Morocco is a country for tourists not for citizens. That’s how most of Westerns live and know it. They’re enchanted by the ocean’s beauty and the desert’s charm, happily enjoying a partially unspoiled nature, so far, low prices, entertainments carefully prepared for them.
And that’s how I knew it when I came there for the first time. I learned the litany so well “Morocco is one of the most open-minded and democratic country of the Arab world”. The Monarch is moderate, Islam is moderate, the country is moderate.
But under the veil of the much-vaunted moderation lies a country marked by significant social unrests. After Hassan II’s death, in 1999, the country lived a decade of higher freedom. A slight opening toward investigative journalism and freedom of expression gave hope to a better future. This period lasted until the Arab Spring, in 2011. Since then sa majesté le roi has taken matters under his own hands.
Even the most common tourist with the most basic sense of curiosity can notice a not totally peaceful situation. First time I went to the south of Marrakech the bus I was travelling on was stopped by the police: the driver didn’t have the documents. Not a big deal. Paying off the police force the problem was solved in no time. Shortly after the road was blocked because of a demonstration, a placard said “Tout l’argent a sa majesté le roi et nous?”
I came back a few months later. I was determined to take part in the Labor Day’s demonstration. I asked some friends where and when I had to go to attend the labor day’s parade. A chorus answered me “anywhere”. I didn’t give up, I took a cab and asked to take me to the place where the demonstration was occurring. There were about ten people with union’s flags. The desert. “The parade isn’t authorized by the King” says the taxi driver. Ok, let’s come back home.
However Mohammed VI insists in proclaiming himself to be the architect of a wise Islam, a healthy democracy in line with Western values. The country has forged a close relationship with the leading european countries, France in the first place and USA. Paris is the major Rabat weapons dealer, Washington is interested in Morocco’s tourist development both in economic function and in anti-algerian political function.
But this political neo-enlightenment has not prevented Casablanca’s attacks in 2003 or the capture of journalists, homosexuals, workers or political dissidents. It’s been six months since the Rif is marked by demonstrations. A fisherman was swallowed up by a garbage truck, he died. He asked for work and and dignity. The government confirmed the illegality of the sale and the transport of his fish.
In the margins of supporting demonstrations for the victim, 200 people were captured. Moroccans call loudly for the release of those arrested. Some as Mohammed, who’s a young employee in the area of human resources in Casablanca, admits who’s to blame for what happened. He says that the fisherman’s death was accidental. On one side police shouldn’t have carried out a not allowed check, on the other the transport of fish turned out to be illegal. But he supports demonstrations because he “endorses, as all Moroccans, claims that are matters of social order beyond any separatism or revolt”.
Finally he shows himself optimistic saying “conflinct’s resolution between the government and the Rif is near. It seems that the King will free those arrested and then he will go to protest’s places, rigourously after Ramadan”.
“Ramadan wins over social rights in Morocco” says Mariam who’s a teacher in Casablanca. Between the five pillars of Islam, Morocco has decided to put fasting first, during all Ramadan’s month. No one takes the liberty to break the law, it would be too dangerous. “Control on religion takes all public and social life of a person, especially in the case of a woman. You can’t kiss in the street, you can’t invite a man into your own home, you have to eat or drink secretly in the daylight hours during Ramadan. Penal and civil codes are still steeped in the Islamic law. Even the most simple actions of everyday life as take a cab,drinking a tea in a cafè are affected by the patriarchal and religious ethics from which country can’t free itself.”
Lastly I meet up with Mehdi who’s an employee in one of the most renowned hotel of Marrakech.
“Here tourism and prostitution prevail”. It’s not much but they create jobs. And he doesn’t approve the release of a movie reporting the depravity of his city. “It threatens our country’s reputation”.
Then I ask him what he thinks about Rif’s demonstration.
He takes one look at me smiling, and says:
“We don’t talk about politics in Morocco”.