By Djamel Belayachi
Samir Bergachi is unstoppable. Barely 23 years old, the young Moroccan is simply not content to live his homosexuality openly in a country where it is considered as a crime. For the past 6 years, Samir has been running the first Moroccan gay association, kif-kif. And only a month ago, he caused a real stir: the launching of Mithly, the first gay magazine in the Arab world. Some find his initiatives inadmissible. Others admire his courage.
He founded and launched Mithly, the first gay magazine in the Arab world, on the first of April and has since made headlines both in Morocco and the Arab world. Samir Bergachi, general coordinator of Kif-Kif, — an association that fights for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in Morocco, founded in 2004, — launched Mithly in order to offer homosexuals a mouthpiece. Moroccan conservatives, hostile to homosexuality, which to them is deviant, do not accept the emergence of what has been termed a journalistic UFO. The Moroccan state, on the other hand, considers homosexuality as a crime. Gay Moroccans are, hence, caught between the hammer of the judiciary and the anvil of Islamist wrath. It is for this reason that the offices of Mithly and Kif-Kif have been established in Madrid, Spain. Despite these difficulties, Samir Bergachi told Afrik.com that the independent press as well as rights associations have "welcomed" the magazine.
Hard copies of the first issue of the magazine were printed and distributed clandestinely in Rabat. But for now, those in charge of Mithly want to focus their efforts on the Internet version for the sake of convenience. The first issue devotes several pages to British pop singer Elton John, whose participation in the Mawazine Festival, scheduled to take place in Rabat from May 21 to 29, has aroused the ire of the Islamists, due to his homosexuality. The singer is expected to meet Kif-Kif activists before his performance. Samir Bergachi believes that there is an implicit recognition by the authorities of the gay movement in Morocco. "We won a battle," he exclaims.
Afrik.com: Why did you decide to start a gay magazine?
Samir Bergachi: For over 5 years now, there has been a debate surrounding homosexuality in Morocco. But the mainstream media has the tendency to sensationalize the subject. With Mithly, we have the opportunity to give the views of homosexuals, and the opportunity to interact directly with society.
Afrik.com: The first issue of your magazine was distributed under the counter in Morocco, according to several newspapers.
We printed 200 copies and distributed them among people we already knew. But we only did this to leave a mark in the history of gay activism in Morocco — we want to focus on the Internet version. It took place under difficult conditions, given the strict nature of laws that criminalize homosexuality (6 months to 3 years imprisonment and a fine). But fortunately, we did not encounter any problems. We plan to do the same thing with the next issue. We will distribute 200 copies to a target audience. This idea, however, has no future.
Afrik.com: Have you taken the necessary steps to obtain official permission to publish?
Samir Bergachi: We have not formally requested permission to publish. However, we have had indirect contact with the authorities, which have still not produced any results. We have therefore concluded that there will be no permission. We are officially not recognized in Morocco. And although we work with many associations the state refuses to recognize our existence.
Afrik.com: You got involved in gay activism well before Mithly. In fact, you are a founding member of Kif-Kif…
Samir Bergachi: The idea of Kif-Kif was born after an incident in Titouane in 2004, during which the police arrested 42 homosexuals at a birthday party. The case triggered an uproar in the local media. Associations that usually intervened on human rights issues were silent. Students were expelled from universities, young people were thrown out of their homes. We told ourselves, with friends from other associations, that we would make sure this never happened again. We met in Tangier two months after the incident, and implemented a plan to reintegrate the affected youth into society.
Afrik.com: What is Kif-kif all about?
Samir Bergachi: More than 90% of our activities are based in Morocco. These activities include, Cultural, educational, sexual education classes. We also work with psychologists and doctors. Sometimes, homosexuals are not welcome by medical practitioners. In cases like these, we guide them toward doctors who work with us. Our work also consists of exposing gay culture in the Grand Maghreb, where it is nonexistent. It should be noted that we have started from scratch.
Afrik.com: Your magazine has aroused indignation among some Moroccan newspapers and certain politicians. Is there a media campaign against Mithly?
Samir Bergachi: Actually, there were two campaigns. On the one hand, many felt that our initiative was natural, and had no problem with it. Generally, associations and the independent media welcomed Mithly. Among them are, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, the weekly Nichan, Tel Quel ... And there are, of course, other more conservative media with religious prejudices, opposed to homosexuality, and who do not see the arrival of this magazine in a positive light. This campaign has gone uninterrupted since 2005 and we’re used to it. It has become banal (laughs). I am also quite unhappy with the way some Western media covered the release of the magazine. Reading them gives the impression that people still ride donkeys in Morocco! Some have often asked shocking questions like: "Are you threatened with death? Are they trying to kill you?" It is true that there are many people who dislike me, but not this level of violence.
Afrik.com: Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country. And many Muslims believe their religion is inconsistent with being gay. Do you think homosexuality is compatible with Islam?"
Samir Bergachi: We have no answer to such questions. We are modernist and secular. It must be noted that it is not only Muslims who stigmatize homosexuality. Only 30 years ago in Spain, (under Franco’s National-Catholic regime, ed), they were sentenced to death. In my opinion, there is no contradiction between Islam and homosexuality. We have in our association a number of lesbians who wear the veil and live their lives normally, without the feeling that they are in contradiction with religion. I can’t really give an answer to this question. I am not a religious man.
Afrik.com: What topics will the next issue of Mithly tackle?
Samir Bergachi: We will devote our front-page topic to the suicide phenomenon among homosexuals. We conducted a survey on the subject and found that the suicide rate among gay men is 20% higher. This is really worrying. The state must intervene. We also intend to talk about an Algerian transsexual named Randa, who has just released a book. Not forgetting the Mawazine festival in Morocco where Elton John, the singer, will be present.
Afrik.com: The participation of British pop singer Elton John, who is openly gay, has irked conservatives recently. One of the leaders of the ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD), Abdellah Baha, said that his coming was a sort of "incentive" to homosexuality in Morocco.
Samir Bergachi: Elton John will attend the festival, and we will be meeting him before his stage appearance. The Moroccan authorities, who are too concerned about their image abroad, cannot prevent it. And it is a form of recognition for the gay movement in Morocco. We have won a battle (laughs). Elton John might also speak on the subject before singing. There will be surprises!