Protests/Demonstrations in Marrakech
We went to Marrakech in February – after there had already been some excitement in Egypt. There weren’t any State Department warnings out for Morocco (as I recall, anyway), but what we didn’t know was that there was a big protest planned while we were there. So, not knowing what was about to happen, we settled in to a lovely lunch at a Parisian-style cafe just down the street from ‘Place de la Liberte’ ” (Freedom Square). As we sat and ate lunch, we noticed a small crowd of peaceful protesters. This small crowd eventually grew to become a large crowd of peaceful protesters. And eventually a large crowd of peaceful protesters with some anarchists mixed in. And then a large crowd scattering in every direction as fast as they could run as the police fought back against those intent on causing chaos.
We later learned that anarchists had been smashing windows in stores, attempting to break into banks, setting cars on fire and throwing molotov cocktails at police stations. But from where we were sitting, the only thing we knew was that there was chaos outside. Not knowing where the protest was going or what was going on, and being pretty well surrounded at the cafe anyway, We decided it wasn’t a good idea to try to go through the protesters to get to our hotel. So we retreated into the cafe to evaluate our options. We contacted the duty officer at the embassy in Rabat to see what they could tell us, and to let them know what was going on. Mostly we were wondering whether this was the next Egypt, or just a few rowdy people. We talked about exits from the building (just in case), and we examined the map. We studied where our hotel was relative to where we were, figured out that we were right down the street from Place de la Liberte (so, definitely not going to go that way), talked about locations of hotels outside of town that we could go to if necessary … and then we waited.
The Cafe owners had closed all the shades, and posted a couple of people at the door who rebuffed running protesters who tried to come in. So we figured that for the moment we were better off inside than outside. Once things had calmed down a little bit the security guy called a guy he knew who could drive us closer to our hotel. For a while they weren’t letting vehicles in the area at all – so when they finally did, the taxi was more than happy to take advantage of the situation in order to overcharge us. Of course, it still cost less than a normal Roman taxi fare … so we weren’t going to bother arguing over anything. We spent the rest of the afternoon on the roof of our hotel, relaxing. We figured that given the uncertainty of the situation, it was better safe than sorry.
It was an interesting experience, overall the protests were not that big of a deal, but it was the lack of information we had and the limited knowledge of the city that made the situation a little more tenuous for us. We didn’t know what would happen, and we didn’t know enough about the city or the culture to add insight to our lack of information. But I think it’s one of those things where you have “The Gift of Fear” (I have a book I’ve been meaning to read with that same name.) – in hindsight we didn’t need to map out escape routes or plan our egress from the building . . . but I certainly don’t regret making those plans!
A few months later, we heard about a restaurant in Marrakech, right on the main square that was bombed. Above is a picture of us eating at that restaurant. I didn’t follow the story to figure out the exact whys … but I do know that there were some people that died. It was pretty creepy to read about it and see the pictures. I find myself pretty speechless on this one – it’s weird to find out that you picked the right time to be somewhere … but it was by accident. And it could just as easily happen somewhere else. (Don’t worry Moms … we do our research before we travel.)