The Secretary-General of the Lebanese Hizbullah party-militia, Sayyid Hasan Nasrullah, made an appearance in largely Shiite South Beirut on Tuesday for the first time since 2008, according to al-Hayat writing in Arabic. Via a giant television screen, he addressed a large crowd of tens of thousands, most of whom could not get very close to the stage from which he spoke. The occasion is Ashura or the 10th day of the Muslim month of Muharram, which marks the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in 680 AD.
Nasrullah attacked Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the rebel Syrian National Council, which is aiming to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the Baath Party.
Nasrullah pointed to Ghalioun’s Dec. 2 interview with al-Arabiya and Agence France Presse, in which the dissident Syrian leader pledged to cut ties with Iran, Hizbullah and the Palestinian Muslim fundamentalist group, Hamas, were the Syrian National Council to come to power.
The Lebanese Shiite leader accused Ghalioun of saying these things in order to gain support from the United States and Israel.
Nasrullah pledged that Hizbullah would remain an armed militia ready to repel Israeli aggression.
(Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and occupied the south of the country for 18 years before withdrawing in the face of sustained Hizbullah guerrilla actions; Israel attacked the country again in 2006, saying it was in response to a Hizbullah provocation).
The appearance of Nasrullah was, according to MP Amine Wehbe, a desperate attempt to galvanize his party’s supporters at a time when both his foreign patrons, Iran and Baathist Syria, are facing difficulties because of the Upheavals of 2011.
If the Baathist regime in Syria fell, Hizbullah would lose not only a patron but also its supply route whereby its stock of rockets is replenished.
On the other hand, Ghalioun’s pledges to cut off Hizbullah and Hamas mean nothing at this stage. If the Syrian revolutionaries win, a Sunni fundamentalist government might well come to power at the ballot box, and they would likely be big fans of Hamas in Gaza, at the least.
Nasrullah’s strident stance in favor of the brutal Baath government risks alienating the party’s Arab supporters throughout the Arab world.