By As'ad AbuKhalil*
Every speech by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is a political event which is widely discussed in Lebanon and the Middle East in general. Saudi and Qatari media ignore the event but marshal his opponents quickly after the speech to offer a rebuttal and denunciations of the points made by Nasrallah. Often such rebuttals include vulgarities, obscenities, and insults. This was the case when Tariq Humayyid – editor in chief of the mouthpiece of Prince Salman, Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat – referred to Nasrallah as a Shabbih (armed thug). Such are political debates in the media of the House of Saud.Only a smaller number of TV stations now carry the speech. Most of these stations are based in Lebanon, including, Al-Manar, NBN, Orange TV, and New TV. For the mass base of Hezbollah, those events are eagerly awaited spectacles where leaders and members compete to get good seats in front of a giant TV screen in the southern suburbs of Beirut.The latest speech by Nasrallah, aired last week, was probably more aimed at the base. In that respect it seemed to work. It galvanized the base and even triggered wide approval all over Facebook and Twitter by the larger audience that supports Nasrallah. The first part of the speech was delicate and the speaker was clearly uncomfortable in delivering it. It was addressed (without any references to Sunnis or Shias because the party is very keen in avoiding specific references to Sunnis and Shias) to the Islamists around the Arab world.Nasrallah was of course referring to Sunni Islamists and he kept pointing out that the issue of Palestine is crucial and that it should remain in the forefront of the agenda of Islamist movements. The point he was making was very delicate because not only was he directing it at the new Ikhwan rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, but also toward Hamas.Hamas and Hezbollah keep their relationship secret for obvious reasons but there are signs of tensions. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are mounting a campaign against the Syrian regime which has supported and armed Hamas and Hezbollah. Hamas leaders have been shuttling from one Gulf country to another.Saudi Arabia reportedly refused to invite Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh, despite efforts by both leaders. Saudi Arabia made it clear that Hamas leaders are not welcome in the kingdom unless the organization severs all ties with Iran.But Nasrallah was also making a point that furthered Hezbollah’s stance. He was reminding the Arab audience that by the criterion of anti-Israeli struggle (militarily and politically), Hezbollah remains ahead of the other Islamist (Sunni) organizations which have recently been flirting with both the US and Israel.He then addressed the Syrian situation and, again, refused to give an inch to the Syrian opposition – or any of its stands. He unconditionally supported the Syrian regime and called for its support.Nasrallah focused on the general international campaign to unseat Syrian President Bashar Assad. He only would refer to “mistakes” by the regime. Many Syrians would rightly take offense. The killing of thousands of Syrians amounts to much more than a mistake, as would the many decades of repressive rule. And the notion that the regime itself “admitted” its mistakes – as Nasrallah put it – makes the argument worse because the regime does not even admit its long record of repression and oppression and cruelty.In the second section of the speech, Nasrallah’s demeanor changed and he became more relaxed and humorous. He was very effective in undermining the arguments of March 14 one by one. He effectively mocked the popular notion – popular only in Lebanon – that the Hariri uprising in Lebanon triggered the “Arab spring” (Najib Mikati claimed that Saudi peace initiative triggered the “Arab spring”). He reminded the audience that March 14 figures used to perform regular pilgrimages to Cairo to coordinate their moves with Egyptian regime (Umar Sulayman was the contact person for those leaders).Nasrallah also compared the words of March 14 about Bahrain with their words on Syria. The audience loved that needling especially when he referred to the Lebanese Forces’ history of massacres. Nasrallah also talked about the ability of Hezbollah to face its enemies and he brought back his memories of the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006. He was not reluctant here to invoke the experience of Hussein, which must have tickled the sectarian audience.
*This article originally appeared in Al-Akhbar newspaper, and is republished in agreement with the author.