Singer Lamjarred case reopens Morocco violence against women debate

Morocco flag. (iStock)
Morocco flag. (iStock)

Still adored at home despite three separate rape charges in France, Moroccan pop star Saad Lamjarred's latest arrest has reignited a debate on violence against women in the North African kingdom.

Following similar accusations in October 2016 and April 2017, Lamjarred was re-arrested last week in southern France on charges he had raped a woman in a Riviera hotel.

The superstar's detention comes just days after Morocco was rocked by claims from a teenage girl, Khadija Okkarou, that she had been kidnapped and gang-raped by a group of men from her village.

Lamjarred's detention has sparked a social media campaign seeking to ban his songs from Morocco's airwaves using the hashtags #masaktach ("we will not be silenced") and #LamjarredOut.

But the push has done little to dampen the popularity of the 33-year-old singer, whose hit "Lmaallem" has been viewed more than 660 million times on YouTube.

"The case of Saad Lamjarred is a symbol that brings together everything connected to rape culture and impunity," said Laila Slassi, one of the campaign's initiators.

Despite the string of allegations against him, the singer's tunes have still been played on radio stations and Moroccan media have enthused over the release of his latest singles.

In August, he was prominently featured in a video of artists put out for the birthday of King Mohammed VI - who has helped cover the pop star's legal fees.

Lamjarred's fans remain convinced the singer, from a family of artists in the capital Rabat, is the target of a conspiracy and that his alleged victims seek to benefit from his fame.

 'Sympathy for the aggressor' 

"He's famous, good looking, so we support him... it's an emblematic case of sympathy for the aggressor in a society where we always find excuses for men," psychologist Sanaa El Aji, a specialist in gender issues, told AFP.

Slassi said the media was "promoting a man accused of sexual violence" instead of role models.

Under pressure, Morocco's Radio 2M has pulled Lamjarred from its airwaves, saying it "no longer promotes (the singer) since the case is in the hands of the judiciary".

But Hit Radio, the kingdom's most popular, was less clear about its stance.

The station's head Younes Boumehdi initially said he would not broadcast the superstar's hits, but quickly added the measure would only last until "things calm down".

An on-air poll showed 68% of Hit Radio's audience wanted to continue listening to the star, regardless of the charges.

Ultra-famous in the Arab world, Lamjarred "is still among the most popular on YouTube, and for many of his fans he will remain an icon, even if he is sentenced", Boumehdi told AFP.

The case has sparked "a lot of emotion because Saad Lamjarred has the image of a modern man with a new message," he said.

Radio Chada FM, which claims to be a leader in Morocco's arts and music scenes, said it would not take Lamjarred off the air "until he has been tried, in the name of the presumption of innocence".

But not everyone agrees.

"His song lyrics glorify male domination among couples... and the submission of the woman," business leader Mehdi Alami wrote in a post shared widely on social media.

 'Main culprit' 

"It amounts to discrediting the word of women," said rights activist Betty Lachgar.

Many like Lachgar have drawn comparisons between the #masaktach campaign and the global #metoo movement against sexual harassment.

But in Morocco, "most people don't believe in this type of thinking, (for them), the harassers are the victims", said El Aji.

Campaign organiser Slassi says the #masaktach movement gained momentum after the "Khadija affair".

The 17-year-old was at the centre of a storm last month after she accused a group of men from her village in central Morocco of having kidnapped, raped and tortured her over a two-month period.

Her 12 assailants have confessed to having imprisoned and raped her, and of threatening her with death, according to her lawyers.

"But for many, she remains the main culprit," said Laila.

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