Casablanca, May 19: Pouring a chilled Casablanca beer smoothly into a long glass, the barman of Rick’s Cafe despondently eyed the empty room.
“We normally get French and Egyptian actors,” he said.
“Lots of people come to the bar because of the film. But look now. Everybody’s gone.”
Benabdelkadel, 56, has worked for 19 years in the bar whose name was immortalised by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the film Casablanca, though in truth it is an awful mock-up tucked inside the lavish but dull interior of an international hotel.
Casablanca was not even filmed here but it has provided a living for Benabdelkadel. He remembered the time he danced with the former American President Jimmy Carter to the film’s theme song As Time Goes By. Now he is worrying about the arrival of suicide bombers. “I don’t understand the message that these young, poor fools tried to deliver but they are not Moroccan in their outlook. They are just driving people away,” he said.
His words summarised Morocco’s two greatest fears: first, that the bombings would kill off the £1.3-billion a year tourist industry, more than half of which comes to Casablanca.
Secondly, there is a widespread denial that a country cosmopolitan by North African standards could have produced home-grown fanatics willing to kill not only foreigners but also Moroccans who associate with them. The message is plain even if Benabdelkadel has not yet understood it. He too is now a target and so is every other Muslim judged too close to the infidel.
For the long-established expatriate community, the message has got through. It has not yet fled Casablanca but yesterday the Churchill Club, which was founded in 1922 and stipulates that “the English language should be spoken on the premises”, appeared to have closed as a result of the attacks.
Away from the banks and hotels, Casablanca shrugs off its glamorous veil and reveals a sprawling ring of bidonvilles, shanty towns, connected to a port bigger and grittier than Marseilles, which its French town planners consciously aped.
Now the ill-founded reputation of Casablanca as a place of romance will compete with a more grimmer reputation on the roll call of cities where Islamists have attacked western-linked targets.
Mohammed Darif, a professor of political science and expert on Moroccan terrorism, said the most likely suspects were radical indigenous Salafist groups that are contracted by al Qaida.