Beleaguered Hoteliers Want Morocco To Change A Controversial Sex Law

A long running law is now stifling domestic tourism, some hotels claim.

Morocco is great for married couples. There are all sorts of places to explore. It’s also popular, in winter, with young single people, who escape Europe by heading down to places like Tagazhout, Agadir, Marrakesh, Casablanca and of course the blue town of Chefchaouen (to name a few).

But for unmarried couples, it’s more complicated. Premarital sex is illegal in Morocco, and hotels typically uphold a policy of “no marriage certificate, no (shared) room.” This has resulted in a lot of workarounds. Tourist websites recommend everything from offering extra money to putting on fake wedding rings, to booking two single rooms and sneaking across to your partner’s chambers after dark.

This has a stifling impact on both domestic and foreign tourism, but particularly on domestic tourism, with Travel Guide Marrakech claiming the rule is more strictly enforced when the unmarried couple are Moroccan citizens (or one of them is).

According to Travel Guide Marrakech: “Strictly speaking, the ban on the sharing of hotel rooms by unmarried couples applies to foreigners as well as Moroccans themselves. However, I am not aware of any instance in which a foreign tourist has been asked to produce their wedding certificate.”

“I myself have visited Morocco more than 20 times. Either as part of a couple or with several other people, staying in countless riads, hotels, mountain huts, desert bivouacs or apartments. I have never once been questioned about my marital status. However, if you are unmarried and intend to share your hotel room with a Moroccan citizen, the situation is slightly different,” Travel Guide Marrakech adds.

“Landlords or hoteliers who allow unmarried couples to share a room are in breach of the law. Consequently, binational couples without a wedding certificate will struggle to rent a room anywhere in Morocco. Naturally, this also applies to other unmarried Muslim couples. I don’t know of any hotels that will accommodate unmarried binational couples on an official basis,” (Travel Guide Marrakech).

With the pandemic having cut the number of foreign tourists to Morocco by 78.5% in 2020 (a trend which has continued into 2021), some hoteliers are campaigning to change the law regarding extramarital sex, in order to boost the numbers of domestic tourists choosing to stay in hotels.

A resort manager in Morocco recently told The Economist: “I get more calls from unmarried couples wanting to stay than anyone else,” adding: “I could fill my hotel 100% if only they’d lift the law.”

The Economist also reports that hopes of change were sparked recently, “after the Islamist party heading the government crashed in elections in September, losing 90% of its seats.”

Aziz Akhannouch, the new prime minister, is said to be a bit more liberal. According to The Economist, Akhannouch’s government recently said it would review the entire penal code (including article 490).

However, The Economist points out: “He has left out of his coalition the only party that publicly calls for Article 490 to be repealed.”

Publically calling for such a thing is a risky business.

The BBC reported in 2012: “The editor of Morocco’s Al-Ahdath Al-Maghribia daily newspaper, Moktar el-Ghzioui, is living in fear for his life after he expressed support for pre-marital sex during a local television debate.”

Those who support keeping the law say they fear hotels could end up turning into brothels. Another concern that has been reported is that some hotel owners don’t want the bribes that come from this law being in place to dry up.

Young people are fighting back online, pointing out that other Muslim countries (like the UAE) have decriminalised extramarital sex, and that allegedly even Saudi Arabia’s hotels have stopped asking couples to show their marriage credentials.

They also claim the original Article 490 was introduced by France in 1953, as an oppressive tool, trying to persuade people with the argument it’s not even Moroccan. The hashtag ‘stop490’ was trending on Twitter in February after a woman was sentenced to one month in prison for having sex outside of marriage.

Only time will tell if the law will be successfully repealed.