Lebanon's post-election fate tied to region

Lebanese voters have renewed the existing power balance in parliament, confounding Hezbollah and its Christian ally Michel Aoun, who had sought to overturn the fragile majority held by Saad al-Hariri's anti-Syrian bloc.

Preliminary results suggested Hariri's Sunni, Druze and Christian alliance would emerge from Sunday's poll with 71 of the assembly's 128 seats, against 68 before, after close electoral battles in Christian heartland districts.

The outcome, a blow to Iran and Syria, will reassure the United States, which had warned it would review aid to Lebanon depending on the shape and policies of the next cabinet.

Whether the election will lead to another uneasy national unity government or plunge Lebanon into prolonged political deadlock may hinge on the outside powers who back the opposing blocs, wedded to irreconcilable visions for the country.

It may take weeks to agree on a new government, but few analysts expect political disputes to spark armed confrontation.

"Lebanon will not witness another round of violence," said Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University of Beirut. "There's a regional understanding on this, which we saw at work yesterday when despite the heated atmosphere, the election took place peacefully."

But he forecast "rough days ahead" while political adversaries clash over the formation of the next government.

For a year, a Qatari-brokered deal backed by regional rivals Syria and Saudi Arabia has checked tensions in Lebanon, allowing state institutions to function again after an 18-month impasse that ended in a spasm of street fighting in May 2008.

US President Barack Obama's diplomatic overtures to Iran and Syria, Hezbollah's principal patrons, have also helped contain regional hostilities that often spill over in Lebanon.

The Lebanese have no stomach for a repetition of last year's echo of their 1975-90 civil war, analyst Rami Khouri said.

"They realise that what they did last May, the Sunni-Shi'ite fighting in the streets, was a catastrophe. They want to avoid that at any cost," he said of the clashes in which Hezbollah and its allies briefly took over the Muslim half of Beirut.

Ultimately, another inclusive, power-sharing government was inevitable, he argued. "The real election was last May in the streets and Hezbollah won. That defined the power structure that came out of Doha and that is going to continue -- nobody is going to force decisions down the throat of the other side."



Mutual Mistrust

But trust between the two blocs is in short supply.

Hezbollah's tough Shi'ite guerrillas, who fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006, are viewed as a liability, if not a dangerous Iranian proxy, by Hariri's Western-oriented bloc.

Suspicions run just as high among the "resistance" camp led by Hezbollah, hostile to what it sees as U.S.-inspired efforts to deprive it of the arms needed to defend Lebanon from Israel.

Post-election bickering may focus on whether Hezbollah, its Shi'ite ally Amal and Aoun's loyalists should again be granted veto power over key decisions in a consensus government.

Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah called for "partnership" -- a code word for veto rights -- and argued against any repeat of past "catastrophes" that proved no one could monopolise power.

"Whoever wants political stability, preservation of national unity and the resurrection of Lebanon will find no choice but to accept the principle of consensus," he told Reuters.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a prominent figure in Hariri's bloc, told Reuters after the election that Hezbollah and its allies should join the next cabinet, but without veto power.

"We should not forget that the election should be a boost to the dialogue and we should not try to isolate the other parties," he said, referring to talks outside parliament among Lebanese leaders focused on the fate of Hezbollah's arms.

Jumblatt attributed his side's victory to its stance that "we should incorporate, slowly but surely, the weapons of Hezbollah inside the Lebanese army and that the decision of war and peace should be taken only by the Lebanese state".

It will take more than a narrow election result in Hariri's favour to advance that vision while the Middle East remains polarised, with Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas group ranged against Washington, its Arab allies and Israel.

But Obama's new tone, along with his demand that Israel halt settlement building in the occupied West Bank, may begin to blur the divide widened by the "war on terror" his predecessor George W. Bush declared after the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities.

The next test of that will be Iran's presidential election on Friday, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be trying to fend off rivals who advocate less confrontation with the West.

"Iran's impact on Lebanon is a derivative of the U.S.-Iran relationship," Khouri said. "If they move toward more talks and a softer tone, you will see that reflect positively in Lebanon." (Additional reporting by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam)

Suggested Topics
News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
BBC's Antiques Roadshow uncovers a TIE fighter pilot helmet from the 1977 Star Wars film, valuing it at £50,000
TV

TV presenter Fiona Bruce seemed a bit startled by the find during the filming of Antiques Roadshow

News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Sport
Steven Caulker of QPR scores an own goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool
football
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
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

Science teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a languages...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 4 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 4 Primary Teachers needed Randst...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past