Can the Moroccan Approach Inspire a Development Revolution?

Julia Al-Akkad

Decades of conflict and complex power dynamics between Jewish and Muslim communities have resulted in a deep-rooted aversion towards cultural engagement. This continues to hinder multiethnic relationships throughout the Middle Eastern and North African region. Even so, a rich history of ethnic and religious diversity remains an inseparable embodiment of the cultural atmosphere in Morocco. In the June 2018 issue of the Mediterranean Quarterly, Yossef Ben Meir discusses Morocco’s notable display of commitment towards peaceful coexistence, presenting promising outcomes for the kingdom. Concurrently, the question arises whether this Moroccan integration of cultural preservation and sustainable development is able to transcend borders across the Arab region.

At the onset of the independence of Morocco, the country was home to the largest Jewish population in the Muslim world. The mellah, a Jewish quarter, in Marrakech emerged within the sixteenth century, a notable testament to the prominent Jewish identity instilled within early Moroccan history. This vibrant multicultural history is made evident by the approximately six hundred Hebrew “saints” that are buried at sites across Morocco, now recognized within the national preservation program. In a benevolent act of solidarity, the Moroccan Jewish community began to donate land to the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) in 2012 to plant organic fruit-tree nurseries for the benefit of Muslim farming families and schools. While impoverished families cannot afford to allocate the necessary two years to grow saplings from seeds, the Jewish community’s interfaith act helped to overcome this obstacle, initiating the House of Life project.

Access to profitable resources on behalf of the land donation is intended to increase these communities visibility in the market, secure organic certification, and increase food security. Creating self-sustaining opportunities advances socioeconomic status and consequently leads to accessibility to resources, such as in education and health care, which can provide the means to counter the poverty trap. These human development outcomes are catalyzed in part from the Jewish communities’ act of interfaith through the donation of land. The multicultural component to the development approach contributes to the mutual respect and trust that builds between communities, which suggests greater sustainability of these projects.

Cultural platforms deeply ingrain and perpetuate stereotypic content and false narratives about groups of people, which creates predispositions in our minds. The phenomena of prejudice and bias used to an extreme are detrimental to civilization and work against human endurance. Even when multiethnic groups are not engaged in explicit competition, imbalances in power and access to valued resources among various groups lead to perceptions of competitiveness. Both communities must be perceived as mutually contributive and valuable to reduce the inclination to feel vulnerably dependent on the other. Therefore, portraying out-groups as a beneficiary to the in-groups success can actually decrease prejudice and bias among the Jewish and Muslim communities because it can shift the out-group from a competitor to an ally. The High Atlas Foundation’s focus on cultivating mutual respect and appreciation of other groups gives a promising outlook towards the future of interfaith and sustainable development.

However, in Ben-Meir’s essay, the evidence for the legitimacy of the Moroccan approach to development is largely limited to direct observation of only one organization’s fieldwork. Assessing outside efforts’ success or failure in human development would contribute to an expanded understanding of the factors that either facilitate or hinder efficient implementation. The essay makes note of Morocco’s potential to act as a positive model for fostering interfaith dialogue. For instance, the visit by Israelis and Palestinians to the nursery sites near the Jewish cemeteries in Morocco in recent years aimed to inspire individuals to implement these projects in their local communities across the region. Yet, there was no discussion in the essay of how the antecedent conditions in Morocco, that don’t necessarily exist elsewhere, may be fundamental towards its ability to implement projects efficiently.

In the context of Israel and Palestine, we must acknowledge the only recent formation of the Jewish state that served to heighten the historically existing tensions in the region. Albeit the undeniable tensions that have endured between the Jewish and Muslim communities in Morocco, there is still an historical record and contemporary memory of peaceful coexistence. In addition, the intricate power dynamics plant distrust between members of the communities because of the vulnerabilities that arise within the Palestinian communities, who are denied equal access to the social, economic and political resources. Although sustainable development through an act of interfaith may already be implemented amidst the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, evidence of such projects would confirm the validity of the Moroccan approach. However, it is necessary to test and analyze what factors cultivate or hinder efficient implementation of human development integrated with interfaith. Then, efforts are able to knowledgeably create the suitable environment for community growth in different cultural contexts.

Ultimately, human development is not occurring at levels suited to address the detrimental consequences of immense poverty and marginalization in Morocco. Therefore, investment in human development rooted in interculturalism is critical to transform the potential in impoverished communities into unbounded socio-economic success. The increasingly globalized world collectively benefits politically, socially and economically in an accepting and cooperative, rather than condemning, atmosphere. Therefore, investment in the Moroccan approach ought to be supported to grow, as it can build a powerful symbol within sites such as religious cemeteries that act as a sanctuary to nurture the conditions for a unified and more prosperous future.


Julia Al-Akkad is an intern at the High Atlas Foundation in Marrakech, and a student at the University of Virginia studying Foreign Affairs and Middle Eastern Studies.



The organic fruit tree nursery at Akrich (Al Houaz province of Morocco) on land granted by the Moroccan Jewish community near the burial site of the Hebrew “saint” Raphael Hacohen (2018).


The Free Trade Agreement affirms Environmental Protection


By Hajar Ennamli and Amy Zhang
Marrakesh, Morocco

On June 15th, 2004, Morocco and the United States signed their free trade agreement. In addition to removing informational frictions and trade barriers between them, these countries committed to sustainable environmental protection through consistent enforcement and administration of environmental laws.  In the environmental chapter, the two nations clarify how they would enact this protection, preventing harm to human, animal, and plant health.

The free trade agreement recognizes the dangers of pollutants, contaminants, toxic materials, and the consequential need to prevent and control their dissemination. It also upholds the protection of wild or endangered flora and fauna, as well as their habitat and other natural areas. It then outlines how violators would be prosecuted. While they are protected by rule of law, the process requires violators be effectively sanctioned, considering numerous factors such as the nature and gravity of the violation, and their economic condition. Any concerned person may request that the government investigate alleged violations, receive due consideration, and get appropriate access to the proceedings. This formally establishes the due process for victims of environmental degradation.

However, each country retains the right and authority to draft and enforce laws for domestic environmental protection. Notably, the countries explicitly recognize that they cannot compromise their environmental protection laws for more investment or trade. In the face of economic temptation, they committed to maintaining their environmental standards. In fact, they view environmental protection as a pathway to more international investment and development, especially with the growth of the environmental technology industry. As such, they intend to implement incentive structures so that companies will voluntarily act to protect the environment, such as public recognition for nature protection and credit trading programs. They also support partnerships between businesses, local communities, NGOs, government agencies, and scientific organizations.




Moreover, the agreement asserts ways that the governments can act to ensure that environmental protection is sustainable. It emphasizes public participation opportunities, recognizing the need to engage civil society in understanding environmental policy. In order for innovative environmental protection approaches to become widespread, the people need to learn about them, understand them, become interested, and act. Thus, the two governments have agreed to provide opportunities for the public to contribute agenda topics, opinions, and advice. Also, each country is to consult a national advisory committee that includes representatives of both environmental and business organizations, as well as members of the public. This agreement promises that the two countries will inform the people and be open to discussion for environmental regulations.


The trade agreement continues beyond this mutual commitment to each other. They are to collaborate with each other for environmental policies and standards, exchanging expertise, hosting joint seminars and training sessions, and otherwise sharing information. In this way, they can both build their capacity to develop and conserve natural resources together. They established a Working Group on Environmental Cooperation, comprised of government representatives from both countries. They have also created a Joint Committee to give recommendations for a Plan of Action, and identify priority projects for environmental cooperation.

Traditionally, it has been argued that free trade agreements would bring about environmental degradation, but this one has promised to enhance  environmental cooperation between Morocco and the United States. Liberalization ought to increase Morocco’s access to environmentally friendly technologies and encourage an exchange of expertise with the U.S. government. In addition, the agreement emphasizes public participation through emboldening the civil community to seek knowledge and take action to protect their environment. In working together and signing this agreement, the two countries demonstrated hope to strengthen their economies and protect their lands.

Newsletter: Volunteers Edition


The High Atlas Foundation was born from volunteerism. HAF is the product of Peace Corps Volunteers from the United States serving in Morocco, and Moroccans serving in their country. We all came together to create an organization that is entirely focused on listening to, and supporting, the dreams of the people.  

Then, the summer of 2018 came. We are now experiencing a new and uplifting level of volunteerism. Our more than 20-person staff doubled with the addition of volunteers from the U.S., from within Morocco and MENA, and from European countries.  Our larger HAF team, dedicated to the cause of people’s participation, has enabled the organization to reach further, do more, and make a greater difference. Read More
Yossef Ben-Meir, Ph.D.
High Atlas Foundation

Give to HAF today and it will be matched!





By Theodor Maghrak HAF Volunteer


I’m volunteering with High Atlas Foundation through a sabbatical option at my not-for-profit organization in the United States…Read More

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By Katherine O’Neill HAF Intern


Last week, from June 21st to June 24th, 2018, the High Atlas Foundation facilitated a four-day women’s empowerment workshop…Read More

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By Julia Al-Akkad 
HAF Intern

The High Atlas Foundation’s initiation of Sami’s Project in 2011 led to remarkable success throughout the rural communities of the Kingdom of  MoroccoRead More


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By Aichatou Haidara & Aanya Salot, 
HAF Interns

On the 24th of May, the office of the High Atlas was brimming with a total of 91 people as the High Atlas Foundation staff and the people of Marrakech’s Mellah gathered for iftar …Read More


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By Nathan Park, HAF Intern
International migration from sub-Saharan Africa towards Europe and the United States has significantly increased over the past decade…Read More

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 By Amy Zhang, HAF Intern

This week we celebrate the United Nations International Day of Cooperatives, commemorated every year on the first Saturday of July…Read More

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Grateful for HAF’s Volunteers

The High Atlas Foundation was born from volunteerism. HAF is the product of Peace Corps Volunteers from the United States serving in Morocco, and Moroccans serving in their country. We all came together to create an organization that is entirely focused on listening to, and supporting, the dreams of the people.  

Then, the summer of 2018 came. We are now experiencing a new and uplifting level of volunteerism. Our more than 20-person staff doubled with the addition of volunteers from the U.S., from within Morocco and MENA, and from European countries.  Our larger HAF team, dedicated to the cause of people’s participation, has enabled the organization to reach further, do more, and make a greater difference.

Our articles that advocate women’s opportunities, youth’s fulfillment, and marginalized communities’ growth have become more numerous and widespread in publication around the world. Proposals and assessments to bring sustainable benefits to larger numbers of people and places were developed and are filled with promise. Perhaps most importantly, the enriching and unforgettable interactions between our volunteer visitors for the summer and Moroccan urban and rural people have continued and expanded.

We dedicate this Newsletter to our volunteers and to the hundreds of volunteers who have given so much during the lifetime of the High Atlas Foundation, without whom so many people’s best dreams might have remained just in their hearts and minds, but instead have found tangible realization. All of these articles in this Newsletter are written by those who came to Morocco to give themselves, and we are honestly and eternally grateful.

We send a special thanks to the University of Virginia’s International Program and to the Farmer-to-Farmer Program of Land O’Lakes and USAID.Happy summer everybody.




Yossef Ben-Meir, Ph.D.
High Atlas Foundation

An American in Amizmiz: Personal observation and community assessment

By Aurora Bays-Muchmore
HAF Intern
Student, University of Virginia

Six months ago, when I learned that I had been accepted as an intern with the High Atlas Foundation, I knew nothing of Morocco; not its peoples, its culture, or its challenges. Upon first deciding to pursue a rural community-based assignment rather than a job in the office in Marrakech, I was nervous due to the unfamiliarity of such a lifestyle and the preconceived notions that occupied my brain. I held expectations that now embarrass me for their naïve generalization: expectations of poor sanitation, unsophisticated technology, and lack of contact with the outside world.

To be certain, there are definite lifestyle differences between the societies of Amizmiz and Charlottesville, VA, where I study at the University of Virginia. But from my first day in Amizmiz, I realized that my expectations did not exactly match the reality of this community. I found myself comfortable situated in the small but welcoming house of my host mother, who I will call Kotar. Not only did I find myself with electricity, running water, and consistent cellular data, but I found that Kotar spoke English with enough fluidity to understand me and serve as de facto translator when I met with people in town.

But rather than disrupt my purpose here, the disparity that I found between original expectations and reality actually granted me some freedom to smoothly adjust to life here and refocus around the core goal of my time here: to diagnose and address the primary aspects of need and desire in this community through personal observation.

Whilst designing a plan for my time here, I researched the High Atlas Foundation’s previous efforts, notably a women’s empowerment program and a nursery of almond trees planted in the nearby Atlas Mountains, leading me to assume that these projects would factor prominently in my work here.

However, from my initial observations and interviews, I began to understand—as is reasonable considering the complicated nature of entrenched systematic problems in any society—that the strengths and challenges of life here are more complicated than can be easily summarized. Indeed, beyond the general themes of women’s empowerment and economic stimulus, complex and variable issues such as barriers to health care access and lack of employment opportunities have emerged as potential areas of focus. To truly understand which areas of community development to focus on, I am prepared to patiently witness life here and listen to the concerns voiced by the people around me.

Moving forward, it is only with the companionship of Kotar and my status as a semi-permanent resident that I hope to develop trust with locals to access more candid opinions and also to demonstrate the High Atlas Foundation’s continued interest in being a community partner of Amizmiz. Only as a welcome, familiar guest in peoples’ lives will I hope to learn genuine opinions about what challenges they face.

As I have begun to observe daily routines, ordinary interactions, and cultural norms, I have also grown to realize that one of my primary challenges on assignment will be reporting my observations in a way that feels thorough but not objectifying or reducing people to mere characterizations. Although I am fortunate enough to witness events and interactions wholly foreign and new to me, many of these instances are ordinary and commonplace to any local.

In this regard, I face a challenge in presenting the facts as I experience them while maintaining that they are only the facts according to my version of the truth. While I hope to only present my experiences through the lens of a well-meaning observer, I would be remiss to ignore the fact that I will be representing the lives of others, giving them no chance to review or edit how I present their lives. Given that I will be here for several weeks, I am hoping to gain a thorough understanding of the lives of the people around me so that the narrative that I create through these articles aligns closely with the narratives that these people would write for themselves.

Although I have been here but a short time, I feel already at home in Amizmiz and hope to do justice to it’s peoples and culture through my reportage of observations. Indeed, I will consider my time here successful if I accurately represent life here through these written updates and develop potential future projects to improve upon an already wonderful society.



Agricultural fields in Amizmiz, Region of Marrakech (Morocco)



Aurora’s host family in Amizmiz


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