The Nieuw Amsterdam is a floating isle of liberty for its 1,564 passengers — the immense majority homosexual and 95 percent men — and a floating nightmare for homophobes of all ilks. While Gay Pride was being celebrated in dozens of Western cities last weekend, Morocco refused to admit this Dutch-flag cruise ship into Casablanca harbor: a stop confirmed months ago. It ended up docked in Málaga.
“I was in the barber’s when the captain announced over the PA system that the stop in Casablanca was canceled for security reasons, and because the ship’s arrival had become a matter of public controversy,” says Eric, from Washington DC, an American civil servant who paid some 7,100 euros for passage for two.
According to the shipowners, Holland America Line, and the cruise organizers, RSVP Vacations, specialists in the gay market, it was the North African country’s authorities that refused disembarkation to the passengers, half of whom are American.
But Morocco’s tourism minister, Lahcen Haddad, denied a veto had been issued. “We do not prohibit any cruise ships, or ask our visitors about their sexual preferences,” he declared. It was not he who decided to veto the landing, but the interior minister, Mohand Laenser.
We thought Moroccans were more sophisticated”
The vacationers had been planning to visit the Great Mosque of Casablanca, the only one that non-Muslims may enter, outside the hours of prayer. Some 1,500 homosexuals gathered there might, Laenser feared, spark a storm of protest in conservative sectors.
In Morocco, as in almost all Muslim countries, homosexuality is a crime. Article 480 of the Penal Code provides for penalties of three months to three years imprisonment for those who practice it, and fines of up 1,200 dirhams (1,100 euros). However, the law is almost never enforced. Some newspapers, such as Al Khabar, pointed to the contradiction between this legislation and the massive arrival of gay passengers. Others noted, however, that many visitors to Marrakech, the city that receives most tourists, are gay.
Since January when, for the first time, an Islamist prime minister, Abdelilah Benkirane, headed the Moroccan government, a wave of rigor has swept the country. Not to visit Casablanca, the most exotic stop on the cruise, was a let-down for the passengers. “Last year we were in Tunis with the same ship, and it was wonderful,” said John Ribson, of Toronto, Canada.
Some travelers had contracted an optional excursion to Marrakech, which they have had to replace with the Picasso Museum and the beach of La Malagueta. “We won’t leave our money in Morocco; we’ll leave it in Spain.” Californians James and Nat have been together for 16 years and say: “We thought Moroccans were more sophisticated.”