Jennifer Lopez’s bottom exposes cultural rift in Morocco

 J-Lo's performing at Morocco's Mawazine musical festival. 

J-Lo's performing at Morocco's Mawazine musical festival. 

J-Lo’s risqué opening act at Morocco’s Mawazine music festival did not simply offend religious sensitivities in the Muslim country. But it also put a minister’s job at risk and exposed the ongoing struggle between the country’s Islamist-led government and the ‘Makhzen’- the term used to describe King Mohammed VI and his Francophone entourage.

Pictures and videos of the scantily-clad Lopez backed by an array of dancers in skimpy attire filled Twitter and Moroccan news websites, causing mostly shock in this conservative Islamic country.

The performance made a bigger bang because it was broadcast on the 2M public TV network and appears to have offended many viewers. 2M is part of the Makhzen, considered by some to be its media arm.

Al-Moukhils Lil Watan wrote on Facebook “Lopez’s bottom costs Moroccans 1.3bln centimes (US$1.3 million).”

Adil Semmar @adiloss tweeted “Everybody is lost….they wonder who is the shark behind J-Lo’s bottom; the only problem in this country is Lopez’s bottom. For Heaven’s sake.”

The timing of the public TV broadcasting is also awkward as it came only a few days after the government led by the Islamist Justice and Development Party banned a film by a Moroccan director about the problem of prostitution in the kingdom through the eyes of four women.

At the centre of the two storms—both essentially about what constitutes Moroccan cultural identity--is Minister of Communication and government spokesman Mustapha El Khalfi.

His ministry is behind the ban on the film “Much Loved” and has a role overseeing Morocco’s broadcasters and media.

Minister El Khalfi is being attacked from both sides, caught between his ruling party’s fellow Islamists and liberals incensed by the ban on the film. With the J-Lo storm El Khalfi’s party, its voters and supporters, are now calling for something the liberals have demanded in the past- his resignation.

In announcing the ban of the screening of the “Much Loved” film, the ministry said the film “undermines the moral values and dignity of Moroccan women and the image of Morocco.”

To El Khalfi’s Islamist detractors, his reaction—expressed on Facebook— is seen as plain wrong on several levels. First, Facebook is held to be the wrong place for such comments. Next, El Khalfi condemns the broadcast of the J-Lo performance but not the fact of the performance itself. Finally, the terms he uses to condemn J-Lo are very mild in comparison to the overcharged terms used to justify the ban.

“What was broadcast was unacceptable and in contravention of the law regulating audio-visual communications and the reform plan [for public broadcasters],” wrote El Khalfi, pledging to raise the issue in “correspondences” with the audiovisual authority and 2M’s media ethics committee.

This post drew a deluge of comments reflecting mostly angry reactions to the performance and many calls for his resignation and for the closure of 2M and a boycott of the Mawazine festival.

A Moroccan man, Youssef Bader, laid the blame on 2M, echoing Islamists’ accusation that the channel promotes Francophone culture in Morocco—a former French colony, which France is striving to keep within its sphere of influence.

“I know that the government does not control public broadcasters and that 2M is playing a filthy game: embarrassing Islamists while having an agenda against anything moral or has to do with Islam,” Bader wrote.

“I hope there will be an end to this farce by sacking stubborn [2M] managers who entered into an open struggle with the Justice and Development Party,” he added.

Foremost among these managers is Samira Stail, the French-Moroccan powerful 2M executive, known for her anti-Islamist stance and her close ties to the Makhzen.

 Samira Stail, the powerful 2M TV executive.

Samira Stail, the powerful 2M TV executive.

“Samira Stail wields more power than a minister in Morocco,” Lhacen Nasr wrote on Facebook.

El Khalfi got a similar response from Aya Amansour who wrote:

“Samira Stail is the real power wielder over the media sector. You are merely a public officer working for her.”

Lopez’s steamy act reignited the debate about the high profile Mawazine festival and the “millions” spent on the event that brings some of the Western world’s A-list pop stars to the country.

In a long post on Facebook, a Moroccan man, Adil Ovic, addressed J-Lo, describing the extent of poverty and deprivation in Morocco.

“The homeland is suffering; the media violated the sanctity of our homes….and you stole our money. You came to the festival and others like Shakira will come too….I will always love my homeland, its poor, its beggars and children whose bodies are chilled by the extreme cold…Your body did not give any warmth and your bottom any food.”

J-Lo’s storm also brings Moroccan businessman Mounir Majidi back in the limelight, being the president of Maroc Culture, the organisation behind Mawazine, an annual event declared to be under the high patronage of King Mohammed VI. It is no coincidence that Majidi is the king’s personal secretary; hence part of the Makhzen, some consider him one of its key players.

Ordinary Moroccans still have faith in the king to deliver them from the Francophone Makhzen.

 King Mohammed VI. 

King Mohammed VI. 

Mohamed Nid-youss wrote on Facebook:

“To the Commander of the Faithful, His Majesty King Mohammed VI…as the protector of the faith…we tell you that the Moroccan people ask you to protect them from the successive attacks on their values, faith and identity. The last such attack was the opening act at the Mawazine festival--an act of debauchery and a blatant provocation of the people. It is a provocative act that was broadcast forcibly in a media outlet owned by the people and tax payers.”

“Your Majesty, people don’t want to see the lobby of debauchery and limping modernity conceal itself behind your high patronage of the festival to spread its cancerous influence and to act in your name to undermine the Islamic faith and its values.”

“People want you to rid the media of the modernist Francophone domination.”

“Your Majesty, people want you to trust and encourage forces of real reform….They want to see among your entourage trustworthy people with integrity who could convey to you people’s suffering and aspirations.”

Another appeal to the king was made by Amal Janahi on Twitter. 

 "An Appeal to our beloved King Mohammed VI. Many Moroccans--the sick, the poor and the unemployed--need the Mawazine festival's budget. The government should wake up."