By Hassan al-Ashraf
Al Arabiya RABAT
Statements by Moroccan Telecommunications Minister Mustapha al-Khalfi about banning live transmission of gambling have stirred much controversy with critics objecting to what they viewed as the Islamization of the media and supporters endorsing restrictions on activities prohibited in Islam.
"I will not allow gambling games to be screened live on state TV which is funded by the Moroccan people even if this costs me my job," Khalfi told members of the Education, Culture, and Communications Committee in the parliament.
Khalfi, the youngest minister in the new government headed by the Islamist-oriented Justice and Development Party, attributed his decision to the negative impact live gambling has on TV viewers, especially the youth.
"On one day in February, the number of viewers watching live gambling was more than 900,000."
Khalfi added that the ban on live gambling on state TV is observed all over the world even in the most liberal of countries.
"There is a difference between social liberalism and this type of unlimited liberalism that does not work towards protecting younger generations."
Saeid Lakhal, an authority on Islamic movements, argued the decision is a step towards the Islamization of state media and the rejection of all practices that do not comply with the conservative character of the Justice and Development Party and is not part of a comprehensive development plan.
"This decision could have been significant had it been accompanied by a series of other steps related to politics and the economy," he told Al Arabiya.
Lakhal added that Moroccan citizens suffer a lot in their daily lives and many of them do not lead a dignified life owing to the several drawbacks in the administrative system and such problems should have been the priority of the new government.
"Banning live gambling will not solve any of the problems of average citizens. This only concerns gamblers and anyway they know where to go when they want to gamble and will not be affected by the ban."
Lakhal called upon the minister to pay attention to all the other problems of the media instead of focusing on gambling.
"Take, for example, the way religious programs on state TV are monopolized by the conservative al-Tawheed wa al-Islah Movement and which excludes all other factions."
Religious programs, Lakhal pointed out, should discuss social issues through presenting all points of view and hosting all sorts of people even if they have a different take on those issues.
"The minister should make the democratization of the media his priority."
Lakhal criticized Khalfi's threat to resign if the ban is not put into effect which, he argued, does not become a minister who has a responsibility towards the people who elected this government.
"What will anyone gain if the minister resigns? Instead of threatening, he should work on creating harmony between different approaches and allowing all factions to take part in developing the media."
Omar al-Kettani, an authority on Islamic economy, saw Khalfi's decision as a wise step towards the reformation of society through applying Islamic rules.
"When the Justice and Development Party came to power, they became answerable to God and to the people," he said. "If they do not obey God, they will be betraying the people."
In addition to the religious aspect, Kettani explained, gambling affects society negatively.
"European governments do their best to protect their citizens from the dangers of alcohol and gambling while here in Morocco we turn a blind eye to such serious social ailments."
Kettani argued that it is the poor who suffer the most when gambling is allowed because they are the ones who are tempted to gamble in the hope of making some money.
"It is unacceptable on both the social and the human levels not to protect those poor from giving in to those illusions of fast gain."
Gambling, Kettani added, also discourages people from working because it offers them an easy way of earning money.
"The value of hard work is important in any developed society and this becomes difficult with the prevalence of gambling."
Although the minister's decision only involves banning the live screening of gambling games, Kettani stressed that this is a positive step towards banning gambling altogether.
"The ban is preliminary initiative that promises more positive actions in the future and the economic results of such steps will start showing later."
According to statistics, around three million Moroccans practice different forms of gambling. Last years, gambling pumped into state treasury more than two billion and 900 million dirhams.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)
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