Positive masculinity and LGBT rights in Morocco

Sex and gender equality is part of a global mobilization today. In Morocco as elsewhere, activists are fighting to bring about a fairer society, in which sexuality is no longer lived in fear.

Researcher in molecular biology at Hassan University II from Casablanca, Soufiane Hennani campaigns for gender equality, sexual freedom and human rights LGBT in Morocco. Laurat of the social change program of the Arab Foundation For Freedom and Equality in 2019, he co-founded the Elille collective for the promotion of sexual diversity and gender plurality through art and culture. In 2020, he also created the podcast Machi Rojolaan alternative platform to question and rethink masculinities in Morocco.

Shooting & editing: Ariel Suhamy

Interview transcript

The Life of Ideas: What the podcast is about Machi Rojola?

Soufiane Hennani: The podcast Machi Rojolawhich literally means This is not masculinity, aims to rethink and question masculinities in Morocco, with the aim of promoting positive masculinities. The idea is to free speech on masculinities and to see how they can be united today, that is to say how men can become allies of women, in Morocco and elsewhere.

In the podcast, we address all subjects linked to masculinities, particularly in religion, in Islam, in cinema, in public space, but also the mental health of men, therefore all subjects which concern men in Moroccan society. Beyond that, we also address issues of gender, sexuality, individual freedom, sexual health, in French and Arabic. The podcast is popular in Morocco, but also in France, Tunisia, Algeria and other countries in the Arab world.

The Life of Ideas: Can you look back on your intellectual and political journey since Arab Spring?

Soufiane Hennani: The work that I carry out on masculinities is very linked to my journey as an activist, which dates back twelve years now, more precisely to February 20, 2011. It was the time of what we called the arab revolutionswhich I prefer to call the Arab Spring and, here, the Democratic Moroccan Springwhich has its particularity.

The result of this Spring was the change of the Constitution in Morocco, in a spirit of equality and social justice. Unfortunately, the spirit of this Constitution has not been translated into laws in favor of individual freedoms and social justice. At that time, many young people, including myself, decided to mobilize to modify the liberticidal articles of the Moroccan Penal Code.

There is also my commitment to associations fighting against AIDS. At the time, I learned that 70% of women living with HIV caught it through their husband, without knowing it. This figure really appeals to me. It was at that moment that I asked myself how men could get involved to change things.

The Life of Ideas: Many men fear damaging their masculinity if they question it. From then on, they force themselves to deny a good part of their emotional life, cry, love, confide, etc. All they have left is anger and violence. Do these attitudes define two masculinities, one positive, the other toxic??

Soufiane Hennani: In my podcast, I look for a definition. I am going to see people, citizens, intellectuals, artists, philosophies, sociologists, to have this discussion and construct a double definition of positive masculinity and toxic masculinity.

Today, after three years of podcasting, the definition that I find most relevant is that positive masculinity is a masculinity where men are capable of expressing their emotions, are not afraid of being judged, are capable of expressing love in their relationship, but also for the other men in their lives, fathers, brothers, friends, as well as for women, a love that would not be based on domination.

Conversely, toxic masculinity is based on anger, the distance between what we are and what we feel. In this case, we do not have the right to be sad, to be afraid, to cry, to express what we feel, to speak from our heart. The more we introduce distance from our emotions, the more we create toxic masculinity.

The Life of Ideas: In his investigation Sex and lies. Sex life in Morocco (Les Arnes, 2021)Lela Slimani gives the voice of humiliated women, devalued compared to their brothers, considered as jewels to be protected, even imprisoned for their own good; women fitnah (temptress) or awrah (illicit in view), but delivered to the violence and sexual egotism of men. Does this portrait seem fair to you??

Soufiane Hennani: His book is very faithful. It perfectly represents the experiences of women, who often live in vulnerability. Lela Slimani succeeded in lifting the veil on this experience, but especially for a non-Moroccan audience. Because in Morocco, even if we don't talk about it much, all Moroccans and all Moroccan women find themselves in this book. Everyone has a classmate, a sister, an aunt, a neighbor who has experienced this, and that is why the book is very important as a documentation tool, but also as a testimony to the commitment of activists.

It is also important to discover the work of Lela Slimani, which she later led in her trilogy with Watch us dance And The Land of Others. These are books that trace the history and evolution of Morocco, and how we are where we are today. There are also the books of all the other writers who write about Morocco, like Abdellah Taa among others.

What makes me sad in Morocco, what makes me legitimately angry, is to see that, in public space, we accept and tolerate violence. There are people who will not be shocked to see a man hit or assault a woman, but they will be scandalized to see two boys or two girls, young and beautiful, expressing love in a public space. This tells us a lot about what is happening in Morocco, to what extent we can accept relationships based on violence and refuse relationships based on love which do not bother anyone.

The Life of Ideas: The Moroccan Penal Code contains discriminatory articles in matters of inheritance or sexuality. Can you tell us about it??

Soufiane Hennani: In the Penal Code, there are repressive articles which criminalize some of the individual and collective freedoms of Moroccans. These are articles which date from 1913, the time of the French protectorate, but they continue to be applied in Morocco today.

I will cite article 222, which criminalizes breaking the fast during the month of Ramadan. There are also articles 489 to 491, which respectively criminalize sexual relations between two people of the same sex, heterosexual relations outside marriage and adultery. What is very unfair in these articles, and even horrible, is that they hit the poor, the most vulnerable people, much harder.

Even if the laws do not change, people's experiences change. So, it is not because there are these laws that people do not have sexual relations outside of marriage, do not have a sexual life when they are homosexual, do not commit adultery. These articles therefore do not prevent Moroccans from benefiting from their freedom, but they push them all to live a lie and have a double life: to say publicly that it does not exist, but to take advantage of these freedoms in their private life.

The Life of Ideas: Can we say that Moroccan society, in fact, tolerates all sexualities??

Soufiane Hennani: The problem is that this sex life is lived in fear, a fear of being stopped all the time. There is also the fact that these laws date from another time. They are today exploited by conservatives and Islamists. Unfortunately, mentalities change, but the laws do not want to change.

Heterosexuals and homosexuals have this in common: they live a sexual life in fear, that is to say, they have to hide to enjoy their freedom. Not to the same degree actually, because, when you are homosexual, there is also shame. We are doubly judged, by the law and by the eyes of society. It is also the same thing for heterosexual women, whereas a heterosexual man who has a sex life outside of marriage remains accepted, tolerated, forgiven by society.

The absurdity of the ban on sexual life in Morocco is also the fact that it is based on injustice, an injustice which is also economic. When you are rich, when you go to a five-star hotel, even if you are homosexual, even if you have a sexual relationship outside of marriage, no one will come to pick you up, whereas if you are poor Let's take the example of two boys aged 17- 18 year olds who love each other, but who don't have the right to have a loving space for themselves: they go to the beach, they kiss each other, and there you have the cops who come to arrest them, humiliate them, sometimes even force them to pay a fine .

The Life of Ideas: The fight for people's rights LGBT is part of democratic struggles. How does it work in Morocco?

Soufiane Hennani: For me, as an activist, this fight is linked to my commitment to positive masculinity, gender equality and sexual diversity, for the simple reason that this fight has long been abandoned in Morocco. There was a shame campaigning for people's rights LGBT. I assume that today I cannot be ashamed of this, and I do not want to be ashamed of this. Those who should be ashamed are the homophobes, the people who believe in human rights, but not in the rights of individuals LGBTQIA+.

In Morocco, there is a community that is increasingly mobilizing, with very strong commitments: they are campaigning for their rights, but also for the rights of women and children and the right to social justice. There is something being created, despite the existence of a law which still criminalizes sexual relations between people of the same sex. People are free to speak LGBTQIA+ speak. They are no longer ashamed, no longer afraid, and they are connected to what is happening in the world. There is, on the subject, an international, global and universal mobilization. In Morocco too, individuals are taking part in this fight for the emancipation and liberation of people LGBTQIA+.