MARRAKESH, Morocco - In a sprawling open space alongside the Royal Palace here last Saturday night, Baimik Youness and his friend Salahe Boudde were jumping with excitement, about to see their first American rock concert. The Moroccan students had never heard of the band, Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus. Nor had they realized that the three-day concert they were attending was a Christian rock festival. Students and Muslims at Friendship Fest, a three-day concert in Morocco featuring American Christian bands and Moroccan groups. "It's not my business," said Mr. Youness, an 18-year-old Muslim and heavy-metal fan. "I just want to listen to the music." But Mr. Boudde had a question: "What are 'evangelicals'?" Last weekend's concert, organized by several American evangelical groups and the Moroccan government and called the Friendship Fest, was staged despite criticism from Moroccan Islamic groups and opposition political parties.
Seven American Christian bands alternated with Moroccan groups. The event drew more than 15,000 Moroccans a day, police officials estimated, as well as dozens of evangelical Christians from around the United States. The concert was about more than power chords for Jesus. From the evangelists' perspective, it was an opportunity to gain a foothold in a relatively liberal Muslim country and give religious priorities a more central role into American foreign policy. "We see ourselves as doing important foreign policy work that the Bush Administration is not doing," said the Rev. Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals, a Christian-values lobbying group in Washington and one of the organizers of the festival. "As followers of Jesus, we should, in our civic capacity, work to reduce conflict by promoting international understanding," he said. From the Moroccan government's point of view, it was a chance to interact with what is perceived to be a politically influential group in American politics at a time when the country has been criticized on its human rights record and continues to grapple with a longstanding dispute over the status of Western Sahara.
Some media commentators in Morocco said that by befriending the evangelicals, the government was attempting to curry favor with American political leaders. The magazine Telquel said the government's embrace of the festival was intended to "sell the image of Morocco to the neo-conservative lobby in America." (MORE) -