Lebanon‘s parliament on Tuesday re-elected Berri as the speaker of parliament – a post he has held since 1992 – even after anti-Syrian groups won a clear majority in the house for the first time since the 1975-1990 civil war.
An alliance of Hizb Allah and Berri’s Amal (Hope) movement won over 80% of the Shia vote in elections this month, boosting the 68-year-old’s bid to return and dashing Western hopes they would wipe out the last vestiges of Syrian tutelage.
With Berri leading the 128-seat house, efforts to remove the pro-Syrian president or disarm the Hizb Allah fighters are likely to meet stiff resistance.
Shia Muslims largely stayed away from anti-Syrian street protests following the February killing of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, which added to foreign pressure on Syria to go.
But the main anti-Syrian blocs in parliament agreed to back the pro-Syrian stalwart accused of buying favour by stuffing the public sector with his supporters, after Berri pledged to support reforms to a corrupt system that has served him well.
“[I] was the first to raise … reforms, but regrettably every time we pursued a particular reform the [pro-Syrian security] apparatus protected the culprits,” he said this week.
“[I] was the first to raise … reforms, but regrettably every time we pursued a particular reform the [pro-Syrian security] apparatus protected the culprits”
As a student, Berri joined the Baath Party, which rules Syria, but switched in the early 1970s to the newly founded Lebanese Movement of the Deprived.
The movement, led by Shia cleric Musa Sadr, effectively voiced the grievances of the Shia, Lebanon‘s poorest and fastest-growing community, for the first time.
Berri’s prestige reached its height when Amal – the movement’s military arm – combined with Druze and Sunni forces in a battle that drove Christian-led Lebanese army troops from the Muslim part of Beirut in 1984.