Morocco clamps down on Shi'ites, gays

The Moroccan government has begun a clampdown on what it sees as threats to the kingdom’s religious and moral foundations, with Shi’ite Islam and gays particularly targeted.

“At stake is the image of the state,” said Mohamed Darif, an expert on Islamic movements in Morocco.

“The authorities are seeking to prove that they are still the guarantors of the religious and moral values” of the country.

Last Saturday the Iraqi Baghdad school was closed down, with the Education Ministry declaring that the “educational system ... was contrary to the provisions of private schooling” in Morocco.

“This decision,” a ministry statement said, “follows a complaint made by an Iraqi citizen ... against the school’s headmistress,” who was accused of expelling three children “for confessional reasons” and of propagating “a particular religious practice”.

This was a reference to Shi’ite Islam, whereas Morocco overwhelmingly observes the moderate Sunni Malekite form of the religion.

The independent Arabic-language newspaper Al Jarida Al Aoula has reported that dozens of people suspected of having Shi’ite sympathies have been arrested since Friday in Tangiers in the north, Essaouira in the south and Ouyazze 120km north of Rabat.

This is not the first time that Morocco has targeted Shi’ite Islam.

Foreign Minister Taeib Fassi Fihri recently attacked Moroccan associations seeking to develop Shi’ite Islam in the country with the backing of Iran.

“Morocco cannot accept that activities of this type be conducted, directly or indirectly, or via a so-called NGO,” he said, criticising an “attack on the foundations” of the country and on the “cement” of Malekite Islam.

The government’s initiative extends to the moral sphere with the interior ministry declaring in a statement on Saturday that it was determined to confront, “with vigour and in the framework of existing legislation all activities, writings and books seeking to attack the moral and religious values” of Moroccan society.

Government sources say this is a counterattack against articles in the press calling for greater tolerance of homosexuality in Morocco.

The government regards homosexuality as contrary to social values and Islam, and Islamists, in particular the Justice and Development Party (PJD), have condemned the campaign and called for firm action.

Newspapers report that about 20 gays were recently arrested in the centre of the country.

A French feminist organisation was earlier this year refused permission to open a branch in Morocco.

Fouzia Assouli, a women’s rights campaigner, said the new emphasis on moral values was linked to local elections due to take place in June and the government’s determination not to give Islamists an issue around which to rally.—Sapa-AFP

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