A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

If Hizbullah Wins . . .

Elias Muhanna, the blogger who blogs as Qifa Nabki, has a piece in his own name at Foreign Policy entitled "What if Hizbollah Wins?" As I noted in my post on Eric Davis' comments about binary thinking, Lebanese politics has traditionally sought consensus rather than a zero-sum I-win-you-lose formula, but since 2005 the polarization between "government" and "opposition" (even though the "opposition" is represented in the current government) has deepened.

If the "opposition" wins a majority in the forthcoming elections, it will probably be because of gains made by Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, though Hizbullah may also improve its representation. Aoun is a controversial figure, but hardly an anti-Western demagogue. If an opposition victory is interpreted by the US as a simplistic triumph for Hizbullah, and by extension Iran and Syria, it could lead to cuts in US aid to Lebanon (especially military aid, which has been growing) or other retaliation. That would hardly lend credibility to US claims to be promoting the spread of democracy. (Funny thing about spreading democracy: sometimes the voters choose someone you don't like.)

As with Hamas in Palestine, Hizbullah's support base comes not from its ideology (though that may attract some) but from its social programs. It has a real constituency, and a real claim to play a role in Lebanese politics. That it, alone among the various factions, still maintains its armaments, is a serious problem, but it will not be solved by rhetoric or cuts in aid. There is a genuine possibility that the "opposition" will win a majority in the Lebanese Parliament, and that majority will include Hizbullah. It isn't certain, but I hope the outside world is prepared for such a result if it comes.

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