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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 July, 2004, 07:34 GMT 08:34 UK
US struggle to woo Moroccans
By Tamsin Smith
BBC, Casablanca

Issam, Rick's bar pianist
"Play it again, Sam" - a common request for Issam

The first stop for Americans visiting Casablanca has to be Rick's Cafe.

A smart white villa overlooking the port, it opened recently in homage to the elegant nightclub featured in the 1942 Hollywood film.

Humphrey Bogart would not have been disappointed.

Palm trees flank the entrance. Inside, piano music wafts through white archways into cosy alcoves lit by coloured lanterns and candles. At the bar, waiters in traditional fez caps and wide legged trousers serve cocktails to upmarket customers.

"Play it again Sam?... well, yes I do hear that once or twice," laughs the pianist whose name really is Issam.

Kathy Kriger
I wanted to remind people how there's more to American values
Kathy Kriger
"But I don't get tired of playing the old classics, as each time it feels different."

Rick's Cafe was set up by former US embassy official Kathy Kriger.

It opened just a year after suicide bombers killed 45 people in Western hotels and clubs around the city centre.

"11 September really made up my mind to do this," said Kriger.

"I wanted to remind people how there's more to American values.

"I think people have forgotten we're a country where we're free to take risks, we're hard-working and you can gamble with your dreams... I think a female entrepreneur doing this also sends a positive message."

Hollow friendship

A glance at the Moroccan press will tell you that Morocco's relations with the US are in fine fettle.

A recent diplomatic visit to Washington was a photo opportunity to show King Mohammed VI alongside George W Bush and to talk about close friendship.

But ordinary Moroccans are disillusioned with a diplomatic relationship they say brings them little.

"People think there is big co-operation between Morocco and America where it concerns security and the war on terror," says Ali Amar, editor in Chief of Le Journal.

"But they see no co-operation on development and real support in their day-to-day lives."

Hatred and blame

Anti-American feeling is on the increase.

Rick's Cafe
Humphrey Bogart would not have been disappointed
Down the road from Rick's Cafe in the bustling marketplace of the old Medina, there is passionate and repeated criticism of US policy in the Middle East and in Iraq.

It is a theme exploited by the Party for Justice and Development, Morocco's largest parliamentary Islamic party.

"The hatred people feel towards the US is down to its foreign policy, and the failure of policy in the Arab world," says Abdelali Hamidine, a PJD representative.

"This foreign policy is directly to blame for the rise of radical Islam and extremist groups like al-Qaeda."

Some analysts now believe the PJD could even win elections on the anti-American ticket.

Rick's Cafe may be the newest gin joint in town, but it is also the most highly protected bar in Casablanca.

Several armed police officers guard the doors, searching every bag of every customer. They are taking no chances.

Until US relations are seen to benefit ordinary Moroccans, there is a need for realism as well as Hollywood fantasy.




SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Morocco
13 Jul 04 |  Country profiles
'2,000 held' over Morocco bombs
12 May 04 |  Africa



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