Elections in Lebanon: A Hizballah Takeover?

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 76

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Hizballah is on a determined path to control Lebanon. The June 2009 parliamentary elections could be a watershed, leading to a result that the West will deeply regret – an Iranian-like regime.

On June 7, 2009, the citizens of Lebanon will head to the polling booths to elect their parliamentary representatives. Elections in Lebanon are run uniquely according to the constitution that was tailored to the country’s needs and its composition in the 1930s. The guiding principle was that the significant political players in Lebanon were not individual citizens but ethnic communities: Sunni Moslems, Shi’is, Druze and Christians. Every citizen elects a parliamentary representative from his own community according to the area in which he resides.

There are 128 seats in the parliament and each community has a number of seats which are predetermined before the elections. This division of seats, however, no longer reflects the relative strength of each community. The reality today is that the communities are no longer equal in size. The demographic situation in Lebanon has changed: when Lebanon was founded in 1943, the Christian community was the largest (according to the first – and last – population census taken in Lebanon in 1932) and so it became the most dominant.

However, over the past 65 years the number of Christians in Lebanon has drastically dropped, due to a lowered birth-rate (in common with elite classes all over the world) and a high rate of emigration, whereas the Shi’i community – which had been pushed to the economic, social and political margins – has been characterized by a high demographic increase due to polygamy, the social ethos which encourages large families, and a low emigration rate.

Today, not only is the Shi’i community the largest, but it also encompasses more than half of the population of Lebanon. Hence, half the country receives only one quarter of the parliamentary representatives, whereas the Christians, who now constitute only 10-15 percent of the population, elect more than a quarter of the parliament.

Over the years community representatives in the parliament broke away from the mother-communities and created inter-communal coalitions. The most prominent of these coalitions is headed by Sa’ad Al-Hariri, son of Rafiq Al-Hariri, who was assassinated in February 2005. This coalition, “The March 14th Forces,” constitutes the largest party and includes representatives from all communities. Its primary aim is to ensure that Lebanon remains a pluralistic, democratic and Western-oriented state. It is also the main political body which tries to stop Hizballah and its allies from taking over total political control of the country.

Shi’i Hizballah is supported by members of parliament from other communities headed by Michel ‘Aoun, a Christian who leads a small political party, but is a staunch ally of Nasrallah in the parliament. The Druze Arsalan family is also a part of the Nasrallah coalition in the parliament. ‘Aoun and the others support Hizballah because they understand that eventually the Shi’i community will gain control of Lebanon, whether by fair means or foul, since the demographic balance is changing in favor of the Shi’is; their military might is greater than the government’s army; the Hizballah civilian and economic infrastructure includes hundreds of companies, non-profit organizations, institutes and organizations; and Iranian money keeps Hizballah’s wheels greased. Hizballah has indeed set up “a state within a state” and as time passes, this “State of Hizballah” is becoming a viable alternative to the Lebanese state.

Syrian support of Hizballah aims to convince the country that the organization is the sovereign lord of Lebanon, in spite of what anyone may say or think. Similarly, the anti-Nasrallah forces in Lebanon see how the world has betrayed them by leaving them as easy prey for the Shi’i community. The world does not lift a finger against Hizballah’s arsenal of arms nor against Iran, the supplier of long-range missiles, which could throw Lebanon back into a bloody war with Israel. The world also did nothing when Hizballah took control of Beirut in May 2008 and burned down the opposition television channel, Al-Mustaqbal.

The Lebanese view America – particularly after the election of Obama – as an ineffectual entity, lacking in determination and strength to cope with the Iranian octopus and its Lebanese tentacle, especially in light of the complex situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Lebanese view Europe as weak, unable to prevent Lebanon from falling into Shi’i hands, and the economic relations between Europe and Iran confirm their belief in Europe’s reluctance to pressure Iran into leaving Lebanon.

For the past few years Hizballah has been busy buying up “equity” of different forms. They have bought land, plots, homes and apartments in Christian neighborhoods. The moment a property is sold to a Shi’i, the surrounding properties values drop and are swallowed up by other Shi’is. Even members of the parliament have been “bought,” through threats on their lives that “persuade” them to help Hizballah. Some of those who refused to be bought or persuaded by threats have been eliminated by car bombs.

In the short-term, the political ambitions of Hizballah include revising the constitution to change the political system. Hizballah prefers elections based on “one man, one vote,” which will allow the Shi’i community – the largest in the country – to receive appropriate representation according to its strength. To change the constitution, Hizballah must receive majority consent in the parliament.

Hence, the elections in June 2009 revolve around one question: Will the voters of the different communities vote for members of parliament who support Hizballah’s ambitions or will they join Sa’ad Al-Hariri in his struggle to prevent Hizballah from taking control of Lebanon by political means? Will they allow Hizballah control of the state de jure after it has gained control de facto?

To sway voters, Hizballah tries to create an eve-of-war-against-Israel atmosphere. If this is the perceived reality, only Hizballah with its array of missiles will be able to defend the motherland. Within this framework, security organizations of Hizballah “have discovered” several “Israeli spies,” and Hizballah media outlets create the impression of an imminent Israeli attack on Lebanon and Iran.

The stormy conflict between Egypt and Hizballah in April 2009 did not prevent Nasrallah – in his eyes, at least – from achieving popularity as a Lebanese nationalist who is not afraid to stand up to the leading Arab president, Husni Mubarak.

If Nasrallah succeeds in taking control of the parliament by democratic means, a significant number of Lebanese who object to Nasrallah may retrieve the historic plan to separate “little Lebanon,” from “greater Lebanon,” areas Hizballah has not yet managed to purchase, the heart of which is the Christian mountain (Jebel Tzenin), and to establish a state with a Christian majority that is pluralistic, democratic, free, and Western-oriented, as it was in the first place. An interesting question arises as to whether Nasrallah will leave them alone or whether he will attack them militarily.

The Western world may soon have to contend with a number of difficult questions: How did the world lose a liberal, pluralistic state and fall asleep on guard while Iran took control? Which state will be next to be overtaken by Iranian-funded Islamic extremists? What can be done to prevent the progress of Iran, especially if it becomes a nuclear power?

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Littauer Foundation

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Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Mordechai Kedar

Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a lecturer of Arabic studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. Email: [email protected]