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Mordechai Kedar: The Syrian Crisis Spills Over into Lebanon

A Palestinian woman kisses a poster of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah

Photo Credit: Ahmad Khateib/Flash 90

It’s important to note that the body that carried out the arrest – the General Security agency – is an arm of the Lebanese regime, but every Lebanese citizen is aware that this organization takes instructions from Hizbollah, that is, from Hassan Nasrallah, who is doing everything in his power to support his good friend and avid admirer, Bashar al-Asad. It could even be that the demand to arrest Al-Mawlawi came straight from Damascus. The fact that al-Mawlawi is identified with a Salafi Bedouin group works against him, since the Salafis are perceived as a threat to the whole social and political order of the Arab and Islamic world, because they recognize no ruler but Allah, and believe that no legal framework that was determined by man can compete with the perfection that is Islamic Shari’a law.

The Barrel of Gunpowder

The arrest of Al-Mawlawi was enough to ignite one of the most sensitive areas in Lebanon, the arena of Tripoli. This city, second largest in Lebanon, comprises several quarters, each of which hosts a distinct group: Muslims, Christians and Alawites. In the north of the city are two adjacent neighborhoods: Bab al-Tibbaneh, populated by Sunni Muslims, and above it Jabal Mohsen, an Alawite area. The tension between these two sectors has existed for dozens of years, and the constant agitating factor is the way that each group relates to the Syrian regime: the Alawites support it heart and soul, while the Sunnis would do anything to get rid of it. And this political argument must be considered in the context of the religious background: The Alawites are perceived as non-Muslims. In fact, Ibn Taymiyya, the Muslim sage of the 14th century, wrote of them that they “akhfar min el-Yehud wal-nasara” (“are worse infidels than the Jews and the Christians”). He described precisely their treachery and the damage that they have caused to Islam, principally as a result of their cooperation with the Christian crusaders.

The negative perception of the Alawites has caused hundreds of years of persecution and oppression by the Muslims, especially during the period of the Ottoman Empire; thus they traditionally live in the mountains, which affords them refuge and shelter from their Muslim enemies. In Western Syria they populate the Ansariyya Mountains, and their neighborhood in Tripoli is also built on a mountain, (Jabal Mohsen). The men are armed to the teeth and their houses are fortified. Despite the fact that they are a small minority of the residents of Tripoli – only 5 percent- their absolute number, 30,000, gives them a feeling of power, especially because the area is only 18 kilometers from the Syrian border.

After many years of conflicts between Muslims and Alawites in Tripoli, the “mitaq sharaf” (Covenant of Honor) was signed in 2008 between all the sectarian groups in the city. According to the covenant, all disagreements must be solved peacefully. However in Lebanon, an agreement is honored only as long as it is in the interests of its parties to honor it, and the moment that one party stops regarding it within their interest, the agreement becomes nothing more than a piece of paper. Ever since the bloody events that broke out in Syria 14 months ago, a number of conflicts have erupted between the Muslims and the Alawites in Tripoli, because the communities support opposite sides in the Syrian theater. Each time a conflict erupts, it is halted after a few days of street battles, some fatalities, a few dozen wounded, burned-out cars and ruined businesses. It could be that the current conflict will end in the same way, but it could also be that things may spin out of control, because in Tripoli, there are those who are willing to gamble on the imminent collapse of the Alawite regime in Syria. Such a collapse will also cause the collapse of the support for the Alawite community in Tripoli and perhaps the time will come to “convince” them to flee to the North, to the Mountains of Ansariyya, the mountains where they came from long ago. They are aware of the miserable situation of the Alawite regime in Syria, so they defend themselves with violent acts, manifesting the Middle Eastern instinct to survive: “the best defense is a good offense.”

About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.


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