An Activist with Real Courage in Morocco

Ibtissame Betty Lachgar from MALI

Rabat   We’re organizers assembled at the Organizers’ Forum, not advocates or activists. We’re most interested in how people build organization, organize in their communities or workplaces, and launch their campaigns. One of our most interesting meetings though came with Ibtissame Betty Lachgar of MALI, which means roughly, What is so Different? She had virtually no organization. Doesn’t seek money from international NGOs. They don’t do outreach for actions or events other than the odd Facebook or social media post. Perhaps MALI has 50 members she said in defining their core activists. Nonetheless, Lachgar impressed us all with her commitment and, frankly, courage.

Boiled down to the basics, her cause and that of her associates in MALI has been individual rights and freedoms.

In 2009 they called their first public action in this conservative country whose slogans are God, the King, and Country. Muslim is the state religion and earlier in the our visit we had heard of the difficulties of other minority religions. MALI organized what they called a “picnic” in a public place to make the point that everyone was not Muslim and did not need to fast for Ramadan. The outrage at Lachgar and her group was intense. They ended up running for it and having to have their picnic in what she called a forest nearby.

This event triggered an almost annual action. In 2010 they dramatized harassment, and of course they were harassed. In 2011, the 20th of February movement was in force, so there was plenty of action on every front. Lachgar once again soaked up the hostility in that period when she wore a t-shirt to one of the events saying, “I Don’t Need Sex, the Government Screws Me Every Day,” or words to that affect. In 2013, to protest the bans on showing public affection, they organized a “Kiss In” in front of the Parliament, and were promptly arrested as well, and held for a bit.

On women’s rights and LGBT rights, MALI invited the Netherlands-based “Women on Waves” to bring down their ship to educate women on access to abortion pills and abortion rights. The government went crazy again, and insisted they would block the ship from coming anywhere near Morocco, and were embarrassed when they found out the ship had been there a month earlier and was already gone. The abortion pill had been available over the counter before this, but doctors then started profiteering with the price as it became more difficult to obtain without prescriptions.

Lachgar was not part of an organization and seemed not to really want one, but she was a force of nature, and very inspiring. She can’t seem to keep out of trouble, and mullahs have issued fatwas calling for her death to protect the faith. She has also found herself on an ISIS list. Asked if she made any precautions or had any security, and she simply shrugged it off.

There is an important role for loud and effective voices in the wilderness like Lachgar, and we were all moved to meet her and offer solidarity for her sometimes solitary struggles for the rights of so many.

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