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

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

Recruitment Genius: PSV/PCV & HGV Mechanics

£29000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: PSV/PCV Mechanics & HGV mechani...

Recruitment Genius: Reprographics Operator

£12500 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest independent Reprogr...

Recruitment Genius: Web Design Apprentice

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well established websit...

Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher

£120 - £145 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher X2 Materni...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Anti-fracking activists near a proposed site at Westby, near Blackpool  

10 things you need to know about fracking – the case against

Donna Hume
 

How to really be a YouTube star: Be white and wealthy

Olly Lennard
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee