A kiss between two men in front of a mosque in Rabat has triggered intense reactions across Morocco, including a weekend protest at the home of one of the men. It was the latest in a series of scandals that have challenged social mores in the conservative North African country since the end of May, and it left our own panel of Observers deeply divided.
It all started with two women. On June 2, two French Femen activists with "In gay we trust" written across their chests stripped to the waist and kissed in the courtyard of Rabat's Hassan Tower, the minaret of an unfinished mosque that dates back to the 12th century. They were protesting against the recent decision by a court in Taourirt, in the country's northeast, to jail three homosexuals. Under Article 489 of Morocco's penal code, people of the same sex caught carrying out sexual acts can be punished by up to three years in prison. The activists were swiftly expelled from the country. Their actions also sparked protests spearheaded by a new group called Touche pas à mes moeurs (Hands off my mores).
The next day, two Moroccan men imitated the gesture by kissing in the same spot before being arrested. Morocco's national television channel didn't think twice before broadcasting photos of the men. As a result, this weekend around 20 protesters claiming to belong to Touche pas à mes moeurs gathered outside the home of one of the men and threatened his family. The protest is shown in a video below that was disseminated online by Cawalisse, a conservative website that describes the men as "deviants". For one of our Observers in Rabat, the protest was unacceptable.
"This demonstration was a genuine incitement to hatred"
By broadcasting a photo of these two men, national television deliberately put them in harm's way. Rabat is a small city, making it all too easy for their critics to identify them. This protest in front of one of their homes was a genuine incitement to hatred. Given how homosexuality is looked down on in Morocco, it's also humiliating for their families. I really do question the behaviour of the authorities: when I organise protests to defend LGBT rights, we're always supervised very closely. But in this case, the security forces didn't seem to think it was necessary to monitor the protest.
For me that shows that Moroccan society is homophobic. But I can still see here a small victory for equality: civil disobedience is one way of opening up a debate. This is essential because we can't continue living with such unfair laws.
But for other people living in Rabat, both kisses amount to nothing more than 'disturbing' and 'useless' provocations.
"Many Moroccans feel that this kind of behaviour is an assault on them"
It's not the first time that Morocco has been provoked by foreign organisations that – like the two Femen activists – break Moroccan laws. Morocco is above all a Muslim country, strongly attached to its own unique traditions and culture. Many Moroccans feel that this kind of behaviour is an assault on them. They aren't yet ready to open the debate around homosexuality.
"Homosexual people can live out their sexual orientation in private"
The two men deliberately kissed in front of a mosque, a holy site that's all the more important given that it houses the tombs of both kings Hassan II and Mohammed V. They did all that just to create a buzz. I'm not at all against homosexuals or the fact that they demand their rights. But there are other ways of going about it: by using social networks for example, by creating NGOs, or by protesting in suitable places, like in front of parliament.
Besides, homosexual people can live out their sexual orientation in private, but they shouldn't do it in public. Otherwise, that can shock people. It's a bit like the Moroccans that don't do Ramadan. They avoid eating and drinking in the street out of respect for those who fast. That said, I do think it's outrageous that national television showed photos of the two men and that protesters threatened them in front of their house.
A series of controversies
These "gay kisses" are the latest in a series of scandals involving social mores that have rocked the North African kingdom since the end of May. First there was the release of the film "Much Loved". Directed by French-Moroccan filmmaker Nabil Ayouch, it tackles the subject of prostitution through the stories of four women. Its screening was banned in Morocco on the grounds that the film contained "suggestive" scenes.
Meanwhile, a Jennifer Lopez concert that was rebroadcast on Moroccan television on May 29 sparked an uproar because of the American singer's skimpy outfits. A Moroccan education group has even filed a lawsuit against the singer, claiming her performance was a breach of public decency.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Corentin Bainier (@cbainier).