Amidst Hizbullah protests, Lebanese reek of resistance - literally
BEIRUT, LEBANON — As the antigovernment sit-in by the Hizbullah-led opposition enters its third month, protesters have found a new way to avoid smelling like they've been living in a tent city.
Mouqawama, or Resistance perfume, refers to Hizbullah, which is also called the "Islamic Resistance." And it's been selling briskly, even as the resistors' efforts have devolved into a tense, sometimes violent, standoff with the US-backed government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
The flagging protests have started to undermine Hizbullah and its leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, a powerful orator who for years has enjoyed legendary status and wild popularity verging on worship.
In the five weeks of war with Israel, and through five televised speeches, the Hizbullah leader seemed untouchable, emerging in the eyes of Lebanese of all sects and religions as an icon.
Fifty years have passed since the emergence of an Arab "hero" of such stature, the last notable figure being Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the historical embodiment of Arab revolt against Western hegemony.
But that was then. Recent deadly clashes between Sunni loyalists and Shiite opposition supporters may have tarnished Sheikh Nasrallah's image, with some pro-government politicians blaming him for rekindling sectarian strife in the country.
Despite the shifting dynamic of Lebanese politics, the charismatic leader and his resistance continue to boast widespread appeal. Their tremendous influence can be seen in the successful sale of Resistance perfume – described by its creator as the "essence of Nasrallah in a bottle."
"The perfume is more than just a nice scent; it is a political statement," says Bilal Ali, a young demonstrator who bought six bottles of the perfume – three for himself and the rest as gifts.
For $1, you get a pinky-sized vial of tea rose scent, with a digitally manipulated picture of a sinking ship, representing the Israeli warship damaged by a Hizbullah missile during the summertime war.
"It's strong enough smell for a man, and delicate enough for a woman," Mr. Ali adds, coopting – perhaps unwittingly – the advertising slogan for Secret antiperspirant.
The package also features Nasrallah quotations. "You are the truthful promise," is the perfume's slogan, echoing one of his wartime rallying cries. "Just as I have promised you victory before, I promise you victory again."
Ali Aaqil Khalil, who invented Resistance perfume (and whose daughter shares the perfume's name), chose tea rose because it is reportedly used by Nasrallah himself. "Every time you inhale the perfume, you think of the inspirational messages of Nasrallah," he says.
Mr. Khalil says he is not a member of Hizbullah, but he met Nasrallah in the early 1990s, and says he still admires him to this day. "He just has this remarkable presence," Khalil adds.
Since launching the perfume in October, Khalil has sold 15,000 bottles – with orders coming from Bahrain, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Japan. Khalil imports the fragrance from Germany: "Better quality," he quips.
Hizbullah didn't authorize the perfume but has in no way opposed it. "There are more people outside Hizbullah who love Nasrallah than there are members in the actual party," says spokesman Hussein Rahhal. "Resistance is now part of the popular culture, and not just a political movement."