Hizbullah has colossal powers in Lebanon. It is a militia with growing political authority. By allowing it to keep its arms, the Lebanese political leaders, many of whom claim to be anti-military, don't see the dangers in letting a group carry arms and play politics at the same time. Those leaders are helping Hizbullah become the equivalent of Iran's Basij militia, a nine million-strong group controlled by the revolutionary guards that "helped" Ahmadinejad reach the presidency.
Basij is everywhere in Iran, in mosques, schools and government institutions. Just like Hizbullah, they claim to represent the Shia and have enough followers to back that claim. Their legitimacy comes from the Iranian constitution and the constant support of the Iranian government. Even reformist President Mohammad Khatami would often say that there is no "reconstruction" in Iran without Basij.
Basij is a paramilitary group composed of "volunteers" that was founded in the 80s during the Iran-Iraq war. Their role evolved through the years from defending Iran against external threats, which at the time meant Iraq, to guardians of the clerical regime. Although the constitution bars them from interfering in politics, they have been doing so more these days, and it is believed that Ahmadinejad, a former revolutionary guard, "won" the presidential election with their "support" on the ground. The militia is widely feared, and they are now being used by the revolutionary guards to silence reformist and quell student protests. Their authority is being expanded to include police and enforcing Islamic codes. The head of the Guardians council yesterday even gave them the credit for "winning" the fight against the International Atomic Energy Agency. In other words, this small militia has become a tool to maintain a fundamentalist regime and silence dissenters.
Hizbullah, which has many links to Basij and is believed to be hosting some of them in Lebanon, is also a militia on a defense mission, among other goals. Following Khomeini's heretical Wilayat al-Faqih, which transferred the powers of the occulted Imam to the temporal authority embodied by the supreme leader, it was able to challenge the traditionally apolitical Shia religious authorities and legitimize its pursuit of power.
Although Hizbullah's "pragmatism" is often highlighted by certain "experts", much of it comes from the flexibility of Shia Islam, and in Hizbullah's case, it has only allowed the party to adapt to changing circumstances without any significant change in the party's ideology and long-term aim to create an Islamic order in Lebanon modeled after Iran. So while most Shia await the return of the Mahdi, Hizbullah's Shias are also waiting and working towards for the Islamic order.
In the 1990s we were asked to view them solely through the resistance prism. Nobody paid attention to what Hizbullah was creating in the towns it controlled: a mini-Islamic order. This isn't freedom of religion, this is oppression of an extremely moldable community with a history of persecution and neglect by the government and its self-appointed leaders. Hizbullah found it easy to fill the vacuum in those areas and lure some of the disenchanted youth into its ranks (I should add Hizbullah was very "generous", thanks to Iranian funding).
Removing the feudal lords and the Syrian puppet Nabih Berri was not difficult, because deep down the Shia of Lebanon are not great fans of the Syrian regime, and for a long time, neither was Hizbullah. The Shia of Lebanon have long been the most undereducated of the sects, and their leaders liked to keep them that way. Former parliament speaker Kamel al-As'ad would often joke that educating his son was enough for the entire community.
When in the 1980s Hizbullah fought its way to power, many, including yours truly, viewed them as a dark force destroying everything in sight. My Beirut neighbourhood was traditionally split between Amal and the PSP, whose members often clashed and used our 1st floor balcony to shoot at one another. During the Amal-Hizbullah conflict, we had members of the same Shia family fighting one another in the street, something that at the time struck me as surreal. For many of us, who weren't exactly Amal supporters (who really liked those militias except those who profited from them?), Hizbullah was like an unstoppable plague. We had to wait for the Syrian army to come in and stop the fighting and help draw the ridiculous borders within the Shia community, which forced people to either choose between two evils or find a Sunni leader to follow. Many of Hariri's supporters are Shia.
Coming back to my point, Hizbullah's militancy mode allowed it to defeat Israel in the south and at the same time consolidate its power in the community and the country. With the Israelis gone, their "militant mode" lost its legitimacy. But Hizbullah continues to be a paramilitary group that applies Islamic laws in the areas where it has deligitimized traditional Shia Islam and state institutions. After Hariri's assassination, Hizbullah asserted itself as major player on the Lebanese scene that can be ignored at one's own peril.
In the 1990s, Syria kept Hizbullah alive to proxy-fight Israel in the south. The party was allowed to run in parliamentary and municipal elections, which legitimized and expanded its control over many Lebanese towns and cities. Many in Lebanon and the Arab world like to sing the song of the people's legitimate right to resist occupation. They then stupidly remind Europeans about the French resistance and so on. In their excitement (I should add ignorance), they overlook the dangers of letting your resistance fighters run in elections and reach power. With many Arab countries living under military regimes, the concept of banning the military from politics is probably alien to those Arabs.
In Lebanon, where people go out of their way in saying the army should be shielded from politics, a militia that is doing an army's job is allowed to field candidates and deligitimize state institutions. You can blame the Syrians for this, but the Lebanese are also to blame, as Mustapha pointed out in his response to my Naharnet post.
To give you an example, let's look at Jumblatt's latest interview in al-Shiraa. Now this is a man who says he is fiercely opposed to military men becoming officials or interfering in politics:
Hizbullah is the guarantee of national unity and Arabism in the confrontation
with Israel. It is silly to say that operations should be sanctioned by
the cabinet… Hizbullah is part of the military and political defense system.
This is rubbish, of course. Unfortunately, it is also not far from the public Hariri line, though the Harirists often add "disarming Hizbullah is an internal matter."
If we want to resist this alleged Israeli "occupation", then we should either let the army take care of it, or, if we must use another group, strip the resistance group of any political power. You cannot delegate that duty to what is essentially now a political party with a set ideology to transform the country. If that's what the parliament's majority wants, then they should push for a constitutional amendment delegating defense matters to a militia. Of course they would never do that, and Hizbullah would never agree, because that would force them to give up political power in the absence of a supportive clerical regime. In fact, Hizbullah derives its legitimacy from its fight against Israel—any resolution of the Arab Israeli conflict, including a deal with Syria, would threaten Hizbullah's political force in Lebanon.
Because a militia is allowed to freely roam the political scene, Hizbullah can bully and veto anything they want. Nobody dares run against them in elections. Everybody, from Aoun to Jumblatt and Hariri seek their approvals on everything. This is democracy? No political party now can even entertain the idea of openly opposing them without looking like traitors. Hizbullah, in fact, has more political freedom than all other groups in Lebanon. They can criticize whomever they want, but nobody dares criticize them because they are the "resistance." They are on the road to becoming Lebanon's Basij, half powered by other countries, and half by an ideology that seeks to install an alien order in Lebanon. And the Lebanese "leaders" are helping them become it.
Hizbullah is also destroying the Shia community in Lebanon. Nabih Berri is utterly useless. The community needs new faces, but that won't happen with the current system allowing Hizbullah to be a seperate "state and army" within a state with no effective army.