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172 13 Sex Toys and the Politics of Pleasure in Morocco Jessica Marie Newman On April 12, 2012, Imad El Idrissa was sentenced to eight months in prison and issued a fine of 10,000 Moroccan Dirhams (roughly US$1,200) for the “importation, possession, and exhibition of licentious products (vibrators, for example) and the distribution of flyers and photos contrary to morality and good moral standards” (Faquihi 2012).1 In addition to “incitement to debauchery” under Article 503 of the Moroccan penal code, El Idrissa was charged with falsifying the documents that led the Ministry of Health to grant him a permit to run a pharmacy in Casablanca (Herradi 2012). El Idrissa had opened Morocco’s first above-ground sex shop. In the months leading to El Idrissa’s arrest and conviction, national and international media—and particularly blogs and message boards—were abuzz with the news that a sex shop would soon open in Morocco (Le Figaro 2012; News24 2012). The dissident February 20 Movement was especially outspoken in its support of the sex shop. It published several commentaries on its website,, in the months leading up to the shop’s opening. Writers on the website and message boards saw the opening of the shop as a step toward transparency in Moroccan sexual politics, reasoning that sex toys, creams, and performance enhancers have long been available in underground circuits, at women’s “Tupperware parties,” and in pharmacies. Much of the commentary published on made reference to the Islamist government under Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane. One particularly provocative statement announcing that “under an Islamist government , a sex shop has been inaugurated” (Mezzofiore 2012) prompted many conservatives to speculate that the rumors heralding the opening of Morocco’s first sex shop were merely an “anti-government ploy” to embarrass Benkirane (Al-Maghrabi 2012). Some cited the anticipated location of the shop in the working-class neighborhood of Jamila as evidence that the rumors were unsubstantiated. One activist argued, “There is no way residents of a Sex Toys and the Politics of Pleasure in Morocco   173 working class area would allow the opening of a sex shop. . . . Those neighborhoods are usually conservative and take pride in their Islamic identity” (Al-Maghrabi 2012). These rumors and the reaction to them rested on stereotypes that cast working-class Moroccans as more sexually conservative and that linked this conservatism to an “Islamic identity.” Beyond assuming that conservative neighborhood residents would reject the opening of a sex shop, the above quotes blur the lines between religious belief and political Islam. They also posit that elected Islamist officials like Benkirane are directly responsible for monitoring new businesses like a sex shop. Following this logic, the opening of a sex shop in a putatively conservative neighborhood would appear to indicate that Benkirane’s new government could not control its urban base. Rumors about the sex shop were therefore politically expedient, either undermining the Islamist government’s efficacy or serving as evidence of antigovernment sentiment. Pleasure thus became politicized as stories about the sex shop circulated. This chapter is based on extended ethnographic fieldwork in Casablanca and Rabat, information from key informants, and reviews of blogs and social media, in addition to analysis of print articles and of Arabic and French video interviews and YouTube channels. I investigate how discussions of sex toys in Morocco invoke the specter of illicit sexuality and transgression and how the diffusion of pleasure technologies in Morocco intersects with contestations over female erotic subjectivity, masturbation, and pleasure. Wieringa claims that “sex toys, like sexual practices in general, only acquire meaning within the context in which they figure” (Wieringa 2012, 165). The debates surrounding sex toys, sexual pleasure, and masturbation must be situated within Moroccan legal, social, religious, and political contexts. Toys, Tools, and Technologies The role and meaning assigned to pleasure technologies in Morocco is not at all clear cut. The interpretation of pleasure, eroticism, and sexuality are deeply linked to one’s personal, social, and religious orientation. Still, the furor surrounding both the opening of a sex shop and the promulgation of a fatwa (religious ruling) declaring female masturbation with phallic vegetables licit speaks to pervasive anxieties about the role of sex and its proper place in Moroccan society. It was precisely the visibility of the sex shop as an above-ground venue that seemed to be a direct affront to my interlocutors’ commonsense notions of sex as a private matter. The existence of the shop transgressed public...


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