The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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July 26, 2011

The Daily Star - South Lebanon’s liquor controversy - July 26, 2011

By Reem Harb
Abu Hasan next to his new shop with a banner that reads: “Wehbe: Refreshments, Candy and Sandwiches. No alcoholic beverages.” Reem Hareb - 7/26/2011
Abu Hasan next to his new shop with a banner that reads: “Wehbe: Refreshments, Candy and Sandwiches. No alcoholic beverages.” Reem Hareb - 7/26/2011

BABLIEH, Lebanon: In his sparsely furnished living room, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, Abu Hasan Wehbe explains what happened to his shop. “We had a shop that provided a living for three families. They came without any warning,” he begins.
“I was buying breakfast for my family last Sunday morning when my brother rushed to my house and told me the shop was burning down. By the time I arrived, it was gone. They burned it down quicker than lightning,” Abu Hasan says, choking on his words.
Abu Hasan, who prefers to talk in the privacy of his home, had sold alcoholic beverages at his shop, as well food goods, for over a decade at the intersection of the southern villages of Bablieh and Saksakieh.
Although alcohol is sold discreetly in many of south Lebanon’s villages and cities, his is one of several stores that have recently come under attack.
A liquor shop was targeted Sunday in the southern village of Houla, while another was burned down last week in the southern village of Bablieh, and others have been forced to close down in the city of Nabatieh, where an informal campaign against liquor stores has been under way since April.
Liquor stores have also been forced to close down in the southern coastal city of Sidon, where the selling of alcohol is effectively, though not officially, prohibited.
Like many other liquor store owners in Muslim villages in the south, Abu Hasan had been allowed to sell alcohol discreetly without any interference. But he received no warning before his shop was set on fire, an act that he and others believe was a form of intimidation rather than a religious challenge to the sale of alcohol.
“The party who is currently in power, and those backed by it, are the ones who burned it down,” Abu Hasan said, in an apparent reference to Hezbollah, though he refused to refer to the party by name.
According to Abu Hasan, the Saksakieh municipality, which he says is backed by “the party in power,” has been calling the police ever since he reopened his shop, demanding that he move his family from the area.
Speaking to The Daily Star, several residents of Saksakieh voice their opposition to his shop and say they want it shut down because he is selling alcohol to their children.
But when told about their opinions, Abu Hasan says, “Why didn’t they give me any warning then? Why burn my shop to the ground, causing huge losses? In Nabatieh, they said, ‘Close the shops.’ If they had told me to close, would I have been able to say no?”
Residents in the southern town of Nabatieh launched a campaign in April to force the closure of the town’s liquor stores, which they said were corrupting the youth.
A source from Nabatieh says that with the help of the mayor and the municipality, banners have been hung throughout Nabatieh and in surrounding towns denouncing the sale of alcohol.
But a resident of Nabatieh, who declines to give his name, says the campaign against liquor stores was not out of opposition to alcohol but to exert pressure on residents who did not politically support Hezbollah.
Similarly, a public figure from Bablieh, who also declines to give his name due to the sensitivity of the issue, says that Hezbollah’s main concern was imposing their will in the south, rather than banning alcohol.
“Living in the south, you would think that there is some kind of contradiction in how the party operates. Dozens of cafes along the Sarafand-Khaizaran strip serve alcohol openly and shops in the city of Tyre are allowed to sell liquor as well, but then you hear of liquor stores being forced to close down in Nabatieh and burned down in Bablieh” he said. “The truth is there is no contradiction; the party operates according to clear political interests.”
According to him, the party does not interfere when there are economic interests involved and when their actions might backfire and cost them popularity. “In Tyre, if Hezbollah starts closing down liquor stores, it will affect the city’s tourism and economy, and they will lose both money and popularity,” he says.
“However, in villages and cities where they know they will be backed by the conservative communities who live there and where the village’s economy is not affected by the sale of alcohol, they close down liquor stores not because of ideological or religious reasons but to further impose their hegemony,” he adds.
According to Abu Hasan, alcohol is quietly sold everywhere in the south, and openly in some villages and towns. “They sell alcohol in the villages of Sarafand, Aiqbieh, Nsarieh, and Adloun; there are five liquor stores in the village of Ansar alone. People want to drink alcohol here, and they should be free to do so.”
But he doesn’t believe his shop was burned down because he was selling alcohol. The day after shop was burned to the ground, he rebuilt it and placed a sign outside that read, “Wehbe: Refreshments, Candy and Sandwiches. No alcoholic beverages,” but the Saksakieh municipality sent the police, who ordered him to tear it down again.
“I promised I wouldn’t sell beer anymore and I put up a sign, but they won’t even let me stay,” Abu Hasan says, adding that the alcohol was only a pretext they used to exercise their power.
“They didn’t target other liquor stores because they are politically backed by them. What pains me the most is the fact that the shop is gone. Why do they want to remove me by force? Why don’t they compensate me for my loss? How will I live?”

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