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Kidnappings show Lebanese government 'collapsing'

Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2012-08-17

A string of kidnappings in Lebanon's capital Beirut earlier this week have raised fears that the crisis in Syria has once again spilled over the border and highlighted the Lebanese government's waning authority over the mafia-like Meqdad clan.

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” may be an old saying, but a string of kidnappings in Lebanon earlier this week have shown the concept is alive and well, and highlighted the government’s tenuous grip on power.

Lebanon’s powerful Shiite Muslim clan, the Meqdad family, announced on August 15 it had abducted 20 Syrians and one Turkish national in retaliation for the kidnapping of one of its family members in neighbouring Syria, Hassan al-Meqdad, who was taken captive by members of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) two days earlier.

The Meqdad family said it used its “military wing” to abduct their hostages, who were targeted for allegedly supporting the FSA. A spokesperson for the family warned that "if Hassan (al-Meqdad) is killed, the first hostage we will kill is the Turk".

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Nagib Mikati issued a statement condemning the act, saying “this is not the way to solve the abduction of a Lebanese national in Syria”. However, Lebanese authorities have not taken any concrete measures to crack down on the Meqdad family actions or to free the hostages.

Tensions have continued to mount. On Thursday, a number of Syrian-owned businesses were vandalised in the capital Beirut and several workers chased down by groups of armed Shiites, who said they had acted for the release of those kidnapped in Syria.

The unrest has been widely interpreted as yet another example of how the crisis in Syria has spilled over the border into Lebanon, a country deeply divided between pockets of support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and those who back the 18-month-long uprising against him. Contacted by FRANCE 24, Lebanese intellectual and former opposition MP Samir Frangié gave his view on the situation.

What does the Meqdad family represent in Lebanon, and why does it have a “miltary wing”?

Samir Frangié: The Meqdad family, like a number of other clans or tribal families in Bekaa, has turned into a mafia group over time, taking advantage of the state’s weak presence in the region. Their financial transactions [including drug trafficking and racketeering, according to some experts] are illegal but tolerated by the authorities, and have allowed the family to amass considerable resources such as weapons, which they have used in open defiance of the country. This defiance, however, reached unprecedented proportions after they kidnapped foreign nationals in broad daylight and then stood before the cameras and gave interviews on live television.

The Meqdad family appears to operate with total impunity. How would you explain that?

SF: In the end, the Meqdad family’s actions have shown how the Lebanese state is in the process of collapsing. We are witnessing the end of an era and of a state that allowed itself to be dictated to by the Syrian state, which ultimately viewed Lebanon as nothing more than a protectorate. Because Damascus wants keep a hand in Lebanon, the government is incapable of making its own decisions. The unfortunate result is that Lebanese ministers have been reduced to negotiating with kidnappers. It’s a chaotic situation that is directly linked with what’s going on in Syria, and which poses a direct threat to the safety of this country’s citizens. As a matter of security it is also a threat to the country’s economy, because the unrest will likely chase off tourists and investors.

The Meqdad family is Shiite. Do they have any connections with Lebanese political parties, such as Hezbollah ?

SF: The Meqdad family has the implicit support of Hezbollah and the Amal party, the country’s two main Shiite political forces, in the sense that they’re allowed to do whatever they want. This is partly due to the fact that Hezbollah and the Amal party cannot control them, and partly because they are considered to be politically valuable. A number of the Meqdad family sympathise with Hezbollah, and the two political groups don’t want to risk antagonising them. What this relationship shows, is that Hezbollah’s influence is waning, even in areas where it once had overwhelming support like Bekaa and Beirut’s southern suburbs, where the Meqdad family has operated out of since the crisis in Syria began.

 

Date created : 2012-08-17

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