Hezbollah Losing its Grip
Since its inception, Hezbollah’s clout within its community has been solid. However, in recent weeks, the Party of God has been facing increasing difficulties controlling its support base and stymieing discontent. These developments have led analysts to question whether or not Hezbollah is losing its grip on its followers.
Last month, gunmen attacked the headquarters of local TV station, al-Jadeed, in Beirut. Setting tires ablaze, they surrounded the area, opening fire and hurling Molotov cocktails at the building. Local residents apprehended one of the gunmen after his clothes caught on fire. Local media reported that the suspect is a Shiite member of Saraya al-Moqawama, a special unit comprised of members of various Lebanese factions militarily affiliated to Hezbollah, but the party immediately denied the allegation.
Soon after, Lebanese daily An Nahar reported that Hezbollah supporters in the Rweiss neighborhood of Beirut’s southern suburbs assaulted an Internal Security Forces (ISF) patrol after they arrested a gunman on a motorcycle, identified as Ali Shoaib.
Immediately following the arrest, members of the Party of God intervened and engaged in a dispute with the patrol. The party again denied the incident.
“There is a definite feeling that Hezbollah is not able to control its supporters and smaller contingents. Dahieh (Hezbollah’s bastion in the capital’s southern suburbs) is plagued by many security problems, from daily armed clashes between local families, to the increased trafficking of weapons and drugs, and prostitution,” a high-ranking officer within the ISF admitted to IPS.
Besides having to reign in on such activity, Hezbollah has been faced with a growing wave of discontent among its supporters.
Last month, during one of the protests against the kidnapping of 11 Shiite pilgrims in Syria and the arrest of Ali Shoaib, the local TV station MTV reported that demonstrators attacked a four-car Hezbollah convoy, which carried a party official, and forced them to turn back.
The 11 pilgrims were kidnapped on May 22 in the Syrian city of Aleppo as they were driving back to Lebanon from a religious journey in Iran. They are rumored to be held by Syrian opposition forces, which blame Hezbollah for its staunch support of president Bashar al-Assad.
“Hezbollah seems to have forgotten about the issue and is not talking about it anymore, as if it never happened,” Hassan, a young man from Dahieh, who works in a clothing store, complained to IPS.
Many of Hezbollah’s once fierce supporters now also decry the party’s mismanagement of the multiple crises afflicting the country.
“The fact that Hezbollah is a main force within this government should grant me a feeling of security, but in reality it does not,” remarked Mohamad, a clean-cut young man in his twenties hailing from Nabatiyeh, a village located in South Lebanon.
Such complaints have become more widespread among the Shiite community. Since the beginning of the year, Lebanon has witnessed multiple Syrian incursions and rising sectarian tension, a wave of protests as well as electrical and water shortages. “Lebanon has no electricity and no security, and the situation is worsening every day,” Hassan told IPS.
“This government, which in theory is ours (as it is led by Hezbollah), is ironically working against us,” he added cynically.
His friend, Hatem, who just graduated from highschool, lamented the soaring corruption in government. “I am supposed to enroll in pharmaceutical school, but what for? The sector is oversaturated because politicians back illegal operators. I want to leave Lebanon; foreign countries take care of their people, but my government and leaders do not,” he said bitterly.
Despite such crippling criticism, the party still has hardcore supporters.
Rola, a young mother, said that her memories of the civil war will keep her loyal to the Party of God.
“Who will protect us when (Christian) Lebanese Forces attack us? I have not forgotten Sabra and Shatila. Hezbollah is the only party capable of protecting me and all the Shiite community,” she told IPS.
The Sabra and Shatila massacre of September 1982 led to the deaths of about 1000 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians residing in the two Palestinian camps at the hands of a gang of former members of the Lebanese Phalangist militia, which were later integrated into the Lebanese Forces. The killing spree was carried out supposedly in retaliation for the assassination of newly elected Lebanese president Bachir Gemayel, the leader of the Lebanese Phalanges.
Kassem Kassir, a political writer who specialises in Islamic movements, believes Rola’s attitude is likely shared by scores of others in the community.
“It is true that many complaints and remarks have been raised by the Hezbollah constituency. However, the bulk of them still follow the party politically. Just look at the recent partial Koura parliamentary elections, in which 97 percent of Shiites voted for the party’s candidate,” he told IPS.
“Members of the Shiite community might complain, but they will not mobilize against Hezbollah in the current uncertain regional situation.”