The Kaleidoscope of Lebanese Politics
Written by Steven Tibbitts
Lebanese politics are currently centered on forming a new government that can help Lebanon address its pressing economic issues (Perry 2018; Al-Jazeera 2018). However, the process is strongly hindered by spats on the role of Hezbollah and its affiliates in the new unity government (Macaron 2018; Anbar 2018; Dakroub 2018).
To understand Lebanese politics, a few key points are important to consider. As a result of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1989), the Lebanese cabinet is divided equally between Muslims (which includes Sunni and Shia) and Christians (Ajroudi and Chughtai 2018). Each group is further divided into multiple parties and sects. All compete in a confessional parliamentary system that focuses on religious-political parties and requires the country’s President to be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister to be a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of Parliament a Shia Muslim (Ajroudi and Chughtai 2018). Major political players include Hezbollah and its allies (called the March 8 coalition), Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his Future Movement (nominally backed by Saudi Arabia), the Christian groups Lebanese Forces (LF—allied with Hariri) and Free Patriotic Movement (FPM—allied to Hezbollah and party of President Michel Aoun), the Amal party (Shia, part of March 8 coalition), the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), and multiple others (Ajroudi and Chughtai 2018; Dakroub 2018; Daily Star 2018; Bassam and Perry 2018).
In May of this year, parliamentary elections were held for the first time in nine years, and the voting incorporated various electoral changes that enabled Hezbollah and its allies to perform well (Wittes 2018; Chebaro 2018; Ajroudi and Chughtai 2018). This is the latest evidence of Hezbollah’s growing involvement in politics, which started after it allegedly assassinated Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (father of current Prime Minister) in 2005 and has continued with a combination of domestic politicking and a campaign of violence and coercion (Macaron 2018; Chebaro 2018; Wittes 2018). Hezbollah is labeled as a terrorist group by the United States, and the Shiite group holds large political sway in Lebanon, especially among Shiite populations (Ghaddar 2018; Hashem 2018) However, that support has been waning due to economic mismanagement and the consequences of Hezbollah’s intense involvement in the Syrian conflict (Ghaddar 2018; Macaron 2018; Hashem 2018).
Despite the parliamentary results, Lebanon has still not created a government. Much of the problem stems from determining representation in the cabinet (Diab 2018; Daily Star 2018). Earlier, a dispute between the LF and the FPM created a stalemate due to differing ideas about allocating representation in the cabinet, but the LF eventually relented to FPM demands (Al-Jazeera 2018; Daily Star 2018). However, the newest problem is Hezbollah’s insistence that six Sunni MP’s who are not tied to the Future Movement (though are allied with Hezbollah and its allies) gain cabinet representation (Daily Star 2018; Asharq Al-Awsat 2018; Perry 2018). This is seen as political maneuvering by Hezbollah to secure more influence in the new government, though interestingly President Aoun (a Hezbollah ally) stands with Hariri on the matter (Anbar 2018; Dakroub 2018). Hezbollah is also believed to be trying to obtain control over the Health Ministry in Lebanon as a way of securing additional funding for its supporters and avoiding US sanctions (Macaron 2018; Ghaddar 2018; Bassam and Perry 2018).
How the government is formed and who controls what is very important to Lebanon’s future. The country faces a massive economic crisis and vast government debt (Asharq Al-Awsat 2018; Barrington 2018). Hezbollah’s terrorist activity threatens both Israelis and Lebanese citizens and has the potential to start a war between the two countries (Khodr 2018; Stratfor 2018; Kenner 2018; Haaretz 2018; Times of Israel and Agence France-Presse 2018; Kershner 2017). Moreover, Lebanon confronts the reality of large numbers of Syrian refugees in the country, the potential for internal fighting, public demands for better government services, and the threat of US sanctions over Hezbollah’s role in the Lebanese government (Global Conflict Tracker 2018; Macaron 2018; Ghaddar 2018; Wittes 2018; Hashem 2018).
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