Lebanese Opposition Election Candidates Face Threats and Attacks | Election News

Beirut, Lebanon – Hicham Hayek knew that supporters of Lebanon’s traditional political parties would oppose his election campaign in the village of Sarafand, in southern Lebanon, but he did not expect him, his running mates and participants to be beaten, the Lebanese army having to escort them to safety. .

Hayek, a medical surgeon running for the May 15 election under the Together for Change list, told Al Jazeera that supporters of Hezbollah and its ally the Amal movement beat workers at the scene before he arrived for the April 16 event.

“And as we approached the site, we saw that they had closed the road leading to the event with tires, and they were shouting at people, attacking them and insulting them,” he said.

South Lebanon is a key political stronghold for the Iran-backed Hezbollah and Amal movement, whose leader Nabih Berri has served as speaker of parliament since 1992.

“They threw stones at us and said, ‘This is Nabih Berri’s territory,'” said Soltan al-Hosseini, a student activist who supports Hayek.

“They accused us of being foreign agents.”

Candidates and supporters who made their way inside the venue tried to stage the event, but more angry people showed up.

“Some have tried to reason [them], and asked them to open the road, but they were only beaten,” Hayek said. “Then one of them pulled out a handgun and fired at us.”

The military escorted Hayek and the others outside to leave safely, while those at the scene had to leave by driving down a dirt road out of the area.

Amal Movement, in a statement shortly after the incident, denied their involvement.

The army arrested a man accused of shooting at the group, after militant lawyers filed a complaint. However, Amal’s supporters demonstrated for her release by blocking a highway in the southern city with large piles of dirt and burning tires.

Meanwhile in Beirut, opposition candidates say they are facing what they say are systematic attacks ahead of legislative elections.

Independent lawmaker and former broadcast journalist Paula Yacoubian is running for a new term in parliament after being elected in 2018. She said five of her campaign billboards were vandalized in the Achrafieh district of the city. capital city.

She has filed a legal complaint and believes mainstream political parties orchestrated the vandalism to intimidate her and her allies.

“State security is investigating the case and they told me there was a suspect, but he is now missing,” Yacoubian told Al Jazeera.

“If the suspect was an ordinary person, we know who it was now…it shows it was an organized job.”

Friends and supporters of Yacoubian promoting his campaign online reportedly received phone calls urging them to stop.

“They follow friends, people I know and people who visit me,” she said. “They’re getting calls from people threatening their livelihoods, saying ‘You don’t know we employed that person, you know?'”

This type of targeting in Beirut is “unprecedented”, she said. “They are now going after people one by one.”

Growing discontent

In October 2019, anti-government protests swept Lebanon, as protesters raged against the country’s ruling elite and their corporate cronies.

The country’s economy has since soared, leaving more than three-quarters of the population in poverty, while the free fall of the Lebanese pound has caused food and fuel price inflation to spike.

Opposition groups have grown larger as more of the country’s disaffected population lose faith in the political and economic status quo.

A truck drives past a billboard for the upcoming legislative elections [File: Joseph Eid/AFP]

A short drive from where Yacoubian is campaigning, candidates and volunteers from the Beirut Tuqawem (Beirut Resists) campaign group set up a tent to hold public discussions with residents of Tarik Jdideh in March. It started off gently.

“Some people from the surrounding stores have been talking with us about what they think should be a priority and what should be in our program, and wanted to know more about who is running with us,” said Dima Ayyach, group coordinator. of opposition. , told Al Jazeera. “It was a fruitful discussion.”

But then he said a group of angry men approached the candidates.

“They said this is Hariri’s area, that we shouldn’t be here and that we should leave before things get out of hand,” Ayyach said – referring to Saad Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister and leader of the Future Movement supported by Saudi Arabia, who resigned. politics earlier this year.

The alleged supporters of the Future Movement were unwilling to argue with Beirut Tuqawem. They took down the campaign tent and kicked out the opposition group.

While anti-establishment sentiment across Lebanon is nowhere near as vocal as at the end of 2019, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets and shook the country, living conditions continue to deteriorate. deteriorate.

Opposition groups tell Al Jazeera that many voters are much more willing to meet with them and discuss their platforms and goals, and believe this is why they have been threatened and attacked.

“We are holding the elections for the people, who are all being humiliated in banks, gas stations and bakeries,” Hayek said.

“I ask those who attacked us and shot at us, are they well paid? Are they able to refuel or find bread at the bakery? Aren’t their children also leaving the country? And didn’t they lose relatives in the explosion at the port of Beirut?

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