A group of men supporting the Iran-backed Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah attacked a group of anti-corruption protesters Sunday night in Lebanon.
The incident marred what was generally seen as a peaceful day of demonstrations in Lebanon’s ongoing political crisis.
According to AFP, “counter-demonstrators” from Hezbollah and Amal, another Shiite Muslim political party linked to Iran, gathered near a roadblock erected by anti-corruption protesters at a little before midnight on Sunday.
After chanting slogans and hurling insults for a while, the Hezbollah and Amal members forced their way through the roadblock and attacked the protesters, who responded by shouting that they were “peaceful” and waiting for security troops to separate the two groups.
AFP cited local media reports that the Hezbollah-Amal supporters also attacked a camp of protesters and destroyed some of their tents. Reuters stated they became violent after the anti-corruption protesters insulted their leader, Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Several people were injured in the scuffle but no fatalities were reported.
Hezbollah supporters chanted “Shia!” and “Shiites!”, waved their yellow flag, and launched flares at police and protesters. Anti-corruption demonstrators responded with cries of “Revolution!” and “Hezbollah is terrorist!” The police eventually deployed tear gas to keep the two groups apart.
Public anger was provoked by the arrest of several children aged 15 and younger who pulled down a sign touting Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) party. Critics of the arrest said it proved Aoun’s “regime” was corrupt and afraid of children.
Aoun’s son-in-law Gibran Bassil, the nominal leader of the FPM party, is derided by protesters as one of the “most corrupt” ministers in the government. Protesters accused the party of taking money from Iran to provide Hezbollah with a veneer of Christian support, which is essential for Hezbollah’s ambitions because Lebanese law is a political/religious balancing act that requires a Christian in the presidency. Bassil has further been accused of skimming money from Lebanon’s shaky electrical utility.
84-year-old President Aoun is seen by the protesters as aloof, ineffective, in office for much too long, and tainted by corruption as well. Demands for his resignation are a common feature of protest marches.
Outgoing Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri criticized Aoun for taking too long to form a new Cabinet after his resignation. Hezbollah and Amal, which were both represented in Hariri’s coalition government, opposed Hariri’s resignation.
Aoun has refused calls for his resignation, accused all of Lebanon’s parties of corruption, and insisted reforms are needed more than a change of leadership. He has accused Hariri of plotting to take the presidency for himself. As recently as Thursday, he said a new government would not be formed any time soon due to the “contradictions that control Lebanese politics.” His supporters have mounted a few impressive demonstrations of their own.
On Saturday, Aoun gave a televised interview for Lebanon’s Independence Day in which he angered protesters by essentially telling them to leave if they dislike his government so much. This had the added effect of insulting the many Lebanese expatriates who made a symbolic return home to celebrate the Independence Day holiday.