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Lebanese leftist side with the protests, against Hezbollah


The resignation of journalists from the newspaper Al-Akhbar has highlighted a growing resentment within circles close to the "resistance".

Lebanese leftists who did not side with the March 14 protests in 2005 are well known for their staunch support of the “resistance” against Israel. Today, they are also at the heart of the revolution, but find themselves confronting a dilemma: how can they reconcile their support for Hezbollah with their participation in a popular protest movement that the party derides.

Since the revolt began on October 17, the presence of leftist activists has been noticeable in the demonstrations, especially in south Lebanon where they have a strong influence. Activists from the Lebanese Communist Party, and groups close to it, have played an important role in protests organized in Nabatieh, Kfar Remmane and Tyre, so much so that many observers believe that the uprising in these areas, firmly in Hezbollah’s sphere of influence, was in fact initiated by left-wing activists.

In the ongoing standoff between the ruling political class, which Hezbollah is an integral part of, and the protest movement denouncing the perversion of the political system as a whole, leftists are being forced to make a decision.

Unlike the rest of the protesters, who have openly criticized Hezbollah, many leftists initially tried to spare the party by chanting socio-political slogans, against the Central Bank, for example, to avoid touching on sensitive subjects like Hezbollah’s weapons. Many also reiterated that the uprising is not directed against the “Islamic resistance” per se, but rather against the inefficiency and corruption of political leaders.

But by demonizing the uprising, Hezbollah's general secretary Hassan Nasrallah has alienated the protesters: he clearly stated that the movement is being controlled by outside forces, pushing some key leftist figures to take a stand.

Discomfort and unease

In a sign of the growing split, four journalists have resigned from the pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar, which employs a large number of leftist on its staff. In a tweet, Mohammad Zbeeb, head of the paper’s economic section, said that he made his decision to "protest against the position taken by the management of the newspaper in regard to the uprising".

Another Al-Akhbar journalist, Joy Slim, wrote on Twitter that she was "disappointed by the way the newspaper covered the uprising" and by the way Al-Akhbar "rushed to join the ranks of the counter-revolution by endorsing the theories of provocative plots that fueled street violence and attacks on citizens".

Slim also denounced the writings of the editor in chief Ibrahim el-Amine, who claimed that the uprising is "suspicious and funded by foreign embassies".

On Tuesday, two other journalists announced their resignation from Al-Akhbar via Twitter: Viviane Akiki said that she did so "for professional reasons related to the coverage by Al-Akhbar of the popular uprising". Sabah Ayoub followed suit.

The resignations were a result of recent developments in the street and the state of confusion that leftist activists have been in for some time now, according to Tanio Daibes, an independent left-wing activist.

"The newspaper in question has never hidden its political orientation. From the start, the journalists knew what to expect, except that since the beginning of the revolution, they could no longer bring together their need to defend the protests and grievances of the street to that of continuing their unconditional support for Hezbollah," Daibes says.

A large number of left-wing activists have felt a deep sense of unease since the "resistance", which they perceive as a legitimate global movement, came under the total control of one man, Hassan Nasrallah, who has relegated "the entire Party to his own person” and has misguided the cause that was initially defended, according to Daibes.

The tipping point

The left lost its original patron with the fall of the Soviet Union, but found common ideological ground with Hezbollah in the struggle to counter "American imperialism, neocolonialism and Zionism”. The alliance began to deteriorate due to “the involvement of the resistance in regional conflicts," according to Mohammad Ali Moukalled, a political analyst close to the Communist Party.

"The new generation of the left is no longer convinced of the legitimacy of the resistance in the way it manifests itself today and the legitimacy of this cause. It is now aware and alert that Hezbollah no longer really fights imperialism and neocolonialism," Moukalled says.

The tipping point was "the support provided by Hezbollah to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, who murdered his own people. The crackdown on the protesters through violence both in the South and in Beirut last week was a defining point," he adds.

The weight of the economic crisis in Lebanon has also deeply affected the younger generation of some of Hezbollah’s leftist supporters and pushed them away from the party. Social and economic demands have taken precedence over strategic issues. As the situation inside of Lebanon has become a priority for these activists, they grew frustrated with Hezbollah’s persistent effort to preserve and defend a political class that has led the country to the verge of collapse.

Rq: this article was updated on 5/11/2019 after two recent resignations of al-Akhbar journalists.

(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 5th of November)

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