Resisting Modesty: Lebanese Women Fight for Right to Wear Swimwear

After an incident in a coastal city in southern Lebanon where a woman was allegedly harassed for reportedly wearing an “indecent” bathing suit, activists staged a protest at a beach on May 21st.

Dozens of female protesters defied a ban imposed by the conservative, Sunni Muslim-majority city of Sidon regarding the bathing suit incident. They rallied against it, according to a reporter from Agence-France Presse (AFP).

"We have all come to support women's right to be in public spaces, whether in a bikini or a burkini," Diana Moukalled, a journalist and women’s rights activist, told the AFP correspondent.

"Public spaces don't just belong to certain people as a function of their beliefs, but to everyone. It's a constitutional right," she told the AFP correspondent.

A clip showing female activists organizing their protest in the coastal city was circulated on social media. In the video, Islamist extremists gathered in the area, attacking and cursing at the protesters.

The protest comes at a pivotal moment when Lebanon faces one of the worst economic crises in its history, with crippling power outages and shortages of basic necessities debilitating around three-fourths of the country’s six million people and plunging them further into poverty.

A week before the demonstrations, an incident occurred in Sidon where a group of conservative religious Muslims reportedly attacked a woman and her husband at a beach in the city for donning a bathing suit, accusing them of disrespecting local norms due to the woman’s choice of clothing.

While some praised the group for intervening, others stood in solidarity with the victims, with some women posting a photo of themselves wearing a bathing suit with the hashtag #Sidon.

The municipal government of Sidon responded to the incident and the reactions it sparked by banning both the women’s protest and the religious counter-demonstration that had been planned "in favor of modesty, virtue and against nudity.”

A group of conservative religious Muslims later came to the scene and tried to break up the protest and hold prayers as security forces were deployed into the area. Sheikh Houssam Ilani denounced the protesters for openly disregarding the protest ban imposed by the municipal government.

A sign at the beach in Sidon was also put in place, warning visitors that alcohol is banned and asking them to wear "decent attire.” Lebanese law does not prohibit wearing swimsuits, and women visiting Sidon often prefer to wear such attire to the beach.

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