In Lebanon, Sunni’s make up about 30% of the population and live mostly in urban areas or in the rural Akkar region. Shiites are widely thought to be the majority of the population, though there are no statistics proving this because there has not been a census in Lebanon since 1932. The Shiite and Sunni dispute dates back to the 7th century with controversy over who is the right person to succeed the Prophet Muhammad. In general, Sunni’s are more conservative and Shiites have taken to a more liberal interpretation of Islamic Law. Shiites defend themselves by declaring centuries of oppression and Sunnis declare Shiites to be heretics.
Despite the long historical division, the Sunni-Shiite conflict is relatively recent in Lebanon. The 1975-1990 civil war centered around Muslim and Christian conflict over Palestinian presence in the country. In the early 1980’s Iran helped to establish Hezbollah, and since then they have steadily been gaining power and numbers. Hezbollah is a Shiite associated political and social organization, which is recognized by the US as a terrorist group. In 2005 conflict increased when Hezbollah established an alliance with one of the country’s most powerful Christian leaders, Michel Aoun, also a former general. The alliance strengthened the opposition towards a Western-backed government of the Sunni Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora. This correlated with the end of Syrian troops occupying Lebanon. The following year, riots broke out between Sunni and Shiites consisting mostly of young followers of the Hezbollah ally, the political Amal Party. At this point Hezbollah had a campaign to bring down the Prime Minister Siniora. Rumors boiled of a Sunni militia being formed to counteract Hezbollah.
In 2008, the Sunni and Shiite conflict broke out and made headlines. Shiite associated Hezbollah, took over Beirut temporarily which resulted in street riots and violence. A government decision that threatened Hezbollah’s communication network prompted the takeover. The Sunni political leader at the time, Saad Hariri, was taken over, his military defeated, his television station kicked off the air, and had two of his buildings burned by Hezbollah. A Sunni man named Obaid went to Beirut when he heard of the attack on Hariri and was stopped at a checkpoint. When the men found out he was a Sunni they shot fire at his car, killing the man’s nephew and taking the man away to a warehouse where he was tortured for two and half days. For Sunni’s it was humiliation, their “militia” quickly defeated and a massacre was what remained. Soon following, attacks grew to outside the capital. Lebanese leaders met in Qatar in an effort to form a compromise.
The latest conflict involves Syria as well. Hezbollah has been a supporter of the Syrian regime and this month a Syrian rebel, whom kidnapped ten Lebanese Shiites, is debating their release but much of their outcome weighs on if Sunnis will offer a counterattack. The Syrian rebel has revealed that he would prefer to turnover the hostages to the United States in hopes that this would holdback any attacks against both the Syrian rebels and the Shiite hostages. This event has sparked a multitude of revenge kidnappings lead by Shiites in Lebanon. Hezbollah has denied any accusations of Shiite kidnappings and is taking a unaffiliated approach, allowing the Lebanese government to deal with the hostage’s release. The probability of the United States becoming involved is doubtful due to the recent American made, Anti Islam film, which has sparked much controversy since it lead to the American ambassador to Libya’s death. Hezbollah’s Lebanese- Shiite leader, Nasrallah, has his own response and released a reaction to the film stating:
“Those who should be held accountable, punished, prosecuted and boycotted are those directly responsible for this film and those who stand behind them and those who support and protect them. Primarily, the United States.”
It is evident that Hezbollah has escalated tensions between Shiites and Sunnis in Lebanon. The question that remains, will the conflict ever cease?