It may seem like a waste of time to share about the protests in Morocco now that it’s passed, but it’s important to me to give my perspective on the so-called “February 20th movement.” From the start of this blog, my goal has been to educate people about NYC and other areas of the world as seen through my camera lens and personal experiences. So here we go…
A day or so prior to departing to Morocco, we learned that protests were expected in several Moroccan cities, as part of a riptide sweeping the Arab world. We registered with the State Department and kept an eye on the internet for the latest updates. We’d even read that some tour companies had canceled their scheduled trips. But we moved forward and landed at the Marrakech airport on “the day” and promptly boarded a bus that would take us to the medina, the city center. As we approached the walled medina an oncoming bus motioned to our driver to stop and even though I didn’t understand the language, I could feel the tension in his voice. Within the next block, the bus driver was telling those that understood (and motioning for rest of us who didn’t) to get off the bus. We obliged and dodged cars, buses, motorcycles and bicycles as we crossed the street. Welcome to Marrakech!
We hadn’t walked ten steps when we heard quite a commotion a block or so away and I told my travel buddy, Suzan, that it seemed we were walking right into the protests. Sure enough we had encountered them. With Suzan’s knowledge of the area around the medina (thank God – or should I say Alhamdulillah!) we quickly took an alternate route.
We rounded the corner of a mosque and joined a small group of people watching and waiting, but there was a sense of calmness with the group and a feeling of being “OK.” (Kinda like waiting for a child to finish their temper tantrum before continuing on.) When we could no longer hear the group of protesters, everyone began to go about their business. Then a nice Italian man asked if we wanted to join him and two other gals as he escorted them into the medina. Ahm… ye-ah…is the pope Catholic?
We settled into our hotel and a couple of hours later we decided we needed a taste of the Jemaa El-Fna, a marketplace with water sellers, orange juice stalls and snake charmers during the day and food stalls and vendors at night. We roamed the souks and surprisingly many were closed. (That was our first clue something was up!) Hmm….within no time EVERYONE began frantically packing up or closing the doors of their shops. Once again…something just didn’t feel right. So we found a quiet restaurant close to our hotel and made the decision to get the hell out of dodge the following morning and make our way to Essaouira, a small and quiet village on the coast. This would give Marrakech an opportunity to settle down while we were away.
The next morning before we headed out, we learned the protests in most cities had been peaceful, however in Marrakech and another city in the north there were some minor clashes and scattered looting by local gangs. Just as we’d thought…the reason for the frantic closures the night before.
It’s obvious that Morocco is still a developing country with many challenges, but I just didn’t get the feeling during the whole trip that people were dissatisfied. In fact, quite the opposite. People we talked to seemed very respectful of the young king (47 years old) and many talked about all the wonderful things he’d been doing for their country such as city infrastructure improvements, thus increasing job opportunities. I found it interesting that many store owners had a photo of him proudly displayed on their walls. In several small cities we passed through, his photo was posted along the streets. One could say they did this to just please the king because of fear, but I just didn’t get the sense of anger or harshness toward the man or his regime.
There was no political unrest whatsoever after our first day and we continued on with pure thrill and excitement to be in this very untamed country! More thrills to come…like the taxi ride to Essaouira…