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Hizbullah Leader Hassan Nasrallah Touches Christian Nerve in Post-Violence Electioneering
Hizbullah supporters at a mosque in one of Beirut’s southern suburbs cheer on Hassan Nasrallah in November 2019 during a televised speech. (AFP via Getty Images)

Hizbullah Leader Hassan Nasrallah Touches Christian Nerve in Post-Violence Electioneering

Nasrallah asserted that his Shiite Muslim group has 100,000 men ready to fight in public speech dismissed by many as political posturing

Lebanon’s Hizbullah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, criticized last week’s violent and deadly clashes in Beirut’s Tayouneh neighborhood and extolled the strength of his party’s military wing in a publicly televised speech on Monday. But while the speech featured accusations against rival leaders, many observers believe that it is no more than posturing in preparation for the 2022 general elections.

Nasrallah accused Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces party (LFP), a Christian-based right-wing political party, of provoking the violence that ultimately left seven dead in the worst street clashes in Beirut in recent memory. Hizbullah supporters were protesting against Judge Tarek Bitar and the probe which he is leading of the August 2020 Beirut Port explosion, which they say is biased against Muslim leaders.

Shiite Muslim Hizbullah supporters fired weapons into the night sky on Monday to celebrate their leader’s address.

Video recorded on October 18, 2021 in Beirut’s Christian neighborhood of Ain El Remmaneh showing gunfire from the predominately Shi’ite neighborhood of Dahieh. (Courtesy)

“Who are you trying to get into a civil war, who are you trying to drag into civil strife with 100,000?” Nasrallah said in words directed at Geagea, reiterating the apparent strength of his armed forces as he assured his audience that Hizbullah’s 100,000 men were recruited to defend Lebanon from external enemies, not to engage in a civil war, Reuters reported.

“The real agenda of the Lebanese Forces party is civil war,” he continued. “The biggest threat to the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party and its head.”

In Beirut’s southern suburb of Dahieh, the city’s stronghold of Hizbullah support and from where most of Thursday’s protesters came, day laborer and Hizbullah supporter Ali Mhmd Eitani agreed.

“Nasrallah helps the Christian people,” Eitani told The Media Line. “He keeps things peaceful and supports Lebanon while the LFP is making a bad image of the Christians all over the country.”

The intention of Nasrallah’s speech “was not to make any more problems between Hizbullah and the LFP,” he said, adding that “now there should be more peace because Geagea should be afraid to cause more problems due to the power of Hizbullah.”

A Beirut building pockmarked by gunfire during pro-Hizbullah protests on Oct. 14, 2021. (Victor Cabrera/The Media Line)

At his nearby glass business, an elderly resident of Beirut’s predominantly Muslim Dahieh neighborhood disagreed with the party line. He would not provide his name out of fear of retribution for his dissent.

The businessman discounted Nasrallah’s claims about the size of his army, and said that “the point was not to escalate violence directly, but to show the weakness of the LFP and the other parties.”

“The message was not only directed at the LFP, though, but to all of Lebanon. Whatever the size of the army, the point was to make themselves seen as powerful and in command,” he said.

The Lebanese Forces party also thinks that Nasrallah is merely posturing.

Bachir Doueihy, of the LFP’s election office in the northern city of Zgharta, told The Media Line that “this is only a political statement to win some seats in the elections.”

“He does not have 100,000 men,” Doueihy asserted, “and even if they do, the LFP is an effective resistance. The people of Ain El Remmaneh, the Christian street, were around in the civil war in 1975, they know how to fight.”

Ain El Remmaneh was a stronghold of Christian militias and was the site of violent battles with Muslim forces during the country’s civil war.

While Doueihy noted that the LFP now is not a militia, he said that “everyone has guns in their houses and if you come for us, we will defend our families and our homes effectively because Hizbullah’s soldiers don’t have the same motivation that we have.”

“The LFP considers this election a revolution,” he continued. “If we were only going to win 13 or 20 deputies before the Thursday clashes, now we will win more because the Christians are mobilized by Nasrallah’s statements which they see as inflammatory.”

Christian communities across Beirut are, indeed, feeling that a nerve has been touched. The Media Line obtained audio files from a WhatsApp group chat of parents of schoolchildren that were shared the day before the Tayouneh protests. These files, which The Media Line has not been able to authenticate, are purportedly from members of the LFP calling supporters to resist the Hizbullah advance.

“They will not lay a foot on the ‘sharkieh’ [East Beirut, which was controlled by Christian militias during the civil war], not even God will let them,” someone says on the recording.

The Lebanese Forces party considers this election a revolution

Another former resident of the Christian area of Ain El Remmaneh, a 36-year-old man working in financial services, told The Media Line that his brother and many other Christians had been targeted by the Lebanese Army for arrest and interrogation following last week’s protests. He also would not use his name out of fear of persecution.

“My brother went to Tayouneh to take our aunt to safety. He did not even participate in the protests,” the man said. “Later he was warned that Christians were being arrested for questioning and that he should go into hiding.”

“My brother is currently hiding outside Beirut,” he said, “but the army is only going after Christians for information. The army wants to show that they have some sort of control over the situation but Muslims who were involved are being protected by Hizbullah.”

“This shows how powerful Hizbullah is and no one is even talking about these arrests,” he added.

No one associated with Hizbullah interviewed by The Media Line mentioned arrests of Muslims by the Lebanese Army.

A history instructor at Lebanese American University, Charles al-Hayek, told The Media Line that “the main issue here is the elections.”

Nasrallah’s speech shows “a classic electoral campaign in Lebanon,” the instructor said. “Intimidation, inflation of power, saying that they are ushering in a new period or that this is the first clash in an upcoming civil war, these are always the same tactics.”

Hayek said that the LFP is eager to become the largest Christian party in the country. “Nasrallah’s speech served the Lebanese Forces because, in targeting them, Nasrallah made them look like the ‘only defenders’ of Christian Lebanon” he said, making air quotes with his fingers.

(Victor Cabrera is a former student intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)

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