Hezbollah’s popularity seen waning as Lebanese protests continue

Analysis: As new Beirut government’s biggest supporter, Iran-backed group is facing possibility of losing its legitimacy as resistance movement; according to one expert, with so much poverty, few in Lebanon mention ‘resistance’ to Israel

The Media Line|Updated:
Anti-government protesters continued to take to the streets of Beirut last week, declaring their lack of confidence in new prime minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet.
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  • Meanwhile, the new government’s biggest backer, the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement is seeing its popularity wane as it faces the possibility of losing its legitimacy as a resistance movement.
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    כיתוב:  הפגנה מפגינים עימותים ביירות לבנון
    כיתוב:  הפגנה מפגינים עימותים ביירות לבנון
    Protesters at an anti-government demonstration in Beirut
    (Photo: EPA)
    “The government failed before it even started,” said Ali Amin, a Lebanese analyst and journalist who writes for the London-based Al-Arab newspaper said.
    He said that people were revolting against an entire political system but were given a new government with the same platform and same political powers.
    “Hezbollah is a key party in forming this new government and is perhaps its primary backer, as [the government] could never have been formed without Hezbollah’s support for its leader and members,” he said.
    “The ongoing battle here is between the new government and the street, which rejects it and is expressing this through protests.”
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    Anti government demonstration in Beirut
    Anti government demonstration in Beirut
    A mass anti-government demonstration in Beirut
    (Photo: AFP)
    The protests have been taking place since mid-October when people rose up against a new tax on the use of internet-based communications programs like WhatsApp. The protests widened to express deep dissatisfaction with economic mismanagement, corruption, and sectarianism.
    Under relentless pressure, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned on October 29. But since the beginning, demonstrators have vowed not to leave the streets until there is a government of experts rather than politicians who merely represent the country’s many ethnic and religious groups.
    Raneem al-Ahmar, a Lebanese political activist who is a regular participant in the anti-government demonstrations, said that Hezbollah has lost popular support.
    “We don’t trust Hezbollah, as it’s a partner of the current political game,” Ahmar said. “They manipulated us.”
    Asad Bishara, who served as an adviser to former justice minister Ashraf Rifi, said that Diab’s government represents the same system that brought the country to collapse, adding that this is hurting Hezbollah.
    “Hezbollah sponsors the majority of the new government. Its image as a resistance movement [against Israel and Western powers] has suffered,” he said, adding, however, that the Shi’ite group also sponsored the previous cabinet.
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    Hezbollah and Amal demonstrators clashing with police in Beirut
    Hezbollah and Amal demonstrators clashing with police in Beirut
    Hezbollah and Amal demonstrators clashing with police in Beirut
    (Photo: Reuters)
    “The formation of the new government is a sign of failure and further collapse,” Bishara said.
    “The ministerial platform is broad and doesn’t include a clear economic plan, a plan to stop corruption or work on Lebanon’s regional and international relations. It is the same old approach, just with a new government.”
    He said that the interests of the country’s diverse political forces conflict with the interests of Lebanon itself.
    “Obviously, Hezbollah is working to thwart the revolution to protect a corrupt system,” he said.
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    Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in televised speech to followers
    Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in televised speech to followers
    Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gives a televised speech to followers following the U.S. killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani last month
    (Photo: EPA)
    Charles Jabour, a journalist and head of media and communications for the Lebanese Forces, a Christian party and Hezbollah foe, said that such talk would change only if the new government managed to rescue the country from its deep foreign debt.
    “It can hardly achieve this,” he said. “It’s not supported by the Lebanese street.
    "It faces political opposition in the country and has no support from Arab countries, which means no aid money. In addition, the international community won’t offer any help without a cohesive plan [for economic recovery].”
    Regarding Hezbollah, a group that has long found support due to its resistance against Israel, Lebanon’s neighbor to the south, Jabour said that nobody talks much about resistance nowadays.
    “People,” he said, “are busy facing poverty.”
    Article written by Dima Abumaria. Reprinted with permission from The Media Line
    First published: 18:31, 02.14.20
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