Moroccan women speak out against the stigma of prostitutes suffered in other Arab countries | International
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Moroccan women who travel to Arab countries, especially in the Persian Gulf, often suffer harassment as if they were going to work as prostitutes. Several Moroccan activists consulted by this newspaper lament that in a large part of the Arab countries, women from the Alaouite kingdom are associated with prostitution and witchcraft. The issue rarely comes to light in Morocco, but there have been at least a dozen articles published on this subject in the local press during the last three years. And sometimes the taboo falters. In 2015, for example, Moroccan filmmaker Nabil Ayouch premiered in France —it was banned in his country— the film much loved, which featured four prostitutes in Marrakesh alongside wealthy Saudi clients. Until then, the arrival of the Saudis in Morocco in search of sex was a reality that was hardly talked about.
The stigma taboo was broken again in Morocco last February, when the weekly Tel Quel published a column signed by three women ―Dina El Moukhtari, Houda Charhi and Lamya Ben Malek― entitled: “When a Moroccan woman is synonymous with a prostitute”. The activists told the case of Camelia, a 25-year-old Moroccan who in December 2021 intended to fly from Madrid to Amman (Jordan) with the Ryanair company. Camelia assures that she was forbidden to board. And the reason that the company alleged, according to the authors, is that she was not traveling accompanied by a mahram, that is, of a male member of his family, a kind of guardian. Ryanair applies this rule, according to the three activists, to Moroccan women between the ages of 16 and 36, while their male compatriots of any age can travel to Jordan without any impediment.
camellia ryane, the woman who denounced the discrimination has lived in Madrid for seven years. From there she explains to this newspaper that in 2019 her compatriot Mounia Semlali wanted to travel to Jordan as part of the NGO Oxfam for professional reasons and was denied a visa due to the lack of a male guardian. Semlali organized a social media campaign under the tag: “We are not prostitutes”, which had a huge impact. Ryane believed that after that campaign everything had been fixed. But last year she herself ran into the requirement to be accompanied by a tutor.
Ryane assures that this type of discriminatory behavior is often applied by certain Arab countries without there being a written record that can be appealed to in court: “On the day of the flight, when I was prevented from traveling alone to Jordan due to the need for a guardian, all my The desire was to obtain some document that would allow me to certify that this practice was taking place officially. If this law existed, I wanted to see it in writing.”
All he got was the airline Ryanair to send him the International Air Transport Association (IATA) document related to Jordan entry requirements. Dated December 2021, this document reflects the differences in the demands made on Moroccan women. Conditions are imposed on them that do not apply to Algerian, Libyan, Tunisian, or Egyptian women. Nor for Moroccan men.
“It seemed very strong to me,” explains Ryane, “that despite the fact that I have been in Spain for seven years and have my residence here, I will always continue to be categorized by my sex, age, marital status and my nationality. Not only is it an unfair segregation, but the requirement of a guardian for me is simply unfeasible, since I live alone and the rest of my family is in Morocco”.
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This newspaper contacted the Ryanair company to find out why Camilia Ryane suffered such discrimination. The airline, after knowing all the information about the flight reservation, limited itself to answering: “Ryanair complies with all the entry requirements of the local legislation that apply to the countries in which we operate. We have no control over those entry requirements.”
Camelia Ryane did not have a guardian to accompany her to Jordan and was left without traveling on the flight she already had booked for December 19, 2021.
Regarding the origin of the bad image, most of the consulted sources point towards the men of the Gulf countries.
Dina El Moukhtari, one of the authors of the tribune of Tel Quel, maintains that, “unfortunately”, this bad image is part of a reality. “Morocco is known for sex tourism,” he assumes. “However, there are women in Eastern countries who also prostitute themselves and the stigma does not extend to all women from the East. The treatment with respect to Moroccan women is totally different”.
Ayouche, the filmmaker who had to resign himself to the fact that his feature film on the subject could not be seen in theaters in his native country, He doesn’t know where such an “unfair” stigma comes from. But she knows quite a few friends who tried to travel to Gulf countries and were not allowed in because they were not accompanied by a father or husband. “It’s outrageous and retrograde,” she notes. “But it must be part of a paternalistic way of thinking, typical of those countries, where it is believed that a woman is not capable of working in any sector in the same way as a man.”
The French geographer of Moroccan origin Chadia Arab has traveled to the United Arab Emirates three times to investigate prostitution. On the last occasion, in 2018, she published a work together with the anthropologist Nasima Moujoud on the “Moroccan stigma”. Arab found that despite the fact that this practice is prohibited in that country, there are prostitutes of many nationalities: Filipino, Indian, Syrian, Lebanese, Tunisian, Ethiopian… Arab points out that 90% of the people who live in Dubai are foreigners and that Moroccan women are present in the field of prostitution, but “they are not in the majority”. “Often, the others pass themselves off as Moroccans so as not to tarnish their own nationality,” she explains. The researcher explains that there are many Moroccan emigrants who work in Dubai, in hotels, hairdressers, beauty salons and in highly qualified jobs in large companies. “Only a minority engage in prostitution. But almost all of them suffer from the stigma”, she clarifies.
“The sexual misery of the men of the Gulf”
Latifa the Boushini, a professor at the Faculty of Educational Sciences in Rabat, dates the origin of the bad reputation in the eighties. “At that moment it it produced an opening in Morocco towards the people of the Gulf, especially with the Saudis, who came here to solve their sexual miseries”. El Boushini recalls that it was a period of economic crisis, accentuated by a great drought, and that many women lived in poverty.
The teacher believes that the bad reputation was enhanced over time. “I know that Saudi women once organized a demonstration shouting loud and loud to reject the arrival of Moroccan women, claiming that they they stole to their husbands. Instead of charging at their husbands, they attacked Moroccan women.” The teacher believes that instead of “sticking” the label of prostitutes to all Moroccan women, she should put her finger on “the sexual misery of the men of the Gulf.”
Sometimes the stigma permeates Moroccan society itself. Osire Glacier, a professor of Moroccan origin at Athabasca University (Alberta, Canada), recounts by email what happened to one of her students, a young Moroccan, on a plane to Dubai. She “she was sitting next to a Moroccan. At one point, the man turned to her and said: ‘What a pity, that all this beauty of yours is going to be wasted in Dubai.’ Because even a Moroccan believes that a young and beautiful woman who travels alone, who takes the plane and passes through the Gulf countries, is going to prostitute herself”.
El Boushini explains that she has decided not to travel to any Gulf country. But when she has met a man from that region in Paris and he has asked her if she is Moroccan, she has denied being so. “Because I don’t want to be part of a stereotype. My friends advised me to tell the truth, so that stereotype could be combated, ”she explains.
Nour Leila, a Moroccan journalist based in Paris and a specialist in gender issues, believes that the origin of this image is due “to the way in which the East was painted during colonization”, to sexism and sexual capitalism. On this last factor, Leila illustrates: “You just have to watch the Saudi series chir-chat. There you see men arguing about the price of women in Marrakech, as a sex tourism destination.
Leila adds: “Behind every cliché there is a hidden truth: Morocco is a sex tourism destination for many men from the Middle East and, above all, from the Gulf. In addition, there are two problems: women are seen as objects and sex workers are unprotected, as in most of the world”.
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