I hope not; I hope this is not the end of a small, effective scholarship program. I hope that someone in a position to do something – say a senior US Government Executive Branch official – will connect "A" (the Arab Spring and consequent US engagement with civil society) with "B" (budget slashes in the wrong places, garnering ludicrous "savings") and decide that something has gone horribly wrong.
But as I wrote last month, one of the most effective "bang for buck" ($25,000 for 10 scholars) programs that the US Government has going on in North Africa, birthplace of the Arab Spring, is ending on December 31.
So the two women in our photo, Algerian Maghribi Grantees doing their research in Morocco, may be the last. What a pity. Their work is typical of the kind that the AIMS grants have funded over the last ten years. Amina Leghima is here to compare the automobile parts supply industry in her native Algeria to that of Morocco.
Think that an obscure topic with little impact on the United States? Tangier, with its huge new Renault factory in its last stages of completion, is a major center for car and car component export to Europe. There are several American firms here, with which we have put our scholar in touch. For Tangier is a major manufacturing and shipping hub, not only for the European market, but increasingly, with the port of Tangier-Med, for the entire Asian-Atlantic transshipping market.
Likewise for Lila Chabane, who is studying urban transport systems in Algeria and Morocco. We've put her in touch with a network of architects and urban planners, just like we did last year for another Algerian researcher in urban environmental planning.
Sure, we also get scholars delving into what non-academics may term "obscure" topics, but that's not the point. The importance of the AIMS Maghribi Grant program is that it fosters intra-Maghrib academic research, under the auspices of TALIM, CEMA, and CEMAT, respectively the three American Institute for Maghrib Studies centers in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.
The incipient end of the Maghribi Grantee program – short of some munificence from an unexpected source – comes at a particularly bad time, and not just because it sends confusing signals about the solidity of the American commitment to Maghribi interaction.
It also comes during the best year yet for Moroccan scholarly interest in the program. In recent years, while Morocco had been by far the preferred destination for Algerian and Tunisian (and the few Libyan and Mauritanian scholars who obtained grants), relatively few Moroccans applied for the grants.
In 2011, perhaps in part by our getting the word out, but possibly because they were inspired by events east of Oujda, Moroccan applications skyrocketed.
Sorry to curb your enthusiasm, my Moroccan charges, but you'll have to wait and see. Which is what I am doing: when will the lightbulb click on in Washington D.C.? When will someone see that, after all, the United States Government can find $25,000 to make ten scholars – and their universities, and their Ministries of Education, and their host insitutions – happy?
$25,000 amidst the billions and trillions? Sure, we can.