Is it safe in Marrakech?
Along with many British expats in Marrakech, I attended a meeting on 6th May held by our Ambassador to Morocco to discuss the recent tragic bombing in the Djemaâ El Fna.
Our Ambassador, Tim Morris, spoke passionately and well about his personal views and we all feel fortunate to have such a man as our ambassador here. However when it came to explaining and defending the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Travel Advisories, I and I think others did not feel so satisfied.
The ambassador explained that by their very nature Travel Advisories are a list of negatives and that it is not the responsibility of the embassy and the British government to encourage tourism in Morocco. All true but it does not allow for the fact that ordinary people look to the FCO to give them a fair and honest assessment of whether they should feel safe to travel to a particular country.
A Travel Advisory is an expression of an opinion and if these opinions can only be negative in nature then I think that they create an imbalanced picture of security in any country. In such circumstances I think it better to restrict such negative advisories to occasions where advice is more urgent, such as is the case currently in Libya and Syria for example.
In many other situations a simple statement of the facts would create a more accurate picture and put recent events into some perspective.
What are the facts of terrorism in Marrakech and Morocco in general?
Before the awful bombing on 28 April at the Café Argana, there had not been any terrorist event in Marrakech since the shooting at the Hotel Atlas-Asni in 1994 when two Spanish tourists died.
The entire history of terrorism in Morocco since 1990 is this:
1994. Shooting in Marrakech that caused the deaths of 2 tourists.
2003. Bombings in Casablanca resulted in 33 civilian deaths.
2007. 3 suicide-bombing incidents in Casablanca none of which resulted in any civilian deaths.
2011. Bomb at the Café Argana causing 16 or 17 fatalities.
Over the last 21 years terrorism in Morocco has resulted in a total of 52 innocent deaths of which less than half were foreign nationals. During this same period Moroccan Government statistics suggest that the country welcomed over 40 million visitors.
By contrast, in the UK more than 30 separate terrorist incidents have resulted in nearly 140 dead and many hundreds injured since 1990.
As for targeted political murders or kidnappings (such as has happened in Pakistan), despite the FCO advice, not one single foreign national, that I know of in the last 20 years, has ever been kidnapped, or murdered, in a terrorist motivated crime in Morocco. I think the last time a British national was kidnapped in Morocco was in 1903 when the Times correspondent Walter Harris was held hostage by Moulay Ahmed El Raisuli in the Rif Mountains for 3 weeks before being released unharmed.
The current system of quoting levels of general terrorist threat is not informative but simply spreads fear and erroneous perceptions. We all live our daily lives with some level of threat, no matter how unlikely. What is gained by misleading, albeit unintentionally, people into believing that there is a greater possibility of them dying while on holiday in some foreign country when in actual fact they are no more likely to be a victim of terrorism in a country like Morocco than they are back home?
The issue of Travel Advisories is important. Tourism for many countries, including the UK and Morocco, plays an important role in their overall GDP. If governments sow fear among their own people through misleading travel warnings they are not only helping to harm their own economies, creating misery and hardship for countless thousands of people, but these same governments are actually working to achieve the very goals of the terrorists themselves.