In the run-up to the parliamentary elections – the struggle for the Shiite voice

Lebanon’s parliamentary elections scheduled for May 9, 2022, will likely be brought forward to March 27, 2022. The early elections are due to Hezbollah’s opposition to holding them on the original date since it is during Ramadan.

According to the ethnic/religious division method in the Lebanese parliament, 27 seats of 128 parliament seats are reserved for the Shiite community (64 seats for the Christian community, 27 seats for the Sunni community, 8 for the Druze, and 2 for the Alawites). The twenty-seven Shiite representatives are divided between the Amal Movement and Hezbollah.

Although Hezbollah and the Amal movement are ostensibly a “duo” supposed to work in cooperation and mutual assistance, this is not the case in the pre-election reality. Hezbollah is determined to succeed in the upcoming elections, even at the expense of the Amal movement.

Hezbollah’s many civilian projects recently carried out among the Shiite population and marketed through a well-oiled public relations system are aimed at the parliamentary election period. The highlight is the fuel tankers from Iran or, as we call them, Hezbollah’s “PR Tankers”. In this case, Hezbollah benefits twice by strengthening its position in public opinion in general and the Shiite population in particular. Bringing Iranian fuel reinforces the prevailing narrative in which Hezbollah is the “economic defender” of all of Lebanon “against sanctions and the siege.” In addition, it earns points among Shiite “bases” by refilling gas stations in Shiite areas (at least partially / temporarily). 

In light of the economic crisis in Lebanon, Hezbollah decided to act according to an extreme scenario in which it will lose its influence on the Shiite public ahead of the elections. This is the rationale for the intense and aggressive actions. This activity threatens the movement of Amal, which is pushed aside.

On the night of September 9, a “military exercise” by the Amal movement took place in the area of ​​the city of Nabatieh in southern Lebanon. The name given to the exercise was “The Great Terror.” Hundreds of Amal activists participated in the training. There were convoys of vehicles with armed activists, usually with small arms and medium-range machine guns, moving on the roads. The message was clear: the Amal movement is widely present on the ground, has a military force, and should not be ignored. 

Who was the message from this demonstration of the Amal movement aimed at? Was the message intended for the outside world (Israel)? Or inward? Hezbollah’s intense civilian activity among the Shiite population threatens the Amal movement, also based on this population. In light of this, the Amal movement decided to demonstrate power in the form of a “military exercise.” 

On October 2, the wife of the “vanished imam” Musa al-Sadr, died and was buried in the city of Tyre. Musa al-Sadr, an Iranian by origin, arrived in Lebanon in 1958 and is considered the Lebanese community’s supreme religious Shiite leader (“Imam”). He founded the Amal movement in the 1970s. He disappeared without a trace on August 31, 1978, during a trip to Libya. The timing of her death served the Amal movement well, and the funeral procession was well utilized for another powerful demonstration.

We estimate that the loss of influence and grip of both Hezbollah and the Amal movement among the Shiite “base” will not happen soon. However, there is great mutual fear in both Hezbollah and the Amal movement of losing votes in the parliamentary elections due to the indifference of the voters. Indifference will result in a low turnout to vote at the polls. The movement that manages to get more voters to the polls will win the most seats out of the 27 marked seats for the Shiite community in parliament. The “race for voters” causes a covert and overt struggle between Hezbollah and the Amal movement. As we approach the election date, the struggle will intensify, become more and more overt, and may even escalate to violent clashes between Amal supporters and Hezbollah supporters.

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Tal Beeri

Tal Beeri

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