In her book, Hezbollah: Mobilization and Power, Aurélie Daher[1] attempts to explain how Hezbollah sustains its mobilization efforts and bond with its public. She employs a meaning-making approach because she thinks that the other factors, be it the level of Iranian and Syrian support or the social welfare programs that Hezbollah has managed, have fluctuated over time, and therefore, cannot explain the ever-growing popular support Hezbollah has enjoyed. She argues that Hezbollah’s source of mobilization is a combination of meanings produced by the mobilizer’s (Hezbollah’s) discourse, the meaning universe of Lebanon’s socio-political atmosphere, and the perception and procession of the two on Hezbollah’s target audience. To do so, the author starts with an extensive literature review, including French, English, and Arabic books and articles that provide source material for the components of Hezbollah as well as the historical and regional-geopolitical contexts it existed in, and sociological, anthropological, and political theory. Apart from these, she draws on many years she spent doing participant observation research in the proximity of sites important for Hezbollah’s birth and development, interviews conducted with high-profile members, supporters, and sympathizers of the organization as well as followers of other creeds in the larger society and Hezbollah’s critics.

The book consists of two parts and eleven chapters in addition to an introduction and conclusion. The first part of the book introduces Hezbollah as the sociopolitical wing of a militia, the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon (IRL) with its historical origins, transformation, social activities, organizational structure, and leadership. The second part, on the other hand, chronologically details the mobilization of Hezbollah through a three-sided meaning-making approach.

Daher departs from the available literature on Hezbollah in several respects. First, she treats Hezbollah as a socio-political wing of the IRL, a Lebanese actor founded to counter the Israeli occupation rather than an armed group or the name of the umbrella organization of military and political branches. Second, she depicts Hezbollah as a product of the Lebanese socio-political landscape rather than a proxy of Iran and Syria. According to Daher, Hezbollah owes its political power more to its public than to a foreign state. From Hezbollah’s perspective, its relations with Iran and Syria are consequences of its primary goal: to further the agenda of the Resistance against Israeli expansion. In that sense, Hezbollah does not fall into the category of political Islam; but instead, what she terms Islam of Resistance.

Third, Daher challenges depictions of Hezbollah as an Islamist organization. When understood as the pursuit of the Islamization of a political system, Islamism cannot be attributed to a Hezbollah that has never professed a demand for an Islamic regime since the end of the 1980s. Instead, according to the author, Hezbollah pursues a this-worldly agenda that is ending the Israeli occupation of Lebanese territories. Fourth, by presenting Hezbollah as a socio-political movement, Daher challenges studies that treat it as a terrorist organization aiming to take control of the Lebanese state. Finally, Daher rejects a clientelist approach on both levels: neither Hezbollah nor its supporters are clients of Iran and Syria..

Published in French in 2014 and translated to English in 2018, the book constitutes a valuable reference point for those interested in Hezbollah’s evolution and historical and future trajectory in Lebanon, a country that currently faces protests demanding an end to confessionalism and corruption. With its primary and secondary resources, the book provides a comprehensive and new reading of Hezbollah, placing it in the historical and socio-political context of Lebanon as well as regional politics. With its methodology and conceptualization, it also offers valuable insights for students of Middle Eastern politics, especially those who wish to study armed, civilian, and hybrid non-state actors from a holistic perspective Focusing on their internal dynamics and geopolitical contexts as well as material and immaterial factors contributing to their mobilization, domestic and international politics, and their rise and fall. Furthermore, it contains maps, boxes, tables, and figures that make it more accessible. Finally, the book offers a detailed account of Hezbollah’s social and political projects and activities, which makes it possible to view the organization from a non-securitized lens. 

Daher’s methodology that focuses on the discourses of Hezbollah, its supporters, and critics can be problematic, given the inevitable discrepancy between rhetoric and practice. One example is Hezbollah’s and its public’s views of Salafi jihadists. According to Daher, Hezbollah and its supporters distinguish between ‘takfiri terrorists,’ radical jihadis who consider Shiites outside Islam, and the rest of Sunni Muslims. However, when it comes to Hezbollah’s actions, it seems that they do not differentiate between those who belong to the takfiri group and ordinary Sunnis. Particularly, Hezbollah’s support for the Assad regime that has been using violence against armed rebels and civilian opponents of the government alike indicates a different picture. Apart from that, the IRL fighters in the ranks of the Syrian regime reportedly committed atrocities, including killing, torture, and looting against Syrian civilians, the majority of whom were Sunnis. The organization and its supporters would, indeed, deny such accusations. Daher (pp. 276-78) explains some of these accusations in the case of the May 2013 Battle of Qusayr and how the Hezbollah leadership denied them. However, she does not draw any conclusions regarding the accuracy of the accusations.

Another issue with Daher’s book is its placing of Hezbollah outside of political Islamism. The fact that Hezbollah’s leadership ceased to demand an Islamic regime in Lebanon at the end of the 1980s for practical reasons such as the low level of support for an Islamic republic among the Lebanese society may mean that they gave up on that agenda or that they merely suspended it to an appropriate time when they will be able to pursue it. In other words, the shift may be tactical rather than strategic and ideological. Besides, a movement named Hezbollah, literally the ‘Party of Allah,’ which justifies its actions with Islamic references, educates its recruits in Islamic schools, and mobilizes among an exclusively Shiite community, adopts the ‘wilayah al-faqih’ doctrine of Khomeini, and accepts the Iranian Supreme Leader, Khamenei as its religious authority, ‘marja,’ can hardly be considered non-Islamist. Moreover, not all political Islamists have strived to establish an Islamic government through a revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood movements across the region, for example, also view some conditions before achieving an Islamic form of governance. Until the right time comes, they content themselves with participating in the ‘secular’ government through elections.

In sum, with its de-securitized approach, rich content, agent-oriented methodology, and extensive research, the book is a valuable contribution to the literature on non-state actors in the Middle East. On the other hand, its very methodology presents Hezbollah through its propaganda instead of how an external observer would evaluate it. Conceptualization of Islamism is another problematic issue in the book, which makes Hezbollah a non-Islamist movement. Amid protests in Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran, “Hezbollah: Mobilization and Power” offers valuable insights and knowledge regarding the so-called axis of resistance in the Middle East.

[1] Aurélie Daher is an assistant professor at Université Paris-Dauphine/PSL Research University, Paris, and Sciences Po, Paris. She focuses on Shia politics in the Middle East, in general, and in Lebanon, in particular. She also studies the implications of jihadism in European societies.