Rabat, Dec 10 --- In a joint press conference organized this afternoon by the organizers of the Forum for the Future, Nabil Benabdellah, minister of Communication and Spokesman of the government, Youssef Amrani, General Director of Bilateral Relations at the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alan Larson, US under Secretary of State for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs, all agreed that the region is in a crying need for reforms, and that these should come from within the region itself and not being imposed from outside.
Nabil Benabdellah, Minister of Communication and Spokesman of the government expressed today Morocco's pleasure to host the Forum for the Future. He said that organizing a meeting like this in Morocco “is not a novelty”.
“Morocco has always been a land for cultural diversity, tolerance, and dialogue for many issues that concern the international community,” said Benabdellah in a press conference held at the press centre of the Ministry of Interior in Rabat.
He added that experts in today's close meeting came to common conclusions concerning the most important issues related to the BMENA region.
“Today's meeting indicates that this Forum will be a great success,” added Benabdellah, stating that all parties agreed reforms in the Arab world should particularly come from within the people of the region themselves, and not be imposed from outside.
As far as the countries that apologized for attending the proceedings of this Forum, Benabdellah confirmed that all accepted to participate, except some for their own reasons that have nothing to do with the initiative itself.
“The question of Sudan is different. The organizers did not agree with the representation of Sudan in this meeting, because this is a meeting between partners from the G8 and the BMENA region. So the problem of Sudan won't be discussed in the meeting,” said Benabdellah. “Iran, too, apologized for its own reasons,” added Benabdellah.
The question of whether Israel was represented or not was among many issues that aroused journalists' interests. Benabdellah denied the fact that Morocco was under pressure to reject the representation of Israel in this forum.
“There has been no pressure on Morocco on this issue. Instead, why not say that it is Morocco who has put pressure on other countries to reject the participation of Israel in this forum,” said Benabdellah.
The reaction of civil society towards the Forum for the Future was also part of the discussion undertaken here.
“The protests of the Moroccan civil society against this Forum are to be considered in our agenda in this meeting. Morocco is a free and democratic country. Moroccans are free to express their views,” added Benabdellah.
In the second press conference, Alan Larson, US Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs, said that “the main objective of this forum is to support initiatives from within the Arab region, help create an atmosphere of stability, and take the necessary steps lay the basis for a better and prosperous future for the people of the Middle East and North Africa.
In turn, Youssef Amrani, General Director of Bilateral Relations at the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “the forum is a space of dialogue of ideas and exchange of experiences. It is not an internal organization to implement resolutions; it is open and nothing will be imposed.”
The Ambassador added that several participant states have prepared initiatives to discuss at the meeting in Rabat. These include a Literacy Initiative prepared by Algeria and Afghanistan, Investment Task Force prepared by Jordan, a Financial Network Programme prepared by Bahrain, a Democracy Assistance Initiative prepared by Turkey and Yemen, a Microfinance Initiative prepared by Jordan and Yemen, and an Entrepreneurship Training Program prepared by Morocco and Bahrain.
Larson noted that many countries in the region are already engaged in a series of reform projects in partnership with the G8 countries. He said that “the forum will provide the countries with a framework to study their different experiences and discuss the kinds of initiatives that may be effective for their own particular situations.”
“Reforms should come from within the countries of the region themselves”
By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 12/14/2004 | 3:11 pm
Morocco and Jordan have sound diplomatic relations, but bilateral trade is not very well developed and needs to be improved. Dr. Nabil Charif, Jordan's Ambassador to Morocco, suggest ways to improve trade relations between the two sister countries. Regarding reforms in the BMENA, Dr. Charif said he supports initiatives for reforms that come from within the region. At the same time, he thinks that internal reform needs financial support from foreign countries, especially from the G8, which are considered essential partners in the Forum for the Future, held in Rabat Dec. 11.
Foreign Ministers of Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia and Egypt recently signed the Agadir Agreement, which aims at creating a Free Trade Zone between the four southern Mediterranean countries. How do you see perspectives of cooperation between these countries?
This agreement will create an integrated market of more than 100 million people in the four countries involved. Nevertheless, it is just the beginning of a much larger common market of all of North Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
This will open Arab markets between the four countries and reinforce trade relations. The Agadir agreement will help increase the marketing of Arab products instead of competing with each other. It will be an occasion for the Arab states to produce different products, because most of them are similar. By differentiating these products, the Arab states could get into international markets with good quality products.
How would you describe Moroccan-Jordanian relations and how can you benefit from the Agadir agreement?
This is a very important question. Jordan and Morocco are similar in different fields. First of all, they are both kingdoms and they have leaders who are descendents of the Prophet. Their political, social and economic orientations are also similar. Morocco and Jordan have sound diplomatic relations, but bilateral trade is not very well developed.
How can you improve Moroccan and Jordanian trade relations?
We have canceled visa requirements for Moroccans who would like to visit Jordan. We hope that this initiative will help reinforce cultural and economic relations and increase the number of tourists between the two countries.
As far as trade is concerned, we can share our experiences with Moroccans especially in terms of FTA's. As you know, we had signed an FTA with the US years ago, before Morocco. So we can share our knowledge and expertise in the US markets with our Moroccan counterparts. Meanwhile, they could share with us their experiences in the European market, mainly the French one.
A Moroccan delegation of entrepreneurs will visit Jordan next month to discuss ways of improving bilateral trade between the two countries.
There are several Jordanian products that Morocco could benefit from, including Dead Sea products which do not exist in Morocco. Morocco could also benefit from Jordan's medical industry, and light aircraft manufacturing which can be used in pesticide spraying and border patrols.
To improve bilateral trade, we should build a regular sea link between Casablanca and Akaba ports, reinforce cooperation between the Moroccan and Jordanian Chambers of Commerce, and facilitate Jordanians' entry to Morocco by removing visa requirements for Jordanians wanting to come to Morocco.
How do you see the Forum for the Future, and what do you think about the US plan for the Greater Middle-East initiative?
We support initiatives of reforms that come from within the region. At the same time, we think that internal reform needs financial support from foreign countries, especially from the G8, which are considered essential partners in the Forum for the Future. When I said that reforms should come from inside, I did not mean that this is an individualist approach.
However, as Arabs, we are in crying need of reforms. I believe that initiatives recently taken by Arab states are very important. We have shared reform efforts in the Arab League Summit in Tunis, which confirms that reforms are coming from Arab countries. At this point, I believe that the Forum for the Future is a valuable and important opportunity, because it reinforces the spirit of partnership between the G8 and the Arab and Islamic states.
This Forum will be the foundation of this partnership, a “dynamic process based on mutual respect,” and a collaborative vehicle for expanding and deepening engagement in support of the reform efforts to achieve sustainable development led by the governments and peoples of the region.
As you know, many countries refused to host the Forum for the Future, except Morocco. It is only last week that several human rights activists and actors of the civil society organized a march in protest against the organization of this Forum in Morocco. How do you see this?
First of all, I don't think that many countries refused to host this Forum. Morocco was the first to take the initiative. We are very grateful to the Kingdom of Morocco for hosting the Forum and for its role and efforts in supporting reforms and promoting tolerance, mutual understanding, peace and stability in the region. This stand is not a novelty for our sister country. Morocco, like Jordan, was among the pioneering countries that have established greater reforms.
As far as the position of the anti-Forum activists is concerned, I think these demonstrations are very normal and understandable because it happens everywhere in the world. I believe that giving everybody the right to express his or her views is one of the major aspects of reform. The Forum's objective is to allow different points of view in the Arab world to be freely expressed. We have to respect all attitudes towards the Forum, whether they are for or against it.
What do you expect from this Forum?
We are expecting two things. First, the reinforcement of reforms in the Arab world, which were already shared during the Arab League Summit in Tunis. Second, the strengthening of the G8 Partners' commitment to support development and reform in the Arab world.
It has, in fact, been said that this Forum will only serve the interests of the G8 countries but not those of the Arab world. How do you react to this?
I don't think this is true. The first to benefit from this Forum are the participating Arab and Islamic states, because this is their initiative “par excellence”. On the other hand, when talking about reforms, we need to train young new staff to fully understand the meaning and the importance of sustainable development.
We hope the G8 will support staff training, and this will benefit Arab states. However, I stress that the G8 are not just interested in helping the Arab countries, but will in turn profit from an open and inclusive dialogue, devoted to strengthening democracy and the participation of civil society, to developing training skills, and to encouraging the growth of modern economies that generate wealth.
What was Jordan's project for the Forum for the Future?
The participants accepted Jordan's proposal to hold a ministerial meeting for the Forum on educational reform in May 2005.
Jordan also gave a presentation of its micro-finance experience and welcomed the creation. of a regional micro-finance centre in the kingdom.
Jordan showed its interest in vocational training and many countries, especially Japan, expressed desire to cooperate with Jordan in this field.
Jordan has a geopolitical and geo-strategic position next to Palestine and Israel: how do you see the future of the Middle East after the Forum for the Future?
It is certain that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq will affect reform efforts. We need a solution to these conflicts. As far as Palestine is concerned, we support free and transparent elections in the Palestinian Territories. Israel should work towards fulfilling its commitment to facilitate the holding of such elections.
Our support for reform in the region will go hand in hand with our support for a just, comprehensive, and lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict, based upon UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. There should be a full implementation of the Road Map and the goal of two states, living side by side in peace and security, achieved through direct negotiations between the two sides.
How will Jordan deal with the issue of refugees during the leadership of the new Palestinian government?
The issue of refugees is regulated by the International laws (the Security Council resolutions, and the General Assembly). So solving this issue should be within the framework of international legality and norms, a solution that is accepted by the Palestinian refugees themselves.
Biography of HE Dr. Nabil Charif, Jordan's Ambassador to Morocco
Jordan's Ambassador to Morocco Dr. Nabil Charif was Jordan's former minister of communication. He was editor-in-chief of Jordan's oldest Arabic daily newspaper “Adustour”. He participated in a number of international conferences as a representative of the Arab press. He was also the only Arab board member of the Paris-based “World Editors Forum”. Dr Charif is also a regular columnist in Arabic and English and author of several books in media studies and literature, and hist of Jordanian TV program “Face to Face”.
By Karima RHANEM | Morocco TIMES 12/11/2004 | 10:13 am
Haydon Warren-Gash, British Ambassador to Morocco, stated that Britain want the Arab world to be stable and prosperous. The challenges differ from country to country across the region - but there are worrying common threads.
The British Ambassador insisted that it is high time to look for concrete results, not other sessions and fine speeches and no follow-ups.
Relations between the two countries have tripled in the last decade. H.E. Haydon Warren-Gash, British Ambassador to Morocco gave Morocco Times this interview.
Morocco TIMES: Morocco is hosting the first meeting of the Forum for the Future on Dec. 11, a gathering that is closely linked to the question of reforms in the Arab world. How do you see this event?
Haydon Warren-Gash : I think it is important to talk about the context first. We are living in a world that is changing all the time. For instance, Britain today is very different from Britain 25 years ago. It is a completely different society. We think differently; even our attitudes have changed. Dealing with change is something we all have to do all the time. It is a global phenomenon not just regional.
I am really impressed at how Arab governments and NGOs are thinking about what the New World means for them; how they need to adapt to it; and how they need to respond to aspirations, which equally have changed enormously in the world in the past few years. Only last week in Marrakech, there was a conference that brought together Arab intellectuals and thinkers to discuss different aspects of change in the Arab World. This is particularly valuable as the initiative came from Arab states.
As for me and for my government, the Forum for the Future is a valuable opportunity for the G8 countries and the Arab states to come together and think of what are our common major concerns, how we can tackle them, and how we can create real partnerships.
MT: What do you expect from this Forum?
H.W.-G.: We are committed to the success of this Forum. After the Sea-Island meeting, this is the first opportunity after the meeting for the G8 and representatives of the region to come together and to look at specific issues, and consider how we can give concrete expression to some of the recommendations that the Sea-Island meeting set forth.
There are a lot of initiatives under consideration, including the establishment of entrepreneurship and business training centres and the creation of literacy training programmes.
The Italian, Turkish and Yemeni governments are also developing a Democracy Assistance Dialogue to provide a forum for discussion of democratic political reforms. These are areas of work where we are going to see how we can work together, how we can add values; how can the expertise of the G8 on the one hand and the will of Southern partners on the other hand be brought together in a common endeavour. I cannot emphasize that we are talking about partnerships. You may feel that the G8 is coming to tell others what to do. This is wrong. Nothing is further from the truth; it is absolutely not what the G8 was about, and not what the Sea-Island initiative was about; and it is not what my government is about. Instead, we are looking forward to creating partnerships.
MT : It has, in fact, been said that this Forum will only serve the interests of the G8 countries but not the Arab World. How do you react to this?
H.W.-G. :I think there is a misunderstanding about what this Forum is about. This is a Moroccan initiative. We are very keen to see initiatives from the people of the region themselves. There are universal values to which we all subscribe which are written in the UN charters; there are aspirations which are clearly felt throughout the world, including the Arab World. How we turn these into reality is the question?
These ideas should come from people in the region. We should talk about what has been done and what has not been done, what we have done right and what we have done wrong. This is how we should move forward together .We are looking for concrete results not other sessions and fine speeches and no follow-ups.
MT : Last week, many people protested against the organization of the Forum for the Future in Morocco. How do you see this?
H.W.-G. :Everybody has the right to protest. This is a democratic freedom. I defend the right to protest, but I would also like to argue that it was misguided, based on a misunderstanding about the Forum goals.
MT : You have recently appointed a special envoy "Nick Abbott" in the Middle East, based in Cairo, to be in charge of reforms in the Arab World. Since you will preside over the G8 and the European Union for the next term, I would like to know your agenda for reforms in the MENA region.
H.W.-G. :We have set up a unit in Cairo to look at possible ways of establishing partnerships with the Arab world; what are the issues that need the greatest assistance, where NGOs and governments are already involved but need expertise and assistance. That might need even financial assistance to turn their aspirations into reality.
In Morocco, we are involved in a project with the Ministry of Justice to look at alternative ways to resolving disputes, which means they don't have to go through the court all the time. There are other ways of dealing with several disputes which are much simpler and faster. We are also concerned with women's education, and we are working with NGOs to help make sure the Family Code is well understood
MT : I know that Britain is financing a lot of projects in Morocco, particularly in the field of Human Rights. What do you think about Human Rights records in Morocco?
H.W.-G. :I think there are a number of positive things happening. Clearly the human rights issue in Morocco is not perfect; there are things that need to be done and Moroccans say this to me all the time. I think it is important that Moroccans say this and feel comfortable in saying it. We are already along the road to dealing with some of these problems. What Reconciliation Committee is doing regarding public hearings is important. However, what is more important are the lessons to be learnt from what has been done wrongly in the past. These lessons should not only refer to past events, but should be taken as benchmarks for the way the society should operate today.
MT : How do you see reforms in Morocco during the past five years?
H.W.-G. :I think that a quick response to this question is that Morocco is hosting the Forum for the Future. Why is it appropriate for Morocco to be in this position? That's because Morocco has shown the way in a number of important areas, and it is very clear to look at what time to suggest economic reforms. If you look at the aspirations which have been articulated in a number of speeches including those by H.M King Mohammed VI, you are looking towards a very different society.
MT : How do you see the visit of Morocco's Prime Minister Driss Jettou to Britain?
H.W.-G. :Relations between Morocco and the UK had developed remarkably. I had the privilege of being with Morocco Prime Minister Driss Jettou. His visit was evidence of a new dynamic in relations between the two countries. Bilateral trade exchanges between Morocco and Britain have tripled in the last decade and several British companies were particularly interested in the Tangier-Med Port project.
Today, the G8 countries and nations from the Broader Middle East and North Africa are having a meeting to take a determined step in building a historic partnership to advance political, economic, and social reform and progress in the region of BMENA. Thomas T. Riley, the U.S Ambassador in Rabat shares with Morocco Times his views about the forum for the future, the future of the Middle East after the passing of Yasser Arafat, and Moroccan-US relations.
M.T: Morocco will host the first meeting of the Forum for the Future on Dec. 11, a gathering that is closely linked to the question of reforms in the Arab world. How do you see this event?
T.Riley: The Forum for the Future is the centrepiece of the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative launched by President Bush and the other G-8 leaders after meeting with regional leaders at the Sea Island Summit in June 2004.
At Sea Island, G8 leaders recognized and committed through their Plan of Support for Reform to support the interest of the leaders and citizens of the region in progress on economic, political and social reform and modernization.
The Arab League recently cited the importance of such reform in its Tunis Declaration as did reform conferences at the Alexandria Library in Cairo, in Sana'a, and in Istanbul; the Arab Business Council has also spoken out on how to build a better business and investment climate in the region.
The Forum is a vehicle to energize ongoing, regular dialogue and action on reform and modernization among countries of the region and their G8 and other partners. It aims to develop practical responses to calls for reform from within the region, including specifically through support for micro-finance, education and literacy, business development and training, democracy and public participation, and finance and investment.
The whole idea of the Forum for the Future is for countries in the Broader Middle East and North Africa and G-8 countries to come together and discuss ways to work together as partners so that countries that have shown a desire to modernize their economies and institutionalize democratic reforms can achieve those goals. Neither the U.S. nor the G-8 has any intention to impose a certain set of reforms or vision on the region.
In the meantime, efforts to bring peace between Arabs and Israelis will continue. The reform dialogue we are engaged in is not a substitute for those efforts.
M.T: What do you expect from this forum?
T.Riley: We are very pleased that the Government of Morocco asked us, as current G8 President, to co-chair this extremely promising first meeting of the Forum for the Future in Rabat. We are very much in a supportive role, and the Government of Morocco is working intensively to ensure that the Forum is a success.
This first Forum for the Future is extremely important. It will set the stage for this new partnership and marks the beginning of an open and enduring dialogue that will continue to be reinforced in future meetings of the partners. The Forum for the Future provides the framework for bringing together G-8 and regional Foreign and Finance Ministers, as well as business and civil society, to discuss reform. Those discussions will allow all of us to hear what the needs of the region are, and will ensure that our collective response meets those concerns.
I believe that holding the very first Forum for the Future in Morocco is highly significant and appropriate, given King Mohammed VI's strong personal commitment to social, economic and political reform and the progress that Morocco has made in this area. His courageous reforms have made Morocco a regional leader in terms of advancing democracy and giving his people new hope for a prosperous economic future.
M.T: President Arafat's death is a turning point in the Middle East peace process. What do you expect the future of the Middle East will be after his death? What will America do to implement peace in the region?
T.Riley: Our deepest sympathies are with the Palestinian people as they mourn the loss of Yasser Arafat. In the course of his lifetime, Yasser Arafat came to represent the Palestinians' hopes and dreams for the achievement of an independent Palestinian State. With his passing, we must continue to look to the future with hope that a renewed push for peace will be possible. President Bush has said he intends to pursue the establishment of an independent and democratic Palestinian state during his second term. He also expressed his hope that the election of a new Palestinian president on Jan. 9 would enable the Palestinians to build a viable, democratic and independent state. The United States has pledged to help bring about successful Palestinian presidential elections and will work with the Palestinian leaders to fight terrorism and promote democratic reform.
We also believe that with the disengagement from Gaza, we have an opportunity to get the Roadmap moving forward.
M.T: What is your analysis of the latest developments in the Sahara question? How can the U.S. help all parties to find a fair and peaceful solution?
T.Riley: Our position is unwavering: we support a political resolution of the Western Sahara issue. And, of course, we support the efforts of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and his special representative, Alvaro de Soto, and join them in calling on the parties to cooperate fully with UN efforts to resolve this longstanding dispute. The U.S. does not support a solution imposed on the parties. We also believe that Morocco and Algeria should take advantage of all opportunities to continue their dialogue and to improve their relations.
M.T: The U.S.-Morocco FTA was recently approved by Congress and will enter into effect in January 2005. Do you expect an increase in U.S. investment in Morocco?
T.Riley: The Morocco-U.S. FTA is a tangible sign of the importance the U.S. places on its relationship with Morocco. What should follow next is the expansion of business contacts between the two countries. That's what transforms the FTA from a paper document to a living, breathing economic relationship. I believe that having an FTA with the United States will make Morocco an attractive place to invest, not just for Americans, but also for other foreign investors. For example, a recent decision by one of the world's largest textile manufacturers to move to Morocco was undoubtedly influenced by the fact that this FTA exists.
I'd like to end with a quote from our U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Zoellick. I think his comments on the U.S.-Morocco FTA sum up where this agreement will lead us in the long run: As our bilateral relationship continues to grow and develop, so will our bilateral and regional trade, investment, and the exchange of technology, information, and know how. As we understand the realities and take advantage of the opportunities of globalization, our economies will become more and more interconnected and interdependent. For both of our countries, this is a good thing.
By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 7/4/2005 | 4:36 pm
London -- As a grassroots and community organisation operating in the UK for 20 years, Al-Hasaniya Moroccan Women's Centre is the only centre of its kind in London, serving specifically the needs of Moroccan and Arabic-speaking women...
... It addresses the inequalities in access to mainstream services including health, housing, welfare, and education. Zakia Chentouf, the NGO's centre manager discusses in an interview with Morocco Times , the major problems and challenges facing Moroccan women in the UK.
Tell us about your experience in Al-Hasaniya?
Al-Hasaniya is a registered charity in the UK in North Kensington in London. It was set up by Moroccan women for Moroccan women in 1985, to address the inequalities in access to mainstream services, including education, hospitals, housing agencies... Since its inception the centre has grown from a modest office with one paid member of staff to an organisation housing five paid staff members, six volunteers and 14 successfully run projects.
My involvement with Al-Hasaniya began on a voluntary basis in 2001. Being a young second generation Arab, I was aware of some of the difficulties faced by the Moroccan and Arabic-speaking community, in particular women, and was keen to become part of the team which was working hard to put these issues into the limelight and bring about constructive change. In Jan. 2003, I became the Centre manager. Since then, I have been striving to ensure that the foundations put in place by my predecessors are built upon and we continue to serve the needs of Moroccan and Arabic speaking women.
We have attended international conferences on women's issues, conducted studies on educational under-achievement of Moroccan children in the UK, participated in researches on medicinal herbs, written articles, appeared on international TV stations, won awards for the best run voluntary organisation, and compiled videos on mental health for the benefit of health professionals. Our passion however remains with helping and assisting individual clients seeking our help and support, following our initial ethos.
What are the major activities of Al-Hasaniya?
We currently operate 14 different projects/activities. These include a domestic violence project, elderly outreach project, children and families mental health project, health and advocacy project, Moroccan garden project, youth project, English classes for adults, Arabic classes for children, and much more. Within each of these projects we provide information and advice to our users on a variety of topics, such as immigration law, welfare benefits, housing law, helping them to access health services, such as GPs and hospitals and any issues that they may have.
Over the last two years, Al-Hasaniya has taken part in different consultations and events that have allowed us to advocate on behalf of our users and to make sure that their needs are identified and met. Language and cultural barriers can restrict women from fighting for their rights. However recent changes in the Moroccan Family Law have proved that with determination and commitment, change can be made.
What are the strengths and challenges of your organisation?
Al-Hasaniya is the only centre of its kind in London serving specifically the needs of Moroccan women. Working in the community for the last 20 years has given us the opportunity to build a strong foundation of trust that allows women to feel comfortable to come and see us with no fear of repercussions or judgement of any kind. We offer a confidential service and have the cultural and religious sensitivity and understanding to deal with issues that are a taboo in the community, such as domestic violence and mental health issues. The language barriers that many women face when accessing other advice agencies are non-existent, as all staff speak Arabic.
The main challenge we face is the issue of funding. As with all voluntary groups finances are a problem. There is a lot of competition and limited funds for this sector, which means that the day-to-day financial running of the centre remains, and will most probably always remain, a struggle. We rely greatly on the kind and generous contributions of private donors and the commitment of staff and Management Committee members, without which we probably wouldn't be here today.
Another challenge we face is that of ignorance and a lack of understanding about the work that we do. We have been accused in the past of breaking up marriages and of encouraging women to leave their husbands, when in fact all that we do is make Moroccan women aware of their rights and give them the choice as human beings to seek support if they need to. I guess this is a view that will always be around as sadly there are many closed-minded people in our community. All we can do is continue to support Moroccan women and work even harder to provide them with the support services they need to improve their quality of life in any way they choose.
Could you tell us what are the major problems facing Moroccan women, and how do you deal with each case?
Major problems facing Moroccan women in the UK are similar to those facing Moroccan women all over the world. The first generation came to the UK to work for a few years, save enough money to build a house and start up a small business and go home. They didn't count on a few years turning into 30+ years, settling down, having children, and becoming “British”. I think this is something that many people still haven't come to terms with. Mentally, they're stuck in Morocco of the 70s, too scared to let go of their roots, culture and traditions. They need to bring up their children as “Moroccans and Muslims” and not let western values overcome them, but by holding on so dearly to the memories of the Morocco they left behind in their teens, they haven't been able to fully participate in life in the UK and achieve their full potential. This makes them alienated not only from the community they live in but also from Morocco, as Moroccan society has moved on.
.... Exactly, especially as women, with a language handicap, have struggled a lot to raise their children in a different culture, and endured abuses from their husbands?
Yes, and women in particular take the brunt of this. The majority were married off to young men either in “Kharij” or going there soon. They were taken from what they knew to be home to a totally foreign country, where they couldn't speak the language, had the responsibility of a husband and in many cases young children, and, on top of all of this, had to work for a living in manual jobs such as cleaners and chambermaids.
In fact some of them were the main breadwinners. Sadly, many of these marriages ended in divorce, but other women endured abuse and just got on with it for fear of what other people would say. All their years of hard work were lost, as in many cases the husbands took all the property that they had both worked equally for and the law at that time allowed them to do so. We have had cases of men refusing to divorce their wives; others have been divorced without knowledge or consent, both equally distressing and destroying.
Issues regarding children are very much prevalent amongst the women we deal with. Bringing up children in the UK has proved to be problematic and sadly many of our youngsters are involved in anti-social behaviour, drugs and petty crime. A lack of understanding of the educational system, for example, has excluded Moroccan mothers from being able to participate in their children's education and provide the necessary support, thus resulting in young people dropping out of school. I am in no way generalising or laying the blame at the door of mothers, as fathers need to take responsibility too. However it's well known in our culture that mothers form the basis and foundations of a Moroccan family.
I heard that domestic violence is prevalent in the Moroccan community, is that true?
Yes, unfortunately domestic violence is still very much common in our community. Although we deny it and say it doesn't exist, we have lots of cases of women being physically, verbally abused by their partners, not being financially supported... Recently we have noticed an increase in domestic violence cases. Marriage-migration is proving to be a particularly sensitive area, as many of these women marry, come to the UK and find the promise of a better life a total lie; they are abused and kicked out of their homes. Due to the nature of their entry to the UK and the fact that their spouse has sponsored the application, once that support is withdrawn they find themselves with nowhere to go, no money and no chance of regularising their stay in the UK. Al-Hasaniya can offer them the help they need to rebuild their lives with in-house expertise, including a qualified senior caseworker, a health and advocacy worker and a trainee solicitor.
Coupled with many years work in the community, we have built a strong network of legal assistance and are able to advise and support women on the steps they need to take. In addition the centre offers a relaxed and safe place to go where they can meet other women in a similar situation.
The above are just examples of some of the issues we come across. Each case is dealt with differently, depending on what support the woman needs and more importantly what result she wants to achieve. We work in partnership with a variety of agencies that also offer assistance, such as solicitors, local police stations, and other advice agencies. However we remain as the main support system for women until their issue is fully resolved. Language barriers still impede the ability of women to access services and help in this area is very much needed.
Al-Hasaniya has become a centre for all Arab women in London, but especially in Kensington. What kind of problems do they have and why did they choose Al-Hasaniya, don't they have similar centres in their area?
Since its inception, Al-Hasaniya has always welcomed non-Moroccans, but due to the locality we are in, the majority of users remained Moroccan. However the unfortunate events over the years has resulted in an influx of refugees into the UK. As a result, the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, where we are based, has seen a steady increase in the Arab population. These families brought with them a variety of problems: some similar to the already settled migrant communities such as the Moroccan and Egyptian; others different such as torture, fleeing persecution. As back as 1985, Al-Hasaniya felt the need to address the issues and offer support to these women. They too needed support with social problems, such as accessing benefits, housing, and schools for their children. There are other centres in the UK for Arabic speakers, but none that address issues specifically for women and none that offer the all round service that we do. You could come to Al-Hasaniya for help with completing a form, attend a health workshop, have lunch, and meet women in similar positions that speak your language all in the same day.
Does this mean that Al-Hasaniya has become the spokesperson for the Arab women in the UK in terms of dealing with their problems?
Yes, it would be fair to say that we are the leading Arab women's organisation of this nature that actually deals with women's problems and offers them solutions. We offer a real service for real problems, we don't judge women, nor do we discriminate on the grounds of faith. As mentioned before we have participated at international levels in conference about women's issues, undertaken research about the community, and more importantly I think, supported women at a grassroots level by giving them the opportunity to better their quality of life by improving their skills, getting access to information that would be otherwise inaccessible because of language barriers and so on.
You know that the new family code was a landmark change in Morocco and a model in the Arab world. Do you have programmes designed for Moroccan women in the UK to raise awareness of the new Moudawana?
We are fully aware of the new Family Code and the significance it has in the Arab world. Al-Hasaniya's modest but significant contribution to the “International Conference for Moroccan Women's Rights”, held in Casablanca in October 2003, gave us the chance to work with other women's groups from all over Europe, campaigning for the success and advancement of women's rights. Our small but dedicated team are in the process of working to translate the new Code for the benefit of women living in the UK that don't read Arabic or French. In the meantime we are on hand to explain any of the changes and we receive many calls from women wanting to know how these changes will affect them.
You have recently created AMWA, could you tell us briefly about it?
The Anglo-Moroccan Women's Alliance (AMWA) is an affiliated organisation of Al-Hasaniya set up to take forward the cause of Moroccan women in the UK. This organisation will focus specifically on policy-making issues relating to all aspects of and work with other women's groups to try to bring about long-term effective change. Al-Hasaniya will continue to offer the grassroots level support whilst AMWA will focus on campaigning and lobbying on behalf of Moroccan women in the UK. Working with other NGOs in Europe and in Morocco, we plan to fully participate in all areas of policy- making that relate to the migrant communities, with a particular focus on women. We feel that the Moroccan government has a huge practical role to play in this and they should be working with us.
I have noticed that Al-Hassaniya's programmes focus more on health issues, why?
Al-Hasaniya's ethos was built on bettering access to mainstream services for Moroccan women. Improving a Moroccan woman's quality of life includes making her aware of health services and helping to access them. Before Al-Hasaniya was set up you would have a Moroccan woman going to her GP and taking her young son with her to interpret for her. This was wrong for two reasons. Firstly that meant the child usually had to miss school, secondly he would be asked to translate inappropriate questions for his mother, such as when was your last period? Or do you use contraception? With this in mind, Al-Hasaniya decided to focus on better access to health services, working with interpreting agencies to provide the necessary language. Indeed Al-Hasaniya was very instrumental in setting up GRIP languages service, a free interpreting service available for women when going to the doctor, or hospital. Equally we feel it is important to keep women informed of health issues for their own well-being. We run regular health sessions on a variety of topics, such as breast and cervical cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, sexual health, contraception, depression and much more. Moroccan and Arab women cannot access this information easily elsewhere, because of language and cultural barriers.
What future projects are you working on?
We are currently working on building a Moroccan garden in the Golborne road area in North Kensington to pay tribute to the growing Moroccan families who have lived in the area for the past four decades.
We are also working on a Youth Project. We are now focusing on youth over the coming years as they are in dire need of support. Under-achievement, unemployment and anti- social behaviour are very much prevalent in the community. However there are successes and we will be setting up a counselling project that will allow disadvantaged young people to be supported by those who have been more successful. In 1999, We conducted a research in conjunction with the University of East London entitled “Raising educational achievement amongst Arabic-speaking children”. We would like to follow on from this research in the near future and this will be a big part of our youth project over the coming years.