After the elections, what kind of government for what kind of Lebanon?
My advice to anyone attempting to analyse Lebanon’s latest parliamentary elections, without taking into consideration regional and international developments, is to look for something more worthwhile. Since the period of fake entente that preceded the current period of de facto occupation, it is impossible to have a useful reading of Lebanon’s political coalitions and tactics, so one can imagine the situation today in a country whose political system is absurd.
Before writing this article, I reviewed some opinion pages of leading Lebanese newspapers, but I found myself reading contradictory views and pontifications on the same page of the same paper.
In one of them I read a very realistic view, next to which was one in denial, insisting that it would be wrong to assume that Hezbollah and the henchmen of the former Syrian-Lebanese security apparatus won the elections. The latter argument went on to suggest that Iran is in deep trouble.
Faced with such contradictions in analysis, there remains one indisputable fact: Lebanon will continue to be a small fish in a large pond. In the absence of real political and institutional life, the country will remain a helpless hostage to the fortunes of the region, which itself is in a dangerous and volatile state.
It is no longer possible to separate Hezbollah’s hegemony in Lebanon from Iran’s regional project, more so since Hezbollah is a vital ingredient of that project. Time has proven, particularly since the 2006 war, that the word “resistance” — touted by the party — means nothing but “Tehran’s interests and regional project.”
Furthermore, Hezbollah has been the fruit of a hegemony that took root in former President Hafez Assad’s Syria, before it was extended to include Lebanon. Under the late Assad, who was more capable of outmaneuvering, lulling and neutralizing his enemies than his son Bashar, Syria assumed its role as Hezbollah’s nanny.
It is no longer possible to separate Hezbollah’s hegemony in Lebanon from Iran’s regional project, more so since Hezbollah is a vital ingredient of that project.
Eyad Abu Shakra
Indeed, when Syrian regime forces had to withdraw from Lebanon in 2005 in the aftermath of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s assassination, it became clear that Syria was nothing but a nanny to Iran’s baby. Hezbollah wasted no time unmasking its face when it opposed the setting up of the international tribunal to try Hariri’s assassins, then refused to cooperate with it.
After the tribunal accused five of its members of carrying out the crime, Hezbollah rejected the summons or any negotiations regarding the accused, although it had negotiated with Israel through a third party to secure the release of its hostages and the bodies of Israeli soldiers.
Even stronger proof was the 2006 war that Hezbollah instigated against Israel. The most significant outcome of that war was that the party left Lebanon’s southern border areas, only to point its guns toward the Lebanese interior in 2008, and toward Syria since 2011. Hezbollah went on to interfere in Yemen, doing its part in executing Iran’s regional strategy, which does not care about resisting Israel or liberating Palestine, including Jerusalem.
In the latest Lebanese elections, Hezbollah scored a spectacular victory by imposing its favored electoral system. The international community knew beforehand that adopting proportional representation, as per the new system, would mean ensuring the penetration of all major sectarian blocs and parties except the Shiite bloc.
This is the case because only Hezbollah among Lebanon’s parties retains its military arsenal, and maintains its alliance with the Amal movement. In this alliance between the two largest Shiite parties, Amal provides Hezbollah with comfortable room for maneuver and a shock absorber between the latter and other communal parties.
Come election day, this is exactly what happened. The Shiite bloc, made up of Hezbollah and Amal, simply closed shop in its sectarian strongholds in northeast Lebanon, the south and Beirut, winning all but one of the Shiite seats.
Last week, Amal’s leader Nabih Berri was, as expected, re-elected as parliamentary speaker (constitutionally reserved for the Shiite community) for a sixth term. But if his re-election was a foregone conclusion given that the Shiite bloc has a near-monopoly on Shiite seats, and that he has always enjoyed wide non-sectarian political support, the election of the deputy speaker was pretty significant.
Elected to the post was Elie Ferzli, a deputy speaker before 2005 and a well-known supporter of Damascus and Lebanese President Michel Aoun, and thus Hezbollah. It is interesting that Ferzli declared his stance by saying: “What has happened is the correction of a historical mistake that happened in 2005.” This means that Lebanon, with an electoral system imposed by Hezbollah and Aoun, is returning to where it was pre-2005, to Syrian-Iranian trusteeship.
This would have not been possible had the international community adopted a different position toward Tehran’s regional project. Then-US President Barack Obama, when concluding the historic nuclear deal with Iran, was quite aware that he was sacrificing the Syrian people, but still never hesitated.
The international community, particularly the major Western European governments, is racing to appease Tehran and solicit contracts, and so does not care much about the fate of Syria, Lebanon or Iraq. Israel knows what it wants, and is satisfied to see across its borders a state of disintegration, sectarian animosities, and “border guards” who shout, threaten and outbid but do nothing.
Thus Lebanon is facing a future that looks like its recent past, as long as major international capitals believe that the Iranian regime must survive provided that it “change its behavior,” and that the Syrian regime can remain as long as it can coexist with everybody except its own people. However, what will happen to Lebanon if the Iranian regime unexpectedly falls?
• Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat.