“Hezbollah; I don’t know what they are anymore,” says Soha, a 50-year-old Shia woman who’s lived her whole life in South Lebanon. She survived the Lebanese civil war, every Israeli invasion, and has never ever complained about Hezbollah, despite her disagreement with the party’s ideology. “I saw them grow and develop into the most reliable party in the South. They took the notion of resistance beyond clichés and speeches. They have actually resisted Israel and liberated the South. That’s when their only concern was liberation. Today, they seem distracted with other concerns; they’ve become weak,” she says.
Many other Shia share Soha’s concerns today. They see Hezbollah stuck in a corner and acting defensively, and they don’t like what its leadership is doing on many levels. But they are also scared because they cannot abandon the Party of God, their only political reference.
Hezbollah has embittered its supporters for three main reasons.
First, Hezbollah still supports the Syrian regime, which is getting weaker and weaker every day. Some of the party’s supporters, especially the Leftists and ex-Communists, cannot tolerate this stance. For them, the Syrians have the right to revolt against their dictator without being called terrorists or thugs. Others are just afraid of Hezbollah’s fate when the Syrian regime falls and think the party should be more pragmatic.
Second, the increasing corruption throughout Hezbollah’s ranks cannot be ignored anymore, especially considering the deteriorating economic situation in Lebanon. While many are losing their jobs or at least struggling with everyday expenses, Hezbollah’s members and their families seem to be flourishing financially without hiding it. This has created grudges among non-Hezbollah members who have to beg for aid, contrary to the many Hezbollah members who seem to have gained considerably from reparations following the 2006 July war.
Third, for the first time, Hezbollah and its allies are in control of the worst government in decades in the opinion of many Lebanese. State services are nonexistent, there’s never been less electricity, unemployment is on the rise, and Syrian forces have been violating the Lebanese borders weekly while the government sticks to its “disassociation policy” regarding the Syrian uprising. Also, crime is on the rise.
No one in Lebanon is happy. But the Shia are both unhappy and afraid. Today, Hezbollah is a beast bleeding from many wounds. Israel said on Friday it would consider military action if needed to ensure Syrian missiles or chemical weapons did not reach Bashar al-Assad’s allies in Lebanon, i.e., Hezbollah. And who’s going to pay the price for such action—again? The Shia. At the same time, countries across the world are pointing the finger at Hezbollah and Iran for involvement the suicide bombing that killed Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last week.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese government, led by Hezbollah, still turns a blind eye to the increasing number of Syrian refugees coming to Lebanon and refuses to offer them the help and aid the Shia were offered when they took refuge in Syria during the 2006 war. While Hezbollah is hiding behind the rhetoric of resistance and willfully forgetting the hospitality of the Syrian people, many of their followers feel guilty and cannot hide it.
“When the war started in 2006, I left with my family to Damascus, where we stayed with another family whom we did not know,” says Imad from Bint Jbeil. “We had common friends who took us in. They were so welcoming and shared their food and house with us. We stayed in touch, and today they contacted me to see if they can come over for a few days until the clashes in Damascus subside. They are Sunnis, and I am not sure if they are going to be safe here in the South, so I told them the truth and put them in touch with my friends in Beirut. I don’t know if they will go, but I feel so bad and ungrateful. Why does it have to be that way?”
This is not about the Resistance anymore. It doesn’t matter whether the Syrian regime actually supports the Resistance or not. The question today for the Shia is: When (not if) the Syrian regime is toppled, what are you going to do?
Are the Shia ready to pay the price of another war? Are they ready to remain the human shield behind which Hezbollah hides? In his last speech, Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah called slain Syrian Defense Chief Assef Shawkat “a comrade in arms and resistance.” No Lebanese can deny his crimes in Lebanon or how many Lebanese suffered because of him and his regime. Are the Shia willing to suffer the consequences of the war Hezbollah declared against the Syrian people?
The Shia are already on the edge, and their discontent with Hezbollah is on the rise. How long will it take for them to look behind them and say, “Enough!” A small dose of human interaction can be louder than any political words. They can start by helping the Syrian refugees. They can also ask Nasrallah to speak for himself, but that will probably take some time.
Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW Lebanon. She tweets @haningdr