Incident involving Hezbollah MP exposes faults of Lebanon’s religious system

The real measure of power is not gauged by tribal, economic, political or military might but by the state’s ability to protect its people by updating laws and upholding the rule of law.
Saturday 20/07/2019
Protesters hold banners with messages against sexual assault during the Beirut Marathon, last year. (AFP)
Still vulnerable. Protesters hold banners with messages against sexual assault during the Beirut Marathon, last year. (AFP)

Members of the Lebanese parliament, much like lawmakers elsewhere, are elected with a mandate to uphold the constitution and represent constituents’ interests.

Nawaf al-Moussawi, an MP for the Tyre constituency in southern Lebanon, accompanied by 20 armed men, on July 13 stormed a police station in the coastal town of Damour and assaulted his former son-in-law, who was being questioned about an altercation with Moussawi’s daughter.

Moussawi’s vigilantism stirred heated debate throughout Lebanon and many embraced the incident as an act of a desperate father going to the aid of his abused daughter and her children.

Others condemned Moussawi, who was clearly breaching the law he was entrusted to uphold. The critics said Moussawi violated the rule of law when he tried to take matters into his own hands.

Complicating matters is that Moussawi is a senior member of Hezbollah, whose Iranian agenda and arsenal make it the antithesis of Lebanese statehood. Considered one of Hezbollah’s most hawkish elements, Moussawi is famous for verbal altercations on the parliament pulpit. A recent such performance earned him a disciplinary suspension of activities by his own party because of remarks deemed offensive to Christians.

The crux of this tragic event is not solely the continued implications of Hezbollah weapons and its impediment to the Lebanese state but, rather, that Hezbollah and other Lebanese political parties have failed to provide a proper legal framework that governs the rights of women, especially in disputes that arise from marriage.

Moussawi’s daughter’s ordeal is rather a very common occurrence. Hundreds of Lebanese women are victims of the patriarchal system that renders them feeble before religious courts that often take the side of the husband.

The Ja’fari Shia courts, in which Moussawi’s daughter has been battling her former husband, has deprived her of child custody, which discriminatorily grants custody to the father at the age of 2 for the boy and 7 for the girl.

That Moussawi’s ex-husband belongs to a powerful Shia clan from the Bekaa Valley and that his father heads the office of the representative of Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Lebanon made him untouchable and even more powerful than an elected Hezbollah MP.

Despite the colossal efforts of civil society and women activists to amend discriminatory laws and push towards a civil legal code for marriage, the Lebanese political class has refused to accommodate the demands, preferring to side with religious institutions instead.

As fate would have it, Moussawi is a member of the parliamentary subcommittee that was reviewing civil status laws that would empower his daughter and women in general.

Addressing the committee with a tear in his eye when announcing that his family was affected by these laws, Moussawi still fell in line with Hezbollah conservative proclivities and declared that “women rights can be protected by the current laws and that what was needed was to reform the judicial body rather than asking for the amendments of the pre-existing texts.”

However, it is not only about Moussawi or his theologically driven Iranian party but rather about an archaic political system that flaunts liberal values and diversity yet fails at every juncture to prove that it is willing to reform.

Moussawi’s assault at police precinct brought back the just demand for equality and justice to women and to all Lebanese by revising existing legislation that treat them as subjects of sects rather than citizens.

All those who condone the vigilante act of Moussawi as that of a desperate father and claim they would do the same for their own daughter have to remember that, if Hezbollah and its weapons and the immunity of Moussawi’s parliamentary office could not save a battered women from legal abuse then what would?

The real measure of power is not gauged by tribal, economic, political or military might but by the state’s ability to protect its people by updating laws and upholding the rule of law, something that would protect Moussawi’s daughter and all generations to come.

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