February 25, 2022
Supporters of the Hezbollah party in Lebanon have increased their threats against opponents through social media ahead of the May parliamentary elections.
The latest threat was against Lebanese University professor Bassel Saleh.
Threats are often made ahead of elections, but this year they take on a new edge given that the polls are taking place after the 2019 popular revolt against Lebanon’s ruling class.
Civil society groups that have emerged from the protests are working hard to run in the elections, with hopes pinned that they would achieve a breakthrough given the support they have from the people.
Saleh, a native of Kfar Shouba in the South – a Hezbollah stronghold, revealed that he received a death threat through social media from a party loyalist after he had criticized the party in wake of Israeli jets flying over Lebanon in recent days. He said Hezbollah supporters were “arrogant” for boasting that they did not fear the jets.
Saleh wrote on social media: “Aren’t [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah and his party ruling us so that Israeli jets could stop violating our airspace?”
He added that he didn’t understand the “arrogance that comes with those who boast of excessive force and not fearing death”. He also cited the detention of a “militiaman in Chouya” for launching a rocket towards Israel last summer.
The man, a Hezbollah member, was riding a rocket launcher in the southern region of Chouya. He was held by a number of local residents after he launched the projectile.
Soon after making his posts, Saleh revealed that he received a direct threat against his life, with the aggressor even knowing where he worked.
He said the Hezbollah supporter was defying the law and security agencies, while his followers cheered him on.
“These are a group of people, who claim patriotism and purity, according to their standards alone, while accusing those who oppose them of treason and that they should be taken out,” said Saleh.
He urged the security agencies and international powers monitoring Lebanon to make note of the threat.
“We are waging a direct conflict with an alliance of militias and mafias. We are at the mercy of theft, deception and the violation of all rights,” he continued.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat that he was following up on the legal proceedings after he had filed a complaint over the threat.
Saleh tied the threat to the upcoming elections and his activism along with others in the South.
He said the supporters were primarily “irked by his criticism of the alleged invincible fighter, whose image the party has been building for the past 35 years, and whom he described as a militiaman.”
Moreover, he remarked that Hezbollah will be wary of the electoral battle in the South. He said the party was able to terrorize the southerners who took to the street in 2019 and it will make sure that the dissidents’ voices are not heard at the ballot boxes.
Saleh predicted that the party will intensify its campaign against its opponents as the elections draw near.
He cited the assassination of Shiite dissident Lokman Slim in 2021 as evidence of how far the party will go to silence opponents. He also recalled the intimidation against Shiite activists ahead of the 2018 elections. Journalist Ali al-Amine, who was running for a seat in the South, was even assaulted.
Researcher and professor Mona Fayyad said Hezbollah’s threats against opponents will only intensify ahead of the elections, not ruling out the possibility of it resorting to assassinations.
She told Asharq Al-Awsat that the party is being defensive, adding that the it will use the elections to reap more seats in parliament and prove that its popularity has not waned in spite of the evident rising voices of dissent among its Shiite community.
The party’s real image had been exposed, she continued, especially after Israeli gas will be pumped to Lebanon and after the authorities signaled that they were prepared to relinquish some territory for Israel in the maritime border negotiations.
The people view this all as an act of treason, so the party will react in self-defense, she warned.