Morocco: Morocco boosts women's rights

The Guardian
Morocco has approved one of the most progressive laws on women's and family rights in the Arab world, which will see polygamy almost completely eradicated from the north African country.
Last-ditch attempts by Islamist deputies in the Rabat parliament failed to derail a law which had the backing of King Mohammed VI.
"There are men who, for physical reasons, cannot satisfy themselves with only one wife," one Islamist deputy was reported as arguing during a month of parliamentary debate that ended at the weekend.

"In that case they should seek treatment," the religious affairs minister, Ahmed Toufiq, reportedly replied.

The changes to the "mudawana" family code make polygamy acceptable only in rare circumstances, and only with the permission of a judge and a man's first wife.

They also raise the age of marriage for girls from 15 to 18 and give wives "joint responsibility" with their husbands in family matters.

"This is a crucial stage in the changes Morocco is experiencing at the constitutional, democratic, social and human rights level," the justice minister, Mohammed Bouzoubaa, said.

The change to the family code came nine months after a resurgence of radical Islamist violence, with suicide attacks claiming the lives of 41 people in Casablanca.

King Mohammed delayed instituting the reform after Islamists brought hundreds of thousands of people out on to the streets to protest at any change to the mudawana.

Islamists have now accused the king of bowing to pressure from Europe and the US.

"These reforms have been elaborated in response to the desires of foreigners and the feminist movement, but not to produce any real change in women's lives," said Nadia Yassin, spokeswoman for Morocco's popular, but illegal, Justice and Charity Islamist movement.

Moroccan traditionalists had claimed that, without polygamy, some men might find it difficult to stay with an elderly wife. Critics from the other side pointed out that, with 85% illiteracy among women in rural areas, many would never find out about their new rights.

Observers said that within the Arab world only Tunisian women now enjoyed equal or better rights than their Moroccan counterparts.

King Mohammed, whose titles include that of "commander of the faithful", is considered to have religious, as well as political, authority over his subjects.