CASABLANCA, Morocco -- It was a slow night on the red carpet at the opening of the Marrakech film festival for the photographers and everyone was complaining over the lack of celebrities.
Then a car pulled up and out stepped Noor Talbi, Morocco's most famous belly dancer. The photographers went wild. Darling of the jet set and a fixture for any society party or hotel opening, Noor's statuesque six feet frame was clothed in a spangled, off-the-shoulder ballgown slit up the side to reveal her long legs.
Legs, that as a teenage athlete, won her a gold medal in the 440-meter hurdles at the national level -- back when she was a boy who went by the name of Nourreddine.
In this conservative Muslim country where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to three years in jail, a transgender woman like Noor is not only accepted but is a celebrity. Her ability to seemingly transcend the restrictions of her culture speaks both to her star power and to a certain kind of tolerance toward sexual minorities in this North African nation - and even in the wider Middle East.
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