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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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Fez Amazigh Festival Ends on a High Note

The final night of the Fez Festival of Amazigh Culture was a fitting end to a very successful festival and on a (thankfully) balmy night in Fez, the Bab Makina venue was once again packed to capacity - it was party time!
Ahidous Oulmes Boukchmir

(Click on images to enlarge)

The night got off to a joyous start with the highly animated Ahidous Oulmes. From the moment they came on stage it was party time and the predominantly Amazigh audience lapped it up.

To an outsider, the repertoire may have felt repetitive, but the high-octane delivery meant it didn't matter. As one, non-Amazigh Moroccan pointed out, "It is all about the energy! I don't understand a word, but I love it!"

Although there were four women in eighteen strong ensemble, they were not utilised and the chanting duties fell to four or five men at each end of the lineup.  In turn the belted out a phrase that was then repeated by the men at the other end. The sheer volume and high pitch was such that it was easy to imagine the sounds travelling in the High Atlas from one mountain valley to the next.

The old actors adage about not working with children or animals was totally overturned by the presence of young Hossain, son of the group leader, Moha. His facial expressions switched from innocent to possessed as he danced, gesticulated and channelled Michael Jackson. It was a joy to behold.

Scene-stealer, Hossain totally absorbed in his moves

It appears that theatricality is a family trait, as Hossain's father, Moha, leapt from the stage and gave a gloriously frenetic performance in the crowd.

Moha dances off-stage

Laura Conti and Eivadòr

Laura Conti was a revelation - with a voice from the world of jazz Laura Conti proved to be a huge hit. Dressed in gypsy black, with high boots the Italian actress and singer delivered a master class in the music of the Italian region of Piedmont.

With the three piece group, Eivadòr, Conti has teamed up with Maurizio Verna, a virtuoso guitarist and arranger, whose work brought alive the traditional folksongs of the Piedmont region.The music's mediaeval heritage felt fresh and enriched with no starchy whiff of the museum.

Having a superb voice with a wide range, plus the skills of an actress, Lara Conti brought old songs to life; songs of love and loss, and love's tangled webs. Despite the fact that she was singing in Italian, her rendition of a love affair between a Piedmontese soldier and a young French woman, a pairing without a common language, was understood by everyone.

While Conti, inhabited the music, the skilful arrangements by guitar maestro Maurizio Verna, gave her the space to bring the songs alive.  Verna's interpretations of the traditional music of Piedmont and the Canavese  respects the music's historical heritage while opening each song up to a fresh interpretation.

The three piece group Eivadòr (Golden River) is named after the old Canavesani name for the Orco River, famous for the extraction of gold.

Laura Conti and Eivadòr certainly delivered gold tonight with a wide ranging repertoire that left the audience wanting more.

Guitar maestro Maurizio Verna

Nadia Laaroussi

There is no escaping the fact that Nadia Laaroussi has star power. She bounced on stage with super-charged energy of someone plugged directly into a high-voltage cable. From her first greeting and prolonged ululation, this Rif Mountains Amazigh woman, showed why she had been given the honour of closing the Amazigh festival.

While not having the physical stature of some of the Amazonian Amazigh we have witnessed over the last few days, Laaroussi packed a punch way above her weight - and didn't let up in the delivery. Her modern interpretations of Amazigh music had the crowd on their feet and the security guards on alert.

It was the perfect way to end a successful festival. Shukran Nadia.
The View From Fez would like to thank the Amazigh Festival organisers for once again granting us such easy access to the festival and making our reporting an absolute pleasure. We look forward to the 12th Edition, inshallah.

All photographs and reporting: Sandy McCutcheon

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