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Cablegate: Women's Rights Advancing As Islamist Appeal Wanes

VZCZCXRO2555
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHCL #0213/01 3340943
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 300943Z NOV 09
FM AMCONSUL CASABLANCA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8560
INFO RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT 0001
RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0731
RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID 3912

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CASABLANCA 000213

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

STATE FOR NEA, DRL/NESCA, NEA/PI, AND NEA/MAG
COMMERCE FOR NATHANIEL MASON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON PGOV PHUM KWMN SOCI MO
SUBJECT: WOMEN'S RIGHTS ADVANCING AS ISLAMIST APPEAL WANES

REF: CASABLANCA 163

1. SUMMARY: On November 22, the Ambassador-at-Large for Global
Women's Issues, Melanne Verveer, met with Morocco's most prominent
women policy makers, civil activists, journalists, and CEOs in
Casablanca. Some of the country's leading women were highly
critical of the Islamist-oriented Party of Justice and Development
(PJD), and some praised Fouad El Himma's Party of Authenticity and
Modernity (PAM) for reinvigorating the country's political scene and
the national debate on women's rights in Morocco. All of the women
applauded the King for breaking the logjam of conservative
resistance to promote the advancement of women's rights. In a
meeting earlier in the day, the MFA's point person on the Forum for
the Future, Ambassador Amrani, reiterated Morocco's willingness to
host the Gender Institute, an offer Ambassador Verveer welcomed.
End Summary.

---------------------
The Islamist Obstacle
---------------------

2. (SBU) Morocco's most prominent female policy makers, civil
activists, journalists, and CEOs told Ambassador Verveer and Consul
General Millard that gender discrimination did not constitute a
major obstacle for women legally, but does exist in society. Most
posited that the Islamist-oriented Party of Justice and Development
was the biggest obstacle in the advancement of women's rights in
Morocco. "The PJD has put up socio-political barriers that deter
the progress of women", said Nadia Lamlili, one of CNN's African
journalists of the year.

3. (SBU) "Unfortunately, the Islamic and secular groups are divided
by religious convictions that make it nearly impossible for them to
work together, weakening the drive for gender equality in Morocco,"
confided Bouthanya Houssaini, a Member of Parliament. Dismissing
claims made by Islamist politicians that Islam is the basis for
women's rights, Latifa Jbabdi, another Member of Parliament who was
a leader in the struggle for Morocco's 2004 Family Code reform,
critiqued deficiencies in the Family Code, specifically the
provision in the law, introduced by Islamist lawmakers, which allows
judges to grant exceptions to the legal age of marriage, 18. Jbabdi
said the loophole has created a significant increase in underage
marriage in Morocco's more conservative rural areas, with 13,000
exceptions given since the inception of the Family Code.

4. (SBU) Aicha Ech-Chenna, the founder of Association Solidarite
Feminine (ASF), an NGO providing services in Casablanca to help
unwed women with children gain the knowledge and skills necessary to
ensure their own livelihoods and the recent recipient of a
million-dollar grant from the Minnesota Opus Prize Foundation, told
Ambassador Verveer that she had been chastised by Islamists like
those in the PJD for her work with single mothers. Aicha explained
that the conservative critics accuse ASF of "promoting promiscuity"
and "harboring prostitutes," motivated by a fear that ASF's actions
will open the door to more radical ideologies of the West.
Demonstrating the reach of this opposition, ASF Director Hafida
Elbaz told Ambassador Verveer during a visit to ASF earlier in the
day that many Moroccan businesses were reluctant to advertise their
collaboration with, and financial support for, ASF due to the social
stigma and implications of such a partnership, although business
support from international companies, such as Proctor & Gamble, has
increased.

-------------------
The El Himma Factor
-------------------

5. (SBU) Despite the strength of these conservative viewpoints on
social issues, Ambassador Verveer's interlocutors all agreed that
the Islamist political appeal has dwindled in the last year. "The
PJD is losing ground in Morocco's political scene," opined Asma
Chaabi, the country's first-ever elected female mayor from
Essaouira. Explaining this decline, the country's female leaders
said former Interior Minister Fouad El Himma's new Party of
Authenticity and Modernity (PAM) has proven an effective secular
alternative to the PJD, but with an additional objective of
promoting gender equity. "El Himma is someone who really listens
and is attuned to the needs of Moroccan women," said Ech-Chenna. A
sophisticated grassroots mobilization and carefully selected
candidates propelled the PAM forward in this year's communal
election, and PAM's emphasis on transparency and effective
governance has poached voters who had previously supported the PJD
for its reputation for honesty and competency. Bouthayna assessed
that PAM's success has altered the political climate in the
Parliament, and she has never been more excited to be a
Parliamentarian.

CASABLANCA 00000213 002 OF 002

----------------
The Ladies' King
----------------

6. (SBU) Advances in women's rights are due not only to Morocco's
home-grown women's movement, but also and perhaps more importantly
to the leadership of King Mohamed VI. Using both his secular and
religious authority to break the logjam of resistance from
conservative and religious factions of society, the King carried the
burden of the Moudawana (New Family Code) on his shoulders, said
Ech-Chenna. Nevertheless, participants cautioned, the King can only
move society so far. If women want to see continued advancements
they will need to fight for it again and again, Jbabdi told us.

7. (SBU) While obstacles to gender equality certainly remain, Hynd
Bouhia, the Harvard Ph.D. former director of the Casablanca Stock
Exchange, maintained that Morocco's social renaissance is genuine.
She noted that Moroccan women educated abroad are returning home to
take up roles in growing Moroccan businesses. Unlike other
countries in the Middle East, women face no legal requirements such
as the need to obtain the husband's permission in order to travel or
start a business. Gender equity issues in the workplace still
exist, Bouthayna argued, but they have not prevented women from
succeeding.

--------------------
The Gender Institute
--------------------

8. (SBU) In a separate meeting earlier in the day, Ambassador
Youssef Amrani, the MFA's point person on the Forum for the Future
(FfF), told Ambassador Verveer that Morocco was prepared to host the
Gender Institute if the U.S. supports the role. The Gender Institute
was announced by the Secretary during her recent visit to Marrakesh
for the FfF, an offer Ambassador Verveer welcomed.

-------
Comment
-------

9. (SBU) Morocco's cumulative successes in women's rights, societal
liberalization, and political reforms, extensively documented in
U.S. Mission reporting over the years, make the Kingdom an ideal
host for the Gender Institute. The well-entrenched and growing
social support for these reform measures, and the demonstrable
commitment of Morocco's King, suggest that Morocco will continue to
be a leader among Muslim majority countries in supporting full
women's equality and civic participation, an example to other
nations, and a long-term partner of the U.S. End Comment.

10. (SBU) Ambassador Verveer cleared this cable.


MILLARD

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