PM designation splits Sunni camp in Lebanon

Hezbollah-backed Najib Mikati`s appointment as Lebanon`s premier-designate has split the country`s Sunni Muslims, who for years had stood seemingly united in a deeply divided country.

Updated: Jan 28, 2011, 21:39 PM IST

Tripoli: Hezbollah-backed Najib
Mikati`s appointment as Lebanon`s premier-designate has split
the country`s Sunni Muslims, who for years had stood seemingly
united in a deeply divided country.

In the Sunni bastion of Tripoli on Lebanon`s northern
coast, a rift is emerging in a community that once rallied
behind US- and Saudi-backed Saad Hariri, the outgoing premier.

"Everyone has been saying for so long that Iran and
Syria would try to split the Sunnis of Lebanon, and that they
would do it through Hezbollah," said Marwan Ibrahim, a
jeweller who was born and raised in the densely populated
city.

"And now it`s done -- brother has turned against
brother."

Hezbollah tapped Mikati, a billionaire businessman, as
their candidate for prime minister after the Iranian- and
Syrian-backed Shiite party toppled Hariri`s cabinet earlier
this month.

The militant party and its allies pulled 11 ministers
from Hariri`s pro-Western government on January 12, capping a
long-running feud over a UN court investigating the 2005
assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, Saad`s father.

The Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon is
expected to implicate Hezbollah operatives in the Hariri
murder.

Mikati this week was delegated to form a new
government, prompting cries of "traitor" from Hariri`s camp
which views his appointment as Shiite interference -- with
Syria and Iran`s blessing -- in a post reserved for Sunni
Muslims.

"By nominating Mikati, Hezbollah managed to divide the
Sunnis. This time, it is not Sunnis against Shiites, it is
Sunnis against Sunnis," said Nasser al-Ahdab, an unemployed
23-year-old.

"I hope that the gap will not widen," he added. "But
in all honesty, people do not follow ideology. They follow
money. And Mikati has a lot."

In his hometown of Tripoli, Mikati enjoys a reputation
as a philanthropist whose mosques and free clinics have proved
a godsend in a city long neglected by the state.

Outside the Mikati-funded Al-Azam mosque, Hussein
Hamoud, a fervent Hariri supporter, admits he has "nothing
personal" against Hariri`s newfound rival.

"Look, he`s a good person and has done good for our
city. But his nomination by Hezbollah is something we can
never accept," the 40-year-old said.

"In May 2008, they massacred the Sunnis in the streets
of Beirut," he added, referring to a week of deadly
Sunni-Shiite clashes that left some 100 dead.

PTI