By: Eyad Abu Shakra
In the early days of my postgraduate university studies in London, I had a decent and frank Bahraini friend and colleague; he was a cultured and diligent researcher. This was during the time of the Iran–Iraq War, which naturally formed one of our main concerns.
One day, while discussing the war with my Bahraini friend in the college coffee bar, I expressed my surprise that Syria’s president Hafez al-Assad was siding with Iran against Iraq. My friend smiled and replied: “Actually, I find your ‘surprise’ surprising,” adding that “Hafez Al-Assad is an Alawite, i.e. Shiite, and so is the Iranian regime, while Iraq’s political and security leadership is Sunni; thus it is obvious that Assad should back Iran!”
Naïvely I interjected, “but what about the ties of blood, language, history, and geographical proximity, let alone the common Baath party affiliation?!”
To this, his reply was more decisive and came with a wider smile: “No, brother, the true political identity [in our part of the world] is decided by one’s religious sect, and anything else is just talk. Assad knows this is true and behaves accordingly”. He then said that “Iran’s revolution is a ‘decisive junction’ in our region, it is to our benefit and thus we must back it!”
Political trends and currents
That discussion opened my eyes and mind to the fact that there were several political trends and currents that blabber and lecture about Arabism, nationalist struggle, and common destiny day and night, without really meaning what they utter. Furthermore, despite my knowing full well that my Bahraini friend and colleague did not necessarily represent the majority Shiite public opinion, whether in Bahrain or the Middle East in general, I had to accept that many fanatically sectarian Shiites, as well as non-Shiite radicals, regarded Khomeini’s Islamic revolution a “decisive junction” in the sectarian, religious and ethnic history of the Middle East.
With regard to Lebanon—where I claim a better understanding of its fabric compared with that of other Arab political entities—the reality of the country’s Shiites was essentially quite far from the image drawn for them by Khomeini’s Iran, and later imposed on them by it through Hezbollah.
Lebanon’s Shiites lived in different socioeconomic environments at least until the 1950s and early 1960s. South Lebanon was basically a land of village-based agricultural feudalism, while Northern Beqaa was dominated by a clan/tribal structure. As for the Shiites of Mount Lebanon, most of those primarily living in the Byblos district and Southern Metn coastal areas are very much part of the local socioeconomic scene.
Ideologically, the Shiites of present-day Lebanon produced formidable nationalist figures on both the Lebanese and Arab levels. The Beqaa-born Rustum Haydar (1889–1940)—a royal adviser and cabinet minister in Iraq—was among the Arabist elite in the 1920s and 1930s. Another Shiite, Adham Khanjar, who hailed from South Lebanon, was a leading figure in the struggle against the French mandate; his arrest followed by his execution sparked the Great Syrian Revolt of 1925.
In the Lebanese sphere, Sabri Hamadeh, Ahmad Al-Ass’ad, Adel Osseiran and Yusuf Al-Zain were highly respected leaders in Lebanon’s struggle for independence in 1943. Later on, as Leftist, nationalist and other radical parties emerged, Lebanon’s Shiites were at the forefront of the country’s political life, more so during the Lebanese War (1975–1990). The Lebanese well remember dozens of prominent Shiite leaders and martyrs like Dr. Hussein Mroueh, Dr. Hassan Hamdan (nom de guerre: “Mahdi Aamel”), Moussa Shu’aib and Sanaa’ Muhaydli, who have nothing in common with the current state of “Shiite Subjugation” imposed on the community in Lebanon. All of them fought for “another Lebanon” that has nothing to do with the current “Shiite-dominated” Lebanon, and never believed in their community acting as a “fascist authoritarian” behemoth.
What we need to underline is that Iran launched its plan for regional hegemony through founding subservient sectarian militias, whose only allegiance was for the velayat-e-faqih and which is openly at odds with other constituent communities in each respective country. The first task entrusted to each of these militias was to impose full control over its own local Shiite community; the second, to mobilize the community, incite sectarian friction, and sow the seeds of confrontation; and third, to invite either foreign invention or start an open-ended civil war.
In Lebanon and Bahrain, Tehran founded Hezbollah. In Syria it supported the security-based Alawite establishment and later used some Alawites like Jamil al-Assad (Hafez’s brother and Bashar’s uncle) to help enhance the Ja’afari Shiite presence in the country under the Assad regime’s blessing. In Iraq it founded the Da’wah party and other similar organizations. Last but not least, in Yemen, Tehran, sponsored and exploited the Houthi movement and continues to do so until today.
However, the irony in the above is that while the the Da’wah party and other pro-Tehran Iraqi Shiite organizations have never hesitated in building close relations with Washington and its Likudnik “neo cons,” Hezbollah—Tehran’s Lebanese “branch”—virtually monopolized the “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” slogans, claiming to be obsessed with the “Liberation of Palestine.” Today, the Hezbollah-backed Houthis are pleading with Washington to subcontract them in the fight against al-Qaeda in in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), while what remains of the former “rejectionist” Assad regime in Syria has been busy alerting the West that it is its trusted agent in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Yes, Iran through its subservient armed henchmen subjugated and “occupied” the Shiite communities in their respective Arab countries. Then, only after making sure its “occupation” grip was firm enough, it moved forward to subjugate other communities and occupy whole countries by force, as part of its strategy of regional hegemony. The aim of Tehran’s leaders is to use this “on the ground” reality as a bargaining chip in the “grand bargain” with Israel and the International community led by the U.S..
This is what I remember vividly in Lebanon when Hezbollah imposed itself on the Lebanese Shiites, sequestrating their patriotism, silencing their voices, eliminating their leaders, and breaking the backs and wills of their free dissenters. After finishing with the Shiites it occupied and controlled the whole of Lebanon in 2008. In spite of this, the Hezbollah militia’s organizational and financial might—all bankrolled by Iran—continues to fail in its attempts to liquidate the patriotic, independent and very courageous Shiite presence that insists on openly refusing hegemony and closed-mindedness, trading in the “Liberation of Palestine” slogan, and its subservient clientship to Tehran.
Last week, when Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, yet again spoke to his partisans under the motto of “loyalty to Yemen’s brave and honorable people,” he did just one thing: He uncovered the last mask being worn to bluff the Lebanese, the Arabs and Muslims all over the world. He revealed that he was nothing but a tiny detail in a fully-fledged regional master plan. His role there is simply to follow orders, just like any other soldier in the army of the velayat-e-faqih.