A CCTV video that recently emerged on the Internet has kicked up a storm in Lebanon. It shows five men enter a pharmacy, insult the employees and ransack several displays. But it is the identity of one of the thugs more than the rampage itself that has caused the biggest stir: he has turned out to be a known representative of the local Baath party – which is widely despised in Lebanon for its close ties to Syria.
The incident took place on July 3 in the coastal town of Saida, south of Beirut. The man in the blue T-shirt is Mostapha Al-Awass, a Baath party candidate in the 2009 elections. Other members of his family have recently made headlines as well: last month his brother verbally lashed out at an imam in a Saida mosque because he had denounced the repression of the Syrian regime against pro-democracy protesters
"My name is Mostapha al-Awass and God himself speaks to me with respect!"
"I hope that this will put an end to the impunity which members of the Baath Party in Lebanon enjoy."
Lina Bashasha is the pharmacist captured in the footage.
It all started when a young boy came into the pharmacy to buy some medicine. The medicine cost 11,000 Lebanese pounds [5 euros] and he only had 10,000 on him. He left the money he had at the till and went to fetch the rest. Shortly afterwards, I received a call from Mostapha al-Awass who told me that the young boy in question was his nephew. He asked me why I hadn’t handed over the medicine, and complained that the price had gone up. When I tried to explain, he hung up on me.
His nephew came to get the money that he had left behind. Shortly after, Mostapha al-Awass showed up with four armed men. They ordered all the customers to leave and one of them at that time rang the police. Then the men started shouting and hurling abuse and me and my husband, before knocking over several displays. Mostapha cursed and insulted the authorities, including the police. At one point, he screamed: “My name is Mostapha al-Awass and God himself speaks to me with respect!” We were really scared; the Filipina cleaning lady was terrified and fainted after they left.
Mostapha al-Awass was arrested and remains in prison awaiting his court appearance. But it is not the first time that he has used such intimidation tactics - many people in Saida are scared of him. He reportedly forces people to lend him money, then never pays them back.
People told me to be careful because who knows what he is capable of doing when he gets out of prison. But for now, it seems that the judge does not want to release him because other complaints have been filed against him and they are being taken into account. I believe that other people were waiting for something like this to happen.
This time we were lucky: the camera footage evidence was irrefutable. I hope that this will put an end to the impunity that Baath Party members currently enjoy.”
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.