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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
01BEIRUT758 2001-03-22 16:28:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Beirut
Cable title:  

HIZBALLAH-AMAL FORGE MUNICIPAL ELECTION

Tags:   PGOV PREL KISL IR LE 
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P 221628Z MAR 01
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5869
INFO ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 000758 

LONDON FOR SUTPHIN, PARIS FOR O'FRIEL

E.O. 12958:DECL:03/22/11
TAGS: PGOV PREL KISL IR LE
SUBJECT: HIZBALLAH-AMAL FORGE MUNICIPAL ELECTION
ALLIANCE - COURTESY OF SYRIA

REF: A) BEIRUT 136, B) 00 BEIRUT 4295

CLASSIFIED BY CHARGE DAVID HALE. REASON 1.5 B&D.



1. (C) SUMMARY: PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER/AMAL MOVEMENT
HEAD NABIH BERRI, CORNERED BY SYRIAN SUPPORT FOR
HARIRI'S STRUCTURAL REFORMS WHICH WILL HARM HIS
PATRONAGE MACHINE, IS TRIMMING SAILS. HE HAS MET WITH
ARCH-RIVAL HIZBALLAH SYG NASRALLAH AND COMPROMISES ON
TWO BONES OF CONTENTION ARE EMERGING. FIRST, THEY
HAVE CUT A DEAL IN WHICH A PRO-AMAL FIGURE BECOMES THE
HEAD OF THE HIGHER ISLAMIC SHI'A COUNCIL (SPIRITUAL
LEADER OF THE COMMUNITY AND CONTROLLER OF CLERICAL
APPOINTMENTS AND FUNDS) WHILE A PRO-HIZBALLAHI GAINS
THE DEPUTY SLOT. SECOND, THEY HAVE WORKED OUT
DIFFERENCES BLOCKING MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS IN THE FORMER
ISRAELI SECURITY ZONE, AND WILL FORGE A MADE-IN-SYRIA
ALLIANCE WHICH WILL BLOCK OUT ANY THIRD FORCES, SUCH
AS FORMER SPEAKER KAMAL AL-ASAD. THESE COMPROMISES IN
PART REFLECT BERRI'S SENSE OF POLITICAL VULNERABILITY,
BUT ALSO A SIGN THAT HIZBALLAH IS COMING BACK DOWN TO
EARTH AFTER THE HEADY POST-LIBERATION DAYS.
NASRALLAH'S ASSOCIATION WITH THE PALESTINIAN INTIFADA
-- WHILE IT HAS PUT HIM ON THE MAP REGIONALLY -- HAS
GAINED THE PARTY LITTLE IN THE DEEPLY ANTI-PALESTINIAN
SHI'A COMMUNITY. THE RESULT IS A TEMPORARY, TACTICAL
ALLIANCE WHICH WILL NOT CHANGE THE LANDSCAPE IN THE
SOUTH, BUT MAY REDUCE INTERNAL SHI'A TENSIONS FOR THE
MOMENT. END SUMMARY.



2. (C) PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER/AMAL MOVEMENT HEAD NABIH
BERRI HAS BEEN ON THE POLITICAL DEFENSIVE. MOST
RECENTLY, HE HAS BEEN COMPELLED TO ACCEPT POTENTIALLY
SWEEPING STRUCTURAL REFORMS ADVOCATED BY PM HARIRI
WHICH WILL UNDERCUT A MAJOR SOURCE OF HIS POWER,
PATRONAGE. THE GOVERNMENT JOBS OF THOUSANDS OF HIS
FOLLOWERS ARE ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK -- ALBEIT
INCUMBENTS WILL GET GOLDEN HANDSHAKES -- AS THE PRICE
HARIRI HAS SAID MUST BE PAID TO RESTORE CONFIDENCE IN
LEBANON'S ECONOMY AND FINANCES. BERRI'S CLIMBDOWN IS
GENERALLY ATTRIBUTED TO PRESSURE FROM DAMASCUS, WHOSE
LOCAL OPERATIVES HAVE BEEN VISIBLE SUPPORTERS OF
HARIRI'S REFORM AGENDA.



3. (C) AN UNUSUAL MEETING BETWEEN BERRI AND HIZBALLAH
SECGEN NASRALLAH MAY REFLECT BERRI'S RESPONSE TO HIS
REDUCED CIRCUMSTANCES. IT IS SAID THAT TWO
COMPROMISES EMERGED ON ISSUES DIVIDING AMAL AND
HIZBALLAH AND THE SHI'A COMMUNITY: THE SUCCESSION TO
IMAM MUHAMMAD MAHDI SHAMS AD-DIN, WHO DIED IN JANUARY,
AND ORGANIZATION OF MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS IN THE FORMER
ISRAELI SECURITY ZONE.



4. (C) SHAMS AD-DIN'S POSITION AS SHI'A SPIRITUAL
LEADER AND HEAD OF THE HIGHER ISLAMIC SHI'A COUNCIL
(HISC) HAS BEEN FILLED BY HIS DEPUTY, AS ACTING
CHAIRMAN, ABDEL AMIR QABALAN. QABALAN IS A PRO-AMAL
CLERIC WITH LITTLE NATIONAL FOLLOWING OR RESPECT
(REFTEL). ACCORDING TO A TOP HISC ADVISOR, BERRI AND
NASRALLAH AGREED THAT QABALAN SHOULD BE ELECTED
CHAIRMAN, AND A NEW, PRO-HIZBALLAH DEPUTY APPOINTED TO
FILL QABALAN'S POSITION -- AND BE POSITIONED TO BECOME
CHAIRMAN WHENEVER QABALAN PASSES FROM THE SCENE.
HIZBALLAH'S CANDIDATE IS SHEIKH MOHAMED YAZBEK, THE
LOCAL "PERSONAL" REPRESENTATIVE OF AYATOLLAH KHAMENEI
(ALTHOUGH IRANIAN FM KHARRAZI WAS SAID DURING HIS
VISIT LAST WEEK TO HAVE SAID TEHRAN FAVORED ANY
CANDIDATE WHO GAINED CONSENSUS SUPPORT FROM AMAL AND
HIZBALLAH. AMAL IS STILL PUBLICLY SUPPORTING A RIVAL
CANDIDATE, BAALBAK MUFTI KHALIL SHUQAIR, BUT A KEY
CONTACT SAID THE DEAL HAS BEEN CUT FAVORING YAZBEK.
THESE APPOINTMENTS MATTER BECAUSE OF HISC'S CONTROL
OVER ALL SHI'A CLERICAL APPOINTMENTS AS WELL THE
RELIGIOUS ENDOWMENTS, ISLAMIC UNIVERSITY, AND AZ-ZAHRA
HOSPITAL. IN THE PAST, HIZBALLAH OFFICIALS WERE
DISMISSIVE THE OF THE COUNCIL, AND RELIED ON THEIR OWN
ASSETS TO PROMOTE SUPPORT. HOWEVER, LOOKING TO THE
DAY OF REDUCED IRANIAN SUPPORT, HIZBALLAH FIGURES MAY
NOW FIND ACCESS TO HISC PATRONAGE AND MONEY MORE
ATTRACTIVE.



5. (C) THE SECOND COMPROMISE INVOLVED AGREEMENT ON
PROCEEDING WITH MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS IN THE FORMER
SECURITY ZONE, WHICH WILL BE THE FIRST SINCE 1963.
THEIR CONSENSUS, BASED ON A MADE-IN-SYRIA ELECTORAL
ALLIANCE BETWEEN THE TWO PARTIES, CLEARS THE WAY FOR
SEPTEMBER POLLS. THE TWO PARTIES' DIVISION OF THE
SPOILS WITH AGREED LISTS OF PRE-CHOSEN CANDIDATES WILL
ENSURE A MINIMUM OF SURPRISES, AS WELL AS MINIMAL
LOCAL CONFLICT BETWEEN ARMED SUPPORTERS. KEY WILL BE
TO SHUT OUT THIRD FORCE COMPETITORS, SUCH AS FORMER
SPEAKER KAMAL AL-ASAD, WHO IS ANATHEMA IN DAMASCUS BUT
RETAINS A CONSIDERABLE CORE OF SUPPORT IN THE FORMER
ZONE.



6. (C) KHIAM MP/AMAL MEMBER ALI HASSAN KHALIL
CHARACTERIZED TO US THE UPCOMING MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS
AS CRUCIAL FOR THE POLITICAL FUTURE OF THE REGION
AFTER ALMOST A QUARTER-CENTURY OF ARTIFICIAL,
EXTERNALLY-IMPOSED POLITICS. THE MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS
WOULD PREVIEW ANY NEW POLITICAL BLOOD THAT MAY COME TO
THE FOREFRONT. HOPING TO NIP THAT INDEPENDENT STRAIN
IN THE BUD, DAMASCUS HAS ENCOURAGED BOTH SHIA PARTIES
TO "COORDINATE" THEIR ELECTION STRATEGIES AND
CANDIDATE LISTS. TO DATE, KHALIL HAS HELD SOME SIX
MEETINGS WITH HIZBALLAH POLITICAL ADVISOR, HUSSEIN
KHALIL. WHILE THERE HAS BEEN LITTLE CONSENSUS ON ANY
ISSUE, DAMASCUS WILL ENSURE THAT A UNIFIED POSITION
WILL ARISE COME ELECTION DAY.



7. (C) DESPITE THE FIERCE RIVALRY BETWEEN THE TWO
PARTIES, BOTH AMAL NOR HIZBALLAH GAIN IN THIS
COALITION. AMAL IS A HOLLOWED OUT PARTY, STRIPPED OF
ITS CIVIL WAR ERA LEGITIMACY BY POST-WAR CORRUPTION.
WHILE ITS LONG POLITICAL EXPERIENCE AND SECULAR
APPROACH REMAIN ATTRACTIVE DRAWS TO THE SHIA
COMMUNITY, PATRONAGE HAS BEEN KEY TO BERRI'S SUCCESS -
- AND HARIRI'S REFORMS ARE AT LEAST TEMPORARILY
DILUTING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THAT WEAPON FOR HIM.
HIZBALLAH, ON THE DOWNSWING FROM THE HEADY DAYS OF THE
ISRAELI WITHDRAWAL, IS SAID TO HAVE ENCOUNTERED SOME
CRITICISM FROM SOUTHERNERS, WHO DISAGREE WITH THE
PARTY'S ADVOCACY OF THE PALESTINIAN INTIFADA,
UNWILLING TO GET DRAWN BACK INTO VIOLENCE WITH ISRAEL
ON BEHALF OF UNPOPULAR PALESTINIANS. VOICES ARE ALSO
HEARD SAYING THAT HIZBALLAH HAS FAILED TO FILL THE
SERVICE VACUUM LEFT BY THE STATE, AND HAVE SHOWN TO BE
NO BETTER THAN OTHER LEBANESE POLITICAL FORCES WHICH
FAIL TO DELIVER.

HALE