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Jun 9th, 2009

Where Lebanon Went …

Will Iran Follow?

Hopeful Signs for U.S. in Beirut Vote

By Michael Slackman

June 9, 2009


BEIRUT, Lebanon — There were many domestic reasons voters handed an American-backed coalition a victory in Lebanese parliamentary elections on Sunday — but political analysts also attribute it in part to President Obama’s campaign of outreach to the Arab and Muslim world.

Most analysts had predicted that the Hezbollah-led coalition, already a crucial power broker in the Lebanese government because of its support from Shiites who make up a large part of Lebanons population, would win handily. In the end, though, the American-aligned coalition won 71 seats, while the Syria-Iranian aligned opposition, which includes Hezbollah, took only 57.

It is hard to draw firm conclusions from one election. But for the first time in a long time, being aligned with the United States did not lead to defeat in the Middle East. And since Lebanon has always been a critical testing ground, that could mark a possibly significant shift in regional dynamics with another major election, in Iran, on Friday.

With Mr. Obama’s speech on relations with Muslims still fresh in Lebanese minds, analysts point to steps the administration has taken since assuming office.

Washington is now proposing talking to Hezbollah’s patrons, Iran and Syria, rather than confronting them — a move that undermines the group’s attempt to demonize the United States. The United States is also no longer pressing its allies in the Lebanese government to unilaterally disarm Hezbollah, which, given the party’s considerable remaining clout, could have provoked a crisis.

“Lebanon is a telling case,” said Osama Safa, director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies here. “It is no longer relevant for the extremists to use the anti-American card. It does look like the U.S. is moving on to something new.”

In fact, some analysts said that it was possible that Lebanon’s election could be a harbinger of Friday’s presidential race in Iran, where a hard-line anti-American president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, may be losing ground to his main moderate challenger, Mir Hussein Moussavi.

While President Ahmadinejad has grown unpopular for many reasons, including his troubled stewardship of the economy, political analysts said that President Obama had blunted the appeal of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s confrontation with the West. […]

“I think the speech of Obama in Cairo more likely played a role in neutralizing anti-Americanism,” said Khalil al-Dakhil, a sociologist from Saudi Arabia. “It was a positive message. It was a conciliatory message.” […]

When Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. visited Lebanon in late May, and appeared to threaten withdrawal of financial aid if the opposition won, that was widely derided as a kiss of death. But now, some political analysts believe the vice president may have helped by crystallizing for voters their choice: alliance with the United States, France and the regional allies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia; or with Iran and Syria and their allies, Hezbollah and Hamas. […]


Related reports

Profiles of Iranian presidential candidates

Democracy on the Streets: Iranians embrace a passionate form of politics

Past Iran president warns top leader before vote

Iran race gets bitter as election looms


6/11/09 Update

Psychological Profile of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

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