Morocco heading for more prosperity


It is a five-and-a-half hours flight from Jeddah to Casablanca, the largest city of Morocco — one of the most beautiful countries in the world and the top tourist destination in Northern Africa. Earlier, I had visited neighboring Tunisia, small but equally beautiful, but this was before the start of the Arab Spring which is ravaging some Arab countries.

Morocco is a vast, fertile and fairly prosperous country with a history of hundreds of years of growth and development. It is strategically located, facing Europe and has been the point from which the Arabs and their neighbors sprang to conquer Spain or Andalusia as it was known eight years ago.

Casablanca is the largest city in the country. Located on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, the incoming breezes lend a clean quality to the city. So it was a fabulous experience to stand at the corniche and take in the constant drafts of fresh air which never let up for miles on end.

It was this aspect which was highlighted in the advertisement for the Al Medina hotel where I first checked in and which offered fantastic views of the sea. I later shifted to the Hyatt Hotel a little toward the center of the city.
Most of the hotels are at walking distance from the corniche and the city center so one can easily skip the ubiquitous taxis and stroll in any direction one wishes. With a population of 35 million and an area of half a million sq. kilometers Morocco shares with Spain and France the blessing of being both Atlantic and Mediterranean states sharing the beauty of their peoples and the greatness of their weather specially toward the south.

Hence, both France and Spain are hugely popular tourist attractions. Ask any Briton or Scandinavian about his favorite holiday resort or where he might wish to retire after decades of life in the north of Europe especially in the winter and the answer would be Spain or the south of France.

Moroccan tourism has come of age in the past few decades. Thousands of Arab tourists arrive in the country lured by the fairly low prices, excellent cuisine, sightseeing, great night life, good hotels at reasonable prices and the lovely cities stretching from Casa to Rabat, the capital to Marrackech. There are many more facing the Atlantic and what’s more, one can go to Europe by sea and return to base the same day. We visited Gibraltar and returned to Casablanca the same day at very reasonable rates.

But it is not all milk and honey as some Arabs say. In 1975, after the Spanish colonialists quit, Morocco annexed the Western Sahara claiming that it was her territory. Algeria, on the other hand, also claims part or all of the Sahara, a dispute which remains unresolved.

After a dreadful war between the two countries — Algeria standing by the few thousand people who live in the desert, a cease-fire was called in 1991.

The United Nations’ efforts to help bring peace to the region have failed to break the deadlock. The war has cost the two countries dearly, especially Morocco which has been unable to develop properly because of the severe drain on its resources

Because of its location and rich resources, Morocco soon attracted the attention of two of the European colonial powers, Spain and France.

The others decided by agreement to leave Morocco as the sole prize of the French and Spanish just as Britain and France had done by dividing up the Arab world after the World War I, through the ill famed Sykes Picot accord.

By 1860 Spain had found an excuse to declare war on Morocco over a so-called enclave called Ceuta which it holds firmly until this day in a scenario typical of old-style colonialism. The war coincided with Britain capturing the Port of Aden in the extreme south of Arabia from 1839-1967.

Spain has refused to negotiate the annexed territories. France, seizing the opportunity, declared the whole of Morocco a protectorate, another word for colony just like the Port of Aden had become under the British.

In 1921 the Berbers tried but failed to drive away the invaders in the famous six-year old Rif uprising under the leadership of Abdul Karim Al Rifi who had wanted an independent republic.

Eventually the Europeans left but war raged on for many years in the neighboring country of Algeria which fought hard to wrest its independence from the French who had firmly established their hegemony and are said to have caused the death of a million Algerians who had risen to fight for their land and property.

Mohammed VI is the present king and is described as a constitutional monarch with a Parliament and independent judiciary.

Driving between cities is a joy ride as I discovered when visiting the white capital of Rabat with some of the best fish dishes one has ever tasted. I agree.

Despite its proximity to Europe, Morocco is quite different and because of the long and repressive colonialism it has not had the development and education that European countries have had.

It used to be a relatively poor country, perhaps as poor as the south of Spain, Portugal, Tunisia, Algiers, Libya, and Mauritania used to be.

But although bereft of huge oil wealth Morocco has not done too badly for itself. It has a liberal economy with progressive privatization and a nearly five percent economic growth in the last few years. This could expect to grow in the next few years if the situation stabilizes long enough for the economy to prosper.

But with neighboring Tunisia in turmoil, one can only hope that it will continue to do so, especially now that the monarchy is enlightened and the economy is opening up steadily making big strides just as Spain and Portugal are doing further north.


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