Hardened hoteliers want Morocco to legalize premarital sex


IIT’S BAD enough for the pandemic to reduce the number of foreign tourists by 80%; To make matters worse, Morocco’s ban on extramarital sex is choking the domestic market for hotel beds. Unmarried couples caught in the same room are liable to imprisonment for up to one year under article 490 of the penal code. Every week, the police check hotel registers to enforce the law. Receptionists turned private investigators require verification of marriage certificates before handing over the keys. “I get more calls from unmarried couples who want to stay than anyone,” says Meryem Zniber, who runs a resort in the Rif Mountains. “I could fill my hotel 100% if only they lifted the law. “

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Hopes for change grew after the Islamist ruling party crashed in September’s elections, losing 90 percent of its seats. For a decade, its leaders stifled any policy deemed haram, or contrary to Islamic law. Aziz Akhannouch, the new prime minister, looks more liberal. His government recently announced that it would revise the entire penal code. But he omitted from his coalition the only party that publicly calls for the repeal of Article 490.

The Interior Ministry is a big obstacle. “They fear turning hotels into brothels,” said a former minister. Others say the main concern is money: officials don’t want to lose the bribes they extort from hotels and unmarried couples who can swallow them.

Travel websites suggest workarounds. One proposes to put on a wedding ring. “The offer of additional payment can carry some weight,” he adds. Another suggests “the two-room method: rent single rooms, then walk down the hall at nightfall.” But others are fed up with the expense and hypocrisy. Hashtag campaigns – “Love is not a crime” and “Stop490” – are proliferating online.

Conservatives urge young Moroccans to respect tradition. Young people retort that the precursor of article 490 was introduced by France in 1953, towards the end of the colonial era. And they point the finger at other Muslim countries that are shaking up old mores. The UAE decriminalized extramarital sex a year ago. The Saudis say their hotels have stopped requiring couples to show marriage certificates. Morocco’s latest hashtag campaign craves “Vote4Love”.

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline “Get two rooms”