Total paralysis

Members of the Meqdad family watch footage of the Syrian rebels that the family claims to have kidnapped in Lebanon on Wednesday, August 15, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

Anyone who was following news from Lebanon Wednesday was treated to the following spectacle: Television crews hurried to the southern suburbs of Beirut to cover the tense situation as members of a Bekaa clan vowed to pursue a wide-scale campaign of kidnapping people from various nationalities.

Members of the Meqdad clan had assembled their “military council” and began issuing threats, to retaliate for the recent kidnapping of one of their members in Syria, purportedly by the rebel Free Syrian Army. They also criticized Lebanese government officials for failing to show any interest in the matter.

Reporters then began to inform viewers that clan members were abducting Syrian nationals from the Airport Road before their very eyes.

Throughout the proceedings, the Lebanese government was completely absent.

As if this were not enough, the situation deteriorated when reports began to circulate that a number of Lebanese Shiite pilgrims, who were abducted in Syria in May, had been killed amid airstrikes on the town where they were being kept. Their relatives proceeded to block the Airport Road with burning tires in response to the government’s inaction.

The live broadcast of total government paralysis got even worse when the Meqdad clan kidnapped a Turkish national, amid reports that Gulf nationals were also on their “target list.” Gulf countries then urged their citizens to leave Lebanon immediately.

When Lebanese officials did speak, it was the same old, unsatisfactory and confusing rhetoric, in the form of statements such as:

“We have been taking steps ...”

“We will be making every effort ...”

And, the most alarming of them all: “We have no information on this matter ...”

On Thursday, officials continued their inaction, long after it was too late – after foreign visitors began giving up on Lebanon, and after the Lebanese once again began contemplating the imminent collapse of public order and the spread of outright chaos.

One official response – the forming of committees and delegations to deal with the kidnapped pilgrims, nearly three months after their capture – was so ludicrous that it would be comical, if not for the fact that people’s lives are at stake.

Meanwhile, government officials made their usual pledges. They stood before microphones and solemnly talked about the need to prevent road closures, and said that no armed clans should be allowed to make kidnapping threats.

Perhaps they forgot they recently allowed Sidon to be paralyzed by a protest that involved blocking a main thoroughfare. Perhaps they forgot they have been utterly unable to address the issue of non-state arms and rampant lawlessness. Or perhaps they just don’t care.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 17, 2012, on page 7.




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