Sunday, August 09, 2009

Hizbollah determined to keep Amal in line - The National Newspaper
...And in the areas traditionally controlled by Amal, that is increasingly falling to Hizbollah.

“Hizbollah is trying to discipline the Amal kids,” said Walid, a young Palestinian from Tarik Jdedeh who has friends in Hizbollah.

“Hizbollah started taking responsibility because they were getting a bad reputation for the Amal boys.”

Timur Goksel, an expert in Lebanese security issues at the American University of Beirut, said: “Hizbollah are now responsible for everything the Shiite do, and Amal are becoming less and less organised.”

Unlike Hizbollah, a highly disciplined and ascetic organisation, Amal’s political leadership have difficulty controlling their supporters on the streets. “Any kid on the street can claim membership of Amal,” said Walid.

“They are a bunch of hoodlums,” said one leader of an Amal unit, who asked to remain anonymous.

“They go on the streets like gangs, destroying properties.”

Most of his time, he said, was spent trying to keep supporters under control. “You can’t walk down the street with a gun and give people hassle just because you’re an Amal boy.”

The popular drug Benzeksol. Mitchell Prothero / The National

When confronted with a potentially violent situation on the streets, force is a last resort, he said. “First we stop them going crazy, then we investigate” the cause of the dispute.

He said he was glad to have Hizbollah’s assistance in calming down the streets, although admitted that some Amal supporters do not like being told what to do by Hizbollah.

“Sometimes the Amal boys can’t control things,” said a resident of the Shiite area known as the Dahiyeh, “and then the real boys show up. Hizbollah are firm.”

Such is the standing of Hizbollah compared to Amal that many young men are reported to have left one movement for the other since the 2006 war with Israel. One member of the Hizbollah Cola unit looks like a recent convert. Rather than the understated sportswear favoured by the most of the young men from Hizbollah, he stands out in a white embroidered shirt, white jeans, white loafers and white-rimmed sunglasses. When he talks, though, there is no doubt of his current affiliation. “Our eyes are towards Israel. We are not bored, we are always preparing for something outside Lebanon.”

Another way in which Hizbollah is trying to promote social discipline – and build ideological support – is through its targeting of drug users. Hashish and prescription drugs such as Benzeksol, which cost around 15,000 Lebanese pounds (Dh40) for a pack of 16, are hugely popular in the economically marginalised neighbourhoods of Tarik Jdedeh and the Dahiyeh. Two users from the Dahiyeh, Ali, 20, and his friend Mahmoud, 19 (neither of whom wanted to use their real names), said out of their class of 40 at school, 12 or 13 were doing drugs regularly.

“Benzeksol makes you forget everything, it puts you in a different state of mind,” said Mahmoud. Like many in the Dahiyeh they are in low-income jobs and so can only afford to take drugs every other day. “On the off day I feel like committing a crime,” said Ali.

Hizbollah has a network of informants in drug circles in the Dahiyeh. “If people are caught they will be beaten up, taken to hospital and sent home,” said Mahmoud. “Then they [Hizbollah] will try and talk to them, supervise them, start putting religion in to their brain.”

The party apparently gives people they have caught several warnings before handing them over to the Lebanese security forces, after which they face the possibility of a long custodial sentence. “Hizbollah is very careful not to be seen to be taking over the complete functions of the state,” said Mr Goksel. “Also they don’t want to make themselves unpopular.”

It is unclear how much impact Hizbollah’s anti-drugs programme is having, particularly in the absence of a concerted clampdown on drug dealers. “They told me it was haram, and I said to them ‘You’re wasting your time,’” said Ali, who was caught by Hizbollah two months ago, and claimed his neck still hurts from the beating he received. “If Hassan Nasrallah himself came I wouldn’t stop. I’m used to it. I’m happy.”

Although Hizbollah appears to be expanding its role at Amal’s expense, the relationship between the two parties, who fought each other during the civil war, is said to be mutually beneficial, according to political analysts. For Amal, once the main Shiite party in Lebanon, the alliance offers an opportunity to remain politically relevant.

For their part, Hizbollah, according to the Carnegie Center’s Paul Salem, need Amal “almost for fronting, because they don’t want to be too visible in Lebanon”.

Equally on the streets, Amal fulfils a useful proxy function for the Party of God. “Hizbollah guys are wary about upsetting God. Amal guys will burn a car, kill three guys and start a riot,” said a former Amal member with close ties to Hizbollah.

“They are not going to sacrifice their men trained in Iran. They keep Amal on the front line face to face with the Future Movement, and they back them up. They do Hizbollah’s dirty work.”

* The National

Powered by ScribeFire.

No comments: