Small Wars Journal

The Status Quo Insurgency: Hezbollah from A Revolutionary Stance to a Governmental Accountability

Tue, 11/09/2021 - 2:44am

The Status Quo Insurgency: Hezbollah from A Revolutionary Stance to a Governmental Accountability


By Massaab Al-Aloosy



It is often the case that scholars of insurgencies discuss the causes, the definitions, and the differences among insurgent groups. The evolution of these groups, however, is rarely studied especially if we take into consideration the fact that an insurgency is an organ that affects and becomes affected by its surroundings. If we believe in the dictum that the guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swim in the sea, we cannot equate insurgencies that operate in a multi-confessional society to those operating in a heterogeneous society. Prevalence of different sects and religions within the society limits the movements' abilities, popular support, funding, and expansion. As such, the revolutionary level of insurgencies' ideology decreases and the possibility of accommodation with the government becomes higher. But what if the structure of the state, with its deeply divided society, is weak and there aren’t worthy spoils to divide? In such a situation, participating in the government as well as maintaining armed independence becomes a better aim of an insurgency. There is no inherent contradiction for the insurgency between joining the political system while maintaining military independence. From insurgencies' perspective, it is inconceivable to either dominate a politically divided society or function within a strong state. Both situations can be destructive since the insurgency can face a backlash from a segment of the society that it does not represent and in the latter scenario, when there is a strong state, the insurgency might not have much leeway. Thus, influencing the government politically while maintaining military might become an appealing option for insurgencies. However, there are also consequences to being regarded as part of the government. Hezbollah, for example, mastered the political game in Lebanon while maintaining its arms, but today it faces a crisis since it is viewed as part of the problem, not the solution.

              Hezbollah's experience is indicative of a revolutionary insurgency seeking the destruction of the state but now is a protector of it. Hezbollah's first manifesto as well as several declarations made by its officials in the 1980s espoused a radical and transformative ideology, but today it has modified and became part of the government. After the end of the civil war, Hezbollah gradually deepened its involvement in the government while maintaining its arms. Evidently, now the group does not want to inherent a dilapidated state but rather vies to safeguard its environment; in other words, the state is not a reward but a façade for Hezbollah. As the economic, social, and political situation in Lebanon is drastically worsening, Hezbollah is being held partially responsible for the abysmal performance of the Lebanese government. It is also increasingly being viewed as siding with the state against the people, not with the people against the state. Looking at the context from a holistic view, Hezbollah protects the borders of the state through its involvement in Syria and successive wars with Israel; it has ministers in the government and members in the parliament, and its military performance is considerably more professional than the Lebanese army. However, Hezbollah has reached the limits of military and political success and risks losing its achievements if it does not maintain the status quo.



The Chronically Weak Lebanese State

            The Lebanese state after independence lacked legitimacy and a cohesive national identity, marking the beginning of a path towards a collapse and the creation of several non-state actors based on parochial ideological and sectarian objectives. Even before Hezbollah, Lebanese armed groups called for the division of Lebanon, the revolutionization of the political system, and the annihilation of the other. These attempts failed in due time because the imposition of a particular view on the deeply fractured Lebanese society is an unattainable goal, and the aims of grand changes consistently receded into cautious coexistence with other sects and religions.

            Lebanese history is marred by occasional social internecine strife, and as it was on the threshold of becoming independent from the French mandate, the new political system was beset with sectarian division. In 1943, a few years before the French forces left Lebanon, the leaders of the different confessions signed the National Pact, an agreement recognizing 18 religious sects.[1] One of the main differences they had was the division between Muslims and Christians. While the Muslims wanted to ally their country with the revolutionary Arab states and by extension with the Soviet Union, in contrast the Christians wanted Lebanon to be part of the Western camp. The convened decided that Lebanon will be impartial to foreign affairs and be sovereign from foreign influence, and they also agreed, in counteraction to internal attempts at uniting Lebanon with Syria, that Lebanon will be an independent state and will not seek unification with another country. Finally, the pact introduced a confessional formula, based on the 1932 census, setting the representation of Christians and Muslims in a six to five ratio throughout the government. In the new Lebanon, the president was to be a Maronite, while the Sunnis were to hold the premiership, and the Shia were to take the position of the Speaker of the Parliament. [2]

            The new political system, however, faced several challenges in the decades to come until its collapse. In 1958 the Sunnis and the Druz accused President Camil Chamoun of not respecting the agreement the Lebanese confessions had signed because he allied Lebanon with the US and Britain. Although the civil strife lasted for few months, external powers were quick to intervene, as the opposition received weapons and ammunition from Syria and Egypt while the US sent forces to Lebanon to support the government.[3] Another indicator of the Lebanese state weakness was the inability to reign in militias to the south of the country and, as a result, continued to lose legitimacy in the eyes of its population. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), after its defeat in Jordan in 1970–1971, settled in south Lebanon, established training bases, and conducted terrorist attacks on northern Israel, drawing Israeli retaliation on Lebanese territory. The Lebanese state was powerless to break the cycle of violence on its territory.[4] The Palestinian armed groups, in time, thrived in the south and recruited many of the Lebanese to fight Israel. Southern Lebanon was a battleground for several years, and it became clear thereafter that the army would be unable to control the Palestinian militias, as Lebanon itself was politically divided on the issue. Moreover, the agreement set the stage for a state within a state, conveniently known as "Fatah Land," after the militias supplanted the authorities. Confusion regarding the agreement defining each party's roles and responsibilities resulted in increased tension and outright confrontation within Lebanon. Between 1970 and 1973, there were three Israeli incursions with different results.[5] This development took place simultaneously as the divisions within the Lebanese political system became irreconcilable. By the 1970s, the system decayed so much that the opposition "to this formula had grown, especially among underprivileged Shiites, Druze, and Leftists. The Lebanese political system was paralyzed before the increasing demands of the deprived, the politically marginalized, and advocates of reform."[6] With the increasing disenfranchisement of the Lebanese state in the eyes of the Muslim population, more sub-state entities began to emerge. Moreover, the continued delegitimization was stark with the violent crackdown of the Lebanese army on demonstrations that took place in Sidon in 1975.[7] The fragile Lebanese state was completely shattered as it descended into a civil war that lasted fifteen years ending with peace negotiations between the Lebanese politicians in Saudi Arabia. They agreed to end the fratricide and pave the way to normalcy in Lebanon by adjusting the political system that existed prior to the civil war in what became known as the Taif agreement. The 1958 and 1975 crises challenged the basis of the Lebanese political system and confined it to a confessional democracy, which makes Lebanon "a nation with an extremely fragile and brittle political system."[8] The weakness allowed for deepening of the divides and the creation of many armed groups.

The chronic weakness of the Lebanese system was, and still is, evident in its inability to monopolize violence within its territory, allowing armed groups to contest the state for power. Yet, it was a formidable task for any of these armed groups to dominate the state regardless of the ideological tendencies of these armed groups because of the social cleavages and Hezbollah is not an exception. Hezbollah, moreover, is the result of not only a defective political system but a divided society along sectarian and religious lines which both enables and limits Hezbollah’s prospects. Despite its revolutionary tendencies in the 1980s and the ability to attract many of the Shia population, Hezbollah could not continue upholding its initial ideals because the vast majority of the population rejected the creation of an Islamist government mirroring the Iranian political model and regional and international competition over influence in Lebanon prevents the domination of one segment of the society over the others. Any political settlement must take into consideration the confessional balance of Lebanon regardless of how powerful the party vying for change. As a result, the revolutionary ideals espoused by Hezbollah in 1980s waned in the 1990s and accommodation with the state became a necessity that the groups could not afford to ignore. In other words, while the aforementioned definitions can explain Hezbollah’s behaviour and beliefs in the 1980s, it cannot explain Hezbollah’s changed stance regarding the Lebanese state.

Dysfunctional System, Divided Society

The long history of communal violence in Lebanon fosters mistrust among the different social sects and hinders the emergence of a unified social identity. The civil war that preceded the Taif agreement witnessed rounds of "ethnic cleansing, kidnappings, sexual violence, assassinations, massacres, and revenge killings [that] were all conducted along sectarian lines."[9] The sectarian identities hardened because of the civil war and group identities became paramount; as the role of the state shrank, Lebanon's warlords took over the responsibility to provide for their own sects. From medical care to education, to supply of gas and electricity, the militias provided all these basic services and more, nurturing a sense of sectarian independence.[10] Although the Lebanese state regained some of its vitality after the accords, the political system still reflected the sectarian divides of the society. For instance, the political system applied a quota system to seats of the parliament, dividing Lebanon into fifteen districts and reserving a specific number for the estimated percentage of the sect; even the religious leaders of the different sects have legal authority over matters such as custody of children, marriage, and divorce. After the agreement to include all sects in the decision-making, though with different levels of power, the conduct of the government was subject to consensuses among the leaders of these sects. The main objective of the power-sharing arrangement became "to prevent the domination of one sect over the others"[11] so as to protect and preserve the right of each sect. In other words, the amended political arrangement was meant to regulate the divisions and differences among the sect leaders and to determine the way forward. However, power-sharing has prolonged sectarianism in Lebanon and institutionalized it even further.[12] The political system, in this sense, is unique because of the relationship it created between the elite and the society, and the way they function.

The elites of the Lebanese political system derive their legitimacy from the sectarian nature of the Taif accords, and therefore their aims and aspirations are not nationalistic but sectarian. Taking advantage of the sectarian divides in Lebanon, the elite intentionally sowed the seeds of fear of other sects. The political rhetoric voiced by the elite is full of sectarianism with the hope of creating a false sense of insecurity among their followers so "the survival of their communities can only be achieved through strict alignment with political authorities and by loyally supporting their own sect against the others."[13] Moreover, the political system allowed the creation of an elite-cartel by which it distributes public goods to the community, creating an environment in which the politicians must preside over the distribution of the resources through patronage not merit. As such, the political economy of "sectarianism is one where a small politically connected elite appropriates the bulk of economic surplus and redistributes it through communal clientelism."[14] The political setting of the Lebanese system also led to two other important developments. First, it created a balance among the sects, which ultimately meant that each participant had limits to the level of political power. There is an ingrained sense in the minds of the political players in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, that they cannot win or achieve their desired goals by force without plunging into another civil war. Even as Hezbollah maintains the strongest military force in Lebanon, "the balance of power that prevailed in Lebanon among the contending factions had restricted Hezbollah's military advantage and had limited its ability to achieve what it wanted simply by relying on military might alone."[15] Second, consensual arrangement among the warring parties meant occasional logjams because of disagreements. Several crises in the Lebanese political system led to deadlocks, such as the collapse of the unity government in 2011 and the prevention of passing of important laws by the parliament due to disagreements within the elite. The Taif agreement, while it allowed for the end of the civil war, is under attack by various parties who vie for revision since each sect believes that others have not adhered completely to its provisions.[16] Some might argue that these divisions allowed for cross-sectarian political alignment, but such alliances have failed in creating a more cohesive Lebanese society. Conversely, not only the Lebanese society remains divided but also there exists a widening gap between the society at large and the elite.

The Lebanese society, already divided in many aspects, has been subject to further division because of the conduct of the elite. Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, is divided along sectarian lines in which the Sunnis live in the western part of the city, the Christians in the east, and the Shias in the south. This division is so important that members of different communities are reluctant to move to neighborhoods belonging to other communities. This sectarian division also prevails outside of Beirut, as each sect dominates in a different area. Due to sectarian appeals by the political parties, most "political parties in Lebanon have lost their ability to appeal to a broad public, to socialize new generations, and to organize the menu of political choices in the country."[17] The chasm only grew since 2011. For instance, in 2013, there were demonstrations against the extension of the parliament's mandate, and in 2015, there were large-scale demonstrations against the government's failure to collect the garbage in Lebanon.[18] The chasm between the elite and the society is also reflected in the low satisfaction rate of the political system. In a poll carried out by Pew Research Center, 91% of the Lebanese who participated in the survey expressed their dissatisfaction with the political system—one of the worst performances worldwide.[19] In addition to the abysmal performance of the political parties, the Lebanese society is also dissatisfied by the level of corruption in the country. For example, when asked if they had been compelled to pay a bribe, 40% of the Lebanese answered positively, which is double the percentage of some African and Latin American countries.[20] In fact, Lebanon is ranked the 138th most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International; this creates an "abysmal trust gap between Lebanese political parties and the citizens they represent" [21] since living standards decline for all the Lebanese.

            Transforming from being a revolutionary militia to an insurgent group that vies to change the system from within had its benefits and pitfalls for Hezbollah. The Lebanese political system manages conflicts through a consensus system to reach an agreement in which no single confession or a political party can impose its will on the rest.[22] From Hezbollah's perspective, this meant that no political adversary could impose disarmament of Hezbollah or political settlement with Israel, and Hezbollah could increase its influence through varying means. The pitfall of the political reality, however, is that Hezbollah is regarded as part of the unpopular and corrupt political system. The Lebanese, in general, believe that the abysmal conditions engulfing Lebanon are the result of incorrigible governance that paved the way for patronage politics. For the Lebanese people, "entrenchment of corruption grew to become an unwritten contractual component among Lebanese sects, including the Hizbullah-Amal alliance, that keeps breathing life into Lebanese confessionalism."[23] Therefore, when the demonstrations against the government broke out in Lebanon, Hezbollah was not spared from criticism by the demonstrators.

            Despite Hezbollah's attempts at changing its image to becoming a nationalist force, the Lebanese are too divided to believe in a party that has sectarian basis, and Hezbollah is already being viewed as part of the system that does not represent a neutral political power with its vested interest in maintaining the status quo. The group was integrated in the Lebanese institutions such as the parliament and "then began to infiltrate professional associations and trade unions, using the slogan of 'dialogue' to change the movement's image of religious radicalism that still prevailed among the Lebanese."[24] As such, Hezbollah realized that it cannot oppose all other Lebanese political parties and confessions and that to function from within the system is better than to aim for revolutionary change.[25] Moreover, Hezbollah believed that it could transform its military achievements against Israel to political capital; the "growth of Hezbollah's apparatus is noticeable at the scale of several municipalities of the southern suburbs of Beirut as it became a major governance actor in health, education, and housing sector while being a job provider and a key supply actor for strategic resources."[26] Being part of the political fabric also allowed Hezbollah to neutralize its domestic adversaries and have protection from foreign pressure. Indeed, in 1992, Hezbollah secured eight out of twenty-nine seats reserved for the Shia in the parliament; it had six seats in 1996 and eight seats again in 2000.[27] In the forthcoming years, Hezbollah maintained a balance between its political involvement in the system and its aims as an insurgency. However, increased involvement does not lead to a takeover of the government, simply because Lebanon is a multi-confessional society and social divides are so ingrained in it that the Lebanese will wholeheartedly reject the domination of any political party or sect. Instead, Hezbollah as a stakeholder now tries to protect the flailing system since it cannot exist in a truly democratic environment and will face grave dangers from a complete chaos.


Insurgents Stronger than Armies

The Lebanese army, similar to the Lebanese state as a whole, is weak and marked by sectarian divisions and it cannot confront Hezbollah. In fact, Hezbollah managed to maintain its military capabilities after the end of the civil war and was able to divert the role of the Lebanese army for its own benefit. While Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese political body, it became evident for the average Lebanese that militarily Hezbollah is the ultimate decision maker of war and peace.

Since 1946 the Lebanese army was weak, relatively small, relied on a particular segment of the society, and lacked legitimacy in the eyes of the overall population.[28] With the creation of Israel in 1948, the Lebanese state continuously failed in fending off Israeli incursions. By the time Israel gained independence, "the Lebanese army had four infantry battalions—Bataillons de Chasseurs Libanais—one artillery battalion with a mix of 75- and 105-mm. guns, one armored battalion, a group of cavalry, plus transport, engineering, and medical support units";[29] the complete number of the army did not exceed 3,500, of which many were not combat troops. In fact, prior to the war between Israel and Lebanon, the Lebanese army was more of a police force than an offensive military force with a mission to fight bandits and protect officials.[30] The genesis of the Lebanese failure began the same year in which Israel gained independence, as the latter embarked on an offensive into Lebanese territory and occupied the Hula village without any resistance from the population or the state. Prior to the Israeli Defense Force's (IDF) Operation Hiram, most of the Lebanese population fled from the village, but between 35 and 58 men remained, only to be massacred and their houses blown up by Israeli soldiers from the Carmeli Brigade, acting under their commander’s orders.[31] The weakness of the Lebanese army was only amplified in the following decades.

With the birth of modern Lebanon, the army became a sectarian tool; and the sectarian divisions of the army continue to hinder the emergence of an authentic national army. Even before independence, the French had structured the Lebanese army on religious bases. The French structure "classed the soldiers according to their religious affiliation and their regional origin. Hence, the 12 brigades were known as the 'Shi'a brigade of the Bekaa valley', 'the Sunni brigade of the North', 'the Druze brigade of the mountains' and so on."[32] Moreover, the National Pact, alluded to earlier, stipulated that the head of the army would always be a Maronite Christian; therefore, for more than a decade after independence, the overwhelming number of officers were Christian. Muslim attempts at making military service compulsory were in vain as the Christians opposed such changes on the ground that Lebanon's economy could not allow for a large standing army. Consequently, the Lebanese Muslims saw the army as a Christian domain. When the political system faced its first crisis in 1958, the army's movement was restricted since it would have enflamed tension instead of decreasing it. The leadership of the Lebanese army believed that their composition was influenced by sectarianism and any intervention in the political domain would result in defections.[33] The Shehabi strategy of preventing any involvement of the military in the political sphere succeeded in 1958; however, this policy did not continue after another president was elected. The successor, Suleiman Franjiyeh, turned the military into a political tool to quell the opposition and the Palestinian militias. As the civil war began in 1975, the army no longer served the role of maintaining the balance between political forces in Lebanon. The army "quickly disintegrated, as soldiers started to join the militias that represented the interests of their confessional groups or simply decided to stay at home. With the fall of the Lebanese army, the last national institution that could unite the Lebanese people was gone."[34] Though the post-civil war period was supposed to pave the way for a fresh start, the existing structure of the Lebanese army continued. 

Today, the Lebanese army not only is unable to implement changes to become a genuine national army, but also continues its failure to carry out its basic tasks. Though the army succeeded in creating an image of a trustworthy institution after the civil war, it continues to be divided on sectarian bases and has not played a major role in maintaining the country's sovereignty. The Taif agreement stipulated that the sectarian allocation of positions within the army should be abolished for lower ranks; however, evidence suggest that distribution ratio continues to be on 5050 basis for Christians and Muslims.[35] The persistence of such a situation is partially attributed to another clause in the Taif agreement regarding the integration of the militias after the civil war. Approximately 30,000 militiamen were supposed to be integrated in the society as failing to do so means a relapse into violence; of course, Hezbollah was excluded from this process since its stated mission was to fight Israel to protect the southern border[36]—a task that should have been carried out by the army. Therefore, the army has been passive during many crises that engulfed Lebanon, most prominently the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

The Lebanese army is very well positioned from Hezbollah point of view because it is not strong enough to disarm the group nor it is too weak to allow for a collapse that Lebanon witnessed previously. Hezbollah praised the Lebanese military in many instances because the role it is playing is complimentary to Hezbollah’s, not the role of a nationalist institution advancing the interest of the state. Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s Secretary General, reiterated on many instances the people, the military, and the resistance formula, demonstrating the strength of the relationship between Hezbollah on one hand and the military as well as the people on the other.[37] In reality, however, the role played by the military is complimentary to Hezbollah’s in Lebanon. For instance, in 2008, after an internal dispute regarding Hezbollah’s telecommunication network and the dismissal of pro-Hezbollah head of airport security, Hezbollah’s forces seized control of western Beirut. Hezbollah’s soldiers “forced a government-allied satellite television station off the air and burned the offices of its newspaper affiliate.”[38] The Lebanese army did not intervene to side with the government against Hezbollah. By contrast, in 2017 Hezbollah intervened on the side of the armed forces against jihadists who crossed into Lebanon from Syria.[39] In short, Hezbollah benefits from the formula because it “gives the group legitimacy within the state yet without the accountability that it would be subject to were it to become a state institution.”[40]

Because of its confrontations with Israel and its intervention in the Syrian civil war, Hezbollah is also regarded as the ultimate power within Lebanon. Hezbollah's performance against Israel proved to many Lebanese the weakness of their military. The abysmal performance of the Lebanese army, on many instances, and its sectarian nature is contrasted with Hezbollah's professionalism and performance not only against Israel but in Syria as well. Although many Lebanese do think of Hezbollah as a sectarian group, nevertheless, the vast majority have no doubt that it is stronger than the army. Moreover, given the divisions of the society “Hezbollah benefits from its preeminent role in Lebanon’s post-war political order. No state institution – including the LAF – will openly challenge Hezbollah’s domestic credibility with its own Shia constituency.”[41] As such, the status quo of the Lebanese security apparatus is benefiting Hezbollah and it does not a threat to Hezbollah but a useful player in achieving its goals. Hezbollah does not need to challenge the Lebanese military, or any other Lebanese national institution for that matter, because it is not affecting Hezbollah’s position.


The Deepening Crisis

Hezbollah's slow integration into the government, from its involvement in the parliamentary elections in 1992 and the formation of the government after the assassination of prime minister Rafic Harriri, means that Hezbollah is being held partially responsible for the abysmal governance in Lebanon. The economic situation of Lebanon has worsened drastically in the previous few years, and it is unlikely the economy will recover any time soon. This will mount the social pressure on Hezbollah, as it is being viewed increasingly as a part of the problem not the solution.

The abysmal performance of the Lebanese economy created a large gap between the rich and the poor, which has only widened over past few years. The wealth is concentrated in the hand of the few and is combined with political clout, since the more the money possessed by a political party or figure, the more the influence it exerts on wealth redistribution.[42] Evidence to this was provided by first study conducted on Lebanon's income distribution in 1960, which suggested that 4% of the Lebanese earned more than 32%, and nearly 50% lived in poverty.[43] The performance of the economy only deteriorated thereafter, as the country plunged in the civil war. For instance, by 1991, the income of an average Lebanese fell less than half in comparison to income a decade earlier. This is combined with the emigration of 200,000 professional and skilled personnel and the capital flight of more than $10 billion.[44] Today, the Lebanese economy is only worse with several new and devastating developments. In 2019, Lebanon plunged into an economic crisis owing to an unexpected drop in capital inflow, resulting in systemic failure in banking and the exchange rate. A year later, the Lebanese pound was devalued, creating an additional economic crisis, and by June 2020, Lebanon's economy minister "announced that 60 percent of Lebanese would find themselves below the poverty line by the end of the year. That same month, the head of the Beirut Traders Association revealed that a quarter of Beirut's private sector businesses had closed."[45] The tourism sector, one of the main pillars of the Lebanese economy, was hit hard especially after the spread of COVID-19. The number of tourists destined for Lebanon fell by 71.5% over the first five months, and with the contraction of Lebanon's GDP as well as high inflation, the country witnessed an increase in poverty rate, affecting all sects.[46] Moreover, the United Nations World Food Program believed that the socioeconomic conditions of the Lebanese society will worsen as the prices of food rose by 109%.[47] Thus, any adjustments to the Lebanese economy is unlikely and the situation will deteriorate; even if the elite decide to implement a viable plan of recovery, it will be painful and will take several years. It is therefore unsurprising that the Lebanese took to the streets in a desperate attempt to correct the corrupt political system.

While demonstrations in Lebanon is not strange to the society, the past two years witnessed new development in these demonstrations. For instance, the Lebanese society was split after the assassination of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005 between the March 14 Alliance—who took an anti-Syrian stance—and the March 8 Alliance that were closer to the Syrian position in Lebanon. In 2016, Beirut Madinati was formed by activists, academics, and practitioners. The main aim of the movement was to win the municipal elections in the capital to implement reforms such as fixing the garbage crisis and promoting transparency and accountability. Although the movement won 30% of the votes, it did not gain any seats in the twenty-four–seat council. This outcome "would have surely been different under proportional rules, even if municipal council elections differ somewhat from parliamentary elections in that seats are not allocated along sectarian lines."[48] In 2019, however, a new social movement emerged from disparate components of the society who spontaneously demonstrated against government policies. After the government planned on imposing taxes on calls from applications such as WhatsApp, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese from different backgrounds took to the streets. The new government policy was the spark that ignited the demonstrations for protesting the new taxes but later included demands against the elite's exploitation, economic inequality, corruption, and sectarianism.[49] For decades, "sectarian fault lines have diverted attention away from how much the ruling elite shares and how little they have left for the rest of the country."[50] The demonstrators succeeded in pressuring the Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, to resign and creating a political crisis in Lebanon. The demonstrations were clearly an expression of festering public frustration over the performance of the successive governments, and although the numbers dwindled, the demonstrations continued in various times and areas of Lebanon.

The demonstrations were propelled by the horrendous economic conditions in Lebanon as well as the explosion in one of its ports. In Lebanon, nearly a quarter of the population is unemployed (almost a third for the young), and debt is 150% of the GDP, which is one of the worst in the world.[51] The conditions worsened even more as the Lebanese Lira nosedived in 2020, losing nearly 70% of its value, which led to increase in the prices of imported goods.[52] Lebanon witnessed multiple demonstrations in several cities, and they "chanted against the country's political elite, which many hold responsible for the country's economic woes."[53] They also pulled down barricades that blocked access to the Parliament while chanting "Revolution, Revolution," and pelted rocks at the security forces. The demonstrators also conducted ceremonial hangings of the President, the Speaker of the Parliament, and the leader of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah.[54] Public anger increased even more after a blast in Beirut's port—considered a lifeline as 80% of the country's grain goes through it—which killed more than a hundred and injured 5,000.[55] The fury targeted the political elite as a whole including Hezbollah, who has been siding with the government since demonstrations in 2019.

Hezbollah has been successful in diversifying its income especially within Lebanon. For example, US investigations of the Lebanese Canadian Bank provided revealing insights into income generated by Hezbollah. The system created by Hezbollah, through the bank, allowed the group not only to hide its wealth but also to indirectly invest as much as $240 million to purchase 740 acres in Lebanon overlooking the Mediterranean.74 The domestic dimension of Hezbollah's finances is also revealed through extensive social programs. In the aftermath of the 2006 war, the group spent $281 million—compared to $21 million by the government—and was reportedly ready to spend billions to maintain the same level of popularity that it enjoyed.75 As such, Hezbollah became part of not only the political system but also the economic setting of Lebanon, as attacks as well as changes to the system means changes to the status quo through which Hezbollah is benefitting. Therefore, Hezbollah stood by the government and opposed any changes. Hezbollah's position became clear with two speeches that were made by Hassan Nasrallah. While Nasrallah was sympathetic with the demonstrators and their demands and agreed with the dire conditions in Lebanon, he opposed demands calling for the resignation of the president and the prime minister. The group eventually blamed foreign powers such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the US for stoking discord in Lebanon, and one of Hezbollah's lawmakers claimed that the US was trying to impose its agenda on Lebanon through the demonstrations. In addition, Nasrallah "warned repeatedly that a continuation of the protest and adoption of all the changes demanded by the demonstrators would spell real dangers to the stability of Lebanon, with economic collapse and a violent struggle liable to escalate as far as civil war."[56] The stance of Hezbollah eroded the group's image as a champion of the poor in Lebanon, and instead it is being depicted by the Lebanese as an obstacle to a better future.[57]


Hezbollah has evolved tremendously since it was created in the 1980s. Today, Hezbollah has a political party, is involved in forming the government, has social services, and continues to battle Israel while being involved in Syria. Given all of these developments, and the fact that Hezbollah has not been able to dominate the political system, it is impractical to classify the group based on the current codifications. Hezbollah is no longer a revolutionary group that vies to overthrow the system, nor is it a resistance movement as it already succeeded in driving Israel out of southern Lebanon, and it is certainly not a secessionist or purely a commercial insurgency. Hezbollah is a status quo insurgency that seeks the prolongation of deterring Israel, to keep the political system intact and to maintain its popularity within the Shia-street in Lebanon. As a result, the current situation means different continuities and new aspects in Hezbollah's approach. 


[2] Citation of a work by the author


[3]. Marwan George Rowayheb, "Political Change and the Outbreak of Civil War: The Case of Lebanon," Civil Wars 13, no. 4 (2011): 416.


[4]. Edgar O'Ballance, Islamic Fundamentalist Terrorism, 197995: The Iranian Connection (Springer, 1996), 62.

[5]. Yezid Sayigh, "Israel's Military Performance in Lebanon, June 1982," Journal of Palestine Studies 13, no. 1 (1983): 24–65.


[6]. Adham Saouli, "Lebanon's Hizbullah: The Quest for Survival." World Affairs 166, no. 2 (2003): 75.


[7]. Paul Kingston and Marie-Joelle Zahar, "Rebuilding a House of Many Mansions: The Rise and Fall of Militia Cantons in Lebanon," in States-Within-States (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 84.


[8]. Hajjar, "Convoluted and Diminished Lebanese Democracy," 264.

[9]. John Nagle and Mary-Alice Clancy, "Power-Sharing After Civil War: Thirty Years Since Lebanon's Taif Agreement," Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 25, no. 1 (2019): 2.


[10]. Nagle and Clancy, "Power-Sharing After Civil War," 2.


[11]. Hoda Baytiyeh, "Lebanon's Power-Sharing System and the Rise of Sectarianism," Peace Review 31, no. 2 (2019): 224.


[12]. Nagle and Clancy, "Power-sharing after Civil War," 3.


[13]. Baytiyeh, "Lebanon's Power-Sharing System," 227.


[14]. Hannes Baumann, "Social Protest and The Political Economy of Sectarianism in Lebanon," Global Discourse 6, no. 4 (2016): 636–37.


[16]. Nagle, "Between Entrenchment, Reform and Transformation," 1149.


[17]. Paul Salem, "Framing Post‐War Lebanon: Perspectives on the Constitution and the Structure of Power," Mediterranean Politics 3, no. 1 (1998): 23.


[18]. Tamirace Fakhoury, "Power-Sharing After the Arab Spring? Insights from Lebanon's Political Transition," Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 25, no. 1 (2019): 18.

[19]. Fakhoury, "Power-Sharing After the Arab Spring?" 19.


[20]. Hajjar, "Convoluted and Diminished Lebanese Democracy," 272.


[21]. Maha Yahya, "After the Lebanon Protests: Between the Party of God and Party of the People." Carnegie Endowment For International Peace. 2019


[22]. Lina Khatib, "Hizbullah's Political Strategy," Survival 53, no. 2 (2011): 63.


[23]. Hilal Khashan, Hizbullah: A Mission to Nowhere (Lexington Books, 2019), 123.


[24]. Saouli, "Lebanon's Hizbullah," 74.


[25]. Krista E. Wiegand, "Reformation of a Terrorist Group: Hezbollah as a Lebanese Political Party." Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 32, no. 8 (2009): 674.

[26]. Daniel Meier, "Hizbullah's Shaping Lebanon Statehood," Small Wars & Insurgencies 29, no. 3 (2018): 519.


[27]. Saouli, "Lebanon's Hizbullah," 77.


[28]. Boaz Atzili, "State Weakness and 'Vacuum of Power' in Lebanon," Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 33, no. 8 (2010): 75782.


[29]. Matthew Hughes, "Lebanon's Armed Forces and the Arab-Israeli War, 1948–49," Journal of Palestine Studies 34, no. 2 (2005): 26.


[30]. Hughes, "Lebanon's Armed Forces," 27.


[31]. Ofer Aderet, "Israeli Who Commanded Massacre of Dozens of Arab Captives in 1948 Dies at 93," Haaretz, 2019,


[32]. Florence Gaub, "Multi‐Ethnic Armies in the Aftermath of Civil War: Lessons Learned from Lebanon," Defence Studies 7, no. 1 (2007): 8.


[33]. Rowayheb, "Political Change and Outbreak of Civil War," 416.


[35]. Gaub, "Multi‐Ethnic Armies," 9.


[36]. Gaub, "Multi‐Ethnic Armies," 10.


[37] For example: Yazbek Wehbe. “Nasrallah delivers televised speech, reiterates importance of Resistance, army, people equation” LBC International, May 25, 2016 and Tehran Times. “Sayyed Nasrallah’s speech on “historic” 2006 war victory.” August 8, 2021


[38] Robert F. Worth and Nada Bakri “Hezbollah Seizes Swath of Beirut From U.S Backed Lebanon Government” New York Times May 10, 2008


[39] Ahmed Majidyar. “Tehran Celebrates Arsal "Victory" as Sign of Hezbollah’s Growing Power” Middle East Institute, August 11, 2017


[40] Lina Khatib. “How Hezbollah holds sway over the Lebanese state” Chatham House, June 2021

[41] Aram Nerguizian. “The Lebanese Armed Forces and Hezbollah: Military Dualism in Post-War Lebanon.” Carnegie Middle East Center Oct 30, 2018


[42]. Baumann, "Social Protest and the Political Economy," 661.


[43]. Lydia Assouad, "Lebanon's Political Economy: From Predatory to Self-Devouring," Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2021,


[44]. Charalambos Pattichis, "Budget and Trade Deficits in Lebanon," Applied Economics Letters 11, no. 2 (2004): 105.

[45]. Assouad, "Lebanon's Political Economy."


[46]. World Bank Group, "The Deliberate Depression," Lebanon Economic Monitor, 2020.


[47]. Javier Solana, "Lebanon Needs a new Start," Brookings, 2020,

[48]. Osama Gharizi, "Lebanon: Turning Protest into Power," War on the Rocks, 2020,


[49]. Roschanack Shaery-Yazdi, "Rethinking Sectarianism: Violence and Coexistence in Lebanon," Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations 31, no. 3 (2020): 325.


[50]. Samah Hadid, "The Protests in Lebanon have Bridged Social Divides—Now Everyone is Fighting Against the Corrupt Elite," Independent, 2019,


[51]. Hadid, "Protests in Lebanon."


[52]. Tamara Qiblawi and Ghazi Balkiz, "Nationwide Protests Grip Lebanon as Currency Tanks," CNN, 2020,


[53]. Qiblawi and Balkiz, "Nationwide Protests."


[54]. Mona El-Naggar and Ben Hubbard, "Clashes Erupt in Beirut at Blast Protest as Lebanon's Anger Boils Over," New York Times, 2020,


[55]. BBC, "Beirut Explosion: Anti-Government Protests Break out in City," BBC News World, 2020,

[56]. Orna Mirahi and Yoram Schweitzer, "The Demonstrations in Lebanon: Hezbollah Struggles to Preserve its Status," The Institute for National Security Studies, 2019,


[57].Yahya. "After the Lebanon Protests."

Categories: Hezbollah

About the Author(s)

Dr. Massaab Al-Aloosy is the author of The Changing Ideology of Hezbollah. He holds a PhD from the Fletcher School – Tufts University and his research focuses on Iraq, Iran, and Shia armed groups.