The case of Ziad Itani, a Lebanese theatre playwright who was arrested by state security in November over accusations of collaborating with Israel, is the “perfect” case to expose the deficiencies in the core of Lebanon’s political life.
Itani belongs to a renowned family, the largest Sunni family in Beirut. Interior Minister Nohad al-Machnouk, who is a Sunni figure in the Future Movement, highlighted the significance of the Itani family after it was reported that Ziad is innocent and that Suzan al-Hajj, the former head of cybercrime in the Internal Security Forces, fabricated the case against Itani.
Hajj wanted to take revenge from him after he captured a screenshot of her liking a tweet that insults Saudi women following a Saudi royal decree lifting the driving ban on Saudi women. The tweet said that Saudi women should naturally only drive cars if they are booby-trapped.
The decision to convict or clear Ziad or Susan of all charges is supposed to be limited to the judiciary. However, what’s supposed to happen is one thing, and what happens is something else.Mashari Althaydi
Hajj is being interrogated now, and magic has turned on the magician. Itani’s case sparked political and sectarian debates between Hajj’s and Itani’s supporters, i.e. between the supporters of Bashar al-Assad and Hassan Nasrallah, and between the allies of the Syrian people and people who admire Saudi Arabia in a division that may seem disruptive.
Attempts to exploit the case
President Michel Aoun intervened, stating the importance of not exploiting the case for any purpose and to leave matters to the judiciary. Aoun’s remarks make perfect sense. It would be great if everyone used this logic and did not jump to conclusions when Itani was first arrested!
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Lebanese security forces had detained Itani over accusations of spying for Israel and coordinating with the Mossad “to promote Zionist thought among intellectuals.” This is the formal accusation.
After recent reports on Itani’s innocence, Machnouk wrote on Twitter: “All the Lebanese people apologize to Ziad Itani.. the true Arab and true Beiruti.” However, Justice Minister Salim Jreissati, who is a member of the Free Patriotic Movement, slammed Machnouk’s Twitter post and wrote: “The Lebanese people do not apologize to anyone.”
The decision to convict or clear Ziad or Susan of all charges is supposed to be limited to the judiciary. However, what’s supposed to happen is one thing, and what happens is something else.
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Accusations of collaborating with Israel are common in Lebanon as the ‘resistance’ parties always make such accusations against those who oppose them. Therefore, what’s dangerous here is that if it’s proven that Hajj fabricated this case, there will be plenty of suspicion regarding the accuracy of previous cases. It will thus be important to reopen cases of the rivals of Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon.
Reopening cases like those of al-Hujairi, al-Assir and others does not aim to clear charges against them - for instance Assir is certainly an extremist - but to examine whether politics has been kept out of the legal framework.
The case of Ziad Itani and Susan al-Hajj should sound alarm bells to the entire Lebanese state.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Saudi journalist Mashari Althaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Althaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists. He tweets under @MAlthaydy.