With the departure of Syrian troops from northern Lebanon and the approaching withdrawal from the rest of the country by April 27, the electoral balance of power in Lebanon has radically changed in advance of elections scheduled to be held by May 31.
Hizbollah is sometimes cited as a positive example of how inclusion in the political process can moderate Middle Eastern Islamist parties. But Hizbollah is less a model than an exception to the norm; indeed, it is a unique phenomenon in contemporary politics.
There is no easy solution to the predicament of Hezbollah's armed status. Thus far, the organization and the new Lebanese government have resisted calls by the United States and the international community to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, which urges the state to disarm all militias.
Compared to the dramatic events that shook Lebanon in the past six months, the parliamentary elections that took place between May 29 and June 19 were anti-climactic. Local and foreign observers expressed disappointment that, apart from the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, remarkably little has changed.
Despite the international commotion over last year's Cedar Revolution and withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, the much vaunted Beirut Spring appears to have been a mirage. Neither the anti-Syrian protests (capped by the mammoth March 14, 2005 demonstration) nor the Syrian withdrawal ushered in an era of political reform.
The second of June marked the second anniversary of the assassination of Lebanese writer Samir Qasir, with no indication of who ordered the car bombing that silenced one of the loudest Arab voices criticizing autocratic Arab regimes, particularly the Assad family in Syria.
Until recently Western assistance programs aimed at strengthening political parties were less present in the Arab world than in almost all other areas of the developing world. As part of the heightened U.S. and European interest in promoting Arab political reform, however, such programs are multiplying in the region.
Lebanon's crisis is due to a state-building process that did not get off to the right start; attempts to build the state were aborted and failed to create institutions able to manage the country's political and sectarian diversity. Lebanon thus became an arena for local, regional, and international contestation, with political factions that do not conceal their ties with the outside world.
Serious thinking about reforming Lebanon's fragile and inefficient system of governance has been among the casualties of the recent war. Political reform has never topped the agenda of Lebanon's leaders, including the one actor most people believe would benefit most: Hizbollah.
The summer 2006 war between Hizbollah and Israel wreaked terrible destruction on Lebanon. It set Lebanon back years economically, costing roughly $7 billion, or 30 percent of GDP. At the same time, the war and UN Security Council Resolution 1701 have created new possibilities for advancing political reform.
The Lebanese parliament is due to elect a new president for a six-year term during the sixty-day period beginning September 25. As is often the case with Lebanon, numerous domestic and foreign factors complicate what should be a straightforward political process.
Foreign democracy assistance organizations working directly with political parties have come into the line of fire as some Arab governments have pushed back against democratization initiatives over the past two years. In Algeria, Bahrain, and Egypt in particular, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) have been among the first to feel pressure.
It was an unfamiliar scene. One Friday night in November, in the heart of Hamra, the main thoroughfare in Beirut, a concert entitled “No More Silence” drew a large number of young Lebanese men and women. But this was not just another concert. The gathering was publicizing the Khalass (No More): Together for Lebanon campaign. the latest in a series of moves by civil society forces.