Lebanon's Parliamentary Shake-up: Curb Your Enthusiasm
Nearly two years after the Port of Beirut explosion, Lebanon’s latest parliamentary elections occurred in May amid continued economic strain. Since the October Revolution in 2019, the lira has lost more than 90 per cent of its value and disaffected Lebanese are seeking a change in the political status quo.
While Lebanon’s anti-establishment candidates managed to gain 16 seats in the election and Hizbullah lost its legislative majority, parliamentary blocs remain divided on how to solve one of the world’s worst economic crises in 150 years. Furthermore, the staunch rival of Hizbullah and U.S./Saudi aligned Christian Lebanese Forces party gained the strongest advantage in the election after securing 17 seats. The election outcome has been attributed to longstanding frustration with corruption and Hizbullah’s grip over state institutions, a sentiment shared by Lebanese from all sects.
Soft Power and Civil Society
Just as Hizbullah’s platform failed to address cross-sectarian issues and support civil society, the Lebanese Forces could make similar blunders. This newfound political leverage may harm recent opposition candidates by drawing momentum away from supporting Lebanese grassroots political organisations and advocating for meaningful reform, and instead, continue the trend of securitisation predicated on confrontation with Hizbullah.
Many analysts speculate that renewed sectarian tension in parliament will result in further polarisation and subordinate issues that resonate across sectarian lines such as strengthening Lebanon’s social safety net, reducing systemic corruption, and preventing political marginalization. There is a growing consensus that supporting these broader social initiatives can yield greater progress toward countering Hizbullah as opposed to conventional security-focused strategies.
Given Iran’s devastated economy and the group’s internal corruption issues, Hizbullah’s role as a social service provider and political alternative has come into question by some of its supporters. Exploiting this moment of political vulnerability through soft power is especially ripe for pro-reform MPs and international partners such as the U.S. Unfortunately, it is unlikely parliamentary unity can prevail and the Lebanese Forces will instead opt for direct confrontation.
"... Hizbullah’s role as a social service provider and political alternative has come into question by its supporters."
Particularly, continued calls for Hizbullah’s disarmament by the Lebanese Forces could escalate into armed clashes between group supporters, similar to last year’s Tayouneh protests in Beirut’s southern suburbs. Although politically weakened, Hizbullah will not give up its weapons without a fight. In accordance with the 1989 Taif Accord, Hizbullah was the only militia permitted to keep its weapons after the country's civil war, in turn, allowing the group to consolidate and exert its military power over Lebanon. Shortly after in 1991, the Lebanese Forces was disarmed and partially integrated into the national military, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).
Since Lebanon’s economic disaster, the LAF is severely under-resourced and unable to galvanize public confidence, let alone maintain peace between opposing factions. As Hizbullah rallies its base and postures for confrontation with Israel over the disputed Karish gas fields, the LAF is incapable of deterring the group from regional conflict.
After President Michel Aoun’s visit to the Vatican back in March and attempted exoneration of Hizbullah, Lebanese Christians are clearly divided on the issue of disarmament. Moreover, the head of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, has already made clear the group’s intention to boycott anyone aligned with Hizbullah under the new government formation.
An election that many had hoped would bring about equitable reform, could result in political gridlock as Lebanon prepares to elect a new president. While Lebanon’s economy continues to spiral, political paralysis jeopardizes international assistance. Until Lebanon can make comprehensive reforms to its banking sector, the IMF will not unlock its preliminary loan for $3 billion in economic aid. Although Lebanon's government had reached a preliminary draft agreement with the IMF back in April, conditional transparency and capital control reforms have yet to materialize in its banking sector. Lebanon stands at a critical juncture for implementing reform that can address institutional corruption and create long-term economic viability.
Despite the latest parliamentary shakeup, legislation for Hizbullah's disarmament and reform that sets Lebanon on a sustainable path towards economic recovery is unlikely. As Michel Aoun's term ends on October 31st, political infighting may once again leave Lebanon without a president and prolong economic suffering. Juxtaposed to Lebanon’s unprecedented economic crisis, are the usual obstacles of sectarian polarization, political paralysis, and the prospect of regional conflict. Lebanon and its western partners can capitalize on Hizbullah’s political fracturing to support a broader Lebanese identity, but it will require a holistic strategy that transcends securitization and promotes political justice.
Written by Isaac Gibson.
Edited by Wade McCagh.