The fatal stabbing of a Christian man in a road rage incident in broad daylight in one of Beirut’s busiest commercial areas caused alarm among Lebanon’s Christian community.
George al-Reef was stabbed 17 times by Tariq Yatim following a road rage incident over rights of way, according to local media.
Al-Reef’s wife stood by and screamed helplessly as bystanders looked on.
The scene of the attack was Gemayzeh, a neighbourhood in the Christian district of Achrafiyeh in east Beirut. Local media reported that several arrest warrants had been issued in the past against Yatim, a Muslim, for previous assaults. But he got away unpunished because of his alleged connection to an influential banker, a Christian who lives in Achrafiyeh.
What made the matter worse, Lebanese social media users complained, was the fact that the police were late arriving on the scene of the attack, which is not far from the police station of Gemayzeh.
Lebanese people from across the sectarian divide were outraged by the incident that many felt laid bare the extent of corruption and the state of lawlessness in the country. But more alarming was the reaction of some members of the country’s Christian community, which feels increasingly insecure owing to the conflict in neighbouring Syria and its spillover effects. To them, the seriousness of the incident is much less about a Muslim killing a Christian and much more about the fact that it was perpetrated in Achrafiyeh--thus a violation of the geography of the exclusive Christian presence in that area.
Lebanese Christian presenter May Chidiac posted a comment on Facebook that angered other Lebanese on social media.
“This is not intolerance but it is no longer acceptable to see Christians being treated lightly and in an undignified way with some of them getting killed without a reason. We are in Lebanon and no one here can play the strong card over us [Christians], as is the case in Syria and Iraq. Tariq Yatim, now are you satisfied that you stabbed George al-Reef in the middle of Gemayzeh. Who are you playing the thug on? Would any Christian dare chase people outside his own area to attack and kill them? Whether or not it is an individual incident does not really matter. We’ve had enough of the usual boastful oratory and enough of the logic of bullying and humiliation from here and there. Don’t make us think fondly about the [civil] war. Everyone has their own thugs. Is that what you want us to do? We want a state…and the least the state could do is to hang Yatim from a noose in a public square and to make him an example,” Chidiac wrote.
George Bouali, a supporter of Lebanon’s Christian Phalange Party, wrote a post on Facebook addressed to the country’s Christian political and religious leaders:
“Christians are not sheep; you don’t have a blank check to act. We want to know what you will do to ensure there won’t be another George al-Reef. He who does not know what to do, we tell him you don’t represent us. We want those who know and act.”
In another post, he called for Christians to be armed to defend their areas.
“When there is a threat of bombing in [Beirut’s Shiite] southern district, criminal Shiites who kill as they please with impunity go out to the streets to protect their area. Since Christians have no protection from the state, they have to have arms on every street and every corner to defend Christians,” Bouali wrote.
In criticising bystanders in Christian Achrafiyeh who did nothing to help Al-Reef, Bouali wrote: “Shame on you cowardly residents of Achrafiyeh who let the criminal kill George and did not defend him.”
He paid homage to the late Lebanese politician Bashir Gemayl and the days of the 100-day war, known as the battle of Achrafiyeh, which saw the Syrian army pound the district for 100 days during the Lebanese civil war.
Gemayl was a senior member of the Phalange Party and the commander of the Christian Lebanese Forces militia. He was president-elect for 22 days before he was assassinated in 1982 after having played a major role in much of Lebanon’s civil war.