Rabat – Saudi journalist Fahid Al Shamri stirred controversy after criticizing tourism industries in Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt.
“I would like to address the collapse of tourism in the ‘hats’ countries. The countries of hats are the states where people used to wear [traditional] hats in the past,” the journalist said to his followers on April 21.
He claimed that “hats countries” have witnessed an economic collapse amid the COVID-19 pandemic because they have been relying on tourism industries rather than other industrial sectors like agriculture.
“If tourism were good [for the economy], Greece would be among the richest countries now. The country is one of the poorest across the world,” he claimed.
Al Shamri argued that countries like Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt focused on tourism and built resorts to attract European tourists to “piss on them.”
“In Jordan, one of the countries of hats, for example, the revenues from tourism is estimated at $2 billion a year (…) they ignored all other industries and focused on tourism,” he said.
Commenting on Morocco’s tourism industry, the Saudi journalist said the North African “pride itself in its tourism industry, which generates $8 billion annually.”
“Ten million tourists arrived there to piss on [beaches] for $8 billion. Egypt marked 10 million tourists for $9 billion.”
The journalist claimed that these countries “rely heavily on tourism because they are lazy and prefer to remain idle and wait for tourists to come and spend money.”
Al Shamri went on to speculate that Morocco sends its citizens overseas to work and send remittances back to their home country. The journalist said that the remittances of Moroccan immigrants amount to $60 billion a year, but the actual figure does not exceed $8 billion.
The “bulk of those remittances comes from prostitution,” he claimed, alleging that Morocco “sends its women overseas to engage in prostitution.”
While speaking about the consequences of depending heavily on a sector that has now been ravaged by COVID-19, the journalist ignored Saudi Arabia’s own economic setbacks during the health crisis.
The pandemic has challenged Saudi Arabia’s heavy dependence on oil revenues as prices have reached historic lows. A report issued by the International Monetary Fund in February said Gulf countries, mainly Saudi Arabia, may go bankrupt and become net debtors by 2034 if they fail to diversify their economies and decrease their dependence on oil revenues.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has made recent investments in tourism, attempting to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil.
In September 2019, MBS implemented reforms to increase international and domestic visits to Saudi Arabia to 100 million a year by 2030 and create over one million jobs in the tourism sector.
Last October, Saudi Arabia opened up avenues for 289 tourist visas and allowed unmarried foreign couples to share hotel rooms as part of its reforms to boost tourism. The country used to require foreign couples to prove their marriage through a document in order to get a hotel room.
In response to MBS’s efforts to attract tourists, critics and Middle East observers have condemned the lack of human rights and the gender-based discrimination prevalent in Saudi Arabia despite the Crown Prince’s attempts to modernize the country.
Reports have also described Saudi Arabia as one of the Middle East’s main hubs for child sex trafficking. A 2016 report on the sexual exploitation of children and sex tourism noted an increase trafficking of children for the purpose of sexual expoloitation in Saudi Arabia.
The report highlighted that wealthy men from Saudi Arabia “have been implicated in child sex offences in Egypt, particularly through temporary child marriages.”
Another report conducted by UNICEF and the government of Kenya ranked Saudi tourists eighth in terms of engaging in sex with under-age sex workers in Kenya.
Saudis spent $21 billion on tourism overseas in 2017. While the figure is substantial, the Saudi Gazette reported that Saudi tourist expenses in 2017 represented a decrease of 20% from 2016 ($26 billion). The data does not include international transport fees.
“The year 2016 saw the largest percentage of spending,” the news outlet reported.
Pillars of the Moroccan economy
While tourism is certainly a major contributor to Morocco’s GDP, the country’s services industry is multi-layered.
Services contribute approximately 56% to Morocco’s GDP and include the IT sector, retail, offshoring, finance, insurance, media and advertising, and telecommunications in addition to tourism.
The country also invests in other sectors such as agriculture and the automotive and aeronautics industries.
The agriculture sector, one of the pillars of Morocco’s economy, contributes 10% to national GDP and employs over four million people.
Morocco is also a country rich in minerals, most notably phosphates.
Earlier this month, Morocco’s Minister of Industry Aziz Rabbah said Moroccan mines produced 35.11 million tons of minerals in 2017. Phosphate represents 90% of Morocco’s mining production.
The mineral investments amounted to MAD 14 billion ($1.4 billion), and Morocco has a strategy to develop the sector by 2025, Rabbah added.
The automotive industry is also one of the backbones of the Moroccan economy, with several international companies investing in its industrial sector, such as Renault.
Last year, the Oxford Business Group said that the automotive and aeronautic industries contributed an average of around 19% to the country’s GDP, and “in 2017 this increased, raising the sector’s contribution to around 25% of GDP.”
Oxford Business Group forecasts an additional growth of 5% in the industrial sector by 2022.