Iran gained a powerful position in the Middle East by fueling the rise of militant Shi’ism, funding proxies, and claiming a pseudo anti-imperialism position.
In other words, the Islamic Republic of Iran established itself firmly in Lebanon through Hezbollah, in Iraq by financing multiple militias, in Syria by supporting the Assad regime, and in Yemen through the Houthis.
However, effective asymmetric warfare is not enough for Iran to preserve its hegemony. Today, Iran is losing where it won the most: Lebanon and Iraq.
“The Capital of the Iranian Empire” Wants Iran Out
Ali Younesi, an advisor to Iranian President Hassan Rohani, said, “Iran is an empire, Iraq is not merely a sphere of cultural influence for us; it is also the capital…”
Iran sponsors and finances multiple militias and proxies, like the Badr organization, Kataeb Hezbollah, etc. They infiltrated the government; their leaders hold cabinet positions and their forces became the largest faction within state security forces, particularly the police.
In simple English, Iran has a lot of control over Iraq’s economy, politics, and information domains. Iraqis are determined to change that; they are rising against corruption and Iranian influence. They want their sovereignty and dignity back.
For more than one month, they have been in the streets demonstrating and asking for their rights, yet their demands for a better life and basic rights have been met with bullets; hundreds have been killed, thousands were injured, and many were detained by security forces and militias.
“We in Iran know how to deal with protests,” Soleimani told Iraqi officials. He is not wrong if we refer to how they dealt with protests in Iran and how they aided the Assad regime.
However, tear gas, live ammunition, and even snipers did not stop the brave men; they are still demanding a new government and are still rising against the Iranian occupation.
To express their utter hatred and opposition to Tehran’s meddling in their country, Iraqis are chanting, “Iran out, Iraq free!” They are burning and stomping on billboards and posters of Khomeini, Khamenei, and Soleimeni. They even changed street names from “Imam Khamanei Street” to “The Martyrs of the October Revolution Street”.
— Romy (@romyjournalist) November 3, 2019
Protesters have also attacked the Iranian Consulate in the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala and burned the Iranian flag. The message is clear: Iraqis want their sovereignty back, and their demands pose a threat to Iran’s imperialistic agenda.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has invested a lot in Iraq. Its influence is peaking, and it doesn’t want to lose its gains in the government if protesters manage to overthrow it. The revolution threatens its control over Iraq.
To discredit the uprisings, they tried to scare Iraqis by calling it a Zionist plot and warning them about upcoming unrest and chaos.
Ayatollah Khamenei said, “The U.S. and western intelligence agencies, with the help of money from regional countries, are instigating unrest in the region.”
But his words only angered the hungry and unemployed protesters seeking better living conditions.
Hezbollah Fears the Lebanese Revolution
Hezbollah, an Iranian funded militia, is a major political and military force in Lebanon. It has used Lebanon’s democracy to get into the government but also has its own network of social services, like schools and health care for its Shiite community. In Lebanon, they call it a state within the state and sometimes a state above the state.
However, the recent protests in the country have put Hezbollah in a critical state.
For more than 20 days, the Lebanese people hopped into mass protests all across the country. They are protesting against corruption and against all of the political elite. The main slogan of the movement is, “All of them means all of them.” The Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, was not excluded from the lot despite Hezbollah’s attempts over decades to seek to sanctify and protect him as a religious leader and leader of the resistance against Israel.
His supporters did not like the idea of having their leader criticized, so they launched a counter hashtag to defend him. It translates to, “All of them means all of them, Nasrallah has more honor than you.”
Despite this, protestors determined to get rid of all the political elite started chanting, “All of them means all of them and Nasrallah is one of them.”
The wave of protests against the Lebanese political class has also spread to the Shia strongholds. In Nabatieh, a region under the control of the two Shiite parties, Amal and Hezbollah, a taboo has been shattered. Shias were chanting, “We do not want an army in Lebanon other than the Lebanese Army.” They also attacked the offices of some Shia deputies, including Mohammad Raad, president of the Hezbollah parliamentary group, Hani Kobeissi, and Yassine Jaber of the Amal Party.
They kept on protesting despite multiple attempts to suppress them, whether it’s by beating them or accusing them of treason. “Shias of the embassies” is the term they used to demonize them.
Protesters in Nabatieh(Shia majority town)are again chanting“We dont want an army in Lebanon other than the Lebanese Army”despite being subject to many suppression tactics #LebanonProtests #LebaneseRevolution #???_????_????_???? #?????_????? #???_?????_??? pic.twitter.com/2tFOuUpR53
— tony ??????? (@angryx_mastrees) October 24, 2019
Protesters want a new technocratic government excluding all the political parties; it means that Hezbollah and its allies will also be excluded. Hezbollah needs an international cover and has worked hard to infiltrate the government and hold power. It fears losing its gains.
Nasrallah’s speeches are a sign of Hezbollah’s nervousness. He accused protesters of being paid by embassies but they did not take the accusation lightly. The protestors launched a hashtag that translates to, “I am financing the revolution.” They posted videos and pictures of themselves bringing their own DJ sets, mothers preparing food to feed the people in the streets, and mocking Nasrallah for his pathetic attempt to discredit the revolution.
Nasrallah also said that he opposes the resignation of the government.
Is This the End of the Iranian Empire?
In Lebanon, the government resigned. However, they can easily go back to square one if they do not replace it with a technocratic government that excludes all the political parties. It is still uncertain if people are willing and able to do just that.
Will Hezbollah allow them to get a government excluding the party? Amal and Hezbollah thugs were sent multiple times to scare and terrorize protestors, but they can be sent again and this time with their weapons.
And even if protestors win and get a technocratic government excluding Hezbollah and all the political parties, it doesn’t mean it will disarm Hezbollah. The militia fought in complex military theatres and will defend its existence in Lebanon. The people in Lebanon cannot ask for the disarmament of Hezbollah; it will only lead to a war they cannot win or to a fast armed take over like in May 2008.
This revolution is not like the Cedar Revolution in 2005, which was an uprising against the Syrian occupation. This revolution is about people asking for better living conditions and getting rid of all the political elite and warlords that have been ruling the country for decades. They want their revolution to remain peaceful, decentralized, and leaderless.
Simply put, the Lebanese revolution can only threaten Hezbollah’s stability in the government and its political cover but not its weapons.
In Iraq, the situation is different because the voices against Iran are louder but Iraqis are also paying a heavier price. The use of force and violence is way more prevalent in Iraq than in Lebanon.
It is hard to tell how the situation will unfold. We don’t know how things will play out for Iran. The revolutions may not end its hegemony, but they already shattered the anti-imperialistic banner Iran holds.
Most importantly, they raised the possibility of inspiring protests inside Iran itself. Iran is struggling to put enough food on the table because of its continued efforts to expand its influence in the region in addition to the sanctions placed on them.
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