Berri, Nabi (1938–)

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BERRI, NABI (1938–)

Lebanese political figure. A Shiʿite Muslim, Nabi Mustafa Berri was born in 1938 in Freetown, Sierra Leone, into a family of merchants originally from Tibnin in southern Lebanon. Berri's family returned to Lebanon in 1948, and in 1963 he was elected president of the Student Union at the Lebanese University of Beirut, where the Baʿth Party held a majority. Between 1964 and 1965 he studied law at the Sorbonne in Paris, then settled in Detroit. In 1972 he returned to Sierra Leone, then back to Lebanon, where he started practicing law.

In 1973 Berri joined the ranks of the Movement of the Disinherited, founded by Imam Musa Sadr, where he advocated an alliance with Syria. During the summer of 1975, while the civil war that was to last for fifteen years was just starting, he joined with Musa Sadr in creating the AMAL militia, whose purpose was the defense of the Shiʿa community against the attacks from other Lebanese militias. Between 1975 and 1978 he represented the pro-Syrian current of the movement and, taking the side of Damascus, participated in the overthrow of alliances that had been formed between AMAL and the Palestinian movements. In April 1980, two years after the mysterious disappearance of Musa Sadr in Libya, Berri succeeded Husayn al-Husayni, who had run AMAL in the interim. In June 1982, after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, an Islamic current appeared in the movement, which Berri fought until there was a break that gave rise to Hizbullah.

In February 1984 the conflict pitting the Shiʿite and Druze communities against President Amin Jumayyil propelled Berri to a prominent place on the political scene, and he became one of Lebanon's "warlords." That summer he joined the national unity government led by Rashid Karame, in the capacity of minister of state and minister of justice for South Lebanon, while advocating an alliance with the Syrians. On 6 October, he accompanied the Lebanese prime minister to the United Nations to plead the cause of South Lebanon. On 6 February 1985, Berri declared himself to be "minister of national resistance" and supported sending anti-Israeli commandos to South Lebanon. From then on, in an effort to counter the influence of Hizbullah, he committed AMAL to resistance to the Israeli occupier.

On 27 March 1989, Berri was reelected president of AMAL. That November, as a supporter of the Taʾif Accords that had just been signed, he was appointed minister of housing, electricity, and hydraulic power in the cabinet of national unity led by Salim al-Hoss. A fervent partisan of Syria, he opposed the "war of liberation" that General Michel Aoun had just launched that December against the Syrian forces in Lebanon. Aoun's Maronite forces were defeated in October 1990, effectively ending the civil war, and the militias were disbanded. AMAL became a political movement. On 31 August 1991, along with Muhammad Beydoun, housing minister and AMAL member, Berri threatened to resign from the government in protest against a visit Lebanese prime minister Omar Karame had just paid to Libya, where Imam Musa Sadr had disappeared in 1978. On 20 October 1992, Berri was elected president of the Lebanese Parliament, with 105 of the 125 votes that were cast. He was reelected to this post four years later, and again in 2000, after legislative elections saw the victory of Rafiq Hariri.

SEE ALSO AMAL;Arab-Israel War (1982);Shiʿite.