Is Marrakech a safe place to visit right now?

Given the seismic nature of political events in Tunisia and Egypt, not to mention the shockingly violent response to protest demonstrations seen in Bahrain, Syria and Libya, one might be forgiven for questioning the safety of other tourist destinations in the Arab or Islamic world, such as Morocco.

Although it would be foolhardy to predict the final outcome of the movement for change currently sweeping the region, it should be said that Morocco, though by no means wholly immune to the tide of recent events, is in a different position to countries of the Middle East and elsewhere in North Africa from which it is so far removed both geographically and politically.

Though not an oil state, Morocco prospers through tourism and exports. It is also a broadly fairer society, sociologically and economically, than the states which have occupied the headlines in recent months, not least through being run on more democratic lines than is the case in most Islamic countries.

One positive fact to underline this is that Morocco is a sovereign democracy with a parliamentary system. The young king (Mohammed VI) has been doing his best to keep the economy moving and is gaining respect for his attempts at flushing out corruption. Also, despite the relative poverty of so many, especially in rural areas, the average household income is significantly higher than that of, say, Egypt, where so many millions have to survive on £1 a day, and there is as a consequence much less resentment among the population towards its government than is clearly the case in, say, Egypt or Yemen or, of course, Libya.

That said, during March and April there were a number of peaceful and largely good-natured demonstrations in Rabat, the capital, and in Casablanca, by people taking their cue from the wave of popular unrest throughout the Arab world (although more than half the Moroccan population is in fact Berber, not Arab) of which news has spread so fast via TV and the internet.

Even relatively affluent Marrakech, which does so well from tourism, saw a couple of small scale demonstrations for constitutional reform, although none of the protesters was permitted to enter the Kasbah, location of the royal palace and of our hotel. In February and again in April King Mohammed who, unlike most other leaders in the Arabic world, is widely respected by his subjects, went on TV in response to the street demonstrations to appeal for calm, a measure that appears to have had the desired effect.

As we write this, no-one in Morocco has been injured, let alone killed, by the forces of law and order and the situation is almost universally calm, quite a contrast with other Arab or Muslim countries featured on TV news. Those staying with us at our luxury Marrakech hotel,  Les Borjs de la Kasbah, are continuing to enjoy their holidays telling us that they feel no more threatened by the current political turmoil in the Arab world than they would do in European cities back home where demonstrations are not exactly unknown!

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