Arts chief: I'm sorry for saying men should beat wives with kindness

#Women

Comments spark outrage among many Algerians, including writer Kamel Daoud

Hamidou Messaoud (left), curator of the International Book Fair of Algiers on the set of A Coffee and the Morning Paper (screenshot)
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Wednesday 27 September 2017 11:22 UTC
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An Algerian arts chief has apologised amid outrage at his comments that if a man was going to beat his wife then he should do so with kindness.

Hamidou Messaoud, curator of the International Book Fair of Algiers (SILA), made his comments during an interview on Ennahar TV’s morning news show A Coffee and the Morning Paper (Kahwa Wa Journane). This year's fair begins on 25 October.

During a discussion on banned publications, he referred to How to Beat Your Wife, a book which had been at the fair the year before, before jokingly adding: “Between you and me, the title should have been rounded out with And How to Beat A Man because men, too, get a beating every now and then. Even so, books like this can be useful to us [in Algeria], because we do in fact use violence at times.”

He was then interrupted by presenter Billel Kebache, who said: “Hamidou, this doesn’t have anything to do with us."

But Messaoud, who is also the managing director of the Entreprise Nationale des Arts Graphiques (ENAG), continued: “Because sometimes, when a guy beats his wife, you see her, and it looks like she’s been run over by a lorry. If he’s going to hit her, then at least he should hit her with a little kindness.”

Writer says he will boycott fair

The comments on 20 September have sparked outrage. Nadia Aït Zaï, a lawyer and the managing director of the Algiers-based Centre for Information on the Rights of Children and Women (CIDDEF), told MEE that Messaoud was “not just trivialising violence; he is justifying it, by granting the slightly violent nature of Algerians, for whom the book could be seen as a user manual.  

“As curator of the SILA, he should have shown more discretion and not made such a display of his feelings. It’s a serious matter because he represents the government, not just his moods.”

Algerian social media users also reacted sharply. Some uses humour, alluding to Fifty Shades of Hamidou - a nod to Fifty Shades of Grey, the best-selling novel about sado-masochism.

Others refused to attend the book fair. Kamel Daoud, who had been invited to the autumn 2017 edition to promote his latest novel, Zabor Ou Les Psaumes, published by Editions Barzakh in Algeria and Actes Sud in France, said that “both common sense and dignity make it necessary to boycott the upcoming Book Fair in Algiers, to stand in solidarity with women victims of domestic violence.”

Translation: “The level: The curator of the Book Fair. The field: Culture under the auspices of Azzedine Mihoubi. I am deeply distressed for my country.”

Messaoud calls comments 'a joke'

According to the National Union of Algerian Women (UNFA), more than 7,000 women were victims of violence in 2016, a figure that observers say is well below the actual number as many women do not want to file complaints against family members.

In March 2015, the Algerian parliament passed a law, despite opposition, which criminalises violence against women. But the text drew the ire of conservative members of the Senate, who said it was “contrary to the values of Islam.”

On Saturday, Messaoud issued a letter of apology: “I adore the popular humour that is part of the culture and the wisdom of our people,” he wrote. "I made that joke to denounce, not to praise, men who beat their wives […]

“I extend my sincere apologies to any viewers I may have involuntarily offended. I would also like to add that the SILA’s public is made up by and large of women, whose contribution, as readers but also as writers and intellectuals, is fundamental to the promotion of books and culture in Algeria.”

This story is based on an original version from Middle East Eye's French site.