In the 1980s, the Arab Democratic Party (ADP) of Lebanese Alawites, led by Ali Eid, weathered Sunni challengers in Tripoli. In the 1990s, it overcame a brief spell of tension in its relationship to its patrons in the ruling Syrian regime, thereby securing its uncontested dominance over Lebanon’s Alawite minority.
Today, the authority of the ADP, now led by Ali’s son Rifaat Eid, over Lebanon's Alawites is again being questioned—this time, from within.
Many Lebanese Alawites do not seem particularly keen on being associated with their co-religionists in Syria, and they are especially wary of being linked to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which is under attack from the Sunni-majority Syrian community. It is in this context that the Eid family’s near-total loyalty to the Assad regime is beginning to come under criticism.
In October 2013, the Lebanese judiciary summoned seven members of the ADP to court, accusing them of involvement alongside Syrian intelligence in the August bombings of two Sunni mosques in Tripoli, both headed by clerics known for their anti-Assad stance, in which dozens were killed. The ADP’s founder, Ali Eid, subsequently denied the charges, but he also stated that he was “proud to be a small foot soldier in the service of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.” When he was summoned for interrogation by the Lebanese security services, he escaped to Syria.
“The ADP’s blind loyalty to the Assads is tying the destiny of Lebanon’s entire Alawite community to the fate of the Syrian regime—this is a very dangerous game,” warned an Alawite opponent of the ADP.
Accusations of Mismanagement and Corruption
The ADP is also increasingly criticized for its performance in other fields. Its own internal decisionmaking process, which is reportedly dominated by the Eid family and a handful of its close associates, such as ADP spokespeople Ali Feddah and Abdel Latif Saleh, is leading to growing accusations of authoritarianism.
A former high-ranking member of the ADP put it this way: “the party does not exist anymore—it has become an empty shell, a mere cover for the activities of a few.” This has alienated many in the Alawite community, in particular the educated youth and the intellectuals, most of whom now live outside of Jabal Mohsen, a neighborhood in Tripoli that is traditionally home to the majority of the country’s Alawites.
Closely linked to the charges of internal authoritarianism are the growing accusations of economic mismanagement. Recent fighting between Alawites in Jabal Mohsen and Sunnis in neighboring areas has been very bad news for the local economy. The Alawite area is home to a few high-quality factories making jeans and furniture, but the deteriorating security situation makes trade between Jabal Mohsen and its surroundings increasingly difficult.
“The only thing that Jabal Mohsen and its Sunni surroundings now have in common is extreme poverty,” notes a member of the city council who is in charge of social affairs. Indeed, statistics suggest that unemployment has reached 60 percent in the Alawite neighborhood and that the school dropout rate is as high as 80 percent.
Internal Politics in Jabal Mohsen
Despite all these criticisms, the ADP is, for now, firmly in charge of Jabal Mohsen’s political and military activities. It has managed to marginalize its main Alawite competitors who, once forced out of Jabal Mohsen, are bound to lose touch with the base.
This is not to say that there is a shortage of strong Alawite contenders to challenge the ADP’s authority. In theory, figures such as Leila Shahaud, a member of Tripoli's city council, Ambassador Assaf Nasser, a well-known Alawite figure, Arine Hassan, a prominent lawyer, or Badr Wannous, a parliamentarian for the area, could emerge as alternatives to the Eid family’s rule—but they all lack the local contacts needed to compete with the ADP’s well-established networks in Jabal Mohsen.
It is also proving difficult for these Alawite dissidents to appeal to Jabal Mohsen residents at a time of deepening sectarian divisions and violence in Tripoli. Since last August’s Tripoli bomb attack, many Alawite civilians have been targeted by sniper fire coming from Sunni neighborhoods. “For now, the Eids are the ones distributing the guns to Alawite residents,” reported a civil society activist who regularly goes to Jabal Mohsen. Lebanese security sources suggest that most of the ADP’s paramilitary and financial support comes from networks directly connected to the Syrian regime.
Eyeing a Post-Assad Future
So far, the ADP’s loyalty to the Assads of Syria has been well rewarded. But the equation is rapidly changing in the face of events in Syria and growing discontent in Jabal Mohsen over the ADP’s handling of the situation. Even though they are, for now, dispersed and leaderless, a number of Lebanese Alawite voices are emerging that are stressing the urgency of confronting the ADP and taking the pro-Assad cover away from Lebanon’s Alawite community.
“We need to prepare Jabal Mohsen for the post-Assad era,” argues a prominent Alawite figure. “Even if Bashar al-Assad stays, things will never be the same in Syria and, as a result, in Lebanon and Tripoli as well—we need to get ready for this new configuration.
Part I of this article chronicled the rise of the Arab Democratic Party among the Alawites of Lebanon. To read it, click here.