Just witnessed my first smugglers' panic along Rue Mexique...
Between my home at Hopital Espagnol and the main part of town where I spend most of my time lies the Msalla, a "medina outside the madina." Cars can go partway down the main street down the center ("Rue Msalla," a pedestrian-only open-air market after a few hundred feet) and on one tiny crooked lane cutting across it. Otherwise, Msalla is a densely populated maze of walkways completely impervious to motor traffic for nearly a mile, northwest to southeast. Along the northern boundary lies Rue Mexique.
So I'm walking along the wide sidewalk on the south side of Rue Mexique, doing the traditional thing of waiting for the shoppers to move out of the way so I can keep going straight. Next to the parked cars, young men have laid down tarps, on which they put clothing and other consumer goods. This is the informal economy: much of the merchandise has been smuggled in, and no taxes or fees are paid.
In In and Out of Morocco: Smuggling and Migration in a Frontier Boomtown, David McMurray describes and explains this economy working in Nador, a town on the Mediterranean coast next to the Spanish enclave of Melilia. He tells of the informal sellers coming to terms with the police. And indeed, the traffic cops are always working Rue Mexique, which is like a big carnival after 6 each evening.
But there must have been specific plainclothes customs officers today, because all the sellers started looking down toward the direction I had just come. Their tarps have knots on all four corners with ropes attached. One guy gathered two corners at one end, his friend did the same at the other, and they both raced for the nearest entrance to the nearest Qisariyya, a sort of enclosed shopping mall. These line Rue Mexique, and their back passages all lead to the narrow, twisted passages in the Msalla. After getting out of the way, I looked and looked for the cops, but I couldn't recognize them.
The fact that I've only today seen such a panic is evidence of the tolerance of the state towards this activity, which is on its way to extinction after 2010, when all import duties between the European Union and Morocco are to be lifted. I can imagine that many Moroccan industries producing for domestic consumption will fail after that. One can only hope that enough factories and other businesses are developed as well (in connection with Tanger Med, the new $2.5 billion port and free trade zone due to open in 2007) over the next four years so that the losses can be offset with some gains.