The bridal couple on 12 July 2002
As royal weddings used to be secret affairs, nobody knew when King Hassan of Morocco wed his Berber wife Lalla Latifa and she never appeared in public or featured in family photos. He is understood to have maintained an extensive harem who lived in isolated luxury and were never allowed to bear children. King Mohammed VI broke with tradition by issueing an official communiqué about his engagement and the identity of his future wife on October 12th, 2001. The announcement left the King's subjects very curious as they hoped photos of the bride-to-be would be issued. The couple had first met in 1999, a few months before the death of king Hassan II, but the meeting was happen instance contrary to the pairings arranged by the families.
Today, in the evening, King Mohammed VI of Morocco and his fiancée Salma Bennani signed the marriage contract at the Royal Palace in Rabat in a private Muslim ceremony in front of family members. During the ceremony also the wedding contract of Moulay Slimane Cherkaoui, son of Princess Lalla Malika (paternal aunt of King Mohammed VI) with Hind Hrida was signed. Days before the wedding the first photos of King Mohammed VI and Salma Bennani were issued. They showed a tall, slender, red haired young woman. In another break with custom, Salma will be granted an official title and will become known as Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Salma. She will not bear the title of Queen. However this might indicate that Lalla Salma is to play the role of Moroccan First Lady, which is also an open rupture with traditions. King Mohammed VI also indicated he will stick to one wife and not practice polygamy, as all his ancestors.
The royal palace issued a statement in which was said: "On this happy and blessed day of Thursday, Moharram 6, 1423 of the Hegira, corresponding to March 21, 2002, the Royal Palace was brightened up by the sealing of the marriage act of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, May God assist him, in keeping with the Divine teachings and the Prophet's tradition, to the pearl, radiant in her chastity, Lalla Salma. The act of this blessed marriage has been solemnly drawn during a joyful ceremony, held in the presence of the members of the illustrious royal family. May the Almighty preserve H.M. the King, bestow his protection on him and make that the sovereign's life be filled with joy and happiness. May the Almighty protect His Royal Highness Prince Moulay Rachid and all the members of the illustrious royal family. God hears the prayers of those who implore Him. On this happy occasion, the act of marriage of Moulay Slimane Cherkaoui, son of her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Malika and of Mr. Mohamed Cherkaoui, to Miss Hind Hrida was also sealed".
The wedding will be celebrated with three days of festivities beginning on April 12 at the royal palace in Marrakech, in keeping with the centuries-old traditions of the Royal family and authentic customs, which have, throughout time, consecrated the symbiosis between the distinguished Cherifian Alaouite family and the various layers of the Moroccan people. Moroccan and foreign guests will be present. There is talk of inviting European royal houses, although none of them have confirmed receiving an invitation yet. The Moroccans are bursting with curiosity over details of what is being described as a fairytale wedding.
On April 9th the following statement was issued by the royal palace: In view of the continuous aggravation of the situation in the Palestinian territories and the need to give priority to ongoing diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the tragedy befalling the Palestinian people, King Mohammed VI and the royal family decided to postpone to a later date all ceremonies scheduled for this April 12 through 14 in Marrakesh to mark the wedding of H.M. the King, may God assist him.
Lalla Salma was born on May 10, 1978 as a daughter of El Haj Abdelhamid Bennani, a school teacher from Fez, and his wife, who died when Salma was three years old. Lalla Salma has one sister and was brought up at her grandmother's home. She attended a private school in Rabat. Afterwards she qualified for an honors program initiated by the Ministry of National Education, which resulted in her obtaining the Baccalaureate in 1995 with excellent grades in Mathematics/sciences at the Lycée Hassan II. She completed a two-year preparatory course at the Lycée Moulay Youssef in Rabat (Maths Sup. and maths Spé.) and graduated valedictorian in 2000 from l'Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Informatique et d'Analyse des Systèmes (ENSIAS) where she majored in computer science. After having graduated she interned at Omnium North Africa (Morocco's largest private corporation), in which the royal family has a 20 percent stake, for a 6 months training session subsequent to which she was hired as a computer scientist.
In the beginning of July the following press statement was issued: "The Ministry of the Royal Household, Protocol and Chancellery announces to the Moroccan people that the festivities marking the blessed wedding of H.M. King Mohammed VI will take place at the Royal Palace in Rabat as of Friday 1st Joumada I, 1423 of the hegira, corresponding to July 12, 2002, in conformity with the traditions of the glorious Alaouite Dynasty. May the Almighty bless the sovereign's marriage, make that the sovereign's life be filled with joy and happiness and protect H.R.H. Prince Moulay Rachid, their Royal Highnesses the princesses and all the members of the illustrious royal family. God Hears the prayers of those who implore him." The marriage act of King Mohammed VI to Lalla Salma was already officially sealed on Friday March 21 at the royal palace in Rabat.
Within days after the announcement Rabat, Morocco's capital, prepared itself for the royal weding. Quickly streets were re-embellished and buildings repainted. Flags and banners were planted in the major squares and streets, and gardens were replanted with new trees and flowers. More than 600 traditional Moroccan tents were put up in several parts of Rabat and its twin city, Salé. Meanwhile it was made known that on the occasion of the marriage King Mohammed VI granted free pardon to 8425 prisoners, including 1.080 who are sick, elderly, handicapped or pregnant women. The grace also included prison terms reductions for 42,661 inmates, of whom 1,887 prisoners are sick, old, handicapped or pregnant or breast-feeding women. Two detainees had their life-prison sentence commuted to a 30-year prison sentence.
The wedding celebrations started on Friday July 12th with a procession from the city gate towards the Ahl Fass Mosque in the esplanade of the royal palace at sunset. Representatives of all the regions of Morocco, bearing gifts for the bride, paraded in a colorful cortege, full of beautiful costumes and lots of music. Nearly 1,500 persons from all over Morocco paraded before the king, who watched watched the parade sitting on a throne under a canopy, while VIPs and foreign dignitaries sat alongside under tents. The Wali of Rabat, on horseback, opened the procession, followed by elected representatives, dignitaries, ulemas (theologians), chorfas (descendants of the Prophet) and Koranic school pupils, donning White jellabas. The H'dia (or Ladhiya) ritual - offering gifts for the bride that are symbols of purity and happy life - then began to the beat of drums and sound of trumpets. Men bearing big trays of henne, pure rose water, dates, incense, Arabic gum, and sandal wood, young girls carrying censers, candles, and baskets of rose petals, and folk bands performing typical songs and dances of their respective regions, walked over one kilometer and a half. The ceremony climaxed when the king, accompanied by his brother Prince Moulay Rachid, came down from the Royal stand to be greeted by the enthusiastic delegations and the guests. After the procession 1500 horsemen performed the typically Moroccan fantasia while popular music troupes from all parts of Morocco joined the festivities also.
Later in the evening the official wedding ceremony took place in the royal palace, and also the Berza - official presentation of the bride to the guests seated in a carrying chair - took place in the intimacy of the royal palace. Simultaneously about 200 other couples from all social classes were also married at the royal palace in Rabat. After this mass wedding King Mohammed VI willingly posed for a photo with the couples. Royal guests included Queen Rania of Jordan, Queen Margarita of Bulgaria, Prince Kardam and Princess Miriam of Bulgaria, Princess Kalina of Bulgaria with her fiancée Kítin Muñoz and royal representants from the Arab world. Among the many other guests were former US president Bill Clinton with his daughter Chelsea. Outside inhabitants and visitors of Rabat could listen to various music bands and giant fireworks enlightened the skies of Rabat to signal the end of the first day of celebrations.