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Assessment for Shi'is in Lebanon

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Shi'is in Lebanon, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 18 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Lebanon Facts
Area:    10,400 sq. km.
Capital:    Beirut
Total Population:    3,506,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

While previous risk assessments have rightly claimed that the future of Lebanese Shi'a largely lay in Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon, Israel's withdrawal now requires a more speculative analysis. While it is true that a Syrian-Israeli peace agreement would lessen tensions in the region, without a "common" enemy to battle on its home turf, it is unclear whether the armed violence between Hizbollah and Amal is indicative of a wider dilemma for the Lebanese Shi'a community. Although they do not face overt economic discrimination, the economic conditions in the South and in the Bekka remain quite poor. Non-militant Shi'a are mainly farmers, in a country that no longer depends on agriculture as its main source of national income. How the government aids this segment of the population may determine its level of security. Although national reconciliation remains the paramount Lebanese political goal, the coming years will also display how and if the Shi'a move forward politically in a power-sharing system without the lingering Israeli occupation in their


Analytic Summary

Lebanon's Shi'a community is its largest ethnopolitical group at just under a third of the total population. They share other Lebanese groups' ethnic Arab background (CULDIFX1 = 0) and Arabic language (CULDIFX2 = 0; LANG = 0), but they have distinct religious beliefs from Sunni Muslims and Maronite Christians (CULDIFX4 = 2; BELIEF = 3). One of the two main branches of Islam, they strictly adhere to the five pillars of Islam and the six articles of faith. They differ from Sunnis (the other main branch of Islam) in that they are followers of the Prophet Mohammed's son-in-law Ali. They believe in succession of infallible Imams or religious leaders who were all members of the Prophet's family and who interpreted the law and doctrine. Shi'asm is the established faith in Iran, and Lebanese Shi'a have a continuing interest in events in that country. There is now a substantial Shi'a population living in Beirut, but southern Lebanon and the Bakka region are the areas where the majority of the Shi'a have traditionally lived (GROUPCON = 2).

With the civil war ending in 1990, and parliamentary elections being held throughout the 1990s and into 2000, most of the previously warring factions were satisfied with the reforms to the electoral system and took part. Lebanon's fragile peace is dependent on a sectarian governmental structure, where the President is a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies a Shi'a Muslim. Unlike other parts of the Arab world (e.g., Iraq), Lebanon's sectarian structure allows for little cultural or economic discrimination against the Shi'a population, although historical neglect is still present for them in the economic as well as political sphere (ECDIS03 = 2, POLDIS03 = 2).

With the exception of a Hezbollah militant being killed in a south Lebanon clash in 2003 (REP1903 = 1), there have been no recent instances of overt government repression against Lebanese Shi'a. Militant organizations, such as Hizbollah (Party of God) which is openly supported by Iran, and Amal (supported by Syria) have usually directed their grievances toward Israel. However, when they do engage in public protest, which is fairly infrequent, the grievances usually revolve around the Syrian issue. For example, in 2000 Hizbollah Shi'as protested against the Syrian presence. Individual harassment between Shi'a and Sunni adherents has occurred (GCC298 = 1) in the past. More recently, however, individual Shi'a men have been responsible for sporadic violence against Maronite Christians and other members of society (it is not clear to which communal group the victims belonged). For example, in 2002, a Shi'a Muslim opened fire on 8 employees from the Ministry of Education, seven of whom were Christian. In 2003, a Shi'a assasinated a Christian leader. Intra-group sporadic violence between Hizbollah and Amal continued into 2003 (INTRACON02-03 = 1). These two Shi'a groups have been engaged in a power struggle since the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 (FCC100 = 4). Other Shi'a organizations include the Higher Islamic Shi'a Council and a new organization started in 2003 called Muslims Without Borders. Overall support for all these groups ranges from one- to two-thirds of the general Shi'a population (ORG2PO03 = 3). While some Shi'as demand an end to the Syrian presence (mostly Hizbollah supporters) and others do not (mostly Amal supporters), most Shi'as share common economic grievances such as wanting more public funds given to their communities (ECOGR203 = 1).

After decades of chaos the first signs of hope are now visible in Lebanon. Parliamentary elections were held in 1992, 1996, and 2000 and most of the warring factions were satisfied with the reforms to the electoral system and took part. Several militias have disbanded and/or disarmed. The relationships between the many diverse religious and ethnic groups remain tense, but for the first time in decades, this tension does not constitute the greatest threat to Lebanese stability. The greatest threat to Lebanon's stability is the ongoing Israeli-Syrian conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the first case, as long at Israel and Syria remain in an official state of war, Lebanon's strategic value will remain quite high. Israel and Syria have supported one group or another since the civil war in 1976 in an attempt to control Lebanon and with it a territorial corridor to their enemy in case of invasion. As long as the conflict continues, Israel and Syria will both likely continue to play disruptive roles in Lebanese politics, although this will be somewhat limited by the military withdrawal of each country from Lebanese territory.

List of Ethnic Parties and Militias in Lebanon


Progressive Socialist Party (PSP)


National Liberal Party

Phalangist Party

Tiger Militia

Lebanese Forces (LF)

Kornet Shehwan Gathering

National Bloc

Free National Current (FNC) (Al-Tayyar al-Watani al-Hurr)

Waad Party

Maronite League

World Maronite Unions

American Maronite Union

World Lebanese Organization


PLO / Fatah: (formerly led by Yasser Arafat until his death in 2004)

Progressive Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command

(PFLP-GC): Headed by Ahmad Jibril. Headquartered in Damascus but has

bases within Lebanon

Fatah Revolutionary Council (FRC): Headed by Abu Nidal

Fatah-Intifada: Pro-Syrian group headed by Colonel Abu Moussa

Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP): pro-Syrian

group, opposed to the PLO

Usbat al-Ansar (League of Followers/Partisan League): An armed gang that aims to incite violence among Muslims within Lebanon, headed by Abu Mahjan (AFP,

February 15)

Al-Nur group (since 1994) a split off faction from Usbat al-Ansar, led surrently by Abdallah al-Shuraydi, son of founder Hisham al-Shuraydi.

Palestinian Armed Struggle (since 1969; linked to former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, and is responsible for security inside the Lebanese camps)


Amal (supported by Syria)

Hizbollah (Party of God) (supported by Iran)

Higher Islamic Shi'a Council (in Lebanon since 1969) is a conventional lobbying force for the Shi'a community.

Muslims Without Borders is a nonviolent group since 2003. Its mission is to promote solidarity and cooperation between the Islamic parties, movements, and organizations in Lebanon.


Mouabioun Militia

al-Ahbash: A non-violent, pro-Syrian, ultra religious, Sunni Islamic,

philanthropic organization (also known as the Islamic Charitable

Projects Association)

Jama al-Islamiya: A Sunni Islamic organization

People's Lebanese Congress: A Sunni opposition group, hostile to Syria's

military presence in Lebanon

Lebanese Movement for Islamic Unity (LMIU): A fundamentalist Islamist

movement with close ties to both Syria and Iran, headed by Sheikh Saeed

Shaabane (until June 1998)

There seems to be no official Sunni party but all of its

delegates in Parliament seem to act together.

Islamic Unification Movement (MUI)

Muslims Without Borders is a nonviolent group since 2003. Its mission is to promote solidarity and cooperation between the Islamic parties, movements, and organizations in Lebanon.

Redemption of Islam (also known as Redemption and Dawn of Islam) is militant group active within and outside of Lebanon.

Al-Dinniyeh is a militant organization around since 1995. It is union between a fundamentalist group in the town of Al-Qar'un and a militant group based in Al- Dinniyeh in Lebanon. It is headed by Bassam Kanj.

Hizb al-Tahrir ([Islamic] Liberation Party) is a Sunni Islamist group around since 1953. It is both militant and conventional.


Southern Lebanese Army (SLA): A 3,000 man force in southern Lebanon

allied with Israel. The force is made up of local residents including

Christians, Sunni and Shi'a Moslems, and Druze.


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