The lynching by a Lebanese mob of an Egyptian man who allegedly went on a murder spree has strained relations between Cairo and Beirut, but is not expected to lead to a rupture in relations.
Egypt’s Embassy in Beirut condemned the lynching over the weekend and some Egyptian politicians called on the government to take immediate diplomatic actions against Lebanon.
“I don’t think this is going to hurt relations between Egypt and Lebanon,” said Akl Kairouz, a political scientist from the Notre Dame University of Beirut. “I don’t think the Egyptians are naïve enough to let one man create a problem.”
The man was identified as Egyptian national Muhammad Salim al-Musallim, who was living in the Lebanese town of Ketermaya in the western Chouf district.
Internal security forces arrested Musallim, 38, last Wednesday on suspicion that he murdered an elderly couple and their two grandchildren, aged seven and nine. He was also suspected of raping a 15-year-old girl in the same village and was fleeing a criminal record in Egypt.
A blood-stained knife was reportedly found at the suspect’s house and he confessed to the crime after an interrogation at the police station.
Just a few hours after the alleged murders, police brought him back to the crime scene to re-enact the deed. Villagers snatched him away from his police guards. The mob of hundreds beat him to death while shouting “revenge!” and then stripped him to his underwear, dragged his dead body through the streets and hanged the bloody corpse from an electricity pole by a butcher’s hook, Lebanese security officials and witnesses said.
Security forces stood by, some claiming they were outnumbered by the mob and were incapable or responding.
Parts of the lynch were captured on a cellphone camera and uploaded onto YouTube, where they have been flagged by YouTube as being inappropriate for some users due to extreme graphic and disturbing content.
The lynching highlights Beirut’s incapacity to lay down the law and proliferation of the deed in the media has pitted those who justified the lynching against others who were appalled by it.
“This was a case of a man who was in state custody and was being investigated, high-level judges were involved in the investigation and yet he was executed before the eyes of the state,” Nadim Khoury, Beirut director of Human Rights Watch said. “This is the law of the jungle impinging on law of the land.”
“Whoever killed the man is guilty of murder and the penal code is very clear on that. What’s not clear is if they will have the political courage to do it,” he said. “The only choice the state has is to follow the rule of law by prosecuting all those involved in the horrible murder.
“Unfortunately there are political voices trying to say, ‘We’re all guilty so put us all in’ jail, and that can’t be justified. It’s a real challenge. Up to [Sunday] morning no one was detained, even though the Justice Ministry said they identified 10 names and referred them to the prosecutor’s office,” he said.
Khoury testified to the phenomenon of impunity from prosecution in Lebanon, but said this was not a reason to justify the crime. “It wasn’t like this was a crime that went unresolved for a long time,” he said.
He also indicated a shortcoming on behalf the security forces who were supposedly there to protect the suspect while the crime was being enacted.
“There was a public relations aspect of the investigation that was impinging on the suspect’s right to a fair trial. The forces may have been overpowered, but at one point they stood idly by, while the mob pushed his body,” he said.
Mustafa Bakri, an independent Egyptian MP, announced that he considered the crime harmful to relations between the Egyptian and Lebanese peoples and urged Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Gheit to consider immediate action.
Condemning the lynching, the Egyptian Embassy urged Lebanon to clarify why Musallim was taken to re-enact the crime less than a day after it was committed.
“The media has made an issue out of it,” said Kairouz, of Notre Dame University. “There’s a general mood among the people in the street which is causing the media to make an issue of it, but I think it will whither away. The Egyptian government knows it can’t be important enough to sever diplomatic relations and enter a situation of enmity.
“It was lynch of Sunnis against a Sunni and not Shi’ites against a Sunni,” Kairouz added. “If the villagers were Shi’ite, it would have created a greater crisis.”
Still, he said, Egypt can sue Lebanon under international law since its security force did not respond properly to protect the Egyptian national.
“It’s not a question of good relationships,” Khoury said. “Lebanon should be prosecuting those responsible for the sake of its own interests, and not because of diplomatic pressure.”
The fact that the target was an Egyptian and not a local played a “huge role” in why he was killed so savagely, Khoury maintained.
“It was xenophobia mixed with anger and his being Egyptian and an outsider to the village was a determining factor,” he said.
The dangling body attracted onlookers, some of whom are clearly seen in
footage taking pictures. More than 800 talkbacks were posted on an
article about the lynching on the pan-Arab Al-Arabiyya Web site. Most
of them condemned the attack while a few justified it.
“May your hands be blessed,” one commentator wrote. “This is the penalty for any criminal.”
“What happened was totally inhuman and belongs to the law of the
jungle. They have become criminals who are no better than he was,”