Equal inheritance still struggle in Morocco

While Tunisia gears up to become the first country in North Africa to achieve inheritance equality between men and women, the issue still stirs a nationwide controversy in Morocco.

al-monitor Moroccan women walk along a narrow street, Mohamadia, Morocco, April 28, 2018. Photo by REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal.

Dec 20, 2018

CASABLANCA, Morocco — Though Morocco has made some progress on the women's rights front, the subject of equal inheritance apparently has very little support from the general public. Nonetheless, the topic recently was raised before Morocco’s coalition government, headed by the Islamist Party of Justice and Development.

The Party of Progress and Socialism issued a statement Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, calling for equality in inheritance. This follows several efforts outside the legislature to raise awareness of the issue. In March, public personalities signed a petition seeking equal inheritance for women.

But the patriarchy is strong in Morocco.

In March, author Asmaa Lamrabet was forced to resign from the Rabita Mohammedia des Oulemas (Mohammadia League of Scholars), under pressure from other members for opposing inheritance discrimination against women. The league, one of the most influential religious organizations in Morocco, is empowered to promote Sharia, its values, teachings, preaching and respect for the principles of moderation.

She told Al-Monitor her effort to update religious texts "to keep pace with the global rapid modernization … angered other association members."

Lamrabet does not hide her disappointment. Her departure could have stirred a serious discussion of inheritance equality, but, she said, “My resignation rather sparked a futile debate instead of a constructive social debate. When the issue of equality in inheritance was raised, many denounced the idea, describing it as an insult to Islam. This is how any attempt to open a public discussion on this issue has always been thwarted.”

In the political arena, advocates of inheritance equality are cautious. They fear their position could cost them a large part of their popular base. The majority of voters are highly sensitive to the issue. An opinion poll by UN Women published in February showed that only 33% of Moroccan women and 5% of Moroccan men support equal inheritance.

Yet even in the past there have been some exceptions, though the efforts were not well-received. In December 2013, at the Congress of Socialist Women, Driss Lachgar, secretary-general of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces, voiced his support for inheritance equality. Lachgar’s position and statements were fiercely denounced by those affiliated with the fundamentalist Islamic movement. Mohamed El Hilali, deputy head of the Unification and Reform Movement, questioned Lachgar’s credibility. In turn, prominent Moroccan Salafist Sheikh Abdelhamid Abounaim called Lachgar a “stinking pig.”

In a separate context, the former chairman of the National Human Rights Council (CNDH), Driss El Yazami, recommended equality in the distribution of inheritance among brothers and sisters in a CNDH report in October 2015. Then-Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane responded during an interview on Medi 1 TV. He accused Yazami of seeking to “incite sedition,” saying he owed Moroccans an apology. “Tell us you want to reject the Quran, and at least you will be clear,” he told Yazami.

This state of acute opposition worries Lamrabet. “The political interpretation of Islam makes it impossible to understand the meaning of justice and equality," she said. "The debate about inheritance should not be politicized. It must be carried out outside the framework of halal and haram. There is no contradiction between universal values and religious values in the issue of inheritance.”

The religious arguments for equal inheritance sharing are numerous. Lamrabet explained, “Inheritance is a right and has a social dimension as admitted by the assembly of religious scholars. According to this logic, admitted by Muslim jurists, inheritance falls within the scope of what is variable rather than rigid dogma and worship. Thus inheritance could be modified according to societal changes.”

Part of Morocco’s civil society is seeking to sensitize public opinion and bring the concept into the mainstream. Hakima Lebbar, a psychologist and activist, has been organizing since March 2017 an awareness campaign tour across Morocco on the issue of equal inheritance. The campaign includes an exhibition of paintings and photos, and an open debate.

“In the cities, we often attract intellectuals or well-informed figures, but in the countryside, we encounter all social groups. In both cases, interesting discussions take place,” Lebbar told Al-Monitor. “These discussions are regularly moderated by Amazigh intellectual Ahmed Assid, lawyer Farida Bennani or Islamic scholar Mohamed Abdelwahab Rafiki, also called Abu Hafs.”

Lebbar said, “In the coming weeks, we will begin to write plays that will be performed on stage by Assid and Bennani, with the support of a national theater group. We also intend to build cooperative relations with activists in North African countries to join hands for equality.”

In the recent past, Morocco has seen major reform that included the personal status code, also known as the Family Code. Five years after King Mohammed VI took office in July 1999, he introduced reforms and, as of 2004, the personal status code granted women more rights.

Answering the question of why this same approach has not been applied to ensure inheritance equality by law, Lebbar said, “This is a highly sensitive issue that radically disturbs the patriarchal society omnipresent in Moroccan culture.”

Lamrabet concurred with Labar, saying, "Equality in inheritance affects a man’s economic power in Moroccan society. The patriarchal community is not yet ready to relinquish such power.”

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