Assad and Nasrallah: A fall from grace

Lebanese Hezbollah supporters wave the movement's yellow flags and hold up the Syrian flag decorated with an image of President Bashar al-Assad as they listen to a televised speech by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah to mark the sixth anniversary of the 2006 war with Israel in southern Beirut on July 18, 2012.
Credit: Anwar Amro

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Less than five years ago Hasan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, were the two most popular leaders in the Middle East.

Well, the blossom of their popularity has now wilted in the heat of the Arab Spring.

Having presided over one of the most brutal crackdowns of the Middle East uprisings, Assad's dwindling popularity is little surprise. Nasrallah, however, might have held on until he gave a widely lambasted speech Wednesday night reaffirming his support for Assad and memorializing the Syrian security officials killed in the Damascus bomb attack earlier in the day.

Whatever was left of his credibility quickly vanished.

“Nasrallah’s argument basically is: Yes Bashar is massacring women and children but he supports me so he’s really great,” tweeted Sultan Al-Qassemi, a commentator on Arab affairs. “Shame on Nasrallah.”

Syria, along with Iran, has long funded Hezbollah, the Shiite political force based in southern Lebanon that Nasrallah heads, and is largely responsible for arming the group’s military wing.

Nasrallah’s speech, delivered in the suburbs of Beirut to a crowd of Hezbollah supporters, coincided with the sixth anniversary of the 2006 war with Israel, which lasted 33 days and was seen as a victory for Hezbollah. Nasrallah’s popularity in the region skyrocketed during the conflict. By 2008, a poll conducted by the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, found him to be the most admired leader in the Middle East. Assad came in second.

“In the war, the most valuable weapons we had in our possession were from Syria,” Nasrallah noted during his speech. "When Gaza had nothing to eat, Syria sent missiles and food.”

He also took the opportunity to denounce the United States and Israel, who he claimed had orchestrated the uprising in order to weaken Assad.

“Israel is rejoicing today because the pillars of the Syrian Army were hit,” referring to Wednesday’s assassination of Assef Shawkat, Assad’s brother-in-law, and Dawoud Rajha, the Syrian defense minister, in a bomb attack inside a highly-secured government building in Damascus.

And just like that, Nasrallah hit the pillars of his own reputation.

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