Beirut // Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah's secretary general, has stunned Lebanon's political class with the assessment that the bloody near-coup perpetrated by the group on its Sunni rivals last year was a "glorious day" for the Lebanese resistance. Mr Nasrallah defended the military move, which rocked Lebanon on May 7 2008 as Hizbollah and its allies stormed various positions around Beirut held by its main rivals in the Sunni-led Future Movement, in response to government moves to shut down Hizbollah's independent communications networks.
More than 100 people were killed, as masked Hizbollah-led gunmen stalked the city in scenes that evoked images of the civil wars in the 1970s and 1980s. "I tell the Lebanese, Sunnis and Shia in particular, that the May 7 events put an end to sedition in Beirut," Mr Nasrallah said in a speech on Friday night. "The majority aims to create a rift between Sunni and Shia as an excuse for foreign troops to enter Lebanon to end civil war."
"We do not want the Lebanese to forget the May 7 events," Mr Nasrallah continued, "because we do not want the foolish decisions made by the cabinet on May 5 to be repeated. The main weapons used by the resistance during the 2006 July war were Hizbollah's network, which was attacked on May 5 by the cabinet's decision." Hizbollah was roundly criticised for the decision to respond to the order with force, with many Lebanese furious that a pledge by Mr Nasrallah to never use the "guns of the resistance" against fellow Lebanese was violated so brazenly. He defended the move as pushing Lebanon's various factions to resolve a two-year-old political crisis that had left the country without much official leadership since 2006.
As a result of Hizbollah's move to violently crush its political opponents, the rival factions then met in Qatar, to elect a new president and create a power-sharing agreement. He said: "The May 7 events safeguarded Lebanon's institutions, and forced all Lebanese parties to go back to the round-table dialogue, which led to the election of President Michel Suleiman." Supporters of the rival Sunni movements, which took the brunt of the casualties in the fighting that week, disagreed with his rosy assessment of what many consider Lebanon's darkest post-civil war hour.
"No it was not a glorious day! It was a terrible day. We could not leave our house because they were checking IDs and we are Sunnis, we saw how they were humiliating the Sunnis in the street," said Rima Mahmud, 23. "My mother since then stopped talking to all our Shia neighbours. Now we always feel unsafe. How is it glorious when the [resistance] had their guns terrorising women and old men?" Another Sunni said Hizbollah cannot be trusted not to resort to violence when politics fails its agenda.
"I use to support Hizbollah and Nasrallah, but after I saw them in May 7 under our building terrorising people, civilians who were not even armed, in the same way militias did in the civil war, from that moment I lost all the respect I had for them," said Kamal Ghalaini, 57. "They are no longer a resistance in my eyes any more. The guns they always claimed were to defend Lebanon turned on their Lebanese brothers as if we were Israelis. I thought Nasrallah regretted [the incident] as a terrible mistake that went out of hand, but after his speech yesterday, I feel like they might do it again and they were proud about it."
Elias Muhanna, editor of the popular public affairs blog, QifaNabki.com, said it was a shock to hear Mr Nasrallah defend the assault. "The principal goal of the speech was to dismiss the idea that the opposition wants to replace the 50-50 Christian-Muslim division in parliament with a three-thirds share for Christians, Sunnis, and Shiites. Why Nasrallah also chose to bring up and defend May 7 all over again is a bit strange, in my opinion."