Cedars Revolution defeats
Hezbollah in election:
Put March 14 to the Test"
By Dr Walid Phares
Voting against Terror
According to the latest polls, the March 14 coalition which was formed in the wake of the Cedars Revolution and the Syrian withdrawal in 2005, has obtained a majority in the Lebanese Parliament, defeating the Hezbollah political and financial machine. This victory, in a very challenging local, regional and international context, is a benchmark with multiple lessons to learn. The following is a first evaluation of the results, although they may and will be challenged by Hezbollah and their allies.
Under threat since 2005
Even though it was seen by the international community as the last straw, the assassination of Rafiq Hariri and his companions wasn’t the final tragedy Lebanon had to experience in 2005. The March 14 majority in parliament and the country’s executive branch were targeted for assassination, intimidation and destabilization by the Syrian-Iranian “axis.” As of July of that year, politicians, journalists, MPs and simple citizens were murdered, wounded and kidnapped by the terror networks operating inside the country even after the withdrawal of Assad’s troops. Deputies Jebran Tueni, Walid Eido, Antoine Ghanem and Pierre Gemayel, who was also a minister in the cabinet, were killed by car bombs and hit teams. In the fall of 2006, Hezbollah and its allies staged urban unrest, followed in May 2008 with an armed invasion of West Beirut killing dozens of citizens and burning media establishments. The May coup crumbled the will of the Marh 14 Coalition and forced them to accept drastic concessions in a conference organized by a new Iranian ally, the Emir of Qatar. This June parliamentary election was the last window of opportunity for the Lebanese resistance (against Hezbollah, Syria and Iran) to score a democratic victory, allowing them to gain time as the regional and international environment was turning gradually against democracy forces in the region since 2007.
In September 2004, the United States and France led an international consensus to issue UN Security Council 1559 asking Syria to withdraw and Hezbollah to disarm. Strengthened by international backing, Lebanon’s democracy movement took the streets and showed its determination to struggle for freedom, emulating Eastern Europe and South Africa more than a decade earlier. As long as Washington and Brussels stood firmly with UN resolutions and with the democratically elected government, Hezbollah’s violence didn’t reduce their determination. However, as of the fall of 2006, with the publication of the Baker-Hamilton report and its adoption by a new leadership in the US Congress, the Bush administration was restrained from supporting the Cedars Revolution, so that chances for “a deal with Iran and Syria” were expanded. The change in American policy emboldened Hezbollah and Syria and more terror was unleashed against the democracy forces epitomized by the May 8, 2008 attack. When the Obama administration consolidated the idea of “engaging” Tehran and Damascus, the latter’s allies in Lebanon prepped themselves for a full takeover in Lebanon this June. In short, the Cedars Revolution was believed by many to be eliminated in today’s election.
In a new regional and international environment where the Lebanese democracy public felt abandoned by the West, the Iranian-backed militia was deploying a titanic apparatus. First, the organization has been receiving between $300 million to one billion a year from Iran’s oil revenues. Such amount invested in a small country like Lebanon defies all norms of democracy processes and creates among Shia a robotic bloc of support to Hezbollah. Since Iranian funding was also backing political factions among Christians, Sunnis and Druze, the unbalance in the political debate was significant. Second, Hezbollah’s security and paramilitary forces practically control the south, the Bekaa, and south Beirut, and that is more than half of the country. Add to it a very efficient propaganda network with TV, radio stations, newspapers and a web of relationship with Western media correspondents, journalists and bloggers. Technically such a giant can't be beaten.
But against most prognostics, including American and European media and think tanks, Lebanese voters opposed a resistance to the Hezbollah goliath and against all odds, broke most projections. While it was a fact that Shia areas in the south and the Bekaa would fall to Hezbollah’s candidates unchecked, most analysts predicted a win to the movement’s Christian and Sunni allies in Saida, Mount Lebanon and some districts in the Maronite hinterland. The ballistics placed March 14 at around 45 seats and the rest of the 128 would go to Hezbollah’s coalition. But a surge of voters, particularly in Christian and Sunni districts created significant upsets for the militia’s candidates. The most important wins against the “axis” were scored in Zahle, the Bekaa’s largest Christian town; in Kura a northern Christian district traditionally in the pro-Syrian camp, and in Saida where anti-Syrian Sunnis defeated pro-Syrian Sunnis. The anti-Hezbollah vote was victorious in Batrun and Besharre in the north and clinched two of the seven seats in the Matn central district. The surge in vote took out General Michel Aoun’s “fortress” in the Bekaa and snapped away from his bloc half a dozen legislators. Aoun’s alliance with Hezbollah cost him among Christians but his movement nevertheless won in three important districts: Jbail, Kesrawan and Metn.
The new political map, at this stage of the results, gives the March 14 Movement (anti-Syrian and opposed to Hezbollah’s weapons) 71 seats which enables it to impose a Prime Minister of its choice and remain in control of ministries such as defense and interior. More symbolically, three anti-Syrian wins are chilling: Nadim Gemayel son of the slain President Bashir Gemayel, Nadia Tueni, daughter of the assassinated MP Jebran Tueni, and Sami Gemayel, brother of the murdered MP and Minister Pierre Gemayel, were all elected with high margins. What a lesson to the terrorists.
Message to Washington and the West
The Cedars Revolution’s electoral victory surprised those Chanceries in the West who were preparing for a forthcoming dialogue with a Hezbollah controlled government in Lebanon. In his Cairo speech the U.S. President spoke of recognizing “elected governments if they are peaceful.” Some saw in it an insurance policy in the case of a Jihadist electoral success in Lebanon. But now that the incumbent majority in Beirut received 68 seats plus potential 3 other “independent” seats, the United States will have to craft a new strategy for the little Levantine country. Washington will have to decide if opening to Hezbollah is a good option or backing March 14 all the way is a better strategy. The Obama administration must learn the lessons of its predecessor: If you announce a policy, in this day and age, you’ve got to be prepared to follow through.
In addition, Lebanon’s democratic victory against Hezbollah, although modest and still very precarious, should send a strong message to the theorists of foreign policy in the Obama administration and the European Union: Yes, people East of the Mediterranean see democracy as we see it in the West, when freedom is available and when we don’t sell them out in deals with authoritarians. The majority of Lebanese have told the West that the region’s civil societies crave for the “same” international values, not for Khomeinist or Jihadi views of the world.
March 14 to the test
But in the end, real decisions regarding the future of Lebanon won’t be produced in the White House, in the Palace of the Elysee, or in Manhattan’s U.N. building. It is up to the March 14 politicians to take the lead and form a government as mandated by their voters. The public gave them a mandate in June of 2005 to fulfill the goals of the Cedars Revolution. Instead they brought Hezbollah to the cabinet, tergiversated on the disarming of militias, failed to seize the opportunity provided by the U.N. Security Council, didn’t use their majority vote to elect a president early on and simply wasted too much time as Hezbollah was wrecking havoc in the country. Incredibly, and despite terror, the voters renewed the mandate for another four years. March 14 leaders must use that time intelligently, swiftly and learn from past mistakes. For Hezbollah is today five times stronger than half a decade ago, as determined to take them down as before and the United States is on a different course than “spreading democracy.” The winners of today’s elections must fulfill the will of their citizens and succeed in convincing the public abroad of their ability to confront the threat.
Dr. Walid Phares is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington DC, a visiting scholar at the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels and the author of the NGO memo that introduced UNSCR 1559.