Morocco: Injustice done to women in Islamic countries | Hicham Raji
Morocco: Injustice done to women in Islamic countries Print
Hicham Raji   
Morocco: Injustice done to women in Islamic countries | Hicham Raji
S. Saadi
From 1999, a great debate has animated Moroccan society: the reform of the moudawana (Personal status Code). Drawn up in 1957 during independence, the code was inspired by the Chariaa and now, alongside the modernisation of society, remains unchanged and out of date. It is, above all, unjust towards women. The Koran and the Hadith, the two main sources for the text and interpreted to the letter, give women a lesser status in life. The alternate government has proposed a reform to make up for this backwardness in judicial affairs and to bring the law up to the level of a society that is increasingly modernising itself. It is three years now that the reform has been encountering much opposition from both Islamists and conservatives.

In accordance with the Personal Status Code implemented in 1957, women always live under the protection of men: a father, a husband, an uncle, a brother etc. Until marriage, she is under the authority of her father, and then she passes directly under that of her husband. Even without a father, a woman cannot get married by herself. The code’s form has decided the fate of women for many centuries: no liberty, no independence, many obligations, and very few rights. A woman, who already lives in a situation of unnamed near slavery, is a victim of a mentality that degrades her: she is the source of shame (aar), she is always confined within a forbidden area, mentally as much as in terms of space (harem, that signifies both religious prohibition, seraglio and by extension the woman herself). In 1993, thirty six years after the first text of the modawana was published, due to pressure from women’s movements, a timid reform was introduced. It did not, however, at all change the unjust nature of the code nor, above all, the numerous liberties taken with it in its application, by judges who are often corrupt and fundamentally misogynous. Morocco lives in a very patriarchal and conservative society. The judges (exclusively men, women judges cannot pass judgement in cases regarding the Personal Status Code) are trained in the traditional, abstruse religious schools and are not able to show objectivity. They are full of prejudices and often condemn women de facto, denying them even the few rights that the law allows them.

Morocco: Injustice done to women in Islamic countries | Hicham Raji
M. Boucetta
The Integration Plan for Women
It is this context that the ambitious reform proposed by the alternate government was proposed in 1999, baptised the Plan d’intégration de la femme au développement (Integration Plan for the Development of Women). It does not just partially reply to the demands of the women’s organisations that are becoming more and more insistent. In addition to modifications to around 10 articles of the moudawana considered the most unjust, in order to make it conform to the universal principles of human rights and to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (principles to which the country has subscribed), the reform also includes around 200 recommendations to improve the social status of women.
To the benefit of modernity, a large section of the female population has had access to education, to the professional world, and to other spheres of social life. And it is this female urban avant-garde that now demands a state of equality. But women are still the most affected by illiteracy. (67% of women are illiterate, whereas the national average is 55%, in rural areas, the proportion for women is 85%), by unemployment and poverty. The Plan proposes measures to promote school education in rural areas, to fight against illiteracy and poverty, an improvement in health, the economic role and the judicial and political status of women.
When the Plan was proposed by the government, it provoked a strong reaction from the Islamists and the conservatives. Even within the government, the minister of the habous and of Islamic affairs, while publicly supporting the project, secretly encouraged the dispute, through makhzanian networks of oulémas. In the mosques, the imams started to charge the reformers with blasphemy, of atheism and to decree excommunications. Women that supported the reform were treated as prostitutes! Even a party such as the Istiqlal, who form part of the government, started to openly criticise the project and adopted a conservative position that was close to the Islamists. The democratic left lacked the courage to support, right until the end, the Minister who prepared the project, Saïd Saadi. It withdrew its support from the Minister who was dismissed from the government.
The members of the government, including members of his own party, the PPS, were more concerned about their personal interests and their own position, to enforce the promised reform. In fact their cowardice demonstrated that they were more enslaved to the makhzen and to the Palace than to the people that were elected to serve.

Discordant Proposals
The government had, in any case, passed up the opportunity to pass the text through legislative channels, through the parliament, and began instead a public discussion on secularism. Lacking resolve, it opened the door to the politicisation and instrumentation of a reform project that is vital for society. Among the 14 proposals to change the moudawana, 5 have been categorically rejected by the conservatives only because they are supposed to contradict the Koran.
► The abolition of polygamy: it is hard to understand why the conservatives hang on to this medieval practice that apart from its unjust character, is very marginal within society.
► Divorce by mutual consent, decreed by a judge, to replace repudiation: with repudiation, the fate of the woman and her children depends on the goodwill of the husband. Women’s organisations support their demands with a long list of women thrown onto the streets, often with their children, cases of marital violence, abandonment, etc.
► The abolition of matrimonial protection for adult daughters. Up till now a women, even though an adult, cannot get married without her tutor (wali). That is what make women say that they are minors for life.
► The increase of marriageable age to 18 years old. More than permitting Moroccan law to conform to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, this measure would spare young girls premature marriage campaigns.
► The equal division between men and women, in the case of divorce, of assets acquired during marriage. This will do justice to women and recognise their contribution to the family for domestic or paid work. The controversy regarding the reform of the moudawana has divided society, as from the very beginning the question was used as a tool by religious factions. As is its habit, the government looked for a consensus, but without a discussion on the reforms. The national media were not opened to the debate. The ex- minister, Saïd Saadi, complained recently of the embargo to which he was victim (…), of the lack of access to the media to explain the plan, so that people would understand the issues involved. Unfortunately we were not allowed to broadcast. The doors were closed to us. I tried to transmit on the 1st channel but they politely said no, whilst the Minister of the Habous organised his troops, the council of the oulémas got petitions signed and published enflamed communiqués against atheists, the defenders of prostitutes…
The King is designated with the title «the Commander of Believers». This title was conferred several decades ago by the makhzanian «designers» of the country’s unity. It is often recalled to the absent minded ears of the public. It is because of the religious power recognised to the sovereign that the government felt finally obliged to hand over the controversial dossier to the palace. A consultative commission was nominated in April 2001. It included three women and 12 men, mostly oulémas or theologians with entrenched ideas and strict views on the integration of religious texts.
Establishing a commission composed mostly of conservatives was the best way of creating an impasse. At the start of 2003, having listened for nearly two years to the demands of 70 women’s organisations, consulted numerous political actors and drawn up hundreds of notes, the President of the Commission delivered a report to the King stating the Commission’s incapacity to decide about questions that put in opposition conservatives and “secular” interests. A new President was nominated on the 22nd January 2003 by the King.

Boucetta and secularism
The new President is M’Hamed Boucetta, the old secretary general of the Istiqlal party who resigned (the only case of resignation before the death of a political leader in Morocco!) in order to retire from politics. He had succeeded Allal El Fassi, the historical head of the party since 1974. Loyal to the confused ideology of a fundamentally conservative party that wishes to maintain both a religious, populist and modernist line, he has the reputation of a keen negotiator, in the sense that he is a good servant of the makhzen who, throughout his whole political life, delivers soothing speeches that hide the real problems of society.
It must be said that male politicians, even with confused sympathies are conservatives. For what concerned women, it is important to note that the monarchy was avant-garde or at least had a two sided attitude, at once modernist and conservative.
The princesses, who from early on embraced modernity, were among the first to wear modern clothing. On the other hand, the wife of the King, who does not have the title of Queen, did not appear in public. It is only with the new Queen that she has started to be seen in public. It seems that all the political class, even the captains of industry or the important State bureaucrats, aligned themselves with the Palace’s habits. Even those who paraded their socialist and modernist views did not escape this harem mentality. In public, in official ceremonies, in electoral campaigns, she is never seen with her husband, they can only easily be seen together at private gatherings. This duplicity exists at all levels of Moroccan society. In fact, it is the dominant behaviour in all Arab countries. The woman is still called harem, an allusion to the seraglio, but it also what cannot be seen, that is imbued with the forbidden. Of course, these ideas are very outmoded in social reality, in everyday life. But in the laws, in official events, in etiquette and in appearances, we are still in the Middle Ages.
This explains the rage of women who fight for a redefinition of their social status. At the beginning of March and the day before World Women’s Day, the new President of the Royal Commission M. Boucetta, showed his hand: the commission would terminate its work in a few months and would suggest timid measures: polygamy would not be banned but it would be delimited by conditions that would make it virtually impossible and for all the other questions there would be “arrangements” half way between the reform proposed and the current situation. The organisations that defend women’s rights are indignant.
Already, the declarations of M. Boucetta to the press and in the meetings that he has had with the organisations do not augur well. Always praising the ijtihad, the need to liberate women, he says he is charged with “proposing a reform of the legislation governing personal status, in a Muslim country and for Muslims.” He is clear in admitting that he worries more about marking out the terrain than anything else. In a meeting with a group of women at the beginning of February, he declared “Everything is open to debate, as long as we start from the principle that we are all Muslims and we will not be taking any decisions that go against the Koran. So that no one can talk to us about secularism and things like that”. Mass has been read: the new moudawana, re-baptised the “Family Code”, will not improve much for women. They will have to continue to fight. The project that should have opened the door to the liberation of women in the entire Arab world, surpassing even Tunisian legislation, the most advanced in the field, is seriously compromised.

A final declaration, given during an interview with the La Vie éco, by the man in charge of the judicial destiny of women in Morocco, reveals the ideas that flourish in his mind: « I will give you an example that demonstrates the grounds for maintaining polygamy in extreme cases. Let’s take an example of a man married for 20 years.
All the studies and analyses carried out demonstrate that his wife is sterile. The man can divorce but he loves his wife and he wants to preserve the bonds of marriage with her. Upholding the principle of polygamy is a benediction in this case, as the man can have children with a second wife, always remaining married to the first! It is a very advantageous situation for the first wife. In this case, polygamy guarantees her rights (sic). In other words, polygamy is a right for women”. M. Boucetta, moving in a universe of misogynous thought, does not realise that his reasoning can also justify polyandry: a woman married to a sterile man would be justified in marrying a second man to have children! For fourteen centuries women have downtrodden men for imposing polygamy on them and then polyandry should be instituted to “guarantee men’s rights”. Letting men like M. Boucetta appropriate the thought on our progress, we contribute to the increasingly prevalent image of the Muslim world : a world of sclerotic spaces, incompatible with tolerance and freedom.

Hicham Raji