In a crisis-ridden Lebanon, Hezbollah is opening supermarkets for eligible customers

The Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah has launched a chain of supermarkets filled with Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian products at reduced prices that are available with a batch card. It is a welcome initiative in a country paralyzed by a financial crisis and food shortages. But critics say it is another message from the powerful Shiite movement to gain loyalty by providing services in a weak state and overseeing a parallel economy.

As the people of Lebanon face a series of acute economic, social and political crises, accompanied by high inflation and food shortages, the pro-Iranian Hezbollah movement recently opened several supermarkets in its various strongholds in Beirut, the Bekaa region and the south of the country. , in an attempt to quell anger. Food in Lebanon is not only too expensive but often impossible to find.

The supermarket chain – called “Al-Sajjad”, for Imam Ali Al-Sajjad, a figure of Shiite Islam known for his generosity – sells Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian products, a party official told FRANCE 24. “To be able to shop in these “In order to be eligible for the card, you must earn less than £ 1,500,000 a month (about $ 125 on the black market),” he explained.

In Lebanon, more than half of the population now lives below the poverty line and the national currency has lost more than 80 percent of its value.

#Hezbollah launches a chain of supermarkets called “Al-Sajjad” that provides products with minimal costs to help the Lebanese people overcome the severe economic crisis accompanied by currency collapse, and a crazy price increase #Lebanon witnesses.

– Sara_Haj 🇱🇧 (@Sara_Haj) April 6, 2021

“Everyone in need can shop with us, regardless of their religious affiliation and even if they are not Hezbollah supporters,” the official said. But at present, most of the customer base comes from the Shiite community, and the new initiative has raised eyebrows.

For several months, Hezbollah has been accused of facilitating the smuggling of important food to Syria, including sugar and flour, thereby helping to empty store shelves and deprive Lebanese of the same basic products they now sell in their stores.

Hezbollah has not said how many people have cards that allow them to take advantage of their supermarkets, but the number is estimated to be over 8,000.

Residents sought out by Hezbollah

Lina, a 40-year-old single and unemployed woman living in a small village in the Bekaa Valley, said she had not asked for the card but was visited by Hezbollah party members who offered it to her. Her name, like the other people interviewed for this article, has been changed to protect her identity.

“The stores look like large depots and always have stock. I could buy milk, rice, sugar and vegetable oil at reduced prices, “said Lina, adding that she was not a member of Hezbollah. “Everyone with an Al-Sajjad card is entitled to a certain amount of products every month, including five kilos of rice, five kilos of sugar, five liters of cooking oil, four kilos of washing powder, three packs of pasta, four cans of tuna or even two bottles of detergent. , she said.

Hassan, a 39-year-old teacher and father of two living in Nabatieh in the south, also said he had been contacted by Hezbollah members from his village who offered to give him an Al-Sajjad card.

“They just asked me for a copy of my ID card. They know who I am and trust me, he said. “We are entitled to a 35 percent discount on all purchases over £ 1 million. This card will also enable us to access care at lower prices in the long run, he said.

Special shopping card: “Al Sajjad card” designed for purchases from Hezbollah’s new “Al-Nour” chain, which Hezb has opened in various Lebanese regions. Food will be provided at reduced prices and it will be distributed to tens of thousands of beneficiaries.

– Marwa Osman || د. مروة عثمان (@Marwa__Osman) April 13, 2021

“Hezbollah’s sales of food products certainly have election motives, but the poorest have urgent needs,” said Maya, 38, who works for a media outlet affiliated with the party. She did not receive an Al-Sajjad card herself, because she is not considered a priority case, but she said that many Lebanese urgently needed it.

“There are remote and impoverished areas in Lebanon that the state has not taken care of for several years. So the people of these regions will accept all the help they can get, she said.

‘The state no longer exists’

Not everyone shares Hezbollah supporters’ enthusiasm for the new high-speed chain. Journalist Mounir Rabih warns of the danger that such a project poses in a country where the state is increasingly failing.

Hezbollah tells the public that neither the state nor the associations will be able to help it, which is very dangerous. It simply means that the state no longer exists. This is how the Shiite party undermines the people’s perception of the state, Rabih said.

Hezbollah’s initiative is a testament to its “desire to maintain some stability within the Shiite community and to prevent any protest or revolt,” he said.

“Hezbollah is always afraid of the rage of society. It wants at all costs to avoid outbreaks of anger due to hunger, “he explained, adding that it planned for the long term,” because it believes this is a crisis that will not be resolved quickly “.

“Hezbollah hopes to come up with a comprehensive social assistance plan, including a focus on the development of health care in the future,” Rabih said.

“The party sees itself as a victim of a conspiracy that the United States has complained against, to bring it to its knees,” he said. “It responds by ensuring that the public does not get hungry by securing their own supply channels through Iran, Syria or Iraq.”

Adam, a 40-year-old photographer from a Sunni city in southern Lebanon, is also critical of the pro-Iranian movement’s plans.

“Hezbollah is trying in every way to control its popular base. The Al-Sajjad card reflects its institutional side and shows that this party has the means to replace the state. I even think it already has. “Lebanon is now a province within the state of Hezbollah,” Adam complained. “Through its chain of supermarkets and products at reduced prices, it does everything to make the Shiites see Hezbollah as the exclusive cure for the crisis,” the photographer said.

The names of the people interviewed for this article have been changed at their request. The article was translated from the original into French.

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