At first glance, I was totally stunned to see an unveiled female reporter appearing on the Hezbollah-backed TV channel, Al Manar. Known by its trademark yellow logo, which appears on the reporter’s microphone, Al Manar is by far the most conservative channel in Lebanon. In fact, the veil or Hijab is virtually a taboo in Lebanese broadcasting. All other channels in the country shun it, and most, whether Muslim or Christian-owned, encourage very revealing and tight clothing, especially for the ‘weather girls.’
So was Manar suddenly giving in to the scandalous nature of Lebanese television production?
But wait, things get more confusing. After the woman reads a couple of lines, she is joined by the ‘real’ Manar reporter who happens to be carrying the wrong microphone.
In an unusually propagandistic display—even by Lebanese standards—Al Manar had teamed up with OTV, a Christian channel, to produce a joint news package. The low budget result may have seemed like a college-style ‘group project’ (especially when the two reporters exchanged smiles as they read the same script simultaneously) but the implications are actually far-reaching on a geopolitical level.
By switching microphones and working as a team, the two channels foreshadowed a major public appearance that evening by the country’s most significant politicians: retired Christian army general Michel Aoun and Hezbollah leader Sayed Hassan Nassrallah.
Hours later the two would appear together on Aoun-friendly OTV to renew their controversial political alliance, which stands as the most significant challenge to United States’ influence on Lebanon and a key barrier to US policy across the entire region.
The two spoke articulately for over 3 hours in a wide-ranging and detailed debate that covered a multitude of topics including security and political developments in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The United States refuses to talk to Hezbollah, labeling it as one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations. Why then has Aoun, arguably the most powerful Christian leader in the Arab world, thrown the full weight of his constituency behind the group? This is a question that should give many Americans pause, especially those who are tasked with defining terrorists and terrorism policy.