Hezbollah’s strategy to play on sectarian division just proved it’s become expired.
Such discourse is neither acceptable nor applicable anymore to any Lebanese mindset, not even Hezbollah’s own constituency.
On the exceptional occasion of the National Conference of “Palestine Is Victorious” on Monday, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hasssan Nasrallah held a speech broadcasted as usual on local channels like the state TV TeleLiban and Hezbollah’s own Al-Manar. The conference was under the title of “Renewing the Media Discourse”.
The chosen channels to broadcast this conference themselves, along with the conference ad sent on whatsapp news groups that are known to have a Hezbollah audience, hint at the fact that this speech was not meant to be heard by the entire country, but only by Hezbollah’s constituency.
A wave of sarcasm on social media attacked the introduction by the host: the presenter referred to the Hezbollah leader as “Mar Hassan Nasrallah” (“Mar” is Arabic for “saint” for the Lebanese Christians) and he explained that it means “Sayyed” (a descendent of the Prophet) and that was to show as a sign of unity between Muslims and Christians.
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Nasrallah has a portfolio of 20 years of sectarian speeches, and this joke couldn’t be swallowed easily, not even by his supporters.
Over the past 2o years, many in Lebanon have noticed that much of the party’s so-called “victories” were not as rewarding as was illustrated by Hezbollah media campaigns, especially when it comes to the 2006 July war. Many believe that this war’s primary goal was to reinstate Hezbollah into a leading role after Rafik Hariri’s assassination and a long sequence of killings that brought fingers pointing at the Party of God, particularly considering their lack of achievments after the liberation of Lebanon in 2000.
As more Lebanese have begun rejecting sectarian discourse since October 17, 2019, Nasrallah changed his language around lines of division, redefining the “us vs. them” discourse from “shia vs all other religions” to, more recently, “the axis followers in all the countries vs. opposition”. This comes after the rise of opposition groups in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen and Iran.
Especially that on its turf, in Lebanon, a part of Hezbollah’s constituency started losing confidence in Nasrallah’s vision, while another part has become tired and unmotivated due to the hardships they experience daily.
In fact, Nasrallah’s media renewal speech was internal business. It was, above all, an attempt at rallying supporters, of reassuring them of the righteousness of the party’s cause as people fight on the streets for a gallon of fuel, and as the Party has come repeatedly under attack for being part of a corrupt establishment.
Media as a regiment
Nasrallah began his speech by informing the audience that the evolution of the “all-out confrontation” that includes military, political, security, and economic confrontations should also include media.
The media should be developed from Hezbollah’s side to cope with the political changes in the region and technological advances affecting media, he said.
During the speech, Nasrallah turned Palestine into an argument to calibrate his audience’s mindset in comparing “Us” (him and his audience) with “Them” (all other media outlets from whichever country they may be; it wouldn’t matter, Israel is still behind everything else in his narrative.)
He tried to emphasise on a media win he allowed himself to take credit for. Palestinian activists, journalists, influencers and news outlets that exposed injustices and human rights violations to the whole world were used to give Hezbollah’s media credibility for “achieving goals even after a long time”.
In this case, he could’ve taken the opportunity to praise the Palestinian people’s resilience in the face of pain and difficulty, and to indicate that existential battles can be fruitful. But he used the same rhetoric that Lebanese people can’t stand, the rhetoric of “fatherly” leaders who give people advice to be patient and resilient.
Naming the opponent in Lebanon’s situation as the “Israeli and American” threats wasn’t very convincing for many who listened to the speech, as that also means that many Lebanese are labeled, falsely, as having a foreign agenda or serving one of these countries.
He emphasized US domination, the Zionist project and their greed, and the threat they pose to the people of the region, warning against dismantling the confrontation against these two actors.
Ironically, Nasrallah actually highlights the “US domination strategy” of infiltrating the region’s governments to achieve “direct occupation”. He gives Iraq as an example.
Ironically, I say, because it is exactly the same strategy Iran uses to strengthen its foothold in the region, to sponsor Shiite Islamist militias and help them infiltrate governments. Lebanon is an example, Iraq itself is another.
He mentioned US forces’ attacks against the Iran-backed Hashed Shaabi Shiite militias of Iraq that are “just like Hezbollah followers in Lebanon”. They are, indeed, truth be told.
The righteous cause
“The Moukawama media have points of strength that all other media outlets lack,” he said. The first of these strengths, he claimed, “You are standing for something righteous when you stand for Syria, Palestine and Lebanon to get their occupied lands back from Israel and the right of our nation to decide their destiny to be away from the American domination,” he added.
With various political groups in Lebanon calling to avoid becoming entrenched in further regional turmoil on behalf of foreign powers, this is a direction that the country can’t afford to take in its current weak position.
The second strength is power, he said, listing Hezbollah’s war victories, including the 2006 war which is still controversial. The media is part of the resistance, therefore part of the victory.
The third point was to praise Hezbollah’s “know your enemy” enemy strategy. Hezbollah is able to collect information at a regional level and praises its media for reporting the “truth”.
The last point of strength was confirming Hezbollah’s media as one of the “rare honest sources”, claiming that Israelis refer to Hezbollah’s media to confirm the news, he said.
What Nasrallah wrongly interpreted here is the reason behind the need of the Israeli people to check Hezbollah sources; whereas usually most people check facts from the opposing side out of lack of confidence in their governments, Nasrallah interpreted this as a sign of overconfidence in Hezbollah’s credibility.
A surprise lay in Nasrallah’s renewal of an expired promise to remove the Zionist presence from the region, and that getting Al Quds back from the Zionists would happen very soon. He assured everyone that there is no exaggeration in this promise.
In fact, with Zionism’s reputation failing worldwide, both sides are most likely to fight it off at a negotiations table titled “Maritime Borders Demarcation’.
Emotions and facts
Resilience was again mentioned, giving the example of Palestinians watching their houses getting destroyed and remaining patient, baring the circumstances peacefully.
After this emotional sentiment, he asked his audience to start engaging and speaking up facts. A duality he commits once again by describing emotions as facts, “because when you speak the word goes from heart to heart”, quickly turning from pragmatism to emotion..
Nasrallah accused media outlets of intending to forge an audience, while Hezbollah itself created an audience and maintained it with its media wing as much as it did with its military wing. It is worth remembering that Hezbollah and the Amal Movement gained control over their Shiite constituencies after a bloody war between them in the 1980s, which forced Shiites into compliance.
Later, he tackles “misleading/false” information published by opposing media that are not being able to defend the enemy, Israel. He claimed that this inability to defend Israel turned into attacking Hezbollah as a means to support the Zionist agenda in the region.
Nasrallah gave an example of the Iraqi opposition to Iran, accusing them of pretense nationalism while they are actually “traitors, betrayers and Zionists”.
He then described Iran-backed militias in Iraq as protectors of their countries’ sovereignty and resources. It was simple to expand the same narrative to all groups in countries where Iran backs proxies, generalizing the idea that Hezbollah is only held accountable for various disasters without being given the credit for its victories.
A statement made sarcastically by Instagram-based publication Megaphone went viral when Nasrallah accused American domination of imposing a blockade on Lebanon in order to busy the population with searching for jobs, fuel, medicine, money, and basic necessities in order to prevent them from thinking and analyzing.
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Nasrallah also listed many other reasons for the crisis, which he described as external. None were in any way related to Hezbollah, although the group should carry responsibility for the monopoly practices in economy, corruption, and fuel crisis.
Commenting on the fuel crisis, Nasrallah claimed he did not know the reason behind the crisis, although the smuggling to Syria happens in Hezbollah-controlled areas. “Some will come and tell us what about smuggling? I tell them to go and stop the smuggling and tell me what is the percentage of smuggling?” he said.
He admits to this after two years of denying it in his speeches.
Everyone else’s fault
In the last few minutes of his speech, he placed blame on everyone.
He blamed politicians for not being ready to take the risk of getting sanctioned and named on the “Honor List”, as he calls the list of sanctions.
He blamed US Ambassador Dorothy Shae for not allowing donations to Lebanon.
He blamed politicians for not going east (China, Iran) to ask for help.
He blamed Lebanese people for “lack of consciousness”.
He blamed the private sector actors that traditionally did business with Syria of cutting ties with Damascus for fear of Western sanctions.
Obviously, Nasrallah mentions every violation by a Lebanese politician that does not come in his favor. But the key may be in that he doesn’t blame others for locking bank deposits, raising questions over the involvement of Hezbollah in this strategy in October 2019. The move came in parallel with Hezbollah and Amal’s direct attacks on protesters, especially on those coming from their own constituencies.
Nasrallah also slammed the investigation into the Beirut explosion, accusing it of being politicized because no judge was suspected. He also labeled it unprofessional because the suspects were informed of the charges against them by the media.
What Nasrallah is obviously trying to do is change the shape of the ‘us vs. them’ duality, yet keep it implanted in the minds of supporters to avoid any form of unity, to protect the conflicts, and to maintain instability.
He is seeking to promote an Iranian expansion plan, aiming for the removal of Israel from the map. But Hezbollah itself proved it couldn’t manage one city.
At the end of the day, looking at the achievements Nasrallah so much praises versus the consequences of Hezbollah’s actions, we can easily tell he was the biggest Arab servant of the Zionist-Iranian agenda at the expense of all countries, regardless if this was the intention or the failure of another plan.
Mariam Kesserwan is a Lebanese civic activist who was part of the 2015 You Stink movement. During the October 17, 2019 protests she founded the @LebanonUprising page on Instagram, a well-known outlet that exposes corruption and violations.
The opinions expressed are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the views of NOW.