"The party is seeking closer ties to and more openness with the Christian community in Lebanon"
It is true that the coverage was highly unusual compared with past years. We saw the channel’s journalists broadcast all day long from a considerable number of cities and villages. Hezbollah chose to do this because of the regional context. The party is seeking closer ties to and more openness with the Christian community in Lebanon [editor’s note: Christians account for just under half of Lebanon’s population], as well as in Syria and the region as a whole.Screenshot from an Al-Manar presenter in front of a Christmas tree.Courtesy of The Beirut Report.Al-Manar’s desire for rapprochement is very much in line with the attitude of the average Shiite. Aside from political positions, we Shiites have adopted a compassionate outlook toward Christians, given that we are both minorities in the Middle East. But we Shiites have the means to defend ourselves.
"The goal is to create a common alliance in the face of Sunni extremism, which we see as a positive step"
I believe that this special coverage reveals Hezbollah’s determination to work towards a real understanding between Christians and Shiites in Lebanon. The political rapprochement began in 2006 with the alliance between Hezbollah and General Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement. But now, we’re seeing a desire for closer connections that would allow each community to overcome their biases.However, in my opinion, the Shiite community is the real target for this coverage. Al-Manar is seeking to familiarise its audience [which is primarily Shiite and pro-Hezbollah] with Christian rituals and the symbols surrounding Christmas. You’d be surprised by the level of ignorance that each side has about the other’s religion, even though Shiites and Christians live in the same cities and even sometimes the same neighbourhoods. Hezbollah is making it possible to create fraternal links with the Christian community. The goal is to create a common alliance in the face of Sunni extremism. This is a positive step for us Christians.
"Hezbollah is trying to falsely depictitself as moderate"
Hezbollah wants to be seen as a moderate party that opposes radical Sunni groups like the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.I am actually surprised that this PR campaign came about so late. Through this positioning, Hezbollah is trying to legitimise its military engagement in Syria alongside Bashar al-Assad’s regime, by endowing it with a noble cause.On the domestic front, we must remember that the president’s term will be ending soon, in May. [Editor’s note: Lebanon's president is necessarily a Maronite Christian. Hezbollah will support a Christian candidate of its choosing]. Through this rebranding campaign, Hezbollah is trying to gain the support of undecided Christians. But this image of a moderate party and trusted interlocutor for the Christian community is being acquired through manipulation.Thisapproach echoes Iran’s new communication strategy since the election of President Hassan Rohani. The Iranian authorities are trying to play the “alliance with regional minorities” card, knowing perfectly well that this will please western audiences.