Where does Hezbollah and its support base land in the ongoing mass protests in Lebanon? A thread.
Yesterday, former March 14 official Fares Souaid tweeted that Hezbollah is orchestrating the Lebanese demonstrations, in an attempt to delegitimize the protestors. This is categorically false.
To understand Hezbollah’s relation to the protests (primarily those in areas where the party enjoys a wide support base) one must go back to early 2018.
Between 1992-2018, Hezbollah had a general policy of undertaking a very minimal governmental role (marginal service ministries etc.). The reasoning behind this was always the “prioritization of resistance activity.”
This meant that the party found itself in a dubious alliance with historical rival (and at times, military foe) the AMAL Movement, which safeguarded the legality of Hezbollah’s arms within the state.
This started changing early 2018. In March 2018, Nasrallah called for “a welfare state that diminishes gaps between society’s classes and assumes an economic system based on production, not on rentierism and financial speculation.”
This was especially unprecedented not only because it meant Hezbollah would embark upon a bigger role in the state, but because it put it at complete odds with its longtime ally, AMAL.
The first step in this direction was Hezbollah’s decision to lay claim over the Ministry of Health, a major portfolio with the fourth-largest budget under the new cabinet.
This policy shift was so consequential that multiple domestic experts were dubbing Hezbollah’s decisiveness on a more robust character within Lebanese state institutions as its ‘second inception.’
Back then, what distinguished Hezbollah’s diagnosis to the ongoing crisis was its opposition to the presiding economic structure as a whole.
Three core features characterized its new outlook: reducing the national debt cost by pressuring banks, a progressive taxation scheme and a solid plan to prop up the agricultural and industrial sectors.
By tying the survival of its resistance to the economy, Hezbollah shrewdly securitized the economic question and turned it into a national issue for its constituency.
Hezbollah began to build an anti-corruption milieu among its supporters. Similar to the ‘resistance society’ it has fostered over the past four decades, Hezbollah was actively developing a culture of economic reform, expected to bestow popular legitimacy upon new fiscal policies.
The first move in this regard took place in March of this year when Hezbollah accused former Prime Minister and notorious US-ally Fouad Siniora of the embezzlement of $11 billion lost during his tenure.
Albeit indirectly, Hezbollah’s accusations prompted the republic’s Grand Sunni Mufti to deem Siniora a ‘red line’ not to be crossed, effectively turning the question into a sectarian one and blocking Hezbollah MPs’ efforts of going after him.
Alas, Hezbollah failed. Its promises to fight corruption and ordain a new economic regime were met with a devastating letdown. This was for a myriad of reasons, but primarily for supporters, was due to its alliance with the AMAL Movement.
The fundamental rift between Hezbollah and AMAL did not start today. For over two years now, supporters of each party have been daily treading on each other’s toes.
Nabih Berri, Speaker of Parliament (since 1992) and AMAL leader, is an oligarch who owns a financial empire South of the country and a main actor in the ‘Ta’if Troika’ that devised the post-civil-war neoliberal regime people are protesting today.
The overwhelming sentiment among Southerners today is this: AMAL is responsible for their economic misery, and Hezbollah’s acquiescence and failure to stand up to AMAL is a major disappointment.
We were beginning to see bold signs of this sentiment back in the 2018 elections. There was around a 100k vote difference between Hezbollah and AMAL, to the former’s favor.
So far I have counted protests in 17 towns in the South, majority of their municipalities under AMAL control. Biggest ones in Nabatiyeh, Tyre and Bint Jbeil. AMAL MPs houses and posters are being attacked. Protestor chants are concentrated against Nabih Berri and his wife Randa.
One particular scene I never imagined I would live to see, is full hijabi women in black ‘abayas in my home city of Tyre chanting: “Drink Pepsi drink Miranda, damn your pussy O’ Randa.”
Another main theme in the South protests is the grand disappointment in Hezbollah’s idleness this far. Tens of protestors begged Nasrallah to interfere and officially mobilize the support base. Parallel analogies are being made with resistance to Israel and corruption.
These protestors understand the kind of power and influence a figure like Nasrallah still yields within the community. Nasrallah can easily singlehandedly mobilize hundreds of thousands to the streets for whatever occasion.
Of course, you are deluded if you think Southern protestors will ask for the disarmament of Hezbollah or oust them completely out of the political scene. The question of arms is existential to Southerners and still trumps any other consideration.
Finally, I cannot but say my heart is growing warmer with the scenes of Imam Sadr’s “movement of the disenfranchised” once again rising against this comprador elite class in the South. Glory to our people.