The southern Beirut suburb encompasses multiple layers of clashing and besieged identities that pose major internal challenges to Hezbollah’s hold over Lebanon.
The highway leading south from Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport skirts the Hezbollah stronghold of Dahiya, allowing travelers to feel the group’s power and presence without seeing the surrounding community for what it is—multiple layers of clashing and besieged identities that pose major internal challenges to Hezbollah’s hold over Lebanon. For motorists, the highway barrier blocks any concept of the area’s polarized conditions, from the posh, shop-lined sections where senior Hezbollah officials live to the dark, impoverished warrens postered with fading images of “martyrs.” Drivers also miss the network of Iran-sponsored media channels, military depots, and religious institutions that flourish in the suburb—along with the secret prisons that fortify Hezbollah’s iron grip.
In this Policy Focus, richly illustrated with local maps, former Lebanese journalist Hanin Ghaddar reveals the widening gaps between the country’s Shia community and its Hezbollah overlords, especially since mass protests shook the nation in October 2019. This analysis not only corrects past oversimplifications of Lebanese Shia, it also offers a path for policymakers seeking to undermine the militant group and give the fragile country hope for the future.
Hanin Ghaddar is the inaugural Friedmann Fellow in The Washington Institute’s Program on Arab Politics, where she focuses on Shia politics. Previously a journalist in Lebanon, Ghaddar shed light on issues ranging from the evolution of Hezbollah inside Lebanon to Iran’s growing influence throughout the Middle East. Ghaddar is the author of a Washington Institute Succession Series essay on the future of Lebanon’s leadership and a shorter paper, "A Strategy toContain Hezbollah", adapted from this volume.
List of Illustrations
Methodology and Objectives
2 Geographic Composition of Dahiya
3 Historical Background
4 Layers of the Lebanese Shia Community
5 Challenges to the Three Pillars of Hezbollah’sPopular Support
6 Hezbollah’s Eight Historical Stages and Relations with the Shia Community
7 Hezbollah’s Shia Network Within State Institutions
8 The October 2019 Protests