Hezbollah Calls for National Unity Government
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
JOHN YDSTIE, host:
And I'm John Ydstie.
A year ago today, a ceasefire backed by the United Nations stopped fierce fighting between Israel and the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah in Lebanon. The war had erupted when Hezbollah took two Israeli soldiers captive at the Israeli-Lebanese boarder. During the fighting, Israel bombed targets throughout Lebanon including Beirut's airport and a large Shiite suburb of the capital, which was devastated. After the two sides agreed to a ceasefire, Hezbollah vowed to rebuild.
We've called Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, to see how Hezbollah has faired since the war. Welcome to the program.
Ms. AMAL SAAD-GHORAYEB (Visiting Scholar, Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut): Thank you.
YDSTIE: Has Hezbollah delivered on its promise to rebuild?
Ms. SAAD-GHORAYEB: Hezbollah, from the very beginning, didn't actually promise to rebuild everything from scratch. The government had promised to do the same as well, so Hezbollah is paying the difference.
YDSTIE: And where is the money that Hezbollah has distributed come from?
Ms. SAAD-GHORAYEB: Well, of course, Hezbollah doesn't disclose its sources of financing, but what we do know is Hezbollah relies very much on Shiite religious taxes called the khums. And, at the same time, one can assume that Iran does provide Hezbollah with some financial aid, although neither Iran nor Hezbollah will admit to this.
YDSTIE: The terms of the United Nations-backed ceasefire called for the full disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, but Hezbollah rejected that demand. Has the group rebuilt and replaced the arms and ammunition that it expended during the conflict with Israel?
Ms. SAAD-GHORAYEB: Well, Hezbollah claims it has. And one would logically assumed that Hezbollah is in a prepared state. The assumption is that the fighting might break out next year or the year after, that Israel might re-launch a war.
YDSTIE: Let's talk a little about what Hezbollah's emergence and rearming has done to the Lebanese government. What's the situation with the government now?
Ms. SAAD-GHORAYEB: Well, there has been a very tense standoff between the government and Hezbollah. Actually, prior to the war, there were tensions between the two sides. But after the war, there was a general sentiment that among the opposition, and especially Hezbollah, that the government was somehow complicit, or at the very least complacent, about the Israeli invasion. It could no long be trusted. And it's really for this reason that Hezbollah has insisted on forming a national unity government. Shall I go into that?
Ms. SAAD-GHORAYEB: Hezbollah's call for a national unity government is not, in any way, driven by a demand for a larger share of the political pie for the Shiite community. The constitution does not grant the Shiites any more power than they currently enjoy, which is far less than their proportion in the population, actually.
What Hezbollah is calling for is a veto-wielding third, which means they would like a national unity government in which one-third of government seats would be allocated to the opposition. The opposition could then veto strategic decisions made by the government. And, of course, by strategic, what Hezbollah is really concerned about is its armed status, and, at the same time, any plans that the government might make to curtail its activities. Those are the types of decisions which Hezbollah is very keen on having a say in.
YDSTIE: There was very broad popular support for Hezbollah among Lebanon Shiites, and in many parts of the Arab world, during the war with Israel. Is that support still strong?
Ms. SAAD-GHORAYEB: Well, at least for Lebanon, I can say that according to opinion polls, according to two mammoth demonstrations held last December after the war, support for Hezbollah among the Shiite Community is as strong as ever. And after that, the force of many Christians who are loyal to Michel Aoun, Hezbollah's Christian ally in the opposition. And in the Arab world, I would say support is still strong.
There has been talk that perhaps that support might have dwindled because of fears of Iran, because of Hezbollah's alliance with Iran. But I think that is not so much the case. There have been opinion polls which show that very few Sunnis actually see Iran as a threat, and that Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, is still ranked the most popular leader in the Sunni Arab world.
YDSTIE: Amal Saad-Ghorayeb is the author of "Hizbu'llah: Politics and Religion." She spoke with us from Beirut. Thank you very much.
Ms. SAAD-GHORAYEB: Thank you.
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