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Hezbollah supporters raise their hands in salute as Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah speaks on a screen via a video link from a secret place, during a rally to mark the "wounded resistant men day," in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, June 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Hezbollah supporters raise their hands in salute as Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah speaks on a screen via a video link from a secret place, during a rally to mark the “wounded resistant men day,” in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, June 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Arab world has seen a dramatic change in position on Hezbollah following its intervention in Syria. For many years, Shi’ite Hezbollah was seen by many people in the Middle East, including Sunnis, as a force for good, a genuine and effective resistance movement which fought the Israelis while Arab leaders ignored the plight of the Palestinians. This perception seems now to be shifting dramatically.

GCC states have recently issued statements condemning Hezbollah for its intervention in Syria. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and others, have joined together to announce a number of political, economic and other measures against the Shi’ite movement’s supporters in the Gulf region.

In addition, Yusuf Qaradawi, a prominent Sunni cleric who once supported the Lebanese movement, has recently said he was wrong in his decision to stand by Hezbollah, and praised the Saudi clerics who had condemned the movement from the start.

At a rally in Doha last month, he said: “I defended the so-called Nasrallah and his party, the party of tyranny . . . in front of clerics in Saudi Arabia,” adding: “It seems that the clerics of Saudi Arabia were more mature than me.”

The Beginnings

Back in 2006, when Israel responded to Hezbollah’s kidnapping of two of its soldiers by waging war on Lebanon, many Arabs and Muslims around the world demonstrated in support of Hassan Nasrallah and his party.

In Vienna, in the same year, more than eight thousand protesters went out in force, carrying pictures of Nasrallah, and slogans declaring support for Hezbollah. These thousands were encouraged to go out by a Friday prayer sermon given by the Palestinian imam of the Shura Mosque in the Austrian capital.

Many people in the Arab world feel aggrieved at the perceived western support for Israel, and were pleased to see a party which dared to stand up to Israel. Many felt let down by their governments, and the sight of an Arab militia launching some sort of an attack on Israel was bound to win support.

While thousands were demonstrating in the streets of Arab cities, their governments had differing views. Saudi Arabia issued a statement in July 2006, attributed to an official source and published on the website of the country’s official news agency, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), which said: “Hezbollah’s action, was a miscalculated adventure.” The Egyptian government also described Hezbollah’s kidnapping of the soldiers as an “irresponsible adventure.”

Meanwhile, 169 Muslim scholars and intellectuals, from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and the Islamic world–most of whom were affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood–issued a statement calling for support for the Lebanese resistance, and called on Arab governments to support Hezbollah too. Many prominent names appeared on the list of those who signed the statement, including Awad Al-Qarni, Khalid Darwish and Sultan bin Kayid Al-Qasmi. The statement said support for Hezbollah was “one of the most urgent duties for Muslims to perform.”

The Salafist View

Within Saudi Arabia, the issue of Hezbollah was a polarizing one. Salafists were against Hezbollah on ideological grounds and their differences were based on historic mistrust of the Shi’ite sect. They rejected all Shi’ite ideas, even resisting the common enemy.

Many Salafist clerics have even issued fatwas totally rejecting Hezbollah, and banning all Muslims from supporting them, or even calling others to support them. Some clerics, such as Nasser Al-Umar, a prominent Saudi Salafist, even went as far as saying on Al-Jazeera TV in July 2006 that “Israel, America, and Iran were all common enemies of Islam,” and called Hezbollah the “party of Satan.”

Many Arab internet forums, the most famous of which was the Saudi “Sahat Arabiyah” (Arab Forums), saw many arguments on the position on Hezbollah, and if they should be supported in their fight against Israel.

However, this issue was been resolved for many Salafists several years ago. A book published in 1986 by a Saudi Salafist, entitled Amal and the Palestinian Camps, described how Hezbollah was formed from the Shi’ite Amal movement in Lebanon, with the support of Iran. The Amal movement was condemned for “barbaric and heinous crimes,” committed against Palestinians during the civil war in Lebanon.

Abdullah Mohamed Gharib, author of Amal and the Palestinian Camps, said: “It seems like Hezbollah was formed to be a trap for Sunni Lebanese and Palestinians. On the outside it seems like a resistance movement against the enemies of Islam, but on the inside, it is a group which contains a number of those who are fooled by the slogans of the rejectionists [the name given to Shi’ites by Salafists].”


Moderate and hard-line Islamists disagreed and argued constantly on the subject of Hezbollah. Salafists had to fight against a string of attacks from supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, who were well represented in Al-Jazeera. They constantly sniped at Salafist fatwas which disagreed with the Shi’ite movement.

One Saudi journalist, Faris bin Hizam, said in an article he wrote in Al-Hayat in August 2006 that the Hezbollah argument had revealed the extent of the differences between the Salafists and other Islamic trends. These arguments produced new trends, which openly said: “We have deep differences with Hezbollah, but this is not the time to raise sectarian tensions, and ideological arguments. We must stand together with our Muslim brothers, the Shi’ites, against the common enemy, Israel.”

The Secretary–General of the International Union of Muslim Scholars at the time, Sheikh Salman Awdeh, repeated those same sentiments in a TV program in 2006. He said although the difference with Shi’ites would remain, it was important to stand alongside them in the fight against “Jews and Zionists who did not differentiate between combatants and children in their bombardment of Lebanon.”

Most Islamists who supported Hezbollah argued that it was more important to stand against Israel than against Shi’ites. One of the most prominent Islamists associated with the Brotherhood ideology in Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Awad Al-Qarni, said in August 2006 on Al-Arabiya website: “We may have differences with Hezbollah and others, but our differences with it do not stop us from standing alongside it in its defense of the nation, to remove aggression and oppression from the Lebanese people.”

“Hezbollah: Between the Truth and the Aims”

In 2006, a book titled Hezbollah: Between the Truth and the Aims was published to galvanize support for the Lebanese movement. It was published by the Al-Rayah center in Jeddah. The book collated comments and articles of pro-Hezbollah Islamists, including Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi and Awad Al-Qarni.

The book said it was important that Muslims stood together against the “Jewish and American aggression in Lebanon, which aims at eliminating Shi’ites and Sunnis alike, because they are both in the same trenches.”

Another Saudi Islamist, Mohamed Al-Ahmari, in an article he wrote on August 4 2006, criticized his Salafist colleagues for opposing Hezbollah on ideological grounds, rather than supporting its actions. Al-Ahmari was known for his positive position on Iran and its democratic model. Salafists, however, were swift to respond, criticizing Al-Ahmari for his pragmatic argument for dealing with Hezbollah, and for what they saw as his disregard for correct ideological positions.