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Thaer Ghandour

Lebanon: The return of the police state

Lebanese security services tighten their grip on the country [AFP]

Date of publication: 8 October, 2015

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Analysis: The security state in Lebanon did not end with the withdrawal of the Syrian army; some agencies have weakened to the advantage of others, writes Thaer Ghandour.
Lebanon was never a police state in the way that has often prevailed in the Arab world, but its security agencies have always aspired to take on such a role.

The security agencies have always worked on creating an heroic image of their leaders. They have benefited from connections with journalists and the political and financial communities - a recipe that is used by the majority of security apparatuses in the region.

The Lebanese remember the biography of these agencies and their leaders during key security moments - mainly moments of repression.

They remember the Second Bureau and Brigadier-General Jamil al-Sayyed, the former head of the Lebanese General Security Directorate, who was accused along with four other officers - who were all later found not guilty for lack of sufficient evidence - of belonging to a group that plotted the assassination of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005.

They also remember the security apparatuses of the militias that ruled the country during the Lebanese Civil War, but that did not give up much during the period of peace.

The dominant view after the end of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon (1976 - 2005), which was like a period of heaven in comparison with the previous joint Lebanese-Syrian security apparatus - was that the new age brought with it an end to the security state.

But the blow that this security system was dealt was not fatal; the system did not change.

Some security agencies were weakened to the advantage of others. They acted in an intelligent way, but they did not necessarily give priority to respecting the law.
Some security agencies acted in an intelligent way, but they did not necessarily give priority to respecting the law

Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, and following the assassination of Major-General Wissam al-Hassan - Lebanon's most prominent post-Syrian security official - the security agencies came out of the shadows and into a public environment that had been carefuly shaped to prepare their return.

Politics retreated in favour of security in managing Syrian refugees, allowing the General Security agency to restore much of the influence and power it lost with the Syrian withdrawal and the imprisonment of Jamil al-Sayyed for several years.

General Security also benefited from Hassan's assassination, by restoring a key coordination role with Western agencies to uncover "terrorist cells" - as the role had mainly been given to the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces.

It also benefited even more from the disruption of communications with the Syrian regime, leaving this role to the director of General Security, Abbas Ibrahim.

The General Security agency was able to achieve good results in fighting terrorism, but its recent major role was to prevent the emigration of Syrians from Syria to Europe.

All this created a sort of impunity for the General Security, to be added to its role as the "ethics police" that decides for the Lebanese what they are allowed or forbidden to read or watch.

Michel al-Doueihi was arrested and charged with criminal offences involving prison sentences of up to three years, after he criticised the General Security agency on Facebook. This coincided with pictures of Abbas Ibrahim being distributed in Beirut after meeting with Pope Francis, showing him as a hero.

In the meantime, General Security censorship of journalists and activists has been on the increase.

It seems the police state in Lebanon is returning with a vengeance.

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