Lebanon's oasis of freedom turns into a mirage

Electors are backing Syria's friends, writes Robert Fisk

Beirut - General Mustapha Tlass had described Lebanon as "an oasis of freedom and democracy" in the Middle East. The general - Syrian minister of defence, no less, as well as an admirer of numerous Miss World title-holders and Princess Diana - was reassuring the head of Lebanon's newspaper editors' union of his faith in the Lebanese parliamentary elections. Better still, Syrian Vice-President Abdul Halim Khaddam publicly pledged that Syria, which has 22,000 troops in Lebanon, would not interfere in the election process. All the Lebanese had to do, it seemed, was to vote for the candidate of their choice.

Lebanon, it should be added, has never been anything so exotic as an oasis of democracy. Pre-war governments were regularly packed with stooges and the retainers of the country's leading families. When parliament was asked to elect a president back in 1970, the speaker's call for a fourth ballot, which might have kept old Sulieman Franjieh from the presidency, prompted Franjieh's bodyguards to threaten the speaker with sub-machine guns. When he called up the incumbent president for help, the worldly Charles Helou gave this advice to his parliamentary speaker: "My information authorises me to tell you that if you persist [in the fifth ballot] there will be no survivors among those present in parliament." Franjieh won.

So mourn not, readers, for Lebanese democracy. Oasis or otherwise, not much has changed here. Accusations of fraud, intimidation, bribery and electoral abuse are par for the course in Lebanon; and, half-way through the staggered six-week polling for the 128-seat parliament, the country's electors are already giving their votes to Syria's loyal friends and allies in the government.

Nasib Lahoud, the most authoritative figure in the Christian opposition - who was elected - has accused the Interior Minister, Michel Murr, of "threats and coercive measures" against the electorate, while Mr Murr, also elected in the allegedly flawed polling in the Mount Lebanon constituency, accused Mr Lahoud of buying votes; to be exact, just over pounds 79,000 worth. Mr Lahoud then called Mr Murr a "gangster" and a habitual briber.

"Democracy has been defeated," the daily An Nahar announced on its front page after the first round of elections, while the independent Lebanese Association for the Democracy of Elections complained of fake electoral lists, false identity cards and threats against newly-naturalised Lebanese citizens; Lebanese who had just acquired citizenship, it seems, were told they would lose it if they voted the wrong way.

Already, Fares Bouiez, the Foreign Minister, Druze ministers Walid Jumblatt and Marwan Hamadeh, the Electricity Minister Elie Hobeika and Mr Murr have been elected - all good chums of the Syrians. The Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, is sure to be elected this weekend in Beirut. Albert Mokhaibur, an ally of Mr Lahoud and a fierce opponent of Syria's presence in Lebanon, lost. And so, oddly enough, did at least one of Hizbollah's candidates. For the old militia war between the pro-Iranian Hizbollah and the equally Shia, but nationalist, Amal movement - both allies of Syria - has resurfaced in political form with the two would-be guerrilla movements at odds over who should represent the electors of southern Lebanon.

The parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, chairman of Amal, invited Hizbollah to join his list - knowing they would not accept - and wished God's mercy upon Hizbollah when they refused. The elections are therefore likely to end with as much ill will as when they started.

When candidates challenged a law which divided the Mount Lebanon governorate into six constituencies, while keeping the other four governorates as single constituencies - a device intended to secure election for the Druze leader Mr Jumblatt amid the predominantly Christian Mount Lebanon - the country's constitutional court ruled that the law would, "in the national interest", stand for this election only.

The Christians - typically, and tragically, the most divided community in Lebanon - were split over whether to boy-cott the poll. Christians living abroad, and supporters of former General Michel Aoun - the messianic army officer who declared war on Syria before slaughtering many of his own Christian countrymen, and who was driven out of the presi-dential palace in 1990 - urged a boycott. Mr Lahoud and his allies gave opposite advice.

Prime Minister Hariri, who loathes the Hizbollah, declared the elections a battle "between pragmatism and extremism", while the Hizbollah leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, insisted that his movement would "not join any government list anywhere in the country".

But it also pays to be young and handsome. In Tripoli this week, 34-year- old Misbah Ahdab, the local honorary consul of France, picked up more than 73,000 votes, outdistancing even the old family squire Omar Karameh. A bronzed Adonis amid a sea of silver-haired retainers, poll officers believe he was given the vote of almost every female elector in northern Lebanon. So this is what an oasis of democracy means.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?