Morocco Islamist leaders engulfed in sex scandal

Sunday 11/09/2016
MUR vice-presidents , Fatima Nejjar (L) and Moulay Omar Benhammad

LONDON - The Islamist Party of Jus­tice and Development (PJD) in Morocco is fight­ing to salvage its reputa­tion, which has been tar­nished by a sex scandal involving senior Islamist figures close to the ruling party.

Moroccan Communications Minister Mustapha Khalfi banned the film Much Loved from being screened in Morocco because of its explicit sex scenes. Khalfi, howev­er, has kept mum about the arrest of two senior members of the Uni­ty and Reform Movement (MUR) over charges of lewd behaviour in public. They were allegedly found in a “sexual position” in a car on a beach in Mansouria, close to Mo­hammedia.

The MUR leadership quickly sus­pended married 63-year-old father of seven Moulay Omar Benhammad and 62-year-old widow and mother of six Fatima Nejjar, both vice-pres­idents of the Islamist movement.

The MUR is PJD’s religious and ideological wing, which, in addi­tion to having a religious and chari­table ideology, has been the base for many PJD members, includ­ing Khalfi and Bassima Hakkaoui, Moroccan minister of Solidarity, Woman, Family and Social Devel­opment.

MUR thanked the couple for their contribution in education and preaching. However, their affair be­came a laughing stock. A 2011 video of Nejjar on YouTube shows her giving lessons on virtue and sexual harassment in a sarcastic way.

Benhammad, a university pro­fessor and doctor of Islamic educa­tion, was not immune to criticism on social media as he had issued a fatwa that was published on MUR’s website stipulating that “the exag­gerated exchange of words of love between a husband and wife on so­cial networks, mainly Facebook, is not recommended and could even be considered haram”.

In 2000, the Islamist movement rallied with PJD against Moroc­can King Mohammed VI’s planned Mudawanna (Family Law) reforms, which were to install more gender equality.

Sympathisers with the sex scan­dal couple argue that the arrest was a conspiracy against the MUR prior to October 7th legislative elections upon which Prime Minister Abdeli­lah Benkirane — the PJD secretary-general, hopes to win the polls for the second time in a row.

However, Benkirane is losing popularity because he failed to de­liver on many of the promises made during the PJD’s campaign in 2011. Benkirane vowed to fight corrup­tion and reform the transportation sector if he became prime minister or step down if he failed to do so.

The image of the PJD as a moder­ate Islamist party is also in tatters because it has chosen ultra-con­servative preacher Hammad Kab­baj as its candidate for the trendy Gueliz district of Marrakech, which is Morocco’s top tourist destination.

Kabbaj, a known Salafist in Mo­rocco, went to “sister” Nejjar’s de­fence, arguing that her reputation would remain intact despite the evidence against her. On his blog, he cited a conspiracy against the former MUR members, calling it a “spinning orchestrated by the Mo­roccan police to shoot his two col­leagues”.

Kabbaj sparked civil societies’ outrage last year after posting a ha­dith that talked of killing Jews.

The choice of Kabbaj to represent the ruling Islamist party in an up­market constituency only few days after the outbreak of the scandal could be seen as a defying political message to the Moroccan authori­ties.