Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in an interview with an Iranian magazine affiliated with Supreme Leader Khamenei, emphasizes the importance of its civilian institutions

Hassan Nasrallah in the interview with the Al-Masir magazine. Photos of the two Iranian figures representing Hezbollah and Nasrallah’s source of authority are visible in the background: Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Imam Khomeini (the founder of the Islamic Revolution)

Hassan Nasrallah in the interview with the Al-Masir magazine. Photos of the two Iranian figures representing Hezbollah and Nasrallah’s source of authority are visible in the background: Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Imam Khomeini (the founder of the Islamic Revolution)

Overview
  • In September 2019, the Arabic website of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei published an interview conducted by the Al-Masir magazine[1] with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Among the issues addressed by Nasrallah in a long interview (about five hours) are Hezbollah’s civilian activity and civilian institutions. Nasrallah once again emphasizes that Hezbollah is not only a military power but also a popular movement operating in a variety of civilian spheres, with a significant presence in Lebanon’s society and politics.

The civilian activity which Nasrallah boasts about is part of a worldview of constructing a [Shiite] mini-state within the Lebanese state among the Shiite community in Lebanon[2], with massive Iranian support (i.e., a “resistance society,” in Hezbollah’s terminology). The purpose of the civilian activity is to establish long-term support of the Shiite population in Lebanon for Hezbollah and the ideology of the Islamic Revolution, which strengthens Hezbollah (and Iran) in the military campaign against Israel and increases Hezbollah’s power in the internal Lebanese scene.

Hezbollah’s civilian activity as presented by Nasrallah

The religious activity

  • During the interview, Nasrallah elaborates on the spheres of Hezbollah’s civilian activity. The intensive religious activity conducted by Hezbollah among the Shiite population is specially highlighted, first and foremost because the interview was intended for “Iranian ears” and because Shiite Islam is the widest and most basic common denominator between the Shiite population of Lebanon (in which “resistance society” was established) and Iran.
  • Following are Nasrallah’s main points regarding the religious activity:
    • Hezbollah carries out intensive religious activity by religious scholars, preachers, and students of religious studies. According to Nasrallah, religious preaching takes place in all the regions [populated by Shiites]. The number of students of religious studies in Lebanon has significantly increased in relation to the past. In addition, many Lebanese [Shiite] students study in the holy cities of Qom (in Iran) and Najaf (in Iraq).
    • According to Nasrallah, in the past, there were no mosques in many [Shiite] towns and villages and even in the big cities. However, today, there is no village without a mosque, and in the cities, mosques were built in the various neighborhoods. Thus, for example, in the Dahiya (Beirut’s Shiite southern suburb) in the past there used to be no more than three or four mosques. Today, Nasrallah points out, there are mosques in most of the neighborhoods of the Dahiya. In addition, in the various [Shiite] regions, there are colleges for religious studies and cultural institutions for women, where cultural activity and religious studies take place.
    • As part of the religious activity, various religious events are regularly marked (for example, Ashura and the Ramadan fast). There are also evenings of Quran reading. The scope of this activity increases every year, and along with it there is increased interest in various religious events and ceremonies.
  • In the ITIC’s assessment, Hezbollah’s religious activity is of a decentralized nature. It appears that there is no specific institution which is exclusively responsible for managing and directing religious activity. It is probably managed by various institutions in Hezbollah’s civilian infrastructure (such as the Cultural Unit, the Women’s Organizations, and the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts).

Activity in additional civilian spheres

  • Following are Nasrallah’s main points on Hezbollah’s civilian activity:
    • Education[3]: Hezbollah has an active, significant presence among [Shiite] students and lecturers and it has the strongest student cells in the universities. In addition, Hezbollah is active among teachers of elementary schools, high schools and junior high schools. Hezbollah’s cells in the education institutions carry out cultural, media-related, and political activities. In state-run official examinations, Hezbollah’s youngsters almost always receive the highest grades.
    • Activity among women: Hezbollah has a large institution named the Women’s Organizations[4]. This institution holds various cultural and social activities among women. In each village, there is a local branch of the Women’s Organizations and its members seek to get in touch with all the women. Women who belong to the local branch organize cultural courses, mark religious and political events, provide social help and run women’s lives in the town or village.
    • Activity among youth: Hezbollah has a network of schools named after Imam Al-Mahdi[5] which operates in various regions in the Bekaa Valley, Beirut, and southern Lebanon [where Shiite population is living]. Children and youth from kindergarten age until high school study in these schools. Several years ago, Hezbollah began to establish the Al-Maaref University, which has a variety of faculties.[6]
    • Media: Speaking on this field, Nasrallah chose to be succinct, in the ITIC’s assessment, due to his interest not to direct the spotlight to Hezbollah’s media empire, and maybe also because this field is quite known.[7] According to Nasrallah, Hezbollah owns Radio Al-Nour, which is one of the most powerful radio stations in Lebanon. In addition, Hezbollah owns the Al-Manar Channel, and the organization also has a presence in several TV channels [Note: for example, the Al-Mayadeen Channel, which supports Hezbollah; Nasrallah refrains from mentioning it by its name].
    • Social activity and provision of services: Nasrallah says that Hezbollah has institutions operating in Lebanon, “some of them subordinate to Iranian institutions;” However, they are run by Hezbollah’s operatives [Note: In the ITIC’s assessment, the Iranians finance most of the activity of Hezbollah’s civilian infrastructure. However, Hezbollah has so far refrained from admitting in public that some of its institutions are subordinate to Iran]. In this context, Nasrallah mentions the Martyrs Foundation[8], the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation (IKRF, Al-Imdad[9]), and other institutions. These institutions provide services for families of shahids, wounded operatives, and needy families.[10] According to Nasrallah, Hezbollah takes care of a very large number of needy families and orphans. Later in the interview, Nasrallah also mentions Jihad al-Bina[11], which is allegedly mainly engaged in agriculture and povidres a lot of assistance in this field.
    • Medical services[12]: Hezbollah has hospitals, medical centers and clinics. It also has a very large civilian defense network which assists sick and wounded people in times of emergency.
    • Provision of loans in convenient terms: Hezbollah established a large institution named Imam al-Kazem Institution for convenient term loans [Note: This is a reference to the Al-Qard al-Hasan Association[13], literally, “a generous loan,” which is engaged in large-scale quasi-banking activity, mainly the provision of interest-free loans). According to Nasrallah, this institution has branches in most of the [Shiite] regions and provides tens of thousands of loans, i.e., loans in return for guarantees.
    • Hezbollah’s municipal activity[14]: According to Nasrallah, Hezbollah participated in the municipal elections and its members are represented almost in all the municipalities. In addition, many Hezbollah activists are mayors. This situation is totally different from that of ten, twenty or thirty years ago.
  • Hezbollah’s political activity: According to Nasrallah, Hezbollah took part in the parliamentary elections and its members are represented in the elected Parliament. However, the number of Hezbollah’s MPs “does not conform to our real size” [i.e., the real size of the Shiite population]. The reason, according to Nasrallah, is that Hezbollah strives to form coalitions, providing several MPs to its allies so that they too will have “a good and significant presence” in Parliament[15]. Nasrallah says that Hezbollah holds several ministries in the government, including the Health Ministry. The health minister, according to Nasrallah, “is one of the most active ministers in the present government” (Note: The current health minister, Dr. Jamil Jabak, is affiliated with Hezbollah) [Note: Due to internal Lebanese reasons, Nasrallah is trying to play down Hezbollah’s major influence on Lebanese politics and decision making in Lebanon].

Nasrallah summarizes the review of Hezbollah’s civilian institutions by saying that Hezbollah has a significant media, political, social and cultural presence in Lebanon. However, he adds, the sphere which receives the greater share of attention in the media is the military activity. The reason, according to Nasrallah, is Hezbollah’s victories (over Israel) from 1982 until now, plus Hezbollah’s successes [in Syria] in fighting against the jihadi organizations (“takfiri groups”) which tried to take over the region. Nasrallah concludes by saying, “There is no doubt that Hezbollah’s military presence [in Lebanon] is major and very important. However, the [civilian and political] fields are also present, strong and active, even though sometimes they do not receive the attention they deserve.”

[1] A magazine which belongs to the Office for the Preservation and Distribution of the Legacy of the leader of the Iranian Islamic Revolution.
[2] Due to internal Lebanese reasons, Nasrallah, as usual, refrains from pointing out that this civilian activity is carried out almost exclusively among the Shiite population and prefers to keep this issue vague.

[3] See the ITIC's Information Bulletins from July 21, 2019, “Hezbollah operates networks of private schools indoctrinating Shiite youth in Lebanon with the ideology of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and with loyalty to Hezbollah and the path of terrorism” and from July 29, 2019, “Hezbollah’s Education Mobilization: An institution engaged in the indoctrination of Shiite students in Lebanon’s state and private educational systems, in preparation for their joining Hezbollah upon graduation

[4] See the ITIC's Information Bulletin from August 29, 2019, “Hezbollah’s Women’s Organizations Unit

[5] See the ITIC's Information Bulletin from July 11, 2019, “The Imam Al-Mahdi Scouts Association: Hezbollah’s youth movement which indoctrinates youth with Iranian radical Shiite Islam and serves as a source of youngsters who join Hezbollah

[6] The Al-Maaref University is a private university which was established in 2011 based on an association called The Islamic Association for Studying and Teaching. The university was inaugurated in October 2015 in a ceremony held under the auspices of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah (who was represented by the head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council). The ceremony was also attended by the Iranian ambassador to Lebanon. About 500 students study at the various faculties: Business Management, Media and Art, Religion, and the Humanities (including a department for translation and languages), Engineering, Sciences and Education (updated to the 2017-2018 school year). The university management is based in the Dahiya (Beirut’s southern suburb). The university president is Prof. Ali Alaa al-Din (website of the Al-Maaref University; Arabic Wikipedia; website of the Lebanese Ministry of Education, February 6, 2019).

[7] See the ITIC's Information Bulletin from September 3, 2019, “Hezbollah’s media empire

[8] See the ITIC's Information Bulletin from April 11, 2019, “Hezbollah’s Martyrs Foundation: purpose, mode of operation and funding methods”

[9] The Al-Imdad Association is a charitable association established by Hezbollah in 1987, with the assistance of the Imam Khomeini Al-Imdad Foundation, an Iranian charitable association. The association operates several relief programs for the needy and for orphans: distribution of food, subsidizing medical treatments, the operation of educational institutions and assistance with tuition, the reconstruction of houses and provision of shelter for orphans, giving clothes, financial guidance, and the provision of a loan in convenient conditions (Al-Imdad Association’s website).

[10] See the ITIC's Information Bulletin from April 11, 2019, “Hezbollah’s Foundation for the Wounded: purpose, modus operandi and funding methods

[11] See the ITIC's Information Bulletin from June 23, 2019, “Jihad al-Bina Association in Lebanon: A Hezbollah social foundation engaged in construction and social projects among the Shiite community, being a major component in Hezbollah’s civilian infrastructure

[12] See the ITIC's Information Bulletin from August 15, 2019, “The Islamic Health Organization: Hezbollah institution providing health services to Hezbollah operatives and the Shiite population in general as a means for gaining influence and creating a Shiite mini-state within Lebanon

[13] See the ITIC's Information Bulletin from June 3, 2019, “Hezbollah’s socioeconomic foundations: Al-Qard al-Hasan, a quasi-bank that provides interest-free loans, mainly to members of the Shiite community

[14] See the ITIC's Information Bulletin from October 7, 2019, “Resistance society: Hezbollah’s municipal activity

[15] In the ITIC's assessment, the real reason for the limitations of Hezbollah’s power in Parliament is the sectarian key decided in the National Pact (1943) and the Taif Agreement (1989). This requires Hezbollah to form alliances with other sects and parties in order to increase its political power and influence in Parliament.