Why Did Morocco Cancel an ‘Israeli’ Belly Dance Festival?

Why Did Morocco Cancel an 'Israeli' Belly Dance Festival?

The Moroccan authorities this week cancelled a planned “Israeli” belly dancing festival amid protests over “normalisation” with Israel.

Simona Guzman, an Israeli dancer, had organised the belly dancing festival to begin on Tuesday in Marrakech and take place throughout the Eid festival celebrating the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The event had faced weeks of popular uproar in the Moroccan press as local organisations decried the attendance of Israeli dancers, while others were concerned over scantily clad dancers sipping alcohol at the five-star hotel set to host the event during Eid.

The Kenzi Club Agdal Medina hotel, set to host the festival and its guests, told Al-Quds Al-Arabi that the Moroccan authorities had cancelled the week-long event.

No other hotel had been given permission to host the festival, it added.

The “Mediterranean Delight” international belly dancing festival is hosted by Guzman annually in different cities across the world, last year taking place in the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

While the festival prompted outrage among Moroccans, the event was mostly geared towards female tourists who need “timeout to connect” with themselves, with Guzman offering an all-inclusive stay at the five-star hotel and belly dancing lessons, in addition to tours of Marrakech and other destinations.

The Orientalist affair also offered guests the opportunity to take part in an “authentic Moroccan trance (hadra)”. A hadra is a communal Sufi Islamic ritual designed to bring worshippers closer to God.

Although Guzman hails from Israel, the festival also planned to offer belly dancing workshops from Egyptian, American and Taiwanese dancers. Two other Israeli “Oriental dancers” were set to take part in the festival.

Moroccans had protested against the event, calling it symptomatic of normalisation with Israel and urging that it be cancelled.

The National Initiative Against Normalisation and Aggression called the festival a “massive provocation against Moroccans and a barefaced attack on their values”.

While ties between the two countries have not officially been normalised, Israelis are permitted to travel to Morocco with a visa.

A 2012 edition of the festival – also organised by Guzman and attended by Israeli dancer Asi Haskal – was also supposed to take place in Morocco, but was moved to Greece after protests. The festival did however take place in Marrakech unimpeded in 2011.

Others were concerned that a week-long festival of seductive values could clash with traditional religious values during the Eid holiday, despite taking place behind closed doors.

A Moroccan official told Moroccan newspaper Al-Akhbar Al-Youm that the event had been cancelled for clashing with the “religious feelings” of Moroccans during the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

The official did not rule out the festival being held at a later date.

Guzman on Facebook blamed the cancellation of “Islamist pressure”, saying she had become a “persona non grata” in the North African country.

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