The key to understanding the issue of Hezbollah’s subjugation of civil parties in Lebanon is not in discussing its relationship as a 'super party' with each of these parties. Rather, it is something similar to a 'master key', that dismantles all blockades and unlocks closed doors, it is the ongoing conflict with Israel, which includes under it the concept of resistance, the rejection of the normalization of ties with Israel, the end of Israel, and the fight against the 'Greatest Evill'.
This is what the Lebanese researcher, publisher, and political activist Lokman Slim said in an interview conducted with him in March 2019. In the interview, which hasn’t been published before, the political commentator adds that some parties, “specifically the left, as well as Nationalists and Ba’athists” – which theoretically have a social or national project with contempt towards Israel – “have bankrupted its societal and national projects, and now only the conflict with Israel remains on their agendas.”
Slim was assassinated on February 4th, in a village in southern Lebanon. His body was found in a car parked on the side of the road, with the coroner's report revealing that he had been shot with six bullets – five in the head and one in the back.
In the interview, Slim talks about how the Party of God, Hezbollah, is able of pulling the ropes of civil and secular parties in Lebanon in its favor. He also dissects the foundations that govern this relationship.
- What is the key to understanding the relationship between the religious Hezbollah and the “civil” and “secular” parties in Lebanon?
At first, it is worthy of note that there are three categories of parties: parties with a left-wing tendency that are heirs to the ideology of Marxism; nationalist parties such as the Ba'ath Party and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party; and the third category includes some Palestinian organizations, secular ones that claim non-denominationalism, and these – even if they are not Lebanese – their presence in Lebanon makes them key Lebanese players.
What is the nature of the relationship that made it possible for secular parties to follow to the core the interests of a religious party, which attributes itself and its name quite literally to Allah?
The key to understanding the issue is not in discussing the relationship between this 'super party' and each of these parties. The key that explains this relationship – and may also explain the relationship of subjugation that unites Hezbollah with parties that were once in a hostile position towards it – is something similar to a 'master key', that dismantles all blockades and unlocks closed doors. This magic key is the ongoing conflict with Israel, which also includes under it the concept of resistance, the rejection of the normalization of ties with Israel, the end of Israel, and the fight against the 'Greater Devil'.
The magic key that allows Hezbollah to control so many Parties is the conflict with Israel, which includes under it the concept of resistance, the rejection of the normalization with Israel, the end of Israel, and the fight against the 'Greater Devil'
There are some parties whose ideological makeup is in opposition to Israel – namely the left, the nationalists and the Baathists – and they have a social or national project to which hostility towards Israel is included. These parties have bankrupted their societal and national projects, and now only the conflict with Israel remains in its agenda. The waiver of this agenda is considered the final shot or the final breath released from these parties on the track to the end of their effectiveness. In order to stay alive, they are forced to play within Hezbollah's space or within the spaces permitted by Hezbollah.
Hezbollah found that these parties and movements, after their projects and schemes tanked, became something like a cat without claws. In practice, there was no longer an ideological problem between the two sides, and Hezbollah considered that it was their exclusive agent due to the strength of its rhetoric and the difficulty of confronting this anti-Israeli discourse in the Lebanese public sphere.
The relationship between civil parties and the religious Hezbollah has no ideological basis or a common theoretical proposition other than antagonism towards Israel. Also, the relationship must be viewed from a different angle, for the way each side sees the other must be examined. The relationship is not one-way, but rather it has two directions, as Hezbollah does not view all these formations and factions in the same way.
- How can we describe the relationship between the Lebanese Communist Party and Hezbollah?
If we take the model or format of the Lebanese Communist Party – LCP, then what Hezbollah means when it supports it in some junctures is keeping a safety valve meant for venting or as a release or outlet in some areas. Hezbollah knows that there is a frame of mind not too loyal to the approach of religion among a large segment of Shiites. It therefore leaves a narrow margin for maneuverability, particularly in southern Lebanon. However, it takes from the communists much more than that – including, among other things: establishing its image as a party that respects political pluralism – and during electoral periods, it uses them to its advantage.
The LCP knows that Hezbollah is the distributor of corruption in Lebanon and overlooks that under the pretext of resistance and the conflict with Israel first, and due to its inability to engage in a political confrontation with it – as the prevalent results of the confrontation will be resounding and deconstructive of the Lebanese Communist Party itself.
Thus, the LCP became owned by its proprietor Hezbollah, and anyone that makes a sound outside the flock in this party is excluded, especially if he has any ideas opposing Hezbollah or has an alternative vision different from what Hezbollah defines for the resistance and the ongoing conflict with Israel. As an indication of this: Can the Lebanese Communist Party – or any party claiming civility, secularism, and nationalism – carry out any activity within the areas controlled by Hezbollah without its permission? Or is it possible for the Lebanese government to carry out any activity without the permission of Hezbollah in its territories? If the Lebanese government is unable to do so, does any other party have the ability to do such things – like calling for demonstrations and popular movements, establishing their own centers, putting up banners, distributing political leaflets, blocking roads, or holding festivities in the capital’s suburbs, southern villages, or Baalbek-Hermel – except in the rarities?!
Lokman Slim in a formerly unpublished interview: Hezbollah can only be seen through a military perspective. It can’t last without war just like fish can’t last without water; Hezbollah’s supporting environment is not its masses but rather war
Therefore, Hezbollah invests in politics just as it invests in any company, for it is a multinational holding company that manages smaller companies and has all the necessary ideological tools as well as the required military, economic, and financial strength.
In a memorial invitation called for by the Lebanese Communist Party not too long ago, a verse from the Holy Quran was put in the invite’s text... In here and in other similar events, one can find indications that the ideologies of leftist parties, the LCP in particular – being one of the most widespread civil parties across the region of Lebanon – began to dissipate and allow the religious ideology of Hezbollah penetrate and permeate within.
Presently, the Lebanese Communist Party has a reservoir of nostalgia scattered across dozens of villages, and with hundreds of people, belonging to its golden era; so it is allowed to be its sponsor, but only within what is permitted. Hezbollah leaves spaces for these parties to act in without having the ability to form a cohesive unit.
- Among the secular civil parties influencing the Lebanese political scene, we find the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, so what exactly governs its relationship with Hezbollah?
The Syrian Social Nationalist Party is one of the oldest Lebanese parties, and with the exit of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Lebanon, this party became loyal to Syria. One of the mysteries and conundrums is the lack of an identified ideological link between it and the religious Hezbollah.
The Syrian Nationalist Party is content with the spoils of what Hezbollah provides it with – through giving priority to the conflict with Israel over anything else, in addition to escaping from raising problems related to the ideological compatibility between it and Hezbollah. What also unites them is the iron-like organization, as well as their joining of the Iranian and Syrian regimes.
During the most recent parliamentary elections (2018), the Syrian Social Nationalist Party did not deviate from Hezbollah's will and joined its electoral lists due to having some type of credit. Hezbollah considers this party to be one of the strategic reserves that it invests in and imposes its conditions onto... Hezbollah prefers to support the candidates of this party because it holds some popularity in some areas and causes sensitivities in others.
- What about the Syrian Ba’ath Party?
The Syrian Ba'ath Party no longer has a purchasing value in the electoral arena, and therefore it is excluded from entering Hezbollah’s lists, despite being a part of the ruling party in Syria. It had a period of glory under the Syrian presence for a time and then lost its popularity. It also had a presence in Akkar but lost it, and the reason for that was the predominance of sectarian sentiment in Lebanon over the remaining other Arab and national affiliations.
Even on the ideological level, the idea of Arabism lost its luster, and the parties calling for Arab nationalism went bankrupt – much more than the bankruptcy of leftist parties because leftist parties are capable of sneaking in under social headlines. Hezbollah finds that the Ba’ath Party has lost its profitability as a company, and has become like a basket of scorpions, with its leadership squabbling amongst itself from the inside – such as the dispute between Fayez Shukr and Minister Assem Qanso, as well as the presence of mutual accusations within the party.
Likewise, Hezbollah revived the “al-Mourabitoun” (or the Independent Nasserite Movement – INM), in order to secure a crossing bridge within the Sunnis. Some of these parties are shrouded in fog as they claim to be civil and secular parties, but they move within only one sectarian space and do not have any cross-sectarian extensions. These parties address the Sunni conscience from the standpoint of Nasserism, but what is the political definition and political agenda of the Nasserist ideology today? It is almost impossible to define what Nasserism now means. It’s a little like an ancient relic to some extent.
Hezbollah uses the “Resistance Brigades”, which is a military wing affiliated with it and serves its objectives. The process of subjugating leftist and nationalist parties takes place by giving them some type of role in these brigades, and Hezbollah then extends a helping hand to them, such as the ‘Eagles of the Whirlwind’ (a military organization affiliated with the Syrian Social Nationalist Party) among others.
Hezbollah has created a framework for all these parties, as they convene and issue statements. They do not have any original or primary role, but rather serve as a sort of façade meant to polish Hezbollah's image. In 1997, Hezbollah created a framework for these small parties that it called the ‘gathering of national parties and forces’, which included more than 20 parties in Lebanon.
The Popular Nasserist Organization headed by Representative Osama Sa’ad has an inherited Sidonian position that one cannot ignore, because they have a history in the resistance. As for the People's Movement, it was unable to endorse or garner electoral votes and failed to deliver Najah Wakim's son to parliament.
From around itself, Hezbollah also gathers groups from the civil society using the same strategy, under two headings, “the heading of resistance” and “the ethical or moral heading in facing against Israel”. Thus, these groups remain indebted to it and dependent on it due to the difficulty of opposing this strategy and liberating itself from it.
- What is the reason that makes the Shiites the nucleus of civil parties in Lebanon?
Shiites are the most influential within the organizational frameworks of most civil and secular parties, for historical reasons that made them “fertile” members for these parties. In order to approach this, one must return to the roots of the Lebanese Communist Party early in its life or during its beginnings, as it was strong amongst the Armenian community when they were the vulnerable sect or group of that period. Therefore, it is natural for the Lebanese Communist Party to find its solid core and calling within the Shiite community as a marginalized group in need of political representation as well as the development of its members’ social condition.
Lokman Slim in an unpublished interview: Leftists, Nationalists & Baathists had social and national projects that are now bankrupt, only conflict with Israel remains on their agendas, comfortably landing these parties in Hezbollah's lap
In addition, South Lebanon was the front line with Israel during the period of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s presence in Lebanon. These parties are drawn from the Shiite milieu since the emergence of the state of Israel in 1948 led to the closure of borders, and the migration of Shiites from the South began. This is a demographic fact that cannot be overlooked and forgotten.
- How is this linked to the 2018 parliamentary elections?
During the last parliamentary elections, the results of all the remnants of the left were not honorable or praiseworthy at all. Hezbollah benefited from the votes of the secular Shiites, even those calling for a civic democratic state, as they voted for the religious Hezbollah under the guise of resistance.
These meager numbers have their implications in politics and in the pecking order of Lebanese politics. Hezbollah won 343,000 votes while the Amal Movement pulled in 204,000 votes – noting that Hezbollah garnered votes in favor of the head of the Amal Movement Nabih Berri, knowing that it will inherit his movement following his death.
As for the Socialist Ba’ath Party, represented by Fayez Shukr, it won 1,159 votes, while the candidates of the Social Nationalist Party – winners and losers side by side – garnered 20,651 votes throughout all of Lebanon. Whereas the Lebanese Communist Party gathered only 10,119 votes with all of its candidates failing, while Osama Sa’ad won 9,880 preferential votes. As far as the People's Movement represented by Omar Najah Wakim was concerned, it only succeeded by obtaining no more than 476 votes.
- Shiites in Lebanon, where to? Is there a role for the Amal movement, considering it has a civil basis?
Nabih Berri is the true heir to the Ass'adiyah leadership that was holding on to the relationship with the public through the direct interests of the people. The Amal movement wants the authority but also wants to milk the country down to the bone. It uses Shiite fanaticism depending on the circumstances, while Hezbollah’s mobilization is continuous and ever-present – in peace there is mobilization, and in war there is mobilization.
Hezbollah possesses the potential to make a leader, and doctrine plays a fundamental role in this regard and gives it preference over the Amal movement as well as the rest of the civil parties that revolve within its orbit. Secretary-General of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah is the representative of the ‘al-Wālı̄ al-Faqīh’ (the Governance of the Jurist) and his ‘shadow’ in Lebanon, and the ‘al-Wālı̄ al-Faqīh’ is the ‘shadow’ of the Shiite revered Imam al-Mahdi. There is an interconnected game of shadows, and the Shiite consciousness is a religious conscience par excellence. There is a link between the Shiite consciousness and the religious myth, and this is what Hezbollah surpasses both the Amal Movement and other civil parties in.
What Berri calls for in his speeches about the abolition of political sectarianism (which is one of the provisions of the Amal Movement’s charter) has become nothing but pipe dreams. The decision-making circles within the movement are well aware of this since Hezbollah's agenda is the one that expresses the majority of the Shiite conscience. In addition, the situation in the region also indicates more extremism, fanaticism, and retrenchment, hence the impossibility of establishing civil societies in the region, as the world is continuously heading towards more extremism.
Hezbollah is a “sealed organization” – Nasrallah said this in a sense of praise for secrecy. The party can be imagined as a well-oiled machine that works automatically, while the Amal movement as a human body that is subject to erring or damage. There is no ideology present in the Amal movement, nor does it have a project for an alternate or reserve society similar to the auxiliary society that Hezbollah has built.
We may be optimistic by saying that the Amal movement protects some Shiites from extremism, but if we talk about the Shiite community generally as a whole, then there is no doubt that they – as are other groups in this region – are heading towards more extremism, and this is a widespread prevalent state. The higher the Sunni anger rises, the more it will be matched from that of the Shiite, Christian, Druze, etc..
The main position of Hezbollah is not fighting Israel, but rather to continue the state of war mobilization, regardless of the direction of war, because this party loses its role and justification for its existence outside the state of military mobilization. Hezbollah survives on wars, whether they were wars with an internal enemy or with an external one.
Hezbollah will remain in a permanent state of work to expand its share within the Amal movement, within the Shiite temperament as a whole, and within the other temperaments of various groups in Lebanon – such as the Sunni, leftist and civil temperament. Hezbollah can only be seen through a military war-like perspective, for the party cannot survive and go on without wars, just like a fish cannot live outside water, and the environment that supports Hezbollah is not its masses or constituency but rather war.