Hezbollah (The Party of God) emerged during the turmoil of Lebanon's 15-year civil war as a champion of the disenfranchised Shiite community of that fractured country. Although Hezbollah has been keen to present itself as the defender of the poor and downtrodden, it did not take long for it to blend into Lebanon's political landscape and capitalist economic system.
There is no question that Hezbollah attends to the basic existential needs of impoverished Shiites, providing them, for example, with schooling and primary medical care and selling them discount cards to buy staple foods at subsidized prices. It also never misses an opportunity to denounce the neo-liberal economic policies of the Lebanese government as acts of aggression against the dispossessed as it did when Rafiq Hariri's government froze public sector salaries and wages and introduced a 10 percent value added tax system in 2002.
However, Daher of Lausanne University argues that there is a gap between Hezbollah's professed objective of spreading its own version of the Islamic way of life and its actual practices. The author demonstrates that, in practice, Hezbollah has abided by the rules of the Lebanese sectarian game, becoming, for example, an active participant in procuring direct investment for its perceived needs from Iran and wealthy Shiite entrepreneurs in West Africa.
Since the 1990s, and especially since Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon in May 2000, Hezbollah has been building companies and partnering with neophyte Shiite businessmen to preside over dummy corporations that help mask Iranian and Hezbollah involvement. An ambiguous acceptance of economic liberalism has enabled Hezbollah to become a major economic actor in line with the traditional operations of Lebanon's patron-client political system.
Daher contends that Hezbollah's political legitimacy is no longer predicated on revolutionary clerics driven by religious redemption but by businessmen who make it possible for the organization to provide welfare services to its constituency, in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. In this, Hezbollah's pattern of domestic interactions is indistinguishable from its rival Shiite Amal movement or other Lebanese sects.
This is an informative book though one with a number of factual errors and some unnecessary filler material. For example, the author states that Amal pulled out of the Free Nationalist Movement, which it never joined, though it had been a member of the Front of Patriotic and National Parties. Daher refers to the "Constitution of 1943" when in fact Lebanon's constitution dates from 1926 but has been amended several times, including in 1943. The book's final two chapters deal with Hezbollah's military apparatus and its perspectives on the Arab uprisings but have little to do with the work's stated focus: Hezbollah's political economy. Despite these limitations, Hezbollah provides illuminating insights that both students and scholars will find useful.