Lebanese women are still excluded from the main decision-making positions in Lebanon, such as the presidency of the Republic, premiership and parliament speaker, despite their prominent presence in the human rights and diplomatic fields, and in international forums. There has also been improvement in female representation in the Lebanese Parliament in the last elections that took place in May 2022, with 8 women winning seats, in the best representation of women nominated and reaching the Parliament in the history of the country.
With the end of the mandate of Lebanese President, Michel Aoun, approaching on 31st October, the Parliament began its sessions to choose his successor, but the list of candidates is still unclear. However, it was notable that two women from outside the traditional six main political forces announced their candidacy for the presidency, namely Tracy Chamoun, the former Lebanese ambassador to Jordan, daughter of the late leader Dany Chamoun, and grand-daughter of the second President of the Republic in Lebanon after independence, Camille Chamoun. The second candidate is May Rihani, the Lebanese writer and expert in global development in the field of girls' education and women's rights.
With the Lebanese Parliament holding the first session to elect a new president of the republic on 29th September, the names of Chamoun and Rihani were completely absent, limiting the competition in the session to blank ballot papers, MP Michel Moawad, Salim Eddeh, and Lebanon. The only female name mentioned in the session was that of the young Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, whose death sparked protests in Iran, in order to document a position and send a message to the Hezbollah MPs and the Iranian regime.
While presidential candidate, Tracy Chamoun, declined to make a statement, presidential candidate May Rihani told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that a women's candidacy for the presidency in itself is support for the women's leadership role and acknowledgement. She added that it is time for women to reach leadership roles, noting that she had met with a large number of MPs who belong to large blocs and others who are independent, a number of whom are men, and they are ready to back the candidacy of a qualified woman with experience and specifications suitable for the position of the Presidency of the Republic.
She also stressed that there is political support for her candidacy from certain parliamentary blocs and independent or reformists, noting "There is a chance for me to reach the presidency."
In response to a question about the reason for the absence of her name or the name of the candidate, Tracy Chamoun, from the first session to elect a president of the Republic, which was held on 29th September, and which was raised after losing the quorum in the second session, she answered, "I consider the first session to be somewhat of a rehearsal. Everyone knew and agreed on the result in advance and it was not serious." "The MPs made a mistake by not passing my name or Chamoun's name during the session as a kind of confirmation of accepting female candidacy, and the nomination of a qualified woman with the required specifications, but they knew in advance that there would be no election for a new president and, for this reason, they didn't give the matter enough attention," she added.
Rihani also noted, "When we reach a session in which we elect a president or president of the republic, then we will know which male and female MPs are ready to support the arrival of a competent woman to the presidency."
As for the projects that women will work on if they reach the presidency, although the president's powers are limited, she said that "the powers of the President of the Republic are limited, if they cannot agree with the Prime Minister and the ministers. Therefore, a lack of coordination between the Prime Minister with the President of the Republic weakens the first and third presidencies," stressing "there must be harmony between them so that the decision would be stronger." She added, "I hope that if I reach the presidency, the names proposed by the representatives to head the government will be harmonious with me, so that we can work together in a better way and in greater coordination."
Rihani asserts that she will give importance to the issues and rights of women, and will reconsider a number of laws that have not yet given women their full rights, adding: "We have long-term and hard work ahead that must continue for years, and we will work seriously on this file, which I consider one of the main issues."
In turn, the lawyer and political activist, Nadine Moussa, who was the first woman to run for presidency in the history of Lebanon in 2014, said in an interview with Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, that she believes it is impossible that the House of Representatives, in its current form, will allow a woman to reach presidency. She noted that getting a woman in this position would be a shock to society, as it is real change, pointing out that women pose a threat to the political class, because they are, in themselves, an element of change. She added sarcastically, "It is impossible for them to allow a woman to be president, except by divine intervention or if she were a political heir" stressing, at the same time, that any female candidate must have a clear platform on various issues.
She expressed her joy that two women have, so far, been nominated for the presidency, but stressed that they should demand public television debates between the candidates, in which they present their programs to citizens and representatives before the election process, rather than deliberations in internal kitchens, as this is the correct democratic mechanism.
Regarding her experience in running for the presidency, Moussa says: "It was a rich experience on a personal level, with the knowledge that I acquired in all matters of public affairs, and I had a team of volunteers who put together an integrated program on various topics, and everything I said in 2014 is still feasible today." She noted, on the other hand, that she was subjected to a media blackout in Lebanon by the entire political class that could not tolerate her presence, firstly because she was a woman and, secondly, because she was outside their closed club, she said, likening the political class to tribes in the Middle Ages.
Moussa also said, "The parties of this class would not meet with me, except for the Head of the Kataeb Party, MP Sami Gemayel, and the Lebanese Forces MP at the time, Wahba Qatisha, while the others did not even respond to me, because I am a woman, and without political cover."
She asserts, "I faced a deeply entrenched male mentality, contrary to appearances, and I was hearing offensive comments. I achieved my goal by disturbing the political class because I wanted to create an intellectual shock." "I had a list of goals which I believe were achieved, including enabling women, which was embodied in the 17th October Revolution. The revolution was female, and Lebanese women showed immeasurable courage, awareness, organisation, love of the homeland and sacrifice, and I think that my initiative encouraged them, in addition to breaking the patriarchal and feudal character of the political class, with citizens electing candidates who look like them."
For her part, Joelle Aboufarhat, Head of the FiftyFifty organisation, which promotes gender equality in the public and private sectors, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that women running for president break the stereotype, and confirms that they can assume this position like a man. She stressed "the need to give women in Lebanon opportunities to confirm that she is able to benefit her country at the political level, as she works in a different way from men, and we need both to find solutions to the problems we suffer from."
She believes that political parties are not only patriarchal, but also discriminatory with regard to women, and few parties have taken measures to support the role of women, as there are only two parties that approved the women's quota and support the role of women. Meanwhile, other parties give no attention to the issue of supporting women in their internal policies. She believes it is unacceptable in 2022 to have a political party that does not observe a policy to support the existence of women and achieve equality.
Aboufarhat talks about the experience of women in politics, noting that "it has been universally proven in countries that witness conflicts, when a woman is given authority, she finds solutions because she works to meet the needs of the individual, and then moves to the internal and external community, and this is an important point that men do not consider. The coronavirus pandemic was the greatest example of this." "It has been proven that women are able to find solutions different from men during conflicts, and that in politics men seek power, while women seek change," she added.
She stressed that "Lebanon needs change today, and for someone who does not go through the narrow alleys, meets the needs and rights of the people, and establishes democracy. These are things, of course, that women can achieve, especially the nominated women or those mentioned could be running."
It is worth noting that the parliamentary elections that took place in May of this year witnessed the largest presence of women as candidates and as winners. At a time when the number of women candidates between 1960 and 2018 reached 154 out of a total of 4,516 candidates, or 3.4 per cent, 25 of whom won out of a total 1,164 winners, or 2.1 per cent, according to Information International. The number of women candidates in 2022 alone reached 118 women, who participated in electoral lists according to the electoral law, eight of whom managed to reach Parliament. Will women complete this political process, and be able to break male dominance over the position of president of Lebanon this time?
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 10 October 2022
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.