Is Hezbollah behind effort to hijack Lebanese protests?

Hezbollah has sought to take advantage of the Lebanese protests against the government, though it does not currently seek to topple the existing political order.

By
August 27, 2015 08:41
2 minute read.
A Hezbollah member carries a Hezbollah flag while leader Hassan Nasrallah talks on a screen

A Hezbollah member carries a Hezbollah flag while leader Hassan Nasrallah talks on a screen during a televised speech at a festival celebrating 'Resistance and Liberation Day'. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Hezbollah has sought to take advantage of the Lebanese protests against the government, though it does not currently seek to topple the existing political order, experts told The Jerusalem Post.

The “You Stink” campaign in Lebanon has mobilized against the failure to solve a garbage disposal crisis, bringing thousands of people onto the streets in protests that have threatened the survival of the government.

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The campaign, which has mobilized independently of the big sectarian parties that dominate Lebanese politics, blames political feuding and corruption for the failure to resolve the crisis that has left piles of uncollected garbage stinking in the scorching sun in recent weeks.

The cabinet and parliament are deadlocked, and politicians have been unable to agree on a new president for more than a year, while Syria’s war next door has aggravated sectarian tensions and driven more than 1 million refugees into the country.

Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for the Beirut-based website NOW Lebanon, told the Post on Wednesday that what started as rage against the political class immediately was exploited by all parties to suit their own interests.

Badran is skeptical of the narrative that some in the media have been touting, that Hezbollah is trying to hijack the protests in order to topple the government.

“Hezbollah is not at all displeased with where things currently stand in Lebanon,” he said.

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The Shi’ite Hezbollah has “the army and security forces in hand, the representative of the Sunnis sits with them in government, and they have cover for their fight in Syria,” argued Badran, adding that the army is acting as an auxiliary force for Hezbollah operations on the Syrian border while also arresting lots of Sunni men, both Lebanese and Syrians, regardless of whether or not they are guilty of what they are being charged with.

The present institutional paralysis – the lack of a president, delayed parliamentary elections, and a dysfunctional government – is suitable for Hezbollah as there is nothing that can challenge it while it is busy in the Syrian war, he added.

By voicing support for the protests, Hezbollah gets to add its voice to the outcry against corruption and government dysfunction, without that necessarily leading to any change in the status quo, Badran asserted.

Phillip Smyth, a researcher specializing in Shi’ite Islamist groups at the University of Maryland’s Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics, told the Post that Hezbollah has attempted to “manufacture” the belief that the group is not only a viable provider and protector for the Shi’ites of Lebanon, but for Lebanon itself.

“Beyond that, it has repeatedly trumpeted the narrative that Hezbollah is honest and truthful. Thus, supporting the protests help hone that image,” he said.

Just look at Iraq, said Smyth, where you have nearly every Iranian proxy force claiming to support the anti-corruption protests there.

“I don’t really think this is an ‘Arab Spring’ kind of thing,” asserted Smyth, adding, “This is not such a huge movement and Lebanon is hardly comparable to pre-revolution Tunisia or Egypt.”

It is true, though, that many people are annoyed and fed up.

Smyth echoes Badran’s analysis, that governmental paralysis is good for Hezbollah.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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