The morning after

"The morning after" Continued...

Issue: "Memorial Day 2005," May 28, 2005

But not all Christian leaders are happy to throw in their lot with Hezbollah, an Iranian-funded Shiite terrorist group whose stated raison d'etre has been to fight Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon. Former general Michel Aoun, who returned to Lebanon after 14 years in exile, called the Jumblatt and Hariri alliances a "subversive tsunami." That statement meant Mr. Aoun was largely left out of alliances other political leaders were forming.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, has campaigned vigorously for this election. The group has woven itself into Lebanese society, offering social services, running an Islamist satellite TV station with broad-based programming, and enjoying parliamentary representation since 1992. But Syria's dwindling presence in the country has put its leaders in a precarious position.

Hezbollah is now one of the targets of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, passed last year, which calls for the withdrawal of all foreign troops in Lebanon. The first part of the resolution was accomplished following Syria's withdrawal. But the resolution also demands the disarmament of militias-a direct swipe at Hezbollah.

For now, Lebanese politicians seem content to handle that demand internally, without the international support that spawned the Cedar Revolution. Whether they succeed is one of the largest "intangibles" of this election, Mr. Rabil said: "Hezbollah might keep their arms by striking a deal with Jumblatt and Hariri."

In the meantime, Hezbollah is hoping to win solid representation for the next four years, which could outlive the Bush administration's agenda for reform in the Middle East, Mr. Phares said. A burgeoning trend, however, could further threaten the group: Lebanese Shiites are beginning to find alternatives to Hezbollah, drawn by the influence of Iraq's supreme Shiite leader, Ali Sistani. "The traditional Shiites, the left wing, and Sistani are coming together," Mr. Phares said.

Other factors could also swing the election. Lebanon's worldwide diaspora stands at about 12 million-four times the number of citizens who actually live in the country. The diaspora has requested that Lebanese citizens outside the country be allowed to vote in the election-a request unlikely to be granted by the pro-Syrian regime, which is afraid such a move would ensure its defeat. Nevertheless, Lebanese abroad were crucial players in lobbying the U.S. and French governments to pressure Syria and could remain a political force for Lebanese locals.

Mr. Phares believes the Lebanese army could also play an important role. The army contains a cross-section of society and should be deployed to protect polling stations, he said. "They may have the role of containing Hezbollah," he said. "They're the only army that's pro-Western but they're under the control of the Syrian government."

Mr. Rabil said he is "cautiously optimistic" about the elections. The Hariri and Jumblatt alliances may be enough to counter the pro-Syrians, including Hezbollah. "Overall, the number of elected deputies are not going to be pro-Syrian," he said. "It's much better than before where many times in history [these sects] have not worked together."

If it's hard to make solid predictions in Lebanon's current political eddies, one theme has emerged: Lebanese democrats are no longer afraid to flex their muscles, no matter how long democracy may take.


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