Tangier, which I once called "the Tijuana of Africa," used to make me nervous. But the city has changed radically in the last few years...and so has my assessment of it. It was a neglected hellhole for a generation. Tangier was an international city — favored by the West and therefore disdained by Morocco's previous king. He made a point to divert all national investment away from his country's fourth-largest city.
The new king, who took the throne in 1999, believes Tangier should be a great city again and has provided the funds to make it happen. The first city he visited after his coronation was Tangier. His support has changed the city. The difference is breathtaking. While Tangier is still exotic — with its dilapidated French colonial and Art Deco buildings giving it a time-warp charm — it's much more efficient, people-friendly, safe-feeling, and generally likable.
Checking into Hotel Continental, I was greeted by flamboyant Jimmy, who runs the shop there. Jimmy knows every telephone area code in the US. A few years ago, I had told him I was from Seattle. He said, "206." Now I tested him again. He said, "206, 360, 425...new area codes."
As I updated the information in my guidebook, I found a striking and nonchalant incompetence. My guidebook listed the hotel's phone and email data more accurately than their own printed material. It's a 70-room hotel with, it seemed, not a sheet of paper in its office.
Walking the streets of Tangier, I enjoyed observing a modest new affluence, lots of vision and energy, and, at the same time, no compromise with being Arabic and Muslim. The king is modernizing. His queen, a commoner, is the first queen to be seen in public. Moroccans have never seen their king's mother. The fact that Moroccans don't even know what their former queen looks like illustrated how much can change in a relatively short time.
Women are making gains throughout Moroccan society. Until recently, a woman here couldn't open a bank account. Today the general director of the stock exchange in Casablanca is a woman. Out of 21 ministers voted into office in a recent election, seven are female. It's an exciting time in Morocco.
About This Entry
You are reading "The New Tangier: Tijuana No More", an entry posted on 18 January 2010 by Rick Steves.