Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Is it safe to travel to Morocco?

Despite the odd comment that The View from Fez must be a government mouthpiece, we have to say that the protests in Morocco on Sunday were generally calm and orderly. The police acted with restraint, there was no bombardment of people by airforce jets, no defections by ministers and the King has not fled to Venezuela or anywhere else.

The protesters, which numbered somewhere between 40 000 (government figure) and 300 000 (protest organisers' figure) across the country, have some legitimate grievances, such as asking for an end to corruption, a more equitable society, better housing, more jobs and an independent judiciary. They also asked for the King to dissolve Parliament and give up some of his powers to a newly-elected government.

What has really angered many moderate Moroccans is the fact that some people were whipped up into the emotion of the moment, and carried out acts of vandalism and looting. Some government buildings and foreign-owned establishments such as banks had their windows broken. The five deaths reported in the northern city of Al-Hoceima were, we understand, those of looters who had broken into a bank that was subsequently set on fire by other vandals. Youths, some as young as 14, also threw stones at the police, who did not react.

Interior minister Taeib Cherqaoui said 128 people had been injured on Sunday, mostly police officers. A further 120 people were detained. He said "troublemakers" had vandalised dozens of public buildings, shops and banks.

Tangier, Larache, Marrakech, Sefrou, Tetouan and Guelmim suffered the worst violence, with a total of 33 public buildings being attacked or set on fire, reports the UK's Guardian newspaper.

Cherqaoui said the demonstrations themselves had been peaceful, calling them an example of "the healthy practice of the freedom of expression".

Since the protests on Sunday, there have been sporadic outbursts of action in Marrakech and in Fez where people were intimidated into striking yesterday, Monday. Shops in the Fez medina closed briefly when rumour had it that protesters were going to descend on the old city, but nothing transpired. Today, Tuesday, all seems back to normal and there's an air of relief on the medina streets.

In a statement released after the inauguration of the new Economic and Social Council, the King said, "By setting up this Council, we give strong support to the dynamic reform that we have put in place. In so doing, we make sure that building an effective democracy goes hand-in-hand with sustainable human development".

"We have always refused to bow to improvised public pressure", he continued, "but by our actions seek to consolidate our Moroccan democracy and development".

Morocco is officially a constitutional monarchy with an elected Parliament but the King, who is also Defender of the Faithful, holds the constitutional power to dissolve parliament and declare a state of emergency. He also has strong influence over the appointment of executive members of the government, including the prime minister.

In his statement, the King said, "We are adamant that we will go forward within our own Moroccan model; this is irreversible. We will not be content just to preserve what we have already achieved, but intend to consolidate with new reforms. This is in deep symbiosis and in total synergy with the will of the people".

"With this same commitment", he went on, "we mean to continue with structural reform, following a road map dedicated to clear objectives, founded on the close relationship between the throne and the people. Our ultimate aim is to assure all Moroccans of favourable conditions so that they might achieve dignified citizenship of a united Morocco that is advancing, and enjoy the benefits of unity and full sovereignty".

Some travellers have been asking for advice about coming to Morocco. "I am certainly not prepared to cancel a long planned and much anticipated trip to Morocco", said Cathy in California, "but I now have concerns".

On Monday, the UK's Foreign & Commonwealth Office issued the following 'factual amendment' to their travel advice for Morocco:

There were demonstrations in a number of major cities across the country on 20 February, as well as looting and vandalism in Tangier, Marrakech and other locations. You should follow news reports and be alert to developments that might trigger public disturbances. You should take precautions for your personal safety and avoid public gatherings and demonstrations. Any increase in tension might affect Travel Advice.

We'd second that. Of course it's impossible to say whether the protest movement will call for further action in the future. But for the moment, travel to Morocco is still safe.


Anonymous said...

well I am not going to cancel my trip. can't wait to be back in Fez.

Matt said...

Thank you. I too will not be dropping my Moroccan trip. Thanks for the updates.

Sandy McCutcheon said...

That's good to hear! I am out of the country but back next week. We will have more people on the ground and try and get the latest information as it comes to hand. Also, our thanks to all those people across the country who have been emailing and tweeting. We really appreciate your information.

TeaCup said...

Sandy Thanks for the updates, do you live permanently in Fes? I thought that I saw somewhere that you were only an occasional visitor.

Helen Ranger said...

Hi Teacup. I live permanently in Fez. Sandy has been in and out for years, but will be settling here next month.