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Amal Movement (abbreviation of , transliterated: Afwâj al-Muqâwama al-Lubnâniyya, or just حركة أمل; transliterated:Harakat Amal, lit. Amal movement) is short for the Lebanese Resistance Detachments the acronym for which, in Arabic, is "amal", meaning "hope."

Amal was founded in 1975 as the militia wing of the Movement of the Disinherited, a Shi'a political movement founded by Musa al-Sadr and Hussein el-Husseini a year earlier. It became one of the most important Shi'a Muslim militias during the Lebanese Civil War. Amal grew strong with the support of, and through its ties with, Syriamarker and the 300,000 Shi'a internal refugees from southern Lebanon after the Israeli bombings in the early 1980s. Amal's practical objectives were to gain greater respect for Lebanonmarker's Shi'ite population and the allocation of a larger share of governmental resources for the Shi'ite-dominated southern part of the country.

At its zenith, the militia had 14,000 troops. Amal fought a long campaign against Palestinian refugees during the Lebanese Civil War (called the War of the Camps). After the War of the Camps, Amal fought a bloody battle against rival Shi'a group Hezbollah for control of Beirutmarker, which provoked Syrian military intervention. Hezbollah itself was formed by religious members of Amal who had left after Nabih Berri's assumption of full control and the subsequent resignation of most of Amal's earliest members.



  • January 20, 1975: The Lebanese Resistance Detachments (also referred to in English as 'The Battalions of the Lebanese Resistance') is formed as a military wing of The Movement of the Disinherited under the leadership of al-Sadr.

  • 1978: Al-Sadr disappears in mysterious circumstances while visiting Libyamarker. He is succeeded by Hussein el-Husseini as leader of Amal.

  • 1980: Hussein el-Husseini resigns from Amal leadership after refusing to "drench Amal in blood" and fight alongside the PLO or any other faction.

  • 1980: Nabih Berri becomes one of the leaders of Amal, marking the entry of Amal in the Lebanese Civil War.

  • May 1985: Amal attacks Shatilla refugee camp in Beirut, sparking the so-called "War of the Camps" which lasted until 1987 and claims an estimated 2,500 lives.

  • February 22, 1987: After Amal launches a "disastrous campaign" against rival Druze and Palestinian forces in west Beirut, Syrian forces enter the area to prevent Amal from being defeated. Syrian troops killed 23 Hezbollah members which Syria claims attacked them and Hezbollah claims were killed in cold blood.

  • February 17, 1988: American Chief of the UN Truce and Supervision Organisation's observer group in Lebanon (UNTSO) Lt. Col. William Higgins is abducted and later killed after meting with Amal's political leader of southern Lebanon. Amal responds by launching a campaign against Hezbollah in the south.

  • April 1988: Amal launches an all-out assault on Hezbollah positions in south Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut.

  • early May 1988: Hezbollah gains control of 80% of the Shi'ite suburbs "through a combination of well-timed assaults and Iranian-financed bribes to local Amal commanders".

  • 1989: Amal accepts the Taif agreement (mainly authored by el-Husseini) in order to end the civil war.

  • September 1991: With background in the Syrian controlled end of the Lebanese Civil War in October 1990, 2,800 Amal troops join the Lebanese army.


The origins of the Amal movement lie with the Lebanesemarker cleric of Iranian origin Imam Musa al-Sadr. In 1974, Harakat al-Mahrumin (the Movement of the Deprived) was established by al-Sadr and member of parliament Hussein el-Husseini to attempt to reform the Lebanese system. While acknowledging its support base to be the “traditionally under-represented politically and economically disadvantaged” Shi'a community, it aimed, according to Palmer-Harik, to seek social justice for all deprived Lebanese. Although influenced by Islamic ideas, it was a secular movement trying to unite people along communal rather than religious or ideological lines. The Greek Catholic Archbishop of Beirutmarker, Mgr. Grégoire Haddad, was among the founders of the Movement.

On January 20, 1975, the Lebanese Resistance Detachments (also referred to in English as 'The Battalions of the Lebanese Resistance') were formed as a military wing of The Movement of the Disinherited under the leadership of al-Sadr, and came to be popularly known as Amal (from the acronym Afwaj al-Mouqawma Al-Lubnaniyya). In 1978, al-Sadr disappeared in mysterious circumstances while visiting Libyamarker, the Amal movement’s regional supporter at the time. Hussein el-Husseini became leader of Amal and was followed by Nabih Berri in April 1980 after el-Husseini resigned. One of the consequences of the rise of Berri, a less educated leader, the increasing secular yet sectarian nature of the movement and move away from an Islamic context for the movement was a splintering of the movement.

Islamic Amal

In the summer of 1982, Husayn Al-Musawi, deputy head and official spokesman of Amal, broke with Berri over his willingness to go along with U.S. mediation in Lebanon rather than attack Israeli troops, his membership in the National Salvation Council alongside the Christians, and his opposition to pledging allegiance to Ayatollah Khomeini.

Musawi formed the Islamist Islamic Amal Movement, based in Baalbeckmarker. It was aided by the Islamic Republic of Iranmarker which, in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, strove not only to help Lebanon's Shi'a, but to export the PanIslamic revolution to the rest of the Muslim world, something Musawi strongly supported, saying, "We are her [i.e. the Islamic Republic's] children."

We are seeking to formulate an Islamic society which in the final analysis will produce an Islamic state.
The Islamic revolution will march to liberate Palestine and Jerusalem, and the Islamic state will then spread its authority over the region of which Lebanon is only a part.`

About 1500 members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard or Pasdaran, arrived in Beqaa Valley that same time and "directly contributed to ensure the survival and growth of al-Musawi's newly-created small militia," providing training, indoctrination and funding. Iran was in many ways a natural ally of Shia in Lebanon as it was far larger than Lebanon, oil-rich, and both Shi'a-majority and Shi'a-ruled, in fact, the only state ruled by Shi'a. And of course, founder Musa al-Sadr had come from Iran. Iran's generous funding meant generous pay for the militias recruits - $150–200 per month plus cost-free education and medical treatment for themselves and their families - that "far exceeded what other [Lebanese] militias were able to offer." This was a major incentive among the impoverished Shi'a community, and induced "a sizable number of Amal fighters [to] defected regularly to the ranks" of Islamic Amal, and later Hizb'allah.

But while siding with Syria rather the Islamic Republic of Iran seriously weakened Amal, Berri and others in Amal were reluctant to follow Iran's lead. Their reasons reportedly include:
  • doubt that the policies of revolutionary Iran could solve Lebanon's sectarian problems
  • the belief that the Islamic Republic had done little to help solve the 1979 disappearance of Imam Musa al-Sadr
  • that Iranian Islamic revolutionaries in power had done little to return the favor of Amal's extensive support for Iranian opposition activity against the Shah's regime, such as military training of senior Iranian revolutionaries in Lebanon in camps under Amal's auspices
  • alarm that several of "Amal's most loyal friends within Iran's clerical establishment either disappeared or were killed or ousted by Ayatollah Khomeini in the period between 1980-81"
  • disapproval of the support and encouragement given to the PLO by Islamic revolutionaries in Iran as a natural spearhead in the holy war against Israel, despite the fact that "PLO activity brought considerable trouble and hardship to the south Lebanese Shi'ites."

Islamic Amal went on to be particularly active in fighting Israelimarker soldiers in southern Lebanonmarker.

By August 1983, Islamic Amal and Hezbollah were "effectively becoming one under the Hezbollah label," and by late 1984, Islamic Amal, along with "all the known major groups" in Lebanon, had been absorbed into Hezbollah.

The Lebanese War

The War of the Camps

The War of the Camps was a series of battles in the mid-1980s between Amal and Palestinian groups. The Druze-oriented Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) and Hezbollah supported the Palestinians while Syria backed Amal.

First battle: May 1985
Although most of the Palestinian guerrillas were expelled during the 1982 Israeli invasion, Palestinian militias began to regain their footing after the Israeli withdrawal from first Beirut, then Sidonmarker and Tyremarker. Syria viewed this revival with some anxiety: though in the same ideological camp, Damascus had little control over most Palestinians organizations and was afraid that the build-up of Palestinian forces could lead to a new Israeli invasion. Moreover, Syria's minority Alawite regime was never comfortable with Sunni militias in Lebanon. In Lebanon, Shia-Palestinians relations had been very tense since the late 1960s. After the multinational force withdrew from Beirut in February 1984, Amal and the PSP took control of west Beirut and Amal built a number of outposts around the camps (in Beirut but also in the south). On April 15, 1985, Amal and the PSP attacked Al-Murabitun, the main Lebanese Sunni militia and the closest ally of the PLO in Lebanon. Al-Murabitun were vanquished and their leader, Ibrahim Kulaylat was sent into exile. On May 19, 1985, heavy fighting erupted between Amal and the Palestinians for the control of the Sabra, Shatila and Burj el-Barajneh camps (all in Beirut). Despite its efforts, Amal could not take the control of the camps. The death toll remains unknown, with estimates ranging from a few hundreds to a few thousands. This and heavy Arab pressure led to a cease-fire on June 17.

Second battle: May 1986
The situation remained tense and fights occurred again in September 1985 and March 1986. On May 19, 1986, heavy fighting erupted again. Despite new armaments provided by Syria, Amal could not take control of the camps. Many cease-fires were announced, but most of them did not last more than a few days. The situation began to cool after Syria deployed some troops on June 24, 1986.

Third battle September 1986
There was tension in the south, an area where Shi'as and Palestinians were both present. This unavoidably led to frequent clashes. On September 29, 1986, fighting erupted at the Rashidiyye camp (Tyre). The conflict immediately spread to Sidon and Beirut. Palestinian forces managed to occupy the Amal-controlled town of Maghduche on the eastern hills of Sidon to open the road to Rashidiyye. Syrian forces helped Amal and Israel launched air strikes against PLO position around Maghdouche. A cease-fire was negotiated between Amal and pro-Syrian Palestinian groups on December 15, 1986, but it was rejected by Yasser Arafat's Fatah. Fatah tried to appease the situation by giving some of its positions to Hezbollah and to the Murabitun. The situation became relatively calm for a while, but the bombing against the camps continued. In Beirut, a blockade of the camps led to a dramatic lack of food and medications inside the camps. In early 1987, the fighting spread to Hezbollah and the PSP who supported the Palestinians. The PSP quickly seized large portions of west Beirut. Consequently, Syria occupied west Beirut beginning February 21, 1987. In April 7, 1987, Amal finally lifted the siege and handed its positions around the camps to the Syrian army. According to the New York Times (March 10, 1992, citing figures from the Lebanese police), 3,781 were killed in the fighting.

February 1988
On February 17, 1988, Lt. Col William Higgins, American Chief of the UN Truce and Supervision Organisation's observer group in Lebanon (UNTSO), was abducted from his UN vehicle between Tyre and Nakara after a meeting with Abd al-Majid Salah, Amal's political leader in southern Lebanon. It soon became "clear that Sheikh al-Musawi, the commander to Hezbollah's Islamic Resistance, had been personally responsible for the abduction of Lt. Col Higgins in close cooperation with both Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid, the local commander of Hizballah's military wing, and Mustafa al-Dirani, the former head of Amal's security service." This is seen as a direct challenge to Amal by Hezbollah, and Amal responds by launching an offensive against Hezbollah in the south where it "scores decisive military victories ... leading to the expulsion of a number of Hizballah clergy to the Beqqa". In Beirut's southern suburbs however, where fighting also raged, Hizballah was much more successful. "[E]lements within Hizballah and the Iranian Pasdaran established a joint command to assassinate high-ranking Amal officials and carry out operations against Amal checkpoints and centers."

By May, Amal had suffered major losses, its members were defecting to Hezbollah, and by June, Syria had to intervene militarily to rescue Amal from defeat. In January 1989, a truce in the "ferocious" fighting between Hizballah and Amal was arranged by Syrian and Iranian intervention. "Under this agreement, Amal's authority over the security of southern Lebanon [is] recognized while Hizballah [is] permitted to maintain only a nonmilitary presence through political, cultural, and informational programmes."

Amal after the war

Amal was a strong supporter of Syria after 1990 and endorsed Syria's military presence in Lebanon. After Rafik Hariri's assassination in 2005, Amal opposed the Syrian withdrawal and did not take part in the Cedar revolution. Since 1990, the party has been continuously represented in the parliament and the government. Amal is often criticized for corruption among its leaders. Nabih Berri was elected speaker of parliament in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2009. Currently, Amal has 13 representatives in the 128-seat Lebanese parliament. According to Amal officials, the party's militants "have been involved in every major battle since fighting began" during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon Conflict, and at least eight members were reported to have been killed.


  1. Augustus R. Norton, Amal and the Shi'a: Struggle for the Soul of Lebanon (Austin and London: University of Texas Press, 1987)
  3. Byman, D., 2005, Deadly Connections: States that Sponsor Terrorism, Cambride, Cambridge University Press
  4. Palmer-Harik, J., 2004, Hezbollah: The Changing Face of Terrorism, London, I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd
  5. Hezbollah: Between Tehran and Damascus
  6. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah, (1997), p.101
  7. Nasr, Vali, 2006, The Shia Revival, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, p. 85
  8. Byman, D., 2005, Deadly Connections: States that Sponsor Terrorism, Cambride, Cambridge University Press, p.82
  9. Palmer-Harik, J., 2004, Hezbollah: The Changing Face of Terrorism, London, I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd
  10. Augustus Richard Norton, Hezbollah: A Short History Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007
  11. Hizbullah, a progressive Islamic party? - Interview with Joseph Alagha
  12. Wright, Sacred Rage (2001) p.61-2
  13. Ranstorp, Magnus, Hizb'allah in Lebanon : The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis, New York, St. Martins Press, 1997 p.31
  14. [Musawi in Monday Morning magazine, Oct. 31, 1983 shortly before the embassy bombings, quoted in Wright, Sacred Rage, Simon and Schuster, 2001, p.83
  15. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon (1997) p.33
  16. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon (1997) p.36
  17. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.32
  18. Wright, Sacred Rage, (2001), p.84
  19. Wright, Robin, Sacred Rage, Simon and Schuster, (2001), p.95
  20. Voice of Lebanon, 0615 gmt 18 Apr 88-BBC/SWB/ME/0131, 21 April 1988; and Ha'aretz, 18 April 1988], quoted in Ranstorp, Hizb'allah, (1997), p.101
  21. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah, (1997), p.102
  22. Israeli troops suffer largest one-day loss - CNN July 27, 2006


  • Augustus R. Norton, Amal and the Shi'a: Struggle for the Soul of Lebanon (Austin and London: University of Texas Press, 1987
  • Byman, D., Deadly Connections: States that Sponsor Terrorism, Cambride, Cambridge University Press, 2005
  • Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 2006
  • Palmer-Harik, J., Hezbollah: The Changing Face of Terrorism, London, I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2004
  • Ranstorp, Magnus, Hizb'allah in Lebanon : The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis, New York, St. Martins Press, 1997
  • Wright, Robin, Sacred Rage, Simon and Schuster, 2001

External links

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