Morocco, Homosexuality is not a taboo anymore?
Mohamed El Khadiri - 06/06/2012
A year ago, the censorship of the Dernier combat du capitain Ni’mat (The Last Struggle of Captain Ni’mat)(1), a novel by the Moroccan writer Mohamed Lafteh (1946-2008) provoked an outcry in cultural circles. The import ban on Mohamed Lafteh’s novel is due to the theme it deals with. It tells the story of a former Egyptian Air Force captain who discovers his homosexuality and makes love to his Nubian servant. The novel had a paradoxical success: even if it was forbidden on Moroccan territory, it has won the Mamounia literary prize(2).
In recent years, Moroccan media have started to address the theme of homosexuality. It is no longer a taboo. Frequent in several works that have addressed it with audacity, this issue has been present in novels, films, dance performances and today, in public debate. Moroccan intellectuals were mobilised by the censorship of Lafteh’s novel and have demanded the lifting of the ban on the book.
The issue has been present for a long time
The literary or cinematographic works addressing homosexuality or androgyny are countless. Mohamed Choukri is one of the first to have raised the issue in his novels and his masterpiece For Bread Alone(3) remained banned for years in Morocco. Yet, translated around the world, this novel brought him great notoriety. Today, the novel is sold in all bookshops without any problems. This raises the question of the cultural authorities’ policies have in Morocco. It seems that there is no fixed criteria related to book censorship decisions. Moroccan live this ambiguity to the full and the issue of homosexuality is sometimes tolerated and sometimes prohibited.
Although the issue of homosexuality is acutely raised, it is important to note that Morocco is one of those rare countries that have proven to be tolerant towards homosexual artists and writers. This is why Western writers have found refuge in Morocco. While they were hunted in Western European countries because of their difference, homosexuals have sought refuge in Morocco. Jean Genet, for whom Morocco has become a second home, is buried in Larache in Northern Morocco. Juan Goytisolo, the Spanish writer who had fled Franco’s dictatorship, became a dweller of Marrakech. The poet and journalist Hichem Fehmi confirms this: “Morocco has hosted this literature. The French writer Jean Genet is buried in Larache. American writers like Paul Bowles have lived in Tangiers. The famous Juan Goytisolo has become a real Marrakchi”. The latter has been living in Morocco for decades. He has struggled for a long time so that the famous square Jemaa El Fna would be recognised as a Unesco world cultural heritage site.
Several Moroccan authors, especially French speaking ones, have addressed homosexuality in their works. For instance, Tahar Ben Jelloun writes the story of girl that is forced to be a boy by her parents in The Sand Child(4) (1985). The child is called Ahmed and is a born female in a family of seven girls. The father decided to present this girl as a boy and she is brought up accordingly. This is a novel about forced androgyny that undertakes the deconstruction of Moroccan society, the critique of a male-dominated society and the ambiguity of this life on the edge of androgyny.
Beyond the framework
Over the past decade, a new form of gay writing has emerged, especially after Abdallah Taïa (1973-), French-speaking Moroccan novelist, wrote openly about his childhood and his homosexual experience in the popular neighbourhood of Salé, in his autobiographically inspired texts.
Another writer has decided to remain anonymous and use the pseudonym Rachid O, to assert his homosexuality. In numerous interviews, he explains this choice by the wish to avoid embarrassing his family. Hichem Fehmi writes about these writers: “We can disagree about the quality of their literary works but they got the merit of claiming homosexuality in their writings and their life. This is what Arab-speaking writers including Mohamed Choukri have not managed to do.”
Taïa, the author of several novels including the most recent one Le Jour du roi (The Day of the King)(5), won the Prix de Flore(6) in 2012. Besides his novels Le Rouge du tarbouche (The Red of the Tarbouche)(7), Une mélancolie arabe (8) (An Arab Melancholia)(9), he also wrote Lettres à un jeune Marocain (Letters to a Young Moroccan)(10). He is the first Moroccan writer to openly claim his homosexuality in an interview published the journal Telquel(11) in 2007. This young writer is also involved in the public debate that the country is going through; he often participates in conferences and publishes articles dealing with public issues.
We should also remember the Nabil Ayouch’s film “ Une Minute de soleil en moins” (One Last Minute of Sun) (2002) which caused an outcry because it deals with homosexuality. The film was censored. Some Islamists and Salafists struggled against the film and managed to have the original version censored. The journalist Sanaa el-Aji states that “the emergence of homosexuality in literature and cinema is the natural consequence of the changes occurring in Moroccan society in recent years. Homosexuality is no longer a taboo. From now on, it can appear in works of art”. Sana el-Aji, jury member of the national festival notes that she has not seen lot of Moroccan films dealing with homosexuality. Nonetheless, she believes that the issue is now present in Moroccan public debate and it is no longer banned.
The reference to homosexuality in broadcast media remains a thorny issue, subject to the strictest censorship. A sitcom that was to be broadcasted on the Moroccan channel a few years ago during the month of Ramadan was censored because it showed a man presenting himself as a woman in order to get a job he was looking for. Television production radically excludes this social issue and when it is rarely presented, it is tackled in caricatural way. Few films have shown homosexuals. However, Nour, the oriental dancer has managed to find a place in the Moroccan press. Nour, the transsexual is idolised by the public and the press of the jet set. When interviewed, she often talks about her experience. She has often presented various galas organised in many Moroccan cities.
Mohamed El Khadiri
Translated from French by Elizabeth Grech
1) - Editions de la Différence, Paris 2011.
2) - An award celebrating Moroccan littérature.
3) - La Pain nu, Editions du Seuil, Paris 1997. http://wordswithoutborders.org
4) - L’Enfant de sable , Collection Points. Seuil. 1985.
5) - Seuil, 2010.
6) - A literary prize inaugurated by Frédéric Beigbeder in 1994.
7) - Séguier, 2004.
8) - Seuil, 2008.
9) - http://wordswithoutborders.org
11)-In 2007, he is presented in Telquel’s front page: «Homosexuel, envers et contre tous» (Homosexual, against all comers).