Sexual Freedom at the Kingdom of Conservatives
Mohamed Khadhiri - 16/09/2012
The Moroccan League for Human Rights has claimed the decriminalization of sexual relationships between consenting adults, thereby provoking an outcry in Moroccan political and media circles. The great controversy, that even foreign media have joined, was initiated after the League demanded the annulment of Article 490 of the Penal Code which explicitly provides for prison sentences for adults who have extramarital sex. While reporting on this case, the Mayadine Channel broadcasting from Beirut, interviewed Mokhtar Ghaziouni, a Moroccan journalist and editor of “Al Ahdadh Al Maghribia”. The presenter asked the journalist if he admitted that his relatives have free sexual relationships. He replied to say that he accepted the freedom of his sister, mother and daughter meaning they have full rights to choose what they wanted for themselves. This was enough to encourage Internet users to accuse the journalist on social networks.
The journalist became the target of a major campaign on the Internet made of criticism, insults that went to the extent of calling for violence. This case shows that individual freedom is still a thorny issue in Moroccan society.
From Individual Freedom to Call for Murder
For years, the human rights’ and modernists’ movement have been claiming Moroccan civil liberties, the conformity of the Moroccan jurisdiction with international laws and conventions stipulating that individuals should have to choose independently of social or cultural constraints. More than once, have civil society activists lifted this slogan. The beginnings of these claims have emerged during the conflict over personal status back in 2003. This has showed how the idea of the state could divide the Moroccan population. While some are attached to its Islamic character, demanding the application of Shar’ia, others require that Morocco ratifies international conventions and repeals all laws that baffle individual freedoms: alcohol, failure to fast during Ramadan, homosexuality, criminalization of extramarital affairs, practicing religious rituals ... However, modernist campaigns claiming these freedoms face great resistance from the conservative Moroccans.
After Ghaziouni’s speech on the TV channel, things were not limited to anonymous comments. A Salafist sheikh, known for his widely reported statements on the Internet came into the picture. During a rally, Sheikh Abdullah Nahari stated that Ghaziouni showed that he was a villain and a complacant husband “dayouth”. In Muslim culture, this word describes the husband who is not jealous of his wife. As quoted, the hadith, which are apocryphal according to specialists, prescribe to kill anyone who feels no jealousy. Such hadiths are widely followed in Moroccan society. This means that Nahari’s statements may seriously endanger the journalist’s physical integrity. Moreover, Omar Hadouchi, a leader of the Jihadist Salafism, who was arrested before being pardoned, released a very firm letter describing the journalist as a miscreant and a Mazdean to whom the shar’ia should be applied.
The Islamist campaigns against those who claim freedoms, suggest the need to use violence against the modernists. This has not failed to generate much outrage because Morocco could sink into violence, if this anti-modernist discourse turned into violent action. This is why a group of Human Rights associations was formed to support claims for freedom. This group, including organizations like Beit Al Hikma, the Movement of awakening citizens, the Democratic League for Women's Rights, called for prosecution of Sheikh Nahari. The group has called “the forces of civil society supporting the values of modernity, democracy and human rights to respond to these statements claiming heresy and helping to spread the culture of violence, intolerance and extremism.” The group adds that “Nahari's statements are an incitement to segregation, hatred and violence (Article 23). They are an explicit call to harm the physical and moral integrity of a person (section 22). Under the Penal Code, they are an incitement to murder. Thus, we call the competent legal authorities to enforce the law against the Abdallah Nahari.”
Theatre has right to sexual freedom…
After the conflicts brought by the statements made by the journalist Ghaziouni, the position taken by the Moroccan League for Human Rights defending individual freedom and sexual freedom for adults, other trials have been held, this time, for the Moroccan actress Naima Zitan, founder of the Aquarium troupe that has been campaigning for gender equality through theatre, since 1994.
Directed by Naima Zitan, Aquarium, presented a play called “Mien” (Mine). The performance is inspired by “The Vagina Monologues”, a play produced by Eve Ensler in 1996. Having earned widespread success, it was adapted into over fifty languages.
In the play, the female sexual organ is designated by its common name and this is a premiere in Arab theatre. A woman ends the taboo on the name of the female sexual organ. The performance took place in the capital city of Rabat. The text was written out of accounts given by women living in the neighbourhood where the troupe performs. These stories and accounts given by more than 250 women evoke their relationship with their intimate body. These women replied to questions such as: “How would you describe your sexual organ? What shape does it have? Have you examined it well? What does it smell like? What does it suffer from?” Women have answered these questions in interviews or in anonymous surveys and sometimes in personal encounters. Their stories were transformed into a thirty-minute theatrical performance. This show was met with vigorous resistance from Islamists and conservatives, as in the case of the repeal of section 490 of the Penal Code.
Traditionalist actors, especially Abdelkarim Berchid and Abdelkader Badawi who have not even seen the play, have criticized Naima Zitan, the director. The first one said that she was “below the theatrical sensibility requiring artistic and ethical dimensions invested in a noble mission.” The second one has launched a series of insults. The campaign of extremist “artists” evoking the “duty to own an art” followed the one led by the Islamists. However, Moroccan artists refuse this requirement of cleanliness and purity and do not want art to be subjected to any social or cultural dictates in the name of morality.
Translated into English by Elizabeth Grech