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Tuesday, May 8

"The myth of Hezbollah’s electoral domination"

By Joseph Haboush
May 8, 2018 - 12:24 AM
The Daily Star (Lebanon)

BEIRUT: Western media outlets Monday trumpeted the claim that Hezbollah had imposed its dominance through Lebanon’s first parliamentary elections in nine years, but the reality is that little has changed on the political front. 

“Western press gives too much importance to Hezbollah, but considering sectarianism in Lebanon, it’s normal that they consolidated power among the Shiite population,” said Karim Bitar, associate professor of international relations at Universite Saint-Joseph.

The Iranian proxy in Lebanon has undoubtedly increased its military capabilities in recent years while its political prowess has remained strong, helped by its robust ties with their Shiite ally the Amal Movement.

Hilal Khashan, chair of the political studies department at the American University of Beirut, said their electoral victory was due to the sectarian makeup of the country and not because of an overwhelming Hezbollah dominance. While Western media also framed the Lebanese election and the political focus around Hezbollah and Iran versus anti-Hezbollah camps, new parliamentary alliances and arrangements will more likely form around rebuilding Lebanon’s dilapidated infrastructure and reforming the economy.

This is despite the international community – and particularly the U.S. – still focusing on Hezbollah’s relationship with Iran. Analysts say an Israel-Iran conflict is just about the only thing that could lead to an escalation in Lebanon, but domestically Hezbollah’s weapons won’t be the center of debate for the time being.

“Prime Minister Saad Hariri has accepted the status quo,” Bitar said, referring to the premier’s stance on Hezbollah’s arms.

But as Hariri said Monday, in the meantime, he will work to build the economy and state institutions.

Since the polls closed Sunday, Hariri, Speaker Nabih Berri and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah have all expressed a desire to work alongside other parties to form a new government and work to build the state.

But the election results could see new alliances formed, strategically or tactically. While the Lebanese Forces took its parliamentary bloc from eight to over a dozen seats, the Free Patriotic Movement’s quasi-monopoly over Christian communities was weakened.

This, Bitar said, might push the FPM to a more central position to become a mediator between Hariri’s Future Movement and Hezbollah.

An LF source told The Daily Star before the elections that the FPM had hoped to squeeze the party out of the next Cabinet, something that could also push it closer to those butting heads with the FPM – namely Amal and the Marada Movement.

But an Amal source stopped short of confirming a potential alliance between the party and the LF was in the works. “Alliance is a big word and we, as Amal, don’t align with someone just to aggravate someone else,” the source said.

“The alliance between the FPM and Amal is based on strategic viewpoints and they are not our enemies despite the recent rhetoric [between us],” the source said. He noted that it was too early to discuss new agreements and that the rhetoric before the elections might have just been to galvanize voters and increase popularity among their respective sects.

Any alliances will also depend on the election of a new speaker, once the new Parliament convenes for the first time to vote for its head. After that is completed, discussions can start on Cabinet formation. “Based on these [events], we will assess any previous, current or future alliances,” the Amal source said.

Khashan echoed similar points to the source and said he was skeptical of an LF-Amal alliance.

“Amal will not take a step without Hezbollah’s consent and the Shiite environment is not too fond of the LF,” Khashan told The Daily Star.

Meanwhile, the pressure on Hezbollah could increase from within Lebanon. “FPM leader Gebran Bassil has a different stance on Hezbollah than President Michel Aoun and the Christian pressure on Hezbollah will increase with the LF being strengthened in the elections,” Khashan said. He even went as far as saying it was possible to envision an alliance between the FPM, LF and Future to confront Hezbollah.

But Sami Nader disagreed. “Everyone was weakened in these elections except for the LF and Hezbollah, but I’m not sure where the LF can translate this into politics,” Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, said.

But Bitar simply said that despite a couple of new faces appearing in Parliament, there had been “no major changes in power, except for Hariri losing a few seats and Parliament losing some key independent legislators like Botrous Harb and former Interior Minister Ziad Baroud [who lost in this year’s race].”

[END ANALYSIS]

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 08, 2018, on page 2.

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