On this date in 1993, the police chief of Casablanca was shot in Kenitra Central Prison for abuse of power.
Mohamed Mustafa Tabet (or Tabit) wasn’t exactly Captain Renault.
While Morocco still has prisoners on death row, Tabet’s was the first execution actually carried out in 11 years, and it’s the last execution in Morocco to date. He went on the rocket docket, just five months from his arrest to standing up against a wall.
To earn that rare distinction, Tabet exploited his official power to rape or sexually exploit hundreds of women. Tabet confessed to some 1,500 victims over 13 years; the minimum figure matches the 518 personal identity cards found in his apartment. (Also found: 118 video cassettes — many of them violent — and a computer list of his crimes.)
The “Tabet Affair” — actually called “Tabetgate,” proving that the United States retains the power of exporting ideas — opened a discomfiting window on gender and power in Morocco.
Webster University Prof. Don Conway-Long was in Morocco at the time researching gender and masculinity for his dissertation. His paper “Sexism and Rape Culture in Moroccan Social Discourse” (pdf) is probably the most illuminating readily-available English* document on the affair — and the many contradictory reactions it drew from contemporaries, and the pressure it put on the government to contain the fallout as “a morals case, instead of looking further into overall police corruption.”
Prof. Conway-Long was good enough to spare Executed Today a few minutes to explore power and gender in Morocco, then and now.
ET: The scale of the crime spree seems just unimaginable, that he could get away with victimizing hundreds upon hundreds of women.
DCL: And not that many came forward! It was just a couple of women. If it’s difficult to talk to rape and sexual assault survivors here [in the U.S.], it’s exponentially harder in Morocco.
You were in Morocco in the years leading up to this trial. What was the country like in terms of its gender outlook?
It’s more like our 1950’s in terms of the attitudes towards women. Some educated professors at one point were laughing at the idea that a man could be charged with raping his wife in the West. In some ways, attitudes in Morocco are maybe 20 years behind what we see in the West. We had that same conception in the 1950’s — Missouri actually finally changed that law in 1993. [See here and here -ed.]
Morocco was also probably one of the most liberal countries of the Muslim world in the sense of being more closely connected to the West. Morocco has had more openness, more tourism.
How did the Tabet case impact women’s position?
[In 1995,] about a year after I left, a battered women’s shelter was set up in Casablanca, the first one in Morocco. By comparison, our first shelters in the U.S. and U.K. were set up in 1971, 1972.
In 2004, they passed a new family law that changed a lot of the freedoms that women have — e.g., women can ask for divorce, and don’t have to obey their husbands.
But I have no idea if you can claim there’s any causal relationship between the discovery of Tabet’s crimes and these later events. At the time, some men thought he was this great sexual hero, very virile.
So what lies ahead?
The old king died in 1999; his son Mohammed VI is in there now and he’s young and more aware and one of the rising stars of the monarchs of the middle east, like the king of Jordan. His [Mohammed’s] head is on the right way, but running a country like this with so much variation — there’s 50% illiteracy, the Western Sahara conflict, a certain level of Islamist opposition, and around twenty political parties all the way out to the Communists.
So there’s no certain future, absolutely not.
As far as cases like Tabet’s — let’s hope it’s not happening still, but Morocco when I was there was a place where you pass six different kinds of uniforms walking down the street with Uzis that would be pointed at your body as you passed.
* There’s more in French and Arabic.