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As evident to all those who are concerned about what is happening in northern Lebanon today, the approach of tackling this issue should diffe¬r to the stereotypical equation that is subject to the balances and limits of the domestic political game in Lebanon.

As mentioned previously, each of the Lebanese opponents had sought to hurl the burning ball of “Fatah Al-Islam” into the others court. Lahoud is enquiring innocently about who actuates this group and stated that the aim behind mobilizing it at this time and causing the Palestinian camp to burn is to impose settlement [of the Palestinians in Lebanon], an idea that he contemptuously rejected at the Beirut summit. This practically means that he is accusing the other camp of treachery by serving Israeli and American interests as they are proceeding with the settlement agenda whether they sense it or not.

Team Hezbollah and its affiliates, some of which hinted that the Al Mustaqbal channel and Saad Hariri were reckless in dealing with the Dhinniyyah group, do not fail to remind us of Israel’s role. This group challenged the army in 2000 and some of its members were arrested. Hezbollah reminds us that the Al Mustaqbal channel had decreased the number of Dhinniyyah detainees and finally instigated their release. This fact has been reiterated again and again by Emile Lahoud over the past few days. He demanded severe imprisonment and asserted that whoever is imprisoned after being proven guilty should not be released before serving the full sentence. This is despite that Lahoud himself was bitter towards the lengthy imprisonment of the four generals (Jameel Al Sayyed and his companions).

With regards to Syria, there is no doubt that “Fatah al Islam”, at least at its beginning stage, was closely linked to the Syrian regime whether through the organization’s overflow of Arab fighters in Iraq who stayed in Syria or were stuck there, or through the misuse of the fundamentalist movement (as they see it) and transforming it into a source of chaos and sabotage that could be used later to penetrate religiously the Sunni north, especially the Salafist current. This is because the Syrian regime was able to penetrate the Muslim Brotherhood movement through the Islamic Action Front that was established by the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Tarablosi through Fathi Yakan who formed the Islamic Action Front and used it to support the Syrian party in Lebanon against the March 14 Movement. It is true that Bilal Shaaban, son of Said Shaaban and founder of the famous Tawhid al Islami party that dominated Tripoli for a while during the civil war, is now on Syria’s side. The same applies to Hashem Minqara, however the wider trend of Salafists, led by Daii al Islam al Shahal, do not support Syria, in fact, they hold an inherent enmity towards Syria because of its repressive policies towards them during the era of the Syrian mandate.

But all this talk, after the eruption of the battle at Nahr al-Bared, is now history and now we have a new reality. This reality states that this group works in accordance with the rules that govern Al Qaeda in Lebanon such as attacking the “renegade” or “crusader” Arab countries such as Lebanon according to fundamentalist definitions. Striking these systems, launching movements of political chaos that create disorder in existing structures, and which are exploited by fundamentalist military organizations in order to have more impact on the ground, recruitment websites and rejecting the dominance of the central state make the chaotic environment in which the authority of the state has been destroyed the appropriate environment for the work of “jihadist” groups. Therefore we must be very careful. The Al Qaeda movement (according to the previous definition) is the movement that is currently operating in Lebanon. Let us divert away from the internal Lebanese political talk to see the issue as it actually is.

Al Qaeda and its “methodology”, and what it does in each arena, the similar interaction that it presents in all fields regarding political and media work despite the country in which it operates, all reminded me of something. With frequent talk concerning mediators in Lebanon between “Al Qaeda’s Fatah al Islam” and the Lebanese army, I remembered the mediation issue, which we experienced a while ago with the Al Qaeda movement in Saudi Arabia and whose activities we had seen in Kuwait. Those mediators seek to pass on messages and concerns from the organization to the state and vice versa.

The nature of the role of mediator requires that the mediator is not bias towards any party and is acceptable to both sides. On occasion, mediation is rejected at first by governments because this would mean that the two parties are equal whereas the true picture is that on one hand there is the state and on the other hand there are rebels or outlaws. There is no equality between both parties however, as usual, in the end, and with the prolonging and complexity of the battle, the need for mediators is emphasized, and perhaps that is not well-known.

Mediators of terrorism have increased in recent years in more than one Arab arena. In Saudi Arabia, many Saudi Islamists have offered to act as intermediaries between Al Qaeda and the government and this even led to wanted Al Qaeda criminals surrendering themselves such as Ali al Fuqasi who surrendered himself to Sheikh Safar al Hawali who in turn handed him over to security forces.

These attempts to mediate have not been fruitless or without a political or ideological cloak to cover it, as it is not mediation that is devoid of the political cloak. We recall how one Saudi Islamist cleric who was mediating expressly stated that he discovered that the cause of extremism among Saudi youth and the reason behind them choosing “Al Qaeda” is due to the “forbidden acts” and religious violations within the state, for example the decision to merge the institution for female education into the larger Ministry of Education [formerly, separating its practices based on gender segregation]. In addition, another reason for these young people turning towards terrorism lies in the media criticism directed against the ideology. For the sake of efficient mediation, the cleric called upon critics to stop writing against terrorist ideologies and called for the state to retract its decision to merge the institution for female education into the Ministry of Education; in addition to other fundamentalist demands.

ِAfter some time, the mediation “trend” had stopped and Al Qaeda members and leaders, such as Saleh al Oufi, did not approve of such intermediaries and mocked the sheikhs of mediation in his magazine, “Voice of Jihad”.

The same thing happened in Kuwait regarding the ‘Peninsula Lions’ (Asood Aljazeera) movement. Some Islamists offered to intervene between Al Qaeda and the government, such as Sheikh Tariq al Tawari but due to the decrease of terrorist cells and the speed with which they were countered, the need for such efforts diminished.

In Lebanon today, some parties have offered their services as mediators, such as Syria’s friend in Lebanon and Muslim Brotherhood member, Fathi Yakan. Although the Lebanese army denied this claim, Yakan himself confirmed it at one point then denied it at another. Among the individuals who had offered to mediate was Sheikh Mohamed Al-Hajj, a member of the Association of Scholars of Palestine in Lebanon. He stressed that mediation started some time ago before the battle of Nahr al-Bared, with the emergence of the Fatah al Islam phenomenon. The aim of this mediation was to ensure the safety of Arab combatants, other than Palestinians and Lebanese fighters, in the ranks of the group (such as the Saudi and North African fighters for example).

The problem with many of these mediations is that they are costly and that they are conditioned to succeed where weapons failed. In such case, we are faced with a real dilemma. No one wants war, no one wants young men who join these organizations to die, who perhaps would remove themselves [from these organizations] if they find a suitable opportunity to do so. But how can the prestige of the state be preserved, how can peace be guaranteed and how do we close the door to the spread of militias and movements and how can we ensure that the terrorist threat is once and for all laid to rest? In other words, how do we give terrorists a victory that they failed to achieve through the use of arms but finally achieved with the use of intermediaries?!

The issue becomes more complicated with regards to the Nahr al-Bared confrontations, as in this case, we face an extra dilemma which is how to ensure the safety of women, children and innocent residents of the camp whilst not allowing terrorists to exploit this concern?

Mediation and mediators are present in the crisis. Perhaps they would be useful if the issue was confined to technical demands or to ensure wellbeing only and so on. These mediators become more harmful than those who bear arms if they accept the demands of armed groups even mildly.

Thus from amongst the congestion of mediators, we must distinguish between politicized mediation and completely humanitarian mediation so that the former would never be repeated in the Al Qaeda conflict with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. This is just a reminder.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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