Hizbullah’s Popularity Seen Waning as Lebanese Protests Continue
One critic says that with so much poverty, few today talk about ‘resistance’ against Israel, the Iran-backed Shi’ite group’s primary raison d’etre
Anti-government protestors continued to take to the streets of Beirut over the weekend, declaring their lack of confidence in the country’s new prime minister, Hassan Diab, and his cabinet.
As the new government’s biggest backer, the Iran-backed Hizbullah movement is seeing its popularity wane and possibly losing its legitimacy as a resistance movement.
“The government failed before it even started,” Ali Amin, a Lebanese analyst and journalist who writes for the London-based Al-Arab newspaper, told The Media Line, explaining that people were revolting against an entire political system but were given a new government with the same platform and same political powers.
“Hizbullah is a key party in forming this new government and is perhaps its primary backer, as [the government] could never have been formed without Hizbullah’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.”
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 a 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.
Amin adds that Lebanon is expected to witness a wave of new demonstrations on Tuesday as the parliament gathers for a vote of confidence in the new government, noting that the majority of lawmakers are in the sway of Hizbullah and its allies.
Raneem al-Ahmar, a Lebanese political activist who is a regular participant in the anti-government demonstrations, told The Media Line that Hizbullah has lost popular support.
“We don’t trust Hizbullah, 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, told The Media Line that Diab’s government represents the same system that brought the country to collapse, adding that this is hurting Hizbullah.
“Hizbullah 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.
“The formation of the new government is a sign of failure and further collapse,” Bishara went on. “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 adds that the interests of the country’s diverse political forces conflict with the interests of Lebanon itself.
“Obviously, Hizbullah is working to thwart the revolution to protect a corrupt system,” he charged.
Charles Jabour, a journalist and head of media and communications for the Lebanese Forces, a Christian party and Hizbullah foe, told The Media Line 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 Hizbullah, a group that has long found support due to its resistance against Israel, Lebanon’s neighbor to the south, Jabour adds that nobody talks much about resistance nowadays.
“People,” he explained, “are busy facing poverty.”