TYRE, Lebanon: The Amal Movement appears to have canceled the annual commemoration of the disappearance of its founder Imam Musa Sadr for the second year in a row because of security fears.
Banners and billboards have gone up all over the south featuring Sadr’s likeness and sayings, but no date and place has been announced for a ceremony. Instead, Amal Movement leader Speaker Nabih Berri is expected to give a televised speech.
In years past, the commemoration has been held in the Bekaa Valley, Beirut, Nabatieh or Tyre, and attracted tens of thousands of supporters who came out to hear Berri, as well as Sunni, Shiite and Christian figures, pay tribute to Sadr’s legacy.
While Amal sources declined to discuss the reasons for the cancellation, the past year has witnessed several bombings carried out by extremist Sunni groups targeting predominantly Shiite areas, and threats have been made against Berri himself.
Amal’s green flags have been raised across Nabatieh and Zahrani, where Amal enjoys a strong base, alongside pictures of Sadr, Sheikh Mohammad Yaaqoub, and the journalist Abbas Badreddine, who all went missing in Libya on Aug. 31, 1978. The three men’s photos hang side by side with those of Berri himself, Syrian President Bashar Assad, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, and posters calling for the liberation of Palestine.
This year, the commemoration is being advertised under a slogan attributed to Sadr: “Jerusalem is the essence of our mission.”
Sadr’s quotes also adorn his adopted hometown of Tyre. “Israel is an absolute evil” reads one; “collaborating with Israel is haram [forbidden],” says another, while others recall his message of Muslim-Christian coexistence.
Senior Amal officials told The Daily Star that this year’s slogan was chosen in light of the conditions in Lebanon and the region, especially Israel’s brutal war against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
“We chose this slogan to emphasize the eternal words of Imam Musa al-Sadr that the compass is in Palestine, and Israel is enough of an enemy,” one official said.
Berri will speak at the event, he said, to send a warning to those who would cause trouble in Lebanon.
Tyre resident Mustafa Nasser said the people of south Lebanon will never forget Sadr because he cared so much for the country.
“He defended against deprivation and injustice, and he was the first to urge us to fight Israel,” Nasser said of Sadr, who was as famous for his social justice policies as he was for his support of the Palestinian cause.
“We saw him as a father to Lebanon who went beyond narrow sectarianism,” he continued, adding that he would consider the imam missing until his fate was determined.
Another resident, Fadwa Khreiss, blamed the late Libyan leader Moammar Ghadhafi for making Sadr disappear “at the behest of Israel,” asking “what became of the investigations by the Lebanese judiciary?”
Sadr and his companions disappeared in Libya during a regional tour to try and muster Arab support to pressure the Israelis to withdraw from Lebanon following the invasion of 1978.
Many theories have emerged over the years as to what became of the three men, most of them implicating Ghadhafi, who denied any role in their disappearance.
A recently released book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Kai Bird claimed that Sadr and his friends were executed in Libya at the behest of Mohammad Beheshti, an Iranian scholar close to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Bird’s biography of CIA agent Robert Ames, “The Good Spy,” said that “Ames was told by his Palestinian sources that eventually Imam Musa Sadr and his two traveling companions had been summarily executed and buried at an unmarked desert gravesite.”
Beheshti himself would be executed in 1981, just a few years later.
The Lebanese state and Sadr’s followers maintain the imam is “missing,” but early hopes that his fate and those of his companions might finally be revealed following the fall of Ghadhafi’s regime have since dimmed. Multiple Lebanese truth-finding commissions have also failed to turn up any promising leads. Last month, Yaaqoub’s son, MP Hasan Yaaqoub, announced yet another committee to follow up on the case.