Dr. Jamal Wakim: On the ideological level, there are a lot of convergences between the two sides, especially that Hezbollah or let’s say the Shia Islamists of Iraq and Iran were much influenced by the concepts established by the Muslim Brothers, including the concept of al-Murshid or the grand leader. However, there are a lot of differences in the socio-economic affiliations. With regards to the Muslim Brothers, right from the beginning, they emerged among the middle urban class in Egypt and Syria, whereas the Islamists of Southern Iraq and Iran were mainly recruited among the lower middle classes, poorer sections of society, and mostly the rural society, especially in Iran.
Karim Sharara: In comparing two movements as different Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, there are many factors one has to take into account. Naturally, both share lots of common ground (after all, they’re both Islamic movements) and also share lots of values and traditions, but each belongs to a different school of thought. In order to understand the differences between them, we need to discuss how their differences manifest themselves today.
As far as Hezbollah goes, we’re talking about a religious Islamic Shia Lebanese resistance group. Hezbollah doesn’t necessarily view itself in that order, meaning that it is not this order that Hezbollah’s decision-making process follows, but these are the elements that factor into its decision making.
Now, being a religious Twelver Shia group allows Hezbollah manoeuvrability in terms of politics. This is because Shia is historically an opposition group, the fighting has always been defensive, and the political tradition of their Imams is rich. These are all things that make it very different from the Brotherhood.
Now, Hezbollah, since its inception, defined itself primarily as a resistance movement aimed at driving away the Israeli threat against Lebanon. And all it does primarily figures into this definition. It has, of course, evolved, most notably after the war on Syria, and so have its capabilities. Today, it’s no longer merely a resistance movement in Lebanon, but a regional player as well.
Another thing that makes it so different from the Muslim Brotherhood is that Lebanon has a history of coexistence between many different faiths, unlike the region’s other Muslim majority countries. After the Civil War, Hezbollah made it clear that though it does believe that an Islamic form of government would be the most ideal, such a thing is not feasible in Lebanon, quite simply because the people would not find this acceptable. As such, its focus politically speaking has been on protecting and preserving the resistance and pushing for economic and political reform in the Lebanese system.
Dr. Jamal Wakim: On the political level, the development of the Muslim Brothers as a movement, whether in Egypt or in Syria, was sponsored by the British in the 1920s as a mean for them to confront and contain the emergence of a leftist movement at the time, especially that, for example, Hasan al-Banna declared his movement in Egypt, I believe it was in 1928, at a time when there were British fears and Western fears from the left in general in Europe, which was countered by sponsoring fascism and Nazism. Whereas in the Arab region, the Muslim brothers were sponsored by the British as a mean to check the rise of and spread of the leftists and nationalists.
On the other hand, the Islamist movement in Iran was an expression in a way of national affiliation, because Iran was established as a Shia Muslim state with the Safavids in the early 16th century. And at the same time, the failure of the left (in Iran) and its dependency on the Soviets in 1946, when the Soviets were threatening to dismember Iran, especially with the establishment of the Mahabad Republic in northern Iran. So, this discredited the communists and the leftists who were affiliated with the Soviets. And later on, with the coup d’etat against Mousadaq, the liberal Iranians were wiped out. And all that remains on the scene was Imam Khomeini with his anti-Shah movement, starting from the early 60s. And his anti-Shah movement became also an anti-American movement because the Shah himself was sponsored by the Americans.
So, whereas the Muslim Brothers were affiliated with American policies in the region, the Islamists of Iran right from the beginning were anti-imperialist in their direction. And this had put them at odds with the Muslim Brothers, especially during the Arab Spring, in spite of all Iranian attempts to get close to these people. Because from the American perspective, the Muslim Brotherhood takeover of the region was part of a grand scheme for the Americans to replace the Arab regimes with regimes ruled by the Muslim Brothers, so that a coalition of “Sunni capitals” or “Sunni States’ would check the Iranian advance towards the east Mediterranean.
Karim Sharara: Hezbollah support for Hamas is multi-dimensional and isn’t limited by ideological differences. I would also say that many people in Hamas consider Hezbollah to be close allies and not partners of convenience. The discourse that’s always been adopted by Hezbollah has been one of the needs to foster Islamic unity. And this isn’t just for show. This has always been stressed upon in Shia religious tradition. And politically speaking, this unity would help counteract Western influence in the region.
That aside, how good would a resistance movement be if it doesn’t support other resistance movements that share the same goal? Being a resistance movement, an Islamic resistance movement, and being a rational political actor are not two mutually exclusive things.
Dr. Jamal Wakim: I believe it’s for geopolitical reasons, because Hamas is the biggest resistance movement now in Palestine, in spite of, let’s say, my reservation on this movement. Hezbollah, in spite of the fact that Hamas fought against Hezbollah and Syria… in Syria, but they had to overcome this because they don’t have alternatives. The Islamic Jihad is more loyal, let’s say, group to the cause. But at the same time, it’s not as big as Hamas. And Hamas was sponsored by too many states, including the Gulf states, the Muslim Brothers International Organization and the Americans, of course; they are not far from this. But at the same time, they cannot discard of their rhetoric to liberate Palestine and Al-Quds because it has a religious dimension.
Karim Sharara: Things would not change when Hezbollah or Iran would gain further political power. Iran is a sovereign Islamic Republic that follows Twelver Shia Islam. Sunnis live freely there and have their own members of parliament, regardless of all the propaganda you hear. Iran as a country of 80 million people has nothing whatsoever to gain from persecuting Sunnis and antagonizing a billion Sunnis around the world for that matter, no matter how much power it gains. Also, regardless of the Sunni-dominated neighborhood, Iran has also preserved the rights of its other minorities. So why do anything to Sunnis?
Dr. Jamal Wakim: We can go back to history, even in the days of the Safavids, there were minority groups; Armenians, other Christians or Syrians, Chaldeans and others, in addition to Jews living in Iran; Sunnis, of course. So, if they lived before and they still live in Iran, why would they stop living? Or why would Iran change attitude, change the tune? I don’t believe so. There is a big Christian minority, still living in Iran. But of course, Western media doesn’t talk much about that. Iran, of course, has one big Jewish community living in Iran. But of course, Western media doesn’t talk about that. And there are also Sunnis, whether from Arab origins in South Western Iran on the shores of the Gulf or the Pashtun or Baluch in South Eastern Iran or in Horasan the Uzbek. So, I believe that this is very hypothetical, and it’s not grounded on evidence.