Hezbollah's Syria role risks eroding support base in Lebanon

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DAHIYE sandbagsDAHIYEH, Lebanon —The streets of this Hezbollah bastion on the southern edge of Beirut once bustled with squealing schoolchildren, well-to-do merchants and bargain-hunting shoppers, a testament to the group’s success in lifting its fellow Lebanese Shiite Muslims out of poverty and illiteracy.

But Dahiyeh’s avenues are now largely deserted and many of its shops are shut or protected by sandbags, after a series of bombings in retaliation for the hundreds of Hezbollah fighters sent to neighboring Syria to fight for President Bashar al-Assad.

The fear and worry that pervade Hezbollah’s Beirut stronghold now threaten to erode the so far unbreakable ties between the political and militant group’s leadership and its implacable supporters.

If Hezbollah cannot supply Shiites with the same security and prosperity that fueled its emergence as a powerful force not only in Lebanon but elsewhere in the Middle East, it could lose political support, Dahiyeh residents said.

Since the start of the year, extremist groups supporting the anti-Assad insurgency in Syria have carried out seven attacks on Shiite neighborhoods across Lebanon. Four of the attacks have targeted Dahiyeh, killing 18 people and wounding 117.

It is Hezbollah’s success in forging a more educated, Shiite middle class in a country where Shiites were traditionally disenfranchised that has helped fan dissent over its decision to fight in Syria. Now that Shiites have a significant economic stake in Lebanon, they don’t want it squandered in a destabilizing war that harms their livelihoods.

“More people now have the critical thinking to say, ‘No, I don’t agree, we are paying too high a price,’ ” said a Dahiyeh optician who has closed one of his three shops and has seen his sales drop by 70% this year.

Hezbollah, or Party of God, was formally established in 1985, initially as a militia to drive out Israeli military forces occupying southern Lebanon. The two sides fought to a stalemate in a 28-day war in 2006, during which bombs dropped by Israeli warplanes destroyed much of Dahiyeh.

By then, Hezbollah was more than an anti-Israeli militia, having become a major provider of health care, education and other social services to the country’s historically neglected Shiite community.

Hezbollah’s rank-and-file say the loyalty the group has inspired with its military challenges to Israel and its social-welfare programs is now being frittered away by its decision to fight in Syria. A Hezbollah spokesman declined to comment for this article.

DAHIYE - The aftermath of a Jan. 21 car bomb in Beirut. European Pressphoto Agency
DAHIYE – The aftermath of a Jan. 21 car bomb in Beirut. European Pressphoto Agency

“In 2006, life was hard, I even had to close my shops. But I sacrificed for Israel, not fighting Syrians,” said Khaled, a barber who says business has dropped 50% since Dahiyeh became the target of bombings and missile strikes. He now has to borrow money to pay for rent and food, he said.

In a speech last month, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah was on edge, his usual composure and charm replaced by a shrill defense of the decision to deploy fighters to Syria, which he said was to combat the spread of extremism.

Khaled and other Hezbollah supporters agree—to a point. Lebanon’s Shiite militia has no choice but to fight in Syria after all the support it has received from the Assad regime and its ally Tehran. But for him and others, the logic of loyalty has grown threadbare.

For the first time, some Shiites are leaving Dahiyeh and returning to their villages in the south, their dream of achieving a better life by moving to the capital outweighed by their fears for their safety and their livelihoods.

Since the start of the year, rental prices for apartments in the neighborhood have fallen nearly 15%, and 10 families have tried to sell their apartments in the neighborhood and move back to the south, according to one real estate agent in Dahiyeh.

Lebanese once flocked to Dahiyeh to buy its cheap, relatively high-quality goods. Now the fear of bloodshed and traffic backups caused by Hezbollah and army checkpoints means a 3-mile drive that can take up to two hours. On arriving, visitors are questioned by plainclothes Hezbollah operatives demanding to know where they’ve come from and what they’re doing.

If the fallout from Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria weren’t enough to worry about, there’s the potentially landscape altering talks underway between the world powers and the group’s patron, , over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Like all minor players in big-party negotiations, Khaled and other Hezbollah supporters are concerned that they will be on the short end of any deal, causing them to wonder if the group’s Syria foray might turn out to be a grave miscalculation.

“When we see Iran and the U.S. shaking hands we ask: is Hezbollah sure?”

By MARIA ABI-HABIB

WSJ

Top photo: Sandbags at jewelry shop in a Beirut suburb of DAHIYEH in January after a Jan. 21 car bomb in Beirut. Associated Press

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25 responses to “Hezbollah's Syria role risks eroding support base in Lebanon”

  1. why should we support Shiites shopowners when we know what they harbour in their hearts against sunnis.

    1. Hannibal Avatar

      and I saw what the Sunnis harbor against the entire planet… I will never submit to ANY religion including my own. Religion is the scourge of humanity.

      1. cook2half Avatar
        cook2half

        Im not religious at all but I cant go saying it to certain people ‘in the community’

        1. Hannibal Avatar

          What? Are you afraid of the ultra-orthodox pests? he he

          1. cook2half Avatar
            cook2half

            Nahh you know.. my lot.. lol……………………………..

          2. Hannibal Avatar

            ah those too… 😉

          3. cook2half Avatar
            cook2half

            😛

  2. nagy_michael2 Avatar
    nagy_michael2

    So Qassem said Lebanon is nothing without the Resistance.. I ask here how is that possible when you cannot protect your own sect and bring peace and prosperity. Dahia is nothing now because of the Resistance. Mr. Qassem you’re dead wrong and you’re nothing short of traitor..

  3. cook2half Avatar
    cook2half

    send em to Tunis lololololololoolololololololololololololollolol

    1. Hannibal Avatar

      You should talk… a good portion of Israel’s population cannot afford housing… This is never a war of cultures but a war of the rich against the middle class and the poor. It is happening in every country including the U.S. The wealth of the planet is controlled by 1% of the people and you are still fighting over the breadcrumbs… They got you so busy in the mundane that you and the commoner israeli forgot about your lot in this life and humanity as a whole… You are nothing but a goyim 😛 lol

      1. cook2half Avatar
        cook2half

        What a marxist thing to say

        1. Hannibal Avatar

          Hardly a marxist I am… I saw what communists did to their own people… But income inequality is NOT the solution…

          1. cook2half Avatar
            cook2half

            I have 0 opinions on economics, dont want to be those leftard students who have everything and call themselves anti-capitalists lol

          2. Hannibal Avatar

            Having everything is relative… Let me give you a tour of different neighborhoods in the U.S. and show you real inequality. Do not get me wrong… If I work harder than my neighbor I want to be compensated for it… But when I see same people working same amount of hours and as hard I cannot explain a $5000 difference a month in income.

          3. cook2half Avatar
            cook2half

            Thats true, its understandable if someone with the same life experiences is as rich as me as a result of inheriting it from his parents, but to get paid more in a current job is something else.

            In the U.S. probably the funniest thing ive heard is when they were filming the show Friends and for half an hour acting each actor earns more than a million dollars (or was it 2 million?)

          4. Hannibal Avatar

            You should see the football players income…

          5. cook2half Avatar
            cook2half

            Holy shit apparently over here they earn £30,000 a week!

          6. 5thDrawer Avatar
            5thDrawer

            But they keep the lower classes occupied with mindless games for entertainment and fill advertising hours. 😉

          7. MekensehParty Avatar
            MekensehParty

            You can work the whole day sewing a shirt, or invest in a machine that’ll do the work in 5 minutes. It’s not the time spent or number of hours you put to work, it’s what you produce during that time…

          8. Hannibal Avatar

            off topic albeit true…

  4. 5thDrawer Avatar
    5thDrawer

    I ‘chat’ briefly with a woman in DAHIYEH …. cannot say what ‘sect’, since we don’t talk ‘shop’. Try to have ‘happy’ chat.
    But ‘Lebanon-in-general’ eventually enters conversations. There is little ‘happiness’.

    She is single – works in her father’s shop … he is 63, and in hospital. Has ‘Diabetes’ … and now there is a need to remove a foot before infection kills him. Of course, one needs the money before any operations (except pulling out lead, etc.).
    We can assume his diabetes went that far because he couldn’t afford insulin …. and/or necessary diet.
    Her heart and brain, naturally, in turmoil … only has 1500$. Business is what it is. (see above)
    All I can offer is advice – as I have seen other women in Lebanon in this difficulty.
    Have Father make a ‘will’ guaranteeing her possession of all he owns, witnessed by a good lawyer. NOW.
    And say ‘goodbye’ …… 🙁
    Otherwise she will be on the streets …. and it costs a LOT more for the lawyer to ‘make it right’ after.

    1. Hannibal Avatar

      VERY SAD… and they (polishitan) are still arguing…

    2. MekensehParty Avatar
      MekensehParty

      She can ask for some money from whom she voted for in the last elections.
      That’s what votes are for in Lebanon.

      1. 5thDrawer Avatar
        5thDrawer

        I will suggest it … (wonder if she voted … hmm)

    3. libnan1 Avatar

      The only reason you talked to her was to get some action. Good for you maybe we can swing you to our side.

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