BLOG: From South Africa to Morocco
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December 12, 2006
by Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean
When we left Cape Town in South Africa for Casablanca in Morocco—from the southern tip of Africa to the Maghreb—we could not help but think of the world we were flying over, this continent of a thousand contrasts, where hundreds of cultures derived from thousands of civilisations all live together. We thought of Africa and the state it is in, its wounds, its cracks, but also of the fact that it has hope, and life is resuming, organizing and triumphing.
Morocco has also gone through a kind of renaissance. The measures and the actions taken by the young king, His Majesty Mohamed VI, have delighted Moroccans in many respects. He has re-established contact with civil society and he visits communities to listen to and get to know the people. I took time to meet with Moroccan women who are very socially and politically involved, who fight for rights and freedoms, and who all had a very difficult time under the last regime, which strictly repressed all dissidence. They are feminists and Muslims, but they are opposed to fundamentalist movements. These leaders, these pioneers, told me about democratic advances in Morocco, especially with regard to the status of women. They were adamant in saying that Muslim women are not submissive; they are playing an important role in exploring and fighting for social justice in favour of the equality and emancipation of women in all sectors of society. They are brave, dynamic, eloquent and have remarkable insight. They enthusiastically explained how His Majesty King Mohamed VI’s commendable reform of the Family Code paved the way for new and exciting perspectives for women with regard to respecting their rights. All of the women welcomed this providential alliance in the face fundamentalists. These women also told me that they have had ties with feminist networks and organization in Canada for a long time, especially in Quebec.
This meeting prepared me for my talk with HM King Mohamed VI, who welcomed me warmly and sincerely. We discussed his vision for Morocco, relations between our two countries, and possible new areas of cooperation.
As luck would have it, one of our Canadian destroyers, the HMCSIroquois had called into port at Casablanca. I was therefore able to perform my first inspection of one of our contingents deployed overseas. The Iroquois has been on a mission for the past 11 months, taking part in important NATO naval operations. It has led important observation, patrol and intervention activities, which has brought it from the northern seas off the shores of Norway to Cape Verde off west coast of Africa. From monitoring maritime traffic to boarding ships transporting illegal goods (drugs, arms, and dangerous goods), the men and women aboard work continuously for months on end under conditions that are often quite dangerous. From Casablanca, the members of the team (the majority of whom are from naval forces, but there are also some from ground forces and air forces all over Canada) were returning home to spend Christmas with their families before leaving again two weeks later for another long mission that will take them far from home for months at a time. In Morocco, they took time to help a charitable organization that works with disadvantaged children. They sorted and distributed tons of donated clothing. I saw that the practice of them working with local people when they call into port in a developing country was useful, generous and greatly appreciated.
But in Morocco, as in the other four countries I visited during this trip to Africa, whether we spoke of investment, trade or economic prosperity, the human factor was always there. We must emphasize the importance of taking sustainable action that respects the places as well as the people, action that is tied to local initiatives. Projects in which culture brings people together, but also contributes to community development, education and the promotion of heritage are still on the agenda. Everything happened in a straight-forward way and in a very engaging spirit of reciprocity, even on sensitive issues.