by Irina Tsukerman
Within the last few weeks, the US has praised Morocco twice, underscoring the importance of the relationship with the first country to recognize American independence, but also Morocco’s growing international role. The first recognition came in light of Morocco’s peacekeeping exercises with Washington praising King Mohammed VI for “being a crucial voice” for “advancing regional peace”, in a phone call between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and FM Nasser Bourita. Morocco is seen as a force for stability amidst the increasingly worrying role of other countries in North Africa. Additionally, during her recent visit, the U.S. State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt praised Morocco’s history and deeply rooted tradition of coexistence and tolerance. These affirmations are not the only major sign of increasing strategic depth in the US-Morocco relationship.
Frequent official visits between US and Moroccan officials, which include AFRICOM leadership, intelligence, and law enforcement, State Department/Foreign Ministry high level visits and frequent phone calls, as well as Morocco’s important role in the Negev Summit workshops that bring together Abraham Accords participants with the US, Egypt, and Jordan, all point to increasingly dynamic developments and Rabat’s visibility as an exemplar. And, only in January, the US again praised King Mohammed VI’s peacebuilding role in the Middle East. That’s in addition to the Africa Focus Group and various other US-led bodies heaping laurels on Morocco’s counterterrorism efforts. Washington’s public posture towards the Kingdom, in recent months has been overwhelmingly sunny and amicable.
The positive attention lavished by Washington on Rabat must surely irk the anti-Moroccan activists and their patrons. Despite recent efforts by various organized campaigns to damage Rabat’s international standing, by virtue of its geographic location, natural resources, as well as the domestic and foreign policy vision and efforts by King Mohammed VI, Morocco has become an indispensable inter-regional player and a highly desired partner for various global actors, which include the US, EU, China, and members of the GCC. Even Russia and Iran have tried to court Rabat’s affections, but with little success. Morocco’s potential role as a hydrocarbons hub, for instance, is of much more import to these players than gossip and resolutions pushed in the EU Parliament, which itself plays a limited political role in European decisionmaking.
The fact that these efforts have failed to scare away business and positive publicity and military coordination from Rabat, despite all the resources and efforts dedicated to superficial political activity, struck a heavy blow to the Moroccan opposition strategy, which largely rests on optics and scandals, rather than on substantive policy challenges. To wit, while May is rife with promising developments on many fronts, these activists have tried to resurrect an issue that should have stayed buried – the conviction of Souleiman Raissouni, a Moroccan journalist and filmmaker, who was later deemed to be a “human rights activist” (conveniently, mostly after his conviction), who was sentenced to five years in prison for an attempted sexual assault on a gay young photographer who came to be known as “Adam”, despite being doxxed by various activists in the course of the Raissouni trial. Raissouni has an interesting backstory. He is a nephew of Ahmed Raissouni, a leader of the Movement for Unity and Reform, closely affiliated with the PJD, the Muslim Brotherhood party in Morocco, and moreover, served as president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) until his retirement in 2022.
Raissouni seemed like a natural fit to become one of the faces of the younger echelons of the Islamist movements and their leftist allies in Morocco, attacking liberal policies, and railing against Morocco-Israel rapprochement – until he abused his power by attempting to rape a young gay man referred to as “Adam”, to avoid drawing attention to his identity. According to the trial coverage in the media at the time, “Adam” became friendly with Raissouni, who is married to Kholoud Mokhtari. The incident took place in May 2020. The trial decisively concluded that Raissouni was guilty, despite the protestations by groups of Raissouni’s supporters – all Muslim Brotherhood affiliates or other Moroccan opposition, who had been mobilized to defame and discredit “Adam”. Kholoud Mokhtari allegedly did not attend trial, due to embarrassment over the fact that she is a daughter of a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood community and was now implicated in her husband’s gay sex scandal. The anti-Moroccan activists who surrounded Raissouni continued to protest his sentencing even after he had gone to prison, launching international media campaigns to bring attention to the case. Earlier they had even succeeded in having the US State Department raise questions about the fairness of the Moroccan justice system, relying on discredited international “human rights” NGOs, which took up the cause pushed by a moneyed and prominent Muslim Brotherhood family against a vulnerable penniless gay photographer. Evidence, however, speaks louder than rumors.
A recording of Adam’s subsequent conversation with Raissouni, who had tried to pressure Adam into submission to his advances even after the assault incident, has been translated to English, putting to rest any misunderstanding of the case by the US authorities.
The recording testifies to the sexual harassment by Souleiman Raissouni against his victim Adam, insofar as he asked him to meet one-on-one. Indeed, Raissouni, told his victim that it was “a misunderstanding” reminding him that “he is his friend” before noting that “call didn’t happen” when Adam insisted on meeting his wife, Khouloud. Thus, Adam questioned the purpose of the meeting, countering that this call for an interview implied that Raissouni had spoken “about what had happened” to his wife, while adding that “friendship is one thing, what you have done is another”.
Tellingly, in the early stages of Raissouni’s sentence, his wife stayed away from the media or from the campaigns surrounding the case. However, having run out of more significant political lobbying efforts to undermine Rabat politically, the Raissouni support network has more recently worked to bring Kholoud Mokhtari on board with their efforts and succeeded in recruiting her for the campaign. She became more visibly vocal only right before Raissouni’s five-year-sentence was upheld. The case was misrepresented in Western publications as a case of denial of freedom of the press; The Washington Post’s coverage left out material facts such as that “Adam” presented evidence in support of his claims. Thus the international media for whatever reason once again sided with a powerful abuser against a vulnerable victim. But for a time these Western publications, which had no direct relations to the parties involved, were more supportive of Raissouni than Kholoud Mokhtari, his wife.
The most recent developments in the Moroccan opposition’s quest for legitimacy at the cost to Rabat’s image have taken a particularly desperate and comical turn. Mokhtari was invited to Queens in the United States to receive a token of appreciation from a very small group of local anti-Rabat activists at someone’s house. The small group pictured above is entirely unknown outside their own circles. Nevertheless, Kholoud Mokhtari has made efforts to boost her credibility by insinuating that the award, issued informally by Raissouni’s close supporters, was somehow a prestigious prize awarded by the US, either with the approval of US authorities or as linked to some major human rights organization. Instead, the group, the so-called Centre des Droits Humains en Amérique du Nord, failed to translate their name into English, a dead giveaway for how popular this group is among Americans.
The human rights organization that allegedly gave her the award seen in the attached photos is not registered anywhere, holds no official status, has not published anything of value, is not in any major US publications, and boasts about five supporters on social media. One of the attendees of this rather insignificant gathering is an online commentator with 23 Twitter followers, whose best known accomplishment to-date is anti-Israel postings under Jerusalem Post articles. The organizer appears to be Mustapha Chawqui, an engineer, who is not known in the prominent (or any) US human rights or political circles.
Kholoud Mokhtari’s self-aggrandizement efforts are not only laughable in their context, but outright discredit the Morocco opposition efforts, particularly in light of the easily debunked falsehoods she has used to try to discredit the Moroccan judiciary. Furthermore, it is fairly obvious that these efforts are aimed at riling up the Moroccan opposition and fundraising. The pro-Raissouni activists have largely given up the fight to attack the Moroccan judicial system in light of the fact that Moroccan and US officials, including eminent judges, routinely work together on addressing international threats, such as money laundering, and benefit from the sharing in workshops and best practices. Washington and others can see for themselves the quality of the Moroccan courts, and do not need self-promoters and victim-blamers, particularly brazen in light of the #MeToo breakthroughs in giving victims of sexual abuses a voice, to educate them on this topic.
Maybe, just maybe, these so-called human rights NGOs and activists such as Mrs. Mokhtari, are more interested in their self-serving agenda and fundraising than in advancing human rights.
Irina Tsukerman is the Editor-in-Chief of The Washington Outsider, a national security and human rights lawyer, and a geopolitical analyst.