Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lebanon: A Victory For The Rule Of Law

This editorial was published in The Daily Star on 15/11/2010

Sunday’s arrest of militant Muslim preacher Omar Bakri provides a most welcome piece of news to a Lebanese citizenry long despondent of any signs of life from its state: the rule of law can be enforced in Lebanon.

Seen in its best light, the arrest of Bakri says that the law applies even to he who publicly proclaims, as Bakri has long and loudly done, that he does not recognize the laws of Lebanon.

The detention of a figure such as Bakri, who is well known and has a not insignificant constituency, also sends a message that the law can be enforced without special consideration toward the status of the individual who violates it.

Bakri was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for, among other charges, incitement to murder and possession of weapons and explosives.

The 50-year-old Syrian native had proclaimed he would not spend one day in prison – perhaps that kind of flippancy stemmed directly from his knowledge of the nearly nonexistent enforcement of the law in this country.

Expelled by the United Kingdom and earlier by Saudi Arabia, the climate of lawlessness must have been among the appeals of Lebanon to Bakri, who has praised the September 11 attackers.

His arrest, however – and the sentences handed down Thursday to some 40 more of his cohorts – gives hope that this culture of impunity can be upended.

It is hoped that this implementation of the law will not be an isolated incident. This Cabinet, in its 12 months of existence, has amassed a depressingly paltry bottom line, but it could markedly raise its standing if it would move to arrest all of those with outstanding warrants.

Sunday’s arrest should not wind up as a mere one-time theater. Lebanese law should know no exceptions to its reach.

The question does arise, however – what took so long? Bakri was deported from Britain for his incitement, and he was detained when he arrived here – and released shortly after. Bakri, to be sure, did not hide underground – he was a presence in Tripoli, and he did not moderate his incendiary speech since disembarking here in 2005.

As the residents of this country have all too painfully learned in the preceding decades, the rule of law and an effective judiciary are necessary preconditions for any successful government or robust state institutions. The arrest of Omar Bakri signifies that in theory at least, no one is above the law.

What remains to be done by politicians in the country is to transform this seldom implemented theory into regular practice. While better late than never, Bakri’s apprehension should become only the first in a series of arrests of those who present a security threat, regardless of their religious sect, party affiliation or political connections.

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