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NOW

Liberation, except if you’re Syrian

In his speech on Liberation Day, celebrating when the Lebanese finally saw the back of the Israeli occupation 11 years ago, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah mentioned Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister. He remarked that when Netanyahu, in his speech before the US Congress this week, raised the issue of the rockets in Lebanon and Gaza, there “was fear in his eyes.”
 
Perhaps there was, but I also see quite a lot of fear in Nasrallah’s eyes these days as the situation in the Middle East goes through radical transformation. And there are primarily three reasons for this.
 
First, as hard as Nasrallah tries, he just cannot seem to convince Arabs anymore that “resistance” must be given priority over most other aspects of their lives. In Egypt, Tunisia and Syria, people have talked about emancipation, democracy and liberty, with the targets of their opprobrium almost exclusively domestic. Protestors may dislike America and Israel, but for now their aim is to rewrite failed social contracts, impose states that reflect their needs, and be rid of leaders and their families who have suffocated and robbed them for decades.
 
If Nasrallah has any doubts, he should recall what happened after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s January interview in The Wall Street Journal. Assad gloated that his “resistance” credentials would shield him from an upheaval similar to the others in the Arab world. They didn’t, and now Syrian demonstrators are burning the Iranian flag, along with the Russian and Chinese flags, in the streets of their cities.
 
There was something terribly off-key in Nasrallah’s comments, showing how alienated he seems to be from the spirit of this Arab moment. The language of rockets, guns and combat is jarring against a backdrop of societies demanding freedom. In armed resistance there is an implicit call for regimentation, for compulsory unity and the banishment of dissent in the greater cause of defeating the enemy. Yet everything about the Arab uprisings has been directed at undermining regimentation and authorizing dissent. Those in the region know all too well that their despots have spent decades using the conflict with Israel as justification for building up vast military and security apparatuses to facilitate open-ended internal repression. 
 
Nasrallah’s second cause of fear is that he’s on the wrong side of the revolt in Syria. Hezbollah, which has always claimed to be the champion of the downtrodden, is defending a leadership crushing its own people. Nasrallah is covering for the soldiers, security officers and gang members who have fired live ammunition at unarmed civilians, killing an estimated 1,100 people in the last two months. He is covering for those in the Syrian security services who have detained and abused what is estimated to be thousands of people in recent weeks.*
 
It was pitiable to hear Nasrallah mentioning the “resistance” bona fides of the Syrian regime as the principal validation for his support of the Assads. In that way the Hezbollah leader suggested that his own agenda was somehow more meritorious than the aspirations of the Syrian people (even as he admitted that Syria needed reform). The reaction on social media outlets was acerbic from many in Syria. They saw that in defense of his party’s and Iran’s interests, Nasrallah would abandon justice and applaud their tormentors. If Syrian protestors prevail, they will not soon forgive him his double-standards.   
 
A third headache for Nasrallah is that he now finds himself at the epicenter of a sectarian confrontation in the Middle East. For a long time Hezbollah managed to transcend Sunni-Shia differences thanks to its accomplishments on an issue that most Arabs sympathize with, namely the battle against Israel. But much has changed since then. To a great extent Iran’s Arab enemies have made headway in portraying the Islamic Republic and Hezbollah as pursuing a project of Shia hegemony, regardless of the merits of such an accusation.
 
And in Syria Hezbollah’s ally, the Assad regime, also appears to be implementing a sectarian strategy. Many Arabs will have read or heard lately that Alawites are expelling Sunnis from places such as Tal Kalakh. Even diplomats in Beirut worry that this may be a step in establishing an ethnically cleansed Alawite mini-state. It would be disastrous for Nasrallah if a majority of Arabs were to begin lumping his Shia community together with the Alawites in an alleged partnership against Sunnis. He knows that for Hezbollah to be depicted as a sectarian group would undermine it as the vanguard in a model of regional resistance. And yet this has already started.
 
Hassan Nasrallah is behind the curve on what is going on around us in the Middle East. The Hezbollah leader is employing both rhetoric and imagery that are anachronistic in these transformative times. The future, we hope, will bring a promise of free societies, the reflexes of compromise and greater pluralism. If that fails, as it may, Nasrallah will have saved himself; but at the expense of many innocents.

Michael Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut and author of The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon’s Life Struggle, which the Wall Street Journal listed as one of its 10 standout books for 2010. He tweets @BeirutCalling.

*The original sentence stated that Hassan Nasrallah was covering for a unit that had run over a prisoner with its tank. In fact the video did not show such an event.

  • roland el hokayem

    And in Syria Hezbollah’s ally, the Assad regime, also appears to be implementing a sectarian strategy.

    June 4, 2011

  • Mehdi

    OK majd, you've convinced me Khaddam and Kanaan were in charge of Syrian economic corruption in Lebanon with Hariri and Al Assad father and son with their trusted security chiefs like Jamil al Sayyed were in charge Sayyed Hassan, the moukawama, strategy and of all the oppressing, beatings, torturing, kidnappings, car bombs and killing the Lebanese who did not see their greatness. I mean how can anyone disagree with you on that, you give so much evidence you are a scholar sir take a bow.

    June 1, 2011

  • OmarS

    Yes Mufasa you're right, "Harri" , Frangieh, Wahhab, Qandeel, Arslan, Pakradony, Jumblatt, Pakradoni, Berri, Murr, Karameh, Eid, Saad, Yakan, Mrad, Shokr, Skaff are all against you now Omar, Majd can you guys please leave this tormented "man" alone?.... NEXT!!!

    May 31, 2011

  • ali daoud

    Mehdi,,,hahaha, you looked so weak, habibi, do you truly believe that Sayyed Hassan would coordinated Al mOqawama issues with Khaddam?!!! get real buddy, habibi, Sayyed Hassan doesn`t give his secrets even to his wife and son, he would give secrets to corrupt Khaddam?!!! Sayyed deals with Al Assad and with security chiefs trusted by Al Assad, what does Khaddam know about Al Moqawama needs and strategies?!!!!!!!!! Look, don`t deny the evident, Hariri controlled the whole Lebanese economy with the aid of Ghazi Kenaan and Khaddam, and all those names you mentioned have taken a little piece of the cheese. You see, that is your problem and ethical disadvantage, you give Ghazi Kenaan the Keys of Beirut, and you give Khaddam a Villa in Paris and in Banyas, and you swallow Lebanon through both of them, and then you wine about the tortures and corruption of syrians once theybecome weak, what hypocricy!!! However, we support syria in good times and bad times. Vive Al Moqawama, Vive bashar,

    May 31, 2011

  • Mehdi

    majd nice little fairytale you've got there. That joke you call moukawama has been part of the parliament since 1993 after they got the go ahead from Khaminei and they voted to approve all the laws passed by the Hariri gangs including Solidere. Khaddam is not my ally he never was or will be, but he was loved by you and your fake moukawama and mokawimeen until he fled. When Nasrallah thanked the Syrians on March 8 he was thanking him and the Assads. Remember the Syrian policy was the same with and without Khaddam and Kanaan as the tortures, beatings, kidnappings and murders that happened at the beginning of this century show. So that the policy of the regime in Syria not individuals. Harri and gang benefited from the Syrian presence so did, Frangieh, Wahhab, Qandeel, Arslan, Pakradony, Jumblatt, Pakradoni, Berri, Murr, Karameh, Eid, Saad, Yakan, Mrad, Shokr, Skaff to name a only a few.

    May 31, 2011

  • ali daoud

    Mehdi, habibi, things went this way, Al Moqawama coordinates their strategies with Assad himself wether father or son, and al Moqawama coordinates logistics and operations with syrian security personnel wether Kenaan, Ghazale, Maher, ect..., however, your ally Khaddam used to take care of politics so your leaders invited him to the corrruption party in Lebanon and so on Khaddam helped them control the economy and Solidere and the telecom business etc..., and sure after Ghazi Kenaan joined the gang of Hariri- Khaddam, they all orchestrated the 2000 Election Law. and the end is known, Ghazi kenaan was plotting against al assad with the help of Khaddam, but Assad was smarter than both. In conclusion habibi, at time Al Moqawama benefited from the syrian presence in order to gain force and support to fight israel and liberate the land, your allies and leaders were benefiting from the syrian presence in order to gain more money and more control of Lebanon`s economy and resources, Big DIFFER!

    May 31, 2011

  • @majd

    Do you also recall that in 1998 Bashar took over the Lebanon file from Abdul Halim Khaddam and that the bulk Al Moqawama was built by the one who was controlling Lebanon from 1990 to 98, according to you Khaddam. Hypocrisy: The state of pretending to have beliefs, opinions, virtues, feelings, qualities, or standards that one does not actually have; it involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie.

    May 31, 2011

  • Mehdi

    If getting owned means to make him look ridiculous using his own words, then yes.

    May 31, 2011

  • OmarS

    Yes Mufasa, you keep getting owned by Omar

    May 30, 2011

  • Mehdi

    Keep trying you might get there some day.

    May 30, 2011

  • OmarS

    I want to be a "Man" like you Mehdi and post clueless anonymous comments on news websites

    May 30, 2011

  • OmarS

    @Mehdi: Habib i dont insinuate anything, i tell it like it is. Do you know the difference between "TALKING UP" and WARNING AGAINST"? or are you too one eyed to understand?

    May 30, 2011

  • Mehdi

    majd are you for real?Assad was not controlling Lebanon?You're seriously delusional Khaddam worked for Assad he was one of his many vice presidents and nothing happened in Lebanon without Assad's direct approval that's how those regimes operates....Difference is you once loved him because he supported your moukawama.Besides if as you claim he controlled Lebanon that means that he was instrumental in building your moukawama you can't have both ways.If some of M14 were with the Syrians so were all M8 and still are. Nasrallah loves to thank them every chance he gets for the miseries they brought us.Your moukawama is a sham and a lie you keep blaspheming by comparing them to God.In fact they are terrorists who were under Syrian operational control and prolonged the occupation as Aoun famously characterized them and he was right.If that truth bothers you just jump up and down and beat urself on the head.

    May 29, 2011

  • Mehdi

    OmarS you insinuate that exact thing, for once in your life be a man and own up to what you say.

    May 29, 2011

  • ali daoud

    Mehdi,,,,well, I cannot but recall that the main player of the Syrian regime during syria`s presence in Lebanon , and the syrian leaders who were controlling Lebanon in alliance with most M14 , those syrian leaders whom you criticize were nobody but your allies late Ghazi Kenaan whom your leaders gave the keys of Beirut, and the current Abdul Halim Khaddam who is your best ally. we all remember that Khaddam and not Assad was the one controlling and ruling Lebanon, and we all see how your leaders are embracing the same Khaddam today. stop the hypocricy, you never cared about lEBANON, you only care to defeat Al Moqawama for the eyes of the democracy of Saudi Arabia and of israe!!! You allied with the syrians during their presence in Lebanon, it`s with their help that you occupied solidere, at time Hizbullah wanted nothing but the support of the syrians to resist israel`s occupation. HIZBULLAH IS THE LEBANESE AND ARAB PRIDE, BASHAR WILL PREVAIL, israel DOWN.

    May 29, 2011

  • shadi

    I'd also like to echo the comments of another poster here. There was NO HUMAN under that tank. Whatever they crushed under there was way bulkier and stronger than human bones. The tank did not "squish" the object under it but the whole tank was lifted when it rode over it. Obviously, not a human. Of course, this does not discount the other atrocities that they've committed so far but please, either remove or edit this statement before people conveniently start using it as facts...

    May 28, 2011

  • OmarS

    Yeah Im also either a zionist or a arab despot cause i've warned against sunni shia strife and arab persian rivarly

    May 28, 2011

  • Michael Young

    Indeed, looking closer it appears to be a motorbike. My apologies, quite unintentional, really, as there would have been no point in linking to a video that proves me wrong had it been intentional. But I suppose at this stage, with over 1,100 killed according to the Syrian opposition, most by gunfire, our debate has become a trifle academic. Why don't we just agree that Hassan Nasrallah has covered for the tanks that have been firing at Syrian civilians.

    May 28, 2011

  • Mehdi

    Right OmarS we should all learn from Hassan and regularly thank the Syrians for thirty years of brutal oppressions, abuses and murders including fifteen years of occupation and for indiscriminately shelling east Beirut, west Beirut, Tripoli, Saida, cities, towns, camps, Christians, Sunnis, Shiite, Druze, Lebanese, Palestinians but NOT Israelis, never Israelis.. And another thing "18 Dec 2010 Hezbollah Leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has warned of a plot by the Zionist regime to ignite Shia-Sunni strife" OmarS did you hear this, funny we didn't realize that Hassan was an Israel and Arab despot propped by the US, but you know better and hey if you say so..

    May 28, 2011

  • estiz

    Khamas? What's a Khamas?

    May 28, 2011

  • OmarS

    I only hear Israel and Arab despots propped by the US talking up sunni shia strife and arab persian rivarly. Ethnic cleansing? really Michael you know what that is? Have you ever mentioned it happening in Palestine? Oh right that only happened to Khamas and they're shiite so they deserve it right?

    May 27, 2011

  • future teller

    I see it before my eyes, HA is loading the guns and rockets in trucks exactly as lebanese forces did before them in early 90's and give them to the lebanese army.and HN will approach haifa for her hand :)))

    May 27, 2011

  • Michelle Montreal

    Mr. Young, what a great article; outsyanding analysis of current and future political implication for Hizbo. Two thing I would like to add/comment on, one is a scenario where the regime in syria does prevail, then Hizbo will show its momentarily hidden claws and will act like a rat surrounded in a corner. Second, if the regime ALSO falls, then how will the new political system in Damascus deal with the ally of the ex-brutal power? Very interesting situations to look for, I just pray that Lebanon and its people withstand the implications.

    May 27, 2011

  • omar

    Delusional Nasralla is alone in believing Assad will go ahead with reforms. The Europeans, Turks and even the Russians now are convinced otherwise.

    May 27, 2011

  • East of Tyre

    Michel, Nasrallah never dwells on the fate of many or any innocents for that matter, he will pursue his sometimes ill-advised foolhardy action no matter the cost sacrificing them in the process, it's the process itself that counts.

    May 27, 2011

  • Philippe

    When you say "He is covering for the unit in Daraa that placed a prisoner under a tank tread before running him over twice, tearing him to shreds", the link leads to a video where a syrian tanks crushes a syrian ... motorbike! Unfair, but not outrageous!

    May 27, 2011

  • mlk

    Given HA's arrogance it's hard to imagine them having the pragmatism or even basic common sense to admit their flawed strategies. For a bunch of zealots that have always claimed divinity of purpose and righteousness it's almost suicidal for them to change course. Clearly the false pretenses of HA are crumbling and it's just a matter of time before the HA populace joins the rest of the Arab street in rejecting this perpetual and often false resistance.

    May 27, 2011

  • harris

    What a hippocracy. It is Ok for Shia to run Iraq because they claim falesly to be majority. They want to run Bahrain because they count more Sunni. But when it comes to Syria where Sunni are way outnumber Alawites. It is a NO, NO .The truth is Nasralla and Iran want to run all the Arab world.Don't play this game you're out of the closet.

    May 27, 2011

  • ZOOM

    A picture is worth a thousand words, the masters listening at the pupil with amusement.

    May 27, 2011

  • Jad

    I would just like to point out that the video you linked about the tank running over a protestor is actually a tank running over a motorbike. ...

    May 27, 2011