21 MARCH 2002
As the 38-year-old King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, signed a marriage contract with computer engineer Salma Bennani at the royal palace in Rabat on Thursday, his subjects were abuzz with curiosity over his new bride.
Royal weddings in Morocco are usually ultra-secret affairs. No-one knew when Mohammed’s father, King Hassan, wed his beautiful Berber wife Latefa, for example, and she never appeared in public or featured in family photographs.
The new king, who ascended to the throne after the death of his father in 1999, has a reputation as a more modern ruler, however, and has announced the identity of his wife-to-be. As a result Moroccans are frantically surfing the net to catch a glimpse of just-released photos of the tall, slender redhead who has captured their monarch’s heart.
Salma, a 24-year-old commoner from Fez, is the daughter of a widowed education professor and was brought up and educated at her grandmother’s home. She was employed at a major industrial company, Ominium North Africa, in which the royal family has a 20 percent stake.
In another break with custom, the new princess will be granted an official title, becoming known as Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Salma – a revolutionary move considering that the name of the king’s wife is never normally disclosed.
Mohammed’s father, King Hassan, is understood to have maintained an extensive harem who lived in isolated luxury and were never allowed to bear children. His son is known as an advocate of women’s rights, however, and has made it clear that he does not intend to continue the tradition.
The wedding itself will be celebrated with three days of festivities beginning April 12 in Marrakech and Moroccans are bursting with curiosity over details of what is being described as a “fairytale” wedding.
Meanwhile, the flame-haired bride looks set to become something of a model for Moroccan women - already, they are colouring their hair red to match that of the new young royal.