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Understanding Hizbullah’s Support for the Asad Regime

02 Nov
Although Hizbullah does indeed depend on the Asad regime for its arms’ flow, this consideration alone
does not adequately grasp the other motives behind its controversial stance, nor does it sufficiently
explain the sturdiness of its alliance with Syria. Reducing Hizbullah’s close alliance with the Asad regime
to logistics misses a host of other factors and considerations which sustain the relationship.
Hizbullah’s staunch defense of the Asad regime at the most inopportune of times must be viewed against
the backdrop of the regional struggle between the “nationalist and resistance project” led by Iran, Syria,
Hizbullah and Hamas, otherwise known as the “jabhit al mumana’a” (“resistance axis” as it is dubbed in
the West) and the “US project” pursued by the US’ Arab allies who comprise the so-called “moderate
axis”. Viewed within this broader regional context, Syria’s strategic value does not merely lie in its arms’
supply role, but  derives from its status as the Arab linchpin of the resistance front, or to borrow
Nasrallah’s words, “the only resistance regime in the region”.
On balance, “the Syrian leadership can be credited with the preservation and maintenance of the
Palestinian cause,” for Hizbullah. So indispensable was the Asad regime to Palestine that Nasrallah boldly
declares: “the continuation of this Syrian position” (and by implication, the preservation of the regime), is
“the precondition to the continuation of the Palestinian cause.” Accordingly, any threat to the regime’s
security and survival is a “danger” not only to Syria, but to Palestine and -- considering its role in ending
the Lebanese civil war -- to Lebanon as well.
The protests in Syria are branded a form of “collusion” with outside powers who seek to replace Asad’s
rule with “another regime similar to the moderate Arab regimes that are ready to sign any capitulation
agreement with Israel.” Thus, rather than strive to institute reforms or democracy in Syria, Washington’s
latest policy essentially aimed at instituting subservience: “if President Bashar al-Asad were to go now to
the Americans and surrender, the problem would be resolved.”
Aside from the strategic factors behind Hizbullah’s continued support for the Asad regime, the
movement’s position is also grounded in theoretical considerations. Hizbullah’s revolutionary
prescriptions rest on two concurrent criteria: first, “this regime’s relationship with and position towards
the American-Israeli project in the region” and second, the potential for reforms. The Asad regime’s
mumana’ist position and role in the region, coupled with its openness to reform and dialogue means that
the Syrian uprising has failed to meet either of these requirements, and hence, Hizbullah cannot “support
the downfall of a resistant, mumani’i regime which has begun reforms”.
Hizbullah’s understanding of freedom as a positive freedom to control one’s destiny and to achieve selfdetermination, both digresses from and surpasses the liberal preoccupation with the negative freedom
from external constraints and hindrances. To be free is not to be left alone but to continually struggle for
justice. It is for this reason that Hizbullah is inherently antagonistic to liberal uprisings like Syria’s which
focus their efforts on freeing themselves from state control at the expense of the struggle against US and
Israeli colonialism.
3Introduction
One of the paradoxes of the Arab uprisings has been their ability to divide as much as unite the Arab
world. While the nexus between authoritarian rule and subordination to the US that typified the regimes in
Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen ensured sweeping, popular Arab support for the revolts there, the Asad
regime’s affiliation with the “resistance axis” has deprived the current uprising in Syria of a similar
regional blanket endorsement.
Not unexpectedly, Hizbullah has positioned itself at the vanguard of the camp supporting
President Asad. The movement’s support for what is widely perceived as an undemocratic and repressive
regime in Syria is seen by many as inconsistent with its own political values and a significant departure
from its otherwise consistent denunciation of autocratic Arab rulers.
This discrepancy owes itself in part to Hizbullah’s belief that the Asad regime still commands
majority support and was “serious” about reforms, in contrast to other Arab regimes which were “closed”
to reforms. But far more significant for the movement was the regime’s unyieldingness towards Israel and
its safeguarding of Arab rights which required that the Syrian people “preserve their resisting and
opposing regime”.
1

Admittedly, Hizbullah’s unequivocal support for the Syrian leader has alienated many Arabs who
had been hitherto largely supportive of the resistance movement, but who now accuse it of cynically
backing a brutal regime to protect its narrow political interests. Critics of Hizbullah’s position view it as
one motivated solely by realpolitik and the dependence on the Asad leadership for the procurement and
transfer of weapons. Whether by accident or design, such interpretations locate Hizbullah’s position
within the same “rational actor” model adopted by US policy-makers and self-styled “experts”. In
conformity with the dominant Realist approach, political behavior is almost entirely explained by an
“instrumental” means-ends type rationality.
This paper argues that although Hizbullah does indeed depend on the Asad regime for its arms’
flow, this consideration alone does not adequately grasp the other motives behind its controversial stance,
nor does it sufficiently explain the sturdiness of its alliance with Syria. Reducing Hizbullah’s close
alliance with the Asad regime to logistics misses a host of other factors and considerations which sustain
the relationship and the sophisticated rationality that underpins them.
A concern for realpolitik considerations alone would not require Hizbullah’s leader, Seyyid
Hassan Nasrallah, to so outspokenly defend the regime as he did in his May 25 and August 26 2011
speeches, and subject the party to accusations of complicity in the Syrian regime’s violence and hypocrisy
in its dealings with the Arab uprisings. This is made even more unlikely by Hizbullah’s awareness of the
4controversy surrounding the party’s position. Evidence of such awareness is Nasrallah’s reference to his
defense of the regime as a “truth that must be said without fear of the blame of anyone, no matter who he
is”.
2

As a movement which has spent years cultivating a “culture of resistance” in the Arab world and
employed its popularity to thwart schemes to instigate Sunni-Shiíte tensions, Hizbullah would not so
readily trade in its hard-won popular clout  for weapons that could be assured through other, albeit more
laborious, means. For Hizbullah to knowingly gamble away much of its iconic symbolism in the Arab
world and beyond, broader strategic forces must be at play.
It is these same forces which accounted for Nasrallah’s provocative Riad al-Solh speech in March
2005. Then, as now, Nasrallah turned against the tide of public opinion and defiantly heaped praise on the
Asad leadership, just weeks after the Hariri assassination, when anti-Syrian sentiment was at its height.
While the US-led international community and many Lebanese were pointing the finger at Syria,
Hizbullah stood loyally beside it, apologizing on their behalf and expressing gratitude for its role in
Lebanon. Significantly, what was at stake at the time was not the resistance’s supply routes, but rather,
Syria’s strategic role in Lebanon and beyond.
SYRIA’S VALUE AS A STRATEGIC ALLY
Hizbullah’s staunch defense of the Asad regime at the most inopportune of times must be viewed against
the backdrop of the regional “struggle” between the “nationalist and resistance project” led by Iran, Syria,
Hizbullah and Hamas, otherwise known as the “jabhit al mumana’a” (“resistance axis” as it is dubbed in
the West), and the “US project” pursued by the US’ Arab allies who comprise the so-called “moderate
axis”.  Viewed within this broader regional context, Syria’s strategic value does not merely lie in its arms’
supply role, but  derives from its status as the Arab linchpin of the resistance front, or to borrow
Nasrallah’s words, “the only resistance regime in the region”.
3
 By depicting the regime in this manner,
Hizbullah conflates the means with the ends: resistance transmutes from a method of struggle supported
by Syria into the defining element of Syria’s political identity and regional position.
The Battle of Political Positions
The region’s fault lines are between rival political positions: resistance and confrontationalism on the one
hand, and surrender on the other. This characterization of the struggle corresponds with  Hizbullah’s
analytical schema; as articulated by Nasrallah, the nature of the battle cross-cuts “ideological, intellectual
5and religious,” affiliations and centers itself on “political position” vis-a-vis the “interests” of the US and
Israel.
4
  Nasrallah elaborated on the core conflict in an earlier speech in December 2008:
“In principle, the Americans do not mind if the ruler is Islamist, Communist, Marxist, Leninist,
Maoist, or nationalist. This is not important for them. You can have whatever ideology or thought
you want. What matters is what is your political programme? What is your position on Israel? What
is your position on the United States?”
5
In this construction of the conflict, Hizbullah elevates the status of political position above ideology
which is relegated to a subordinate rank in the geopolitical scheme of things. Implicit in such rankordering is the redefinition of political position as an active and substantive role, as opposed to a passive
attitude or point of view. By positioning Syria at the helm of the resistance front and ascribing to it a
steadfast political position that harms rather than serves US-Israeli interests, Hizbullah challenges the
contention made by the regime’s critics that Asad’s resistance credentials amount to little more than a
self-serving attitudinal disposition.
For these detractors, the Asad leadership’s anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist stances serve as a
rhetorical device for preserving its popular legitimacy. Hizbullah on the other hand, purposively elides the
pervasive tendency among progressives to judge the merit of a political position on the basis of its
presumed motives and chooses instead to imbue these stances with deeper political import and hence,
strategic value. Irrespective of the regime’s motives, both the nature of Syria’s alliance with its Lebanese,
Palestinian and Iranian partners and the price exacted on it for maintaining this alliance, affirms for
Hizbullah that its mumana’aism is a strategic choice rather than a mere policy tool.
Doubtless, Hizbullah is aware that the regime does indeed derive its legitimacy from its resistance
credentials as evidenced by Asad’s own admission that “conspiring against the resistance” would spell
“political suicide for me”.
6
 However, Hizbullah does not subscribe to the view that the regime sustains its
legitimacy by means of rhetoric alone. Beyond preserving its physical security, the Asad regime’s
mumana’ism has also become a principal source of its ontological security; that is, security of its identity
as a resistant state and champion of Arab rights. Maintaining such an identity and the regional alliances
that flow from it clearly requires far more than rhetorical posturing.
The Indispensability of the Asad Regime to the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine
Syria’s support for resistance movements in Lebanon and Palestine was “not only moral and political”,
but also strategic, according to Nasrallah.  Asad’s Syria was not merely an active bystander who defended
6its allies, but a party to the resistance struggle as “it did not only stand by the resistance, but it backed the
resistance in Lebanon and Palestine”. The resistance movement even maintains that it owed its victory in
2000, at least in part, to “Syrian backing”. While the nature of this backing is not specified, Nasrallah’s
claim that he did “not want to go into details” about this support, “so as not to embarrass the Syrian
leadership,” insinuates that it is military. In another unprecedented disclosure, Nasrallah further intimated
that Iran funneled arms through Syria:  “Even today, most of the Iranian support came through Syria.
Without Syria's willpower and stand, even the Iranian support would not have reached Lebanon or
Palestine.”
7
Syria’s commitment to the resistance project was further manifested by its principled stand in the
peace negotiations. Confirming the old adage coined by Henry Kissinger, “No war without Egypt, no
peace without Syria”, Hizbullah praised the Asad leadership’s refusal to “capitulate” to Israel’s conditions
and applauded it for foiling attempts to divorce Syria from the Palestinian track. Had Syria pursued a
settlement on its own “while the Palestinian track was being fragmented in the negotiations”, the
Palestinian cause would have been lost.
8
On balance, “the Syrian leadership can be credited with the preservation and maintenance of the
Palestinian cause,” for Hizbullah. So indispensable was the Asad regime to Palestine that Nasrallah boldly
declared: “the continuation of this Syrian position” (and by implication, the preservation of the regime), is
“the precondition to the continuation of the Palestinian cause.” Accordingly, any threat to the regime’s
security and survival is a “danger” not only to Syria, but to Palestine and -- considering its role in ending
the Lebanese civil war-- to Lebanon as well.
9
This appreciation of Syria’s regional role conflicts with the counter-narrative of Syria’s history of
waging war against the Palestinians in Lebanon as well as Lebanese groups opposed to Israel. While
Hizbullah does not dwell on this darker side of Syria’s history, a recognition of at least part of its
unsavory past in Lebanon can be deduced from Nasrallah’s admission that: “No one denies that Syria
made mistakes in Lebanon. President Al-Asad said this at the People's Assembly [in 2005].”
10
 Judging by
the history of relations between Hizbullah and Syria, it would appear that these “mistakes” typified the
period before the mid- 1990s after which relations between Hizbullah and Hafez al Assad’s regime
improved.  In so doing, the relationship with Syria matured from an indirect one, mediated by Iran, to a
fully fledged regional alliance under Bashar’s rule.
7The Strategic Value of the Asad Leadership’s Rejectionism
The movement’s ability to dismiss the more problematic features of Syria’s past is facilitated by the Asad
leadership’s refusal to reach a settlement with Israel in contrast to its capitulatory Arab brethren. For
many Arab progressives though, this negotiating stand alone does not qualify the regime for
“confrontational” status given that Syria remains “Israel’s quietest front”.
11
 Hizbullah rejects this line of
reasoning as intellectual absolutism. In the first place, it does not evaluate Syria’s actions according to the
same benchmark used for non-state (resistance) actors. Nasrallah admitted as much in a 2009 Al-Quds
Day speech when he distinguished between Syria “as a regime” and resistance movements who do not
have the same “economic, social and political responsibilities and international affairs’ [obligations].”
12
Second, Hizbullah does not adopt a similar all-or-nothing logic as Asad’s progressive critics do. In
the above-mentioned speech, Nasrallah responded to this same group of “people who always talk about
opening fronts” by lauding Syria’s rejectionism:  “It is true it [Syria] did not fight and close a front but
still, it did not surrender.” For the past 30 or 40 years, Syria did not “concede one grain of soil or one drop
of its waters,” and even obstructed an imminent deal at the Geneva Summit “over a couple of cubic
meters of water”.
13
 Moreover, although the Asad leadership was not engaged in armed resistance to
liberate the Golan, “it is enough that Syria stood beside the resistance in Lebanon, and the resistance in
Palestine and the resistance in Iraq.”
14
Whatever Syria lacked in direct military confrontation, it compensated for in political fortitude. To
put it differently, the policy options before mumani’ists did not fit into a neat dichotomy: “either war or if
not able to fight, we succumb”. When the requirements for military confrontationalism could not be
satisfied, rejectionism served as it’s ideologically consistent and strategically advantageous, political
substitute. The “third option” therefore, was quite simply, to “not succumb” and, as Syria has done, to
“remain steadfast, oppose, resist and work to achieve power and capability and wait for changes.”
15
By linking political steadfastness with resistance, Hizbullah strips rejectionism of its passiveaggressive connotations and infuses it with an active and purposive meaning. Moreover, since the concept
of steadfastness itself presupposes adversity or stress, Syria is viewed as having further earned its
mumana’ist status by resisting pressures and threats to capitulate to US-Israeli dictates. These pressures
escalated after the launching of the so-called “peace process” in 1991, alternately using carrots and sticks,
or in Nasrallah’s terminology “intimidation and temptation”.
16
 Pressures further mounted during Bashar’s
tenure when Syria found itself on George Bush’s infamous “Axis of Evil” list and saddled with USsponsored sanctions, UN resolutions and charges of terrorism. Although Washington shifted from a
“regime change” to a “behaviour reform” policy beginning in 2007 when it began to “engage” Syria, this
8policy essentially aimed at nudging it into a peace agreement with Israel and disengaging it from its
regional allies rather than making a genuine rapprochement with it.
Hizbullah’s understanding of the Syrian Uprising
Seeing as Washington achieved neither of these objectives, it has now reverted to its earlier regime
change policy. Just as Hizbullah viewed the 2009 protests in Iran as a “bid to destabilize the country’s
Islamic regime” by means of a US-orchestrated “velvet revolution”,
17
 the protests in Syria are branded a
form of “collusion” with outside powers who seek to replace Asad’s rule with “another regime similar to
the moderate Arab regimes that are ready to sign any capitulation agreement with Israel.”
18
 Thus, rather
than strive to institute reforms or democracy in Syria, Washington’s latest policy essentially aimed at
instituting subservience: “If President Bashar al-Asad were to go now to the Americans and surrender, the
problem would be resolved.”
19
Echoing Hizbullah’s stance on the Iran protests is Nasrallah’s characterization of the US’ role in
the Syrian uprising as an extension of the July War and the Gaza War. Since the resistance in Lebanon
and Palestine had foiled the “New Middle East” scheme in both these military aggressions, Washington
was “trying to reintroduce [it] through other gates,” such as Syria.
20

With this in mind, attempts to overthrow the Asad regime are considered a “service” to American
and Israeli interests.
21
 While Hizbullah has not directly accused the Syrian opposition of serving or
collaborating with the US and Israel, Nasrallah recently chastised it for pandering to Washington’s
political sensitivities by omitting the Palestinian cause from its discourse.
22
  The anti-Hizbullah slogans
raised by some elements of the opposition, as well as their accusations concerning the movement’s
alleged involvement in government repression, have done little to assuage its fears.
These fears have been lent further credence by Israel’s public pronouncements on the uprising. In
one such instance, Israeli president, Shimon Peres, openly called for the overthrow of Asad, declaring
“Asad must go”. Despite the reservations of some about the unpredictability of a new regime, Peres
conceded that regime change could help pave the way for an eventual peace treaty between Israel and
Syria.
23
 In a word, it would deal “a severe blow to Iran and Hizbullah”, according to Israeli Defence
Minister, Ehud Barak’s analysis.
24
9HIZBULLAH’S THEORY AND PRAXIS AS DETERMINANTS OF ITS SUPPORT FOR THE
ASAD REGIME
Aside from the strategic factors behind Hizbullah’s continued support for the Asad regime, the
movement’s position is also grounded in theoretical considerations. Mediating Hizbullah’s strategic
imperatives is an intellectual schema that prioritizes its political objectives and conceptualizes its central
values. For that reason, an inquiry into Hizbullah’s political thought and praxis is crucial to understanding
how it rationalizes its controversial stance on Syria.
Hizbullah’s hierarchy of oppression
As the raison d’être of Hizbullah, resistance to Israel is constitutive of the movement’s identity and thus
fashions its interests and strategic objectives. The “resistance priority” is therefore the guiding principle of
the movement’s rationality. The preeminent status accorded to resistance is itself contingent on a
conceptual hierarchy of oppression, where Israel emerges as the ultimate injustice, with the United States
running a close second, and autocratic regimes, particularly those subservient to the US, occupying third
place.
25
 Given that violence and repression are common characteristics of all three categories of
oppression, it necessarily follows that violence per se is not the sole determinant of injustice. What makes
Israeli violence particularly egregious is that the Zionist state represents an “absolute evil” which arises
not from “the circumstances of the occupation” but from “the very existence of the Israeli state.”
26
 As
such, there can be no comparison for Hizbullah between the violence perpetrated by Israel and that
practiced by the Asad regime.
A point often overlooked, is Hizbullah’s own experience of repression at the hands of the Syrian
regime. One such instance was the ‘Fathallah Massacre’ of 1987 when Syrian forces gunned down
twenty-three Hizbullah fighters in cold blood, in Beirut. Again in 1993, the Lebanese army, acting at the
behest of Syria, killed several Hizbullah supporters protesting the Oslo Accord in September 1993,
otherwise known as the ‘September Massacre’. In both these incidents, the movement merely licked its
wounds so as to avoid obstructing its resistance activity. The resistance priority clearly took precedence
over confronting Syria’s forces in Lebanon.
If Hizbullah itself was willing to overlook the Syrian regime’s violence against it, for the sake of a
higher cause, it stands to reason that it would expect the same of the Syrian protesters.  According to
Hizbullah’s strategic logic, exerting one’s efforts on the removal of an oppressive regime deflects
attention from the priority of resisting Israel and confronting US military and political imperialism.
10In 1997, in the midst of the Algerian civil war and a series of violent incidents executed by
Egyptian Islamists, Nasrallah launched an initiative aimed at reconciling opposition Islamist groups with
their autocratic regimes. In Egypt, militant Islamists were exhorted to refrain from taking up arms against
the state and to opt for dialogue with the Mubarak regime instead. Part of Hizbullah’s rationale for this
policy was its aversion to chaos which it considers “more oppressive” than the oppressive regimes
themselves. Its stand was also dictated by the logic that rather than target internal “tyranny”, the Islamists
would better serve their people by directing their weapons at their “fundamental enemy”, Israel.
27
After the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2002-2003, resisting the US occupation was
added to the list of priorities which took precedence over confronting oppressive regimes. It is based on
this line of reasoning that on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq, Nasrallah called for reconciliation
between the Iraqi Shia opposition and the Saddam regime along the lines of the Lebanese Taif Accord.
Worth recalling here is the vast number of Shi’ite dissidents who died at Saddam’s hands, including
Seyyid Mohammad Baqr al-Sadr, the intellectual founder of the Islamic Da’wa party, from which many
Hizbullah officials originally hailed, as well as the fact that Saddam Hussein’s regime was a sworn enemy
of Hizbullah’s closest ally Iran. But both the prospect of a civil war engulfing Iraq, as well as its
occupation by US forces, were considered greater evils than countenancing his oppressive rule.
It should come as no surprise then, that Hizbullah would support the Asad regime when its
removal is associated with US hegemony and the fragmentation of Syria. It is safe to assume that
Hizbullah would not have been so vocal and unequivocal in its defence of the regime had it not framed
the violence as a low grade, sectarian civil war supported by foreign powers, rather than a brutal
crackdown on unarmed protesters. For Hizbullah, the absence of reliable information on either side, as
well as rampant media distortion, has not only clouded the extent of popular agitation, but also, “the
nature and scope of the clashes”.
28
The Obama administration’s recent recognition that the opposition has “turned violent ... as an act
of self-preservation,”
29
 has done little to discredit Hizbullah’s reading of events. Further calling into
question the mainstream narrative of regime brutality vis-a-vis unarmed civilians is the Syrian National
Council’s (SNC) threat to resort to violence,
30
 and requests for weapons from “the international
community” by armed elements close to the opposition umbrella group.
31
11Hizbullah’s criteria for supporting revolution
None of this is to say that Hizbullah is inherently anti-revolutionary -- its support for the Arab uprisings
testifies to its championing of revolutionary causes. As Arab regimes have inched closer to the US and
Israel over the past decade or so, their association with the “greatest abominations in our era” -- to quote
Hizbullah’s previous leader, Sayyed Abbas Al-Mousawi -- has become more direct and hence, intolerable.
Consequently, the perceived benefits of abstaining from revolutionary action (maintaining civil peace and
focusing efforts on Israel and the US) have been outweighed by the costs of inaction vis-à-vis the US and
Israel.
Thus for example, while the movement tried in the past to dissuade Egypt’s Islamists from taking
up arms against the state, this changed during the Gaza War when Nasrallah all but stopped short of
calling for the regime’s overthrow.  In an unprecedentedly bold and somewhat subversive move,
Nasrallah urged the Egyptian military to refuse to maintain the regime’s siege on Gaza and called on
“millions” of Egyptians to brave government repression and take to the streets to express their outrage.
This stand was the result of Egypt’s “partnership with Israel” which had surpassed the level of mere
silence or complicity owing to the Mubarak regime’s foreknowledge of the Israeli invasion, and its
strangulation of the Gazan people and resistance forces with its closure of the Rafah crossing.
When the Egyptians launched their revolt two years later, the movement traced its causes to
“injustice, corruption, repression, hunger ... and the regime’s policies towards the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Not only was the uprising in January 2011 motivated in part by strategic issues, but served to harm
Israel’s interests and caused it “real panic and alarm”.  More than that, the impact of the revolt
transcended Egypt’s borders and had the potential to “change the face of our region … especially in
Palestine”
32
 — terms normally reserved for the resistance struggle.
Thus, during this phase of flagrant Arab complicity with the US-Israeli scheme, Hizbullah’s
revolutionary prescriptions rest on two concurrent criteria: first, “this regime’s relationship with and
position towards the American-Israeli project in the region” and second, the potential for reforms.
33
 As
underlined by Nasrallah, “our criteria are the same criteria which determine our position on all the Arab
revolutions.”
34
 Since the revolutions in Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and especially Egypt meet both
these criteria, in that the regimes there are subject to the American project and are not willing to reform,
Hizbullah considers its support for these revolts as consistent. Conversely, the Asad regime’s mumana’ist
position and role in the region, coupled with its openness to reform and dialogue means that the Syrian
uprising has failed to meet either of these requirements, and hence, Hizbullah cannot “support the
downfall of a resistance, mumani’i regime which has begun reforms”.
35
As such, Hizbullah’s withholding
12of support from the protesters is “not based on double standards” as is commonly alleged, but “one
standard”.
36
Conclusion: Hizbullah’s conception of rights and freedom
As a political party which has always subordinated its political role to its military one, Hizbullah has
never pursued the political rights that it is entitled to, such as greater political representation in Lebanon.
Both in 1992 and 1996, the party allowed itself to be pressured by Syria into an electoral alliance with
AMAL, although it could have won more seats on its own. As with the killing of its fighters and
supporters, Hizbullah once again adhered to the “saqf al suri” (Syrian ceiling) in order to protect its
resistance. Similarly, even when it has pursued political power, it has only been to shield its resistance
from external pressures - as in 2005 following the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon - and in
2011 when it ousted the Saad Hariri government over the issue of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Even
then, Hizbullah has always contented itself with minimal government representation.  Nor has the
movement pursued communal rights for its Shi’ite constituency, such as a larger share of political power
commensurate with the community’s size.
Indeed, Hizbullah sacrifices its political rights in order to safeguard its resistance, but it is also
willing to deprive others of their perceived right to terminate it. As illustrated by the events of May 2008,
Hizbullah did not hesitate to turn its arms against its domestic rivals who sought to paralyze its resistance
activity. It has been similarly intransigent in less provocative setting such as the National Dialogue talks.
While Hizbullah is willing to dialogue with its foes over its arms, its conditions are effectively nonnegotiable insofar as it rejects the notion of disarmament outright as well as rejecting any proposals to
place the resistance under the command of the Lebanese army. Nasrallah admits as much when he
describes the movement’s resistance as “a controversial national issue” which never was “an object of
national consensus.”
37
 Popular legitimacy is undoubtedly desirable for Hizbullah but by no means
necessary. In this connection, resistance is not a right because it was launched by the people; rather, it is a
right because it is a freedom-seeking action. More than this, it is a duty: “The resistance does not wait for
national or popular consensus, but must take to arms and press ahead with the duty of liberation.”
38

As with revolutionary action, the issue at stake is “not just the blood of a man, the fate of a
woman, the crushed bones of a child, or a piece of bread stolen from the mouth of a poor or hungry
person. It is the issue of a people, a nation, a fate, holy places, history, and the future.”
39
 In other words,
the ultimate end of political action is not merely the protection of various civil and political rights of the
individual as in Liberal thought, nor only about expanding the scope of participation for the attainment of
13social and economic rights, as in the Socialist dispensation; it is the trans-historical collective right of the
umma in its past, present and future manifestations.
In effect, although the party’s participation in the political system generally conforms to the rules
of liberal democracy, its resistance is not amenable to universalized Euro-American liberal norms like
majority rule and political value pluralism. By implication, Hizbullah’s understanding of freedom as a
positive freedom to control one’s destiny and to achieve self-determination, both digresses from, and
surpasses, the liberal preoccupation with the negative freedom from external constraints and hindrances.
In so far as freedom is associated with liberation, it figures more prominently in the movement’s public
discourse than the liberal concept of freedom which Hizbullah refers to in the plural as public “freedoms”.
Liberationist freedom is also used synonymously with democracy as demonstrated by Nasrallah’s
response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “This big charlatan deduced that there are only
one million Arabs in what he called Israel enjoying freedom and democracy. No Mr Netanyahu ... we in
Lebanon are the free men of this world. We in Lebanon secured our freedom with blood...”.
40
Also
alluding to this liberationist understanding of freedom is Nasrallah’s construction of the Egyptian uprising
as “the revolution of the poor people, the free men, the freedom-seekers and those who reject insult and
humiliation ... as a result of surrendering to the will of the US and Israel.”
41
The association between freedom on the one hand, and oppression and liberation on the other, is
more evident still when one recalls how Hizbullah’s first manifesto - its “Open Letter” of 1985 - was
addressed to the  “Free downtrodden men”. In another instance, oppression is defined as being “free”.
42
By rendering freedom and oppression interchangeable, Hizbullah’s concept of freedom emerges less as a
liberal, post-dictatorship ideal and more of an ongoing, and indefinite status and process. To be free is not
to be left alone, but to continually struggle for justice. It is for this reason that Hizbullah is inherently
antagonistic to liberal uprisings like Syria’s which focus their efforts on freeing themselves from state
control at the expense of the struggle against US and Israeli colonialism.
Amal Saad-Ghorayeb is an independent Lebanese academic and political analyst. She is author of the book,
Hizbullah: Politics and Religion (Pluto Press, London: 2002) and is currently researching a book for IB Tauris on
Iran's regional alliances. She previously lectured at the Lebanese American University and was Visiting Scholar at
the Carnegie Endowment’s Middle East Centre in Beirut.
The opinions in this paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of Conflicts
Forum.
141
Endnotes
E
 Nasrallah , Resistance and Liberation Day speech, Manar TV, May 25, 2011
2
 Nasrallah, Al-Quds’ Day speech, Manar TV, 26 August 2011
3
 Nasrallah, Resistance and Liberation Day speech, op cit.
4
 Nasrallah, Manar TV, 7 February 2011
5
 Nasrallah, Manar TV, 29 December 2008
6
 Bashar al-Assad, quoted in SANA, 30 March 2011
7
 Nasrallah, Al-Quds’ Day speech
8
 Ibid.
9
 Ibid.
10
 Ibid.
11
 See for example Lamis Andoni’s article “The Delusions of Bashar Al Asad: the Myth of Resistance”, Al
Jazeera English,  3 April 2011
12
 Nasrallah, Quds Day Speech, Manar TV, 22 September 2009
13
 Ibid.
14
 Nasrallah, Interview, Manar TV, 24 October 2011
15
 Ibid.
16
 Nasrallah, Resistance and Liberation Day speech, op cit.
17
 Qasim interview, AFP, June 25, 2009
18
 Nasrallah, Resistance and Liberation Day speech, op cit.
19
 Nasrallah, Interview, Manar TV, 24 October 2011
20
 Nasrallah, Resistance and Liberation Day speech, op cit.
21
 Ibid.
22
 Nasrallah, Interview, Manar TV, 24 October 2011
23
 “Bashar Assad Must Resign: Israeli President Shimon Peres,” The Huffington Post, 26 July 2011
24
 “Barak: Assad’s Fall Would Deal Severe Blow to Iran,” Naharnet, 20 June 2011
25
 See Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, Hizbullah: Politics and Religion, pp.16-22
26
 Ibid, p.134
27
 See Saad-Ghorayeb, pp.23-24
28
 Nasrallah, Interview on Manar TV, 24 October 2011
29
 “Syria Accuses U.S. Of Inciting Violence Against Army,” The Daily Star,  29 September, 2011
30
 See for example Syrian National Council President, Burhan Ghalioun, quoted in “Syria hails 'historic' Russia,
China vetoes”, AFP, 4 October 2011
31
 “Syrian Defector Urges Aid For Armed Opposition Group,” AFP, 10 October 2011
32
 Nasrallah, Manar TV, 7 February 2011
33
 Nasrallah, Interview, Manar TV, 24 October 2011
34
 Ibid.
35
 Ibid.
36
 Nasrallah, 19 March 2011
37
 Nasrallah, Manar TV, 16 February 2011
38
 Nasrallah, Manar TV, 26 May 2008
39
 Nasrallah, Manar TV, 7 February 2011
40
 Nasrallah Manar TV, Resistance and Liberation day speech, op cit.
41
 Nasrallah, Manar TV, 7 February, 2011
42
 Quoted in Saad-Ghorayeb, p.19
http://conflictsforum.org/briefings/Ghorayeb-Monograph-Nov11.pdf
 
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