Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Lebanon's Future movement looks forward

Sectarian tensions, exacerbated by the conflict in neighbouring Syria, have been rising in Lebanon and came to a head last month with the assassination of a senior anti-Syrian intelligence official.

BEIRUT // A shooting between Sunni and Shiite Muslim gunmen in southern Lebanon that killed three people was the latest sign that escalating street violence may have spun out of the control of Sunni political leaders.

The clash last week between members of the Shiite militant group Hizbollah and followers of a hardline Sunni cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Al Assir, a harsh critic of the group, broke out over Hizbollah posters hanging in a Sidon neighbourhood.

Sectarian tensions, exacerbated by the conflict in neighbouring Syria, have been rising in Lebanon and came to a head last month with the assassination of a senior anti-Syrian intelligence official. The funeral of Wissam Al Hassan, a Sunni Muslim, sparked sectarian violence that killed at least 13 people.

Many in Lebanon blame Hizbollah and Syria for the killing.

"There is no doubt that there is a real anger on the streets. They kill Wissam Al Hassan and the government continues business as usual," said Ahmed Hariri, the secretary-general of the Future Movement, part of former prime minister Saad Hariri's March 14 coalition.

Lebanon and Syria share similar sectarian divides that have fed tensions in both countries. Most of Lebanon's Sunnis have backed Syria's mainly Sunni rebels, while most Lebanese Shiites tend to back Syria's president, Bashar Al Assad, who belongs to the minority Alawite sect - an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

"There is a Sunni sect that has begun to feel oppressed because of the political isolation of the Future Movement," said Mr Hariri.

Although the anti-Syrian March 14 coalition won a majority of seats in parliament in 2009, Hizbollah and its allies used their veto-wielding power to remove Mr Hariri from his post in January last year, replacing him with Najib Mikati.

"I am not OK with the passiveness of March 14. We need to stop playing the game that we have a functional political system," said Nadim Koteish, the host of a political show on Future TV, owned by Saad Hariri. His call for demonstrators to head to the government offices following Al Hassan's funeral was reported as the spark that set off 24 hours of violence in the city.

The protesters' call for the resignation of Mr Mikati's government went unheeded, feeding their frustration.

Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah's secretary-general, has accused his political opponents of using Al Hassan's assassination to sow discord between Sunnis and Shiites.

"This period is extremely sensitive and requires a great deal of awareness and patience", he said this week.

Syrian revolutionary flags and black Salafist flags were seen at Al Hassan's funeral, leading some to wonder if the Future movement's base has radicalised in the past months.

"I do not believe that Sunnis are radicalised or are subscribing in larger numbers to jihadi or Salafist doctrines. They are allying themselves to what they perceive is the political power to stand up to Hizbollah," said Mr Kotiesh.

There is concern, however, of the emergence of Mr Al Assir, known for his virulent language against Hizbollah and, before last Sunday's clash, a sit-in he staged in Sidon in March.

"Support for Assir is a reaction to the feeling of oppression. However, I don't think he will take votes from us at the ballot box and our electoral balance remains," said Nouhad Machnouk, a Beirut MP with the Future coalition.

The burial of two of Mr Assir's bodyguards killed in Sidon last Sunday was an intimidating scene, with armed men taking part in the procession and the burial unexpectedly taking place in a public square, without interference from a government no doubt reluctant to force a confrontation.

Some see Mr Assir as filling a power vacuum left when Mr Hariri, the son of former premier Rafiq Hariri, left Lebanon more than a year ago in fear that he would be assassinated as his father was in 2005.

"People are not receiving the same services they had come to expect and depend on from him. So, they get angry. They link their loyalty to services they receive," said a journalist and supporter of Saad Hariri, who did not want to be identified.

"People feel comforted when they are near their leader. His absence has taken a toll," she said.

 

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* With additional reports from the Associated Press

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National