BEIRUT: As protests in Lebanon against institutional corruption and taxes entered their ninth day on Friday, both Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), founded by President Michel Aoun, increased their presence on the streets.
Supporters of the FPM gathered outside the Palace of Justice in defense of Aoun, and attempted to convince protesters that they shared the same goals, holding banners with slogans including “Your demands are the same as the FPM’s,” “Fighting corruption is done through the judiciary,” “Why don’t you protest the presence of 1.5 million Syrian refugees?” and “President Aoun is not corrupt. Focus on others.”
Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah claimed that the protests were being orchestrated by “specific, known political parties, powers, communities and institutions.”
Hezbollah supporters went to Riad Al-Solh Square — the center of the uprising in Beirut — where they threatened and intimidated protesters in an attempt to quash any criticism of Nasrallah, and led chants calling the head of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, a “terrorist.” They arrived overnight on Thursday, dressed in black shirts, and erected a tent in the square.
Arab News spoke to several protesters who called Nasrallah’s supporters “thugs.” One of them asked: “What brought Hezbollah here? This is not its place.”
Protesters then began chanting “All of them means all of them” — a chant signifying their intention to hold everyone in power accountable for Lebanon’s problems. One protester told Arab News, “Instead of standing by the people, Hezbollah is standing against them. It is a shame.” Another addressed Nasrallah directly, saying: “We love you. Why do you make us hate you and your supporters?”
One also said, “Without the people, neither Nasrallah nor anyone else would be here. This attack is unacceptable.” Another stressed: “The revolution will continue. They want it to fail, but this is not going to happen.”
Riot police intervened and clashed with Hezbollah’s supporters. Stones were thrown and batons were used. Several police were injured.
Hezbollah’s supporters eventually took control of the square, as one protester announced through a loudspeaker: “Whoever wants to cause trouble is not welcome among us. This square is open to everyone, but with respect.”
In a televised speech, Nasrallah said that the uprising may have started as a “spontaneous” movement, but that was no longer the case.
“It is now being managed, coordinated and funded,” he claimed. “The movement has entered the scope of regional political conflicts and is no longer limited to popular protests. This pushes us to question it. We fear that someone is targeting the country in order to lead us to civil war and lure the resistance. We have information and doubts.”
He called on the leadership of the movement to “reassure demonstrators and reassure us as well. Identify your representatives because there is a hidden leadership and the people have the right to know who they are following.”
Nasrallah asked his supporters to leave the areas of the protests because “we have no interests there,” and told protesters, “Rejecting dialogue means that there is a major political targeting of all elements of power in the country.”
Convoys supporting Nasrallah were organized in the southern suburbs of Beirut and in Tyre. Security forces blocked all roads leading to Beirut to prevent them from reaching the city center.
Hani Fayyad, a member of the revolution’s coordination committee, responded to Nasrallah, saying, “The movement’s representatives will meet tonight and come up with a unified decision.”