Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Hizbollah knick-knacks selling well in Lebanon
May 14 2007
BY PAUL COCHRANE FOR THE STRAITS TIMES in Beirut
AS LEBANON is slowly rebuilt following last year's war, the militant Shi'ite group Hizbullah is raising millions of dollars in funds from charitable donations and deriving support from companies touting Hizbullah paraphernalia.
In a supermarket in the bustling southern suburbs of Beirut - an area predominantly inhabited by Shi'ites and badly ravaged by Israeli bombardments during the war last summer - a particular brand of tea stands out from the other products on the shelves.
Attached to US$3 plastic wrapped boxes of Riches tea bags are white mugs emblazoned with a portrait of Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Next to them are packets of loose tea with a small glass bearing Mr Nasrallah’s portrait for US$1.
“We felt obliged to show appreciation for Sayyed Nasrallah,” said Mr Ahmed Moussaoui, general manager of Somas Establishment, distributor of Riches tea.
“We would not exist in this country and be able to sell tea without what Nasrallah and the resistance did last summer.”
He added that Hizbullah would not financially benefit from sales.
A supermarket spokesman said the store had seen high sales of the Riches brand since the mugs were introduced.
“But I don’t think people are buying them for the tea,” he added.
Mugs adorned with an image of Hizbullah's Secretary General Sayeed Hassan Nasrallah line the shelves at Super Market Ramal in Mreyjeh, Southern Beirut.
Other Hizbullah paraphernalia is on sale in the southern suburbs, including posters, clocks, key chains, t-shirts, and cigarette lighters featuring a light that beams a portrait of Nasrallah .
One of the biggest sellers has been a rose water Resistance Perfume, packaged with a picture and a political message from Mr Nasrallah.
But it’s more of a Hizbullah marketing tool than a way to raise funds.
“The lighters, the clocks – its all chump change at the end of the day, a small piece of the pie,” said Nicholas Noe, author of the forthcoming Voice Of Hizbullah: The Statements Of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.
Academic experts estimate Hizbullah’s annual budget for social welfare, construction and health care programmes to be US$1 billion a year.
“Hizbullah have a lot of money-generating resources. It’s not just a liberation group, it’s also a corporation – there is not only a construction arm, but other revenue generators like hospitals and import-export companies. Charitable donations are the key though,” said Mr Noe.
Some analysts suggest that the majority of Hizbullah’s funding comes from charitable contributions – a religious obligation for Muslims – by wealthy Shi’ites in the Arab Gulf, West Africa and North America.
The money is most likely transported via couriers, said Mr Noe.
“In a recent aeroplane crash in Africa, a Hizbullah courier was found to have been carrying US$5 million in diamonds donated by Lebanese businessmen,” he said.
Mr Noe added that the war had substantially increased financial contributions to Hizbullah.
A recently released Israeli government-appointed inquiry commission report has in fact criticised Israel’s performance in last year’s war. And in the Arab world, it has been seen as confirmation of Hizbullah’s victory.
The group counts allies like Iran among donors. The Islamic republic’s leaders are looking to Hizbullah, not only for military strategy but also for economic purposes – for how to structure an economic system in a globalised world – said Mr Noe.
But “no matter what Iran’s role is with Hizbullah, Iran is cash strapped: there is high unemployment, the country has to import oil, and there are huge domestic problems,” said Mr Noe.
“The paraphernalia market probably outstrips Iran’s contribution.”
- ALL PHOTOS BY PAUL COCHRANE