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Feminists denounce “misogyny” in the Lebanese Parliament

When the President of the Chamber, Nabih Berry, allows himself to intimate to a newly elected deputy of the protest, Halimé Kaakour, doctor of public law and university professor in law and political science in addition, the thunderous order to sit and to shut up (“Sit down and shut up!”), the lack of respect is flagrant towards a colleague who legitimately demanded a transparent protocol for voting on laws in Parliament, to avoid the risks of fraud. Even better. When Deputy Kabalan Kabalan, a member of the parliamentary group of this same President of Parliament, allows himself to treat a colleague of the challenge, Cynthia Zarazir, of “MP-cockroach” in a dubious play on words distorting her name (Zarazir has become “sarasir”), and which he stubbornly repeats “cockroach and a half”, like a badly brought up child, rudeness amounts to intimidation. All in a context where the newly elected MP complains of harassment, for having found in her office of the Parliament pornographic magazines and male condoms, and for having been told that she is not worth more than a bullet (of firearm), among other derogatory comments, many of which are sexual in nature.

A situation which prompted her to announce in a tweet her intention to bring a firearm to go to Parliament, because “the hemicycle is not a safe place for women”. “Acts of harassment are commonplace against women there, as in Lebanese society,” she revealed in particular. The press release published by the Parliament’s secretariat defending itself against such practices will do nothing. Cynthia Zarazir did not respond to our requests, nor did Halimé Kaakour.

The ignorance and lack of culture of deputies

In a predominantly male hemicycle (8 women only for 120 men), apart from the protests of feminists and some new elected representatives of the popular protest, no one condemned the inappropriate remarks or called to order those responsible . As for MP Kaakour’s response to Mr. Berry, denouncing “patriarchal” behavior, it provoked an outcry, MP Farid el-Khazen having wrongly understood this criticism of male domination as “a personal insult addressed to the Maronite Patriarch”. To the chagrin of feminists who rose up with one voice against the “ignorance” and “lack of culture” of the MP concerned and those who supported him.

The machismo of the political class is not a recent thing in the land of Cedars. While Lebanese women are trying with great difficulty to carve out a place for themselves in power, to intervene in public policies and societal decisions, such behavior towards newly elected women MPs is only intended to ridicule and belittle their political role. “The harassment and mockery of the men in power towards the deputies is degrading. It’s misogyny,” laments Myriam Sfeir Murad, director of the Arab Institute for Women attached to the LAU. “By behaving in this way, when a subject put on the carpet displeases them, the deputies of the traditional parties show their intention to attack the weak links of the challenge, in other words the women”, observes-t it. Hayat Mirshad, founder of the feminist NGO Sharika wa laken, notes for her part that the political class is not used to working with women. “Built on a patriarchal thought, it uses this power to minimize the role of women in politics, and more particularly the woman of protest, by attacking her on her physical aspect, her private life, her behavior, but never politically” , she notes, denouncing “violence against women in politics”.

Answer me in politics!

Other elected members of the protest have already suffered, such as Paula Yacoubian who, in addition to particularly scabrous comments on her personal life, was called to order one day by the President of Parliament, at the end of one of his interventions policies. “Your husband is our friend, he reminded me that day,” says Ms. Yacoubian to L’Orient-Le Jour. A remark then considered odious by a diplomat who had attended the scene. In response to the many sexist comments made about her, the MP once replied: “My reproductive organs are nobody’s business. I’m talking politics to you, answer me in politics. »

If the elected representatives of the protest are an easy target for the men of Lebanese power, it is because they do not benefit from any support and their avant-garde ideas disturb a sclerotic political class, incapable of reform. Except that the deputies who are members of parliamentary groups are not spared. We remember an Inaya Ezzeddine beside herself (Shiite deputy of the Amal current) who had slammed the door of the session of a joint parliamentary committee, on October 7, 2021, after being heckled by colleagues, including some of his own parliamentary group, who refused to debate the issue of female quotas for the May 2022 legislative elections.

Harassment against women is less and less tolerated now. Not only by a youth campaigning for change and gender equality and denouncing community laws that discriminate against women, particularly related to personal status. But also by an international community that scrutinizes the behavior of a political class deemed responsible for the collapse of the state. Reacting to the incident in the hemicycle, the NGO Amnesty International described as “shameful” the sexism of the President of the Chamber and of Parliament as a whole. “It is shameful that female members of the Lebanese Parliament, especially those who criticize the authorities, are harassed by their male counterparts and by the speaker of the House himself”, castigated the NGO at the end of the plenary session chaos of July 26, calling for “enforcement of the law criminalizing harassment”.

Berry’s Doublespeak

This reaction comes the day after a press release from the Feminist Platform of Civil Society (about forty associations and local personalities) demanding “a safe and equitable space for women in the public sphere” and a code of conduct in Parliament. . “It is true that the President of Parliament is known for his outspokenness with his colleagues. But he can’t treat a new colleague as an old acquaintance. It’s violence, insult and sexism all at the same time,” comments Nada Anid, founder of the feminist NGO Madanyat, which has just published a study on gender-based violence in politics.

But what is even more reprehensible is President Berry’s double talk. On the one hand, his displayed sexism. On the other hand, her commitment to a better participation of women in Lebanese political life. Because “the day before the incident, he sponsored the National Conference for the study of a law on female quotas, organized by the association FiftyFifty. With the aim of applying it to the legislative elections of 2026 ”, as assured by the co-founder of the NGO, Joëlle Abou Farhat Rizkallah. “What happened in Parliament is a disaster”, she regrets, inviting “parliamentarians to react firmly and to send a written letter to President Berry, himself involved in the affair”. Another consequence of this macho behavior is the risk of contagion. When a President of the House takes the liberty of addressing a colleague in this way, everyone thinks they are allowed to do the same. On the very evening of the legislative session, the director of the advertising agency Saatchi et Saatchi, Élie Khoury, made remarks of unparalleled vulgarity through the online media Sawt Beirut International with regard to the deputy Halimé Kaakour, whose position on Hezbollah he does not share. “She must change her underwear before speaking,” he said, in particular, arousing the fat laughter of journalist Walid Abboud.

But feminists refuse to be silent. They promise to show their anger next Sunday, during a demonstration against violence against women. Certainly, they will not be kind to Lebanese parliamentarians.

When the President of the Chamber, Nabih Berry, allows himself to intimate to a newly elected deputy of the protest, Halimé Kaakour, doctor of public law and university professor in law and political science in addition, the thunderous order to sit and to shut up (“Sit down and shut up!”), the lack of respect is flagrant towards a…

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