Category Archives: Educational Activities

Visit to Morocco’s National Human Rights Council


Last week I participated in a school trip to Morocco’s National Human Rights Council, originally established in 1990 (though under a different title). We heard from one of the council’s officials, who discussed (in Arabic) its work and evolution over the years. He emphasized that 1999 was a time of change in Morocco, when the new King Mohammad VI ascended the throne and decided to advance human rights reforms, including by seeking to reconcile the problems of Morocco’s past, which had involved arrests and disappearances of political opponents. He then talked about the role of the council in protecting the rights of women, children, and marginalized groups, as well as combating corruption. Some of the specific measures he mentioned included raising the age of marriage to 18 in accordance with international law (though there are possible exceptions with agreement of parents and a judge), as well as increasing the age of required schooling to 15. Other laws he highlighted included those requiring the reporting of child abuse and banning child labor, as well as one  allowing Moroccan mothers to pass their nationality on to their children even if they are married to a foreign spouse.

Many of the questions in the following Q & A session, including my own, centered on the gap between the law and its application (as well as gaps in the laws themselves), which particularly affect the poorer and more isolated areas. In this regard, the speaker highlighted Morocco’s progress, as well as a number of measures to monitor the situation in these areas, spread information about the new laws (including in Amazigh/ Berber for the non-Arabic speakers), and provide mechanisms for the reporting of human rights abuses across the country. Another question concerned freedom of expression. In his response, the official mentioned the role of judges in determining when there are violations of expression, as well as the announced creation of the National Council of Journalists, and the extensive use of the internet–a domain largely free of restraints– by Moroccans to express their views.

See previous post on challenges to press freedom in Morocco here:

Inside Morocco’s National Human Rights Council

The meeting room in the council.

Touring Technopolis


A couple weeks ago I participated in a school trip to Technopolis, just outside of Rabat. Opened in 2005 and sprawling across 300 hectares, it’s an initiative that aims to bring high-tech investment to Morocco and reverse the brain drain of high-skilled workers. Technopolis specializes in a variety of fields, including services, off-shoring, cars and planes, communications technology, and high-tech gadgets. And there are also academic research and training facilities, focusing on the applied more so than the theoretic. Technopolis currently employs more than 5,000, mostly Moroccoans, though it’s goal is to reach 30,000 employees by 2016. Companies like Amazon and France Telecom are attracted to invest in Technopolis because of its promise of low taxes for several years.  There are a few other such techno-parks in Morocco, though they specialize only in off-shoring.


Inside Technopolis, looking out

Touring Technopolis

محاضرة في مركز قلم ولوح لطلاب كلية علوم التربية


استضاف مركز قلم ولوح محاضرة الاسبوع الماضي لحوالي ثلاثين طالباً من كلية علوم التربية في الرباط, وتطرقت المحاضرة إلى مناقشة اهمية تعليم اللغة العربية لغير الناطقين بها, وكيفية تدريسها من منهج نظري فكري من جانب, ومن منهج تطبيقي وتجريبي من جانب اخر.

افتتح المحاضرة مدير المدرسة عادل الخياري بترحيبه بالطلاب وبطرحه بضع اسئلة عليهم, مثل لماذا يدرس الطلاب اللغة العربية؟ وتكلم عن الاهتمام القوي باللغة العربية في مجالات عديدة, ومن ضمنها السياسة والدبلوماسية, التجارة, السياحة, والبحث الأكاديمي, بالاضافة إلى الاهتمام الشخصي عند بعض الطلاب من جانب الدين, او الثقافة, او التواصل.

تلاه بعد ذلك قاسم الايوبي منسق الاساتذة في قلم ولوج وبروفسور في جامعة مولاي اسماعيل في مكناس. كذلك أبرز الايوبي اهمية اللغة العربية مشيراً إاى إنها بين الرتبة الثالثة والرتبة الخامسة في قائمة اللغات الحية. وأضاف أنها ليست فقط اللغة الاولى المستعملة في اكثر من خمسين دولةٍ عربيةٍ, ولكنها أيضاً اللغة الثانية المستعملة في مجموعة الدول الاسلامية, ويوجد كثيراً من الاهتمام بها من الاجانب كما ذكر الخياري.

بعد ذلك ناقش الايوبي مفاهيم العلم اللغوي ونظريات عن تركيب اللغات. حسب رايه الشخصي لا توجد لغة اصعب من الاخرى رغم ان الامريكيين يصنفون اللغة العربية مع اللغة الصينية في قائمة اللغات الصعبة. المشكلة بالنسبة له في موقف الشخص ان اللغة. ثم شرح كيفية بدأ تدريس اللغات لاهداف تطبيقية مع تدريب العسكر وتطور بشكل اساسي لتعليم اللغات لكل غير الناطقين بها. وذكر اختلاف عامّ بين الطلاب الايطاليين الذين يركزون على القواعد ولكن لا يستطعون ان يتكلموا اللغة العربية بسهولة, والطلاب الامريكيين الذين يهتمون اكثر بالتواصل باللغة ويتكلمون جيداً لكن مع الاخطاء في القواعد.

بعد ذلك أستاذين من قلام ولوح اشركا افكارهما وخبرتهما في تدريس اللغة العربية وردا على اسئلة الطلاب. أكدا باهمية تبادل الحوار مع طلاب اللغة العربية فقط باللغة نفسها منذ الصف الابتدائي, وحثا على التركيز على المواضيع التي تهتم بها الطلاب.

دارت بعض الاسئلة من الجمهور حول كيفية تدريس الثقافة العربية خلال عمليات تدريس اللغة. اجاب الاستاذين ان هناك طبعاً علاقة بين اللغة والثقافة, ولكن شدد استاذ حسن انه حسب ما يريد الطلاب واذا يهتمون كثيراً بالثقافة ام لا. اضافة انه غير ضروري لاي استاذ ان يقم بعمل وزارة الثقافة, لكن اذا قال الطالب شيء لا يحترم الثقافة او يسيء للاستاذ قعلى الاستاذ ان يدعوه لشرب قهوة ولكلام في ذلك الشيء بعد لاصفّ.

Press Freedom, Politics & Economics in Morocco


Over the past couple weeks, my Arabic school, the Qalam Center, hosted a series of fascinating lectures – in Arabic, of course.

First, journalist Mohamed Laghrouss spoke to students about press freedom in Morocco in light of the new constitution. Mr. Laghrouss presented Freedom House rankings to demonstrate a rollback in freedom of expression in the country in the past few years. On the other hand, he noted, the new constitution is a step forward because it expresses support for this freedom, compared to the old one which included 20 punishments for “crimes” of journalists, including for nebulous “bad intentions.” Mr. Laghrousse stated that while there is a degree of optimism amongst journalists about the recent legal changes, they are still waiting to see how these will be applied in practice. He highlighted the case of Rachid Niny who has been languishing in Moroccan prison for several months for publishing an article that dared to criticize high officials. Niny had been the author of a column called, “Shuf Shuf (Look, Look)” for the “Al-Masa (The Evening)” newspaper, focused on exposing corruption in Moroccan politics.

Journalist Mohamed Laghrouss speaking to students at my Arabic school about press freedom in Morocco.

Second, Professor and MP of the leading Justice and Development Party Dr. Idriss Makly Adawi, spoke about the relationship between politics and economics in Morocco. He praised Morocco’s economic progress in recent years, pointing to statistics which showed sizable declines in the poverty rate and unemployment over the past decade, as well as a steady growth rate of above 4% between 2007 and 2010. At the same time, he noted the country’s main challenges, such as an illiteracy rate of 30%, substantial trade deficit, youth unemployment, and concentration of production in a limited number of sectors.  He suggested that economic improvement in Morocco coincides with and depends on the country’s political liberalization.  In this regard, he saluted the new constitution and the recent elections. At the end of his presentation, he gave a couple suggestions for economic improvement in Morocco, including enhancing civil society participation in decision-making, furthering good governance, investing in riches/ resources, and enhancing competitiveness in the economy. In the question and answer session, I asked whether there is real economic competition in Morocco or whether privilege and monopolization distort the situation. Dr. Adawi responded by noting that it was only over the past couple decades that Morocco began a process of privatization of state-owned monopolies, and that since then there has been increasing movement towards opening up a variety of sectors to economic competition.

Professor and PJD MP delivering speech about politics and economics in Morocco.

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Visit to the National Library — Biggest in Africa and the Arab World


On Tuesday I participated in a school trip to the National Library in Rabat. Opened in 2008, it is the biggest library in all of Africa and the Arab World, and it is also aesthetically pleasing with an air of luxury and modernization (in contrast to most of what you see in this country). According to our guide, the library was financed primarily with money from privatization of state-owned industries, including the sale of Maroc Telecom. Strolling through the stacks, it was clear that there are abundant books to be found on all subjects in Arabic and French, as well as sizable collections of materials in other languages, such as Spanish, Amazigh (Berber), Japanese, and Hebrew, to name a few. I was also told that there are listening stations with pedagogical recordings in a variety of languages. Registration for a year-long library card just costs 50 dirhams (about $6), so I will have to go back to check out what they have for learning Darija (Moroccan Arabic), and maybe I will try to learn some Spanish too. I guess being in Morocco is convincing me to become quite the polyglot!

Library Entrance

Inside the library, looking out

Mural across from library

An Intellectual Moment

Last week closed with the usual once-a-month school graduation ceremony and party for all students. I passed my exam and will officially be moving from Advanced Arabic 1 to Advanced 2. Anyways, I came home from the celebration to a bit of a surprise. There was a strong farm animal stench when I opened the door. I recalled how my host family had been talking about the goat or sheep of some sort that they will be slaughtering on the upcoming biggest holiday of the year, “Ayeed al-Adha.” But I wasn’t totally prepared to open the kitchen door and find a live Ram –big horns and all– dipping its head into some munchies in the cat feeder…
Since the holiday means we will get off school Monday and Tuesday, I thought I could take a bit of time to do some pleasure reading in English. Well, to satiate my guilt about reading instead of working on grad school applications, studying languages, or preparing lesson plans for the orphanage, I chose a book that I expected would combine a captivating story with cultural learning about Morocco. I have an American friend to thank for lending me the book: “Secret Son,” by Moroccan writer, Laila Lalami, who lives in the U.S., and writes fiction about Morocco in English.

It was an easy read that took me only a day to get through, mainly because I was so enticed by the story that I didn’t want to take a break from it. Laila Lalami is like a next-generation Fatima Mernissi (transformed into a fiction writer), continuing the tradition of talented, liberal, Moroccan female writers, who know both how to tell a good story and to poignantly analyze the underlying societal issues and questions of her country. There are also strong parallels to be drawn with Alaa Al-Aswany’s “The Yacoubian Building,” which provides the same kind of critique-through-fiction of very much similar societal issues, but in Egypt instead of Morocco. Some parallels could also be drawn with parts of Khaled Hoseeini’s novels about Afghanistan, especially the secret/illegitimate son or daughter concept.  I am definitely going to ask my friend for Lalami’s other book, “Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits.”

On the downside, despite Lalami’s acclaim abroad, I was a bit surprised when I mentioned her to some Moroccan friends and found that only one had heard of her. My more traditional host family definitely hasn’t heard of her. It’s also interesting that she chose to write in English, unlike Al-Aswany who wrote in Arabic. And I wonder why Lalami’s books have only been translated into French and not to Arabic. Maybe the Arabic translation is forthcoming? Who knows?

Recommended books:
1. Morocco: Laila Lalami, Secret Son
2. Morocco: Fatima Mernissi, Tales of a Harem Girlhood
3. Egypt: Alaa Al-Aswany, The Youcobian Building
4. Afghanistan: Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner

"Secret Son" by Laila Lalami

Rainy Days


This week was the routine: School, teaching at the orphanage, and recovering from last weekend in Paris. It was funny in Paris to see the giant Morocco travel adds at every metro stop, with catchphrases like, “dicover yourself in Morocco!” Man, I wish I got a picture.

Lesson planning for the orphanage has been taking more time than I thought. I have about 12 students, all boys between 16 and 18 years old. They know just a bit of Enlgish from movies, TV, and the occasional past volunteers at the orphange, though I don’t know if they’ve had before regular volunteers like me that are going to come twice a week for several months. But because of those other volunteers, some of the older students have had a bit more English than the younger ones, which also makes it challenging to try to teach to some who are pretty much absolute beginners and others who can at least introduce themselves and know a lot of basic words, especially types of food and sports. They can all read and write the Latin alphabet, because they have already learned very basic French, but some read with much more ease than others. I don’t have any books to work from and the chalkboard in the classroom I’m supposed to use doesn’t even work. That means I have to teach many words orally and then prepare a lot of worksheets so they can see how the words are written and practice reading and writing. Here’s an example:

Letter from John

Dear …….

My name is John. I am 18 years old. I am from the United States of
America. I live in the city of Baltimore in the state of Maryland. I am a
student in high school where I study math*, reading**, writing***, science^,
history^^, and Spanish.^^^ My favorite subject is history. I like to play
sports. My favorite sport is basketball. And you?



كتابة ***          **  قراءة        * الرياضيات
^^^ اللغة الإسبانية        ^^ تاريخ             ^ علم

Letter to John

Dear John,

Nice to meet you. My name is….

Took this pic while waiting for the tram to the orphanage. Guess they weren't prepared for the rain.

Fascinating Conference at the Jewish Museum in Casa


Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending a fascinating conference at the Jewish Museum in Casablanca, organized by an inspiring group of young Moroccans, all Muslims, I believe, who have come together to preserve Morocco’s Jewish heritage. Actually, the conference spanned a few days, but I only attended one afternoon session dealing with issues of mutual understanding and Moroccan responses to the Holocaust.

Speakers included Museum Director Dr. Simon Levy, who spoke about the meaning and challenge of preserving Moroccan Jewish heritage; Museum Curator Mrs. Zohr Rhihel, who discussed her experience as the foremost Muslim world expert on Hebrew and Jewish Culture; Mr. Forsan Hussein, Palestinian Muslim CEO of a Christian institution (YMCA) in a Jewish country (Israel), who shared his personal story of overcoming stereotypes and fostering intercultural understanding; Mrs. Suzanne Baazat, Vice President of the High Atlas Foundation and AmeriSource, who spoke about the exuberant reverence of rural Moroccans towards Jewish holy sites and the need to alleviate rural poverty to help these communities continue to care for these sites. Afterwards, Mr. Peter Geffen, co-sponsor of the event who led a group of American Jewish students to attend, moderated a discussion on Moroccan responses to the Holocaust. After a tour of the museum, led by Dr. Levy, the event concluded with a wonderful performance of traditional Sephardic and Moroccan Jewish music. U.S. Ambassador Samuel Kaplan had also spoke at the event, but in the morning before I arrived.

UPDATE (Nov. 11): For more information, please see:
-“Morocco’s Holocaust recognition rare in Islam: King’s stance reflects country’s history in Jewish-Muslim relations.”
-“History of the Jews in Morocco”


Left to Right: Rhihel, Geffen, Hussein, student club President Mehdi B., and Baazat

Museum Director Mr. Simon Levy

Museum Director Dr. Simon Levy leading a tour of the collection

Musical performance

Performance of Ladino / Judeo-Arabic music