Uprising in Syria Puts Hezbollah on the Defensive
On a main road connecting the Lebanese capital with the south, Sheik Ahmad Assir kneels under a blazing sun to pray and then sits down with supporters at his anti-Hezbollah protest camp and launches into a new tirade against Lebanon’s most powerful and well-armed force.
“By God, Nasrallah, I will not let you sleep at night,” he vows in a fiery speech, addressing Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.
Few in Lebanon have dared take on the Shiite militant group in such a public way, but Assir, a hardline Sunni cleric, senses weakness. He sees a chance to push back against Hezbollah’s domination of the country’s politics.
The growing popularity among some Sunnis of the previously little known local cleric is a sign of how vulnerable Hezbollah has become as it faces the possibility of the downfall of its crucial ally, President Bashar Assad in Syria. Its reputation as a popular resistance movement has already taken a severe beating for siding with Syria against the anti-Assad uprising even after it supported Arab revolts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Bahrain.
“This is the start of what will become Lebanon’s Tahrir Square,” Assir, wearing a long robe and white skullcap, told The Associated Press at his protest site, where some 150 Sunni conservative supporters have been camped out for some three weeks. “They have humiliated us for long enough. It’s about our dignity now. I can’t live like this, it’s enough.”
“May you triumph over the Party of the Devil!” came a shout of support to Assir from one bearded protester, who traveled from the northern, Sunni-dominated city of Tripoli to join in. He used a play on Hezbollah’s name, Arabic for Party of God.
Assad’s fall would be a nightmare scenario for Hezbollah. Any Sunni-led new regime would likely be far less friendly to the group, or even outright hostile. Regime change in Syria could heavily damage its ally’s political clout in Lebanon and knock out a third of the “Iran-Syria-Hezbollah” axis of “resistance” to Israel.