Status of Women in 'Reformist' Morocco

Just three years ago, a teenager from Western Sahara (which has long been occupied by Morocco) left a human rights meeting, at which point she was accosted, as she reveals in a YouTube video, by six plainclothes Moroccan policemen. They pushed her into a waiting vehicle, blindfolded, and handcuffed her.

And then they raped and sodomized her with truncheons, in the presence of high ranking Moroccan officers. Once that was done, they told her she would be killed if she decided to talk about her treatment at their hands.

Several months later, on August 27th, yet another teenage human rights activist, Nguia el-Haouassi, found herself abducted by Moroccan police, stripped naked, and subjected to what was called “physical and psychological torture.” Most notably, according to the victim, she was told by police that if she discussed what had occurred while in custody, the videotape of her naked body would be downloaded onto the Internet, and she would be raped.

From time to time, I have to wonder if either of these adolescent girls was forced to marry her official abusers—there were, after all, quite a few of them in each instance, and that being the case, how was the victim to know which abusers to pick as husbands? In Morocco, which is regularly described in the media as “liberal,” marrying your rapist is one way of dealing with the problem of violent crime. A rare way, but a way. However, what if you have multiple rapists? Can you marry all ten of them? 

Possibly not. In Morocco, which also boasts ceaselessly of its “reforms” (Women can get a divorce! They don’t usually have to marry at 16!), polygamy is still a path permitted only to men, and anyway, it’s almost nonexistent, thanks to a four-year-old law that says the first wife has to give her written consent if her husband is to bring in a new spouse. This is what passes for women’s rights over there.

The reason you have to wonder if those young victims of abusive men are now spending the rest of their lives with their tormentors is because that was exactly the sentence handed down to young Amina Filiali, after she and her family pressed charges against a 26-year-old laborer who grabbed her at knifepoint and then raped her. We do not know the name of this laborer—he is simply called Mustafa F. in Moroccan newspapers—because his privacy and his freedom have remained inviolate. No one arrested him. No one even interrogated him.

Not as much, however, can be said of Amina Filiali, who was 15 when raped, 16 when a Moroccan court handed down her sentence. She had to marry Mustafa F., a judge told her—yes, even though Mustafa F. initially refused to take her hand (doubtless because the girl was no longer a virgin…), and even though in theory, under modern Moroccan law, a girl has to be at least 18 to marry. Judges, it turns out, can overrule that last provision.

So off the girl went, to live with the family of her rapist-husband. What other choice did Amina have? In an interview with an online Moroccan newspaper, Lahcen Filiali, the girl’s father, said, “The prosecutor advised my daughter to marry. He said, ‘Go and make the marriage contract.’”

Last week, young Mrs. Mustafa  F. swallowed rat poison and died. She had married her rapist against her will. She had married her rapist against his will. She had married her rapist because of the prosecutor’s will and the judge’s will, and inevitably, her family’s will. And for five months after marrying him, she had been beaten regularly by the rapist, she told her mother.

Morocco now promises some more “reforms.” I wonder, however, how much more reformation the country can take? Now that the so-called “moderate” Islamist Justice and Development Party controls most parliamentary seats in that country, I wonder how long it will take before we are allowed to learn Mustafa F.’s real name. And before Mr. F. gets himself some serious Moroccan prison time.

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