According to the online site Magharebia.com, a battle is brewing on Moroccan beaches between religious hardliners and the kingdom’s authorities. The trouble began when more than 60 students belonging to the banned Islamist group Al Adl Wal Ihsane (Justice and Charity) attempted to create a camp on Terga beach, 40km from the city of Tetouan
This is not the first time the group has caused trouble. Al Adl Wal Ihsane has been prevented from establishing camps since 2000. The previous year the group had attracted more than 40,000 summer visitors. At that time, Al Adl Wal Ihsane caused offence to locals and visitors alike by dividing Sidi Bou Alnaim Beach into two parts; one for men and another for women, keeping them from seeing each other. Its tight organization overwhelmed authorities, who decided that enough was enough and that they would prevent future camps.
|The authorities move in - photo Mohamed Saadouni|
This year the Moroccan authorities intervened early to stop the beaches being taken over. The leaders of the ruling Justice and Development party (PJD) said the aim of the Al Adl Wal Ihsane camps was to provoke the government, rather than recreation.
“I do not favor summer camping of a sectarian and group nature, because this type of camping may be considered a provocative step more than simply summer vacationing and entertainment,” PJD leader El Ali Hami El Din said.
Addressing the banned group, Hami El Din added: “I am against camps that only comprise followers of a cult or a particular group, because camping then becomes factional. But in return I ask the authorities to push for clean beaches consistent with the wishes of conservative families.”
Responding to Hami El Din, Hassan Bennajeh, a member of the General Secretariat of the Political Department of Al Adl Wal Ihsane, told Magharebia he hoped the remarks were “a slip of the tongue”. Bennajeh continued, “I rebuke his use of the term sectarian.”
Bennajeh explained to Magharebia that “the authorities intervened violently and forbid a faction of Al Adl Wal Ihsane students who were preparing to camp in the Terga area from doing so”.
“The intervention resulted in a range of injuries among the students and created an atmosphere of terror after the doors of the dwellings they had rented were broken down and the students were taken out by force, and they were forced to leave in the direction of their cities,” he claimed.
The official spokesman for the banned group, Fathallah Arsalan, has defended the right of his group to organize their own closed camps.
“We still stand by our right to camp the way we like it, as guaranteed to us by law under the right of association and movement,” he said.
|Morocco's beaches belong to everyone - Photo Manuel Di Luna, used under Creative Commons License|
Salé resident Hamid Buras, who attended the last Al Adl Wal Ihsane camp, told Magharebia that he did “not know why the state is fighting the camps of the group, which seeks to create an environment for summer vacationing respectful of conservative families”.
“The group’s camps respect our conservative Islamic society, and we and our children have the right to enjoy the beach away from views of nudity, debauchery and immorality that characterize nowadays our Moroccan beaches,” Buras added.
In contrast, Khalid Amar, an employee, contended that the conservative group had no right to control Moroccan beaches and make them exclusive for its followers and supporters.
“Whoever wants recreation, let him take his family to the beach and no one will stop him, but to monopolize the beach and wear beards to display their strength, I am firmly with the intervention of the state,” he added.
For his part, Islamic scholar Abdel Bari Zamzami said: “It is not the right of members and supporters of the group to monopolise areas of the beaches for themselves to the exclusion of the rest of God’s creation”.
“And if the group decides to organize its summer camps by descending on public beaches by force in the same way in which it succeeded for years, the authorities will prevent it—then it will be legally prohibited without dispute,” he added.
The government action to stop ultra-conservatives monopolising Morocco's beaches has received wide support from the general community