Lebanon is experiencing a very complicated set of birth pangs – difficult to understand at times – in its saga of reaching consensus on a new parliamentary election law. But the small country’s conflict does not differ from the essence of what is taking place in neighboring countries, labeled as being part of the pro-Iranian axis, and particularly Syria and Iraq.
Lebanon is drowning in a huge amount of details, matching its complicated sectarian mosaic in which each community believes that it is the center of the universe. However, this does not cancel the fact that the struggle over the election law is a dispute over re-constituting political power and defining the identity of the country's political authority over the coming years. In this sense, what is taking place in Lebanon resembles what is taking place in Syria and Iraq.
There are differences in terms of the domestic situation, and the relations among the political-sectarian communities in the three countries. But the essential point of resemblance does not require much effort to discover. Tehran will not allow any authority to emerge in these countries if it does away with its predominant influence; it does not want to see these countries make a “transition” to either partnership with, or dominance by, another axis, whether it is Arab-Turkish, or Gulf-western.
At a minimum, Tehran is trying to delay the political transition from President Bashar Assad to his opponents, at least until 2014, when presidential elections are supposed to be held in Syria. At the most, Iran’s plans involve seeing Assad remain in power even longer, despite the belief that it implicitly recognizes the difficulty of such a scenario. Perhaps this difficulty is prompting Iran to be more hard-line in trying to delay Assad's fall, as well as the foundations of political power in Baghdad and Beirut, which will be directly affected by the change resulting from Assad’s departure. Thus, its behavior is similar in the three countries. Iranian officials do not bat an eye as they step up their support of a regime that has usurped power with a level of brutality that has been rare in past decades; the Syrian regime continues to exercise power in the ugliest ways. Iran lent Syria $1 billion this week, and it also provides its ally with money, weapons and fighters, whose numbers are growing, along with Hezbollah fighters, in Syria. This is despite the fact that Iran is suffering from an economic crisis, brought about by international sanctions. Iranian officials also had no problem with tipping the scales in favor of Nuri al-Maliki and his Shiite coalition in the Cabinet in 2010, even though the rival Iraqiya bloc won the majority of seats in parliamentary elections at the time. They also had no problem tipping the scales in favor of Lebanon’s Hezbollah in a Cabinet that was formed under force of arms, when the so-called “black shirts” appeared in the streets of Beirut as a threat to use force if parliamentary blocs returned Saad Hariri to the post of prime minister.
There are different degrees of violence in each of the three countries, but the essence is the same. This will be the case until the likely negotiations with the west over Iran’s nuclear program and its regional influence produce a new political formula, under which it will be able to accept this change, or a new arrangement of partnership in these countries.
The proposals for solutions and maneuvers to delay change are similar in the three countries. Iran’s initiative for Syria begins with a call for dialogue over a transitional government and believes that 90 percent of Syrians support Assad, who goes further by linking a transition to seeing stability in his country. Al-Maliki responds to an escalation in the calls for him to step down by asking for dialogue, and demanding stability. Hezbollah in Lebanon insists on the priority of holding dialogue (which has been stalled for a year) and guaranteeing stability, before the government changes. The resemblance among the three cases involves the same expressions being used. Taking power away from Iran’s allies means that stability will be undermined. Lebanon is distinctive for its impossible-to-deal-with complexities, because the parliamentary elections in the late spring represent the possibility that Iran (and Syria) will not necessarily retain its decisive role in the political system. This raises the possibility of postponing the polls in order to prevent this change from happening, if the current efforts fail to produce a law with guaranteed results, to the benefit of Hezbollah’s allies, to see the current political arrangements remain in place. What is required? A reduction in the share of seats held by Sunni leader Saad Harirri, as well as the bloc of Walid Jumblatt, who lies in between the March 14 and March 8 camps, and who can influence things in either direction. But Jumblatt’s position is not guaranteed.
The crisis-ridden Christian political community, which fears a Sunni-Shiite conflict, only complicates matters. The Christians are trying to re-take the initiative at the heart of the political authority, since their expected political rise. Christian political leaders are moving in the direction of a proposal for an election law that will see each sectarian community elect its own MPs as part of a duel over influence among Christians. The four leaders who agreed on the plan – former President Amin Gemayel, General Michel Aoun, Samir Geagea, and Suleiman Franjieh – are candidates for the country’s top Maronite post, the presidency, in 2014. Each is trying to cement his weight in the Christian community, to become part of the new "ruling formula."
Although many people believe that Hezbollah’s support for this sectarian law resembles its sectarian base, this support can be used to rein in Hariri and Jumblatt, or negotiate with them “through dialogue” over the political arrangements that will follow the elections.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent or reflect the editorial policy of Arabstoday.