Street scene in the suburb of Dahieh, a Hezbollah stronghold on the outskirts of Beirut, Lebanon, 2012. Moises Saman/Magnum Photos

Lebanon is both the center of the world and a dead end. The broken little village of a planet that is sick. Chaotic, polluted, and corrupt beyond belief, this is a country where beauty and human warmth constantly find ways to break through. It is impossible to name that feeling of being assaulted and charmed at the same time. You are in the city center, you stroll down a sidewalk eighteen inches wide, assailed from all sides by the confusion of buildings and traffic, torn between the appeal of the sea and the stench of garbage, and suddenly your gaze is soothed by the play of light on a stone wall, by bougainvilleas cascading from an ancient balcony, by the balcony itself.…  Seguir leyendo »

Imagine 125 million refugees flooding into the United States (population: 328 million). That is what Lebanon has experienced on a per capita basis. Since 2011, this nation of 4 million people has seen an influx of some 1.5 million refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war next door. “I find it a miracle this country hasn’t exploded,” a Western diplomat told me last week. “Most countries would never have allowed this to happen.”

This is the dog that didn’t bark — perhaps the most surprising good-news story in the Middle East. Lebanon has always been on the verge of collapse because of divisions among Sunnis, Shiites, Druze and Christians.…  Seguir leyendo »

El análisis de Oriente Medio se presta en muchas ocasiones a la precipitación y el alarmismo. El deseo de entender lo complejo y anticiparnos a un futuro necesariamente incierto engendra la prisa por reaccionar. El problema surge cuando, si no tenemos nada sólido que decir pero tenemos prisa por decir algo, nos subimos al carro del catastrofismo apocalíptico. Que Trump se retire del acuerdo nuclear con Irán nos puede llevar a profetizar desde un proceso de escala regional, a un ataque de/a Israel, hasta un proceso de escalada global y finalmente el Armagedón atómico. Que Israel bombardea los Altos del Golán, hay quien intuye un proceso de escalada, un ataque de Siria o Irán y la guerra total.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hezbollah and its allies won a slight majority of seats in Sunday’s parliamentary election in Lebanon.CreditJoseph Eid/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the parliamentary elections on Sunday in Lebanon is that they were held at all after years of delay and political inertia, corruption, economic stagnation and foreign meddling.

Lebanon suffers from multiple crises that lead to a perpetual state of paralysis: more than one million Syrian refugees are straining social services; public debt stands at $79 billion, or 150 percent of gross domestic product; the government fails to provide basic services like electricity and garbage collection; and there are fears of a new war between Israel and Hezbollah, the Shiite party and dominant military force in Lebanon.…  Seguir leyendo »

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri gives a thumbs-up with his ink-stained thumb after voting at a polling station in Beirut on May 6 as the country held its first parliamentary election in nine years. (Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images)

On May 6, Lebanon held its first parliamentary elections in nearly a decade. Since 2009, Lebanon faces several new challenges — the influx of Syrian refugees, the breakdown of waste management, economic crisis. Sunday’s election was Lebanese voters’ first opportunity to hold parliament accountable for its responses to these challenges. The elections were also an occasion for other firsts — a new electoral law with a proportional representation component, standardized ballot and provision for expat voting; as well as the participation of a record-breaking number of women candidates; and a broad civil society coalition opposing traditional elites.

The official results make two things clear.…  Seguir leyendo »

A stage constructed for a post-election rally collapses on top of Beirut's Martyrs Monument. Photo: Getty Images.

Lebanon finally held a parliamentary election, nine years after the last one and following several false starts over the past five years, but the results have not brought change to the country’s political status quo. The same old political elites continue to dominate Lebanon’s political scene, winning the vast majority of seats.

Turn out in this election was lower than in the previous one, standing at 49 per cent. This signals a sense of popular ambivalence about the political process among most Lebanese, especially since the outgoing parliament renewed its own mandate twice unconstitutionally, and since the elections that were meant to take place in 2013 kept being postponed under the pretext of lack of security.…  Seguir leyendo »

Government election officials carry a ballot box into polling stations ahead of the country's May 6 parliamentary election, in Beirut, Lebanon, on 5 May 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Who won and who lost in the Lebanese elections?

The 6 May elections readjusted the political balance but brought no fundamental change. As before, no government can be formed without Hizbollah. To be effective in government the Shiite Islamist movement, as always, will have to reach out to partners that oppose much of its agenda. Hizbollah is not about to take formal control of the next government, however, because that move would put Lebanon at risk of losing crucial foreign support or even becoming a pariah state.

The main feature of the polls was not the Shiite movement’s triumph but significant losses for Sunni Muslim Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, which saw its parliamentary bloc dwindle by a third to twenty seats of the 128-seat parliament.…  Seguir leyendo »

Supporters of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who is a candidate for the parliamentary elections to be held May 6, cheer in Beirut. (Hussein Malla/AP)

On Sunday, Lebanese citizens will vote in national elections for the first time since 2009. These are the first elections since the passage in June 2017 of a new electoral law and the first since the 2016 Beirut municipal elections, when a grass-roots campaign won almost 40 percent of votes, challenging Lebanon’s long-standing patronage-based sectarian parties.

Will that challenge actually change the voting behavior of Lebanese citizens on the national level? To test the relative influence of service provision, programmatic platforms and religious identity on citizens’ political behavior, we conducted a survey experiment in October and November 2017 in which 2,400 respondents were asked to choose between two hypothetical candidates whose profiles varied randomly on a range of attributes.…  Seguir leyendo »

A poster of the Koullouna Watani list, left top, and other posters for parliamentary elections that include a portrait of assassinated Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, right, are displayed in Beirut, on Tuesday. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

On Sunday, tens of thousands of Lebanese citizens will head to the polls to elect a new 128-member parliament. Against a background of rampant corruption, an economy on the verge of collapsing and rising regional tension, here are four key things to know about the upcoming elections in Lebanon.

1. The first elections since 2009 will test changing alliances

The last time Lebanese citizens elected a new parliament was in 2009. Citing concerns over the spillover effects from neighboring Syria’s ongoing civil war, members of parliament postponed the scheduled elections in 2013, 2014 and 2017. While the political elite used the events in Syria to publicly justify postponing elections, the true motive was the changing balance of power among the many local parties.…  Seguir leyendo »

An oil tanker on the outskirts of Beirut. Photo: Getty Images.

‘Congratulations to the Lebanese people (…) on Lebanon entering the club of oil countries,’ tweeted the country’s energy minister, Cesar Khalil, after Lebanon’s first petroleum licensing round finally took place last fall. On 14 December 2017, the Lebanese government approved the bid by a consortium of three companies – France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek – for two offshore blocks, after process had been held up for three years while political parties were in deadlock over the nomination of the president and the approval of key legislation.

Political expectations are high that discoveries will be made and the legislature is reviewing draft bills establishing a sovereign wealth fund and a national oil company.…  Seguir leyendo »

Last month, Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, resigned in Saudi Arabia — only to later rescind his resignation. This sparked fear of a Saudi-backed war against Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese ally. Riyadh has few local military assets to confront the Shiite movement but could strangle Lebanon’s small open economy. Lebanon is deeply reliant on capital inflows from the Gulf. The immediate crisis of Hariri’s premiership is over, but Lebanese economic dependency persists. It is dangerous if the country must stay in Riyadh’s political good grace to avoid economic crisis.

Three Gulf countries accounted for 76 percent of new foreign direct investment projects in Lebanon from 2003 to 2015.…  Seguir leyendo »

Syrian accents are now omnipresent in Lebanon. Busy streets are choked with an influx of Syrian cars. At least 1,700 informal Syrian refugee settlements crowd the landscape from Beirut to the Bekaa Valley.

Everywhere we went in Lebanon this month, the impact of the Syrian war was immediately evident, as were tensions rippling out from the escalating Saudi-Iranian rivalry in the region. It is a tribute to Lebanon’s generosity that this country of 4.5 million people is hosting an estimated 1.5 million refugees. That’s the most, on a per capita basis, of any country in the world – akin to the United States taking in over 80 million refugees.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Sursock Gallery in Beirut features a video installation by Syrian artist Hrair Sarkissian, in which he is seen destroying his childhood home in Damascus. Forced from home by war, this is a man who has lost everything. In a video set on infinite replay, Sarkissian is seen again and again striking his home. His is an act of utter futility, but as a survivor of war this is all that is left to him: to feign control and agency in a world where you have none.

Sarkissian’s work has resonance for the Lebanese, not only because Lebanon currently hosts over one million Syrian refugees, and not only because many Lebanese continue to be tormented by 15 years of brutal and brutalising civil war, but also because of the profound untenability of Lebanon itself.…  Seguir leyendo »

Nearly two weeks after the double political explosion that rocked Riyadh, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to be doing damage control in ways that may help stabilize Saudi Arabia and the region.

The first bombshell in the Saudi capital was the Nov. 4 arrests on corruption charges of 201 prominent Saudis, including princes and government ministers. Now MBS, as the 32-year-old crown prince is known, is beginning a resolution process that may settle many of these cases out of court.

A senior Saudi official told me Thursday that the kingdom’s anti-corruption commission would follow the standard “plea-bargain process” that is “usually conducted by the public prosecutor prior to transferring a case to the relevant court.” The commission’s overall aim, he said, was to “send a strong message” that corruption won’t be allowed, “irrespective of rank or status.”

The crackdown may have consolidated support for MBS among younger Saudis who resent older, wealthy princes and palace insiders.…  Seguir leyendo »

A en croire les déclarations des responsables saoudiens, comme les analyses de la presse saoudienne et de celles du Golfe, la démission forcée de Saad Hariri visait à créer un choc salutaire. En sortant le principal leader de la communauté sunnite du gouvernement libanais, l’Arabie pousserait les sunnites, gonflés à bloc par un soutien saoudien réitéré avec éclats, à choisir la confrontation avec la communauté chiite, et plus spécifiquement le Hezbollah.

On se rappelle que le Hezbollah et le Courant du futur (parti de Hariri) étaient arrivés, il y a un an, à un accord établissant lignes de partage du pouvoir et seuils d’influence au Liban.…  Seguir leyendo »

En las últimas décadas nos hemos acostumbrado a que las grandes decisiones en torno al futuro de Líbano no se adopten en Beirut, sino en otras capitales de Oriente Próximo. La dimisión del primer ministro libanés Saad Hariri en Riad evidencia que la política de los cónsules sigue plenamente vigente casi un siglo después de la creación del país de los cedros. El intelectual Georges Corm, quien acuñó esta fórmula, se refería a la propensión de los partidos libaneses a recabar la protección de las potencias internacionales para reforzar su posición.

Desde la capital saudí, Hariri lanzó una severa advertencia a Hezbolá a la que acusó de “crear un Estado dentro del Estado hasta el punto que tiene la última palabra en los asuntos de gobierno” y de “ser el brazo de Irán no solo en Líbano, sino también en otras naciones árabes”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri is being held by Saudi authorities under what Lebanese sources say amounts to house arrest in Riyadh, apparently as part of the Saudi campaign to squeeze Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah.

A startling account of Hariri’s forced detention was provided Friday by knowledgeable sources in Beirut. It offers important new evidence of the tactics used by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to bolster his rule by mobilizing anti-Iran sentiment at home and abroad.

Rumors of the virtual kidnapping of Hariri, who resigned as prime minister last Saturday while in Saudi Arabia, have rocked the Arab world; Lebanese officials worry that MBS, as the 32-year-old crown prince is known, wants to force Lebanon into his confrontation with Iran.…  Seguir leyendo »

La démission surprise, depuis la capitale saoudienne Riyad, du premier ministre libanais Saad Hariri a suscité des réactions paradoxales au Liban.

D’un côté, la dissolution d’un rare gouvernement d’unité nationale, dans ce pays ou se déchire, traditionnellement, une multitude de factions issues de la guerre civile, ébranle une stabilité fragile.

De l’autre, ce coup d’éclat redonne de l’importance au Liban, qui se situait à la marge, depuis des années, des grands enjeux régionaux. Une armée de commentateurs politiques libanais semble revivre, surenchérissant de théories flamboyantes : Hariri a été kidnappé… Israël va attaquer… Des explosions secouent Riyad… Le Liban, de retour au centre du jeu, a peur et respire à la fois.…  Seguir leyendo »

Lundi et mardi 30 et 31 octobre. Saad Hariri, Premier ministre sunnite du Liban, allié de l’Occident et de l’Arabie Saoudite, est en visite à Riyad. Mercredi, de retour à Beyrouth, il annonce le maintien du soutien saoudien au gouvernement libanais. La formation de ce dernier fin 2016 avait mis fin à deux ans et demi d’une crise institutionnelle aiguë et d’un bras de fer entre sunnites et chiites qui avaient fait craindre une dégradation dangereuse de la sécurité dans le pays. Avec l’élection du président chrétien Michel Aoun, les tensions confessionnelles avaient significativement baissé et le gouvernement, mené par Hariri, avait enfin la possibilité de réaliser des avancées politiques et économiques.…  Seguir leyendo »

Lebanon was stunned on Nov. 4 when its prime minister, Saad Hariri, speaking from Saudi Arabia, delivered a halting resignation speech. Mr. Hariri said he left Beirut because he feared assassination. He placed the blamed for his long-distance resignation on Iran and its main ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

In the days since, Saudi Arabia has accused Hezbollah of plotting against the kingdom and ordered Saudi citizens to leave Lebanon. Threats from top Saudi officials are causing new turmoil in a tiny country with complicated sectarian politics, failed power-sharing arrangements and a long history of foreign meddling.

Since the Arab uprisings in 2011, Lebanon has largely avoided the conflicts sweeping the Middle East.…  Seguir leyendo »