Responding to what he called a month-long “orchestrated campaign” against Hizbullah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday defended the party’s domestic performance and challenged the government to produce and implement an equitable political and economic reform plan.
In more than two hours of extemporaneous remarks, Hizbullah’s secretary-general outlined the party’s vision of its domestic political role, eschewing discussion of other matters.
“We are ready to cooperate,” Nasrallah said, thrusting his open hand forward. “Is there anything clearer than that?”
“But leave out the issue of the resistance,” he said, stressing “no change” in the party’s position on liberating the Shebaa Farms or confronting Israel.
Nasrallah’s remarks, made at a ceremony in Haret Hreik, were aimed at Hizbullah’s detractors, who say the party opposes building a state of laws and salvaging the economy.
He said Baalbek-Hermel MP Ammar Musawi had issued fiery challenges to detractors in a parliamentary budget debate “due to a bit of provocation,” dismissing it as a natural result of political tension. “But because of the media power of some people, these events were portrayed in a certain way. It was an organized campaign against Hizbullah, holding us responsible for things for which we (have not done, such as being) ‘the great pirate’ of international calls,” he scoffed.
“We support the government of Rafik Hariri to do everything possible on the international calls issue,” he said, challenging officials to re-direct the funds recovered into development projects. “Our MPs will come back a year from now and ask about this; let’s see if any money will go to Baalbek-Hermel.”
Nasrallah mocked recent media coverage, which has assigned the party a role in inciting MEA unions against a restructuring plan, mobilizing taxi drivers for an angry protest at Nijmeh Square, and protecting illegal call operators in exchange for a cut of the profits.
Some observers have described the events as Hizbullah tripping over its feet as it tries to carve out a place in the domestic political arena.
“We’d look at each other and say, ‘wow are we really like this’?” Nasrallah said, describing what he said was the party leadership’s reaction.
Nasrallah said critics wanted the party to take the law into its hands by handing over people involved in illegal trade, while simultaneously accusing it of being an extra-legal group.
“We have never wanted to be a security organization,” Nasrallah said, inviting state bodies to do their duty and enforce the law.
“I challenge anyone in the state to accuse a single member of Hizbullah of growing cannabis,” he said, adding that Islamic doctrine forbade any involvement in the drug trade, including trafficking.
He acknowledged the existence of “one or two” illegal telephone exchanges in the suburbs, but said such offices were spread throughout the country and again challenged the government to shut them.
He argued that critics were mistakenly describing a recent Hizbullah “entrance” into domestic politics, forgetting it backed the Taif Accord and contested the 1992 parliamentary elections and all subsequent rounds. The party’s choices, he argued, would never please its critics.
“Some friends ask us why we want to get involved in the mud of domestic politics and advise us to stay ‘up there’,” he said, gesturing southward, toward the front with Israel.
“And others complain that we’re ‘up there,’ and want us to come ‘down here’,” he said, promising the party would be active on both fronts.
Nasrallah elicited chuckles when criticizing government performance on developing the impoverished Bekaa.
“The dollar gets around everywhere in the country but seems to stop right at Baalbek-Hermel … . If you make a big commotion, you won’t get money, and if you don’t make a fuss, you won’t either,” he said. “Baalbek-Hermel remains forgotten, until the cannabis issue came up … . The suburbs are forgotten, until the international telephone calls issue.”
Nasrallah then leaned forward and re-confirmed with audience members that they were still purchasing water supplies for their homes in the suburbs.
He said Hizbullah opposed the government’s handling of restructuring MEA but had not sought to score political points.
“(The government’s) idea of reform looks at the employees and pilots, but not the executives, the squandering, or who was responsible for employing all of these people. I didn’t even know the make-up of the employees at MEA until I read it in the newspaper one day.
“We don’t have a single ‘share’ in the state administrations … not even a single doorman in a government department” as a political employee.
He then paused and admitted: “Well, we do have one person, on the board of Elissar, but he was just included for show.”
Repeatedly stressing that Hizbullah wanted economic solutions and was unconcerned with scoring political gains from its victory over Israel, Nasrallah issued several challenges to the government: produce a fair election law, abolish political confessionalism and end general drift.
“Let them say that it will take 20 years, or 30 before things get better,” he said, urging officials to be as frank with the public as a doctor would be with a sick patient.
Nasrallah urged officials to form a committee to study the abolition of sectarianism in politics and sought to calm fears in the Christian community. “Take a few months, or a few years, and study the issue, and tell us what we need to do. If we’re all agreed that sectarianism is at the root of our sickness, why not discuss it?”
He also mocked politicians who stress the importance of the country’s youth but fail to reduce the voting age to 18.
“I’ll repeat what I’ve said before: This is an act of political cowardice … . All of these youth summer camps and municipal councils for kids are very nice, but we must give young people the right to vote.”
Addressing the “many who might still not understand us,” Nasrallah reiterated that establishing an Islamic state was unfeasible due to “the objective conditions and the country’s make-up.”
Hizbullah’s policy, he continued, meant it would champion policies that ensured social justice, coexistence, civil peace and public freedom.
The party’s choice to enter the political system, he said, was firm and had been “paid for in blood,” citing the Sept. 9, 1993, demonstration at the airport bridge when the army “killed 10 people and wounded 50” in a Hizbullah demonstration against the Oslo Accords. “We displayed patience and did not respond, although they wanted to drag us into a conflict.”
Hizbullah’s “direct goals,” he said, involved building a state of law and institutions, political reform, administrative reform, treating the economic crisis, developing deprived areas, defending the weak against unjust policies, and achieving a range of social, educational and cultural demands. “We’ll display the same bravery in domestic political issues as we did fighting Israel.”