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Sunday, 14 October, 2001, 15:48 GMT 16:48 UK
Morocco wedding breaks royal rules
Decorative doorway at the shrine of Moulay Ismail, Meknes, Morocco
The kingdom usually keeps out of the king's private life
By BBC North Africa correspondent David Bamford

The announcement of King Mohammed VI of Morocco's wedding early next year breaks a series of royal Moroccan traditions.

The royal palace authorities in Rabat confirmed the engagement on Friday of the 38-year-old king to a commoner, Miss Salma Bennani, and that the wedding will take place in early 2002, though the final date has not been set.

King Mohammed VI
Mohammed's accession heralded modest changes
Miss Bennani is the daughter of a well-known biologist from the northern city of Tangiers.

She is a career woman with qualifications in engineering.

The news follows weeks of speculation in Paris-based gossip magazines that the king was soon to announce a bride.

However, these reports have been absent from the media in Morocco, where traditionally the private life of the king is not reported on at all.

New traditions

The engagement announcement is in contrast to the custom under Mohammed's late father, King Hassan II.

Muslim tradition allows up to four wives; Hassan had two.

King Hassan II of Morocco
Hassan: Two wives, no queens
The first, Fatima, was the daughter of a Berber chieftain, though she never had children. In fact nobody knew that Hassan was married at all until it was announced in 1961 that his second wife, Latifa, had given birth to the first of five children.

Neither woman was ever declared queen and Latifa's title was simply "mother of the royal children". She was almost never seen in public.

This is not likely to be the case with Miss Bennani, though it remains unclear whether she will be declared Morocco's first queen.

King Mohammed is portrayed as a modern, thinking monarch in a country that is reluctant to embrace full democracy.

He has just declared that new parliamentary elections will be held in September next year.

But there are no signs of imminent changes in the political system under which the king and his advisors, rather than the elected government and parliament, make all the key decisions.

See also:

21 Nov 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
A new royal broom for Morocco
03 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Morocco
25 Jul 01 | Africa
King launches charm offensive
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