Hizbullah Wins Big in South Lebanon
Hizbullah and Amal, along with some representatives of Saad al-Hariri’s “Future” movement swept the elections in South Lebanon. Lebanon also uses a “list” system, which I have decided is extremely anti-democratic. Hizbullah [Hezbollah] and Amal represent about 40% of the Lebanese population, i.e. the Shiites, but they only get 23 seats in the South, plus a few more in the Bekaa valley and elsewhere. There are 128 seats in parliament. They should probably have 50 or so of them. In the last parliament, Hizbullah had only 12 seats of its own, though it is the largest and most important Shiite party.
Note that the outcome of the Lebanese election so far does not look very much like the “Arab Spring” promised us by the Wall Street Journal. Hizbullah is a strong ally of Syria, though it did not insist on Syrian troops remaining in Lebanon. In fact, with the Syrians gone, and given the weakness of the Lebanese Army, Hizbullah is primed to become the most important military force in the country. Although some of the Lebanese Forces (rightwing Maronites) politicians have called for Hizbullah to be immediately disarmed, no one else agrees with them– not Saad al-Hariri, not Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, not pro-Syrian Christians.
Note that all the major political groupings continue to be willing to establish list alliances in some districts with Hizbullah. Saad al-Hariri did. Walid Jumblatt did. Even returned Maronite general Michel Aoun did! (He has wanted Syrian out of Lebanon since the late 1980s, when he tried to accomplish it by force).
The election really is within Lebanon’s major ethnic groups. The original issue was Syria. The Sunni Arabs led by the Karami family and its allies were pro-Syrian. They are being supplanted now by the al-Hariris, who turned anti-Syrian.
Within the Christians, President Emile Lahoud and his supporters, who are pro-Syrian, are facing a challenge from the revived Lebanese Forces, rightwing groups that had been active in the civil war but tended to collapse in the 1990s. But some of the Christian politicians are hitching themselves directly to Saad al-Hariri’s Future Tendency, as with Amin Gemayyel. Al-Hariri hopes Future (al-Mustaqbal) will become a broad-based, cross-sectarian political party.
There is no dispute within the Druze community, since their leader Walid Jumblatt joined in the anti-Syrian coalition.
There is also no dispute in the Shiite community, which initially staged pro-Syrian counter-demonstrations, but acquiesced in the departure of Syrian troops.
Ironically, once the Syrians withdrew, they took off the table the main issue that had united the Lebanese opposition. The opposition promptly split. Al-Hariri’s willingness to run with Hizbullah is a key sign of that. Aoun’s relative unpopularity is another.
The big remaining issue for the opposition is forcing President Lahoud to resign. I suspect they will succeed in that. But once they succeed, they really will lack any basis for a continued alliance, and factionalism will reemerge.
It is as though Yushchenko had had to serve in parliament with a big bloc of the supporters of Leonid Kuchma, or even had to make electoral alliances with them.
Lebanese politics is very old and its parliamentary maneuverings have been going on for decades. George W. Bush didn’t teach the Lebanese any new tricks.
The main question raised by this Arab Spring is whether Washington will be able to continue to view Hizbullah as nothing more than a terrorist organization. Whatever else it is, it clearly is an important Lebanese political party. And evidence for its having carried off an international terrorist strike in the past 7 years seems slim.