Most Lebanese expect the army to play a stabilizing role should the country experience spillover effects from continued popular unrest in Syria. However, Lebanon’s political forces are increasingly competing to penetrate the army and shape its orientation, undermining its relative independence from sectarian politics.
While the final outcomes of the Arab transitions are far from over, one thing is certain: civil-military relations will be redefined and renegotiated in every country. Arab militaries will inevitably fulfill a more central role in politics, and formalizing this reality may be the only hope for consolidating democratic transitions.
Facing a polarized political atmosphere and the specter of international tribunal findings that are expected to shake Lebanon’s stability, Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati may not be able to deliver on his promise to create a national unity government.
Over the past year, various actors in Lebanon were in the midst of a heated debate over a new media law as the country’s disputes played out in the media and concerns over telecommunications infiltration continued to be voiced.
Strengthening the Lebanese army would require the political will to formulate a national defense strategy that includes a serious procurement program.
Electoral reforms take a back seat while family and confessional politics continue to dominate in Lebanon.
Whichever bloc wins in upcoming parliamentary elections, the trend of growing Hizballah power is likely to continue.
The current crisis in Lebanon, ignited by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, is rooted not only in opposition to the Syrian military presence, but also in frustration at the lack of presidential or parliamentary elections since 2000.
Despite its reactive origins, the recent mobilization of the Shiite community in Lebanon does not seem to be an ephemeral episode, but rather a new chapter in an ongoing epic of communal consciousness and activism with far-reaching political implications.
Underlying the political map of the Middle East —those weird straight lines of Sykes-Picot vintage running through the desert— is the real configuration of this enigmatic region: the ethno-religious layout. Kurds, Berbers, Arabs, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Turks, Armenians, Copts, and more, depending on where one decides the Middle East ends.
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.