Interview with Souriya OTMANI

I work very hard in order to lift up the negative perceptions towards Islam

Ambassador of His Majesty the King of Morocco Mrs. Souriya Otmani graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Muhammed V. in Rabat. She worked for the Department of School Education and for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. She was a chairwomen of the Department of Development Finance Cooperation and then she became a head of the Organization for the Integration of Women in Development.

Your Excellency, how difficult is it to become an Ambassador in Morocco? How long was your “path”?

“I think you mean “being a woman, how difficult is it to become an Ambassador” and not only in Morocco?  Because being ambassador was during a long time and in many countries such a privilege reserved for gentlemen! It was well known than until recent times, ministries of foreign affairs were very conservative administrations and the diplomacy a kind of exclusive business for men. But so luckily, times have changed and nowadays, you see so many successful women ambassadors representing countries from the five continents. Moroccan women are very active within all spheres of activities; they got involved in diplomacy some 20 years ago. I am a career diplomat, from the ministry of foreign affairs and cooperation, my path was a very typical and common one, I went naturally trough different positions within the ministry (head of section, head of department) and abroad (counselor, minister plenipotentiary, general consul and ambassador).”

You’ve noticed in interview for “zet server” that Czech businessmen do not know Morocco well. Why is that?

“What I meant by this phrase is that they should know more about all the investment, economic and commercial opportunities and business friendly environment Morocco offers today. Czech Businessmen and companies have also a lot to offer to Morocco. My county is a promising developing country with specific needs in the sectors of industry, transport, agriculture, fishing, health, tourism, etc.. And the very high and competitive quality of the Czech technology could tailor some specific needs of Morocco and other developing countries.”

What are the main areas of Czech-Moroccan business? And what would improve?

“The volume of Czech-Moroccan Business significantly progressed during the last five years. Morocco imports from the CR, mainly, electronic goods, automobile spare parts and tires, information technology devices, rubber and chemical products. Morocco exports to the CR fruits, vegetables, clothing, shoes, leather products, fish and seafood, electric engine spare parts. But I think there is much more to do in the commercial field between both countries and I highly encourage Czech businessmen to explore some very promising investment sectors in Morocco: agriculture machinery, agro-business, energy and mineral exploration, transport, tourism, construction, infrastructure, electricity, etc…”

You mentioned earlier Morocco as a “gate to Africa”. How did Ebola problem influence this gate?”

“The geostrategic location of Morocco in North Africa, only 14 km from Europe and its valuable knowledge along with a long tradition and business experience in so many African sub Saharan francophone countries in the fields of finance, banking, telecommunications, housing, agriculture, services, make the Moroccan businessmen and companies a kind of true reliable partners to go along with and share their experience in the continent. Now unfortunately, the Ebola pandemic is there affecting so many countries and, according to WHO, the situation is not to be solved before several months.  No matter what, our national airlines company Royal Air Maroc, opposite to some other international companies, keeps, by solidarity disserving the concerned countries.”

Is Casablanca right place for entering business in Morocco, or would you advice any other place?

“Morocco is a stable and secure country. It enjoys a strong economic growth, it is the most prosperous country of the Maghreb region, the 5th economical power in Africa and ranked among top Arab places to live in. It is qualified as an emerging financial market and the second one in Africa. The Moroccan rate remains the same in Investment grade (Standard and Poor’s) and one of the much sought after by emerging economies such as China and Turkey, by oil producers and European countries. Thanks to the policy of Free trade Agreements we signed with so many countries, by doing business with Morocco, you get access to a market of 1 billion consumers. Casablanca being Morocco’s chief port and main industrial zone is the economic capital of the country. The leading Moroccan companies and international corporations doing business there have their headquarters and main industrial facilities in Casablanca. The Czech Republic opened its Commercial Office last November in Casablanca which of course is one important place for entering business in Morocco, but it is not the only one. There are some other strategic economic axes, which are Tangier, Oujda, Rabat, Marrakech, Agadir, depending on your business areas of interest. Anyway, I strongly recommend to any Czech business man interested in doing business in Morocco to contact our Embassy or to communicate directly with the Moroccan Agency for the development of Investment.”(www.invest.gov.ma)

How is the Arab business mentality? It is different than European?

“The culture is different, the background is different, but even from an Arab country to another Arab country, and the mentality varies a lot. But from a personal point of view, if you want to be successful in business, you should not have European, Asian, African or Arab mentality, you should get the only mentality that could lead you to success and prosperity which is the “business mentality”: I mean by that: professionalism, strictness, harshness, honesty, full respect for your partners.

Is tourism in Morocco influenced by Arab spring?

“Not at all, very fortunately, the Moroccan tourism was not affected at all by the Arab political turbulences. On the contrary, I should say. Some tourists that used to go and visit Egypt or Tunisia have chosen Morocco or Turkey for instance, because of the stability and the security prevailing in those countries. It is the case of the Czech tourists going to Morocco: in 2013, we had 78% increase of the number of the Czech tourists visiting Morocco and the figures are still improving.”

Is tourism one of your topics in Czech republic?

“Tourism has always been one of the strategic sectors of the Moroccan economy and of course our Embassy, jointly with the National Moroccan Tourism Board, work hard to promote the Moroccan destination. Our Stand got during the years 2013 and 2014, an award from Holliday world travel in Prague and we are proud to be the 2014 honored country of this past festival and of the forthcoming Karlovy Vary Touristic Film Festival in October 2014.”

What do Moroccan people know about Czech Republic? And did you personally surprised most about our country?

Every Moroccan person grew up at least once in his/her life with some Bata shoes! The Czech Skoda automobile is also very well known and Moroccans in general, do appreciate the global performances and high quality of the Czech Technology. Personally, before coming to the Czech Republic, I knew that your country was a beautiful one, but I am so impressed by the wonderful architecture, the castles and the so rich and diverse cultural life not only in Prague but also in the regions! I heard that diplomats compete to get the chance to be appointed in the Czech Republic and I fully understand why!”

And opposite- what do Czech people know about Morocco, what is the biggest prejudice they have?

“I have some very good Czech friends and I am positively surprised by the high number of the Czech people I met, telling me: “I visited once your country or I know your country!” But of course, generally speaking, and unfortunately Czech people don’t know much about Morocco, except that it is an Arab and Muslim country with all the wrong and unfair prejudices that unluckily stick to that. I personally and all my Arab and Muslim colleagues Ambassadors work daily very hard, particularly at the cultural level, in order to lift up the negative perceptions towards Islam. I think it is very important to differentiate between Islam which has always been and will always be a religion of peace, tolerance balance and moderation and those who unfortunately, are using and abusing of the name of our sacred religion to perpetrate acts of terror, crimes, horrors, and destructions.”

You said in 2013, in Plzen: “I don’t consider myself as a feminist, but I do care about women’s status in Arab countries”. It was one year ago. How much did the situation change with bigger influence of Islamists?

“Yes, you are totally right, any right or status promotion, step ahead or evolution in the development in the women condition in the Arab world doesn’t mean women made it for good! Setbacks are always possible and it is a nonstop fight to defend, protect and improve your rights particularly in the Arab region where some countries are deeply affected by political and social conflicts, wars or terrorist operations. Remember the unbelievable kidnapping of Nigerian girls from their school! It is sad to admit that first victims are always the females. In my country I am proud to say that we made a kind of revolution as regards the women condition with the adoption in 2004 of the new Family Code. This Law improved so much the condition of the Moroccan women and granted them important rights and duties for the sake of the whole family and children. Thanks to H.M Mohammed VI, the King of Morocco, who really cares about improving Moroccan woman condition and also thanks to the very dynamic women’s associations, we are pursuing our efforts in order to get better laws and regulations to protect and promote Moroccan women’s statute.”

Does Europe care about this topic? And what are the reactions of political representations in Czech Republic?

“I think EU cares very much about this topic. The advancement of women’s status and protection of women, is a top concern for EU, the UNO and therefore for the whole world, especially in times of wars and conflicts. In Morocco we have a very close and substantial cooperation with EU as regards this topic.”

Did you visit all of the Czech regions?

“It is now my third year in the Czech Republic and I make my utmost to visit as much regions as possible every year. So I managed to visit let’s say the main ones, such as Brno, Ostrava, Plzen, Hradec Kralove, Pardubice, Karlovy Vary, Cesky Krumlov, Usti nad Labem and whenever it is possible I met governors, mayors, universities rectors or deans and I participate to some business fora in relation with the Arab world. Some visits to other regions are scheduled.”

Which region impressed you most?

“I was positively impressed by all of those visited regions, I should say, since every single region got its own characteristics and economic, cultural and touristic potential. All the visits were highly informative ones and enriched me a lot.”

What‘s your biggest job task for autumn and winter?

In fact, we are celebrating this year 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Czech Republic. My target is to take good advantage of this special celebration to get together the Moroccan and the Czech civil societies in order to promote a better knowledge and better understanding and to build some cultural bridges between them. I will have a very busy professional autumn, since our Embassy scheduled jointly with some of our Czech partners, Prague Architecture Week, Prague Architecture Festival, Musica Classica Libera, some interesting Moroccan cultural events in early October. Famous Moroccan architects, writers, painters, musicians and poets will specially come Morocco and from France to celebrate the Moroccan-Czech friendship. And as I mentioned above, Morocco is the honored country of Karlovy Vary touristic film festival, 2014 October edition which means we will have Moroccan music, gastronomy, fashion show and a lot of fun! Everyone interested is cordially invited to join us.”

Does Ambassador have any summer holiday? And if so, how was your summer?

“Yes of course we do have and we deserve summer holiday! Usually we go back to see our family and relatives in Morocco. But this summer and giving my very busy agenda for the next weeks to come, I decided to stay in the Czech Republic and together with my family, we visited two wonderful castles in Uherske Hradiste region, Zamek Orechov and Buchlov Castle.”

Source: Prague Leaders Magazine
Author: Jaroslav Kramer

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