There is an old Moroccan saying that translates as "if you come to Morocco, prepare to be amazed". It's true, and even if you live here there are times when amazement turns to incredulity. Take events in Nador during the last week, where a simple kiss ignited a storm. (See update at foot of story)
It all started when a photograph of two teenagers kissing ended up on Facebook. A local newspaper then printed the photograph and someone lodged a complaint with the police which resulted in an investigation.
Then, in a surprise move, the two teenagers and their friend who took the photograph were arrested.
"It involves a teenage boy and his girlfriend. They were arrested on Thursday for violating public decency by posting a photo of them kissing," said Chakib al-Khayari, president of the Rif Association of Human Rights. The young couple are being held in the juvenile detention centre in Nador. The couple and the photographer are due to appear before a juvenile court next week.
A sit in is taking place outside the detention centre in support of the young people. Their arrest, for violating public decency, has caused such a stir among young people that other couples have begun posting similar photos on their Facebook pages. And on Twitter a campaign has started using the hashtag #FreeBoussa. The Facebook page supporting the cause of their freedom has more than seven thousand likes in the last few hours
In Nador, the issue rapidly gained momentum when preachers in several mosques urged parents to keep a closer eye on their children to prevent a repetition.
For Ibtissame Lachgar, co-founder of the Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties (MALI), the incident was an outrage so she went online and posted a photograph of herself kissing a male fellow activist. Lachgar then launched a campaign to post one million copycat photos online in support of the teenagers.
Comments on the case on Facebook and Twitter show how the arrest has touched a public nerve. Some respondents decry the police's response, urging them to focus on more serious crimes, while others accuse society of hypocrisy for castigating a young couple for copying what they see on TV. A few blame the couple's parents for failing to teach them well.
Unfortunately for Morocco's reputation as an open and forward thinking society, news of the kiss went global with reports on major media services including the BBC and Sky News.
After the scandal went viral, Mr. Mustapha Ramid, the Minister of Justice, in a filmed interview, said that he was made aware of the event on his way to the radio headquarters, when a media site called him to gauge his opinion regarding the issue.
Mr. Ramid confirmed that he is confident that the court in Nador will take proper procedures concerning the teenagers in question.
A video tracking the events of the arrest is underway and in it, Omar Belafrege, President of the Movement of Clarity Ambition and Courage, questioned how a simple kiss could have created such a problem for Moroccan society.
“If a kiss between two teenagers created a problem to the society, the problem, then, is not with the kids, but rather with that society,” - Omar BelafregeIn the same video, Chakib al-Khayari, president of the Rif Association of Human Rights said, “the lawsuit filed against the teenagers is, we believe, invalid because it doesn’t represent a crime.”
Most of students interviewed in the video expressed their solidarity with their peers, saying that the arrest is an extremely harsh punishment.
|The Paris "Kiss-in" in support of the Nador teenagers|
In Paris, France, a "Kiss-in" was organised on Saturday in solidarity with the two students and their photographer. On Facebook a call has been launched for a giant kiss-in on Wednesday Oct.9 at the Green Park in the city of Mohammedia, and on Saturday Oct. 12 in Rabat.
UPDATE: According to a report carried in the Moroccan Arabic language media, a judge has ordered the release of the teenagers involved in the "Facebook Kiss" incident.
The mother of the young girl involved was pleased that her daughter's freedom had been to restored. However, it appears she has had quite enough of the city of Nador. "I will move to the city of Fez with my daughter, I am grateful for all peace activists from all over the world, and I thank all those who helped in the return of the children to their parents."
It is worth mentioning that the juvenile judge's decision came following a huge wave of resentment from within Morocco and around the world that demonstrated what sensible people thought about the possibility of a minor going to prison on charges of "kissing."