Posted by on February 20, 2014 in Blog

By Marc Sabbagh
Spring Intern, 2014

When it comes to the Olympic Games, the Middle East tends to draw attention from the region’s unique competitors (or lack thereof). One example: when Sarah Attar became the first woman from Saudi Arabia to compete in track and field in 2012.

Now, another Arab athlete is getting some attention, but for all the wrong reasons. Lebanese alpine skier Jackie Chamoun, who is competing in her second Olympic Games, faced a non-controversy throughout the past few weeks after behind-the-scenes photos and videos showing her nude during a shoot for an athletic calendar leaked online.

The “scandal” descended to the ridiculous when the incident became politicized – Lebanon's now former minister for Sports and Youth Faisal Karami said the photos posed a “threat” to Lebanon’s “reputation” and supported an investigation that could lead Chamoun to be banned from representing Lebanon in the future. 

An investigation is being considered. Not on the increasing number of bombings and suicide attacks in the country. Not on the political deadlock that led to a ten month power vacuum. Not on the Syrian refugee crisis plaguing the country. Not even on the tragic domestic violence case of Manal Assi, a woman who was beaten to death by her husband. Responding to Karami, a prominent Lebanese newspaper’s editorial board asked: “What reputation? Is there a better definition of a failed state than ours?”

Instead of focusing on the country’s continuing political crisis, the ramifications from the Syrian conflict next door, as well as Lebanon’s problems of domestic violence, all eyes are on a young athlete who is representing her country at the Olympic Games and whose privacy was infringed upon after posing for a calendar.

As Michael Young notes in Lebanon’s The Daily Star, “Apparently, a girl who exposes her breasts can agitate some Lebanese much more than a man who clubs his wife to death.”

What ensued after the photos and videos leaked was interesting: a viral social media campaign asked people to #stripforjackie in support of Chamoun and local companies released advertisements backing her. Almaza, the national beer of Lebanon, featured a “naked” beer bottle in the snow next to a pair of skis and Al Rifai, a nuts brand, released an ad of its own. March, a Beirut-based NGO focused on national censorship laws, juxtaposed the shock and awe of domestic violence and nudity in Lebanon, asking:


March Lebanon's awareness poster. Source: March Lebanon

 

The domestic violence case provides important insight into the widening rift between Lebanon’s population and its government representatives. When a draft law to combat domestic violence was brought up in parliament in 2013, it was blocked by Islamic leaders and other parliamentary members who argued that the law would “interfere with relations between husband and wife.” Karami, the man who called for the Chamoun investigation, even described the draft domestic violence law as a “blow to family values.” While Lebanese citizens press the issue, the country’s leaders' attention is elsewhere.

Lebanon may have just ended a ten month run without a government, but leaders still have to address parliamentary issues and prepare for the upcoming presidential election. To maintain political relevance, both the March 14 alliance and March 8 bloc have to address growing concerns of their constituencies, whether over military involvement in the Syria or growing violent extremism at home.

The United Nations’ MyWorld2015 global survey, used for setting the next U.N. global development goals, showed that Lebanese citizens prioritized having “an honest and responsive government” over other survey options like a good education, better job opportunities, and protection against crime. This is a strong indication that government accountability and responsibility is a good place to start.

All eyes should be focused on Lebanon’s political process (and the performance of the country's Olympic athletes) -- not on the Jackie Chamoun non-controversy.

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