Hezbollah's military success against Israel last summer made the party one of the most popular political organisations in the Arab world. Iran was also cheered by the Arab masses, because it is believed to be the biggest backer of Hezbollah and so its support was viewed as crucial to the war effort.
|Hezbollah's supporters took to the streets |
of Beirut [AFP]
Slogans such as "Hezbollah restored our dignity" and "Hezbollah has done what the Arab armies stood short of" were shouted in the Arab street and reproduced in the Arab press.
However, the picture of a heroic group that destroyed the Israeli military legacy has since been seriously damaged, according to some Arab journalists and politicians. They say that the tactics used by Hezbollah in last week's protests against the Lebanese government have disappointed much of the Arab public.
The coverage of al-Manar TV station, the party's mouthpiece, of Saddam Hussein's execution, angered many across Arab and Muslim world. As mobile phone footage of the former Iraqi president's hanging emerged, showing Saddam being taunted by Shia witnesses as he said his final prayers, the channel's tone seemed gloating and triumphalist. Callers to the Hezbollah-run channel cheered the execution and its manner.
On January 19, the TV station broadcast an interview with the party's secretary-general, Hasan Nasrallah, who admitted the fall-out but, responding to a question about the drop in Hezbollah's popularity in the Arab world, said that he was not interested in being popular.
"It is wrong for anybody to think that we care about power or authority ... Let them bring me back my son and the rest of martyrs, and I will be happy and let all media outlets and Arab forums swear at me," Nasrallah said.
Akram al-Binni, a Syrian political activist, said Hezbollah's popularity has been damaged further by last week's unrest in Lebanon.
He said: "Hezbollah has been transformed from a resistance leader to a fighter for power. Last week's incidents which involved blocking roads and burning tyres, consolidated the idea that the party does not appreciate dialogue, and rather prefers the language of threat and excluding others."
|Saddam's execution was seen by many as|
Shia revenge on a Sunni Arab leader
Sheikh Subhi al-Tafaili, the former secretary-general of Hezbollah, said on Saturday that Nasrallah in Lebanon and Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the Shia leader in Iraq, follow the instructions of Iran’s spiritual leader, Ali Khaminei.
Al-Bini said: "The link between Hezbollah and foreign agendas – Syrian or Iranian - has become obvious. For example, we heard no comment from the party on Khaminei's latest statements that Lebanon is the battlefield to defeat Israel and the US."
The sectarian flavour in Saddam's execution has been seen by many in the Arab world as Shia revenge on a Sunni Arab leader. Hezbollah's celebration, then, was received badly - given that Sunni Arabs are the vast majority in all but two Arab countries.
Ayman al-Safadi, chief editor of the Jordanian al-Ghad newspaper, said Hezbollah's celebration of Saddam's execution had cost it its popular support.
He said: "I did not agree with Saddam, I think he made mistakes. However, the way he was treated at the execution scene and the way he handled the whole thing will definitely stick in people's minds and hearts for a very long time.
"Many have reviewed their views and allegiances. The change of heart towards Hezbollah could be clearly seen in the streets of Jordan and other Arab countries."
Protests against Saddam's execution spread throughout Arab and Muslim countries.
Restoration of support
Zaki Irsheed, an Islamist Jordanian member of parliament, has called on Hezbollah to take practical steps on the ground to restore its popular standing.
He said: "Hezbollah should take serious steps in abandoning sectarianism. It is Hezbollah's choice to win back people's support and enthusiasm or lose it for good. We really want the resistance to stay clean and far from sectarianism."
Some people criticise what they see as Hezbollah's ambiguous position and double standards regarding the resistance in Iraq.
|Hezbollah should clearly back the resistance in Iraq. They cannot ask people to support their resistance in Lebanon and at the same time they stand short of supporting the resistance in Iraq. We demand practical application on the ground|
Irsheed said: "Hezbollah should clearly back the resistance in Iraq. They cannot ask people to support their resistance in Lebanon and at the same time stand short of supporting the resistance in Iraq. We demand practical application on the ground."
Al-Bini has given a different vision of how Hezbollah might restore its popular image.
He said: "I think Hezbollah should start thinking as player within a group of players. It should not continue to act like a resistance movement, rather it should start thinking of being part of a state that adopts the resistance as a means to win back rights that were taken away by force.
"Last week's incidents did not show the party's interest to be part of a team; that should change if the party wants to win credit."
On Monday, Nasrallah addressed a crowed gathered to commemorate a Shia religious day and said his party would not engage in sectarianism and that his party would not take up arms against Lebanese.
"There are figures within the ruling powers who are working to provoke a conflict between Shias and Sunnis in Lebanon," he said in a televised address.
"We reject sectarian conflict, civil war and we will not aim our weapons at anyone, we will not work in the service of Israel."