|This article is outdated. (October 2013)|
|Independent Nasserite Movement (Al-Murabitoun)
حركة الناصريين المستقلين-المرابطون
What is taken by force can only be recovered by force.
|Politics of Lebanon
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politics and government of
The Independent Nasserite Movement (INM) or al-Murabitoun (Arabic: حركة الناصريين المستقلين-المرابطون| Harakat al-Nasiriyin al-Mustaqillin), also termed variously Mouvement des Nasséristes Indépendants (MNI) in French, Independent Nasserite Organization (INO), or Movement of Independent Nasserists (MIN), is a Nasserist political party in Lebanon.
As its name implies, the INM espoused the ideals of the late Egyptian President, Gamal Abdel Nasser, a blend of Socialism and secular pan-Arab nationalism, expressed on his party slogan 'Freedom - Unity - Socialism'.
Being radically opposed to the Christian Maronite-dominated political order in Lebanon, the political goals of al-Murabitoun were to preserve of the Arab and secular character of Lebanon and, in the long-term, establish a socialist political and economic system.
The INM presented itself as being pragmatic in ideological terms however, and that its doctrine was based upon a fusion between materialist Marxist and liberal idealist theories. In 1979, leading party cadre Samir Sabbagh described the INM as particularly close to the Lebanese Communist Party.
Although the INM claimed to be a secular, non-sectarian movement, its membership has always been overwhelmingly Muslim, being perceived within Lebanon as a predominantely Sunni organization. During the Movement’s resurgence in the early 1970s, it drew its support largely from working class’ and impoverished petty bourgeoisie Sunnis, but this did not prevent them of attracting followers from other sects.
Indeed, a 1987 report used by the U.S. Library of Congress study on Lebanon estimated the INM membership since the mid-1970s to be about 45% Sunni, 45% Shia and 10% Druze, although other unconfirmed sources present the remaining 40% as Christians. Geographically, the movement had its epicentre in the Sunni areas of Beirut.
Founded in 1957 at Beirut by a group of Lebanese Nasserite activists led by Ibrahim Kulaylat who opposed the pro-Western policies of President Camille Chamoun, the INM came to prominence at the height of the 1958 Civil War. The Movement’s own 2,000-strong militia, ‘The Sentinels’ (Arabic: Al-Murabitun, al-murabitûn or al-Mourabitoun) or ‘Les Sentinels’ in French, clashed with the Lebanese Army and pro-government Christian militias in northern Lebanon and Beirut.
Despite experiencing a temporary decline in the years immediately after the 1958 crisis, the INM remained an active force in Lebanese politics throughout the 1960s and 1970s. At the beginning of the 1970s, the Movement re-emerged as a major political faction within the Sunni Muslim community, forging alliances with other anti-establishment leftist parties such as the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) led by Kamal Jumblatt and the Lebanese Communist Party (LCP). In 1969 the INM became a member of the “Front for Progressive Parties and National Forces” (FPPNF), later reorganized in 1972 as the Lebanese National Movement (LNM).
Consistent with its Pan-Arab ideals, the radical INM was a staunch advocate of the Palestinian cause in Lebanon since the late 1960s, cultivating close political and military ties with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in the immediate pre-war years.
Military structure and organization
Quietly re-formed in early 1975, their “Sentinels” militia started with just 150–200 poorly armed militants, but it subsequently grew to several thousand men and women drawn from the Muslim quarters of West Beirut placed under the command of Kulaylat himself. Whilst Druze, Sunni and Shia Muslims filled the rank-and-file, its officer corps was staffed mostly by Sunnis and a few Christians.
Headquartered at Kulaylat’s own native Mahallat Abu Shaker quarter in West Beirut, the INM/al-Murabitun in the early 1980s numbered some 1,000 regular fighters and 2,000 reservists secretly trained by the Palestinian factions (Fatah, PFLP and As-Saiqa) and later by Lieutenant Ahmed Al-Khatib’s Lebanese Arab Army, with weapons being provided mostly by the PLO, Libya, Iraq and Syria or pilfered from Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Internal Security Forces (ISF) reserves.
Since its foundation the militia quickly attained a ‘regular’ outlook, attested by the high discipline and organization of its 3,000 uniformed militiamen onto conventional branches of Armor, Infantry and Artillery, backed by Medical, Signals and Military Police support units. Created in February 1976, the Al-Murabitun’s early armored corps initially fielded only two obsolescent Sherman Firefly medium tanks and a few M113 armoured personnel carriers (APC), Cadillac Gage V-100 Commando and Staghound armoured cars seized from the Lebanese Army, backed by gun-trucks (commandeered US Willys M38A1 MD jeeps, Land-Rover series II-III, Toyota Land Cruiser (J40), GMC and Chevrolet pickups), fitted with heavy machine guns, recoilless rifles and Anti-Aircraft autocannons.
The corps was later expanded in October 1982 following the departure of PLO regular forces from West Beirut. INM militia forces were able to salvage ten Soviet-made T-34/85 medium tanks, one Magach 3 MBT captured from the IDF in September 1982, BRDM-2 reconnaissance armoured cars, BTR-40 and five BTR-152 wheeled APCs and even three ZSU-23-4 ‘Shilka’ SPAAG tracked vehicles.
In addition, the seizure of some ex-PLO artillery pieces, namely 130 mm towed field gun M1954 (M-46) and 152 mm towed gun-howitzer M1955 (D-20) models, plus five BM-11 130mm and BM-21 Grad 122mm MBRLs which allowed them to strengthen their own artillery corps, until then equipped mostly with obsolete Soviet ZiS-3 76.2mm anti-tank guns.
Activities and controversy
Stubborn and determined fighters, adept at employing guerrilla tactics in urban areas, the INM/al-Murabitun operated mainly within West Beirut, controlling by the mid-1980s the important Mahallat Abu Shaker, Wadi Abu Jamil, Hamra, Manara, Bashoura, Basta, Shiyah and Ras Beirut quarters. They also operated two clandestine ports located at Ouzai district and at the Ayn al-Mraysa waterfront sector of the Lebanese capital, which were used primarily for arms-smuggling in collusion with the Sidon-based Popular Nasserite Organization. A third illegal port located at the Karantina dock area in East Beirut was briefly held by the INM since November 1975, until being forced out by the Christian militias in January 1976.
The INM also had its own media services. A radio station was set up in 1975 – the “Voice of Arab Lebanon” (Arabic: Iza’at Sawt Lubnan al-Arabi) or “La Voix du Liban Arabe” in French –, followed in 1982 by a television station – the “Television of Arab Lebanon” (Arabic: Televizyon Lubnan al-Arabi) or “Télévision du Liban Arabe” in French – their broadcasting facilities being allocated at the Mahallat Abu Shaker Party headquarters’ offices.
The al-Murabitun in the 1975-76 civil war
When the Lebanese Civil War broke out in April 1975, as a member of the Lebanese National Movement the INM/Al-Murabitun was an active founder of the LNM’s military wing, the “Joint Forces” (LNM-JF). The movement claimed that was the first amongst the Lebanese "progressive" militias during the war, and by 1977 it was the largest organization within the LNM-JF, both in terms of popular support and military capacity.
During the early stages of the 1975-76 war, the al-Murabitun militia forces were heavily committed in several battles and suffered considerable casualties, especially at the Battle of the Hotels in October 1975 where they engaged Christian Kataeb Regulatory Forces and Tigers Militia fighters, and later at the ‘Spring Offensive’ held against East Beirut and Mount Lebanon in March 1976. They also took part that same year in the violent (and controversial) sieges of the Christian towns of Es-Saadiyat, Damour, and Jiyeh in the Iqlim al-Kharrub, on the side of PLO and Palestinian Liberation Army (PLA) units to avenge the earlier Tel al-Zaatar massacre by the Lebanese Front militias.
The Syrian military intervention of June 1976 – which the INM/al-Murabitun initially strongly resented, but gradually came to terms with it – and the slow decline of the Movement’s political role at the beginning of the 1980s, caused their influence within the Sunni community to wane, losing in the end its final base of support amongst the political and intellectual elites.
Towards the end of the 1970s heavy casualties and their involvement in atrocities against non-Muslims caused the number of militants from other sects in the ranks to drop sharply, a situation further aggrived by internal splits that occurred at the early 1980s. This led a significant number of prominent Sunnis – such as the jurist Walid Eido and the activist Samir Sabbagh – to leave the INM leadership board to set up their own organizations, and thereby the Movement became an exclusively Sunni force. Relations with its Lebanese coalition partners were also strained to the point of the al-Murabitun battling rival Nasserite parties such as the Nasserite Correctionist Movement (NCM) in November 1975 over control of the Karantina district in East Beirut, later fighting the SSNP factions in 1980-81 for the possession of certain West Beirut quarters.
Nevertheless, the al-Murabitun did not lose its military capabilities, and during the June 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, they helped the PLO in the defense of the southwestern outskirts of the Lebanese Capital from IDF attacks until the end of the siege in September of that year.
Decline and demise 1983-88
Ibrahim Kulaylat emerged from the wreck of the LNM and the Palestinian withdrawal as the dominant Sunni leader, though he opted not to join the LNRF/Jammoul nor the pro-Syrian LNSF alliances in the mid-1980s, and consequently the political influence of the INM/al-Murabitoun had waned significantly. The Movement initially waged its own guerrilla war at the Beirut area against the Israeli occupation forces, but later fought in a more conventional fashion at the 1983-84 Mountain War allied with the Druze PSP and SSNP in the Chouf Mountains against the Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) and the Lebanese Army.
This alliance was short-lived, however, and when the ‘War of the Camps’ broke out in April 1985 at West Beirut, it saw the Al-Murabitun allied with the PLO, the Sixth of February Movement and other smaller Nasserite factions pitted against a powerful coalition of PSP, LCP and Shia Amal movement militia forces backed by Syria. Eventually, the Al-Murabitun was crushed after a week of heavy fighting, and ceased to exist as a significant fighting force.
Thus deprived from its own military wing, the weakened INM went underground again for the remainder of the war and gradually withered away, forcing Ibrahim Kulaylat to flee the Country in 1986 to seek asylum in Switzerland. Some remnants of the Al-Murabitun, however, remained at large in West Beirut, waging a fierce guerrilla war against the Syrian Army until February 1987, only to be brutally suppressed in the 1987-88 anti-militia sweeps carried out jointly by Syrian “Commando” troops and the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF).
The post-war years
After a long period of inactivity throughout the 1990s, the INM finally returned to the spotlight in April 2001, when they announced in a press conference held in Beirut their official comeback to Lebanese domestic politics. In 2006 it re-opened offices in Beirut, the North (Tripoli and the Akkar), the Beqaa Valley and the South (Jabal Amel); still headed by Ibrahim Kulaylat.
Initially, the Movement of Independent Nasserists was the name of the political organization, whilst “al-Murabitoun” designated their militia forces. However, this distinction between political and military wings became blurred over time (and the militia has been subsequently abolished), “the Sentinels”, but also meaning “Guardians” or “Saviours” –, carries historical Islamic connotations (see Almoravids).
- Lebanese Civil War
- Lebanese Communist Party
- Lebanese National Movement
- Popular Nasserite Organization
- Progressive Socialist Party
- Sixth of February Movement
- War of the Camps
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- Lebanon - Independent Nasserite Movement
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- Fawwaz Traboulsi, Identités et solidarités croisées dans les conflits du Liban contemporain; Chapitre 12: L'économie politique des milices: le phénomène mafieux, Thèse de Doctorat d'Histoire – 1993, Université de Paris VIII, 2007. (in French)
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- Samer Kassis, Véhicules Militaires au Liban/Military Vehicles in Lebanon 1975-1981, L’Echo des Cedres, Beirut 2011. ISBN 978-1-934293-06-5
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