Jackie Chamoun deserves Lebanon’s support
Even the Faraya ski slopes, where Chamoun trains, and where extremists such as Ahmed Assir have visited, are part of what makes Lebanon exceptional
At a time when bombings, assassinations and political paralysis dominate the headlines in Lebanon, it is a breath of fresh air to see the Lebanese athletes Jackie Chamoun and Alex Mohbat taking part in the Sochi winter olympics and showcasing Lebanon on the world stage as a model for openness and civility.
Oddly enough, the Lebanese government represented by the novice minister for Sports and Youth, Faisal Karami, does not appear to share this view. Karami is discrediting Chamoun by using a 3-year old video and showing her topless on the ski slopes of Faraya. The leaking of the video during the Sochi Olympics is intended to hurt Chamoun’s reputation, and the athlete took the high road and apologized for offending anyone. Yet, even with the apology, Karami would not let go.
The cabinet member saw in the photos a “threat” to Lebanon’s “reputation” and ordered an investigation that could ban Chamoun from representing Lebanon in the future.
Yes, Lebanon has its sensibilities and is nowhere near France or Austria in embracing nudity or toplessness. But we tend to forget that the video was released without Chamoun’s permission, it infringes on her privacy, and undercuts her performance in Sochi. If anything, Chamoun deserves an investigation into the leak of the video, and the viral display of her photos on Lebanese websites.
Chamoun is a self-accomplished skier and is by every measure a success story for Lebanon. Being one of only four Arabs at Sochi is a source of pride for Lebanon and the Arab worldJoyce Karam
But one cannot expect such a reaction from Karami. His performance in the government, and positions on women’s rights and individual freedoms have been horrendous. Last year, Karami described a draft law to protect women against domestic violence as a “blow to family values.” Those values could not protect Rola Yaacoub and Manal Assi when they were beaten to death by their husbands. Even actual threats in his own city Tripoli, have not caught his attention the way that Chamoun’s private video has. The illegal gun flow to Tripoli has doubled if not tripled in the years that Karami served in the cabinet, without an “investigation” in the matter.
Perhaps, Karami cannot be blamed for a flawed system that put him in office. He never won an election, and the ministry was handed to him on a silver platter, not because of his resume but because of his last name and for sharing a bloodline with two former prime ministers, his father and his late uncle.
In contrast, Chamoun is a self-accomplished skier and is by every measure a success story for Lebanon. Being one of only four Arabs at Sochi is a source of pride for Lebanon and the Arab world. It is a welcome departure from the narrative of terrorism and civil war that dominates the subject of Lebanon and the region in the West. The Lebanese people know it, and the outpouring of solidarity for Jackie Chamoun following the video speaks to this support and to their disdain of the toxic political environment in Lebanon.
On social media, hashtags such as #stripforlebanon or #jackiechamoun are trending in Lebanon, and Chamoun’s facebook page has attracted over 50,000 followers. Even the Lebanese beer Almaza rolled out an advertisement in support of Chamoun. It is signed “this is our environment, this is who we are,” which in essence epitomizes the culture of diversity in Lebanon, celebrating individual empowerment and freedom that Chamoun represents.
Even the Faraya ski slopes, where Chamoun trains, and where extremists such as Ahmed Assir have visited, are part of what makes Lebanon exceptional. The story of Chamoun, gives the Lebanese people hope that their country can still compete on the international stage, and that despite a corrupt and incompetent political class, the Lebanese can still seize the opportunity and excel globally. It is a story that deserves to thrive and continue, and not be hindered by theatrical “investigations”.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam