An examination of Lebanese power in the run-up to elections without the historic Hariri

The turbulent political scenario fuels the possibility of radical changes in the parliamentary arena
Michel Aoun

AFP/DALATI Y NOHRA  -   President Michal Aoun delivering a televised speech on the eve of the country's 78th independence day, at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital, 21 November 2021

The boycott by Lebanon's main Sunni party of Sunday's parliamentary elections opens the door to a change in the balance of power within the parliamentary chamber, where the current hierarchy of Christian parties could also be readjusted, without Hezbollah and its allies losing the upper hand in the Shiite sector. 

Last January, former prime minister Saad Hariri announced he was leaving politics, after being forced to resign in 2019 amid strong protests against the ruling class and failing to form a government due to a lack of political consensus when he was reappointed to the post a year later. 

The son of slain leader Rafiq Hariri called for the same decision from his colleagues in the Sunni formation Future Current, which he founded in 2007 and which is not contesting the elections despite winning thirteen seats in the last election in 2018, seats that are now up for grabs to the highest bidder.

Elecciones Líbano
PHOTO/AFP  -  A Lebanese woman casts her vote at a polling station at the Lebanese embassy in Tehran on 6 May 2022
Christian parties and the presidency

In the current Lebanese legislature, the Christian Free Patriotic Movement holds the largest number of MPs and, while it appears to have lost support in recent times, it will almost certainly remain one of the forces that will dominate the dynamics in the next chamber. 

The party was founded by Lebanon's Maronite president Michel Aoun, but is now led by his son-in-law Gebran Basil, a significantly unpopular figure under international sanctions for corruption. 

The octogenarian former army chief Aoun's term expires in October and he will not be able to return to office for another six years, sparking fears that his powers may be extended or that he may seek to promote Basil like his predecessor. 

In the Mediterranean country, the head of state must be a Christian, just as the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shia.

Manifestación Tarek Bitar
PHOTO/REUTERS  -   Supporters of the Lebanese Shiite groups Hezbollah and Amal, and the Christian Marada movement, take part in a protest against Tarek Bitar, the chief judge in the investigation of the port explosion, near the Palace of Justice in Beirut, Lebanon 14 October 2021

Behind only the Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces, a prominent militia during the country's 1975-1990 civil war that later became a political party, is the second largest Christian force in the current parliament. 

Last October, suspected snipers linked to the Lebanese Forces clashed with supporters of Hezbollah and its Shia ally Amal in the worst armed clashes in years in the capital, killing seven people during a protest. 

Although the group led by Samir Geagea has repeatedly denied the allegations, the rhetoric could work in its favour ahead of the elections by presenting it as a strong Christian alternative to the all-powerful Hezbollah.

Shia blocs and the explosion

Against all odds, Hezbollah became an ally of Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement 16 years ago, an understanding that still endures despite strained relations between the two in recent months. 

The Shia political and armed movement won more than a dozen seats in the last legislative elections; it rules de facto over southern Lebanon and other strongholds in eastern Lebanon; and it maintains strong ties with Iran, as well as military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. 

AFP/MAHMOUD ZAYYAT  -   Members of the Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah movement raise party flags to mark the annual commemoration of a suicide attack against Israeli forces in the Marjayoun region of southern Lebanon, 11 November 2021

Together with Amal, Hezbollah exercised a months-long blockade of the Council of Ministers and organised the October protest that degenerated into an outbreak of violence in Beirut, in both cases seeking the dismissal of the investigating judge in charge of the 2020 explosion in the Lebanese capital's port that killed more than 200 people and injured 6,500. 

Two former Amal ministers, among other senior officials, are suspected of negligence in the case and have been repeatedly accused of obstructing the investigation. 

Amal has a very similar presence in the House as Hezbollah, so the alliance between these two once battlefield warring groups allows both to comfortably dominate the dynamics in Lebanon's Shia sector. 

Moreover, Amal's powerful leader, Nabih Berri, has been the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament for almost 30 years, a position to which he was first elected in October 1992 and to which he has been re-elected time and again since then.

Hassan Nasrallah
AP/HUSSEIN MALLA  -   Hezbollah supporters raise their fists and clap as they listen to a speech by the charismatic Hassan Nasrallah at a rally to mark Hezbollah Martyr's Day in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon
A fragmented opposition

A myriad of other smaller groups, most notably the secular but Druze-linked Progressive Socialist Party, shared just under a quarter of the seats in the House in 2018. Another quarter went to independent candidates or those with no recognised affiliation. 

This time around, a large number of opposition groups, members of civil society and reformist candidates from a massive protest movement launched in late 2019 against the ruling class, seeking to break with the traditional party oligarchy, are contesting. 

Despite the climate of popular discontent over corruption, the economic crisis and the explosion in Beirut, these alternative formations are criticised for not having united in a common front, and all signs point to Hezbollah and its allies remaining the most powerful force in the House.