The Lebanese public this week was treated to the latest flagrant challenge to the authority and credibility of their state when a local television station interviewed a drug farmer in the Bekaa Valley. The news item highlighted the casual way in which some people who openly and flagrantly engage in illegal activity are allowed to act freely and flout the government’s lack of attention to their acts, while others, who lack political or other connections, are expected to pay the price and make no trouble for the authorities.
The farmer calmly related how the caretaker interior minister agreed with cannabis growers to keep their production, since the government had yet to come up with the long-promised advent of alternative crops. The farmer also noted how current prices for hashish were less than adequate for him and his colleagues to make ends meet. The entire exercise boiled down to one of “I’m connected and I can do pretty much what I want,” even though Lebanese law is quite clear on the topic of drug possession and trafficking.
Meanwhile, a number of university students in Lebanon have spent the summer behind bars, on suspicion of involvement in a drug trafficking ring. It was the kind of activity that in some cases saw relatively small amounts of illegal substances changing hands, but nonetheless, the young people have spent a few weeks or months in jail, with little sign that formal charges or a trial will take place anytime soon.
The public can easily deduce the following: One shouldn’t necessarily expect a fair, speedy trial for the crime of possessing small amounts of illegal substances, unless one is a big-time operator – in that case, it’s more than likely that a brush with the authorities will result in an agreement to look the other way, in the interest of not stirring up unwanted trouble.
One wonders about the reaction by officials from foreign governments whose assistance flows to Lebanon, to boost everything from “law enforcement” to socioeconomic development. In the end, the current authorities have little to show for all these efforts, other than elaborate signing ceremonies and boilerplate speeches. There isn’t much development to go around, while law enforcement remains stuck in “selectivity” mode.
The same disconnect is apparent on the security front, since Lebanon is a country in which people who carry unlicensed firearms might be stopped at a checkpoint and detained, if they don’t have the right contacts to protect them. Meanwhile, leaders of neighborhood militias, armed to the teeth, roam around freely and maintain their informal armies with little fear of ever experiencing a crackdown by the Army or other security bodies.
There is one area of consistency, however. Whenever state officials and politicians in the government are given the opportunity to speak publicly, they urge people to respect the law, without bothering to mention who is responsible for failing to enforce it.