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Hezbollah picks first woman for top post

May 15, 2005

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BEIRUT: Women trying to make their mark in Lebanon’s male-dominated political world have much to envy of Rima Fakhry, the only woman ever to make it on to the political council of the Islamist movement Hezbollah. “It is a huge responsibility particularly in these circumstances,” Fakhry, 39, told AFP at her office in a heavily guarded building in southern Beirut.

She is proud of having become the first women ever to reach a top position in Hezbollah since the group was founded 20 years ago.

“The most important thing for women in Lebanon is to improve themselves in order to have as wide an education as possible,” Fakhry said.

“In Lebanon women don’t enjoy their full rights,” she added. A mother of four married to a businessman who is not a member of Hezbollah, Fakhri works alongside 17 male colleagues who have all been cooperative and supportive since her appointment in January.

“No one within the council was opposed to my nomination but outside there are people who are still not convinced that a woman should have a role in a leadership position,” she said.

Fakhry, who wears the black head-to-toe chador, sits on a committee responsible for political analysis and monitoring events in Lebanon and the world. She works a six-hour day at the office and another few hours surfing the Internet at home.

Hezbollah, which has 12 deputies in parliament, will not put forward any female candidate for legislative polls due to take place on four consecutive Sundays starting on May 29, Fakhry said.

“We will work hard, however, to raise awareness about the polls and encourage people to vote,” she said.

“Before the political crisis of the past few months and before the assassination of (former prime minister Rafiq) Hariri there was a lot of talk of involving women in the elections and of a female quota,” she said.

Only three woman sit in the current 128-seat parliament.

“We encouraged all the parties to include women candidates on their electoral lists. But now the priorities have changed,” she said.

“Now our main concern is to maintain national momentum in Lebanon, to protect the resistance” against intense pressure from the United States and the United Nations to disarm, she said.

The pro-Syrian Hezbollah is the only armed group not required to lay down its weapons after the end of the 1975-1990 civil war, and is credited with forcing Israeli troops to withdraw its troops from southern Lebanon in 2000, ending 22 years of occupation.

But a UN Security Council resolution passed last September calls on all militias in Lebanon to be disarmed — including Hezbollah. Despite her opposition to the policies of the United States — which has put Hezbollah on its terror list — Fakhry believes “there are many good things in America that we can learn from.”

A graduate of the American University of Beirut who earned a degree in agricultural science, Fakhry says she always recommends AUB to young women asking her advice. “Yes, we are against the US administration and American politics but we have ties with the American people. We respect them,” she said.

During her free time, Fakhry listens to classical music, with Chopin and Mozart among her favourites. She also reads a lot and one of the most recent book she enjoyed was Noam Chomsky’s “Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Domination.”—AFP