A newly erected large bronze statue of slain Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in the middle of the Lebanese capital Beirut is driving outrage and division, causing deepening rifts in the population over the role of Hezbollah and Iranian influence in the country.
The unveiling ceremony for the bust that's about ten feet high occurred last week. It's located in a roundabout in the area of Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs on a street that also bears his name, and the street is linked to a nearby highway named for Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini.
In the days following the unveiling ceremony the statue created a social media storm of controversy.
According to one Saudi-backed newspaper:
Many Lebanese, mostly critics of Hezbollah, took to social media to lambast the celebration of a foreign military leader in Lebanon's capital. "Occupied Beirut," tweeted one Lebanese, Amin Abou Mansour, who posted it with the hashtag #BeirutFree_IranOut.
Others lamented what they described as the cultural hegemony of the militant Hezbollah and its ally, Iran. Wael Attallah, a Lebanese Canadian, tweeted: "This is a cultural aggression being imposed on Lebanon. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese today feel violated and powerless. The Schism is getting wider day by day, little by little."
One Lebanese media personality said she received death threats after her criticism on social media of the new statue.
The criticism has triggered a backlash from supporters, who started a Twitter storm with the hashtag: #Soleimani-is-one-of-us.
Much criticism has naturally centered on the fact that the Soleimani statue represents the presence and influence of a foreign power on Lebanese soil. However the small Mediterranean country has long been subject of foreign meddling in recent history, including the Saudis, Syrians, Israel, and the US - not to mention the French Mandate period in the 20th century.
The unveiling of a statue in #Beirut of an Iranian commander #Soleimani killed by the US last year has sparked indignation in Lebanon — the latest manifestation of a growing schism between supporters and opponents of the Iran-backed group #Hezbollah.https://t.co/fR0O7mAIr1 pic.twitter.com/PNleQdJAql— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) January 6, 2021
And as another Gulf-based newspaper pointed out, Hezbollah in prior decades used to be against statues, considering them 'un-Islamic'. Yet Soleimani's face has become iconic throughout the Middle East, representing "resistance" to US and Israeli designs on the region.
The Soleimani memorial has also no doubt angered the US Embassy in Beirut, given it's such a prominent display of devotion to someone considered an archenemy of the US.
Hezbollah seems pretty damn desperate to make late Iranian General Qassem Suleimani a local hero, despite knowing that for the majority of people in Lebanon, he simply represents a foreign power. That's one of many statues just erected to commemorate his assassination. pic.twitter.com/YVQcC2oQNt— Nizar Hassan || نزار حسن (@Nizhsn) January 5, 2021
The Trump administration ordered a strike on the popular IRGC commander on January 3, 2020 - which resulted in his death as well as that of Iraqi paramilitary leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.