Princess Lalla Salma of Morocco, nee Salma Bennani, was born in Fes, Morocco, on 10 May 1978.
Her parents were El Haj Abdelhamid Bennani (a schoolteacher) and Naïma Bensouda, and she has a sister, Meryem Bennani. Born into a middle-class family, at the age of three, Salma lost her mother in 1981 and from that moment on, they were raised by her grandmother, Hajja Fatma Abdellaoui Maâne in Rabat, where Salma studied. She also lived for a time with her cousin, Saira in the city.
She studied at a private school in Rabat for her primary education. In 1995, she graduated with outstanding grades in Mathematics and Science at the Lycée Hassan II, and after completing a two-year preparatory course at the Lycée Moulay Youssef, she graduated in 2000 from l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Informatique et d’Analyse des Systèmes with a major in computer science. After completing her studies, she worked for some time at the Omnium North Africa Group as an information services engineer – a company which the Royal Family has a 20% stake.
That July the following statement was released by the Moroccan Palace, “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.”
Celebrations included a sunset procession from the city gate towards the Ahl Fass Mosque. Then, according to Netty Leistra, “After the procession 1500 horsemen performed the typically Moroccan Fantasia while popular music troupes from all parts of Morocco joined the festivities also.” That evening a ceremony where Lalla Salma was presented to the people while being carried in a chair took place.
Salma speaks Arabic, French, English and has a basic understanding of the Spanish language.
She met her future husband in 1999, shortly before the death of King Hassan II and his own accession to the throne of Morocco as King Mohammed VI. Their engagement was announced on 12 October 2001, and it surprised many people around the world because it was the first time in Moroccan history that the name of the King’s spouse was made public.
Salma and King Mohammed VI proclaimed (the sadaq) their marriage on 12 October 2001 and celebrated their marriage (the zafaf) on 21 March 2002 in a private ceremony at the Royal Palace in Rabat with members of the Moroccan Royal Family in attendance.
Their marriage was revolutionary in Moroccan history, not only because she was the first wife of a Moroccan King to be created a Princess or a Royal Highness, but she was the first to be seen in public or be photographed. Her Royal Highness introduced to Morocco the role of First Lady by hosting foreign leaders and accompanying the King on travels abroad. King Mohammed VI also announced on the occasion of their wedding that, differently from his predecessors, he would not practice polygamy.
On 8 May 2003, Princess Lalla Salma gave birth to her first child and currently first-in-line to the throne of Morocco, Crown Prince Moulay Hassan. He was followed by Princess Lalla Khadija, born on 28 February 2007.
She is said to be keen on the children speaking proper English, and she has staff speak to them in proper English, if they are able, to help her children improve.
The Princess has been particularly involved in her work to combat cancer, especially through the Lalla Salma Foundation – Prevention and Treatment of Cancer which she founded in 2005; and in her effort to fight HIV/AIDS in the African continent. In 2006, Princess Lalla Salma was named a Goodwill Ambassador of the World Health Organisation for the Cancer Care, Promotion and Prevention and in May 2017 she received the gold medal from World Health Organisation for her work against cancer.
The Princess is also highly popular in Morocco and with the Moroccan people; one source who has worked for the Princess has reported she has a very good sense of humour and loves to hear a good joke. She is known to be very polite and lives a healthy lifestyle – eating right, not smoking and not drinking.
Her Royal Highness has also visited a number of countries in her role as Princess of Morocco, including France, Qatar, Japan, Thailand, Israel, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. She represented her husband at European Royal Events such as the 2011 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the 2012 wedding of Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume and Hereditary Grand Duchess Stéphanie of Luxembourg and the 2013 inauguration of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands.
After 16 years of marriage, it was reported in 2018 that King Mohammed VI and Princess Lalla Salma had divorced. The rumours started after a photo was released in March that showed the King surrounded by his family, except for his wife, recuperating from her heart surgery in France. It was also noted that the Princess hadn’t been in public since December 2017, when she visited the Mohammed VI Museum in Rabat. Reportedly, she has been spending a significant amount of time on the Greek island of Kea.
However, the divorce has not been confirmed by the Palace, and it’s still unclear whether, if the separation is real if Princess Lalla Salma will keep her title or the custody of her children.
After almost two years of missing from the public eye, she was spotted in Morocco twice in April 2019 after international media began questioning her whereabouts.