That the parliamentary elections took place in Lebanon at all borders on a miracle. The Mediterranean state has been sinking into the Middle Ages since the explosion at the port of Beirut in 2020 at the latest: The population of an estimated 6.7 million has hardly any electricity, internet or access to medicines, many are starving because their wages are no longer worth anything due to the horrendous inflation. The savings of the people have disappeared in the swamp of corruption, more than 80 percent of the population are poor.
Anyone who, under these circumstances, could even pull himself together to vote on Sunday needed a good deal of idealism and money. Because: In Lebanon, voters have to vote in their home town, no matter how far it is from their place of residence. In view of this misery, the “helpfulness” of the long-established political clans was unabashed. They gave the poor a few worthless bills of the national currency so that they could vote for them and in return have enough to eat in a day. Or they suddenly conjured up money to buy the petrol tank for the trip to the ballot box for those willing to vote.
There was even electricity on election day – although not everywhere for the promised 24 hours. In many places, the votes had to be counted by torchlight. And those who competed against the old guard were intimidated in advance, sometimes massively, by force of arms. Nevertheless, the elections took place, and part of the clientele of the all-powerful party leaders had the courage to stand up and vote against them.
A tiny little glimmer of hope
The result, which the Lebanese Ministry of the Interior has now confirmed two days later, was already apparent late in the evening of the election day. The powerful Shiite Hezbollah and Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s affiliated Christian party have lost their parliamentary majority. Seat gains came from 16 candidates running against the political clans that have ruled the country since the civil war of the 1970s and 80s; including a candidate who won in southern Hezbollah territory, despite intimidation. Particularly bitter for the Lebanese President: the Forces Libanaises, against which he himself had fought as a militia leader in the civil war, have now overtaken his party as the strongest Christian force.
Since election night, there has been a mix of fireworks and gunshots in Beirut and other parts of the country. The joy of some is a provocation for others. The losers will not back down, least of all Hezbollah. It gets its orders and money from Iran, and does not set its course independently. The rest of the old political guard would rather defend their power than quickly form a functioning government to pull Lebanon out of the abyss. This guard will never be held accountable anyway. Even if it rubs salt on the old civil war wounds and stirs up hatred so that the old enemies turn on each other again. Destroying a country is always easier than building one.
And yet: the Lebanese, who do not want their country to fall back into the Middle Ages and civil war, have made themselves heard. If anyone can make something out of a small glimmer of hope, it’s the Lebanese.
SRF Middle East correspondent
Susanne Brunner has been a correspondent for SRF in the Middle East since spring 2018. She grew up in Canada, Scotland, Germany and Switzerland. She studied journalism in Ottawa. At Radio SRF she was first an editor and presenter at Radio SRF 3. Then she went to San Francisco as a correspondent and after her return was a correspondent in western Switzerland. She also moderated Radio SRF 1’s “Tagessprach” (“Days Talk”). Susanne Brunner also gained television experience with “10vor10”.