aa121246cad78210VgnVCM200000e66411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2009-Q2There are many victories left to be won in Lebanon9a121246cad78210VgnVCM200000e66411ac____There are many victories left to be won in LebanonVote-buying and other electoral manipulation aside, the outcome of the election reveals a deep divide over Lebanon's identity and foreign alliances.<p>An epic electoral battle in Lebanon ended with a resounding success for the pro-independence, March 14 coalition and defeat for the Hizbollah-led opposition. This outcome is welcomed with a cautious sigh of relief in many western and Arab capitals. The silence covering the sorrow in Damascus and Tehran is telling. Their allies failed to win in Lebanon the popular legitimacy Hamas received in Palestine in 2006. Through force of habit, the state-owned Syrian dailies Teshreen and Watan lectured the Lebanese about democracy and exactly the kind of government they needed in Beirut.</p>
<p>The March 14 victory is not decisive. But given the dire pre-election estimates, winning nearly the same number of MPs as they held before (71 out of 128) and making indisputable inroads within the Christian community brings some vindication to its battered members, long the targets of assassinations and intimidation. Saad Hariri strengthened his claim to the Sunni leadership (he is the probable next prime minister), as has his ally Walid Jumblatt with the Druze. Their Christian allies also performed well.</p>
<p>The March 8 defeat is by no means crushing, with Hizbollah and Amal maintaining dominance over the Shia community. Their main Christian ally, Michel Aoun, fared well in the Christian heartland. But winning only 57 seats, the opposition paid the price for paralysing government activity, using violence and aligning too closely with Syria and Iran, alienating independents.
Vote-buying and other electoral manipulation aside, the outcome reveals a deep divide over Lebanon's identity and foreign alliances. The electorate has (perhaps too easily) succumbed to the portrayal of this battle as an existential struggle and mobilised massively along emotional and ideological lines. Compelled to chose between Tehran and Washington, and between welayet el faqih and Lebanon's messy and volatile democracy, the majority chose the latter.</p>
<p>Chief among the other factors contributing to the March 14 victory was Hizbollah's aggressive rhetoric, including a speech by its secretary general Hassan Nasrallah who called a violent takeover of Beirut last year "glorious", upsetting Sunnis and Christians alike. Then Hizbollah found it appropriate to celebrate the freeing of four security chiefs who had been suspected of having a role in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, even as most Lebanese still blame them for oppression endured during Syrian occupation.</p>
<p>What else explains the discrepancy between the predicted Hizbollah victory and the March 14 upset? The work of a coterie of western analysts and journalists, many of whom are Beirut-based and fell under the spell of Hizbollah's muqawama and Aoun's questionable credentials as a secular reformist certainly helped.
These well-meaning luminaries spent precious ink fashioning a Robin Hood-like image for Hizbollah and too often relied on partisan polling. Writing in the world's leading publications, they created a romantic fiction where resistance met state-building when, as most Lebanese understand, the two projects are antithetical. After failing to grasp that substantive reform or full sovereignty could never happen under the leadership of a movement committed to perpetual resistance, and too easily accepting Hizbollah's rationale for this perpetual struggle, they now stand squarely disproved.</p>
<p>However, just because Lebanon avoided a Hizbollah victory and political isolation does not mean that the country woke up in a better shape on Monday. To survive, the Cedar Revolution regrettably had to sell its soul. Gone are the most inspiring and competent figures of the movement that seized Lebanese hearts in 2005, and tenuous is the hope that March 14's independence platform and reform will go hand in hand.</p>
<p>Importantly, the country's Christian community has now lost its sense of direction. Aoun, its most powerful - if profoundly delusional - leader, has been humbled, owing nine out of his 21 parliamentary seats to Hizbollah. But he is resilient and vindictive. His large parliamentary bloc should not conceal his decreasing popularity and discontent with his poor manners and political inconsistency. But he has dealt a serious blow to the Christian president, who refused to fully engage in the election battle and risks irrelevance if he does not soon show initiative. The battle for Christian leadership is still on, with potentially disastrous consequences for that community and the nation's institutions.</p>
<p>Hizbollah expected its Christian allies to deliver them an electoral victory but the militia is not necessarily in a worse position. It still has the luxury of not being formally accountable for the country's ills, can still deploy unmatched power on the streets and has built a strong sectarian shield. It may even determine that Lebanese politics are too much of a distraction from its core mission to fight Israel and the US.</p>
<p>The good news is that an ever vengeful Syria sees its hopes of returning to Lebanon frustrated. March 14th's victory has removed a precious chip for its dealings with the US.
Now begins the straining and inglorious process of forming a cabinet. Hizbollah and its allies already insist on veto power over government decisions, a constitutional heresy they obtained by force a year ago. Hizbollah will also want to enshrine its right to resist the cabinet's founding statement, a polite way to continue dominating foreign and security policy and make unilateral decisions. Nasrallah said yesterday that democracy and resistance go hand in hand, not-so-subtly rejecting the voters' decision. This time, however, a victorious March 14 alliance is unlikely to concede to his demands easily. Rather, it will agree on the broad concept of national unity, proposing a power-sharing formula that empowers the president and his ministers. The March 14 leaders still remember the humiliating influence of Hizbollah and will be careful not to push the movement too far.</p>
<p>All this does not bode well for the future. Hizbollah still owes Lebanon certainty about its military intentions and agreement to the principle of disarmament, just as March 14 owes the country decent governance after their lacklustre performance of the past four years. Recent history sadly suggests that Lebanon will get neither.