Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal

As the train left Marrakech, rolling green hills appeared on both sides of the track and somewhere in the middle of the journey to Casablanca, I had a quick glimpse of the proverbial old man with his staff in the right hand, tending to his flock of sheep, utterly disconnected to the twenty-first century, living in the centuries-old time filled with tranquility and peace we have all lost. But it was a fleeting moment; the train rushed passed the country-side, dotted with little farms. Then, close to Casablanca, signs of small industries appeared and finally, the train stopped at Dar al-Bayda, “the white house”, as Casablanca is called in Arabic.

I stepped out of the train station into the usual crowd of taxi drivers, one of whom approached me with a big friendly smile and customary Aslamu alaykum. “Meter,” I said, as he moved out of the taxi stand. “No, just seventy dirhams,” he said. I insisted that he should turn on his meter, he haggled for money, reduced it to fifty, but would not turn on the meter. Finally I left. Just outside the parking area, another taxi stopped and he turned on the meter without asking. The ride to the hotel was 8 dirhams. These small red Suzuki taxis are Moroccan version of our Yellow cabs, but they all operate with working meters, that is, all but those standing by the train station.

Casablanca on that early Saturday afternoon was almost asleep; a town on the coast famous for nothing but its grand mosque which locals say was built with the blood of the neighboring farmers who had to pay taxes for its construction. In other times, it had seen its glory. On that Saturday afternoon, the streets were not exactly empty but the usual rush of the big cities was nowhere to be seen. After some rest, I strolled through the neighborhood market close to the hotel, encountered an endless number of women beggars, most of them in their thirty’s, some carrying little babies in their laps.

This was a strange experience: In the midst of the market, with is street stalls with cheap, made-in-China goods, a woman would dash forward from amidst the crowd and ask for a dirham or two. Perplexed, one would just wonder what happened to them? Where did they come from? Do they have husbands, fathers, brothers? How did they end up on the street? But neither the middle-aged shopkeepers, nor the young street hawkers would pay any attention to them as if they did not exist. I had no memory of such encounters in Casablanca from my previous two visits to Morocco and wandered if something had drastically changed in the intervening four years of perhaps I had missed them because I did not stroll on the streets like this during those visits.

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Later that evening, that part of the town where I was staying seemed more like a city in Europe as bars opened up and young men and women started to stroll through the streets in their tight jeans. If one was not conscious of the fact that this is a Muslim country with relatively stable government, one would be misled to believe that this is European city where such public display of bodies was a norm.

The next day, I took a train to Meknes with the intention of going to Maulay Idris, the small hill-side town where Prophet’s grandson is supposed to have been buried. Moroccan trains are remarkable left-over pieces of World War II vintage but unlike Pakistani trains, they have been well maintained, they are clean, and they run on time. The entire staff of the railway department—from the men and women at the ticket counters to conductors—display professionalism that is absent in Pakistan.

From Meknes, it is a twenty minute, twenty dirham shared taxi ride to Maulay Idris. These Mercedes diesel engine taxis leave from the French Cultural Center in the new city with six passengers, wind their way up the hill and drop passengers in the only bazar of the small city which seems to exist in another time. As the taxi climes up, one can see the white-washed houses clustered in a narrow area, near the top of the hill and hundreds of satellite dishes on roof tops.

Two days in this idyllic town, with its slow pace, fresh fruit market, narrow streets were an amazing experience. Here donkeys are still the main mode of transport of goods. The local population lives in another time and although the town is wired to the internet, it seems to exist in medieval times. , and almost lethargic populace was with donkeys Close to Maulay Idris  into a small industrial zone before it finally came to a halt in Fez. The forty minute ride from Casablanca brought me into the heart of West Africa’s most “stable” Muslim country, as some analysts think of Morocco. And they may as well be right. Unlike its neighbors, Morocco does seem to have a degree of stability lacking in Tunis, Algeria and Libya, the last-named being in the middle of an uprising which threatens to turn into civil war as I write these words from a riyad in Fez after a day of wandering in its meandering streets.

The fact that a wind of change is blowing through the Arab world is not unknown here in Fez, but no one is glued to their TV sets. The life of the bazar is just as it has been for decades, although at this time of the year, the flow of tourists is just beginning. But when I asked a shopkeeper about his business, he expressed satisfaction. “It is not roaring business, but al-hamdu Lillah, it is going well for this time of the year.”

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Morocco is, however, an exception and the winds of change may never reach here. Nevertheless, beyond the meandering streets of Fez, there are new demographic, economic, and political realities which are bound to produce some kind of change in the Arab world, even though no one can guess what would be the shape of the Arab world once the dust settles.

Home to some 400 million people, representing less than one quarter of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, the Arab world consists of 22 countries and straddling North Africa and Western Asia. There is perhaps no region of the world with such a concentration of authoritarian and repressive regimes. According to UNESCO, the average rate of adult literacy(ages 15 and older) in this region is 76.9%with Mauritania and Yemen lying on the lower end of literacy curve with an average of just over 50% and  Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territoriesand Jordanon the other end, with adult literacy rate of over 90%. The average population growth rate in Arab countries is 2.3%.

The Arab world took its present political shape through a regional reshaping at the hands of European powers during the 19th and the 20th centuries. Arabs in Africa had to wait until the 1960s before French armies left after bloody wars of independence, leaving behind polities which were deeply scarred and which were handed over to rulers who quickly established authoritarian regimes, mostly through military coups. As of 2006, the Arab World accounts for two-fifths of the gross domestic product and three-fifths of the trade of the wider Muslim World. The oil and gas prices, which tripled between 2001 and 2006, have considerably contributed to the current boom as well as rampant corruption.

ARAB countries will remain the world’s main energy supplier for decades to come, with more than half of proven global oil reserves.

Arab countries hold 681 billion barrels of crude oil, representing 58 per cent of proven global reserves, oil exploration and production Torki Hemsh told an Arab Energy Conference overnight.

The Arab world also holds close to 300 billion barrels of potential, “undiscovered” crude reserves, Mr Hemsh told the Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, citing 2009 figures.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi also emphasised the Arab region’s guaranteed role in the industry.

“These massive reserves… mean that this region will continue to occupy special significance in the global oil industry and trade for many decades to come,” he said.

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Arab countries currently produce 21.5 million barrels per day of oil, more than one third of which comes from Saudi Arabia alone, with total Arab oil production down from 23 million bpd in 2006 due to the global financial crisis and the drop in demand

Arab countries also sit on nearly 30 per cent of the world’s proven natural gas reserves, Mr Hemsh said, with stocks of 54.1 trillion cubic metres and the potential to add more than 40 trillion cubic metres in the future.

Qatar Petroleum’s Director of Oil and Gas Ventures Saad al-Kaabi said Arab countries currently supply 13 per cent of the world’s gas production and account for eight per cent of global gas consumption.

OPEC secretary general Abdullah el-Badri said the Arab world has the potential to help meet rising global oil and gas demand.

“The Arab world will continue to play a leading role in supplying the world with energy needs far into the future,” Mr Badri said.

Age of cheap energy is over

But the OPEC official warned that uncertainty and price volatility in the oil market have negatively impacted on the investment needed in the energy sector to boost production.

Mr Badri said OPEC and the oil-exporting Arab countries were looking for security of demand to justify raising output.

By 2020, the oil cartel’s estimated production ranges between 29 million bpd and 36 million bpd “which has an uncertainty gap of $US250 billion ($277.99 billion) of investment,” Mr Badri said.

OPEC’s current actual production, including Iraq, hovers around 29 million bpd.

The International Energy Agency forecasts that oil demand will increase from 85 million bpd now to 105 million bpd by 2030.

“At least 11 million bpd of that increase will be (met by) OPEC,” most of it coming from Arab countries, said IEA chief Nabuo Tanaka, adding that massive increases in natural gas consumption are also predicted.

Mr Tanaka said rising global oil and gas consumption will come at a much higher price because “the age for cheap energy is simply over.”

The head of the Paris-based energy watchdog questioned whether OPEC will be able to invest sufficiently to meet the expected rise in global demand.

“In (the IEA’s) calculation, a major portion of demand increase should be met by Gulf states, Iraq and Iran,” Tanaka said.

But Mr Hemsh dismissed concerns about the Arab world’s ability to ramp up production.

He said that the current spare production capacity of Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and the expected increase in Iraq and Libya’s output, will be sufficient to meet global demand increase by 2020, when it is due to hit 95 million bpd

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