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Yet even here there is the furtive pitter-patter of the killjoy’s advance.
The kingdom’s new Islamist prime minister, Abdelilah Benkirane, entered politics by campaigning for the contestants in a local beauty pageant to replace their swimsuits with woolly caftans, turning their hourglass figures into body bags and hooding their hair.
Among the first victims were Alexandria’s statues of bare-breasted mermaids, which for more than a century had borne a hunky Zeus on a marble platter.
Cultural battles that rage elsewhere in the Arab world peter out by the time they clamber over the western edge of the Atlas Mountains.Marrakech, a rose-red city on the Sahara’s edge, is where former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn sated his lust, and even the normally temperate Financial Times chose the city as the site of its luxury conference.Islamists in Morocco find themselves the butt of secular ridicule, not least from the leaders of a movement for Berber rights who promote their indigenous, pre-Islamic culture, decry Arabic as an Eastern colonial implant and call themselves “beerberistes” to emphasize their rejection of Islam’s prohibition of alcohol.In an attempt to rein in the country’s avid bikini culture, a relic of Morocco’s former French rule, Benkirane’s justice minister won a legal battle to allow veils at the beach. “At least let us have sand castles.” On Fridays, prayer mats jostle for space with beach towels.“Forsake not God’s law on the beaches,” rants a bearded doomsayer who stalks bathers at Mehdia, a popular resort north of Rabat.
But two years on, the promise of individual as well as national liberation still hangs in the balance.