Analysis: New manifesto reveals a more sophisticated, confident Hizbullah

Analysis New manifesto

Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah this week announced the publication of a new political manifesto, outlining the goals of his movement. The document is the successor to Hizbullah's first manifesto, published in 1985, and many regional analysts have hailed it as reflecting the group's "Lebanonization." This term is intended to mean that the new manifesto represents the abandonment of the movement's core Shi'a Islamist outlook, and its acceptance of a new role as an influential player in Lebanese domestic politics. However, this view is excessively optimistic. The new manifesto reveals that Hizbullah's strategic goals are unchanged. Observe: The November 2009 manifesto does not differ substantively from its predecessor in terms of its view of the region and the clashing elements within it. Its first part, entitled "Domination and Hegemony" in the English version, consists of a long denunciation of the United States and its role in the Middle East and the world post-1945. The US is depicted as the "root of all terror," and a "danger that threatens the whole world." Washington is seen as in the process of implementing a "New Middle East project" intended to dominate "the nations politically, culturally, economically and through all aspects." The creation of the "Zionist entity" is described as the most "dangerous step" in the American drive for hegemony. The English-language document reiterates Hizbullah's support for "armed struggle and military resistance" as the best way of "ending the occupation." The longer Arabic version is less ambiguous, committing Hizbullah to "liberation of all the usurped land" and restoring the "usurped rights of all no matter how long and how great the sacrifices." So no change in the core strategic view. But proponents of the idea that the document reflects a more pragmatic Hizbullah have pointed to the lack of "religious rhetoric" in the new manifesto, compared to the 1985 document. It is correct that the new manifesto does not include the previous document's call for the establishment of an "Islamic Republic" in Lebanon. But here an interesting discrepancy emerges. The longer, Arabic version of the manifesto is steeped in religious rhetoric and Islamist terminology. Nasrallah opens his statement with two quotations from the Koran. The manifesto's first section refers to "resistance in the way of jihad," and the "jihadi way." The section dealing with "Palestinian resistance" depicts Hizbullah as practicing "jihadi resistance." The section dealing with Iran notes the "blessed Islamic revolution led by the Vali al-Faqih Imam Khomeini." (The latter phrase refers to the system of government operative in Iran, Vilayat al-Faqih - rule of the jurisprudent, i.e., clerical rule.) The section on "resistance" deals with the movement's "mujihadeen and its martyrs." The Arabic version of the manifesto also contains a whole section entitled "Jerusalem and the Aksa Mosque," which asserts that "to liberate Jerusalem and defend Aksa Mosque" is a "religious duty" incumbent on Muslims. But in the English-language version of the manifesto, the section on Jerusalem, and all the phrases mentioned above, do not appear. The English version, indeed, is innocent of all reference to jihad or Koranic quotation. On Al-Manar, it is not made clear that the English version contains only selected excerpts from the manifesto. On the regime-supported Syrian News Station Web site, meanwhile, the English version is presented as the "full text of Hizbullah's new political document." The discrepancies suggest that Hizbullah considers it in its interest to tone down or remove the pro-Iranian and jihadi parts of its identity when presenting itself to the outside world. But the full document in its original form suggests that the movement has not strayed far from its original path. The new manifesto contains a call for the ending of the sectarian system of political representation in Lebanon. This is the final aspect cited by those asserting that Hizbullah is undergoing a process of moderation. But this does not represent a concession on Hizbullah's part. The movement believes, possibly correctly, that the Shi'a community has a long-term demographic advantage in Lebanon. Ending Lebanon's consociational system is therefore intended, in the fullness of time, to deliver the country into its hands. In the meantime, Hizbullah established de facto in the violence of May 2008 that there was no force within Lebanon that could prevent it from asserting its will. It has forced its opponents to accept its conditions in negotiations for the formation of a new government. The new cabinet is set to contain an opposition-blocking third and will also overtly endorse the continued independent role of Hizbullah's armed forces. The new manifesto suggests that Hizbullah circa 2009 is a far more confident and comfortable player in Lebanon than it was in its earlier years. The reason for this, however, is not because the Shi'a Islamist movement has adapted itself to prevailing Lebanese realities. It is because Hizbullah has successfully imposed itself upon these realities, and hence may now proceed at its own pace. On this basis, Hizbullah has secured the perimeter of the Iranian-financed state-within-a state that it maintains in Lebanon. The new manifesto represents the movement's willingness to coexist on its own preferred terms with other elements within the country. This coexistence is intended to usher in a "natural" process that Hizbullah believes will, in the fullness of time, result in its domination of Lebanon. Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs center, IDC, Herzliya.