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memri
February 28, 2017 No.
6805

Hizbullah Efforts To Impose Religious Standards In Public Spark Anger Among South Lebanon Residents

In the last six months there have been increasing reports in the Lebanese media regarding Hizbullah's efforts to enforce compliance with Islamic standards in various towns in South Lebanon. This religious coercion is manifest in announcements issued by municipal and local councils that are controlled by Hizbullah representatives, ordering the closure of liquor stores or banning the free mixing of men and women in public places. These measures sparked protest among sectors in South Lebanon that support Hizbullah as a resistance organization but do not necessarily agree with its religious policy. In many cases the protest caused the local councils to rescind the orders. Criticism of the measures was also voiced in the Lebanese press, including even in the daily Al-Akhbar known for its support for Hizbullah.

This report reviews some of the coercive measures taken by Hizbullah and some of the critical responses to them.

Banning Gender Mixing In Public Places, Events

In July 2016 the Lebanese press reported that the city council in the town of Jebchit, in the Nabatiyah Governorate in South Lebanon, had banned women from internet cafes and entertainment venues and also ordered to close these venues during prayer times, in order to "preserve the residents' peace of mind and in consideration of the shari'a and moral [standards]." The owners of these businesses protested that the city council was not authorized to issue such an order. A report in the pro-Hizbullah Al-Akhbar daily noted that the residents of the town are religious but nevertheless oppose religious coercion. One of the residents quoted in the daily even likened the order to measures taken by ISIS.[1]

The same month it was reported that the mayor of Al-Khiam in South Lebanon had canceled the participation of women in a marathon held in the area. Ibrahim Haidar, a columnist for the Al-Nahar daily who addressed the issue in his column, noted that the Al-Khiam city council is controlled by Hizbullah and that the city has a Christian minority.[2] Al-Akhbar subsequently reported that 13 women from the town participated in the marathon despite the order.[3]

The Al-Khiam marathon (Now.mmedia.me, July 27, 2016)

According to Al-Akhbar, the town of 'Aitaroun banned men and women bathing together at the local swimming pool, sparking opposition from some residents, most of who traditionally avoid gender mixing but nevertheless oppose religious coercion by the authorities as a matter of principle. The daily reported that following residents' protest the town cancelled the ban.[4]

In August 2016, Hashem Safi Al-Din, chairman of Hizbullah's executive committee, addressed the measures taken in Jebchit, 'Aitaroun and Al-Khiam in evasive terms, saying: "Hizbullah's objective [in its activity in the] municipal [councils] is to serve the residents while observing two boundaries: the Lebanese law and respect for the culture [of the local] public."[5]

Shuttering Liquor Stores

In January 2017, Al-Akhbar reported that several city council members in the town of Kafr Rumman in the Nabatiyah Governorate, all of them members of the Shi'ite Amal movement or Hizbullah, had circulated a petition demanding to close the town's liquor stores, and that 2,500 locals had signed the petition. In response, the head of the governorate authorized the city council to "take measures against the store owners." However, after council members from the communist party and from the Al-Tali'a party – a Lebanese branch of the Al-Ba'th party – expressed opposition to the move at a council session, and after local residents protested against it on the grounds that it contravenes Lebanese law, the council returned the matter to the governor.[6]

 

Residents of Kafr Rumman protest the decision to close the local liquor stores (Al-Akhbar, Lebanon, January 9, 2017)

Banning Music At Public Events

The Janoubia website, known for its opposition to Hizbullah, reported on January 16, 2017 that the organizers of a memorial for Cuba president Fidel Castro that had taken place two days earlier in Beirut had removed from the program two interludes of lute music, and this on the insistence of Hizbullah representatives who were invited to attend, chief among them MP Muhammad Ra'ad. The decision infuriated some other figures who attended the ceremony, including supporters of the Democratic Youth Union and the communist party, who left the memorial in protest.[7]

A similar incident took place in early December 2016 at the University of Lebanon in Beirut, when the students' council at the faculty of engineering, whose members are Hizbullah supporters, forbade students at the faculty to play music at a memorial for a fellow student who had been killed in a car accident. The ceremony was to be held in the faculty forum and to include songs by famous Lebanese singer Fayrouz that the student had loved. Hizbullah members at the university claimed that playing the songs in public was forbidden since it would offend the religious sensibilities of some students. They also said that they had asked the organizers of the memorial to hold it in a closed hall but they refused. Eventually the organizers tried to hold the memorial as planned but students belonging to Hizbullah arrived and forcibly kept them from holding it.[8]

Lebanese Press Slams Religious Coercion By Hizbullah: It Is An Attempt To Change The Lebanese Way Of Life

As stated, the Lebanese press, both anti-Hizbullah and pro-Hizbullah, criticized the religious coercion measures employed by the organization in the country. Journalist Elie Fawwaz wrote on the NOW Lebanon website, known for its opposition to Hizbullah: "Lebanon does not have a law banning gender mixing at [marathon] races or anywhere else. Men and women run side by side in the annual Beirut marathon. So on what basis did the city [councils] make this decision? Can't they be said to have broken the law in this instance? Can't this decision be said to contravene the [Lebanese] constitution, whose preamble states that 'Lebanon is a democratic parliamentary republic based upon respect for public freedoms, freedom of opinion and freedom of belief, and for social justice and equality in rights and duties among all citizens, without distinction or preference'[?] Doesn't this preamble state that 'the people are the source of power and sovereignty, exercising them through constitutional institutions'?... [These incidents of religious coercion by Hizbullah] are not a temporary problem but rather [an attempt to] change the Lebanese way of life. The sad thing is that the state is not doing anything to decide the issue, defend the constitution that is the basis of its power, and enforce equality among citizens. [Rather, it] seems to accept the existence of a parallel law, just as it accepted the existence of [Hizbullah's] parallel weapons [arsenal] and parallel economy, and the existence of more than one governing body [in Lebanon, i.e., the Lebanese government and Hizbullah's authorities]. This disintegration of the state institutions will no doubt lead to social disintegration as well, and to another crisis in addition to the crises already afflicting Lebanon."[9]

Pro-Hizbullah Daily: Hizbullah Must Stop The Mistakes Made By Some Of Its Representatives

The daily Al-Akhbar is known to support Hizbullah's military activities as well as its political activity in Lebanon; nevertheless, it does not always support the organization's religious and social policies and does not hesitate to criticize them. An example is a July 26, 2017 column by Fiyar Abu Sa'd, who argued that Hizbullah is first and foremost a resistance organization that defends Lebanon, and as such, it has an obligation to defend the country's cultural diversity and promote tolerance. He stated that that moves like those recently taken by Hizbullah in the South could alienate parts of the public that support Hizbullah as a resistance organization but cannot accept such religious coercion.

Abu Sa'd wrote: "The decisions of various city councils in South Lebanon relaunched, albeit belatedly, the uneasy debate over the boundaries of social openness and individual freedoms... among public [sectors] in which Hizbullah has a strong presence or influence..." While noting that the decisions were made by Hizbullah representatives in various South Lebanese towns, and not by the organization's higher echelons, he expressed concern that they might start a trend that would spread to other towns and villages where there are many Hizbullah supporters, and added: "The organization [Hizbullah] must clear up the confusion and put an end to the extremism and political mistakes made by some of its elected representatives. Hizbullah... is at once a religious party and a political party [operating] in a diverse society. But before anything else it is a resistance [organization] that has achieved victories in the name of the national [Lebanese] and pan-Arab interest, and [support for it] cuts across sectarian and religious divisions... [Hizbullah] invested all its efforts in fighting Israel and thereby became a model... for all other national liberation movements in the Third World. This immense achievement has definite national and pan-Arab implications, the most important of which is opening a window on a future in which people will be tolerant and society will embrace [every] individual and [also] accept women and afford them a place... Ladies and gentlemen, Lebanon is ours in its entirety, and defending it also means defending its shared culture, its principles, its fundamentals, and its national laws that protect everyone and apply to everyone, regardless of sector."[10]

Another Al-Akhbar article leveled similar criticism at Hizbullah following the incident at the University of Lebanon in Beirut. Journalist Ahmad Muhsin wrote: "Does the so-called student's council [really] think that this is the way to defend the resistance, Islam and the culture of the Islamic Revolution – or is this simply a [show of] force[?] What makes the [student] council think it can ban [people from doing things] and decide which music is appropriate and which isn't[?]..." He added that this behavior did not typify all the Hizbullah supporters in the university but only a group of extremists among them.[11]

 

 

 

 

[1] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), July 26, 2016.

[2] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), July 24, 2016.

[3] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), July 26, 2016.

[4] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), July 26, 2016.

[5] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), August 11, 2016.

[6] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 9, 2017.

[7] Janoubia.com, January 16, 2017.

[8] Lebanondebate.com, elnashra.com, December 3, 2016; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), December 5, 2016.

[9] Now.mmedia.me, July 27, 2016.

[10] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), July 26, 2016.

[11] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), December 5, 2016.