Cyberspat follows Lebanon clashes between Future Movement and Hizballah

Cyberspat follows Lebanon clashes between Future Movement and Hizballah
Analysis: Hostility in Lebanon has erupted on Twitter after clashes over a Shia mosque in the Sunni majority town of Saadiyat.
4 min read
15 July, 2015
Supporters of Hizbollah and the Future Movement have clashed on Twitter [Getty]
A war of words has been raging online between supporters of Hizballah, Lebanon's foremost Shia party, and supporters of the Future Movement, Lebanon's top Sunni party.

The hostility between the two sides is nothing new, but this round started in the aftermath of clashes between the Hizballah-affiliated Resistance Brigades, a controversial mutli-sectarian auxiliary militia created by Hizballah, and armed supporters of the Future Movement in Saadiyat, a highway town south of Beirut.

The seemingly irreconcilable differences between the two sides are fuelled by disputes over the conflict in Syria, where Hizballah is fighting alongside the regime and Future is providing support for the Sunni rebels, at least politically.

Hizballah also stands accused of involvement in the 2005 Valentine's Day assassination of the founder of the Future Movement, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The country's stalled presidential election is another deeply divisive issue, with each side refusing to compromise on the candidates each supports. Beneath is it all is the struggle over power in a structurally sectarian country, between Shias and Sunnis, Lebanon's two largest communities.

Meanwhile, families of the Lebanese soldiers held by armed groups in Syria continue to hold protests across Lebanon, blocking major highways and organising sit-ins in downtown Beirut.

Some protests were held to coincide with a session of the Lebanese cabinet, which convenes infrequently at best, as the ongoing political crisis paralyses governance here. Protesters sought to pressure the government to do more to free the hostages.

Around 25 Lebanese soldiers are held by Syrian militants. They were captured when armed groups carried out cross-border raids in August in the border town of Arsal.

The government meeting, which was supposed to discuss top security appointments, failed to reach an agreement over the issue, dampening hopes over a resolution to the country's political paralysis any time soon.

Twitter war
     The almost irreconcilable differences between the two sides are fuelled by disputes over the conflict in Syria.

The clashes in Saadiyat erupted on the back of the opening of a Hizballah-funded Shia mosque in the Sunni-majority town.

Some locals accuse Hizballah of storing weapons at the mosque, which Hizballah officials have denied.

It is not clear who fired the first shot, but the involvement of the Resistance Brigades, - seen by opponents as a band of thugs employed to do Hizballah's internal "dirty work" - has caused bitterness after the clashes left many wounded.

Sara Assaf, a prolific social media activist who supports the Future Movement, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that Hizballah's activities in Saadiyat, as in many other Future strongholds, were meant to create tension and provocation.

She denied the issue was about opening a Shia mosque in a Sunni-majority area, citing other areas where Shia and Sunnis coexist without incident - and stresses the problem is about the deployment of the Resistance Brigades, which has pro-Hizballah Sunnis in its ranks.

"If the Resistance Brigades were created to fight Israel, why are they deployed in Saadnayel, Bekaa, and Akkar?" Assaf asked.

She argued that these brigades have other, ulterior motives. If Hizballah were truly non-sectarian, she says, the party would have accepted non-Shias directly in its ranks rather than create an auxiliary group.

Assaf defended the Future Movement against accusations it appeased "jihadist constituencies", saying Future leaders were working hard to counter Sunni extremism.

The Resistance Brigades were created in the late 1990s as a non-sectarian grouping to fight Israeli occupation alongside Hizballah's core force. The brigades have engaged in limited combat against Israel.

More recently, sources from Hizballah were quoted as saying that the resurgence of the brigades were part of a plan to fight Sunni jihadists in the event they invade Lebanon, presumably from Syria.

Supporters and opponents of Hizballah on Twitter used the Arabic hashtags #To_ Future_ISIS_Supporters_Enough! and #The_Sedition_Brigades to exchange accusations and blame for the recent tensions.

Hizballah supporters accused the Future Movement and its armed supporters of targeting the mosque for sectarian reasons and for harbouring supporters of the Islamic State group.

Officially, leaders of the Future Movement and Hizballah are engaged in dialogue to resolve these issues, but the talks have so far produced no tangible results. The tensions amid their popular bases is all too palpable, suggesting incidents such the Saadnayel clashes - by no means the first of their kind - will not be the last.

Ahmad Rachwani: Wanted for work at #Sedition_Brigades, young unemployed reckless thugs. Lucrative salary and parking space in heaven provided