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Hanin Ghaddar

Hezbollah’s Shabbiha

A masked Shiite gunman smiles as Hezbollah fighters seized control of west Beirut on May 9, 2008.

Ahmad al-Assir has left Sidon, but he has not left the Lebanese political scene. Now that the rubble has been cleared, serious concerns are floating on the surface: How involved was Hezbollah in the battle? And in the long run, this 'defeat' of the Sunni street is going to have its repercussions. How far will they reach, considering the regional context?

 

Hezbollah’s involvement in Sidon’s clashes has so far been predicted by evidence related to the Saraya Al Moukawama – The Resistance Brigades – which apparently participated in the battle against Assir fighters. The presence of the Brigades in Lebanese Sunni areas, as a separate entity from Hezbollah, yet very organically attached to it, is not going to lead to a happy ending.

 

The Resistance Brigades, created by Hezbollah in November 1997, were supposed to mobilize non-Shiite Lebanese to support the Resistance. However, their role has changed since then. Today they are basically what we can call Hezbollah’s Shabbiha  in reference to the Shabbiha (thugs) of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. They function under Hezbollah to do its dirty work, such as in the events of May 7 2008, and in fighting alongside the Syrian regime inside Syria. Their involvement in the recent clashes in Abra against Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir is just another indication of their duties.

 

But the majority of the Brigades’ members are Sunnis, coming from Leftist parties that fought during the civil war with the Palestinian factions. Other members are Palestinians or Shiites who could not join Hezbollah for various reasons.

 

Hezbollah created this unit for these specific moments; that is, when the Party of God deliberately wants to be involved in the Lebanese mud without tarnishing its elite fighters. How convenient is that? Especially as it turns out that the Brigades are primarily located in Sunni areas, such as Sidon, Tripoli, and towns in the Beqaa.

 

Making pro-Hezbollah Sunnis fight anti-Hezbollah Sunnis is not going to prevent a Sunni-Shiite conflict in Lebanon. Everybody knows that Hezbollah is responsible for this Brigade and that its imposition on Sunni cities is going to complicate things further and lead to more dangerous scenarios.

 

These Brigades are the militias that stormed Beirut and the Druze mountains in May 2008. They are the Black Shirts that toppled Saad Hariri’s government in 2010. They are the ones who killed Hashem Salman last month in front of the Iranian Embassy. His killer, unsurprisingly, has never been captured.

 

These Brigades are Hezbollah’s Shabbiha, whom Hezbollah will deny and abandon at any moment. But they have to support Hezbollah in making sure that no one even considers challenging the Party of God in the streets.

 

There are many calls today in Sidon and other Sunni cities for the army to remove the Brigades as it has removed Assir. But again, this won’t happen because Hezbollah protects them, plus, Assir was abolished, only physically. Assir is the result of May 7 events and the Black Shirts of 2010. He came out from the Sunni feeling of defeat and the urge to stand up against humiliation. A new, and probably worse, version of Assir will come to play in Lebanon.

 

Last week, an audio recording believed to be Assir’s voice, urged followers to demonstrate after Friday prayers. The message repeated the cleric's claims that the army had conspired with Hezbollah to attack him. Demonstrations were held in Sidon and Tripoli, but they were subdued after security incidents with the army. Fears of more sectarian fighting pitting Sunni protestors against the Lebanese army are now serious.

 

Shiite Shabbiha’s humiliation of Sunni militants is dangerous enough, but luring the Lebanese army into it is extremely risky. Hezbollah never cared about Lebanon or state institutions, especially after its involvement in Syria and ignoring Lebanon’s security.

 

While Hezbollah is busy in Syria, implementing Iran’s regional strategy, its Shabbiha are left behind to maintain their street power. This should lead to serious reconsideration of the Resistance-Army-People formula that positioned the resistance not as a partner, but as a ruler of all Lebanese institutions.

 

Also, there should be no more delays in forming the government. Hezbollah will again use its Shabbiha to sabotage any attempt in this direction, but at the end of the day, it’s a new government  soon  or the end of Lebanon as we dream of it.

 

Risks should be taken to save the country, not this or that sect, and sacrifices should be made. In either case, it’s not a rosy scenario. But what other choice do we have?

 

Hanin Ghaddar is the Managing Editor of NOW. She tweets @haningdr

 

Read this article in Arabic 

A masked Shiite gunman smiles as Hezbollah fighters seized control of west Beirut on May 9, 2008. (Image via AFP)

"Hezbollah created this unit for these specific moments; that is, when the Party of God deliberately wants to be involved in the Lebanese mud, without tarnishing its elite fighters. How convenient is that?"

  • Metnman

    "Risks should be taken to save the country, not this or that sect, and sacrifices should be made. In either case, it’s not a rosy scenario. But what other choice do we have?" I don't think I have ever read such hysterical nonsense.

    July 14, 2013