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Last Updated: Friday, 30 September 2005, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Accused Morocco Islamist speaks out

By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC Arab affairs analyst

Nadia Yassine stands in front her modernist painting of Allah's name
Nadia Yassine has painted a modernist version of Allah's name

A leading Islamist activist in Morocco says she is eagerly awaiting her trial on charges of insulting King Mohammed VI.

Nadia Yassine, of the outlawed but widely-popular Justice and Charity Group, could face up to five years in jail if convicted.

She was put on trial earlier this year for saying that she would prefer a republican system to Morocco's hereditary monarchy.

It is difficult not to be impressed by Nadia Yassine. She is anything but the stereotypical picture of an oppressed Muslim woman.

I will never regret what I have said... I am a free woman - I live in a country which claims to be democratic
Nadia Yassine
Politically active, articulate and well-educated, she is already a grandmother at 46. Her four daughters are, like her, committed Muslims pursuing academic careers.

Her husband is a university professor and also a senior member of the organisation.

She says he helped her bring up the children and is anything but a traditional Arab husband.

She lives with her family in Sala, a small town outside the capital Rabat and a stronghold of her group, which was created some 20 years ago by her father - the charismatic chief ideologue of the movement, the septuagenarian Sheikh Abdulsalam Yassine.

Women's rights campaigner

Nadia Yassine belongs to a new generation of Islamists: western-educated but not westernised. She quotes from the Koran and French sociologists in one breath.

Artist as well as activist, sitting in front of her own modernist painting of the name of Allah, she tells me that she has done nothing wrong.

"I will never regret what I have said. I am a free woman. I live in a country which claims to be democratic," she said.

Nadia Yassine
It is freedom of speech itself which is being put on trial - I challenge them to try me
Nadia Yassine
"Freedom of speech is fundamental to democracy. Freedom of speech is a positive thing, not only for the Moroccans, but for all Muslim peoples who, for 14 centuries have been living the tragedy of silence, criminal silence."

Justice and Charity is Morocco's biggest Islamist organisation.

The group campaigns peacefully for the creation of an Islamic state, and derives its power and popularity from helping the poor through a network of charities across the country.

Nadia Yassine's political views are not only too radical for the Moroccan establishment, but her stance on women's issues is far too liberal for hard-line Islamists.

She believes that "Muslims have inflicted a terrible injustice on women in the name of Islam".

She says that there is an urgent need for re-interpreting Islamic tradition, and unless women are involved in that process they will never come out of their trap.

Muslim women should have the right to divorce their husbands, she says, and should be consulted before their husbands take another wife.

"The Koran is clear cut on the issue of polygamy. No Muslim can change that text.

"But women also have the right in principle to refuse polygamy, because marriage in Islam is a civil contract... and in a civil contract the woman has the right to include any conditions she likes."

Islamist values

But despite that, she demonstrated against recent reforms of family law giving Moroccan women precisely these rights.

She says the demonstration was political in nature, and not religious.

King Mohammed VI
The accusation of insulting the king may not come to trial

The government's reforms were cosmetic and mainly intended to improve its international image rather than helping women, she adds.

She says legislation alone will not change the reality of women, unless backed by socio-economic reforms that empower women.

It is not entirely clear whether the trial of Nadia Yassine for allegedly insulting the Moroccan king will resume.

She suggests that US pressure may have led the government to drop the case altogether.

But she is not grateful, because there is no love lost between Islamists like her and Washington.

"It is freedom of speech itself which is being put on trial. I challenge them to try me," she says, gesticulating defiantly with a smile on her face.

The King and the Sheikh's daughter
28 Mar 02 |  Correspondent
Moroccan Islamist leader freed
17 May 00 |  Africa

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