The country’s political structure is based on a delicate balance among different ethnicities and sects, and the deep economic crisis might favour the Iran-backed group.
Lebanon has experienced several civil wars and Israeli invasions, which have, over time, put tremendous strain on the country’s social fabric, its economy and governance structures.
The latest economic crisis has triggered widespread protests across the country, and the political deadlock — no government has been established since last August’s massive explosion in Beirut leaving a caretaker government in place — have put the country at risk of collapse.
While ordinary people suffer, Lebanese political factions are engulfed in the blame game. Hezbollah, the country’s powerful Shia political party with a strong military wing, accuses the central political establishment for the ongoing crisis while leading elites and their political allies keep the Iran-backed group responsible for troubles in Lebanon.
Despite both Israeli and US pressure against the armed group, experts think that Hezbollah might come out stronger from the ongoing crisis as it solidifies its political base across the country.
“If the situation continues to deteriorate and the state falls apart, Hezbollah will be better placed than other political groups to provide for its constituents and to control the areas important to it,” says Heiko Wimmen, the project director of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon at the International Crisis Group.
“Objectively speaking, its influence would even increase,” the Beirut-based analyst tells TRT World. But Wimmen also draws attention to the fact that the armed group is also “keenly interested in preserving the status quo” which favours Hezbollah and its allies.
Wimmen says that Hezbollah reached the peak of its influence with the 2018 elections and since then the political setup has allowed them to exercise “decisive influence” across state institutions, enabling them unfettered use of public resources.
“It is their goldilocks situation,” Wimmen says.
Sami Hamdi, a political analyst and head of the political risk consultancy International Interest, also thinks that the economic crisis will empower Hezbollah. “As this economic and political crisis unfolds, the reality is that none of the other parties provide any solutions to Lebanese people, Hezbollah for at least its own constituencies is providing solutions from medical services to access to groceries,” Hamdi tells TRT World.
Lebanese demographics also favour Hezbollah as the Shia Arab population continues to grow at greater rates compared to other ethnic groups.
Other analysts also underline that pointing the finger at Hezbollah for Lebanon’s financial woes might not work this time around as people continue to attack banks across the country, seeing them as the symbol of their own misery.
“I have a big problem with attitudes that ridicule a nuanced understanding of conflicts. And so I have a huge problem with blaming the economic crisis on Hezbollah/Iran when really the financial oligarchy and its allies in the state (across the political spectrum) caused the crisis,” wrote Nizar Hassan, a Beirut-based researcher, on Twitter.
In the longer term, attitudes within the Lebanese elite could also “work toward Hezbollah’s favour” as they are perceived by ordinary people as not caring about Lebanon, Hamdi says. This perception is one of the primary reasons behind the current popular anger, he adds.
Even Israel appears to be very concerned about what’s going on in Lebanon, offering help to its neighbour. “In light of the dire economic situation in Lebanon, and considering Hezbollah’s attempts to deepen Iranian investments in the country, I have contacted UNIFIL (the United Nations Interim Force) via the IDF’s liaison officials and discussed a proposal to transfer humanitarian aid to Lebanon,” wrote Benny Gantz, Israeli defence minister.
Lebanon is expected to reject Gantz’s proposal as the country has previously refused help from Israel.
Hezbollah’s growing base
Hezbollah attracts a constituency that has been increasingly alienated by the Lebanese central government and its political elites, according to Hamdi. “It’s a base Hezbollah enjoys significant unwavering support from and it’s a base the Lebanese government has neglected for years.”
While the state is unable to provide basic services, Hezbollah provides services like supermarkets with relatively affordable prices as well as medical help. “It is the case of ‘you don’t bite the hand that feeds you’. Hezbollah steps in where the Lebanese government falls short,”says Hamdi.
Since 2019, the country’s currency, the Lebanese pound, has lost over 85 percent of its value against the US dollar, making imports expensive and stoking inflation. Even the World Bank has ranked the country’s economic crisis as one of the worst seen in more than 150 years.
“While it’s easy to assume that Hezbollah rules by force and a lot of their influence is the result of force and military capabilities, it’s also the result of filling the void the government left and cementing themselves in that void,” the analyst adds.
Hamdi also draws attention to the fact that Hezbollah has managed to reach far beyond its traditional base.
“Hezbollah has been able to ally with the Christian section of the Lebanese society to establish a formidable alliance that has been able to operate effectively, giving Hezbollah significant official control in the state,” the analyst says.