Lebanon’s Sunnis at risk of radicalization

Beirut , Lebanon – In the cramped, working-class neighborhood of Tariq al-Jdeideh, Beirut’s last pocket of Sunni control, the walls tell the story of a community in the throes of a potentially profound transformation.

Faded portraits of the mainstream Sunni leader Saad Hariri, left over from the last crisis that engulfed Lebanon, are gradually being eclipsed by a newer symbol, the black flag inscribed with the Islamic creed that is often linked to the global al-Qaeda franchise.

The young Sunni fighters who describe themselves as the defenders of the neighborhood disavow affiliations or even sympathies with the extremist organization. Indeed, they say they have no connections to any group at all, including Hariri’s Future Movement, ostensibly the largest Sunni political faction in Lebanon.

But the strife that erupted in the wake ofthe recent assassination of a prominent Sunni intelligence chief exposed some worrying shifts in the allegiances of Lebanon’s Sunnis that have been underway in the years since Hezbollah seized control of the streets of mostly Sunni West Beirut in 2008, inflicting a humiliating defeat on Hariri loyalists.

Tariq al-Jdeideh was the only enclave not to be overrun by the Shiite militia, after the Lebanese army intervened to prevent further bloodshed. It remains a flash point, where tempers flare whenever sectarian tensions are stoked, as they were after the killing of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan in a meticulously executed bombing on Oct. 19.

The clashes have since subsided along with concerns that his death, blamed by Sunnis on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, would herald a spillover of the Syrian conflict into Lebanon, at least for the time being.

The anger remains, however, exacerbating a growing sense of alienation from a political system that many feel has brought Sunnis few rewards.

“Our sect doesn’t help us. No one helps us. Here, it is every man for himself,” said Abu Ammar, the leader of a group of fighters who participated in the recent clashes and had gathered at a small kebab shop to discuss their grievances. “We work three jobs just so that we can buy our own weapons.”

The fighters hang the black flag not to display allegiance to any particular group but because “it represents Sunnis,” said another of the men, Mohammed Sharif, 25. “We have no leaders and we follow no one,” he said.

‘We have a vacuum’

Analysts say much of the blame for the disaffection lies with Hariri, a wealthy businessman who assumed leadership of the Sunni community after his father, Rafik, was assassinated in 2005 in a massive bombing on Beirut’s seafront also blamed by Sunnis on Syria. He lives in Paris for his safety and for the sake of Lebanon, his supporters say, a decision vindicated by the death of Hassan, who was killed less than 24 hours after returning from an overseas trip.

“It’s not about Saad Hariri. It’s about what would happen to the country if Saad Hariri got killed,” said Nadim Koteich, a prominent political talk show host with Hariri’s Future TV network. “So when Saad Hariri secures himself he is securing his country.”

His absence has eroded his authority, however, leaving a vacuum that even Hariri’s own aides fret will open the door to a far more radical interpretation of what it means to be Sunni in multi-sectarian Lebanon.

Hariri has also proved to be a weak and indecisive leader who has failed to live up to the towering reputation of his father, credited far beyond the Sunni community with helping to rebuild Lebanon after the ravages of the 1975-90 civil war.

That is acknowledged even by his staunchest supporters. “Saad Hariri is not the same as his father,” said Mohammed Doughan, 69, a resident of Tariq al-Jdeideh and lifelong Hariri loyalist who keeps a picture of both men hanging on the wall of his little car repair shop. “We have a vacuum now, and it is dangerous.”

‘The flags of al-Qaeda’

The dangers were evident on the night of Oct. 21 when the fighting flared. When Hariri sought to calm passions and urged his followers to leave the streets — in a message disseminated on Twitter — they did not, and it took an unusually forceful assertion of authority by the Lebanese army to restore order.

“This was proof that the streets are slipping from Saad Hariri’s hands,” said another area resident, Iskandar Demaji, a 36-year-old electrician who says he is deeply alarmed by the trends he sees in the neighborhood.

“And what will replace him?” he asked, gesticulating at the black flags fluttering nearby. “Let us not fool ourselves. These are the flags of al-Qaeda, and you are seeing them everywhere.”

Indeed, the black Islamic flags seen in Tariq al-Jdeideh are sprouting also in other Sunni towns, including Sidon to the south and Tripoli in the north. Ultra-conservative preachers such as Ahmed Assir, who led his followers in a series of disruptive anti-Shiite demonstrations in Sidon earlier this year and who earned the loudest cheers at Hassan’s funeral, are gaining in popularity, encouraged by a region-wide resurgence of the ultra-conservative Salafist movement in the wake of the Arab revolts.

“We would die for him,” said one of the Sunni fighters, Jamal Shamaa, to the nods of his comrades.

And Hariri? “Yes,“ they said, sounding more doubtful.

“He communicates with us over Twitter,” Shamaa added.

‘A downward trajectory’

Beirut’s traditionally moderate Sunnis, raised in a city renowned for its bars and parties, are not about to embrace extremism in large numbers, said Koteich, citing a widely circulated photograph of a skimpily dressed woman trailing the black Islamic flag through a recent demonstration as evidence that Lebanese Sunnis don’t take seriously the ideology with which it is associated. But, he cautioned, “it only takes a minority of extremists to cause a lot of trouble.”

Hariri’s March 14 coalition now appears headed for another political humiliation that could further alienate his constituency. Its swift calls for the resignation of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati in the wake of Hassan’s assassination were repudiated not only by most Lebanese but also Hariri’s Western allies. The United States has expressed support for Mikati, a Sunni moderate who heads the Hezbollah-aligned government, saying that now is not the time for Lebanon to undergo a potentially destabilizing wrangle over positions.

The ill-conceived and hasty resignation call offered one example of the kind of political missteps that have characterized Hariri’s leadership, according to Emile Hokayem, a regional analyst with the International Institute of Strategic Studies. Though the vast majority of Lebanese don’t want a war, at a time when the tensions of the conflict in neighboring Syria are aggravating Lebanon’s longstanding sectarian tensions, “I worry about miscalculations and mistakes,” he said. “That’s why I fear Lebanon is headed on a downward trajectory.”

Washington Post

  • Libnan10452

    at risk; lol you are kidding us; sunnism by definition cannot but be radical; it is mounzal ie you cannot change any single letter of it; capito!!!! you take it as it is or you leave it and you die

    • Libnan10452

      if you do not believe me try a trip to saoudi arabia; lol; is this the Lebanon you are craving for?

      • patriotss

        WHAT’S PISSING ME OFF IS THAT HEZBOLLAH CAN’T HAVE ARMS BUT THE SUNNIS CAN TURN INTO AL QAEDA EXTREMIST WHEN IT SUITS THEM    

        • Mahdi Kenaani

          thats a very good point 🙂 

        • Libnan10452

          be careful friend, you said sunni without praising them; yalibanana admin may get offended & may ban you

  • Libnan10452

    at risk; lol you are kidding us; sunnism by definition cannot but be radical; it is mounzal ie you cannot change any single letter of it; capito!!!! you take it as it is or you leave it and you die

    • Libnan10452

      if you do not believe me try a trip to saoudi arabia; lol; is this the Lebanon you are craving for?

      • patriotss

        WHAT’S PISSING ME OFF IS THAT HEZBOLLAH CAN’T HAVE ARMS BUT THE SUNNIS CAN TURN INTO AL QAEDA EXTREMIST WHEN IT SUITS THEM    

        • Mahdi Kenaani

          thats a very good point 🙂 

        • Libnan10452

          be careful friend, you said sunni without praising them; yalibanan admin may get offended & may ban you

  • john jones

    The Lebanese people need to stop focussing on sectarian issues and they must come together and unite in their hatred of the Zionist movement next door to them.

    If the Lebanese can succeed in removing the Zionist entity next door, which will in turn allow the Palestinians in Lebanon to return to their homeland, then the Lebanese people will have peace and a prosperous future.

    It doesn’t matter which sect has weapons in Lebanon or where they come from, whether it be from Iran or Saudi Arabia or where ever. Just turn these weapons on the Zionists. Lebanon’s problems all started from 1948. What was the significant event that year?

    • Libnan10452

      am sorry not to share this with you; i dont think any hatred can unite; look at this blog how divisive it is because it is full of hatred; love can unite yes

      • nagy_michael2

        Yes I agree! so tell your hezbollah to stop killing lebanese and fight like the resistance that was meant to be. Do not fight for the sake or Iran, Syria or any entity other than Lebanon. Why people were passing out Candies to celeberate Wissam Al Hassan killing? so much for your love and unite message.

        • Libnan10452

          ngay_michael: if you are an sob, dont think all are like you; you are ibn al shari3a; we are raised in houses and families with one father and one mother only

        • Libnan10452

          ngay_michael: hariri father was gay; many doubt this is his son; he looks rather the son of a saoudi emir

    • Leborigine

      The zionist entity is not the problem at this stage, as we, the free Lebanese have recognised their brutal and vicious identity and support your cause. The problem is your acceptance of the syrian influence in Lebanon and your failure to support us in removing this disease so we can have a base to start building a true nation.

  • john jones

    The Lebanese people need to stop focussing on sectarian issues and they must come together and unite in their hatred of the Zionist movement next door to them.

    If the Lebanese can succeed in removing the Zionist entity next door, which will in turn allow the Palestinians in Lebanon to return to their homeland, then the Lebanese people will have peace and a prosperous future.

    It doesn’t matter which sect has weapons in Lebanon or where they come from, whether it be from Iran or Saudi Arabia or where ever. Just turn these weapons on the Zionists. Lebanon’s problems all started from 1948. What was the significant event that year?

    • Libnan10452

      am sorry not to share this with you; i dont think any hatred can unite; look at this blog how divisive it is because it is full of hatred; love can unite yes

      • nagy_michael2

        Yes I agree! so tell your hezbollah to stop killing lebanese and fight like the resistance that was meant to be. Do not fight for the sake or Iran, Syria or any entity other than Lebanon. Why people were passing out Candies to celeberate Wissam Al Hassan killing? so much for your love and unite message.

        • Libnan10452

          ngay_michael: if you are an sob, dont think all are like you; you are ibn al shari3a; we are raised in houses and families with one father and one mother only

        • Libnan10452

          ngay_michael: hariri father was gay; many doubt this is his son; he looks rather the son of a saoudi emir

    • Leborigine

      The zionist entity is not the problem at this stage, as we, the free Lebanese have recognised their brutal and vicious identity and support your cause. The problem is your acceptance of the syrian influence in Lebanon and your failure to support us in removing this disease so we can have a base to start building a true nation.

  • PeaceintheME

    A lot of people on this blog criticise Sayyed Hassan for hiding in Lebanon, however never a mention of Hariri who is hiding in another country. Hariri, a true leader who sets a good example to his follows. Buy being the chicken shit he is.

  • PeaceintheME

    A lot of people on this blog criticise Sayyed Hassan for hiding in Lebanon, however never a mention of Hariri who is hiding in another country. Hariri, a true leader who sets a good example to his follows. Buy being the chicken shit he is.

  • Even as Jesus fortold of Israels dispersing 70 A.D. and eventual regathering 1948 A.D., He also spoke of things that would happen all over the world, just before He returned…….
    ……. Luke 21:24-26……..24 And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled……. …….The Coming of the Son of Man……25 “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; 26 men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken………
    ……..Matthew 24:7……..7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places…………………

  • Plumbline

    Even as Jesus fortold of Israels dispersing 70 A.D. and eventual regathering 1948 A.D., He also spoke of things that would happen all over the world, just before He returned…….
    ……. Luke 21:24-26……..24 And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled……. …….The Coming of the Son of Man……25 “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; 26 men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken………
    ……..Matthew 24:7……..7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places…………………

  • in stead of pointing to the zionist entity,which i call israel,they should be a model to follow,love for each other,country above all,freedom,equal oppourtinity for all.protection of all citizens and country.

    • Libnan10452

      again, one needs to understand the dynamics of middle eastern politics which are very complex; their oversimplification is misguiding; there are certain constants that i call axioms that you need to follow in order to be able to understand what and why; one: america is the unique boss; america decides who lives and who dies; those who attack america or those being attacked by america are protected by america;2 if america praises you then beware, your end is near….from here you can understand that none wants to fight america; fighting america via news media is for local consumption. 3: none wants to fight israel except the stupid street man lead by political parties. 4: all players on the middle east chess board are american pawns executing the role drawn to them by the CIA; once you deviate they hang you; they also hang you when your role is over, like they did to saddam; what happened to saddam: let me simplify it for you so you understand: saddam was the sunni guardian of the sunna petroleum producing lands; USA kicked him  out and replaced him by a shia regime. Just to refresh your memory, the original war between iran and irak, iran attacked bassorah; from a military point of view bassorah is not a strategic point if iran wants to attack iraq; bassorah is a strategic point to enter the gulf area (military wise); actually at that time irak was in war but economical development at that time was at its paroxysm from saoudi money. To make a long story short, none wants to fight israel, the falastizi cause is invented by saoudi arabia to defuse sunnah integrism and divert it towards israel; they are all fighting for power and they are all manipulated by america. Israel will fall on its own by american decision; by that i dont mean it will disappear but the israeli empire will not exist anymore & israel will be like the alawi state, a small poor country depending on UN support to survive, USA will send to it some food support as well as some excedent vaccines…….

      • 5thDrawer

        You simplify to the point of exclusion of any free thought – especially by those who might enjoy being and living like the people you hate most – and drag every ‘problem’ of humanity into one absolute conclusion. That the USA caused everything wrong in the world at large today. As if it were an entity unto itself.
        We CAN understand that ‘politics’ of the middle east is bound in the ‘one book’ which is a ‘way of life’ dictated by a theoretical prophet of the ‘One God’. That other books about the ‘One God’ happen to exist, cannot apply to a people not allowed to read more than one book of theory.
        That Americans – and other people’s of the world – hold many theories, is evidently not something you wish to consider. Beyond that, that the world of other humans as well as the other ‘One God Theorists’ allowed changes in living, for humanity, over time, has not been acceptable either – because it allowed diversity of thought which is NOT simple … but has freed them to discover life.
        Simplification is actually BEST. 

        (Hmmm … not necessarily best for a simpleton, however ….)

        • Mahdi Kenaani

          and that book is the ameriCANCER constitution not the quran. 

        • Yalibnan10452

          i understand your oversimplification of events in order to be able to understand vaguely what is going around so you can stutter some words linked together by nonsense; i tend to start believing the salafis you support: their females have half brains, and i am being generous with you

  • in stead of pointing to the zionist entity,which i call israel,they should be a model to follow,love for each other,country above all,freedom,equal oppourtinity for all.protection of all citizens and country.

    • Libnan10452

      again, one needs to understand the dynamics of middle eastern politics which are very complex; their oversimplification is misguiding; there are certain constants that i call axioms that you need to follow in order to be able to understand what and why; one: america is the unique boss; america decides who lives and who dies; those who attack america or those being attacked by america are protected by america;2 if america praises you then beware, your end is near….from here you can understand that none wants to fight america; fighting america via news media is for local consumption. 3: none wants to fight israel except the stupid street man lead by political parties. 4: all players on the middle east chess board are american pawns executing the role drawn to them by the CIA; once you deviate they hang you; they also hang you when your role is over, like they did to saddam; what happened to saddam: let me simplify it for you so you understand: saddam was the sunni guardian of the sunna petroleum producing lands; USA kicked him  out and replaced him by a shia regime. Just to refresh your memory, the original war between iran and irak, iran attacked bassorah; from a military point of view bassorah is not a strategic point if iran wants to attack iraq; bassorah is a strategic point to enter the gulf area (military wise); actually at that time irak was in war but economical development at that time was at its paroxysm from saoudi money. To make a long story short, none wants to fight israel, the falastizi cause is invented by saoudi arabia to defuse sunnah integrism and divert it towards israel; they are all fighting for power and they are all manipulated by america. Israel will fall on its own by american decision; by that i dont mean it will disappear but the israeli empire will not exist anymore & israel will be like the alawi state, a small poor country depending on UN support to survive, USA will send to it some food support as well as some excedent vaccines…….

      • 5thDrawer

        You simplify to the point of exclusion of any free thought – especially by those who might enjoy being and living like the people you hate most – and drag every ‘problem’ of humanity into one absolute conclusion. That the USA caused everything wrong in the world at large today. As if it were an entity unto itself.
        We CAN understand that ‘politics’ of the middle east is bound in the ‘one book’ which is a ‘way of life’ dictated by a theoretical prophet of the ‘One God’. That other books about the ‘One God’ happen to exist cannot apply to a people not allowed to read more than one book of theory.
        That Americans – and other people’s of the world – hold many theories, is evidently not something you wish to consider. Beyond that, that the world of other humans as well as the other ‘One God Theorists’ allowed changes in living, for humanity, over time, has not been acceptable either – because it allowed diversity of thought which is NOT simple … but has freed them to discover life.
        Simplification is actually BEST. 

        • Mahdi Kenaani

          and that book is the ameriCANCER constitution not the quran. 

        • Yalibnan10452

          i understand your oversimplification of events in order to be able to understand vaguely what is going around so you can stutter some words linked together by nonsense; i tend to start believing the salafis you support: their females have half brains, and i am being generous with you

  • 5thDrawer

    “it only takes a minority of extremists to cause a lot of trouble.”  ….. Always. 
    And it needs an elected government united FOR a country to keep the misfits at bay.

  • 5thDrawer

    “it only takes a minority of extremists to cause a lot of trouble.”  ….. Always. 
    And it needs an elected government united FOR a country to keep the misfits at bay.

  • nagy_michael2

    Unfortunately hezbollah and their allies are driving the moderate sunnis to extreme level and unfortunately instead of acting like a responsible party. They only do whatever it takes to keep them in power. In the meantime everybody else they call either a Saudi puppets or Israeli spies.. Yet the most spies came from the holes of Dahia. Later on there will be suicide bombings of Dahia and we can thank Hezbollah for it.

    • Moe2000

      I would much rather Lebanese unite, But i gotta tell you have you ever been to the Dahia? within seconds people have their heads inside your car and stare you up and down if you look unfamiliar. they are always on the lookout for suicide bombs and spies.

    • there is no such moslim as moderate,they are the rabbid breed that spreads hate,violance,and they do it while hiding behind the the Qauran.they kill and yell allah akar.killing in the name of g-d,they have no value as humans,just bread to fill the earth with hate.

  • nagy_michael2

    Unfortunately hezbollah and their allies are driving the moderate sunnis to extreme level and unfortunately instead of acting like a responsible party. They only do whatever it takes to keep them in power. In the meantime everybody else they call either a Saudi puppets or Israeli spies.. Yet the most spies came from the holes of Dahia. Later on there will be suicide bombings of Dahia and we can thank Hezbollah for it.

    • Moe2000

      I would much rather Lebanese unite, But i gotta tell have you ever been to the Dahia? within seconds people have their heads inside your car and stare you up and down if you look unfamiliar.

    • there is no such moslim as moderate,they are the rabbid breed that spreads hate,violance,and they do it while hiding behind the the Qauran.they kill and yell allah akar.killing in the name of g-d,they have no value as humans,just bread to fill the earth with hate.

  • Constantin7

    It would be a big mistake and a political suicide if the Sunnis in Lebanon turn to radicalism, salafism and muslim brotherhoods. They will face an opposition from all the rest of the Lebanese. But I can hardly imagine this scenario especially in Beirut, Sidon and Iklim el Kharroub. Maybe in some Tripoli neighborhoods and in Dinieh there could be some fertile grounds for salafism but otherwise I cannot imagine it. The Beiruti sunnis are too educated and modern to fall in this trap. 

  • Constantin7

    It would be a big mistake and a political suicide if the Sunnis in Lebanon turn to radicalism, salafism and muslim brotherhoods. They will face an opposition from all the rest of the Lebanese. But I can hardly imagine this scenario especially in Beirut, Sidon and Iklim el Kharroub. Maybe in some Tripoli neighborhoods and in Dinieh there could be some fertile grounds for salafism but otherwise I cannot imagine it. The Beiruti sunnis are too educated and modern to fall in this trap. 

  • libnan1

    It’s more like catheterization than radicalization.

  • libnan1

    It’s more like catheterization than radicalization.