Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Lebanese Hizballah and a Challenge of Identity

The US-Al Qa'ida security alert is continuing. 

However, so is the Syrian civil war. In that vein, I thought I'd outline a few of my thoughts on the Lebanese Hizballah.

A couple of weeks ago, the EU blacklisted Hizballah's military wing. That was a positive (if long overdue) move. From my perspective, Hizballah should not be able claim the moral sovereignty of a democratic political actor, whilst simultaneously retaining an apparatus of terrorism.

Yet, regardless of the EU, the Lebanese Hizballah faces a growing identity challenge. There's a simple reason why - Hizballah's continued, unrepentant support for the Assad regime in Syria.

Inside Lebanon, Hizballah has long resided upon a carefully cultivated identity as a cross-sectarian resistance force against foreign aggression. The group's support for Assad is irreconcilable with that position. Consequentially, both moderate and extremist Lebanese political actors are increasing their pressure on the group. Currents of sectarian hatred are once again rising to the surface (also see Nasrallah's comments in video link below). Ultiamtely, hypocrisy is the worst enemy of political identity and Hizballah's competitors are taking full advantage of this truth. Of course, it doesn't help Hizballah's legitimacy that the group wages regular terrorist campaigns against their political opponents.

Hizballah's brutality is taking a further toll beyond Lebanese borders. For a start, the organization's reputation is now increasingly tenuous amongst regional populations. Rather than being perceived as an emancipatory force delivering justice to the Lebanese nation, in many quarters, the organization is seen as a bitter sectarian entity that acts in the pursuit of a narrow agenda.

In the long term, these difficulties pose two distinct challenges for the group. First, they serve to fundamentally undercut Hizballah's base of cross-sectarian support. Second, as Hizballah's political identity becomes toxic, there will be less inducement for other political parties to join in coalition with the organization. We're already witnessing this development in Hizballah's evolving relationship with Hamas. In addition, though mainly motivated by other concerns, the recent collapse of the March 8th ruling coalition (of which Hizballah was a key part) illustrates the significant degree to which Lebanese political dynamics rest on uncertain ground. Hizballah's power base is growing more unstable. 

Back in the summer of 2011, I argued that Hizballah would eventually abandon Assad through fear of otherwise suffering the political consequences mentioned above. They may still do so. However, I increasingly suspect that such a choice will require far greater western pressure on Assad.

For a selection of my other writings on Middle Eastern security - link here.

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