|Place des Alaouites is one of those urban planning centers that don't attract people. The crowds are up the road in the bustling commercial center and packed into the colorful narrow alleyways of the medina. Avenue Mohammed V - the grand boulevard named for the current king's father - passes through this centerpoint of Rabat - Morocco's capital.
As with most all Moroccan cities, it's a two-for-one deal; there's the age-old medina - with its engaging souqs (markets) - and there's the adjacent Ville Nouvelle ("new city") - built by the French in the first half of this century. The bureaucracy is found in the Ville Nouvelle and it was here that we'd come attempting to get visas from the Mauritanian embassy.
The stretch of Ave Mohammed V that leads north from Place des Alaouites includes a grass-covered median lined on both sides with statuesque palm trees. Along this stretch, the road passes in front of Rabat's main government building. One Tuesday afternoon, following a visit to the government cartographic office, we decided to sit and read at the Place des Alaouites fountain.
Photographers stood idly nearby - waiting patiently to snap souvenir photos for passersby or perhaps for those who might come expressly for this purpose. On that day, customers weren't appearing.
Suddenly, there's a change in the atmosphere. A group of two dozen or so men and women in a tight group cross the road at the side opposite of the government building, move onto the median and sit down. They are immediately followed by a regimented line of police officers who then surround the seated group. With the structure of a rehearsed choreography, the group hoists a banner and begins to chant accompanying themselves with hand claps. Passersby on either side of Mohammed V - separated from the median by the roadway - slow and turn to look. Those in passing vehicles slow and turn as well. The group neatly arranges themselves in a circle - those on the outside face out; these are all men. Women form the circle's inner core.