Retailers in Morocco were given 48 hours to dispose of their stocks of burqas and were prohibited from selling the clothing in the future. This was the order spelled out in a letter bearing the stamp of the Interior Ministry reportedly distributed by hand to retailers in the past few days.
A picture of the letter was widely shared on social media and on local media, sparking a debate over the legitimacy of the request, and the actual possibility of its implementation within the time frame of the letter. No official confirmation or denial has come from the ministry, but Moroccan news website le360 quotes a senior source at the ministry confirming the ban on the burqa, a one-piece veil concealing a woman's eyes, face and body,
"We have imposed a total ban on the import, production, and sale of this item of clothing everywhere in the kingdom" the source is quoted as saying, without commenting on whether a future ban on wearing the burqas is in the making - which is instead what happened to various degrees in European countries such as France, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
According to retailers that spoke to le360, the decision was motivated by security reasons. If they do not comply with the ban, of which some were notified on 8 January and some on 9 January, the authorities would confiscate the whole merchandise.
The text of the letter is also seen as puzzling as it concerns the burqa, which is not a traditional Moroccan clothing. The decision has united both secular human rights campaigners who oppose the government's imposition of clothing decisions, and conservative religious leaders who worry that this is a first step to banning other Islamic clothing, such as the niqab, which covers a woman's face and hair, but leaves the eyes uncovered.
High-profile Muslim preacher Hassan Kettani wrote a statement about the ministerial order, which he called "discriminatory" against "Oriental" fashion and he also criticised for evading democratic scrutiny in parliament. "In Morocco there is no such a habit called burqa, I don't know a single woman who'd wear it" he wrote in a Facebook post, "The Afghan dress doesn't exist in Morocco. What does exists however is a functional dress code respecting all Islamic jurisprudence point of views which has spread throughout the whole Muslim countries as well."
In an opinion piece written for the Huffington Post Morocco, journalist Abdellah Tourabi also condemned the ban as an "absurdity". "No authority in the world has the right to impose to men or women the clothing that they have to wear," he wrote. "This is about a private matter, individual choices and freedom".
The burqa is not very popular among Moroccan women, who more often wear the hijab, a veil that covers the hair, or do not cover at all.