Saad Lamjarred, a Moroccan pop star, has been found guilty by a French court of raping a young woman at a Parisian luxury hotel in 2016. Lamjarred, who was under the influence of cocaine and alcohol at the time of the crime, was sentenced to six years in prison, which he will serve in France. The verdict marked the end of Lamjarred’s long-term impunity, enjoyed by influential celebrities and protected by patriarchal norms, victim-shaming, and even royal intervention. The case was widely discussed on Arab social media, where opinions were divided. Some of Lamjarred’s supporters dismissed or underplayed the accusations, blaming the victims instead.
Lamjarred became famous after appearing on the Middle Eastern version of the reality singing competition show Pop Idol in 2007. He gained millions of followers and produced numerous hits, topping the charts across the Middle East. However, in 2016, French authorities arrested him and charged him with rape. Prior to this, Lamjarred had allegedly assaulted a woman in Brooklyn, NY, but the case was eventually dropped after a settlement. Despite the accusations and the evidence against him, Lamjarred continued to enjoy immense popularity, largely due to the lack of public condemnation and the societal ideas about rape and consent in the region.
Between 2017 and 2020, the #MeToo movement gained momentum in the Middle East, encouraging women to speak out against sexual harassment and gender-based violence. While there was some public debate and outrage, many of Lamjarred’s supporters on social media still believed in his innocence, dismissing the charges or blaming the victims. Lamjarred continued to perform and produce music, topping the charts and sharing stages with other Arab pop stars who expressed solidarity with him.
The Lamjarred case took place amid France’s controversial domestic policies related to freedom of speech and expression, particularly the crackdown on the hijab and the right to offend religion. Some commentators saw Lamjarred as a scapegoat for France’s attitudes towards Arabs, Muslims, and immigrants from North Africa, echoing another rape allegations case involving the Islamic scholar and philosopher Tariq Ramadan. Ramadan also faced multiple rape allegations, which he attributed to increasing anti-Islam sentiments in France. Both Lamjarred and Ramadan’s trials highlight the societal and cultural issues surrounding sexual violence, consent, and victim-blaming, which continue to pose significant challenges in the Middle East and beyond.