By Mohamed Abdelilah, Boubker Abisourour, Moulay Driss Aloumouati, Mohammed Bourdi,Hanane Zelouani Idrissi, Mounir Moutaouakil, Naoual El Aomari Rsimi
By Mohamed Abdelilah, Boubker Abisourour, Moulay Driss Aloumouati, Mohammed Bourdi,Hanane Zelouani Idrissi, Mounir Moutaouakil, Naoual El Aomari Rsimi
Washington DC – On October 23, 2015, the Council of Moroccans Living Abroad (CCME) sent a delegation to Washington DC and convened a meeting with about 80 members of the Moroccan community living in the Washington metropolitan area.
The delegation was composed of five members of the CCME, headed by Mr. Abdelhamid Jamri, President of the Working Group Administration, Users Rights, and Public Policies, and coordinated by Mrs. Nadia Serhani, a member of CCME living in the US. The goal of the visit was to discuss the five articles provided in the Constitution of Morocco as amended in 2011 granting civic and political rights to Moroccans living abroad, namely articles 16, 17, 18, 30, and 163.
The CCME is national consultative institution that was established by Royal Decree in December 2007, and was made constitutional ensuing the July 2011 reform in the constitution approved by Referendum. CCME currently comprises six working groups including various members of Moroccans living abroad. The CCME’s responsibilities include the monitoring and evaluation of Morocco’s public policies regarding the Moroccan diaspora to ensure the protection of its rights and interests as well as its contribution to the economic, social, and human development of the country. To this end, CCME conduct visits to host countries to meet with members of the community and thematic research. It also organizes meetings, roundtables, conferences to facilitate exchange between the Moroccan diaspora and policy makers in Morocco.
As a result of this meeting where various topics were discussed, CCME decided on a follow up action and invited seven people from the Washington DC area to visit Rabat, Morocco to meet with various government offices and institutions. The goal of the visit was: 1) to bridge the gap between the Moroccan diaspora in the USA and Morocco with a first engagement with the DC Metro community, 2) to share first-hand information on what this community has achieved and its role and aspirations in the implementation of the 2011 constitution articles, 3) to provide the participants with the opportunity to learn about the programs that government institutions are working on in light of the various reforms and sectorial strategies Morocco is undertaking. It is worth mentioning that CCME indicated that the DC Metro meeting was the start of a series of meetings with the Moroccan American community and it is planning future visits to the US to meet with other members of the community in other parts of the country, understanding that each community has its own characteristics and challenges.
To identify members of the delegation that visited Morocco, a five-member Voluntary Selection Committee, as a proper community initiative, was created to help select seven participants. The Committee sent an open invitation to community members to send in their resumes and communicate their interest, experience, and value added in the following areas: Education, Religious Affairs, Social Services, Youth Services, Public Policy, Science and Technology, as well as Research & Higher Education. Close to fifty applications were received and the following seven community members (in alphabetical order) were selected:
Mohamed Abdelilah (Religious Affairs)
Boubker Abisourour (Education)
Moulay Driss Aloumouati (Youth Services)
Mohammed Bourdi (Research & Higher Education)
Hanane Zelouani Idrissi (Public Policy)
Mounir Moutaouakil (Science & Technology)
Naoual El Aomari Rsimi (Social Services)
In addition to the selected seven people, CCME extended an invitation to Mr. Boubker Asraou and Mr. Hassan Samrhouni, as well as to Mr. Lhoucine Oulbaz (as a journalist) to join the delegation. These ten attendees were accompanied in the meetings by the CCME members, Mrs. Nadia Serhani (USA), and Mr. Abdelhamid El Jamri (France) as well as Mrs. Ouafae Benabdenbi, CCME Coordinator in Rabat who organized all the meetings that took place over a period of three full days and were as follows:
Monday December 14, 2015:
-Conseil de la Communauté Marocaine à l’Etranger (CCME) (Mr. Abdellah Boussouf, Secretary General)
-Ministère des Affaires Etrangères et de la Coopération (Mr. Mustapha Bouaazaoui, Director of Consular and Social Issues)
-Fondation Hassan II pour les Marocains Résidant à l’Étranger (Mr. Abderrahmane Zahi, Secretary General)
Ministère des Habbous et des Affaires Islamiques (Mr. Ahmed Taoufik, Minister)
Tuesday December 15, 2015:
-Parliament (Mrs. Kenza Ghali, Vice President to the Speaker of the House)
-Ministère Chargé des Marocains Résidant à l’Etranger et des Affaires de la Migration (Mr. Anis Birou, Minister)
-Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur, de la Recherche Scientifique et de la Formation des Cadres (Mr. Lahcen Daoudi, Minister)
-Dar El Hadith El Hassania (Mr. Ahmad Al-Khamlichi, President)
Wednesday December 16, 2015:
-Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique (CNRST) (Mr. Ahmed Hammouch, Director)
-US Embassy (Mr. Matthew Lussenhop, Deputy Chief of Mission)
-Université Internationale de Rabat (Mr. Noureddine Mouaddib, President)
The first Meeting of the delegation was with CCME where r. Abdellah Bousouf presented his welcoming remarks and gave a general presentation about the Council and its role as a constitutional consultative entity that aims to ensure that the issues of the Moroccan community living abroad are at the heart of public policies based on a participatory approach as enshrined in the constitution. Mr. Abdelhamid Aljamri in his turn stressed the importance of the visit as an opportunity for the delegation to present policy makers with recommendations and alternatives on how to respond to the needs and aspirations of the Moroccan community in the US.
The delegation met with government officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Fondation Hassan II and Dar Al Hadith Al Hassania. During these meetings, the delegation stressed that at a time when Islamophobia is widespread in Western countries, we, as Muslims in the US are doing our best to project a good image of our faith as a religion of peace and co-existence. Mr. Zahi explained that Fondation Hassan II, in partnership with the Ministry of Religious Affairs, has been sending Imams and religious lecturers in past Ramadans to countries where there is a large concentration of Moroccans. However, the delegation emphasized that it is imperative to address the immediate challenges the Moroccan community in the US is currently facing as well as to develop stronger bonds between the institutions mentioned above and Moroccan organizations that are active in the religious and cultural arenas there. Morocco, as an example of religious tolerance that many other countries are referring to for addressing religious extremism and Islam phobia, ought to play a bigger role in the US and support the Moroccan community in its endeavors and initiatives.
The delegation also explained that there is an urgent need for a Religious Community Center in the Washington DC area to promote our religious roots and legacy as well as to preserve our identity. The delegation highlighted that some initiatives are already undertaken by committed Moroccans living in the US and that the Moroccan government support is needed for a broader impact and outreach. A proposal was given to some of the institutions we met explaining that one particular organization has a proposal “Al Salam Center” with its own endowment.
As the most important issue facing parents living in the USA today, the delegation discussed with different government officials the importance of teaching our children the language of their parents and to help them remain attached to the culture of their country of origin. Therefore, the help and support of the Moroccan government in this filed is crucial and necessary.
Mr. Zahi at Fondation Hassan II, as an institution that has taken the lead in teaching Arabic and Moroccan culture to Moroccan children living in Europe, explained that they have been sending hundreds of teachers to different countries for many years and spending millions of dollars; however, and for many reasons, this model has not given good results and did not have much impact to satisfy the needs of Moroccan-European children. Hence, Fondation Hassan II has taken necessary steps to address this issue and is looking into other models such as supporting Moroccan associations active in the field of education abroad, as well as some new platforms, namely E-madrasa and E-Taqafa that are being developed into Apps:
http://e-madrassa.ma is a platform online, multimedia, interactive, and designed to facilitate the learning of the Arabic language.
www.e-taqafa.ma is a digital space for MRE, which will highlight Morocco through its heritage and cultural wealth.
Officials at the Ministry of Moroccans Living Abroad explained that they recently started supporting some Moroccan associations working in the education field in selected countries. However, the delegation expressed the need and urgency for more support to as many associations as possible and stressed the importance of cultural and summer camps in Morocco to benefit Moroccan American children.
Youth & Social Services:
The delegation stressed to Moroccan officials that the goal of the Moroccan community is to mobilize its resources and other related ones to facilitate a very positive engagement and continue to tie Moroccan American Youth to Morocco and its profound culture. The delegation highlighted priority and immediate issues that urgently need to be addressed to ensure the success of building a strong Moroccan community in the US. In light of keeping our youth interconnected with their country of origin, language and culture, the delegation proposed the launch of a satellite TV channel to help teaching Arabic and exposing our American born children to the Moroccan culture.
It was also agreed that obtaining a demographic census of Moroccans living in the United States is crucial. It will enable the consulate as well as other government entities to generate an accurate statistical database of Moroccans living in the US, including detailed information about their demographics. The delegation also stressed the urgency of the Moroccan government support for the Moroccan community in the US in setting up orientation sessions for the new migrants to the US to facilitate their transition and for a successful integration in the American society. These orientation sessions will provide new immigrants with information related to health access, education system, civil rights, laws, etc.
Airfare was another topic that was raised by the delegation and meticulously discussed with officials. Many Moroccans feel the burden of the high cost of a plane ticket from the US to Morocco, especially those with large families and limited income. Therefore, we urged officials to have Royal Air Maroc offer competitive prices in order to encourage families to frequently visit Morocco, which will enable their children to be exposed to the language and culture of their parents.
In terms of consular related issues, the delegation suggested to open a branch in the West Coast to better serve Moroccans living in that part of the country. Another challenge that was raised during discussions was the poor customer service of consulate representatives. Phone calls, for instance, are rarely answered, especially in the consulate in New York, an ongoing problem that needs to be addressed urgently.
The delegation also stressed the importance of generating an electronic system for deceased Moroccan nationals. Having a system in place will facilitate the processing of paperwork as well as the logistics of shipping the body of the deceased to Morocco if that is the wish of the family. This will also help the consulate in determining those eligible to receive financial support to cover the expenses of handling the deceased body.
The delegation also explained that there is consensus about the need to create a multi-purpose Moroccan American Resource Center (MARC) with a mission to benefit the community. Among other things, the center will provide services to women, youth, partner with local women shelters, facilitate access to various community services and programs, council on employment development and opportunities, and provide legal guidance.
Research & Higher Education:
The delegation stressed during its meetings with the Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Professional Training; the National Center for Scientific and Technical Research (CNRST) and the international University of Rabat (UIR) the need for a clear strategy to involve Moroccan expatriates in academic institutions to help Morocco face the challenges of high education and scientific research.
While Moroccan scientific expatriates in the U.S. have managed to provide academic support to students and researchers in Morocco in many ways, these efforts remain insufficient in part because of the following hurdles: 1) lack of real commitment of institutions and researchers in Morocco to develop win-win partnerships with their Moroccan counterparts abroad; 2) lack of a vision and of a formal statutes for Moroccan expatriates to act as mediators of Moroccan scientific development through the advancement of higher education and scientific research; 3) absence of a national entity whose function is to support and coordinate the Moroccan expatriates academic contributions in Morocco while protecting their rights and interests.
Discussions were very constructive and all parties agreed on the need for a clearer strategy that could better bridge Moroccan scientific expatriates in the U.S and their counterparts in Morocco. The delegation also welcomed the idea that Morocco is seriously considering the creation of a national agency as part of a new strategy to improve the scientific cooperation between Moroccan scientific expatriates and Moroccan institutions.
Science & Technology:
The delegation discussed how Moroccans living abroad in general, and in the US in particular, could play a major role and contribute positively to the innovation of the country in terms of science and technology. However, the delegation, pointed to the fact that in many cases competent Moroccan scientists face obstacles whenever a public position within a public institution is sought. This is in spite of the existence of article 163, which clearly states that Moroccans living abroad are urged and guaranteed opportunities to contribute to the development of their home country.
Regarding Moroccan students attending higher education in the US, the following subjects were discussed:
Many Moroccan students under a student F1 visa face financial challenges to cover their expenses as restrictions from Moroccan financial institutions render transfers from morocco to the USA very problematic. Consequently, most students seek traditional financial transfers through a network of friends, which may not be legal and may be punishable by law.
When selecting a major to pursue, Moroccan students take into consideration the possibility of returning home, yet there is no effective/efficient tool to guide them in order to select a major that might benefit them and Morocco. The delegation suggested that Moroccan institutions should publish the most beneficial majors to pursue overseas based on the projected job market within the next five to ten years.
It is worth noting that government officials of the scientific institutions visited by our delegation were fully aware and knowledgeable about the importance as well as the challenges facing Moroccan students and scientists living in the United States.
Public policy issues were at the heart of all delegation meetings. In this respect, members of the delegation had deep discussions, especially in the parliament with Mrs. Kenza Ghali, about the pending organic laws related to the Moroccan diaspora, particularly articles 16, 17 and 30, 18, as well as 163. These articles respectively relate to: protection of diaspora’s rights and strengthening ties with it inside Morocco and in host countries, political participation: right to vote and to run for office, representation in national consultative councils and entities, and the National Council for the Moroccan Diaspora.
The delegation expressed its concerns regarding the delay in passing these laws as the government has yet to prepare the drafts and send them to Parliament. In this respect, the delegation stressed the need to take into consideration the diaspora’s opinion and to actively engage with it. The delegation also called for the need for representation in the set-up of the Consultative Council for Children and Family as well as the Consultative Council on Equity and Combatting all Forms of Discrimination, two constitutional entities which establishment is pending on other organic laws (respectively article169 and 194), to enable Moroccan families as well as women living abroad to voice their needs and fulfill their aspirations.
The delegation also highlighted that the Moroccan government TV satellite channels are not playing a very good role in relaying information about Moroccan culture and heritage as the content is very poor and generic. Hence, the delegation called on the parliament to address this issue in its sessions and ask the Ministry of Communication to address it. The delegation asked the parliament to provide a formal translation of the constitution into English for a better-informed diaspora in the US.
As a response, Mrs. Ghali expressed its commitments to voice the delegation concerns to the parliament and to call for the creation of a Thematic Committee as well as a Working Day among members of the parliament across political affiliations and in both houses to address Moroccan diaspora issues.
In meetings with the Ministry of Moroccans Living Abroad and the Parliament, the delegation loudly voiced that the need of accurate statistics of Moroccans living in the US has become a public policy issue which needs to be addressed with urgency, especially that it is an essential tool when it comes to the formation of electoral districts in host countries, and any other forms of representation that rely on these numbers.
Additionally, the delegation also urged the Parliament, the Ministry of Moroccans Living abroad and other relevant institutions to consider legislation and bilateral agreements with the US that relate to retirement, health insurance, and recognition of legal documents (as they relate to marriage, divorce, nationality, etc… )
The delegation ‘s meeting with the US Embassy was an opportunity to demonstrate the commitment of the Moroccan community in general to both countries and the role we play as a diaspora in effective parallel diplomacy.
The delegation discussed the security issue in light of the use of hate speech by one of the presidential elections candidates and the increased attacks on Islam and Muslims. The conversation touched on the two countries’ partnership in countering terrorism and extremism and the role Morocco plays as a leader in the Arab and Muslim world with a long history of tolerance towards all religions.
The delegation inquired whether the US Embassy has statistics on how many Moroccans live in the US, and were told the Embassy can only provide limited information which would only reflect how many visas were issued during a certain period of time.
Regarding new immigrants and Green Card holders as well as the difficulties they face when they arrive, which has become a real challenge for the community in the US, the delegation suggested to the Embassy the need to help communicate relevant information to new visa holders early on. The plan would be to consolidate information from community organizations in the US and communicate it in the form of a print out that can be distributed to new immigrants as they pick up their passports and visas in the embassy.
The embassy shed light on the Fulbright program, an exchange program for students in Morocco, which still remains unattainable for many; the teachers training in Morocco in English under the program ACCESS; and some other scholarships through the Department of Agriculture in the field of agriculture that all remain limited in scope.
The delegation raised the topic of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) as it pertains to Morocco’s economic growth, especially regarding export of aeronautic products from Morocco to the US and the need for similar exports and diversification of technical nature. This led to the question of technical expertise and knowledge and the need for more graduates in the field of STEM in Morocco for the next coming years.
The delegation brought the attention of the Embassy that retirement is a serious issue in the absence of a Totalization Agreement between the two countries. Such an agreement would allow Moroccan Americans to retire in Morocco with the full advantages earned as US citizens and tax payers without certain limitations and constraints that are imposed by the IRS or SSA. The delegation learnt that this is an active project that both countries are currently working on.
Last but not least, the embassy staff made several comments about the need for Morocco and the Moroccan American community to leverage Morocco’s stability and openness as an incentive to attract American students and investors who are now facing limited options in the Arab world. Learning Arabic is in high demand, and a large number of Americans seek to do so in Morocco nowadays; and when you add to that Peace Corps volunteers who spend months and years in Morocco, you get an effective pool of people who could shape US public opinion if not policy when properly leveraged.
In conclusion, the majority of institutions the delegation met with expressed willingness to engage to address community concerns, aspirations, and needs. However, there remains an urgent need to further educate makers in Morocco about the Moroccan Community living in the US.
In order to achieve our goals as a Moroccan community in the US, there is also a genuine need for specialized and dedicated NGOs to address the broader community needs, but most importantly for our community to organize and mobilize to be able to advocate better on how to serve its interests and give back to Morocco while providing recommendations and alternative solutions.
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