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Head of Government Condemns NGOs’ Calls for Decriminalizing Abortion

“The problem is that traditional values ​​are crumbling,” Morocco’s head of government said earlier this year.

Morocco’s Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani has criticized organizations that are campaigning for the decriminalization of abortion and other individual rights that Islamic law considers “haram,” or forbidden.

At a meeting in Marrakech on Saturday, November 16, El Othmani said that increasing women’s participation in politics does not necessarily mean “moving away from religious givens by banning the ‘halal’ and authorizing the ‘haram.’”

The meeting launched the “Tamkin” plan of the women’s organization in the ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD). The plan seeks higher representation of women within the party.

El Othmani addressed organizations that want consensual sex between adults and abortion—criminal acts under the Moroccan Penal Code—to be legal. Departing from religious givens is a red line, El Othmani said.

In an interview this summer with Jeune Afrique, El Othmani explained that the PJD is not Islamist, but it is fundamentally “based on Islamic principles.” 

On Saturday, he emphasized that Islamic principles guide the Moroccan government. There is space for understanding or interpreting the principles within an innovative framework, however.

In a speech in 2003, King Mohammed VI affirmed the role of Islamic principles in Morocco, saying he could not prohibit what God has authorized or sanction what God has forbidden.

“We understand Islamic principles according to an approach that reconciles religion, modernity, and democracy,” El Othmani told Jeune Afrique.

He continued, “Moroccan society is currently going through a difficult transition phase between tradition and modernity…. The problem is that traditional values ​​are crumbling.”

Calls for decriminalization

El Othmani’s remarks in Marrakech come in the wake of several protests calling for the decriminalization of consensual sex between adults as well as abortion.

The protests emerged during the highly publicized trial of journalist Hajar Raissouni, who received a prison sentence for having an abortion. Police had arrested Raissouni, her fiance, and her doctor when she was leaving a gynecology clinic.

Prosecutors charged the couple with having sex outside of marriage and getting an abortion. Within a few weeks of her sentencing, the King pardoned Raissouni.

Read also: What is Meant by Islamic Feminism Today?

At the same time, activists questioned if Raissouni’s arrest was politically motivated because she is a journalist and her uncle wrote critically of the government.

In 2018, Moroccan police arrested 14,503 individuals for engaging in sex outside of marriage. Police also arrested 3,048 people for committing adultery but made only 73 arrests for people receiving or performing abortions.

For El Othmani, the solution to questions of morality and criminality lies in reinforcing “the values ​​necessary for a successful transition to modernity while respecting one’s own traditions and culture.”