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Election A Tinderbox for Lebanon

ICC Note

“I would like to know who has an interest in chaos, who has an interest in the elections not taking place, who has an interest in making it even more complicated for the life of all the Lebanese,”

By Nicholas Blanford


November 20, 2007 Lebanon (The Christian Science Monitor) Lebanon ‘s grave political crisis peaks this week with feuding politicians in last-ditch negotiations to elect a new president, knowing that failure risks tearing the country apart.

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If opposition wins, US will lose key toehold

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The Lebanese government is supported by the United States , France , and Saudi Arabia , which seek to disarm Hizbullah, the powerful Shiite party, and keep Lebanon within a pro-Western orbit – free from Syrian influence and an obstacle to Iran ‘s regional ambitions. Also, Lebanon remains the one bright hope in the Bush administration’s waning attempts to promote democracy in the Middle East .

The Lebanese opposition, spearheaded by Hizbullah, prefers to keep Lebanon aligned with Iran and Syria , distrusting US Middle East policy which it believes is fundamentally rooted in protecting Israel from its Arab foes.

If the opposition prevails, then Syria and Iran will have gained extra regional leverage at the expense of the US losing its Levantine toehold.

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In a bid to break the impasse, France has persuaded Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, the influential patriarch of the Maronite church, to submit a list of candidates from which the rival factions could select a president. Lebanon ‘s sectarian power-sharing system decrees that the president must be a Maronite.

But neither camp is showing any sign of flexibility, to the evident frustration of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who is in Beirut to help hammer out a deal.

“I would like to know who has an interest in chaos, who has an interest in the elections not taking place, who has an interest in making it even more complicated for the life of all the Lebanese,” he told reporters Monday.

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Hizbullah ready to act if no deal is made

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Ali Mokdad, a member of Hizbullah’s parliamentary bloc, says he remains hopeful that a deal can be struck before the end of the week, but warned the opposition’s reaction to the election of a March 14 president would be different from past antigovernment street protests.

“It will be a time for political action. The opposition will decide exactly what to do when the time comes,” he says.

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