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Moroccan-American Business Community Gathers at First- Ever CEO Summit in DC Area

Mohamed El Hajjam, founder of the Moroccan American Network.

Mohamed El Hajjam, founder of the Moroccan American Network.

**Moroccan American Network Conference Attended by Members of Congress and Local Business Leaders**

MATIC (Washington, DC, June 5, 2013) — When Mohamed El Hajjam first launched the Moroccan American Network (MAN) just a few months ago, he envisioned a local organization that would help fellow small business owners and Moroccan immigrants like himself communicate with and support one another. That vision has already come to life with MAN’s first-ever CEO Summit, held last Friday, May 31 at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel.

The event brought together 150 Moroccan-American small business owners, community leaders, Members of Congress and local and state officials for a day of networking and panel discussions on topics ranging from how to assess US business opportunities to how to reach Morocco’s markets.

“As immigrants, we always believe in the American dream,” El Hajjam said in an interview at the event. “It’s extremely important for a small business owner to expand his business.” On the MAN CEO Summit, he added, “It’s very encouraging to me as a small business owner to know that many other entrepreneurs share this goal, and this is a great start.”

Opening presentations were made by President and CEO of the Greater Washington Board of Trade James C. Dinegar and former President of George Mason University Alan Merten on conducting business in the United States. A second session provided a more technical overview of the different tools and programs available to small business owners, with keynote speakers including John Carria, Deputy District Director of the US Small Business Administration, and Ida McPherson of the Virginia Department of Minority Business Enterprise.

Ida McPherson of  the Virginia Department of Minority Business Enterprise speaks at the event.

Ida McPherson of the Virginia Department of Minority Business Enterprise spoke at the event.

Entrepreneurship of the Moroccan-American community was a common theme throughout the speakers’ presentations. Governor of Virginia Robert McDonnell said in a video-message that Virginia draws its strength from the diversity of its inhabitants, including the dynamic and entrepreneurial Moroccan community.

US Congressman James Moran (D-VA), who attended the event in person, stated that Moroccan expatriates in the US are a major component of the state of Virginia’s economic fabric. He also raised Morocco’s vital role in North Africa’s stability and economic development, and underscored the current level of trade and positive perspectives ahead for the two countries.

Indeed a second overarching theme was that of conducting business with and in Morocco. Russell Held, Deputy Executive Director for Development at the Virginia Port Authority opened a third and last panel discussion on this topic.

“We’ve heard a couple mentions of the first treaty between Morocco and the United States,” he said, referencing the 1786 treaty between the two countries that allowed US ships to dock in Moroccan ports. “That treaty was put together basically to protect trade. Even though it is over 200 years old, it’s still [relevant] today.”

Russell Held, Deputy Executive Director for Development at the Virginia Port Authority opened a third and last panel discussion on conducting business with and in Morocco.

Russell Held, Deputy Executive Director for Development at the Virginia Port Authority, opened a panel discussion on conducting business with and in Morocco.

“Morocco is really the hub of the Middle East and the hub of Africa. And there’s no better time to invest than right now,” echoed El Hajjam. El M’Fadel Halaissi, General Manager of BMCE Corporate Bank, emphasized Morocco’s geographic position and political stability as important investment considerations. “[A top reason to invest in Morocco] is the stability of the political system and the legitimacy of the power [structure]. Morocco as a state has existed since the 12th century. It’s different from all the countries in all the regions. Stability is important. Investors hate investing in trouble [areas].”

But the event was not limited to formal panel discussions. In an evening ceremony, US Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) was awarded the “1786 Friendship Award” for her “inspiring leadership in promoting the strong and close relationship between our two nations and peoples.” The award reflects the close ties between Morocco and the United States, of which then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, last September at the launch of the Morocco-US Strategic Dialogue in Washington, DC, that “no country has been a friend of the United States longer than Morocco.” Secretary Clinton added that “we’re not satisfied with simply having a friendship that is longstanding.  We want one that is dynamic, growing, and looking toward the future.”

“The Congresswoman is very supportive of the relationship between the US and Morocco,” said El Hajjam of the inaugural award. “There’s a huge Moroccan-American community in Houston, Texas and she’s very tied to them.”

The “Anajar Women’s Leadership Award” was presented to Latifa Anajar, owner of Samobel Salon; Amal Lafhal, founder and managing broker of Washington Luxury Properties; and Nadia Id-Lachguer, owner and president of Rock Creek Limousine. The award is given to women business leaders who exemplify tenacity, leadership, and give generously to their community.

Following the ceremony, entertainment was provided by Moroccan singers Fatine Hilal Bik and Mohamed Reda.

“I came as an artist to represent my country and present Moroccan music, and to see what we can add to the mutual relationship between Morocco and the United States,” said Reda.

One hundred fifty Moroccan-American business owners attended the 2013 CEO Summit.

One hundred fifty Moroccan-American business owners attended the 2013 CEO Summit.

For additional photos from the event, please visit our Facebook page.

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