Hezbollah’s got a brand new bag

Last week, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah announced his party’s new political program — the first manifesto Hezbollah has released since its infamous Open Letter of 1985. The new document gained attention for its toned down Islamist rhetoric and its Lebanese nationalist bent, which no doubt raised a few eyebrows among Western observers who might not ...

575892_091207_nasrallahresized2.jpg
575892_091207_nasrallahresized2.jpg

Last week, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah announced his party's new political program -- the first manifesto Hezbollah has released since its infamous Open Letter of 1985. The new document gained attention for its toned down Islamist rhetoric and its Lebanese nationalist bent, which no doubt raised a few eyebrows among Western observers who might not follow the party, ahem, religiously.

But for those who do pay close attention to Hezbollah, Nasrallah's announcement was something of a dud: The manifesto was more a formalization of the positions Hezbollah had taken in the past years than a declaration of a new direction for the party. Nasrallah condemned Israel as "an eternal threat"; it declared that "US terror is the root of all terror in the world"; and it assailed capitalism as "an economic system that only views the world as markets."

Last week, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah announced his party’s new political program — the first manifesto Hezbollah has released since its infamous Open Letter of 1985. The new document gained attention for its toned down Islamist rhetoric and its Lebanese nationalist bent, which no doubt raised a few eyebrows among Western observers who might not follow the party, ahem, religiously.

But for those who do pay close attention to Hezbollah, Nasrallah’s announcement was something of a dud: The manifesto was more a formalization of the positions Hezbollah had taken in the past years than a declaration of a new direction for the party. Nasrallah condemned Israel as “an eternal threat”; it declared that “US terror is the root of all terror in the world”; and it assailed capitalism as “an economic system that only views the world as markets.”

Hezbollah’s manifesto was notable for its attacks on Lebanon’s sectarian political system as “a strong constraint to the achievement of true democracy where an elected majority can govern and an elected minority can oppose.” This sparked a debate in Lebanon which turned conventional wisdom about which Lebanese parties are pro-and anti-liberal on its head: The U.S.-designated terrorist group Hezbollah argued for a one person, one vote political system, while U.S. allies demanded that the current political system, which gives disproportionate weight to the Christians, remains in place. Of course, there is a great deal of sectarian logic behind Hezbollah’s anti-sectarian rhetoric: As the representatives of the Shia community, they would stand the most from a truly democratic political system, and the certainty that this fundamental change is not on the horizon provides them with a convenient excuse to obstruct any other changes in Lebanese politics not to their liking.

That said, the most telling detail from Hezbollah’s new manifesto may not be the text itself but when it was released. Nasrallah’s declaration comes at a time when Hezbollah is consolidating its domestic position; two days later, the Lebanese cabinet approved a policy statement legitimating Hezbollah’s right to use arms against Israel. After the fractiousness of Lebanese politics from 2005 to 2008, Hezbollah now appears confident enough to set its new orientation in stone. And that’s just another piece of bad news for those who are still clinging to the hopes of organizing a Lebanese pro-Western alliance which will force the party to abandon armed resistance.

HAITHAM MUSSAWI/AFP/Getty Images

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