Petronella Wyatt

Bazaar goings-on

The ongoing escapades of London's answer to Ally McBeal

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I have just returned from Morocco, or Marrakech, to be precise; the rose-pink city with its hidden gardens and ancient, tiled palaces. This was against the advice of an American friend who protested vigorously when I announced my visit. 'You can't go there,' she howled, 'it's an Islamic country. They'll all be pro-Saddam and anti-Bush. They'll probably tear you to pieces.'

I thought this highly unlikely as in my experience the Moroccans are a gentle people who are only likely to tear you to pieces if you refuse to buy one of their hideous carpets made by a tribe called the Berbers. Nevertheless, I expected the joint to be hotter than usual – politically that is. I packed a heavy scarf in case I came across any weapons of mass destruction. I am always on the look out for WMD, as a good patriot, and figured they might as well be in Muslim Morocco as anywhere else.

But it was at Gatwick airport, at the Royal Air Maroc check-in desk, that I encountered WMD. Weapons of Mass Dementia. For some reason nearly every passenger had a different flight time printed on their ticket. While this was all sorted out I quietly went mad in the departure lounge.

They were very nice at Marrakech airport, however. No one looked at me with hostility or suspicion. Indeed a huge sign, in English, read 'Morocco has nothing to do with the war in the Middle East.' Indubitably, in any real sense, but what were the blighters really thinking behind those welcoming smiles?

I decided that it was my duty to find out, and if the findings were of concern then I would have no choice but to liberate Marrakech myself. On the way to the hotel I saw no signs of anti-Americanism or increased fundamentalism. Unlike in London, there was no graffiti daubed on the walls, no pro-peace posters. Most of the women were unveiled and the younger ones were in Western dress driving mopeds.

The following day I asked another taxi driver to take me to the souks, where more authentic Moroccans than those in hotel lobbies are to he found. I asked my driver what he thought of the war in Iraq. 'It's terrible,' he spat. 'All war is,' I said hastily. He interrupted. 'You misunderstand. It's led to a decline in tourism, our chief industry. Some people must think Marrakech is in Iraq or Syria. Idiots!'

After sympathising with his plight I alighted outside the bazaar of an Arab I had encountered on my last trip. Then, in the balmy days of peace, he had, to my great consternation, as the gentleman was fat and bearded, pursued me as far as my hotel. Lurid messages had been left and the promises of cakes and sweetmeats. Now, I calculated, I would be safer. After all, my countrymen and women had been killing his fellow Muslims.

'I'd like to talk to you about politics,' I said tentatively, as he waddled towards me. This met with the vociferous response. 'You know Ronnie Corbett? You like to see my picture with Ronnie Corbett? He been in my shop.' Holding my arm in a vice he dragged me to a collage of photographs. There indeed was Mr Corbett. 'Now look,' he continued, beaming with pride, 'see me here with Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. They also been to my shop.'

I wondered at this line-up of US presidents. 'But you must hate Americans now. They've attacked Iraq.' This remark was dismissed. 'You wrong. Moroccans not like Saddam Hussein. He is very bad man. We not sorry for him.' 'But the Allied occupation?' 'I tell you we not interested in Saddam. We more interested in sex.' I blanched. 'I take you upstairs and show you special carpets.'

'Another time, thanks,' I yelled, rushing from the shop. But the fat Arab was not far wrong. In the souks, where there are myriad lovely ceramics, dainty Islamic bowls were placed next to ones with Jewish designs and others which were clearly Christian. There is no religious strife. The popular and young king, Mohammed VI, forbids any fundamentalist preaching likely to incite hatred. It's the equivalent of three sound-spites and you're out.

The Moroccans have freedom of religion and freedom of the press and no condign punishment system like the Saudis. That does not make the nation vastly pro American politically, however. First, not many come here and, second, a number of Moroccans are alarmed by what they see as US 'aggression' even if it is in a good cause. One young man commented, 'We all wanted to see Saddam go and we hate tyrants, but we don't like the way Bush thinks he can do exactly as he pleases or the way America lumps all Arab countries together. We could not be more different from the Saudis, the Syrians or the Iranians. If only they took more time to learn.'

On Easter Sunday the Christians, many of whom are foreigners who have settled here, went off to church. The Muslims cheerfully wished them a Happy Eater (sic). A day later, I was forced to return to the shop of the fat Arab to pick up some slippers I had ordered. Fortunately, his younger assistant was there. As I took my parcel I found it also included a lovely silver scent bottle. 'But I didn't ask for this,' I said. 'No,' replied the assistant, 'present from me. You like to come home and meet my family?'

Ah, truth of truths. No Moroccan is interested in Saddam Hussein. Who says Arab countries can't be liberated?