The Amal movement was established in 1975 by Imam Musa as Sadr, an Iranian-born Shia cleric of Lebanon Ancestry who had founded the Higher Shia Islamic Council in 1969. Amal, which means hope in Arabic, is the acronym for Afwaj al Muqawamah al Lubnaniyyah (Lebanese Resistance Detachments), and was initially the name given to the military arm of the Movement of the Disinherited. This latter organization was created in 1974 by Sadr as a vehicle to promote the Shia cause in Lebanon.
Sadr, who at first established his own militia, later resisted a military solution to Lebanon's problems, refusing to engage Amal in the fighting during the 1975 Civil War. This reluctance discredited the movement in the eyes of many Shias, who chose instead to support the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) or other leftist parties. Amal was also unpopular for endorsing Syria's intervention in 1976.
Nonetheless, several factors caused the movement to undergo a dramatic resurgence in the late 1970s. First, Shias became disillusioned with the conduct and policies of the PLO and its Lebanese allies. Second, the mysterious disappearance of Sadr while on a visit to Libya in 1978 rendered the missing imam a religious symbol, not unlike the occultational absence of the twelfth Shia Imam. Third, the Iranian Revolution revived hope among Lebanese Shias and instilled in them a greater communal spirit. In addition, when the growing strength of Amal appeared to threaten the position of the PLO in southern Lebanon, the PLO tried to crack down on Amal by sheer military force. This strategy backfired and rallied even greater numbers of Shias around Amal.
By the early 1980s, Amal was the most powerful organization within the Shia community and perhaps was the largest organization in the country. Its organizational strength lay in its extension to all regions of the country inhabited by Shias.
Amal's ideology had evolved somewhat since Sadr's disappearance, when Husayn Husayni (also spelled Husseini) assumed leadership from April 1979 to April 1980 and was then followed by Nabih Birri (also cited as Berri). Although its charter considers the Palestinian cause a central issue for all Arabs. In the mid1980s , the Amal militia laid siege to Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut, in retribution for years of abuses at the hands of Palestinian liberation groups that operated in southern Lebanon. Amal stressed resistance to Israel, and Amal's leadership was perceived by many as being pro-Syrian. The Amal platform called for national unity and equality among all citizens and rejected confederation schemes. Amal was linked less closely to Iran than some other Shia organizations, and it did not propose the creation of an Islamic state in Lebanon.
Its broad geographical base notwithstanding, neither Amal's rank and file nor its leadership was especially cohesive. Amal's various geographic branches did not embrace a single position but were subject to particularist tendencies. Moreover, its two leading bodies--the Politburo, headed by Birri, and the Executive Committee, led by Daud Daud--appeared to effect a balance between two competing socioeconomic groups. The members of the first group, personified by Birri, were educated, upper middle class, and secularly oriented (in relative terms). The second, exemplified by Daud, was composed of members who had been in the movement since its inception, who generally were of peasant origins, and who were religiously oriented. In late 1987 the first group was in control of most of the movement, its radio and television stations, and its weekly magazine.
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