A Scholar of Sexuality Feels “Alone in Morocco”

by Erika Riley

RABAT, Morocco — At age 21, Dr. Abdessamad Dialmy was married, living in a villa with a dog. One day, after reading the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich’s “La Revolution Sexuelle,” he came home and told his wife he wanted a divorce.

“We were happy, really, as spouses. But I decided to divorce, because I wanted to be revolutionary, progressive,” Dialmy said.

Nowadays, Dialmy is considered to be the “Reich of Morocco,” a pioneer of the sociology of sexuality in a conservative country. Moroccan law specifies that sex outside of marriage is illegal, and the same goes for same sex relations. Dialmy challenges the status quo by studying and producing work on the widening gap between the official and religious discourse on sexuality, and its actual practice in Morocco. Doing so has earned him disapproval and danger.

Born in Casablanca to a religiously conservative father who worked as a judge, Dialmy wasn’t always interested in sexuality. After discovering Reich’s book–which he considers a turning point—he began to entertain the idea of intertwining, co-dependent political and sexual revolutions.

“I discovered that marriage is very conservative, very regressive and that it functions in order to produce very correct persons, very conservative persons. So I asked my wife to divorce,” Dialmy said.

After the divorce, he spent some time in Safi, a city in the south of Morocco, and then moved to Paris, where he studied at university for one year.

“There I lived the sexual revolution daily,” the doctor said.

Upon returning from Paris, Dialmy began work on his thesis, titled Sexuality and Society in Morocco,” which marked his entry into the field of sociology. Since then Dialmy has published widely in French and Arabic, and conducted ground-breaking surveys and studies.

His work, which counters the narrow official Islamic definition of licit sex—married, between a man and a woman—arguably paved the path for dialogue regarding sex and gender in Morocco.

Articles 489, 490 and 491 of the Moroccan constitution outlaw homosexual sex, debauchery (excessive indulgence in sex) and adultery (sex outside of a marriage) respectively. Dialmy was one of the first intellectuals to publicly oppose these articles.

Dialmy isn’t afraid to speak out against the Moroccan governments and its positions. For example, Minister of Justice Mohammed Aujjar made headlines by stating in February that Moroccans can do whatever they please in their private lives, as long as they do not declare it publically. Dialmy pointed out that the statements were made without accompanying policy.

“The political power cannot take the decision, a clear decision. And this indecision is in my opinion structural,” Dialmy said. The freedom of the individual always comes second to the will of the majority, he argues.

Dialmy considers that Islam plays a large and not always positive role in Moroccan law and society.

“For me religion is a private choice,” explains Dialmy. “You have the right to choose it in a way if you are comfortable with it, but you have no right to impose that way on others if they don’t choose it freely.”

Due to his criticism of religious discourse and the government, Dialmy feels that his work isn’t exactly popular in Morocco.

“My supporters are few, and few of them have the courage to support me frankly, freely. So I think that my enemies … are more numerous, and don’t hesitate to express disappointment, insults. You know, for them I am ‘Islamophobic,’” Dialmy says.

The Moroccan Minister of Human Rights once took out a newspaper advertisement calling on the Minister of Education to put a stop to a survey Dialmy was conducting on masculinity. The minister argued that the questions in the survey encouraged “debauchery.”

Dialmy also received multiple threats in Fez, where he lived for most of his life and taught at Fez University, until he finally decided that it had become a fundamentalist city.

Dialmy was offered assistance by “Scholars at Risk,” an American program that helps academics in unsafe environments. Dialmy spent a year teaching in Paris, but then had to return to Morocco.

He moved to Rabat, where he became a professor at Mohammed V University. He taught classes on gender and sexuality, even though degrees are not offered in these subjects in the country. Typically, he would list the courses under the sociology department.

Today Dialmy is retired from teaching, but he conducts research and writes.

Dialmy’s work has been well-received in countries such as the United States, where he travelled for a program called “International Visitors.” During the time he spent there, he said he was struck by the different views on sexuality in the West.

“In the U.S., private life is a right,” said Dialmy. “In the Arab world, private life has no sense, the individual has no sense. You are a member of a group, you are member of a religion, of a family, so you have no right to say, I, me.

But over the years, a number of prominent Moroccan intellectuals and novelists have joined Dialmy in speaking out about sexuality, such as the late sociologist Fatema Mernissi, the novelist Abdallah Taia and the author Leila Slimani. Dialmy also believes that sexual practices are becoming more and more secular in nature.

Yet he also sees more and more fundamentalists becoming prominent in Moroccan culture, and he feels more and more isolated.

“I feel I am alone in Morocco, I feel I am foreigner in Morocco,” said Dialmy. “I feel I am Moroccan but I don’t like the Moroccan lifestyle, the Moroccan mentality. Social hypocrisy is institutionalized.”

Dialmy has four children, with whom he tries to practice what he preaches.

“Religion was a tool for my father to dominate me, to make me an obedient child, you see, and I don’t reproduce this kind of education,” he says. “If I want to convince one of my children, I will convince him rationally without telling him: ‘You are my child so you should obey me.’ We always have free discussions. I trust my sons, I trust my daughters. They are completely free.”

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