“Despite lingering suspicions that the [Islamist Justice and Development Party] wants to turn Morocco into a purist Islamist state, the secular establishment sees the party as part of a moderate religious bulwark against increasingly active and well-organized radical Islamist groups.”
As usual, the question remains of what exactly defines a “moderate.” And for that reason, this may well turn out to be an ill-considered bet on the part of the Moroccan government, as events described below indicate.
“Liberals, Islamists clash over Morocco ‘gay wedding’,” by Tom Pfeiffer and Zakia Abdennebi for Reuters:
KSAR EL KEBIR, Morocco (Reuters) – When rumors of a “gay wedding” spread through the northern Moroccan town of Ksar el Kebir, the only evidence produced was a video on YouTube of a man dancing suggestively in women’s clothes.
Three months later, four people are in prison accused of homosexual acts, Islamists are decrying a decline in public morals and liberals are warning that the north African kingdom risks sleep-walking into extremism.
A reputation as a tolerant, nascent democracy has earned Morocco privileged ties with the European Union and helped draw millions of tourists to its cities, mountains and beaches.
But rights campaigners say the events in Ksar el Kebir are the latest sign that personal freedoms are in danger as the secular government seeks to placate powerful Islamists.
“Morocco has become a society where debate is much freer than before but many people are not happy with that freedom,” said Issandr el Amrani, north Africa specialist at International Crisis Group. “There is a real risk of people with conservative agendas influencing politics.”
The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) has become a major political force by drawing on popular anger at poverty and corruption and calling for more morality in public life.
Despite lingering suspicions that the PJD wants to turn Morocco into a purist Islamist state, the secular establishment sees the party as part of a moderate religious bulwark against increasingly active and well-organized radical Islamist groups.
But some say this attitude has resulted in more restrictions on personal freedoms to comply with Islamist beliefs.
Organizers of an open-air pop concert held last May to encourage young people to vote in legislative elections were surprised by what was written about their event in the conservative newspaper Attajdid.
“It said people had stripped naked, climbed on the minaret of a mosque and stopped Muslims praying — it was simply untrue,” said Reda Allali, singer in rock band Hoba Hoba Spirit.
“When someone holds a concert, these populists always trot out their favorite themes: Zionists, Satanists, drugs, homosexuality and George Bush,” said Allali.
It’s almost hard to tell if he’s being facetious or not.
In universities, tensions have grown between left-wing students and Morocco’s largest Islamist opposition movement Justice and Charity, which now dominates the main student union.
Justice and Charity, which is banned from mainstream politics because of its open hostility to the monarchy, has set up informal morality tribunals in some universities, said Driss Mansouri, philosophy professor at Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University in Fez.
“If they decide a couple of unmarried students are in a close relationship, they punish them. Some students have even been beaten — it’s a rural mentality,” said Mansouri.
Read it all.
And at the same time, the Party of Renaissance and Virtue (PRV) is calling for a quota of Islamic scholars in the Moroccan parliament. “Islamist party’s call for ulema quota in Moroccan Parliament sparks debate,” from Maghrebia:
A call by a Moroccan Islamist party to set a quota for ulemas (religious scholars) in Parliament has sparked a debate on their role in politics.
Initiated by the Party of Renaissance and Virtue (PRV) during the 2007 electoral campaign, the recently renewed proposal calls on the Moroccan state to “give greater importance to Islamic doctrine and ulemas, and to show how much they are valued by giving them the place they deserve.”
A document distributed during a March 1st party meeting called for granting scholars “a set quota in parliament, like the quota reserved for women.”
Not all the religious scholars present at the meeting spoke in favour of the quota. Among the theologians invited to the discussion were Brahim Kamal and Mohamed Zohal, viewed as founding figures of the Chabiba Islamiya (Islamic Youth) movement, established in Morocco in the early 1970s.
“I”m astonished to hear such a proposal, because I feel that ulemas should follow the same route to parliament as everyone else,” said Zohal.
Meanwhile, Kamal said he was in favour of the PRV proposal. “Ulemas have been the people’s guides throughout history,” he said. “They must take on their responsibilities by getting involved in public affairs.” […]
The party stated in its printed materials that “Ulemas must play their full role, putting forward the true Islamic viewpoint, which preaches tolerance and rejects all forms of violence, whatever the reasons for this violence may be.”
“All forms of violence” is subject to much more questioning: What about wife-beating, and penalties for apostasy, homosexuality, adultery and/or unlawful “seclusion,” and so on? If they dd repudiate those things, plus armed jihad, that would be great, of course. But given the content of the Islamic law they claim to uphold and exemplify, there is a certain burden of proof to be met.
Supporters of secular government have demonstrated their opposition to the proposal. Speaking to Magharebia, Khadija Rouissi, president of the Bayt Al Hikma (House of Wisdom) association said, “We have enough complications blurring the line between politics and religion. We really have no need to add further complications. Rather we should be aiming for a separation of political and religious affairs.”