The man set to become Morocco’s first Islamist prime minister said on Friday his government would not try to make women dress more modestly.
Abdelilah Benkirane is to lead a coalition government after his Justice and Development Party (PJD) became the latest Islamist movement in the Middle East to win an election in the wake of the “Arab Spring” revolutions.
The party is anxious to reassure powerful secularists in the Moroccan establishment, foreign investors, and the tourists who provide much of the country's revenue, that it will not try to impose a strict Muslim moral code.
“We are proud that our point of reference is Islamist,” Benkirane, the PJD’s secretary general and prime minister designate, told a small group of reporters invited to a briefing.
“I will never be interested in the private life of people, Allah created mankind free. I will never ask if a woman is wearing a short skirt or a long skirt.”
“But there are things forbidden by the law. I think even in some European countries, people cannot be naked in public places,” he said.
On relations with countries in Europe, Morocco’s biggest trading partner, Benkirane said: “They are our friends and we need them and they will need us ... Morocco not only has historical ties to Europe but philosophical ones.”
The most high profile test of Moroccan Islamists’ stance on moral issues came last year, when PJD politicians said they were opposed to gay singer Elton John giving a concert in the country. He went ahead and performed anyway.
John was quoted as saying in an interview last year that Jesus Christ was gay. Jesus is mentioned in Islamic scripture as a messenger from God.
Benkirane refused to say if, as prime minister, he would welcome the singer back to Morocco.
But he said: “I have problem with this man because he said a bad thing about Christ, and Christ is a very important prophet in the beliefs of Muslim people, that's why.”
Benkirane declined to answer questions on what economic policies his government would pursue. Economists say Morocco needs to tame its budget deficit, stimulate growth and tackle the poverty and unemployment that are fuelling unrest.
Morocco’s monarch, who has the final say on all issues of defense, national security and religion, this week named a bitter opponent of the PJD, Fouad Ali al-Himma as a royal adviser.
That appointment could signal an attempt by the palace to rein in the Islamist-led coalition.
Asked about al-Himma, Benkirane said it was customary in Morocco not to comment on decisions made by the monarch.
“I am forming the new government in a country whose head of state is King Mohamed VI, he is my boss. It is not my business how the head of state, who is my boss, manages his royal court,” said Benkirane.