Assassination reared its ugly head once again in Lebanon when unknown assailants killed political analyst and activist Lokman Slim in southern Lebanon in the early morning hours of February 4. His family had lost contact with him after he left his ancestral village of Niha in the south and notified friends and the authorities about his disappearance. Slim’s body was found inside a rented car he had been driving. The medical examiner in a hospital in the southern city of Saida said that he was shot in the head and back. He was 59 years old.
Slim was the founder of the nonprofit Umam Documentation and Research for archiving historical records and the Hayya Bina civil society group. He also was active in the Fall 2019 protest movement in Lebanon and organized lectures and seminars on peaceful change. Slim was a secular and liberal Shia activist who was born and lived in Beirut’s southern suburbs, one of Hezbollah’s strongholds, where he was regularly harassed and intimidated. He will be missed as one of those activists who believed in Lebanon’s independence and neutrality in the Middle East.
There is no doubt that Slim’s killing is a political assassination. He had been a vocal critic of Hezbollah and its status as a state-within-a-state and of the party’s monopoly (and that of its partner, the Amal Movement of Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri) on the political position of Lebanon’s Shia communities. Hezbollah is a prime suspect in his killing as the party had tried to silence him––and others––with accusations of connections to foreign embassies. Indeed, Hezbollah’s General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah’s son, Jawad, tweeted that he was not sorry for Slim’s death, which comes as an “unplanned gain.” The tweet has since been deleted. In that vein, it is important to mention that Mona Alami, a columnist for Al Arabiya, said that Slim contacted her a few days before his death to tell her that he has information about Hezbollah’s involvement in money laundering and asked her to help him arrange for the defection of a party member who supplied that information.
Slim’s assassination follows at least 15 attempted and successful others of anti-Syrian and anti-Hezbollah personalities––in politics, the media, and the military and police––since the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in 2005. The majority of those killings took place between 2005 and 2008. No one has ever been arrested or charged with the crimes, although the nature of the killings and their targets was and remains obvious: to silence opposition to the Party of God’s role in the country. Coming after a hiatus in assassinations, Slim’s killing is feared to be the beginning of a string of similar actions against like-minded intellectuals and activists. His assassination sends a clear message that opposition to Hezbollah is either futile, at a minimum, or a reason for elimination.
Moreover, the assassination cannot be separated from the general atmosphere of institutional collapse in the Lebanese body politic. At present, the country has no government and is run by a caretaker cabinet that is ineffective against the myriad economic and social problems facing Lebanon. Not many people thus have much confidence that Slim’s killing will be resolved, or if further assassinations could be thwarted, so long as the real perpetrators are not exposed and punished. To be sure, the chaos besetting the country today may very well be the perfect environment for more assassinations that can neutralize whatever is left of the political opposition to the current state of affairs in Lebanon.