On assignment, I flew in to Rabat, Morocco, on a private jet. As our team proceeded through customs, the agents held us up.
What were we planning to do?
What were we planning to film?
Where would we be going?
Moroccan media is tightly controlled and monitored by the Government. King Mohammed VI takes a personal interest in the message of his country. Foreigners can’t be trusted to portray an accurate or truthful picture of life in Morocco.
Rabat is the capitol city of The Kingdom of Morocco. Casablanca, made famous by the movie, is the country’s largest city. For more than a thousand years, the Western Kingdom of Morocco, or Marrakesh, was a powerful African dynasty.
Morocco is one of only three countries which have both a Mediterranean and Atlantic coast. From the 16th through 19th centuries, Barbary Pirates attacked ships and traded slaves along the Berber Coasts of Morocco, Algiers, Tunisia and Libya. In 1805, the United States executed a marginally successful military action against members of the Ottoman Empire in an effort to destroy the pirates and free American slaves. With European colonialism seeking to dominate much of Africa, political and economic tensions grew during the latter part of the 19th century. Moroccan independence essentially ended when France signed a treaty designating Morocco as a French protectorate in 1912. The French governed Morocco until 1956 when Sultan Mohammed V successfully negotiated Moroccan independence.
With Mohammed V’s succession to the throne, the spirit of independence and the power of the Monarchy re-emerged in Morocco. Mohammed V ruled for just 5 years. His son, Hassan II, became king upon his father’s death. Hassan II died in 1999 and his son, Mohammed VI, ascended to the throne.
As King, Mohammed VI has implemented progressive changes in Morocco, adopting a new constitution reducing the overall powers of the Monarchy while implementing a Parliamentary government with an appointed Prime Minister. Yet, Mohammed VI still wields tremendous power and controls much of the country’s resources. He personally owns the country’s phosphate mines, which account for 75% of the world’s reserves and he has a net worth greater than the Queen of England.
According to the World Health Organization, poverty remains high in Morocco. While Mohammed VI has placed modest emphasis on reducing the widening gap between rich and poor, civil rights abuses, government corruption and economic distress account for an increasingly disaffected populous. On the world stage, The United Nations has criticized Morocco for military action and occupation of a Western Saharan region populated by the indigenous Sahwari people who claim Western Sahara belongs to them.
As we stood in the customs office, the agents explained that we could not bring our equipment into their country. We must return our equipment to the airplane or we would not be allowed to enter. So, we shlepped our heavy black pelican cases back out on to the tarmac and stowed them on the plane.
I keep a camera in my backpack.
Politics and customs agents aside, a highlight of my visit to Morocco was eating lunch at a traditional restaurant which required ritual hand washing before eating. I held my hands over a beautiful ceramic basin as the Maitre d’ poured warm water from a hand painted glazed pitcher. Another waiter provided a warm towel to dry with. I don’t remember much about the food, but, as we were leaving the restaurant, the Maitre d’ repeated the washing experience by pouring warm rose water over our hands. The scent was strong and pleasing and stayed with me throughout the day.
Now, when I catch the scent of roses, I am transported back to that tiny restaurant in Rabat. I hear the call to prayer echoing across the ancient city and I want to reach in my backpack and check to see if my camera is still there.