Morocco: Government actions cast doubt on Morocco's commitment to religious freedom.Morocco, one of the most moderate Arab Muslim countries, has sent shock waves throughout the expatriate community there. Since March 6th more than 40 foreigners who have been living in the country have been unexpectedly expelled or deported. Many were detained and questioned before their expulsion. This happened in a variety of places throughout the country, to people of at least 8 different nationalities.
Those who were expelled were not given reasons for the actions taken. They were all told simply that their residence permits were being revoked. On March 11th, the Moroccan government made a public statement that they were guilty of proselytizing.
Some of those expelled were engaged in humanitarian work, such as the orphanage workers in Ain Leuh. Others were there engaged in business. Many worked with Moroccan partners and were highly respected in the Moroccan communities where they worked.
The accusation of the government that these people are guilty of proselytism came along with an assertion that Morocco tolerates all faiths and upholds "freedom of religion." The accusation of proselytism indicates the government believes that these people violated the law by using enticements or pressure to influence Moroccans to change their religion.
In not one case did the Moroccan authorities produce evidence or explain how this was done. It remains a vague accusation without substantiation. Many of those involved had lived in Morocco for many years and have never been charged with any illegal activity.
Some Moroccan Christians in the country are also being questioned by local police. Concerns have been expressed that future police actions may be directed at Moroccan Christians who desire to practice their Christian faith freely within Moroccan society.
It is estimated that there are 1,000 - 3,000 Moroccan Christians in the country. Although expatriate Christians have freedom to meet together for worship, Moroccan Christians do not have this freedom. Many are concerned that greater pressure will be brought to bear on them following these recent events.
Questions remain. Do Moroccan citizens born into Muslim families have the right to profess and practice a religion of their choice other than Islam? Does proselytizing mean that a person of a different religious persuasion cannot talk at all about his religious beliefs to a Muslim, while a Muslim is free to explain his beliefs to a Christian?
These government actions are particularly difficult to comprehend in light of an international statement made by Morocco at the time these actions started. Morocco's prime minister issued a joint statement with leaders of the European Union in which Morocco reaffirmed its "attachment to respect for and protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms" and specifically confirmed its "commitment to freedom of religion and belief, tolerance and the peaceful coexistence of different cultures. " This joint statement was issued at the conclusion of the European Union-Morocco Summit in Granada, on March 7th.