This article was published on Albawaba – November 6, 2019

Anti-government protests in Lebanon started in October as a cry against a failing system and a corrupt political establishment. Dire economic conditions coupled with an unaccountable ruling elite led the country’s young population to express their discontent on the streets. Protesters now demand the entire political class be replaced, but their requests were only partially met when Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned last week.

Hezbollah, a Shia-based militant group and political party, has had a leading role in defining Lebanese political and social life for the past decade. Its position regarding the recent protests has been ambiguous, however. On the one hand, its militants have been hostile as they risk putting in question the group’s legitimacy as a government force. On the other, they have been at the vanguard of Lebanon’s resistance movement for decades.

Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech on November 1st, after the resignation of Hariri, urging the political class to form a new government. He said he hoped the protests would be quelled, and gave some concessions to the motives driving them – although he lamented their means. However, his speech has not had any impact on the protests’ momentum. They continued stronger than before.

Hezbollah, a Shia-based militant group and political party, has had a leading role in defining Lebanese political and social life for the past decade. Its position regarding the recent protests has been ambiguous, however.

For many protesters, Hezbollah’s role hasn’t been as helpful as they would have wanted to. Romy Haber, a freelance journalist based in Lebanon, said Hezbollah was initially in favour of their movement. Al Akhbar, a pro-Hezbollah-owned journal, published a piece called “Hezbollah takes to the streets to confront the banks” during the first few days of the protests.

However, as they began to evolve into a form of revolution where all political parties, including those that have worked with Hezbollah, would be held accountable, the group felt threatened. “People in Hezbollah strongholds were singing ‘We don’t want an army in Lebanon other than the Lebanese army’’. This would mean the end of rule of Hezbollah as a militant organization in Lebanon. She claims many of the Shia protesters were forced to make public apologies after they were threatened. “Hezbollah is a state within a state, many people depend on them for a living.”

A Christian Maronite political activist, Marina Araigy, leading a movement called BeLebanon to educate the youth on their politics, comes from a majority Christian neighbourhood in the north of Lebanon. She said that the movement has no religiously sectarian nature; it includes people from all the religious groups comprising Lebanon’s diverse population.

She said Hezbollah supporters are generally Shia, and they divide themselves into two main groups: one economic and one religious. The first are Hezbollah’s more mild supporters who defend the group because it provides them with a living. The second are supporters who see the group as “divine” in its crusade to protect Lebanon against “Zionism”. “For the first time in thirty years we are seeing a division within the group of Hezbollah, where the Shias are leading an internal revolution,” Marina said.

…many of the Shia protesters were forced to make public apologies after they were threatened. “Hezbollah is a state within a state, many people depend on them for a living” – Romy Haber

But this will likely not mean the end of the group’s success in the small Middle Eastern country. Romy said Hezbollah’s rule in Lebanon won’t end anytime soon, calling it a “very strong militia.” The end of Hezbollah would require a war with international interventions, which Lebanon currently cannot afford.

Many of the protesters, despite their opposition to Hezbollah defending the establishment, don’t want the group to end, either. Rather, they want it to redefine itself as a political movement which defends Lebanon’s sovereignty, as opposed to an internationally designated terrorist organization.

“We believe in the weapon of Hezbollah to fight Israel from invading our borders, but not to fight wars in Syria, Yemen or Iraq. This will only result in economic restrictions from the international community,” Marina said. Hezbollah’s wars abroad have ruined Lebanon’s economic situation with sanctions and tarnished the groups image from a positive resistance movement against Zionism to a terrorist militia operating as a proxy power on Iran’s behalf, she claims.

As protests continue, the role of Hezbollah is yet to be defined. Both women claim there is no end in sight to their movement until their demands for a decent living against corrupt rulers are met.

As protests continue, the role of Hezbollah is yet to be defined. Both women claim there is no end in sight to their movement until their demands for a decent living against corrupt rulers are met. “We will continue united to change our economic condition, now everyone is suffering except the politicians,” Marina said. For now, the protests have not been violent, nor sectarian or lead by foreign powers – a stark difference to how the Arab Spring protests in 2011 evolved. “We want to keep the revolution peaceful, decentralized and leaderless against corrupt politicians and warlords,” Romy added.