Marwan Charbel: I’m Not Racist

Lebanese Minister of Interior and Municipalities Marwan Charbel stands on the porch of his house in Baabda. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Mohamed Nazzal

Published Friday, April 27, 2012

In an interview with Al-Akhbar, Lebanon’s Minister of Interior and Municipalities Marwan Charbel blames the rise in crime on a sudden influx of poor refugees, including Syrians and Iraqis, but admits that some Lebanese are thugs.

“Felonies have increased by 50 percent,” says Interior Minister Marwan Charbel. This time the information comes directly from the man in charge and not through “a high level security official.”

But this will not create a shock in Lebanon and angry masses will not take to the streets. The government will not meet and make it the only item on the agenda. The news will be forgotten soon.

“We do not want to scare people but this is the reality. We are working as hard as we can and things are not out of control,” Charbel says.

Helplessness in the face of rising crime, he says, “makes me want to cry,” almost choking on the word. He tries to hold it back but it soon fails him.

So, the Interior minister who wanted to show the benefits of “militarizing” the ministry, can also cry. It appears that behind his harsh and often contrived look, there is a “soft heart.”

One can agree or disagree with Charbel. He might make ill-considered remarks that get him into trouble. But one cannot but admire his spontaneity.

It seems that security in the land of the cedars is unravelling and may have reached a very dangerous level. This comes from a minister in charge of all the security agencies except for the military.

But why cry? Why whine and not do something? “This is not crying. It is heartache. I am part of the security agencies and I know their suffering. My heart aches every time I get asked about the security situation,” he explains.

“I know people are worried. I am worried too. So what do you want me to say? We lack everything – personnel, equipment, and more importantly, sound policy,” he continues.

“For example, if today we wanted to get phone records for security reasons, someone will make you accountable politically. Crimes are increasing. Everyone has to put their trust in the security agencies, or else...things will not be good,” he warns.

“Trust” is the word Charbel repeats incessantly in every session held about the security situation. He does not object that some agencies and their officers were formerly members of certain political and sectarian organizations.

But this has led to a “lack of trust...Therefore I do not blame those who do not trust but we need to turn over a new leaf. Today, I am the head of the ministry and no officer can play games with me outside the law. Either the politicians trust me or there is no solution,” he says.

Charbel will not propose recommendations to fix the security situation while there is “no trust – 100 percent trust – between the government and the security agencies.”

Charbel repeats the information about the 50 percent increase in the number of felonies recently. The causes are many, but the main reason is “the situation in Syria. It turned security upside down here. Everyday, there is some kind of incident, thefts and others, carried out by Syrians who have entered Lebanon recently,” he declares.

“I am not saying that all the Lebanese are good. Some are thugs. But with 30,000 to 40,000 Syrians in Lebanon, crimes will definitely increase,” he adds.

Charbel dismisses accusations of racism brought against him a few days ago after he first mentioned the issue. He said, “I am not speaking about a particular people. Those who come from Syria are poor. They steal to buy food. They steal mobile phones and eyeglasses and simple things like that.”

He adds, “The same thing happened when Iraqi groups were displaced into Lebanon and the number of felonies increased. Most of those Iraqis were Christians. Here, I said it. Nobody can accuse me of being racist or sectarian.”

Charbel digs further to defend himself by changing the subject to prisoners. “Everyone knows how much I care for the prisoners and they are from different confessions. Most of those who benefited from the reduction in sentences in the last few weeks were Muslim. Some were not even Lebanese,” he insists.

What about the Lebanese-Syrian border and the continuous smuggling of weapons? Charbel does not deny those “facts” but he informs us that “the borders are relatively under control. They are secured to the full extent of the army’s capabilities. May God help the army. There is so much to do.”

He says the interior ministry “gave the army 300 security personnel to help out, although we badly need them with us.” But the “fate” of Lebanon “is directly influenced by what happens in Syria.”

He says, “We constantly send out patrols. Sometimes we catch criminals and sometimes we fail. In the meantime, I pray that the situation in Syria gets solved, so we know where we are going. Right now, we do not know where things are going here.”

But is he still convinced that there is no al-Qaeda in Lebanon? “What is al-Qaeda? No, there is no al-Qaeda,” he interjects.

He then pulls out a dossier from his desk. It was prepared by various security agencies and it names various organizations present in Lebanon: Fatah al-Islam, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Front for Palestinian Popular Struggle, the Liberation Front for Palestine, the Palestinian People’s Party, the Arab Liberation Front, the Fatah Movement, the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), Islamic Jihad, al-Saiqa, the Palestinian Communist Party, the Palestinian Liberation Party, the al-Ansar League, Jund el-Sham, Ansar Allah, and others.

“I am sure some people might never have heard of these organizations but they do exist. al-Qaeda, on the other hand, does not have a base in Lebanon,” Charbel asserts.

“Yes, someone called so-and-so might pass through Lebanon, from Yemen for example, to go to Syria. He might be from al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, this should not lead us to say that our country is a base for al-Qaeda,” he adds.

He switches back to the security situation in Lebanon and the difficulties the security agencies are facing.

“There are things that I am ashamed to say. Shall I tell you that we had to reduce the number of roadblocks because there is not enough space to hold people we are after? Does this not make you want to cry?” Charbel asks.

“Look at the recent parliamentary sessions. Not one MP revisited the ministerial statement and held the cabinet accountable for what it promised. It was all political. Maybe it was wrong to broadcast the sessions live, so close to elections. We witnessed a spectacle and the kind of talk that does not help people at all,” he concludes.

Spending time with the interior minister these days is upsetting. His candour is “depressing,” but it is still better than the lies of politicians and their attempts at applying makeup to a stiff corpse.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

He might argue against being racist, but he certainly can't argue against being patently stupid. He seems to think that his absurd claims are somehow unique to the situation in Lebanon, despite the fact that this sort of nonsense gets rolled out everywhere in the world. Blaming the poor, the politically disenfranchised, the powerless is a global tradition.

I would recommend two things to this buffoon:

1. Try to understand why it is important to separate himself from the security agencies (a basic lesson on checks and balances of power and the importance of oversight MIGHT do the trick)

2. Stop digging yourself in deeper and pick up a history book (I recommend Fanon's Wretched of the Earth for a variety of reasons that would apply to this case in particular)

Actually, one more recommendation: resign in an attempt to raise the standard of dialogue in this country! (which is actually a blanket statement to most of the polis)

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