The Historical and Class Dimensions for the Rise of Islamist Movements in Lebanon
The political and security developments that have occurred in Lebanon over the past few weeks, in the capital and the North, are signs that cannot be ignored, inasmuch as they signify the extent to which the current political reality is in crisis, as well as what they reveal about the contradictions that govern the balance of power, especially in the shadow of the process of the Arab revolutions, the Syrian revolution, and the problem the latter poses for the Arab ruling class in general and the Lebanese in particular. Some may attempt to explain these events as if they occurred according to some preconceived plan, say from the Syrian Intelligence on one hand, or from Saudi Intelligence on the other.1
Both sides of the March 14 and March 8 divide have clearly adopted and supported the security solution, even if each offered different reasons and guises. For example, the March 14 forces called on the current government to resign after the fighting in Tripoli, considering that “the goal of the resignation is not to retaliate against the Najib Mikati government, but rather to install a rescue government that can offer a radical treatment for the susceptibility of the politics and security of the country.” Then Electricity Minister Gebran Bassil’s reply was the most representative of March 8’s general position regarding this issue. “Why do they want to topple the government?” he asked. “So that it is replaced by the government of the takfiris; the sights of chaos and lawlessness; a government that wants to demolish the army; the government of the Free Syrian Army?”3
The logic adopted by both sides of the ruling powers, which reduce most of the issues in the country to conspiratorial schemes, is based on a political vision that considers the reasons for these regular crises as the irrational actions of the people. It is, as they describe it, “the anger of the people.” Or as the minister of the interior, Marwan Charbel, described it, “letting off steam.”4
Of course, the people are by their very nature “irrational”, and according to this view, are dragged by the directives and plots of the influential regional states, such as the Syrian and Saudi regimes. While the ruling power is always clad with reason and civility and armed with the power of the state, jurisdiction, and the military and civil institutions (which they use to quell fiery situations and punish those irrational people!). Thus, as both March 8 and March 14 demand to protect the country from a susceptible political and security situation, it is this demeaning logic that motivates their position.
There is no denial here of the interference of regional and global states in the political events of Lebanon, and especially by the Saudi and Syrian regimes. This interference, however, does not arise without first being provided a fertile environment that serves as its outlet. In any case, this interference is the result of the politics of the current ruling class, and not the result of the supposed “irrationality of the people” or “the triumph of tradition and customs over the state”. This is especially so since after each round of violent events (ahdath), whether in the southern suburb of Beirut (Dahiyeh), the Bekaa Valley, the North, or other areas, the pseudo-intellectuals begin repeating the expressions, “mutiny against the prestige of the state” and “attack on its institutions” etc.
This discourse is the most prominent weapon for eclipsing the class background and the social, economic, and political depth of these events. This discourse also ignores the contradictions inside the Lebanese political scene revealed by the crisis, as well as the current class contradictions of our Lebanese reality in particular and the Arab reality in general. On one hand, this discourse is an attempt to punish whoever tries to “spoil” the discipline within the ranks of the “sects”, whereby these battles decrease the hegemony of the sectarian parties over the street and lessen their ability to control it. On the other hand, this discourse imparts an ignorant “nature” on the class expression that utilises, in this case, the stage of sectarianism and religion to express itself. Hence, the state intends to hide or marginalise the class and socio-political dimensions of these events, in an attempt to restore discipline in the class-sectarian order.
This logic is not very far off from the approach taken by a significant portion of leftist activists, the Stalinist left, and especially the nationalist left. It conjectures a tribal approach that does not differ from the sectarian tribalism promoted by the ruling class. For in the face of every riot, or similar security hazard, these “leftists” trumpet slogans such as “the Army is a red line”, a mantra adopted by the Lebanese Communist Party in response to the Hay el-Sellom riots in 20045 (in retaliation against living conditions) and during the war of Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in 2007 (a war that led to the destruction of homes for more than thirty thousand Palestinian refugees.) Today, this slogan is used to justify the direct invitation to kill “the Islamic groups in the North”. In response to the latest events in Tripoli, one of the supposedly “leftist” activists stated on their Facebook page, “A good Salafist is a dead Salafist.”
Here it is necessary for us, as revolutionary Marxists, not to be dragged in this sectarian discourse but to look instead at the socio-historical and class dimensions that produce such political movements. We need to face these actual real conditions from a revolutionary point of view, thereby serving the interest of society as a whole, and not from the logic of factional and tribal alignments, a logic that reproduces the current sectarian and racist regime, which contributes to strengthening the attempts of the ruling power to adopt purely security approaches. This is with the knowledge that the security solution has always been the choice of the sectarian bourgeois authority for the sake of reproducing the conditions of its political existence and its sectarian and classist discourse.
On the historical conditions of political and sectarian expression
Religious (and sectarian) movements around the world have risen in a world whose social and economic basis was fractured by capitalist transformation — first, as a product of its imposition by the imperial hegemony, then by the blunt transformation of internal social relations, leading in time to the rise of a local bourgeois class and the emergence of the capitalist bourgeois state.
New classes replaced the old ones. However, this capitalist transformation was never distinct; rather, it was simultaneously uneven and compounded, or a combined development. Leon Trotsky has explained this process, saying: “Although compelled to follow after the advanced countries, a backward country does not take things in the same order. The privilege of historic backwardness — and such a privilege exists — permits, or rather compels, the adoption of whatever is ready in advance of any specified date, skipping a whole series of intermediate stages.” 6
As such, peasants abondon their farming tools for work in factories and small workshops, or in stores and commercial institutions, or they drive taxi cabs. All this without having to travel the long road that led to the transformation and development of these tools of production. For example, the shock of such acute capitalist transformation was the main motive behind the emigration of the people of Mount Lebanon between 1860 and 1910. Akram Fouad Khater explains how the economic crisis that hit Mount Lebanon presented the peasants with a dilemma: “[…] how to make enough money quickly to guarantee their status as landowners and not slip into the ranks of the landless labourers… the only option that appeared on the economic horizon was emigration.”7
However, if the law of combined development explains in basic form the socio-historical process in backward countries, it does not follow that this law can only be applied to capitalist development in the Third World; it can also be applied to aspects of the development of what is called the Global North. It is through such a law of combined development that we can understand the capitalist advancement of Germany and the United States over Britain at the beginning of the previous century.
When major capitalist countries reach an advanced stage of growth, whereby their need for raw materials, cheap labour and open markets increases, they seek to exploit the religious and sectarian pluralism in the colonised land to their advantage. This pluralism is categorized as a sectarian and religious “division” and followed by enforced colonial policies that lead to disparities in wealth and economic growth between religions and sects. These “divisions”, and the internal struggles arising out of them, have become the easy pretext for intervention on under the banner of “humanitarian intervention” and the “progress of civilisation, urbanisation and modernity.”
Ussama Makdisi explains this phenomenon in his book The Culture of Sectarianism: “Religion … became the site of the colonial encounter in the Ottoman Empire in that European officials defined the parameters of reform through a modernisation discourse couched in terms of a clash of religious civilisations. Both the problem (Islam) and the solution (European Christian rationality) were defined in monolithic religious terms. Furthermore, diplomats such as Canning imagined the Empire not so much as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious territory, but as a Muslim state with large ‘minorities’ of Christians scattered in various provinces. This understanding of the Empire as a “mosaic” where ethnic and religious groups existed as separate and autonomous cultural and physical units was embedded in Canning’s description of the local Christians as the ‘subjugated classes’.”8
This does not mean that European policies were the sole reason for the emergence of sectarianism; the Ottoman Empire and its local dependent bourgeoisie made their own contribution. Perhaps the biggest proof of the continuation of this political approach is what we hear today from Lebanese politicians when they use terms such as “injustice against Christians”, “Sunni People’s dignity” and “Shia deprivation” and so forth. For the identity of political discourse concerning political, cultural and economic changes is presented religiously. However, these changes are not religious, but the expression of very real socio-economic and political circumstances emerging from uneven development.
“Injustice”, “deprivation”, and “dignity” are class expressions; they are universal expressions when taken abstractly. However, when associated with sectarian expressions, their universal nature is reduced and changed to a sectarian particularism. Moreover, these expressions are the translation of the fusion between objective class expression and the hegemonic ideological discourse of the ruling sectarian-bourgeoisie. The 1990 Taif Accords [which put an end to the Civil War (1975-1990)] prove as much, as the following phrases were added to the preamble Lebanese constitution: “The even development among regions on the educational, social, and economic levels shall be a basic pillar of the unity of the state and the stability of the system.” This religious and sectarian expression is present within a capitalist infrastructure, as evidenced further in the preamble, “The economic system is free and ensures private initiative and the right of private property.”9
Staging the political and class conflict through religious-sectarian expression
Sectarian-religious movements, especially the ones today, are an expression of the contradictions that have ruled the aforementioned changes in Lebanese society. With the onset of the Civil War and the proceeding decline of unions and the Left (in comparison to the 1960s and 1970s), sectarian parties were on the rise; they emerged as a sharper expression of capitalist transformation. Thus, we saw the decline of cross-sectarian parties, and the rise of parties boasting sectarian purity and donning the masque of religious creed.
Urban migration and the demise of the rural community
Capitalist transformations in Lebanon led to the development of some modern industry, albeit in a limited capacity, coexisting side-by-side with large sectors of small traditional workshops and manufacturing units, these constitute 90 percent of workplaces and do not exceed a five-person workforce. In addition, successive wars, the economic shift towards the services sectors, and the lifting of agricultural subsidies led a large number of Lebanese lands to be restricted to big landowners, Islamic religious endowment (awqaf), or the Church.
Furthermore, a large number of middle-sized farmers became small-sized farmers. This led to the migration of a large number of farmers to the cities and their suburbs, especially those whose livelihood depends on day-to-day or weekly labour in workshops or commercial stores. While the expansion of the education led to the graduation of many high school and college students, they seldom find job opportunities that provide social mobility or even a subsistence wage. Consequently, some work as taxi or minivan drivers, or work in the informal sector.10
This reality translates directly to the population density of cities in comparison with rural areas, and the discrepancy is disastrous. In 1950, the urban population of Lebanon was estimated at 22.7 percent, by the 1970, this increased to between 50 percent and 59 percent. Reaching between 87 percent and 92 percent by the year 2000. 11
This rise in the urban population is concentrated in the suburbs of the cities. For example, “Between 1925 and 1969, Chiyyah [west Beirut] grew from a village of 575 households into two suburbs composed of 4,587 households, 5,054 nuclear families, and a population of more than 28,568. About 75 percent of the population are newcomers (migrants); the rest are old settlers.”12
Growth of classes in transformation and capitalist hybridity
The exacerbation of economic crises on the global level led to the exacerbation of their contradictions on the local level. The new industries found the national economy too small to operate efficiently in the midst of a severely competitive global economy; they could not continue without government support (such as the subsidies for bread flour). Small industries and workshops, moreover, could not grow without similar support and were incapable of compensating for the failure of the new industries to provide jobs for the urban and suburban population.
These contradictions had two effects. On one hand, they led to increasing the size of the petty bourgeoisie (small-shop owners and the self-employed) and the expansion of the informal sector, leading, naturally, to the increase in precarious work (daily and weekly workers). Accordingly, the size of the petit bourgeoisie in Lebanon is estimated at around 23.3 percent from the overall economic workforce, whereas the percentage of the precarious workforce is estimated at around 10.3 percent from the overall workforce. 13
On the other hand, other sectors such as the banking sector, the real estate sector, and the services sector were able to forge strong relations with regional and global capital and find political allies who would provide for them suitable conditions for wealth accumulation. At the same time we witness a large concentration of wealth, glaringly visible in the upmarket souks, the downtown area, and especially in skyscrapers and the manifestations of great wealth in Beirut. This asymmetric affluence leads to a growing tension between, the rich on one hand, and precarious workers on the other (daily or weekly workers, or the unemployed), not to mention the regular labour segments. Another tension, although less severe, is between the petit bourgeoisie and the hegemonic bourgeoisie.
However, there is a very important question that must be asked: despite this reality and what it might create of feelings of class antagonism, what is it that makes these lower classes, in particular, more susceptible to religious and sectarian discourse, and thus resorting to it on many occasions?
With the absence of social welfare and security, the lack of national health insurance, the dearth of job opportunities and investment in productive sectors, and the absence of economic and social security, over and above the decline of the labour movements and unions that formed the focal point for overall street mobilisation and political expression of workers and the disadvantaged classes — a decline arising from the vicious attack deployed by the local bourgeoisie during and especially after the Civil War, with the help of collaborators and allies such as with the Syrian regime and its intelligence agencies. All these factors left the lower classes without a representative voice in the midst of a wretched socio-political reality.
Whereupon the religious institutions, such as mosques, Hussainiyas,14 and churches still provide a focal point for newcomers to the city. Moreover, sectarian institutions provide social welfare by offering various services such as orphanages, social welfare organisations, hospitals, clinics and schools. Thus sectarian institutions play the role of the absent state, consequently establishing a relationship of dependency between them and their clientele, with whatever thought and ideology that is pumped into the beneficiaries of those services.
Money is given to these institutions by those whose interest conflicts with the interest of the majority of the people, such as the leaders of the sectarian bourgeoisie, who control the positions of local power and an important part of the state’s money. Under their control, this money is used to present illegal social services to associates and people dependent on them. This is not to mention the role of regional powers, be it from countries of the Arab Gulf, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or Iran, who seek popular loyalties within Lebanese society. In other words, the provision of financial and sectarian haven for the poor is reciprocated with political loyalty. We all know the magnitude of high funding that the local bourgeoisie, and their regional supporters, pay to build sectarian and religious welfare institutions, or mosques and places of worship, etc.
This is the crux of the relationship of dependency and reliability that is produced between the popular classes on one hand (the petit bourgeoisie, the precarious workers, the unemployed, and others poor populations), and the sectarian leaders and parties on the other hand. Thus, Hezbollah’s (material) ability to contain the streets is actually its ability to provide a relationship of dependence through its social, economic and political guarantees. These guarantees are evident in Hezbollah’s focus on building Hussainiyas, mosques, and social welfare institutions, all of which provide it with an extensive crowd. The creation of a relation of dependency was also undertaken by Rafic Hariri and continued by his son, Saad Hariri, through the Hariri Foundation, scholarships, and various social services projects, as well as employment placements. According to this, class tensions are refracted and staged by the intellectual and psychological background of sectarian and religious discourse and by the destitute popular classes and their mobility.
Probing the areas in which religious and sectarian discourse is used to mobilize crowds provides further proof of the manifestation of this phenomenon within these social classes. For example, the protests that happen in areas such as Beirut’s southern Suburb, Dahiyeh, Tariq al-Jadida, Barbour, Ras el-Nabeh, Burj Abi Haidar, Bab al-Tabbaneh, Jabal Mohsen, Ain el-Remmaneh, and other areas are the clearest urban expression of the mobilisation of these social classes and what they are exposed to from emotional, intellectual exploitation and blackmail within the prevailing sectarian structure.
The geographical grounds are the clearest signs for the validity of this analysis. This is clearer still if we look at the direct and current reasons for the rise of Islamic movements, especially in the north and the Bekaa Valley, investigating the susceptibility of such areas to the rise of fundamentalist and Salafi currents.
On the direct and current reasons for the emergence of Islamic movements
The North and the Bekaa
Islamic movements in the north and the Bekaa are not new. On the contrary, they have been a large part in the political life of these areas since the 1980s, and especially in light of Syria’s hegemony over Lebanon.
The North and the Bekaa both suffered extensively from the Syrian regime’s hegemony. The regime resorted to stricter surveillance and oppression in those regions given the fact that they both provide a crossing into Syria.
Syrian policy in the north of Lebanon had local and special interests for Syria. The control over the city of Tripoli gave Assad economic and political gains in Syria, while its control over the informal market in the north was of vital importance.
In these regions the security policies of the Lebanese authorities are not different from those of the Syrian regime. Following the withdrawal of the Syrian forces in 2005, Lebanese authorities openly adopted “war on terror”, whereby continued to oppress the Islamists, with all the arbitrary arrests that followed, and imprisoned many of them without any trial. Both March 14 and March 8 have participated in these policies, especially in the arrests that followed the battles of Nahr al-Bared in 2007 and 2008.
Deterioration of the people’s living conditions
After the withdrawal of the Syrian army in 2005, the North was deeply affected by the closing of the Syrian border as a result of the tense relationship between the Syrian and Lebanese authorities. This was followed by the war with Israel in July of 2006 and the war of Nahr al-Bared in 2007. All this contributed to the deterioration of the living conditions for most families in the North. In an attempt to indemnify the losses suffered in the July 2006 war, some farmers took out loans in order to increase their produce; however, with the outbreak of the war of Nahr al-Bared, another harvest season was destroyed, whereas “64 percent of the families involved in agrarian work suffered from a decline in productivity as a result of these two wars.” 15
The north is one of the most deprived areas in Lebanon
According to the Central Administration of Statistics, there are 17,000 commercial institutions in the North, whereas Mount Lebanon has 73,000 institutions, and Beirut 72,000. Moreover, Tripoli’s share of private sector bank loans is below 2 percent, whereas in Beirut and its suburbs it stands at 83 percent. Thus the mantra of reducing the role of the state for the benefit of the private sector has no echo here, and the “market” does not provide jobs for the youth, making them hostage to “need”. This is further proven by the high unemployment rates in Tripoli in contrast to other areas, as well as high percentages of school dropout, illiteracy among women, child mortality and the weakness of the social protection systems (especially health insurance) that drives a large number of the city’s children to into charities controlled by the political leaders.
Since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution, the northern and eastern borders of Lebanon have witnessed a constant state of tension, as well as repression against the Syrian opposition on both sides of the border, which has further complicated living conditions in the North and the Bekaa.
The Arab Revolutions and the Syrian Revolution
With the spreading of the  Arab revolutions, the success of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian and Tunisian elections, and the persistence of the Syrian revolution, the Islamic movements in the North has deepened its influence. This is especially so in light of opposition to the Syrian revolution by a large part of the Lebanese and Syrian Left, due to their adherence to the ruling regimes and betrayal of the interests of the Lebanese and Syrian people. Accordingly, the space has opened for the Islamist movements to take the political leadership.
As a result of the brutality of the regime and its attacks on non-sectarian voices and the leftist forces in Syria, as well as the regime’s injection of sectarianism and its attempts to terrorize ethnic and religious minorities, some oppositional Syrian forces have fallen into a sectarian and religious discourse.
However, this does not mean that the Syrian revolution itself has become sectarian. On the contrary, the actions of the Syrian masses demonstrate their insistence on tremaining outside the logic of sectarianism and ethnic divisions. Nevertheless, the unification of all the ranks of the opposition, in the shadow of a dictatorial rule, is difficult and takes time. Based on these political changes, Islamist forces in Tripoli were sowing the kernel of political Islamism in the Syrian revolution, one that did not exist before. Thus, they exploited the window opened by the Syrian Revolution for the sake of political efficacy. For example, the Salafist protest in support of the Syrian Revolution in Martyr’s Square in Beirut on 4 March 2012, led by Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, is one of the major signs to the widening political grasps of these movements.16
The forced displacement of the Syrian population to the north of Lebanon and the Bekaa, as a result of regime brutality, increased the momentum of these Islamist currents. The solidarity shown by imams and sheikhs of mosques and local municipal leaders towards refugees led to increased resentment against the Lebanese states absence in aiding the refugees as well as its neutral position regarding the events in Syria.
The decline of the Future Movement’s role as a Sunni leadership
The ability of the Future Movement, led by Saad Hariri, to absorb these Islamist movements under its banner is clearly waning. This came especially after the financial setback suffered by the Hariri family, Saad Hariri’s political failure in keeping his post as prime minister, as well as his defeat during the events of 7 May 2008.17
Some of the groups previously allied with the Future Movement have moved towards Islamist leadership as an alternative. Even though the Future Movement still retains a wide allegiance in these places, the growing voices of the Islamic movements form a fundamental threat to the Future Movement’s hegemony over the Sunni political choices. This threat appears clearly in the open criticism that the Future Movement receives from both these Islamist movements and its own popular base.
On the other hand, with Hezbollah siding with the Assad regime, as well as the introduction of its arsenal of weapons into Lebanese politics during May 2008, coupled with the impossibility of providing any serious reforms within the current system, has led the Islamic movements in the north to take up arms in order to secure their ability in forcing their own political reality and thus ensuring their survival.
A disclaimer is in order here. These Islamist movements are not one political body; rather, they differ in politics and modes of operation. Moreover, not all of them are necessarily armed; in a similar fashion to other political forces in Lebanon, some rely on peaceful populist work, others depend on armed security work, or both at the same time. The conflation of both of these modes of operation is not surprising within the Lebanese scene, as the history of the emergence of Hezbollah in Dahiyeh and the South attests. The latter depended in the beginning on armed operations inside of Lebanon, then it confined its work to resistance in South Lebanon, until it returned again to internal operations in 2008.
The intersection of those reasons led to the thriving atmosphere for fundamentalist and Salafi Islamist movements in Lebanon, especially in the North and the Bekaa. In turn, their prosperity affects the current political power balance, adding a new factor to existing alliances, in both the opposition and the loyalists’ ranks, and especially in the midst of the waning of the Future Movement’s unilateral representation of the Sunni population.
Herein lies the fundamental issue that the left in general and the revolutionary left in particular has to address: how can we attract the masses — who either favour the fundamentalist movements on one hand, or the existing sectarian movements on the other — to a non-sectarian and class position. Obviously, the issue cannot be confronted as if the fundamentalist are coming from a distant past, or are strange to society, or that they are non-modern expressions, or other such excuses that others utilise to call for the elimination of Salafism and fundamentalism.
From such a position, these same people condone any security response, which in turn motivates sectarian fighting and contributes to the creation of the political conditions that the regime can use to renew itself. In other words, the security response in actuality justifies the war on the poor, while the one truly responsible escape the consequences that economic, social, and political deterioration brings; these conditions are fertile ground for the growth of such Islamist movements.
Hence, it is the responsibility of the Left in general and the Revolutionary Left in particular to tackle this issue by creating the political, revolutionary, and proletarian alternative that can win over the masses away from these groups, not to a sectarian discourse, but towards a secular one. This alternative neither incriminates these segments of society, nor does it brand them as “sectarian” or “idiotic”, since the prime reason that they favour the sectarian and religious discourse is the absence of the working class from the political and economic struggle. The working class is the only class that can form a focal point to the present class tensions, and the one best suited to create a non-sectarian, secular confrontation against the ruling class (avoiding entering into sectarian clashes that lead to the destruction of the whole of society). The local bourgeoisie and its regional allies, especially the Syrian regime, have sought to weaken the working class by devastating union movements and emptying them them of content.
In an article published in Assafir newspaper to mark Mayday 2011, Adnan al-Haj, the editor of the economics section, commented on the current state of the trades unions: “There are around 580 workers’ unions who have an approximate membership of 50,000 workers. Some see that this number inflated and counter that union membership in Lebanon does not exceed two percent or three percent, which is a number closer to reality considering the phantom union… There are 51 unions that are divided between the political forces in the following manner: fifteen unions belong to the Amal Movement, eight to the Lebanese Forces, seven are for Hezbollah, six for the Communist Party (and these are unions that have differing views and relationships with the General Workers’ Union), two for the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP), three for the Ba’ath party, one for each of the Progressive Socialist Party and the Phalanges, two independent unions, and one union shared between the Future Movement and the Amal Movement…”18
The working class today is subjected to continual attempts at silencing by the powers of the current regime, either through political favouritism, as a process of hiring in state institutions and some private companies, or through the tight grip they have on the workers’ voices through subduing the general workers’ union under the current bourgeoisie’s decisions. This subjection appears clear especially in the past few years, when each of March 8 and March 14 demonstrated that they will never support the workers and their demands. Herein lies the necessity of rebuilding union work and building an independent, non-sectarian and secular workers’ movement, for indeed it is the main pillar to rectify the struggle and avert the danger of sectarian and religious fighting in Lebanon.
Another important point is to stand in opposition to the security solutions advocated for by the state and its hegemonic sectarian parties against Islamist movements; the demand has to be made upon the Lebanese state to enter all of the Lebanese land with services such as social welfare, employment opportunities, justice, and development, first and foremost, and not bearing weapons.
Today, it is the Lebanese army as well as the Lebanese people who are paying the price, day after day, for the games that the hegemonic bourgeoisie and security forces play and for their sectarian and oppressive economic policies. These policies have made the whole country live in a dormant state of perpetual war and growing social violence. We have no exit from this cycle except the building a revolutionary workers movement, it being the only element capable of re-polarising the Lebanese population towards their true class interest; this population that, day after day, retreats to sectarian and religious positions to express class tensions, especially in the absence of any other alternative. The equation today, more than ever, is: “Either a social revolution or barbarism.”19
How did the sectarian nightmare come true in Syria and Iraq?
Interview Socialist Worker, August 2014
What led to the emergence of the Islamic State group?
People in the Middle East have suffered enormously from poverty, oppression and Western imperialism. With the retreat of the left in recent decades many looked at political Islam as an alternative. But this is a broad and varied category — and both the US war on Iraq and the revolutions across the Arab world have changed the political agenda.
On the one hand there are mass organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and Hamas. These recruit and organise ordinary people on a political agenda, even if they organise militarily as well. In contrast, a group such as Al-Qaeda builds on political ideas, but without building a popular movement among ordinary people.
Like the Narodniks in 19th century Russia, it is a terrorist organisation in a traditional sense with the aim of destabilising the enemy. Particularly since the occupation of Iraq, groups that merge these two traditions are growing. They adopt terrorist tactics at the same time as recruiting people politically. Isis — the group that later became the Islamic State — and others such as Jabhat al-Nusra are examples of this.
How did groups such as Isis overtake other forms of political Islam?
The revolutions were full of contradictions. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood experienced a terrible defeat after going into government and working with the regime. In Tunisia, An-Nahda had to retreat into opposition. Many of those looking to Sunni political Islam started to turn away from these established groups, as they weren’t able to deliver.
This allowed factional groups to emerge as a hard-line alternative. Very organised, with funding and a clear programme, they were more attractive especially to the most radicalised militants. Meanwhile Shia political Islam was on the offensive, with support from Iran. Lebanon’s Hezbollah has intervened from a very sectarian perspective to defend the dictatorship in Syria against the revolution. In Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki’s government has led a wide offensive on Sunni areas.
Such factors combined with a continuing destruction of the social fabric in Iraq and Syria. This is down to both regimes’ heavy repressive and sectarian policies, and a bloody history of imperialism and regional interferences. This provided groups like Isis both a political momentum and a sectarian purpose. They also fed on the heavy destabilisation of al-Qaeda’s bureaucratic structure.
Where did all their money come from?
Many forces are involved, from Saudi Arabia and Qatar to local and regional businessmen and possibly the US itself. Funding for Islamist groups is always a very twisted affair. One group can get backing from somewhere, only to merge or get taken over by another — along with its money and arms. Their funding structures change and transform in relation to political or strategic shifts. The CIA is involved in every country in the region. And the story of the West backing Osama bin Laden only for him to become their worst enemy has many echoes.
It’s not unusual for people who have passed through contact with the CIA later to pop up and become Islamist leaders. The Islamic State also gains arms and money with territorial possession. And now of course it also gets revenue from selling oil it controls. Particularly in Syria, Isis was a product of local militias and groups consolidating into one powerful organisation. This is very attractive to warlords and much of the petty bourgeoisie thrown up by the war, who need to control the streets where they operate.
How did the Syrian revolution come to this?
The influence of Isis reflects the militarisation of the revolt from very early on. Bashar al-Assad’s regime unleashed horrible repression, and created the conditions for a civil war. That regime is now emptied of any political substance. It has completely lost credibility on the ground, and is ruling purely by scaring people into obedience and helplessness. Many of the Syrian activists and civilians who were part of early political protests are either in regime prisons or outside Syria as refugees.
Others are in liberated areas, drained of resources from having to fend off both Isis and regime forces. Syria has been emptied to polarise the fight between one threat and another, pushing back and fragmenting much of the mass movement — and that helped Isis.
Was there an alternative to this degeneration?
There was, but you need to consider the broader context to see it. When the revolution in Egypt started, there were protests in support of it all over the Arab World. But the small mobilisations we helped organise in Beirut were the only ones in support of the Syrian revolution.
At the same time, there is a history of deep segregation between the Syrian working class and the Lebanese working class, and there have been no political parties in Syria for the last 40 years. Much of the wider left opposed the Syrian revolution.
Hezbollah and others argued that the revolutions were only happening against regimes which collaborate with imperialism — and that the Syrian regime wasn’t like that. As if the revolutions weren’t also connected to economic crisis, repression and so on. They closed down breathing space for the Syrian revolutionaries to propagate their politics or to build solidarity. So the Syrian revolution was besieged and isolated. Without that isolation, its degeneration into an armed conflict was never a given.
Lebanon and Syria are interconnected. You cannot see a sustained movement in one without the other. You also need unity and solidarity between movements in the countries of the region. They cannot be limited only within national boundaries.
Can anything be done to stop the Islamic State?
The only way you defend yourself against forces like this is to organise people in a way that fends off sectarianism. Sectarianism is a tactic used by the ruling class to attack the revolution. It has the potential to become a very organic culture, which just fuels itself into more and more killings. In 1990 Beirut was completely segregated between Christians and Muslims. But over ten years there was more intermixing.
By the 2000s, the potential to create a general aggressive culture of sectarianism was more limited because of common living and common experiences. Social movements developed and created links, and a space to organise against sectarianism. In 2011, we marched into working class areas where sectarian militias occupied the streets. Families came from their homes and joined the demonstrations, because we used anti-sectarian slogans that spoke about their real worries and demands.
You’re fending off the sectarian militias from controlling the area they are in geographically or psychologically. In Iraq it is harder because the social and political decay left by the occupation led to fiercer segregation in mixed areas. But the left needs to intervene to create a real alternative and shift new generations from getting recruited by sectarian parties.
What effect does US intervention have?
The US is on the defensive and trying to protect its own interests in Iraq. An intervention will inflame the situation and prolong the conflict. The Islamic State exists because of a lack of revolutionary politics. A movement from below which fends off the regime and fills the vacuum the Islamic State is currently filling could win people away from it. You can point to Isis as being part of the counter-revolutionary forces that criminalise revolution. The line of struggle against both the regime and against these reactionaries becomes clearer. But when imperialists intervene it gives structures like Isis more favourable conditions.
It galvanises regional rivalries which allows the further spreading of factional conflicts. This fragments the masses and besieges the working class in a war-driven economy and it limits the possibility of building political movements and mass mobilisations that offer the only real alternative against these sectarian forces.
Nationalism, resistance and revolution
January 2015, International Socialism Journal, Issue: 145
Identity and entity
The reduction of current struggles in Lebanon and Syria in particular, and across the Middle East in general, to purely abstract nationalistic, sectarian and “identitarian” dimensions is one of the dominating features of the analytical and methodical logic of the Arab nationalist and Stalinist left.21 Their analysis fails to consider the social structures involved and their contradictions, the ideological engines powering such national or sectarian identities. Nor does it take into account the crises that they experience, in particular those imposed by the revolutionary process; a process that is on-going despite its fluctuations and fractures.
The methodology of the Arab nationalist and Stalinist left sees the situation in the Middle East and in the Lebanese and Syrian region in particular, through the lens of antagonistic binaries and approaches society and its contradictions through a set of predetermined cultural and national/religious identities. Therefore we hear of “Sunni-Shia strife”, the Oriental culture, Arabs, the West, Orientalism, identity crisis, sectarian rule, Christians, Muslims, etc. According to such characterisations, these identities are treated as independent structures and established entities that interact among themselves in a relationship of convergence, divergence and struggle on the local, regional and international theatres of the shifting balance of power.
The movements of the masses are therefore evaluated according to their closeness to a particular regional or international alliance and their distance from another. The “resistance” axis is said to include Iran and Syria, and is supported by Russia. An opposing “American-Zionist-Takfiri”22 axis is viewed as being backed by the US and includes regimes like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. A mass movement is subsequently legitimised or de-legitimised according to where it stands in the struggle between these axes. The on-going struggle is pictured as a struggle between identities that are legitimised by the political language used to describe them, regardless of how genuine these entities themselves are, particularly in the face of the revolutionary transformations that govern the situation today.
The Stalinist and Arab nationalist left have never seen beyond the milestone of national struggle and national liberation to which, in spite of their importance and necessity, the revolution cannot be restricted. This perspective on the revolution is invoked by the language used to describe it. Herein lies the essential problem: are we seeing the revolutionary process, on the one hand, through its actual reality, in other words through the context that gave birth to it and the contradictions characterising that context; or, on the other hand, evaluating it based on a theoretical assumption that has never been able to concede that the Arab or non-Arab individual in this region cannot be exclusively reduced to his or her national identity?
“National entity” and national identity remain the main pillars of Stalinist and Arab nationalist leftist thought and language, through which some are classified as “patriots” and others as “traitors” or “clients”. Systematically accusing others of treason is not only a moral failing on the part of some individuals, but is a natural consequence of nationalist thought, whenever compelled to defend its position in the dominant ideological structure. Of course, this does not imply that there are no traitors or political forces that are clients of imperialism; however, it means that the systematic accusation of treason often becomes the dominant language of the nationalist rhetoric, whenever nationalism is in crisis or in a position of having to defend its hegemony over the dominant political language in society.
We can observe this nowadays because of the revolutionary process that is sweeping the region. The first assumption put forward by many in the Stalinist and Arab nationalist currents, in their approach to the events of early 2011, was that the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia were caused by the relations between the regimes there and US imperialism. However, this assumption was quickly rebuffed by the rise of the mass movement in Syria, whose regime is considered by the Stalinists and Arab nationalists to be a “resistance” regime — a “citadel of resistance” to Zionism and imperialism.
Since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution the advocates of Arab nationalism and Stalinism have been trying to rethink the hierarchy of the struggle in such a way as to distinguish between two struggles, the national liberation struggle and the social liberation struggle. The second is subordinated to the first, by virtue of the commitment to the fundamental national entity. While the national liberation struggle becomes an existential battle, the social struggle is treated as a mere case of reformist struggle within the boundaries of “keeping one’s house in order”. That is what Samah Idriss 23 insinuated on 4 December 2013:
“Our issue with the Arab regimes is an issue with oppression, criminality, corruption and clientelism. Our problem with Israel is a problem with the entity itself, its regime, its state, its army, its institutions, its economy, its culture, its tourism, its industry, its agriculture, its right, its left and its centre.”24
Idriss is right to state that the issue with Israel is one with the entity itself; however, he does not address the following problematic: Can the struggle against the Zionist entity be resolved and won within the context of the current entities of the Arab regimes? Or even through the very notion of national entities? Or is it actually only solvable through a drastic reconfiguration of these entities?
That is what history has shown before, with the path of the Palestinian Revolution that has imposed transformations and contradictions on the reality of the established Arab entities, from Syria to Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others. In its rise, the Palestinian Revolution clashed objectively, not only with the Zionist entity, but also with the national structure of the whole of the Arab regimes. Perhaps one of the major examples of that clash with, for instance, the “Syrian national interest” — ie the interests of a “final” Syrian entity — is the events of “Black September” in 1970, when then Syrian defence minister Hafez al-Assad:
Opposed Syrian military support for the Palestinians, for fear that Syria would be drawn into an all-out war with Israel. He refused to provide air cover to the Syrian tanks when they came under Jordanian attack, forcing the brigade to withdraw. This left the Palestinians isolated, and thousands were massacred by Hussein’s forces in pogroms that became known as “Black September”. 25
This clash (between the Palestinian Revolution and the Arab entities) was not restricted to Syria and Jordan; it also naturally led to a clash with the structure of the Lebanese entity, as could be seen during the Lebanese Civil War and the resulting ideological struggles over the identity and “finality” of the entity. This was proven by the Taif agreement 26 where the “patriotic” bourgeoisie re-emphasised the finality of the Lebanese entity, with an Arab face, and Syrian-Saudi sponsorship.
This pattern of the finality or inevitability of entities can be applied to all Arab regimes, be they “resistant” or not. In Egypt, for instance, “the Camp David agreement was the political indicator of the changes in Egyptian reality, and watchwords like ‘disengagement’ and ‘Arab isolation’ contained the implicit and explicit announcement of the shift of the Egyptian regime towards a market economy”. 27 Arab isolation, disengagement and other expressions, like “Egypt first”, “Jordan first” or “Lebanon first”, are nothing but the implicit and explicit expression of the politics of the finality of Arab national entities, meaning, in effect, a commitment to the divisions brought about by European colonial powers at the beginning of the 20th century.
There can be no formal distinction between the nationalist rhetoric of the Arab regimes and their politics, on one side, and the nationalist rhetoric that is dominant today among the traditional left on the other, even if they differ in their details. Both categorically insist on the centrality of national entities and identities as the bases for political and social mobilisation, even if this struggle cannot possibly be undertaken without the alignment of these entities with one or another of the dominant axes on the regional and international theatres. In truth, these policies and their underlying logic are nothing but the repetition of Cold War rhetoric, from which the Arab nationalist and Stalinist left have assumed the necessity of alignment to one side against another. It represents the complete abandonment of any attempt to exit the duality of that imperialist antagonism and head towards a genuinely revolutionary mass movement that would not base its strategy on advocating one imperialism against another. Naturally these policies are always presented under the cover of national identity or national liberation.
That is what As’ad AbuKhalil8 says in an article for the Al–Akhbar journal on 16 October 2013 under the title “A Call for the Return to the Lebanese Civil War” where AbuKhalil summarises the underlying latent conflict in Lebanon — which is yet to be resolved — in the following problematics: “1. The identity of Lebanon. 2. The Lebanese foreign policy and the government’s position on the regional conflict. 3. The position on the Palestinian cause. 4. The disagreement on social justice. 5. The issue of sectarian injustice. 6. The type of ruling regime.” He then goes on to describe the different Lebanese religious sects:
“No single sect has had a fixed political position in Lebanon — in spite of those who promote the theory of a moral superiority of one sect against another — because the sects, by virtue of the sectarian system, are akin to the tribes of Afghanistan and Iraq: up for grabs, moving from one position to another, by virtue of the prevailing conditions. That makes Walid Jumblatt9 the true representative of narrow sectarianism.” 28
In this view, AbuKhalil emphasises two points: the first is that the problematic of the Lebanese question is concerned with resolving the “Lebanese identity” issue. The second is that resolving said issue is the task of Lebanon’s established sectarian entities — that are, according to AbuKhalil, like “the tribes of Afghanistan and Iraq”. The rhetoric, adopted by Idriss and AbuKhalil, is not far from that of the allies of the Syrian regime in Lebanon, from Hezbollah to the Free Patriotic Movement to the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and others, even if Idriss and AbuKhalil distinguish themselves from those parties by criticising, from time to time, the “resistance” regimes. However, they remain part of these cleavages, within the general rhetoric of the politics of conflicting axes, without tackling the ideological and intellectual fabric of those politics or making any attempt to fracture that rhetoric.
The secretary general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, made the following declaration in a televised speech on 30 April 2013: “Syria has, in the region and the world, genuine friends who will not allow it to fall into the hands of the United States or Israel or the Takfiri groups”; and in June 2013: “the issue is not one of [Hezbollah’s] intervention in Syria…the Syrian Arab Army is fighting on various parts of Syrian territory, and we are assuming part of the responsibilities in facing this worldwide project that wants to precipitate the downfall of the region, not only Syria, that is the American-Israeli-Takfiri project”. 29
From this speech, it is clear that Nasrallah is genuinely convinced of the veracity of the conflict of axes thesis, in which Hezbollah has sided with the Syrian regime and its regional and international allies against the “American-Israeli-Takfiri project”. The correlation between Hezbollah’s position and that of the Arab nationalists and the traditional left is no coincidence. Their argument is an application, perhaps even a literal one, of the stageist Stalinist vision, which calls for a historical and strategic alliance with the national bourgeoisie to attain democratic national rule as a first stage, before proceeding to the building of a strong regime and state apparatus that would contribute to developing the means of production and allow, at a further stage, for a revolution that would pave the way for socialism.
We have seen not so long ago where this recipe has taken us. The alliance of the “National Movement”30 with the “nationalist/Muslim” bourgeoisie in opposition to the “isolationist/ reactionary/Christian” bourgeoisie, on the eve of and during the Lebanese Civil War ended in the confirmation of sectarian rule in Lebanon and the punishment of the Palestinians for their “spoiling of Lebanon”. We can also extend this vision to the outcome of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). The PLO’s commitment to the project of the “state”, in other words the commitment to the finality of the Palestinian national entity, which restricted the Palestinian cause, from an Arab and worldwide popular movement unbound with identities, to the bourgeois, bureaucratic and “nationalist” template, whose “achievement” will include the emergence of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and his entourage.31
This very strategy is still upheld by the Stalinist left in general, as the Egyptian Communist Party declares in its political programme:
“The party believes that the 25 January  Revolution is the most important episode in the national democratic revolution, and that it is in essence a popular and democratic revolution with national and social prospects, and has risen to eradicate tyranny and corruption, achieve political and economical independence, put an end to clientelism, achieve self-sustained independent development, rebuild the state apparatus on popular democratic bases, put an end to monopolies, build the national industry, conduct profound changes in the agricultural sector, achieve political and social democracy, and respect the rights and dignity of the Egyptian individual as well as public liberties. 32
From this stance, the Egyptian traditional left justifies voting in favour of the military’s constitution and considering the Muslim Brotherhood to be the greatest danger to the revolution — with no mention of the military — as well as its alignment with the “Syrian regime and the Syrian Arab Army” in opposition to the imperialist plan against the Arab region and particularly against Syria.
Using the same approach, albeit with a different twist, Nahed Hattar and his lackeys adopt their own take on nationalism that can euphemistically be described as a reincarnation of neo-fascist Syrian nationalist thought but, with a “new” cover making it easier to digest for the old left.
On the Syrian question, Hattar says:
“We have stood, clearly, with the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad against Gulf and Wahhabi barbarism, Qatari and Saudi, as well as against neo-Ottomanism. We are not merely “sympathetic” to the Syrian regime, as [Hazem] Saghieh puts it, but we are, in the nationalist war, fighting in the same trench. And we believe that we have chosen the right trench. We have, of course, our own methodical and critical analysis of that regime, and we have our own declared programme of struggle inside Syria to build a nationalist, resistance and developmentalist state. However that is a Syrian, Levantine, internal political struggle that does not affect the unity of the forces that are repulsing the external aggression, the Western, Zionist, Wahhabi and Ottoman aggression.” 33
At the end of the day, the vision that all of these people share is that national liberation, or the building of the national state, in any form, requires at first the nation’s liberation. National liberation determines what is external and what is internal to the state, and through which the issues of that interior — issues around Arab, Levantine, Syrian, Lebanese or other identitarian formations — can be debated. This is confirmed by Khalid Hadadi 34 in his latest article in Nida’a [the LCP journal] where he argues that, as the sectarian nature of the Lebanese regime makes the regional contradictions a part of internal Lebanese politics, that reality can only be changed through “building the civil, secular, democratic resistance state”. He says that: conditions for a deeper solution related to the refoundation of the Lebanese state must be met, in a way that surpasses its war-provoking, division and clientelism-encouraging nature, towards a salvation conference that would lay the foundations to build that civil, secular, democratic and resistant state.”
This proposition does not, of course, address the class nature of that state. From here we can see how this ideological current, from its far-right to its far-left, in its ultranationalist or its national-popular incarnation, has never gone beyond the central issue of the dominance of the bourgeois national state, i.e. a state with the capacity to form a class alliance that would provide a bourgeois-proletarian conciliation while at the same time ensuring national unity, through which the external dangers can be confronted, or the relations of competition and convergence with that exterior can be set.
Imperialism, capitalism and the national state
The national bourgeois state is one of the essential structures established by Western colonialism as a condition of capitalist expansion in the colonies, in its economic, social and political aspects. The bourgeois state constituted a rupture or fracture with the prevailing semi-feudal system. It would be illusory to consider nationalist thought as being in contradiction with capitalism; the emergence of the state is conditional to the development of capitalist economic and social structures, and the divergence from and ultimate destruction of pre-capitalist structures. From thereon in, the notions of “entity” and “national identity”, the finality of a certain entity and its relation to other entities are concepts that cannot come into being without the centralised establishment of a bourgeois state apparatus that governs society under the cover of a “national identity”, be it Arab, Levantine, Lebanese, Syrian, Islamic, Christian or other. All constitute an ideological cover for the dominating bourgeois regime itself.
And it is not peculiar that those sections of the left that identify with one national ideology or another put the issue of the national cover for that bourgeois domination at the top of their political agenda. Their policies are not so much in contradiction with the established bourgeois regime as in accordance with it, since their starting point is the ideological structure of the very same bourgeois regime.
As Mahdi Amel puts it in his book Theoretical Introductions to the Study of the Effect of Socialist Thought on National Liberation Movements: “And by this thought structure we mean the ideological field in which the individual’s ideology is determined, built and developed, i.e. this one soil from which multiple ideas can sprout, the differences between which can reach the point of contradiction; however, their roots are set in the same soil that determines the nature of their emergence and their field of development. The existence of contradictions between these ideas does not negate, but affirms the fact that they are situated in one ideological soil.”35
Therefore, the ideological premises from which nationalist thought stems to confront the dependency on imperialism are in no fundamental contradiction with imperialism. They share the same thought structure, that is, the bourgeois governance system, with which they identify. For this reason, we see that the Arab nationalist regimes that emerged in the last decades of the 20th century, and that were considered back then — and still today — as progressive regimes by large chunks of the traditional and national left, have proven over time that they were no different from the bourgeois “client” regimes, as they are called. Indeed, the Arab nationalist regimes have renewed their relation to and identification with the interests of imperialism, even if the degree to which they identify with those interests might differ. That differentiation, like the one between Saudi Arabia and Syria for instance, is a proof of the continuation of this pattern of relations, and a negation of the independence of these regimes or their liberation from imperialist domination.
We go back to Mahdi Amel, and his analysis of “progressive regimes” that transform the dominant petty bourgeoisie into a renewed colonial bourgeoisie:
“We notice, for instance, that the change in dominant class in the so-called “progressive regimes”, like those of Egypt and Syria, has always taken place in the context of an ectopic form of class struggle. This helps us to understand the special nature of the political practice of the petty bourgeoisie… The petty bourgeoisie is necessarily urged to renew these relations of production, to permanently reproduce those relations in the political practice of its class struggle against the colonial bourgeoisie itself, because the renewal of the relations of production is a necessary and absolute condition for its continuation as a dominant class. However, the necessity to become the dominant class in the context of the existing relations of production will push the petty bourgeoisie to assimilate into the dominant class that it has replaced and against which it is engaged in a class struggle, and therefore to identify with it and not diverge from it… The existence of a state sector does not change the class nature of the relations of production.” 36
For this reason, the national task cannot be effectively accomplished, and this reality is presented as the expression of a crisis of identity or a crisis of nationalism, taking us back to the issue of entity and identity without getting to grips with the capitalist class structure and its uneven development which result in the creation of relations of dependency on imperialism. That is the essential problem with the strategic perspectives of the traditional left and the nationalist currents in general. It is clear that the best that can be achieved with the stance they have adopted is an improvement in the conditions of capitalist and nationalist competition between the established entities, without defying the structure that not only allows that competition to exist, but opens the door to foreign and regional interference, or regional or international dominance over a given country.
This is why national liberation is not a stage that precedes social liberation and class struggle, but it is in reality part and parcel of the one and only social class struggle. National liberation doesn’t precede social revolution, but it is produced by it, as one of its processes, because it is impossible to achieve independence within the system of capitalist dependence, dominance and competition that rules the world. True independence or national liberation cannot be achieved in the current conditions without being included in the process of socialist revolution itself.
Therefore national liberation movements, by fighting the national liberation struggle from outside the class struggle, are heading towards assimilation with the dominant bourgeoisie and becoming players in the convergence and competition within the dominant bourgeois capitalist axes. This phenomenon can be observed in the PLO, Hamas and Hezbollah with the latter’s recent and ongoing shifts in its socio-economic and organisational structure as well as its local and regional positioning, a point I will return to later.
It is not the sectarian regime per se that establishes dependency, and the connection between the inside and the outside; rather it is merely an ideological cover for capitalist dependency. That dependency cannot be broken from within the capitalist structure itself because the bourgeois state is not only an internal system of class domination, but is also at the same time an apparatus for national, regional and international capitalist competition. What follows is that the national cover for the bourgeois state is nothing but a fitting and refitting of the axes of that capitalist competition, its terrain of dominance, and its capacity to contain the struggles that arise within its societies from the structural contradictions of the capitalist system.
The structural crisis of nationalist thought, from its left to its right, lies in the fact that it lives on those contradictions that characterise the capitalist system, and cannot part with them. It is itself an articulation of the attempt by that bourgeois ideological structure to conceive new identities in order to maintain its ideological dominance in renewed ideological clothing. This point is confirmed by the emergence of a crisis of identity every time the bourgeois ruling class itself is in crisis, or sees cracks in the ideological domination through which it justifies its class rule.
The crisis of bourgeois rule and the new crisis of capitalism
We cannot understand those shifts, and the identitarian struggle and the concurrent re-emergence of historic identities — be they religious, national, regional or sectarian — outside the context of capitalist structure, its shifts and contradictions; the struggles over identity are an expression of the crisis of capitalism itself. Frederick Engels said: According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure — political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc, juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas — also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form.37
There is a clear correlation between the dominant ideology, the dominant class structure, and the absence of the issue of class relations in the rhetorical identitarian and geostrategic debate dominant in the nationalist current and its left; it is nothing but an attempt to escape a confrontation with the exploding class contradictions in their current, international, regional and local realities. This attempt to revamp those contradictions or postpone their explosion aims to preserve the existing class hegemony, in any possible way, be it sectarian or national or other.
The shifts and transformations happening throughout the world, and taking a thoroughly confrontational form in the Arab world, are in contradiction, not only with the liberal thought structure, but also with the worldview of the Arab nationalist and traditional left. For what is characteristic of both liberal thought and nationalist thought is that they compete with each other, rather than contradict one another, within the dominant structure of bourgeois thought. They form, at least in the Arab world, the most obvious incarnation of that theatre of competitive interactions between two poles, whether one attempts to assert domination over another or they form an alliance to confront mutual threats. These threats are in truth the contradictions, fractures and struggles that are happening within the established system of capitalist hegemony, ie that very same national bourgeois state, whichever cover it happens to adopt — liberal, nationalist or other.
These relations are confirmed daily through, for instance, the US-Syrian agreement on the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons. The US-Iranian agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme, which was followed by an Iranian-Saudi convergence, materialised with, among other things, apologies to the Bahraini regime by the Manar TV and Noor radio channels, both of which belong to Hezbollah, for their coverage of the events in Bahrain — that is, the Bahraini Revolution that began in 2011.
Such agreements are not only indicators of decreasing US hegemony over the region due to shifts in internal US affairs. They are also aimed at giving the dominant Arab and regional regimes greater leeway to put their own imploding houses in order. These agreements are building up to an attempt by those regimes to contain and tackle the Arab and non-Arab mass movements in the region, from Egypt to Syria and Bahrain, Iran and others while simultaneously isolating the Palestinian people, and the Palestinian cause altogether, from the revolutionary masses that surround them.
Going back to Idriss’s depiction of the struggle against Israel as an existential one, in contrast to the struggles with the Arab regimes, with the latter reduced to a mere struggle against tyranny, and other internal affairs, we ask, how can Palestine be liberated? How can a project of resistance be sustained through the existing structures of the Arab regimes? Or through the national bourgeois apparatus, in the context of the shifts and alliances that are sprouting on the regional and international political theatres? The answer to this question can, in reality, only come from a process that neither the nationalist nor the Stalinist left will recognise, that is, the revolution: not as an entity’s revolution, or a national revolution, but a permanent revolution that arises from the structural contradictions in Arab societies.
By its class nature, this revolution cannot but be in fundamental contradiction with the established system of class dominance, and with the systems of regional and international dependency. The social, economic and political problems that arise on the political level cannot be solved by any bourgeois refurbishment of the established regimes in their own national space. They can only be solved by the overthrow of the system of bourgeois rule and by defying the system of class dominance in general. The watchword that no one on the revolutionary left must shy away from proclaiming today is socialism! It is not as a historical leap by the masses towards another regime, but as the process through which the dominant ideology can be destroyed, through which the class contradictions that support the bourgeois regimes can be exposed, in order to overcome this apparatus towards its antithesis: revolutionary workers’ power, through which it is really possible to overcome religious sectarianism, persecution, exploitation, injustice and oppression, and what is more, to fracture the cycle of capitalist and imperialist dependence.
I will not address the evidence for the class nature of the Arab revolutions, for many have written on the subject in the Permanent Revolution journal and elsewhere. The question we must address is that of the interconnectivity of the revolutionary struggle, the fact that it is spreading from one country to another, and its capacity to defy the established balance of forces at the local and regional scales. The revolutionary struggle is defying the finality of the national entities that were imposed on the peoples of the region by colonial divisions and later by the dominant bourgeoisie and bureaucracy, in agreement and in convergence with imperialism.
The revolutions rocking our region are not the expressions of a crisis of identity, as pictured by some, but they are, first and foremost, the expressions of the crisis of the bourgeois national state and the dominant capitalist system. It is therefore impossible to address the issues of resistance and liberation from imperialism from outside that context. On the contrary, resistance and liberation must identify with the perspectives of the ongoing revolutions, not be imposed on them from above in a pre-packaged nationalist ideology, which is itself going through crisis as an expression of the same bourgeois regime.
Hezbollah, resistance and revolution
It is from this vantage point that we must approach the issue of Hezbollah and those of resistance and national liberation. Can Hezbollah, with its established structure and its sectarian and bourgeois nature, put an end to occupation or achieve national liberation?
The nationalist and Stalinist left entertain many illusions when it comes to Hezbollah. In addition to the sacred character that Hezbollah ascribes to itself, that left also considers it sacred, describing it as a resistance movement which is not governed by reality or by the class structure in which we live. Naturally, because of the centrality of national identity and the national question which overpowers any other consideration, Hezbollah’s role as an apparatus of resistance is granted, by the traditional left, with an existence in abstraction from its class position in society or even given a proletarian gloss, regardless of reality. Therefore, the traditional left supports Hezbollah blindly, not only from the viewpoint of national liberation, but also from the viewpoint of social struggle. The oppression of South Beirut and South Lebanon,38 which many leftist activists harp on about, becomes in these circumstances, another attempt to excuse sectarian bias using the language of class. Sectarian parties in Lebanon use class language (Shia deprivation, Christian injustice, etc) to legitimise their sectarian rhetoric.
The nationalist and Stalinist left, who are wholly allied to Hezbollah and to the Syrian regime’s allies in Lebanon, utilise the same sectarian rhetoric and give it a class dimension, transforming, for instance, Ashoura’39 into a symbol of confronting oppression, or the Dahiyeh area of South Beirut40 into a symbol of resistance and dynamism.
These expressions do not differ from sectarian rhetoric, but legitimise it and reinforce feelings of sectarian pride, which was always a defining element of the dominant sectarian discourse. Just as the Phalangists promoted, in their period of dominance,41 a discourse of Christian sectarian pride under the cover of Lebanese nationalism, Hezbollah nowadays promotes “Shia” sectarian culture and identifies it with Lebanese national culture. Therefore, patriotism is put in a distinctively sectarian mould. This logic can easily reach extremes among people, making a client or a traitor of every Sunni, while making every Shia a resister of imperialism or a patriot.
Lately a rampage of racism towards Syrian refugees has been seen among proponents of the idea that Syria is a resistant regime. The refugees are described as traitors. Some say: “Wouldn’t it be better to give money to the resistance fighters in Qalamoun?”42 or “How can we sympathise with a child or a woman who was left here in a tent by her husband or brother, so he can go murder women and children in his own country?” This discourse aids the propaganda and denigration campaigns the national current and its left have adopted since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution. While, when it comes to the Egyptian Revolution, they are capable of distinguishing between the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, the nationalists, the liberals, the leftists, the military and the revolutionaries, they are absolutely incapable of applying a similar demarcation in the case of Syria. Thus anyone who supported the Syrian Revolution becomes a “Daeshi”, 43 and the revolution becomes a mere “upheaval”, until the conflict is painted as one between the regime and the Takfiris.
Our goal here is not to deny the existence of the Takfiris or their relationship with Gulf regimes, but to expose the similarities between the respective discourses of the Stalinist and nationalist left on one side and the Takfiris on the other. In the Takfiri discourse there are believers and infidels; in the nationalist left’s discourse there are patriots and traitors. This stems from the fact that this “left” does not share the ideology of the revolutionary left, but that of nationalism itself, in leftist clothes. In other words it has become part of the dominant bourgeois discourse itself, and not its antithesis; that left does not see in itself an antithesis to the bourgeoisie; rather it identifies with the bourgeoisie, and becomes its apologist by directly distorting the reality. This is what people like As’ad AbuKhalil do. In another of his articles in the Al–Akhbar newspaper, on “The Theory of Dialectics and the Renewal of the Arab Left”, he says: “There are plenty of advocates of capitalism in our region, and they themselves are the enemies of the resistance in Lebanon.” The first thing AbuKhalil does is clear “the resistance” (understand, Hezbollah) from the “charge” of being capitalists, before adding later in his article:
“But the capacity to do that stems from the categorical rejection of the principles of capitalism (Abdel Karim Mrouwwe now believes that the capitalist state can protect us from capitalism), and its whole superstructure which, supported by the oil and gas Gulf states, determines our taste in poetry, art, culture, journalism, dance and aesthetics.”
AbuKhalil sees only one of the competing axes on the regional theatre — the Gulf axis — as capitalist, but does not mention the capitalist structure of, say, the Iranian regime or their allies in Lebanon and Syria. Through this blatant distortion of reality, he reduces the anti-capitalist struggle to a struggle against the Gulf regimes and their helpers, as if the resistance, Hezbollah and Iran, were part of an international proletarian alliance!
There is no need to prove the bourgeois nature of Hezbollah or the Syrian regime, as many have written on this subject before; their bourgeois nature is irrefutably proven by their economic role, and in the case of Hezbollah, by the social and economic policies that they have adopted in the past few years. Hassan Nasrallah’s famous “We will not hide behind a loaf of bread”, (Hezbollah will not subsidise basic food needs) or Hezbollah’s support for privatisation, its opposition to the demands of the trade union Coordinating Committee44 and the agreement it made with the Amal Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement to stop the state electricity company workers winning their demands, are all proof of Hezbollah’s bourgeois nature. Other indicators are the extensive sums Hezbollah invests in the real estate sector, which made the Southern suburbs of Beirut (a pro-Hezbollah stronghold) one of the most expensive neighbourhoods in greater Beirut. There is no need to mention the tuition fees of Hezbollah-run schools, which have become schools for the Shia middle classes rather than the poor, or the substantial amounts of money Hezbollah amasses through its healthcare institutions such as the Great Prophet Hospital in South Beirut. All of this proves that Hezbollah is the party of the Shia middle classes and bourgeoisie, the hegemony over whom it shares with the Amal Movement, and not, as many on the nationalist and Stalinist left picture it, the party of the poor and deprived.
Owing to its capitalist nature, Hezbollah has clearly entered a phase of bureaucratic bourgeois growth, particularly since the Israeli war on Lebanon in July 2006. This is evidenced by the way its cadre and members display their wealth and the privileges they enjoy such as social, economic, educational and health services. This will naturally cause a split between this arriviste bureaucracy and the large masses that Hezbollah relies on to assert its political legitimacy during elections or popular rallies. This is sometimes shown by the latent complaints of common Hezbollah supporters, who have expressed their resentment over that flaunting of wealth, and the bullying influence that members of this bureaucratic clique often exert on other people in the neighbourhoods where they operate.45
This divergence between the class nature of Hezbollah’s supporters — and part of its membership — and its cadre, particularly at mid and senior level, is the main contradiction that Hezbollah will face in the current and future periods. This is indicated by the fact that Hezbollah is increasingly providing a Jihadi religious cover for their policies, by building mosques, depicting their intervention in Syria as a religious duty, or through the provocative sectarian slogan “Zeynab shall not be captured twice”.46 Hezbollah’s increased use of religious messages compared to previous years indicates the necessity for them to contain their base, through an ideological and religious discipline that is bound to become more and more necessary in a context of class crisis, on a local and regional scale. Perhaps — although we cannot be certain in this case — the latest Al-Manar affair (the Hezbollah TV station had apologised to the Bahraini government for its coverage of the revolution there, after which Hezbollah sacked the TV station’s director) can be seen as an indicator of the influence of that class crisis on the party’s bureaucratic discipline; it has shown a contradiction between the party’s political and media apparatus.
The nationalist and Stalinist left do not grasp the fact that the conditions that gave birth to revolutions in the region are the same conditions that govern the resistance to occupation and imperialism. The continuation and success of that resistance are not only dependent on the degree of enthusiasm about weapons; it is also necessary to see if the arms-bearing side can escape the balance of interests that controls those arms and makes them available, and if it will escape, with its bourgeois alignment, from the ongoing implosions in the class structures of regional and Arab societies.
The issue of the revolution gives the resistance another dimension, and poses an essential problematic on the current “resistance cases”, like Hezbollah and Hamas: Can the Zionist entity collapse? Can US, EU or Russian interference be stopped without a radical break with the bourgeois structure that legitimises foreign interference and dominance? Will the “Arab” bourgeoisie relinquish their common interests with the American or Israeli bourgeoisie in order to liberate Palestine? Will the Iranian regime, for instance, give up the necessity to integrate into the world oil market? Will the Syrian regime give up its economic relations with Western regimes? Or will the Syrian moguls give up their relations with other tycoons from the West, China or Russia in the name of Arab higher interests? Naturally the answer is no, because we live in a highly interlaced world economy, the myth of self-sufficiency is nothing but a myth. All the attempts at self-sufficiency have shown that its proponents will align themselves, sooner or later, with one of the great capitalist poles. This is not caused by a degeneration of values among the bourgeoisie; it is a natural consequence of the interlacement of interests between the regional and foreign bourgeoisies, particularly when the former is placed in the position of defending its hegemony against the rise of class struggle. That interlacement is part of the global capitalist fabric in which we live and which is still in a position of dominance, even if it is clearly faltering.
Therefore we cannot but see liberation from imperialism and occupation as part of the process of social liberation. It enters the process of class struggle, not only from the realm of economics, but also from its social, ideological and cultural perspective. Liberation and emancipation are not two distinct phases in a successive programme, but two sides of the same struggle, the struggle for the organisation of the working class in the region on an independent, revolutionary basis. This is not only needed to develop the purely economic and trade unionist struggle, but also as a step towards the achievement of real liberation, and the fracture of the system on which imperialism subsists and through which it controls the region, that is, the capitalist system that governs all of our lives.
Mass resistance is no longer the hypothetical issue it used to be, one that was rebuffed by many for its irrelevance; it has become a historical necessity for the emancipation of the people of the Middle East, not only from occupation and imperialism, but also from dictatorship, oppression, tyranny and exploitation. Without mass resistance, human salvation will remain a mere dream, not an actual serious project waiting for the conditions of its fulfilment.
Being realist today does not mean depending on a structure that emerged not so long ago out of the destruction of existing resistance organisations,47 but it is by building structures of a radically different class nature from the ones that were built for past defeats. Hezbollah has ended the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, but will not, because of its very bourgeois nature, be capable of putting an end to the “Israeli threat” or “imperialist hegemony”. Therefore, all those who consider themselves revolutionaries must answer this essential question: How do we really emancipate ourselves from imperialism? And how can Palestine really be free, not only through delusional hopes resting on regimes that will abandon any project that clashes with their bourgeois hegemonic interests, as they have done in the past?
For all these reasons, the support for revolutions in our region and the whole world is not only an ethical issue, but an essentially realist position. For it is only through revolution that it is possible to break dependency, clientelism, occupation, oppression, tyranny and exploitation, and their resulting culture. It cannot be done through delusions based on the hope that some bourgeois apparatus (Arab or otherwise) might carry us to a better tomorrow. We know in advance that this will never happen, as any improved social situation will clash with bourgeois dominance and bourgeois interests. Change will only be made by the revolutionary masses, for it is in their core interest.
AbuKhalil, As’ad, 2013, “A Call for the Return of the Lebanese Civil War”, Al–Akhbar (16 November).
Amel, Mahdi, 1980, Theoretical Introductions to the Study of the Effect of Socialist Thought on National Liberation Movements (Dar-al-Farabi).
Assaf, Simon, 2013, “Hezbollah’s Sectarian Turn”, Socialist Review (July/August), http://socialistreview.org.uk/382/hezbollahs-sectarian-turn.
Engels, Frederick, 1890a, “Letter to Conrad Schmidt of 5 August”, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1890/letters/90_08_05.htm
Engels, Frederick, 1890b, “Letter to Joseph Bloch of 21 September”, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1890/letters/90_09_21.htm
Engels, Frederick, 1890c, “Letter to Conrad Schmidt of 27 October”, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1890/letters/90_10_27.htm
Engels, Frederick, 1893, “Letter to Franz Mehring of 14 July”, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1893/letters/93_07_14.htm
Hadadi, Khalid, 2013, “The Iranian-Western agreement… the beginning of ‘bargaining wars’?”, Nida’a magazine, issue 226 (December).
Hattar, Nahed, 2013, “Orientalism… as seen by a Nusra Front Liberal!”, Al–Akhbar (19 November).
Nasrallah, Hassan, 2013a, “Syria’s Friends will Not Allow it to Fall”, Al–Akhbar (1 May), http://www.al-akhbar.com/node/182379
Nasrallah, Hassan, 2013b, “We will be where we need to be and we are the Last of the Interveners in Syria”, Al-Akhbar (25 June).
Ahmad Noor, 2013, “Egypt: Diaries of a Revolution”, Permanent Revolution, issue 3 (March), http://permanentrevolution-journal.org/ar/issue3/diaries-of-a-revolution
Shaoul, Jean and Chris Marsden, 2000, “The Bitter Legacy of Syria’s Hafez Al-Assad”, World Socialist Web Site (16 June), http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/06/assa-j16.html
1 In June 2009 the pro-Western March 14 alliance wins parliamentary elections and Saad Hariri forms a unity government. Hariri’s government collapses in January 2011 after Hezbollah and allied ministers resign. In June that year, Najib Mikati forms cabinet dominated by Hezbollah and its allies. By the Summer 2012 the Syrian civil war spills over into Lebanon triggering deadly clashes between Sunni Muslims and Alawites in Tripoli and Beirut, the intermittent clashes carry on until December 2012. In October that year the security chief Wissam al-Hassan is killed in car bombing. In March 2013 Syrian warplanes and helicopters strike targets in northern Lebanon, after Syrian regime warns the Lebanese authorities to stop militants crossing the border. Najib Mikati’s government resigns soon after.
2 Takfir is a pronouncement that someone is an unbeliever (kafir) and no longer Muslim. In the modern era Takfir is used by Sunni Islamists to sanction violence against leaders of Muslim states who are deemed insufficiently religious. In this context “Takfiri” is used as an insult against Sunni Islamist militants. http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t125/e2319
3 Gebran Bassil was head of the Free Patriotic Movement from 2005 to 2008. He served as the Minister of telecommunications in the cabinet led by Fouad Siniora from May 2008 to June 2009, and then as the minister of energy in the cabinet headed by Saad Hariri. Bassil lost his seat in the general elections held in 2009.
4 Marwan Charbel is a former brigadier general of the Internal Security Forces (the national police and security force) and minister of interior and municipalities between 2011 and 2013.
5 In 2004 a general strike was called in the Lebanon against rocketing prices and poor social provision. During demonstrations the army opened fire killing five workers.
6 Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution. Chapter 1: Peculiarities of Russia’s Development. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1930/hrr/ch01.htm
7 by Akram F. Khater, Inventing Home: Emigration, Gender and the Middle Class in Lebanon 1870-1920. University of California Press
8 Ussama Makdisi,The Culture of Sectarianism: Community, History, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon University of California Press.
9 Articles of the Lebanese Constitution. https://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/lb/lb018en.pdf
10 Living Conditions of Households 2007, Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs, 2008.
11 Based on 2002 UN statistics in Brauch, Hans Günter, 2003: “Urbanization and Natural Disasters in the Mediterranean – Population Growth and Climate Change in the 21st Century”, in: Kreimer. Alcira; Arnold, Margaret; Carlin, Anne (Eds.): The Future of Disaster Risk: Building Safer Cities. December 2002. Conference Papers (Washington, D.C.: World Bank): 149-164.
12 Fuad I. Khuri, From Village to Suburb: Order and Change in Greater Beirut, University of Chicago Press, 1975. Page 21.
13 Fuad I. Khuri opt cit
14 A Hussainiya is intended mainly for gatherings for Muharram in the mourning of Hussain ibn Ali, and also the other Shia Imams, and may not necessarily hold jumu’ah (Friday congregational prayer).
15 Mada Association, Akkar al-Mansiyah, Beirut, 2008, p. 21.
16 Ahmad Al-Assir is the former Imam of the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque in Sidon, South Lebanon. With his increasing involvement in regional politics after the Syrian revolution, he has become a notorious personality in Lebanon’s current political landscape. Al-Assir is a Salafi who frequently agitates against Iran and Hezbollah, whom he accuses of being a threat to the fragile sectarian balance and democracy of Lebanon.
17 The 7 May 2008 fighting was sparked by a government move to shut down Hezbollah’s telecommunication network and remove Beirut Airport’s security chief Wafic Shkeir over alleged ties to the resistance. Hassan Nasrallah said the government’s decision was a “declaration of war”. Hezbollah-led fighters seized control of several West Beirut neighborhoods from Future Movement militiamen loyal to the government, in street battles that left 11 dead and 30 wounded. The opposition-seized areas were then handed over to the army, which susbsequently reversed the decisions of the government by letting Hezbollah preserve its telecoms network and re-instating the airport’s security chief.
18 Editor’s Note: As-Safir was a leading Arabic-language newspaper in Lebanon based in Beirut that provided an independent voice for the left-wing, Pan-Arab tendency which was increasingly active in Lebanese intellectual and political life in the years following the Six-Day War. The daily advocated Arab nationalism, was close to Hezbollah and had a pro-Syrian stance. The newspaper was launched in March 1974; the final issue came off the presses on 31 December 2016.
19 Friedrich Engels: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either a transition to socialism or regression into barbarism”. In the Junius Pamphlet, Rosa Luxemburg explains this statement, saying: “Until now, we have all probably read and repeated these words thoughtlessly, without suspecting their fearsome seriousness. A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means. This world war is a regression into barbarism. The triumph of imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization.”
20 Interview with Socialist Worker (UK) https://socialistworker.co.uk/art/38822/How%20did%20the%20sectarian%20nightmare%20come%20true%20in%20Syria%20and%20Iraq
21 Translated by Haytham Cero. Thanks to Wassim Wagdy, Anne Alexander and Camilla Royle for comments on the draft.
22 Takfiri refers to Islamist movements, such as ISIS, who declare that their Muslim opponents are apostates, rather than simply misguided.
23 Translator’s note: Samah Idriss is editor-in-chief of the Al-Adab, politics/arts/culture magazine in Beirut. He often writes for Al-Akhbar and is an organiser in the boycott and anti-normalisation (of Israel) movement in Lebanon.
24 On his Facebook page, 4 December 2013.
25 Shaoul and Marsden, 2000.
26 Translator’s note: The Taif Agreement was signed in 1989 to put an end to the Lebanese civil war.
27 Noor, 2013.
28 Translator’s note: As’ad AbuKhalil is Professor of Political Science at California State University, Stanislaus and blogs at the Angry Arab News Service, go to http://angryarab.blogspot.co.uk/
29 Hassan Nasrallah, speeches.
30 Translator’s note: The Lebanese National Movement in Lebanon was led by Kamal Jumblatt of the Progressive Socialist Party (Walid Jumblatt’s father) and brought together the nationalist and Stalinist left in an alliance against the Lebanese government in the early stages of the Lebanese civil war in the 1970s.
31 Philip Marfleet, An end to isolation? Palestine and the Arab revolutions, ISJ 145 http://isj.org.uk/an-end-to-isolation-palestine-and-the-arab-revolutions/
32 Website of the Egyptian Communist Party, cp-egypt.com
33 Jordanian writer and journalist who writes regularly for Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.
34 Secretary General of the Lebanese Communist Party.
35 Amel, 1980. Translator’s note: Mahdi Amel was a Lebanese Marxist theoretician and academic. Member of the Central Committee of the Lebanese Communist Party, he formulated a Marxist critique of Arab nationalist thought and Arab bourgeois culture in general. He was assassinated by gunmen, widely believed to be connected with Hezbollah, in Beirut on 18 May 1987.
36 Amel, 1980.
37 Engels, 1890b. See also Engels, 1890a and c and Engels, 1893
38 Translator’s note: The South of Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut have a largely Shia population and were historically relatively impoverished and politically marginalised compared to other areas of the country.
39 The Shia festival of Ashoura’ commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in battle near Karbala’ in 680 CE.
40 The Dahiyeh area is where Hezbollah is headquartered.
41 The Phalangist movement was a sectarian militia inspired by European fascist movements and founded by Pierre Gemayel in 1936, which played a key role in the Lebanese Civil War and carried out the massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps in 1982.
42 Mountains in Syria where Hezbollah is fighting, close to the border with Lebanon.
43 A denigrating term for supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) known also by its Arabic acronym Da’ash
44 Which played a key role in organising recent public sector strikes in Lebanon.
45 For more details on Hezbollah’s dive into sectarianism, see Simon Assaf, 2013
46 Translator’s note: a reference to the Sayyidah Zeynab mosque in Damascus, the supposed burial place of the prophet Muhammad’s granddaughter Zeynab, and considered a holy shrine in Shia tradition. It has been guarded by Hezbollah fighters as well as various Iraqi Shia militias since the beginning of the war in Syria.
47 The Lebanese National Resistance Front was composed mainly of LCP and Palestinian militants and emerged in 1982 after Israeli invasion. It carried out guerrilla attacks against Israel and the SLA (the South Lebanon Army which was allied to Israel), but was hit by assassinations of leftist activists in the mid to late 1980s, which were attributed to Hezbollah and other Islamist movements. Hezbollah emerged as the dominant resistance faction after LNRF’s decay in the late 1980s.