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A Hezbollah Crack-up?

Lebanon’s fratricidal extremists.

Jan 16, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 17 • By LEE SMITH
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That idea, first formulated by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, stipulates that the religious leader also directs the political realm. For Hezbollah, it justifies sending Lebanese Shiites to die on behalf of Tehran’s strategic interests—if the religious leader orders it, they have no choice.

“My father turned against wilayet al-faqih when he saw it had become an idea that had expanded to take control of everything and all decisions,” says Reda. “My father was impressed by Western culture. In his travels in Switzerland, Germany, and France, he came to believe that our society was backward in our ideas and we needed to catch up.”

Hassan Mchaymech explained his intellectual conversion in an article published in June 2010, a month before his arrest:

My divorce from Hezbollah occurred in 1998 when I ceased believing in wilayet al-faqih and any authority that purports to enjoy a divine delegation or a divine source. I believe today that the legitimacy of any authority represents the fruit born of agreements made between reasonable adults within a society. Furthermore, I believe the way to achieve power is through free elections that appoint someone to serve for a specific period of time and fulfill specific duties and tasks. A mandate without a given term or well-defined duties is a recipe for corruption, even if the person selected to exercise authority enjoys sacred respect—unless he is a Prophet or an Imam.

Mchaymech’s 1998 book, Big Holes in Islamic Theories, displeased the party. “They tried to kidnap him,” says Reda. Mchaymech left for France but returned after securing Hezbollah’s approval. In 2005 he met a Shiite convert visiting from Europe, Mahmoud al-Nimsawi (“the Austrian”), who professed to share Mchaymech’s dream of opening a religious school in Europe. Nimsawi invited him to Germany to discuss the proposal with a man called Abu Ali who soon identified himself as a German counterterrorism officer.

“Abu Ali tried to get my father to speak about Hezbollah security issues,” says Reda. The Germans wanted to know about figures like Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s notorious terrorist mastermind, and Mustafa Badreddine, named by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon as one of the plotters in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. “My father told them his expertise was not in security matters. He knew Mughniyeh and Badreddine, but my father is not a tough guy. He’s strong with the pen, but that’s it.”

Reda explains that the German security officer told his father that if he had no information on Hezbollah’s security apparatus, he’d have to leave Germany immediately. Concerned about the effect these meetings might have should word of them get back to Hezbollah, on his return to Lebanon Mchaymech approached a friend and former colleague, Ali Damoush, head of Hezbollah’s external relations, to debrief him on his itinerary, including an accurate account of his contacts with Nimsawi and Abu Ali.

The matter seemed to rest there until the summer of 2010 when Mchaymech was crossing into Syria on a pilgrimage to Mecca. At the border he was kidnapped by Syrian security. After two months of no contact, the family read in a pro-Syria and pro-Hezbollah Lebanese newspaper, Al-Akhbar, that he had been arrested for collaborating with Israeli intelligence.

It was clear from the outset that Hezbollah, rather than Syria, was responsible for the arrest and accusation. “The Syrian investigation comes from the folder my father gave them after his return from Germany. It’s obvious that Hezbollah gave that to the Syrians. They handed this issue off to the Syrians to keep their hands clean. But they kept telling us, this is Syria’s opinion, we don’t know.”

Nonetheless, the family moved carefully. “My father was in Syria and anything could happen there. He could disappear for nothing. .  .  . We signaled to them that we’re not going to shut up.” Reda started to write in the press. “I wrote about Hezbollah’s silence in this affair. When Nasrallah’s deputy Nabil Qaouk came to show us the CD of my father’s confession, he said to me, ‘If you want to write about Hezbollah, go ahead, there are 100 articles about Hezbollah everyday, let there be 101. But if you want your father back, you have to stop writing.’ ”

Reda agreed to keep quiet on two conditions, that the family be allowed to visit him and that he be moved to Lebanon. “Anything could happen to him in Syria,” says Reda. Within a few days, Mchaymech’s wife and another son visited him where he was being held in Syria. “There were two Syrian security people there the whole time monitoring what he said,” Reda explains. “My father said, ‘The first three months they hit me, but now it’s different.’ ”

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