Hezbollah and their need for a domestic enemy

The need for foreign and domestic enemies in search for legitimacy is hardly peculiar to Hezbollah.
by Bassem Ajami

3 August 2018 | 18:02

Source: by Annahar

  • by Bassem Ajami
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 3 August 2018 | 18:02

This undated picture shows members of Hezbollah's military wing marching in southern Beirut (AP)

BEIRUT: Each year, on the anniversary of the 2006 war, Hezbollah mounts a fierce attack on key members of the March 14 movement. This year was no exception.

In a recent TV appearance, Hezbollah MP Nawaf Musawi singled out former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, accusing him of "treasonous" behavior during the war.

Musawi added that the recent general parliamentary elections cemented Hezbollah’s 2006 victory against Israel after the March 14 coalition lost the parliamentary majority that the alliance once enjoyed, thus "eliminating the threat of stabbing the resistance in the back."

Musawi’s statement is significant because, during and immediately after the war, Siniora and his entire cabinet received heaps of praise from high ranking members of the March 8 coalition, including Speaker Nabih Berri and Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh. At the time, Berri applauded the Siniora-led government as "the government of the resistance."

But why would Hezbollah insist on accusing the March 14 movement of seeking to stab Hezbollah in the back? The fact that the independence movement is opposed to Hezbollah's militaristic character and objects to its arsenal and to its allegiance to Iran, doesn’t justify such an extreme charge.

The answer may lie in the fact that Hezbollah is a revolutionary movement in the sense that it operates outside the official organs of the state. As such, the party needs to legitimize its existence. And to that end, Israel offers a most convenient foe. Championing the Palestinian cause attracts the hearts and minds not only of the Lebanese but also of masses throughout the Arab world.  

Equally important is Hezbollah's need for a domestic enemy.

Having a domestic enemy offers considerable advantages to Hezbollah. It allows it to capture the moral high ground in the national debate. The importance of such status is that it enables Hezbollah to set the bar of patriotism, and thus define who is a patriot and who is not.

It also offers the Iranian-backed party immunity from criticism while it implements an agenda that bears no relation to the Palestinian cause. This includes its military intervention in Syria, Iraq Yemen and several other countries. Another advantage is that it allows Hezbollah to deal ruthlessly with its opponents.

The need for foreign and domestic enemies in search for legitimacy is hardly peculiar to Hezbollah. It has been a mark of the Arab political culture since the early 1950s. At the time, radical army officers in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Libya, led revolutionary movements that toppled conservative regimes in those countries. Each of the new regimes embraced the Palestinian cause and declared it to be its primary concern.

With the foreign enemy identified, the revolutionary regimes needed a domestic enemy. They turned on each other, as well as on conservative Arab regimes. The two camps engaged in what came to be known as the "Arab Cold War". The main theme of the quarrel between them was the Palestinian cause. The radical regimes accused the conservatives of betraying the Palestinians, and of collaborating with the Jewish state and the West against them. This state of affairs culminated in a military confrontation in Yemen in the 1960's. 

This decades-old rhetoric almost mirrors the situation between Hezbollah and the March 14 movement.

But there are two main differences. The first is that the Arab revolutionaries were implementing their own agendas while Hezbollah is implementing that of a foreign power: Iran. The second is that the revolutionaries took over the reins of power in their countries, while in Lebanon Hezbollah continues to operate on the fringes of the state; thus creating a situation of impossible coexistence between a state and a mini-state.

This only amplifies Hezbollah's need for a domestic enemy while it seeks to justify its existence, hence its relentless attack on members of the now-defunct March 14 coalition.

Mr. Ajami is a freelance researcher, writer, and contributor to The Arab Weekly, London. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Annahar.

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