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Last Updated: Monday, 6 November 2006, 10:49 GMT
Moroccan airline bans prayer time
By Richard Hamilton
BBC News, Rabat

Royal Air Maroc plane
The airline is a source of prestige for Morocco
Morocco's state airline Royal Air Maroc has banned its staff praying at their offices and headquarters.

The company says that in the past its workers have abused the privilege of praying, by taking too much time away from their desks and their customers.

But the airline's workers as well as Islamist politicians say it is part of a crackdown on their religious freedom.

Praying is one of the five pillars of Islam and regarded as a crucial part of a Muslim's way of life.

The state airline, partly owned by the Moroccan royal family, is a great source of pride and prestige in the country.

Royal Air Morocco obviously has absolutely no respect for Islam
Moustapha Aramid

But this latest move threatens to exacerbate divisions in Morocco.

Workers say that they have been banned from praying at work and that a number of prayer rooms have been closed and that they are forbidden from going to the mosque during work hours.

The company would not give an interview but issued a statement saying that while there is no official ban on praying, they had to do something to stop people taking lengthy breaks away from work.

But critics say the issue of praying, like the veil, is part of a more sinister move to rob the country of its Islamic roots.


"I feel very angry about this decision," says Moustapha Aramid from the Islamic Party for Justice and Development.

"Moroccans have had their liberty and their religious freedom taken away from them. It is very damaging. Royal Air Morocco obviously has absolutely no respect for Islam."

Analysts say the ban on prayers is really a political move aimed at stamping out radical Islamism.

When an alleged terrorist cell - Ansar el-Mehdi - was broken up earlier this year - two of the suspects charged were the wives of two Royal Air Morocco pilots.

There is a feeling that the company had to do something to respond.

Other complaints from airline staff are that pilots and stewards were not allowed to fast during the month of Ramadan and that female staff are not allowed to wear the veil - although that has been an unwritten rule at many companies for several years.

These issues are becoming a focal point for some very hard questions being asked of this moderate Arabic country - something that is causing serious friction between liberals and traditionalists.

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