In War's Dust, a New Arab 'Lion' Emerges ; Hizbullah's Nasrallah Is Hailed as a Regional Hero

Article excerpt

To most of the Arab public, the debate over who won the war between Israel and Lebanon's Hizbullah is already settled.

Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah is being feted through song in Syrian nightclubs and on Palestinian radio. In Egypt, his name is being given to babies. On Baghdad streets, posters celebrate his "victory." Islamist and secular groups are united in declaring Mr. Nasrallah the new "lion" of Arab causes.

The long-term political fallout of this euphoria over Hizbullah's ability to withstand Israel's superior firepower is still uncertain. In Lebanon, suffering brought by the war has seen support for Hizbullah split along sectarian lines. But there are signs that opponents of authoritarian regimes in the region have been emboldened by Hizbullah's actions, linking their struggles against their own states to the Lebanese guerrillas' fight with Israel.

What's more, the perception of Nasrallah as the Arabs' new champion - replacing secular leaders of the past like Yasser Arafat - has accelerated the regional shift of support to Islamist leaders seen as less corrupt than their secular counterparts.

The biggest boost to Nasrallah's popularity appears to be among Palestinians and Syrians.

Alaa Abul Heijah, the leader of Firkat Ishaman, a band in the West Bank city of Jenin, says that he decided to write a tribute to Nasrallah after watching footage of Israel's attack on the village of Qana. The result was a song that dubs Nasrallah "the Hawk of Lebanon," and has quickly become one of the more popular war songs.

In Damascus, posters of Nasrallah with young children or of Nasrallah flanked by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad, adorn shops and cars. Singers have even brought the "resistance" into popular nightclubs where alcohol flows and Syrians dance to popular songs found throughout the Arab world.

To be sure, Sunni Syrians and Palestinians aren't necessarily enamored of the hard-line Shiite alliance of Iran and Hizbullah. Some see them as outsiders who use the Palestinian cause to further their own interests. Abdel Majid Sweilem, a political-science professor at Al Quds University in Jerusalem, says many Palestinians feel caught in the middle of the Iran-US standoff. "We don't want to be in the Iranian coalition, but we don't want to be involved in the American'" one either, says Mr. Sweilem.

But for most Palestinians, little seems to dampen their elation at what's perceived as a victory against Israel through mere survival. …