Lebanon: Tripoli politicians accuse each other for growing unrest in the city

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Lebanese army personal arrest a man in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. (Photo: AFP)

By: Abdel Kafi al-Samad

Published Friday, July 11, 2014

Forty-eight hours after a new wave of protests hit Tripoli demanding the release of detainees held for their involvement in the clashes [that erupted earlier this year], the northern Lebanese city failed on Thursday to take a serious initiative to end the sit-in staged by the detainees’ relatives and to reopen the roads they had blocked. Meanwhile, the finger pointing continued as political factions blamed each other for the current situation.

The events in Tripoli were addressed during the cabinet’s meeting on Thursday. Interior Minister Nouhad al-Machnouk stressed that “there will be no backing away from the security plan,” adding that the council of ministers “suggested making a correction to the security plan in Tripoli to ensure equality and justice concerning the arrests,” without elaborating further about how this “correction” will be implemented.

Machnouk’s statements accompanied a concentrated campaign led by deputies from the Future Movement that targeted the army and the judiciary. MP Mouin al-Merhebi stated that “the military institution is a failure, and so is its commander,” accusing Army Commander Jean Kahwaji of “exploiting Sunnis so he can reach the presidency.”

Following a meeting of the Islamic National Gathering held at his residence, MP Mohammed Kabbara warned that “the continuous security persecution of the Sunni sect will eventually lead to unanticipated reactions,” holding the state prosecutor “fully responsible for every Sunni individual being arrested.” Kabbara expressed his opposition to “arbitrary arrests,” calling to “maintain the security plan but to reject the aberrations that have been occurring.”

Commenting on this campaign, security sources asked “where are these aberrations that they are talking about? How did the security plan change since the beginning of its implementation? Who was wrongfully arrested?”

The same sources explained that, “We are not behind the guarantees reportedly given to people who have turned themselves in [believing] that they would be released after only a short period. In fact, it was various political parties who made such promises as part of their political dispute, since they sought to exploit this cause to regain the [support] of the people who no longer complied with them.”

“However, it turned out that things did not go as they had expected.” The sources said, “How can you release those who were detained and who turned out to have many arrest warrants issued against them, including charges of assaulting army and security officers, as well as civilians?”

Asked why the army and security forces have so far refrained from breaking up the sit-in and reopening the roads blocked by protesters, the sources said, “the sit- in is peaceful, no armed individuals have appeared; besides, most protesters are women and children and you cannot break up their sit- in by force.”

Although the army reopened yesterday the seaside road linking Tripoli to Akkar as an alternative to the now blocked Malouleh Boulevard, the sources fear that the situation may aggravate further and things may get out of hand if a solution is not reached soon to end the sit-in and reopen the roads.

These sources emphasized three main issues: First, the sit-in “is neither individual nor spontaneous as it is being depicted; tents brought to the site and the meals that the protesters have been receiving in an organized manner indicate that an organized political party certainly stands behind it.” Second, “the approximately 45 grenades hurled in recent hours could not have been the doing of needy and destitute citizens living in poor neighborhoods, since their cost is estimated at about $20 each.” Third, “some clerics who received a “dose of power” following the recent ISIS surge in Iraq, started demanding the release of inmates accused of killing soldiers and civilians, which is categorically unacceptable.”

“Does releasing these people correct the security plan?” the sources asked.

The recent escalation in Tripoli took many parties aback since the current tumult is not linked to the “old wound” emanating from the conflict between Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen.

“There is zero chance for the resumption of clashes between Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen” Mustafa Allouch, the coordinator of the Future Movement in Tripoli, confirmed.

Meanwhile, multiple sources indicated that political disputes are behind the recent events in Tripoli. Future Movement circles held former Prime Minister Najib Mikati responsible, telling Al-Akhbar , “We are now in power and we have no interest in such actions but Mikati wants to make us pay and annoy us like we did to him when he was prime minister.”

“These individuals that people have been [calling for their release] in Tripoli are the same ones who Mikati has been making sure they receive nice and heavy meals in prison.”

However, sources close to the former prime minister rejected the accusations, saying these claims “do not belong to reality and are mired with rumours and fabrications.”

Mikati sources accused the Future Movement of “attempting to blame others for standing behind the events in Tripoli as a way to divert attention from conflicts within its ranks.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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