Friday, September 27, 2013

Tripoli figures skeptical of security plan

[Originally posted at NOW]

City leaders tell NOW plans to replicate Dahiyeh's security measures in Tripoli are fraught with complications.

The deployment of state security forces across dozens of new checkpoints in Beirut’s southern suburbs – intended to replace the controversial private measures taken by local Hezbollah strongmen – has sparked proposals to implement a similar move in the northern city of Tripoli.

Both Dahiyeh (as the southern suburbs are informally known) and Tripoli were struck by highly deadly car bombings in August, prompting a nationwide security clampdown that critics from both sides of the political divide argue has favored Dahiyeh at Tripoli’s expense. “Is what happened in Tripoli any less serious than what happened in Dahiyeh?”asked Caretaker Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami, one of Hezbollah’s relatively few allies in the northern city. “The people of Tripoli have the right to ask: Why is it that every time we ask for security measures […] we are told […] that we must make do with what we have?”

Accordingly, Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati – himself a Tripoli native – has called for a meeting Friday with Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel along with security officials and other politicians to discuss the possibility of replicating the Dahiyeh plan in Tripoli.

No specific details of the proposals on the table have thus far emerged. Yet leading political figures in the city told NOW that while they would welcome effective measures by state institutions to tackle Tripoli’s chronic instability, they were highly skeptical that anything meaningful would come out of Friday’s discussions.

“This is a déjà vu phenomenon, because we have seen previous plans about fourteen or fifteen times over the past few years in Tripoli, and many of them were really serious, and we as citizens and politicians don’t understand why they have ceased to exist all of a sudden,” said Future Movement MP Mustafa Alloush. “What we [typically see] in Tripoli is all of a sudden we have a security plan, thousands of troops and security officers gather for a week or two, maybe a month, and then it disappears.”

“I don’t see anything new,” agreed former MP Mosbah al-Ahdab of the Democratic Renewal (Tajaddod) Movement, who added that such efforts have invariably been sabotaged in the past by corruption and political patronage, some of it involving Miqati himself. “Miqati has requested the state many times to make this security plan in Tripoli, and it’s always secretive, and at the end of the day it ends up having roadblocks stopping people, but those who should be arrested have permits to pass and are not allowed to be arrested.”

“If Miqati wants to […] do something, let him stop financing fighters,” said Ahdab, echoing prior accusations that the caretaker prime minister is a prominent sponsor of various armed groups in the city.

Adding to the complications is the question of whether these militias, many of which distrust state security forces, would accept the deployment of the army in their quarters. In June, gunmen clashed with the army when it intervened to quell the latest in a long series of battles between the Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods.

Sheikh Salem al-Rafei, a cleric with ties to many of Bab al-Tabbaneh’s militants who narrowly escaped assassination in one of the car bombs last month, told NOW he did not know enough about the security plan to comment on whether or not he would support it. He implied, however, that it was unnecessary because there were no checkpoints comparable to Hezbollah’s in Dahiyeh to replace.

“I do not understand the nature of this security plan because we don’t have ‘self-security’ in Tripoli, as they did in Dahiyeh,” Rafei told NOW. He added that he thought investigating who carried out the previous car bombs was a more pressing concern.

Alloush, for his part, opined that if militants would actively oppose the security plan, that in itself would only underscore the urgent need for it to be executed.

“If we have to wait for the agreement of militiamen to surrender their arms, we will be in a comedy, not a state.”

Luna Safwan contributed reporting.

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