Abu Mustafa: The Glory Days of a Municipal Policeman

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Abu Mustafa remembers himself patrolling the streets on foot in his police uniform, which he says “embodied the state’s standing and authority” in the town. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Dany al-Amine

Published Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hardly a week goes by without a theft or an assault reported in one of the border villages of South Lebanon.

Those reporting these incidents also often highlight the ineptitude of the security forces in cracking down on such offenses, either because of their lack of manpower or their inability to take action. Some even go as far as to say that the security forces have lost their standing.

There is no specific frame of reference for what this standing might be. But for the people of Shaqra, one man called Abdul-Hassan Ashour once provided a satisfactory example.

Whenever a crime now takes place, the elderly of the town remember the good old days of Abdul-Hassan Ashour, otherwise known as Abu Mustafa. He was the first person to be appointed as municipal policeman in Shaqra in 1961.

That year, the Ministry of Interior created new townships in the Bint Jbeil district, and the newly established municipality of Shaqra had its first mayor. After that, Abu Mustafa, as he himself says, had the “honor” of being chosen as the town’s municipal policeman when the majority of the townsfolk recommended him for the post.

This was a “very happy day” for him indeed. Abu Mustafa was one of Shaqra’s qabadays, [the tough guys who held sway over their neighborhoods], and was influenced by the tough persona and prestige enjoyed by the gendarmes, the men of the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

Back then, Abu Mustafa was 24 years old. He was pleased to land this job after a few years he spent abroad, “toiling in Occupied Palestine.” He recalls that during his time abroad he traded in burlap bags, which were used to move and store grains. He does not forget, either, “the days of hard work he spent cultivating grains and herding cattle.”

Abu Mustafa (born in 1918) calls those olden times “the happy days,” and talks proudly about his career as a municipal policeman. Although he cannot recall them in details, because of his age, he still hasn’t forgotten how the residents used to fear him whenever he passed nearby, “especially those who committed offenses, which were only minor ones back then.”

Abu Mustafa remembers himself patrolling the streets on foot in his police uniform, which he says “embodied the state’s standing and authority” in the town.

He adds, “Back then, I really took care of my khaki uniform, which was made up of trousers that were tight at the bottom and wide at the top, and a shirt and a cap to match. I would instruct a tailor from Bint Jbeil to make a new uniform for me every year, using only the best fabrics, because I knew well how important the role this uniform had in enforcing the state’s prestige in the town.”

Offenses back then involved, for example, “acts like throwing dirty water in the streets, which were not paved at first, damaging crops, particularly by goat herders, or delays in paying taxes on cattle resulting in fines,” he told us.

Abu Mustafa smiles when he talks about cracking down on these offenses. He takes pride in the fact that he “never distinguished between people when it came to dealing out punishments and collecting fines.”

The townspeople attest to this, and say that he had even fined his own wife, when she threw dirty water into the street outside her home. Abu Mastafa laughs and says about this, “I observed the oath I took at the interior ministry, and ended up paying the fine out of my own pocket.”

Muhammad Ali, a resident of Shaqra, remembers well that “Abu Mustafa was known for his strength and courage. When he was 13 years old, he managed to stop and mount a bucking mule after a few men from the town had tried and failed.” Ali goes on to say that the retired policeman “was known for being both serious and lighthearted at the same time, and was good at the [traditional] dabke dance and knew songs that no one else did.”

Another local, Hussein Deeb, recalls how “Abu Mustafa used to intimidate the townsfolk when he passed in his uniform nearby, carrying his whistle which he used to stop people from committing offenses.” He adds, “The town was safe thanks to him, and it was enough for anyone to threaten to call him to prevent any offense from taking place.”

Ali also mentioned that “the municipal policeman used to work closely with neighborhood lookouts to maintain security.” According to the Shaqra resident, “Each family would choose a lookout to guard their farmlands, in return for providing for them in a reasonable manner. Abu Mustafa would still always keep an eye on everything too.”

He also recalls how “Abu Mustafa, upon discovering an offense, would go to the perpetrator’s home and bang on the door violently to express his anger, as well as to dissuade all the residents of the neighborhood from committing any offenses.”

Abu Mustafa remained in his post until 1970, when the municipal council was dissolved and municipal elections were suspended throughout the civil war and beyond, until 1998. On that day, he tendered his resignation, and returned to his farm, after his children made remarkable achievements abroad.

He feels grateful to God for the blessings he gave him. He says, “I have never needed anybody’s help, despite my tough job, and the fact that my salary was no more than 100 Lebanese liras [about $32 in the 1960s and 1970s]. But I had 40 heads of cattle, and I cultivated grains.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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