It is said the death of Rafiq Hariri in 2005 “lebanonized” the Sunnis in Lebanon. It is said they felt orphaned and leaderless after his assassination. It is said the Sunnis, for the first time in Lebanese history, began to act as a minority sect whose existence was threatened. And it is said that it is within this context that the majority of the Sunnis became supporters of the Future Movement, which has rapidly become, since February 2005, the predominant Sunni political force.
The dynamics of power in Lebanon can only be understood while taking into consideration the dynamics of sentiments underlying them, namely: fear and feeling of vulnerability caused by other minority sects.
What is happening now is an interplay of instincts and feelings which is giving birth to some kind of “emotional rationality” taking little notice of facts. Reciprocal takfîr and anti-Other rhetoric is preventing any questioning of each side’s political vision, if any. Each one of us needs to take a step back and ask himself what core issues really draw us apart.
The Sunnis in Lebanon today are seemingly a compact monolithic bloc. That’s “our” common perception, but in reality they are not. Despite an obvious regional tendency, talking in terms of “Sunni-Shi’i conflict” is a bit simplistic.
The Sunni groups and parties in Lebanon are plentiful. Here’s a list of the most famous ones: Al-Mustaqbal or Future Movement (Hariri & al., backed by the Mufti of the Republic Muhammad Rashid Qabbani), Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya (the Islamic Group), Jabhat al-‘Amal al-Islami (Islamic Action Front, founded in 2006 by Sheikh Fathi Yakan), Hizb at-Tahrir (the Party of Liberation, demanding the restoration of the Caliphate), Harakat at-Tawhid al-Islami (the Islamic Unification Movement), Majmu’at ad-Dinniyyeh (the Dinniyyeh Group), Fateh al-Islam, without forgetting the famous Al-Ahbash. In addition to that, there are followers of Omar Karameh and his son (who heads yet another party, but what’s the name?); supporters of Nagib Miqati, and fans of MP Muhammad as-Safadi.
They range from “regular” Salafists to al-Qaeda’s proxy organizations, from anti-Syrian to pro-Syrian. Some have strong ties to Saudi Arabia, others to Egyptian and Turkish organizations. They all have a more or less Islamic agenda: Salafist for some, Wahhabist for others, or homegrown Islamist ideology resulting from multiple influences. FM presents itself as a modern movement embracing a moderate view of Islam and defending the concept of the state in Lebanon. Some people say the FM’s goal is the “Islamization of Lebanon with a Brioni suit and a Hermès tie,” as opposed to the “Islamization with the Turban and the ‘Abaya” model. How true these allegations are, I have absolutely no idea. Whatever…
The point is: The Sunni community is far from being a compact, unified bloc. Religiously and politically. However, there is undoubtedly a certain form of political solidarity. Approx. 80% of the Sunni voters are for the “Hariri camp” (FM, Jamaa Islamiya, miscellaneous Salafist and Wahhabist factions). The followers of Karameh and Fathi Yakan (d. 2009) support Hizbullah & al.. Miqati and other minority groups are in-between.
Second point: The so-called “Hariri camp” itself is not a single bloc but a “confederal alliance.” The parties involved are allied in order to achieve specific goals, but they do not agree on all issues. Many of them are self-proclaimed Islamists and Salafists. Saad Hariri made a pact with his allies: he would be in charge of global politics; he would be on the forefront; he would enjoy the visibility; he would be the “official speaker” of his own community. In return, his allies would be given a free hand to operate in their areas. The ranks would be kept close and everyone would be happy.
I once interviewed the well-known FM journalist Muhammad Salam. A pure product of the Leftist-Arabist-Nasserist-Socialist-Kamal Junblatist stream. “In February 2005, the Lebanese soil started talking Lebanese,” said he, with his glib grandiloquence. “I was not anymore a Sunni Arab who happened to be born in Lebanon, I was Lebanese!”
I was thinking: “So what were you before 2005?” I wondered whether the unexpected fact of behaving as a minority was the only factor behind that self-described newfound patriotism.
Let us suppose the Baathist Alawite regime collapses in Syria, and that it is replaced with a Sunni rule–be it moderate or not moderate. Will the Sunnis in Lebanon keep on proclaiming: “Lebanon first”?
There is only one way to find out.