Several feminist groups, including FEMALE, arranged for a protest at the beach of Sidon, Lebanon, on May 21, noontime. The protesters demanded their right to own public spaces, and not to be banned from them under any pretext. According to them “Women’s freedom to be in public places without restricting their dress code or movement should be absolutely unconfined.”
This feminist protest in Sidon came in the wake of an attack by two Imams on the Lebanese citizen, Mayssa Hannouni, and her husband.
These two sheikhs had given themselves the right to force Mayssa to leave the city’s public beach, for wearing a “swimsuit”.
The Most Prominent Demands of the Feminist Movement in Sidon
The protesting feminist groups read out a press release, surrounded by members of the Internal Security Forces and the Lebanese Army, that gathered there “to prevent a clash”.
The protesters expressed their anger at the violence and discrimination that women and girls in Lebanon face at all levels, and on a daily basis.
Human rights activist Josephine Zogheib spoke on the demonstrators’ behalf, and denounced the fact that “aggressors escape accountability every time, while attacks and threats are directed at women and girls, who are repeatedly warned against exercising their freedom.”
She added, “Aggressors and violators of public rights are always victorious, while women are left prey to unjust laws and cruel, repressive social practices.”
Zogheib confirmed that “calls to attack protesting women have become actual threats, and some local actors are responding to them.”
The protesters pointed out in their statement that “the patriarchal system has never stopped imposing its guardianship over women’s bodies and their choices.”
They considered that this incident in Sidon cannot be regarded as “an isolated incident, as it comes within a series of attacks revealing increased attempts to confiscate public spaces, and to suppress and intimidate women.”
All of this happens amidst an anarchistic absence of government systems that fail to protect women, their rights, and their safety, whether in private or public spaces,” according to the statement.
In the same context, the statement of the mayor of Sidon was remarkable, as he did not condemn the attack, nor did he express solidarity with the survivor, but rather took a neutral position that implicitly justifies the attack.
Earlier, the mayor, Muhammad Al-Saudi, had stated that “Everyone is free to wear whatever they want, but at the same time, the cultural considerations vary from one region to another.”
In their turn, demonstrators commented on the notion of “difference between cultures,” considering it “a direct violation of women’s constitutional right to exercise their freedom.”
They pointed out that “this logic does not justify the violation of women’s freedom and rights by any means.”
The statement considered that “the silence of the political system about the continuous attacks on women and other marginalized groups is nothing but an explicit approval of oppression.”
The demonstrators pointed out that women are now “in a position where they are seeking protection from those who are supposed to provide that protection.”
They called on the security and judicial authorities to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the attack on Mayssa Hannouni, to hold the attackers accountable, and to support her.
The statement concluded: “Our action today is to raise the voice and demand that all those concerned stave off the impingement of the religious patriarchal authorities that keep interfering with civil rights.”
Attacks, Insults, and Harassment by the “Ethics Police” against the Female Protesters
During the protest, Islamist extremists gathered and assaulted female protesters, showering them with insults and harassing them at times.
They tried to suppress the women’s demonstration at Sidon beach by shouting out phrases like: “God is great”, “Sidon is a moral city”, and “Come on, take off your clothes and show us what you have”.
Using an exhausted and burned-out tactic, the attackers placed the women of their families in a “women’s” counter-demonstration.
Under a canopy of patriarchal slogans, those counter-demonstrators tried, through their assembly, to create an atmosphere of incitement and discrimination between women on both sides.
However, the feminist demonstrators succeeded in not falling into this trap that has become a common practice for patriarchal males/females, because the issue of women is the same.
Feminist activists did not exclude women of varied beliefs or identities, from the demands to wear whatever they wanted, whether it was a hijab or a “burkini”, or anything else.
They Bickered about Everything, yet Agreed to Control the Women!
A night before the protest, the mayor of Sidon, Muhammad al-Saudi, announced that no press conference, activity, or gathering would take place on the public beach in Sidon.
The municipality had raised a large banner at the entrance of the beach, reminding beachgoers of a “set of conditions and instructions” for entry.
And with a red highlight, the sign stressed “adherence to modest dress code” and “prohibition of alcoholic beverages.”
The sign was signed by of the Municipality of Sidon, the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, and the Friends of Sidon Beach Association.
In his turn, the Lebanese Minister of Tourism, Walid Nassar, only “denounced what happened on Sidon Beach.”
Nassar confirmed that he will contact the ministers “to reach a solution,” calling on the people of the city to “represent themselves in the best way.”
For his part, the media official in the “Association of Muslim Scholars,” Sheikh Ahmad Ammoura, explained that “Sidon is a conservative city that refuses any challenge to its people.”
In his incitement against the female demonstrators, Sheikh Ammoura invoked the principle of “preserving the values of the Lebanese Sidonian family,” and asked his thugs to “preserve the morals of the city” and “reject the manifestation of power practiced on people of Sidon from people of other cities and regions.”
The call for the feminist protest was met with calls for counter-assemblies on social media. These calls comprised further threats and incitement against women.
One of the calls stated: “It seems that the nudity group and those behind them did not like things to come to an end before normalizing nudity in our city.”
The call added: “They want to assemble themselves on the same beach to assert what they thought was their right to be naked. It is no secret that this matter, in addition to provoking the people of Sidon, opens the door to a strife that may lead to undesirable consequences.”
And it concluded by addressing the concerned authorities: “We hope that you will prevent the assembly before it takes place because the people of Sidon will not allow it, regardless of the results.”
Details of the Assault on Mayssa Hannouni
On May 14, “two sheikhs” and around 15 of their followers assaulted Mayssa Hannouni and her husband, under the pretext that “wearing a swimsuit on the beach contradicts the city’s values.”
The woman was drinking her coffee and reading a book, when the so-called Abd al-Karim Alwah and his thugs approached her with inappropriate words.
Then, they went so far as to threaten her to leave the place within 10 minutes or else, “You don’t know what will happen.”
When the survivor refused to leave the place, adhering to her right to be in public spaces, the “sheikhs” returned, accompanied by their thugs, to complete the assault.
They beat the survivor and threw garbage that was on the beach at her, to force her to leave.
And when she insisted more on her right to wear whatever attire she “likes,” the aggressor, Abdul Karim Alwah, replied, “You’re taking off your clothes? What do you mean by this? Does it mean that I am free to take off my clothes to reveal myself to you?”
The survivor’s threat to contact the security forces did not deter them, as they were sure of the similar stand of the religious and legal authorities when it came to women’s freedom.
Mayssa’s attackers are still at large, despite their public assault and threats, while she and many women struggle to get their freedom and rights.
The outcry of the Lebanese feminists in the face of the patriarchal extremists comes at a time all concerned authorities in the city gave up their responsibilities to protect their female citizens.
For years, Sidon has witnessed many attempts to blanket its public places with taboos that often affect women.