If the Lebanese have paid a price in issues related to the Arab Spring, it is Hezbollah who really paid it because the party’s situation for almost two years has greatly transformed. It has gone from being one that aspires to be a model speaker of the Arabs, speaking out for their struggle with Israel, into one that is sectarian-tasked with a narrow mission to defend Iran’s last stand in the region.
It is true that the party was performing this task before the Arab Spring, but it has engulfed it with a bouquet of struggles, thus it succeeded in presenting itself to the Arab public opinion as a rare success story in the struggle with Israel.
The party’s situation is currently pitiful. The “central mission” is now not on the table. The party’s situation also no longer suits the Arabs’ mood which is confused with other issues and perhaps this issue of the struggle with Israel comes last. Hezbollah’s mission to perturb Israel was shaken a few years before the Arab Spring, particularly following the July 2006 war which resulted in a huge victory for the party. The party has ever since given its back to the border and engaged in Lebanese adventures. As soon as the war ended in 2006, its supporters invaded Downtown Beirut whilst in 2008 its fighters invaded Beirut. Later the party assigned its new ally Najib Miqati with the task to topple Saad Hariri’s government.
Syrian events complemented the party’s new mission. Hezbollah could not adapt itself to the new givens, and it considered that a change in Syria’s regime will affect its position in Lebanon. I think it is probably right. But instead of adapting itself to all possibilities, it decided to fight the battle alongside the regime until the end. The party’s transformation was accompanied with pushing the Shiite sect to this same position it found itself in. Hezbollah has so far lost a lot of what it considered a popular base. Its secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, no longer makes speeches to anyone outside Beirut’s southern suburb. Its Palestinian twin, Hamas, set itself free from it and requested the sonship of its father, the Egyptian Brotherhood.
Hezbollah’s secretary general who used to transcend from debating presidents, took it upon himself to debate Sidon (Lebanon’s third-largest city) cleric Ahmad al-Assir whilst the Future Movement kept away from him. Meanwhile, the entire party looks like it dragged itself in Sidon’s alleys just like it did in the alleys of the Syrian town of Qusayr along the border with Lebanon. Proceeding in this civil task makes the task of luring the party into civil traps very easy. Hezbollah has deployed in Lebanese areas upon a different logic where it was not assumed that security restrictions will weaken and civil content will increase. However, the situation is currently captive of both.
For example in Sidon in South Lebanon, the party has offices, houses and presence amid Sunni residential areas. Its presence was not only protected by its security and military power but also by civil balances, Sunni allies and its influence in the government and state security institutions. This security umbrella is no longer present. Civil balances have been disrupted and his Sunni allies’ influence in Sidon decreased to the maximum. State security institutions cannot appear like they are biased to a sect against another. This was exactly the case in Aarsal when these institutions’ forces were not able to raid Aarsal following the murder of Lebanese soldiers.
Opportunities are now equal in Sidon between Ahmad al-Assir and Hezbollah. The situation is as such in Qusayr along the border with Syria. This is the tax the party has to pay. It is represented with its shrinkage into a civil position, the absence of flexibility and the inability to maneuver.
We must also not rule out the manifestations of fatigue resulting from this transformation of positions. The civil position has its conditions. The party for few years has sunk up to its ears with its sufferance. There have been financial scandals and corruption among its ministers’ entourage. The prices it is paying is squandering what is left of a reputation it built during decades of diligence. It currently accepts the Orthodox proposal sacrificing loyal historical allies on the altar of a disloyal ally like Michel Aoun. It overlooks the collaboration of this ally’s help to Israel, thus giving up a treacherous speech it built up during decades.
This is the highest paid tax which put an end to the party’s appearance on the level of the old struggle and which diminished its image.
This article first appeared in al-Hayat on March 3, 2013.
(Hazem al-Amin is a Lebanese writer and journalist at al-Hayat. He was a field reporter for the newspaper, and covered wars in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza. He specialized in reporting on Islamists in Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Kurdistan and Pakistan, and on Muslim affairs in Europe. He has been described by regional media outlets as one of Lebanon's most intelligent observers of Arab and Lebanese politics.)