Morocco: A battle is brewing over personal freedoms


Published on Thursday, 27 April 2023 Back to articles

Justice Minister Abdellatif Ouahbi is struggling to liberalise Moroccan society

Morocco’s liberal and conservative currents are gearing up for a major showdown over a number of proposed reforms to both the family and penal codes. These are being driven by Justice Minister, Abdellatif Ouahbi — the head of the Parti Authenticité et Modernité (PAM) — who is currently putting the final touches to amendments being made to the legal texts before they are put to parliament for approval any time soon. 

Ouahbi’s attempt to change these laws is stirring up controversy in the Kingdom despite the fact that the call for the reforms originated with the King. In his July 2022 Throne Day speech, King Mohamed VI called for an improvement in women’s rights and for a revisiting of the Moudawana, or Family Code, that was adopted by parliament in 2004. 

Although the Family Code was a major step forward when it was adopted, many Moroccan liberals and women’s groups always felt that it did not go far enough. This was because the code as originally envisaged by the then government, led by the Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires (USFP), ended up being watered it down after it came up against a bulwark of opposition from the Islamist camp. The latter, which was particularly strong at that time, succeeded in mobilising the street against the proposed changes, with millions coming out to protest against the proposed new code. This resulted in the final text going nowhere near as far to protect women’s rights as many on the left had hoped. 

While this new code was welcomed by progressive elements, they continued to push for more far-reaching changes to improve the status of women. Activists and human rights organisations have been calling long and loud for reform of the Family Code, and recent months have seen many protests and meetings held by such organisations to lobby for change.

It appeared from last year’s Throne Day speech that, almost 20 years after the adoption of the Moudawana, the King had come to similar conclusions. He acknowledged that, while the Family Code had represented a major step forward, it was ‘no longer sufficient,’ for women to be able to ‘hold their rightful place in society.’ He also noted that, ‘Experience has shown there are many hurdles which stand in the way of completing this process and achieving its objectives.’

However — mindful of the conservative nature of large swathes of Moroccan society, as well as his role as the Emir Al-Moumineen (Commander of the Believers) — the King made clear that any such changes should not be overly radical. He stressed that any amendments to the legal text must remain in keeping with Islamic Shar’ia law and stated that he would not ‘make licit that which the Almighty has forbidden’ nor prohibit that which he has authorised, especially in matters ‘governed by unequivocal Quranic prescriptions.’ Mohamed VI therefore strongly indicated that, while he wanted changes to the Family Code, they must fall within certain limits and not transgress Islamic norms. 

This excerpt is taken from Morocco Focus, our monthly intelligence report on Morocco. Click here to receive a free sample copy.

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