By Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai
For the first time since Lebanese independence in 1945, protestors in Lebanon have hit the streets to protest against the corruption of all political leaders currently in power. However, they were not alone: many of the over one and a half million Syrian refugees and seven hundred thousand Palestinian refugees in the country also participated. They all demanded reforms, and expressed anger over the corruption of Lebanese politicians, poor public services, and the mismanagement of economic resources.
The resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri will postpone, perhaps indefinitely, the implementation of the thirteen reform points proposed by the PM ad interim. This may lead in turn to another revolt if a vacuum imposes itself on the country. Yet how can a stable Lebanon still be important to those same countries who are willing to go after Hezbollah and weaken it from within?
Many protestors in the south of Lebanon accused Hezbollah’s Shia ally, head of the Amal movement and long-serving House Speaker Nabih Berri, along with his family members, of amassing hundreds of millions of dollars from illegal deals and imposing a forced partnership in substantial local projects in the south of Lebanon. A small number of protestors blamed Hezbollah for turning a blind eye to its Amal ally.
Hezbollah has its suspicions, according to well-informed sources: “there is no doubt that corruption, and grievances are hitting the whole of Lebanese society, including its youth. But after making demands that are impossible to meet, insults were directed against most political leaders, and chaos was the goal of protestors in these days. “
“When people go onto the streets for a very just cause and series of demands, there are in this context “watchers” who focus on the demonstrations’ longevity and efficiency in order to intervene at an opportune moment. Thus, Hezbollah looks carefully at the motives of those financing and benefitting from the general chaos in the country”, said the source.
Even the Governor of the Central Bank, Riad Salame, in an interview with the New York Times, accused Hezbollah indirectly of planning to remove him because he “abides by US sanctions”. Thus, a domestic Central Bank Governor openly expresses loyalty towards a foreign country (the US) which is imposing harsh sanctions on his fellow countrymen offering donations to Hezbollah, a group with Members in Parliament and ministers in the government. Only in Lebanon!
There is little doubt about the corruption in the Lebanese system: this is a country where every single leader has become a rich entrepreneur during, and certainly by the end of, his political career. There are public service employees who were given the authorisation to deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars daily in their bank accounts. Expensive gifts and money under the table (or even above it!) are part of the local culture and the exchange of services in the country, and operate according to different scales.
Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Nasrallah, decided a year ago to fight domestic corruption. His battle has not been successful because he needs the support of legislative and executive decision-makers. These players are, not unnaturally, unwilling to accommodate him (even his closest allies) because they all have skeletons in their closets.
Hezbollah finds itself with a large military force but which is certainly unsuitable for imposing the necessary domestic changes on the corrupt political system of this country. Hezbollah is facing the relatively ineffective but continuing sanctions of the US on its leaders. But sanctions on rich members of Shia society (and its allies) are having an effect. These financial attacks place a moral obligation on Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Nasrallah- who has warned he would not stay idle for very long.
As a group, Hezbollah doesn’t suffer directly from the US sanctions. It receives its financial support on a monthly basis from Iran, in cash, or through Iranian oil and other goods sold on the market. It has its own bank, al-Qard al-Hasan – the only domestic bank with no international link that is today providing any amount of money requested by their customers deposited in foreign currency, when all other banks, with international link, refused to give people their own savings but limited the withdrawal amount to $1500 per week – and has no business outside Lebanon. Its tens of thousands of militants receive their salaries – although salaries may sometimes be delayed, they are fully paid when the cash is available – and benefit from outstanding free of charge medical healthcare, and a tax-free private retirement system. This is what makes the group so attractive to young people and in particular to Shia graduates from universities, flocking to offer their services to be part of the group. Sayyed Nasrallah draws up the policy of the group and is observed by Israelis- more than the Lebanese- and politicians outside the Shia community. Hezbollah sympathizers are in fact more radical than Hezbollah militants in rebuffing any criticism of the group or its leader. These represent the backbone of Hezbollah, and the group owes its continuity to them.
Hezbollah is not in a position to render its allies accountable: its preferred intention is to support and stand by them. This is necessary to avoid inter-Shia clashes and to keep alliance with Christian partners, because the danger of a country facing chaos is now spreading out to contaminate all of Hezbollah’s allies.
Proofread by: C.G.B and Maurice Brasher
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