Lebanon’s security guards are a common sight, a standard feature of larger businesses and high-end apartments. Although some may seem to do little more than watch the world go by, the job is certainly no sinecure. It is a line of work that holds very few prospects and many agencies pay measly wages so that guards often struggle to make ends meet despite working a standard eight or even an extended 12-hour shift.
For the employers, the guarding business is also no fast track to amassing riches. Patrick al-Khoury, who leveraged his experience in the Special Forces of the Lebanese Army to set up Patrick Security Services Agency (PSSA) in 1996, gives the impression of being proud of what he does but says he is “not rich, not poor”. With a payroll of about 600 male and a few female agents — he estimates the number of female guards at about 2 percent in his workforce — he has substantial financial obligations to meet every month, whether his clients all pay their bills on time or not.
This year, the asking prices for regular guard services have come under extra pressure, Khoury says, because a number of guard agencies have taken on Syrian and Iraqi employees. These men accept relative pittance in pay and their employers don’t pay national social security fund contributions for them as their employment is not legal. The interior ministry is in the process of cracking down on these practices and removing foreign hires from the agencies, he adds, because “the law says strictly that it is not allowed to let a non-Lebanese work in a security firm”.
In the specialized area of event security, where agencies undertake risk assessments and deploy dozens of agents, earnings margins are tight. According to Khoury, who claims to provide event security to four out of five concerts and festivals in Lebanon, the event organizing and promotion companies drive a hard bargain and competition pushes the service fees down because of the positive public relations that protection of a celebrity performer provides to the agencies. As PSSA has been involved in security for high-profile events going back to Lebanon’s one-and-only Pavarotti concert in 2000, Khoury can present an ample timeline of photos, some autographed, with visiting stars as evidence of the job’s PR value and related perks.
A lucrative business?
When compared with event security, close protection services generate better profit margins. A bodyguard working as professional security detachment (PSD) to a VIP can make a multiple of what a simple guard earns per shift. However, the fees that a highly trained operative can charge for close protection in Lebanon appear still quite modest: He can make perhaps “$100 per mission but he cannot do a mission every day,” Khoury says.
Considering the high number of assassinations, attempted assassinations and other security incidents in Lebanon’s past, this seems a somewhat low compensation for a high-risk role and a far cry from something like the rumored $2.6 million annual bill that actor Tom Cruise is footing to have his young daughter surrounded by double PSD teams at all times.
The most lucrative aspects of the protective business for local companies are consulting services, which they provide to projects inside and outside of Lebanon. According to the firms interviewed by Executive, these services are provided based on the expertise that companies like Zod Security, PSSA and also car armorer MSCA have acquired in their many years of working in the security field. The companies advise on planning for corporate buildings, private residences, access routes and all the related needs.
The country’s hundreds of guards could probably benefit greatly from greater incentives, especially from better training, more recognition and a career path. As the heads of the industry confirm, the human element, beyond cameras and facial recognition software and innovation in detection technologies, is the critical brain of every security cell and structure.
In Khoury’s estimate, the private sector security agencies have a workforce of 5,000 to 7,000 persons. There is collaboration with the state in terms of things such as reporting employee lists to the Ministry of Interior on a monthly basis. Those involved in the sector see it as very feasible that the private-public security collaboration could be boosted and that the Lebanese workforce of private security agencies could receive enhanced training to achieve their integration into emergency response plans. If 5,000 better-trained agents are then doing their work in Lebanese private security, Khoury says, “These are 5,000 pairs of eyes working for the government.”