Across the Bay

Friday, April 22, 2005

A Shiite Alternative

Unfortunately, I don't have too much time right now to fully explore this story, but I wanted to put it out there, especially as many writers were pointing to strong divergence of opinion as a sign of weakness in Lebanon, and putting out such silly equations as Hizbullah=the Shi'a.

A new Shiite political gathering ("The Lebanese Shiite Gathering") has emerged as an alternative voice in the Shi'a community, "a new Shiite voice leaning toward the opposition in as much as it is a movement calling for change."

The movement is clearly distinguishing itself from the two main Shitie parties, Hizbullah and Amal. A leading member, Shiite cleric Muhammad Hasan al-Amin had some strong words:

Now that the power of tutelage is over, isn't it the right of the Shiites to breathe? Is it right or useful to propagate fear and anxienty and illusions in the midst of an entire sect so that it seems that what happened, even if it was to the benefit of all the other sects, was not to the benefit of the Shiite sect?

Yes, we are worried about such directions. Is it required that the Shiite sect, which possesses all the elements of integration in the Lebanese homeland and which is a part of this fabric, be an isolated sect, fearful, setting up an artificial line against the rest of the Lebanese of all sects and colors?
Why this gathering and why now? Is it because we don't have enough political movements to express the will of the Lebanese Shiites? Yes, we believe that the Shi'a, in fact, are no less than a large segment of the Lebanese. However, the Shiites, specifically, are not allowed to put forth a political manifestation unless it was under the wing of the Shiite political establishment within which the Syrian power of tutelage wanted to limit affairs.

We tried and were able to convince some established parties in the political equation that it was in no one's interest that the Shiites be reduced in that fashion. There is a need to launch the largest amount of diversity possible, which is certainly the basis of the national interests of the Shi'a... Is it really true that the arrival of an investigative committee spells danger for the Shiite community?

Why is it desired for the Shi'a to be viewed with suspicion, paranoia, and questioning?
Why was it requested that the Shi'a not participate in the great national spectacle (the demos in Martyrs' Square)? Yes, we are at odds with our brothers in the resistance and Amal when they think that such a policy is the one that safeguards the Shiite community. We disagree over the gains; there are no gains for the Shiites specifically.

There is one essential gain for the Shi'a and that it for them to be proponents of this authentic national amalgam with their brothers of all the various communities.

Hariri's Al-Mustaqbal paper quoted another member, Naseer al-As'ad:

Facing the developments which are leading to Lebanon's second independence, the Shiite political establishment looked severely confused and did not join the democratic struggle for independence. Rather, it approached it with fear and the spreading of fear. If the fear of the Shiite political establishment stems from the fact that a lot of its strength was based on the status quo that is being overhauled, then spreading fear regarding the new turn the country is making is an attempt to frighten the Lebanese Shiite masses who don't see these developments leading to independence and freedom a victory for a particular Lebanese party or group, but a victory for an independent, sovereign, and free Lebanon. If the fear of the Shiite political establishment, which holds a firm grip on the fate of Shiite representation, is understandable in that the restoration of Lebanon's sovereignty changes the political balance, or could change them, the spreading of fear clashes with the fact that the fate of the Lebanese Shi'a is part and parcel of the fate of Lebanon and the Lebanese. It's identical to the fate of all the communities in that it's a matter of contract, i.e., the Lebanese Shiites represent an essential cornerstone in the national compact and no national contract stands without them.
The Lebanese Shiites, because of the prevalent Shiite political estbalishment, appeared outside the Lebanese consensus. This image is not true, naturally. That is because the Shiite Muslim community, with all its historical diversity and pluralism cannot be coopted by the current political representation which represents a break with the history of Shiite representation. The Shiite community, in order for it to return to its pluralist democratic heritage, needs to be happy about the restoration of a normal political life, free of the chains and pressures produced by the years of Syrian tutelage over Lebanon.

It's ironic, as Jonathan Edelstein pointed out to me the other day, that the loyalist camp was bargaining on an internal split within the opposition, but the Syrian withdrawal ended up leading to a split within the loyalist ranks! Perhaps, we're witnessing something similar in the dominant Shiite political establishment.

The other day, Iyad Abu Shaqra wrote that by stressing the proportional system, within the larger district, the Shiite parties Amal and Hizbullah were exacting the highest price possible from their co-patriots in the aftermath of the dimishing of Syrian influence. They hoped to maximize their representation and that of other Syrian allies, for, as Abu Shaqra notes, the Shi'a don't get more than 4 seats out of 26 outside their strongholds in the south and the Bekaa. But it will be another irony if the proportional system ends up hurting them in their own strongholds, by giving seats to movements like The Lebanese Shiite Gathering, the As'ad family, and other active parties in those areas like the Communist party, which were also pressured in the past by the Syrians to give way to Hizbullah.

We'll see. In any case, we're witnessing the return of normal political life to Lebanon, with all its complexity and diversity.