Protesters in Lebanon Take a Dim View of Hezbollah - OZY | A Modern Media Company
Lebanese Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah is cheered by his supporters on the group's “Martyr’s Day” in a suburb of Beirut.
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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because Hezbollah has damaged its brand as the party of the oppressed.

By Mat Nashed

In a nationwide address on Oct. 25, Hezbollah’s Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah warned that the mass protests against the Lebanese government that began that month were the result of a foreign conspiracy to weaken the country. As the leader of the powerful Shiite group — a force militarily stronger than the Lebanese army — Nasrallah’s speech resembled the lectures that Arab autocrats gave before cracking down on protesters during the Arab Spring.

Four days later, Hezbollah supporters and long-time Shiite ally the Amal Movement attacked protesters with sticks before burning down tents in downtown Beirut. The mob injured dozens of civilians, but Hezbollah’s image suffered the biggest blow.

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Hezbollah supporters drive in a convoy in support of Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s speech in Beirut on Oct. 25, 2019.

Source IBRAHIM AMRO/AFP via Getty

Not long ago, Hezbollah enjoyed support across the Arab world for liberating south Lebanon from Israel’s 18-year occupation in 2000. The group’s war with Israel in 2006, which ended in a stalemate despite devastating large swaths of Lebanon’s infrastructure, burnished Hezbollah’s brand as the self-proclaimed “Resistance” and the “Party of the Oppressed,” even as many parts of the world came to see it as a militant — even terrorist — organization.

After the war, the group monopolized reconstruction efforts in Shiite communities while continuing to provide welfare provisions to its poorest supporters. In return, the group’s loyal base has propelled it into parliament since 2005.

Hezbollah has always prioritized its strategic alliance … at the expense of the public interests of the larger Shiite community.

Imad Salamey, lebanese american university

But in recent years, Hezbollah’s popularity has declined across the Middle East for helping Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime — a key ally — crush the Syrian revolt. Experts and protesters now say that the party risks alienating its broader supporters in Lebanon by repressing demonstrations within the Shiite community and defending a government embroiled in corruption.

In some respects, Hezbollah set itself up for backlash after Nasrallah personally promised to tackle corruption in order to secure a large voter turnout in the 2018 parliamentary elections. But his unwillingness to criticize his reputedly corrupt allies in the national unity government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri has resulted in growing sympathy for the protest movement in Hezbollah strongholds.

“Hezbollah has always prioritized its strategic alliance that protects its weapons arsenal and power at the expense of the public interests of the larger Shiite community,” says Imad Salamey, a professor of political science at the Lebanese American University.

Like people of all religious sects in Lebanon, the main concern for most Shiites is finding adequate work in a functioning economy. But earning a dignified living isn’t easy in a country that boasts the third largest debt-to-GDP ratio in the world and ranks 138 out of 180