By Hanna Saleh
Some friends, as they were commenting on the 2009 parliamentary election results, reminded me that Hezbollah “broke its promise… ‘whoever wins should rule’.” Instead, it imposed its blocking third on the first government formed after the elections, only to topple it the moment the head of that government, Saad Hariri, entered the White House. He was the country’s prime minister when he was received by President Obama and left the prime minister of a resigned government!
A friend drew my attention to Naim Qassem’s latest statements, in which he discussed the prospect of his party losing its parliamentary majority in the elections scheduled for May 15, that is, if they don’t conjure up excuses to postpone it. Qassem said that “the elections are not a race for the parliamentary majority. For the country’s balances are not built through the power balance in the parliament; rather, they are linked to domestic and foreign balances that will have a direct impact on who is chosen as the next president.”
Many of my friends talked about the Hezbollah using its arsenal to terrorize, the repeated threats of 100,000 armed men and 150,000 missiles, and the position this organization occupies within the Velayat-e Faqih regime… Hezbollah is the jewel in the six army crown Tehran built to receive the first blow in the event that the Islamic Republic is targeted by a military attack. Thus, it would be naive to think that this organization could back down and accept a different state of affairs. After all, Hezbollah had no qualms about tearing up the region’s map and traversing borders until it reached Yemen.
We can be sure that Nasrallah had been confident that he would win the parliamentary majority in 2009 and made his pledge for that reason. When his hopes were dashed, he was met halfway under the slogan “we are all under Lebanon’s skies.” Those who raised that slogan disregarded the will of the majority of the Lebanese. Thus, when Hezbollah and their allies toppled the majority government and Aoun announced, on their behalf, that they had booked its prime minister, Saad Hariri, a “one-way ticket,” the latter’s popular base did not protect him because he had abandoned it. As for the question of weapons, it is fundamental and requires contemplation, insistence on peace and that candidates be selected well. Qassem’s concern has prompted those who are keen on retrieving the hijacked state to leave the pavement of history and stop waiting “until all the corpses have passed.”
As far as the “Octoberist” forces, these elections have been the first juncture in which political forces of change associated with the October 17 revolution have been preparing for since the beginning. This revolution, which engrained a popular awareness of citizens’ rights and demonstrated the significance of the voices of each of the hundreds of thousands who distanced themselves from the primordial affiliations that had been imposed on them when they broke with intolerance and sectarianism. Today, these forces are facing a battle that has been forced on them against “political trash,” as former Prime Minister Tammam Salam put it. It is the fruit of a mafia alliance that brought money and the war’s militias together, tightening its grip on power since the civil war ended. It has been facilitating Hezbollah’s leadership of the country and that leadership’s consolidation for decades, going as far – since the 2016 deal to elect its only candidate as president of the republic – as unequivocally accepting its role as a fact of life.
As for the battle’s program, it is extremely clear. It is founded on the repudiation of the state being run like a farmhouse and the regime of sectarian-quota-based spoil-sharing. Topping its list of goals is pushing back against the efforts to establish a police state that protects the tyrants, as is rejecting the scheme to keep Lebanon isolated from its surroundings and under the thumb of the “axis of resistance”. The program also demands compliance with the constitution, which has been suspended since the Syrian regime established its military control over Lebanon. The aim is to give rise to a state of laws and justice, one that will extend its sovereignty to encompass the entire country and open the door to a time of accountability, an independent judiciary retrieving citizens’ rights. Nonetheless, it is valid to ask: can the elections create this kind of shift in Lebanon… take it to the rosey situation described above?
In all likelihood, if the political and popular rejection of Hezbollah and its project that its parliamentary majority (currently 72 deputies out of 128) had kept under wraps is released through the ballot box, choosing figures from the October revolution unequivocal about the priority of restoring the state hijacked by weapons, corruption and sectarianism – i.e., rejecting the dangerous scheme to uproot Lebanon and turn it into a space for facilitating the realization of the schemes of Tehran’s rulers, which has required and requires the marginalization of the authorities starting from the very top, the fragmentation of institutions and hollowing them out to the point where laws are applied with discretion and the judiciary, whose independence is not respected, is targeted… In this event, if voters, as expected, punish those who had humiliated the country’s citizens and besieged them with destitution and the specter of death by epidemic or starvation, Hezbollah’s ability to maintain its dominance would face a hurdle that it has not known since its rise began and it first put its hands on the necks of the Lebanese, when it turned the 2006 July war into a platform from which to leap into the seats of power.
In this context, Hezbollah, through Nasrallah, has taken its plot to burn bridges with Saudi Arabia as far as it can go, targeting the Kingdom’s leadership with the most heinous of accusations and turning the facts on their head. In fact, he went as far as bringing the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese working in the Gulf into this, putting them at the heart of his campaign and calling them “hostages” held “to threaten Lebanon…” On the one hand, this reveals its domestic predicaments. The party seeks to heighten sectarian tension in order to evade responsibility for the snowballing collapse – this is the same party that has held the reins since its invasion of Beirut in May 2008. On the other hand, it speaks to obvious fears about developments on foreign soil springing from the shifts seen recently in the region, from Marib to Baghdad, and their implications, which took Hezbollah by surprise. Given all of that, it is possible, albeit with some difficulty, to open the doors to a real settlement that would launch the process of reconfiguring the composition of the authorities.
Once again, the elections could be an exceptional juncture in the battle against the approach of domination being imposed on Lebanon, officials controlling the judiciary, the constitution being tampered with, and the country being governed by the whims and the fatwas of fortune-tellers. Most importantly, there must be a relentless organizational effort that pushes for the establishment of a political opposition front that gives rise to the broadest alliance for change. The unitary state would thereby be victorious, forming a human dam composed of Lebanese citizens that creates a bulwark against parallel statelet, thus protecting the process of reshaping the composition of the authorities. The situation is fragile, difficult and complex. Neither Lebanon nor the region has ever known anything like it, and we should be very wary of allowing the peaceful civil battle to peter out or accepting the naive suggestions of those who once bet on Aoun and his movement’s “sovereignty.” They couldn’t handle the truth, so they leaped to making doomed propositions like federalism, pushing a simplified narrative in favor of it.
Once again, the elections are an opportunity that should not be missed, as they are the juncture the Lebanese have on their minds. What comes after October 17 will be different from what preceded it, in terms of the feasibility of retrieving the national balance that is hoped for, one that upholds freedoms and protects diversity to push for change and the transition from state run like a farmhouse to a normal one. Such a balance would reduce the risk of foreign meddling and have the upper hand in deciding on the new president after the presidency and the country are liberated from any subordination that undermines the interests of the Lebanese.