Mohammad Hamdan

Dahiyeh’s Sunnis are no more

Hassan Nasrallah

Dahiyeh’s Sunni inhabitants fear for their fate, their lives, and their stability against the backdrop of Hezbollah’s participation in Syria. These fears are not exclusively linked to Hezbollah’s involvement and support of the Assad regime; rather, concerns began materializing following former Sunni PM Rafiq Hariri’s assassination in 2005 and the ensuing manifestations of joy and Schadenfreude across the mainly-Shiite neighborhoods of Dahiyeh.


What made matters worse, however, were the celebrations staged by Hezbollah and its supporters in several regions (including Dahiyeh) following the Qusayr battle in Syria. Celebratory gunshots were fired, sweets distributed, and motorcades organized in response. So too were posters hung depicting former PM Saad Hariri with weapons adorned with “Qusayr has fallen” text on streets and in front of houses owned by Sunni supporters of the Syrian revolution. Displaced Syrian workers in Dahiyeh have also been harassed, including an enforced curfew on their movements. All of the above has rekindled latent concerns and fears among Dahiyeh’s Sunni inhabitants.


The Sunni presence in Dahiyeh goes back to the early twentieth century with the Arab and Mezher families in Burj al-Brajneh (the Arab Neighborhood), the Berjawi family in Ghobeiri, as well as thousands of other Sunnis families who bought or rent houses in Dahiyeh. Since then, there has been a building frenzy in Dahiyeh due to the lack of affordable housing in Beirut. However, many Sunnis later relocated following former PM Rafiq Hariri’s assassination, turning instead to Aramoun, Bshamoun, Naameh, Saadiyyat and other Sunni-dominated areas in Iqlim al-Kharroub and the coastal Chouf region. Yet, despite this counter-wave of migration, Dahiyeh still hosts about 100,000 native Sunni inhabitants and newcomers.


50-year-old Samar M., a doctor who complained to NOW of dire economic circumstances, said: “Our work [and business] regressed by about 80 percent lately.” Samar explains that her family has been in Dahiyeh’s Ghobeiri for decades. She is a Sunni who married a Christian doctor, and they have owned a house and clinic in the same area for more than twelve years. Samar says work at the clinic has been slow for many reasons, especially the sectarian atmosphere that prevailed following the 2005 assassination of former PM Hariri and the 2006 July War. That she is a secularist born into a family where sectarianism was non-existent makes her all the more frustrated.


Samar argues that the number of patients visiting her started dwindling for no other reason than her decision to not wear a hijab. Although Samar is a Sunni by sect, her family’s secular lifestyle in Dahiyeh differs from the majority of local residents (whether they be Sunni, Shiite, or Christian). “The situation has become a lot worse following the war in Syria, which started about two years ago.” Samar is fearful that the situation will escalate in Dahiyeh due to “the atmosphere prevailing following Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria and the deep rift resulting from it.”


Samar’s husband laments to NOW: “We wish we could afford to move to a more reassuring location. We are extremely worried, but we cannot. We must stay here. We are forced into this whimsical situation because we don’t have another choice.”


Tareq B., another Sunni native of Shiyyah, shares Samar’s concerns. He told NOW: “I have been living here for twenty years and I was never as concerned as I am today. During the 2006 July War, I was one of the staunchest supporters and defenders of the Resistance and Hezbollah, because it fought Israel and vanquished it despite our remarks about the dear cost of this victory for Lebanon. Now that Hezbollah has gone on to kill the Syrian people, I regret every single moment I supported this party and I say it out loud: ‘May Allah have mercy on George Hawi who was the number one resistance father and who taught them [the] resistance.’”


M.N., a Sunni who has been living in Burj al-Brajneh, is opposed to these opinions and accuses those who profess them of being “enemies of the Resistance, which has restored the Arabs’ and Lebanon’s glory and dignity. Those who talk like that have received money from the Future Movement. I am a Sunni and all Hezbollah members in the area are my friends. They are no threat to me or to any other Sunni living in the area. I live among them safely and I consider myself more of a Shiite than the Shiites themselves.”


A member of Burj al-Brajneh’s Arab family, who asked to remain anonymous, described to NOW the current atmosphere following the Dahiyeh festivities after the Qusayr battle and Hezbollah’s continuing interference in the war in Syria. They said: “Things are no longer tolerable. We bore with Hezbollah’s exactions and arrogance for years, and now they cast us suspicious looks as though we come from a different planet. Are we not Muslims like them? We have been in the region before them (i.e. the Shiites), and even before Hezbollah’s inception. These are our properties and this is where we grew up. We will not go anywhere and they have to respect other people and abstain from interfering in Syria because they are exacerbating the conflict and laying the foundations for strife, which they claim that their intervention is averting. Who would believe that someone who is walking in the direction of strife can be seeking to prevent it?”


Abdallah R., a resident of Shiyyah’s Mouawad Neighborhood, declined to comment for fear of suffering the same fate as his “Beiruti” neighbors who were constantly harassed. Their cars were wrecked and they heard awful sectarian taunts until they fled the area and headed to Aramoun. He wished for Allah to inspire all Sunni and Shiite leaders and clerics to seek the prevention of strife and the resumption of normal relations. “We are all Muslims who share but one [holy] book and one prophet,” Abdallah added.


Beirut native Mohammad K. lives in Haret Hreik and has owned a shop there since the 1960s. He tells NOW that his hands are tied: “We feel we have become dhimmis. We cannot express our opinion or our stance, and we are afraid because we are Sunnis and the general atmosphere is ill-disposed toward us ever since [former PM Rafiq] Hariri’s assassination. Now things have become worse following Hezbollah’s intervention in the Syrian conflict, especially after what happened in Qusayr. The sweets distribution and the posters of Hariri with weapons was as if they [Hezbollah] were saying our blood is good to be spilled with impunity. Are there no sane people among the Shiites? Strife has been looming on the horizon for a while and it has been exacerbated since Qusayr and the ensuing Schadenfreude.”


These examples, and many others, were illustrated by Khadija al-Omari in a newspaper article a few days ago after she was provoked and harassed into leaving her home in Burj al-Brajneh. Al-Omari concluded her article as follows: “We leave today without looking back… Goodbye Dahiyeh, you shall not be missed!” She continued, “June 5 (i.e. the day on which Qusayr fell) is an ominous day par excellence as Hezbollah and its supporters staged funeral processions for whatever humanity they still had. Celebratory gunfire and sweets distribution did not abate until midnight, and we [Sunnis] became ’intruders‘ in an area we have been living in since 1946  back when there was no Hezbollah and no natives from the South and the Beqaa.”


It is worth noting that many of Dahiyeh’s Sunni residents, whether they have been living in Dahiyeh for decades or are newcomers to it, have refused to give NOW any statements in order to preserve their lives and properties.


This article is a translation of the original Arabic.

A huge banner of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah along the airport road adjacent to Dahiyeh (Facebook photo).

“Things are no longer tolerable. We bore with Hezbollah’s exactions and arrogance for years, and now they cast us suspicious looks as though we come from a different planet. Are we not Muslims like them?”

  • Ali from Arncliffe

    It is indeed sad that people behave with such sectarian and religious inspiration. Where are people's humanity? I hope that the Shi'ite neighbours will comfort their Sunni brethren and let them know that they are safe. I know Sayed Hassan Nasrallah is constantly talking about Shia and Sunni unity and as a staunch supporter, he has my support whole heartedly as long as his actions reflect his words.

    June 27, 2013