|Artwork by Tarek Chemaly|
I admit, I was very idealistic as I was growing, but even then, I used to argue that what was wrong was not the governance but people themselves. For a long time, I used to consult with Dr. Paul Salem at the LCPS (Lebanese Center for Policy Studies - he is currently with the Middle East Institute) and a remarkable man. However, he believed that if we changed governance this goes into domino effect on the people.
When he left LCPS, he went to head the Issam Fares Foundation. By pure chance we met a couple of months later, and after effusive hellos, he said "you know Tarek, you were right". Puzzled I asked what about - and he explained that yes, the original issue was with people, and that he found out they were using wastas (clientage system) to get what was theirs to begin with by simply filling a couple of papers.
The recent decree allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia. When the law first got issued and the jubilation erupted, I knew there must have been some kind of a loophole - and already there is being talk of curfews, of age specific requirements, of men accepting their wives or daughters driving before they applied, or male guardians banning women on getting their driver's license, and a million other circumvention.
So as the law itself which starts to be applied in June 2018 gets weakened or diluted, this brings the question: Is changing the law the most primordial thing or is the mentality, and which of the two is the chicken and which is the egg?
“We weren’t waiting for our families to accept, we were waiting for something larger to back us up, a backbone, which is the government." Said Sultana al-Saud (no idea if she belongs to the royal family or not) to The Guardian.
As I rode with the young taxi driver, he was bragging about having a child recently, so I asked the man - a regular, gentle, rather well-dressed for his means man - "el madame btichtighil?" (your wife works?). The Mr. Hyde immediately showed up and his verbatim words were "iza hiyye bitfakker fiya bdammema" (if she even thinks about it I'll beat her till she bleeds).
Let's see this from another angle, how many law-enforcement members do you see riding motorcycles without helmets or cars without seat belts? I was once interviewing someone from an NGO heavily involved in road safety, he suddenly got a call from a TV station reminding him he was due to be on air in 5 minutes. The interview I was doing was in Beirut, the TV station in Adma - that was LBC - according to Google this takes 43 minutes. Need I say more about the maddening speed he left with?
In October 2016 a general security officer by the name of Tony Abboud El Chidiac killed four people because his daughter was harassed by a dog. The dog's owner, his parents, and a neighbor who went out to see what was happening were all shot. However, when power and prestige gets mixed with tradition, on top of respect for the military uniform, with the possibility of being handed a gun, alongside a patriarchal laissez-faire, sprinkled with I-can-do-everything-I-want mentality, the result is "explosive": I am sure there are a million laws against any of the above or any combination of them. But does it matter?
In he mid-80s in our village, on a dark rainy winter night the girl - who must have been 13 back them - got invited to a party in a neighboring city. Her father was adamant she would not go. Her uncle living in close-by house was arguing she would. Shouting erupted, her mother pitched in, her uncle's wife too. As the screaming match continued, her friends who came up to the village to pick her up honked outside. The girl opened the door, slammed it behind her as the rest were still arguing.
I am not sure on whose side the law was - but sometimes a door needs to be slammed first.