Hezbollah’s soft power push amid COVID-19
First published 1st May 2020
by Tom Warneke
Middle East| Understanding Your World | Resolving Incidents & Crisis
Hezbollah has taken to the streets in recent times rolling out some of Lebanon’s Coronavirus response while the central government attempts to do the same. If successful, this might just be the soft power boost that Hezbollah need to gain significant popularity and political power in Lebanon.
Helping. A soft power gold mine
Time and time again, we’ve seen examples of groups and governments using soft power in a time of crisis to their advantage. Hezbollah is no different.
They’re taking a prominent role in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. March 25th saw an announcement where it would provide over 20,000 medical personnel to help with testing, drive ambulances and work in hospitals and health care facilities nation wide. Since then, Hezbollah has allocated significant time, money and resource towards the COVID-19 fight contributing ambulances, medical facilities and testing centres and constructing temporary hospitals.
Beyond soft power and popularity gains, there’s surely a more organic incentive for fighting the disease but the soft power gains aren’t lost on Hezbollah as they seek to gain traction against the existing government.
The efforts to manage the pandemic allows Hezbollah an opportunity to endear itself among citizens, particularly in communities that are usually opposed to Hezbollah such as Lebanon’s Christian and Sunni populations.
Outreach works in the time of COVID-19 will give Hezbollah an excellent tool to bolster the group’s approval ratings for whenever Coronavirus passes. This also includes a new open-ness where journalists have been invited to follow the group’s efforts.
Following the economic and political crisis late 2019, the already limited funds in Lebanon for the state run hospitals and medical facilities are being stretched further and further.
Complains of no pay triggered protests and work stoppages last year and have continued into 2020 and protests continued in February across Beirut and Tripoli.
Hezbollah and their expansive resources have been able to draw on their groups’ community with its own clinics, medical professionals and supply chains. Additionally, they also have funding outside government taxes including funding from Iran (estimated at up to $1B) which has helped mitigate the financial impact of Lebanon’s economic decline.
Following Coronavirus and the soft power gains, it’s possible there will be a number of political implications for not just Lebanon but the wider Gulf and Middle East region.
Hezbollah’s ties to Iran make it a target for pressure from the United States (which we’ve already seen in the earlier months of 2020). Indeed, it may well accelerate with the potential for sanctions to be imposed on Lebanon. This would have dire consequences for Lebanon’s already struggling economy if banks and key officials were put under sanctions.
It’s true to say that the effects of Hezbollah’s soft power initiatives will only really be seen after the coronavirus pandemic ends. The success of Hezbollah will depend on a multitude of factors including largely how well they support citizens through the pandemic and how that compares to the programs being rolled out by the Lebanese government.