Murky future for Hezbollah and Lebanon?

Sunday 07/05/2017

An issue of loyalty. Lebanon’s Hezbollah members (not pictured) carry the movement’s flags in Doueir village near Nabatieh in southern Lebanon. (Reuters)

Beirut- In trying to understand the overall picture of the Shia community in Lebanon, most analysts claim that Lebanon’s two major Shia parties — Amal and Hezbollah — are totally domi­nant and do not face any real op­position. Lebanese researcher Hareth Sleiman, however, refutes this conclusion, insisting that “the Shia resistance to Hezbollah has never waned.”
“The main problem is finding an alternative to Hezbollah,” said Sleiman, who is a member of the executive committee of the Demo­cratic Renewal Movement and a professor of political science at the Lebanese University.
“Many Lebanese Shias oppose Hezbollah and constantly disagree with its choices. They never miss a chance to express their opposition without endangering themselves,” Sleiman says.
Sleiman pointed out that Hez­bollah’s propaganda machine has always denied the existence of any Shia opposition to its movement in Lebanon. This is, in part, why many people are unaware of the opposition. Even media outlets that pretend to oppose Hezbollah usually dismiss Shia opposition to the organisation as minor and inef­ficient.
In the final analysis, political players in Lebanon find it useful to reduce all Lebanese Shias to Hez­bollah. This allows them to contin­ually extend the mandate of Nabih Berri as speaker of the Parliament. In the end, Berri, who heads the Amal Movement, simply repre­sents a softer version of Hezbollah.
Sleiman spoke of many exam­ples of Shia opposition to Hezbol­lah. Not only were most of the participants in demonstrations against Hezbollah Shias, he said, the results of Lebanon’s recent municipal elections revealed strong political opposition to Hezbollah.
That opposition was highlighted by an event at the Saudi ambassa­dor’s residence honouring Imam Musa al-Sadr, a former Lebanese- Iranian Shia leader who disap­peared in Libya in 1971. Various members of Lebanon’s Shia elite were in attendance, including Sadr’s daughter, Rabeb, and her family.
Sleiman also insisted that Hez­bollah lacks the ability to convinc­ingly express its views or explain its conduct to the Shia community and political elite. He interprets Hezbollah’s efforts to delay elec­tions inside the Supreme Shia Council as indicative of strong Shia opposition to Hezbollah.
Commenting on the widespread discussions in Lebanon concern­ing the upcoming elections and the new elections laws, Sleiman noted the absence of these discussions in Shia-populated areas. While some have attributed this to Hezbollah’s and Amal’s overwhelming popu­larity in these areas, Sleiman said it has more to do with the lack of any “real” elections in majority Shia areas. Hezbollah and Amal do not allow their opponents to moni­tor elections in these areas and the government has always assumed the role of spectator there.
Even if the new election law is passed, Sleiman said, there will never be any real elections in ma­jority Shia areas as long as these elections continue to escape gov­ernment control and are carried out without international monitoring.
Hezbollah and Amal militias must be prevented, by force if necessary, from meddling in these elections. Otherwise, elections in Shia areas will remain nothing more than a referendum, a term often used by Hezbollah and Amal to refer to elections.
With Donald Trump’s election as US president, Iran is facing some tough opposition. Trump often spoke about the necessity of con­taining Iran’s influence in the Mid­dle East and reviewing the United States’ nuclear deal with the coun­try. Sleiman said Iran will resort to using Hezbollah to counteract American pressure by creating tension along the Lebanese bor­ders with Israel.
Sleiman said that Iran and Hez­bollah’s strategic choices lacked log­ic and common sense. He accused them of readily sacrificing the fate of all Lebanese people — the Shia Lebanese in particular — to improve Iran’s leverage in negotiations. Slei­man said he was certain Hezbollah will not hesitate to create tension with Israel at Iran’s request.
For Hezbollah, obeying orders from the Iranian Supreme Guide takes precedence over the interests of the Lebanese people, including the Shias.
With respect to the crisis in Syria, Sleiman said the popular view that the end is near is flawed. For him, the overall situation in Syria is far from being settled and future de­velopments are difficult to predict. Syria President Bashar Assad, the Russians and the Iranians had been under the impression that the situ­ation in Syria was evolving in their favour but then came the US missile strikes and the cards were reshuffled.
The strikes also revealed that eliminating the Islamic State (ISIS) and removing Assad from power were among Trump’s priorities in the region.
In the same context, Sleiman said that whatever solution was adopt­ed for the crisis in Syria, it will not bring an immediate end to the prob­lems of Syrian refugees. It might be possible to stop all armed confron­tations within a year but this will not ensure the return of refugees to Syria. Their return does not depend simply on ending hostilities but on effective reconstruction efforts, which will require an enormous amount of funds and at least five years to complete.
For Sleiman, the presence of Syrian refugees is putting Lebanon through a tough test. There is tremendous pressure on the country’s infrastructure and labour market and the state does not seem ready to manage the situation in the long term.
What matter so far are security is­sues and preventing refugees from slipping into Europe. To protect the West, Lebanon is being transformed into an enormous refugee camp.