Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, Hezbollah and its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, have been relatively silent. The party usually takes every opportunity to express its opinion on every political event, particularly when its main ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is in trouble. However, this time it doesn’t feel that confident. The uprising in Syria has already deeply damaged Hezbollah’s public image.
It knows that no matter what happens, it will have to pay a big price. If the regime falls, Hezbollah and Iran will lose their only Arab ally, and therefore their hope to spread the Iranian revolution and its political agenda will be hampered to a great extent. Even if the regime survives for a while, they might be sacrificed by Assad, who may try to show good intentions to the West in an attempt to protect himself.
At the same time, Hezbollah and Iran will probably do whatever it takes to protect the Syrian regime, whether they trust it or not, because without this regime, they are finished.
This attitude, expressed by Hezbollah’s media and Lebanese political allies, has alienated many of its supporters. The double standards regarding the Arab uprisings cannot be more obvious. Hezbollah officials cheered for all the Arab revolts, claiming that the Arab street is rebelling against Western-backed dictators, inspired by the Resistance. Little did they know. It turned out that Israel, America, Hezbollah and the Resistance have nothing to do with these uprisings. They are about freedom, reforms and basic human rights.
When the wave hit Syria, Hezbollah’s support for the regime caused real confusion among its supporters, especially those who back Hezbollah as a resistance group, not because of its ideology. “I defend them because they have been defending the oppressed people in Palestine and Lebanon, but when they stand against the oppressed people in Syria, there is obviously something wrong,” my friend Imad told me.
Hezbollah is losing the Lebanese and Arab streets by supporting a dictator in an Arab country witnessing a push for freedom. “Resistance should be about freedom; liberation is about freedom, so they cannot pick or chose freedoms that only suit their agenda. This is not resistance,” Imad added.
Hezbollah is cornered. Its own supporters are gradually realizing that resistance is a tool, not a goal in itself. But they cannot do anything. They have no choice but to protect the Syrian dictator.
Although a very similar event took place in Iran when the Green Movement took to the streets to object to the disputed election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, Hezbollah supporters weren’t as confused and disillusioned. News coming from Iran was scarce, and the uprising was an isolated incident.
Today, the Syrian uprising is taking place as the whole region revolts against dictators. The Arab Spring is the same in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. The demonstrations are peaceful, and the protesters are all calling for the same thing: freedoms. The news coming from Syria via Facebook and YouTube videos confirms that.
Hezbollah’s main two assets in Lebanon are its arms and popular support. Today, the party is losing its indirect support base, that is, those who are not active Hezbollah members and who are not benefiting politically or financially from the party. They, the majority of Hezbollah’s support base, have lost faith in the party.
“If they really want to defend Lebanon against Israeli violations, how come they did not do anything when the Israeli soldiers shot peaceful protesters who marched to the borders at Maroun al-Ras last Sunday?” asked Imad, who witnessed the bloody turn of events last week during the nakba protests. “They stood there and watched the protesters as they were shot and killed by the Israeli soldiers.”
As its popular support is fading, Hezbollah cannot unify the Arab street around the Resistance and divert attention from Syria by initiating a war with Israel again. The Lebanese, mainly the Shia, cannot afford another war with Israel. They are still recovering from the 2006 July War, but do not complain because they’ve been convinced that Hezbollah did not initiate that war and that it achieved a “divine” victory.
But all Lebanese, Shia and non-Shia, will not tolerate another war.
In addition, if the party were to go to war with Israel, it would be using up its weapons stockpile, the existence of which is threatened by the Syrian revolt, for if the Syrian regime falls, it will mean that the main channel for arms smuggling for Hezbollah would be closed.
Hezbollah also needs its weapons internally – not necessarily to go to war with other Lebanese factions, but to use them as an intimidation tool in its political dealings.
But the arms without popular support are useless. Hezbollah is cornered: Its ally in Syria is in a very critical position, its supporters have lost faith and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s indictment, which may possibly name party members, is on its way. How the party will react is the main concern for the Lebanese today.
Will the party finally start considering a Lebanese, rather than an Iranian, path? Or will it show its real face by trying to take over the Lebanese political system, opening Lebanon to a number of frightening possibilities? Let’s see what Nasrallah is going to say this Wednesday.
Hanin Ghaddar is managing editor of NOW Lebanon