Hezbollah, Shia political party and militant group

Iran-backed Shia Muslim political group and militant collective Hezbollah, including its allied nations, has lost its seats in Lebanon’s parliament, official figures from the May 17 national election show. Hezbollah and its allies won 62 of the assembly’s 128 seats, down from a 71-seat majority in previous polls in 2018.

AFP

In the last election race, Hezbollah’s critics, including the Saudi-aligned Lebanese Forces – a Christian faction – made gains. Let us understand the political structure of Lebanon and the role of militant groups such as Hezbollah in its politics.

The Lebanese political system

Lebanese politics is rooted in a system of sectarian authority established after the country’s independence from France in 1943. The constitution provides political representation, the armed forces and the civil service for the 18 religious sects of the state.

Accordingly, the 3 major administrative roles of President, Prime Minister and President must be fulfilled by a Maronite Christian, a Sunni Muslim and a Shia Muslim respectively.

Hezbollah
AFP

The structure was agreed upon primarily as a division of responsibilities among the ruling elites of the time, rather than as a framework to ensure better democratic accountability of a nation-state. The effect, according to political analysts, is an inadequate, corrupt and patronage-based structure in which influential men distribute government posts to retain employees instead of rewarding skills or competence.

They further add that the structure, which forces cults against cults competing for gainful government employment, has exacerbated existing divides. As a result, instead of a separate unit intended to represent the Lebanese state, the administration is largely made up of competing bureaucratic fiefdoms.

Despite its flaws, the structure survived a brutal civil war from 1975 to 1990, an Israeli occupation in 1982, the Syrian invasion of sections of the state from 1976 to 2005, another battle with Israel in 2006 and to unprecedented mass protests in 2019.

Hezbollah
Reuters

In addition, the state hosted a large number of Palestinian refugees in camps, as well as fighters from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Religious factions were again divided over the Palestinian presence, with Christians opposing it and leftists and Muslims supporting it. Religious groups engaged in intense fighting, culminating in the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, which lasted until 1990.

Meanwhile, Israel occupied southern Lebanon in 1982 to expel the PLO and neutralize the large Syrian troop presence. The conflict also attracted Western intervention, including the United States; the UN has also sent military means to Lebanon.

The Taif Accord

The Taif Accord, which ended Lebanon’s civil conflict in 1989, introduced initiatives to reform the administrative structure by limiting sectarian division to a new upper house and banning it from parliament.

With the exception of Hezbollah, the Accord also ordered the dismantling of all militias formed during the conflict. According to Lebanon’s post-civil war constitution, the head of state would be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister would be a Sunni, and the speaker of parliament would be a Shia. In Lebanon, Druze religious groups also exercise some authority.

What is Hezbollah and how was it born?

Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shia Muslim political group and militant organization, in which its comprehensive security establishment, political organization and community service network has earned it the descriptor “state within a state”.

It appeared during the civil conflict in Lebanon with the aim of driving out the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and fighting foreign influences. He took the title Hezbollah, which means “the party of God”, after being inspired by Iran’s Shiite theocratic leadership. Meanwhile, Iran, seeking to expand its Shia influence in the Arab world, provided assistance, weapons and tutoring to the militia.

Hassan Nasrallah was the leader of the group, having taken up the post of secretary general in 1992 after Israel’s assassination of another founding partner and former leader of the group, Abbas Al-Musawi.

Hezbollah owns much of Shia-majority Lebanon, which includes sections of Beirut, southern Lebanon and the eastern province of the Bekaa Valley. Although Hezbollah is based in Lebanon, its manifesto makes it clear that its activities, especially those targeting the United States, are not limited by the country’s borders.

Hezbollah
AFP

Hezbollah has confirmed several strikes on Israeli and Western civilian and military installations in order to achieve its objective. Hezbollah began bombing the US Embassy in Beirut in 1983, after killing more than 60 people. Later the same year he attacked American and French soldiers in Beirut, killing 300 people. The militant group continued its strikes against American, Jewish and Israeli targets, eventually targeting its own government in 2005.

Hezbollah was linked to the murder of the former Lebanese Prime Minister. Rafic Hariri in a car bomb attack in Beirut in 2005. The strike also claimed the lives of 21 other people.

Israel left Lebanon in 2000, but the dispute between Hezbollah and Israel persisted. In 2006, the 2 fought a month-long battle, with Hezbollah firing a large number of rockets into Israel. When Syria descended into civil war in 2011, Hezbollah teamed up with Iran and Russia to help the government of Bashar al-Assad. He sent a large number of troops and weapons to Syria to fight Sunni rebel factions.

The United States has identified Hezbollah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), and its military wing or the entire group is blackballed by a number of nations.

Lebanon Elections 2022 backdrop

Mass protests in 2019 forced the removal from office of the country’s Sunni prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, who had the backing of Saudi Arabia. Protesters called for an end to “corruption” and the resignation of the ruling elite from the state, citing the financial crisis, mismanagement, energy and water shortages and, in particular, a $6 monthly tax on WhatsApp users.

These protesters also called for an overhaul of Lebanon’s constitutional framework, which gives major sectarian organizations administrative authority. Later, protesters suspected that government officials were much more concerned with their foreign friends and patrons than with pressing civic and administrative issues at home. The demonstrators called for a new secular and democratic political order.

Beirut Blast

This was preceded by a catastrophic explosion at the Beirut terminal in August 2020, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, which killed more than 200 people and injured around 7,000 others. It is estimated to have caused $15 billion in damage.

The valuation of the Lebanese currency fell in 2021, reaching a new low of 15,000 per US dollar on the black market. Several economic experts have called Lebanon’s financial crash “self-inflicted”, mainly due to the corruption and incompetence of its officials and banking system.

Hezbollah
AFP

Negotiations with the IMF

Lebanon began negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this year to secure $3 billion in spending over the next few years, as well as an economic transformation strategy to help the country recover from the crisis. This is subject to the condition that Lebanon sets up a stable administration.

The turnout for this election, which took place on Sunday May 15, was reportedly 41%, down from 49% in the previous election. Despite losing their majority, Hezbollah and its main Shiite ally, parliament speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal group, are expected to hold the sect’s 27 seats as part of state policy.

Independents wanting to reform the structure won more than 12 seats while ousting several longtime politicians from parliament, such as Hezbollah-allied Druze politician Talal Arslan. According to political analysts, the elections are unlikely to lead to a resolution of the Lebanese crisis. The findings further split parliament into several camps, none of which has a majority, raising the possibility of political paralysis and unrest that could delay the policy changes needed to pull the country out of its devastating financial crisis.

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