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Bullied In Silence

Empowerment is about denouncing the things that are unfair and unjust, and often it’s not well received by those perpetuating those very things. In this article I talk about some behaviours I’ve observed around the topic of bullying in Lebanon. It’s only by discussing it and raising awareness of how pervasive bullying is that we can begin to make positive changes.
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The purpose of this article is to talk about an incident that happened on the topic of bullying. In Lebanon, you are expected to be bullied and stay silent about it. I felt compelled to speak out about it, both to raise awareness about emotional harm and mental health and to condemn some behaviours I’ve observed. 

The curious thing about Lebanese people is that we are very exposed to the west, we know everything in foreign politics, we take pride in wearing foreign designers, driving foreign cars and eating foreign food; we are all about everything foreign. But when it comes to social issues and emotional/psychological education, we are not so quick to westernise ourselves, we prefer to stick to our patriarchal narratives. 

So I am approaching this with a didactic aim and to raise awareness of the topic of bullying. The story isn’t much about the background incident of what actually happened, it’s more about people’s reactions to it. 

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with someone about the incident that happened between Marcel Ghanem and Ayah Bdeir. Marcel is a very prominent journalist and talk-show host on mainstream Lebanese media, and Ayah is a bright young Lebanese entrepreneur who is also a political activist and is visible on social media. 

The Background Story: Marcel, Ayah And Her Mom

To give context to the topic, after the August 2020 explosion in the Beirut Port, Ayah started posting daily summaries of mainstream media about Lebanon and the political scene on her Instagram stories, otherwise known as ‘The Skinnies’. I personally found them very useful and informative; a quick scroll through her stories and I was up-to-date with what was going on in the country and the world. 

It so happened that Marcel Ghanem had dedicated an episode of his talk-show during that period to interview the now appointed Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad Hariri (back then he was only a candidate for the role), which Ayah aptly summarised on her stories. At the end of her factual summary, she added her personal commentary and stated “Best/worst line of the night: ‘Marcel Ghanem: A new Saad Hariri is born”. Hardly a controversial comment. The rest of her commentary was a few points on Saad Hariri and how he came across. You can read her full skinny of the episode here.

Marcel, apparently enraged at Ayah’s comment, proceeded to call her mother, spent a few minutes yelling and screaming on the phone intimidating and shaming both of them and then hung up. Some extracts of the things he said (as relayed by Ayah in her post) were:

  • Shame on you
  • Shame on your daughter
  • Who does she think she is
  • I did you a favour by inviting her to my show, she is arrogant didn’t come
  • You raised her badly

Ayah then wrote about it on her soical media to publicly denounce his bullying behaviour. Kudos to her.

The Actual Story: The Reaction to The Incident

During that conversation I was having about this incident, the person I was discussing this with didn’t agree with Ayah’s response. His view was that Marcel had the right to voice his opinion to her mother, and the fact he didn’t do it publicly excused his behaviour. He insisted that Ayah shouldn’t have gone public with her comeback because Marcel had kept it private, despite my attempts at reframing it as emotional abuse.

This, right there, is condoning bullying. Just because Marcel did his bullying in private, he could get away with it. By saying Ayah shouldn’t have posted about the incident publicly online, Marcel’s inappropriate violent reaction would fly under the radar, things would carry on as if nothing happened.

It took me a few days to understand why I got upset in this conversation and to unpack the dynamics of what was actually going on. The thing is, there are many many people in the Middle East who are trapped in these kinds of intimidating relationships. Whether it’s marriages, professional relationships or family ties; our patriarchal construct doesn’t help. It glorifies the man and excuses men’s poor behaviours, because “men will be men”. And as a result, many women and people in vulnerable positions suffer from this sense of entitlement that we have infused the men in our part of the world.

My Take on The Whole Thing

Here’s the sequence of my processing on the chain of events.

  1. As a prominent journalist, Marcel is seasoned enough to know he will get opposing opinions to his. Dealing with them respectfully is part of the job and part of his public responsibility.
  2. Calling Ayah’s mother to shame and bully both of them is unacceptable, regardless of how strongly he felt about the commentary. Ayah’s one liner about Marcel is hardly egregious in the first place. Bullying is the emotional/psychological equivalent of inflicting physical pain, like a slap on the face. It is emotional violence. The fact that it happened privately doesn’t excuse the behaviour.
  3. Her going public about it is absolutely the right thing to do. There needs to be more awareness of how pervasive this kind of entitlement is. More awareness will drive action, which will help put an end to this kind of behaviour.
  4. By saying that Ayah should have kept it private, the person I was conversing with was being complicit to the comfortable laissez-faire attitude of Middle-Eastern culture when it comes to emotional maturity.
  5. Also framing this as Marcel being entitled to his opinion is problematic. There is a big difference between respectfully voicing his opinion and hurling verbal insults and abuse to her mother.

Although I am openly critiquing a common mindset in Middle-Eastern culture, I acknowledge that there are big deficiencies in our educational system when it comes to these psychological and emotional issues. Most people are completely oblivious to non-physical abuse, they don’t understand that the equivalent of being physically violent in the emotional realm is intimidation and bullying. So I hope this serves to educate our communities on how this kind of behaviour needs to end, whether public or private. Let’s challenge ourselves to learn new possibilities to relate to each other in more respectful and less harmful ways.

If you leave with anything from this article, let it be your empowerment to speak up. Please do yourself a favour, if you ever get bullied or manipulated this way, whether public or private, follow Ayah’s steps and please call it out. 

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For more articles on how we can become better humans, see The Human Experience category. For more about Lebanon, checkout articles in my Lebanon Chronicles category.

For more mindful content, check out Mindful Sauce on Instagram.

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