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Lebanon's controversial foreign minister in 'misogyny and racism' row

Gebran Bassil is a senior leader in the Free Patriotic Movement [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 19 September, 2016

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Critics say Lebanon's foreign minister Gebran Bassil managed to insult both women, and Syrian and Palestinian refugees in the country, calling it a 'new low'.
Lebanon is one of 27 countries in the world that limit a woman’s ability to pass citizenship to her child or spouse.

In addition, many Lebanese laws, especially personal status ones, severely discriminate against women. In 2015, Human Rights Watch said Lebanon’s religion-based personal status laws discriminate against women across the religious spectrum and don’t guarantee their most basic rights.

The kingdom of Jordan is also a proud member of the misogynist club.

Other Arab countries with similar institutional discrimination include all the Gulf states, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Mauritania.

But while some of these countries seem to be debating the issue, or at least have kept a low profile about their shameful record, the ruling class in Lebanon seem to be combative about the apalling double standards.

On Saturday, Lebanon's foreign minister Gebran Bassil seemed to insult both women, and Syrian and Palestinian refugees in the country, in what critics say is a new low.

The FM, in a departure from previous stances, said he would be willing to support an amendment to the discriminatory laws on one condition: including an exception that would bar women married to Palestinian and Syrian refugees from passing on citizenship to their spouses and children.

The remarks were reportedly made in New York during a Lebanese expatriate conference.

Bassil has been accused on several occasions in the past of anti-Syrian, anti-Palestinian racism. He is son in law of MP Michel Aoun, leader of the Christian-dominated Free Patriotic Movement and close ally of Hizballah.

"We must preserve our land," Bassil is reported to have said in justification of his stance.

Lebanese women passing citizenship to male Syrian and Palestinian refugees, the majority of whom are Muslim, would upset the demographic balance in the country and undermine Bassil's own Christian community

Bassil's argument, stripped to its core, appears to imply the following: That Lebanese women passing citizenship to male Syrian and Palestinian refugees, the majority of whom are (Sunni) Muslim, would upset the demographic balance in the country and undermine Bassil's own Christian community.

Critics say the Lebanese FM fails to see the inherent contradiction in his argument, if not the misogynistic assumption therein.

Already, Lebanese males can pass on citizenship to female Syrian and Palestinian refugees, so why does this not pose a similar "threat" to Lebanon's identity and upset Bassil?

This is not to mention what many see as obvious racism in these views, singling out Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Lebanon, who while having been welcome to stay, have been systematically mistreated by the Lebanese government and large segments of the population.

Bassil's remarks sparked outrage on social media. Many took to Twitter and Facebook to condemn the remarks, accusing the minister of racism again.

In the past, Bassil responded to such accusations by saying: "If my Lebanese patriotism is considered racism, then I'm a racist."

Lebanese politicians have often waded into misogyny, according to Lebanese commentators, most recently with Lebanese MP Elie Marouni suggesting women could be blamed for being raped.

The ensuing backlash forced him to issue a timid apology.



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