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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 2 - A leaderless resistance pressures the government

Based in downtown Beirut, the protests initially included Hezbollah’s working-class base and civil society activists, symbolizing a rejection of the sectarian power-sharing system that was installed under French colonial rule and re-enforced under the post-civil war Taif agreement.

Within days, however, the protests began to morph into a strange leaderless mix of middle and lower middle class students, along with liberals, civil society and NGO activists, US-backed political parties, small leftist groups, hipster types, and anti-Hezbollah activists. 

While the vast majority of protesters simply sought a functioning government that could provide for their basic needs, the current make-up of their movement and lack of ideology among most demonstrators created a wide opening for meddling by outside actors. This was especially true for the US, which has honed methods to co-opt anti-government protest movements and manipulate them into carrying out regime-change goals.

In Lebanon, the US has been openly determined to overturn Hezbollah’s win in the 2018 elections that gave it a majority alongside its coalition allies the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a Christian party, and Amal, a Shia party. This governing coalition enabled Hezbollah to protect its traditional interests, among which deterring Israel is paramount, without serving as the face of the government. 

Hezbollah grew out of Israel’s occupation in Lebanon, and managed to liberate the south from Israeli occupation in 2000 and again when the Israelis invaded in 2006. Hezbollah was also crucial to the defeat of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the collection of US-backed extremist groups in both Syria and Lebanon in the proxy war that began in 2011.

Today, the pro-Hezbollah March 8 coalition represents one of the two major political blocs that divide the Lebanese polity. The other is the American- and Saudi-backed March 14 alliance.

The March 14 bloc includes the Future Party, headed by Sunni leader and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who has been hobbled since the Saudis withdrew their financial support and briefly kidnapped and tortured him. Then there is Druze leader Walid Joumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), which is neither progressive nor socialist; and the Lebanese Forces led by Samir Geagea, a Maronite Christian leader and formerly imprisoned war lord. 

According to cables published by Wikileaks, Geagea was the main US embassy contact during the 2008 clashes between the two blocs. In meetings at the embassy, Geagea repeatedly asked Washington to supply his militia with weapons against Hezbollah.

On the other side is the March 8 bloc comprised of the Shia parties: Hezbollah, led by Hassan Nasrallah, the charismatic and well-known spiritual leader, and Amal, which is headed by the speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Nabih Berri. The final component of the coalition is the Christian FPM, led by Lebanese President Michel Aoun. Since the civil war, these parties have defined Lebanon’s political make-up and substantially influenced regional dynamics.   

The protests that have swept Lebanon over the past month have placed enormous pressure on the governing coalition, while offering perceived political openings for its most opportunistic opponents – especially those with historic ties to the US.

Due to the irresponsible decisions of the ruling politicians seeking to pit their streets against each other, the situation has escalated in recent days. To understand how the potentially explosive situation has developed, it is important to examine the genesis of the protests.

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