Ibtissam Lachgar

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Ibtissam Lachgar
Ibtissame Lachgar 2018.jpg
Lachgar holding her One Law For All award at the Secular Conference 2018 in London.
BornAugust 1975 (age 47)
Known forIndividual liberties activism, co-founder of the MALI Movement

Ibtissam "Betty" Lachgar, also spelled Ibtissame[1] (Arabic: ابتسام لشكر) (born in August 1975) is a Moroccan developmental psychologist,[2] feminist, human rights activist, and LGBT advocate.[citation needed] She's the co-founder of the MALI Movement (Mouvement alternatif pour les libertés individuelles). She is one of the few openly atheist Moroccans.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in August 1975, Ibtissam Lachgar studied in Lycée Descartes in the Moroccan capital Rabat, before moving to Paris to study clinical psychology, criminology and victimology.[citation needed] She is currently working on her thesis in psychoanalysis, in Paris.[citation needed]


On 23 August 2009,[2] along with her friend Zineb El Rhazoui, she co-founded the Mouvement alternatif pour les libertés individuelles (MALI), a movement to defend individual freedoms in Morocco.[3][1] In Moroccan Arabic (Darija), mali also means "What's wrong with me?" or "What are you accusing me of?"; thus it constitutes a rhetorical question to opponents of freedom, telling them to mind their own business.[2]

2009 Ramadan Picnic[edit]

Lachgar speaking at the Secular Conference 2018.

The day after Mali's foundation, Lachgar and El Rhazoui announced their first event on their Facebook page: a daytime symbolic picnic (pique-nique symbolique) during the month of Ramadan, as a protest against the 222 article of the Moroccan penal code that punishes those who break the Islamic holy month's mandatory daytime fast.[2] Participants were not obliged to eat; they could also simply show up to support of those who wanted to exercise their right to do so.[2] The picnickers planned to meet at 13:00 on 13 September 2009 at the train station of Mohammedia, halfway between Casablanca and the capital city of Rabat; they would then proceed to the edge of a quiet forest on Mohammedia's outskirts.[2] They argued that Article 222 only prohibited "ostentatively breaking the fast" in public, but that they would disturb no one when lunching in a public yet isolated place.[2] Aside from many supportive messages, the online announcement also quickly attracted hostility from Islamists, who posted insults and death threats against the participants, such as: "We know how you look. We'll cut your throats." Several anti-Mali Facebook groups were created in opposition to the initiative. El Rhazoui said that even if they were attacked by Islamists or arrested by the police, it would show the world 'the fascism of Ramadan, if people who do such an innocent thing as picknicking in a forest were lynched by Islamists' or 'that in Morocco, you are already put behind bars for eating a sandwich'.[2]

Only six picknickers are known to have shown up. Yet, as they arrived to the train station, they were instantly accosted by a crowd of about 100 police officers and Auxiliaires, and many journalists who knew about the event on Facebook. The activists were repeatedly questioned, searched and harassed for an hour, while journalists tried to interview them. At 14:00, the police forced the six participants to enter the train to Casablanca under the guard of two policemen, putting an end to the intended protest.[2] The weekly magazine TelQuel, published an editorial calling the fierce reaction a sign Morocco has lost its culture of tolerance. “In one generation our country has radically transformed,” it said. “It’s scary.”[4][5] The picnic caused public outrage within the Moroccan society and opened debate about religious freedoms in the country.[6]

Kiss-in in Rabat[edit]

Lachgar receiving a One Law For All award for her activism at the Secular Conference 2018

Ibtissam was also one of the organizers of the public kiss-in that took place on October 12, 2013, to support three teenagers arrested for posting a picture of themselves kissing on Facebook.[citation needed] The protesters were confronted by onlookers as they kissed and chanted "Long live love". The kissing case has sparked uproar online, with citizens protesting against what they see as creeping conservatism in the Muslim country long known for being relatively liberal and tolerant. In an interview with France 24 about the kiss-in, she said: “For us, the message got through. It was a success. There were couples and single people, and the couples were not embarrassed in public. Our message is that they are defending love, the freedom to love and kiss freely” [7]

2012 abortion boat controversy[edit]

On behalf of MALI, which seeks to legalise abortion, Lachgar invited Women on Waves' abortion boat, run by Dutch physician Rebecca Gomperts, to land in Morocco in early October 2012.[8] The goal was to make a symbolic statement about the lack of sexual and reproductive health and rights for women in Morocco, many of whom have unwanted pregnancies, which may only be aborted when the woman's life is in danger, not in any other circumstances including rape. This resulted in 'between 600 and 800 illegal abortions every day, which kills 90 Moroccan women annually', Gomperts said.[8] If possible, she intended to perform abortions for Moroccan women, as her boat was sailing under the Dutch flag and thus allowed to perform legal abortions on board.[8] Lachgar was wary that Moroccan authorities might try to block the boat with military might, as happened years earlier in Portugal.[8]

Lachgar partaking in an ex-Muslim women panel, Atheist Day 2019

Indeed, on 4 October, a warship was sent to block the boat – and all other traffic – from entering the port of Smir, located between Tétouan and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.[9] Only then did Women on Waves reveal that the boat had already docked at the port days earlier as a 'pleasure yacht', after which the activists reached the port on 4 October on foot, embarked and unfurled their banners.[10] The Moroccan authorities claimed that the boat was just a 'decoy', and that they had managed to halt the 'real' vessel, but it was actually the only boat WOW had deployed.[10] In the morning of 5 October, the boat was escorted out of the port into international waters by the Moroccan navy.[10] This was the first time Women on Waves made landfall in a Muslim-majority country. Anti-abortion protesters were present, many carrying signs against abortion.[11] The action, which was greeted by some and condemned by others, created a lot of controversy in Morocco, and stirred up heated debates.[12] In May 2015, King Mohammed VI of Morocco decided to allow women to terminate their pregnancies if these were the result of rape or incest, or if the foetus was malformed.[13]

LGBT+ and pro-choice advocacy[edit]

Lachgar is also very vocal about the LGBT community in Morocco, and is pro-choice and pro same-sex marriage.[14]

In January 2019, she was spokesperson for the support network for Chafiq, a Moroccan transvestite whose identity was publicly revealed by the police in Marrakech.[15]

Personal life[edit]

Ibtissam lives with her boyfriend in Rabat.[16] He is also an atheist.[17]


  1. ^ a b Khalil, Andrea (2016). Gender, Women and the Arab Spring. Routledge. p. 33. ISBN 9781317599166. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Beekmans, Kees (2011). Tussen hoofddoek en string. Marokko, de snelle modernisering van een Arabisch land. Amsterdam: Nieuw Amsterdam. pp. 7–9. ISBN 9789046809358. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  3. ^ Leïla Slimani (16 December 2010). "Ibtissam Lachgar". Jeune Afrique.
  4. ^ "Where a picnic is against the law". globalpost.com. 20 October 2009.
  5. ^ Bangré, Habibou (23 October 2009). "Zineb El Rhazoui : " Nous ne défendons pas que la liberté de "dé-jeûner" "". afrik.com.
  6. ^ "Au Maghreb, les têtes brûlées de la laïcité". Le Monde (in French). 2010-06-07. ISSN 1950-6244. Retrieved 2016-06-03.
  7. ^ "Moroccans stage 'kiss-in' in support of arrested teens - France 24". France 24. 13 October 2013. Retrieved 3 June 2016.
  8. ^ a b c d Mariken Smit (3 October 2012). "Marokko ontstemd over komst abortusboot". de Volkskrant (in Dutch). Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  9. ^ "Marineschip blokkeert haven voor abortusboot". de Volkskrant (in Dutch). 4 October 2012. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  10. ^ a b c "Abortusboot verlaat Marokko na 'geslaagde actie'". de Volkskrant (in Dutch). 5 October 2012. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  11. ^ Morocco, Associated Press in (4 October 2012). "Abortion campaigners' boat turned away from Moroccan port". The Guardian. Associated Press. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  12. ^ Gunnila Kleiverda (20 October 2012). "Abortusboot in Marokko heeft doel bereikt". Trouw (in Dutch). Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  13. ^ "Marokkaanse koning staat abortus toe na verkrachting". Trouw (in Dutch). 16 May 2015. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  14. ^ Lemag, Adam Sfali -. "France : Une marocaine a manifesté nue pour défendre le droit au mariage homosexuel". lemag.ma.
  15. ^ Francisco Peregil (12 January 2019). "La humillación de ser travesti en Marruecos y que la policía lo difunda". El País (in Spanish). ISSN 1134-6582. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  16. ^ Jalal Al Makhfi (14 February 2014). "In Morocco, unmarried couples brave taboo". The Daily Star (Lebanon). Retrieved 2016-06-03.
  17. ^ Bill Day (18 August 2018). "Controversial Feminist and Atheist Ibtissam Lachgar Arrested in Rabat". Williamson Day. Retrieved 1 February 2019.