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Lebanon's biggest challenge is real change, but it doesn't seem to be on the agenda

Lebanon's former foreign minister and current parliamentary candidate Gibran Bassil (C) addresses supporters waving the yellow flags of the Lebanese Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah on May 16, 2022 [IBRAHIM CHALHOUB/AFP via Getty Images]
Lebanon's former foreign minister and current parliamentary candidate Gibran Bassil (C) addresses supporters waving the yellow flags of the Lebanese Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah on May 16, 2022 [IBRAHIM CHALHOUB/AFP via Getty Images]

Lebanon's parliamentary election is being observed with great interest around the world due to the nature of the state and its important strategic location next to Israel. The presence of Hezbollah, one of Iran's most important proxies in the region, is a key factor given its overwhelming influence in Lebanon.

So much so, in fact, that there is a state within a state, with Iran as the de facto ruler, holding the keys to the Lebanese government. Hezbollah's militia is armed with missiles, heavy weapons and all manner of military equipment, with over 100,000 fighters, according to Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, who added that Iran pays for their food, drink, medical treatment and housing, as well as pensions; everything is provided by Iran.

This is why the Lebanese people say that Iran is occupying Lebanon and that their country needs to gain its independence. Such wishes are not merely words for the sake of words; they arise out of the people's anger at Hezbollah's infiltration at all levels in Lebanon. Such concerns were confirmed by a political official in Iran who said, "Iran occupies the capitals of four Arab states: Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen."

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Herein lies the importance of the recent parliamentary election; it is viewed as a key stage in Lebanon, especially in the midst of a severe economic crisis. Banks are bankrupt and depositors have lost their money; the inflation rate is rising; there is massive poverty; and there is a significant decline in the value of the national currency, which has lost about 90 per cent of its value. The Lebanese people are frustrated and many didn't bother to vote because they are tired of the whole process and disgusted at the likelihood that the same old ruling clique will get back into office. Leadership of the Lebanese sects is a job for life, and is passed on to the next generation like an inheritance. Hence the voter turnout was lower than in 2018, even amongst the Shia, Hezbollah's natural support base, despite Nasrallah and Nabih Berri urging their supporters to participate in large numbers and tempting them with money to do so. However, many stayed home to express their anger and dissatisfaction because they do not have real freedom of choice and are not able to go to the polling stations to topple these leaders.

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

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

The election ended two months of arguments and sectarian tension between candidates and voters. Everyone claims that they want to establish a strong civil state without sectarianism.

The Shia Hezbollah and Amal won all 28 seats allocated to the sect based on the quotas outlined by the 1992 Taif Agreement. The Christian allocation was 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, only won 18 seats instead of the 27 it won in 2018. The Sunni community lost a lot from the election boycott of the Future Movement led by Saad Hariri. This has weakened the Sunnis, who had no effective leadership, so their votes were shared between various blocs and suspect alliances.

Despite the hateful sectarian electoral law that Bassil had custom-made for himself so that his party would win the election, a group of younger people outside the traditional political and party groupings 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 arose in October 2019 and called for change, rejected sectarianism and demanded the structural reform of the regime and the overthrow of all the old political symbols, without exception. 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.

OPINION: Lebanon's election with a taste of crisis

However, the biggest surprise in this election was the fall of all of the agents and puppets of the Syrian regime, such as Emir Talal Arslan, head of the Lebanese Democratic Party, and Wiam Wahhab, head of the Tawhid Party, as well as the deputy speaker of parliament Elie Ferzli, who Damascus tried to save. It did so by claiming that there was a ballot box for expatriate votes in Syria that was sent late, all in the interest of Ferzli, but it was exposed as a fraud and rejected by the judiciary.

Hezbollah has thus lost its allies, who were the majority in parliament, although the party and its ally the Amal Movement retained all the seats allocated to the Shia. However, its allies in other groups lost their seats, especially in the Free Patriotic Movement, the Christian cover for Hezbollah and its militia, despite its demand for all of its opponents in the election to lay down their arms and give them to the Lebanese army. It also called for the army to be the only armed institution in Lebanon. Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary-General of Hezbollah, admitted this loss on television after the election results were announced.

Hence, the parliamentary blocs and their alliances are now distributed among several political forces, whereas Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement and their allies had a parliamentary majority after the 2018 election.

Lebanon was the jewel of the Middle 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, regaining its beauty, splendour, vitality and freedom? I doubt it, given that 90-year-old Nabih Berri was elected Speaker of the Parliament, a position that he has occupied since 1992. Lebanon's biggest challenge is to get real change, but that doesn't seem to be on the political agenda.

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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