While political gaffes may appear to exist in isolation, Fattouch and Bassil’s actions are reflective of a society with a deep and troubling political legacy of violence and misogyny.
A version of this article originally appeared on Now Lebanon.
An incident involving independent MP Nicolas Fattouch punching a female clerk in the neck at the Justice Palace has gone viral.
While rumors circulated online that Manale Daou, the clerk in question, was forced to withdraw a lawsuit and apologize to the offending MP, Mahmoud Darwish of the Public Administration Employees Committee has denied that legal action against Fattouch has been dropped.
This is not the first time in recent memory that an MP has engaged in behavior widely deemed unworthy of a national public servant. In late September, while representing Lebanon at the UN General Assembly in New York, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil was caught on camera crassly gesticulating and commenting on the physical appearance of Caroline Ziadeh, Deputy Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the UN. Earlier this year, Sports and Youth Minister Faisal Karami found himself in hot water for launching an investigation into Jackie Chamoun, the Lebanese Olympic skier who posed topless in a slope-side photo-shoot years earlier.
The trend in these actions is not coincidental, but reflects a wider societal tendency in a country simultaneously steeped in superficiality and misogyny. While there are no official statistics on domestic violence in Lebanon, local NGO KAFA estimates that 25 women have been killed in cases of domestic violence between 2010 and 2013 alone. A report produced by CNN estimates that as many as 50% of Lebanese women are victims of violence at the hands of a family member or intimate partner. Taking into account that this number does not incorporate the abuse faced by thousands of foreign domestic workers and refugees in Lebanon on a daily basis, the issue of violence against women is nothing short of an epidemic.
While Lebanon’s laws governing marital abuse have been revised as recently as April 2014, a report released by Human Rights Watch has deemed that they are not enough. Before the introduction of a landmark bill in 2013, no legislation existed to protect Lebanese women from domestic violence, and rapists who married their victims were regularly exonerated. While the revised bill has afforded women rights such as the ability to apply for restraining orders against abusive partners, and access to emergency accommodation, the limitations of the law remain problematic. The legal definition of domestic violence remains incredibly narrow. Most jarringly, it fails to criminalize marital rape, endorsing a “male right to intercourse” within marriages.
This misogynistic attitude that women are things to be possessed and managed is reflective not only in Lebanese law, but across the media. National ad campaigns released by the Ministry of Tourism often present Lebanon as an oasis of scenic vistas, delicious food, and beautiful women. The dehumanizing and objectifying portrayal of Lebanese women is rampant on billboards, social media and national television. (This media problem is of course not unique to Lebanon. The referrals to Amal Alamuddin as “Clooney fiancée” in mainstream news outlets’ coverage of her work as an internationally renowned barrister reflect the pervasiveness of this trend.)
Lebanon is often portrayed in international media as a beacon of liberalism and openness in an otherwise backwards region, a romantic mix of glamour and gunfire. But the superficial rights enjoyed by women should not be confused for real equality and respect – especially in a society that places a painful amount of emphasis on physical appearance.
Returning to the latest development at hand, Fattouch’s actions cannot be simplified and attributed to an issue of gender. His casual violence towards Manale Daou, who refused to prioritize his file, is reflective of the brutish entitlement and corruption that exists across the entirety of the Lebanese political spectrum, and at all levels of politics.
Lebanon’s parliament appears to have cleansed itself of all accountability, both politically and in personal dealings, excelling only in extending its term and raising parliamentary salaries. The draft law proposed by KAFA pended in parliament for years before the heavily amended version was passed. Now, it appears politicians have graduated to assaulting citizens directly, rather than protecting them from the dangers lurking across the borders, and within bedrooms.