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Controversy in Morocco over Israeli participation in belly dance festival

The third annual International Belly Dance Festival in Marrakech, has stirred controversy in Morocco after it was announced that Israel will partake in the event

The Mediterranean Delight Festival has been met by a surge of objections whether by Marrakech youths who refuse to have Israeli participants in their city or by rights organizations that oppose normalization of ties with the Jewish state.

Statements lashing out at the festival started with the appearance of two Israeli names on the list of participants: Belly dancer and belly dancing trainer Simona Guzman and stylist and owner of an Israeli belly dancing school Asi Haskal.

Both are among a group of belly dance experts who will be assigned the mission of training participating dancers as well as organizing workshops about the mechanisms of belly dancing and belly dancing performances as part of the festival’s activities.

Several pages were created on social networking website Facebook condemning Israelis on Moroccan soil and considering the festival a form of normalization that is done by the organizers against the will of the people.

What made things worse, critics argued, is that the official website was translated into eight languages including Hebrew but excluding Arabic.

Some also objected to the festival altogether on the grounds that it violates the values of a conservative society like Morocco and encourages the “propagation of vice,” as they put it.

The pictures of belly dancers on the website, they added, offers insight into the “indecency” the event is bound to promote.

Political and religious calls for cancelling the festival, due to take place May 10-14, have been gaining ground amid speculations over the reaction of the festival administration which has not yet made any official comment.

The second edition of Mediterranean Delight, also held in Marrakech after Turkey’s refusal to host the festival, also saw many objections by residents of the city who staged protests in front of the hotel where the festival was held. A group called Moroccan Youths of the Third Palestinian Uprising was among the protestors.

Moroccans taking part in the festival have also had their share of harsh criticism. A severe campaign was launched against Hakima, a teacher of Moroccan belly dance and member of the festival’s jury, who in turn slammed accusations leveled at her.

“Can people who say that belly dancing is not an art explain why belly dance festivals are organized in Europe and the United States and why people stand in long queues to take pictures with belly dancers that are given awards in those festivals?” Hakima wrote on her website.

Hakima, who currently resides in Spain, added that she is planning to open a belly dancing school in Europe to teach belly dance in its authentic form.

“No matter how Westerners try, they will never master belly dancing like we Easterners do.”

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)