Shia Crescent: Iran moves into Lebanon
25 January 2011
A victory for Hizbollah
Hizbollah's support for Lebanon's new prime minister is a likely tactic to distract from the UN investigation into the murder of Rafik Hariri in 2005.
The appointment of the billionaire Najib Mikati as Lebanon's new prime minister means that Hizbollah, the Iranian-backed militia, has finally achieved its goal of seizing control of one of the region's few democratic and secular countries. It also represents a serious setback for the Western powers that have sought to maintain stability in a country where the scars of a long and brutal civil war have only recently started to heal.
Since its emergence in the early 1980s, Hizbollah has made its name among Lebanon's majority Shia Muslims as an effective resistance force dedicated to the destruction of Israel. More recently, it has sought to transform its popularity into political power, and only narrowly missed out on winning an overall majority in the country's general election in 2009. But claims that a number of senior Hizbollah officials were involved in the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed by a car bomb in 2005, have put it on a collision course with Beirut's political establishment. Earlier this month, it brought down the government of Saad Hariri – the son of the murdered premier – in a blatant attempt to suppress publication of a UN investigation into the killing. By supporting Mr Mikati's appointment, Hizbollah is confident that it can kick the UN's findings into the long grass.
It is in everyone's interests, not least those of the Lebanese people, that this wanton disregard for the rule of law is confronted. At the time of his murder, Mr Hariri's widespread popularity was seen as a serious threat to Hizbollah's position as a major force in Lebanese politics. If, as many believe, Hizbollah officials sanctioned his murder for their own political ends, they should be held accountable by a court of law and face the consequences of their actions.
Hillary Clinton: Hizbollah government will damage US relationship with Lebanon
A Hizbollah-backed billionaire has won enough support to become Lebanon's prime minister, in a move that Hillary Clinton said would damage the country's relationship with the US.
Hizbollah managed to forge a coalition to back Najib Mikati after bringing down the government of the pro-American Saad Hariri two weeks ago.
President Barack Obama is likely to retaliate by suspending some or all of its aid to Beirut. The US administration had earmarked $246 million (£156 million) in support this year, including $100 million (£63 million) in military aid and $37 million (£23 million) for counter-terrorism operations.
Hizbollah, which is financially backed by Iran and Syria, is listed as a terrorist entity by Washington.
Mrs Clinton, the US secretary of state, said the power shift would "clearly have an impact on our bilateral relationship."
Israel, which already has Hizbollah ally Hamas on one side, will also be concerned by a Hizbollah-led government likely to insist on a more confrontational approach in the region.
Mr Mikati's appointment, secured after 68 out of 125 members of parliament expressed their support, sparked a "day of rage" in Lebanon, with crowds in Beruit and towns across the north of the country blocking roads, setting tyres on fire and ransacking the offices of a prominent supporter of the new prime minister.
Mr Mikati and the man he replaced, Mr Hariri, are both Sunnis, and the protesters mocked Mr Mikati as a "traitor" for agreeing to work with Hizbollah, an Iranian-backed Shia militant group.
"They are taking us for idiots," said a Rana Fatfat, a Sunni lawyer at a protest. "We will fight them through sit-ins and peaceful protests because we cannot match their military might."
The latest resurgence in Lebanon's bitter, long-running political and civil strife follows Mr Hariri's refusal to disavow a United Nations special tribunal investigating the murder of his father, Rafiq, another billionaire former prime minister.
Mr Hariri senior was killed by a car bomb in 2005, which at the time was widely blamed on Syria. The tribunal is expected to indict Hizbollah members as having carried out the killing.
Mr Mikati will spearhead a policy of non-cooperation with the tribunal however.
Hizbollah's triumph in securing power lay not just in withdrawing 11 sympathetic cabinet members from Mr Hariri's government but in persuading Walid Jumblatt, the long-standing leader of the Druze minority in Lebanon, to switch the votes of his MPs.
It then had to find a friendly Sunni politician to lead the government. Under Lebanon's constitution, the president has to be Christian, the Prime Minister Sunni and the speaker Shia.
Mr Mikati said that being backed by Hizbollah did not make him a "Hizbollah prime minister".
"I will co-operate fully with all Lebanese to form a new government that protects their unity and sovereignty," he said.
Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah leader, also tried to calm Sunni fears that its seizure of the reins of power amounted to a coup.
"The new government will not be a Hizbollah government nor will it be led by Hizbollah," he said. "We don't want power."
Lebanese rally against Hizbollah in 'day of rage'
Thousands of Sunni Muslim in Lebanon have staged protests in a "day of rage" against the Shiite militant group Hizbollah, which is on the brink of taking control of Lebanon's next government.
The largest gathering took place in the northern city of Tripoli on Tuesday, where thousands of people called on Najib Mikati, Hezbollah's candidate for prime minister, not to accept the post and shouted slogans of support for Saad Hariri, the caretaker prime minister.
A senior military official said several armed men fired in the air in west Beirut, but the army intervened and dispersed them. Protesters also torched a truck belonging to al-Jazeera.
Mr Mikati urged calm and said he wanted to represent all of Lebanon. "This is a democratic process," he told reporters. "I want to rescue my country."
But lawmaker Moustafa Alloush said that Hizbollah was trying to "belittle the prime ministry" – a position that under Lebanon's sectarian power sharing system is reserved only for Sunnis."Any person who accepts Hezbollah's appointment of the prime minister is a betrayer of the people of Tripoli," Alloush said at a heated news conference.
Mr Hariri has said he will not join a government headed by a Hizbollah-backed candidate. His Future bloc declared Tuesday would be a day of peaceful protests – but called it a "day of rage" and played on the sectarian dimension of the conflict.
Iranian backed Hizbollah – considered a terrorist organisation by the US – has secured enough support in parliament to name Mr Mikati, Lebanon's former premier, as prime minister.
Hizbollah brought down Hariri's Western-backed government earlier this month, after he refused the group's demand to cease co-operation with a UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, his father. Hizbollah denies any role in the killing, but is widely expected to be indicted.
The militant group's Western-backed opponents maintain that having an Iranian proxy in control of Lebanon's government would be disastrous and lead to international isolation.
The United States, which has poured in $720 million in military aid since 2006, has tried to end the influence of Hizbollah, Syria and Iran.
PJ Crowley, the US State Department spokesman, warned that a Hizbollah controlled government in Lebanon would be "problematic."
Hezbollah hails Egypt Revolution
11 Feb 2011
Lebanon's Hezbollah Resistance Movement has congratulated Egyptian people for managing to force President Hosni Mubarak to step down from power.
Describing Mubarak's resignation as an "historic victory” for Egyptians, Hezbollah said on Friday that the movement strongly supports the Egyptian Revolution.
"Hezbollah congratulates the great people of Egypt on this historic and honorable victory, which is a direct result of their pioneering revolution," Hezbollah said in a statement
"It is the unity the people showed in this revolution, women and men, children and adults, which marked the triumph of blood over the sword," it added.
"Hezbollah is filled with pride over the achievements of the Egyptian Revolution."
Hezbollah has invited its supporters to join in a mass celebration.
Hundreds of Lebanese also took to the streets of the capital Beirut following Mubarak's resignation and celebrated the occasion by waving Egyptian flags and with fireworks.
Crowds also gathered outside the Egyptian Embassy in Beirut and voiced their support for the new leadership in Egypt. There were also reports of celebrations in other Lebanese cities, including the northern port city of Tripoli.
On Friday, after 18 days of massive anti-Mubarak protests across Egypt, the Egyptian leader finally stepped down and handed power to the military after 30 years.
However, The transition of power to the military comes while Mubarak, Vice President Omar Suleiman and Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq are all former military men. Analysts believe despite the transition Mubarak would still remain in power.
This is while millions of Egyptians have for the past 18 days called for the departure of Mubarak and the establishment of a democratic government.