| 18 April 2024, Thursday |

Beirut ‘neighbourhood watch’ echoes troubled past

ets, we would not have been forced to light the streets, and if they … had not allowed the country to collapse, we would not be forced today to stand in the streets to reassure our people,” he said.

The initiative – which currently has 98 recruits – was launched in coordination with the security services and aimed to complement their work, Gemayel said, adding the security forces were suffering a manpower shortfall due to the crisis.

Lebanon’s security services, like the rest of the state, have been hit hard by a 95% currency collapse which has destroyed the value of wages paid to soldiers and police.

The United States is buttressing them with aid, including salary support.

A spokesman for the Internal Security Forces (ISF) did not respond to a request for comment.

The crisis has driven a spike in crimes, including armed robberies, carjackings, handbag snatches and thefts of internet and telephone cables.

Still, army chief General Joseph Aoun said the army, the backbone of civil peace in Lebanon, was able to maintain order. “The security situation is under control… we have not previously accepted any violation of security and stability, and we will not accept it today,” he said.


Beirut Mayor Jamal Itani said he learnt about the initiative on the news, and was worried it could cause tension.

“Say they catch a thief from one party or people intervene with guns, then things could get out of hand,” he told Reuters.

“My second fear is that other areas will also ask for this and then each area will have a group for itself managing security in their area.”

Lebanon’s sectarian parties disarmed at the end of the war, bar Hezbollah, which kept its arsenal to fight Israel. Their pervasive influence is never far from the surface and tensions are common in a country awash with guns.

Supporters of different groups fought deadly clashes in Beirut as recently as last year.

Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center said the initiative was a clear example of security being organised locally under a political umbrella, adding that this trend had surfaced earlier in the crisis and was unfolding less visibly elsewhere.

Security, like electricity, would increasingly be enjoyed by those who could afford it, he added.

Gemayel said the finance came from local donors, with logistics organised by a security company. Recruits earn $200 a month for a six-hour shift – much needed income for many.

He expects expansion.

Shopkeeper George Samaha welcomed it.

“We were more assured because nothing is guaranteed given this bad situation we’re living,” said Samaha, 51.

But lawmaker Paula Yacoubian called it “short-sighted”.

“Are we back to the time of militias?” she said.

“This country is disintegrating and falling apart, and this is one of the things that will contribute to the fall of the country and the state.”

  • Reuters