(a poster raised in Beirut center: « they pretended we were many peoples, it turns out we are only one »!)
The following quick remarks are not intended to belittle the dedication of Mr. David Pollock to Middle Eastern opinion polls or his excellent interpretation of polls results in general. On the contrary, I have often been inspired by his great work, which I follow regularly.
Of course, I do adhere to his opening thesis that the « new public opinion poll conducted in Lebanon offers solid proof that grass-roots support for Hezbollah has declined significantly, even among the third of Lebanon’s population who is Shia ». Yet, it seemed to me that the following, complimentary, remarks could be useful.
First, about « the third of Lebanon’s population who is Shia ». For whatever this is worth, no official statistics prove this controversial claim. Electoral lists, published by As-Safir some years ago, indicated Sunnis, not Shias, were the largest community in the country. Needless to say, counting Lebanon’s diaspora, could make Christians the largest community. Obviously, to me, all Lebanese are Lebanese, whatever their religion or.. lack of.
2- An important clue about the conclusions of this new poll: David Pollock notes that « Interestingly, in just this one Arab country, among six others surveyed, the pollster would not even allow a follow-up question about whether “those who want to pursue personal or business ties with Israelis should be allowed to do so.”!
Well, if a pollster did not dare allow a follow-up question on ties with Israelis, should one conclude that « some Shias living in neighborhoods controlled by Hezbollah » (what percentage, we do not know) would not allow themselves to give completely sincere answers to the pollster’s other questions!
3- It seems there is a contradiction in the following assertions: « Remarkably, 79% of Lebanese Shia report a positive view of “the anti-corruption street protests.” Still, the majority (66%) continue to express a very positive opinion of Hezbollah. ». If the 79 percentage is true and if Hezbollah and Amal Movement were openly and aggressively (using brutal force in many instances, in Beirut as in Nabatiyeh) against the October 2019 Revolution, then how could 66 percent of the Shia have a « very positive » attitude towards Hezbollah? It is a pity that the poll did not include a question about the significance of the tens of thousands of Lebanese flags (against the usual yellow Hezbollah flags) raised all over Lebanon, but more so in the Shiite regions since October 2019! Or even about the chants, in Shiite areas, in favor of the Army!
4- If we were to look at this opinion poll « from an all Lebanon angle », what could one conclude? One is tempted to conclude that « at least 60 percent of Christians and 60 percent of Sunnis and Druzes have a very negative view of Hezbollah »- meaning that an absolute majority of Lebanese, at least two thirds of the population, have a very negative view of Hezbollah. Amazing, no? This, also, means that a majority (60 percent, but probably more) of Christians now reject the Mar Michael Understanding between General Aoun and Hezbollah. This could be the end of the « myth » of Aoun’s Christian Majority representation.
5- I have a different « reading » of the next part of this opinion poll: I suggest that the 51 percentage of Shias in favor of Demarcation Talks with Israel carry more weight than the Shia (and, even, Sunni and Christian) rejection of U.A.E and Bahrein Peace Agreements with Israel. Why? Because when it comes to real national interests, not « inherited ideological stands », it turns out that a Lebanese majority (of all communities, Shias, Sunnis and Christians alike), is in favor of « talks » with Israelis!!
6- When the poll shows that a majority of Sunnis and of Christians are not in favor of relations with Iran, shouldn’t one conclude, once more, that the Aounist Current (the main, Christian « cover » of Hezbollah and Iran) is doomed to lose (or even to wither away in) any coming elections?
7- David Pollock concludes that « France, however, is one country about which Lebanon exhibits consensus. 94% of Sunnis, 87% of Christians, and (more unexpectedly) 69% of Shia believe good relations with France are important. Nearly all respondents (90%) from Lebanon’s small Druze minority share this assessment ». what should one conclude? To me, this means there is a « Lebanese » (against « confessional ») absolute majority against Hezbollah and in favor of the Lebanese state- which, by the way, explains Hezbollah’s present temptation to go back to assassinations and terror tactics.
8- May I suggest that a future poll should include questions like « are you in favor of a strong Lebanese State? ». If the majority of Shiites, say 80 or even 90 percent, declared being « in favor » (as I expect, especially in the Baalbeck-Bekaa-Hermel area, then what should one conclude about the supposed Shia loyalty to Hezbollah?
9- From all of the above, would it be reasonable to conclude that there, now, exists a real « Lebanese » consensus– including Lebanon’s various communities- something which had not existed until Assad’s Syria occupied Lebanon?
10-Such a consensus did not exist in Lebanon during the 1970s. Reading the memoirs of the late Fuad Butros, Foreign Minister under President Sarkis, it is obvious that the Lebanese State did not enjoy the loyalty of a majority of its citizens at the time. Not so, in 2020 when a stunning majority of Lebanese went to the streets against the regime and against all political parties, « all of them means all of them »- including, the new opinion poll tells us, 79 percent of the Shia.
I daresay this is a « historical » moment in Lebanon’s history. A kind of « maturity » which comes a century after the Declaration of the Grand Liban.
11- Underpinning this historical development is the total « withdrawal » of Palestinian residents in the country, mostly unarmed now, from its political life- plus a general Lebanese rejection (very acute among Shias) of any Palestinian interference in Lebanese « internal affairs ».
12- if it is true that there, now, exists a real majority for a Lebanese « State », then one should expect an « isolated » and an « impoverished » Hezbollah (thanks to Trump’s « maximum pressure » policy against Iran, plus the huge financial loss incurred by Hezbollah due to the destruction of Beirut Port) to become more lethal (inside Lebanon, not against Israel) in the coming weeks and months. Already, two Customs officers linked to the Beirut Port explosion have been assassinated in the last few weeks. Hezbollah’s « law suits » against former MP Fares Souhaid, Mr. Bahaa Hariri and « the website of the Lebanese Forces » are, locally, interpreted as hardly disguised death threats.