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Ahmad al-Assir and the absence of justice in Lebanon

Assir’s emergence on the Lebanese scene has threatened the old socio-political structure of his Sunni sect

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

It’s ironic to celebrate the arrest of fugitive radical preacher Ahmad al-Assir in Lebanon when at least three men wanted by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon are hanging out in Beirut’s southern suburb sipping coffee. Lebanese authorities on Saturday arrested Assir on charges of incitement and perverting the course of justice, however they have not arrested the three men wanted for the murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

Assir deserves to be arrested because of his extremism, incitement to violence and attempts to challenge the state; however the Lebanese justice system is now mocked by the world as authorities ignore to arrest those charged with a worse crime, the murder of Hariri, in order to avoid upsetting Hezbollah.

The majority of Sunnis don’t care about much about Assir’s detention; however double standards and this clear injustice against them has angered them.

Assir’s emergence on the Lebanese scene has threatened the old socio-political structure of his Sunni sect. He has actually embarrassed the country’s traditional Sunni leaders by announcing that he represents and defends Sunnis against Hezbollah. The truth is, Assir was all about words as he was incapable of establishing a Sunni militia, and even when he tried, he failed. Sunni leaders in Lebanon are always civil. This civil structure that opposes armament has strengthened Sunni stances – despite what some may believe – and protected the sect as well as Lebanon from a second civil war.

Hezbollah, Assir and the Syrian conflict

The short success of Assir’s popularity was down to him speaking out against injustice towards Sunnis. He tried to make gains by pitting himself against Hezbollah over the Syrian cause, which is one of the biggest wounds for Sunnis. When Assir found himself at the center of Lebanese and regional attention, he exposed his demagogy against the leaders of his Sunni sect. He tried to exploit local contradictions and he first criticized Saad Hariri and incited violence against him under the excuse that he did not defend Sunnis against Hezbollah. He then stood with extremists against Saudi Arabia – although it was a major supporter of the Syrian revolution – perhaps in order for his stance to harmonize with his funders. These many contradictory stances have hence exposed the character of an opportunist leader.

Assir’s emergence on the Lebanese scene has threatened the old socio-political structure of his Sunni sect

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Assir sees in Shiite leader Hassan Nasrallah a model he wants to become. He wanted to become a religious and political leader of Sunnis; however this is not possible to achieve in Lebanon without massive foreign support. Nasrallah and his party would not have existed if it hadn’t been for Iran, which for three decades has been committed to funding, training and managing Hezbollah to serve its own higher interests in the region. All this has come at the expense of the Lebanese Shiite community, whose moderate and civil leaders were marginalized. Extremist conservative men thus became in control of Shiite lives, as Hezbollah ideologically and militarily hijacked the entire sect and became a militia that serves its Iranian-Syrian funders. Therefore, Hezbollah fought Israel alone for decades and it is currently fighting to defend the Assad regime in Syria.

This is not accepted by the Sunnis, and there are no regional Sunni governments who are willing to establish militias affiliated with them as they do not have plans to expand or clash with others. Even governments who exploited Assir and supported him were quick to abandon him.

Although Assir deserves to be detained and tried, the Lebanese justice seems to be in its worst days as authorities arrest a religious preacher for his demagogy and inciting violence but allows murderers to remain at large because they are protected by Hezbollah!

Anyone witnessing this embarrassing and shameful stance of the Lebanese state must conclude that the latter systematically discriminates against its citizens, with imposed laws that seemingly do not apply to Hezbollah.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on August 17, 2015.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.