Analysts See Anti-Hezbollah Sentiment Rising in Lebanon

Analysts See Anti-Hezbollah Sentiment Rising in Lebanon

Anti-Hezbollah sentiment is growing in Lebanon, especially among the country’s Christian population following the continuing impasse over the election of a president and the recent death of a Lebanese Christian in a shootout with Hezbollah.

The Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah political party enjoyed some degree of legitimacy in Lebanon because of its governing alliance with former President Michel Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement, says Lebanese analyst Dania Koleilat Khatib.

But the relationship became strained over Hezbollah’s repeated demand for Suleiman Frangieh to become president, a post traditionally held by a Christian. The Free Patriotic Movement and other Christian politicians have united to reject him. Although Frangieh is a Christian, he has aligned with Hezbollah and has close ties to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, a truck full of Hezbollah weapons overturned in the Christian town of Kahale recently, sparking clashes between Hezbollah gunmen and residents. One Christian and one Hezbollah member were killed. These incidents are roiling Christians and other Lebanese who say they are fed up with Hezbollah’s dominance and want to regain control, Khatib told VOA. Khatib is the president of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building in Beirut.

“There is a big push back from Christians. It’s not only the issue of president,” Khatib said. “They feel their presence, their existence is being threatened. Hezbollah still doesn’t realize that the show of power is creating a backlash. They still have the mentality: ‘We are powerful. We don’t need to compromise.’”

Khatib said some Lebanese have told her they want federalism to decrease Hezbollah’s power while others say they want a state separate from Shiite power. They said they need arms to fight to divide the country because they cannot live with Hezbollah and its supporters.

Lebanese economist Nadim Shehadi, writing in Saudi Arabia’s Arab News, said, “But not all federalists agree on the same formula or have the same rationale. The common theme is that, if we cannot live with an armed Hezbollah and we cannot fight it or disarm it, then the alternative is some degree of separation.”

Michael Young of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut said Hezbollah has done the Christian community repeated harm in the past three years.

“Christians hold the party responsible for the ammonium nitrate explosion at Beirut port in August 2020, which destroyed large swathes of Beirut’s mostly Christian-majority quarters. Hezbollah is suspected of having stored the material,” Young wrote in Dubai’s The National newspaper.

Young said Hezbollah’s claim that it protects Lebanon against Israel is wearing thin even among some in the Shiite community, as the militants use the threat of war against Israel to maintain its military and political control, while other Lebanese are wary of another civil war eruptin

“The sectarian pushback at home appears to have led the party to try reshaping the disintegrating Lebanese order around its interests,” Young wrote. “This reflects hubris. As Hezbollah imposes its way, Lebanon’s other communities will increasingly resist whatever the party initiates.”

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