A burning poster of Hassan Nasrallah. Sreenshot of a video published on YouTube.
Syrian opposition protesters are not just calling for the fall of President Bashar al-Assad: they have recently begun directing their anger against his regional allies, Iran and Hezbollah. Our Observer says this is a new and unexpected turn of events.
Videos of recent protests in Syria show demonstrators chanting slogans against Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s Islamic revolution, as well as the Hezbollah, an Islamist political party from Lebanon with a powerful armed wing. Even more surprising has been footage of protesters burning posters of Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary-general and a widely respected figure throughout the Middle East.
Their anger is a result of Tehran's and Hezbollah’s unwavering support
for the Syrian government, even as it ruthlessly crushes its own people’s calls for more democracy. The last straw for Syrian protesters was a speech
pronounced by Hassan Nasrallah on May 25, in which he assured Assad of his “everlasting friendship and support”.
The recent anti-Hezbollah protests have mainly taken place in the town of Douma, not far from the Syrian capital Damascus, and in Homs, Syria’s culture capital and third-largest city.
Video filmed in Douma, near Damascus, on May 28. The person setting fire to a poster of Nasrallah says: "Here is the answer of the people of Douma to Nasrallah's speech!" Video posted on YouTube.
"Up until now, Nasrallah was worshipped in the Arab world"
Nabil (not his real name) lives in the outskirts of Damascus.
Nobody in Syria was actually surprised that Iran and Hezbollah would support the Syrian regime: we all know that those three power circles have traditionally been close. But Hassan Nasrallah’s public statement of support got protesters really angry, and new anti-Hezbollah slogans began making their way into demonstrations.
This is a new and striking phenomenon: up until now, Nasrallah was worshipped in the Arab world. He was seen as a hero of anti-Israeli resistance, especially after he freed South Lebanon from Israeli occupation in 2000.
Today, Nasrallah has chosen the Syrian regime over the Syrian people. His main argument is the Assad family’s firm anti-Israeli stance and support of Hezbollah as it was branded a terrorist organization by the West. What’s more, the regime accuses protesters of being traitors manipulated by Israel and foreign powers as a way of discrediting the protest movement. By pitching Bashar al-Assad as the defender of the Arab cause, Damascus ensured itself of Nasrallah’s support.
These renewed tensions risk turning into religious divergences between Shiites and Sunnis. Just because Hezbollah is a mainly Shiite movement doesn’t mean that these news slogans are directed against Syria’s Shiite minority (about 10% of the population). The government plays on Sunni-Shiite / Arab-Kurd difference to divide the population, but we have to remain united. I think protesters understand this: one of their main slogans is ‘all together, hand in hand!”
Protesters in Douma burning Iranian and Chinese flags. Video shot on June 1 and published on YouTube.
In Homs, protesters chant anti-Khomeini slogans and shout: "Neither Iran, nor Hezbollah !" Video shot on June 1 and posted on YouTube.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira.