Belmont Club

What happens next in Lebanon?

An email from the Lebanese Renaissance Foundation in Lebanon looks at why Hezbollah lost and what is next for Lebanon.  The story here is that the Christians essentially provided the “swing vote”. They were the “battleground” community between the “pro-Western” March 14 and the “pro-Hezbollah” March 8 political coaltions. The email goes on to say:

The election results in the Shia, Sunni and Druze-majority districts were seen as foregone conclusions some time ago. Shia voters overwhelmingly support the opposition, while Sunni and Druze voters predominantly support the March 14 coalition. Christian voters were divided, and so these elections were decided in the Christian-majority “swing” districts.

After redistricting last year, March 14 Christians were no longer guaranteed victory in these districts. However, opinion polls over the past four years had shown a dramatic decrease in support for Aoun as well. The essential question was which of those would matter more. In the end they both mattered – March 14 lost Baabda and Zgharta – but Aoun’s decline mattered more. March 14 Christians were able to hold on to their seats in Beirut, Batroun and Koura as well as gain enough seats in Zahleh and the Metn to make up for their losses elsewhere.

The reasons for Aoun’s drop in popularity are several, but his 2006 alliance with Hezbollah and his recent rapprochement with Syria and Iran appear to be the biggest factors. These moves put him too far out of step with a majority of Lebanese Christian voters. A number of rhetorical missteps by Hezbollah in recent days as well as an eleventh hour push against Hezbollah by the Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir may have contributed.

As always international politics played a part in both directions. “Although small in size Lebanon is viewed as a bell-weather state in the Middle East, and having sent both the Secretary of State and the Vice President to show support in recent weeks, it would have been an embarrassment to see America’s allies lose anyway. It is unclear whether pro-Obama sentiment was a significant factor in these elections, though the connection is already being made in the press.” My own view is that many Lebanese political forces had their finger to the wind. Although there may have been some suspicion that Lebanon had been ‘sold out’ in America’s quest for rapproachment with Syria, those signals were corrected quickly enough to push the tiller the other way. The defeat of Syrian and Iranian proxies will paradoxically make Obama’s “engagement” easier. I think it’s true, as the email says, that “March 14’s win reflects very well on America’s role in the region, and will likely make the Obama administration’s job a lot easier than it could have been.” It may even affect the Iranian elections that are scheduled to be held soon. Everyone loves a winner; nobody loves a minicing, retreating apologist.

Messages from other contacts have warned that Hezbollah may still have a few dirty tricks up its sleeve. One should recall that Hezbollah won political concessions recently by simply sending its forces into Beirut. They may have lost the election, but Hezbollah has by no means lost the war. But all the same the result is one that anyone who cares about democracy should modestly celebrate. The victors are politicians, and in politics nothing is perfect. The skies won’t open and a new day won’t automatically come. But the ‘Orcs’, as someone I know calls the Nasrallah’s men, have lost for now. And that’s good enough. In some small way the readers of the Belmont Club may have helped change the awareness and climate of international public opinion toward the Lebanese elections. Maybe it wasn’t much, but it played its part.

And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to. …

I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We’re in one, or course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say: “Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!” And they’ll say: “Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories. Frodo was very brave. wasn’t he, dad?” “Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that’s saying a lot.”

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