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A Two-Tier Bystander Effect Materializes in Lebanon


In broad daylight last week in one of the most consumerist neighborhoods in Lebanon, he incessantly called for help, he pleaded, he begged, he screamed “Somebody get him off me”. “Somebody please!! hold him off”, but none of the 15 grown-up male bystanders next to the victim did a thing. Some kept watching as George al-Reef was brutally beaten and stabbed to death by a vicious manslayer whose only motive for this hideous murder is a dispute over a car path. George al-Reef died in the hospital due to internal bleeding caused by vicious beating. Social media has all sorts of tweet and posts depicting disgust at the crime and blame at the cowardice of the bystanders.This was amplified by the online videos  However, the bystander effect , or bystander apathy, is well-documented in social psychology. However, in Lebanon, it happens that this murder has become a two-tier bystander effect. Frist, let’s start by defining what bystander effect is and if it applies to this murder.

The bystander effect, or bystander apathy, is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present.Social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley popularized the concept following the infamous 1964 Kitty Genovese murder in Kew Gardens, New York. Genovese was stabbed to death outside her apartment while bystanders who observed the crime did not step in to assist or call the police. Latané and Darley attributed the bystander effect to the perceived diffusion of responsibility (onlookers are more likely to intervene if there are few or no other witnesses) and social influence (individuals in a group monitor the behavior of those around them to determine how to act). In Genovese's case, each onlooker concluded from their neighbors' inaction that their own personal help was not needed.

When there is an emergency, the more bystanders there are, the less likely it is that any of them will actually help.

Pluralistic ignorance is where they assume nothing is wrong because nobody else looks concerned.

Bystanders go through a five-step process, during each of which they can decide to do nothing.

  • Notice the event (or in a hurry and not notice).
  • Realize the emergency (or assume that as others are not acting, it is not an emergency).
  • Assume responsibility (or assume that others will do this).
  • Know what to do (or not)
  • Act (or worry about danger, legislation, embarrassment, etc.)



Many Lebanese argue that the bystander effect concept in social psychology applies to the Western context where individualism is highly regarded and where they have a low sense of community. However, George al-Reef was murdered in Jemayzet Street, Ashrafieh, a neighborhood known for its consumerism, and individualism. If the incident were to happen in another place, say Tripoli where people have a high sense of local community, people will absolutely interfered. Therefore, the bystander effect applies only in the context of communities that have high value of individualism and low values for collectivism.


In the same vein, but more subtle and solemn, is the second tier of the bystander effect: that is of the Lebanese people. It appears that the same manslayer who murdered George has collaborated in an earlier homicide two years ago, was caught on a security camera but was not incarcerated since he works for a prominent politician. The bystander apathy here is more dire. Lebanese people talk about incidents, share on social media, express their disgust but that’s just about it. We have never intervened when he was let loose two years back, they never questioned the judges, the prosecutions, the politicians. We like to better talk about it rather than do something about as Emerson put it. This is the more dire second tier of bystander effect. And this has stained on every Lebanese, including me, as people who talk in everything, and act little if any. People who think they are intelligent, but who can be manipulated by an unscrupulous politician. . We have become desensitized in violence, lies, swindling, and all the social vices you can think of. We are a people who just wants to “enjoy life to its brim” no matter what. It does not matter who is being victimized now, who is suffering, who is being tortured. We are Lebanese people and we love life. Yeah!!!

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