The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged hizbullah
Hizbullah & Iran coordinate on Syria

Nick Noe from Mideastwire says he believes this report from al-Rai on what was discussed between Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah and top Iranian leaders recently:

“- The Syrian opposition was deemed a tool in the hand of the higher interests and the neighboring countries and an echo of the American politics. According to the Iranian sources, the participants agreed on dealing with the opposition by using force…by enabling the regime to achieve victories on the ground.

“- The parties that took part in the meetings in Tehran agreed on moving from a state of defense to a state of offense in Syria in response to the British, French, American,Turkish and Gulf support for the opposition

“These sources quoted prominent Iranian generals who said that “…Iran can send hundreds of thousands of troops to Syria in order to defend the Al-Assad regime and to protect its part in the Reluctance (sic - that's the Western side, surely?) Axis in the event that the West was to proceed with supporting the armed men…” The highly informed Iranian sources revealed that “the participants praised Iraq’s role in preventing the Takfiris from using the Iraqi lands…” 

Ahmedinejad in Lebanon

Note: This is much shorter version of  post written earlier and then lost because of #$@^!* system. Couldn't be bothered to redo it fully.


The above pic from the Lebanese blog Beirut Spring illustrates the division about Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's visit to Lebanon today. A bunch of Lebanese bloggers have decided to note the visit with humor, like this list of 10 things to expect during the visit.

See the FT, the WSJ, Reuters, and Rami Khouri who makes some interesting points about both the domestic Lebanese reaction and the nervousness in the US and the Arab world. The State Dept's response that Ahmedinejad's visit infringes on Lebanese sovereignty is rather mind-numbing, between 2006 and now they must have grown to care a lot about Lebanese sovereignty. 

My own take to the question of Iran-US relations will come in the form of this picture I took last May, near Times Square in New York. I think it explains everything pretty clearly.

 

On Fadlallah

I happened to be in Beirut when the news of Sheikh Fadlallah's death hit the news a few days ago, although since I was there for a wedding, I did not don my reporter hat or stay for the funeral yesterday, as I had a plane to catch back to Cairo and then another for Casablanca. I won't comment on the man — take a look at what Asa'ad AbuKhalil said, or Rami Khouri — but do want to touch on the American perception of him.

In Fadlallah, one had a spiritual leader for millions of Shias who was neither an ultra-conservative nor an apologist for autocracy. He was the only Shia figure with the authority not only to counter the Vilayet al-Faqih doctrine now dominant (and state-endorsed) in Iran, but also the political quietism and all-out conservatism of Iraq's Sistani. Yes, he was a political radical by the standards of of American hegemony in the region — he opposed occupations, backed armed action against occupiers include suicide bombings — but in some respects at least preferable to the alternative religious leaders in the region. He was not simply "Hizbullah's spirtual leader" as so many American journalists, and the American government, apparently continue to consider him as, despite the obvious fact that Hizbullah's leadership looks to Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatolah Khameini.

To be fair, the story is not so simple as Hizbullah having as marja Ayatollah Khamenei — it's more complicated than that, as many of Hizbullah's rank and file surely thought highly of Fadlallah no matter what the party line was, and Hizbullah grandee Naim Qassem was receiving condolences in Beirut last Sunday.

Do read David Kenner's piece at Foreign Policy, which touches on this ambiguity:

 

In 1995, Fadlallah declared himself a marja, the highest religious authority within Shiism -- a step that was opposed by the Iranian religious establishment, which saw Khamenei as the proper source of emulation for the Shiite world. Although both Iran and Hezbollah issued statements praising Fadlallah upon his death, they studiously avoided referring to him as a marja.
For this reason, Western claims that Fadlallah was "the spiritual advisor" to Hezbollah were particularly ironic: Although he was clearly influential, it was on precisely the issue of Fadlallah's ultimate religious authority that he and the Party of God parted ways.
Starting in the 1990s, Fadlallah began to preach a more self-consciously modern version of Shiism, placing particular emphasis on scientific and rational methods. He opposed the practice of self-flagellation on the Shiite holy day of Ashura, arguing that it accentuated sectarian differences in Lebanon rather than promoting coexistence. His rulings in the field of gender relations have also been important: He asserted that women were qualified to lead men in prayer and were fully capable of moving up the ranks of the Shiite clergy, up to the post of ayatollah. In 2007, he issued a fatwa saying that a woman could fight back in self-defense if she were beaten by her husband.
This debate was more than an internecine feud over religious principles -- it had important repercussions for the political balance of power within Lebanon's Shiite community. Fadlallah criticized Hezbollah openly at times, notably picking a fight with the group after it declared to its supporters that voting for the party in the 2005 parliamentary election was a religious obligation. He argued that such "perverted practices" would eventually delegitimize religious authority. His extensive network of schools throughout Lebanon, which enrolled 14,300 students in 2000, produces its own religious textbooks rather than use those approved by Iran's religious leadership.

In 1995, Fadlallah declared himself a marja, the highest religious authority within Shiism -- a step that was opposed by the Iranian religious establishment, which saw Khamenei as the proper source of emulation for the Shiite world. Although both Iran and Hezbollah issued statements praising Fadlallah upon his death, they studiously avoided referring to him as a marja.
For this reason, Western claims that Fadlallah was "the spiritual advisor" to Hezbollah were particularly ironic: Although he was clearly influential, it was on precisely the issue of Fadlallah's ultimate religious authority that he and the Party of God parted ways.
Starting in the 1990s, Fadlallah began to preach a more self-consciously modern version of Shiism, placing particular emphasis on scientific and rational methods. He opposed the practice of self-flagellation on the Shiite holy day of Ashura, arguing that it accentuated sectarian differences in Lebanon rather than promoting coexistence. His rulings in the field of gender relations have also been important: He asserted that women were qualified to lead men in prayer and were fully capable of moving up the ranks of the Shiite clergy, up to the post of ayatollah. In 2007, he issued a fatwa saying that a woman could fight back in self-defense if she were beaten by her husband.
This debate was more than an internecine feud over religious principles -- it had important repercussions for the political balance of power within Lebanon's Shiite community. Fadlallah criticized Hezbollah openly at times, notably picking a fight with the group after it declared to its supporters that voting for the party in the 2005 parliamentary election was a religious obligation. He argued that such "perverted practices" would eventually delegitimize religious authority. His extensive network of schools throughout Lebanon, which enrolled 14,300 students in 2000, produces its own religious textbooks rather than use those approved by Iran's religious leadership.

It also provides some juicy details about the 1985 CIA-backed attempt on Fadlallah's life, which Bob Woodward revealed (but misinterpreted since he continued to describe Fadlallah as an "archterrorist".)

In other words, Fadlallah was not just an important person, but a complex player who tried to stand aloof from politicking, even if he still had a political role. The fact that he spent some thirty years as a "Specially Designated Terrorist" shows the American foreign policy establishment rather black-and-white, un-nimble approach to the Middle East: an approach that it is the very opposite of the way Middle Eastern politics work most of the time. 

And the American media follows: CNN's Octavia Nasr has now been forced to resign because she tweeted sadness at Fadlallah's passing. The irony is that although she understood that he had had a positive role on some religious issues, she still identified him with Hizbullah. Here's her tweet:

"Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah… One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

Do you think Deborah Solomon of the NYT will now resign because she finds the Irgun romantic? This resignation/firing is so stupid I'm tempted to think cash-strapped CNN wanted to let go a 20-year veteran and hire someone cheaper.

Syria's scuds

How exciting to see all the hullabaloo about reports that Syria gave scuds to Hizbullah! And to see somber-faced officials in Washington (although few) and Tel Aviv speak of this as some kind of provocation. Funny that this move, if true (US and Israeli officials don't have a great track record on these things — remember Saddam's WMDs?) would apparently justify a bombing raid on Lebanon.

On the one hand, if I were Lebanese, I would certainly to increase my country's defensive capabilities considering that Israel destroyed half the place in 2006. I would be focusing first on air defenses to take down aircrafts coming into my airspace, but longer-range rockets that can do similar damage to what Israel did to me (and it invaded me three times, occupied me for two and half decades, and regularly violates my sovereignty) would seem a good dissuasive measure.

On the other hand, when does anyone complain about Israel's weapons acquisitions or its ability to annihilate the entire neighborhood?

In other words, I am all for any actor in Lebanon making it more costly for Israel to repeat its 2006 exercise in collective punishment.

Syria, of course, is a nasty little regime and has done tremendous damage to Lebanon. At one time, though, it was seen as a stabilizer in Lebanon and actually committed enough to the status-quo that it would not risk any confrontation with Israel. Perhaps these calculations have changed, but considering the low effectiveness of Scuds (remember the Gulf War and the Israeli panic that didn't amount to much) I don't see how this can be construed as a game-changer. Lebanon and Syria both endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative and back the peace in exchange for the return of land. We are being told by some experts in America and Israel that it's not reasonable for Syria to expect the Golan Heights back. These are the same people who essentially argue it's not reasonable for the Palestinians to expect a viable state. Is everyone in the region supposed to accept a belligerent Israel, protected from any responsibility under international law, that refuses to make clear what its own borders are and regularly engages in attacks on its neighbors' territory?

Here's some commentary:

Links for 11.30.09 to 12.02.09
Why they hate us (II): How many Muslims has the U.S. killed in the past 30 years? | Stephen M. Walt | 288,000, Walt estimates.
Libya convicts Swiss pair in apparent revenge for arrest of Gaddafi's son | World news | guardian.co.uk | Good timing.
Israel strips more Palestinians of Jerusalem status (Reuters) | "Reuters - Israel stripped Palestinians of Jerusalem residency status last year at a faster rate than at any time in the history of the Jewish state, an Israeli rights group said on Wednesday, citing official Israeli statistics."
Dubai model was the vision of one man | Reuters | Andrew Hammond's writes: "The "Dubai vision," which has suffered a crushing blow from the freewheeling Gulf emirate's sudden debt crisis, is the creation of one man who failed to apply the rules of open governance."
Arab disappointment with Obama | Marc Lynch | Arabs disappointed with mideast policy, not democracy. Americans disappointed with everything.
Spreading Shiism to the Moon Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | This is about Iranian ambitions over the Comoros Islands, but I link because the intro is funny.
Jewish Nationalists and Palestinians Clash in East Jerusalem - NYTimes.com | This headline makes it sounds like the Jews are the natives. Plus it's in East Jerusalem, which is Palestinian under international law.
Obama's Middle East Policies: the Persistence of the Bush Doctrine on Vimeo | A lecture by the Angry Arab, Asa'ad Abu Khalil.
Israel attacks Sweden on Jerusalem plan | I think this Swedish position on Jerusalem, if the EU takes it up, is important.
What to listen for in Obama's speech | What Walt says on Afghanistan.
The New Inquisition | Laila Lalami in The Nation.
Arab journalist throws shoe at Iraqi shoe thrower - Yahoo! News | He missed, too.
Views from the Occident: Hizbullah Announces New Party Platform | Hizbullah peddles its national vision.
ei: "We will have to kill them all": Effie Eitam, thug messiah | Buffalo, NY Jews welcome Elie Eitam, murderer and Eretz Israeler.
Super Emo Friends | Diskursdisko | Comic book humor - should appeal to those emos in Egypt.

Links for 10.29.09 to 10.31.09
Daily News Egypt - In Focus: The Brotherhood Crisis | Khalil al-Anani's take on the Brothers' troubles.
Frontlines: Who will be the next leader of Egypt? | Front Lines - the week that was | Jerusalem Post | Funny how much traction Amr Moussa's comments have made in Israel, where they remember vividly his criticism of Israel.
Is this the man to follow Mubarak as Egypt's next president? | World news | guardian.co.uk | On Amr Moussa.
Powerful Islamic movement sees leadership struggle | On MB's woes.
War and Peace | New blog from Rob of Arabic Media Shack, focusing on war, history and strategy.
Lesson Unlearned | Foreign Policy | Nir Rosen says the 1983 attacks on Us Marines in Beirut was the fault of senior Reagan officials who intervened in Lebanon's civil war on the side of Christian militias.
A Witness In Palestine | Anna Baltzer, Jewish-American pro-peace activist.
A search engine with a mind on settlements | Antony Loewenstein | I'm switching to Bing, and I hate Microsoft: "Jewish Billionaire, Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google, donated $1 million to the so-called Hebrew national Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) which heavily encourages Jews around the world to immigrate to Israel and the United States. The organization is one of the biggest supporters of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories."
In Afghan Village, French Outreach Yields an Ambush - WSJ.com | On French Foreign legion in Afghanistan: "Some Legionnaires, like a pensive Italian art history graduate, had enlisted for adventure. Others, like a thin Estonian, signed up to escape potentially lethal problems at home. The Legion wipes out minor criminal records and provides new identities and a French passport in exchange for a five-year contract. "Believe me, I feel safer here in Afghanistan," the Estonian said."
Alaa Al-Aswany: When women are sinners in the eyes of extremists - Commentators, Opinion - The Independent | On Somalia and extremism, among other things.
BBC NEWS | Technology | Egypt seeks ethical mobile users | Code says "don't annoy people by having loud conversations", "choose non-annoying ringtone", etc. Akhiran! Wonder if it says, "Don't sit at qahwa trying different ringtones for an hour" or "Answer phone quickly or put it on silent rather than stare at it for 10 rings".
Squaring the circle and erasing the margins | Good commentary on the recent J Street conference.
YouTube - ‫لقاء اليوم - ريتشارد غولدستون‬‎ | Khaled Daoud interviews Richard Goldstone on al-Jazeera.
Lebanon: Israel arranged Katyusha fire to keep tensions high - Haaretz - Israel News | Suleiman was praised by West before, will he be listened to now: "Lebanese President Michel Suleiman on Thursday suggested that Israel had arranged for collaborators in his country to fire Katyusha rockets at the Galilee earlier this week, in a bid to keep tensions high in the area."
'Israel's Self-Described Greatest Concern' - Jeffrey Goldberg | More poisonous Jeffrey Goldberg: anti-Zionist Jews are not real jews, they're anti-Zionists with Jewish parents; the Leveretts are apologists for Tehran. No sense of irony here about Golberg's sycophancy towards Bibi Netanyahu here.
West Bank land belongs to Jews, says Israeli army judge | These people are insane: ""But over the past quarter of a century, the Israeli army lawyer and then military judge at the forefront of arguably the most significant battle in the occupied West Bank – the confiscation of Palestinian land for the construction of Jewish settlements – has come to see himself as in service of a higher duty. In an unusually frank interview, which offers insights into the melding of religion, politics and law that underpins land seizures in the occupied territories, Agassi has laid out his belief that Israel has a biblical claim to territory beyond its borders and that he, even as an immigrant, has a right to live on it when those born there do not. `When we [Israelis] say that this is a political conflict, then we lose the battle,` he told the Guardian, adding that it should be remembered that the ancient land of Israel is `given to us by the Bible, not by some United Nations`.
Tens of Thousands of Palestinian Children at Risk of Forced Displacement in OPT | "Whilst most attention has focused on home demolitions and community evictions, new research by the children`s charity Save The Children has revealed intolerable living conditions are driving families to abandon their land and homes, even though most will be worse off once they do so."

"Innocent abroad"
Over at The National, Wesley Yang reviews Neal McFarquhar's new book, The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday: Unexpected Encounters in the Changing Middle East. McFarquhar was the New York Times correspondent in Cairo from 2001 to 2006. (He previously wrote a novel--a satire of the journalistic milieu, mostly aimed at TV, and a story of romantic entanglements between foreign reporters during the 1991 Gulf War--called The Sand Café.)

The new book is a tour d'horizon of the Middle East, with a focus on its supposedly lighter, more hopeful side--it features interviews with feminists, activists, media personalities, non-conformists. Yang--while respectful of McFarquhar's professional production and personal politics--critiques the book for its "banal," general observations about both the state of the Middle East and the American role therein. 
He proposes that Americans increase the amount of foreign aid targeted toward development, become more vocal in condemning all forms of repression, and refuse to moderate that criticism just because a foreign government serves America’s immediate policy goals. He urges a return to “a time when the US was known for defending the little guy, when the guiding principle of American foreign policy was doing the right thing”.

The blameless banality of these suggestions, most of which are both apposite and true in their way, winds up in tension with many of MacFarquhar’s observations elsewhere in his book. It begins as a view of the “lighter side” of the Middle East; it becomes, almost in spite of itself, a rather crushing account of political paralysis. The “smart, energetic, dedicated activists out there working to transform the region may not have reached a critical mass”, he writes. They may “face terrible odds in confronting the brutal machinery that keeps so many dictators in power”. But, he concludes somewhat lamely: “they are determined to make a difference.”

Perhaps I'm wrong, but I suspect what we have here is yet another Big Book by a Big Guy (it's almost always a guy) with a Big Idea--a genre that dominates the Western publishing industry when it comes to the Middle East (in second place are accounts of female oppression and sexual self-discovery, featuring the world "veil"). I know there are some excellent exceptions, but generally I have the  hardest time mustering interest for these "medical" books--they're all diagnosis and prescription--in which every anecdote is milked for socio-cultural insight and every interview leads to political prognostications. And the Big Idea seems quite fuzzy in this case: there is hope for the Middle East, not everyone there is backwards or cowed or fanatic, but still things are very tough, and the US should do something to help. Yet the US's deep, structural complicity with the authoritarian regimes of the region is one of the book's "blind spots," according to Yang.
Egypt: 306 Shias arrested
Unverified - al-Mesryoon and translation via Mideastwire:

- “Arrest of 306 Shi’is on charges of undermining Egypt security”
On June 30, the independent Al-Mesryoon daily carried the following report by Fathi Magdi: “Al-Mesryoon learned from prominent sources that Shi’i cleric Hassan Shehata, the former speaker of the Kobri el-Gam'a mosque, was arrested earlier this month along with dozens of young men among his followers to be interrogated in the utmost secrecy. The sources who requested anonymity told Al-Mesryoon that Shehata who had been laying low for the last 14 years, was arrested in his house in the Center of Cairo on June 22, and was accused along with his group which includes 306 elements of undermining Egyptian national security and of showing contempt to one of the heavenly religions.

“The investigations with Shehata emerged against the backdrop of two visits which he conducted to Iran in parallel to the uncovering by the Egyptian authorities of the Hezbollah cell led by Lebanese citizen Sami Chehab and accused of planning to carry out operations inside the Egyptian territories and target foreign ships crossing the Suez Canal. According to the sources, Shehata went to Iran via Lebanon in September of 2008, then conducted another visit whose date was not specified via Syria. It is probable that these two visits were the reason behind the launching of the campaign of arrests which affected Shehata and his followers, and it is likely they will be facing charges of affiliation with Hezbollah on the organizational level as a result to the ongoing investigations.

“In this context, many online forums have been circulating news related to the arrest of Hassan Shehata who is a famous Shi’i cleric and is known for his speeches in which he insults the Companions of the Prophet, Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him, and Sayeda Aisha the Mother of Believers, without this arrest being officially confirmed by the Egyptian authorities... Shehata was previously arrested in 1995 for having offended Sayeda Aisha whom he described as being “the little donkey” as well as the Companions of the Prophet, Peace and Blessings be Upon Him, whom he described as being “ignorant who resorted to the Prince of Believers (Ali Ibn Abi Taleb) whenever they faced a problem.” - Al-Mesryoon, Egypt


This would suggest quite an increased crackdown on Shias, possibly merely as a result of the "Hizbullah in Egypt" affair or wider worries about Iranian influence. But it could also simply be prejudice - either the Shia preacher described in the article really did incite against Sunnis, as mentioned, or the bigotry is on the government's side. Or both.
Middle East Report Online: Old Wine in Older Skins: Lebanon Elects another Parliament by Heiko Wimmen
Middle East Report Online: Old Wine in Older Skins: Lebanon Elects another Parliament by Heiko Wimmen
On the Lebanese elections:
With a political system based on consensus, there will be no escape from the quagmire of the past two years without compromise. Whichever camp wins the majority on Sunday will be less crucial in determining Lebanon’s future than the political bargaining that follows. If the Lebanese government is to work after the elections, the political elite will have show bold leadership and compromise where they failed to before.