Lebanese erupted in fury online yesterday after a statue of assassinated Iranian General Qassem Soleimani appeared in Beirut.
The effigy was unveiled on the anniversary of Soleimani’s death in the Hezbollah stronghold of Ghobeiry in southern Beirut.
Soleimani, the former head of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq on 3 January last year.
Several images of Soleimani have appeared on boards in the Hezbollah-dominated districts of Beirut and southern Lebanon in recent weeks to commemorate the anniversary of his death.
On the eve of the anniversary, locals in the southern Lebanese village of Arabsalim unveiled a model depicting the moment Soleimani’s car was hit by a US drone strike while leaving Baghdad airport.
On the eve of Qassem Soleimani’s assassination anniversary, Arabsalim—a Lebanese southern village, erects a model depicting the moment Soleimani’s SUV was hit by a US drone missile on its way out of Baghdad’s airport.#Tehran is 1789km away from Arabsalim. pic.twitter.com/YQ7XQBuYOs
— Bachar EL-Halabi | بشار الحلبي (@Bacharelhalabi) January 1, 2021
The installations have sparked a wave of online criticism from local Lebanese. Many complained over increasing Iranian influence in Lebanon.
One user, Wael Atallah, complained the statue amounted to “cultural aggression”, adding that “hundreds of thousands of Lebanese today feel violated and powerless”.
Local journalist Luna Safwan, who was targeted by Hezbollah last year after an Israeli media outlet carried her tweet, added to the fray writing: “New Qassem Sulaimani statue in #Lebanon – with Lebanese flags in the background, useful to remind us where we are. Whats next? Sulaimani stamps?”
Several users picked up on Safwan’s sarcastic suggestion that Lebanon might start producing other Soleimani memorabilia and provided ideas of their own.
One user suggested naming a street in Beirut after the fallen Iranian general, while others proposed currency, clothes, mugs or masks could be used to honour Soleimani.
Lebanese researcher Nizar Hassan, however, said the statue highlights Hezbollah’s desperation “to make [the] late Iranian General Qassem Suleimani a local hero, despite knowing that for the majority of people in Lebanon, he simply represents a foreign power.”
Hassan went on to point out that the newest effigy is only “one of many” statues erected in commemoration of Soleimani’s death and provide a picture of a “less impressive” attempt.
Sidenote: this other statue was less impressive for sure pic.twitter.com/gNZaELQQL9
— Nizar Hassan || نزار حسن #Tafkeek (@Nizhsn) January 5, 2021
Meanwhile, prominent Lebanese activist Gino Raidy questioned how the statue and blooming flower display placed at its base was funded considering the debilitating economic crisis the country is facing.
On Instagram, Raidy asked, “who’s paying for all this?” alongside pictures of a series of Soleimani statues unveiled across Lebanon in the last 12 months.