When the British Prince Harry (34) and his pregnant wife Meghan (37) visit the state, it is usually beneficial for your popularity. Not so in Morocco, where King Mohammed VI (55) received a lot of questions instead of acclaim. Because where was his (ex?) Wife, Princess Lalla Salma (40)? Her absence makes the rumors about his nature flare up.
It has been since October 2017 that Princess Lalla Salma once again appeared in public. Her duties as a hostess were taken over during the recent visit of Harry and Meghan to Morocco by teenage prince Moulay Hassan, Mohammed’s successor. Lalla Salma reportedly left the royal palace some time ago, and the many comments about how and why lead to tensions in the country where love between same-sex people is very difficult.
There was already great discontent in Moroccan politics when the king decided to include Pierre Berg, the figurehead of the French gay movement and the friend of the deceased fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent, in the knighthood of the Alawites. Now that Mohammed no longer even has a wife to maintain the appearance of heterosexual life, it is speculated that he will have to resign as soon as the crown prince reaches the age of majority. Although many oppressed Moroccan gays hope that Mohammed will remain on the throne after he has come out of the closet.
The political career of King Mohammed VI, however, began promisingly. Twenty years ago, after the death of his dictatorial father Hassan II, he got a breath of fresh air. Expectations were high, certainly when Mohammed also married the handsome computer specialist Salma Bennani. Mohammed’s own mother, Latifa, a Berber princess, led the hidden life of a harem woman. Lalla Salma, on the other hand, did everything to improve the image of Morocco as a progressive Islamic country. She symbolized like no other the modernization that Muhammad advocated. Even at her marriage, Salma did not wear a headscarf. She received the title “princess”, a first for Morocco, and completed official assignments at home and abroad, making her the world’s first true first lady in an Islamic nation. But their fairy tale didn’t last. According to some sources, the couple divorced two years ago in silence.
Muhammad’s popularity also got a dent for another reason. The monarch seems to be less concerned with the problems of his people than with his pleasures. He was once called the ‘king of the poor’, but in reality, he throws the dirhams at lightning speed. The monarch owns a large part of the Moroccan economy: he is a large landowner and a major producer of agricultural products. Moreover, he uses his political influence to become even richer. With an estimated fortune of 5 billion euros, he appears in the Forbes list of regal super-rich people, just among oil billionaires like the Sultan of Brunei and the King of Saudi Arabia. Mohammed VI can really live like a prince from the fairy tales of a thousand and one nights.
Before he succeeded his father Hassan, who died at the age of 70, the Moroccan crown prince Sidi Mohammed was one of the most sought after bachelors in the world. The prince seemed to be friends with almost all of Hollywood. He was spotted everywhere while he was wearing a trendy pair of sunglasses on his nose and a flashy tailored suit around his sturdy torso in yet another supercar to a next mundane appointment. The Moroccans, therefore, had high expectations of their prince, who resolutely seemed to opt for a modern life based on a Western model.
King Hassan II did not have a good eye for the succession by his eldest son, and, surprisingly enough, gave many Moroccans more confidence in the future. Hassan II called his eldest son a weakling who could never become a decisive king. In his 38 years on the throne, the dictatorial patriarch had answered every criticism of his regime with bloodshed. Hassan could not understand that a monarch may also appear sympathetic. Although it was mainly rumors about Muhammad’s nature that worried the old monarch.
For example, it was whispered that Mohammed received a striking amount of well-built male company at his palace Les Sablons in Sale. Worried, Hassan let his son follow when he did an internship in Brussels with President Jacques Delors of the European Commission. The reports of his spies did not reassure him: Mohammed was more often seen in Brussels gay bars than in the buildings of the European administration. The royal entourage was silent about this, but the elite of capital Rabat was well aware of the princely walks of life.
Hassan’s death in the summer of 1999 caused great unrest among the religious, military and political leaders of Morocco. Perhaps they launched the rumor that the crown prince was responsible for his father’s death, so as to put Sidi Mohammed offside. The gossip is still popping up today, no matter how unlikely it is. After all, the old frost was admitted to the hospital with a lung infection when he died of a heart attack. The Moroccan youths had high expectations of the hip 36-year-old king whom they called super cool in the west.
King Mohammed VI’s first measures also met those expectations. He put his father’s advisors at the door. He broke up the harem in which King Hassan II more or less kept his fifty concubines imprisoned. And he embarked on a tour of the country and was received enthusiastically everywhere. His engagement with the progressive princess Lalla Salma was the icing on the cake.
After the birth of their two children Moulay Hassan and Lalla Khadija (12), Mohammed and Salma had photographs taken of his family happiness. The king had the law stipulate that Moroccan women may choose their husbands themselves and that they may apply for the divorce themselves. Unfortunately, other innovations were not forthcoming and the much-needed economic reforms are still fruitlessly waiting. Even today there is still a lot of poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy in Morocco, as a result of which Mohammed gets more and more criticism in his own country. Especially since he rarely resides in that country.
The king has a palace in almost every city in Morocco, yet his favorite residence is in the French village of Betz. There he owns a fairytale castle in a 70-hectare park. His Arabian thoroughbreds are in the stable, just like a part of his very expensive sports car collection. For the past twenty years, Mohammed has had the immense castle completely modernized. Twenty Betzenaren work full time on the royal domain. But if Mohammed settles there, another forty must sign the strict confidentiality clause that he demands from his staff. And therefore it seems unlikely that anyone from Muhammad’s court will blow out of Lalla Salma from confession. If they already know where the princess is nowadays.