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The Calculations of Lebanon’s Shiite Duo

The Calculations of Lebanon’s Shiite Duo

Wednesday, 24 June, 2020 - 12:15

The scenes of destruction and thuggery in downtown Beirut, some days ago, were pretty sad and painful for those who love and value Lebanon. This was the case in a week of revolutionary slogans, hunger-provoked-rage, worry about international sanctions, and the return of an irresponsible and spiteful government to spoils’ sharing and delusion under the hegemony of the status quo’s forces.

For the Lebanese, however, this scene is inseparable from what is happening in Syria. As the Syrian pound’s exchange rate against the US dollar collapsed, anti-regime demonstrations reappeared in several Syrian areas, which have been suffering terrible economic and living conditions well before the ‘Caesar Act’ (in full the ‘Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act’). Thus, it was natural that the Syrian Premier Imad Khamis would be dismissed; although the responsibility for the dire situation goes much higher than him.

Furthermore, under Lebanese and Syrian regime supported – albeit in part – by one regional power, and home to allied and interconnected financial and militaristic ‘mafias’, we witnessed during the last couple of weeks the following developments:

1- A fast drop in the exchange rate of the Lebanese and Syrian currencies against the US dollar.

2- Discovery of big shipments of flour and fuel being ‘smuggled’ from Lebanon to Syria, despite the fear of the Lebanese people of encroaching hunger, and fuel shortage.

3- The pressure exerted on the governor of Lebanon’s Central Bank (Banque du Liban), by what is virtually ‘Hezbollah’s Government’ to inject US dollars in the ‘market’ under the excuse of protecting the Lebanese pound. But, this was done with no guarantee that this injection of dollars – coming from savings of customers through their banks – will not follow the smuggled flour and fuel into Syria.

What happened, within a few consecutive days, in Beirut was nothing short of the difference between the strategy and the tactics. Between a popular uprising with clear demands and certain forces that are seeking to hijack the uprising and divert its demands away from the most important cause of the suffering, and direct the political and sectarian targeting elsewhere.

Since last October, the Lebanese people have been living under threats directed to anyone who holds Hezbollah’s illegal weapon – fully or partly – the responsibility for Lebanon’s economic crises. The banks, the financial institutions and politicians who helped rebuild the Lebanese economy after the devastating Lebanese War (1975-1990) have also been targeted.

Lately, after the injection of dollars, the thugs who invaded central Beirut were raising flagrant sectarian slogans. However, within 24 hours of the ‘victory of Hezbollah’s weapons’ and the Central Bank’s giving in to pressure, the same thugs re-emerged, but this time shouting slogans of brotherhood against ‘thieves’, hunger, and poverty!

Before the ‘orders’ given to make dollars available, the aim of ‘Hezbollah’s Government’ and its supporters was to threaten and intimidate those to tie illegitimate weapons’ role in destroying Lebanon’s economy, its investment culture, and its financial institutions; but after ‘surrounding’ the governor of the Central Bank with four deputy governors, all of which were political ‘loyalists’, the aim became going back to hijack the Popular Uprising, and settle old scores with political foes.

This scenario merits a look at ‘the Shiite Duo’, Hezbollah, and AMAL movement, backed as a Christian ‘cover’ by the ‘Free Patriotic Movement’ (FPM) founded by the current Lebanese president Michel Aoun.

This is not, however, the full picture. Hezbollah, a branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), is now by far the most powerful partner; while AMAL and the Aounist FPM are minor partners whose role is merely to facilitate deals, and act as shock-absorbers and PR and liaison vehicles.

Moreover, if we keep the FPM aside, as the nature of its association with Hezbollah is a particular nature, one cannot fail to notice a clear difference between the ‘chemistries’ of Hezbollah and AMAL.

Without going into too much details, Hezbollah is a theocratic ‘cadre party’ and militia exclusively guided and commanded by Iran’s theological authorities; while AMAL is a sectarian political movement like many sectarian movements and parties in Lebanon. Indeed, AMAL’s ambition is to ensure more influence and shares within the Lebanese System just like other similar sectarian organizations seeking greater and ‘fairer’ shares for their respective communities but within the system.

Furthermore, notions such as ‘Arab’, ‘Arabism’, ‘Lebanon’, and ‘national unity’ are alien to the ethos and strategy of Hezbollah. In fact, the absence of ‘Arabism’ and ‘Lebanon’ from the political ethos of Hezbollah’s has made it easier for them to fight inside Arab countries like Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, as well as striking exclusionist political deals inside Lebanon that undermine its communal consensus and national unity.

The above does not apply to AMAL, many of whose members and supporters are from the unideologized middle class. They also neither shun their Lebanese or Arab identities nor seek to exclude others. This is why AMAL remains – despite its loose populist structure that accommodated thuggish gangs – a credible enough political player that is capable of conducting dialogues with other political parties. In addition, AMAL parliamentary bloc includes Sunni, Druze, and Christian MPs.

Keeping these ideological and organizational differences in mind, one can better understand the minor differences between the two Shiite groups. Still, some observers advise more caution for several reasons, including the need to play ‘the good cop, bad cop’ game in order to make maximum common benefit from a deeply divided society. This is, of course, helped by the fact that while AMAL has its own allies and friends inside major Lebanese sects, Hezbollah has allies and friends opposing them inside the same sects.

Another important issue is that of Arab and international relations. Despite the clear internal consensus between the two Shiite groups inside Lebanon, AMAL maintains relatively acceptable links with Arab and world powers. This does not apply to Hezbollah, whose full adherence to Tehran’s policies led to being defined as a ‘terrorist organization’ in many Arab and major world powers.

Back to the Syrian question; many will depend on what happens in and to Syria during the coming few months, especially with regard to areas of influence, the future of the regime, and the toll of the economic sanctions.

What happens in Syria, particularly as far as Iranian military presence there is concerned, is expected to have repercussions in Lebanon; most definitely, on the Shiite arena.

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