Hezbollah weapons in Lebanon’s election center on Sunday

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BALBEC, Lebanon – Thousands of men, women and children waved Hezbollah flags and marched in support of a heavily armed militant group on a large tract of land in the ancient eastern city of Balbek, wearing the group’s trademark yellow cap. .

One by one, many attendees pledged to vote for Shia Muslim Hezbollah and its allies on Sunday in Lebanon’s closely watched parliamentary elections, rejecting any attempt to disarm the powerful party.

Despite a devastating economic collapse and multiple other crises gripping Lebanon – the culmination of decades of corruption and mismanagement – Hezbollah’s deeply divided arms issue is at the center of a vote for a new 128-member parliament.

Disarming the group has dominated the political campaign among almost all of the party’s opponents. These include Western-backed mainstream political parties and independents who have played a role in nationwide protests since the economic downturn began in October 2019.

“It simply came to our notice then. Why? This is because they are pursuing US policy against weapons of mass destruction, “Hussein Haj Hassan, a senior Hezbollah official, told the Associated Press on Friday ahead of the Balbeck rally.

After the 1975-90 civil war, Hezbollah was the only group that officially allowed them to carry weapons because it was fighting Israeli forces occupying parts of southern Lebanon. In 2000, Israel withdrew from Lebanon but Hezbollah and others in the small Mediterranean country insisted they needed weapons to defend it against Israel, one of the region’s most powerful armies.

Hezbollah fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006 that ended in a draw, and since the start of the conflict in neighboring Syria, the Iran-backed group has sent thousands of fighters to fight President Bashar al-Assad’s forces to help him maintain a balance of power. His grace.

Hezbollah’s opponents say its weapons and regional powers, such as Assad and support for Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, have damaged Lebanon’s relations with oil-rich Persian Gulf states. These countries have classified the Lebanese group as a terrorist organization and cut off significant financial support for the country.

Haj Hassan, a legislator since 1996 and a three-time cabinet minister, said Hezbollah’s claim of responsibility for Lebanon’s downfall was “a big lie.”

“They have forgotten the political system, the economic system, corruption, the war in Syria and its effects on Lebanon, and they have forgotten the American sanctions,” he told Balbeck at his home.

The 62-year-old lost his two brothers who fought for Hezbollah during the Lebanese civil war and a nephew in Syria.

Hezbollah says its weapons are to protect Lebanon, not for internal use. But the group used May 2008 in its worst fight against their rivals in many years. The Hezbollah attack began after the government of the then anti-Hezbollah Fouad Saniora decided to dismantle the group’s military telecommunications network.

“No Lebanese group should have the right to be armed when other Lebanese do not,” said Sammy Gemmel, head of the right-wing Katayeb Party, in a comment on a local LBC station on Friday night.

This year’s vote is the first since the economic downturn, which the World Bank has described as one of the worst in the world in more than 150 years. This is the first time since the August 2020 blast at the port of Beirut that more than 200 people have been killed, thousands injured and large-scale damage to the capital.

Three former cabinet ministers allied with Hezbollah were charged in the investigation into the port blast, but they refused to appear for questioning by the investigating judge. The Hezbollah leader has blasted the judge and called for his replacement, and the investigation has been suspended for several months following a legal challenge from politicians.

Parliamentary elections are held once every four years, and the last vote in 2018 gave Hezbollah and its allies a majority of seats, including 71 legislators.

As Lebanon sinks deeper into poverty, many Lebanese have openly criticized Hezbollah. They blame the group – including the ruling class – for devastating, multiple crises, including dramatic currency crises and severe shortages of medicine and fuel.

Some hope that the Free Patriotic Movement, founded by its main Christian ally, President Michel Aoun, will lose its seat. Others have expressed frustration with Hezbollah’s unbroken alliance with Nabih Berri, the longtime speaker of Lebanon’s parliament who many see as the godfather of Lebanon’s corrupt communal-based and elite-dominated political system.

Nevertheless, Hezbollah’s victory is not in doubt. This group has a solid foundation and it manages its coalition and electoral system efficiently. Fear confirms that no Shiite threat emerges: Three Shiite candidates allied with the Saudi-backed Lebanese Forces group withdraw from the race in the Balbek region within days.

In a Shiite village in southern Lebanon, residents were attacked last month as they were going to attend a rally for rivals against Hezbollah. Balbe was shot in the air to disrupt a rally of Shia clerics against the Hezbollah-led coalition.

Hezbollah has been blamed for intimidating Shiite candidates, a claim denied by Hajj Hassan.

“They (Shia) do not want opposition within the community. That is clear, “said Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. Khashan added that Hezbollah and its Shiite ally Berry’s Amal group were trying to maintain control of the 27 seats allocated to the community.

Slight change is expected from the election because mainstream political parties and politicians will remain strong and opposition candidates will fall apart. Still, Western-backed mainstream parties are hoping to snatch a parliamentary majority from Hezbollah, while many separate traditional party lists and candidates are expected to break up.

The vote comes after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a powerful Sunni leader, suspended his job in politics. Some have warned that this could help Hezbollah’s Sunni allies win more seats.

“I consider the ballot box to be a line of defense for us,” said nurse Hoda Falah at the Balbeck rally. Falah says Hezbollah’s weapons have protected eastern Lebanon for years from attacks by Islamic State groups and al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Hezbollah’s top official Nabil Kauk said in a speech last month that the election would show that his group enjoys the most support in the small country. He claims that the results will not change if money flows to Lebanon from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their “equipment” in the United States.

“May 15 will prove that the American plan to target resistance is sterile and they will only yield a crop of frustration,” Kauk said.

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