Development Initiative.

It is an ambitious program that should last several years. Its success depends on the development by the government of a "comprehensive action plan, based on partnership between the different ministries and institutions concerned, to find the means of project financing and set a timetable accurate for their implementation, "said Mohammed VI.

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Barmaid Ban "Barmy" Say Industry Professionals

According to the Wali (Governor) of Fez, barmaids are now prohibited from serving in bars. Reaction from industry professionals to this strange decision, has been swift and fierce. They were quick to denounce the decision, which they say damages the financial health of their institutions. Others point to the fact that this amounts to unlawful sex discrimination

The decision by the Wali, Mohammed Rharrabi, has also come under fire from tourism professionals who also say that it will be detrimental to the Industry. The National Hotel Industry Federation joined in the condemnation, denouncing the Wali's intervention, saying it will damage tourism.

This decision could aggravate the crisis situation faced by industry professionals. According to Assabah newspaper, traders operating in the city of Fez are to challenge this order which in addition to prohibiting bartenders in some establishments serving alcohol, has changed the opening hours for pubs and bars in ways that risk lower sales.

If this decision causes uproar among tourism professionals in Fes, it's because they rely heavily on longer opening hours, following the transition to summer time, to attract more customers and offset the losses incurred during the month of Ramadan. One major French businessman in Fez, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the barmaid ban as "barmy, une idée folle."

According to another industry source, the Wali's order is now the subject of several meetings of tourism stakeholders in Morocco. The same source pointed out that the decision prohibiting barmaids in establishments serving alcohol simply pushes managers to dismiss or even to assign them to another function that may not be in their skill set.

Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad, for its part, denounced the discrimination of customers by some industry players but said he was not aware of the new measures decreed by the Wali.

The problem for barmaids is, sadly, not confined to Fez. In Casablanca they are now required to have a special license, a document that is not required for a male bartender. This discrimination against women forced, because of their economic conditions, to work in a bar, has, as in Fez, been condemned.

 Kacem Jdouri Jilali, President of the Association of Liquor Sellers proposes that, in the name of equality, barmaids are subject to the same working conditions as their male colleagues.

These moves may well be part of a nationwide strategy, as the Wali of Casablanca has also set new opening hours for liquor shops, bars, pubs and nightclubs.

The information originally published in the daily L'Economiste has caused consternation in professional circles. Citing a decision of the Wali of Casablanca, which repeals the opening hours legislation of1978, the newspaper reports that grocery stores and supermarkets can sell alcohol between 11am and 7pm. Bars not attached to a hotel can open from 11am an hours to 11pm, and the hotels bars 11am to midnightRestaurants without floor shows can serve alcohol from 11 am to 1 am, while restaurants with entertainment can serve alcohol until 3am. Cabarets and night clubs themselves are allowed to serve alcoholic beverages to 10:00 p.m. to 3:00 am.

Changed opening hours for liquor sales

Liquor traders also want to be able to automatically add one more hour after the switch to daylight saving time rather than obtaining a special permission, something that often take several weeks. This procedure paved the way for inexplicable decisions. Some shopkeepers or bar owners were given favourable treatment, while others found themselves refused.

Kacem Jdouri Jilali, says the treatment of retailers by authorities illustrates the hypocrisy surrounding the wine trade in Morocco. He points out that everyone knows that the handful of non-Muslim customers residing in Morocco can not absorb the domestic production of alcoholic beverages, estimated at several tens of millions of litres. Therefore, he says, this trade must be demystified and a stop put to the witch hunt whenever disturbances to public order are caused by a consumer having bent the elbow a little too much.

Unfortunately, that sounds too much like common sense.

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Friday, July 31, 2015

Throne Day in Morocco 2015

Yesterday, July 30th, was a very special day for Morocco, Throne Day - the 16th anniversary of His Majesty King Mohammed VI's enthronement - one of the most celebrated days of the year

The accession of King Mohammed VI to the Throne on July 23 1999 was welcomed with great enthusiasm among Moroccans and across the political spectrum, even including the hard liners of the Islamist movements.

King Mohammed VI is lauded for his domestic reform policies and pioneering efforts in modernizing Morocco and countering terrorism. He tackles issues of poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion at home, and has improved foreign relations.

Throne day was celebrated around the world with messages of congratulations flooded in including one from John Kerry, US Secretary of State.

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States of America, I offer my best wishes to King Mohammed VI and the Moroccan people as you celebrate the Feast of the Throne on July 30. The United States is proud to partner with Morocco on a broad spectrum of issues ranging from cultural and educational exchanges to military cooperation. Ours is a strategic partnership, and we work together daily to advance our common priorities of a secure, stable, and prosperous North Africa and Middle East. We share a strong commitment to improving economic opportunity and prosperity for all Moroccans through efforts to develop its entrepreneurial ecosystem and educational resources.We applaud recent commitments by Morocco's public and private sectors to create more job opportunities for young Moroccans. Our constructive engagement with the Government of Morocco and Moroccan youth, the private sector, and civil society are helping the Moroccan people realize their civic aspirations. More broadly, we are pleased with our expanding collaboration with Morocco as we seek to address global and regional security challenges and applaud Moroccan leadership on efforts to counter violent extremism. In the spirit of friendship between our people and governments, we look forward to deepening our strong relationship that has endured for over two centuries. I wish the people of Morocco a joyful celebration and prosperity in the year to come. 

Across the globe Moroccans celebrated, including in places as diverse as Azerbaijan and Australia.

The embassy of Morocco to Azerbaijan arranged an official reception to mark Throne Day. Ambassador of Morocco to Azerbaijan, Hassan Hami ,spoke of his country's path of development, noting the country has gained political and economic progress in the last years under the leadership of the King Mohammad VI.

Azerbaijani Minister of Education Mikayil Jabbarov and Moroccan Ambassador Hassan Hami 
Throne Day in Australia drew a huge number of people
Morocco’s Ambassador to Australia Mohamad Mael-Ainin (standing third from left) 

HM King Mohammed VI traditionally gives a Throne Day address. Here are some extracts.

This annual celebration is an opportunity for us to pause and ponder on the nation’s achievements and the challenges ahead. All that has been achieved, no matter how significant it is, remains insufficient for our country, as long as there is a category of the population still living in dire conditions and feeling marginalised, notwithstanding what has already been done.

It is true that this category is getting smaller and smaller, but I want to see to it that all citizens benefit from the nation’s wealth. I pledged to work, for as long as I live, to achieve this goal, and my ambition for the well-being of Moroccans has no limits.

On the question of education, the King had some interesting observations:

A question has to be asked: will the education our children are receiving today in state-run schools help secure their future? Let us be serious, objective and honest: why do so many Moroccans rush to get their children enrolled in foreign-status schools and private schools despite their prohibitive costs?

The answer is clear: they are looking for appropriate education, based on open-mindedness, critical analysis and foreign language acquisition, which will enable their children to access the job market and start their professional lives.

Despite allegations here and there, I do not think openness to foreign languages and cultures will undermine our national identity, but rather enrich it. Moroccan identity, thank God, is deeply-rooted and diversified, with both European and African components.

I studied in the Moroccan state school, with its syllabi and curricula, but I have no problems with foreign languages. The Constitution voted by Moroccans advocates the learning and mastering of foreign languages as a tool for communication with the knowledge-based community and for interaction with modern civilisation.

Thanks to Asmahan Mouftakir for the photographs from Australia

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Morocco's TGV to Run on Wind Power

A few years ago the idea of a train powered by the wind would probably have been relegated to the realms of science fiction. Now the Moroccan national railway authority, ONCF, are intending to make the idea a reality, developing a project to produce green energy for its electric train network

The ONCF is proposing a project to ally with an IPP, an independent power producer, and setting up a wind farm with a capacity of 150 MW. ONCF would purchase the green energy under an exclusive buyer contract lasting 20 years. The project would cost around two hundred million euros, according to early forecasts, and according to French media, ONCF is at the stage of preparing tender applications for the project.

When the notion of a high speed train running from Tangier to Casablanca was first floated, few believed it would come to fruition. Now the sceptics have been proved wrong and the project is well underway The first of the 14 trains on order arrived in Morocco at the end of July and after reassembly will undergo a series of static and dynamic tests. It is expected that the train will also be tested on the existing conventional network from the last quarter of this year before being tested on the high speed line. Each train set will include two power cars and eight intermediate carriages, including two first class, five second class and one buffet vehicle. Each double-deck train will seat up to 533 passengers.

The first of the 14 TGVs arrives in Morocco

An ONCF spokesperson says that the work on the high speed line is "progressing at a very fast pace after solving all the constraints the project faces". Some areas of construction are nearing completion, while overall 70% of the project is complete.  The remaining work is expected to be finished by the end of 2016.  Parallel work on railway equipment such as signalling and services is also progressing, with the first of the railway platforms  ready by the end of 2015

The completed  high-speed line will be delivered in 2017 to undergo a series of systems integration testing and approval before commercial operation.

But there is more. Morocco is already thinking about a high-speed network of 1500 km by 2030. This  would involve two rail openings; one north Europe and the other to the Maghreb in the east.

The line currently under construction, called 'the Atlantic line,'  linking Tangier to Casablanca, will be developed simultaneously to the south and north. To the south the line will extend 900 km to the city of Agadir. And to the north, the Atlantic line will connect to the European network via a tunnel under the Strait of Gibraltar.

When completed Rabat will be four hours from Madrid and eight hours from Paris. Morocco also plans a route named 'online Maghreb' 'of 600 km, linking Casablanca, Rabat and Oujda. Finally the Maghreb line could extend further and reach Algiers and Tunis.

The Moroccan TGV will run at an operating speed of 320 km per hour. Leaving every hour it is intended they will travel from Tangier to Kenitra in 47 minutes instead of 3:15 today, to Rabat in 1 hour 20 minutes against 3:45 today and in Casablanca in 2:10 against 4:45 now. It is expected that the first section of the TGV Tangier - Casablanca, will carry between 6 and 8 million passengers every year as against 3.5 million today.

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