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They Can March Too: Hezbollah and the Politics of Staged Protests

Abhinav Aima
Date Published: 
March 07, 2005

from Beirut Indymedia US Neocon enthusiasts who have been slapping each other’s backs for the recent anti-Syria demonstrations in Beirut are going to face an inconvenient reality on Tuesday, March 8, when Hezbollah will lead a rally in support of Syria in Beirut. The announcement for the rally was made by Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who has drawn tens of thousands of followers to his rallies in the past. It is a show of strength designed to put into perspective the anti-Syrian Lebanese protests that have been the topic of news coverage for the last two weeks, and have been described as spontaneous and courageous. There has, however, been no investigation by the media of why the Syrian involvement in former Lebanese premiere Hariri’s assassination has been reported as fact, and how come thousands of Lebanese demonstrators spontaneously pulled out thousands of Lebanese flags and identical red and white sashes in the Beirut square. The presence of large screen TVs and the complex technical infrastructure behind the demonstrations raises questions regarding who is funding and directing the media campaign behind Lebanon’s velvet revolution. These questions have, predictably, not been asked by the American news media. In his article titled “Information Warriors” Pratap Chatterjee, of, highlights how American companies, such as Rendon and Hill & Knowlton, have been hired in the past to manage the U.S. government’s attempts to spin incidents and events in foreign countries. The staging of protests and rallies, it would seem, falls nicely into the toolbox of propaganda experts. The Beirut rallies, for instance, have completely drowned out the issue of investigating the Hariri assassination and have instead brought criticism of Syria into the forefront of media coverage. If one were to suspect motives for the Hariri murder on the basis of who benefited the most from his death, the Syrians would be the last possible suspects, coming far behind Israel and the United States who have also organized operations to murder public figures in Lebanon in the past. However, thanks to the rallies and protests, this is now a moot issue. Also ignored in the American news media are the possible problems created by a withdrawal of Syrian troops, such as the status of armed Palestinian refugees. Syria enforces a cease fire between the Palestinian refugees and the Lebanese, whereby the 120,000 Palestinians in Lebanon can keep their weapons inside of their refugee camps but not bring them out. Similarly, no armed Lebanese are allowed inside the camps. I witnessed and reported on the dangers of armed groups inside Palestinian refugee camps in 2003 after Palestinians were accused of attacking Rafik Hariri’s television station in Beirut. Any Lebanese attempt to disarm the Palestinians after a Syrian withdrawal will create conditions similar to those that led to the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon in 1975, and the camp wars with Amal in the 1980s. Syria also enforces the Taif Agreements protocol for the disarming of all confessional militias. A withdrawal of Syrian troops and intelligence officers will open the Lebanese soil for various countries interested in rearming their allies from the civil war. The possibility that Lebanon will again become the staging ground for other countries’ wars is all too real given the frail nature of the Lebanese armed forces that may not be able to disarm the militias. Also interesting is the reemergence of the old warlords dressed in the garb of campaigners for democracy. Amin Gemayel, who was “elected” Lebanese president by the American-backed Israeli forces in 1982, promptly signed a peace accord with Israel only to find it impossible to enforce. Gemayel is back in the forefront of media attention as a prominent spokesperson of the Beirut protests, and his Reagan-era allies are once again smiling kindly upon him. Hezbollah’s rally will challenge the Bush administration’s plans for a new, improved docile Lebanon by drawing upon the various factions of Lebanese political parties that support Syria’s involvement in Lebanon. Putting feet on the ground in Beirut will also provide perspective to those who believe, incorrectly, that the coming parliamentary elections in Lebanon will bring in an anti-Syrian government and weaken Hezbollah. The opposite is true – the removing of the Syrian yoke will enable Hezbollah to win more seats in parliament. This is because Syria has interfered with the parliamentary elections in Lebanon since 1992 in order to strengthen Amal, the secular Lebanese Shiite party which is allied to Syria. While Hezbollah has a strategic relationship with Syria, it is Amal that has the historical strong ties with Syria, as Amal’s leader Imam Musa Sadr helped qualify the Islamic credentials of Syrian president Hafez Assad when Syria faced a Sunni fundamentalist revolt in the 1970s. Assad’s war on the Muslim revolt climaxed with the destruction of Hama in 1980. Syria’s support for Amal is manifested in its curbing of Hezbollah’s political aspirations, and the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, who has to be a Shia by constitutional law, is Amal leader Nabih Berri. However, despite of Syria’s interference in Lebanon’s elections, Hezbollah still has the largest single political block in the Lebanese parliament. Hezbollah’s real political strength, of course, can be found in the results of the municipal elections, where it sweeps almost all constituencies it contests. This is largely in keeping with the support it enjoys from over a third of the Shiite population in Lebanon, for which it provides social welfare services ranging from education to medical care. In fact, democracy and fair elections will benefit Islamists in most Arab and Muslim countries, where they form the largest organized opposition to American-supported dictatorships and monarchies. In Gaza, for example, Hamas swept the municipal elections but did not contest the presidential elections. The Muslim Brotherhood, formed by Hassan al Banna in 1928, is the largest opposition block to the government of President Hosni Mubarak, but has been banned from taking part in elections. If Mubarak allows the Brotherhood to take part in his much touted presidential elections they could displace him and prove to be a nuisance to the United States and Israel. The popularity of the Islamist groups can be attributed to their anti-U.S. foreign policy stand, which reflects the concerns of the poor and politically weak masses. The results of American policies in these countries are contrary to the interests of the masses who, if allowed to choose their won government, will pick representatives hostile to the United States. In the least, democracy in Arab and Muslim countries will curb American exploitation of their natural resources and curtail American military relations. This is the reality of the Middle East that the Bush administration and the Neocons have dismissed and refused to accept. The lapdogs for the administration in the conservative press have frequently rebuffed arguments regarding the political power of Islamists as fiction created by liberal academics, godless communists and satanic homosexuals. But when they face this reality, as they have in Iraq, the powers that be will need to create devices and mechanisms to control Arab and Muslim “freedom and liberty” by empowering the police and military institutions of these states. This model, carried out with brutality in Central and South America, makes a mockery of democracy as it reduces free societies to paranoid police states. Tuesday’s rally in Beirut will not, of course, survive the propaganda and spin in the American news media. The supporters of Syria will, almost certainly, be described as radicals and fanatics allied with terrorists and murderers. But these “fanatics” will also be the ones who will play a crucial part in shaping the Lebanese government should democracy be allowed to flourish there after a Syrian withdrawal. If the promise of democracy turns out to be only an American-made window dressing designed to exploit their country, as under the American privatization of Iraqi industry under Paul Bremer’s infamous Order 39, these “fanatics” will be the ones lining up to pick up guns and bombs against the United States. The democracy that flows down the barrel of a gun will only create a harvest of bullets.