Middle East

Lebanon and the biggest challenge

The whole world has watched the parliamentary elections in Lebanon, as if they are taking place in their countries due to the nature of Lebanon and its important strategic location, adjacent to Israel, as well as the presence of Hezbollah, one of Iran’s most important arms in the region, given its overwhelming influence in Lebanon. This has made Lebanon into a State within a State, with Iran as the de facto ruler, holding the keys and the wheel of the government. This is in addition to the armed militia it possesses in the country, armed with missiles, weapons, military equipment and fighters, amounting to over 100,000 according to Hezbollah’s Secretary-General, Hassan Nasrallah, who added that Iran pays them their pension, food, drink, treatment and housing; everything is provided by Iran. This is what caused the Lebanese people to say that Iran occupies Lebanon and that it needs to be liberated and gain independence from Iran. The Lebanese words are not coming out of nowhere, or merely words for the sake of words; it comes from their anger at Hezbollah’s infiltration of all parts of Lebanon. They were even backed by one of the Iranian political officials in Iran, who said, “Iran occupies four Arab capitals, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.” Hezbollah had previously stormed and occupied Beirut and Al-Jabal in the events of 7 May, 2008, with what was known as the “black shirts”.

Herein lies the importance of the recent parliamentary elections, which some considered a key stage in Lebanon, especially as they came amid a severe economic crisis, bank bankruptcy, loss of Lebanese deposits, increase in inflation rates, massive poverty and a significant decline in its national currency, which lost about 90 per cent of its value, causing the Lebanese people to become frustrated and refrain from participating in the elections and voting. The people have grown tired and disgusted with the ruling clique, which will be brought back in the elections. This is because the sect leaders do not change or step down until they die, and then their children inherit their seats, and they are recycled. This is why the participation rate in these elections was much lower this year, compared to the past elections in 2018, even amongst the Shia sect, despite Nasrallah and Berri urging their Shia supporters to participate in large numbers and tempting them with money.

READ: Lebanon recovery plan includes Central Bank debt write-off, haircuts to depositors

However, they disappointed the leaders and many of them stayed home to express their anger and dissatisfaction because they do not possess the freedom of choice and are not able to go to the polling stations to topple these leaders.

Last week ended two months of arguing, quarrels, electoral conflict and sectarian tension, whether among candidates or voters. Everyone claims that they want to establish a strong civil state that is far from political sectarianism. The Shias, Hezbollah and the Amal movement won all the 28 Shia seats, according to the parliamentary quotas distributed among the Lebanese sects and according to the parity system outlined by the Taif Agreement in 1992. The Christian seats were distributed between the Lebanese Forces Party led by Samir Geagea, which won 19 seats and became the largest bloc representing Christians in Lebanon, while the Free Patriotic Movement led by Gebran Bassil, son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, withdrew from the 2018 elections, and lost its 27 seats, only winning 18 seats in this year’s election. As for the Sunni community, it lost a lot in the absence of the Future Movement led by Saad Hariri, who boycotted the elections and called on his movement and supporters to boycott them. This weakened the Sunnis, who found no one to take them under their wing or leadership, so they were lost amongst the various blocs and their votes were scattered amongst other blocs, where they joined suspicious alliances.

Lebanon is one long tale of disaster and crisis – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Despite the bad and hateful sectarian electoral law that Gibran Bassil custom-made himself so that his current party would win the elections, a group of young people outside the traditional political and party alignments managed to penetrate the electoral lists for the first time since the end of the civil war in 1990. These new forces represent the civil current that emerged from the popular movement that took place on 17 October, 2019, and was calling for change, the rejection of the sectarian system, structural reforms of the regime and the overthrow of all the old political symbols, without excluding any of them. Its slogan was “All of them means all of them.” These new forces managed to win 15 seats out of 128, and are currently seeking to form a joint bloc.

However, the biggest surprise in these elections is the fall of all of the Syrian regime’s or rather, its agents, which it controls like puppets, such as Emir Talal Arslan, Head of the Lebanese Democratic Party, and Wiam Wahhab, Head of the Tawhid Party, and Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Elie Ferzli, whom the Syrian regime tried to save from falling and by helping him to succeed through various means and false results. They did so by claiming there was a ballot box for expatriate votes in Syria that was sent late, and all of this was in the interest of Ferzli and, of course, was exposed as fraud and rejected by the judiciary.

According to this result, Hezbollah has lost its allies, who formed the majority in Parliament, although it and its ally, the Amal Movement, retained all the seats allocated to the Shia sect. However, its allies lost their seats in several departments, especially in the Free Patriotic Movement, the Christian cover for it and its weapons, despite demanding all of its opponents in the elections to lay down their arms and give them to the Lebanese Army. They also called for the Army to be the only armed institution in the State. Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary-General of Hezbollah, admitted this loss in a televised speech, after the results were announced.

OPINION: Lebanon’s election with a taste of crisis

Hence, the balances of the Parliamentary blocs and their alliances are now distributed among several political forces, after Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement and their allies, had won parliamentary majority in the 2018 elections.

Lebanon was the jewel of the East and the centre of cultural and artistic energy in the Arab world. The country of freedom was called the “Switzerland of the East”. It was the only Arab country that competed with Israel in terms of civilisation, tourism and culture. As soon as Iran entered the country and its militias gained control of it, the Arab capital of light, Beirut, became the capital of darkness, gloom and bankruptcy.

Will the new parliament be able to restore its light and pull it out of the darkness and into the light, regaining its beauty, splendour, vitality and freedom?

I doubt this, after 90-year-old Nabih Berri was elected Speaker of the Parliament, a position he has occupied since 1992, that is, for the past 30 years.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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