Much Loved by Nabil Ayouch
Nabil Bekkani - 26/01/2016
The film Ezzineellifik', The beauty within you in Arabic (distributed in Europe under the title Much Loved, ed.) by the director Nabil Ayouch is not the only film to cause a scandal in Morocco and be charged with "attacking moral values and costumes". The film Une minute de soleil en moin by the same authos had caused a scandal in 2002, when it had been scheduled at the International Festival of Marrakech. At the time, Internet and social media did not have the impact they have today. Nevertheless, this film had been able to attract thousands of spectators, including both those for and against it. Its fame had arrived up to the parliament, the deputies of the Justice and Freedom Party had put pressure on the government, forcing the Centre for cinematography to censor the scenes with explicit sexual content, and even to withdraw the film from the programming of the festival after the director had refused to cut the film according to the censorship demands.
In 2010, however it was the social media to catch fire after several scenes from the movie Ihki Shéhérazade spread on Youtube, accused of being insulting again because of sex scenes. In these scenes the Moroccan actress Sanaa Akroud appears in very intimate poses with the Egyptian actor Ahmed Hamida.
In 2005, the renowned Moroccan director Mohamed Asli had attacked the young Franco-Moroccan actress Leila Marakechi for the film Maroc, shot in Casablanca, which staged a sexual relationship between a Jewish woman and a Muslim man, both Moroccans. The scene was defined as a "Zionist plot" against Morocco. These statements, unusual for the environment of Moroccan directors, have also sparked endless discussions on the internet.
Today, following the terrorist threats against Much Loved, the main concerns that shake the blue tourist cities under the Moroccan sun are about security. After a thorough investigation carried out by the Center for Space Research, better known as the Moroccan FBI, which led to several arrests, and after the revelations of plots to attack politicians and intellectuals as well as some secular activists, the city of Marrakech has decided to close the historic bar where the "seduction" scenes of Much Loved were filmed, which of course are easily available online. It must be said that the bar is located in a very sensitive area, near the Al-Fana mosque, a tourist spot where there is also the famous "Arkana" restaurant, scene of the terrible terrorist attack in 2011 that caused 13 deaths, including an Israeli woman and her Moroccan Jewish husband.
Loubna Abidar, the actress who played the lead role in Much Loved, has also received death threats, according to the statement posted on her Facebook page.
In another blog, Abidar explains the main reasons of her participation in the film with these terms: "Before being an artist, I am an Amazigh Moroccan woman who loves her country, and who is extremely proud to be Moroccan and to collaborate with Nabil Ayouch, a director of international fame, with the role of artistic adviser and actress embodying the character of Noha. As for the film, it gives a realistic picture of the living conditions of the "prostitutes", who are an integral part of the Moroccan society(...). The film sheds light on the causes of prostitution and the suffering of women who prostitute themselves, as well as the way in which the society sees them. A hypocritical society."
Following the reports of the Moroccan Association for the Defence of the Citizen, the emissary of the king ordered the Marrakech Court of First Instance to open an inquiry into the "obscene scenes" of the film spread online. The representative of the Attorney General has asked the police to open an investigation about the scenes circulating in social media in accordance with the articles 489, 490, 502, 503 and 483 of the penal code.
Much Loved in the parliament
Faced with the silence of the government, led by the Justice and Development Party (PJD) that in 2011 won elections presenting itself as a reformist party with a program complying with the "values and principles" of the Islamic religious authority of Morocco, the Independent Parliamentary Group for Unity and Equality took the discussion on the film to the parliament.
The member of parliament Noureddine Moudiane, on behalf of his parliamentary group, presented an interrogation to the Minister for Telecommunications Moustapha Khalfi, about the preservation of the Moroccan identity "against these destructive and revolting actions that use the seventh art and the means the government intends to use to ensure the preservation of that identity."
Adel Ben Hamzah, an MP from the conservative Independence Party has directed severe criticism to the film, considering it "a purely commercial film directed and produced by Nabil Ayouch, who is used to the commercialization of the defects of society in cinema".
Confrontation of opinions in the arts: partisans against detractors
In an interview on Radio Mars, actress Leila Hadioui defended the film, stating that "an hour and a half of work cannot be summed up in ten minutes of deleted scenes" and that "it is premature to have a bias on the film. The director has treated an old and rooted phenomenon in Morocco", questioning why the Moroccans refrain from taking this reality into account.
Actress Fatima Wachay, on the other hand, responded with a particularly aggressive phone message spread online by the website Février.com, stating that "The cinema has become a breeding ground for critics payed by foreigners, who attack the Moroccan culture and customs with the pretext of modernity...".
Incitement to hatred on Facebook
The reactions to the film have assumed unexpected dimensions, surpassing simple condemnations and requests of removal from the festival and arriving to the point of demanding the execution of the director and the leading actress, Lubna Abidar. A page entitled "Everyone for the execution of Lubna Abidar and Nabil Ayouch" was created online, and has reached 600 members. The page was closed in a short while, no doubt by those who had created it in the first place, also because it had been the subject of numerous articles in the press and online newspapers.
Comments posted on the most popular Facebook pages of Morocco, including liberal and secular pages as well as the conservative ones, reveal opposing opinions. While some groups believe that the director has only exercised his right to address the issue of "sex tourism", a fact known to all in Morocco, others did not hesitate to condemn the film with racial slurs, calling the director "son of a Jew" with reference to his French mother of Tunisian origin and Jewish religion, as documented by Wikipedia. Some even called on the Moroccan authorities to withdraw the director's nationality.
Amongst all this, the Moroccan poet and former prisoner Salah Wadih, currently head of the "Consciousness" movement (for legal pluralism), denounced "the immense gravity of what is happening in the public arena, particularly the appeals to hatred and murder against actors and filmmakers." He added: "I am following with interest what the Moroccan filmmakers produce, and even though I do not necessarily agree with everything they do, nothing could permit me to appeal to hatred, to attack them personally or ask for their beheading just because I do not agree with them artistically or intellectually."
Salah Wadih also stressed that everyone "has the right to express their opinion, to start with the people who react negatively to the film and who oppose them, but on condition that they saw the entire film, not just some scenes taken out of it. And provided that these people meet the terms of a public debate, based on respect. Shouting murder is simply a crime. I wonder indeed about the silence of the state, and about the zeal with which the Centre for Cinema has banned the film, even before the request to prohibit the screening had been formulated."
Mohamed Abdelwahab Rafiki, known as Abou Hafs, symbol of moderate Islam in Morocco, wanted for his part to address an "innocent" question to his followers on Facebook: "What about a person who insults Ayouch's film, curses director on Facebook, then goes on to publish the entire movie on Google, in HD even?"Abou Hafs makes some assumptions: "It is schizophrenia? Hypocrisy? Or is it a normal behaviour that seeks confrontation between conscience and lust? Or is it that what is allowed on Google is not allowed on Facebook?".
Prostitution and sex tourism, fertile material for international relations and for the cinema
There are many films that have addressed the subject of prostitution and sex tourism, also through the portrait of tourists from the Gulf who, according to the popular stereotype of the working classes portrayed by Much Loved, seek pleasure and sex in Morocco. This is certainly one aspect, because obviously not all those coming from the Gulf are looking for mercenary sex. Other films have told the exploitation of Moroccan women in prostitution, including two famous films: "En Bordure'' by Leila Kilani, and "Les Mains Rudes" by Mohamed Al-Asali.
Many human rights reports and other investigations carried out by the media have established that the phenomenon of prostitution in Morocco is wider than in other countries. Last year a Dutch television channel broadcasted images taken by Spanish journalists with a hidden camera, which showed increasing exploitation of underage girls and boys who ended up in the cogs of sex tourism. The video circulated widely on the internet.
Khadija Alzumi, an MP from the Independence Party, opened the debate on this phenomenon in the parliament, stating that "prostitution contributes to the economy of the country, and we must have the courage to acknowledge it."
In a report published last year, international organization ECPAT listed Morocco among the top 23 countries in the world, 6 of which are in Africa, where sex tourism involving children/minors is more expanded, and has accused Morocco of being on the verge of becoming the "Thailand of Africa".
The Spanish daily El Pais analyzed this report, revealing at the same time data by UNICEF which show that there are approximately one million minors who are victims of rape and involved in sex tourism in Morocco.
These reports place Morocco on a list of African countries, which also includes Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Kenya and Madagascar, where sexual exploitation of children is widespread.
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