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Technocracy now: The US is working to turn Lebanon’s anti-corruption protests against Hezbollah

While Lebanon’s protests remain focused on the economy and widespread corruption, Washington is increasingly determined to exploit the movement as a geopolitical weapon in the region.

by Rania Khalek

Part 4 - US-aligned parties join the protests

On day three, Samir Geagea, the leader of the US-backed Lebanese Forces (LF), removed his four ministers from government, supposedly in solidarity with the protests. LF is a right-wing pro-American party that had been one of the most brutal militias in Lebanon’s civil war. And Geagea’s decision changed the course of the movement. 

Walid Jumblatt of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) threatened to remove his own ministers, placing his party in the opposition. Meanwhile, LF and PSP supporters joined the protests by obstructing major roads outside of Beirut: LF blocked the main highway at Jal el Dib and other areas in the north while PSP blocked the roads in the south.

Next, Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned, placing his Saudi- and US-backed Future party on the side of the protesters as well. Future was now in the protest ranks, reinforcing the blockading of roads in the south alongside members of PSP.

As these forces stepped up their involvement, working-class Hezbollah supporters began to withdraw from the movement, especially as certain elements began chanting against Hezbollah and its weapons. Suddenly, the protests had assumed a familiar and ominous March 8 versus March 14 feel. 

Throughout this period, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah delivered several speeches criticizing the protests as vehicles for outside funding and hostile political parties. His rhetoric only inflamed the protesters and deepened the well-entrenched resentment of Hezbollah.

The billionaire Prime Minister Hariri had been a staunch ally of America and Saudi Arabia who even holds Saudi citizenship. Before his resignation, Hariri was part of Hezbollah’s governing coalition. Coalition leaders feared that the Americans would target the whole government and place the country under crushing sanctions without a Western-aligned figure like him. Determined to delegitimize the coalition, Saudi Arabia forced Hariri to resign at gunpoint in 2017, but he ultimately returned to the government.  

This time around, Hariri leveraged the protests to try to pressure Michel Aoun to drop his son-in-law Gibran Bassil as foreign minister, whom anti-government elements blamed for giving Hezbollah legitimacy on the international stage. But Aoun wouldn’t budge. So Hariri resigned.

Hariri’s resignation not only obstructed the government from dealing with the economic crisis, it exposed the role of Hezbollah in the government and thereby risked a new round of sanctions. Hezbollah leadership believed that the prime minister’s departure was influenced by the US and the Saudis, and with good reason given the history.

As the political divide widened, the protests became increasingly dominated by members of the middle class and the Western-backed civil society and NGO sector. This element diverted the initial working class demands for justice into an all-out attack on Hezbollah, its weapons, and its leadership. 

The popular chant “killun yaani killun,” or “all of them means all of them,” which was initially directed at Lebanon’s entire cast of leaders, soon turned into an anti-Hezbollah slogan, with protesters adding, “and Nasrallah is one of them.” Clashes between supporters of Amal and Hezbollah and the middle class demonstrators soon followed.

The White House was initially cautious and quiet about the protests, uncertain where they might lead. But a day after Hariri’s October 29 resignation, Pompeo issued a statement supporting the protests and the formation of a new government. 

Suddenly, a series of panelists and think pieces materialized explaining how the US should exploit the situation against Hezbollah — and, by extension, Iran. Washington views everything in Lebanon through an anti-Iran lens, and sees Hezbollah purely as a proxy of the government in Tehran.

The Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank funded by weapons companies and Western governments as well as Bahaa Hariri, the brother of Saad Hariri, published a plea for Trump to exploit the Lebanon protests as a pretext for forcibly disarming Hezbollah. The author was Frederic Hof, the former US special envoy to Syria and a senior fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center, which is named after the father of Saad Hariri.

Those who had worked to turn the so-called Arab Spring in Washington’s direction were out in force again.

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