A week after leaving his post as the head of Lebanon’s General Security, Major General Abbas Ibrahim spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about his departure, refusing to name the party that obstructed attempts to renew his tenure.
Ibrahim, however, hinted at caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, saying that the latter “blew the whistle” to stop the extension.
He noted in this regard that he had informed “those concerned” five months earlier that he did not wish to remain in office, and agreed to a “temporary extension” pending the election of a president of the republic and the formation of a government.
Ibrahim told Asharq Al-Awsat that Mikati pointed to “a purely legal dimension to this matter” and “spoke in a way that caused confusion among citizens and the political authority, knowing that a group of legal experts found legal ways for the extension, without being taken into account.”
“Mikati initially wanted law without politics, and later politics without law, and this is the reason that brought us here,” the former security chief said.
However, he saw a positive side in the mode of his departure which “reflected how people viewed this directorate,” he said. “This is something I am very proud of, and compensates for the dramatic exit,” he added.
Ibrahim used to play the role of “mediator”, moving between officials, trying to bridge points of view on many controversial files.
The process of forming governments had a large share of Ibrahim’s activity, as did many controversial files.
However, he emphasized that he never went beyond his role as director of the General Security, who enjoys wide powers, as political, social and economic security is at the core of his work.
In his assessment of the performance of Lebanese politicians, Ibrahim said that action and reaction prevailed over political opinion. He added: “This mentality will have bad results if it persists... We must get rid of it... This political performance is devastating for Lebanon.”
Ibrahim’s desire to assume political work is not a secret, as he has said it publicly on several occasions. But he stressed that he would not join any side in the current political scene.
“In all my performances, I was independent and found a place for the way I think. I believe that I will be independent to a large extent without deviating from the Lebanese reality, that is, the confessional and sectarian reality that imposes itself,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Asked about the people’s “dislike” of security chiefs, Ibrahim said: “I am from a school that believes that security is in the service of the people and not the other way around. Perhaps practices over the years were wrong, and the way I worked was right. This is what brought the citizens close to us.”
He added: “Our office has become a reference point for every person asking for a service or mediation anywhere in the world. This has built trust between us and the citizens. We have never judged anyone for his political opinion or his criticism of the directorate.”
During Ibrahim’s last years in office, the General Security witnessed great difficulties and a decline in services, reflected in the queues of people lining up at its doors to obtain a passport. The internal situation was greatly affected by the decline in the purchasing power of the Lebanese, including the members and officers of the apparatus.
“Our military personnel were working, while starving, and I am convinced of this,” Ibrahim said. “We were able to adopt a lot of measures to meet part of the needs of the military and their families, and to ensure their continuity in life. But unfortunately, we could not restore the level they were living in before the crisis, because this falls within the collective responsibility of the state.”
Ibrahim leaves his security post, confident about the quality of security. However, he refuses to be reassured, “because when the security man is reassured, disasters occur,” as he puts it.
“With the will of the security services and the army and the awareness of the citizens, the security situation is good, but the great fear is for social security… It’s the first time the Lebanese people meet in this way on one thing, which is poverty and hunger,” he warned.
As for the social situation, Ibrahim noted that it could escalate into street clashes between citizens and the security services, but would not constitute a threat in the security sense.
On the other hand, he pointed to “dormant terrorist cells in Lebanon, most of which are under surveillance and follow-up.”
“There is constant coordination between the security services on this issue,” he underlined.
When asked whether it was normal to have this number of security agencies in Lebanon, he said: “No, this is not normal,” pointing in this context to the presence of many confessions and sects.
“We have sects that impose the multiplicity of agencies. Unfortunately, the Shiites have one apparatus, the Sunnis have another one, and the Christians have two balancing bodies. This pushes us to actually think of abolishing sectarianism and going to a civil state in order to become citizens, not sects,” he remarked.
A large part of Ibrahim’s work focused on external affairs. He said in this regard: “I took over the directorate with the beginnings of the Syrian crisis, which had a great impact not only on Lebanon, but also on the world.”
He explained that when most countries’ diplomatic relations with Syria were severed, these states had to find a security base to talk with Damascus, and vice-versa.
“Over the course of approximately 12 years, we accomplished many tasks, some of which were announced, and most remained undeclared,” Ibrahim told Asharq Al-Awsat.
He added: “We were able to mitigate many of the negatives as a result of this communication, beginning with Lebanon and Syria and ending with brotherly and friendly countries in the world.”