Analysis

Awaited Imam Fund: a Hizbullah public relations ploy

By Nohad Topalian

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Protesters gather for a demonstration against dire economic conditions in Beirut's southern suburb, Hizbullah's stronghold, on June 11. [Anwar Amro/AFP]

BEIRUT -- Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah's launch of a new fund to assist families in areas where the party wields influence is a public relations move designed to deflect attention from the crisis it is facing, analysts said.

Nasrallah announced he was creating the Awaited Imam Fund in a March 23 circular, claiming the fund was designed to support needy families amid the country's burgeoning economic crisis.

Residents of Hizbullah-dominated areas have been expressing their distress at the situation they find themselves in on social media, with many saying it is Nasrallah's responsibility to help them.

Videos and posts have circulated on social media lately with many identifying themselves as Shia telling Nasrallah, "We are hungry despite your promises".

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A man sits in front of a closed money exchange office in Beirut on November 29, 2019. [Joseph Eid/AFP]

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A street in Beirut's Hizbullah stronghold near the airport is named after the founder of the Islamic Republic, Rouhollah Khomeini. Iran's funding for Hizbullah has faltered in recent years, contributing to the increasing hardships afflicting the party's base in Lebanon. [Ramzi Hage/Al-Mashareq]

In the circular, Nasrallah claims this is what prompted him to launch the fund.

He claims the fund was envisioned as a result of the party's "legitimate and moral responsibility to stand by those who supported the resistance", and calls on Hizbullah's fighters to contribute to its establishment.

Analysts who spoke to Al-Mashareq regard the establishment of the fund as evidence that the party's financial crisis is deeply impacting the group's base in Beirut's southern suburb, the Bekaa Valley and the country's south.

"Nasrallah's launch of the fund and his call on the well-to-do among his supporters to donate to it are a clear indication of the severity of the internal crisis Hizbullah is facing," said political writer Elias al-Zoghbi.

This has caused Nasrallah to try hard to appease the party's base, "which is becoming increasingly uneasy and upset over his involvement in the region's wars" and by the high cost of this intervention, in terms of both money and lives, he said.

The establishment of the fund "confirms that Hizbullah is facing a real financial crisis, after being subjected to harsh US sanctions and the severance of its financial arteries", he said, referring to the money flowing in from expatriates.

Iranian funding for Hizbullah has also faltered in recent years because of sanctions on the regime and the economic crisis Iran itself is confronting.

Public relations ploy

According to political analyst Ali al-Amin, Nasrallah's decision to launch the fund is merely "another attempt by Hizbullah to assert its control over the general situation and the management of its interests in the country".

The move is intended to give a good impression, he said, and to signal that the party "is extending assistance amid the difficult economic and financial conditions in the country".

But Hizbullah is unlikely to be able to meet this challenge, al-Amin added, as it "won't be able to absorb the crisis under the pressure of sanctions and successive crises and the decline of what it extracts from the state".

He pointed out that the poverty rate has risen dramatically throughout Lebanon, and not just in areas under Hizbullah's tutelage.

The launch of the fund "is a cover for Hizbullah's inability to meet the demands of its base", he added, and is no more than a public relations ploy to cover up the crisis the party is facing.

The reality of the situation is that Hizbullah covers the needs of 10% of its base, he explained, and cannot meet the needs of the others who were impacted by the party's financial crisis.

"It has become clear to all of us that Hizbullah is in dire straits financially because of the US sanctions imposed on it," and because a growing number of countries have designated it as a terrorist group, Tyre activist Amal Wazni said.

This has led to the severance of some of its revenue streams.

Iran's financial collapse "no longer makes up for the shortfall in the party's budget, so [Nasrallah] had to resort to launching the Awaited Imam Fund, imbuing it with holiness by giving it a religious name as he [typically] does in times of major crisis," Wazni said.

Nasrallah's call for donations is intended "to give a clear impression that the raised funds are legitimate [sanctioned by sharia] and designated for 'sacred work', namely the Iranian project," she said.

"This underscores the serious crisis besieging the party, and is clearly reflected in the reduction of financial and other support to its loyalists," she added.

Troubles out in the open

The cries emanating from areas under Hizbullah's tutelage in the south, the Bekaa Valley and Beirut's southern suburb are beginning to be voiced in the open, Wazni said.

"We hear this cry, as well as the criticism [of the party] in discussions taking place in homes, cafés and workplaces," she said.

The party constructed its own system that operates in parallel to state institutions, including health, educational, financial and service institutions, she said, noting that it has recently reduced its free services.

In one such example, Hizbullah's al-Qard al-Hassan has come under scrutiny this year, raising red flags about the party's parallel banking system and the threat it poses to Lebanon's economy.

Amid the current crisis, the party has limited its financial and in-kind contributions to its fighters and has thrown some crumbs to its wider base, with promises of repaying their patience at a later date, Wazni said.

Ultimately, however, this will adversely impact Hizbullah's system and the party itself.

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You won’t get rid of your illusions and hatreds because whoever used to be hypocrite in their words and stances against the resistance is definitely sick and mentally disturbed. Those who don’t know the thought and approach of the mandate of Ali bin Abi Talib (peace be upon him) won’t know the truth even if they claim to be Shiite. This is because they are paid hypocrites who beg for the crumbs of what their devilish masters give. Those who live just to eat are worse than animals; rather, animals are more honourable than them because animals rely on their instincts. As to those who are supposedly human and say they have brains, I say to you that you’re a burden on humanity. You have your religion and we have ours! Allah is enough for a protector, and Allah is enough for a Helper!

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