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Lebanon's Lesson: The Government is No Place for Sects

Author: Mohamad Bazzi, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
November 5, 2009
The National


Nearly five months after parliamentary elections, Lebanon is still without a government. The pro-western coalition that won is floundering in the morass of Lebanon's peculiar sectarian politics, and the country is once again drifting toward crisis.

What is wrong with Lebanon and why is it so hard for elected politicians to form a government?

After the June 7 elections, a simplistic narrative emerged in the West: because Hizbollah and its allies were defeated at the polls, the Shiite militant group would lose some of its lustre and a pro-US political coalition would rule Lebanon. In fact, Hizbollah remains the dominant military and political force: it holds the key to both domestic and external stability, and its actions will determine whether there is another war with Israel, or if Lebanon will once again be wracked by internal conflict. The current political vacuum gives Hizbollah free rein to continue its military build-up in southern Lebanon.

Saad Hariri, the Sunni leader and US-backed prime minister-designate, has been unable to form a cabinet. Shortly after the election the Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt defected from the winning coalition to the Hizbollah camp. Michel Aoun, the Maronite Christian leader allied to Hizbollah, is demanding that his party retain control of the telecommunications ministry, which has the power to tap phone lines.

But this political manoeuvring is only a symptom of a much deeper problem: an antiquated power-sharing system adopted six decades ago.


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