Lebanese Politicians

Nabih Mustafa Berri

President of the National Assembly (Speaker of the legislature)

Harakat Amal (Shi'ite Movement of Hope)
Date of Birth: 1938
Quote: "Lebanon cannot survive without unity."

Narrative section:
I was born in Sierra Leone of a merchant father who moved to Africa to escape the harsh economic conditions of South Lebanon. As a child my family returned to Tiblin in South Lebanon. My family is a large one in South Lebanon, but I still lack the connections of traditional Shi'ite leaders. In 1963, I received a Bachelor of Law Degree from the Lebanese University and was elected as president of the National Union of Lebanese Students in 1963. I practiced law in Beirut until 1980. I later joined the Movement of the Dispossessed, which was formed by the Shi'ite religious leader Imam Musa Sadr in the early 1970's. In 1975, Harakat Amal became a military wing of Imam Musa's movement and I became a member of Amal's politburo. Finally, on April 25, 1980, I was elected to be the president of the Amal Command Council. Amal was an organization that sought a greater role for the Shi'ite population in Lebanon. In 1985 Israel withdrew from Lebanon but left its South Lebanon Army (SLA) in the Security Zone in South Lebanon. Amal provided resistance to the SLA and was heavily backed by Syria. However PLO strikes on Israel from South Lebanon resulted in Israeli retaliation in South Lebanon and a lot of bloodshed. I was determined to show Israel that Amal could control the PLO in Lebanon and thus remove any pretext for Israel to maintain the security zone. Consequently, in May 1985, with the support of Syria, Amal laid a siege around Palestinian camps in Beirut. The camp wars ended in 1988 when I lifted the siege. Eventually, the Lebanese Civil War ended in 1990, and a government was formed. Since June 1991, I have been a member of the Lebanese Parliament. On October 20, 1992, I became Speaker of Parliament, a position traditionally reserved for a Shi'ite leader under the Taif agreement. With this position I have been able to strive for a more united Lebanon closely allied with Syria.

Background Biographical Information:

  • Born to a family of petit-bourgeois origin neither notable nor wealthy in Lebanese circles.
  • Born in Freetown, Sierra Leonne; lived in Tiblin, Bint Jbeil district of Lebanon.
  • Lawyer (1963-1980)

  • Career: Minister of Hydraulic and Electrical Resources, Minister of Justice, Minister of Reconstruction, and Minister of Affairs of South Lebanon (1984-1989); Minister of Hydraulic Resources, Housing, and Cooperatives (1989-1990); Minister of State (1990-1991); member of Lebanese Parliament (since June 1991-)

  • Current position: Speaker of Parliament (since 1992-), which is a position reserved for a Shi'ite Muslim leader. Responsibilities include enacting laws critical to stabilizing the country since the Civil War, representing the views of parliament and his country to the outside world, and deals with foreign counterparts.

    Political Views:

  • As leader of Amal, I was intent on increasing the power of the Shi'ite community, which is the largest sect in Lebanon but was the least powerful. However now, as Speaker of Parliament, I wish to form a more united Lebanon with the many sects sharing power proportionate to their populations. I seek to eliminate confessionalism under which senior government jobs are distributed along religious lines.

  • In regards to Israel, I have always been a moderate who wishes for the freedom of the Palestinians but will not sacrifice too much Lebanese blood to obtain this freedom. My main objective is to remove Israel from its nine mile wide security zone in South Lebanon.

  • Because of Syria's backing of Amal during the late 80's, I push for closer ties between Lebanon and Syria and consider Syria as Lebanon's closest ally. Only if Israel makes peace with Syria will I push for Lebanese peace with Israel.

    Political Allies and Opponents:

  • Within Lebanon, I supported President Elias Hrawi's recent term extension and applaud his close alliances with Syria. I have a lukewarm relationship with the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt, and I have a bitter rivalry with Hizbulllah leader Sheik Fadlallah. I maintain the support of most if the Shi'ite community.

  • Outside Lebanon, I have close ties with Syria and President Assad. Israel is my country's main opponent.

  • Others think that my ideas on alliances with Syria could lead to Lebanon becoming a "colony" of Syria. Many Christians disagree with my efforts to rid Lebanon of confessionalism and say that my ideas will seclude certain sects from Lebanese politics.

    My Greatest Contributions:
    One of my greatest achievements is being a part of the Parliament that passed 267 laws and was able to lift Lebanon from the ravages of war to a more stable country. Another one of my contributions is the fact that Amal was able to neutralize the PLO in South Lebanon during the "camp wars" of the late 80's. This showed Israel that Amal was an organization that could control radical groups and that therefore Israel should withdraw from its security zone in South Lebanon.

    Foreign Policy Positions:
    Because of the presence of Syrian troops and aid to Lebanon, Lebanon's closest ally is Syria. When Israel invaded the country, the Muslims of Lebanon clearly saw that Syrian help would limit Israeli intervention. Historically the country has been close to the United States. If Syria makes peace with Israel, Lebanon is likely to follow especially since Syria has strengthened its position in the country in recent years. However the Maronite Christians do not favor an alliance with Syria.

    Role Playing Notes:

  • married
  • worked hard to rise from lower class status to a prominent leader of the Shi'ites
  • impressive instinct for political survival
  • shrewd political strategist
  • moderate willing to compromise with Israel only with the support of Syria
  • refuses to resettle Palestinian refugees in Lebanon; supports right for them to return to their homeland in Palestine
  • opposes ending guerrilla attacks in South Lebanon on Israeli occupation forces until Israel pulls its men out


  • "Palestinian blood is not more sacred than Lebanese blood."
  • "We reject cooling the atmosphere in South Lebanon because that would mean we reached agreement with Israel before we reached liberation, and that means stopping our legitimate right to resist ..."

    Speech on November 14, 1995; Foreign Broadcast Information Service: Middle and East Asia Studies
    The New York Times, Oct 21, 1992
    Reuter's World Service, Jan 2, 1996
    Xinhua News Agency, Jan 11, 1996
    Arab Press Service Organization, Nov 21, 1994
    Augustus Norton; Amal and the Shi'a, University Of Texas Press
    Elie Salem; Violence and Diplomacy In Lebanon, I.B. Tauris Publishers
    Theodor Hanf; Coexistence In Wartime Lebanon, I.B. Tauris Publishers

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    Last changes: August 4, 1997