Rabat – While many non-Moroccans are familiar with the popular cities of Marrakech, Casablanca, Fez, and Tangier, most have never heard of Zagora. But in March, Washington, D.C., had an opportunity to celebrate the beauty of Zagora, the first guest of honor of the annual Morocco Day symposium.
The head of the Moroccan American Network, Mohammed El Hajjam, told Morocco World News that, one month on from the D.C. event, he is visiting Morocco with a delegation of businessmen and tourism experts for networking and exploring the potential of Morocco’s regions, including Zagora.
The gateway to the Moroccan Sahara, the Zagora region, 350 kilometers southeast and across the Atlas Mountains from Marrakech, is home to many palaces and fortresses, called ksours and kasbahs, which attract local and international tourists.
The Morocco Day event was the result of a decision from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who announced that every March 29 will be Morocco Day to celebrate the diversity of the North African country.
Surrounded by mountains to the northwest and the dunes of the Sahara desert, Zagora lies alongside the Draa river in southeastern Morocco. The region is known for its epic sand dunes and earthy colors.
The head of the Zagora region, Abderrahim Chahid, said that March 29 was significant for Zagora, because of the participation of a delegation of 15 entrepreneurs. In addition to culture, entrepreneurs and investors also discussed infrastructure and public services in the region.
Chahid recalled that the event will be extended to Alexandria, a Virginia city near Washington, D.C., which will host a festival to celebrate Moroccan culture and music, also with Zagora as guest of honor.
Mayor Justin Wilson of Alexandria proclaimed June 9 an annual day to honor Morocco’s culture and history. The festival will feature Moroccan Gnawa music and dance, in addition to jazz and art shows.
While Morocco Day in Washington, D.C., showed the business potential of Zagora, Alexandria will enjoy the tourism aspects of the region.
Chahid told MWN that Morocco Day in Alexandria will “feature Zagora’s heritage and folklore music, including one of the popular music bands Rokba led by maestro Karfaoui.”
Morocco’s deep regions should be introduced to the world
The festival will also feature youth bands, including Draa Tribes, who mix modern and traditional music of the region, including jazz and Gnawa.
Chahid told MWN there will also be a balance of tangible and intangible heritage in artistic shows.
“The purpose of this project with the Moroccan American Network is to give an opportunity to introduce these regions that lie deep in Morocco as they carry important cultural characteristics,” said Chahid.
He acknowledged that, despite their historic importance, some Moroccan regions are still isolated from world recognition. “Morocco Day, therefore, was a historic moment for Zagora.”
In Zagora, the second biggest industry, after agriculture, is tourism. “We extremely rely on tourism, especially as 15 entrepreneurs come to the region to discover … its potentials,” he said.
The opportunity, according to Chahid, will create direct relations with travel agencies and hotels after building confidence in the region’s potential.
Chahid also welcomed the Moroccan American Network’s partnership, as well as Moroccan artist Nouamane Lahlou, whose song about Zagora was featured during Morocco Day on March 29.
Highlighting a submerged region is of special importance
Spotlighting the well-known cities of Fez or Tangier at an event in Washington would have been expected. But choosing Zagora, or any other lesser-known area as a guest of honor, will raise several questions, Chahid told MWN.
He added that after Morocco Day, there were three specific reactions.
The first reaction, according to Chahid was that of the region. “This kind of opportunities give confidence to the province and the others across Morocco to prove themselves and their potentials.”
The second reaction was that of the press, and Chahid noted there has been a lot of press coverage.
The last reaction was from government institutions and elected people, who considered the activity an important step to promote regions like Zagora.
MWN also asked Chahid if he believes there will be continuity in developing and promoting the region.
“The most important step achieved during the Moroco Day is the reaction of the Moroccan embassy in Washington D.C.,” Chahid said.
The Moroccan ambassador in Washington, Lalla Joumala, commended the participation of the Zagora delegation to Chahid, welcoming the initiative.
The head of the region also recalled that the Moroccan American Network will highlight the 12 regions of Morocco in 12 years in the Morocco Day symposium every March 29.
The Moroccan American Network will, however, always feature Zagora in every annual Morocco Day symposium.
In a statement shared with Morocco World News recently, El Hajjam said the network now is considering several Moroccan cities for the second annual Morocco Day.
The network has to select a city from the following list: Chefchaouen, Essaouira, Marrakech, Rabat, Agadir, Casablanca, Tan-Tan, Laayoune, Tangier, Oujda, Fez, Tata, Ouarzazate, and El Jadida.
The network’s objective is to introduce Moroccan cities to America.