Morocco: Trial opens for Islamist 'sex scandal' couple

Trial for two religious leaders found in "sexual position" adjourned until September 22 after couple failed to show up.

    The incident has triggered an old debate surrounding sexual freedoms in Morocco [Al Jazeera]
    The incident has triggered an old debate surrounding sexual freedoms in Morocco [Al Jazeera]

    The trial in Morocco of two Islamist figures in their 60s over an alleged "sex on the beach" incident has been adjourned after the couple failed to show up for the first hearing. 

    Court sources said a brief hearing was held in Benslimane on Thursday, south of the capital near the seaside town of Mohammedia, where the allegedly unmarried couple, Omar Benhammad, 63, and Fatima Nejjar, 62, were arrested on August 20.

    The trial opened in the absence of both accused, who submitted medical certificates, sources told Agence France-Presse, and was adjourned until September 22.

    Nejjar, a widow and mother of six, faces adultery charges, which on conviction can carry a prison term of between one month and a year, while Benhammad, who is married and a father of seven, stands accused of "attempted corruption" of the policemen who arrested the two. 

    Benhammad's legitimate wife has not pressed for adultery charges.

    Benhammad has argued in his defence that he and Nejjar have a common law marriage,  an undocumented marriage that is not recognised under Moroccan law.

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    The couple were both vice presidents of the Reform and Unity Movement (MUR), the religious wing of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), which has led a coalition governing the conservative Muslim kingdom since late 2011.

    They were both suspended from the MUR earlier this month after the two were found in a "sexual position" in a car on the beach.

    The MUR released a statement condemning the incident and accusing the two of committing an "extremely serious fault" that amounted to "a violation of the principles of the movement, its orientation and its values".

    The incident went viral on social media as users took to the internet to criticise what they believe to be the religious leaders' hypocrisy in their teachings regarding sexual freedoms and relations. 

    Marriage and Divorce in Morocco

    Nejjar, who has publicly called on young women in Morocco not to give in to "temptation and vice", has been ribbed on social media over the arrest.

    The sex scandal, among a list of other assorted accusations against the ruling PJD, comes just weeks before Morocco's parliamentary elections in October.

    While the party itself is keeping a low profile, its backers accuse opponents in parliament and the media of conjuring a slur campaign to damage PJD credibility ahead of the October general election.

    "It is an old practice to defame and discredit the other [party] in the fight for power," historian Maati Monbij told AFP.

    The PJD remains popular in the conservative country, despite limited success in tackling corruption, and is credited with lowering the budget deficit.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News and agencies


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