Lebanon’s parliamentary elections under threat

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Medlir Mema, PhD
Fellow, Middle East Policy Council


With three months to go until Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, some suspect that Hezbollah and a handful of political allies are attempting to undermine them. The withdrawal of the country’s most popular Sunni politician — Saad Hariri — has already complicated the question of Sunni participation in the May elections. Now, by speaking openly about Hezbollah’s growing drone and missile capabilities and threatening a war with Israel, Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is throwing a wrench into the maritime-border discussions between Lebanon and Israel as well as the national conversation about the upcoming elections.  

The U.S. has swiftly reacted to the worrisome signals coming from some within Lebanon regarding the May elections. According to a Reuters report published by LBCI, a private television station in Lebanon, the U.S. Ambassador Dorothy Shea emphasized, “‘The international community is unanimous that the elections must be held on time in a fair and transparent manner. … There’s no wiggle room.’ … Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said a failure to hold elections on time risks further straining ties with Western nations who could help Lebanon emerge from the crisis.”  

Ambassador Shea’s comments come after several news channels, including Press TV, quoted Nasrallah as citing the organization’s increasing ability to threaten Israel, claiming that “the resistance group is making rockets and drones on its own and has the capability to turn rockets into precision missiles. Nasrallah said in a televised speech on Wednesday that Hezbollah has developed the capability to make rockets and drones on its own. ‘We have started manufacturing drones,’ he said, addressing the Israeli regime’s rulers. … Pointing to Israeli threats, the Hezbollah chief said the enemies only threaten others with war, but they know it will be very difficult and costly for them. He said Hezbollah is capable of upgrading the quality of its rockets to fend off Israeli threats.”  

Following Nasrallah’s comments, the Lebanese website Naharnet notes that via social media, many are attempting to bring some levity to the situation: “The near simultaneous release of propaganda videos in which the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah flaunt their alpine skills triggered an avalanche of comments online Wednesday, some jokingly referencing the Winter Olympics. Hezbollah looked keen to demonstrate it was undeterred by recent heavy snowfall in a slick two-minute production released late Tuesday that soon started trending on social media. … Many on social media volunteered comparative analysis and style marks, while others drew parallels with the biathlon events at the Winter Olympics currently underway in Beijing. Some suggested Hezbollah was preparing to assist Russian troops in an invasion of Ukraine.”  

Additionally, there is little to be upbeat about regarding the current socio-economic and political situation. Lebanon’s precipitous decline has become a major source of concern for many, in and out of the country. Fearing yet another conflict with Israel and greater instability at home, Maria Maalouf points out in a recent Arab News op-ed that “[t]he U.S. must not let Hezbollah make war against Israel on the pretext of protecting Lebanon’s maritime sovereignty. Hezbollah also wants to postpone the elections in Lebanon for fear of losing power. This could happen if the result favors new individuals and political forces that challenge the group’s hegemony over Lebanon. … They could use violence to stop the elections from taking place on time. Hezbollah could launch attacks against Israel as a delaying tactic. … The Biden administration must support Lebanon in holding these elections. Any effort by Hezbollah and its allies to play spoiler must be detected early and thwarted. France also has a role to play.”  

According to Asharq Al-Awsat’s Hazem Saghieh, many in Lebanon encourage the international community’s growing role in the country, despite some leading Lebanese politicians signaling the opposite: “The truth is that the majority of the Lebanese, who may quarrel among themselves over an array of issues, want Western embassies to stay in their country, they want to feel safe and secure in it, and they want the multinational forces to stay in the south. They want these forces to remain an impediment to another war, which this majority opposes. They want Western educational institutions to take root and educate greater numbers of students and for NGOs to provide what is one of the very few sources of income for the Lebanese, in addition to their role, however modest, in creating small development projects and expanding freedom of expression.”  

Of course, as Ferhat Tutkal underlines in this commentary for the Daily Sabah, the legacy of the international community’s involvement in Lebanon and across the region is a complex one, with French and British colonial practices and legacies blamed for creating “significant problems, which Lebanon still has to deal with. … The confessional power-sharing system was the highest cost for Lebanon. The French Mandate left a government system that allocates all the power to religious communities with predetermined quotas. … The colonial mindset promoted ideas and institutions that have not been historically developed, which paved the way for current problems. Today, the separation between Arab states of the Levant region is the achievement of French and British mandates. Instead of excluding each other, Levant Arabs should rebuild the bridge between them.”  

Michael Young, a columnist for The National, suggests that Lebanon’s Arab neighbors must play an important role in the stabilization of Lebanon to counterbalance Iran’s growing influence: “This will not be easy, nor will Hezbollah and Iran readily go along with it. But Hezbollah does not control Lebanon’s non-Shiite communities (and also faces resistance from some Shiite circles). If Arab states expand their efforts there, they could take advantage of the sectarian system to remind Tehran that it cannot decide Lebanon’s path alone. This will not resolve the matter of Hezbollah’s weapons, nor is that outcome realistic today. But only once Iran is constrained by the maneuvers of Arab states will it recognize that seeking hegemony over Arab societies creates pushback. This will oblige it to make compromises that ultimately lead to more far-reaching understandings.”  

Finally, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s retirement from politics makes the role of the Sunni electorate in shaping Lebanon’s future unclear. Al Jazeera’s Kareem Chehayeb, though, reports that the Hariri family may still have a role to play: “Lebanon’s next parliamentary elections are in May, the first since the country’s economy started crumbling in August 2019. But [Bachar El-Halabi, a political analyst] said there will not be another leader representing the Sunni community across the board, often referred to as za’im, such as Hariri. ‘No one popularity-wise has this appeal.’ … However, the Hariri family is not completely out of the picture. Saad Hariri’s older brother, Bahaa Hariri, a billionaire businessman who has opted to stay behind the scenes for years, has pushed his political project Sawa Li Lubnan (Together For Lebanon). … The older Hariri dismissed the Future Movement’s more diplomatic and compromising approach with Hezbollah, calling it ‘political blasphemy.’”  


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Scroll to Top