Spotty policing

The Lebanese Army. (The Daily Star)

The Lebanese government has launched a security campaign in the Bekaa Valley, after a similar crackdown earlier this year in Greater Beirut, and specifically the southern suburbs.

Such steps are a natural part of governance, but a strong element of traditional politics comes into play.

Speaker Nabih Berri paved the way for the crackdown by holding a meeting with representatives of Bekaa communities earlier in the week. The meeting was made public, meaning that it was the speaker’s green light for the Internal Security Forces to intervene.

Despite the problems and dysfunction that have characterized the Cabinet, the executive branch has kept its word on conducting security crackdowns.

The experience of this government, and those that have preceded it, have shown that such efforts are difficult to carry out on a systematic, nationwide basis. There is the simple fact that logistics problems, primarily the lack of manpower, limit the government’s capabilities in this regard. The public has heard this interior minister and his predecessors point out these simple facts, and make appeals to beef up the ranks of the ISF and other security institutions, if not the army as well.

As for the politics, this is Lebanon, and the political and sectarian cover for law breakers must be lifted before the country’s security authorities can act in a given “sensitive” area. It should always be considered positive when the government makes the political effort required beforehand to ensure the success of such an initiative.

And acting in the Bekaa, in the southern suburbs, or any other place that is widely considered a “closed area” to the authorities is something that is welcomed by the inhabitants of these areas before it is applauded by the wider public. The residents want to see stability and law enforcement; they certainly are tired of hearing that they embrace breaking the law, because they are the ones who directly suffer from the repercussions of lawlessness.

The Cabinet and the Interior Ministry deserve the support of the public and the political class as they carry out these security crackdowns, so that they can become standard process. As recipients of a certain amount of the annual budget, the ministry and the ISF must act within their means, but the Cabinet as a whole must also decide the priority level of its security policy.

The lawlessness in these areas did not just emerge overnight. Whether it’s a phenomenon that has been aggravated in the last few years, or has been endemic over a period of decades, the government can’t just send in the ISF to perform periodic clean-ups.

The underlying problems must be treated. In the Bekaa, the areas that require effort are diverse. Whatever the area of economic activity, the Bekaa and other similar areas require the government’s attention to create work opportunities. The agricultural sector is essential. Amid the chaos in Syria and its effect on exports from the Bekaa, it’s especially timely to boost the sector. The area’s infrastructure also requires improvement, while there is a nagging legal-bureaucratic issue, namely the 30,000 outstanding warrants against residents in the valley.

There are dangerous, wanted criminals out there, whether they are kidnappers or drug traffickers or others – but there are also many people who were guilty of a single incident, for example, back when it was a widespread practice. The authorities should look into these cases and identify the real troublemakers and go after them, while taking steps to make sure that others can get on with their lives.

The Interior Ministry and the ISF are responsible for being the police force, but the Cabinet must act as an authority that implements policies that reduce the amount of times the police need to act.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 18, 2012, on page 7.




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