Lebanese architect Karl Karam, an alum of Yale University in the US and the Architectural Association in London, suffered two broken ribs on Friday following an altercation with soldiers of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) during protests in Beirut.
Karam confirmed to Al Arabiya English he was standing in the median strip of the Jal el-Dib highway in eastern Beirut filming Saturday’s demonstrations when he asked one soldier why the soldier was carrying a wooden bat.
Video of the incident shows a soldier accusing Karam of using profane language towards him, then Karam speaking with a few soldiers before being thrown down on the pavement in the middle of highway traffic by one of them. Five soldiers then surrounded him, violently kicking him.
Karam said that he feels no anger towards the individual soldiers who clashed with him.
“I understand their position, I understand their pain and conflict. They chose a path where compliance is an important part of the job description,” said Karam.
Karam called the altercation an “institutional issue that should be taken care of by the institution.”
Shortly after protests in Lebanon began on October 17, the Lebanese army said it would protect demonstrators after counter-revolution parties attempted to breach protest areas in Beirut.
“We will not remain neutral in the event of an attack on demonstrators in any area,” sources from the Lebanese army were quoted as saying by local media outlets on October 21.
Less than two months later, its soldiers seemingly used excessive force against a protester.
The location of Karam’s altercation, being a major highway in Beirut, may provide insight into the nature of the aggressive actions of the soldiers.
The LAF has had a strong stance about protesters blocking transportation routes. Soldiers have consistently removed roadblocks set up by protesters on major highways and roads, warning that blocking roads is in violation of the law.
When the army attempted to open a main road in northern Lebanon near the city of Tripoli on October 26, soldiers fired shots, leading to injuries. A few days later the army arrested protesters in the southern city of Sidon because they used their bodies to block main roads.
The army command has said people had a right to protest, but “in public squares only.”
Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Bousaab said in October the situation of road closures must be addressed “making sure that the army does not clash with the citizens.”
Makram Rabah, a professor at the American University of Beirut, told Al Arabiya English that the LAF is under pressure by “the political establishment including Hezbollah...into taking a more aggressive stand against the revolution.”
Rabah said that the incident is evidence of the “double standard” held by the LAF “who have not been as aggressive or aggressive at all when it comes to suppressing the pro-Hezbollah and the pro-Iran hoodlums who have been attacking us.”
While the LAF is under domestic pressure, it was recently relieved of international pressure from the US.
The Trump administration recently lifted its hold on $105 million in security aid to the LAF on December 3. It was reported in November that the administration had frozen the aid before the massive demonstrations in Lebanon began.
Officials did not say why the aid was blocked. However, the Trump administration has been pressing for the isolation of Hezbollah, which is allied with Iran and holds seats in the government.