BEIRUT—The throngs of antiestablishment protesters marching in Beirut after last week’s devastating explosion have turned their sights on one group above all: Hezbollah, the powerful, Iranian-backed Shiite political party and militia that has in recent years become a nearly untouchable force in Lebanon.
Hezbollah, which since its birth has billed itself as a bulwark against Israel and other foreign powers and a protector of Lebanon’s Shia population, is facing new, public criticism as an impediment to political reform. Critics say the group helps cover up systemic corruption and has focused its attention abroad instead of dealing with a deteriorating economic situation at home.
“They are the biggest obstacle to the project of founding a strong state with working institutions,” said Nizar Hassan, a 27-year-old activist with the Lebanese rights group Li Haki. “They are to blame for a lot of this.”
Demonstrators have directed their ire broadly at the entire political system that emerged from the country’s 15-year civil war, with branches of government reserved for different Christian and Muslim religious sects that critics say has spawned corruption and incompetence.
In the case of Hezbollah, it has operated a network of charities and welfare organizations parallel to the state, catering to the Muslim Shiite community. Such organizations often have been more efficient than those of the state, largely thanks to funding from Iran.