As Lebanon sinks into poverty, the Iran-backed Hezbollah are facing growing resistance and backlash from the Lebanese.
The irate people fear that Hezbollah are provoking a war with Israel which could have apocalyptic consequences on a country already beset with multiple crisis, dramatic currency crash and acute shortage in medicine and fuel.
The anger has spread in recent months, even in Hezbollah strongholds where many have protested electricity cuts and fuel shortages as well as the currency crash that has plunged more than half the country’s 6 million people into penury.
People note that Hezbollah is paying salaries in US dollars at a time when most Lebanese get paid in Lebanese currency, which has lost more than 90 per cent of its value in nearly two years.
Protests and scuffles have broken out at gas stations around Lebanon and in some Hezbollah strongholds. In rare shows of defiance, groups of protesters have also closed key roads in those areas south of Beirut and in southern Lebanon.
In recent speeches, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has however called it an instigated from a “black room” inside the US Embassy.
Critics say that rather than push for reform, Hezbollah has stood by its political allies who resist change.
Where Hezbollah was once considered an almost sacred, untouchable force fighting for a noble cause — the fight against the Israeli enemy — it is now seen by many simply as part of the corrupt political clique responsible for the country’s epic meltdown.
While the government has been working for months to issue ration cards to poor families, Hezbollah has been well ahead. It has issued two such cards to poor families living in Hezbollah bastions, one called Sajjad after the name of a Shiite imam, and a second called Nour, or light, for its fighters and employees of its institutions who number about 80,000.
The tens of thousands carrying Sajjad cards not only can buy highly subsidized products from dozens of shops spread around Lebanon but can also get medical treatment and advice at 48 Hezbollah-run clinics and medical centers around Lebanon.
Nasrallah is also organizing a sea corridor carrying oil from Iran to Lebanon to help alleviate the fuel shortages, with the first tanker believed to be on its way. The move has been praised by Hezbollah’s supporters and heavily criticized by its opponents, who say it risks bringing more sanctions on Lebanon.
The widely feared group has been hammered by accusations from its local opponents. They include silencing its opponents, facilitating smuggling of fuel and other subsidized items to neighboring Syria, and alienating oil-rich Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, leading them to halt financial assistance because of Hezbollah’s dominance of Lebanon.
The most serious charge has been a claim by opponents at home that the group brought in the hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate that exploded at Beirut’s port last year, killing at least 214 people, wounding thousands and destroying parts of the capital.
No direct connection to Hezbollah has emerged, but unsubstantiated theories that tie the group to the stockpile abound.
“Hezbollah’s agencies are active at the port and this is known to security agencies and all Lebanese. Why is Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah above questioning?” asked Samy Gemayel, head of the right-wing Christian Kataeb Party recently.
“There is an attempt to satanize Hezbollah and tarnish its image,” said Lebanese University political science professor Sadek Naboulsi.
A serious test for Hezbollah came in early August when a funeral of a militant came under fire by suspected Sunni gunmen on the southern entrance of Beirut. Three Hezbollah supporters were killed and 16 were wounded in the shooting in the town of Khaldeh.