North Africa, West Asia: Opinion

What the assassination of Lokman Slim tells us about Lebanon

In a country where impunity is the rule, those who murdered Slim can be sure that everyone will know who they are, but no one will be able to do anything about it.

Walid el Houri
5 February 2021
An anti-government activist holds a picture of the assassinated Lebanese intellectual, Lokman Slim
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Marwan Naamani/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved

We cannot prove who assassinated Lokman Slim, the prominent and vocal Hezbollah critic and political activist, on the morning of 4 February. But there are some things we can be sure of.

We know that Slim was shot several times in the head in the south of Lebanon, having disappeared the night before. We know that he had received death threats from Hezbollah supporters, who accused him of treason. We know that the south of Lebanon is under the control of Hezbollah, and one cannot do much there without the knowledge of the powerful Shiite party.

We also know that in Lebanon, not all culprits try to conceal their identities.

It is a country where impunity is the rule, where investigations are simply where cases go to die, and where the state is but a facade for a coalition of corrupt sectarian parties. The culprit can be sure that everyone will know who killed Slim, but no one will be able to do anything about it.

The signs have been there for a while. The only way out for the failed Lebanese regime, and the forces behind it, is ruling by fear.

The country has been turning into a police state for some time. A country ruled by thugs, militias, corrupt security forces, corrupt banks, corrupt politicians and warlords.

Partisans of political parties have grown fond of the language of bullying, violence and hatred. Social media is rife with worrying signs. Some celebrate the murder of anyone who opposes their party or their leader. Comments under Slim’s last Facebook post are but the latest example.

We have seen attacks on journalists, protesters and anyone else who dares speak out against power in the country. In recent months, we have seen assassinations of people who could have potentially testified about the Beirut port explosion last August and other nefarious activities of the powerful in the country. Investigations are still ongoing, as they are for the explosion, and we can rest assured that they will remain ongoing forever.

Lebanon has been turning into a police state for some time. A country ruled by thugs, militias, corrupt security forces, corrupt banks, corrupt politicians and warlords.

This is not new in a country that has a considerable record of political violence and assassinations. While there has been a clear attempt to suppress dissent in the past few years, until yesterday, we hadn’t seen this kind of political assassinations for a while. Not only do these silence individual voices, they are meant to instil fear in the minds of others who thought that they could oppose or derail power, and believed that at least they would not be killed for it.

How else can a failed regime and a bankrupt system rule over people who are becoming both angrier and hungrier by the day?

Until recently, the Lebanese system preferred to tempt people into the networks of clientelism and influence run by the major sectarian political parties. People came to depend on these parties for anything from schooling and health to jobs or even bureaucracy.

But money and popularity have run very low of late, especially since the onset of Lebanon’s financial crisis in 2019.

And when the carrot fails – or when these forces run out of carrots – the stick is always an option. A cheaper one, too.

The clientelism that used to sustain the power of sectarian parties in the country is no longer working: the state coffers are now empty, and the parties are themselves suffering from a cash flow crisis.

Not to mention that the past months have shown that people are fed up with scraps from this failed system and are moving more and more against the parties they used to support.

Anger is too high for any carrot to appease it.

The stick, then. The message is loud and clear.

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