The violence and social upheaval in the streets of Lebanon have escalated in the past weeks, triggered by the Lebanese dollar hitting a record low in the market. For a year and a half, Lebanon has seen mass protests calling for an end to corruption in the government, increased accountability, and social and economic rights.
In October 2019, following tens of thousands of protestors taking the streets due to a new tax measure, the Lebanese cabinet resigned. Hezbollah was a target for the corruption and economic hardships — demonstrators called for the government, including Hezbollah, to yield their power to new leadership. Yet, the new government did little to ease tensions in the country and heed the call of the people.
Hezbollah and Iran have had a stronghold over the Lebanese government since eight Hezbollah members were elected to the Lebanese parliament in 1992. In 2018, Hezbollah won thirteen seats and now acts both as a political party and as the state’s militia. The group controls large swaths of Lebanon including Beirut. Though based in Lebanon and a major part of the Lebanese government, Hezbollah has made it clear that their top priority is dealing with the “American threat” and executing terrorist attacks against Israel.
Today, Lebanon finds itself in the worst economic crisis in its modern history. Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost since the beginning of the pandemic. Bank accounts have been frozen and people have no access to cash and are going hungry. Last week, protestors burned tires to block main roads in Beirut. In response to the increased social crisis in Lebanon, the caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab has threatened to resign in order to force a new government (a government that has failed to form since resignations following the explosion in August 2020).
This is a moment of flux for the Lebanese people and for Hezbollah. Lebanese citizens are aware of the corruption and greed in their government and how Hezbollah controls much of what goes on. In the past year, Hezbollah has been under fire over their alleged role in the assassination of Prime Minister Rafic Bahaa El Deen Al Hariri in 2004 — a beloved prime minister who ended the Lebanese Civil War and rebuilt Beirut. In August 2020, a UN-backed tribunal found Salim Jamil Ayyash, a Hezbollah affiliate, guilty of the assassination.
The economic crisis, social unrest, government corruption, and Hezbollah’s role in the assassination have placed Hezbollah in a precarious domestic situation. Once an organization dedicated to Lebanese liberation and nationalism, Hezbollah has become an Iran proxy in the region more concerned with their foreign policy goals. The people of Lebanon are now turning on Hezbollah.
US officials and foreign policy experts are exceedingly concerned over Lebanon’s deteriorating political situation. Lebanon is now steeped in corruption, lacking any robust government, in economic free fall, and riddled now with civil violence and social unrest. It seems the only place to go from here is further violence potentially leading to a civil war.
Unless a strong government and leader is able to clinch power and aggressively fix the economic crisis in the next few months, Lebanon may become the mirror image of Syria with Hezbollah playing the role of the Assad regime.