Hizbollah rides wave of popularity in Middleast

CAIRO — The Lebanese group Hizbollah is riding a wave of popularity in the Arab world because of its confrontation with Israel, despite some misgivings about the group’s cross-border raid on July 12.

Interviews with Arabs chosen at random from Morocco to the Gulf showed strong sympathy for Lebanon, where more than 300 people, mostly civilians, have died in Israeli attacks, as well as criticism of Middle East governments for their passivity.

Arab governments, seen as unable or unwilling to stop the Israeli bombing of Lebanon for the past eight days, have lost what limited prestige they retained after years of tolerating US and Israeli action in the region.

Hizbollah has fired barrages of rockets from south Lebanon into northern Israel, killing 15 civilians.

At the most Arabs agreed with Saudi Arabia that last week’s Hizbollah cross-border attack and capture of two Israeli soldiers was irresponsible because of the Israeli onslaught it provoked and the imbalance of power between Israel and Lebanon.

But sympathy and respect for Hizbollah are widespread, especially among people far from Lebanon. Pictures of Hizbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah have featured prominently at protests in solidiraty with the Lebanese and Palestinians.

“God save Hassan Nasrallah and grant him victory. God bless him for us,” said Asia Abdel Basset, a Cairo housewife.

Samer Khadra, a Jordanian interior designer living in the Gulf city of Dubai, said: “Hizbollah is great. I’m proud of them. I think they are doing nothing wrong.” “Israel is responsible for this war for constantly interfering in Arab states. Hizbollah are heroes and should be supported by all Arabs,” added Mohammed Abdallah, a bread vendor in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

Saeed Naji, a Yemeni shopkeeper, recalled Hizbollah’s success in driving Israeli forces out of south Lebanon in 2000 by making the price of occupation too high to bear.

“We’re all rooting for Hizbollah to remain steadfast and yet again emerge victorious over Israel,” he said.

Hizbollah, despite its roots as a Shi’ite Muslim organisation in a mainly Sunni Muslim region, already enjoyed high prestige in the Arab world as the only Arab force which ever regained occupied territory without negotiating.

True colours

 The big losers from the Lebanese conflict are the Arab governments, especially those friendly with Washington, which has been resisting ceasefire calls while Israel keeps bombing.

Mohammad Masry, 28, a Cairo lawyer, said the events of the past week had shown the true colours of the Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi governments, which fear Hizbollah’s popularity.

“Before this, their silence made it impossible for us to figure out what they were thinking, and we made excuses for them, [saying] that America is a great power,” he said.

“But now we can see what’s inside them. They’ve moved to the enemy camp. Their latest actions demonstrate that, and specifically Saudi Arabia,” he added.

“Arab regimes are only spectators as usual. They are powerless to react efficiently. We do not need Arab League summits that come out only with speeches and statements,” said Mohammad Didi, an Algerian taxi driver.

The United States, which ensures Israel’s military superiority and protects it from censure at the United Nations, received its share of abuse for ignoring ceasefire calls.

“The United States has given its support to the Israeli government… Without that support, the solution could have been found before the crisis even began,” said a Yemeni civil servant who asked to be identified only as Abderrahman, 52.

Masri, the Egyptian lawyer said: “America will always be like this. It and Europe are supporting the Jews, and using Israel as an excuse to interfere.” Criticism of Hizbollah was patchy but, in a Middle East where people feel increasingly free to speak their minds, the critics did not mince their words.

Mahmoud Abdullah, an Egyptian doctor, said: “The ones who started the problem are the ones who kidnapped the two soldiers: Hizbollah… One should estimate one’s own capabilities before fighting a heavily armed state like Israel,” he added.

Wissam Sorour, an Egyptian animated film maker in Dubai, said: “It wasn’t right what Hizbollah did, capturing the two soldiers, especially nowadays. They can’t defend Lebanon.” Kuwaiti businessman Abu Abdulaziz said the Hizbollah raid was wrong because of the damage inflicted on Lebanon.

“This was adventurism at the wrong time which has affected all Lebanese… May [former Lebanese prime minister Rafik] Hariri’s soul rest in peace. He built Lebanon and now the adventures of one person are destroying all that Hariri built.”

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