Robert Fisk’s World: The West awaits the return of friendly 'democrats' to Lebanon

The Hizbollah issue won’t go away any more than Hamas will go out of sight in Gaza

Share
Related Topics

I went to take a look at Madeleine Albright the other day. She turned up in Beirut as part leader of the National Democratic Institute, one of those Washington gigs that checks up on the freedom of elections in dodgy countries. All kinds of sweet souls are washing up in Lebanon to do just that – old Jimmy Carter is expected before the 7 June poll – and the usual round of attacks, office-torching and billboard-defacing has already begun.

But I wanted to see the woman who in 1996, when asked by CBS News if the price of half-a-million dead Iraqi children was worth the sanctions against Saddam Hussein, infamously replied: "We think the price is worth it." She was US ambassador to the United Nations at the time. I had actually seen her before – she was lying on a hotel couch in London after prolonged and hopeless negotiations with a certain Bibi Netanyahu – but she was asleep at the time so I suppose that doesn't count.

In any event, suitably clad in black, the little lady popped up in Beirut, looking much older, with less hair than I remembered, but as feisty as ever when she read from her cue sheet alongside Joe Clark, one of Canada's infinitely colourless former prime ministers.

And among the problems she spotted – of course – was that "one of the political contestants maintains a major armed force not under the control of the state". Well, we all guessed the Hizbollah would end up in the dog house for that very reason, even though Albright was sharp enough to realise that "other parties also possess arms of various sizes and capabilities".

The catch, of course, is that if the Hizbollah and its running mates – they include the crackpot General Michel Aoun who has successfully split the Christian Maronites by posing as Syria's and Iran's new best friend – pick up a majority of the vote, America will have to talk to a "Hizbollah-led" government in Lebanon. Or will refuse to do so as the case may be.

The allocation of parliamentary seats in Lebanon runs along confessional lines – the list system in use needs a PhD to comprehend – but the Americans are hoping that the "democrats" who currently hold a majority – Saad Hariri's Future movement, jolly old Jumblatt's Druze and a clutch of Maronites – will win the day.

The best bet is that the country's ex-military president, Michel Sleiman, will fashion a centrist bloc from the bits and pieces of the election that will prevent either the Hizbollah or Hariri's lads from taking power. Be that as it may, Lebanon will be back to the same old parliamentary shouting shop it had before. In Beirut, it's parliamentary democracy along the lines of the French Third Republic.

That might actually be the real problem. For after the Second World War, European democracies realised that they could no longer be run by parliaments. De Gaulle – and the French themselves – accepted this in 1958, while Adenauer invented the principle of the Demokratur in Germany. True, parliaments still vote, but no one believes that the French assembly – rather than Nicolas Sarkozy – actually runs France any more than they think British parliamentarians, with or without moats, control Britain.

But back when the French created the Lebanese political system in the 1920s and 1930s, Europe was still in inter-war stasis, its democracies so corrupted that Messrs Mussolini and then Hitler came into their inheritance. This was the same Europe that built Lebanon – which is why this terribly divided country remains locked into a parliamentary system that Europe had long ago abandoned. And – given the fact that an all-powerful president could never run a sectarian state – it will remain so.

Nevertheless, the Hizbollah issue won't go away any more than Hamas is going to slide out of sight in Gaza. Barack Obama might not be too worried if it does slip into power – since his envoys are clocking up frequent flyer miles to and from Damascus, they might be in a better position to influence the Hizbollah's Syrian allies.

But don't be too sure. One of the big mistakes of the Bush era was to demand democracy for the Palestinians and to approve of fair elections before realising that Hamas would win. And once the Palestinians had achieved that astonishing result, they had to be punished for it. (It was, I recall, the Ottawa Citizen which announced that the Palestinians should be "threatened with fresh elections".)

But most of my Lebanese colleagues, listening to Mrs Albright, came away with a deep suspicion: that if the Lebanese elections bring the friendly "democrats" back to power, the National Democratic Institute and its other poll-sniffers will announce a fair and free election. But if the Hizbollah and their allies move into power, it will suddenly be discovered that the Lebanese poll was "deeply flawed". And then, I suppose, we would all be "threatened with fresh elections". The price, I am sure, will be worth it.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Why it won’t be the i wot won it – our promise to you

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A relative of dead Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman reacts after seeing his body at Dhaka Medical College in Dhaka on March 30,  

Atheists are being hacked to death in Bangladesh, and soon there will be none left

Rory Fenton
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor