Fracas in Jordan's parliament leads to 'Sit down' campaign

Fracas in Jordan's parliament results in 'Sit down' rallying cry for feminists and hashtag campaign

"Sit down!"

The emphatic command has become a rallying cry for feminists in Jordan's heavily patriarchal society, as well as the subject of a hashtag campaign on social media that has Jordanians openly mocking their parliament.

It began after Hind Fayez, one of Jordan's few female members of parliament, responded strongly to criticisms of the government and leftists and nationalists by fellow lawmaker Abdul Majid Aqtash, who is allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, the conservative Islamist movement.

Her tirade was too much for Yahya Saoud, an independent lawmaker famous for being a brawler — literally. Saoud has been involved in at least two fistfights in parliament.

In a video of the session taken by local broadcaster Roya TV, which garnered over a million views on video-sharing websites, a visibly enraged Saoud turns to Fayez and repeatedly shouts, "Sit down, Hind! Sit down!"

Saoud then banged the table before finally raising his hand and imploring that God "take revenge against he who brought the [female] quota upon the parliament," a reference to a policy that reserves 15 of the body's 150 seats for women.

Local media reports said he also told women to go home to their husbands, put on makeup and worry about cooking -- prompting a walkout by all female members of parliament, whose demand for an apology from Saoud has yet to be met.

After Saoud's sexist rant, Arabic-language social networking sites blazed with the hashtag "Sit down Hind!" and launched a wave of mockery.

Film mavens inserted "Sit down, Hind!" as subtitles of Arabic cartoons of the '80s and of famous movie scenes. Bruno Ganz as Hitler in “Downfall” makes an especially intense plea for Hind to sit down.

A breast cancer awareness campaign imploring women to "promise us you'll get tested" for breast cancer was modified to say "promise us you'll sit down."

One image skewers male MPs, depicting a group of them praying together while a thought bubble rises from their heads asking God to make Hind take her seat.

But the fracas has also spurred a serious debate on the role of women in Jordan's male-dominated culture.

Jihad al-Mansi, a columnist in the Jordanian daily Al Ghad, seized the occasion to launch a broadside against the government for encouraging what he termed "gender-based thoughts."

"Who said that mama's place is always in the kitchen and who said that papa's job in the house is to read the paper or watch TV?" Al-Mansi wrote in an article published Sunday. "Personally I [blame] the state with all its institutions for the gender gap we suffer from today."

The campaign has brought a measure of celebrity to Fayez, a legislator with a penchant for the theatrical (her Facebook page touts her as "The Daughter of the Badia" [desert]). Feminists have superimposed the phrases "I'm not sitting down" or "Don't sit down, Hind!" on brooding images of the raven-haired lawmaker.

Bulos is a special correspondent.

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