Alerts, News and Background from Lebanon
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Edited by Inga Schei and Lokman Slim
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August 25, 2012

Without exaggeration, this short text—413 words in its original Arabic form—is destined to become a landmark in the intellectual and political history of the Lebanese-Shia community. At a time when the stakes are high for the Shia community, the Lebanese and their neighbors, this statement sets an example for forthright and bold action.

More than a commentary on the Arab Spring and the Syrian Revolution, the text prepares the Shia and their peers for the long process of reform, starting with an acknowledgment of past events and rationales. Thus, reform is a long, complicated path that necessitates “transparency, dialogue, amiability and criticism” from diverse voices against monopolistic and despotic forces. The Sayyeds’ text focuses on the awakened voices of the Syrian people, whose uprising in Syria—alongside those in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and other countries—is confronting a dictatorial regime that has ruled the country for decades. The authors remind us that this is the same regime that imposed its will on Lebanon and the Lebanese people through a thinly veiled, general occupation that endured for almost half of Lebanon’s existence as a country.

In the context of this crumbling regime and the enduring resentment it has caused, and the multitude of additional contributing domestic and regional factors, the dissenting voice of Lebanon’s Shia community is finally being heard. Today, that collective voice rails against the hegemonic practices of those who seek to suppress positive political diversity.

It is by no means coincidental that the real impetus behind this vocal dissidence, evidenced by the Sayyeds, was the Syrian uprising. Not only is Syria Lebanon’s next-door neighbor, but Syria’s Baathist regime has also counted for decades on the Hezbollah-Amal duo to act as its Lebanese strategic reserve. Likewise, the directorate of these two affiliated organizations expected the Syrian regime to remain forever a stalwart ally. This symbiotic relationship, however, is clearly unraveling. The Assad regime can hardly defend itself, let alone its old friends who, for their part, are also posting political and strategic failures. These circumstances, which have illuminated the hypocritical and surreptitious dealings of these entities, have sparked the rise of many previously dormant dissident Shia voices. In view of this emerging trend, the statement makes two significant observations:

1) Supporting oppression, regardless of type or location, is anathema to being Shia. Thus, supporting the Syrian regime is inherently “un-Shia.”

2) Concerns held by Lebanese-Shia and others about the effect the fall of the Assad regime may have on the stability and balance of confessional power in Lebanon are misbegotten. Rather, a stable and democratic Syria eventually guarantees a stable and democratic Lebanon. Additionally, the Syrian regime’s protection of the Shia is a myth that must be dispelled aggressively.

The statement also denounces the Lebanese government’s official policy of “disassociation” from the ongoing events in Syria and blames it on the despotic nature of the regime’s allies in Lebanon. In fact, affinity to authoritarian structures is not unique to the Syrian regime; rather, that structure is imposed by the Shia duo (Hezbollah-Amal) on its own people. The Sayyeds offer a harsh denouncement of the duo’s monopolization and oppression, which it uses to crush dissent in the Shia community. These strong accusations are given particular weight thanks to the stature and religious authority of authors Sayyed Mohammad Hassan al-Amin and Sayyed Hani Fahas. The official title of Sayyed Mohammad Hassan al-Amin is Counselor of the Shar’i Shia Courts in Lebanon, while Sayyed Hani Fahas is a highly respected member of the Supreme Clerical Committee of the High Shia Council. Aside from the pivotal positions they hold, both men are renowned for their improvements to intellectual and political life in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region. More specifically, Sayyed Mohammad Hassan al-Amin earned tremendous approbation for having launched the Independent Shia Gathering in the aftermath of the 2005 Lebanese uprising, while Sayyed Hani Fahas has contributed tremendously to the sustainment and advancement of Christian-Muslim and inter-Muslim dialogue in Lebanon and beyond.

Finally, it is important to note that despite the criticism it offers, this statement is neither the first expression of Shia dissidence nor the harshest. Others have certainly occurred, led by people from a wide range of backgrounds and ages, using a variety of tools including the Internet, sit-ins, gatherings and public statements, all of which have demonstrated support for the Syrian uprising. Nevertheless, this text is uniquely important among its “peers” because of the authority of its authors and because it heralds a complete rejection of the enslavement of theology by opportunistic, fallacious and enduring dictators.

ShiaWatch’s English translation of the joint declaration made August 9, 2012 by senior Shia clerics Sayyed Mohammad Hassan al-Amine and Sayyed Hani Fahas in support of the Syrian people uprising.
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