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Friday, 10 November, 2000, 00:37 GMT
Koran victory for Morocco's Islamists
Women demonstrate in Morocco
Islamists also battled women who demanded more rights
By Nick Pelham in Rabat

After successfully scuppering the government's plan for women's rights, and clamouring for the closure of the Israeli liaison office in Rabat, Morocco's Islamists are now claiming another victory - the lifting of the ban on the sale of the Muslim scriptures at this year's International Book Fair in Casablanca.

This year's book fair was intended to give pride of place to literature of "the new, the modern and the Moroccan".

Mohammed VI
The new king, Mohammed VI, appears to be opting for tolerance
The minister of information and culture, Mohammed Achaari, lifted the 17-year-old ban on the Naked Bread, a book by Mohammed Shukri about the seedy side of Morocco's seediest city, Tangiers.

And in the name of modernisation, Mr Achaari - a member of the governing socialist party, the USFP, stopped the sale of imported Korans.

Censors were positioned at the book fair gates - in the shadow of Casablanca's landmark Hassan II mosque - to frisk the public for books and pamphlets of an Islamic hue.

Religious lobby

I saw them confiscate a black plastic bag-full of pocketbook sayings for Ramadan.

But Mr Achaari had overlooked the wrath of Morocco's religious lobby.

MPs from the Islamist Party of Justice and Development took to the parliament floor to accuse Morocco's leftist-led government of encouraging the profane and banning the holy.

Mosque leaders preached sermons against the country's "secular" ministers.

Semi-nudity is seen as un-Islamic
The Islamists have taken their battles to the beaches
In the face of such inquisition, Minister Achaari protested his innocence.

He said he merely wanted to protect Moroccan publishers of religious literature against a deluge of cheap Beirut editions, and to uphold the Moroccan edition of the Koran - the Warash - which differs from the Hafas rendition of the Middle East.

He also suggested Morocco's Islamist movement were trading in Korans for fund-raising.

Intifada rally

It is the latest in a series of ideological clashes between the leftist-led government of Prime minister, Abderrahmane Youssifi, and Morocco's increasingly confident Islamist lobby.

Last March, hundreds of thousands of supporters demonstrated in Casablanca against a government plan to give women equal rights of divorce.

Casablanca
Casablanca - otherwise known as 'Gaza-blanca'
The plan has since been handed over to a committee for revision, and the minister promoting the plan, Saad Saadi, has been sacked.

Hundreds of thousands of Islamists also outnumbered government supporters at a rally in Rabat for the Al-Aqsa Intifada. The protest was the largest of its kind in the Arab world.

Until his death in July last year, King Hassan II promoted himself as Commander of the Faithful and the head of Moroccan Islam.

'Gaza-blanca'

Other interpretations were banned. But his son, Mohammed VI, appears to be opting for tolerance.

Abdessalam Yassine, the charismatic leader of the banned Islamist movement, Adl wal Ihsan, has been released after nearly a generation of incarceration.

And after initial crackdown, the authorities allowed Islamists to take their sermons against semi-nudity to the beach and hold mass prayer meetings in some of Morocco's most popular resorts.

Nevertheless, Islamist newspapers remain banned. And as the movement begins to flex its muscles, the authorities have resorted to tactics of old.

Last month, the authorities used tear-gas to repel an unauthorised pro-Palestine march in the city journalists now dub "Gaza...blanca".

Islamist leaders say one protester died of his wounds.

In the Koran row, the authorities are again backing down.

The censors remain at the gates, but the exhibition hall is awash with Middle Eastern editions of the scriptures.

Book fair organiser Rachid Jebbouj said he had ordered that each stall be allowed to display 50 copies of each imported edition of the Koran.

As on Morocco's streets, so at the book fair: the peddlers of politicised Islamic interpretations from further East are increasingly stealing the show.

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See also:

07 Aug 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Islamists take to the beaches
17 May 00 | Africa
Moroccan Islamist leader freed
30 Jul 00 | Media reports
King Mohammed - one year on
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