[This article is written by Khalid Saghieh and translated by Assaf Khoury*]
Up until a few months ago, Hizballah could legitimately claim pride of place in the Arab anti-imperialist camp. Hizballah was the only Arab force that repeatedly stymied the powerful Israeli military and never caved in. Over a period of nearly two decades, it was the most stubborn obstacle to imperialist domination of the Middle East. In more recent years, to its credit, Hizballah embraced an inclusiveness it had shunned in earlier times. It shed its earlier visceral enmity of left secular groups and parties, however fitfully, and welcomed their support, both inside and outside Lebanon.
The recent revolutionary upheaval shaking the Arab world has given rise to a new powerful contender, the massive and largely decentralized mobilization of hundreds of thousands openly defying despotic rulers. It introduces an irreversible re-ordering of political forces, from Morocco to Bahrain and from Syria to Yemen, whose ultimate outcome is too early to predict.
Friends and foes have therefore closely monitored Hizballah`s positioning relative to the tectonic shifts affecting the Middle Eastern political landscape. Hassan Nasrallah, Hizballah`s secretary-general, has publicly praised the uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain – but not in Syria.
May 25 is Liberation Day in Lebanon. (On May 25, 2000, the Israeli army was forced to withdraw from southern Lebanon after 22 years of occupation.) It is an occasion for speech-making, and staking positions and counter-positions, in the perpetual carousel of Lebanese politics. Given Hizballah`s history and reliance on Syria, there was perhaps no surprise in Nasrallah`s devoting some 10 minutes of his hour-long speech to defend the Syrian regime. Nonetheless, there was also disappointment in his inability to at least acknowledge a Syrian revolt that is riding and continuing the revolutionary wave sweeping across Arab lands.
The article below appeared in Arabic, as an editorial in the Beirut daily al-Akhbar of May 26, and reflects this sentiment of disappointment. Its author, Khalid Saghieh, is al-Akhbar`s managing editor. The significance of al-Akhbar is that it is decidedly left-wing and normally the most supportive of Hizballah of the three major Arabic-language dailies in Beirut]
Syria and Hizballah
by Khalid Saghieh
There would be no surprise if anyone said that Hizballah is not a reformist party. It does not have a reform program in Lebanon, nor does it campaign in support of fundamental reforms promoted by any of its allies. When it felt secure there would be no internal attempt to reduce or eliminate it as a resistance movement, Hizballah did not insist on getting its fair share in the government or even taking part in it.
Hizballah does not therefore belong to the “democracy-first” camp. As a party, its priority is resistance to Israel, for which it is willing to sacrifice many aspects of democratic principles, if these are in contradiction with its role as a resistance movement.
All of this is well known and amply demonstrated by Hizballah`s history. Hizballah, the party that succeeded in liberating the land in May 2000 and in withstanding the Israeli onslaught in July-August 2006, is the same party that did not hesitate to confront its internal enemies in May 2008 by force of arms. In the latter case, there were internal and external forces colluding to curtail Hizballah as a resistance movement. Hizballah put an end to these attempts using means contrary to accepted norms of democracy, by besieging several Beirut neighborhoods and forcibly disarming its opponents. It is true that Hizballah prefers that the country be ruled by a majority that supports it as a resistance movement. However, it will not relinquish its function as a resistance, even if it cannot secure the support of such a majority.
If this is Hizballah`s view on issues of reform and democracy in Lebanon, it stands to reason that it holds a similar view on events in Syria. Hizballah will not abandon a friend or an ally that does not abide by rules of democracy. It would therefore be naive to expect Hizballah to support the toppling of the regime in Syria. Those who have been so eager to bestow a romantic aura on Hizballah, as a disciplined liberation movement, should try to restrain their ardor a little, in fairness to Hizballah`s self-definition as a resistance, first and foremost, if only to avoid facing countless disappointments in months ahead.
That said, it seems that Hizballah has become hostage of an image that has been imposed on it. In his May 25 speech, Hizballah`s secretary-general [Nasrallah] spoke about reform in Syria. He went as far as asserting that the Syrian leadership is determined to undertake major reforms. Instead of reforms, however, the fact is that Syria has experienced nothing but harsh violence. While it is not Hizballah`s business to vouch for Syrian good intentions to carry out long-delayed reforms, it is incumbent on Hizballah to be concerned about every drop of Syrian blood, if only out of respect for its own [Lebanese and Arab] constituencies. Simply said, what everyone expects from Hizballah is, at a minimum, to offer its condolences for the martyrs who have fallen and loved Syria like no one has.
*Translated by Assaf Kfoury. Assaf is a mathematician, scientist, and activist. He is Professor of Computer Science at Boston University. The original Arabic version of the article can be found here.