The Magazine

Shiites Against Hezbollah

The other struggle in Lebanon.

Nov 13, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 09 • By DAVID SCHENKER
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Following her controversial op-ed, Fayyad gave a lengthy and courageous interview in September to the Kuwaiti political daily As Siyasah, where she criticized Hezbollah's alliance and allegiance to Syria and Iran. She was also critical of Hezbollah's continued possession of weap ons, saying "Hezbollah's arms provide it with a type of hegemony . . . inspiring fear for security among all the Lebanese." Fayyad was also one of the signatories to the lawsuit against Sheikh Nabulsi.

While they do not represent majority sentiment in Lebanon's Shiite community, Mohammed Mattar and Mona Fayyad do represent an important and apparently growing segment of the population--Shiites who have no use for Hezbollah, Amal, or Iranian or Syrian suzerainty over Lebanon.

Lokman Slim, a Shiite who runs a Beirut-based, European-funded NGO focused on diversifying political representation of the Shiite community, is another outspoken critic of Hezbollah. Slim, who speaks critically about the "monopoly on representation," claims Hezbollah has "undermined" the level playing field among Shiites by preventing moderates from emerging. Slim's point, of course, is that such moderates could play a role in Lebanese politics if the intimidation stopped.

This raises an interesting point: Hezbollah was indeed elected to the Lebanese parliament, but the organization is not constrained by the precepts of democratic government. Rather, it demonstrates nothing but contempt for democracy, operating instead within a theocratic-autocratic context. Nasrallah himself feels no compunction to abide by even the bylaws of his own party. He is now serving his fifth three-year term, exceeding Hezbollah's two-term limit on secretary generals. And if Hezbollah's leader won't even respect his own party's rules, how is the party going to be persuaded to observe all the niceties of multiparty democratic government?

Achieving pluralism within Leb anese Shiite politics is a long way off. In addition to being the leader of the "resistance," Hezbollah represents the culmination of years of Shiite effort to have a significant role in Lebanon's political system. Convincing the long-suffering Shiites in Lebanon that they can remain influential without Hezbollah is going to be a tough sell.

Lebanon's Shiite community is not monolithic: There are alternative voices, articulating moderate agendas. And if Hezbollah is ever going to be stripped of its dominant power over the Shiites in Lebanon, these voices will have to be promoted and encouraged. But in the current environment of intimidation, the hope that moderates like Mona Fayyad, Mohammed Mattar, and Lokman Slim will emerge to seriously challenge Hezbollah dictates sadly remains a distant dream.

David Schenker is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. From 2002 to 2006, he was the Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestinian affairs adviser in the office of the secretary of defense.