Beirut ‘neighborhood clock’ repeats troubled past According to Reuters
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Members of the ‘neighborhood clock’ are deployed in Ashrafieh district, Lebanon November 17, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
By Tom Perry, Issam Abdallah and Timour Azhari
BEIRUT (Reuters) – In the darkness of Beirut’s unlit streets, men wielding batons and torches are ensuring their own security in an initiative they hope will keep them safe. neighborhoods but critics see it as a disturbing echo of Lebanon’s troubled past.
The Neighborhood Clock, which debuted earlier this month in some of Beirut’s most posh streets, is the latest symptom of the crisis that has affected Lebanon since the country’s economy collapsed in 2014. 2019, crippled much of the state and plunged poverty into its worst shock since the 1975-90 civil war.
For supporters of this plan – the idea of the Christian politician Nadim Gemayel and organized by a civil society group he founded – the men are deployed in the city’s Ashrafieh district provides reassurance to residents worried about crime.
But among critics, their appearance has drawn parallels with the civil war as the state fell, militias took control of the streets and Beirut split into states. The mayor has expressed concern that it may lead others to follow suit.
Such criticisms were dismissed by Gemayel, a lawmaker in the Kataeb Party whose father was Bashir, who led the main Christian militia during the civil war until his assassination in 1982 after being assassinated. elected president.
“We are not militias, we are not armed, we do not have missiles or drones,” he said, referring to the heavily armed group Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran. backing.
“The big problem we are having today in Beirut and all of Lebanon is that there is no electricity, no security, no sense of peace of mind and all the streets are dark,” he said, describing describe this condition as “absence”.
“If they had done their duty and lit the streets, we wouldn’t have been forced to light the streets, and if they… hadn’t let the country fall, we wouldn’t have stepped out to reassure them today. . our people,” he said.
Gemayel said the initiative – which currently has 98 recruits – was launched in coordination with security agencies and was intended to complement their work, adding that security forces were in short supply. shortage of manpower due to crisis.
Lebanon’s security services, like the rest of the state, have been hit hard by a 95% currency collapse that has destroyed the value of salaries paid to soldiers and police.
The US is supporting them with aid, including wage support.
A spokesperson for the Internal Security Force (ISF) did not respond to a request for comment.
The crisis has led to a spike in crime, including armed robbery, carjacking, bag snatching and internet and phone cable theft.
However, Army Commander-in-Chief Joseph Aoun said the army, the backbone of civilian peace in Lebanon, could maintain order. “The security situation is under control… we did not accept any breach of security and stability before, and we will not accept that today,” he said.
Beirut Mayor Jamal Itani said he learned about the initiative from the news and was worried it could cause tension.
“Suppose they catch a thief from the side or people intervene with guns, then things can get out of control,” he told Reuters.
“My second fear is that other regions will ask for this as well and then each will have a group that manages security in its own area.”
Lebanon’s parties disarmed when the war ended, with the exception of Hezbollah, which kept its arsenal against Israel. Their pervasive influence is never far from the surface, and tensions are common in a country awash with guns.
Supporters of various groups have clashed to death in Beirut as recently as last year.
Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center says the initiative is a clear example of how security is organized locally under political umbrella, adding that the trend has emerged earlier in the crisis and is happening less clearly elsewhere.
He added that security, like electricity, will increasingly benefit from those who can afford it.
Gemayel said the funding came from local donors, with logistics organized by a security company. Those employed make $200 a month for a six-hour shift – much-needed income for many.
He expects expansion.
Salesman George Samaha welcomed it.
Samaha, 51, said: “We have more peace of mind because there are no guarantees given the dire circumstances we live in.
But lawmaker Paula Yacoubian called it “short-sighted”.
“Are we going back to the militia days?” she speaks.
“This country is falling apart and falling apart, and this is one of the things that will contribute to the downfall of the country and the state.”