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Morocco Divided Over Equality

Women protest on the streets of Rabat to demand equal rights. Credit: Abderrahim El Ouali/IPS.

CASABLANCA, Apr 29 2014 (IPS) - Morocco stands divided over a proposal for equal inheritance rights for men and women: modernists see this as application of equality arising from the new constitution, and Islamists see in this a violation of Sharia law.

There have been calls from extremists to kill those who seek equality rights.

The trial is over, but the debate on equal sharing of inheritance between women and men is only beginning.

The penal court of Casablanca sentenced Islamist Sheikh Abou Naim to a month of deferred imprisonment and a 500-dirham fine (50 euros) in February for issuing a fatwa to kill Driss Lachgar, general secretary of the Socialist Union of the Popular Forces (USFP), and other leftist activists.

Lachgar had chaired a meeting of party women on Dec. 20 where he called for a revision of inheritance laws so as to establish equality between men and women.

Sheikh Abou Naim accused Lachgar in a video posted on YouTube of “godlessness” and “apostasy”, and made a public call to kill him. The Sheikh called women from the USFP “whores”.

Activists say the sentence passed by the court was overly lenient. Salah El Wadie, leader of the movement Damir (Consciousness), said Abou Naim was sentenced for defamation and not for incitement to murder.

Modernist writer Ahmed Assid, described as a “pig” in Abou Naim’s video, told media the trial had been “a farce”.

The trial is over, but the debate on equal sharing of inheritance between women and men is only beginning.

Fatima Ait Ouassi, member of the ‘February 20th’ movement to campaign for equal rights, tells IPS that “equal sharing of inheritance between men and women is now a necessity.”

The February 20th movement arose in 2011 within the Arab Spring. It campaigned successfully to bring in a new constitution approved by referendum in July of the same year. This new constitution stipulates equal sharing between men and women.

However, the Islamist cabinet that was formed after the general election in November 2011 included only two women. A reshuffle in October 2013 included six women among 39 ministers.

Morocco is still far from gender equality in the political world, but nothing stops the government implementing the constitution in inheritance rights, says Ait Ouassi.

“We do not live any more in the old Arabic society where Islam appeared and where women lived under the supervision of men,” she tells IPS. “Now, women work and contribute fully to family assets just like men, and it is inconceivable to apply inequitable laws when it comes to sharing family inheritance.”

Lachgar says 19.3 percent of Moroccan women in cities and 12.3 percent in villages have prime responsibility in taking care of their families.

Strict application of Muslim law grants to a woman only half of what a man inherits in case of the death of one of the parents. In a case of death of the husband, the wife has only one-eighth of the inheritance “while women work even more than the men,” Samir El Harrouf, a member of the United Socialist Party (PSU), tells IPS.

The religious conservatives see this as a literal application of “divine law”.

“Nobody can modify the sacred texts in relation to inheritance and polygamy,” well-known advocate of Muslim jurisprudence Redouane Benchekroune told journalists.

But there are other interpretations of the religious text. “According to the studies that I have made in Muslim jurisprudence, this is simply a false interpretation of texts,” El Harrouf tells IPS.

He says that what the Quran grants to women in inheritance is only the minimum that must be respected – nothing forbids that women be granted more. New studies in jurisprudence show that it is necessary “to distinguish in religious texts between what is constant and what is varying,” El Harrouf says.

“What is constant is matters of faith and worship. On the other hand, other requirements vary according to the social and historical context, and depend on the specific conditions of every society and on a particular phase of its historical development.”

Ait Ouassi agrees. “As we were able to amend the family code, we have to revise the laws on inheritance which are contradictory to international agreements on human rights. We must stop immediately all forms of discrimination against women.”

Morocco ratified the agreement on elimination of discrimination against women on Jun. 21, 1993. A new family code providing for equality came into law in 2005.

According to the new family code, polygamy is forbidden except on authorisation by a court of competence.

Under this family code, polygamy requires the consent of the first wife and authorisation by a judge. But people manage to bypass the law by getting married without official papers. Once the new woman is pregnant, the court is forced to ratify the marriage because the civil rights of the child come into play.

Modernists are therefore asking for outright outlawing of polygamy.

The Islamists who now lead the government, and who were then in the opposition, had opposed the new law and called it “an incitement to prostitution.”

In the current debate, Islamists too are divided. The Justice and Development Party (PJD) which leads the government, calls the push to equality foreign pressure to alter “the identity of the nation”. On the other hand, Mostafa El Moutassim, leader of the Islamist party Civilisational Alternative, published an article on his Facebook page saying he is willing to open up the question of revision of laws governing the distribution of inheritance.

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  • ishkabibul

    I hope these brave women keep up the fight for their independance -in all cultures men have been conditioned to believe they are -boss -we are all individuals and are entitled to respect as such.

mario laroche