Politics

Calls grow for dissolution of Hizbullah's March 8 Alliance

By Nohad Topalian

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A Lebanese demonstrator carries an umbrella, with a quote that reads "It's not raining, we are spitting on you" printed over the portraits of politicians including Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah, FPM leader Gibran Bassil and President Michel Aoun, during a demonstration marking the first anniversary of a non-sectarian protest movement, in Beirut on October 17, 2020. [Anwar Amro/AFP]

BEIRUT -- Lebanon has struggled to implement real reforms that will unlock crucial aid because Hizbullah is holding the country hostage and controlling all levers of power in state institutions, officials and analysts warn.

The solution, they say, is to break the alliance between the Iran-backed Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), led by Christian politician Gebran Bassil, the son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, who founded the FPM.

The party's alliance with the movement, which dates back to 2006, gave Hizbullah a Christian cover and freed its hand to dominate Lebanon's political scene.

However, signs of a discord between the FPM and Hizbullah have been brewing for a while, with Bassil saying on more than one occasion that there are disagreements over internal matters, reforms and external issues, and has hinted at the possibility of leaving the party.

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Hizbullah members raise a flag bearing portraits of slain Hizbullah military leader Imad Moghniyeh and Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani on January 3, 2021. [Ali DIA / AFP]

After the US slapped sanctions on Bassil on November 6, accusing him of corruption and ties to Hizbullah, he said in an interview with Al-Hadath TV that he is willing to break his ties with the party "if Lebanon is given an acceptable price for that".

He stipulated "a US and international commitment to strengthen Lebanon, reclaim its land and return Syrian refugees [to their home country]".

The disaccord between Hizbullah and the FPM came to a head when Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) aerospace commander Ali Hajizadeh told Al-Manar TV on January 2 that "all the missile capabilities that Gaza and Lebanon possess were acquired with Iran's support, and they are the frontline for the confrontation".

This prompted Aoun to respond on Twitter: "The Lebanese have no partner in preserving the independence of their homeland and its sovereignty over its borders, territory and freedom of decision."

The FPM also issued a statement saying that "any support cannot be conditional on giving up national sovereignty or engaging in matters that do not concern the Lebanese".

"We will not be a line of defence for any other country, and we refuse to have Lebanon thrust into any conflict," FPM-affiliated caretaker Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe said in an interview with Nidaa al-Watan daily.

Isolated Lebanon

Hizbullah is "a terrorist [party] that is holding Lebanon hostage and controls all its levers of power for the benefit of" the Iranian regime and its "narcissistic" agenda that is domineering the region, said former MP and opposition minister Mouin al-Merehbi.

"Hizbullah isolated Lebanon from the world, and with the support of its main allies -- the FPM and other March 8 forces -- is blocking the implementation of real reforms," he said.

Reforms "will not see the light of day as long as Hizbullah is present, as it is blocking the formation of a government of technocrats and will continue to have a grip on any government that may be formed", he said.

"The international community will not pay a penny to Lebanon" as long as there is a risk it will be "stolen and spent on the corrupt ruling class which is protected by Hizbullah's weapons", al-Merehbi said.

The solution "is to break the alliance between the FPM and Hizbullah", he said.

The call to break the alliance with Hizbullah was echoed by political analyst Tony Mrad, who said the events and developments of recent years, since the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon in 2005, "have proven that Hizbullah is the problem for Lebanon".

The party has obstructed the formation of governments and presidential and parliamentary elections between 2009 and 2018, using its weapons as leverage, he said.

"Hizbullah has participated in governments and is engaging in obstruction from within and outside, owing to the fact that the FPM provided it with political and moral cover as part of the agreement between the two sides that allowed Michel Aoun to ascend to the presidency," Mrad said.

As a result, Arab and foreign investments fled the country, and talks between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Lebanon have been deadlocked for months.

Hizbullah's involvement in the Syrian war and its refusal to disarm has caused Lebanon to "fall into Iran's lap" to the detriment of its relations with the international community, Mrad said, stressing the need to confront the party.

"Holding early parliamentary elections is the main gateway to weakening Hizbullah and the FPM because the movement will lose a number of its seats as its popularity has declined in the wake of sanctions on its president," he said.

Corruption, smuggling

Illegal crossings between Lebanon and Syria, most of which are controlled by Hizbullah, facilitate the smuggling of weapons, fighters and other goods into and out of the country, according to political and military sources.

Iran has used the party to support its military operations and to fill its coffers even as the Lebanese economy is collapsing.

Hizbullah is "responsible for all the corruption and loss of billions of dollars from smuggling operations to Syria", said political activist Ahmed al-Sayed.

"It is also behind the massive waste in the electricity sector and fake projects that enriched its ally the FPM," he said.

Bassil, a former energy minister, previously faced criticism for his failure to resolve Lebanon's ongoing issues with the dysfunctional electricity system, which relies heavily on generators and is riddled with corruption.

FPM and Hizbullah have controlled the Ministry of Energy and Water for years, and politicians have been accused of distributing free electricity to their constituents, including those in Beirut's Hizbullah-controlled southern suburbs.

Al-Sayed also blamed the collapse of the banking sector and corresponding rise of the Hizbullah-affiliated al-Qard al-Hasan association on the party.

Recent activity around al-Qard al-Hasan has drawn unwelcome attention to the so-called charity, raising red flags about the party's parallel banking system and the threat this poses to Lebanon's economy.

The March 8 Alliance "has entrenched corruption", hindered reform projects, and caused the collapse of the security, military and financial system, al-Sayed said.

"The dismantling of this alliance will accelerate Hizbullah's collapse and put the reforms on the front burner, and thus pave the way for Lebanon to obtain the desired aid," he said.

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