06/10/2009, 00.00
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Elections: Lebanon saved as its dark period comes to an end

by Fady Noun
Pro-Western moderate forces beat pro-Syrian-Iranian groups. The country seems poised to put behind its dark period, aided by an international situation more favourable to dialogue. However, Hizbollah at home and intra-Palestinian divisions and the Iranian nuclear issue abroad continue to threaten regional stability.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Despite events in the recent past democracy is safe in Lebanon. The great fear over a possible victory by “radical” groups in last Sunday’s elections is now a thing of the past. The pro-Western moderate camp won the day, winning 71 seats against 57 for Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and its Allies, Hizbollah and Amal, and other pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian parties. From every point of view the elections on 7 June appear to be the beginning of a new phase in the country’s history, one that could be much more peaceful than the one before.

The last legislature (2005-2009) will be remembered for a long time, especially for Israel’s useless war against Hizbollah (July-August 2006), which hammered the country’s infrastructures, and distorted its politics. After that the Lebanese began fighting each and came to close to another civil war.

The last four years also saw a major attempt to destabilise the country. Although Syria pulled out its troops, it is not yet clear whether that decision was related to the destabilising events that followed. What is clear though is that Lebanon witnessed a series of political murders, involving lawmakers, intellectuals and top military leaders, including General François al-Hajj who was tipped to become army commander-in-chief, as well as some 30 bomb attacks, still largely unresolved.

Fatah al-Islam, a sordid Islamist organisation that sowed death and destruction in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared in 2007 before it was crushed at a heavy human cost, especially for the Lebanese military, represents a case apart in the broader picture of destabilisation.

Politically, the latter almost took on an insurrectional form when Shia ministers quit the Lebanese cabinet headed by Fuad Siniora in order to undermine its legitimacy and cause its resignation.

The standoff became almost total as a result of the gridlock in parliament and the takeover of major commercial areas. Shia-Sunni street fighting followed soon afterwards.

For many Lebanese there was also a possibility that a violent seizure of power could occur with the backing of mobs in the streets, causing the collapse of the existing government.

The outgoing government and majority had to go through a tortuous and agitated period to get the United Nations to set up its special international tribunal to investigate the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on 14 February 2005.

Given the stalemate that has partially paralysed the Lebanese state, the creation of this tribunal has allowed for the implementation of Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter.  

This period also coincided with George Bush’s warmongering presidency. For Hizbollah and for most Lebanese he was directly responsible for Israel’s aggression in July-August 2006.

The only good thing that came out of this war was United Nations Resolution 1701 which ended the conflict and provided the Lebanese state the legal framework within which it can operate vis-à-vis Israel and Hizbollah.

Last Sunday’s elections are a direct consequence of the Doha agreement of May 2008 which led to the election of General Michel Suleiman as president; they should help the country put behind this dark period. 

The poll, whose results were accepted by all parties including Shia-dominated Hizbollah and Amal and the international community, gave the outgoing majority 71 seats against 57 for the opposition.

What is also clear is that Michel Aoun saw its support among Christians slip from 70 per cent in the previous election to 48 per cent.

This is a significant drop and will affect the representativeness of the various players and it could reduce tensions and dampen confessional demands by Christians.

These elections have also come at the right time as far as the international situation is concerned. US President George W. Bush is no longer a factor. The approach adopted by his successor Barack Obama is by far more flexible but also more clearly favourable to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and against Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.

Equally French President Nicolas Sarkozy seems to be paying more attention to Syria's positions.

And the winds of change could become even more favourable depending on the results of Iran’s presidential elections next Saturday.

Still even optimism has its limits both at home and abroad. In Lebanon radicalisation along confessional lines could continue and lead to another political deadlock, especially when it comes to Hizbollah’s armed militias. Internationally some issues like Iran’s nuclear programme, regional nuclear proliferation and intra-Palestinian conflict (between Fatah and Hamas) will continue to be important and indirectly impact on Lebanon.

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