The smiles, handshakes and congratulations that followed the election of Lebanese President Michel Suleiman yesterday were unable to erase questions and fears over what Hezbollah has in store for the country, and the region as a whole. That is because the lovely principle of "no victor, no vanquished," as the emir of Qatar described the deal reached in Doha that allowed for Suleiman's election, does not reflect reality.
Lebanon did manage to engage the emergency brake before spiraling into civil war, and can even look forward to a period of relative quiet. But the price is liable to be Hezbollah's long-term de facto control of Lebanon.
Suleiman's election is not the product of a democratic compromise between a majority and an opposition; it is the product of threats and violence. The fancy swearing-in ceremony yesterday could not have taken place without the agreement of Hezbollah, which delayed the selection of a president by seven months. Hezbollah conditioned its acceptance on the establishment of a national unity government in which it and its partners will have 11 ministers. This grants Hezbollah veto power over key government decisions, since the Lebanese constitution requires important decisions to be approved by a two-thirds majority.
Hezbollah also won a change in the elections law, which gives its supporters a much greater chance of getting their candidates into parliament in the election planned for next year. In addition, the question of Hezbollah's right to function as an autonomous militia has been removed from the agenda, replaced by a declaration that Hezbollah's guns will never again be aimed at fellow Lebanese. And without the agreement of the Lebanese government, any international attempt to disarm Hezbollah will be seen as illegitimate.
Suleiman thanked Arab leaders, especially the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani. But without the agreements reached between Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, Suleiman would not have been elected president. Hezbollah also determined the most convenient place for negotiations - not Saudi Arabia or Egypt, which are allies of the Lebanese government, but Qatar, whose emir was the first Arab leader to visit a Shi'ite neighborhood in Beirut that had been bombed by Israel, and who donated a lot of money to rebuild it.
Hezbollah could have celebrated twice yesterday - once to mark eight years since the Israel Defense Forces withdrew from Lebanon, and a second time over having laid the cornerstone of its political domination of the country. Syria is not dissatisfied with this victory, but understands that Hezbollah is not a Syrian organization. Damascus may yet miss the days when it controlled Lebanon directly, without having to rely on a group whose loyalty depends on its own interests rather than being driven by ideology. Now, after Hezbollah's great political victory, it is no longer clear who depends on whom. In the Saudi-Iranian struggle over regional hegemony, Tehran can chalk up another victory.
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