Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lebanon: What now for defeated Shias?

By Mona Alami - IPS

Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS )copyright Inter Press Service (IPS) and

TYRE, Jun 20 (IPS) - A large highway cuts through the green hills connecting Lebanon's south to the Mediterranean Sea. Here, nestled amid banana trees and colourful bougainvillea bushes, lies the city of Tyre, a bastion of the Shia community and a significant base of the Lebanese opposition. Now, following the parliamentary elections and the victory of the March 14 political group, Shias of the south are asking what lies in store for them.

On Jun. 7, 1.6 million people cast their ballots out of 3.2 million registered voters to elect 128 members of parliament. The incumbent March 14 group, a coalition of the Sunni Future Movement, Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) and Kataeb party as well as the Druze Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) won. The March 14 group retained its parliamentary majority with 71 deputies (including two independents) while the opposition March 8 group won 57 of the 128 seats.

The opposition is the pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian movement called March 8, which includes the Shia Hizbullah and Amal parties, and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) headed by General Michel Aoun.

For many southerners who had banked on a sweeping victory for the opposition, the defeat was bitter. In the southern Shia dominated region of Zahrani, 88 percent had voted for the Hizbullah-led opposition, in Nabatieh 82.7 percent, in Bint Jbeil 93.2 percent, and in Tyre 91.8 percent, says pollster Kamal Feghali.

In Tyre, Hizbullah flags hang on both sides of a road leading to an arch adorned with the picture of Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Amal head Nabih Berri. "There is no doubt in our minds that the opposition should have easily secured the majority of parliament seats. March 14 was able to achieve victory by resorting to bribery and cheating," says Tyre resident Moussa.

Moussa is a resident of Qana, a village that has been destroyed numerous times by the Israeli army, and where 14 children were killed during the 2006 war with Israel. "The previous government, which had emerged from a similar March 14 majority, never effectively addressed the reconstruction effort after the 2006 war, although it received billions of dollars in aid from Arab countries. I need 30,000 dollars to rebuild my house that was destroyed during the conflict, of which only 6,000 dollars was paid by the government."

Ahmad, a car dealer sitting nearby intervenes: "There are no hospitals in my village of Bint Jbeil. A wealthy man from the region built one, but it remains unused, and was never equipped or maintained by the previous pro-Western government."

Many Shia southerners believe the new government, a continuation of the previous one, will favour Sunnis, Christians and the Druze, who make up the bulk of the March 14 movement.

According to Hizbullah expert Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, lack of proper compensation to Shia southerners in the wake of the 2006 war has led to a great deal of resentment against the government.

The prevailing view in Tyre is that Shias have long been marginalised by the previous Lebanese governments, which have abandoned them to the whims of the Israeli occupation. Israel invaded South Lebanon in March 1978 and occupied the region until 2000 before retreating behind the Blue Line (separating Lebanon from Israel) after a long series of wars with Hizbullah.

"The emergence of the Hizbullah resistance in 1982 gave us faith in our country and a sense of security. We now feel we have a powerful protector that is able to keep Israel at bay," says Hassan, a restaurant owner.

For Moussa, the majority government's ruling in May 2008 that outlawed Hizbullah's telecommunication network - regarded as an instrumental weapon in the war against Israel - was a threat to the resistance as well as the Shia community. "If the government is allowed to disarm the resistance, who will be left to protect us? The state?" he asks. "People living in Beirut and the northern areas do not fear the Israeli danger; they have not endured its wrath like we did."

According to Saad-Ghorayeb, Shia southerners have a deep sense of insecurity because they have faced the brunt of the Israeli-Lebanese conflict. "It is very understandable that southerners support veto power for the opposition in the new government," she adds. "This will allow the 'Party of God' (Hizbullah) to reject any attempts aimed at disarming them. Hizbullah is a community-based movement, and the Shias will keep on supporting its armed resistance."
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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