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Cablegate: Modernizing Morocco's Capital

DE RUEHRB #1577/01 2341611
R 221611Z AUG 06




E.O. 12958: N/A

Sensitive but Unclassified-- entire text. Not for internet

1. (SBU) Summary; Lemghari Essakl, General Manager of the
Agency for Bouregreg Valley Development, called on Ambassador
on August 9 to outline the Government of Morocco's ambitious
plans for the development and revitalization of the valley
separating Rabat and its neighboring city of Sale. Noting
that the plan will clean up pollution in the valley, augment
economic activity (37,000 direct jobs, and twice that many
indirect ones), and resolve transportation problems between
the two cities, he added that the overall vision is one of
making Rabat a city that can match its more developed and
cosmopolitan Mediterranean rivals. The ten year plan
envisions an overall investment total of over USD 1 billion,
and has already attracted significant participation from
investors in the United Arab Emirates and Dubai. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Essakl, who was accompanied by the Agency's
Director of Marketing and Communication, Omar Benslimane, has
headed the project since its inception last year. Earlier,
he headed a number of other Moroccan development agencies.
He also serves as chair of the Moroccan chapter of Young Arab
Leaders (YAL). In his capacity as General Manager of the
Bouregreg Valley Agency, he has kept a high media profile,
while also reaching out to diplomatic missions and others to
explain the evolution of the project.

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Multiple Goals

3. (SBU) Essakl stressed that while the formal project
debuted last year, it had actually been the subject of
intensive government study since 2002. Noting that the
project integrates environmental, economic and transportation
goals, he stressed that his agency has been given full
authority over the 6000 hectares that make up the valley
floor, and is negotiating conventions with Rabat and Sale to
implement activities in adjacent areas. The goal, he said,
is to create a capital city worthy of Morocco, that is the
equal of its Mediterranean rivals. Noting that he had lived
abroad for many years, he bemoaned the lack of "vitality" in
the Moroccan capital, and expressed hope that the project
would help remedy that deficiency. He emphasized, however,
that the first order of business has been environmental,
given the volume of solid waste, sewage, and industrial
chemicals that have historically been discharged into the
valley. In addition to closing the Oulja landfill (located
in the valley just below the Embassy), the government will
also divert the other flows from the Bouregreg river to a
wastewater network, where they will be treated and processed.
A tender for that facility brought three bids, (including
one from an American company), which are currently under
review. Essakl predicted that this phase of the project
should be completed by the end of 2007, noting that discharge
into the valley has already been cut by 80 percent. Costs
will be covered by the national government, together with
localities and those in the affected areas.

4. (SBU) Economically, the project will transform the
oceanfront and river valley, making the river navigable and
creating new ports for both pleasure craft and fishing boats.
In addition to dredging, the authority will erect barriers
to ensure that the channel does not again silt up. The plan
envisions a transformed waterfront, with the ports surrounded
by a City of Arts and Crafts, shopping malls, restaurants,
hotels, and other tourist facilities. In response to a
question from the Ambassador, Essakl stressed that while the
existing fishing port will be moved slightly from its current
location, it will remain in the area, to contribute to its
diversity and highlight an important element of Morocco's
coastal culture. In the future, he even envisioned
construction of a cruise ship terminal, from which excursions
to Meknes and Fes could be organized.

5. (SBU) The project's transportation component is also
ambitious, with plans for new bridges and a tramway from Sale
to Rabat to relieve urban traffic. Work on the latter's 12
mile route will commence in 2007, and is targeted for
completion in 2010. A tender in that component will be held
in the near future, Essakl said.

6. (SBU) Essakl stressed that certain zones in the valley
that are important habitats for migrating birds will be
walled off from development, to protect the area's
environmental richness. Beyond the economic and
environmental impact, he also noted a cultural component in
protection of a range of sites including the historic Chellah

RABAT 00001577 002 OF 002

in Rabat. Already talks are underway, he said, with UNESCO
regarding possible financing of the excavation of an ancient
port which has been uncovered near the oceanfront, and which
could ultimately be incorporated into the plan.

7. (SBU) Essakl emphasized that the project will also have an
immediate short-term economic impact, creating 37,000 new
jobs directly, and twice that number indirectly in the
construction and other sectors. The project's vision, he
said, is of a wealth-creating investment that will create
other investments and have a multiplier effect on economic
life in both Rabat and Sale. He noted this impact will come
in the financial sector as well. Investors in Abu Dhabi and
the United Arab Emirates have already signed on to the
project, and he predicted that large Moroccan banks would
participate as well. These investments cover a large part of
the project's anticipated USD 1 billion cost, while the
government, both through the national budget and the Hassan
II fund, will also allocate significant funds, including
nearly USD 300 million for the project's first phase.

8. (SBU) Comment: Ambassador probed gently about prospects
for rapid realization of this ambitious vision, noting the
difficulties that can sometimes emerge in project
implementation. Essakl professed optimism, noting in
particular that the goal of ridding the valley of pollution
"can be realized" by the end of 2007. While conceding that
major projects sometimes do not achieve their expected
economic viability, he judged that even in such cases the
resulting infrastructure can be worth the cost, pointing to
the "chunnel" as an example. End Comment.
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