What’s Really Happening in Lebanon?


The tendency, when Americans focus on the upcoming Lebanese elections, is to see the conflict between the ruling March 14 Coalition and the opposition as a fight that’s all about Hezbollah. In reality, nobody can get anywhere in Lebanon without some kind of coalition, and the pivotal figure in determining the outcome will in many ways be Michael Aoun, a Christian. Elias Muhanna explains in a great piece for The National:

If the opposition prevails on June 7, headlines around the world will read “HIZBOLLAH WINS” even though the Shiite party is likely to hold no more seats in parliament than the dozen or so that it occupies today. It will, in fact, be the gains of the Free Patriotic Movement – and the affiliated parties of its Change and Reform Bloc – that will push the opposition into the majority, giving Aoun and his allies control of the largest block of seats in parliament.

Analysts and commentators have produced millions of words in an attempt to understand Hizbollah and its intentions, but Aoun and his movement have been overlooked. The FPM touts its ambitious and sweeping reform agenda, but the party – which sent representatives to parliament for the first time in 2005 – has only a brief track record in government and a leader renowned for his mercurial behaviour. Predicting the country’s course after the election is impossible, but it is clear that Michel Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement are poised to play a major role – one that will test the party’s sincerity and determination to reform what it regards as a weak and ineffectual state.

The whole piece is very interesting. Not sure it has a quick “takeaway” conclusion, but the point I would emphasize to people looking at western press coverage of these events is that Lebanese politics is much more complicated than a black hats versus white hats struggle between Hezbollah and “the good guys.”