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Relations between Christians, Hezbollah warming up
By ARIEL BEN SOLOMON
01/01/2013
As Sunni Islamists rise throughout Middle East, Lebanese Christians and Shi’ite Hezbollah find themselves cooperating as regional minorities.
 
As Sunni Islamists rise to power throughout the Middle East, Lebanese Christians and Shi’ite Hezbollah find themselves cooperating as regional minorities.

Hezbollah believes it must be more accommodating to other Lebanese parties if it wants to maintain its strength in Lebanon if Syrian President Bashar Assad falls, the Beirut-based Daily Star reported on Monday.

This follows a report by the newspaper that Hezbollah issued a statement on Christmas: “The teachings of Jesus Christ – which inspire every philanthropist – contradict what the region is witnessing in terms of injustice affecting our Christian brethren in Palestine and the region.”

Difficult circumstances make for unlikely alliances.

Hezbollah is increasingly clashing with Sunnis in Lebanon, part of a spillover of violence from neighboring Syria. Hezbollah, which is allied closely with Iran, is working with its ally to keep Assad in power.

The Syrian rebels are predominately Sunni, with Islamist elements taking part in a great deal of the fighting. The rebels seek to topple Assad’s regime and are being supported by Sunni Arabs throughout the region, including in Lebanon.

Arab Christians throughout the Middle East have also been under pressure from Sunnis since the Arab uprisings began two years ago. Many have fled the region and those who remain are very worried over their future, as Sunni Islamists have come to power in various countries and make up the main opposition movements in many others. The Sunni Islamist surge has all of the other sects and minorities on the defensive, with many seeking alliances among themselves despite differing ideologies.

Shi’ites and Christians are minorities in the Middle East and the rise of Sunni Islamists has put them in a predicament.

Shi’ites control governments in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. In Lebanon, though, power and demographics are somewhat balanced, with Sunnis and Christians making up the other major factions.

Hezbollah finds itself wedged between anti-Assad Sunni rebels in Syria and their Sunni supporters in Lebanon. This is not to mention the financial, material and manpower support coming to the rebels from other Arab countries. With its strong ally Assad under threat, Hezbollah is beginning to feel anxious about being increasingly isolated in the region, and having to face Israel with less support.

In turn, Syrian Christians, who have traditionally been allied with Assad, have been fleeing to join their brethren in Lebanon, which remains one of the safest Arab countries for Christians.

Numerous recent reports mention the warming relations of the Christians in Lebanon and Hezbollah as they unite against the Sunnis.

In an article on the Al-Monitor website, Lebanon-based Nasser Chararah writes that Hezbollah made a political decision, which has been reflected in its media outlets, to treat Christians more kindly than usual. It even broadcasted displays of Christmas celebrations, and on Christmas Day, the Hezbollah affiliated Al-Nour radio station praised Jesus’s birth.

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar station wished Christians a Merry Christmas and even emphasized Hezbollah participation in the holiday celebrations.

Chararah notes that Hezbollah was careful to call Jesus a “prophet,” instead of attributing any direct divine connection to him. What was also interesting was that “the Iranian Embassy in Beirut distributed congratulation letters on the birth of “Prophet Jesus son of Mary.”

Meanwhile, Lebanese Christian TV programming has been focused on showing footage of Sunni Salafists persecuting Christians. Their news reports show “Lebanese ‘Sunni Salafists’ queuing up as part of their military trainings, hoisting al-Qaida slogans above their heads.”

Christian reporting also dwelled on Sunni persecution of Christians in the Sunni stronghold of Tripoli, where Christians were not allowed to put up Christmas decorations.

This follows a story by Ariel Zirulnick at The Christian Science Monitor that Lebanese Christians are increasingly embracing Hezbollah, with one family even placing a photo of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on their Christmas tree.

Such recent signs of mutual affection should not be mistaken for a strategic or ideological shift, but be seen simply as the uniting of threatened parties against a larger opposing force. It is the drive to survive against the Sunni wave sweeping the region that has led to this unlikely Christian-Hezbollah thaw.
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