A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

On the Eve of the Lebanon Elections

We are always wishing for more democracy in the Middle East. One country that generally has a bit more democracy than it can consume locally is Lebanon, where the individual parties are often seen as stalking horses or surrogates for neighboring states (Syria, Iran, sometimes Israel), Western powers (France, the US) and for their own confessional, ethnic or other communities. As I've said before, too, trying to understand Lebanon in Western terms doesn't work very well: understanding why Michel Aoun and Hizbullah are allied pretty much defies analysis in Western terms, but makes sense in Lebanese ones, at least for now (until next time).

We're only five days out from the Lebanese elections, coming up this coming Sunday.

The always helpful Lebanon watcher who blogs as Qifa Nabki has a well done "The Good, the Bad and the Likely" post which seems to be a good summary of possible outcomes. For those not up on the codewords, "March 8" is the present "opposition" (Aoun, Hizbullah, their allies) and "March 14" is the present government (the Hariri folks, the anti-Syrian Maronites, Walid Jumblatt's Druze). Of course it's not as simple as that but that will have to do for now.

He also points to a piece in The National that discusses what happens when General Aoun's good upper-class Christian Free Patriotic Movement bused in some pro-Hizbullah Shi‘ites from the southern suburb (the Dahiya) to a rally and the latter got a little too rambunctiously sectarian in their chants.

And also: this useful cheat-sheet for keeping track of the returns, if you're that wonkish about Lebanon.

Meanwhile, in the silly season department, apparently the Aoun folks are claiming that Parliamentary candidate Nayla Tueni has changed her religion and thus shouldn't be running for a seat reserved for the Orthodox. Now Nayla Tueni is the twenty-something daughter of Gebran Tueni, who was assassinated in 2005. She is a journalist and Deputy Manager of the influential Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, founded by her great-grandfather Gebran Tueni, run for decades by her powerful grandfather Ghassan Tueni, steered by her late father Gebran Tueni until his assassination, and still the family paper. She's a candidate for the family Parliamentary seat as well, for the Orthodox seat in the Christian Achrafiyeh district.

It isn't clear from the story (from Al-Nahar) what religion Aoun is claiming she converted to, but elsewhere (an Aoun site) we learn that she's supposed to have converted to Islam which she says is because she once listed herself as a Muslim to apply for a Saudi visa. Not very good judgment, perhaps, but hardly solid evidence. Aoun has previously argued that she is too young and too inexperienced to be allowed to run. The point is that her name is Tueni, and that makes her a real threat.

I bring the Tueni issue up not to encourage such accusations but to show how personal, and how hereditary, some of these political rivalries are.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Americans should not automatically treat a March 8 victory — if there is one — as a Hizbullah victory per se. The first link above to Qifa Nabki is a good sanity check as well. Lebanon is nowhere near as simple as Westerners sometimes try to see it. Relax, everybody. It is hardly a perfect democracy (the fact that we have been talking about "the Orthodox seat" in Achrafiyeh should be evidence of that), but it is competitive, and the votes will matter. And no one is going to win by 98.6%.

That's refreshing in itself.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Excellent post, Mike. Looking forward to the MEI program with Graeme Bannerman, and Bilaal Saad, both skilled Lebanon watchers. Lebanese politics are so layered and sui generis that most of the U.S. media is useless on the subject.