Today, when I looked at my Facebook page the first thing I read and reacted to was Kafa’s post decrying injustice in the case of the slain woman Manal al-Assi.
The post read (in Arabic): “Unfortunately, today is the day we mourn justice in the court case of Manal al-Assi. We’ll not be able to announce that justice was served for a woman killed in most egregious and most heinous ways. This verdict proved how cheap women’s lives in the perception of some (males), and it turned out that the backward concept of male “honor” is more important than Her.”
photo by Kafa والدة رولا يعقوب من الاعتصام الثاني في خلال شهر للمطالبة بتمييز الحكم الظالم #منال_العاصي
The injustice that was dealt to Manal provoked me! I went on digging through my documents for the story (below) I wrote last year. However, the story was subject to negligence as the trash protests sparked and all my attention was diverted towards that spark. I never had the chance to publish it but today I let this narrative of male privilege and injustice fly.
A husband punches his wife in the face and drags her by the hair out of the window of her SUV. That was the scene in a video aired on Lebanese news channels. The incident, captured on a camera phone in the parking lot of ABC shopping center in Dbayeh, a suburb north of Beirut, momentarily shook the Lebanese public.
Outrage at the video was magnified coming as it did the day after hundreds of demonstrators had marched through the streets of the Lebanese capital to denounce domestic violence in a protest spurred by the murder of Sara al-Amin, whose (separated) husband had invited her to their daughter’s birthday party and when she arrived had shot her 17 times.
These incidents come a little over a year after a landmark bill for the protection of women and family members from domestic violence was passed by the Lebanese parliament. Although the initial passage of the law was mired in controversy (it was amended under pressure from various religious bodies in the country to include a very narrow description of domestic violence and to endorse a “marital right to intercourse”) several cases of protection have passed successfully since it was introduced.
However, the incident captured in Dbayeh is, according to Maya Amar, a spokeswoman for the Lebanese women’s rights NGO Kafa (meaning “enough” in Arabic), the first of its kind since last year’s law was passed; it directly pits the clout of the new legislation against more entrenched tenets of the Lebanese political system: patriarchy, privilege and cronyism. It “will become a model, a standard, and however it settles it will indicate to us what to hope [there is] for in the future of fighting domestic violence… this is the first challenge case.”
The man in the video is A.A.J, a lawyer and a mayor of a town east of Beirut. He has so far managed to both avoid prosecution and get a court-ordered ban prohibiting Lebanese media outlets from re-airing the video. His wife remains in hiding separated from their two children and a protection order was issued for the mother and her daughters based on a report by forensic doctors proving that they had been subject to violence and abuse. But, they remain in danger.
“The problem with A.A.J is that he is politically well-connected,” says Amar. He has “backing – it’s obvious from his entourage that he is tied to higher political connections in where he lives.”
What’s more he’s a lawyer and Article 79 of the law regulating the profession gives immunity to those in the process of defending criminal cases, an immunity that A.A.J enjoyed for three weeks following the incident. “In such [an] obvious case, where it was clear he wasn’t practising his job as a lawyer, the lawyer’s syndicate should have lifted his immunity right away,” says Amar. Even now, immunity was lifted specifically for this single incident, meaning that if A.A.J brutalizes his wife again her lawyer will have to go through the immunity loophole all over again.
In another case of male privilege that has been unsettled since last year, where a husband murdered his wife by beating her to death then called her mother to come and take her bleeding dying daughter, the perpetrator is not a lawyer but a member of a major Lebanese political party. He used his connections to delay police and forensic investigation of the crime scene by two days and was not arrested but only gave himself up at his own convenience a few days after he killed his wife. This case is being procrastinated as the husband has not been prosecuted because of a lack of will and his privilege via political cronyism; a loophole suddenly prevailed at court used by the husband accusing the deceased wife of adultery thus mitigating the charges of murder and justifying his crime in the eyes of patriarchy.
Although this is one specific test case, and other perpetrators of domestic violence have not enjoyed the immunity that A.A.J has, it has illustrated the flaws of the entire system, and the ways in which legislation can only go so far in protecting women from domestic violence in a patriarchal country. Another aspect of this patriarchal system is illustrated in the current Lebanese law of nationality that stipulates, “Shall be deemed Lebanese those who are born of Lebanese fathers” but not from Lebanese mothers. If a Lebanese woman marries a foreign national she is not entitled to pass her nationality to her spouse and their children. The inability for a Lebanese woman to extend her nationality not only denies a woman her full rights as a national, but also denies her children their basic human rights.
But, for all of the system’s flaws, Amar points out: “It’s important to note that it wasn’t the law to protect women from domestic violence that failed the woman but the privilege and immunity that this man has.” A.A.J’s wife’s lawyer, Maya Dhgidi, who has herself been at the receiving end of intimidation throughout this case, has come to see the law in a different light, however: “I used to believe in the law to protect women from domestic violence and was surprised that they are willing to pass such a law. But now I don’t believe in that anymore. I feel that they used it just for the media and to show that we are civilized but this is not true.”
She continues, while “the law to protect women from domestic violence is needed and worthy – I have defended other cases and brought protection justice and financial compensations to abused women – nevertheless, the irony is that those cases were normal people under the law; they were not super rich and they did not have political backings and connections.” If women’s rights are to be truly protected in a country where cronyism and political bullying still hold sway, more will have to be done to make the law work for all women.
Social worker Dr. Lamia Moghnieh elaborated on this case. “It is not a coincidence that three cases of violence against women were reported in less than a month, two of them happening in broad daylight. These cases are also happening at a time when the Lebanese masculinist state is expanding and ameliorating its police and surveillance institutions to better discipline and govern, many times unlawfully, the many Syrian workers-refugees and migrant workers from Africa, East and South Asia.” If headway is to be made in protecting women from domestic violence, Moghnieh believes that more joined-up thinking is needed: “I believe women’s right movements should address and work within the links between violence directed against Lebanese women, migrant workers and Syrian workers-refugees. This does not undermine the fact that there is a ‘special’ violence targeting women in Lebanon, but, on the contrary, it reveals the gendering of violence by the state on bodies produced as feminine and thus threatening, second-rate and requiring constant disciplining.”
The fact remains that Lebanese patriarchal system classifies women as second-class citizens this means abusing men will not be deterred by the current law to protect women from domestic violence. The many domestic violence incidents, not only against Lebanese women but also against domestic workers and refugees, are becoming a daily occurrence of injustice. Whether Lebanon’s domestic violence law is worth anything more than the paper it is printed on is yet to be determined.