Controversial PJD MP Amina Maelainine Voices Solidarity with Hajar Raissouni

Rabat – In an interesting twist of female solidarity in the in the Hajar Raissouni case, Amina Maelainine, a controversial MP of the ruling, Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), has joined the chorus of womens’ rights advocates.While not militantly calling for charges to be dropped against Raissouni, the journalist facing prosecution for “illegal abortion,” the PJD MP says norms and rules imposing societal projections on women are obsolete and should be treated accordingly. These are laws, she argued, that are holding back many “traditional” societies from realizing “democracy, dignity, and development.”Maelainine’s comments came in the form of an article-length Facebook post. In it, the PJD MP  called for a nationwide conversation on abortion, arguing that abortion rights need to be discussed in “a serious public debate.” “The Hajar affair offers an opportunity to broaden the debate on a number of provisions in the Moroccan penal code which can be used to violate private life and limit spaces for self-expression,” the MP wrote.The Hajar affair has prompted widespread discussions on abortion and the Islamic religious marriage—the journalist says she married her Sudanese partner in a religious ceremony. Maelainine’s comment comes amid this widespread, hot debate about the implications of societies’ view on women in the public eye.Recalling the event and its accompanying controversies in her post, the PJD MP said that one way to look at the whole case is that it offers an opportunity for Morocco to have a nationwide, broad debate about not only abortion, but a range of other issues associated with womens’ bodies, women’s right to use their own bodies as they see fit, and other individual freedoms.Maelainine knows that she is tapping into one of the most divisive issues in Morocco. But that, judging from her tone in the Facebook post, is the heart of her point: forcing debates about serious social issues some would rather not talk about.The problem with Moroccan society, she argued, is that it is divided in two “blocs” that are not only divided on vital societal issues, but appear to have no interest in considering what the other party thinks. Overall, Maelainine said there are three types of Moroccans (politicians) when it comes to discussing social issues.There are those who would like to challenge, even abrogate traditional norms and laws that are incompatible with individual freedoms and choices. She called those the “modernist bloc.” Then there are those who do not even want to have a debate, because the norms in question are “sacred” to them. Those politicians form “the conservative bloc.” And finally, the third group, somewhat of a hostage of the two extremes, is made up of “those who hesitate.”Surprisingly, Maelainine, once one of the most vigorous, commanding voices of an Islamist, prudish public life, now places herself in the “modernist bloc.”Professing her desire to set the stage for a Moroccan society where the rule of law is the norm, Maelainine is now arguing that laws that limit individual liberties and deny people’s sovereign choices on their bodies and lifestyles should be “abrogated.” As the now self-styled moderate Islamist MP sees it, she is proposing “dignity, democracy, and development.”Heartfelt advocacy or pure opportunism?But where Maelainine offers a vision of full-hearted commitment to womens’ rights, critics may see an opportunist seeking to capitalize on a nationwide dilemma to set the record straight for herself.For all the feminist and women’s rights militancy Maelainine’s current tone suggests, there are questions as to whether the erstwhile ardent defender of an Islamic, puritan public space would have cared for Hajar Raissouni had she herself not recently been at the center of a controversy.In December of last year, Maelainine made headlines after images were shared of her wearing no hijab while holidaying in Paris.The images of a vocal female Islamist politician with no hijab, wearing jeans and appearing to enjoy herself promptly produced powerful tremors in Morocco’s political circles. Quickly capitalizing on the Maelainine case, PJD critics resorted to their traditional criticism of “hypocrisy” and “opportunism,” which they maintained are the modus operandi of the ruling Islamist party.Maelainine first denied the authenticity of the pictures, only to finally admit to having indeed taken off her veil, worn jeans, and enjoyed herself in the French capital.The MP has since become a vocal voice of sovereign and unfettered individual rights. In a March interview, she notably said that wearing the veil is not in fact a religious prescription. Instead, she argued, the PJD leadership is only obsessed with puritanical, prudish public appearances because of political, electorate-linked calculations.“I know some leading PJD members who are very open on the question of the Hijab. Their stances are indeed very liberal. But they can’t openly express their ideas because of party and social constraints,” she said in the interview.In her latest case for Hajar Raissouni and in defense of women’s rights, she echoed that point about PJD leadership’s supposed duplicity on social issues with controversial potential, suggesting that many members of that party hide behind culture and religion-cloaked rationalizations to publicly support ideas that they do not adhere to in their own private lives.For Maelainine, it is high time that the PJD and other bastions of conservative thought in Morocco let go of their “weak arguments” to have “real debates” on the country’s most salient social issues.And to her critics, the controversial MP may well respond that she had no idea of the devastating impact of the public gaze on women’s bodies until she found herself at the receiving end of it. But whether that makes her Morocco’s new women’s right hero is altogether a different matter, and one that raises serious, uncomfortable questions.