I was planning to do a "comic relief from revolution" post on Silvio Berlusconi, who is always good for pompous buffoonery, when the wave of Arab uprisings began impacting Italy, as political and economic refugees have begun arriving from Tunisia; and, Italian women have been inspired by the social networking aspect of the Egyptian uprising to mobilize a huge demonstration against Berlusoni's attitudes towards women, and growing gender inequalities in Italian society.
The original post--entitled "Silvio Berlusconi Hearts Hosni Mubarak--and His (Not) 'Niece' 'Ruby'"--was to focus on Berlusconi's latest misadventure with a woman, the 17-year-old Karima El Mahroug Keyek, a Moroccan prostitute in Italy who works under the name Ruby. This time Berlusconi risks jail for paying for the services of an underaged prostitute, and for using his political power to protect her from charges of theft.
The hilarious part of "Rubygate" is that in his defense Berlusconi claims he never has to pay for "bunga bunga" (despite much evidence to the contrary over years); and, that he thought he was helping out the niece of then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as he had also told the police when effecting her release from arrest.
That breaking news is now old, and more pertinent is the response of Italian women, and supportive men, who organized a demonstration via Facebook that brought more than 1 million (mostly women) to the public squares and streets across the nation: Rome's Piazza del Popolo (People's Square, 50,000+); Milan (Piazza Castello); Naples, Turin, Genoa (tens of thousands each); and ~200 other towns and cities. Italian women have demonstrated and protested before--most notably for feminist causes, and to break the code of silence of the Cosa Nostra that was getting their men killed. The Egyptian influence is the inspiration for how to organize high numbers and fast, via Facebook.
Despite official claims that the demonstrators were radicals who are a noxious group, the protesters included women from all walks of society, of diverse ages, and social statuses (single students, married working mothers, etc). They also included many men, as most Italian men are much more feminist than the caricatural aging Italian Stallion affected by Berlusconi.
A firm supporter of Arab autocrats, as well as racist and gender stereotypes, the surgically and cosmetically enhanced 74-year-old Berlusconi holds on to power in Italy via his media empire, which essentially controls all private television in the country, and the persuasive power of his millions in the electoral process. He also has strong support from the centre right and conservative political parties he creates: first Forza Italia (Forward Italy, FI) from 1993-2009, which he then merged with the Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance, AN) to form Il Popolo della Libertà (The People of Freedom, PdL). He also at times has the support of Lega Nord per l'Indipendenza della Padania (Lega Nord, LN)--the Northern League for the Independence of Padania (Northern League), a right-wing party which advocates for regionalism, federalism, and increased autonomy (and at times separation) for Italian regions, notably those of the north and centre of the country which form its base.
Like his friend, French President Sarkozy, Berlusconi likes to marry models who are younger versions of his previous wife. Mrs Berlusoni II, model-actress Veronica Lario (1990–2010) who replaced Carla Dall'Oglio (1965–1985) after a long mistresshood and 3 children, became fed up with her husband's infidelities when they became very public and extended to teenagers almost or just at the legal age of 18. Her "Basta!" moment came when he attended the 18th birthday party of one of his girlfriends, aspiring model Noemi Letizia, gifting her with a gold and diamond heart-shaped necklace. According to his wife, he never attended any of their children's 18th birthday parties. Not for the first time, Veronica Lario denounced her husband in a rival newspaper.
Berlusconi has been investigated before regarding his liaisons. This time the charges and penalties are more serious, and more likely to stick. As the AP summary below indicates, previous misadventures have also impacted his political profile, though not his electoral results.
Key events in Berlusconi's political career
By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 9, 2011; 12:02 PM
-- Key events in Premier Silvio Berlusconi's political career.
- January 1994. Media mogul Silvio Berlusconi creates the Forza Italia party, jumping into politics after anti-corruption probes bring down an entire political class, including close friend Socialist leader Bettino Craxi.
- March 28, 1994. Teaming with anti-immigrant ally Umberto Bossi in a center-right coalition, he wins parliamentary elections, becoming premier a month later.
- Dec. 22, 1994. Bossi yanks his party out of the coalition, forcing Berlusconi to resign after less than a year in power.
- April 21, 1996. Loses parliamentary elections to a center-left coalition led by Romano Prodi.
- May 13, 2001. Wins national elections after pledging to cut taxes, create jobs and improve the country's infrastructure. Remains in power for five years, becoming Italy's longest-serving postwar head of government.
- Sept. 26, 2001. Says Western civilization is superior to Islam - breaking ranks with the United States and other allies trying to reach out to the Muslim world after the Sept. 11 attacks. Eventually apologizes.
- 2003: As a close ally of U.S. President Bush, backs war in Iraq and sends Italian troops after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, despite massive protests at home.
- April 10, 2006. Loses election to Prodi in one of Italy's closest votes. Refusing to concede defeat, alleges irregularities.
-April 14, 2008. Wins third term as premier as he defeats center-left leader Walter Veltroni in parliamentary elections.
- May 3, 2009. Wife Veronica Lario says she is seeking divorce after 19 years of marriage and three children. She cites his infatuation with young women.
-Sept. 10, 2009. Dismisses suggestions he might resign over sex scandal after call girl claims she tape-recorded premier during night she says she spent at his Rome residence.
- Dec. 13, 2009. Injured in face when man hurls statuette at end of political rally in Milan.
- July 30, 2010. Ousts longtime coalition ally, Gianfranco Fini, after months of nasty squabbling.
- Dec. 14, 2010. Wins back-to-back confidence votes in parliament, but razor-thin outcome in lower chamber will make governing difficult.
- Jan 14, 2011. Prosecutors announce Berlusconi has been under investigation since Dec. 21 on suspicion he paid for sex with a 17-year-old Moroccan and then abused his power in trying to cover up the encounters.
- Feb. 9, 2011. Prosecutors seek to indict Berlusconi on child prostitution and abuse of influence charges.
This time Italian women have had their "Basta!" moment. Like the protesters in North Africa, their anger is focused on one political perpetrator, but also on broader disparities in society. While Italian women are tired of Berlusconi's very public sexist comments about women in general, specific women, and women political figures, and of his stacking his political party's candidates with former models, actresses, and mistresses with no other qualifications for public office, they are also angry about gender disparities in employment and advancement, as well as a lack of sufficient social supports for working women, like more public high quality daycare. The overarching theme of the call to protest "Si non ora, cuando?" ("If not now, when?"), and of the slogans shouted and printed on signs was in defense of respect and dignity for women. The issue was "not about morality, but about a government that doesn't represent the country". Non-Italian residents of Italy also demonstrated.
In Milan (Luca Bruno/AP)
Part II Tunisians, Libyans, and SubSaharans Converge on Lampedusa, Italy
See the blog Category NorthAfrica for posts on the Tunisian and Egyptian Uprisings
Your thoughts, comments, impressions?