The bulldozers arrive an hour after sunrise to the surf paradise of Imsouane and continue their work of tearing down the small houses on the cliff by the sea. Since Thursday morning the 18th January 2024, residents of the small Moroccan town have been watching their neighborhood demolished piece by piece. The longtime fishing village turned popular surf destination sits on the coast between Agadir and Essauoira. On the 17th of January, local law enforcement went door to door in the old town of Tasblast warning residents they had 24-hours to pack up their lives and leave before their houses would be demolished. The Tasblast neighborhood started in the 1980´s as a community of fishermen’s houses just steps from Cathedral beach, one of the the two main surfing destinations in Imsouane.
Although most of the homes and businesses have been here for decades, many are built on unlicensed land and are deemed illegal. Some are registered at the municipality and maritime association although not on titled land. Younes Fizazi owns one of the oldest houses in Tasblast. We spoke to him on the roof of his house where a dozen other people, locals and transplants alike, organized a sit-in as an attempt to save the historic house from the machinery weaving a path of destruction down the hill. They had been sitting there since before sunset, sharing cookies, tea and coffee. “When I came here in the mid 90s there was no tourism in Imsouane. We rented for 5 dirham a night [roughly 50 cents today] or we camped. There was one shop. Fish was given to us for free by the fishermen. I used to be alone in the bay, can you imagine? I was surfing for 10 days by myself wishing someone would join me! I was young and scared about what was in the sea with me. The surf tourism in Imsouane, we created it.”, Younes told us while sipping coffee shared by one of the protesters and smoking his cigarette.
These houses once graced the cover of travel pamphlets promoting Imsouane.
Being the only surfer in the bay is something unimaginable these days.The surf tourism in Imsouane is now booming with an estimated 100,000 surfers visiting the town every year in hopes of catching the wave of a lifetime. The famous right hand point break in the main bay creates a beautiful wave that longboarders can ride for hundreds of meters. Shortboarders and beginners appreciate the surf in Imsouane as well. The surfing culture brought business – surf hostels, board rentals, restaurants and cafés and many small shops run by the locals. All this is now changing drastically.
Locals can only speculate as to the reason for the sudden demolition, as no official papers or statements were made by authorities. But most residents are sure that the demolition is to make room for a large project building high end hotels and restaurants to capitalize on the surf tourism people like Younes help create. Some also think it has to do with the 2030 Fifa world cup set to take place in Morocco, Portugal, and Spain. This is not the first incident of this kind in Morocco. In December 2023, the fishing town of Tifnit was also demolished and covered with earth to make room for development.
Local authorities supervise the demolition and keep civilians out of the work zone.
32 year old Issa Ouchen owned a vegetarian restaurant in Imsouane until Sunday. “They came knocking in the morning. They said 24-hours, you have only 24-hours to leave. They don’t care about what I’m doing with my stuff. The next day they came back and tore it down. The day after they tore down my business. What I built up in 7 years, they destroyed in 48 hours”. Issa and his six employees have been left with no income since his restaurant was razed. “It’s not about the house, it’s about the memories. My father owned this house in 1980. So it’s about 44 years and I have lived over there for about 14 years.”
For Issa the future is a big question mark. He lost his home, his business and his independence. “ I deleted the idea of working for other people from my head”, he tells us. “I don’t like working for others, I want to work together with my team”.
Younes is devastated about the events but at least he can still see a future. As a photographer and videographer and owner of another piece of land he still has resources. But he is deeply worried for all the families in his neighborhood that lost everything. “Me, I’m someone who still has a job but for all these people…where are they now? What’s gonna be their futures tomorrow?” wondered Younes. Despite being unsure of the future of his home he says he can take comfort in one thing.
“At least we still have the ocean!” he said, “If they take down my house, I´ll be in the ocean. I´m gonna get barrelled while they do it!”
*At the time of writing Younes’ house is one of the few buildings still standing. He has no idea whether that will remain true when the demolition recommences at 8am.
At the sit-in the protesters support each other in their grief and loss.