British pop star Elton John performed before some 40,000 adoring fans in Morocco late Wednesday, living up to his promise of a "memorable" concert in a country whose main Islamic party had called for a ban on the openly gay singer.
John wowed the audience at Rabat’s international Mawazine festival with a selection of hits from his decades-long career, as some even flew in from Europe expressly to see him.
"I thank Morocco, the royal palace and the festival for inviting me. I am proud to be singing in Morocco," John said, speaking in French, before launching his three-hour long concert in Rabat’s posh Souissi neighborhood.
"More than 40,000 people attended the concert," said Aziz Daki, artistic director of the festival, which is one of the most important cultural events in the Arab world.
John had promised a "memorable" evening after the festival’s organizers ignored a call by Morocco’s main opposition Islamist Justice and Development Party to ban him from the festival on the ground that it would pose "a risk of encouraging homosexuality in Morocco."
Daki had stood by his choice and said canceling the concert on the grounds of John’s homosexuality would "undermine the respect of privacy" and "breach certain values that the international Mawazine festival is based on."
Fans were ecstatic that the performance went ahead.
"I bought a plane ticket for €250 from Brussels to come and see Elton John in the flesh," said Elissa Bonnet, a 32-year-old Belgian.
"I will never find a better opportunity," she added.
Yasmina Faraoui, a 45-year-old Moroccan woman, said John was "one of the world’s greatest pianists."
Other international artists who appeared at the festival include Julio Iglesias, B.B. King and Carlos Santana.
Protests also greeted Elton John’s performance last month at an open air concert at the ancient Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza in southeastern Mexico.
The concert went ahead despite indigenous leaders’ complaints and an accident that saw the stage collapse, injuring three workers.
Local Mayan leaders complained the concert was irreverent and out of place, and said the collapse of the stage the day before was caused by spirits upset because their gods’ permission for the concert was lacking.
In February John stirred controversy in a US magazine interview when he claimed that Jesus Christ was gay.