By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 1/31/2005 | 6:53 pm
Rabat---Thousands of 'Islamists' took to the streets, yesterday in Rabat, in support of Attajdid newspaper, which is close to Morocco's moderate Islamic Justice and Development Party (PJD). The newspaper had called the Tsunami's disaster "an act of divine retribution" for South-East Asia's sex-tourism industry.
The paper also outraged 'moderates' by implying that Morocco risked the same fate because of a growth of prostitution and sex tourism in the kingdom, a phenomenon it described as a "calamity".
Abdelilah Benkirane, the newspaper's director said the article represented the personal opinion of its author and added that the comments had been taken out of context.
Attajdid has since published another justification of its stance. It said: "We believe, as all Muslims always have, that earthquakes and disasters depend on the will of God. We are surprised that people who think in this way have their right to free expression scorned.''
On his part, Mustapha Rmid, a member of the PJD party, told Morocco Times that this sit-in is “a coward dirty game”
Human-rights groups and political parties, on the other hand, strongly condemned the comments about the tsunami.
The Association for Combating Hatred and Racism said that “the article was an insult not only to the victims of the tsunami but to all human beings and proved that "fundamentalism is the natural father of terrorism."
Souad El Khamal, president of the association of May 16 victims, also denounced what she called “terrorist thought”. She added that “this kind of thought is what prepared the ground for the May 16 terrorist attacks in 2003, which killed more than 40 people.”
“The difference between the pre-May 16 attacks and now is that people did not talk about these ideas. Now people say with loud voice no to terrorism,” said El Khamal, who lost both her husband and son in the May 16 attacks.
Faouzia El Aasouli, also from the association against racism and terrorism, told Morocco Times that they will soon organize a conference, where they will announce the creation of a coordination committee to fight against all forms of fundamentalist thought”
“Moroccans, through this sit-in, proved again that they are against all forms of racism and terrorism,” said El Aasouli, insisting that “Morocco is a land of tolerance, democracy and diversity.”
Chabiba Ittihadia”, youth section of the Socialist Union of Popular forces (USFP/socialist party in government), also said “it disapproves this shameful journalistic handling and the despise it shows for thousands of victims, as well as the attitude that is based on non-scientific reasons".
Protesters held hundreds of banners citing contradictory slogans. Some denounce the “fundamentalist thought”; others defended the newspaper's right to express its views.
Controversial sit-ins in response to intense public debate, did not take place in Morocco since the 2000 demonstrations for and against the national plan for the integration of women into development, which served as a basis to the adoption of the 2004 family Code.
The article of Attajdid has been condemned on Moroccan television 2M and has prompted calls for censorship of the press.
The PJD said about 5,000 people joined a demonstration supporting Attajdid after the comments were condemned on Moroccan television.
Saad Eddine El Othmani, the PJD's Secretary General, was absent in yesterday's demonstration. Observers say that by not attending the sit-in, El Othmani want to send a clear message to officials and the public opinion that the PJD is not concerned with the problem, and that it only concerns the newspaper who wrote the story.
The toll of dead and missing from the Dec. 26 tsunami, triggered by a massive earthquake beneath the Indian Ocean, has risen to more than 298,000, according to figures collated from governments and health officials.
Tsunami still sparks tension, as the Tsunami-ravaged countries at a two day conference in Thailand, held last weekend, failed to resolve differences over which one should host a disaster warning centre. They, instead, decided to set up smaller facilities in several countries to help prevent future catastrophes.