Sunni-Shiite Tensions soar in Lebanon; Hizbullah accuses Saudis in Iran Embassy Bombing

Several dramatic accusations and events have heightened Sunni-Shiite tensions in Lebanon, as the Syrian Civil War continues to spill over onto Beirut’s politics.

In the northern city of Tripoli, Sunni Salafis (who support the rebels in Syria) have fought in recent days with `Alawis (a sect of the Shiites, who support Syria’s Alawite-dominated Baath government), leaving 14 dead. This struggle has been an ongoing one, with several previous outbreaks of communal violence.

Reuters reports:

Some accused Hizbullah of sending up fighters to help the Alawites in Jabal Muhsin, but Hizbullah denies this.

The Lebanese army came in to the city to stop the fighting and imposed a 6-month period of martial law there. The Shiites are fairly happy with this development, but al-Manar (Hizbullah TV) said that “Tripoli-based Salafist cleric Dai al-Islam al-Shahhal accused [Lebanese Prime Minister] Miqati of “selling” Tripoli, noting that the decision reached in Baabda is “targeted against the Sunni sect.” “We will seek to reverse it and topple it politically,” he said.” (BBC World Monitoring trans.)

Then on Tuesday, the leader of the (Shiite) Hizbullah party-militia, Hassan Nasrallah, openly accused Saudi Arabia of being behind the recent bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut. He said that the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which claimed responsibility, is an “imaginary” organization. He said there is such a group and it is headed by a Saudi, and he suspects that it isn’t autonomous but rather is run by Saudi intelligence. He accused Saudi intelligence of running terrorist groups in several parts of the world.

Saudi Arabia is supporting Sunni rebels in Syria against the government of Bashar al-Assad. In part this is because al-Assad is an ally of Shiite Iran, and Saudi Arabia wants to reduce Iranian influence in the Arab world.

AFP reports:

Then a Saudi newspaper, “al-Yawm,” blasted Hizbullah for intervening in Syria on the side of President Bashar al-Assad, saying it inflamed the situation in Tripoli. All Lebanon, the paper asserted, is paying the price for Hizbullah adventurism.

Saad al-Hariri is a Sunni political leader and the son of the late Rafiq al-Hariri, long-time prime minister of Lebanon who was killed in 2005 by a car-bombing widely laid at the feet of the Syrian Baath intelligence. He came out and accused Hassan Nasrallah of being egotistic.

On top of all that, a Hizbullah military commander was assassinated on Tuesday. Hizbullah blamed Israel, this time.

There are two great branches of Islam, the Sunni and the Shiite, which developed in the medieval period. Shiites believe the Prophet Muhammad (d. 632) should have been succeeded by his son-in-law and cousin, Ali b. Abi Talib. Sunnis believe the Prophet was succeeded by four rightly-guided caliphs chosen by the elite of Muslim Arabia at the time, only the fourth of which is Ali. The difference is a little like the Catholic-Protestant split in Christianity.

Lebanon is about 22% Christian, 40% Shiite and perhaps 30% Sunni if you count the whole population including children.

8 Responses

    • Finding the Pakistani sectarian harmony delusional rhetoric here feels quite embarrassing.

      The author is a professor of history, particularly on the ME region. His usually sound analysis is based from journalistic reports there, which reflects a growing harsh reality of regional sectarianism, which you are unfortunately uneasy about and in denial, hence wrongly dubbing it as ‘fake journalism’.

      • Mr. Cole knows that Sunnis like Hariri are not Wahabi. But, why does Hariri criticize Nasrallah now, if Lebanon is all about Suunis and Shia united against Wahabis?

  1. Of course state sponsored terrorism is no big deal as long as the bombing has the approval of the West.

  2. “On top of all that, a Hizbullah military commander was assassinated on Tuesday. Hizbullah blamed Israel, this time.”

    Typical.

  3. Hezbollah should not be equated with Sunni Salafis. Consider:
    -”In the June 2009 parliamentary elections, Hezbollah and its allies…decisively triumphed in the popular vote, denying Saad Hariri and his backers an opportunity to trumpet the election as a great victory for the moderate axis….Of the roughly 1.5 million people who voted, 54 percent voted for Hezbollah and its allies, and 46 for the governing coalition. In June 2011, Lebanon’s new prime minister, Najib Mikati, announced a government dominated by members and allies of Hezbollah.”
    -“Hezbollah draws unrivaled reserves of power from the total devotion and trust it has won from its constituents, most of Lebanon’s estimated 1 to 2 million Shia. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese from other sects, including non-Muslims, have allied with Hezbollah, despite widespread hostility on the part of moderates and secularists toward the Party of God.” However, regardless of election results, “Hezbollah…established that it wouldn’t let any coalition rule the country without giving the Party of God veto power. It had the street power to back its demand.”
    link to detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com

  4. I’m surprised Nasrullah came out bluntly and said that (though someone needed to point out the obvious that one Sunni extremist militant group or another were involved, most likely linked to Syria’s conflict, or that Saudi Arabia were still ideologically and financially responsible for most Salafist terrorist movements globally). Glad there wasn’t the Israeli blame delusion (in this embassy case), but Nasrullah comes off as perhaps the worst figure to raise such a problematic sectarian issue considering their questionable handling and role in the Syrian conflict.

    Certainly a contrast to how Iran approached the embassy terrorist attack earlier by brushing the uncomfortable sectarian issue aside and prejudicially blaming Israel, usually the most ridiculous way to demonize the culprits, or how far the Iranian FM can at best just start to articulate in generalizations the global threat of sectarianism to the media without naming names.

    The assassination accusation against Israel may evolve into a rumours of a conspiracy joint Saudi and Israeli intelligence operation, or perhaps the West. Regardless folks in Lebanon are worried about their insecurity and threats they’re facing.

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