Hezbollah’s New Manifesto

Dahiyeh, South Beirut.

Like many  liberation  and resistant movement ‘Manifestos’  ‘Charters’ or ‘Declarations’ issued to the public early in its founding — the African National Congress,  Palestine Liberation Organization , Hamas, Algerian FLN, and various “Sons of Liberty” groups during the American Revolution, come to mind — Hezbollah has been criticized by its detractors over the years for some language in its 1985 “Open Letter” manifesto.  Some  have urged Hezbollah to remove “controversial language” such as the call for an Islamic Republic in Lebanon- even though the Party has made clear that establishing an Islamic Republic of Lebanon is no longer a priority and emphasizes that Lebanon’s diversity is respected,  valued and permanent.  Others have called Hezbollah’s 1985 manifesto ‘too religious” and too dogmatic for a broad international appeal political document.

Ideas for Hezbollah’s original 1985 Manifesto evolved over 30 months following the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, during which time the new resistance movement worked to establish itself in the turbulent period of military invasions, occupations and numerous internal and external conspiracies against it. Many secret discussions were held concerning all manner of subjects including what the new organization would be called. Many favored the name “The Islamic Movement of Lebanon” but before the matter came up for a vote, another of the  more than 20 new  local resistance groups  preempted that name. Others thought the name “Nation (Umma) of Hezbollah” was more inclusive. Under time pressure to agree on a name before the “Open Letter” was to be issued, the name “Hezbollah”, (“Party of God”) found in the Quran was agreed upon.

The Open Letter, addressed to “ The Downtrodden in Lebanon and in the World’   was published on February 16, 1985,  a date purposely chosen because it was the first anniversary of the Israeli assassination, of the pre-Hezbollah resistance organizer  Sheik Ragheb Harb, from the south Lebanon village of Jibsheet.

Hezbollah’s first Manifesto was first read at the al-Ouzai Mosque, down the hill and near the Mediterranean seashore, from the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp, by one of the founders of Hezbollah, the official spokesman for the nascent group, Sayeed Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed, who has served for 28 years on its Shura Council and today heads Hezbollah’s political council.  Perhaps by coincidence, on the same day that Hezbollah’s public manifesto was issued, Israel began a 10 week withdrawal from 168 towns and villages, comprising 55 percent of South Lebanon.

With respect to Shatila Camp and neighboring Burj al Barajneh camp — and later Rashidiyye Camp  down south in Tyre — it was several weeks following Hezbollah ‘going public’ that the “War of the Camps”  (May 1985-July 1988) would  cause more death and destruction to Palestinians than the Sabra-Shatila Massacre.  Despite pressure from their fellow Shia- the Amal militia- to join them in attacking the Camps to settle plenty of still festering pre-1982 scores from PLO abuses and crimes against the southern Shia, as well as to help Syria eliminate pro-Arafat partisans and gain sole control of the “Palestinian Card”,   the newly organized Hezbollah insisted that its only enemies were the Israeli occupiers, which it was busy attacking.  At the same time it repeatedly admonished Amal and Syria to end their assaults on Palestinian refugee camps.  Eventually Syria, under Soviet and Arab pressure, called a halt to the criminal attacks, but to this day few Palestinians have forgiven it for this slaughter which killed more than 4,000 and wounded close to 7,000.   Like Amal, Syria does not like to discuss this dark  chapter and some of its officials express regret and shame.

With its “Open Letter” declaration Hezbollah entered a new phase, shifting the Party from secret resistance activity free from political or media interactions into public political work.

As noted above,  from the day the manifesto was promulgated, some have been advising the Party to amend and ‘tone down’ the 1985 language which reflects a different period of Lebanese history and international conflict.  Others aver that we are still in the same period, only more deeply. The original Hezbollah manifesto document reflects various views of the founders as well as the political thinking of senior Shia cleric Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. Some in Dahiyeh still call Fadlallah “the father of Hezbollah”, not for his active Party involvement which has never existed, so Hezbollah sources attest (not withstanding his name on the US terrorism list), but for his public speeches and sermons that inspired a generation of Resistance fighters in Lebanon and the region and continue to do so.

Some critics have used the Introduction to Hezbollah’s 1985 “Open Letter” to smear the Party as religious fanatics and appearing too ‘foreign’ and too Iranian.

It reads:

“We are often asked:  Who are we, the Hezbollah, and what is our identity?

“We are the sons of the umma (Muslim community) – the party of God (Hizb Allah) the vanguard of which was made victorious by God in Iran. There the vanguard succeeded to lay down the bases of a Muslim state which plays a central role in the world. We obey the orders of one leader, wise and just, that of our tutor and faqih (jurist) who fulfills all the necessary conditions: Ruhollah Musawi Khomeini. God save him!

“By virtue of the above, we do not constitute an organized and closed party in Lebanon. nor are we a tight political cadre. We are an umma linked to the Muslims of the whole world by the solid doctrinal and religious connection of Islam, whose message God wanted to be fulfilled by the Seal of the Prophets, i.e., Muhammad. This is why whatever touches or strikes the Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines and elsewhere reverberates throughout the whole Muslim umma of which we are an integral part. Our behavior is dictated to us by legal principles laid down by the light of an overall political conception defined by the leading jurist (wilayat al-faqih).

“As for our culture, it is based on the Holy Koran, the Sunna and the legal rulings of the  faqih who is our source of imitation (marja’ al-taqlid). Our culture is crystal clear. It is not complicated and is accessible to all.”

Some Party officials, as well as supporters, felt Hezbollah needed to issue a new document that would provide a clearer and wider vision on the resistance and its current political work and future social and ideological plan.

Against this backdrop, Hezbollah’s 7th Party Conference drafted a more contemporary 32-page Manifesto reflecting 28 years of political maturity.  Not to recant its 25 year old “Open Letter” but rather to define issues not addressed in the party’s first manifesto and to set its future political path for “homeland of our fathers, ancestors, grandchildren, and the coming generations.”

The detailed document, in four parts, provides many specifics on how Hezbollah plans to work with the new Unity Government to improve Lebanon and the lives of its entire population.

Misleading main stream media reports

For many who rely on reports offered by  US and European ‘news outlets’ a  dramatically skewed view was presented  the morning after Tuesday’s release of Hezbollah’s new political program at a large news conference in al Jinen Hall in Dahiyeh.

CNN’s report on yesterday’s event was typical:

Beirut, Lebanon (CNN) – Hezbollah’s chief on Monday announced the group’s new “manifesto,” which calls on all countries to “liberate Jerusalem” and declares the United States a threat to the world.

“American terrorism is the source of every terrorism in the world,” Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech from an undisclosed location. Hezbollah, a political party in Lebanon, is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel.

Nasrallah does not appear in public amid concerns for his safety.  “We invite and call on all Arabs and Muslims and all countries keen on peace and stability in the world to intensify efforts and resources to liberate Jerusalem from Zionist occupation and to maintain its true identity and its Islamic and Christian sanctities,” Nasrallah said.

Hezbollah has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks. It has been linked to attacks against American, Israeli and other Western targets….He praised Iran and Syria, which are Hezbollah’s chief backers”.

Only then is the reader advised that Hassan Nasrallah “also touched on domestic issues.” In fact Hassan Nasrallah spoke for 80 minutes about domestic issues, the subject of and reason for the new Hezbollah manifesto.
Hezbollah’s new political program calls for “The elimination of political sectarianism as the main pre-condition to establish a true democracy as the Taif Accord stipulated and the formation of a national council for this end.”

The Hezbollah manifesto blames sectarianism “for being a strong obstacle to achieving a true democracy, whereby the elected majority can rule and the opposition can exercise its role.”

Despite Hezbollah’s desire for a sectarian-free democracy, Nasrallah said that until achieving it, his party accepts “consensus democracy” pursuant to the Constitution and National Pact. “Consensus democracy is a suitable political formula that ensures the participation of all parties,” he said.

Focusing extensively on the domestic level, Hezbollah, acting as a fully fledged political party, urged the implementation of administrative decentralization in order to promote balanced developmental projects over all Lebanese territories.  It warned against the evolution of decentralization into any form of federalism, as he expressed the party’s opposition to any form of division, or masked federalism.

“We want a government that works for its citizens and provides the appropriate services in their education and medical care and housing to secure a decent life and to address the problem of poverty and provide employment opportunities,” the document reads. “We want a government that works to strengthen the role of women in society and enhance their participation in all fields.”

Nasrallah outlined his party’s vision for the Lebanese state, saying it must “guarantee public liberties, ensure national unity and protect its sovereignty and independence with a strong and capable army.” He stressed the importance of “modern” institutions, an economy built on agriculture and industry and a strong judiciary.

Hezbollah’s new manifesto also calls for a modern electoral law with “accurate electoral representation” and added that the state needs to cater to its citizens’ needs, empower the youth and women and prioritize education.

The new document maps out the party’s policy on a national defense strategy, saying that Lebanon needs to confront Israeli threats with a popular resistance supported by the people and a national army that ensures the country’s stability and security. “In the absence of strategic balance, the Israeli threat obliges Lebanon to endorse a defensive strategy that depends on a popular resistance participating in defending the country and an army that preserves the security of the country — in an integrated manner,” added Hezbollah’s Secretary-General. “Adopting the choice of the Resistance allowed Lebanon to achieve real independence and safeguard its sovereignty,” he added.

Hezbollah’s new political manifesto emphatically declares that the Palestinians have the right to resist through all forms, primarily armed struggle.  It pledges Hezbollah’s work with all the Lebanese parties to grant Palestinian refugees in Lebanon “their civil and social rights,” while rejecting naturalization. It also calls for “direct Lebanese-Palestinian dialogue.” Nasrallah cited the 2000 Israeli withdrawal from the South, their 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, the 2006 July War, the first and second Intifadas as well as the Hamas takeover of Gaza, and the 2009 Gaza War as victories against Israel.

“We assure our constant and continuous support of the Palestinian people and cause against Israel,” he added.

Hezbollah’s new manifesto also calls on “Arab leaders to review their agreements with Israel and give up the idea of compromising with it, especially those who gambled on US administration policies.” Nasrallah added that “Israel has proved that is does not seek peace and uses negotiations to impose its conditions and to achieve its gains.”  Hezbollah hopes the Arab and Islamic countries would “unite and commit to the liberation of the land and reject the alternatives of naturalization of Palestinians.”

“We call on the Arabs to set plans to liberate Palestinians in Israeli prisons,” Nasrallah added.

In its new political declaration, Hezbollah discusses Lebanon’s foreign relations, and calls for the country to “maintain its special relations with Syria because it is a political, security and economic need dictated by the two countries’ interests.”  It declares that any “negative atmosphere” clouding these relations must be removed”.

According to Hezbollah, Lebanon’s relations with Syria are part of the country’s overall relations with the Arab world and its confrontation with Israel. “Lebanon is Arab in nature and belonging” and added that its interests “necessitate a commitment to just Arab causes.” He called some Arab countries’ disputes with Iran as a “stab to the back of Arab causes that only serves Israel and the US.”

Hezbollah’s new manifesto also stresses the importance of cooperation between Islamic countries and described Iran as an “important, central state in the Islamic world… which supports resistance movements in our area and supports Arab and Islamic causes.” He added that the “fabrications of contradictions” between Iran and Arab countries is a “stab in the back to the Arab cause, which serves only Israel and the US.”

As Hezbollah initiates its future work within the Lebanese polity, initial Lebanese and international reactions appear positive according to Hezbollah’s media office. The party now plans to enlist support for its new manifesto.

Wednesday’s Daily Star reported in an exclusive interview with David Miliband, the UK’s Foreign Minister, that his country intends to increase contacts and dialogue with Hezbollah’s politicians with European Union members considering the same. Meanwhile, Naharnet.com news bulletin reported that the U.S. Embassy “has denied media reports that U.S .Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman will visit Beirut this week.”

According to the same report, “The embassy also denied an al-Markaziya news agency’s report that the Obama administration would most probably replace Michele Sison as U.S. ambassador to Beirut”.

FRANKLIN LAMB is doing research in Lebanon and can be reached at fplamb@gmail.com

Franklin Lamb volunteers with the Lebanon, France, and USA based Meals for Syrian Refugee Children Lebanon (MSRCL) which seeks to provide hot nutritional meals to Syrian and other refugee children in Lebanon. http://mealsforsyrianrefugeechildrenlebanon.com. He is reachable c/o fplamb@gmail.com.