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Hezbollah Reveals Political and Sectarian Splits in Middle East


The Israeli assault in Lebanon has prompted varying degrees of praise and criticism of Hezbollah throughout the Middle East. Hezbollah is the organization accused of provoking the conflict.

A pro-Hezbollah demonstration in Amman, Jordan reflects popular sentiment throughout the Middle East.

However, Hamzah Mansoor, the head of Jordan's Islamic Front Party, suggests a split over Hezbollah between average citizens and the governments of several Arab countries.

"This is the message of the Jordanian people for the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine. The nation is with Hezbollah and with the Lebanese, Palestinian and Iraqi people. It's the time for the Arab governments to reflect the will of their peoples, to reconcile with them, and to abolish all the unjust treaties with the Zionist enemy."

The governments of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have not expressed support for Hezbollah. But they have condemned the Israeli assault on Lebanon. In a meeting with President Bush on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal called for an immediate ceasefire. "We requested a ceasefire to allow for the cessation of hostility, that would allow for the building of the forces of Lebanon in order to establish over its sovereignty, over the whole of its territory. That is the important thing. There is only one problem. In this crisis, it is Lebanon, and the inability of Lebanon to exercise its sovereignty over its territory."

The Lebanese government and armed forces have been unable to control Hezbollah, whose private army is considered stronger than Lebanon's. Members of the organization are also Shia Muslims whose loyalties are divided between their political identity as citizens of Lebanon and their religious affiliation with Shi'ites in Iran.

Middle East expert David Schenker says the governments of Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia -- which practice Sunni Islam -- see Iran as a threat.

"A victory of Hezbollah is not in the interests of King Abdullah. It's not in the interests of Mubarek. It's not in the interests of Saudi Arabia. We've got the Sunni-Shia overlay and you also have the Iran factor, which is that all of this benefit accrues to Iran."

The people and government of Iran are united in their support for Hezbollah and condemnation of Israel. Iran is not an Arab nation. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad condemns the leaders of Arab countries neighboring Lebanon as "cowards".

Shi'ites are in the majority in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has denounced the Israeli assault in Lebanon. That puts him at odds with the United States, which has designated Hezbollah as a terrorist group. "I am afraid that what's going on in Lebanon would be a great push towards fundamentalism and also a message, a negative one, to all of those who want to follow the course of peace depending on international resolutions. These practices will not give a chance in this direction but we will again go back to zero, to reactions and counter-reactions."

Middle East expert Schenker notes that al-Maliki's position is determined by his religious identity.

"Being a country that has a very high percentage of Shia, it's also difficult for him to take a position that is otherwise than being supportive particularly of the Shia, who are bearing the brunt of the Israeli campaign against Hezbollah."

Schenker says the people and governments of the Middle East are all concerned about the scope of the humanitarian disaster and the civilian casualties in Lebanon -- no matter what they think of Hezbollah.

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