Lebanese Shiites Could Save the Day

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Guest Commentary

Sectarian divisions are the prime cause of Lebanon’s instability and political deadlock. And, tragically, those splits have been cynically used by different groups and parties, under the sway of foreign powers, for their own ends. As long as Lebanese loyalties aren’t directed towards the motherland, the country’s very survival as a unified state is at risk.

It’s beyond time that the Lebanese people understood that they’re being played. Power hungry elements are using religion to manipulate them in a certain direction mirroring the scenario in Iraq where Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and other minorities that once lived in harmony are at each other’s throats. Those who manufacture hatreds are the enemies of peace and tolerance that are the cornerstones of Islam and Christianity.

One could fill a book with Lebanon’s structural problems.  But they would not be insurmountable provided the country could count on a united population, one that wasn’t being pulled this way and that by unscrupulous clerics and politicians, whose allegiances are not to the state, but go to their own power bases – or even worse, to foreign capitals.

Let’s say it like it is. Any country that puts up with the existence of an armed mini state within its borders is destined for ruin. Hezbollah runs the country and takes the decisions that matter. Government officials are little more than administrators. The President (when there is one) has no power and the Prime Minister answers to a parliament dominated by Hezbollah partnered with Amal Movement and their Christian allies.

Hezbollah’s obligation to disarm under the Taif Accord has been trumped by Lebanese Sunni, Shiite and Christian leaders, who, whether by choice or under coercion, back Hezbollah as a Lebanese resistance organisation, independent of the army, with the right to bear arms to defend Lebanese territory.

Those blessings are bordering on traitorous because as Michael Young, the veteran Daily Star’s columnist, correctly wrote: Hezbollah’s militia “has been shown to be no better than an auxiliary force regionally for both the Iranian and Syrian regimes.”

When Hezbollah and Amal militants have turned their guns on the Sunni population, and when Hezbollah has dragged the country into ruinous wars and is now defending both the Iraqi and Syrian regimes, it can hardly be characterised as patriotic. No responsible leader anywhere on the planet would sign up to such an agreement unless he had a gun to his head, and if he succumbed, in many parts of the world, he’d be prosecuted or lynched.

Shiites should put aside the notion that their allegiance should automatically go to a pro-Iranian Shiite paramilitary. During World War II, British Catholics didn’t rush over to Italy to fight alongside Mussolini’s battalions merely because they shared the same faith. British Protestants weren’t given to join-up with their co-religionists, the Nazis. People put the country that bore them first, which is how it should be.

Moreover, Iran is not the spiritual home of Shiism, although the less informed might be forgiven for thinking so. Apart from Mecca and Medina, the most holy Shiite sites are to be found in the Iraqi towns of Najaf and Karbala where Shiite pilgrims flock to worship at the Imam Ali Mosque and at the Imam Hussein Shrine, respectively.

Until comparatively recently, Arab peoples made little distinction between Sunnis and Shiites; people’s beliefs simply weren’t an issue. I’ve had Lebanese Shiite friends since the late 1960s. The majority of my closest friends are the sons of the Wazni, Abbas, Khalifa, Murad, Aashi, Moussawi, Dalloul, Baydoun, Fayad, Hoteit, Fawaz and Koteich Shiite families, who were – and still are – some of the most patriotic Lebanese I’ve ever encountered. Several of my employees in Lebanon were Shiite. I trusted them implicitly and it never occurred to me that their loyalties didn’t lie with Lebanon.

I am proud to have known those fine people who’ve enriched my life with good conversation and warm hospitality. But, quite honestly, I’m forced to wonder why they and others have permitted an Iranian armed gang in all but name to create a chasm between them and their fellow Lebanese? Why are they allowing a militia to brand them with the same brush and to lead them by the nose into a dark future? Hezbollah isn’t ‘the Party of God’ but rather ‘the Party of the Iranian Ayatollahs’.

I would strongly urge Lebanese Shiites to come together to reclaim their Lebanese identity. They should stand courageous and tall as proud Lebanese and persuade their friends, families and colleagues to reject destructive Iranian influence.

Were Shiites to rise up en masse against the pro-Iranian policies of Hezbollah – thus proving to the nation that those who heed the call of Iran’s mullahs are not representative of their sect – that would be an important first step towards bringing the nation together under the cedar flag. A wave of anti-Hezbollah public opinion would likely persuade the Free Patriotic Movement leader, Michel Aoun, to shred his incomprehensible pact with Hezbollah and quit defending its legitimacy.

If Christians, Sunnis and Shiites were committed to joining hands in common cause, a bright new dawn awaits. Hezbollah would be sidelined; its authority diminished. The international community, including GCC States, would be encouraged to help the country get on its feet with financial aid, investments as well as further assistance in strengthening the Lebanese Army.

Politicians, currently burying their heads in the sand out of sheer impotence, would be empowered to claw back Lebanon from de facto Iranian control by enforcing a clause within the Taif Accord that demands the disarming of militias. No more would a Maronite presidential candidate have to seek Hezbollah’s approval based on his commitment to Iranian interests. And, hopefully, good people with strong hearts and true Lebanese blood flowing through their veins would be free to restore this tarnished jewel to the glittering gem it once was.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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