Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 28 March 2020

Lebanon's kick-queen summoned by military court

A video of Malak Alawiye kicking a ministerial bodyguard has become synonymous with the movement

A graphic artwork provided by Lebanese designer Rami Kanso portraying Malak Alawiye, who kicked an armed ministerial bodyguard, turning her into a symbol of the growing anti-corruption protests in Lebanon. AFP
A graphic artwork provided by Lebanese designer Rami Kanso portraying Malak Alawiye, who kicked an armed ministerial bodyguard, turning her into a symbol of the growing anti-corruption protests in Lebanon. AFP

A woman whose kick to the groin of a Lebanese minister’s bodyguard made her an instant protest icon was summoned to court on Wednesday and will face trial in November.

On October 17, the day unprecedented cross-sectarian protests demanding a radical overhaul of the political system erupted across the country, then minister Akram Chehayeb got into a confrontation with demonstrators as his motorcade tried to force its way through the crowd.

His bodyguards fired into the air above the crowd and ended up in fights with demonstors. A video was then widely shared online of Malak Alawiye kicking a rifle-wielding bodyguard as he pointed his weapon at protesters.

The moment fast became a viral meme and a symbol of the kind of message protesters wanted to send their rulers.

Ms Alawiye, against whom charges were brought over the kick, was summoned to a military court on Wednesday, a judicial source told AFP.

She will face trial in November for bodily harm and insulting the security forces.

On Thursday morning, Mrs Alawyie’s husband, Mohammad Herz, wrote on Facebook that it was neither the bodyguard nor Mr Chehayeb who pressed charges against his wife. The Military Court took the initiative to summon her, he said.

On Wednesday, the couple posted a Facebook live video as they were driving back to Beirut after picking up the Military Court summon from Mrs Alawiye’s hometown in south Lebanon, Meiss Al Jabal.

They said that they considered it an “honour”.

“I’m very proud,” said Mrs Alawiyeh. Like her husband, she denied repeatedly that she was “paid” for protesting, an accusation that is common among critics of the protest movement.

“Here in Lebanon, you feel that ministers are part of a mafia,” she told Thawra TV, an online video channel born out of the protests, on Wednesday evening in Beirut.

Four months after the incident the symbol is still widely used among protesters. A drawing of that moment adorns flyers and can be found painted on the walls of Beirut.

Asked by Thawra TV how that made her feel, she answered: “I moved the street. Someone challenged weapons and broke the walls of fear.”

The interview took place in the same spot as the October 17 incident. In the background, protesters could be seen throwing fake blood on a local bank’s headquarters.

The Lebanese are angry with their banks, which have limited access to American dollars since last summer, as fires were raging through the country with little government response.

Like many Lebanese, Mrs Alawiyeh was infuriated to see her country go up in smoke as its firefighting helicopters were grounded because of lack funds for maintenance.

“I was angry. The state was absent, and Lebanon was burning,” she told Thawra TV.

The last straw that broke the camel’s back was a minister’s attempt to tax voice calls made on WhatsApp and other messaging apps. On October 17, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets.

Though they have diminished in size since, the protests represent the biggest challenge yet to the patriarchal, sectarian and nepotistic political system that has governed the country for decades.

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch criticized Lebanon for resorting to military courts to try several other civilians involved in the protest movement.

"Military courts have no business trying civilians," the watchdog said in a statement.

"Lebanon's parliament should end this troubling practice by passing a law to remove civilians from the military court's jurisdiction entirely," it added.

A source at the Military Court did not respond to a request for comment.

Updated: February 20, 2020 05:42 PM

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