Lebanon’s national police, Army and security bodies are fanning out this week in the southern suburbs of Beirut, and while some might praise the move as a step in the right direction, several aspects of the deployment are worrying, if not outright disappointing.
The move itself is one of those developments that makes people scratch their heads more than jump for joy. The deployment is supposed to see 800 personnel from the Internal Security Forces, the Army and General Security take up positions in the streets of the southern suburbs, to replace the Hezbollah checkpoints that proliferated in the wake of two car bombings earlier this summer.
One wonders if the numbers, equipment and training of this force – drawn from three separate institutions – will be sufficient. The caretaker interior minister, Marwan Charbel, has recently been trumpeting his idea that municipal police around the country should boost their presence and help take the load off the national police. Then, in an area that has functioning, decently funded municipalities, the solution supposedly arrives in the form of security and military personnel from the national, and not local level.
The problem is that the authorities’ response to the situation in the southern suburbs of Beirut resembles a Band-Aid more than a solution. Instead, all key political factions in the country should reach detailed agreements over the Army, the ISF and other security bodies – how much spending, and for what, do these institutions deserve? Can they be held accountable for their performance, and how, without producing the inevitable “sectarian crisis” if the head of a given state body is criticized or deemed incompetent?
The paralysis at the executive branch level, as everyone knows, is holding up the regular business of government. There are state security and military bodies with vacant or soon-to-become-vacant posts. Do the authorities see any problem with failing to figure out who should take over as the head of the Gendarmerie, for example, a body whose responsibilities largely mirror those of the ISF?
Are the responsibilities and powers of those taking up position in the southern suburbs of Beirut clear? Will they be there to enforce the laws everyone else must obey, or will the ultimate say go to Hezbollah and other local actors that wield actual influence in the suburbs?
The authorities must do much more if they want to begin the long process of winning the trust and confidence of the public. Too many times, a given security move is talked up in the media as if a new chapter is about to unfold – then, things gradually return to normal. Just like earlier promised security crackdowns, the move to the suburbs can only be evaluated weeks and months from now, in order to see whether things have truly changed, or whether the key missing ingredient – accountability – will finally emerge.