First Published: 2011-01-28


PM designation splits Sunni camp in Lebanon


Some Lebanon Sunnis see Mikati’s appointment as Shiite interference, others say it is time to change Hariri dynasty.


Middle East Online

By Natacha Yazbeck - TRIPOLI

'Brother has turned against brother'

Hezbollah-backed Najib Mikati's appointment as Lebanon's premier-designate has split the country's Sunni Muslims, who for years had stood seemingly united in a deeply divided country.

In the Sunni bastion of Tripoli on Lebanon's northern coast, a rift is emerging in a community that once rallied behind US- and Saudi-backed Saad Hariri, the outgoing premier.

"Everyone has been saying for so long that Iran and Syria would try to split the Sunnis of Lebanon, and that they would do it through Hezbollah," said Marwan Ibrahim, a jeweller who was born and raised in the densely populated city.

"And now it's done -- brother has turned against brother."

Hezbollah tapped Mikati, a billionaire businessman, as their candidate for prime minister after the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Shiite party which toppled Hariri's cabinet earlier this month.

The militant party and its allies pulled 11 ministers from Hariri's pro-Western government on January 12, capping a long-running feud over a UN court investigating the 2005 assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, Saad's father.

The Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon is expected to implicate Hezbollah operatives in the Hariri murder.

Mikati this week was delegated to form a new government, prompting cries of "traitor" from Hariri's camp which views his appointment as Shiite interference -- with Syria and Iran's blessing -- in a post reserved for Sunni Muslims.

"By nominating Mikati, Hezbollah managed to divide the Sunnis. This time, it is not Sunnis against Shiites, it is Sunnis against Sunnis," said Nasser al-Ahdab, an unemployed 23-year-old.

"I hope that the gap will not widen," he added. "But in all honesty, people do not follow ideology. They follow money. And Mikati has a lot."

In his hometown of Tripoli, Mikati enjoys a reputation as a philanthropist whose mosques and free clinics have proved a godsend in a city long neglected by the state.

Outside the Mikati-funded Al-Azam mosque, Hussein Hamoud, a fervent Hariri supporter, admits he has "nothing personal" against Hariri's newfound rival.

"Look, he's a good person and has done good for our city. But his nomination by Hezbollah is something we can never accept," the 40-year-old said.

"In May 2008, they massacred the Sunnis in the streets of Beirut," he added, referring to a week of deadly Sunni-Shiite clashes that left some 100 dead.

"We will never forget that and we will continue our protests until the new cabinet falls."

But some have received the appointment of Mikati -- a Forbes-listed telecoms billionaire, former premier and current MP -- as a welcome change.

"Six years ago, they killed one of us, they killed Rafiq Hariri," said Fawaz Hamzeh. "In 2005, we put our differences aside and supported Hariri's rise to prime minister when they won an election.

"Now it's their turn to accept ours."

Seated under a framed picture of Mikati in his cigarette and coffee kiosk, Hamzeh and his friends say that for decades, Tripoli -- Lebanon's second largest city after Beirut -- has been invisible to Sunni leaders in power.

"We have always asked ourselves what Hariri has done for us," Hamzeh said, to nods of agreement.

"This is Lebanon, and we are not a country under dictatorship. It's time to change this Hariri dynasty that has been ruling since the end of the war," added the 60-year-old.

"Rafiq Hariri passed on his millions, but not the sole leadership of the Sunnis, to his son."

Tripoli was the site of angry protests this week, when frenzied Hariri supporters rallied in a "day of rage" over Mikati's appointment, torching an Al-Jazeera van and ransacking the offices of a lawmaker who had backed him.

While life in the city has returned to normal, in his tiny jewellery shop Marwan Ibrahim fears it is only a matter of time before his fellow Sunnis take to the streets again.

"We are too often governed by our emotions," said the 40-year-old. "But the Shiites are disciplined, trained. Every step they take is calculated and thought out.

"In a way, it's admirable."


Iraq dismisses US call for Iranian-backed militias to 'go home'

Opposition calls on Iraqi Kurd leader to step down

IS ‘executed’ 116 suspected of Syria regime collaboration

Israel arrests 51 Palestinians for ‘terror-related’ crimes

Greening the Camps brings food and hope to refugees

UNICEF says 1,100 children malnourished in Syria’s Ghouta

UN says Yemen children in desperate need of aid

Orthodox Jews block Jerusalem entrance in protest

Six terror suspects arrested in Morocco

EU announces 106 million euros in aid for Sudan

French judges to rule on whether 'Jihad' is acceptable name

Saudi Aramco chief confirms IPO despite doubts

Lack of accountability hinders governing in Morocco, analysts say

Sudan editor convicted after Bashirs accused of graft

Russia’s Lavrov urges Iraq-Kurd dialogue

Kurds to arrest 11 Iraqis in response to similar Baghdad move

Car bomb attack kills 9 in south Yemen military base

Rouhani boasts about Iran’s greatness in region

Iraq unrest highlights long-standing political divisions

Bahrain temporarily frees female activist

Egypt court sentences 11 people to death for 'terrorism'

Israel police arrest 15 over anti Jewish-Arab dating campaign

Tillerson woos Gulf allies to curb Iran influence

Abadi, Sadr meet in Jordan

No clear US strategy in Syria after Raqqa liberation

Tillerson pushes to undercut Iran at landmark Saudi, Iraq meeting

Gulf share values plummet

US-backed forces capture key Syria oil field

More than half of Austrians vote for anti-immigration party

Washington sees potential Hezbollah threat in the US

UN ends Libya talks with no progress made

Cairo killing sparks security concerns among Copts

Iraq PM arrives in Saudi to upgrade ties

35 Egyptian police killed in Islamist ambush

Morocco recalls Algeria envoy over 'hashish money' jibe

Ceremony marks 75 years since WWII Battle of El Alamein

Somalia attack death toll rises to 358

Long road ahead for families of jailed Morocco protesters

How Raqa recapture affects complex Syrian war

Israel hits Syrian artillery after Golan fire

Germany advances Israel submarine deal after corruption holdup

Bashir Gemayel's killer convicted, 35 years later

SDF hails 'historic victory' against IS in Raqa

Hamas delegation visits Iran

Turkish court orders release of teacher on hunger strike