Iran, Hizballah Still Hold Sway in Beirut Although Angry Shiites Withhold Votes

Lebanon’s tripartite rule among the Shiite, Sunni and Christian communities, which ended a long civil war, remains formally in place after a general election on Sunday, May 6. Still, even though the Iranian-backed Shiite bloc netted a disappointing 43 in the 128-seat parliament, the system remains rigged for holding Lebanon down as an Iranian satellite.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who heads the Sunni-oriented Future Movement, is a realist. After his party lost a third of its strength (21 seats down to 11), he commented on Monday, “It’s not the end of the world.” The international community should look at the results in a “positive way” because they reflect democracy in Lebanon. In a televised interview he said: “My hand is extended to every Lebanese who participated in the election to preserve stability and create jobs.” He pledged to work closely with President Michel Aoun.

Under Lebanon’s national pact, the president is a Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the Parliament Speaker, a Shiite. Hariri could afford to be generous to his rivals since he knew that the premiership was in his pocket. Before the vote, he struck a deal with the president and the real Beirut powerhouse, Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah, both staunch loyalists of Tehran, that regardless of results, he would stay on as prime minister. It suits them both for the reins of government in Beirut to repose in the hands of a figure accepted in the Sunni Arab world as pro-Western, pro-Saudi and one of their own, who lends Lebanon a moderate face which is safe for business and investment.

But behind this fair face, a hidden apparatus wields the real power in Beirut. DEBKA Weekly’s sources reveal a triumvirate made up of Foreign Minister Gibran Basil, a Christian politician who is the son-in-law of President Aoun; Wafiq Safa, head of Nasrallah’s personal bodyguard detail, who happens to be his cousin; and Mohammad Hariri, the prime minister’s brother. In the past four to five years, these three men, after checking with their principals, hold regular daily conferences for laying down national policy on every issue, from national security and maintaining order in the streets, to supplies of water and food to the population. Since Hariri’s brother is outnumbered by two pro-Iranian henchmen, all decisions follow the wishes of Nasrallah and Aoun – ergo Tehran. Those decisions are handed down as diktats to the cabinet, parliament, the military high command and the heads of the intelligence and security services. They are also binding on the heads of the Lebanese economy, including the central bank and treasury.

This immovable set-up is an open secret to Lebanon’s small population of 4.5 million. Many therefore did not bother to turn out for the vote on Sunday (49 percent of 3.6 million eligible voters, according to official figures – although probably less), because they knew that their electoral power would not change anything.

Close analysis of the election results by region found that Hizballah’s claims of “victory” were not only grossly exaggerated but should have caused it deep concern.

  1. A large segment of Shiite voters, who constitute Hizballah’s power base, stayed home in passive protest against their leader’s decision to commit the movement to fighting in the Syrian war. They believe that Nasrallah had no business getting involved in Bashar Assad’s cause and his decision to do so was at the expense of his true mission of leading the “resistance” against Israel. IzbalHi
  2. Most Shiites, especially the South Lebanese population, are increasingly restive because Hizballah, while championing Iran’s causes, is being starved of funds from Tehran. The Shiite organization can hardly meet the payroll of combatants and basic social, education and medical needs or keep essential utilities working.
  3. Hizballah candidates actually lost the vote in important Shiite towns of the central and Beqaa regions, especially in Baalbek. It was there that Nasrallah raised most of the fighting strength for the Syria war and it was its dwellers who took the brunt of battle losses compared with the south. With so many of their sons returning home coffins, these Shiites voted with their feet.
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