By Mohamed Saadouni
Intense debate on personal freedoms renewed recently in Morocco after a young woman wearing a short modern dress in a Rabat market was assaulted by people described as Salafists.
Witnesses told Magharebia the girl was stoned and beaten because she was wearing clothes that were too revealing in the eyes of the assailants.
Human rights and women’s organisations issued statements denouncing the assault on the Moroccan girl, during which she was stripped of her clothes entirely. Young Moroccan men and women turned to Facebook and online groups to call for protection of individual freedoms in Morocco, including the group “Débardeur and I am fine.”
“Though this incident appeared in the media and gained wider attention, that does not mean it is not repeated on an almost regular or semi-daily basis in all the alleys and streets of our cities. It may not end in stripping the girl of her clothing, but the verbal and physical harassment that women may experience is sometimes more heinous and horrible,” said Nora Al-Fuari, an activist journalist at the Al-Sabah daily and a member of the Facebook group.
“From here came the idea of creating this page on Facebook, which we made open to everyone, including those in hijab or niqab, or the ‘coarse’ males who share the same vision with us. The selection of Débardeur is just a symbol, in reference to freedom—the freedom of women to wear what they want. Débardeur was mother of the ‘short skirt’,” she added. “In the end, the body is her body and no one has the right to confiscate it.”
Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane responded to the controversy by speaking out in defence of personal liberties.
“I believe in freedom, God created us free,” the prime minister said. “Who is Benkirane to tell Moroccans to shave your beards or to impose the hijab? Individual liberties are sacred and are not to be touched,” he added.
Meanwhile, a Salafist supporter on the Facebook page going by the name Abu Ayyub clung to the necessity of Moroccan women to respect the requirements of Islamic dress. He contended that there was a legitimate “Sharia” dress that must be abided by.
“We must abide by the teachings of our Islamic religion, which calls on women to cover up their charms and abide by the veil imposed on Muslim women. I’m against calls for women to reveal their charms, and that must be countered firmly and with stricter protection of morality,” the commenter wrote.
Rights group Beit Al-Hikma (House of Wisdom) added its voice to the chorus of protest over the assault. The association said the attack on the young woman took place “under a government headed by an Islamic party, and this would block the move towards democracy, freedoms and the rule of law”.
The group added that it was not just about the assault on the young woman, warning also of the consequences of remaining silent about what is happening in several cities under the cover of the “Popular Committees”, which acted to expel women they considered prostitutes, such as Al-Hajeb in the Ifrane region, and to demand closure of bars, as in Kenitra.
In this regard, the association strongly condemned “other Islamists from the ‘Unification and Reform’ [Tawhid wa Islah] organisation and other groups imposing what they regard as known and preventing what they see as evil,” describing what is happening as “dangerous phenomena” that incite violence and hatred.
For his part, Mohamed Hilali, vice-president of the Unification and Reform movement, responded in a statement to Magharebia, alleging that there was “a large fallacy propagated by some people under the guise of individual liberties”.
“We are reassured that individual freedoms will be strengthened more in the presence of Islamists in the government, because the Islamists [provide for] the most freedom and democracy in their educational development in their communities and their movements,” he said.
The incident came immediately after a call by Abu Zeid, a Qur’an reciter and leading member of the ruling Justice and Development Party, for a day dedicated to “chastity and modesty”. He was joined by Salafist jihadist Sheikh Mohamed Fizazi.
Fatiha Mukhlas, a member of the Democratic League for Women’s Rights said that “dress falls under people’s individual liberties and no one should be targeted because of his choice to wear particular clothing, as occurred with the young woman of Rabat.”