Latifa Akharbach: Morocco Is Ambitious about Its Relations with Bulgaria

Novinite Insider » DIPLOMATIC CHANNEL | Author: Angel Petrov |November 19, 2014, Wednesday // 01:07| Views: | Comments: 0
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Bulgaria: Latifa Akharbach: Morocco Is Ambitious about Its Relations with Bulgaria Photo: Embassy of Morocco in Sofia

Morocco's Ambassador to Bulgaria, Latifa Akharbach, has turned to Novinite to cast more light on the forthcoming Days of Morocco which are due to be held between November 19 and 30 and their importance for relations not just between two states, but also between two societies.

For Mrs Akharbach, who has spent about twenty years within the journalist milieu, giving her credentials in Bulgaria's capital Sofia in June 2013 has been the first diplomatic appointment. She has also served as Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation in the former Moroccan government (October 2007 - January 2012). Previously, she has taken positions like General Director of the Moroccan Public Radio.

Your Excellency, is there any specific reason for holding the Days of Morocco this November?

Bulgaria and Morocco have had bilateral relations since 1986. But for me the organization of such cultural days is important, because there are new expectations about our relations on both the Bulgarian and the Moroccan side. It is not enough to have good relations without any concrete substance on the ground. I consider that it is high time that we go to a new step in our relations and to look into a new approach to establish partnerships, to have substantial economic exchange and to have dynamic of people-to-people relations.

It is a pity that our two countries have economic complementarity, but do not have quite a significant dynamic of exchange. For example, I regret that tourism exchange is just symbolic. Even speaking of Romania, there are 14 000 Romanians visiting Morocco each year compared to only 1000 Bulgarians. It's not normal. We didn’t do well in terms of opportunities even though we are not far from each other. The worst in this story is that we didn't seize the new perspective. Morocco has a special status within the EU called Advanced Status. The list of imports and exports is also very short. Bulgarian agricultural producers are not participating in the big agricultural fair in Morocco’s city of Meknes where they could meet African businesses because it is more than thirty countries that participate each year.This year Morocco participated in the Plovdiv fair because we were trying to get more information about Bulgaria.

This is why I believe that to invest in cultural proximity is a very good way to pave the way for a new dynamic of exchange. Culture is the best vector to use to promote the mutual knowledge between two countries.

Are we to expect any central events within the Days of Morocco?

The key event will be a very big exhibition of handicraft and art of Morocco. We will establish a pavilion with a special architectural design. There are 40 people who came to Bulgaria for these cultural days. The Moroccan delegation of craftsmen, who will make live demonstrations making different items, is headed by Fatema Marouane: Minister of Handicraft and Social and Solidarity-Based Economy. You know what is a cooperative? This is social economy: when people produce certain items together. Handicrafts contribute with 19% to Morocco's GDP. 

This exhibition is quite meaningful, because in Morocco we have developed a public policy on this. Our crafts are famous all over the world, it is an autonomous economic sector and it is also important for promoting human development due to all the jobs created within this sector - there are 2.3 million people living from handicraft in Morocco. It also matters to the social economy because many women and rural people are earning their living from it. In a nutshell, it is a success story showing the creativity of the Moroccan people. Morocco's history and civilization have allowed us to have vast heritage and patrimony, so the choice of having the key event about handicraft is no coincidence: handicraft is close to people, is important to economy and culture and promotes tourism at the same time.

On November 19 there will also be a concert of Moroccan soprano Samira Kadiri who sings in several languages, with Oriental lyrics but Medieval music. She sings in Ladino because of the Andalusian heritage. This concert was chosen because it reflects the spirit of Morocco, a country where everything is dedicated to interaction with other cultures. We have a constitution that is unique in the Arab world, because it describes the national identity with many components. We are not only Arab, but also Berber; not only Muslim, but also Jewish; not only African, but also Mediterranean; and it is within our Constitution. This concert expresses precisely this spirit of concord and cultural dialogue.

Is it cultural diversity or is it something else that makes Moroccan culture different from other cultures in the region? What is special about Moroccan culture?

In Morocco we have always been for diversity or pluralism. Never in our history have we had a single-party system. It is also due to the monarchy, which is absolutely important in our evolution. We have been pluralistic even before our independence, not only under the Constitution, but also in our collective memory, in our political DNA.

Second, we have religious diversity. The Moroccan King has a special status: he is Commander of the Faithful. He is not commander of Muslims, that means he protects the faith of all Moroccan citizens regardless of their religions. We have Jewish Moroccans which accept the King as a guarantor of their freedom of faith.Third, we are also Berbers, which were there prior to the Arabs, and the new Constitution has included this, giving an official status to the Berber language. We also consider that social coherence is a prerequisite for any human development. You know in Morocco we have a Israelite school and Muslim parents have the right to send their children there? We consider that cultural dialogue and harmony, not only coexistence, is part of any democratic consolidation. Integration in public policy has to be applied not only in academic milieu, but on the ground.

It struck me that the Morocco Days will be on for a total of eleven days. Why is the program so generous, is it because you feel Bulgaria knows too little about Moroccan culture?

Absolutely not. The reason is clear: Morocco is officially ambitious about its relations with Bulgaria. And we want to deliver this message because Bulgaria is not only a country of seven millions, but is first a full member of the EU. Morocco has a strategic choice to be close to the EU and at the same time feels close to the Southern EU countries due to cultural proximity. Second, we consider Bulgaria a regional actor in which we believe and trust for the stabilization of the Balkans, spreading European values. We also believe there are many opportunities for investment. For example, apart from being a country of 30 millions, Morocco is a gateway to Africa. And for Bulgaria, the country was very present in our region formerly, with engineers, doctors, teachers in Morocco and Algeria. We therefore consider that Bulgaria could use the Moroccan knowledge of Africa so that we build something together in the region. This should be the real framework for our bilateral relations: we are both regional actors.

The cultural days of Morocco are there to deliver this message: let's promote together our proximity and our cultural exchange to go beyond psychological distance. When you know someone you are more oriented to work with him. Maybe it will catalyze other exchanges.

I have received people from the business sector many times and I am surprised how limited knowledge many of them have about Morocco. And vice versa, I am sure many Moroccan tourists would be going to Bulgaria if there were a direct flight and more information about the country. 

You already mentioned the core events to be hosted during the Days of Morocco. Which other activities would you point out?

I chose to screen on November 28 a movie projected at the Cannes Festival titled Horses of God. Everybody is now talking about Islamic State. The question is how young people are recruited and decide to break away from the society. The movie is about young people who are recruited by a fundamentalist group, from a suburb of the big city of Casablanca, and choose to bomb themselves. The movie is based on a novel and has been awarded by a number of festivals, the actors however are not professional.

There are also gastronomy days and an exhibition of local, organic products made by women because it is an interesting human development experience. We are trying to teach women to be autonomous by using what they have in their environment.We also have fashion shows with kaftans. A stand for tourism and information about Morocco will also be available to visitors. At the same time a giant handicraft workshop will be opened in Plovdiv giving Bulgarian and Moroccan craftsmen the opportunity to work together.

What further projects are in the pipeline to promote Bulgarian-Moroccan relations?

We would like to have more regular political consultations, because the world is changing at a high speed, especially after the Arab Spring. Morocco is a very stable country, a predictable one, and can be a good partner for Bulgaria and also needs Bulgaria's experience in a number of areas such as collective security linked to migration, refugees, trans-national crime. For instance, this refugee influx puts Bulgaria under pressure, but Morocco is also under pressure. We are also potentially facing terrorism threats. Morocco has been ringing for many years the bell about the emergence of terrorist organizations in Africa. So the two countries will benefit from regular consultations and exchange of information. Separately, a new cultural agreement is in preparation with the new Culture Minister will be invited to sign it in 2015.

We would also like to dynamize the joint business council which has existed for a few years but currently there are no concrete results of its work due to lack of information. We should think of how to boost investment, how to sent students to the other country, how to have planes full of tourists - these things would be concrete. This is why the program of the forthcoming Days of Morocco is so demanding. Our exchange is not sufficient – last year it was only BGN 100 M. What we currently have is not enough to say we are friends.

Her Excellency also wished to deliver a message to Bulgarians on the occasion of this autumn’s early parliamentary elections and the European Parliament vote held on May 25:

The Bulgarians delivered the same message twice in a very short time: at the European elections and the national elections Bulgarians voted and chose the European values. This is the assessment made by me as an ambassador of Morocco, a country very close to Europe. In our region Morocco is the closest ally of the EU,so I would like to congratulate Bulgarians for their choice. I think this government has all the assets to go on with the new rhythm with this democratic transition. It is very good that the government is committed to deepening the EU values within the Bulgarian society.

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Tags: Latifa Akharbach, morocco, Bulgaria, Days of Morocco, Romania, Fatema Marouane, Samira Kadiri, Horses of God
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