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Amal Movement

Amal (Arabic: "Hope," also the acronym of Afwaj al Muqawama al Lubnaniya, "Lebanese Resistance Detachments") is a political and paramilitary organization representing the Shi_a of Lebanon. Although a nonstate actor, Amal has a political infrastructure and has gained territorial control over large areas of West Beirut and southern Lebanon during the Lebanese civil war. After the 1978-1979 revolution in Iran, Amal enjoyed some support from the Iranian revolutionary government. After 1982, however, Iran began to form the rival Hezbollah militia (q.v.) under its sponsorship and Amal turned to Syrian sponsorship instead. Since Amal seeks to change the terms of power in Lebanon in favor of the Shi_a by setting aside the 1946 "national covenant" between Lebanon's Christians and Sunnite Muslims it may be considered a revolutionary actor. Yet it has neither sought to exclude other confessional groups from participation in Lebanese politics nor has it sought to create a full-scale Islamic state in Lebanon after the Iranian model. For these very reasons more militant Amal members deserted Amal for the splinter group Islamic Amal (q.v.). Most of these defectors were absorbed later into Hezbollah, a Shi_ite militia created under Iranian sponsorship that seeks to establish an exclusively Islamic state in Lebanon. While Amal is indigenous to Lebanon it was founded by an Iranian clergyman, Musa Sadr, who arrived in Lebanon in 1957 and established the "Movement of the Deprived" in 1974 to help the Lebanese Shi_a gain political power. With the outbreak of civil war in 1975 Musa Sadr authorized the creation of a military branch, which properly was the organization called "Amal." The Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 1978 and continual Palestinian-Israeli clashes in the largely Shi_i south of Lebanon increased the Shi_a's acceptance of Amal as representing and protecting their community. The subsequent victory of an Islamic revolution in Shi_i Iran also bolstered the confidence of Lebanon's Shi_a and their support for Amal. Amal's relationship with Iran's revolutionary government was initially friendly but deteriorated rapidly. With the disappearance of Imam Musa Sadr during a visit to Libya in August 1978, Amal's leadership had passed into the hands of more secular nationalistic Shi_i politicians who had less sympathy for the ideal of creating a theocratic Islamic state in Lebanon. Also due to the enmity that had grown between the Lebanese Shi_a and Palestinian guerrillas operating in the south of Lebanon, Amal, in effect, welcomed the 1982 Israeli invasion in the naive hope that Israeli forces would shortly leave and return the south of Lebanon to Shi_i control. Iran's diplomatic overtures to Libya also antagonized Amal members who believed that the Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi was responsible for Imam Musa Sadr's disappearance. The falling out between the Iranian government and Amal as well as the defection from Amal of more militant fundamentalists led Iran to sponsor the creation of the Hezbollah militia, which absorbed much of the strength of Amal's following. Amal's notoriety as a terrorist group stems largely from a mistaken association between it and the rival Hezbollah which carried out a highly visible campaign of vehicle bombings, assassinations and hostage takings against U.S. and other western targets in Lebanon. By late 1988 Amal had carried out 18 notable terrorist actions affecting non-Lebanese nationals, including a major bombing, a hijacking, and six kidnappings. From the founding of Hezbollah in 1982 until late 1988 that group, acting sometimes under its nom de guerre "Islamic Jihad," had carried out 137 noteworthy terrorist acts, including 38 bombings, 26 kidnappings, 4 hijackings, 7 assassinations, and 6 rocket attacks. Amal's role in assuming custody of the hostages taken in the hijacking of TWA flight 847 in 1985 likewise was secondary to that of Hezbollah in planning and carrying out the original hijacking. Following the TWA 874 incident, open warfare erupted between Hezbollah and Amal. Amal has since then accepted Syria as its main foreign sponsor in place of Iran and has acted more like one Lebanese communal militia among many than as a Pan-Islamic revolutionary vanguard.