This week marks the two-year anniversary of Morocco’s version of the so-called Arab Spring. It didn’t unseat a dictator. But, tens of thousands of Moroccans took to the streets demanding democracy. Morocco’s powerful King diffused the protest by offering a few reforms. But little has changed for most Moroccans – especially the country’s young people. Many have found their voice in rap music. From Morocco on The World, with stunning photos by student photojournalist Shalea Harris. The latest from Round Earth Media’s groundbreaking collaboration with SIT Study Abroad. Click HERE to listen and view the photos.
February 22nd, 2013 | By Mary Stucky
November 21st, 2012 | By Mary Stucky
Throughout North Africa and the Middle East, young people have been at the forefront of revolution and political change. In Morocco, thousands took to the streets last year raising their voices, calling for reforms and demanding to be heard. That demand was in full force at a recent symposium in Rabat, Morocco’s capital.
“I think it is time to have this conversation,” said Yousef El Miadi, a cultural studies student at University of Mohamed V in Rabat, Morocco. “Not from older to younger, but from man-to-man.”
The October 22 symposium, “Youth & Civil Society,” sparked dialogue and debate. One hundred Moroccans and Americans, most of them students, crowded into a meeting room at the University of Mohamed V for the symposium which was sponsored by World Learning, the parent organization of SIT Study Abroad which runs three programs for American students in Rabat including a journalism program in collaboration with Round Earth Media. Moroccan academics and researchers presented their findings on subjects ranging from youth civil service to religious education to the uses of social media in bringing about political change.
“For right or for wrong, your generation is going to inherit a number of really vexing, very challenging critical global issues,” said Adam Weinberg, president and CEO of World Learning, who addressed the gathering.
September 26th, 2012 | By Mary Stucky
Veronica Jean Seltzer, a Classics major at Tufts University in Boston, and Sara Ait Khorsa, a journalism student at the Institut Supérieur de l’Information et de la Communication in Rabat, teamed up to produce In Morocco Some Dream of a Kingly Gift, just broadcast nationwide on the public radio program, Marketplace.
CLICK HERE for this surprising story, which helps explain why the “Arab Spring” did not topple Morocco’s king.
Our program comes as U.S. newsrooms are contracting and closing and as the desire for stories outside U.S. borders is greater than ever before. Democracy in our interconnected world depends on independent journalism!
Look for more stories soon and, please, tell any aspiring journalist to sign up NOW for our Spring 2013 program, unique among journalism programs world-wide!
September 16th, 2012 | By Mary Stucky
With the Arab world erupting in protests, Round Earth Media is back in Morocco re-launching our ground-breaking journalism program in collaboration with SIT Study Abroad.
Twelve American journalism students, mentored by Round Earth’s veteran journalists, will spend almost four months in Morocco, learning from Moroccan experts, academics, and activists while reporting on this country which is being called a “key U.S. ally” in a volatile region. Some of our students are majoring in journalism, others in academic subjects ranging from geography to philosophy – all are immersed in life here, living with familes in Rabat’s ancient medina.
What a great time and place to explore issues of free speech, press rights, the power of social media and the importance of journalism ethics and accurate reporting – not to mention the chance to report on Islamic movements, gender issues, the environment, economy, art and culture.
What do we conclude about this week’s protests from our perch in Morocco? There were non-violent protests in Casablanca on Wednesday and after prayers on Friday in Sale (Rabat’s twin town across a river), but the weekend has been quiet and Morocco is once again proving its “exceptionalism.” Writing in the New York Times, Harvey Morris says this “North African kingdom is regarded by the United States and Europe as an island of stability in a sea of troubles.”
Morocco may be relatively stable but it is not a democracy. In Morocco, the press, the government and the economy are controlled by the king and his coterie. More than half of all Moroccan women can neither read nor write. One in two young people are unemployed. While Morocco has avoided an Arab Spring revolution and the chaos that’s engulfing its neighbors, this country still faces enormous challenges. Many Moroccans live squalid and difficult lives.
Their stories are waiting to be told.
July 19th, 2012 | By Round Earth Media
At Round Earth Media, we teach students to produce great journalism about important global issues. But that’s not all. When a student story is exceptionally good, we help students publish and broadcast their stories and photographs in top-tier media – like this story by student Stacy Wheeler, which was published in GlobalPost (with reporting assistance from her Moroccan partner, Oumaima Azzelzouli.
Our pioneering program in Morocco, in partnership with SIT Study Abroad, resulted in student stories placed in major media outlets in the United States. Proof positive that undergraduate students can produce journalism of the highest professional and ethical standards, while receiving a powerful experience in cross-cultural learning. (more…)
July 15th, 2012 | By Mary Stucky
Nancy Fushan has had a long career as an award winning arts journalist and a program officer for major American foundations. On her first trip to Morocco, Nancy witnessed our innovative new journalism program. Here is her reflection.
It is 3 p.m. and a dozen American exchange students arrive at Mohammed V University on the outskirts of Rabat, Morocco’s capital city. They are here on the groundbreaking journalism program, a partnership between Round Earth Media and SIT Study Abroad. For the past week, I’ve watched this group absorb information in lectures featuring well-known journalists, scholars, and artists. I’ve shared a lunch with them in the mountain town of Azrou and heard about their adventures interacting with the locals. Over glasses of mint tea, there have been the intense discussions as Mary and the program’s co-academic director, Taieb Belghazi, have challenged the students’ political and cultural assumptions. They’ve developed and presented topics and story ideas that will culminate in their final Independent project for the semester, a major feature story or photo essay.
But today is special. They’re about to meet a group of Moroccan journalism students, courtesy of one of Mary’s many Rabat contacts and partners. Today’s assignment is for the U.S. and Moroccan students to form partnerships that will provide them both with insights, context, and assistance from developing reporting resources to providing translation services. This would be daunting for many seasoned reporters on foreign assignment, let alone this group of novice journalists, international relations, anthropology, and classics majors. Mary knows this and even she is nervous as we step out of the bus, “Am I out of my mind to think this can actually happen?” Moroccan media studies professor Khadija Zizi reassures her. “Nothing to worry about…they’ll be fine,” says Khadija as the young Moroccans enter the classroom. They sit as a group by themselves. The tension is evident. I myself see reason for doubt.
June 29th, 2012 | By Round Earth Media
At Round Earth Media, we teach students to produce great journalism about important global issues. But that’s not all. When a student story is exceptionally good, we help students publish and broadcast their stories and photographs in top-tier media – like this story by student Marie von Hafften, which was published in GlobalPost.
Our pioneering program in Morocco, in partnership with SIT Study Abroad, resulted in student stories placed in major media outlets in the United States. Proof positive that undergraduate students can produce journalism of the highest professional and ethical standards, while receiving a powerful experience in cross-cultural learning.
| By Marie von Hafften
RABAT, Morocco – In Morocco, often considered one of the most liberal Muslim countries, affection between women is common. Girls loop arms, stroll hand-in-hand and sit cuddled together. But when this affection becomes romantic and women want to live openly as lesbians, Morocco’s acceptance abruptly stops.
“Lesbianism is not a good thing. Our God does not allow us to do something like this. It is haram,” said Hasnae Krimi, 22, a linguistics student at Rabat’s Mohammed V University, who believes that sickness and natural disasters are increasing as a warning to reject homosexuality. Most people in this Islamic country respond in similar fashion: Homosexuality is haram, prohibited by God.
Even after the Arab Spring, as demands for democracy and human rights ripple through North Africa, homosexuality is still an island unchanged, officially illegal and too taboo to be discussed openly. Moroccan author Abdellah Taïa, who has written a new book about growing up gay in the Arab world, lives in Paris for fear of reprisal in the country of his birth.
Under Moroccan law, committing “lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex” is punishable by six months to three years in prison and a fine ranging from 120 to 1,000 dirhams (about 14 to 117 USD). Algeria and Tunisia have similar bans. There have been no reports of women arrested in violation of these laws in Morocco, perhaps because experts say it’s rare for a lesbian to be open about her sexual orientation.
Moroccans Sarah and Maria, both 20, have been a couple for more than a year. Both asked that their last names not be used because of the stigma and legal implications attached to being a lesbian in Morocco. Though Sarah now attends a university in France and Maria is studying fine arts in Casablanca, they spend time together whenever they can.
Maria says she’s known she was a lesbian since she was 12 years old, but Sarah struggled when she began having feelings for Maria. “I wasn’t ready to understand how you can love someone that has the same gender,” she said. Now Sarah confidently pronounces, “I am lesbian.”
Sarah and Maria met online. A mutual friend teased Sarah about not knowing Maria because Maria lives in Casablanca where Sarah has many friends. Sarah added Maria on Facebook, planning to delete her later. Instead the women began messaging each other. To meet in person, Sarah flew secretly to Tunisia where Maria was studying abroad, telling her parents she spent the weekend studying with friends.
Neither woman’s family knows of her sexual orientation, but Sarah and Maria did tell some friends and colleagues they are lesbians — and lost friends as a result. Sarah said her ex-boyfriend physically attacked her in the street three times in one week because he was ashamed that she dated a woman after him. “We cannot rely on the police,” Sarah said, adding that if she reported the attacks, her former boyfriend “could tell the police that we are lesbians.”
Behind the law against homosexuality is religion, said Dr. Abdessamad Dialmy, a professor of gender studies at the Rabat’s Mohammed V University and one of the leading researchers of sexuality in Morocco. “For the majority of Moroccans, homosexuality is a sin because it is rejected by Islam,” he said. “If you have sex outside marriage, it is less condemnable than sex among the same sex. The first one is only a sin, not abnormal. Homosexuality is seen as a sin and abnormal.”
Moroccans grow up with strong attitudes about gender roles. “Like we say in Arabic, I need a back to stand on. [As a woman], I’m weak,” Krimi said seriously. “I need someone to support me, not someone who is just like me. If I am with a girl, I don’t think it will work.”
The societal pressure to get married, Dialmy said, is extreme. Marriage is often the central life event for men and women. “It is not a choice,” he said, adding that homosexual women often end up marrying men, sometimes gay men, and keep their true feelings suppressed or secret.
Sarah said she has come across women on the online forum LGBT Maroc asking for advice on how to become heterosexual. She knows others who gave up their religion because “so many people tell them they cannot be both gay and a Muslim,” Sarah said sadly.
Sarah and Maria believe that being Muslim and being lesbian are not mutually exclusive. “I think that it is a question of interpretation,” Sarah said. “For us, love has no sex. There is no limit to love in our religion. For us, there is no limit for love.”
Nothing in the Qur’an offers any help. There are verses that condemn male homosexuality, fornication and adultery but nothing in Islam’s main text addresses lesbianism, said Dialmy. There is a hadith (a saying of the Prophet Mohammed) that condemns sexual acts between women, though it’s debated as to whether the Prophet really said this.
“We are the concrete example that we can be lesbian and Muslim at the same time,” wrote Sarah and Maria in a follow-up email. “We pray, we fast during the Ramadan month, and so on. We don’t have different beliefs from other Muslims; we just have the beliefs that every Muslim should have: what we read in the Qur’an and not what we imagine.”
Despite the pressures on lesbians in Morocco, there are signs that things might be changing. Sarah points to a growing community of support. True, it exists largely online, but internet forums such as LGBT Maroc and Lesbiennes du Maroc may help individuals feel they are not alone.
Perhaps more significantly, the government unofficially tolerates Kif-Kif, the only organization advocating for LGBT rights in Morocco. Kif-Kif’s main office sits across the border in Madrid, and its visibility is limited to low-profile conferences and Mithly, a new publication, distributed quietly, that features LGBT voices. Established six years ago, Kif-Kif has sought unsuccessfully to become a legal association in Morocco.
Still, worldwide consideration of gay rights and the increase of media with lesbian characters may be inspiring some societal acceptance in Morocco, especially among affluent young people.
“That’s okay, for me, lesbianism. It’s freedom, it’s part of being human, to choose what they want,” said Abdelaziz Liasse, 24, a psychology student at Mohammed V University in Rabat. He advocates for what he calls “smooth lesbianism” — being secretive about one’s sexual orientation. “It is a fact that it is existing, but we cannot admit the existence of lesbianism [in Morocco’s Islamic society],” Liasse said. Openness would create what he calls an “explosion” of chaos in a society that does not accept homosexuality.
A “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality appears to be growing. Meryem, 28, who also asked that her last name not be used, dated another woman for two years. She never discussed the relationship with her parents, but they seemed to know anyway.
“They’re more or less open-minded, so I used to tell them about my boyfriends,” she said. “At a certain time I stopped talking about men and they didn’t ask for the reason because I think that they understood.” Meryem’s parents never brought up her sexual orientation. “They prefer hiding the reality even from themselves,” she said.
Posters online at Lesbiennes du Maroc acknowledge this attitude with an oft-repeated saying: “To live happily, live hidden.”
Zineb, 22, who also preferred not to give her last name, is a linguistics student in Mohammed V University. She experimented herself, kissing a girl when she was 16 years old. She knows other women who did the same thing, whether out of attraction or curiosity. “I have some bisexual friends, or at least friends who have tried kissing girls. They are curious to experience a new thing. [And] some girls are attracted to girls so they want to kiss them — not just for experience!”
Zineb is convinced that most lesbian and bisexual women eventually marry men. “It’s easier and you are more accepted by society,” she said. “If you want to go out of your parent’s house, you have to marry.” She doesn’t believe that gay marriage will ever be legal in her country.
It is a reality Sarah and Maria live with every day. “Sometimes we have to forget our professional dreams for our private dreams,” Sarah said. “We want to have a communications agency in Morocco, but if we want to live together and feel safe, to marry, to have children, and so on, we cannot live here. We don’t really know what we will do.”
“We are watching the American movies and series like “The L Word,” and we are just dreaming to have this life, but we can’t,” Sarah continued. “We just want to be free and safe. Maybe we will live in a country where there is the possibility to be together. I want to live here, but I have no security. I have to live in another country, not my country. I am Moroccan, but I cannot live in Morocco.”
This story was published with reporting assistance from Yousra El Hassani.
June 19th, 2012 | By Round Earth Media
At Round Earth Media, we teach students to produce great journalism about important global issues. But that’s not all. When a student story is exceptionally good, we help students publish and broadcast their stories and photographs in top-tier media – like The New York Times.
Our pioneering program in Morocco, in partnership with SIT Study Abroad, resulted in student stories placed in major media outlets in the United States. Proof positive that undergraduate students can produce journalism of the highest professional and ethical standards, while receiving a powerful experience in cross-cultural learning. (Read the story our students placed in The New York Times.)
“I think I’ll take back, not only the notion that we can accomplish these things but also that you don’t have to be a certain age to achieve what you’ve been dreaming or working for. It gives us a legitimacy that I never thought I’d obtain for ten more years,”said Kirsten Kortebein, a student on the Morocco journalism program. In addition to the New York Times, Kortebein’s photos, produced on the Morocco program, appeared in Outside Magazine and Runner’s World. That’s an incredible accomplishment for an undergraduate!
Kortebein, a student at the University of Michigan, worked in partnership with another student on the Morocco program, reporter Jacqueline Kantor, a journalism major at the University of North Carolina. Their first big challenge was to find a good story and these intrepid young journalists went looking with a vengeance. What they found is the Marathon des Sables, often called the toughest footrace on earth, running 153 miles through the Sahara desert where temperatures can reach 122 degrees. The race draws nearly a thousand athletes from all over the world but no one had ever done a story about the desert runners who dominate this grueling marathon.
“It was cool to be able to tell their story.” said Kantor. “It’s pretty well known within the country and within people who are interested in desert races about these people but it wasn’t out there [in the press]. So now I like the fact that if you Google ‘desert Moroccan runners,’ ‘Sahara runners,’ people will know who they are.”
Both Kantor and Kortebein say they plan to pursue journalism careers after graduation. The Morocco program attracted budding student journalists interested in print, broadcast, film and photography. Many students were not journalism majors – classics, anthropology and international relations majors were among those represented on the program. Kantor remembers a time when the students were hanging out in a cafe in Morocco and one turned to her, in awe of their opportunity.
“[She] was like ‘We’re in Morocco right now, in a foreign country, and we’re all leaving on assignments tomorrow. How cool is that? Like are we going to be doing the same thing in 20 years? Meeting in some other random country?’ I feel like we’ll all stay in contact after this but also on a professional level.”
“I think we clicked really well,” said Kortebein, adding that she and Kantor supported each other in the field, which was especially challenging given the extreme desert weather.
Partnerships are essential to the Round Earth model. Too often, American journalists parachute into a country for just a few weeks of reporting, failing to grasp the nuances and complexities of what is, for them, a foreign country. But Round Earth Media journalists avoid those pitfalls by collaborating with the most promising early-career journalists in the countries where Round Earth is reporting. Together, these journalist teams produce stories for top-tier media in the U.S. and abroad.
The journalism program in Morocco is the first time that this model has been applied to student journalists. For more than two months, six student pairs — an American partnered with a Moroccan — worked to produce what one of the Moroccan students calls “a mosaic bowl of articles” from the topic of racism in Morocco to the Soulaliyate women’s land rights movement and a documentary film about fishermen on Morocco’s western coast. Vital to the program’s success is the support and enthusiasm from Professor Khadija Zizi and her colleagues at ISIC (L’Institut Supérieure de l’Information et de la Communication), the journalism school in Rabat, Morocco.
Professor Zizi called the student partnership “a great opportunity for the [Moroccan] students to work under the supervision of a professional journalist and international leader.”
The Moroccan journalism students received a “Certificate in International Journalism from Round Earth Media and SIT Study Abroad.
“We were always together to discuss every detail,” said Moroccan journalism student Youssra El Hassani. “The idea of pairs is very important.”
The American students agree. “Not only have we been able to pick up valuable journalistic skills from each other, we have been able to exchange our cultures and become great friends,” said Antinnea Skipwith. “I think working in partnership is the best way to work.”
While the timing of the Marathon did not accommodate a Moroccan journalism student partner on their story, Kantor and Kortebein agree that the best journalism is produced in partnership. This chance to work together (writers and photographers, Americans and Moroccans), is just one of many rare opportunities offered by this groundbreaking journalism program in Morocco.
“I have always loved [journalism] and this has made me appreciate it even more than I did already,” said Kantor. “It’s an excuse to talk to people, an excuse to do things you’ve never done, an excuse to spend ten days in the desert wandering around one of the biggest races in the world.”
FOR REFLECTIONS FROM AN EYEWITNESS TO THIS PROGRAM, CLICK HERE.
June 19th, 2012 | By Round Earth Media
Tess Vigeland: Drought and war in the Horn of Africa have left a wide swath of the population there homeless and hungry. The United Nations says some 11 million people need aid to survive. Many of those displaced have headed to Kenya, which itself has deep economic problems. But for all the international aid Kenya has received over the last 30 years, life expectancy there has actually shortened and poverty rates are unchanged.
Mary Stucky reports. (more…)
June 19th, 2012 | By Round Earth Media
Jacqueline Kantor and Kirsten Kortebein, two students on the Round Earth Media/SIT Study Abroad journalism program in Morocco, published this story and photographs in The New York Times. Kortebein also published her photographs, along with captions by Kantor, in Outside Magazine and Runners World.
Read the The New York Times story here. (more…)