February 25, 2011


Hezbollah: a state above the state (Nima Khorrami Assl, 22 February 2011, OpenDemocracy)

Although state support has been crucial to Hezbollah, the organization has also felt limited by it. In other words, Hezbollah’s power also relies on its standing at home and regional image both of which have suffered from appearing to be a proxy. As a ‘conventional political party’, Hezbollah has to work with a number of other political parties and organizations. As a ‘welfare agency’, it has to deal with other Lebanese sects, while, as a militia, it has to ‘consider the regional balance of power’ when engaging in resistance. Anthony Cordesman reported from Israel in August 2006 that no serving Israeli official, intelligence officer, or other military officers with whom he had spoken felt that Hezbollah had acted under the direction of Iran or Syria.

In fact, to achieve a level of autonomy from state sponsorship the Party has sought out aid and support from other sources so it can detach itself from any external sources that would limit the decisions and activities of the organization.

Hezbollah has entered into large-scale business operations by opening co-operative supermarkets in the suburbs of Beirut and other parts of Lebanon. It has revenue coming in from school fees, bookshops, farms, fisheries, factories, and bakeries. It manufactures Islamic clothing which it exports to the expatriate Lebanese Shiite community around the globe. The group has also entered the booming property market in Lebanon and the UAE. Furthermore, many sympathetic individuals in the west have created venture companies that invested Hezbollah money in stocks and shares of commodities. It also uses its faction in the Lebanese Parliament to persuade and/or pressure the government to finance its projects in Shiite population centres.

Early in the life of Hezbollah, the organization was amorphous and decision-making was decentralized. Nevertheless, with time and with the increasing need to better coordinate and control the decisions and the actions of the organization, Hezbollah has matured into a more hierarchical and more effective institution. This evolution reflects Hezbollah’s growing strength and stature on the Lebanese scene, and its determination not to limit its activities to resistance only. This is clearly evident in its heavy reliance on the use of widespread media networks in order to propagate its doctrine and its vision to all of its followers in Lebanon and the wider Muslim world. Currently, it operates a number of powerful means of communications the most prominent of which are al-Manar Television and Radio al-Nour.

Historically, tistorically he Lebanese state has never served the Lebanese Shi‘a well. The Shi‘a have been an ignored and deprived underclass that has never received an equal share of the Lebanese infrastructure, political representation, or economic benefits. Consequently, Shi‘a have little confidence that the state can or will meet their needs and thus place greater confidence in Hezbollah as their political instruments.

Hezbollah's ability, unprecedented in Arab history, to stand up to a superior Israeli military machine and force it to a truce is electrifying. Its character is mainstream Shiite, but its rhetoric focuses on Arab unity, the illegitimacy of the Israeli state, and the need for change in Arab leadership. It represents a powerful regional current and thus cannot be easily suppressed or disarmed. It is a highly credited organisation among the Arab public, a powerful voice for the Shiites in Lebanese affairs, and their link to the larger Shiite community in the region, especially Iran.

What this observation implies, therefore, is that Hezbollah will willingly seek to remain above the state rather than to be the state.

As the Bush and Obama administrations helpfully remind us, our own Right and Left likewise despise the realities of having to govern.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 25, 2011 7:57 AM
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