Published on : Friday, September 18, 2020
Morocco’s famous Jamaa El Fna square of Marrakesh is well-known for its huge congregation and its colorful performers. But with recent stringent restrictions of the government to arrest the virus spread has made the tourism industry on which Marrakesh depends heavily stand still.
Currently, the 11th century UNESCO World Heritage site has worn a deserted look and the city is facing an unprecedented emergency situation.
“Before, you had to wait your turn to get a table,” said Bachir, a waiter who worked in the square for two decades. His neighbor Mohamed Bassir is quite anxious about the future. “This is the first time I’ve seen the Jamaa El Fna so empty,” the orange juice seller explained while sitting at the back of his stall decorated in plastic fruit. “It makes me sad,” Bassir said. Generally, the square remains brimful with people and now it’s empty of the musicians, souvenir sellers and fortune tellers who are commonly found trading here. In mid-March, Morocco announced a state of health emergency and closed all its borders to stop the spread of coronavirus. The countries in North Africa with 35 million inhabitants have recorded more than 1,500 death cases from coronavirus and more than 86,600 confirmed cases.
In the maze of passages leading from the Jamaa El Fna, the narrow streets which had remained crowded with stalls, selling slippers to spices are mainly closed. Few are open, but the shopkeepers have little hope. “Most of the traders have closed their shops,” said Mohamed Challah, who sells flowing caftan robes. “The others are opening to kill time because there is nothing to do at home,” he said, adding that his store “no longer sells anything”.
After the simplifying the initial pandemic restrictions, traders and tourist operators thought that domestic tourism could compensate their losses. At that very moment, sudden announcement of new restrictions were made, including the closure of Marrakesh and other seven cities in Morocco. This shattered the expectations of a recovery. In 2019, the city drew three of the 13 million tourists who came to the country. For Jalil Habti Idrissi, managing a 45-year-old travel agency, it will be “very difficult to bounce back”. “We have experienced major crises in the past, but never of this magnitude,” Idrissi said, adding his business had “collapsed.” On social media, there are calls to “save” the city, with many using the hashtag “Marrakesh suffocates”.