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Inevitable Victory for Syria in Lebanese Elections?

April 10, 2009

Michael Young has an op-ed in the Lebanese Daily Star in which he makes the case that regardless of whether March 14 or March 8 wins a majority in the June elections, Syria stands to gain.  He is right in so far as Syria is in a strong position right now and may very well consolidate its influence over Lebanon come June.  Its game of brinksmanship over Lebanon, the Palestinian movement, negotiations with Israel, and friendship with Iran, has yielded a series of visits from the West and previously unfriendly Arab states such as Saudi Arabia.  Young’s piece is worthwhile and I agree with most of it.  Below are some minor quibbles/comments.

First, Young inflates potential fissures in March 14, when they are not necessarily greater than those in March 8.  For example, the Berri-Jumblatt “alliance”,  as far as I know, is electoral and confined to the Western Beqa and a candidate in the south.  This is not a new or unexpected development, I heard rumors of an alliance between the PSP and Amal leaders from people close to Jumblatt last summer.  On the March 8 side, deep gaps remain between Berri and Aoun over March 8 lists in Baaba, Zahrani, and Jezzine.  Roughly two weeks ago on the popular LBC program Kalam an-Nas, Aoun dismissed Berri as merely, “the ally of my ally”.  Though, with that said, I expect these differences will be resolved soon.

Second, on an international level, the Egyptians remain deeply at odds with the Syrians.  While Saudi Arabia has sought to acheive a rapprochement with Syria, I’ve argued recently that it proves elusive.  The pace and the terms of US rapprochement with Syria as well as Washington’s position on a Palestinian national unity government, will greatly impact the dynamics of Syrian-Saudi and Syrian-Egyptian relations.  In other words, I think there are still regional challenges for Syria, though compared to a year ago the moderate Arab states do not seem to be in as strong of a position.

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