Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Salafi fury

The Jamestown Foundation provides an important update on the fury of Salafis in Lebanon. The Salafis received a double blow over the past two years; the crushing of Fatah al-Islam by the Lebanese army; and the expultion of Salafi fighters from west Beirut by Hizbollah during the "May events".

Below is an edited version of a report posted by one of its experts, Abdul Hameed Bakier:

A Lebanese jihadi posted a letter addressed to Osama Bin Laden [that] details the sectarian politics of Lebanon, highlights Hezbollah’s continuing attempts to take over Lebanon and describes the misfortune of the Salafi-Jihadi Fatah al-Islam organization.

The core of Omar al-Bayruti’s message revolves around Shiites and their alleged attempts to take control of Lebanon with the help of Iran and Syria to form a “Shiite Crescent” through the Arab Middle East.

Al-Bayruti adds that Shiite militias have, for the second time in the last quarter century, invaded and vandalized Beirut, this time with the collaboration of “Sunni agents” in an attempt to hide the “heinous face” of Shiite occupation.

According to al-Bayruti, the atmosphere is ripe for al-Qaeda to get involved in Lebanese politics; “It’s time to work on inheriting al-Hariri’s [political] stream in Lebanon without a rude entrance or through Iranian and Syrian intelligence networks as did Fatah al-Islam last year in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared. Such a wrong approach inflicted a double loss on the Lebanese Sunnis.”

Fatah al-Islam, explains al-Bayruti, was used as a scapegoat, with all the dirty work and political assassinations committed by others pinned on them. By assassinating the late prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, the main foe of Syria and the Shiites, and accusing the mujahideen of responsibility, Hezbollah eliminated the Sunni initiative in Lebanon.

By starting a war with Israel, Hezbollah escaped the guilt of having to use heavy weaponry to subdue internal political rivals, since the war led to Hezbollah’s political rivals temporarily forgetting their conflict with Hezbollah.

Al-Bayruti explains the political situation in Lebanon and Shiite attempts to control the Sunni population by recruiting Sunni agents to facilitate a Syrian and Iranian agenda in Lebanon through groups such as the Islamic Scholar’s Assembly.

As a result of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Iran hosted a conference for Lebanese Muslim scholars from both the Sunni and Shiite sects in Tehran. The outcome of the conference was the establishment of an assembly comprised of Sunni and Shiite scholars with the blessing of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.

Finally, al-Bayruti says the objective of his message is to caution Sunnis about Hezbollah’s ideological gains in Lebanon, urging the mujahideen not to abandon Lebanon and to apply a “practical strategy”.

His message received negative comments from the forum in regards to his notion that al-Hariri and his Future Movement represent Sunnis. Others rejected the assumption that Hariri was assassinated by Hezbollah, though they all agreed to the need for a Salafi-Jihadi amir in Lebanon.

Initiatives to end the intensive ideological conflict between Sunnis and Shiites have failed so far to mend fences between the two sects. The complicated sectarian nature of Lebanese political life, however, means that it will not be easy for al-Qaeda to find enough supporters and adherents to challenge the strength of Hezbollah’s well-organized partisans.

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