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06RABAT201 2006-02-07 19:41:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Rabat
Cable title:  

CARTOON CONTROVERSY: MOROCCANS ANGRY BUT REACTING

Tags:   PREL PGOV KPAO KISL MO DK 
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1. (SBU) Summary: In response to the Danish cartoon
controversy, reaction in Morocco has been uniform -- amongst
the Moroccan government, the Supreme Council of Ulemas, the
political parties, demonstrators, and shopkeepers -- in
condemning the drawings and their affront to the Prophet. A
February 3 demonstration organized by two Islamist groups
drew as many as several thousand Moroccans to protest
peacefully in front of Parliament in Rabat. Some shopkeepers
have taken it upon themselves to highlight Danish products in
their store and ask consumers to boycott these goods (even
while the goods remain on shelves). SMS messages and an
internet petition have also been urging a boycott of Danish
products. Friday sermons roundly condemned the drawings, but
called for a "civilized reaction" from citizens. The edition
of France Soir which reproduced the drawings was banned in
Morocco while the director and editor of a local Arabic daily
which printed the pictures were called in for questioning by
the police. While there is no official Danish presence in
Morocco, there are rumors that students have applied to have
a "sit-in" in front of the Casablanca home of the honorary
Danish consul, a Moroccan businessman, and the Islamist Party
for Justice and Development (PJD) website has posted an
announcement calling for all Moroccans to joint in this
February 7 protest. End summary.

GOM and Ulema Council Condemn Cartoons


--------------------------




2. (SBU) Minister of Communications and GOM spokesman Nabil
Benabdullah issued the official Moroccan government reaction
to the cartoons following a February 2 meeting of the Council
of Government, noting that the drawings "harm the Prophet and
constitute an act of provocation which offends the sentiments
of Muslims." Benabdullah explained that the cartoons, "in
the name of freedom, attempt to offend the belief of the
Islamic nation."



3. (SBU) Morocco's Supreme Council of Ulemas, a group chaired
by King Mohammed VI which includes fifteen religious
scholars, the heads of the thirty regional councils and the
Minister of Islamic Affairs, issued a strong condemnation of
the cartoons. The Ulemas' January 31 statement emphasized
regret that the cartoons "aimed at offending and hurting
Muslims." The council also stressed the legitimacy of
Morocco's reaction to the publication of the cartoons,
including the banning of the edition of French daily France
Soir which reproduced the drawings, and urged international
decision-makers to unite to protect freedom and ethical
values threatened by hatred. According to official news
agency Maghreb Arab Presse (MAP), the Ulemas also hailed the
Vatican's public declaration, stressing that "it is
unacceptable to hurt one another, especially when it comes to
sacred symbols of other faiths." In a statement calling for
moderation, the council explained that there is "no room for
abuses and conflicts among believers of different religions,"
and that the "right to freedom of speech does not include the
right to harm the religious feelings of believers, regardless
of their religion." The communiqu emphasized that the
reaction in Morocco to the drawings indicated no signs of the
existence of a problem between Christianity and Islam.

Peaceful Demonstration Draws Hundreds


--------------------------




4. (SBU) In a peaceful demonstration in front of parliament
on February 3, hundreds of Moroccans -- estimates were as
high as 3000 -- protested the publication of the Danish
cartoons. The protest was organized primarily by the
Islamist Reform and Unification movement and the Justice and
Charity Organization (JCO). Abdelwahid Mutawakil, head of the
JCO's Political Circle, and Fatallah Arsalane, JCO official
spokesperson, were prominent participants, along with
political party members from Istiqlal, the USFP and the Party
for Justice and Development (PJD). Saad Eddin Othmani, PJD
Secretary General, told MAP that the purpose of the sit-in

SIPDIS
was to "send a clear message to the international community
that Muslims won't tolerate any mockery or harm against
Prophet Mohammed." Othmani called on the international
community to adopt a charter providing for the respect of all
religions. Istiqlal Executive committee member Mohammed
Al-Khalifa described the sit-in as a "strong and bonafide
condemnation from all Moroccans of any kind of insult against
the Prophet and Islam." The demonstration was authorized by
the GOM, and no security incidents were reported. There was
no anti-American sentiment expressed among the demonstrators.



5. (SBU) Despite the fact that Arabic daily (and

RABAT 00000201 002 OF 002


PJD-affiliated) Al-Tajdid reported that up to three thousand
people participated in the event, several eyewitness reports
put the number of protesters closer to several hundred.
Slogans chanted during the protest focused primarily on
support for the Prophet. Many demonstrators carried the
Koran and had handwritten slogans on small boards calling for
"Yes for press freedom, but no for freedom to insult the
Prophet," and "Against the European crusaders fighting
Islam." Other demonstrators carried the full-page
advertisement from a recent edition of Al-Tajdid expressing
support for the Prophet. The PJD website has called for
another demonstration to take place in front of the home of
the Danish honorary consul (a Moroccan citizen) in Casablanca
the evening of February 7.

Impact on the Press


--------------------------




6. (SBU) According to a Ministry of Communications statement,
Morocco banned the edition of France Soir which reproduced
the cartoons. The communiqu stressed that while Morocco
respects freedom of opinion, it should not be used as a
"false pretext" for "gratuitous provocation." The statement
added that the GOM would not allow the distribution of any
publication "offending the feelings of a community of one and
a half billion believers." Meanwhile, the editor and director
of Arabic daily An-nahar Al-Maghrebiya were summoned by the
police for republishing one of the cartoons despite the fact
that the article published with the drawing denounced them.
They have not yet been charged with any crime.
Giving Consumers the Choice


--------------------------




7. (SBU) In smaller Moroccan groceries, some shopkeepers
have put up signs indicating which products are Danish and
asking Moroccans to boycott these products. Larger grocery
stores have not yet taken any Danish products off the shelf.
Several Moroccans have received SMS phone messages asking to
"make the Danish pay for their audacity to mock our prophet,"
and calling for the boycott of such products as Nido powdered
milk, Puk butter, and Kinder chocolate. An internet petition
circulating within Morocco has registered a total of 4493
signatures protesting the cartoons and "defending the
Prophet."

Friday Sermons Call for "Civilized" Response


--------------------------




8. (SBU) Throughout Morocco, the February 3 (Friday)
sermons, including the prayer King Mohammed VI attended in
northern Morocco, widely denounced the cartoons and called
for people to show support to the Prophet in a "civilized"
way. While the sermon's message conveyed support for freedom
of expression, it stressed that respect must be shown to
religion, and especially to the three monotheistic religions
of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Comment:


--------------------------




9. (SBU) Overall, Moroccan reaction has been fairly
restrained, compared to events elsewhere in the region,
although media headlines continue to focus on the issue and
the controversy is discussed regularly on some television
talk shows. Demonstrations will likely continue, but we do
not anticipate violence, nor have the Moroccan police so far
suggested undue concern with the level of popular sentiment.
As the Danes are not officially represented here, it is more
difficult for the Moroccans to find a specific target to air
their grievances beyond a boycott of consumer products. So
far they are not turning their wrath on the EU or specific
European countries. The Danish Ambassador to Morocco,
resident in Lisbon, however, plans to visit Morocco next week
and may have additional comments on the Moroccan reaction
when he calls at the US Embassy. End comment.
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Riley