At a time when Lebanese women are struggling with domestic violence and laws that don't do enough to protect them, Lebanese TV presenter Tony Khalife is under fire for his attack on “some anti-domestic violence NGOs” in an episode of “Mozee’ Al-Arab” (Arab Presenter) on Al Hayah TV.
Khalife, who is one of the judges on the show where contestants compete to become professional TV presenters, criticized what he sees as “NGOs’ interference in family affairs” while maintaining that he is a firm believer in women's rights, adding that he would “defend women with his blood.”
The seasoned host, who will be presenting the "Al Qahera wal Nas" talk show during Ramadan, pointed to what he said were women who were assaulted and killed after they sought protection from "some NGOs" that only operate for the financial and personal benefits of their founders.
Khalife complained that a woman, who was speaking about her experience on a mock show as part of the program, said her husband often hit her in front of her son. Khalife said speaking about the domestic violence incident publically was worse than the incident itself.
“The real insult and tragedy for your son is to listen to your speech in front of millions of viewers and not the fact that you were assaulted before him,” said Khalife, who presents a Monday night show "1544" on Lebanese channel MTV.
“Today, when your son listens to you as you speak about how his father used to beat you up in front of him, that’s an insult to your son, not when his father beat you up in front of him," he continued.
Needless to say, Khalife has come under fire for his comments, as people took to social media to criticize his stance on one of the most sensitive issues in Lebanese society.
After NGOs lobbied for years, legislation to criminalize domestic violence in Lebanon was approved last year after it was controversially amended under pressure from different religious and political groups. Activists say there is a need for reform in the current system if the legislation is to be successfully implemented.
Last month, a Lebanese man shot and killed his wife, Sara Al Amin, who had filed charges against him for allegedly beating her for more than 20 years in a case that echoes the situation many women find themselves in. That incident, which took place in Dohat Aramoun, 10 kilometres south of Beirut, was followed by a video of a man, later identified as Brumanna's mayor Amin Abou Jaoude, beating his wife inside her car.
Meanwhile, Khalife filed charges against journalist Hayat Mirshad, who in a tweet accused the TV presenter of accepting a bribe from Abou Jaoude, saying that the entire reason behind this vocal outburst was a covert attempt to polish the tarnished image of the disgraced mayor, after the mayor was seen beating his wife inside her car.
The case has drawn Mirshad a number of sympathizers, including outspoken feminist, journalist and novelist Joumana Haddad who posted an Annahar article with details of the charges filed by Khalife, and wrote: "We are all with you Hayat, we are all with what's right"
In a tweet, Reem Kaedbey criticized Khalife's comments: "We should ask Tony Khalife whether it's acceptable that the Madame who was beaten by her husband in the streets to file charges or not, maybe it's better that they solve the matter between them without making it public, how can we stop Kafa [from exploiting this] now?" She said referring Abou Jaoude's wife and Kafa, a feminist, secular Lebanese NGO that deals with issues of violence and exploitation of women.
Journalists didn't like his position either. Lebanese Arabic daily Al-Akhbar published an article titled "Tony Khalife: The Presenter of Regression and Violence Against Women" where writer Zeinab Hawi said Khalife's words "justifies murder and violence, shields the murderer, and encourages a whole society that already struggles with patriarchy to commit crimes and violence against women."
Fellow judge and Lebanese TV host Mona Abou Hamzeh and Egyptian actress Layla Alwi both paid tribute to the woman’s courage for telling her story, serving as an example for other women who are assaulted at home. Abou Hamzeh, who presents "Talk of the Town," which is also on MTV, added that a major problem hindering society's progress on women issues is that people think of domestic violence as a "household matter" rather than a pressing social issue.