Sooner or later, Lebanese politicians will learn the lesson politicians everywhere have learned: That sometimes a public apology is the least bad option.
Nadim Gemayel, Lebanon’s young and soft-spoken MP (ex-MP some say), is by no means the only politician in Lebanon surrounded by heavy handed security brutes who take a bit too much pleasure in throwing their weight around to “protect” their employers. In fact one can make a case that it is impossible in Lebanon to find security personel that are at once tough, loyal and well behaved. One can also argue that with the high-risk nature of the job in a country with so many political assassinations, personal security is not exactly the domain of the thoughtful and the sensitive.
But sheikh Nadim and his security entourage found themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time, provoking and antagonising a civil movement that has a strong online presence and a wide reach among Lebanon’s civil society. He then proceeded to gauchely spin what happened in order to portray himself as a victim, only to be smacked with online video footage that exposes his lies. Bloggers and political opponents pounced immediately.
You can’t always shape the message
Nassawyia, a feminist collective, is hardly the only group that was bullied by the security personel of a politician, but so far, they have proven to be the loudest and most harmful to his public image. But Mr. Gemayel refused to do the one sensible thing that would have taken the wind out of that entire PR snowball: To apologize and to throw his security team under the bus.
There is a cultural aspect in our region where an apology is perceived as a form of weakness, but politicians and business leaders in all democratic nations have learned to apologize, not because they’re nice people –far from it– but because it is in their own self interests. The problem with letting a situation like this fester is that things can quickly get out of control. What began as a small altercation between his guards and a group of activists suddenly turned into an uncontrollable mess that touched his own reputation and allowed free riders to pile on with their own political biases about his family and political history. This stopped being about the obnoxious security personel and became about how Gemayel is a “rotten liar” and a “fascist”. To make this uglier, some hacks decided to defend Mr. Gemayel by demonising Nassawyia through chauvinistic and comically foolish arguments that are completely unrelated to his guards’ misdemeanour.
Do Mr. Gemayel’s defenders make valid points? Perhaps. Maybe Nassawiya wouldn’t have dared attacked Hezbollah MPs in the same way. Maybe Mr. Gemayel was scapegoated for the sins of others. Maybe the country does indeed have more serious issues to think about. But Gemayel could have nipped this whole thing in the bud if he immediately showed some contrition and at least promised to investigate the matter. He would have scored some brownie points with voters, and if he were a skilled and experienced politician, he would have co-opted the feminist cause and made it his own and turned this crisis into an opportunity. Even his enemies would then find themselves at a loss at how to attack him.
Hopefully, Lebanese politicians will start learning that in the age of Youtube, a sincere apology can sometimes be their best weapon.