Much to my surprise
Much to my surprise, the BBC reports that the 14 March coalition of Saad Hariri won 71 seats out of 128 seats in Lebanon’s parliamentary elections on Monday. Coalition parties – Future (Sunni); Progressive Socialists (Druze); Lebanese Forces (Maronite); Phalange (Maronite) – took one more than they held four years ago. Hariri’s coalition is opposed by the bloc led by the Islamic Hezbollah movement, which consists of Hezbollah (Shia); Amal (Shia); Free Patriotic Movement (Maronite). Turnout was 54%, the highest since Lebanon’s devastating 1975 – 1990 civil war.
American President Barack Obama congratulated Hariri and the Lebanese people, “Government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion.” Thus repeating a theme from his recent speech in Cairo.
The US was backing the 14 March coalition, hoping to keep Lebanon in a loose Western-oriented orbit. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the country earlier this year, Vice President Joe Biden arrived for a short visit just a few days before the polls opened. The US has increased military and other aid recently since the political statement that nearly erupted into civil war in May 2008.
Saudis take this round
Hariri’s coalition also received substantial financial, logistical and political aid from Egypt and Jordan, but mostly from the deep pockets of Saudi Arabia. It is an irony that cannot be lost on many: the most fervently Sunni Muslim country supporting an alliance led by Maronite Christians. “They were broken… Lebanon wins,” thundered a headline in the Saudi-funded Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. The Cairo-based Middle East Times remarked, “Indeed, this election seems to be the first time in Lebanon in which a Western media campaign appears to have obtained the desired results: first in getting people out to vote, and second to get the voters to elect the candidates that would best serve the national interest of the Lebanese.”
Hezbollah, meanwhile, received significant aid from Iran and Syria, the latter of which was forced to end it decades-long occupation of eastern Lebanon only in 2005. To this day, Hezbollah maintains close ties with Syria; supplies for the militant Islamic organization’s militia – estimated at 30,000 or more, flow through Syria into Lebanon’s Hezbollah-controlled Beka’a Valley.
Both blocs hurled accusations at one another the last few weeks, primarily involving claims that thousands of Lebanese expatriates were flown in for the sole purpose of voting.
Where will they go from here?
Still, the 71 seats only gives Hariri a four-seat majority in parliament, and alliances in Lebanese politics are often fickle and short-lived. The country is still bitterly divided among ethnic and religious lines, as can be seen from the confessional basis of the parties participating in this election. Despite the victory, Hariri will most likely attempt to engineer some form of national-unity government. The previous NUG gave Hezbollah’s bloc 11 of 27 cabinet seats and virtual veto over certain areas of foreign and military policy.
“We accept these results,” Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address. However, one Hezbollah member or parliament, Mohamed Raad, told the French news agency AFP insisted that it would keep its weapons. “The majority must commit not to question our role as a resistance party, the legitimacy of our weapons arsenal and the fact that Israel is an enemy state.” The pro-Western 14 March bloc accuses Hezbollah of using this force to disrupt Lebanese stability. Hezbollah counters this by saying that it alone is capable of defending Lebanon from Israel.
If approached again, Hezbollah will most likely demand that it retain the eleven cabinet seats that it secured in last year’s unity talks. The May 2008 compromise took place under the shadow of Hezbollah’s gunmen taking over the streets of Beirut, the country’s capital. Both demands are likely to be met, although perhaps with less window-dressing this time.
In an editorial published today, Yisrael Hayom has already performed the post mortem on US President Barack Obama’s much anticipated 4.6.09 speech in Cairo. The daily notes that, “Three days after the speech, an earthquake is expected to occur in the Middle East that will push it into a dark corner: In the Lebanese parliamentary elections, Hezbollah is liable to turn its veritable control over the Land of the Cedars, thanks to Iranian weapons and money, into legal, legitimate control, if it succeeds in filling parliament with a majority of its supporters.”
Of course, this was noted several days ago on this blog. Nasallah’s victory will provide additional, albeit unneeded momentum, to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bid for another term as president of Iran.
Yisrael Hayom “Then the world, including Obama, will awaken to find that a country with a democratic past has become Ayatollah Nasrallah’s country under Iranian patronage.”
What the editorial fails to point out is that the “world” is not democracy-friendly. Only about 20% of the world’s people live under demcratic systems of government. And in about half of those the commitment to democracy is less than full-fledged.
Yisrael Hayom goes on to state that “Ten days after the speech, Hamas’s leaders will celebrate two years since the founding of their state in the Gaza Strip and the Iranians, as he [Obama] well knows, are preparing a bomb in any case. Obama’s speech, as positive as it may be, will be – very quickly – forgotten and buried under the bitter reality of the old Middle East.