Mohamed Ben Eissa (Morocco)

Mohamed Ben Eissa can best be described as a Visionary Man of Culture and Human Development. He was born in 1937 in (Assilah) a small, unknown fishing town on the northern coast of Morocco.  Even as an adolescent, he expressed strong interests in culture and communication. and at 16, he left Morocco for Egypt to study journalism. In 1961 he obtained a scholarship to continue his studies in America, where in 1963 he obtained his BAF in Journalism from the University of Minnesota. He formally began his career as a Press-Attaché for the Moroccan Permanent Mission to the UN.


His professional career ascended rapidly over the following years; an envoi for the UN, he led studies throughout parts of Africa, assessing the developmental and environmental conditions of those regions and contributing his insight towards seeking durable solutions to improve local living conditions.


In 1976 he returned to Morocco where, while acting as the Director of both an Arabic and French daily newspaper, he became first a city counselor, then a Member of Parliament for his hometown, Assilah. This nomination was the first step in his meteoric political career. In 1977 he was elected member of the Moroccan Parliament and in 1983 he was elected Mayor of Assilah, a position he has held unwaveringly for 27 years to date. From 1985 to 1992 he was the Minister of Culture, before being nominated Ambassador of His Majesty the King to the United States of America from 1993 to 1999. He returned to Morocco in 1999 as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, a position he held until 2007.


Despite his dense political activities, Mohamed Benaissa never lost sight of his vision, maintaining the belief that social and cultural development were intrinsically interdependent. Driven by the strength and clarity of his vision, in 1978 he co-founded The Al-Mouhit Cultural Association (presently the “Assilah Forum Foundation”, a non-governmental, non-profit organization dedicated to social and economic development through cultural exchange.

His belief that art and culture could lead to developing favorable social and economic conditions was as visionary as it was successful. Over the course of 33 years, Mohamed Benaissa’s rigorous efforts and dedication, as well as his profound loyalty to his country and his town, lead a sleepy, forgotten fishing village to become a thriving, self-sustaining town known worldwide as a model of social and economic development through art and culture. Mohamed Benaissa orchestrated the rehabilitation of the old Portuguese fort that constitutes the heart of Assilah, an achievement which, in 1998, earned him the Laureate of the Aga Khan Award fro Islamic Architecture. His relentless dedication towards public service is best seen in the many institutions that have been created under his leadership, and which in their turn have contributed to the towns economic health : a new hospital, schools, new roads, a public housing project for over 1000 families, extending access to running water and electricity, new sewage systems, water reservoirs, garbage collection, street lights, as well as the largest multimedia public library in Africa.


Mohamed Benaissa’s efforts have been recognized by many prestigious awards and decorations worldwide. In 2003 he was the Laureate of the Foundation of Arab Thought (Cultural Man of the Year), a title he also earned in 2008 when he was awarded the Laureate of the Sheikh Zayad Book Award.  In 2008 he received a Honoris Doctorate Causa in law and Public Services from the University of Minnesota. He is currently an active member of several national, regional and international organizations and an active international consultant in panels dedicated to development and international relations.