Elton John to perform in Morocco despite outcry
RABAT, Morocco (AP) -May 26, 2010 -- Organizers say Elton John will be the highlight of Morocco's biggest music festival, despite calls by the country's main Islamist party to cancel the British singer's concert because of his homosexuality.
The public spat between organizers for the Mawazine Festival and the Justice and Development Party, or PJD, the country's largest authorized Islamist group, illustrates the growing rift between Morocco's Western-leaning authorities and the more conservative Muslim movements that are on the rise in the North African kingdom.
"This singer is famous for his homosexual behavior and for advocating it," said Mustapha Ramid, a leader and spokesman for the PJD, the biggest opposition party with 40 lawmakers in parliament.
"We're a rather open party, but promoting homosexuality is completely unacceptable," Ramid told The Associated Press in a phone interview, stating is was against Muslim values. Ramid feared the singer would "encourage the phenomenon" and be a bad influence for Morocco's youth.
While Egypt recently canceled an Elton John concert because of remarks he made on homosexuality, Moroccan officials ignored calls to ban him.
"We deal with artists and intellectuals for what they do, without taking into account their private life," Mawazine Festival organizer El Hassan Neffali told reporters. "Somebody's private life is one thing, and their art or creative activities are another."
Elton John is expected to draw tens of thousands of viewers Wednesday night during his free concert, to be held in an upscale neighborhood of Rabat, the capital. Seven other stages are set throughout the town. Other singers performing during this year's May 21-29 festival include Sting, Mika and Carlos Santana, along with a host of Arab music stars.
In an apparent move to defuse possible tensions, Elton John is the only artist booked for this year's festival who isn't scheduled to meet with the local media. Ramid, of the PJD, said he wasn't aware whether his group or others planned street demonstrations against the concert.
The PJD and other conservatives have regularly criticized Mawazine, saying it promotes promiscuity and artists who don't abide by Muslim morals. It also blames the festival season for distracting students from their end of the year exams.
The free concerts usually draw huge crowds. Eleven people were killed and about 30 injured last year when a stampede broke out at the end of a concert. Organizers say they have boosted security this year.
Mawazine is under the patronage of the country's King Mohammed VI, and Moroccan officials openly acknowledge they back the festival, along with dozens of others through the spring and summer, as a means to promote cultural diversity and openness in Moroccan society.
But homosexuality, though tolerated by Moroccan traditions, isn't officially authorized in the largely Muslim kingdom and strong Western ally.
The country's first gay magazine came out this month, though it sold under the cover because it didn't get an official distribution license. The gay rights group that publishes it - one of the first in any Arab country - is based in neighboring Spain.
elton john, entertainment
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