Lebanon's Middle East Airlines runs first flight with all-female crew

Lebanese Middle East Airlines (MEA) female cabin crew posing for a picture on October 15, 2020. (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
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Updated 17 October 2020

Lebanon's Middle East Airlines runs first flight with all-female crew

  • The crew on the round trip flight to Cairo consisted of Captain Rola Hoteit, her assistant and six flight attendants
  • Captain Rola Hoteit: Such an arrangement happened by coincidence – we did not know that it was a pioneering event

BEIRUT: On October 13, an all-female crew staffed a Lebanese Middle East Airlines (MEA) flight for the first time in MEA’s history.

Captain Rola Hoteit piloted the round trip to Cairo and told Arab News that it was only once the crew had boarded that they realized the plane was being flown by an all-female staff.

“We were all surprised,” Hoteit said. “Such an arrangement happened by coincidence. We did not know that it was a pioneering event. The computer specifies the work schedule and no one — neither in the management of the company nor in the airport — knew that the crew would be an all-female one. We were very excited. We took a lot of photos since coincidence only happens once.”

The crew consisted of Hoteit, her assistant and six flight attendants. Hoteit posted about the flight on social media on Wednesday and said she cannot believe the amount of positive feedback she has received.

“It was a full plane on the way to Cairo and there were around 100 passengers on the way back to Beirut. However, none of the passengers knew that the whole crew is made up of women only, and we did not inform them that, fearing that some of them might be concerned,” she added. “We did our job perfectly and we later found out, through comments, that people accepted the matter and that everyone is ready to accept change.”

Hoteit has been a pilot for 25 years, and said her ambition has always been to fly with an all-female crew on board. “I had the privilege to be the pilot on Tuesday, with a crew consisting only of women for the first time in Lebanon,” she said. “I expected this event (to happen) on International Women’s Day, for example, as a sign of women’s power in Lebanon and their ability to excel in all areas of work. However, (my) dream was realized by coincidence.”

While women account for more than 50 percent of MEA’s administrative staff, according to airline management, Hoteit is the only female pilot currently on its books, along with six female first officers. Over 85 percent of the airline’s flight attendants are women.

Claudine Aoun Roukoz, president of the National Commission for Lebanese Women, said women are also playing an increasingly important role in the military, in line with Lebanon’s commitment to international resolutions, including the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which urges the increased participation of women in all defense and security forces.

Lieutenant Rita Zaher, 27, was the first female pilot in the Lebanese Air Force, followed by First Lieutenant Chantal Kallas, 28. Women have also joined the maintenance, testing, and administrative departments. The percentage of women in the Air Force is now 8.51 percent, Roukoz said.

Women also account for 43 percent of students in Lebanon’s military academy and 5.5 percent of soldiers. Five women currently hold the rank of brigadier general, according to Roukoz.


Human Rights Watch denounces Iran’s ‘abusive charges against rights defenders’

Updated 24 October 2020

Human Rights Watch denounces Iran’s ‘abusive charges against rights defenders’

  • Two women already serving long jail terms face additional charges after revealing abuses in jail
  • A student activist who was given a virginity test by her interrogator faces further charges for speaking up

LONDON: Human Rights Watch (HRW) have condemned Tehran’s decision to level additional charges against two detained human rights defenders who alleged mistreatment while in detention.  

Earlier this month, Iran’s judicial authorities charged Niloufar Bayani, an environmental conservationist lawyer already serving a 10-year sentence, with an additional crime of “publishing false information.”

In a separate case, imprisoned student activist Parisa Rafiee was charged with “propaganda against the state” after releasing a letter about her detention conditions.

“Punishing people reporting mistreatment in Iranian detention facilities shows a warped sense of justice,” said Tara Sepehri Far, Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The judiciary’s recent rhetoric on ‘transparency’ rings especially hollow if prosecutors silence alleged torture victims rather than impartially investigating their claims.” 

Bayani, a former UN employee, made headlines in February after she released a letter detailing her mistreatment at the hands of prison authorities. She spoke of “1,200 hours of interrogations,” “long hours of interrogation while standing,” being threatened “with a hallucinogenic injection” and “sexual insults” at the hands of the state.

She and several of her colleagues from the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, an environmental conservation group, were charged with “using environmental projects as a cover for espionage.”

Seven of them were sentenced to jail time of between six and ten years each for “cooperating with the hostile state of the US.” One member of the group has since died in custody. 

HRW said that over the past two years, several senior Iranian government officials have indicated that they did not find any evidence to suggest that the detained activists are spies. 

Similarly, Parisa Rafiee, a student activist at the University of Tehran, was already serving a sentence of seven years behind bars on charges of “assembly and collusion to act against national security,” “propaganda against the state” and “disturbing public order” — charges that her lawyer claims she faced for activities such as participating in peaceful protests on campus.

In a letter published in May 2019, Rafiee wrote that she had been kept in solitary confinement for 21 days, had been given a virginity test by her interrogator, and said she had not been allowed to file a complaint about her degrading treatment.

In response to the letter, the judiciary opened a new case against the student, charging her with propaganda against the state.

Despite their track record as one of the worst human rights abusers in the world, Iran’s judiciary recently published documents that emphasize human rights issues such as the prohibition of torture and arbitrary arrests and the right to access a lawyer. 

Sepehri Far said: “If the judiciary actually wants to curb ongoing abuse, it can start by quashing abusive charges against human rights defenders who are already unfairly behind bars, investigate their torture allegations, and hold those responsible to account.”