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Morocco: Rage Against the Sandwich Continues

On Sunday, September 13, a group of young Moroccans gathered in front of Mohammedia train station. They decided they are going to eat in public: a picnic that in other circumstances wouldn't have attracted much attention. Only this time, it is Ramadan — the holy Muslim month, during which believers are supposed to observe fasting from dawn until dusk. Eating in public during Ramadan is often seen as a disregardful and disrespectful act and might attract the anger of the public. Moreover it is punishable by imprisonment to up to six months and heavy fines. As a result those who took part in the protest, were intercepted by members of the police who proceeded to interrogate and arrest some of them. A few days later, a wave of arrests of members of the group was reported across Moroccan cities.

The meet-up was an answer to an appeal launched by a group that first appeared on Facebook calling itself MALI? (for Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties and which acronym means literally “What about me?”). Those taking part in the event were reportedly trying to protest for the abrogation of article 222 of the Moroccan Penal Code which states that “any person known for his/her affiliation with Islam, who ostensibly breaks the fast in public during Ramadan is punishable by one to six months imprisonment and a fine.”

The story sparked a passionate, often heated and at times offensive and polarizing debate in the Moroccan blogosphere and on social networks. Whilst the majority seems to be rejecting the non-observants’ action, some have raised the question of freedom of conscience in a Muslim society.

On Facebook a group of solidarity [Fr] with the imprisoned non-observants was created. The preamble reads:

La répression policière que subissent ces militants s'accompagne de menaces de mort quotidiennes de la part de barbus-fascistes qui eux bizzarement ne sont pas poursuivis. Ce laxisme n'est autre qu'une façon d'encourager ces personnes à commetre des actes haineux. Il n'y a qu'à lire la déclaration de la très gouvernementale agence de presse marocaine pour s'en rendre compte.
Le but de ce groupe est de soutenir les militants de MALI, et de réaffirmer notre attachement à la liberté de culte, il ne s'agit pas d'inciter les gens à ne pas jeuner, chacun fait ce qu'il veut.

The police repression suffered by these militants is accompanied by daily death threats from bearded fascists (sic) who -strangely- are never prosecuted. This laxity is nothing but a way to encourage these people to commit heinous acts. You only have to read the statement by the very governmental Moroccan news press agency to realize this. The purpose of this group is to support MALI, and reaffirm our commitment to freedom of worship, it is not to encourage people not to fast, everyone does what he/she wants.

Chaouki Najib, founder of a Facebook group [Ar, Fr] called “Those fasting and those not fasting, we are all Moroccans” sent a letter to members of his group, denouncing the threats against MALI protesters:

تعرض اعضاء من الحركة البديلة للدفاع عن الحريات الفردية لتهديدات بالقتل عبر
رسائل بريدية. و نشير ان تبني الدولة الى سياسة مغازلة المتطرفين الاسلاميين من خلال اصدارها لبلاغ يدين الصحافية زينب الغزوي التي تعتبر عضوة بالحركة هو تحريض مبطن للغوغاء من الاسلاميين و المحافضين و تهديد مباشر لحياة الصحافية
[…] نحمل الدولة كل المسؤولية ،في حالة تعرض اي عضو من حركة مالي الي أي مكروه.
Members of MALI have received death threats by e-mail. The adoption by the State of a charm policy toward Islamic extremists by issuing a communiqué condemning the journalist Zineb El Ghazoui, co-founder of the movement, is tacit incitement of Islamists and conservatives and a direct threat to the life of the journalist […] The state bears all the responsibility in the event that any member of the MALI movement is harmed.

Naoufel [Ar] wonders whether this story doesn't reveal an aspect of double standard within the Moroccan society:

الحكاية غريبة..اعرف أنها لو وقعت في بلد كالسعودية لنفذ فيهم حد الردة مثلا..عقوبة السجن أو التعنيف تظل هينة مقارنة مع ما كان سينتظرهم في بلاد أخرى أقل تسامحا..و مع ذلك ففي المغرب يمكنك أن تتجول في ساعة الظهر يوم الجمعة بكل حرية..تجلس في المقهى، تدخن سيجارة أو أي شيء..يمكنك أن تزور بارا بالليل أو حتى مرقص..الصلاة غير مهمة..يؤذن المؤذن ما شاء الله له أن يفعل ثم لا تجد في المسجد احد، لكنك في المقابل لن تستطيع أبدا الجهر بإفطار شهر رمضان..ستصبح زنديقا أو ما شابه في نظر الكل ..حتى بالنسبة لزائر البار و تارك الصلاة…

أخيرا، أنا لا أدافع عن مالي..أنا مع حرية التعبير، من حق أي واحد أن يفعل ما شاء..أن أصوم أو لا أصوم أمر يخصني وحدي لكني في المقابل سأحترم صيام أمي و أسرتي و المجتمع..باختصار أريد أن أقول..أنا أتضامن مع مالي و أيضا مع من جرحت أحاسيسه..لكني بالمناسبة لا اعترف بأي ثوابت..

This story is kind of strange .. I know that if it occurred in a country like Saudi Arabia the punishment for apostasy would be executed on the protesters.. a prison sentence or bullying remains insignificant compared with what would have happened to them in other less tolerant countries .. Nevertheless in Morocco you can wander around during Friday prayers freely .. sit in a cafe, smoke a cigarette or anything you like.. you can visit a bar or even a night club… prayers are not important .. .. The muezzin may call for prayer and still you may not find anybody in the mosque, but you can never break the fast [before dusk] publicly during Ramadan.. you would be regarded as a heretic or the like in the eyes of all .. even to bar regulars and to those who never pray..
Ultimately, I am not defending MALI .. I am for freedom of expression, the right for people to do whatever they want .. If I fast or don't fast, this concerns me, and me alone. In return I respect the observance of my mother, my family and the whole community .. In short I want to say that I identify with MALI, and also with those who's feelings may have been hurt.. but I do not recognize any [unchallengeable] constants..

This sentiment of moral hypocrisy is echoed by Jillian C. York on her blog. She writes:

What concerns me is this: There is also a great portion of society that drinks, and does other things that are haram, but are condemning the protesters for disrespecting Islam. This attitude brings to light something I noticed in Morocco: That Ramadan seems to make everyone an expert on Islam, and a great Muslim. Many of those who might ignore religion throughout the year will at the very least fast (or give the illusion of fasting, even to their own families), often taking it further, lecturing their friends who don’t pray or chastising them for not making it to the mosque. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, I’ve witnessed this myself numerous times. In August, I’d be clubbing in Marrakesh with Moroccan friends, drinking and dancing; as soon as Ramadan started, I was the black sheep.

Many, like Amar Al Khalfi [Fr], who blogs on Nebrass Ash'abab, perceived a conspiracy in the action of the non fasting protesters:

تجرأت حثالة معدودة من الشباب في المغرب على الإفطار الجماعي في نهار رمضان علانية، في محاولة للاستهزاء بالشعائر الدينية الإسلامية واستفزازا لمشاعر الصائمين في محاولات يائسة لاختراق الهوية الإسلامية للمجتمع المغربي، وخلق الفتنة، وزعزعة الأمن الروحي للمغاربة، بدعوى الحريات العامة والفردية.
A little group of scum (sic) young people dared to break fast during Ramadan in public, in an attempt to make fun of Muslim religious rituals and in a clear provocation for the feelings of observant faster, in a vain attempt to penetrate the Islamic identity of the Moroccan society, and create strife and moral insecurity, with the pretext of public and individual freedoms.

Across the blogosphere a flurry of attacks on MALI members ranging from insults, to heinous comments can be seen. Among them is this excerpt by H'med Lehmani [Ar] on regional online news website Oujda City:

خرج علينا مجموعة من الفاشلين تتزعمهم امرأة… يريدون أن يفطروا في رمضان أمام الناس حتى يشعروا أن لهم حقوقا وحتى يقولوا بأن في المغرب ديمقراطية ، ولكن نست تلك الفاشلة قضية مهمة كان عليها أن تراجع فيها كتب الفلسفة والقانون – إن كانت تعرف مثل هذه الكتب – أن الديمقراطية لا تعني حماية حقوق الفاشلين في الحياة إذ لا قيمة لفاشل حتى يكون له حق أصلا
Then came this group of losers (sic) led by a woman … They say they want to break their fast in Ramadan before the public so that they feel they have rights and they can say there is democracy in Morocco, but she (the woman), the loser, forgot to look into the books of philosophy and law – if she knows such books anyway- and realize that democracy is not meant to protect failed ones, for the loser is not worthy of any right.

P.S.: Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Morocco is signatory, states that…

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

9 comments

  • صلاح الدين

    قال صلى عليه وسلم: إذا بليتم فاستتروا” فمن يريد أن يفطر فلا يجعل ذلك على أعين الناس و حسابه عند الله.و ليس من الحكمة أن نفتخر بأننا لا نؤمن بأي ثوابت خاصة وأن هذه الثوابت هي التي جمعت شعوبا و قبائل كانت تائهة ذليلة وسط الإمبراطوريات القديمة… و دائما هناك فرق ما بين التحرر والتهور. فلا يدعوك حبك للتحرر أن تتبرأ مما خلقك الله لأجله و هو عبادته و إعمار الأرض . و لا شك تهور هذه الفئة الضالة لصالح أعداء الأمة و الملحدين.
    أسأل الله لي ولكم العافية

  • Moroccan Patriot

    The entire episode is much ado about nothing. The laws will not be changed. The Hypocritical laws will remain, Muslims forced to adhere to one set of laws while others in Morocco have more rights… Moroccan pride once again humiliated by the people who should be fighting for it. How sad.

  • Maher Kadmiry

    I think what ‘s going on in Morocco regarding freedom of cult, is nothing more than the work of foreign forces trying to destabilize and create chaos between the fellow citizens. These forces are Islamophobes of origin financed by shadowy groups to create unrest in the Muslim World!

  • My goodness, I need to be aware of this sort of thing before traveling.

  • Manus McManus

    Here we go again with the usual nonsense and custom diatribe against anybody that criticises a country that is clearly a totalitarian regime yet obsessed by the self-imposed illusion of democracy. People are starting to see through this dialectic of blaming the others, instead of looking at the real shadowy forces running the country and I mean the regime in place since independence. It is those that own that country and made of Morocco their private PLC that need to take full responsibility of everything that country is going through. Moreover, if the Islamic religion is that easily influenced by few youngsters breaking fast, it is not a religion worth adhering to. Freedom of religion is a fundamental right in any civilised society, including secularism and atheism that are in my opinion religions on their own right.

  • @Manus
    The same old recipes that once kept Europe in ignorance for centuries are still used on those parts of the world. Religion mingles with sleazy politics with the obvious aim of keeping people in a state of cognitive impairment, quite obvious at the reading of some people’s reaction. You’re quite right, and I couldn’t have put it better.

  • Maher Kadmiry

    I think most people are happy with their government in Morocco, and those that are not happy should voice their concerns so we all can compromise!

    Europe’s example that Hisham brought up is irrelevant because Europe does not have the same history as North Africa, beside in the Muslim world you can’t separate the states and religion, it will never happen…

  • […] За муслиманите, светиот месец на Рамазан е период на длабоко размислување, на соживот и секако, на постење. Но, за неверниците кои живеат во земји каде постот е обичај — па дури и должност — Рамазан може да претставува голем товар. Минатата година, Глобал Војсис пишуваше за една група на марокански активисти, Алтернативното движење за индивидуални слободи (чијшто акроним MALI на даријски исто така значи и „а што е со мене?“). Групата се обиде да протестира против мароканскиот закон со кој на муслиманите им се наложува да постат, со тоа што насред пладне активистите јавно јадеа сендвич. […]

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