By Karima Rhanem
After a long day at work; I have decided to watch TV may be for the first time in a while. I came across one of Morocco’s most watched programs “Mokhtafoun” or the Disappeared. As they were doing a flash back review of old cases, I remembered Aïcha El Bihi. I felt depressed and angry. Though, women’s status was advanced in Morocco, we still witness many cases of marital abuses against women.
Aïcha El Bihi, a Moroccan woman in her early 40s, had been abducted by her husband Abdelrrahman Ibn Mamoun al-Aârbi, alias Abdelrrahman Bennani, and imprisoned for 12 years in an abandoned house in one of the villages in Safi in south Morocco.
Aïcha’s case was discussed in Moukhtafoun (The disappeared), aired on 2M channel several years ago.
Moukhtafoun (The disappeared), has become one of the top viewed TV programmes in Morocco. Moroccans of all ages and social background await impatiently the broadcast of the programme, aired every first week of each month.
Moroccans were shocked by the story and closely followed it as the programme broadcast the hearing of her husband after he was arrested for inhumanly detaining his wife.
“This is a very sad story; the woman’s husband imprisoned her for quite a long time and abandoned her until she got very sick. We were called by her brothers to offer help. Her husband is very violent and he even attacked us when were shooting the hearing,” said Adil Benmoussa, the program presenter.
Abdelrazak El Bihi, who is currently living in London, had not seen his sister Aïcha for more than 15 years. Back home, he discovered that she has disappeared, and that nobody knew where she was. He went with his brother Habib to meet Aïcha’s husband, but weren’t able to see her. Her husband pretended she was in Casablanca seeing some of his relatives. After investigation, they found out that she was imprisoned in an abandoned house in Ouled Ali Kiyada Al Amer in Safi, south Morocco.
Enthusiastic, anxious and concerned, Abdelrazak is only seeking justice.
“I want this man to be judged, and I want to take my sister to be treated in a hospital either in Morocco or England. My sister has become mentally ill and she needs urgent medical treatment,” said Abdelrazak.
Aïcha El Bihi was born in 1956 in the Safi region. She moved to Marrakech with her family at the age of four. She was closed to herself, and had a very traditional life with no experience or contact with the outside world.
In 1979, her father died, followed by her mother in 1981. Alone, Aïcha found herself responsible for raising her three brothers and three sisters. Her mother was quite rich and left her lands and belongings before she died.
Illiterate and naive, Aïcha was unable to manage her funds and assets. While she was going around her lands to find out how much she had, she came across her current husband who was working indirectly with his brother at her land as a farmer contractor.
Abdelrrahman (her current husband) proposed to help her in accounting.
“Since he and his brother were working for my family, Abdelrrahman was seeking any opportunity to control all my sister’s money and lands,” Abdelrazak El Bihi said.
“My sister didn’t like him at all. We just can’t understand how the marriage happened. It was very mysterious as nobody attended the wedding, not even her brothers and sisters,” added Abdelrazak.
Nobody in El Bihi’s family believed that Aïcha could marry such a man as he was already married to two others and had seven children.
After the marriage in 1987, Abdelrrahman sought to be the guardian of her young brothers and make sure he controlled her money and that of her small brothers’. However, the court refused to grant him the guardianship.
Abdelrrahman changed his surname to Bennani (a surname of a big and well known family in Morocco), controlled around 120 hectares of his wife’s lands and prevented her brothers and sisters to benefit from their inheritance. Aïcha’s brothers and sisters filed a legal suit against him, demanding their share from the assets they inherited from their mother. It took them several years to get their legal share from him.
Since then, Aïcha’s brothers and sisters lost sight of her. They knew she was in Safi, but ignore where she is exactly.
“My first meeting with my sister was in 1992 when she fled her husband’s house. She went to her cousin in Safi, and phoned my sisters, who brought her back to Marrakech. She was very sick,” said Habib, Aïcha’s younger brother.
“After talking to her, we found out that she is suffering from psychological problems due to her husband attitude and behaviour. He treated her like an animal,” emphasized Habib.
Aïcha was then transferred to the hospital for medical treatment. She got well, but didn’t stop asking for her three-year old child. Two months later, Abdelrrahman came with the little son to ask for her.
Aïcha was depressed to learn that her son didn’t recognize her. She told her brothers and sisters that Abdelrrahman used to beat her and lock her in the house and that she didn’t want to come back to him.
Relatives and friends helped in their reconciliation, and Aïcha came back with him. Since that time, she disappeared completely.
“Whenever we had the opportunity to ask for my sister, he gave us a ready-made answer that she is here and there, and we have never managed to meet her for more than 12 years until my brother came from London,” said Habib.
After investigation, the ‘Gendarmes’ (usually in charge of policing of countryside areas and of small towns) went with Aïcha’s brothers Abdelrazak and Habib to identify where she was imprisoned.
The Gendarmerie had located an abandoned house in Ouled Ali Kiyada Al Amer in Safi. They knocked at the door but nobody answered. They kept knocking until a woman responded yes. The house was like a detention cell locked with an iron chain.
“You could see from the half locked door that there was no furniture in the house as police reports confirmed. Aïcha used to sleep alone all these years on the soil. The house was like an animal farm,” explained Habib.
Police reports said that Aïcha’s words were not understood. Neither the Gendarmerie nor her brothers figured out what she was telling them, and concluded she might be mentally sick. The Gendarmerie came back to look for her husband, but he refused to come and used violence against them.
Abdelrrahman got arrested but was released 20 days later. Instead of taking Aïcha to the hospital, the Gendarme handed her over to her son who is under 18. In turn, her son took her to his father’s house.
“The Police and the judge sent my sister to hell again. I am shocked. When I asked the judge why they freed her husband, he answered: she is his wife and he brought medical certificates that she is being treated elsewhere,” said Abdelrazak.
“Is this the law, is this justice?!! Of course the certificates are falsified. Even her son neglected her and followed what his father told him. My sister is in high need of medical treatment. What happened is inhuman,” added Abdelrazak.
There have been four hearings up to now with no efficient results. Several women organizations have recently staged a sit-in in Safi before the house where Aïcha was imprisoned. Her brother Abdelrazak has sent many letters of complaints to the ministry of justice, the ministry of foreign affairs, the prime ministry, but in vain, status quo.
Depressed and frustrated, Abdelrazak said if the Moroccan court wouldn’t allow him take his sister to be treated in the hospital, he would resort to international human rights organizations.
I remember well my talks with Abdelrazak in London about his sister and how he was frustrated by the injustice that surrounded her. The story personally touched me and I am disappointed I have never followed with what happened to her. But Aicha, you are in my thoughts! Just few days ago, TV program “Lkhit Labyed” (a program which brings people in quarrel together for reconciliation) aired more or else the same issue about a woman who was constantly beaten by her husband! Till when we have these inhuman practices in our society!! Till when the society is covering for those men in the name of tradition! Civil society, human rights activists and religious leaders need to play an active role in their respective communities to raise people’s awareness about these issues in order to prevent such abusive and violent behaviour in our society.
What is Moukhtafoun?
Moukhtafoun, is a social programme featuring true stories of people who have disappeared either in Morocco or abroad. The program receives hundreds of calls every day from Moroccans looking for their missing relatives or friends who have disappeared for several reasons.
Some were kidnapped, abducted, detained, illegally immigrated to Spain or Italy, abandoned, runaway or simply moved without notice. It’s very successful because it is very close to the public. Moukhtafoun have been following many cases of disappeared people and have broadcast people’s reunion when they found their missing ones.
Moukhtafoun had followed some cases where relatives sued a husband because he abducted his wife or those who run away from home and become drug addicts or prostitutes. The programme has become so popular that now they get calls from foreigners searching for their relatives who have disappeared in Morocco or elsewhere.
The programme is organized in themes highlighting the causes of disappearance. Each episode has a different theme and a different story. These include marriage and disappearance, illegal immigration, unemployment, abandoned children, groups lost from sight…