In Arab countries, sexual harassers are entitled to "second chances" when what they truly deserve is punishment. Such a flawed notion has created a system that normalizes the shaming of victims while allowing abusers to get away with their crimes.
This is especially true when it comes to men who double as public figures in the region. From politicians to sportsmen, several of them have managed to keep their careers going even after being accused of harassment.
What message does this send to victims? What does it go to say to perpetrators? That we live in a misogynistic society where it's acceptable to violate women and their rights.
But let's be clear: sexual harassment in all its forms cannot, will not, and shall not be acceptable.
This is why men who've been accused of it but kept their lives going as if nothing had happened need to be held accountable. There are possibly hundreds of thousands of them in our countries, but here are a few whose names are known:
1. Saad Lamjarred
Over the past few years, Moroccan singer Saad Lamjarred was accused of rape in three separate cases, two filed in France and one in the U.S. However, he nonchalantly kept his career intact in the region, releasing tracks and music videos as usual. Even when YouTube removed two of his songs off its platform, it was over copyright infringement issues and not his rape charges.
The singer has a criminal record when it comes to sexual harassment and was only recently released on bail in such a case, yet he's still idolized and celebrated in the region.
A U.S. court indicted him of one back in 2016 after a woman accused him of physically and sexually assaulting her in Brooklyn in 2010. The singer allegedly fled the country after posting bail in the case. Months after being indicted in the U.S., Lamjarred was arrested in another rape case in France but was later released on bail, though he was banned from leaving the country. In 2018, another victim accused him of raping and physically assaulting her. He was arrested yet again and later released on probation.
Lamjarred returned to Morocco in August for a visit after months of being unable to leave France due to his legal troubles. Regardless of that and despite his release, the man should be remembered as an accused sexual offender, not a celebrated star.
2. Khaled Youssef
The victim, a woman married to a dean at Alexandria University, came forth and reported the matter to police weeks after Youssef was elected to join parliament. In her statement, she said the filmmaker lured her to his office, saying he wanted to offer her a role in one of his films. Her husband accompanied her to the meeting but stayed outside Youssef's casting room. That's when the woman said the director tried to touch and hug her.
He also forcibly took the woman's phone and transferred private photos that were on it to his own device.
At the time, Youssef declined to comment on the matter and refuted the woman's claims. Not only that, but he also filed a lawsuit against the victim and her husband, accusing the couple of "defaming" him.
Though the victim made a statement in court, Youssef was not tried and no legal action was taken against him.
3. Amr Warda
A famous Egyptian footballer, Warda used his popularity to arrogantly harass women.
Earlier this year, tens of his victims came forth after Dubai-based Egyptian model Merhan Keller shared screenshots of conversations with the 25-year-old football player. All his texts featured sexual advances, pushy language, and revolting aggressive responses.
Instead of being shunned and held accountable for his behavior, Warda's teammates including Mohamed Salah suggested he be given a "second chance."
Though his actions prompted Egypt's national team to kick him off during the African Cup of Nations, he was allowed to return to the squad after his teammates pressured officials.
4. Zouheir Makhlouf
This week, Tunisian MP Zouheir Makhlouf was sworn into national parliament despite the fact that he sparked a nationwide movement against harassment just last month.
Earlier this year, the man, who won a seat in Tunisia's Oct. 6 elections to represent Nabeul, a coastal town located 60 kilometers from the country's capital Tunis, was filmed "masturbating in his car" outside a high school.
The footage prompted the launch of #EnaZeda, which is Tunisian Arabic for #MeToo, under which many women shared their testimonies of sexual harassment in the country.
Soon after the movement gained momentum, the prosecutor general of the town then opened an investigation into Makhlouf on grounds of "sexual harassment and moral injury." But it seems as though the investigation has been tossed aside.
In light of the MP's return to parliament - something that grants him legal immunity - women took to the streets to protest Makhlouf's role as a lawmaker when he's been apparently pardoned of harassment himself.
5. Said Naciri
In 2015, Moroccan actress Lubna Bitar accused filmmaker and actor Said Naciri of sexually harassing her while she was working on his film The Transporters.
Bitar said that when she rejected the director's sexual advances, he banned her from attending the film's launch. When she went public with the case, Naciri sent her threatening voice notes.
No legal action was taken against the alleged abuser and local media outlets gave him platforms to explain himself and deny the actress' claims.