Steven Sahiounie, journalist and political commentator
The secretary general of the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said yesterday in a televised speech, “I want the entire Lebanese nation to know that those who are calling for the disarmament of the resistance are unaware of what the southerners went through since 1948.” Referring to a brutal military occupation of the south of Lebanon by Israel from 1985 to 2000. Nasrallah added that those making demands for Hezbollah’s disarmament have not yet offered “an alternative” in the face of Israeli acts of aggression.
Lebanese citizens elect a new parliament, comprised of 128 members, every four years. Voting will take place on May 15 in the 15 electoral districts. Candidates must run on a seat that matches one of the country’s 18 recognized religious groups under the country’s sectarian political system.
Voters vote for an entire list of candidates, but have the choice to cast a second vote for a preferred candidate. Shiite political party and militant group Hezbollah has presented most of the MPs that won seats in 2018, with its parliamentary leader Muhammed Raad among those running again. Nabih Berri, the leader of Hezbollah’s ally Amal and parliamentary speaker since 1992, is also seeking reelection.
Gebran Bassil and his Free Patriotic Movement are running, along with the Lebanese Forces (LF), the Christian-led party and staunch critic of Hezbollah. Sethrida Geagea is among those presented by the LF.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has quit politics, and his Future Movement is not putting forward any candidates. Current Prime Minister Najib Mikati is also not running.
Since 2005, politics has been divided across two rival blocs, the first being a broadly pro-American alliance known as March 14, and another alliance called March 8, which is aligned to Syria and includes Hezbollah and several other Shiite and Christian parties. Experts have long commented that the Lebanese government was run out of the US Embassy, such was the level of control. This can be traced back to Jeffrey D. Feltman, United States ambassador to Lebanon from July 2004 to January 2008.
The pro-US March 14 alliance has stated they do not want Syrian refugees to leave Lebanon. The international aid agencies provide a huge amount of financial aid, as well as other aid, which is pilfered by corrupt politicians and their agents in Lebanon. If the Syrians leave, the money source will dry up for corrupt individuals who have contributed to the financial ruin of Lebanon.
In a recent article by Sam Heller, “The Ponzi Scheme That Broke Lebanon”, the author examines the US ties to Lebanese political elites and whether President Biden can stick to his anti-corruption agenda.
Steven Sahiounie of MidEastDiscourse interviewed Jamal Wakim to get the backstory on the upcoming election. Jamal Najah Wakim is a Lebanese political researcher and analyst, and author of the 2018 book, “Crime No Punishment.” The book includes an in-depth analysis of the sectarian structure in Lebanon.
#1. Steven Sahiounie (SS): The Lebanese election is coming up. In your opinion, what is the biggest issue in voters’ minds?
Jamal Wakim (JW): The biggest issue in the voters’ mind is to resolve the economic situation. As for the political parties affiliated with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the USA, their main issue is to get a majority in the parliament to form a one sided government that could take the decision to disarm Hezbollah even if this would lead to a civil war.
#2. SS: Riad Salameh, the head of the Lebanese Central Bank, has been accused of corruption, which has brought the nation to near failure. In your opinion, why hasn’t he been arrested?
JW: He was not arrested because he is the tip of the iceberg that includes 90 percent of the members of the political class in Lebanon and he knows about their corruption and helps them get away with it.
#3. SS: The International Monetary Fund, IMF, has a plan to help Lebanon recovery from the world’s worst financial crisis in 150 years. In your opinion, can this plan be executed?
JW: I do not believe so for two reasons, the first is the unwillingness of the political class to cooperate as they still need to embezzle money to survive, and the second is that we have been implementing policies imposed on us for the past 30 years and all they led to was this current crisis.
#4. SS: The Lebanese resistance movement has kept Israel from invading more territory in Lebanon. In your opinion, how do you see the resistance movement and their role in Lebanon?
JW: I believe that the resistance in Lebanon is blocking Israel and the US from implementing their agenda in the Near East and this is the reason why they want to disarm it.
#5. SS: There are regional tensions, such as: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Turkey and Israel. Partnerships, alliances, and repairing old relationships between the regional powers has set the stage for new developments. In your opinion, how will these tensions likely resolve
JW: I do not believe that we will see breakthroughs before the end of this year, so it is unlikely to see an improvement of the relations in the near future.
Steven Sahiounie is a two-time award-winning journalist