The Moorish Wanderer has a trenchant analysis of the disempowerment of the Moroccan people and particularly of Moroccan women.

The first part of his post analyzes the powerlessness of the organized political powers and the consequent alienation of the country's youth from the political process.

The second part of the post addresses the self-immolation of Fadoua Laroui in protest of the treatment she received as a young, unwed mother. Wanderer's sarcastic expression of outrage is painful to read, but it bears remembering that he is talking about a young woman who burned herself to death. In my own time in Morocco, I saw the consequences for children born out of wedlock who were cast aside in a Moroccan orphanage with very little hope of escape. And prostitution was commonplace, even in the conservative countryside where I initially least expected it. Women who did not strictly conform to traditional sexual mores paid a steep price in social ostracism, and prostitution was often the sole means of support available for women who had been branded unchaste.

I don't wish to shortchange the strides that Morocco has taken toward women's rights, or the deficiencies in my own culture's treatment of women. However, I think that Wanderer is right to identify the extreme actions taken by the late Ms. Laroui as the result of extreme disempowerment. Ms. Laroui, it seems, had no one to turn to. As I have written before, there is still an opportunity for H.M. the King to embrace and empower his people. I pray he avails himself of it before it is too late.

My Pick for the 2010 Weblog Awards

In every endeavor, there are certain people who achieve a level of excellence that clearly separates them from the ordinary participant. Such people need not be a world champion -- a Lance Armstrong, Mohammed Ali, or Michael Phelps -- but nevertheless they demonstrate a grace and proficiency that sets them apart.

For me, a handful of blogs that I read integrate words, pictures and presentation in such a skilful manner that they are truly set apart -- and, of those, one is written by an acclaimed Moroccan-American novelist. Among the rest, My Marrakesh stands out for elegant design, exquisite taste, gorgeous photography, and crisp, whimsical prose.

Part of what makes My Marrakesh so attractive is its thematic unity. The author, an expatriate American building an elegant guesthouse in cosmopolitan Marrakesh, couples a deep love of Moroccan artistry with an engaging sense of humor over the incessant minor obstacles that repeatedly arise to frustrate her would-be avocation as a hotelier. Occasionally, as in her recent photo montage of Afghan men, she permits a glimpse of the grittier life she leads professionally as an international consultant.

Mostly, however, My Marrakesh is a celebration of simple pleasure and daily beauty -- snapshots of family life, interviews with both Marrakeshis and visitors, accounts of shopping trips in Marrakesh's rich and varied markets. It presents a picture of a life varied and fulfilled, in which one can escape, though not forget, the world's troubles through an appreciation of beauty as seen by the eye of a connoisseur.

For all these reasons, it is easy to see why My Marrakesh again has my vote for Best African Blog in the 2010 Weblog Awards, and I urge anyone who visits the 2010 "Bloggies" to cast a vote for My Marrakesh.

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BBC: Single Mothers Face Harsh Consequences

Abdelilha Boukili pointed me to an excellent piece by the BBC on the difficulties faced by single mothers in Morocco as a result of social ostracism. While this piece focused particularly on the suffering of the mothers, the suffering of their children is often even more compelling. A double standard for male and female sexuality is by no means unique to Morocco, but its consequences for Morocco are starkly demonstrated here.


Sexual Threats Stifle Some Female Bloggers - washingtonpost.com

The Washington Post today ran a story on women bloggers being targeted with harassment and threats of violence:

As women gain visibility in the blogosphere, they are targets of sexual harassment and threats. Men are harassed too, and lack of civility is an abiding problem on the Web. But women, who make up about half the online community, are singled out in more starkly sexually threatening terms -- a trend that was first evident in chat rooms in the early 1990s and is now moving to the blogosphere, experts and bloggers said.

Beyond the obvious revulsion against threats of sexual violence against anyone, there are several additional reasons why this story is particularly disturbing. Not only are many of the attacks quite graphic, but also the perpetrators are often able to remain anonymous on the Internet. While one's first sympathies go to the victims, the consequences for the blogosphere are also likely to be severe. I would venture to say that a majority of the high quality blogs that I read regularly are written by women, and for women in the Maghreb the Internet seems to have been a particularly liberating opportunity for public expression. It would be a shame for the criminal actions of a few sociopaths to shut down access to free expression on the Internet for over half of the population. Finally, if my daughters want to blog when they get older, I want them to be able to do so without fear.

Story of the Day

THE VIEW FROM FEZ: Women dumped in Morocco?

The View from Fez carries a chilling story about women who are abandoned in Morocco when their husbands or fathers return to Europe. About 20 or 30 women are abandoned each year.

One thing that is particularly interesting about this story is that it crosses the fault lines between Europe and North Africa, since the story suggests that the practice is mainly perpetrated by Moroccan immigrants to Holland (or possibly other European countries).

The story cries out for a broader analysis of the treatment of women in immigrant communities, in Europe, and in North Africa. It raises unanswered questions about whether the practice is unique to Morocco or fits in with a wider pattern of abuse of women. Perhaps that is asking too much of a single news story, but in light of common assumptions about how women are treated in the West versus Muslim countries, some serious analysis is called for.

The most disappointing part of the story is that the Dutch authorities have apparently washed their hands of the women who have already been abandoned and are confining their efforts to preventing future abandonments.