Marrakesh square loses its buzz after attack

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Moroccan Abdelhadi Fetouaki is reviewing the rationale of having a dried fruits and nuts stall right in front of what used to be one of Jamaa el-Fna’s busiest cafes.

To allow investigators to look into the April 28 attack, which killed 17 people including eight French nationals, Fetouaki had to stay at home for the six days that followed it.

Even now, his business is suffering, Reuters reports.
“Here we go again,” he said while covering his goods with a transparent plastic sheet to shield them from a crowd of colourfully-dressed Guerraba water sellers, veiled henne tatoo artists and traditional musicians approached the cafe chanting slogans against terrorism and glorifying King Mohammed.
“The enemy can die because the king has his people behind him,” the tens of marchers chanted. Standing between Fetouaki’s stall and the cafe, they engaged in a cacophony of slogans condemning “terrorism” while a group of children in white Jellaba robes recited Koranic verses from long wooden boards.

The site has become an attraction for the fewer foreign tourists and larger numbers of Moroccans who flock to the square, recognised by UNESCO as a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.

Fetouaki gazed at the crowd without enthusiasm. “Such marches happen every day. It shows that the attack affected everyone,” he said. “It’s fine to march and protest for a week or even ten days but you see how this is halting business.”
“We really need to get back to work”.

Resuming normal activity looks set to be tough.

Marrakesh is the country’s number one tourist destination but fewer tourists have visited since the attack that heightened tension during a season of pro-reform protests linked to uprisings this year in other Arab countries.

A strengthened police presence in the square attests to the government’s wariness. An earlier big attack killed 45 people including 12 suicide bombers in Casablanca in 2003.

Police arrested three people earlier this month for the Marrakesh attack and said the chief suspect was “loyal” to al Qaeda. Regional grouping Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb denied involvement in the attack.

ECONOMIC MAINSTAY

The bombing also compounded fears that unrest in the Arab world, local protests and the global economic crisis could dampen the number of arrivals of European tourists.

Last week, Tourism Minister Yassir Znagui told Reuters tourism receipts are expected to grow even faster this year than in 2010 despite regional unrest and the bombing.

And a local official said the government hoped to match the number of night stays achieved in 2010, though he acknowledged the protests and the timing of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in August could hurt local and foreign tourism numbers.

Not everyone shares that optimism.
“We didn’t have to wait for the bombing to see business declining,” said the manager of a night club popular with Western holiday makers.
“Business hasn’t been going well since the economic crisis. Far fewer Europeans have been coming and those who come are spending far less than they did before 2009,” he said.

In addition to being the main employer in Marrakesh, tourism is Morocco’s top foreign currency earner and has been the main pillar of economic growth plans for the past decade.

A property boom that started in the late 1990s, the liberalisation of air transport with the European Union and tourism development has turned Marrakesh into a local Eldorado for hundreds of thousands of young Moroccans looking for work.

Mohamed Ait-Ouiss is one example. The 28-year-old arrived last year in Marrakesh from the small town of Sidi Bouathmane hoping to raise money to get married and settle down.
“There is nothing to do in Sidi Bouathmane apart from breeding livestock,” he said, sitting on the tricycle that earns him a living carrying goods to and from the square for craftsmen in the old medina.

He now does barely half the number of errands he did before the attack. “Craftsmen are getting fewer orders from souvenir shop owners in the square,” he said.



Pointing to an area buses use to drop off tourists, he said: “You would normally see three to four times as many buses. The place is missing its buzz.”
“Terrorism caused a lot of harm not just to the Christians (foreign victims) but also to the cafe owner and the Moroccan people as a whole,” he said.