Beirut's "neighbourhood watch" recalls the city's troubled past

BEIRUT: People with batons and torches are taking security into their own hands on Beirut's pitch-blind, unpaved streets, a move that supporters believe will keep neighborhoods safe but which critics fear will threaten the country's security. There is a worrying echo of a troubled past.

The Neighborhood Watch program, launched earlier this month in some of Beirut's most affluent streets, is the most recent sign of the crisis that has engulfed Lebanon since that country's economy collapsed in 2019, causing Much of the country was paralyzed and the worst was over. Since the civil war of 1975-1990.

The men, stationed in the city's Ashrafieh district, reassure residents who are concerned about crime, according to supporters of the plan. The plan was the brainchild of Christian politician Nadim Gemayel and was organized by a civil society group he founded.

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However, their presence has drawn comparisons to a civil war, when the state disintegrated, militias took control of the streets, and Beirut was divided into cantons among critics. The mayor is concerned that this may encourage other people to do the same.

Kataib Party MP Gemayel rejects such criticisms. His father, Bashir, was the leader of the main Christian militia during the civil war until he was assassinated in 1982 after being elected president.
Unlike the heavily armed, Iran-backed Shiite organization Hezbollah, he said, "We are not a militia, we are not armed, and we do not have rockets or drones."

He referred to the state as "absent", saying, "The major problem we are facing today in Beirut and throughout Lebanon is that there is no electricity, there is no security, there is no sense of reassurance, and All roads are. Dark."

If they had done their duty and lit the streets, we would not have needed to do this, and if they had prevented the collapse of the country, we would not have needed to stand in the streets at present. people, he said.

Gemayel said the security services were facing manpower shortages as a result of the crisis and that the initiative, which currently has 98 recruits, was launched in coordination with them.

The value of the salaries paid to soldiers and police officers has been wiped out, causing serious damage to Lebanon's security services as well as the rest of the country.

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Aid is being given to them by the United States, including wage support. Inquiries for comment were not answered by an Internal Security Force (ISF) spokesperson.

Crimes such as armed robbery, carjacking, handbag snatching and theft of telephone and internet cables have increased as a result of the crisis.

Although the army is the foundation of Lebanon's civil peace, General Joseph Aoun claimed that the army was still capable of maintaining order. The security situation is under control, and he announced that any breach in stability and security would not be tolerated even today.

Beirut mayor Jamal Itani claimed he heard about the initiative on the news and was concerned that it could spark conflict.
Things could get out of control, he warned, "say they catch a party thief or people with guns interfere."

"My other concern is that other regions will request this as well, at which point each region will have its own group to oversee security in that region."

With the exception of Hezbollah, which kept its arsenal to fight Israel, all sectarian parties in Lebanon disarmed at the end of the war. Tension is common in a country where guns are plentiful because of their pervasive influence, which doesn't lie much below the surface.
As recently as last year, clashes between members of different groups in Beirut resulted in deaths.

According to Mohanda Haig Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center, the initiative is a clear example of local security organized under a political umbrella.

He said this trend had emerged earlier in the crisis and was developing less clearly elsewhere.
He continued by saying that people with resources would enjoy more and more security and electricity.

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Gemayel claimed that local donors provided the money, and a security firm handled the logistics. For six-hour shifts, recruits are paid $200 a month, which is much-needed money for many.

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