Ripped from Memoirs of a Lebanese Policeman

5 July, 2024
The entire Lebanese state, from lowliest clerk to highest minister had turned up and was waiting for Ghazaleh to finish his defense so they could shower him with congratulations and salutations.


Translator’s note: 

Novelist Fawzi Zabyan served in the Lebanese Internal Security Forces for nineteen years, during which time he also earned a degree in philosophy. Memoirs of a Lebanese Policeman (2024), a translated excerpt of which reads below, is his eighth book, recounting his experience as a police officer from the years 1993-2012. The book is not only a rare — both literary and cynically funny — look into the internal workings of the security apparatus, it is also a historical document of a tumultuous time, detailing the political functioning of the country during the Syrian military occupation and in the aftermath of their ousting.

Original edition of Memoirs of a Lebanese Policeman cover
Original edition of Memoirs of a Lebanese Policeman.

From 1976 until 2005, Lebanon was under Syrian military occupation. Originally dispatched as a “peacekeeping force” during the Lebanese civil war, Syrian forces stayed on after it ended in 1990, and during the post-war period Syria became the de-facto authority in the country, with significant military, political, and economic influence on Lebanon. During this time, there were Syrian military checkpoints all over the country and Lebanese politicians went out of their way to prove their fealty to the Syrian regime. This means that Syria was the de-facto ruler of Lebanon, with Syrian soldiers able to exercise jurisdiction over the Lebanese security apparatus and the Lebanese state essentially being governed by whoever was head of Syrian military intelligence: first, Ghazi Kanaan, then Rustom Ghazaleh.

Finally, note that, as in many Francophone countries, especially former French colonies, the police force in Lebanon is in fact a gendarmerie. That is, an armed military force, the part of the larger security apparatus that is charged with maintaining internal security.


Fawzi Zabyan

Translated by Lina Mounzer



I woke up to the intermittent sounds of a saxophone floating up from the floor right below the station, which housed the conservatory for higher studies in music. That’s right, the Ramlet El Bayda police station and barracks occupied the second story of a building whose first floor was occupied by the conservatory of music and which overlooked the UNESCO building on its eastern side. The sound didn’t bother me in the least, in fact it relaxed me in a way I didn’t expect.

I’d once asked about the enrollment fees at the conservatory, thinking about studying the saxophone, except and unfortunately my days were so chaotic and jam packed that they led me far away from that goal, and to this day I regret having failed myself in this regard specifically… Nietzsche, one of my companions both in philosophy and in life says that without music, the world would be a terrible mistake, and I agree.

The sound of the saxophone competed for my attention with a commotion seeping in from under the bedroom door, and then the door was flung open roughly and in a hurried manner while I was still in a state between waking and sleeping.

Staff Sergeant Pincher gestured that I should get up quickly and put on my military uniform. His name wasn’t actually Pincher but he’d earned the moniker when one day another officer suddenly walked in on him in the lavatory and caught him pinching his neck raw. Pincher didn’t have as much luck attracting girls as his fellow policemen, so he’d come up with a way to trick people into believing that he had a hot and heavy relationship with a wild woman who bit him all over his neck and body when they had sex… and from that moment on he was known as Pincher.

He was furious when he found out his colleague had exposed his secret and stopped pinching himself after that, but the nickname stuck and obliterated all memory of his real name and now no one knew him as anything but Staff Sergeant Pincher.

I threw my clothes on quick as lightning and, along with a group of other officers from the barracks, was led by the Major in charge of the station to my university, to the actual faculty I attended, the Faculty of Arts!

The faculty was jam-packed with cars, way more than usual, and there were all these politicians flocking to the place in crazy numbers… “What the hell is going on?” muttered the Major, as though musing out loud to himself. I had no clue what was happening either; the whole time I’d been attending the university as a student of philosophy I’d never seen the place so crowded with people and cars and Range Rovers with tinted windows.

The Major hadn’t told us anything about the nature of our assignment, and his face clearly revealed that all this was an unexpected surprise to him… Very well then, we learned that Brigadier-General Rustom Ghazaleh was defending his doctoral thesis in history right here at the Faculty of Arts, in the Nizar Al-Zain Lecture Hall in the middle of the university, which was crammed with Lebanese politicians and clergymen who’d shown up in startling numbers to attend Ghazaleh’s thesis defense.

Books in Arabic by Fawzi Zabyan
Books in Arabic by Fawzi Zabyan.

A bunch of youth from the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects, better known as the Ahbash party, were helping direct traffic and park cars and everything was a mess of confusion and chaos.  “… I swear sir, I had no idea, nobody told me.” The Major spoke into his walkie talkie, trying to justify his late arrival with his squadron, and I had no idea who was on the other end of the line, maybe the Brigadier General of the Beirut Police or the Director General of the Internal Security Forces or maybe even the Minister of Interior himself.

After his dressing down, the Major exchanged his mutterings with curses, barking at us to deploy quickly throughout the site.

All the classes at the university that day had been disrupted, and there were crowds of people pacing back and forth on the pavement outside since the lecture hall couldn’t fit everyone who’d come. The entire Lebanese state, from lowliest clerk to highest minister had turned up and was waiting for Ghazaleh to finish his defense so they could shower him with congratulations and salutations. There were those waiting in their cars and those waiting in the inner lobby leading to the lecture hall and those who shuffled on the sidewalks with faces as repulsive as the soles of their shoes, and there’s no exaggeration in that description at all.

“Man, fuck this country,” said one of my fellow officers as he sipped coffee out of a plastic cup, to which I replied, gazing at all the loathsome aspects of the clerics and politicians and media personalities, “Fuck it to hell.”

Out of curiosity I tried to sneak into the hall where Ghazaleh was presenting and where his shitass PhD supervisor and the rest of the defense committee were sitting but some of the Ahbash members stopped me and politely asked me to wait outside on the main road. Indifferently, I complied.

I found the Major sitting in his military vehicle slurping his coffee with clear irritation, the humiliation he’d been subjected to still evident in his features. My leftist friends from the faculty spotted me and began poking fun at me, and one of my friends from the anarchist group loudly exclaimed as she walked by “Aww, look at brave Mr. Officer boy keeping our occupiers safe!”

“Blow me,” I snickered back.

I don’t remember how long the presentation went on, but I do remember that my discomfort that day grew until it was nearly suffocating. As much as I could, I avoided even coming to campus with my police uniform on, let alone that I was coming on this shitty assignment related to this shitty thesis defense attended by an overwhelming number of shitty politicians and clergymen…

And so that day which began with the beautiful whisper of a saxophone proved to be one of the supremely shitty days of my life as a policeman.


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