In a symbolic picture printed in a newspaper (not the one to the left), three women react differently to the same event. While the two on either side turn their faces away with revulsion, the woman in the middle has a hand clasped over her mouth. With the freehand, she held a mobile phone camera. She was capturing the barbaric murder of an Egyptian man as his near-naked corpse was hung from a pole by a deranged mob in the southeastern mountain village of Ketermaya. Mobile phone footage of his lynching was aired on local televisions and printed on the front page of a French language newspaper.
The suspect, Mohamed Selim Mosallam, was the local butcher in the village. He was by no means a person with an impeccable background. According to a Lebanese paper (which in turns quotes other news papers), Msallem had entered Lebanon illegally and had "a history of unbalanced behaviour" in Egypt before raping a 13-year old in Ketermaya.
He had apparently gone to the village seeking the help of the elderly couple in convincing the rape victim's parents to consent to him marrying her as Lebanese law does not allow a rapist who marries his victim to face prosecution. What an absurd law ! He is suspected in the murders of 2 children, aged seven and nine, and their elderly grandparents.
The authenticity of gruesome details (including allegations that each of the victims were stabbed at least 25 times and that he had blood on his shirt) seem doubtful given that it's the Lebanese media doing these reports with unmentioned sources.
Muslim had confessed to the police and he was reenacting the crime when the policemen escorting him were overwhelmed by furious villagers armed with stick and stones thrashed him and then stabbed him. As cheers went on in the background, he was stripped to his underwear and socks, paraded and then hung from an electric pole with a butcher's hook. His body was also paraded on the bonnet of a white Mercedes before being hoisted on to an electric pole with a butcher's hook. Before the Lebanese Army arrived half an hour later, onlookers clapped or took pictures with their mobile phones and village women ululated.
The police officers who were seen helplessly standing in the video by did try to intervene, but were overpowered again. However, Police chief Ashraf Rifi said he has taken disciplinary measures against the officers escorting Muslem for "failing to take the necessary precautions", given the anger of the villagers less than 24 hours after the murders
The subject was the hot topic on all talk shows and received intense media attention in both Lebanon and Egypt. "Barbaric times," headlined the French language daily L'Orient-Le Jour, which carried a front-page picture of Moslem's bloodied corpse hanging from the electricity pole.
"This barbaric act is unprecedented and possible only in countries where the law of the jungle prevails," said the Arabic language daily Al-Akhbar. "The crowd killed Mohammed Muslem thinking that they were serving justice but actually they killed justice," it added.
Lebanese officials were quick to condemn the incident with everyone from the Justice Minister to the President having their voice on the issue. But the irresponsible insinuation that Muslem had brought his fate upon himself is only too resplendent in the Justice Minster's words.
- Ibrahim Najjar,"I would like to personally apologise to the government and people of Egypt for the reaction in the village of Ketermaya, which would not have happened had it not been for the gruesome crime that preceded it,"
Najar, who delivered this statement standing next to one of the assistants of Egypt's foreign minister, is clearly defending the savage actions of the villagers with his words. Not a word of protest or condemnation was directed against the villagers - a wise career move for a politician as far as public opinion is concerned - Lebanese, that is.
"We thank the security forces for giving us the murderer as a gift so that we could seek revenge for our children with our own hands,"
- a grocery seller in Ketermaya
The Egyptian embassy in Beirut denounced the murder of Msallem "even though
he was in the hands of justice". While the Egyptian ambassador expressed his "disgust"
and concern at the lack of security for his citizen, the Lebanese Embassy
in Cairo got an anonymous phone call
At least a few people have been arrested so far. Crowds yet again tried to intervene while the suspects were taken away, but without success.