Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

The Dynamics of the Amal Movement in Lebanon 1975-90

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

The Dynamics of the Amal Movement in Lebanon 1975-90

Article excerpt

Introduction

Social and political movements both transformed Shi' ite Lebanon and placed them at the heart of Lebanese politics. But this socio-political "Shi'i transformation" did not start until the 1960s, for the following reasons: primarily, the geographical distance that separates the two main Shi 'ite areas in Lebanon (Jabal Amil in Southern Lebanon and the Beqa), was considered an obstacle to combining the Shi'i community of Lebanon into an integral political entity; and secondly, the effect and the power of the Shi'i traditional leadership, al-za 'ama al-taklidiya al-Shi 'iy 'a, which maintained its hegemony over the mass population of the Shi'i community.1 One example presented by Odeh on the Shi 'ite zuama is about Ahmad al-As'ad (a Shi 'ite Za' im) who "was the most powerful landlord in the south of Lebanon. He, in fact, controlled the south and wielded more political power than anyone else in the regime."2 Parallel to this "unstable" socio-political environment, the Shi'ites were kept outside the political formation of the Lebanese state in 1943. This kept the Shi'ites in Lebanon, marginalized and deprived of their social and political rights.3 The Shi'ites had not been able to play a momentous role in drawing the path of the Lebanese political system during the National Pact 1943 period and this explains their instability in their political power as well as their unremitting search for various incongruous political forms.4 Beydoun argues that the reason why the Shi'ites were not able to play any significant role during that time was because they were not able to achieve a real form of religious entity (i.e. a Shi'i entity) during the mandate period, like the Sunnis and the Maronites, and thus they came to the independence in 1943 and they were separated and not united in so far as they had various leaderships zuama) who were busy struggling with one another.5 However, the need for a social and political change was given expression during the late 1950s and in the 1960s when the Shi'ites emerged as an important force in the Lebanese political arena. It was at this time that the Shi'ites became more attracted to Nasserism and to Arab Nationalism and to a variety of political movements and organizations, which included Palestinian movements.

The Shi'ites underwent social and political change from the 1960s onward. This change transformed the Shi'ites' position from marginal into a significant sociopolitical power inside Lebanese politics. However, the socio-political and economic conditions affecting the Shi'ites in their rural areas, forced many of them to leave their rural areas of the Beqa and the South and to begin a "forced migration" towards the capital Beirut. This migration increased as a result of the Lebanese government's neglect of the rural areas of Lebanon (such as the Beqa, Northern and Southern Lebanon) and because of the instabilities of Southern Lebanon. Even in Beirut, the Shi'ites lived in miserable social circumstances in the "Belts of Misery" surrounding the capital and its "urban" population. Moreover, the uneven development of the Lebanese economy, and the rapid growth of Beirut on behalf of the other rural areas of Lebanon centralized the economic power within Beirut and this was one of the major elements in the Shi'ite migration towards the Lebanese capital. Furthermore, the Shi'ite presence was an advantage for the primary residents of Beirut, mainly the upper-class community, who benefited from the Shi'ites' presence. The Shi'i community who migrated to Beirut bestowed a major benefit to expand many businesses. Beirut became more advanced, and it became dependent on poor Shi'ite inhabitants. Simply, the Shi'ites played the key role in improving the Lebanese economy, which was disturbed rapidly and continuously because of the non-stop Israeli aggressions and incursions against the agricultural areas, mainly the South. On the other hand, the Shi ' ites' presence in Beirut played the main role in introducing the Shi'ites to a new circle of social and political movements, mainly the left-wing movements and the Palestinian organizations. …

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