Let’s start with these three things:

  1. I’m a huge fan of Morocco, and it is one of my favourite countries.
  2. I understand that generally, Moroccans like their king.
  3. Moroccans don’t protest easily.

‘#danielgate’ is the Twitter topic hashtag that has gained momentum in recent days due to a decision involving two kings, 11 children, and a paedophile.

The King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, asked the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, to pardon some Spanish citizens in prison in Moroccan jails. King Mohammed agreed, and released 48 Spanish prisoners on 30 July (which is Moroccan Throne Day). Most of those freed had been jailed for drug-trafficking crimes. One of the prisoners was a paedophile.

Daniel Galvan was jailed in 2011, for 30 years, for raping 11 children, aged between 4 and 15. He was convicted after the videos he made of his crimes were used as evidence. A newspaper has published a photograph of Galvan with two Moroccan children that is likely to make your skin crawl (no nudity). He is not allowed to re-enter Morocco, and it is thought he has already left the country.

Hamid Krayri, a lawyer for the families of the victims, filed a complaint against Galvan three years ago when activists showed him discs containing footage of the Spaniard and his victims. Krayri, who is a member of Morocco’s Human Rights Association, said Galvan was convicted by criminal courts in Kenitra, the capital of the Gharb-Chrarda-Béni Hssen region. “He (Galvan) is a retired Spaniard who owns two flats here in Kenitra,” he told Reuters. 

One local political analyst, Khalid Jamai told the news website Febrayer.com (and later reported by English-speaking Morocco World News) that, “I don’t think King Mohammed VI was aware of the crimes committed by the Spanish Daniel, King Mohammed VI is known for his defense of the right of the child and he closely follows the work done by his sister, Princess Lala Meryem, at Observatory of the Child,”. I’m not sure this possible explanation helps the royal. Regardless, of ignorance or intent, this appears to be the 49-year-old king’s most controversial act yet.

There is a lot to this story — monarchy, old colonial hangovers, democracy, judicial systems, child abuse, sex tourism, protesting, social media and international diplomacy (there are also rumours that Galvan was a Spanish spy). But I just want to shed a light on two things connected to this story: the scale of sex tourism in Morocco, and what has happened to some of the #danielgate protestors.

Sex tourism in Morocco

This topic is not new for Moroccans.

Morocco is internationally ranked 2nd after Thailand as far as sexual tourism is concerned. This of course involves Moroccan adults and children but I want to concentrate on the children.

In May this year a Casablanca court jailed at 60-year-old French man for 12 years after convicting him of paedophilia.

On 20 June, police arrested a suspected British paedophile after locals heard screams from a six-year-old girl he allegedly abducted. That same month, thousands marched in Casablanca to condemn paedophilia and violence against children in Morocco.

Consider this from the Moroccan World News website:

The estimated number of child sex tourism victims annually is about 300 million all over the world. In Morocco, sex tourism involving young children in popular tourist destinations does really exist, but it remains always difficult to uncover due to cultural taboos against the open discussion of sex. According to the National Monitoring Center for Child Rights (NMCC) in Rabat, 43 percent of children making distress calls have reported sexual abuse by foreigners (usually tourists) since the center began its monitoring from 1999 to 2003. These abused children are victims of sex tourists, especially those from the Gulf States and European countries.

Sexual tourism is generally a phenomenon which is pervasive worldwide but with varying degrees from society to another. Khalid Semmouni, Coalition Goodwill ambassador, states:  “this problem also exists in other Arab countries, but it is much more severe in Morocco, since this country is open to the West and also due to its geographical position.”

Given how many others may well have gone undetected for their crimes, it is no wonder there is such anger, and sense of humiliation, at this royal pardon.

The protests

A protest was organised for Friday evening in Rabat, which Reuters reports as having hundreds attend, while AFP reported there being ‘thousands’.

The Washington Post reported that the Moroccan Association for Human Rights says that 63 people were injured in the protest, including three children. Many were bleeding from head wounds.

But rather than quell the protests, it appears they have increased momentum. More protests are being planned in Casablanca and the capital Rabat (the seat of the monarchy) on Tuesday and Wednesday, and social media seems to be helping the the coordination (it is worth mentioning, I first heard about the pardon via the Twitter account of Moroccan writer @LailaLalami, though mainstream news is now covering it some more).

The #danielgate protests are gaining momentum and this most recent incident might be the final straw for Moroccans who are angry their children are being exploited, abused and disrespected. And so they should.

Update: The king has revoked his pardon, read more here and I appeared in an episode of Al Jazeera’s ‘The Stream’ about this issue.

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