Archive for April, 2009


18 Km

April 12, 2009

He has no name, because people like him don’t want to have the same identity they were born with any more and decided to burn all their identity papers. He has no family, because he preferred to kill his heart and forget the voices and the faces who gave him birth. He has no fear, because he prefers throwing himself in the cold and pitiless Mediterranean Sea in a small wooden boat with other nameless shadows. Yet, he has a story which I will tell you in this post.

He studied philosophy and spent his college years between experiencing different kinds of love and defending his ideals as the head of the student union in his university. He never imagined that after his bachelor with honors and his orator talent to motivate the crowds he will end up jobless. He fought hard: went on strikes in front of the parliament to get a job, went to that IT classes he never understood, he even convinced his mother to sell her golden bracelets to open a phone shop. None of his efforts was enough to make things go better, even though he never asked for the impossible. All he was dreaming about was a job, a wife, and a small shelter to live happily. After two years of unsuccessful fighting against the harsh reality, the passionate and energetic young man he was became a motionless and depressive zombie who refuses to go out of bed.

On day, while he was busy dreaming after an overdose of weed, he heard noise in the neighborhood of a car and women laughing. He went down to see what’s happening, since he can never give up his Moroccan habit of being curious about neighbors’ lives. He saw Said the neighbors’ son who immigrated to Europe 2 years ago going out of a Mercedes accompanied by his blond European wife in the middle of his family’s yoyos and joy. Said saw him and came to say hi and told him: “if you want to get out from this situation and live like a king you must immigrate to Europe instead of losing your time here”. Then he wrote the name and the number of the person who helped him pass clandestinely to the Spanish shores. To Immigrate! Maybe that was the solution to all his pains, and if Said who has no degree or special skills can succeed why not him.

Here he is in the city of Tangier sitting on the sand and watching the lights of Europe glowing on the horizon. He started asking himself these kinds of philosophical questions he loves so much to escape from the reality. Why I was born on this shore of the Mediterranean and not in the other side? It’s only 18 Km away from here, so why they are developed and we are backsword? Why in the first place the Gods of Olympia asked Heracles to separate Africa from Europe, if Heracles didn’t separate us from this same spot called Tangier we would have been the same land? Off course his questions had no answer, so he just decided to smoke his last cigarette and burn all his identity papers to go meet the man who will pass him to Europe late during the same night.

In the small boat they were 30 pale faces, some Moroccans and many sub-saharian Africans, men, women and even a baby, all sitting tight and watching the passer maneuvering in the wild sea. He was heading towards the unknown, but still confident that if he cross that 18 Km he will find hope. He was imagining himself giving a speech in front of thousands of people staring at him and applauding each single word he says. He saw his marvelous blond wife coming at the end of the speech to congratulate him. At the moment when she was going to kiss him, suddenly, the weather changed. The strong wind slapped him and the first drops of rain swiped his illusion. The boat was becoming not stable, and the people started to panic. In few minutes he realized that they were sinking in the freezing water and that his dreams were sinking to sinking to.

After 45 minutes of fighting against the high waves, there were no crying sounds any more, he looked at Morocco from one side and Spain on the other side, they both looked grey and far with the fog, and he screamed: I don’t belong to none of these places; I prefer dying and immigrating to heaven.


Wine Sector in Islamic Morocco

April 8, 2009

MEKNES, Morocco – On paper, wine is ‘haram,’ or forbidden to Muslims, but Morocco has become one of the largest winemakers in the Muslim world, with the equivalent of 35 million bottles produced last year. Wine brings the state millions in sales tax, even though Islam appears to be on the rise politically

The gently rolling hills planted thick with vineyards are an unlikely sight for a Muslim country set partly in the deserts and palms of North Africa. Yet the grapes, and the wine they produce, are thriving in Morocco despite Islam’s ban on alcohol consumption.

Morocco has become one of the largest winemakers in the Muslim world, with the equivalent of 35 million bottles produced last year. Wine brings the state millions in sales tax, even though Islam appears to be on the rise politically.

“Morocco is a country of tolerance,” said Mehdi Bouchaara, the deputy general manager at the Celliers de Meknes, the country’s largest winemaker, which bottles over 85 percent of the national output. “It’s everybody’s personal choice whether to drink or not.”

The Celliers have flourished on this tolerance. The firm now cultivates 2,100 hectares of vineyards, bottling everything from entry-level table wine to homemade champagne and high-end claret; its Chateau Roslane claret is aged in a vaulted cellar packed with oak barrels imported from France. The winery now dwarfs virtually any other producer in Europe.

Wine is haram on paper

On paper, wine is “haram,” or forbidden to Muslims. But Bouchaara said the firm’s distribution is legal since it only sells to traders authorized by the state, who in turn officially sell exclusively to non-Muslim tourists.

Statistics, however, show that Moroccans consume on average 1 liter of wine per person each year, and the Moroccan state itself is the largest owner of the country’s 12,000 hectares of vineyards.

The paradox illustrates Morocco’s delicate balancing act. The rapidly modernizing country thrives on tourism and trade with Europe, but its people remain deeply conservative. Morocco’s ruler, King Mohammed VI, is also “commander of the believers” and protector of the faith. Islamists authorized to take part in politics are the second-largest force in Parliament, while support for non-authorized groups is believed to be even larger.

Despite this uncertain setting for wine culture, the Celliers’ owner, Brahim Zniber, is among the country’s richest people. His group employs 6,500 people, nearly all of them Muslim, and revenues rose to 225 million euros last year. Its three biggest sources of income are wine production with the Celliers de Meknes, hard liquor imports and Coca-Cola bottling.

Zniber’s latest ventures, in addition to a new Moroccan champagne, include plans to build a luxury hotel offering the country’s first “vinotherapy” spa resort, with health-care creams and baths based on grape products.

But the group has also tested the limits of the gray zone it operates in. The wine festival it helped promote in 2007 caused protests in nearby Meknes, a deeply religious city of 500,000 run until recently by an Islamist mayor.

“The festival was an unnecessary provocation,” said Aboubakr Belkora, the former mayor who was slammed by his own Islamist group, the Justice and Development Party, for halfheartedly authorizing the gathering in the center of town.

The ex-mayor said that “for religious reasons,” he uprooted about 100 hectares of vineyards from his own fields but has no qualms with others making or drinking wine.

Others feel there is some hypocrisy to the practice.

Hassan, a restaurant manager, said he wasn’t allowed a license to serve alcoholic drinks because he is Muslim. “But everyone knows we serve wine with our food,” he said, pointing at the restaurant’s patrons, both foreign and Moroccan, sipping their wine over dinner.

Another owner in Meknes, who also requested anonymity because of his practices, said he serves wine in tinted glasses, keeps bottles out of sight, and tells clients to say they were drinking soft drinks if questioned. “Police rarely come, and if they do they never look inside the glass,” he said.

These practices reflect a much more lenient culture than in other Muslim countries.

27 million bottles per year

Within Morocco’s more favorable context, the Celliers winery sells 27 million bottles per year, mostly inside the country. Two million bottles head to Europe or the United States and the firm is planting another 800 hectares of grapes to meet new demand from China, said Jean-Pierre Dehut, a former liquor-store owner in Belgium hired as the Celliers’ export manager.

By the size of the huge new bottling plant it is building and the 450 people it employs, the Celliers is more on-par with the new, industrial-scaled wine businesses in Australia, Chile or California than with Europe’s often family-owned domains. But Dehut stressed that Morocco has made wine for at least 2,500 years, since the Phoenicians colonized its coast. “This country exported wine to Rome during the Roman Empire,” he said.

Winemaking soared during the French colonial era, which lasted more than 50 years until the country’s independence in 1956.

By then, hundreds of vineyards planted with French vines Ğ mostly centered on the sunny plateau around Meknes in northern Morocco Ğ churned out some 300 million hectoliters each year.