Misogynistic Lebanese Press Syndicate Head Insults Ukranian Women
“Eja y kahill-ha, ‘amaha,” goes the Arabic saying about trying to right a wrong but instead making matters worse, the literal translation being he came to apply “kohl” makeup to someone’s eyes and instead blinded the person.
As if Ukranian women didn’t have enough troubles facing tragedy and hardships following a Russian invasion of their country, without being targeted by a sleazy Lebanese tabloid newspaper publisher that regularly objectifies and insults women.
And as if the Lebanese themselves didn’t have enough insurmountable problems with a financial meltdown, hyperinflation, runaway unemployment, spiking crime rate, a local currency worth next to nothing, chronic power cuts and shortages of food and medicines, to be tarred as grotesque through guilt by association
Enter Aouni Kaaki, the head of the Lebanese Press Syndicate, last week to justify the front-page publication of a photo in his newspaper, El Shark, of a scantily-clad curvy (reportedly Ukranian) woman with an amateurishly photoshopped superimposed logo of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a badly spelled caption in English “Adopt a Ucraniana.”
The Arabic caption is more sexually suggestive and demeaning: “Humanitarian deed, adopt a Ukranian woman to protect her from the Russian occupation.”
“First of all, she’s a beautiful girl; this is on social media and the guys at my paper published it,” Kaaki sheepishly told an interviewer for the online news site Sawt Beirut International, almost distancing himself from the picture that was lifted from a social media post.
He said an editor-in-chief doesn’t micromanage a publication but sets the general guidelines for his staffers to follow.
“You’re a (media) colleague, you understand the business, don’t you?” he asked rhetorically. “An editor-in-chief doesn’t have to see everything.”
When pressed by the interviewer on his responsibility for what appears in his paper, Kaaki said he was abroad when the picture was published and that his staff called to tell him they’d received a letter from the Ukranian embassy complaining about the suggestive photo.
“So I picked up the phone and asked for the Ukranian ambassador and spoke to him and told him such and such and such, I apologized to him and told him whatever you want, I’d be happy to do, and when I return I’ll visit you, then the war broke out,” he added.
Prodded further about whether the picture reduced Ukranian women to that distorted image, Kaaki again tried to weasel out claiming it first appeared, and more widely, on social media.
“But you don’t put everything on social media in the paper,” the interviewer noted, reminding Kaaki he was the syndicate’s president.
“Ah, but they’re beautiful pictures,” Kaaki insisted to a comment that Ukranian women would be offended for being portrayed in such a fashion, adding that everyone can interpret a photo from his/her own angle.
The Megaphone news site posted a tweet with a picture of the Ukranian ambassador and the protest letter he sent Kaaki taking exception to the suggestion his countrywomen needed to be rescued in such a fashion.
The ambassador, while expressing his respect for freedom of expression and the media, asked that the paper publish an apology for having insulted Ukranian citizens’ dignity.
Lebanese journalist and fact-checking expert Mahmoud Ghazayel tweeted that the picture was of a Russian (not Ukranian) model called Natalee which she’d posted on her Instagram account, and provided a link to it.
This is the original picture from the model’s Instagram account.
“This is El Shark newspaper, the paper of the Press Syndicate’s president Aouni Kaaki, president of the misogynistic press, accused in Kuwait of human trafficking prostitutes. This is Aouni Kaaki who accuses independent women journalists of faking being journalists because they refused to recognize him and the male chauvinist union over which he presides like a rooster,” tweeted media university instructor and consultant Lina Zhaim.
She was referring to a Kuwaiti member of parliament who created a stir during a legislative session last year by asking why 120,000 dinars (almost $395,000) had been disbursed to Aouni Kaaki from a Kuwaiti bank on instructions of a cabinet member.
“Who is Aouni Kaaki?” asked the legislator pointing to a large screen in the hall. “Aouni Kaaki is editor-in-chief of Nadine magazine. What is Nadine magazine? It’s a magazine that publishes pictures of prostitutes.”
Kaaki is also publisher and editor-in-chief of a gossipy soft porn magazine called Nadine. He was re-elected to a third term as head of the press syndicate in April 2021.
The syndicate represents the owners of print publications and is usually headed by a Sunni Muslim in line with sectarian divisions in Lebanon. A Christian traditionally presides over a separate Journalists Union representing editors of newspapers and magazines. The fact that he’s both a publisher/owner and editor-in-chief runs counter to the two unions’ principles.
As I wrote last August, Kaaki was attacked for being the Lebanese authorities’ mouthpiece and for colluding with officials flaunting impunity in the face of justice by siding with them in covering up the near-nuclear Beirut port explosion on August 4, 2020.
The blast probe requiring top political and security figures to appear before an investigator led to three key resignations from the syndicate’s board when Kaaki sided with the officials’ cover-up attempts.
In October 2021 Kaaki published a photoshopped picture of Lebanese President Michel Aoun lounging in silk pyjamas with a caption reading “the general’s official uniform marking the anniversary of October 13, 1990.”
That’s when Aoun, then the army chief and interim prime minister of a split government towards the end of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, reportedly fled to the French embassy in his pyjamas when Syrian peacekeeping forces invaded the presidential palace where he was holed up.
France granted him asylum and he lived there for 15 years before returning to Lebanon.
A group of Aoun partisans, offended by the front-page picture, stormed the newspaper’s offices and stuck a picture with the words “His Excellency the president is a crown on your head” on the wall before being forced out by an army patrol, but Kaaki was unrepentant.
He’s often described in social media posts and by serious Lebanese journalists as a sexually frustrated degenerate.