Thursday, April 28, 2011

An Explosion in the Café Argana, Djemaa al Fna, Marrakech--Sad for the Whole Country

When I first learned of this explosion, I wasn't yet awake enough to process it accurately. My first thoughts were: no family or friends would have been there; possibly Islamic terrorism (hopefully not); possibly opponents of the King (unlikely); possibly the demonstrators who have asked for democratization but not regime change (unlikely); I wonder if it is one of the cafés I was in; I wonder if it is the café frequented in the past by American author Paul Bowles, and why no one is addressing that.

Later, I looked at photos and realized I hadn't been in that particular café. I knew there was something not quite right about the Paul Bowles connection, but had to Google "Marrakech café blast Paul Bowles" to be reminded that Bowles' favourite café--the one he appeared in as a cameo of a café regular in the Bertolucci film The Sheltering Sky based on his novel of the same name--is in Tangier. The search did turn up the proper city, and author Juan Goytisolo, a Spaniard who has lived full time in Marrakesh since 1997 and part-time for decades before.

Brain fog, indeed. Impossible to confuse these two expatriate authors or their chosen Moroccan cities--when fully awake. I have seen and read works by both, including Bowles' biography, and have met Juan Goytisolo, whom I think is a brilliant author and courageous humanitarian. Fortunately, he has not been mentioned, and is unlikely to have been there.

I knew right away after seeing the pictures that I had never been to the Café or Restaurant Argana. The cafés/restaurants I stopped at when visiting Djemaa al Fna on my first visit to Marrakech were more of the popular sort, ones affordable on a student budget. I don't recall any European or American tourists in either.

One café, where I had breakfast on the terrace, was located on the square, and served good coffee, tea (Moroccan) and pastries.The other, where I had lunch, was more of a stall in the square, and served excellent tagines. I ordered my favourite, Moroccan chicken with lemon and green olives, which was prepared and served in the tagine clay pot as is traditional. We all sat at large tables around the central cooking area.

I was aware of a number of young boys hovering closeby, but my suspicions about why were only confirmed when the owner yelled at them to stay back farther; and, the hub was upset, because they were obviously very poor, and waiting to eat the left overs from the plates after the customers had left. I left almost all of my dish, even though the hub told me not to be inhibited, and I made sure before leaving completely that the little boy who slipped into my place had been allowed to eat, without the owner becoming angry. The hub basically did the same.

The victims of the bombing of the Argana Restaurant were both European tourists and locals, especially those who had been on the second floor, which was the most devastated. Although there has been no credit claimed for the bombing yet, investigators have determined that the explosion was a criminal one, not an accident. As usual, eye witnesses have differing stories, except that the explosion was forceful, frightening, and damaging to people and property.

Further damage is likely to the Moroccan people more broadly. Tourism will likely decline for a time, and the stock exchange has already shown a downward response. If this is a new attack from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, there will be reprisals and crackdowns from within the country and likely pressure from outside interests. If it is from a southern separatist movement within Morocco, or even less likely, from those demonstrating for a greater democratization of Morocco's "monarchy-heavy" constitutional monarchy, such movements will also be under greater surveillance.

In the case of those perpetrating violence this is justified. Unfortunately, "security concerns" are invoked to deny a voice to those who would reform Morocco for the better, including greater rights for Berbers and improvements across regions far from the central power.

This explosion is sad for the immediate victims, and for the country.

Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?


Jay Kactuz said...

A very terrible thing, this.
At least your family and friends were not among the victims. This is a sad world.

Price Scann said...

I sat at that very terrace in Spring of 1999 with friends. Very sad.

jaraad said...

Sad news.
Bombing civilians is just unfair and unjustified game.

Anonymous said...

I ate at the cafe numerous times while living in Marrakech in 2008. My thoughts go out to the families of the victims and I shudder and start to tear up thinking about how I sat _there_. Many times. Of the sights I saw from the terrace, the trouble I always had getting a correct bill from the waitstaff, of the pastilla and Moroccan salad and, most of all, the kindness I experienced at the hands of so many Moroccans. This is truly sad and I hope not a harbinger of things to come (or an excuse to crackdown on the legitimat, peaceful protests going on in Morocco right now).


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