Op-Ed by Karima Rhanem
A photo, showing Morocco’s Government head Mr Abdelilah Benkirane and his Spouse Mrs Nabila Benkirane posing with the U.S. President Barack Obama & the First Lady Michelle Obama, sparked fierce comments and criticism in electronic media and social networking. The picture was taken during a White House reception organized on the sidelines of the US-Africa Summit currently being held in Washington DC.
This is the first ever official public appearance of Mrs Benkirane since her Husband’s election as Morocco’s Head of the Government in 2012.
The comments ranged from simple likes to harsh criticism focusing mainly on Mrs Benkirane’s way of dressing. Some think that the Jellaba (Typical Moroccan Dress) she was wearing is very ordinary and is the type of dress women wear to go to the Souk (local market). Others questioned if she couldn’t afford to buy herself a Kaftan (also traditional dress, a front-buttoned coat or overdress, usually reaching to the ankles, with long sleeves). In Conclusion, people think that Mrs Benkirane is simply not stylish and what she was wearing is not representing the Moroccan traditional dress!
Hello Moroccans, wake up, Mrs Benkirane was going to an official dinner and not to a fashion show! Other people went even far to question what she was doing there next to her husband in the White House, since according to them “we don’t have a function of the Spouse of the head of the government in the constitution”. So, she “can’t travel with the Government Head on State Budget expenses,” Moroccan social media users emphasized.
Well, let’s not forget that Mr Benkirane is representing HM the King in this summit and he is leading a high-profile Moroccan delegation to the U.S. This delegation has certainly been approved by the King and the White House has invited African Leaders with their Spouses. Even the US First Lady hosted a reception in honor of Leaders spouses.
Mrs Benkirane, though she has never appeared in public life or been involved in politics, she is an educated woman and speaks foreign languages. Not being involved in politics doesn’t mean that Mrs Benkirane doesn’t understand politics and could not communicate with other leaders’ spouses. While it is highly important to respect diplomatic protocol, it is also not the end of the world to make your first ever protocol mistake, one that is not harming neither the image of Morocco, nor that of its people, its leadership or institutions.
Apologies Mrs Benkirane for mocking on your Jellaba that is part of our traditions, apologies because you were not stylish, apologies because they didn’t excuse you for your ever first protocol mistake in your first public appearance, apologies because they forgot that several women leaders were wearing very normal clothes in many international high level meetings but nobody cared about their appearances as they were more interested in their performance, apologies because people forgot that several presidents like Francois Holland and many others even president Obama you took the picture with made a lot of protocol mistakes in several occasions, apologies but because your husband is Mr Benkirane, you have to get your share of criticism, apologies because we didn’t prepare you well for the fashion show, we should have chosen for you the most stylish and expensive Kaftan so that you can be Miss Africa Spouse, just apologies because you were wearing descent clothes, apologies because those same people who campaigned against any foreign insult of Moroccan women are the same people who attacked your dignity!
I was hoping to see more constructive criticism and comments on the symbolism of this historic picture that shows that our institutions are functioning, a symbiosis between the Royal Palace and the government as an institution by appointing Mr. Benkirane to represent him. I was hoping to see comments on what Mr Benkirane and the delegation discussed there on behalf of Moroccans. Afterall, our head of the Government is said to be the only African elected leader from a moderate Islamist party to be officially welcomed at a reception in the White House among other African leaders on the side of the Summit.