LEBANON'S ELECTION -- CEDAR EVOLUTION?

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Some surprising news yesterday from Lebanon, as the U.S-backed March 14 coalition won an unexpected electoral victory over opposition led by Hezbollah. Prior to the elections, most observers had expected Hezbollah's side to see a victory after it allied with a Christian party led by former General Michel Aoun, but apparently Aoun's constituents failed to see the benefits of an alliance with the Shi'ite resistance group. Check out some early reaction from more knowledgeable commenters like Andrew Exum and Elias Muhanna.

In Lebanon, however, little will change due to this election -- the current government remains in power, admittedly with more legitimacy, and Hezbollah will continue to keep about the same number of seats in parliament, its arms, and its own agenda. Some speculate that Hezbollah might be pleased with this turnout, since the burdens of running a government would be onerous to a party of resistance. But the result does indicate the difficulty of being both a Shi'ite and nationalist resistance movement in an ethnically variegated country and may raise further questions from the rest of Lebanon's population about Hezbollah's role in defining their country abroad.

In the United States, the debate is already about the president's speech in Cairo (and his vice president's pre-election visit to Beirut the other week). Like conservative observers, I'm not convinced that Obama's speech really had a direct effect on the election, although it certainly didn't hurt. Obama himself is the beneficiary of this election in many ways; had Hezbollah's coalition won, conservatives at home and Israel would be criticizing Obama for being too soft on the resistance group and its Iranian patron. Now, though, by dint of the group's political defeat, he's got some breathing room to further develop his approach to Iran and Syria. But recalling the high hopes that the 2005 "Cedar Revolution" -- when mass demonstrations helped force Syrian troops out of Lebanon -- inspired and then dashed in the West should remind us that we shouldn't read too much into this election but rather see it as another step toward a more resilient democracy in a country that still faces many tough problems.

-- Tim Fernholz

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