The world celebrates today the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, held every year on May 17 to fight attitudes of hatred against Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgenders (LGBTs).
This day also represents an occasion to remember that several countries still consider homosexuality as an unlawful act. In North Africa and the Middle East in particular, homosexuality is widely considered a crime, subject to fines, persecutions, and imprisonment. In extreme cases, such as in Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Iran, and in parts of Nigeria, homosexuals can even risk death penalty.
In this region of world, homosexuals are typically forced to hide by fear of being excluded from their community. Numerous individuals are often compelled to adopt a two-faced life, thereby cheating on their wives and husbands. Worse, young homosexuals frequently find themselves frustrated by a sexuality they did not choose and often resort to violent methods to prevent themselves from living their sexuality, including through spiritual and psychological therapies and sometimes through committing suicide.
It is astonishing to acknowledge that this same region of the world used to be quite open towards same-sex relationships. Not before long, in the Siwa oasis in Egypt, same-sex couples used to be widely accepted. Not before long, Arabian poets such as Abu Nawas wrote homo-erotic poems in which they celebrated men’s beauty. History provides enough evidence to claim that homophobia is far from being a cultural issue. Rather, it is a problem that arises from society and education.
Morocco is probably not the most extreme case in the region. Yet, it provides a good example of a country where changes of attitudes critically need to take place. Like in many other countries in the region, homosexuality is considered hchouma (taboo) in Morocco. Within Moroccan society, male homosexuals are typically referred to as “zwamel,” a word which is generally used as an insult. Female homosexuality is widely believed to be inexistent, unless it serves the purpose of entertaining males’ fantasies. Moroccan law itself considers homosexuality as a “crime” against “nature” which is punishable by fines and imprisonment.
Moroccan civil society has deployed many efforts to fight homophobia in the past, through the creation of associations and magazines dedicated to LGBT issues in the country. This year however, civil society took a step further. For the first time, a national campaign against homophobia was launched ahead of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia at the initiative of Moroccan association Aswat. Moroccan writer Abdellah Taïa also seized the occasion to release his first film, “The Salvation Army,” an adaptation of his latest book, in which describes parts of his life as a young homosexual in the country.
Sadly, these efforts have been vain. Several days after the campaign was launched, 6 individuals were arrested over accusations of homosexuality in Fqih Ben Saleh, a Moroccan town east of Rabat. At the House of Representatives, MP Amina Maa’ al-Aynin of the ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD) accused the campaign of channeling a discourse which goes against the Islamic faith and Moroccan law. Clearly, while Moroccan civil society has made efforts to fight homophobia, the government remains quite hostile to the question.
Nonetheless, if Morocco really aspires to be considered as a modern country which safeguards human rights and freedoms, the issue of decriminalizing same-sex relationships will need to be settled soon. Further, at a time when several of Morocco’s closest “western” partners, France, Spain, and the United States, are taking steps to normalize same sex relations through legalizing marriage and adoption, Morocco will be pressured to take action to decriminalize homosexuality.
The abolition of article 489, which goes against universally recognized human rights and freedoms, represents an obvious issue which Morocco, notwithstanding the government’s ideological orientation, will have to undertake in order to be really considered as a modern country. But this would not be enough. Deep reforms in educational programs, in the judicial system, and in the media landscape are also critically needed so as to cleanse Moroccan society from anything that would undermine human freedoms and dignity.
By Tachfine Baida.