Lebanon finally has a new government, following an announcement yesterday that president Emile Lahoud had approved the coalition cabinet named by prime minister-designate Fuad Siniora.

So what? Well, Lebanon’s elections, held in May and June, were supposed
to be a great triumph for America’s democratisation program in the
Middle East. The first elections held since the withdrawal of Syrian
troops, they resulted in a narrow majority for the anti-Syrian parties
led by the son of the assassinated former prime minister, Rafiq Hariri.

Psephologists love Lebanon because of its bizarre electoral system,
where seats are grouped not just geographically but by religion as
well. You can find the results in glorious detail on Adam Carr’s Psephos site here.

In order to win approval from the pro-Syrian president, the new prime
minister has broadened his coalition to include pro-Syrian parties,
including the Shi’ite militia Hizbollah, which the US regards as a
terrorist organisation. The major leader left out is general Michel
Aoun, the Christian leader who unexpectedly did a deal with pro-Syrian
groups before the election, and now is obviously trusted by neither
side.

Aoun was formerly the darling of America’s neo-conservatives because,
back in the early 90s, he wanted to continue the civil war when
everyone else had decided that even Syrian occupation was tolerable if
it meant they could stop killing one another – as a result he spent
ten years in exile. Now he’s back, but out of government, and Hizbollah
are in. Democracy is full of surprises.

Peter Fray

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