Hezbollah Coalition Loses Elections

To the surprise of many, a Hezbollah-led political coalition was defeated by a pro-American coalition in parliamentary elections in Lebanon on Sunday.  The US-aligned group won 71 seats and the Hezbollah faction won only 57.

Some have attributed Hezbollah’s defeat to President Obama’s efforts to reach out to the Muslim world and be conciliatory, including his highly-publicized speech in Egypt last week.  They argue that he has blunted Hezbollah’s anti-American message and lessened its appeal.

Although it is difficult to discern how influential Obama’s outreach campaign was in the elections, other considerations probably played a much more important role.  Sunnis voted heavily against Hezbollah, a Shiite religious party with close ties to Iran, a Shiite country.  Historically, Sunnis and Shiites have often been hostile to one another as rival Muslim factions.  Hezbollah is also affiliated with Syria, a nation that has often exerted unwelcome influence in Lebanese politics, which concerns Lebanese voters.

Economics likely played an important role as well.  The Obama administration threatened to stop providing financial aid to Lebanon if Hezbollah won, and other governments might also have imposed sanctions.  Many Lebanese knew that a Hezbollah victory would not serve their economic interests.

Some analysts in the region say that the voting results in Lebanon might be an indicator that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an outspoken anti-American politician, will lose the upcoming election in Iran on Friday.  However, if he is defeated it will likely be because he has failed to effectively deal with Iran’s economic problems, and not Obama’s diplomatic and public relations posture.

That is not to say that Obama’s outreach campaign is insignificant or that it does not advance US interests.  To the contrary, it is certainly a positive step toward repairing America’s image in the Muslim world.  However, when it comes to elections in the Middle East, domestic and economic issues will almost certainly be the most important factors in the near term.

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