Achraf Hakimi’s divorce: The swift (misogynist) journey of fake news

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Africa Report

In just a few days, a misleading tweet was broadcast thousands of times and taken up by several ‘serious’ media. According to the tweet, the ex-wife of the PSG player and star of the Moroccan national team Achraf Hakimi tried to seize his fortune, but Hakimi had already put everything ‘under the name of his mother’. His fans rejoiced, except … it’s all fake.

For five days, a hoax has been orbiting cyberspace. Moroccan and Nigerian football fans and internet users – and misogynists of all stripes – have been glued to their screens.

At the heart of the controversy lies the marital setbacks of Achraf Hakimi, a footballer from Morocco playing for PSG and star of last year’s World Cup.

To summarise, in the middle of divorce proceedings, Spanish actress Hiba Abouk had apparently asked for “more than half of the Moroccan footballer’s property and fortune”. But Hakimir had supposedly protected his back by putting “all his wealth under the name of his mother, long ago”.

The move would have prevented Abouk, portrayed over social media as a venal woman, from “hitting the jackpot”.

This made-up outcome was readily endorsed by thousands of internet users, including Moroccan football fans who celebrated the rumour, adding their own layers of sexist jokes on social networks. Among the commentators was the controversial Andrew Tate, the UFC champion Israel Adesanya and former UFC heavyweight star Francis Ngannou.

Genesis of a fake news item

The story, however, is not based on reality. It perfectly illustrates the results of an MIT study published in 2018, which found that fake news spreads faster than real information.

It started with a tweet published on 13 April by the Ivorian journal First Mag. This online media platform is a regular offender when it comes to the dissemination of fake news, and seems to focus more on comedy than journalism.

To date, the message in question has been retweeted more than 15,000 times and liked nearly 97,000 times. The republication of the information by large accounts like the American outlet @DailyLoud has propelled the false information.

Several general and sports media also reported the fake news without confirming it. First Mag has not retracted the story; on the contrary, it’s surfs up in this media echo chamber.

It should also be noted that Hakimi is under investigation in a rape case in Nanterre and has been placed under judicial supervision since March. Hakimi categorically denies the charges. His lawyer, Fanny Colin, even denounced the case as an “attempt at extortion”.

After being in a relationship with Hakimi for five years, including three years of marriage, Abouk has finally spoken about their breakup.

“Today I feel obliged to make this public statement to express my state of mind and clarify, firsthand, the misinformation that circulates,” she said the day after the announcement of Hakimi’s sexual assault case.

Indeed, it was rumoured that she left the star of the game when she first heard of the charge. This was proof of her “disloyalty” according to the player’s supporters.

Regarding the accusations facing her ex-husband, the actress said she was “on the side of the victims” and “trust the good work of justice”. Another blow to Hakimi’s fan club which does not believe the statements of the alleged victim.

“Stroke of genius”, “Masterclass” and “Excellent move” are some of the reactions praising the player’s supposed plan to counter the “greed” of his ex-wife are guileless and countless.

It is not the first time that Abouk has been a target for haters over social media. Examples include accusations of her “anti-Moroccan” attitude following the exhumation of an old photo of the actress with a Sahrawi activist, relaying photos described as “vulgar”, or derogatory comments about the age difference between her and Hakimi.

Untouchable Moroccan eleven

But beyond an ex-wife of a player being criticized, if this wave of misogyny has taken off in Morocco it is primarily because the World Cup Moroccan players (and de facto Hakimi) are now untouchable in the eyes of the Moroccan public. The private life of these sportsmen, who brought hope to the whole Arab world and to all in Africa during last year’s extravaganza, has been constantly scrutinised and commented upon.

Today, Hakimi is no longer a sporting hero. In parallel, the fusional relationship he has with his mother, Saida Mouh, and which was much-publicised during the world competition, is consolidated by this fake news. Mouh is currently in Mecca to perform the Omra and denies any knowledge of the rumours. Hakimi has not commented on the case.

Act of tax fraud?

From a legal point of view, this fake news is not very credible. In the majority of European countries (including Spain, Germany, Italy and France, where the player has lived successively), there are two types of matrimonial regimes: marriage in community of property, which implies that everything acquired during the marriage by one of the spouses is shared in case of divorce; and that of the separation of property, which assumes that the non-division of property is stipulated in the marriage contract.

In summary, either the fortune of the player, considered the sixth-best-paid African footballer in Europe in 2022, will be shared following the divorce with the mother of his children, or the latter already knows that she will not benefit. Hiding one’s assets from one’s spouse is considered an act of fraud.

This story, in addition to confirming the sexist logic and ease with which women are labelled “gold diggers” without proof, shows a lack of media literacy.

Even though the player’s mother refutes the story, internet users – instead of questioning whether the tweet might be false – consider her statements as proof of an elaborate communication strategy.

“In her place, I would have said the same thing” or “She is right to deny it”, they comment by the dozen.