Daniel W. Drezner

Interpreting Lebanon’s election

From a U.S. perspective, Lebanon’s election went very well:  An American-backed alliance has retained control of the Lebanese Parliament after a hotly contested election billed as a showdown between Tehran and Washington for influence in the Middle East…. The alliance, known as the March 14 coalition, won the majority in the 128-member parliament with 71 ...

From a U.S. perspective, Lebanon’s election went very well

An American-backed alliance has retained control of the Lebanese Parliament after a hotly contested election billed as a showdown between Tehran and Washington for influence in the Middle East….

The alliance, known as the March 14 coalition, won the majority in the 128-member parliament with 71 seats, compared with to 57 for the Hezbollah-led coalition, according to official results announced Monday by the government. The results represent a significant and unexpected defeat for Hezbollah and its allies, Iran and Syria. Most polls had showed a tight race, but one in which the Hezbollah-led group would win.

Just to pre-empt the question that will inevitably be asked in the United States — "this was because of President Obama’s Cairo speech, right?" — I would refer everyone to this New York Times story from six weeks ago by Robert Worth

[P]arliamentary elections here in June are shaping up to be among the most expensive ever held anywhere, with hundreds of millions of dollars streaming into this small country from around the globe.

Lebanon has long been seen as a battleground for regional influence, and now, with no more foreign armies on the ground, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region are arming their allies here with campaign money in place of weapons. The result is a race that is widely seen as the freest and most competitive to be held here in decades, with a record number of candidates taking part. But it may also be the most corrupt….

[E]ven a narrow win by Hezbollah and its allies, now in the parliamentary opposition, would be seen as a victory for Iran — which has financed Hezbollah for decades — and a blow to American allies in the region, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt. So the money flows.

“We are putting a lot into this,” said one adviser to the Saudi government, who added that the Saudi contribution was likely to reach hundreds of millions of dollars in a country of only four million people. “We’re supporting candidates running against Hezbollah, and we’re going to make Iran feel the pressure.”

Given that the March 14 coalition outperformed the polling, it’s entirely possible that factors other than money played a role in the outcome — Nate Silver needs to go global in his analysis.  Still, unless Mark Lynch tells me otherwise, methinks this result is clearly not just about the power of rhetoric. 

 Twitter: @dandrezner

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