Morocco Islamist leaders engulfed in sex scandal
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.