Writing in The Guardian on Saturday, Casablanca-based writer and film-maker Tahir Shah reports on his recent visit to Marrakech:
Tahir ShahPhotograph: Zacarias Garcia
Morocco is a kingdom very different from its neighbours. There's no deranged dictator or marshal law and, most of the time, the tourist favourite makes the news for all the right reasons. The Arab Spring has passed Morocco by, but that doesn't mean the kingdom hasn't had its share of trouble.
On 28 April, the popular Café Argana in the heart of Marrakech was ripped apart by a terrorist bomb. Both tourists and locals were killed in an event that sent shockwaves through the country, the region, and beyond. The immediate result was that the city suffered terribly from cancellations. After all, tourism is based on perceived safety.
Last week I drove to Marrakech from my home in Casablanca, to see the effect of the explosion for myself. I had been sitting at Café Argana just five days before the bomb, and had been amazed then at the huge numbers of European tourists. In the great square of Djemaa el-Fna, which the cafe overlooks, the visitors were packed in cheek by jowl.
Visiting again, I was shocked by the complete change in this former tourist honeypot. Gone were the crowds of lobster-red British and the French people. Where they had been shuffling forward past the acrobats and storytellers, the sun-baked flagstones were bare.
I got talking to a snake-charmer wearing a thick woollen djellaba robe. He had a fatigued-looking cobra hooked around his neck, and the roughest hands I've ever seen. "Tourists are like pigeons," he said, jabbing a thumb out to the square. "One bang and they all fly away – roost somewhere else. But like all birds they'll be back. I promise you that."
At the edge of the square, a policeman offered me a glass of sweet mint tea. In a thick accent, he whispered: "Tell your countrymen that Marrakech is the safest place in the world. Marrakech good. No problem in Marrakech!"
As I wandered around, I realised that he was quite right. After all, there's nowhere so safe as a city in the wake of an isolated terrorist bomb. Tourism is Marrakech's bread and butter, so no stone has been left unturned in keeping foreign visitors safe.
But, even better still, with tourists cancelling in their droves, there's nowhere that can boast more impressive deals. Boutiquey little riads in the medina's labyrinth are offering prices of lifetime, as are some of the high-end hotels in the new town.
At Winston Churchill's glorious old favourite, La Mamounia – renovated to perfection two years ago – I met a couple from Bath. They had matching Panamas and perma-tans. The husband, Rory, glanced listlessly up from his newspaper. "Safe as houses out here old boy," he said in a clipped tone. "Got in last night. Bloody brilliant. Booked as soon as we heard about the bomb."
I asked Rory if he wasn't just a little bit nervous. "Nervous of what?" he replied with a gasp. "If I want to be nervous of something, I'll attempt to cross the road at Marble Arch."