A wave of assassinations of political figures who opposed Hezbollah and the Syrian state’s influence in Lebanon — most notably former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005 — has weakened Sunni political power over the past decade. The influence of Hariri’s son, Saad, who took over the mantle of leader of the Future Movement, Lebanon’s most prominent Sunni political party, has ebbed since he moved overseas for security reasons.
The void is yet to be filled, leaving Lebanon’s Sunnis without a galvanizing leader who can unite a credible opposition against Hezbollah or calm the Sunni street.
In the absence of mainstream political leadership, young Sunnis are looking to figures such as Sidon’s firebrand cleric Ahmed Assir, who has catapulted to prominence over the past year as he capitalized on rising anti-
Shiite sentiment and talks of war with Hezbollah. But given their political and military constraints, analysts say, Sunnis’ frustrations are more likely to be vented in a continued drip of clashes, bombings and rocket fire.
An “anti-sectarian” demonstration against Hezbollah in central Beirut gathered a smattering of attendees from Lebanon’s liberal parties Sunday. But al-Jamaa al-
Islamiya, a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islamist group, estimated that the rally it organized in Sidon drew 10,000. A carnival atmosphere permeated the crowd, which included families and young children, and cotton candy sellers meandered about. But anger was not far from the surface.
“From Sidon to Qusair, to Aleppo, we salute!” the chants rose into the evening air from the packed bleachers as the demonstrators expressed solidarity with their fellow Sunnis in Syria. “Now Bashar al-Assad and his Hezbollah militias are preparing for an attack on Aleppo. It will be their cemetery!” one speaker said to a roar from the crowd.
Later, young men in black headbands emblazoned with the shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith, melted into the night as stalls on the stadium grounds sold knives, toy guns and military gear.
The security outside was testament to the sensitivity of the rally in a city where Shiites and Sunnis live side by side. In addition to dozens of Jamaa al-Islamiya’s black-clad guards, police and Lebanese army troops swarmed the area, while 10 armored personnel carriers formed a line on the street outside.