The Baalbek-Hermel region in northern Beqaa in Lebanon has never ceased to test Hezbollah. This area has been Hezbollah’s most difficult challenge.
Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said he was willing to personally go there to rally support and ensure victory during the elections. This region displayed an unprecedented level of rejection and opposition on the Shiite level over the performance of Hezbollah’s representatives there and it escalated into an attempt to expel MP and Minister Hussein Haj Hassan from a Hussainiya (a Shiite congregation hall) in Baalbek.
It thus came as no surprise that the city eventually had the highest voter turnout in its history, from all the constituent groups of its societal fabric.
Discontent against Hezbollah
However, the mobilization succeeded in securing the desired results for Hezbollah and winning all six Shiite seats amid serious accusations of fraud. Some of this was documented via video recordings that showed how ballots were unethically transferred from booths to the municipal building.
What is done is done in this election but the urgency of this area’s crisis remains for the Shiite duo.
When people in Hay al-Solm, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Beirut's southern suburb, stood up against Hezbollah, over removing construction violations, they directly insulted leaders of the party. It was not a coincidence that a young man from Al-Shams, who is a native of this neglected and deprived Beqaa region, dominated the scene.
The crisis later became clearer and clearer. In a recent speech by Nasrallah commemorating the July War, activists from Baalbek shared pictures on social media networks showing how the city’s square had empty rows of seats. This highlighted the low attendance rate and stood in stark contrast to the usual attendance at Nasrallah's speeches depicting a sea of people turning up to watch him on big screens.
The amnesty and cannabis laws will be offered in exchange of turning a blind eye to the disastrous consequences of Hezbollah’s war in SyriaNadim Koteich
Another indicator was the speech of Parliament Speaker and Amal Movement Leader Nabih Berri on the 40th anniversary of the disappearance of Imam Musa al-Sadr.
According to activists from the Baalbek and other observers, the attendance in South Lebanon overwhelmed that of north of Beqaa, along with the absence of the Baalbek’s people from the festival in the heart of their own city, which was a subject of amusement on social media.
The failing fortress
It is not only these images that exposed the magnitude of the crisis in Baalbek-Hermel. The wave of development promises made toward it is unprecedented in the history of Hezbollah’s and Amal’s political language, and it is met by the local investment of rising powers of which the most prominent is retired Major General Jamil al-Sayyid. These rising powers are working on deep-rooting a northern Beqaa identity and establishing a local affiliation which is outside the partisan affiliation of the Shiite duo. This made Berri caution against “coup attempts” against him and his ally.
In Washington, I have learned that all policies are local policies – according to a famous phrase in Washington’s political hallways – and if this applies to a capital like Washington and to the options of its political powers, it must apply to a small country like Lebanon. Accordingly, we can understand Hezbollah’s and Amal’s rush to form a government. This rush however is being executed in a cold manner and does not express itself much because it wants to avoid blackmail and to prevent showing the weaknesses in this battle of pulling political strings.
In this context, local observers did not overlook how in his last speech, Nasrallah noted the need to postpone working on the normalization of relations with Syria, since it is a political item on the agenda of the next government or an item of the Ministerial Statement items, in order to facilitate the birth of the government which has so far been difficult.
Amnesty and hashish
The deputy of Nasrallah, Sheikh Naim Qassem, went far in conveying messages to his own allies before his Christian opponents, so that no one would imagine or think that his ministerial size in the next government should reflect his role and position in the battle for the presidency after the presidency of Michel Aoun ends.
Qassem’s statements are considered the clearest indication of the need to separate government formation now and other battles, whether presidential or any other, and which can wait or which political alertness on can be postponed.
The urgency of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement to form the government today springs from their need to pass laws to mitigate the crisis in their environment in Baalbek-Hermel, a strategic environment with huge demographics and that’s known for its sprawling tribal structure and geographical proximity to Syria, where Hezbollah is fighting its most dangerous battle since its establishment.
Forming the government is the key to introducing two new laws.
The first would be a law of amnesty to reassure tribes and restore peace in the northern community of Beqaa, and the second would be related to cannabis cultivation to protect the livelihood of the people of this region in the absence of any serious development plans and alternative mechanisms to create jobs.
The amnesty and cannabis laws will be offered in exchange of turning a blind eye to the disastrous consequences of Hezbollah’s war in Syria. An example of these consequences is the torrent of competing Syrian laborers in Beqaa.
The people of Beqaa are aware that the Syrians will not return home anytime soon, that the Assad regime is not in the process of facilitating their return, that the Russian initiative is destined to fail on every count and that they can always expect their situation to get worse and that their roles as a reservoir of martyrs and unemployed is out of sync with the rhetoric of defending them and their dignity.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Nadim Koteich is a leading Arab satirist. His show DNA airs Monday to Friday on Future and Al Hadath channels. He is a columnist with Asharq Alawsat. He tweets @NadimKoteich.
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