Lebanon's Shia show signs of discontent with Hizbullah

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

A poster for Shia candidate Abbas Mohammad Yaghi, who is running as part of an electoral list in opposition to Hizbullah in Baalbek-Hermel district, hangs above a street in Baalbek. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Mashareq]

A poster for Shia candidate Abbas Mohammad Yaghi, who is running as part of an electoral list in opposition to Hizbullah in Baalbek-Hermel district, hangs above a street in Baalbek. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Mashareq]

Shia opposition candidates running in Lebanon's upcoming parliamentary elections told Al-Mashareq they are hoping to capitalise on the community's growing discontent with Hizbullah.

Many voters in areas such as Baalbek-Hermel and South Lebanon -- Hizbullah's natural constituency -- hold the party responsible for the lack of development and resulting deprivation they are experiencing, they said.

Lebanon is set to hold parliamentary elections on May 6th for the first time in nine years, in accordance with a new electoral law based on proportional representation.

Emerging opposition

A large number of Shia opposition figures, including some former members of Hizbullah, are running in the parliamentary elections.

Among them is Sheikh Abbas al-Jawhari of Baalbek, who is heading an electoral list in the Baalbek-Hermel district that stands in opposition to Hizbullah's platform.

"Hizbullah and its ally, Amal, dominate the sect's political decision making," he told Al-Mashareq. "This has led to unilateralism in decision-making that has gotten us, as a sect, in serious trouble."

Today there are "clear signs" of resentment within the Shia community, he said, especially in the Bekaa Valley and South Lebanon, over poor services and general deprivation.

This resentment extends to Hizbullah’s foreign involvement and its provision of services to the "fronts to which it is committed", al-Jawhari added.

Many Lebanese Shia see Hizbullah as "synonymous with deprivation", he said, and the upcoming elections offer these people platform to express their opinion.

They now find among the candidates a group of moderate Shia, he said.

"The people of the region are dying of hunger and our youth are being killed in Syria under the pretext of resistance," said Baalbek native Yaghi, who asked to use a pseudonym.

Hizbullah has failed to implement development because it never gave the issue any attention, he told Al-Mashareq, adding that "we want to live with dignity".

Widening unease

Unease within Shia communities "has widened as a result of the deteriorating economic and social conditions" and because of Hizbullah’s control of public property and its perceived sectarianism, journalist Ali al-Amin told Al-Mashareq.

"Shias in the south and the Bekaa do not conceal their opposition to Hizbullah’s actions, which have embroiled Lebanon in problems with other countries," he said. "This has put [the Shia community] at risk and is making them face an uncertain future."

A number of community members are now expressing their objections, saying that Hizbullah's candidates for parliament "do not represent them", he added.

Al-Amin is running for the Shia parliamentary seat in Bint Jbeil on the Shaabna Heki (Our People Have Spoken) electoral list, along with three other candidates.

This electoral list sends a "message to the political forces in the south, stating that there is an opposing political nucleus that expresses the opinion and aspirations of a large segment of Shias", he said.

A large number of youth in traditional Hizbullah strongholds "see in our candidacy and activism an outlet for them, and some express that loudly while others do so quietly", al-Amin added.

General discontent

The general discontent about Hizbullah's deployment in Syria is evident at the funerals of dead fighters, said political analyst Habib Challouq.

Some bereaved families raise their voices in anger and call for an end to the hemorrhaging in the ranks of Shia youth, he told Al-Mashareq.

Public rejection of Hizbullah's actions inside and outside Lebanon is now acceptable, he added, with "many Shia candidates rushing to announce their candidacy for the elections".

Those seeking election have not been deterred by the existence of candidates Hizbullah and Amal have presented "in this or that electoral district", he noted.

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I just want to say Ben Yaghi and Ben al-Juhari that if it hadn't been for the shoes of Hezbullah and resistance, you would have been squashed by the takfiris. They would have also taken you for jihad annikah!