Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Hezbollah's Plans for Lebanon

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Hezbollah's Plans for Lebanon

Article excerpt

Hezbollah first became known to the Lebanese public in 1 985 with its now-famous open letter, whose introductory statement read: "We are the sons of the wnma (Muslim community) - of the party of God (Hezbollah), the vanguard of which was made victorious by God in Iran. . . . We obey the orders of one leader. . . that of our tutor mdfaqih [i.e., Ayatollah Khomeini] ,"1 A year later Hassan Nasrallah, then an officer associated with the party's consultative council and now its supreme leader, made the organization's overall goals and strategy unmistakably clear: "We are incapable at the present time of installing the rule of Islam, but this does not mean postponing our ideology and proj ect . . . We must work hard to achieve our goal, and the most important means of doing so is to transform Lebanon into a society of war."2

It has been argued that Hezbollah's 2009 manifesto, which revised the open letter, underscored the organization's diminishing revolutionary zeal and growing acceptance of Lebanon's permanence.3 Yet a careful reading of the manifesto shows it to be merely playing with words, recognizing Lebanon as "our homeland" but not as a legitimate nation state.4 Indeed, far from being in a "continuous process of identity construction,"5 Hezbollah has striven during the past few years to overcome its limitations and promote its ultimate goal of transforming Lebanon into an Islamic state modeled after Iran's wilayat al-faqih (the guardianship of the jurist).

UNDERMINING THE LEBANESE STATE

Hezbollah needed physical space to spread its propagandizing mission and to carve out a constituency in the hearts of Lebanon's Shiites. Even before the party's official formation, protoHezbollah militants clashed with the police in the southern suburbs of Beirut. They seized on President Amin Gemayel's (1982-88) attempt to clamp down on Muslim militias and restore state authority as evidence of his hostility to Muslims in general (and Shiites in particular) and transformed themselves from an innocuous movement committed to religious guidance and education into a full-fledged politico-military party.6

It was not particularly difficult for Hezbollah to undermine the role of the state in Shiite areas like Beirut's southern suburbs and the Bekaa Valley. Shiite quarters were poverty-stricken, and in northern Bckaa, the birthplace of Hezbollah, the state was virtually nonexistent. Thanks to generous Iranian contributions, Hezbollah took it upon itself to provide its impoverished constituency with basic services, such as water and sanitation, usually provided by a state. It successfully traded services for loyalty and proceeded to its next objective of becoming the sole Shiite hegemon.

CONTROLLING THE SHIITES

Efforts to organize the Lebanese Shiites into a political movement of their own began to take shape in 1974 when Imam Musa Sadr, an Iranian cleric of Lebanese origin, ushered in political Shiism and founded the Movement of the Dispossessed. The movement soon built up a militia and, a year later, acquired a new name, the Amai (Hope) movement. Sadr's success in rallying coreligionists behind him had much to do with his determination to place the impoverished Shiites on Lebanon's political map and bring an end to the condescending treatment they received from other sects, as well as the Sunni preference for keeping them powerless.7

From its beginnings, the Amai movement opted to play by the rules of Lebanese confessional politics - provided the Shiites were no longer overshadowed by Sunnis - and was prepared to this extent to collaborate with the Maronite establishment.8 Yet the rise of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon after its 1970 eviction from Jordan interfered with Sadr's plans to transform Shiites into a major actor in Lebanese politics. The imam disliked the presence of armed Palestinians in southern Lebanon but carefully avoided clashing with the PLO since it was politically incorrect for Muslim politicians to deny the organization's right to fight Israel. …

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