Presentation of Nadia Yassine at Harvard University

Legal Reform in Morocco
Views of a Moroccan Feminist Dissident

By Nadia Yassine
Harvard Law School – Friday, April 14, 2006


Yassine continues her dialogue after her talk at Harvard University

In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful,

The term Mudawwana means etymologically a compilation of legal texts that refer in principle to the Islamic law. It corresponds to the law on personal status, that is, the law applicable to the Moroccan subject in matters such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. The code was promulgated in 1957 when “independent” Morocco was setting up a corpus of legal texts that any modern State required.

The first reforms took place in 1993 with regard to the status of the woman, which was the barometer and major criterion of any upgrading required by the standards of international politics. Such reforms will remain, however, mitigated until 2004.

The 2004 reforms took place after a hot national debate over the “Plan of Integrating Women into Development”, a plan that had been concocted in international institutions. In the year 2000, two demonstrations symbolized the two existing political trends in Morocco. The first trend, which is branded as Islamist, marched in Casablanca in a huge demonstration whose major organizing body was our movement, Justice and Spirituality Association (JSA). The other trend, which marched in the capital Rabat, is a movement that identifies itself to the civil society and pretends to be democratic and modernist.

The national press (apart from the weekly magazine Le Journal Hebdomadaire and a small level-headed minority that made an effort to understand the situation) soon launched a hostile campaign of denigration against the Islamist trend since most of the press organs in Morocco belong to political parties and since the Islamists are regarded as fearsome political adversaries. The international press influenced by the prevailing Islamophobia and the lack of understanding of what goes on on the ground reported the following ready-made cliché: The reactionaries, the woman’s backward enemies have demonstrated in Casablanca. The democrats, the woman’s progressist friends have marched in Rabat

If it is easy for any research worker to find such dichotomic approaches, it is very important for us today to present things in their much more complicated context. Indeed, the future of any dialog between people and nations depends upon the existence of such spaces of dissidence and free opinion as universities as well as speeches that are not influenced by the media racket. In view of the limited time we have, let us ask some direct questions so that the answers may be as clear as possible.

Why did we demonstrate in Casablanca on March 12, 2000?

First of all, it is important to underline that, contrary to the PJD movement (the Party for Justice and Development), which was a minority group in the demonstration, our claims had nothing to do with the Mudawwana, that is the Family Code. Our message was not at all religious. It was one hundred percent political. The amendment of the Mudawwana is nothing but a small section of that plan nicely called “The National Plan for Integrating Women in Development”, but which is in fact an international plan concocted in different conferences held in Nairobi, Copenhagen, Cairo, and lastly Beijing. Such plan comes within the framework of a desire by the North to dominate the South through setting up a standard model for the world in order to facilitate a better cultural domination of nations. It is a plan that the informed observers ascribe to that famous war of cradles, a war that is nothing but a facet of the clash of civilizations.

Are we against amending the Mudawwana?

Not only do we fully subscribe to changing the Mudawwana, but I was actually the first one to break the taboo and state publicly in the national press in the 90s that the Mudawwana was not a sacred text. Even the feminist activists of the Left did not dare to say so because this very Mudawwana is organically linked to the nature of the regime that is autocratic and therefore patriarchal. Calling into question the Mudawwana meant calling into question the sacred nature of a political system that establishes its legitimacy on a particular reading of Islam…Calling into question this Mudawwana meant that the disastrous status of the woman that is defended by this Mudawwana had nothing to do with the original texts (that is, the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Tradition.) It was rather the mere product of a political trend that wanted to keep the society entirely padlocked, especially as far as the family is concerned. Why? Because the family is the basic social nucleus that either produces minds that are free and outspoken, or minds that are fashioned to yield to the will of dictators. Therefore, the series ofMudawwanas represent for us the image of the ruling autocracy.

The second idea that is very important is that the regime in power would have never touched this Mudawwana had it known that our movement stood in opposition to its reform. It was clear for the regime that we did not oppose the reform of theMudawwana. We nonetheless had many reproaches with regard to the feasible and practical nature of such amendments. Our reservations, here too, were political, not religious.

Are we against integrating the woman in development?

It is very important to underline that we are a societal movement that bases its activity on a constant Ijtihad (by Ijtihad I mean the intellectual effort of adapting the sacred texts to the ever-changing context) and that we have a basic theory that advocates the vital need to promote and develop the status of women. We do more than just speak. We have successfully overcome the most cumbersome taboos in the Muslim world. By the way, if I am one of the spokespersons of the Justice and Spirituality Association, it is not by mere chance. That only reflects a real determination to change a society that is patriarchal, autocratic, and male chauvinist into a society of justice and spirituality where women may find not only a place, but a prime place so that our societies may progress. It is very important to note that in our movement, we have 30% of women in all the national institutions even though we carefully avoid to impose a system of quotas.

I would also like to tell you that we have a feminine section that is one of the most active and dynamic institutions of our movement and that enjoys complete independence in its choices, programs, and actions.

What is then the basic message that we wanted to transmit in that demonstration?

In reply to this question, I would like to say that I made a declaration that may have seemed ambiguous to the national press on that day, but which in fact reflects the much more complicated nature of our standpoint. They asked me: what do you think of the women who demonstrate in Rabat? I said: my thoughts are with them, but politically I have to march in Casablanca. In other words, I agree with them that we should reform the Mudawwana but I disagree with them on the method to make this reform.

Our message was the following: We are not only for amending the status of women; we are changing such status in real life. In this regard, we invite whoever has doubts to come and see what our feminine section is worth. We just want to say that we are for liberating the woman, but not at the price of alienating our people to national and internal policies that seek none but their own interests. We have a basic theory which was devised a quarter of century ago and whose proposals concerning the status of women are well ahead of the Mudawwana’s advocated reforms.

Now, I leave room to the questions of the audience so that we may broach in much more details certain issues concerning theMudawwana.
Thank you.

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