Moroccan women banned in Saudi Arabia

Saudi ban on Moroccan women is a stereotype too far

In banning Moroccan women from a pilgrimage in case they are prostitutes, Saudi Arabia is failing in its Islamic duties

We all like to stereotype. Whether it’s about different regions in a country or other countries, we all indulge in a bit of reductionism and comic typecasting. The British laugh at the French, Europeans poke fun at Americans and it is all reciprocated in (mostly) harmless badinage.

In the Arab world, we have our memes too: the Sudanese are lazy, the Egyptians are jokers, the Lebanese are flamboyant, etc. Arabic TV is replete with comedy shows that paint wide brush-strokes (in some cases, quite literally, as actors are “blacked up” to act the roles of African Arabs) at the expense of different Arab nationalities.

Although this sometimes crosses the line firmly into the territory of the distasteful (it’s not a very politically correct environment in general), it is usually accepted in good humour. The region is very much still in the Mind Your Language phase.

Recently, however, two Gulf countries – Kuwait and Saudi Arabia – have provoked Morocco’s ire. The Kuwaiti channel, al-Watan, has apologised to Moroccans for the animated comedy series Bu Qatada and Bu Nabeel, which sparked outrage for its improper depiction of Moroccan women as scheming witches plotting to ensnare rich Kuwaiti husbands by casting spells on them.

Last month, in another, rather under-reported incident, Saudi Arabia banned Moroccan women “of a certain age” from umra (the lesser pilgrimage), for fear they would abuse theirs visas “for other purposes” even when they are accompanied by male relatives.

This is a reference to an underground sex industry that is believed to be staffed by Arab women smuggled in from the Maghreb and north Africa. Short of calling all Moroccan women prostitutes and their men pimps, there is little more that could have been done to summarily insult the nation. The implication that Moroccans will exploit a visa for a sacred religious ritual to trade and facilitate sexual favours only serves to rub more salt into the wound.

The francophone Maghreb, especially Morocco, is stereotyped by wealthier and more outwardly conservative Arab nations as louche in cultural disposition and morally lax through poverty.

Morocco, of course, is a popular destination for Gulf tourists – ostensibly because it is perceived to be morally lax and poor enough to accommodate demands that would not be met elsewhere. In 2007, in order to regulate marriages, a law was passed in Morocco obliging married Saudi men to have notified their Saudi wives first before entering into marriage with Moroccan women. These local second wives usually acquire demi-monde status as their husbands then abandon them, only returning for conjugal visits.

Instead of diverting resources to investigate and tackle the problem within Saudi Arabia, the blame and responsibility for the problem has been placed squarely on the shoulders of Moroccan women. This, if I may indulge in a little generalisation myself, is a characteristic way of dealing with issues that touch on morality. Sweep under the carpet, blame the other, and if all else fails, ban something.

Moroccan political parties have entreated parliament to intervene. Leaving aside the effrontery, Saudi Arabia has a duty to facilitate pilgrimages to Mecca for all Muslims worldwide. I would therefore suggest, in order to mitigate the problem and in the spirit of slanderous generalisation, that Saudi men be banned from Morocco, lest they use their tourist visas for “other purposes”.

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