Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tourist Police in the Fez Medina - Bouquets and Brickbats

Petty crime in the Medinas of Fez and Marrakech is a relatively small problem, especially in comparison with European or American cities. A bigger problem for tourists has always been the assorted touts and unofficial faux guides who can be annoying. However, in recent years, undercover tourist police in Marrakech and Fes have greatly reduced the problem. But despite the good work of the police there is an ongoing problem which causes embarrasment both to local Moroccans and to tourists.  Ibn Warraq investigates an issue troubling both resident foreigners and locals. 

Fez Tourist Police have made the Medina much safer and tourist friendly

In Fez, local residents both Moroccan and expats have been harassed by police for escorting their friends or guests through the Medina. In extreme cases they have been arrested.

One riad owner I spoke to told of an incident in which her translator was arrested for escorting her to a timber worker at Bab Guissa. 'The police claimed I must have an official guide with me at all times. This is obviously ludicrous as the official guides are busy with tourists and certainly won't drop that lucrative work in order to come with me and the translator on a half-hour excursion for thirty or forty dirhams."

In Suzanna Clarke's A House in Fez, she expresses similar sentiments and frustration when she was told by the Tourist Police that she could not walk through the Medina with her house guardian, Si Mohammed, and that she must always hire an official guide. "I had never heard of anything so ridiculous", she writes. "I was supposed to ring a guide every time I wanted to pop out for a few building materials? I didn't need someone to show me where to go, just someone who understood Moroccan building terms and what it was our workers needed. Beside, what guide was going to be on call for half an hour's work at a time, several times a day, for a reasonable rate?"

Local official guide Karim, confirmed this. "We have a good business with tourists and it is waste of our time to escort tourists from a car park to their riad, or a local taking their clients to a restaurant."

Another guesthouse owner describes ongoing problems. "When our driver that picks up our guests to take them to his car for a day trip or transfer to the airport has to ask the guests to walk behind him so that he has no trouble with the police. Our cooks can no longer take guests to the market because they will be stopped by the police and potentially arrested. Our handyman was taking our guests to the shop where they ALREADY bought a door. He was stopped by the tourist police, arrested and spent a night in jail."

Another local resident told The View from Fez, "Belgian friends have a vacation home here in the medina. The owner has to walk ahead of his handyman in the street in order to avoid harassment by the tourist brigade. The handyman is a declared employee."

Local Fez residents apologise for the system and suggest that there are probably lobbies behind these policies such as official guides who don't want to see their commissions cut by merchants selling directly to tourists.

Si Mohammed, a Fez businessman, says that whatever the reason, the resulting situation is shameful "A Moroccan cannot walk with a foreigner for fear of spending a night in jail? As if we've gone back to colonialism!" he says.

A major tourist company director says these problems are widespread "We have heard all of the problems.  On the transport side of things the drivers used to walk clients to their hotel until the threat of jail became to much and now they have to send clients with carossa's  (hand-pushed carts) when needed. It is not only annoying for our business but also scary for our employees - not to say the least if they are questioned in front of clients (and I do have to say that this has happened but because everything was legitimate there were no problems and the tourist police were polite) - on the other hand we realise the situation with faux guides and harassment  needs to be handled as it's becoming more extreme."

Other tourism business people say they have also come to understand that the tourist police generally do get to know who's who and whether what they are doing is questionable. "Quite often I just wish
there were more around and I knew who they were!"

In the end, something has to change. As a top tourist destination, Fez Tourist Police need to concentrate on major problems, such as motorbikes in the Medina, rather than stopping local residents walking with their friends or clients.

Perhaps a system of authorisation for the employees of riads and restaurants could be instituted, to avoid this problem?

Story: Ibn Warraq

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Anonymous said...

Just know a little arabic, enough to explain to the police that you live here and then you will be fine.
There is also the easy option of just showing them your Moroccan residency card.

karimainfez said...

I am Karima , a friend of many foreigners in Fez Medina and wherever I go , because of my nature of work, I am a freelance translator, a fixer and a line producer, and I always fear to end up in jail because of walking with a friend in the street just because he or she is from another country ... but I refuse to let go of my right to choose my friends ... or work to make some money ... especially that working these days is not easy to find these days.!! :(
This has to stop, illegal guides are known to the police...( Knowing that I respect the work of the police and I acknowledge the hard work they do everyday to protect everybody). But they should stop intimidating locals for a simple act of friendship, or a freelance work ...



Basma said...

It brings shame (hsuma) to us Moroccans that some of the tourist police stop foreign residents walking with their friends, guests and neighbors. They must be told to stop as it make Morocco look out of place in the modern world. They do a good work against crime, but showing your clients around Fes should be a pleasure not a crime!

Simo said...

Anonymous. Just showing a resident's card is not enough for some of these people. It is better that the police chief tells them to stop and concentrate on real problems. It embarasses us in front of our guests.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I used to have to carry our marriage license around just in case we got stopped (until they knew us). It isn't right to give more respect to tourists than locals. Tbh, even if they are touts - life is hard work for many young Moroccans. Give them a break.

Sandi said...

Visited Fes a few times. Unfortunately my local Moroccan friends are not able to show me around the Medina without being harassed by the police and labeled as "touts".