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In Lebanon, Hizbullah's rise provokes Shiite dissent

They worry that its quest to topple the Western-backed government will hurt their long-term interests.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / December 15, 2006


Hizbullah's ability to draw hundreds of thousands of Shiites to central Beirut to rally against the Lebanese government is the most visible evidence that the militants are now the undisputed representative of the country's Shiite community.

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Yet some of the party's coreligionists have started to publicly question Hizbullah's political monopoly. They worry that its ambitious gambit to topple the Western-backed government is intended to benefit backers in Iran and Syria and will be detrimental to the long-term interests of Shiites.

"Hizbullah's actions definitely are not in the interests of Shiites nor of Lebanon," says Sheikh Ali al-Amine, the Shiite mufti of the Jabal Amel district of south Lebanon.

Shiite voices of dissent are few, but are gaining more attention at a time when Lebanon is serving as a battleground in the emerging struggle between Iran and its regional allies – dubbed by some as a "Shiite crescent" – and the Sunni-dominated Arab world led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Hizbullah is caught in the vortex of this regional contest, torn between satisfying the demands of its foreign patrons while serving the needs of its domestic Shiite constituency.

Demonstrations calling for the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora have been ongoing since Dec. 1. Since then, the numbers of Hizbullah and opposition supporters filling downtown Beirut seem to ebb and flow at the call of Hizbullah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.

Thursday, in a bid to ease the political crisis, the Lebanese government and opposition groups agreed on a national unity cabinet in which major decisions could be taken only by consensus, said Arab League chief Amr Moussa. He told reporters, however, that more talks were required to conclude the deal.

Mr. Moussa called on all the parties to defuse the tension and expressed hope that the remaining issues could be resolved in the next two weeks. "Progress is clear and consensus is rising. Please be patient a bit longer," he said. "We hope to finish in the next two weeks or at the end of the month."

The anti-Hizbullah voices

Sheikh Amine has become Hizbullah's most visible critic after sparking controversy four months ago by publicly refuting Hizbullah's claim of a "divine victory" in its summer war against Israel. Still, he appears an unlikely critic of Hizbullah.

Wearing a black turban that marks him as a descendent of the prophet Muhammad, he was once close to Hizbullah and in 1981 taught the youthful Hassan Nasrallah at a Shiite seminary in the Iranian city of Qom. The sheikh remembers the future Hizbullah leader as "clever and a quick learner."

"I never wanted to turn myself into a figure of opposition to Hizbullah. But during the war I saw mistakes," he says. "The aim of Hizbullah is to capture all the Shiite sect and push it into the unknown."

During the war, Mona Fayyad, a professor at the Lebanese University in Beirut, penned an acerbic opinion piece titled "To be a Shiite now," railing against the sect's subservience to Hizbullah.

"To be a Shiite is to keep silent and not to ask what is the purpose of liberating a country. Is it to destroy it all over again and to make it possible for it to be occupied once more?" she wrote.

A year ago, Mohammed Mattar, a Shiite lawyer, filed a lawsuit against a prominent Hizbullah cleric who had issued a fatwa, or religious edict, forbidding any Shiite from accepting a ministerial post after the pro-Hizbullah ministers walked out of the government.