Monday, July 23, 2007

The Politics of Sex & Some Minor Marrakech-Bashing

"Marrakech will be the target," my student judiciously advised me - this in the wake of Morocco's terror alert having been maxed out again this past weekend. "Why?" I asked, knowing full well what the answer would be. "Teacher," my student tried to reason with me (in a tone that clearly indicated that she thought I was a retard), "Marrakech is the most beautiful city in the world."

Which it isn't.

I have grown weary of being the Ministère du Tourisme du Maroc's Official Apostate but still I persevered. "Perhaps Marrakech will be the target because it is the most visited city in Morocco (which is the most beautiful country in the world) and, at any one time, there are a gazillion tourists - both Moroccan and Western - there."

Nine pairs of eyes blinked at me dumbly. I gave up.

"Alrighty, tell me what the disadvantages of tourism are," I asked in a feeble attempt to regain a modicum of control in the class. Nine pairs of eyes blinked at me dumbly. "There are none," pronounced one student after a disquieting period of silence which, had they actually been ruminating & thoughtfully considering my question - which they weren't - might have been called a pregnant pause. But it wasn't. It was just awkward. In response to my look of unfettered disbelief and exasperation, one of his classmates took pity on me.

"Sex tourism?" he suggested rather than responded. Finally we were getting somewhere! True, I had expected answers like the added stress to the environment, the further overcrowding of trains, or an increase in the price of a bottle of Sidi Ali, but I was grateful for the bone tossed my way. I'd gladly settle for sex tourism.

"So what exactly is sex tourism?"

This clearly made them uncomfortable. "You know," murmured one, fidgeting in his seat. "When Europeans come to Morocco to have sex with women and girls." And men. And boys - although that went unstated. As was the fact that an overwhelmingly large percentage of these sexual predators visitors to Morocco are fellow Muslims from Saudi Arabia who, if caught, are released while the women are slapped with jail sentences. It's almost as if - and forgive my overt cynicism at the suggestion - that the Saudis someone is greasing gendarmes someone's palms. And then there are the Moroccan women lured to Saudi under a panoply of pretences - promises of work or for religious reasons - only to find themselves ensnared in a ring of prostitution.

"And what about the Moroccan guides who prey upon single or divorced Western women - especially, but not restricted to, those 'of a certain age'?" Nine pairs of eyes blinked at me dumbly. "Seriously," I remonstrated, "you know what I'm talking about." Many - many - of these desert Berber-type tour guides are more than happy to lead a gaggle of gormless women out to the dunes of Merzouga for a quick poke under the stars night of "authentic Berber" music & tajine. At best, they view these women as disposable sex toys; at worst they fleece them for anything and everything they can get. The jackpot, of course, is an accepted marriage proposal and a visa out of Ouazarzate Dodge.

Age differences of several decades between newly wedded Moroccan men and Western women are not uncommon. And anyone who has lived here longer than 3 weeks knows at least one - and usually more - woman "of a certain age" who has succumbed to the skilful manipulations of these Grifters in Gondoras, and abandoned what little common sense she once possessed along with vast sums of cash. I once spoke to an arrestingly candid owner of an excursion company who told me that he assigned visiting women to his staff of guides based on their (i.e., the men's) personal proclivities. For example, one guide preferred Dutch women; another, German. He was quick to add that many of their clients are not conned women at all but satisfied (no pun intended) return-customers, who will often request specific guides when they book their subsequent excursions.


"Teacher," my students tried to reason with me (in a tone that clearly indicated that they thought that I was a retard), "that's different. That's love."

Addendum: I would draw the reader's attention to a news report from this past weekend in which allegations of sexual abuse were made against Moroccan U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast. According to the allegation, these men - from various units that rotated throughout the area over a 3-year period - systematically sexually abused women and girls (the youngest being 13).

... entire contingents had been involved with the young girls passed from unit after unit, resulting in the birth of illegitimate children.

Perhaps, that too was love.

Addendum 2: I just came across this link to a non-profit organization called SOS Morocco which strives to combat sex tourism here - specifically that which targets children. Thanks to Myrtus for posting it.


Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed your blog for awhile now and it's quite evident that you are a progessive thinking individual. I especially applaud your passion for women's rights and animal rights. Would it be possible for you to extend that compassion for people with disabilities? Your use of the word "retard" is extremely hurtful and offensive to people with disabilities and only perpetuates the idea that people with the label "retard" are second class citizens.

Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Point taken anonymous ... no excuses offered and I shall mend my insensitive if not wicked ways.

houda n said...

Well, anonymous dearie, they're not exactly top of the pile, are they? Don't see the problem with the use of 'retard' - surprised that you do, Cat. Cat?

Cath said...

You've always been differently-abled in my eyes, Cat.
BTW, I'm a woman of a certain age. Where do I sign up for my "guided tour."

Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Cath, I *did* say "single or divorced Western women ... of a certain age" ... is there something I should know?

Me and my camera said...

Houda N,

The problem isn't with the word itself (which only means "slow" or "delayed"): when it was first used to refer to those with intellectual deficits, it was not perjoritive, and certainly better than calling them imbeciles or idiots (as they'd been previously called.

However, over the years, the word retarded became used derisively, so that certainly by the time I was a kid in the '60's, if one wanted to put down a friend who'd done something stupid, we called him "retarded" or a "retardo" or a "retard".

This sort of thing happens all the time: a language evolves, and what was once kindly or complimentary becomes - through usage - unacceptable.

The word "retarded" or "retard", in the sense that C in R used it in today's blog, is such a case, IMHO...

Cath said...

Crummy buttons!

Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...


Cath said...

Cathy was morose.

Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Why? Did you grow a lose a thumb and grow an eye?

The Lounsbury said...

Leaving aside the precious politically correct discussion on retards, the assertion in the note that it's the Khalijis that are the main sex tourists is a bit suspect.

By volume alone, that strikes one as a bit suspect. Mind you, if you're talking percentages (as in percent of Khaliji tourists that are engaged in sex tourism versus percent of Western tourists...), that is probably a safe assumption.

But the Agadir and Marrakech scandals were all European, and Euro sex tourism is not a rare thing. Given the larger volumes of Euros, by orders of magnitude (all Arab national tourists together are under the 100k / yr level versus several millions of Euros annually - the math I think is obvious), you may (although I suspect you will not) wish to rethink your thinking on this. [stats: see MoT, but also more easily accessible here:]

Not to say the single Khalijis who come are not scummy bastards, but they're hardly the market.

Margot Mystic in Marrakesh said...

Dear Cat,

I found your blog for the first time today, linked through the Morocco Report. I read several of your entries and found you are discussing a lot of interesting, relevant material. I love your style (with all the crossouts)and I really enjoyed reading your section on Moulay Ismail (actually, I enjoyed the whole page of posts). I'll be back!

Margot Mystic in Marrakesh

Sarah said...

I love it! I've been living in Marrakech for two months now (will be here for a year) and as the weeks have passed all of the points you make in this post have been gradually borne in upon me, in particularly the fiery interest in middle-aged women. I love living here, but it doesn't take long for a certain degree of cynicism about the sexual attitudes here to take hold.

My own blog is A Year in Marrakech, btw. Not quite as cynical as yours but it's probably only a matter of time...

Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Sarah: "Not quite as cynical as yours but it's probably only a matter of time..." that made me laugh! That's the spirit!

yunis said...

The whole debate is interesting! For me This would be my first visit to Morocco. I guess will be surprised!

Anonymous said...

pcan you explain more sex and tourisme and give me also more disadvanteges of tourisme in morocco.