Hezbollah launches al-Sajjad cooperatives card as part of ‘parallel economy’ plans

Iran-backed Hezbollah has officially launched a chain of supermarkets in Lebanon named al-Sajjad which provide products with minimal costs to its supporters as part of plans critics say are aimed at further developing its own parallel economy.

Hezbollah’s supporters celebrated the opening of the “al-Sajjad cooperatives,” where they shared pictures of the launch of the first branch near the airport, calling for “focusing on the term branch,” referring to a series of cooperatives that will be launched by Hezbollah.

Lebanon is currently experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis caused by decades of corruption and mismanagement due to Lebanon’s sectarian system and political instability. The crisis was exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and by a massive explosion at the Port of Beirut last August, which left 300,000 displaced, over 2,000 injured, and at least 200 dead. The crisis has caused a 10-fold depreciation of the Lebanese currency, placing almost half of the population under the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

Hezbollah’s opponents criticized the launch by stating that Hezbollah “should have worked with its parliamentary majority and with Lebanon’s pro-Hezbollah government to set a relief plan for all Lebanese to minimize the aftermath of the economic crisis which they have caused.”

The photos show shelves full of foodstuffs whose quality or origin is not clear and appeared to have been taken during the preparation process to fill the shelves with food cans and other items.

Hezbollah, which distributed the “al-Sajjad” cards to tens of thousands of its supporters, began to bring their supporters to their own shopping centers bearing the same name, al-Sajjad cooperatives, to maintain the flow of cash within its own controlled business environment.

Hezbollah has entered the framework of commercial competition in the supermarket sector, as it will be able to attract customers who have no choice but to buy from those stores that receive its pre-funded cards.

The “al-Sajjad card” concept is part of a large project financed to secure food for its social environment at low prices, less than the subsidized commodity prices provided by the Lebanese government. It includes the possibility of buying a limited quantity of foodstuffs and cleaning powder for holders of that magnetic card.

Faisal Abdul Sater, a local media personnel, said in an interview with a local TV station that the card will be used even in areas that overlap with Syria, including the areas in Syria near the Lebanese border which are controlled by Hezbollah, such as al-Qusair region.

The launch of al-Sajjad cooperative cards has been accompanied by an advertisement campaign on billboards in Beirut’s southern suburbs marketing Iranian alternative products to combat the increase in prices of Western-imported products which witnessed a ten-fold price increase because of the depreciation of the Lebanon Lira.

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