Controversial Feminist and Atheist Ibtissam Lachgar Arrested in Rabat

Moroccan feminist and atheist activist Ibtissam Lachgar — known for activism on behalf of abortion rights and LBGTQ equality — was arrested in Rabat on August 17, 2018, allegedly for public drinking, according to the Washington Post.

The arrest is eerily reminiscent of that of the Hirak leadership and the sentencing of Nasser Zefzafi for allegedly disturbing the peace and undermining state security after interrupting an imam during a prayers.

There are few more fundamental political rights than freedom of expression, and the Kingdom would be well-served to respect it. It is fundamental to any sound decisions regarding public policy, and a prerequisite to being able to justly and properly resolve other fundamental questions regarding the rights of gay people, women, and the LGBTQ community. What cannot be discussed cannot be decided, and what cannot be criticized cannot be reformed. Ms. Lachgar is unquestionably a controversial figure in Morocco, but it is precisely speech that people find objectionable that most needs to be protected.

The Long Shadow of the First World War on the Middle East

A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall Of The Ottoman Empire And The Creation Of The Modern Middle EastA Peace to End All Peace: The Fall Of The Ottoman Empire And The Creation Of The Modern Middle East by David Fromkin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

David Fromkin’s a Peace to End All Peace repays reading at least a second time. It is perhaps somewhat old fashioned in its sweeping historical narrative, but it offers a keen analysis of the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire during World War I and the subsequent disastrous settlement of 1922, seen from a British perspective and centered around the career of Winston Churchill. Largely absent is the perspective of the Arabs caught between the anvil of Ottoman Rule and the hammer of the British invasion. For all that, it provides a fascinating and insightful perspective into the motivations that drove the Allies in their campaign to destroy the the Ottoman Empire and assume control of its Arab provinces.

The exhausted postwar allies, primarily Britain and France, bickered amongst themselves as they carved up the Arab Middle East into arbitrary territories governed by weak puppets. Ironically, it was the champion of the British Empire, Winston Churchill, who argued that the British Empire was badly overextended in the Middle East, even as he laid plans to maintain order with a series of air bases in the absence of the British Army which he was demobilizing.

In the midst of the horrific carnage of the first World War, one hardly knows what to make of the “sideshow to a sideshow,” as T.E. Lawrence put it, a tragedy and a farce that has caused so much grief in the modern world, most of all to the Arab people whom Britain was supposedly “liberating” from the domination of the Turks. The biggest blindspots of the British, according to Fromkin, were the British assumptions that Turkey and Russia were dominated by a worldwide Jewish conspiracy — to which the creation of a Jewish homeland was in part a sop — that the Middle East would rally around a “caliph” handpicked by Britain, which chose the marginal Hussein of Mecca to fulfill the role, and that the Arabs had an interest in trading rule by Muslim Turks for Christian Englishman.

In their rush to create a new imperial order in the Middle East, both to maintain a buffer between Russia and India and to control a region than increasingly appeared to contain petroleum reserves essential to the British Navy, the British promised everything to everyone. They assumed that everything could be sorted out after they won they won the war, but the result was a series of messy compromises and subterfuges with the coming of the various armistices with the Central Powers. Having spilled so much blood in the war in the East, particularly in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, by the war’s end Britain was not only the only power left standing, but also felt an enormous sense of entitlement to its territorial gains. As a result, it went back on its promises to divide the region with the French and set up a series of weak Hashemite rulers in the hope of maintaining indirect control. Meanwhile, even in Egypt, which they had promised independence during the war, the British were confronted with a restive populace, and throughout the region were continually contending with unanticipated insurgencies. In addition, they were faced with a hostile Bolshevik Russia and a resurgent Turkey under the leadership of Mustapha Kemal (later Ataturk).

In the end, Fromkin presents us with a farrago of cynical manipulation, imperial greed, bumbling ignorance and incompetence, and naive good intentions which would be comic were the consequences not so tragic. In one sense, the modern Middle East is simply one more casualty of a war which as of that time constituted the most catastrophic event in human history; its tragedy is that the wounds have not healed to this day.

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Women in the Fantasia

Not a new story, but a good one from BBC Africa. Moroccan women beat the men at their own game by taking part in the Fantasia, the most dramatic of Moroccan holiday spectacles. Men or women, I just love to watch the horses charge and the guns fire.

Global Warming Threatens Morocco: Morocco Responds

Climate change is a potentially devastating threat to Morocco and other North African countries, but even as the United States has abdicated its global responsibility, Morocco is among the leaders in the fight to mitigate its effects.

Even as a recent article in New York Magazine has created shock waves with its nightmare worst case scenario in the event of unchecked climate change — a virtually uninhabitable planet — more focused studies have predicted that the impact of climate change will fall particularly heavily on North Africa and the Middle East. In particular the region is threatened by potential flooding, decreased rainfall and food production, and soaring heat waves, and some experts have speculated the region may become uninhabitable.

In the face of potential catastrophe, a recent World Bank Report highlights growing Moroccan leadership in climate change technology but also acknowledges shortcomings in business savvy, government support, and capital investment.

However, the World Bank has summarized five significant steps that Morocco has taken in the fight to avert the worst effects of climate change:


  1. Morocco aims to generate 52% of its electricity needs from renewable energy by 2030, and is stimulating local manufacturing with a target of sourcing 35% of the second phase of the NOOR concentrated solar plant from local producers.
  2. Morocco has lifted all subsidies on diesel, gasoline and heavy fuel oil to encourage more efficient use of energy and to free up resources to invest in the transition to a green economy.
  3. The Plan Maroc Vert aims to protect the environment as well as the livelihoods of Moroccans. Agriculture accounts for only 15% of its Gross Domestic Product, but farming still employs 40% of its workforce.
  4. Morocco has begun treating its ocean as a natural resource with the same importance as the land, with improved coastal zone management and the development of sustainable aquaculture. Fishing makes up 56% of the country’s agricultural exports.
  5. Morocco is making an effort to conserve its underground aquifers, a natural source of fresh water that, if left clean and undisturbed, replenishes itself. It’s a win for the environment and for current and future generations of Moroccans.

Id. While a lack of the fossil fuel deposits of some or Morocco’s neighbors presumably drives part of the country’s effort to develop renewable energy sources, the effect has clearly been a salutary one on Morocco’s short and long-term future. While Europe and the United States obsess over the possibility of mass migration from the Maghreb, Morocco is clearly doing what it can to promote a livable future at home.