I think in dialectal and I write in literary Arabic. Yesterday, I was thinking about the events in Syria, while saying to myself “I’m going nuts.” I almost cannot believe what is happening. Every day, people are killed and injured there. Lives are what matter most, and I have thousands of Syrian friends, while I see no end for the calamities in sight.
I almost cannot believe either, that President Dr. Bashar Al Assad did not anticipate the magnitude of the coming disaster, did not rush to avert it, and he could, by meeting the legitimate demands of the people and thwarting the schemes of the criminal marauding gangs.
I was surprised and shocked, and I wrote an open letter to the president here in this column. Then I started thinking about Asma Al Assad.
Mrs. Assad is the dream girl of every father and mother who want to have a daughter. The Arab residents of London, who knew her when she was little and when she was older, attest to two things: her intelligence, and her good moral character, and along with them, her captivating Levantine beauty.
Mrs. Assad’s father is a medical doctor, and her mother is a former diplomat. She hails from Homs and returned to her homeland to become its first lady. She worked with her heart and mind to help people, without any fickleness, or a public relations company to promote her. Instead, her efforts spoke for themselves. I ask now, where are the projects, Fardous or the project for micro loans, and the Masar cultural project for youths, or the Aamal project for the disabled?
I think of Mrs. Assad as a mother of young children, loving them, like every mother, more than she loves herself. I try to fathom her feelings and the dreams for the future that are now blowing in the wind with the world crumbling around her. I, my wife and the friends, who visited her in her home two years ago, stand by her, each day.
I am not talking here about a government or opposition, or indeed politics. I am talking about a good mother, who meets every day with the families of the victims of the conflict, who each have no doubt a good mother.
Many must no doubt share my opinion on Mrs. Assad. In recent weeks, I noticed that she has been one first lady who was spared the kind of criticism that targeted the other wives of Arab presidents, who faced popular uprisings.
Attacking our women is a new trend in Arab society, predating the revolutions of rage. We have stooped from low to low, until we forgot some of our inherited values, from steering clear from soiling people’s honor, to respecting the elderly.
Thus, Mrs. Leila Trabelsi was attacked harshly. We know that her family was involved in corruption and has stolen from Tunisia’s public funds. But who is really responsible? If President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali said, only once, no, and meant what he said, no one in the Trabelsi family would have been involved in corruption, or dared to even think about illegally accumulating wealth.
The ugliest thing I read from the obscene campaigns against the former first lady is the reference to her career as a hairdresser, before her marriage to the president. Is that a defect? Was the president of Tunisia supposed to marry a French princess? Her modest origin (those who insulted her must be of bad stock) is cause for pride, as she went from rags to riches.
I hope before I continue, that the reader will notice that I do not deny the fact that the Trabelsi family was corrupt, and I have indeed acknowledged this. However, I am talking about ruthless men who see a woman fall on the floor and so decide to step on her fingers.
Suzanne Mubarak, in turn, fell, and was immediately subjected to a frenzied campaign. She was subsequently accused, convicted and sentenced in the street and the media, while no similar indictment or conviction was made in the courts. The attackers did not respect her age, or her social advocacy, but started enumerating her mistakes, and fabricating ones when they could not find any.
Politeness would have required dealing with people with respect until the judiciary weighed in on the matter. The judiciary alone is the reference point, not the youths, be they one or ten million. Further, I only accept the ruling of the Court of Cassation or a similar court, whose ruling is final. This means that I would have reservations to rulings by the Court of First Instance or the Court of Appeals, pending the final verdict.
Criticism devoid of Arab chivalry targeted a large number of the leaders’ wives, to the extent that some were brazenly insulted, while poems of obscene satire were written about others.
What is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh. What I see is a trend, or a fad or innovation that is imported from abroad. In this foul time, we do not import sciences or technology, it seems, but the worst gossiping habits in the East and the West, and then we make them worse.
Brothers, it is the men who are responsible. If we find a culpable first lady, then we know that she would have done no wrong without her husband’s consent.
(The writer is a former editor of Asharq Al Awsat newspaper. This article first appeared in the Dar Al Hayat newspaper on July 8)