Morocco welcomes Elton John

Tens of thousands of Moroccans saw Elton John perform at a free concert in Rabat last night. Despite earlier opposition from Islamists on the grounds of his sexuality, no violence was reported, though security was tight.

The Associated Press describes the event as a "litmus test" for Morocco's drive to modernity, "probing this Muslim nation's complex and ambiguous attitudes toward homosexuality like rarely before":

The tension over the concert is part of a tussle between conservatives and modernisers in a nation that criminalises homosexuality but has long been famous for a swinging party scene. Morocco has attracted gay celebrities such as designer Yves Saint Laurent and writer Paul Bowles, and recently saw the launch of its first gay magazine.

In contrast to Egypt, where Elton John was refused permission to perform earlier this month, his Moroccan concert was advertised instreet posters and appeared to have tacit royal approval – it was part of the Mawazine Festival held under the patronage of King Mohammed VI.

Le Matin newspaper, which often reflects an official viewpoint, spoke out in favour of the concert, saying that differences "are to humanity what seasons are to life".

Abdellah Taia, the first openly gay Moroccan writer, described it as a sign of the country's rapid evolution but told AP: "I just wish they'd extend the support they give Elton John to ordinary Moroccan gays."

Despite the country's reputation as a gay tourist destination, gay Moroccans are regularly harassed by the police and young men who consort with foreigners are often assumed to be engaged in the sex trade. In 2007 there was a huge furore over a party that was claimed to be a "gay wedding".

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 27 May 2010.