As Sunni Islamists rise to power throughout the Middle East, Lebanese Christians
and Shi’ite Hezbollah find themselves cooperating as regional
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
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.”
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
Shi’ites and Christians are minorities in the Middle East and
the rise of Sunni Islamists has put them in a predicament.
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
Numerous recent reports mention the warming relations of the
Christians in Lebanon and Hezbollah as they unite against the Sunnis.
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.
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.”
reporting also dwelled on Sunni persecution of Christians in the Sunni
stronghold of Tripoli, where Christians were not allowed to put up Christmas
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