Salafiye Lebnene

Mona Alami at IPS offers a rare and insightful article on the indigenous Lebanese salafist movements in Tripoli (as opposed to the Palestinian ones in the camps) and their foreign and local sponsors:‘The intricate political and social fabric within the various Salafist movements is deeply divided, as with the rest of Lebanon. Not only are Islamic factions in Tripoli manipulated by foreign powers, but they are also pawns in the hands of local politicians, who use them in their political game. “By radicalising people, political factions can guarantee a larger base of supporters in the upcoming 2009 parliamentary elections. Salafists, like many others, are lured by false Messiahs,” says Sheikh Chaaban, referring to the role of politicians in the ongoing violent conflict in Tripoli between Sunnis (including radical Islamists) and a pro-Syrian minority.
Different sources interviewed by IPS report that most Salafists seem to follow the government’s majority bloc, while other radical Sunni factions, such as Tawhid, are sponsored by either Syria or Iran, and hence, support the opposition.
“Most Salafists are allied to the Saudis and, thus, aligned with American Middle East policy. They maintain excellent relations with the government and the Hariri family,” says Bakri. The Hariris are a powerful Lebanese political clan with strong ties to Saudi Arabia. Saad Hariri, son of slain prime minister Rafik Hariri, heads the majority parliamentary coalition in Lebanon.
According to a source, who chose to remain anonymous due to the topic’s sensitivity, many Salafist preachers are on the payroll of Arab embassies located in Lebanon. Bakri says this support can be partly explained by Sunnis’ growing fear of Lebanese Shias, represented by Hezbollah. Bakri believes that although Fateh el-Islam (a terrorist group that battled the Lebanese army at the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in Tripoli for over three months in 2007) might have been spawned by Syrian intelligence, it was then probably hijacked by local political factions from both sides of the divide. “This can be clearly observed in the series of bombings orchestrated by Fateh el-Islam, as some were condemned by their leader Chaker el-Absi while others were condoned, indicating conflict within the organisation.” As for al-Qaeda’s possible hand in Lebanon’s growing Salafist movement, the country’s diverse sectarian landscape and traditional allegiance of Sunnis to the government has in fact hindered its influence. Although the organisation might have many staunch supporters who believe in the ideology it advocates, it has not necessarily been able to achieve an infrastructure. According to IPS sources, most Salafist movements in Tripoli have regular contacts with the police, military or intelligence, and are being supplied with weapons. Allouch believes that most Islamist factions are now armed. ‘

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