Beirut, Lebanon – Hicham Hayek knew supporters of Lebanon’s traditional political parties would oppose his parliamentary election campaign in southern Lebanese village of Sarafand, but he did not expect that he, his running mates and attendees would be beaten, with the Lebanese army having to escort them to safety.
Hayek, a medical surgeon running in the May 15 election under the slate Together For Change, told Al Jazeera that supporters of Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement had beaten up workers at the venue before he arrived for the event on April 16.
“And as we approached the venue we saw that they had closed off the road leading to the event with tires, and they were yelling at people, attacking them and insulting them,” he said.
Southern Lebanon is a key political bastion for Iran-backed Hezbollah and Amal Movement, whose leader Nabih Berri has been speaker of parliament since 1992.
“They threw rocks at us, and told us: ‘This is Nabih Berri’s territory’,” Soltan al-Hosseini, a student activist that supports Hayek.
“They accused us of being foreign agents.”
The candidates and supporters who made it inside the venue tried to hold the event, but more angry people showed up.
“Some people tried to reason with [them], and asked them to open the road, but they were only beaten up,” Hayek said. “Then one of them took out a handgun and fired towards us.”
The army escorted Hayek and the others outside to leave safely, while those in the venue had to leave by driving on a dirt road to make it out of the area.
Amal Movement, in a statement soon after the incident, denied their involvement.
The army has arrested a man accused of shooting at the group, after activist lawyers fired a legal complaint. However, Amal supporters have demonstrated for his release by blocking a highway in the southern town with large piles of dirt and burning tyres.
Meanwhile in Beirut, opposition candidates say they face what they have called systematic attacks before the parliamentary election.
Independent legislator and former broadcast journalist Paula Yacoubian is running for another term in parliament after being elected in 2018. She said that five of her campaign billboards were vandalised in the capital’s Achrafieh district.
She filed a legal complaint, and believes traditional political parties have orchestrated the vandalism to intimidate her and her allies.
“State Security are investigating the matter and they told me there was a suspect, but is now missing,” Yacoubian told Al Jazeera.
“If the suspect was some ordinary person, we have known who it was by now … this shows that this was organised work.”
Yacoubian’s friends and supporters promoting her campaign online are reportedly receiving phone calls, pressuring them to stop.
“They’re following friends, people I know, and others who visit me,” she said. “They get calls from people threatening their livelihoods, telling them ‘Don’t you know we have employed this person, you know?’”
This kind of targeting in Beirut is “unprecedented”, she said. “They’re now going after people one by one.”