In the souk of Marrakech, “since the closure of the borders, there is no one”

The stalls are deserted and some curtains closed. In the workshops, the machines are at a standstill, and the carpets, pottery, basketwork exhibited on the stalls are gathering dust. On this Saturday in January, silence and emptiness reign in the Marrakech craft complex – a production and sales space dedicated to Moroccan crafts located near the Djemaa El-Fna square and the Koutoubia mosque. “Since the Covid-19, trade has not worked”, summarizes, bitterly, Mohammed Essaouisi, an engraver-carver, who exhibits in his shop all kinds of copper objects, the fruit of ancestral know-how. “Most craftsmen are screwed. They suffer, and no one thinks of them. »

In this high place of traditional culture, the sector, closely linked to tourism, is almost at a standstill. The fall of 2021, however, had marked the beginnings of a recovery in the “red city”, until the authorities decreed, on November 29, the suspension of all passenger flights to and from the kingdom. Cherifian – and this, until at least January 31, 2022 –, due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the world. For craftsmen, who for two years have been bearing the full brunt of the consequences of the pandemic, this decision was seen as the final blow.

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“We were expecting foreign tourists, especially the French, many of whom come to spend the end-of-year celebrations here. But they didn’t come. Since the borders were closed, there is no one there,” is in despair Mohammed Essaouisi. Nothing suggests a rapid rebound in tourist activity, especially since Morocco is experiencing an exponential curve in the number of contaminations and is approaching the peak of the Omicron wave, expected for the second half of January.

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In the craft complex of Marrakech, craftsmen have closed shop, like Yacine Maroudi, a manufacturer of slippers. He comes two or three times a week “to see friends” and ” spend time “. “But what’s the point of opening, apart from spending electricity for nothing? There are no customers! » After seventeen years in the business, the leather goods maker is looking for a new job: “Any serious job. » Some have already sold their tools and converted. Others stay at home, because they don’t even have enough to pay for transport. Still others dived. “Yesterday I saw a craftsman asking for money in the street. It hurts the heart, you know”, says Mohammed Ihsan Ghouat, an art carpenter.

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Mark Holland

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