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Le Soir Echos is a Moroccan newspaper founded in 2008. The French-language daily, based in Casablanca, includes strong coverage of business and finance.

Belgian Daily Highlights Brussels' 'Jihadist Hub' After Paris Attacks

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Le Soir, Nov. 16, 2015

"Brussels, Jihadist Hub," writes Belgian daily Le Soir on its Monday front page, as details about a Belgian connection to the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris are starting to emerge.

The suspected mastermind of the attacks that left at least 129 killed and 352 wounded is a 27-year-old Belgian citizen Abdelhamid Abaaoud, described as one of the "most active ISIS executioners in Syria."

His name is connected to a series of recently foiled attacks in Belgium, and he's also linked to the attack on a Thalys train in August, according to AP. His current location is unknown, though he's believed to be in Syria.

As part of a manhunt in Belgium this morning for Salah Abdeslam, the brother of one of the perpetrators who is also believed to be connected to Friday's massacres, a gunfight broke out in Molenbeek, a Brussels suburb and jihadist hub.

Abdeslam was arrested alive afterward, according to RTL Belgium. He's a 26-year-old Belgian-born French citizen who was stopped at the French-Belgian border Saturday morning as he returned from Paris. Shockingly, the authorities knew he had rented a car that carried some of the perpetrators, but he was allowed to drive on.

Foundations for the future?
Mahamed Mounjid

What It Takes To Turn The African Economy Into The Next Tiger

RABAT - Like Asia did in the second half of the 20th century, Africa can move up to the economic big leagues only if it can manage to industrialize and learn to increase its productivity.

The future of the continent as a whole, notes economist François Fadi Farra, will not depend on one single economic model to fit every African country. But while each country has its own specificities, Fadi Farra stresses that joining efforts within a large free trade area would be a great advantage.

However, following the footsteps of the Asian dragons is no easy feat. According to economist Greg Mills, Africa still lacks assets that are essential to be competitive: energy for instance, but also infrastructures, physical and cultural, financial resources and (skilled) human resources. The manufacturing sector has seen a 17% drop in the past few years.

So what is the best solution? Boosting industry with foreign investments, or relying on local funds? According to Mills it is essential to develop local businesses: they are at the heart of African development, even if Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) should not to be neglected.

In order to catch up with international standards, local businesses need the support of the public sector. Mills believes that government funding and support play an essential part in protecting emerging industry. Case in point, he says, is an industrial park in South Africa that used to have 129 production plants. Today, the measures of government support have all been lifted, and there is only one manufacturing plant left.

According to an international businessman who wished to remain anonymous, Africa suffers from a lack of overall organization. He thinks the costs related to transactions and production should be reduced. The business environment also has a great influence on investment decisions, and should not be neglected.

He also points at the spirit of entrepreneurship on the continent: “We insist too much on growth and not enough on employment.” For him, an entrepreneur must see risk as an opportunity and not as a threat or a danger: “When facing a tiger, some immediately think about fleeing, whereas the Chinese businessman asks himself how to tame it,” he says.

Not ready for stability

Failures also come from insufficient knowledge and business strategy. The school system is often held responsible for these failings, due to its obvious lack of efficiency. Mills points out that it wrongly focuses on memorization rather than analysis and the building of a critical mind.

Regulation is another obstacle to the development of companies. According to American billionaire Ronald Lauder, who gave 60% of his money to non-profit organizations, Africa should change its fiscal system in order to attract more investments. The complexity of legal systems and fiscal regulations, combined with the absence of tax exemptions are scaring investors off, he says.

A financial manager denounces the numerous differences between legal systems, which go to show that “Africa is not ready yet for political and economical stability.”

With more than 85 million jobs risk being transferred to China in the coming years, national elites in every country are also to blame for this “unhealthy growth” that cannot meet the job demand.

“We wrongly insist on growth rather than employment. Sometimes growth can actually harm employment,” the manager insists.

This brings another question to the table. What are the priorities of African officials on the employment front? Making jobs more temporary, more durable, or simply more decent?

Boston Marathon memorial site in Copley Square
United States
Naazish YarKhan*

Talking To Your Kids About Terrorism, A Guide For Muslim Parents

A Muslim-American writer recounts the days after the Boston Marathon attack. No doubt, parents in the UK are having similar conversations right now.

Like all parents, Muslim parents have their fair share of do’s and don’ts for their children. Unlike most parents though, terrorism and how to handle its misguided association with Islam figures in some of our talks.

In the wake of the Boston bombings and given that one of the suspects was only a few years older than my own boy, the need for us to talk with Yousuf took on even greater urgency. Conversations usually begin with “most Americans recognize that not all Muslims are violent just because a few are,” and progress to “but I still don’t want you to talk about bombs, guns or shooting, even if it’s a game you’re discussing."

These are tough conversations to have with an 11-year-old, but they’re discussions we cannot avoid. As Muslim parents, we recognize just how vulnerable our children are.

The harder conversations go something like this: “If you are harassed or teased and called a terrorist, tell a teacher.” When my 11-year old insists that is tattling, I explain that even if it makes him look weak, it’s wiser to tell a teacher than to navigate these waters alone. I don’t want him to get into a potential argument because there’s a chance it could escalate. Best-case scenario, my child could put up a brave front, maybe while fighting back tears. Worst-case he could push back and end up suspended.

Like the rest of the nation, I feel such regret and sadness that the Boston bombing suspects, both well-liked seemingly well-integrated young men, came to be so terribly misled. As a parent, I also recognize the agony their mother and father must have felt, watching helplessly, from thousands of miles away, as their children were hunted and gunned down.

As much as I fear I will alarm him with talk of the bombings in Boston, I take on the subject. “If there are Muslims who try to tell you it’s okay to be violent, remember what your parents have taught you. In Islam, war is between militaries alone – no civilians, women, children, schools, hospitals and other civic amenities can be targets.”

“Why do some Muslims have to go and mess it up for the rest of us?”

A pre-teen, my son actually listens to me and shares his thoughts and concerns. Shielding him from these difficult discussions today may mean losing an opportunity to imprint the idea that, in Islam, taking an innocent life is tantamount to killing all of humanity. Not talking about this may mean throwing away a chance to warn my child that he needs to be conscious of those who may try to lead him astray.

I talk about how terrible the bombings have been for the victims and their families. “If you, as you grow older, have issues with the policies of any nation or differences of opinion, civic involvement is the way to change the status quo, not violence,” I drill into his young mind. I reiterate that there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to address issues and differences of opinions, violence not being an option.

I fear there may be a time when we aren’t there to be a sounding board for our kids. As my son takes in every word, I quietly hope I’m not scaring him.

Frustrated, my son asks, “Why do some Muslims have to go and mess it up for the rest of us?” “Because, somehow, they’ve come to believe that their actions are justified,” I respond. “But they aren’t,” I am quick to add.

But there is more on my mind that I don’t bring up. I don’t get into a tirade about how the media ties this crime to our faith or calls it a return to terrorism to U.S. shores. What about the Sandy Hook murderer who opened fire on little children? Deemed mentally ill, no ties were drawn to an ideology for his actions. Or the white supremacist who shot and killed six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin? He was not considered a terrorist by the media. Why are only Muslim suspects’ and criminals’ actions automatically motivated by faith?

These thoughts aren’t far from my mind, but I don’t need to add that kind of baggage to this conversation with my 11-year-old. He has enough on his plate.

* Naazish YarKhan is a writer, publicist and communications strategist in the Chicago area.This article was written for the Common Ground News Service and republished in French in the Moroccan daily Le Soir/Les Echos.

Mali's Tuareg, also called the "Blue People" for their indigo traditional clothing
Rachid Raha

Mali's Forsaken Tuareg: The Toll Of French And Algerian Economic Interests


RABAT – A year ago, Tuareg rebels from the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) decided to launch an attack to take back the territory of Azawad in northern Mali that they claim as their native land.

They managed to chase Mali military troops from their land, but weren’t able to gain the upper hand over the terrorist groups and Islamist Tuareg of Ansar Dine, who also staked a claim on the region. This is because no foreign country has agreed to give them logistical support, or indeed to support them in their claim against Mali – even less to recognize their independence as a state.

The conflict taking place in northern Mali is not a simple one. It is not just a bloody struggle between “separatist” or “autonomist” Tuaregs, “Jihadist terrorists,” and Mali’s “corrupt military,” which is supported by France and certain member-countries from the Economic Community of African States. There are also other actors involved in this conflict, who are pulling the strings from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices, far-removed from the African hell that is the Sahel, with its unbearable heat and unforgiving terrain.

The Tuareg people and their ethnic brothers – the Songhai and Fula people – initially aspired to create a new independent, democratic and secular African state in the immense Sahara desert, just as the Eritreans and people from South Sudan were able to do.

When that didn’t happen, they agreed to the principle of an autonomous Azawad region inside Mali. You would have thought that the Azawadan rebels would have gotten sympathy and support from public opinion worldwide, from international organizations and institutions as well as from Western countries, for daring to stand up against the dictatorships and the established order. This was the “democratic spring” of North Africans, inspired by the Tunisian Jasmine revolution, as had happened in Egypt Libya, Syria and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, it was different for the Tuareg people, who were ignored by the international scene and mainstream media. They were the target of a flagrant misinformation campaign from the French media. Even worse, their noble revolution was hijacked by Salafist groups, who were supported and financed by Algeria and Qatar.

Economic interests

How could these two countries – Algeria and France – which have the most reason to fear the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) terrorists, whose citizens have been kidnapped by AQIM, countries with important economic interests in the region, leave the Tuareg to face the Jihadist danger alone, without any logistical, military or material support?

The answer to this question lies in the fact that Algeria and France chose to put their financial interests before human rights – not to mention peoples' right to self-determination, enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007.

During the Feb. 17, 2011 Libyan revolution, France boasted that it was putting the interests of Libyans first over the economic interests of multinational corporations such as French oil giant Total. Nevertheless, France radically changed its position when it came to Azawad and its people.

Our Berber friends, the “Blue People” for whom freedom is a religion, are not only facing Salafist groups, but also terrorist groups that are subtly manipulated by Algerian military intelligence, whose generals are hiding out in Algiers. These Algerian generals who seized power many years ago, are worried that the threat to their interests might come from the south, from Tuareg territory, instead of from the northern Algerian Kabylie region, which is also ethnic Berber.

The Algerian Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS) led by General Mohamed Tawfik Medien and Smaïl Lamari, are vehemently opposed to the creation of an independent Tuareg state, or even of a simple autonomous region on their southern border. This is why the successive negotiations between the Tuareg rebellion and authorities from Mali, which were held under Algerian supervision, have all completely failed.

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Map of the conflict in northern Mali - Source: Orionist

Why? The first reason is that a stable Azawad – under Mali sovereignty or independent – would allow oil exploration to go ahead. The gas field there is of course the same as in the southern Algerian Tuareg region.

The second reason is that Algeria is obsessed by finding a route to the Atlantic Ocean for its oil and gas exports. Because they can’t go through Western Sahara, which is still a disputed territory, Algerian generals have been trying to find an alternative route that could cross through northern Mali and Mauritania. This is why certain Algerian AQIM groups have been trying to destabilize the fragile Mauritanian State. For Algeria this could be the second country to fall in their hands, after the “Islamic Azawad State” it established, complete with Sharia and all.

Algerian secret services

The Algerian intelligence services not only finances, advises and informs the Salafist mercenaries of the Sahel, but also provides candidates, which they recruit in Sahrawi camps in Tindouf province, Algeria. This is also how they recruited Muammar Gaddafi’s mercenaries to fight the MNLA rebels in northern Mali.

The other front that the MNLA rebels have to contend with is French company Areva. The nuclear giant, which has always had a notable influence on the French government – be it left or right wing – has just earmarked 1.5 million euros for the development of a new uranium mine. The new mine, which will supply almost all the energy for France’s nuclear power plants, is located 100 kilometers from the Azawad border. Areva is providing electricity for French families with the blood of the Tuareg people, whose natural resources they exploit.

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MNLA rebels in Azawad - Photo: Magharebia

Areva puts a lot of pressure on the French government, and this is probably the real reason that led President François Hollande to go to war in Mali. He said his country had no economic interests in Mali. So why didn’t the French army intervene in Syria, since they’re so eager to do so in Azawad?

The French President doesn’t know that the only people who can ensure France’s economic interests in Mali, and by extension in Niger, are the MNLA rebels. Their leader, Bilal Ag Acherif actually made the trip to Paris, but the government declined to meet with him. Even though the right to self-determination in northern Mali is a fight the Tuareg people have been fighting for more than 50 years, French interests come first.

Ultimately, if we want to stop the terrorist groups multiplying in Azawad and Sahel (and in Algeria as well), there has to be an international investigation on the “dirty deeds” carried out by the Algerian secret service. All those responsible for the crimes of the DRS must be brought to justice, including those responsible for the In Amenas hostage crisis, where at least 39 hostages were killed by Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists at the Tigantourine gas facility near In Amenas, Algeria.

Iraqi army soldiers in 2007
Saâd A. Tazi

Ten Years After Iraq Invasion, Who Shall Be Held Accountable?

The justification for war was false and the victims are endless, even extending to those dying today in Syria. A bitter look back from leading Moroccan daily Le Soir.


Ten years ago, the invasion of Iraq began like a Hollywood movie. Speeches were given at the UN, statements were made for the television cameras, and former ally Saddam Hussein was put forth as the world’s Public Enemy No. 1.

His theatrical capture, his short trial and the date of his execution were perfect scenes carved out of a third-rate movie. The ugly little truths of the past decade, however, never quite made it to the final cut. Ten years after, the justifications for the war detailed to the international community have been proven baldly false, but no decisionmaker in the biggest scam of the 21th century was brought to justice. On top of that, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair keeps getting generously paid to defend the rationale for the war in conferences and interviews, even if we now know the initial motives were deceitful.

Lewis Libby, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney are sleeping soundly despite the thousands of dead they are responsible for, and the destruction of one of the world’s great ancient lands.

Since holding grudges never leads anywhere, is there any way we can say the Iraqis live a better life now? Is the world a better place today? Can we believe justice was done, and equality respected, while the treasured subsoil was getting plundered?

The former non-religious state is once more a battleground between Shi'ites and Sunnis, but at least they have their oil back. Happily-ever-after ending? Not really, no.

The current bloody situation in Syria is linked to the Bush administration and their vassals’ bad calculations. Without the money and legitimacy, it’s hard to get involved in another war, nevermind all the innocent victims. Too bad for Syria, it has no oil.

Inauguration of the Slat-al-Fassiyine synagogue in Fez
Hassan Alaoui

In Push For Tolerance, Morocco Inaugurates Restored Synagogue

FEZ – It had served over the years as a prison, a carpet factory and a boxing gym. But last week, the building in this ancient Moroccan city's central medina was officially returned to its original incarnation: the Slat-al-Fassiyine synagogue was inaugurated by King Mohammed VI after a long-anticipated restoration.

Rare in the Arab world to see political leaders shower so much attention on the reopening of a Jewish holy place, many top government officials were on hand to inaugurate the 17th century synagogue in the ancient Fez quartier that is classified as a World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

The event was a reminder of how important Judaism is in the history of Morocco, and was the latest effort by the country's leaders to promote religious tolerance. King Mohammed was the driving force in the event, and gave a speech before leaders of Morocco's Jewish community, as well as representatives of the German government, which helped finance the restoration.

“It’s precisely this Jewish specificity that constitutes today, following the kingdom’s new constitution, one of the timeless sources of national identity," the King said. "This is why we call for the renovation of every Jewish temple in the kingdom, so that they won’t simply be holy places, but also spaces for cultural dialogue and renewal of the founding values of this land.”

The Judeo-Moroccan Patrimony Foundation's President Serge Berdugo noted the "message of peace and tolerance" in the restoration.

"Slat-al-Fassiyine teaches us a beautiful lesson. It represented the past, bound to disappear," Berdugo said. "Its restoration process anticipated the future, and that future is now. Moroccan Judaism’s time has come. It’s a motherly community, aware of its history and full of projects for the times to come. This community is part of the Moroccan reality. It can fully enjoy its civic rights, religious freedom and full conscience of its responsibilities.”

French classes are fully booked in Morocco
Hassan Alaoui

French Language Revival In Morocco - Colonial Nostalgia Or Bridge To Modernity?


RABAT - Along with Arabic, French has long been one of Morocco's languages. It is the language of culture; it is the flipside of our identity -- of our double identity, if you will, which is the result of a long coexistence and exchanges between generations.

Even though Morocco has been independent from French colonialism since 1956, the French language has never left our history and even less our memory. And today, while some are trying to bury the French language into a deep grave, there seems to be a revival of interest for the language.

The demand for French lessons is growing, according to Mohamed Malki. A former teacher of French and French literature for many years, Malki was later named inspector general of French at the Moroccan education ministry. “We are in a context of globalization, internationalized economy, closer relations with the EU, the development of off-shoring... and for Morocco, French is the historic bridge to Europe.”

This argument makes sense. It follows King Hassan II’s creed to open Morocco to the world.

The French Institute of Morocco (IFM) has regional offices across the country. Their classes are fully booked, and they never lack students. “Young Moroccans are more and more eager to learn French and the demand outweighs the supply.” It’s a new reality that totally contradicts those who had prematurely announced the death of the French language.

Those who are considered responsible for the slow decline of French in Moroccan schools are the Istiqlal party, a pro-independence and pro-monarchist party with conservative and nationalist views. They were the first to lead a crusade against French, while advocating massive Arabization. The Istiqlal lead its vigorous and politicized – quasi-ideological – campaign for decades. The arabization process created a rift between two opposing worlds and a new generation that can’t speak either French or Arabic properly. This rift, born of an extreme ideology, bears the responsibility of the current cultural divide that the Arab world is experiencing.

Globalization, the digital revolution, Internet and smartphones are not Arabic appendages. As sad as it may sound, the Arabic language is not in phase with the transformation of the world. Culture today revolves around new technologies -- and the new universal languages inherent to it are English and French, and pretty soon, Chinese or Brazilian...

This brings us to King Hassan II’s other paradigm: “An illiterate today is someone who only speaks one language!” The close-minded pro-arabization advocates cannot comprehend that in this new era, we need foreign languages – English or other European languages – as a complement.

When we interviewed people for this article, we realized that contrary to what we believed, young Moroccans were very eager to learn English or French. And Spanish too. For them, foreign languages are bridges to other worlds, a necessary step for a country open toward others.

Asserting cultural identity

This is about openness but also cultural and linguistic diversity. In its fifth article, the new Moroccan Constitution stipulates such a demand:

“Article 5: Arabic remains the official language. Tamazight constitutes an official language as common heritage for all the Moroccans without exception The State also preserves the Hassani culture as an integral part of the united cultural identity of Morocco.”

Tamazight is an ethnic Berber language from central Morocco, while Hassani culture refers to the Bedouin nomadic tribes of the Sahara desert, in southern Morocco.

For the sake of a coherent and cohesive heritage, the old demon of linguistic ethnocentrism – in the form of Arabic – is trampled under the foot of the rising socio-cultural specificities and the assertion of ethnic and cultural identity.

Universalism and ethnocentrism aren’t opposite notions -- in fact, thanks to languages, they can be complementary. The revival of the French language in Morocco stems from an individual process. Officially though, there is a growing awareness of the divide between French and Arabic, even if we use both in the private and public sector.

According to Charles Fries, the French ambassador in Morocco, “the French school network in Morocco is the biggest one we have outside of France, with 32 schools and 26,000 students, of which 15,000 are Moroccan.” There was a 2.8% jump in registrations for the 2012-2013 school year, i.e. 700 new students. The French schools are jointly run by bodies affiliated to the French government (AEFE) and to the Moroccan government (OSUI). The partnership is a success.

In Morocco, a turn in the road for women?
Rime El Jadidi

In Morocco, A Call For Polygamy To Reduce Ranks Of Unmarried Women


RABAT – Recent estimates from the Moroccan High Commission For Planning (HCP) found the median age for marriage in Morocco was 31 for men and 27 for women.

There are many reasons for this – more years spent studying, and the high cost of housing and wedding ceremonies being the most obvious. Some, it seems, now want to add monogamy to this list of reasons why young Moroccans are getting married later in life.

The idea might seem absurd at first, but in a country where rape victims have been forced to marry their rapists, it’s really not so surprising.

Abdesslam El Bouraini, the president of the National Order of Religious Notaries argues: “The median age for marriage increases more and more, while women can’t find husbands. So why don’t we modify the polygamy law to allow men to marry several women?” Supply and demand, if you will.

In Morocco, polygamist marriages are almost non-existent because of strict legal restrictions: a woman has to sign consent, and in case of divorce, assets have to be divided among the wives.

Fouzia Assouli, the president of the Federation for the Democratic League of Women’s Rights (FLDDF), says El Bouraini’s proposal is “mind-blowing.”

“There is no scientific evidence to support this notion, and it’s a violation of human rights and women’s rights. Celibacy is also a personal choice," she says.

What if Morocco faced the opposite situation? “In Saudi Arabia, women outnumber the men, should we allow them to have several husbands?” asks Assouli.

“If Islam allows it, then it’s for the good of the community, otherwise, it’s an open door to debauchery. The legal restrictions on polygamy have driven men and women to have extra-marital intercourse,” believes El Bouraini.

If we are to believe him, Morocco’s strict polygamy laws are the reason why men commit adultery. But isn’t excusing adultery and infidelity contrary to the basic principles of Islam? If polygamy was the solution, there wouldn’t be high rates of single people in the countries where it is common.

The poverty argument

The pro-polygamy advocates also say that rich men would be able to help women in need. Yet it's hard to believe that polygamists are great altruists. In most cases, the only reason why they take a second wife is to marry a younger woman.

Fouzia Assouli says that even if polygamy was aimed at getting women out of poverty, “marrying two women instead of one won’t solve anything. Even four won’t be enough in this context.”

What about poor men? If the issue is poverty, why can’t a wealthy woman marry several poor men? This, of course is not up for debate.

According to a 2007 survey by researchers Hassan Rachik, Mohamed El Ayadi and Mohamed Tozy, 44% of Moroccans are in favor of polygamy. For many of them, polygamy is a religious practice, not a solution to low marriage rates, even though some might find it a good idea.

“Those who advocate such principles still haven’t processed the social changes that Morocco recently went through, and are still dreaming of owning a harem,” says Assouli.

She believes allowing polygamy would be a step back in time. “It’s a violation of women’s dignity and freedom. We must not forget that not so long ago, a woman committed suicide with her daughters because her husband had forced her to accept his second wife.”