by Makram Rabah - .middleeasteye.net
The usual vibrancy of Beirut’s night life was briefly shattered on Saturday, as news broke of the arrest of a suicide bomber in Hamra Street, one of the most cosmopolitan quarters of the Lebanese capital. Disturbing
at it may seem, the Lebanese are no strangers to acts of violence such
as the occasional explosions which, up until recently, were restricted
to areas with a high Shia population.
The account of
the operation that the security agencies provided to the media resembled
a second-tier Hollywood production in many of its elements
Hezbollah’s full immersion in Syria, fighting on the side of the Assad regime, triggered a series of terrorist attacks
from the Islamic State group, which has tried and succeeded several
times at targeting Shia areas in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Yet
the most interesting part of last Saturday night was not the dramatic
thwarting of the terrorist attack, but the way in which the public
reacted to this incident.
No sooner had the euphoria subsided over
the capture of Omar al-Assi, the 25-year-old nurse turned suicide
bomber, than many Lebanese, used social media to ridicule the theatrical
fashion in which the security agencies (military intelligence and the
police information branch) had seized the culprit.
Much of the
debate and sarcasm centred on the relative ease with which the gullible
suicide bomber was apprehended. This skepticism was enhanced by the
account of the operation that the security agencies provided to both the
media and the public, which in many of its elements resembled a
second-tier Hollywood production.
the Lebanese have traditionally viewed their state with doubt and
disrespect, their attitude was cemented by an earlier event. In a simple
act of brigandage, 74-year-old Saad Richa was abducted in broad
daylight in Qob Elias, in eastern Lebanon, by a gang of well-known
criminals specialising in kidnapping businessmen.
Lebanese state, by adopting a clearly unwise tactic in its fight against
IS, has alienated the majority of the Lebanese Sunnis, who stand
accused of supporting extremism
Richa’s three-day ordeal ended
when the speaker of the house, Nabih Berri, delegated one of his party
members, Bassam Tleis, to mediate between the hoodlums - some of whom
belonged to the Shia Tleis clan - and the state, which was helpless to
act and remained out of the spotlight.
What aggravated the
situation further was that this was not the first and, potentially, not
the last time that this gang has struck. But in this instance, the
abduction of a Christian by a Shia gang threatened to unleash a spate of
tribal and sectarian violence.
many Lebanese, the thwarting of the suicide bomber in Hamra appeared a
desperate attempt by the Lebanese state to save face, coming as it did
after the authorities' epic failure to rein in a few ordinary thugs in
But the hesitancy of citizens to support and trust in
the abilities of their state and its anti-terrorism efforts is extremely
damaging, if not fatefully lethal.
Hearts and minds
serious effort to understand and combat a terrorist organisation such as
IS hinges on the ability to win the hearts and minds of the public.
Much of the relative success of the US forces, under David Petraeus, in
fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq, rested on its ability to appease and, at
times, buy the allegiance of the main Sunni tribes, which gave al-Qaeda
its legitimacy as well as its logistical backbone.
is far removed from some of the serious terror scenarios unfolding
across the region - be they in Syria, Iraq or even Turkey - its ability
to stay strong against any future terrorist threat rests on being able
to make normal Lebanese citizens a weapon in the never-ending war.
this weaponisation of the public does not include any military
implications for civilians. Rather it requires the Lebanese state to win
the confidence of the public by initially arresting gangs, such as the
one which had the audacity to abduct an old man like Saad Richa.
importantly, the Lebanese state, by adopting a clearly unwise tactic in
its fight against IS, has alienated the majority of the Lebanese
Sunnis, who stand accused of supporting extremism, a claim that is
further peddled by Hezbollah and its allies. This fallacious accusation,
more often than not, is also unfortunately adopted by many of Lebanon's
more sensationalist media outlets which care only about ratings.
the Lebanese have to understand the implications of their cavalier
spirit when approaching matters pertaining to security, especially
The tale which the Lebanese security forces have thus
far divulged concerning the wannabe Hamra bomber might not be convincing
- but this doesn’t take away from the threat from IS or any other armed
group, be they foreign or domestic.
al-Assi might have been a decoy or perhaps a lucky catch. But it's wise
to remember that the bullet - or in this case, the bomb - that kills
you is the one that you never hear.
- Makram Rabah is
a lecturer at the American University of Beirut, Department of History.
He is the author of A Campus at War: Student Politics at the American
University of Beirut, 1967-1975.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Lebanese security forces secure the street near the cafe in Hamra
street in Beirut where a suicide bomber was arrested minutes before
exploding himself on 22 January 2017 (AFP)