Recounting the life story of Lalla Salma is an exercise in frustration since facts are scarce on the ground and they differ depending on the source. Hers is also not a typical western royal narrative, thus great parts of it are not public. It’s also helpful to bear in mind that she lives in a culture that is far different from what most of us experience.
She was born Salma Bennani (سلمى بناني) in 1978, in either Fez or Marrakesh Morocco. Her father was a teacher, and her mother died when she was three years old. After that point, it’s been said she was raised by extended family, but primarily by her maternal grandmother who lived in Rabat. The young girl lived closely with a group of cousins and became close – to the point of sisterhood – to her cousin Saira. Salma and Saira have been pictured together even recently.
The Bennani family is wealthy, and young Salma obtained an excellent education at private schools. She is also very bright, a fact that is often lost in the swirl of glamour and secrecy of her life. She received a degree in mathematics from the Lycée Hassan II, and an additional qualification in computer science from l’École Nationale Supérieure d’Informatique et d’Analyse de Systèmes, where she was valedictorian of her class. She worked as an engineer for Omnium North Africa, one of the largest employers in the country. The Moroccan Royal Family owns a majority share of Omnium and it is believed Salma met her future husband, Mohommed VI, at a private corporate function sometime in 1999.
Young Salma Bennani is pictured above, with classmates.
The Moroccan royal family is rich, one of the richest families in Africa. To say the 2002 wedding of Salma Bennani and Mohammed VI was an event is an understatement. The ceremony was initially scheduled for March but postponed to July due to political tensions in the region. However, once the three days of celebration commenced, it was a sight to behold. The city of Rabat was decked out with 600 traditional Moroccan tents and inundated with dignitaries and royals from other countries. To get a full appreciation of the scale of the celebration, you can read Netty Royal’s post.
The new millennium brought new changes to the Moroccon royals. Salma Bennani became known as Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Salma. Although she did not bear the title of Queen, Mohammed VI announced he would only have one wife, and that Salma would take on a higher and more public profile than previous Moroccan royal women. Salma became a patron of several charities, focusing on public health issues. She was involved with several cancer charities and in the prevention of HIV/AIDs transmission. She was also seen publicly at many royal events, wearing her traditional and highly embellished caftans. Because of her unusual visibility, she was dubbed by some in the press as the “First First Lady of Morocco”
The couple had two children, a son (Crown Prince Moulay Hassan) and a daughter (Princess Lalla Khadija), and all seemed to go smoothly until 2017. At that point, Lalla Salma disappeared from public view. She did not appear at her patronages, at state events, or in any official capacity in public. There have been rumors that the couple was quietly divorced, or at least separated, but nothing has been confirmed by the palace. It is likely nothing ever will be.
Lalla Salma has been seen on occasion in the last few years, usually going about her private business in Rabat and on a few international visits. It is unlikely any more information on the status of her marriage or of her place in Moroccan society will be confirmed officially. For royal watchers, it is a great pity that she has apparently permanently left public life. We miss her caftans and her presence at royal events. She gave us a glimpse into a different type of royal life, one that had not been open to us previously.