In early March, observers watched as around 20 long-time Christian orphanage workers were expelled from the country they called home. The incident, and others which followed it, have brought to light the debate surrounding Christianity in the Kingdom.
While the official Moroccan line is that 98.7-99 per cent of the population is Muslim (the remainder being approximately 1% Christian and 0.2% Jewish), that statistic includes ethnic Europeans residing in Morocco. Proselytizing is illegal, as is conversion away from Islam. Still, foreign Christians are allowed to practice freely, and a number of churches, mostly from the era of French colonization, remain. In contrast, the country's tiny Jewish population is almost entirely native, and is also allowed free practice of their faith.
Despite guarantees of freedom, it would appear that the government is taking a stronger approach of late to proselytism, both real and perceived. The Moroccan Dispatches shares a recent incident in which an Egyptian Catholic priest was expelled from the country:
Evangelicals have operated for years in Morocco, with their main purpose being the conversion of Muslims. Catholics have operated for longer, but purposefully have not engaged in proselytizing. So it came as a surprise that a Catholic priest was also detained and then exported during last week's crackdown.
The blogger shares a message he received from a Catholic priest working in Morocco:
On Sunday the 7th of March, five minutes before mass began; the police in the city of Larache entered our friary and arrested one of our confrères, Rami Zaki, a young Egyptian friar still in initial formation who was spending a year with us. He was ordered to go with the police, had no possibility to collect anything, and was given no explanation for his arrest…
…When Rami was put on the plane, his passport was taken from him and given to the pilot who later surrendered it with Rami to the police in Cairo. He was detained by the police in Cairo for another seven hours for interrogation before he was permitted to telephone his community of friars. From Sunday, the morning of his arrest, to Tuesday afternoon, when he was released – a total of more than 50 hours – Rami was deprived by the police in Morocco and Egypt of any of his human rights.
In another post, the blogger demonstrates that the public has joined in the crackdowns, citing a recent incident in which a cross was removed from its site of many years:
This is the place where a cross used to hang in Meknes’ medina. The Catholics who teach Moroccans languages and career skills in this building do not engage in proselytism but have caught up in the anti-Christian sentiment following the recent expulsions of Christians. Last week, the cross was knocked down and beaten into pieces.
On a positive note, Moroccans who have benefited from their services have volunteered to reconstruct the cross.
In a more recent post, the same blogger assesses a TelQuel article on the situation, and says of it:
In the main article, it points out that most Moroccans convert to Christianity more as a result of Arabic media and not from foreign missionaries. This jives with my experience: a number of Moroccans I know have had long conversations with Christian missionaries about religion and none have converted. Some defended Islam while smoking hashish just to piss off the Christians, it that gives you an idea of how many Moroccans understand their Islamic identity. This observation about foreign missionaries, of course, undermines the rationale behind the recent expulsions of many foreigners.
To conclude, the blogger notes the recent media crackdowns and laments:
Other media critical of the government have been shut down recently. And the same could happen to Tel Quel. But as long as they are still around, there will be at least some debate and critical thinking about current events.