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LEBANON: Nightclub politics

January 3, 2008 |  4:03 pm

Only in Lebanon could an incident at upscale nightclub rise to the level of a national crisis. Last Saturday at a buzzing hour of the night, armed agents of the General Security forces raided Crystal, a pricey watering hole and dance club once described by Businessweek as the city's "largest and flashiest" night venue in a city that prides itself on partying 'til dawn (as shown in the video below).

The security forces verbally roughed up the well-coiffed and expensively perfumed jet-setters and forced them to kneel down for several minutes, local media said. They said were looking for illegal migrant workers from Sudan and arrested a few working at the club.

But there may have been more to it than that. According to the owner of Crystal, quoted by Lebanese papers, the club turned down the son a ranking official at General Security who tried to make a reservation at the over-booked club that same Saturday. Dissed by the disco, the young man got his dad to harass the club, the owner suggested.

General Security, also known as Surete General, is an official body that monitors foreigners in the country. The incident was ridiculed by one blogger, Lebanonesque:

In the land of the many bombings/assassinations, all unresolved, what is the Surete Generale doing? It is raiding exclusive bar-club "Crystal" to harass the owner and hurt his business by scaring and humiliating the crap out of its patrons and employees. Why you ask? Apparently cuz Daddy' not get a table on one of the busiest nights of the year.

General Security issued a statement defending itself Monday, saying the raid fell within its jurisdiction and was not meant to avenge some official's pampered kid. Still the incident has sparked accusatory statements and declarations between the Interior Ministry, which is controlled by the pro-Western ruling majority, and the Hezbollah-leaning General Security.

Even Prime Minister Fouad Siniora expressed his indignation at the behavior of the security forces and immediately summoned for rebuke those responsible for the incident. In Lebanon, a country ruled by various clans and confessional groups, nepotism remains common. Misuse of authority stays often unpunished.

Blogger Riemer Brouwer writes:

It will be interesting to see if Siniora will hold son and dad accountable for the loss of revenue for the owners of Crystal and for the inconvenience for the guests. Imagine being searched while having a drink with friends in a nightclub. It would be nice to think that 2008 will bring justice to those that deserve it. More likely, though, Lebanon will remain a place where you can get away with anything as long as your daddy is considered above the law.

But for once the abuse might not simply pass without any consequences. On Wednesday, the judiciary ordered the arrest of two security officers and three others in connection with the raid, according to Naharnet, the website of the daily An-Nahar newspaper.

The message is clear: You can get away with a lot in Lebanon, but don't mess with the nightlife.

— Raed Rafei in Beirut

Video: An ad promoting Beirut's nightlife is sponsored by the Lebanese government and Middle East Airlines.