Islamic Unification Movement
|Islamic Unification Movement|
|Participant in Lebanese civil war (1975-1990)|
|Active||Until 1990 and 1991-present|
|Groups||Lebanese Islamic Group, Islamic Labor Front|
|Leaders||Said Shaaban, Bilal Shaaban, Hashem Minqara|
|Headquarters||Bab al-Tibbaneh (Tripoli)|
|Allies||Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Hezbollah|
|Opponents||Israel Defense Forces (IDF), South Lebanon Army (SLA), Arab Democratic Party (ADP), Lebanese Communist Party (LCP), Jammoul, Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), Baath Party, Syrian Army|
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
The Islamic Unification Movement – IUM (Arabic: حركة التوحيد الإسلامي | Harakat al-Tawhid al-Islami), also named Islamic Unity Movement or Mouvement de Unification Islamique (MUI) in French, but best known as ‘Al-Tawhid’, ‘At-Tawhid’, or ‘Tawheed’, is a Lebanese Sunni Muslim fundamentalist political party. It plays an active role in Lebanese internal politics since the Lebanese Civil War in the early 1980s.
The IUM was founded in Tripoli in 1982 from a splinter faction of the Lebanese Islamic Group led by Sheikh Said Shaaban, one of Lebanon’s Islamist movements’ few charismatic Sunni religious leaders. A hardliner who believed that force was a good solution in politics, the radical Shaaban broke away from the Islamic Group soon after the June 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, in protest for that Party’s leadership decision of adopting a non-violent, moderate political line in the early 1980s. Nevertheless, the two organizations have always maintained a good relationship, especially with Sheikh Fathi Yakan, founder and Secretary-general of the Islamic Group.
At the height of its power in 1985, the IUM splintered, when dissident leaders Khalil Akkawi and Kanaan Naji left the Movement to set up their own groups, the Mosques’ Committee and the Islamic Committee. Involved in imposing an Islamic administration on Tripoli in the 1980s, these latter two groups formed together with the IUM an umbrella organization, Al-Liqa' al-Islami.
Known to be anti-Syrian in policy and Sunni Muslim in composition, the IUM’s ideological anti-western and anti-Communist views stemmed from the radical Sunni wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Consistent with these principles, Shaaban and its Movement ostensibly rejected Nationalism, sectarianism and democratic pluralism in favor of an Islamic rule that "absorbs and dissolves all social differences and unites them in one crucible". Shaaban sought ways to unite Sunnis and Shi’ites, for example by suggesting that the holy Qur'an and the Prophet’s biography provide foundations on which all Muslim groups and sects can unite. Instead of arguing about sectarian representation in the parliament, he suggests that Muslims call for Islamic rule based on the Sharia, without which no government can be legitimate. As such, the IUM strongly opposed the Christian-dominated political order in Lebanon and deeply resented the Syrian military intervention of June 1976 to help the Maronites who, Shaaban himself asserted, would have otherwise fled to Cyprus or Latin America.
The Movement allegedly enjoyed since the mid-1980s close political ties with Iran and Hizbollah, forged by Sheikh Shaaban frequent visits to Tehran and contacts with that Party’s leaders in Lebanon, which considers the IUM leader doctrinally a follower of Ayatollah Khomeini. Some sources even state that Shaaban was born and raised in a Shiite family of Batroun in Northern Lebanon and only later became a Sunni. While accepting the validity of the Iranian Revolution and emphasizing that the path started by Khomeini should be followed by all Muslims, the IUM leadership does not call for the establishment of an Iranian-style order in Lebanon, knowing that this would alienate their own Sunni followers. Indeed, Sheikh Shaaban’s speech delivered during the 3rd anniversary of Khomeini’s death failed to mention his own relation to the latter and its theories.
Military structure and organization
Controlled by the IUM’s Military Command Council (Arabic: Majliss al-Kiyadi al-Harb) headed by Sheikh Hashem Minqara, their 1,000-men strong militia, also designated ‘Tawheed’, was created in 1982 and trained by the PLO, being initially provided with light weapons drawn from LAF and ISF stocks or purchased on the black market. Upon the withdrawal of the Palestinian factions loyal to Yasser Arafat from Tripoli in December 1983, the Tawheed seized the opportunity to replenish themselves with vehicles, additional weapons and ammunition from PLO arms caches left behind. This allowed the IUM militia to raise a mechanized force made of ex-PLO gun-trucks (Spanish Santana 88 Ligero Militar Jeeps, Land Rovers, and Toyota Land Cruisers) equipped with heavy machine guns, recoilless rifles and anti-aircraft autocannons, plus mortars and a few truck-mounted BM-11 130mm MBRLs for its artillery branch.
Its fighters consolidated their control over Tripoli in 1983-1984 by temporarly defeating a number of their secular left-wing and nationalist rivals, in particular the predominantely Alawite Arab Democratic Party (ADP) and the multi-confessional Lebanese Communist Party (LCP). They also clashed with the pro-Syrian Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) and Baath Party factions, and with the Syrian Army units stationed in Lebanon.
The IUM/Tawheed operated mainly on northern Lebanon, at Tripoli and its environs, though its militants were also active at the Sunni quarters of West Beirut and Sidon, and at the Jabal Amel region of southern Lebanon.
Illegal activities and controversy
The IUM had its main strongholds at the predominantly Sunni district of Bab al-Tibbaneh in the western part of Tripoli, where the group’s headquarters was located, and the Dinniyah sub-urban area east of the city. They also controlled the nearby clandestine port of al-Mahdi, set up at Tripoli’s western outskirts at El Mina and run by the Sunni businessmen Tariq Fakhr al-Din, which was employed mainly for arms-smuggling operations and to levy illegal taxes on the transit trade of agricultural products and other goods.
Fanatical and ruthless fighters, Tawheed militiamen were responsible for several acts of violence in Tripoli against the local cells of the Alawite ADP and LCP. On October 1983, the IUM/Tawheed executed a series of terrorist attacks against the Tripoli offices of the Communist Party, targeting Party cadres and their families. In one occasion, Tawheed fighters rounded up some 52 top Communist members, forced them to renounce their atheism and then summarily shot them, dumping the victims’ bodies into the Mediterranean. Other actions held later that year targeted Syrian Army units stationed in Lebanon – on 19 December, the Tawheed was involved in the massacre of 15 Syrian soldiers at a checkpoint in Tripoli, carried out in retaliation for the seizure by the Syrians of one of their commanders the previous day.
The IUM also run its own radio and television stations – the ”Voice of Right” (Arabic: Sawt al-Haq) and the “Crescent” (Arabic: al-Hilal), respectively – which continued to operate in the post-war period, until being forcibly closed down in September 1997 by the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) during a nation-wide crack-down on Sunni religious extremists.
A former member, Khalid El-Masri, was illegally kidnapped by the CIA. German reports assert that El-Masri himself reported his being a member of "El-Tawhid" or "Al-Tawhid" when he applied to Germany for refugee status, in 1985. The reference to "El-Tawhid" may have been confused with the group Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi lead, Al Qaeda in Iraq, used to be called "Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad". "Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad", the former name for Zarqawi's group, translates as the "movement for monotheism and struggle".
The Tawheed in the Lebanese Civil War
In August 1984, violent clashes eruped between the Tawheed and the ADP, with the former been supported by the Mosques Committee and the Islamic Committee. The Tawheed’s position was strengthened when they gained control of the port area on 22 August, after a fierce battle on the streets of Tripoli that left more than 400 dead. Street fighting dragged for some days until 18 September, when it was brought to an end by a Syrian-mediated peace agreement between the IUM and the ADP.
In the fall of 1985 the Syrian army entered Tripoli and crushed Islamic Unity's militia, though it permitted Sha'ban to maintain leadership of his now unarmed movement.
Intermittent clashes occurred in the Tripoli area during the Spring and Summer of 1986, this time between the Tawheed and the pro-Syrian SSNP faction, until Syrian troops finally moved in to enforce a truce at the request of local community leaders.
In Tripoli on December 18, 1986 the Tawheed commander Samir al-Hassan was arrested by the Syrians. His men responded by killing 15 Syrian soldiers at a checkpoint, which brought the wrath of the Syrians on the Tawheed. Aided by ADP, LCP, SSNP and Baath Party militias, the Syrians managed to defeat decisively the Tawheed, killing many of its fighters, arresting others and scattered the remaider.
South Lebanon 1988-2000
The defeat at the battle of Tripoli did not mean the end of IUM/Tawheed military activities at Beirut, Sidon, and southern Lebanon. Underground guerrilla cells continued to operate in these areas until the end of the civil war, and afterwards. From 1988 to 2000, the Movement’s guerrillas at the Jabal Amel fought alongside the Shia Islamic Resistance against the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and their South Lebanese Army (SLA) proxies in the Israeli-controlled “security zone.”
The post-war years
Aside from rare instances of mild criticism, Sheikh Shaaban and the IUM were careful not to antagonize the Syrian authorities, particularly after Syria defeated their militia in late 1986. He spoke favorably of the Syrian military presence in Lebanon as a framework for unified, armed action against Israel, a policy which was continued by its successors in the 1990s.
The Movement remains politically active, led by the Secretary-General Sheikh Minqara, a member of the pro-Syrian March 8 alliance. In 2005, the IUM joined the Islamic Labor Front, an alliance of several Islamic parties and figures in Lebanon.
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- http://www.attawhed.org/ – Islamic Unification official site.
- http://www.daawa.net/ – Islamic Labor Front official site (in Arabic).