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Why Is it Difficult for Hezbollah’s Allies to Maintain their Alliance?

Why Is it Difficult for Hezbollah’s Allies to Maintain their Alliance?

Wednesday, 25 November, 2020 - 11:30

The recent US sanctions imposed on Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil might create a rift between the FPM and its ally Hezbollah. That rift could potentially widen.

Many Lebanese observes, not all of them opponents of the former or the latter, unanimously agree on this.

Beyond that, if US sanctions do indeed have this effect, they would accelerate the appearance of a deeper truth that is still kept quiet about in Lebanese political life: The difficulty of coming to a mutual understanding with Hezbollah. The FPM, between 2006 and 2020, has been the major exception to this rule, providing Hezbollah with “Christian cover” and breaking the isolation that was suffocating the party in the aftermath of the Rafik Hariri assassination.

The US sanctions announced that the agreement had been an exception, and it opened the door to applying the rule, why?

In Lebanon, sectarian parties are many and religious parties are few. Hezbollah is the only party that is simultaneously religious and sectarian. This makes it a party enclosed and satisfied with itself; rather, it has an inflated perception of itself. In principle, allying with such a political player is always difficult. Moreover, it puts its ally in an awkward position for other reasons as well: such an alliance undermines the allied party’s ability to represent its sect according to the constraining criteria of Lebanon’s sectarianism. The Aounists, because of their ties to the party, are in very deep water. After the Beirut port explosion, faltering justifications turned into attempts at distancing themselves.

Furthermore, how can a movement established by a former army commander ally with a party whose army is stronger than the national armed forces themselves? A party for whom weapons are its raison d’etre and that does not conceal being in a perpetual state of war, sometimes in Israel and other times in Syria, or that it alone decides when and how it wages wars. On top of that, the party does not deny its absolute allegiance to Iran. The awkwardness has exacerbated recently under the pressure of the Trump administration, its decisions and then its sanctions: it has become extremely difficult for anyone to reconcile being “open to the West”, which traditionally means a lot to the Christians, with Hezbollah’s presence, let alone allying with it.

Things that could be overlooked during periods of ascension are no longer this way during the era of decline and recession.

The Shiite Amal Movement’s situation is different in degree, but not at the core. Amal is part of the traditional Lebanese political establishment that operates through the famously corruption-laden networks of patronage and nepotism… The alliance with Hezbollah constrains it and limits such activity: Hezbollah’s Iranianism, ideology and its emphasis on armament clash with the proclivities and functioning of the Amal Movement, which is described as flexible and pragmatic.

A reminder: the battle between Amal and Hezbollah in the late 1980s was one of the fiercest during the Lebanese war (1975-1990) and required Syrian-Iranian intervention to bring it to a halt and reconcile the two sides. The sentiments have not evaporated, but fear, in all likelihood, sustains the alliance more than anything else.

While it is true that Hezbollah arms and finances scattered Sunni and Druze factions, it is also true that it embarrasses its clients to the same extent that it arms and finances them. Those who receive its aid must content themselves with a secondary position within their sects and the fact that that they are mere Sunni and Druze Hezbollah underlings. This, in turn, is not an attractive or popular approach for Sunnis or Druze.

There is no avoiding two other observations here: the Lebanese situation is becoming increasingly sectarian in general, and the role of weapons and the contraction of the state’s role are instrumental to this. However, with sectarianization peaking, the standing of the party’s allies within their sects will be undercut by their minimalist sectarianism as a result of this alliance.

Furthermore, most of the inter-sectarian reservations and objections about sectarian leaders pertain to demands for more radical and hardline positions vis-à-vis Hezbollah. This is true in the Christian environment, including Aounists, just as it is true in the Hariri’s Sunni environment.

Just as Christian, Sunni and Druze allies are forced to appear as less Christian, Sunni and Druze to their supporters in light of the country’s suffocating sectarian makeup, the communists are also forced to appear as less communist. Their dead’s’ killers are not named. Their rhetoric about their role in the resistance, the revolution and everything else is to be subjected to self-censorship and adapted to what Hezbollah deems suitable...

This implies that the only “national front” possible under the party’s leadership is of the kind that communists established in Eastern Europe or the Baathists set up in Iraq and Syria. Lebanon, despite everything, has not gone this far yet.

Could it get there? Maybe. Clinging to the perpetuation of the exception and disrupting the rule may lead to something of this sort.

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