Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Civil War Brews in Lebanon: Hariri Inc.'s Militias, Not Reported by U.S. Media

Fighters loyal to the government flash a "V" sign in a Sunni neighborhood during heavy fighting with pro-Syrian fighters allied with Hezbollah at the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Monday, May 12, 2008. Heavy fighting broke out Monday in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli after soldiers quelled similar battles that killed at least 16 people in mountains overlooking the capital, security officials and paramedics said. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Comment: The recent inter-communal violence in Lebanon has pitted the Shi'i Hizbu'llah (Party of God) party and its allies in the AMAL movement and smaller Alawi communities in the north against the government headed by the Sunni prime minister, Fuad Siniora, and Sa'd al-Hariri's party, Tayyar al-Mustaqbal (Future Movement), or as I call it "Hariri Inc." Despite the seeming religious nature of the conflict, appearances are deceiving. The current conflict is political in nature and revolves around control of the central government. For most of its participants the conflict is not religious.

However, for a currently small but growing segment of Lebanon's Sunnis, the conflict may be seen more and more as a religious "Sunni vs. Shi'i" conflict. Hariri Inc. has reportedly poured money into radical Sunni Salafi groups such as Jund al-Sham which are more likely to view Shi'is as bad or even non-Muslims. Hariri Inc. has done so in order to offset the political and military power of Hizbu'llah and its Shi'i ally, AMAL, the party of the speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri.

It is often claimed in the U.S. press that the current fighting is largely one-sided. This is false. Hariri Inc. and pro-government forces also have militias which have been fighting running battles with Hizbu'llah and its allies. However, the Sunni and Druze militias in Beirut and the Shouf Mountains are inferior when compared with the better armed and trained paramilitaries of Hizbu'llah and AMAL. The opposite seems to be true in the north near the city of Tripoli. The Christians, of which there are numerous sects in Lebanon, have largely remained at the sidelines despite many of their parties belonging to either the pro-government or National Opposition faction.

You will notice how the AP captions, which I have left intact, refer to Hizbu'llah and its allies as "Syrian-backed." In other U.S. media outlets the party is also referred to as "Iranian and Syrian-backed" or "pro-Iranian and Syrian." This is not incorrect. Indeed Hizbu'llah receives substantial financial and military aid from Iran and to a lesser extent Syria, which largely serves as a political ally. Let's say that the parties have a "special relationship" akin to the U.S. government's relationship with Israel. However, notice also how the foreign backers of Hariri Inc., Siniora, and their allies (the Hobbit Walid Jumblatt and the convicted war criminal Samir Ja'Ja) are often not mentioned or are called by the ambiguous name "the West." Rarely is it mentioned that Hariri Inc. & Co. receive significant financial and military aid and political prodding from the Bush Administration, the virulently anti-Shi'i Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni Arab autocrats (like Egypt's decrepit pharaoh, Hosni Mubarak.) Saudi Arabia in particular must be happy about the growing popularity of militant Salafism among Lebanon's Sunnis, many of whom fear growing Lebanese Shi'i power. The Lebanese Shi'a make up between 40-45% (estimated) of the country's total population. Although not all back Hizbu'llah's domestic political platform, most respect the party for defending them against abuses by other Lebanese factions and more importantly the Israelis who occupied large swaths of the country's south from 1982 to May 2000.

A Sunni gunman stands guard during clashes in the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Monday, May 12, 2008. Heavy fighting broke out between government supporters and opponents Monday in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli, after soldiers quelled similar battles that killed at least 11 people in mountains overlooking the capital, security officials and paramedics said.
(AP Photo)

Comment: Notice in the background the black flag with the Shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith; "There is no god but God and Muhammad is His Messenger." The placement of this flag with the Sunni paramilitary in this photograph brings into question if he possibly belongs to one of these neo-Salafi factions supported by and nominally loyal to Hariri Inc.

Fighters loyal to the government gather in a Sunni neighborhood during heavy fighting with pro-Syrian fighters allied with Hezbollah at the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Monday, May 12, 2008. Heavy fighting broke out between government supporters and opponents Monday in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli, after soldiers quelled similar battles that killed at least 16 people in mountains overlooking the capital, security officials and paramedics said.
(AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

This seems to be a good time to bring up an old post in which I briefly blogged about Saudi Arabia's backing and support for Hariri Inc. Notice how this pro-government, pro-Hariri protestor back in January 2007 is confronting Lebanese Army soldiers holding the flag of the virulently anti-Shi'i Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Strange how this photograph was never published in an American newspaper or magazine....Well, perhaps it's not so strange.

1 comment:

ماثيو said...

great commentary. I've been following the Lebanon conflict for the last few weeks in the French press, and I guess it still succumbs to the media-ideology of that vague ominous catch-all "the West". It was interesting how leMonde had a guy saying that of all the parties involved, hezbollah was the most thoroughly ideological. I can't think of an area of the world where so many different sides are ideological, at the very least in their media's presentation of the event.