Connect to share and comment

Elton John wows Morocco despite Islamist protests

Fundamentalists charge that pop star is part of Western gay plot to corrupt Morroco.

RABAT, Morocco — British singer Elton John may not have played the hit tune “Madman Across the Water” at his concert here Wednesday, but that is how Moroccan conservatives portrayed the gay vocalist in the run-up to his controversial show.

John’s visit sparked outrage among Islamists who said the pop star’s history of advocating for gay rights runs against traditional values in a country where 98 percent of the population is Muslim.

“We’re not revolting against the singer, but against a leader of a determined gay movement,” said Lahcen Daoudi, vice-secretary general of the PJD, Morocco’s main Islamist party.

“He is an extremist who has insulted religion,” Daoudi said, citing the singer’s controversial remarks in February saying that Jesus Christ was gay.

Homosexuality is forbidden under many interpretations of Islam and regarded as crime in Morocco — punishable by fines and prison sentences of up to three years. Nevertheless, laws against homosexuality are rarely enforced.

The North African nation is widely regarded as an Arab world bastion of tolerant hipness; alcohol is widely available despite official prohibitions, and the country has consistently played host to gay notables like novelist William S. Burroughs and fashion designer Yves St. Laurent.

Morocco’s liberal face was prominently on display at the concert that went forward despite Islamist opposition. It was a highlight of the country’s yearly Mawazine music festival, which is backed by the country’s absolute ruler, King Mohammed VI.

Organizers said at least 15,000 people turned out to hear the singer belt out a set list that included “Sorry is the Hardest Word,” “Candle in the Wind” and “The Bitch is Back.”

“I love him!” said Samira Alaoui, 21, a receptionist from Rabat, as she craned her neck during “Sacrifice,” her favorite Elton John song.

Alaoui said that for most Moroccans, John’s sexual orientation made no difference. "It doesn't pose any problem for me,” she said. “It's his private life."