Morocco’s Ruling Party Divided over Female MP Taking off Hijab in Paris

PJD representative Amina Maelainine

Did Amina Maelainine have the right to drop her veil while in Paris? What are the implications of her act for her political party? And should the MP be ousted for a choice of attire that most people in the party’s Islamist platform find inconsistent with what they should stand for?

These are some of the questions fusing a tense debate between different factions within the senior ranks of Morocco’s ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD).

In January, pictures went viral of Amina Maelainine, a female PJD MP, posing unveiled in front of well-known Parisian sites like the Moulin Rouge cabaret.

Maelainine vehemently denied the authenticity of the pictures, claiming that they were part of a “slanderous” campaign” from her political adversaries.

Faced with evidence, however, Maelainine later admitted that the pictures were real. But she urged people to separate her politics from her private life choices.

To oust or not to oust

The admission has since sparked controversies, both within the party and in the country’s conservative circles at large. The central fear is that cases such as Maelainine’s rob the Islamist party of its ethical and religious claims, the core of its politics and electorate.

Within the PJD, former prime minister and PJD mogul Abdelilah Benkirane, who rose to Maelainine’s defense at the outset of the controversy, remains to this day the MP’s most ardent supporter.

Having failed to convince the party leadership to accommodate Maelainine’s right to separate her political and personal convictions, Benkirane is now resorting to Islamic rhetoric to defend his protegee, Moroccan outlet Al Akhbar reported.

In an alleged letter to Morocco’s current head of government and PJD secretary general, Saad Eddine El Othmani, Benkirane pointed out that ousting Maelainine would not benefit the party’s image.

According to the newspaper, Benkirane argued that, should the PJD oust Maelainine, she will be left “helpless and defenseless at the mercy of her detractors and enemies,” who according to Benkirane happen to also be PJD’s ideological and political adversaries.

Benkirane purportedly argued that, as an Islamist party, the PJD should seize the Maelainine affair as an opportunity to illustrate its belief in compassion and forbearing as Islam preaches.

“You should always come to the rescue of your brethren, whether they be the oppressed or the oppressor,” the former PM said in the alleged letter.

He cited an Islamic hadith that encourages believers to practice sympathy and forgiveness, even toward those who may not deserve it.

Saving PJD’s image

El Othmani and human rights minister Mustapha Ramid have been among the harshest critics of Maelainine’s Paris pictures.

“The party’s commitment to its Islamic repository is an exercise and not an illusion, we must ensure that we are always attached to it,” El Othmani said in late January as the Maelainine controversy gained momentum.

Addressing accusations of “hypocrisy” that many critics were quick to level at the party, El Othmani expressed displeasure with Maelianine. He said, “We must set an example, especially those who are at the forefront of public opinion.”

Even harsher than El Othmani, Ramid has insistently called for the party to dismiss the “guilty” MP.

He suggested on multiple occasions that the PJD has its Islamist reputation and conscience to uphold in cases involving MPs with “two faces… whose clothes clash now with the principles on which they campaigned and were elected.”

The party has not yet reached a decision. But it remains to be seen whether Benkirane’s hadith-flavored plea will prevail over the PJD’s perceived determination to once and for all put to rest recurring criticism of hypocrisy and double standards.