Hezbollah and Salafists: A Return to Dialogue

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (www.al-akhbar.com).

Al-Akhbar Management

A Salafi cleric (R) poses with a Shia cleric (L) while Salafists and Hezbollah members sign a memorandum of understanding on August 18,2008. Al-Akhbar

By: Abdel Kafi al-Samad

Published Friday, February 6, 2015

Are new talks between Hezbollah and Lebanese Salafist groups on the horizon?

“Time has proven that our point of view was right,” says Salafist Dr. Hassan Chahal, head of the Association of Faith, Justice, and Beneficence, commenting on the “conciliatory dialogue” held at House Speaker Nabih Berri's residence in Ain el-Tineh between the Future Movement and Hezbollah almost seven years ago. Chahal had initiated the dialogue with Hezbollah, which resulted in the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the two sides on August 18, 2008. However, the agreement only lasted for a few hours, after which Chahal announced that the agreement has been suspended, though not cancelled, following pressure from the Future Movement and Salafi sheikhs in connection to the May 7, 2008 events which pitted the Siniora cabinet at the time against the resistance, leading to street clashes.

Chahal, who belongs to the “Scientific Salafism” faction, says that “the circumstances today are appropriate for resuming dialogue with Hezbollah, in order to reactivate, amend, or forge a new agreement.”

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Chahal revealed that there is “a prospect of future communications, which may pave the way to the resumption of dialogue, especially since no one currently objects to it.” He noted that “there is a willingness on our part [to resume dialogue],” adding that he assumes there is a similar willingness by the other party.

Chahal says that two parties objected to the previous MoU: the Future Movement and his relative Sheikh Dai al-Islam Chahal, the founder of the Salafi movement in Lebanon, who currently lives outside Lebanon. He noted that “the first party is today sitting on the same table with Hezbollah and negotiating with it, and the second wishes to hold dialogue with the party.”

He said that the Salafis, specifically the families of the Islamist prisoners held in Roumieh prison, acknowledge “the need for us to hold talks with [Hezbollah], in order to resolve the prisoners issue and end the Sunni-Shiite conflict, which has become a threat to the country.”

Safwan al-Zoubi, director of the Islamic Brotherhood Association, was one of the main figures to contribute to the MoU’s development. He says that “there have been suggestions to reactivate the agreement, but it takes time and effort, and requires the appropriate circumstances to crystallize and mature.” He stressed that the agreement should obtain “political consent from the Future Movement, and Saudi [backing]” in order to succeed.

The conditions appear to be right for reactivating the agreement, especially after the compulsory withdrawal of Sheikh Salem al-Rafi’i (a radical sheikh from north Lebanon), and the decline of the role of the Association of Muslim Scholars.

For his part, Sheikh Ibrahim Saleh, the supervisor of the Fayhaa Center for Research and Planning, says that Hezbollah “does not oppose the reactivation of the agreement, because the party intends to use it as a bargaining chip in the negotiations with the Future Movement.” He notes that the problem essentially lies “with the Salafis.”

According to Saleh, there are many key questions waiting to be answered, such as: Which parties will reactivate the agreement? Will it be the same faces that signed the former one, or others, especially in light of the division within the Salafi movement, and many parties claiming to represent it? Who will volunteer to do the job without causing new internal divisions?”

Saleh notes that any dialogue “must obtain cover from the Future Movement, which will — at least implicitly — oppose it, because the presence of another Sunni party negotiating with Hezbollah harms its interest.”

“Externally,” he added, “the Salafis know that they lack Saudi backing, and under these circumstances, they will not dare to take such a step, especially after the decline of the Salafi presence at the political level.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><img><h1><h2><h3><h4><h5><h6><blockquote><span><aside>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

^ Back to Top