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Nabih Berri

Nabih Berri.
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Nabih Berri.

(1938- ) Lebanese politician, and speaker of parliament since 1992 — the highest political position that a Shi'i Muslim can have according to the Lebanese constitution.
Berri is effectively (if not formally) one of Lebanon's 3 heads of state, together with the weak Maronite Christian president Emile Lahoud and the more apt Sunni Muslim prime minister Rafiq Hariri.
Berri has for more than 20 years been one of the strongest leader of the Shi'is in Lebanon. Actually, however,he has been little more than a puppet for the rulers in Damascus. His popularity with the Shi'i groups has dwindled over the years, and he needs foreign support to remain in his position. Berri has provoked many fellow Shi'is with his clearly anti-PLO orientation.
According to the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Berri is unusually corrupt, and is known for extorting money from the prime minister in situations of government crisis. The rest of his family has also used its positions to generate great personal wealth.
But his personal qualities must not be underestimated. In order to survive in his important position as long as he has — in reality longer than any other 20th century Lebanese — sharp intelligence, and abilities for both manipulation and cooperation are needed. He has put loyal partners in important positions, and has not yet been stabbed in the back.
Berri's unpopularity with Shi'is is one of the reasons for the success of the alternative Shi'i group, Hizbullah.

1938 January 28: Born into a Shi'i Muslim family living in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
1940's: His family moves back to Lebanon, and settles in the town, Tibnin, in southern Lebanon.
1963: Receives his BA in law from the Ecole de la Sagesse in Beirut.
1968: Is denied a place on the Shi'i electorate list for parliament by the Shi'i leader Kamal al-Asa'ad.
1972: As in 1968, Berri is prevented from running for parliament. Berri and al-Asa'ad will forever be enemies over this.
1975: Berri enters into an alliance with Imam Musa Sadr and founds the Amal militia.
1976: Moves to USA.
1978: Returns from USA, and becomes the secretary-general of Amal, following the disappearance of Sadr. Amal develops into one of the most efficient militias during the Lebanese Civil War, largely due to its close alliance with Syria.
1982 June: Berri urges Shi'i militia into strong opposition against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.
1983 May: President Amin Gemayel strikes a peace treaty with Israel, something Berri strongly opposes.
1984 February: Berri calls out to Muslim troops in the Lebanese army to defy President Gemayel. This was a reaction to Gemayel's order to raize the Shi'i quarters in Beirut. Berri's show of strength results in Gemayel now dealing directly with Berri on Shi'i questions. As a result, Berri is able to hold his enemy of 15 years ago, al-Asa'ad, at bay.
1984 April: Berri becomes Minister for Reconstruction of South Lebanon in the national reconciliation government led by Rashid Karami.
1985 December: Together with the Maronite president Gemayel and the Druze leader Walid Jumblat, Berri signs the National Agreement to Solve the Lebanese Crisis, but this never leads to any real results as it was opposed by Karami and the Sunni Muslims.
1986 July: Berri goes into exile in Syria, but maintains his leadership over Amal.
1987: Berri orders Amal to attack Druze and other pro-PLO forces in Beirut. This campaign is a great failure, almost leading to Amal's defeat were it not for the intervention of Syrian forces. Berri returns from Syria.
1988: Berri allows the Amal forces to be used by Syria against the growth of Hizbullah.
1989: Berri orders his troops against Michel Aoun, even if Aoun enjoys much support from Shi'i groups in Lebanon.
October: With the completion of the National Reconciliation Charter, Berri provides his support after pressure from President Hafez al-Assad of Syria.
November: He becomes minister in the government of Salim al-Hoss.
1992: Berri becomes Speaker of the parliament, chosen in an election with a record-low turnout.
1990's: Berri conducts a politics adjusted to the politics of Damascus, while consolidating his own position.

By Tore Kjeilen