Amal is a Lebanese Shia Muslim organization that was established in 1975 by Imam Musa al Sadr, an Iranian-born Shia cleric of Lebanese ancestry who had founded the Higher Shia Islamic Council in 1969. Amal’s membership today numbers approximately 15,000.
The name “Amal,” which means “Hope” in Arabic, is also the acronym for Afwaj al Muqawamah al Lubnaniyyah (Lebanese Resistance Detachments), and was the original name given to the military arm of the Movement of the Disinherited, an organization founded by Sadr in 1974 to promote the Shia cause in Lebanon.
By about 1976, Amal had evolved into a political organization whose character was firmly Islamist. It suffered a serious setback in August 1978 when Sadr mysteriously vanished, but made a resurgence propelled by several factors, including: Shia disillusionment with the conduct and policies of the PLO and its Lebanese allies; Sadr’s transfiguration into an iconic figure as a result of his unexplained disappearance; and the Iranian Revolution’s injection of a communal spirit into the Lebanese Shia community.
When Amal’s growing strength prompted the PLO in southern Lebanon to keep the former in check by means of military force, Shias flocked in droves to Amal’s assistance, making it the most powerful organization within the Shia community, and perhaps the largest organization in the country, by the early 1980s.
Following Sadr’s disappearance, Husayn Husayni (also spelled Husseini) assumed leadership of Amal from April 1979 to April 1980; he was succeeded by Nabih Birri (also cited as Berri). In the mid-1980s, the Amal militia laid siege to Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut, in retribution for what it characterized as years of abuses perpetrated by Palestinian liberation groups based in southern Lebanon. Linked less closely to Iran than were some other Shia organizations, Amal stressed resistance to Israel, called for national unity among all Lebanese citizens, and opposed the creation of an Islamic state in Lebanon.
From 1985 to 1989, Amal engaged in many bloody conflicts with Hezbollah, fearful that the latter would use jihad (holy war) against Israel as a pretext to undermine Amal’s strength. By late 1988, Amal had carried out 18 major terrorist actions affecting non-Lebanese nationals, including a bombing, a hijacking, and six kidnappings.
In recent years Amal and Hezbollah have formed a political alliance, which enabled them to register impressive victories in the June 2005 political elections held in south Lebanon; together they won 23 seats in the 128-member parliament.
Over the years, Amal has operated radio and television stations in Lebanon, and has published a weekly magazine.