The alliance between the Shiite Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) led by Christian general Michel Aoun may seem unlikely, but both parties are betting on their recent union to reverse the current anti-Syrian majority. And one group’s success now depends squarely on the other’s.
Thanks to Lebanon’s electoral district mapping, Hassan Nasrallah’s party is certain to swipe up the clear majority of Shiite votes in its various strongholds: Bekaa, southern Lebanon and Beirut’s south suburbs. But to win the majority of the 128 seats in Parliament, it absolutely needs the FPM to win in the hotly disputed Christian districts.
The alliance between these two, apparently very different, parties has left many observers baffled. Before General Aoun’s return from exile in 2005, such a union would have been unimaginable. The two parties share the same antagonism to the current government, but otherwise, they share nothing in common.
Indeed, Iran-backed Hezbollah has always been Syria’s local ally in Lebanon. Teheran supplies the party with arms and funds via its northern neighbour. Michel Aoun, on the other hand, built his reputation as Lebanon’s first patriot on his vehemently anti-Syrian stance.
However surprising, the alliance became a reality after Aoun and Nasrallah’s 2006 meeting, and this will be its first electoral test. But how will supporters from both parties react to such a radical change?
A test for General Aoun
By joining the pro-Syrian camp, General Aoun risks isolating himself from his early supporters, many of whom found his visit to Syria in 2008 a difficult pill to swallow. In the 2005 parliamentary elections, general Aoun won a comfortable majority of the Christian vote. Today, polls show his margin is considerably smaller. Even if he does win, his votes would only grant the new government a slim majority.
The FPM’s Christian rivals, such as Samir Gagea’s Lebanese Forces (Hezbollah’s arch-enemy) are counting on the support of undecided or apolitical Christians who may be disappointed by Aoun’s unlikely alliance, as well as their own electorate base in order to win the majority of seats.
Hezbollah is accused of sparking the 2006 war with Israel and conducting a violent raid on the Sunni neighbourhoods of Beirut in May 2008. These two events, resented by many Lebanese, have left some wondering whether Hezbollah isn’t pursuing its own agenda, rather than that of the state.