Lebanese Shiites Ousted from Gulf over Hizbullah Ties


When Ali Farhat was summoned to the immigration department in the United Arab Emirates, the 33-year-old Lebanese restaurant worker knew he would have to pack up his family and leave fast.

Like many Shiite Muslims working in the oil-rich Gulf state, Farhat says he popped up on the country's deportation radar merely because of his sect, which its Sunni rulers associate with Hizbullah.

"I felt like a criminal, but I did not know what I did wrong," said Farhat, who had lived in the UAE for 15 years before his expulsion in May. "It seems that my only crime was that I am Shiite."

Long considered by authorities as a security threat, hundreds of Shiites have been quietly expelled from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states on suspicion of being supporters of Hizbullah. The deportations have surged in recent months after the group publicly joined the civil war in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad, an archenemy of the Gulf's rulers.

It is the latest fallout for Hizbullah's high stakes and highly divisive military involvement in the war in Syria, and a sign of the growing sectarian fissures in the Arab world over Syria.

Last month, Saudi Arabia announced plans to deport Lebanese who authorities accuse of supporting the Iranian-backed Hizbullah, and the other Gulf states say they too are reconsidering the status of their Shiite guest workers.

A Lebanese diplomat stationed in the Gulf confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday that the stepped-up deportations from Saudi Arabia have begun, adding that he has documented an average of three cases a week in the past three weeks.

Farhat, like hundreds of other deportees, was never given an official reason for his family's expulsion, and was not able to challenge it in court or at a government agency.

Deportees like Farhat are not the only ones bearing the brunt of Hizbullah's military involvement in Syria, where the group's fighters helped Assad's forces recapture the strategic town of Qusair, near the border with Lebanon, last month.

The group's backing of the Syrian regime has angered the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels fighting to topple Assad and raised sectarian tensions inside Lebanon. Several Syria-based Islamist groups have threatened to attack Hizbullah strongholds in Lebanon in retaliation.

Rockets from the Syrian side regularly crash into Shiite towns and villages near the border with Syria. Twice this month, rockets slammed into the Hizbullah stronghold known as Dahieh, Beirut's southern suburbs..

In the most ominous sign yet that the sectarian war in Syria has begun to consume Lebanon, a car bomb tore through a heavily guarded sector of Bir al-Abed area on Tuesday, wounding 53 people.

The Syrian conflict, now in its third year with over 93,000 people killed, has pitted overwhelmingly Sunni rebels against Assad's regime, which is dominated by Alawites, an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam.

It has also become a regional struggle for influence between Shiite Iran on one side and major Sunni power Saudi Arabia on the other, backed by smaller Gulf Arab states.

Ordinary Lebanese like Farhat are paying the price.

"People start living in fear because they always think that they will be next," he told The Associated Press.

He recounted his ordeal on the phone, speaking from a village in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, where he returned with his wife and their young daughter. The family has been forced to move in with his parents.

Farhat's boss and his boss' family were ordered out of the UAE at the same time, he said, adding they were given just a week to pack up. After they were served the deportation order, they were put in a police van and taken to the immigration department. Their residency permits were canceled on the spot, their passports seized by officials. They got the documents back at the airport on their way out of the country.

The expulsion drive is partly fueled by the growing hatred between Sunnis and Shiites. Analysts say it is also rooted in Gulf rulers' need to keep their populations in constant fear of enemies — domestic and foreign — in order to preserve their authoritarian rule.

Shiites in the Gulf have "effectively become scapegoats" for the Sunni rulers trying to curb Iran's growing regional influence and Hizbullah's military reach, said Christopher Davidson, an expert on Gulf affairs at Britain's Durham University. Tehran is Hizbullah's main backer and supplies the group with money and weapons, channeled into Lebanon through Syria.

In Syria, the Gulf countries have supplied the rebels fighting to oust Assad with funds and weapons.

Shortly after the fall of Qusair, the Gulf Cooperation Council — which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the UAE — said the bloc would crack down on Hizbullah members as part of a joint effort to limit the group's "financial and business transactions."

"Acts are being committed against innocent Syrian people," said Saudi Ambassador Ali Awadh Asiri of his country's decision to deport Lebanese accused of supporting Hizbullah.

Hizbullah says the group has no business interests in the Gulf. However, there are more than half a million Lebanese working in the Gulf states, including tens of thousands in Saudi Arabia. Many are Shiites.

Ali Rashid, a 45-year-old Lebanese businessman, had lived for 33 years in the UAE's capital, Abu Dhabi, where he owned four restaurants and a gift shop worth $3.5 million. In December 2011, he was told by authorities that he had 10 days to leave with his wife and three daughters. He bought one-way tickets to Beirut with $10,000 in cash he managed to take out of his bank account.

Rashid's ties to the country go beyond his business investment: His father served in the security force that protected the family of Sheik Zayed Al Nahyan before he united seven city-states in the early 1970s, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, into a federation that is now ruled by Sheik Zayed's sons.

"I loved that country more than the Emiratis do," Rashid said, proudly showing off a black-and-white photograph of his father in a tribal robe, holding a rifle and a sword. His eyes filled with tears when he looked at a picture of himself, dressed in a white dishdasha and headscarf, traditional attire of Gulf men.

"I asked them for a reason, did I drive through a red light?" Rashid said. "They said, 'No, it's an order from the top.'"

Privately, Rashid said, the immigration officials told him that his only problem was that he is Shiite, but when he asked them to put it in writing, they refused.

There was something Rashid said he was told by the UAE authorities that he could have done in order stay: Inform on fellow Lebanese Shiites living in the country on their Hizbullah links and the group's alleged sleeper cells. He refused.

So did Hassan Alayan back in 2009, when he was deported along with his wife and four children from the UAE, where he had lived for 27 years working as a journalist.

Alayan now runs a committee to represent the deportees in Beirut.

He has registered the names of 400 Shiite families who have been expelled from the UAE in the past four years, but says the number is much higher because many won't speak about their ordeals for fear of jeopardizing the immigration status of relatives still in the Gulf.

He estimated that about 100 people have been deported from Gulf countries in the past weeks, but said there were no accurate figures. Many families refused to talk to the media and several declined to be interviewed by the AP.

"It's a very simple mentality they have in the Gulf, and that is that all Shiites support Hizbullah with money," Alayan said.

While Alayan, Rashid and Farhat all denied ever supporting Hizbullah, the end of their prosperous lives in the UAE has made them prouder Shiites, Rashid said.

"Their behavior gave us more power to be Shiite," he said.

Comments 24
Thumb Senescence 12 July 2013, 07:34

I can see how the UAE would justify this really. Use fear to keep shiites in line. It's more of a deterrent than a proactive measure.

Thumb hakwaji 12 July 2013, 07:44

well done.... !

Default-user-icon Truth (Guest) 12 July 2013, 07:59

They'll find a job in Tehran, or Khamenei will make provisions fro them in the monthly check...

Thumb lebanon_first 12 July 2013, 08:15

Khalijees are stupid. They should deport iranians. They are the order givers. HA is only an executor, and chiite Lebanese have nothing to do with this. Why aren't they also deporting alawite syrians.?

Default-user-icon dddd (Guest) 12 July 2013, 08:25

M i n i m u m !!!
its the least they can do for you after Hizbo. has raped all privacies in the region nurturing a confessional strife.

Thumb jabal10452 12 July 2013, 09:10

So what strategic results are the khalijis accomplishing, beside exasperating the Sunni - Shia divide? Do they think that they would be choking off funding to HA by this move? I doubt it because I think that the main source of funding to Hezbollah comes from Iran and not the from the Shia diaspora. Iran can easily pick up the difference if needed, and consolidate its relationship with the Lebanese Shia community even more.
And I don't think that this move would create more pressure on Hezbollah domestically. The deportees end up in areas that staunchly support HA. They now see HA as their only, exclusive protector since neither the governments of the Gulf nor the government of Lebanon could do anything to protect their right to live as law-abiding citizens in their guest countries.

Thumb natasha 12 July 2013, 18:05

@Freedom : i disagree with you, why did it take 10 years for Great Britain to expel a very well known jordanian terrorist back to Jordan ?food for thought . The rest i agree with both of you . Have a Great weekend and GOD bless

Thumb jabal10452 12 July 2013, 09:11

Part 2:
Deporting people for actively funding HA is acceptable and understandable if done through due process; resorting to mass punishment and summary, discriminatory acts will produce the opposite results that the Kalijis are hoping for. It also shows that the Khalijis as scared and panicking.

Thumb jcamerican 12 July 2013, 11:09

After 15 years and 33 years of living there, they kicked them out for being shiites. I wish the USA would kick all the sunnis out because of the September 11 and other incidents, recently the Boston bombing. This would be true justice.

Thumb liberty 12 July 2013, 13:19

I also wish the USA would kick out all chias because they support HA, you included!

Thumb jcamerican 13 July 2013, 11:17

I would have never let you entered the USA if I was in the immigration service. My country seems to let all the undesirables like you in, before any descent person gets in.

Missing lebanesemafia 14 July 2013, 02:07

lmaoo bro ive never heard of a shia attack on US soil you idiot, every attack done on this soil was all salafis and sunnis. inshallah god puts where abo bakr and omar are

Missing lebanesemafia 14 July 2013, 02:08

people are so retarded i swear

Missing un520 12 July 2013, 12:14

Wrong medicine. Counter-productive. Our goal should be to keep or return shiah to the Lebanese fold, away from todays regime in Teheran. Unfortunately, many of them will need to learn it the hard way, but not by being expelled from arab countries without a fair and proper trial.

Thumb jabal10452 12 July 2013, 12:21


Default-user-icon mazen (Guest) 12 July 2013, 13:00

This is simply outrageous! Innocent people paying the price of rotten arab politics and tribal hatred that goes back 1500 years! What a shame for all Arabs, without exception. This actually happens
in the 21st century.

Thumb liberty 12 July 2013, 14:02

If what you are saying is true and it is hatred by these countries towards chia and dates back 1500 years, can you explain how these chia were admitted into these countries and happened to work there for so many years in the first place?

Thumb lebanon_first 12 July 2013, 16:20

FT... mich hal2ad!

Missing helicopter 13 July 2013, 07:50

ft., I am sure the ones being kicked out admire KSA and wish the best for it as much as you do.
Talk about drinking from the well and throwing stones in it.

Missing helicopter 13 July 2013, 07:48

I am sure you agree that there is no such thing as an Israeli civilian as all of them are trained to be fighters.
Nsrallah made the same claim over and over. His statement is Israel will never be able to beat us because every shi3a family is HA family. Every shi3a civilian is a HA fighter. Same model as Israel's.
HA is also expanding in Lebanon in fashion similar to how the jews took over Palestine.......... strategic planning, lots of common methods between the two HA and the Zionists.

Thumb geha 12 July 2013, 14:14

you have no right to this analogy: no one is killing shia the way Christians were thrown t the lions.
even if they scream their lungs out, these guys must have been heard supporting hizbushaitan one day or the other, thus their expulsion.
anyway, who can deny 95% of shia support hizbushaitan?
so stop the hypocrisy please...

Thumb geha 12 July 2013, 14:16


Thumb lebanon_first 12 July 2013, 15:55

u got a pt.

Missing helicopter 13 July 2013, 07:44

I think Iran should deport all pro-KSA sunnis from Iran. Are there any of them there?