The stance of the Free National Movement in Lebanon on Syrian refugees as expressed by minister Jibran Bassil, also the brother-in-law of the movement’s head and founder Michel Aoun, seems normal and expected for everyone who is familiar with the movement’s ideologies and practices.
Some entities that use “national” titles like Aoun’s “movement” in Lebanon and Jean-Marie Le Pen’s “front” in France as well as Adolf Hitler’s “party” share two principal approaches: first, hating a particular group and second, regarding the leader as infallible.
That is why it is not surprising to hear what Bassil said about Syrian refugees, rendered homeless by the same regime that had persecuted Aoun before it allied with him to undermine Lebanese unity. Bassil’s statements demonstrate hatred for a people that, whether Aoun likes it or not, have very strong ties with their Lebanese brethren. It is strange, however, that while the supporters of Aoun were waging this campaign against Syrian refugees, his ally Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Hezbollah, displayed a much wiser stance on the matter.
Despite his unwavering support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which constitutes an extension of Iranian influence, he is a man who knows his limits and is aware that some things ought not to be said. He realized that he has already lost a large portion of the support he used to enjoy in the Muslim world because of his subordination to Iran and his support for the sectarian and familial “mafia” that is the Syrian regime which derives its power from the brutal suppression of its people.
Aoun’s movement is taking advantage of the flow of Syrian refugees to play on the fears of Lebanese Christians and who are made to think they will be crushed by the growing number of MuslimsEyad Abu Shakra
To answer the first question, it is important to remember that elections will be held in Lebanon within a few months and during such times, “national” movements that belong to Le Penn’s school start investing in fears and igniting prejudice. The hatred card is in many cases a winning one whether this hatred is directed against a Muslim Arab, Amazigh, Kurdish, or Turkish group, a black group from Africa or the West Indies, a dark group from the Indian Subcontinent, or even a white Christian group from East Europe.
Aoun’s movement is taking advantage of the flow of Syrian refugees to play on the fears of Lebanese Christians who are made to think they will be crushed by the growing number of Muslims. The problem with this approach, however, is that it overlooks the demographic and security expansion of Hezbollah in many regions in Lebanon including predominantly Christian ones under the nose of the Aoun movement. Encouraging Christians to antagonize Sunni Muslims also creates a state of sectarian polarization that can have extremely dangerous repercussions on the region, and on the Christians first and foremost.
As for the second question about Hezbollah’s stance on Bassil’s statement, it is closely related to local electoral considerations. In a speech published in al-Nahar newspaper on November 6, 1989, Nasrallah described Aoun as a “confrontational and destructive Israeli case who only cares about his and his sect’s interests” and described his approach as “typical racist Maronite.” The only reason why Hezbollah is still supporting Aoun despite describing him as such is the fact that the former is badly in need of the latter’s representatives in the parliament to pass an election law that allows it (Hezbollah) to seize control of Lebanon’s institutions in a legal and constitutional manner, ie. through the ballot box.
*This article was published in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on Jan. 7, 2013. Here’s the article’s link: http://www.aawsat.com/leader.asp?section=3&issueno=12459&article=711986
(Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with An-Nahar newspaper in Lebanon. Joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances
Active in academic, social and charity work, and a former active member of the Labour Party in the UK)