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Supporters of the Christian Lebanese Forces party react as votes are being counted in Lebanon's parliamentary election.

REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

What We're Watching: Lebanon's future, Russian dissent, Latin Americans ditch US summit

What Hezbollah’s loss means for Lebanon

Days after Lebanese voters went to the polls for the first time since the economy imploded three years ago, Hezbollah – Iran-backed militants dubbed a terrorist group by the US – has lost its parliamentary majority. Its coalition, which includes Amal, another Shia party, and the Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian bloc, won 61 seats, down from 71. Reformist parties that emerged amid mass protests over economic inequality and corruption in recent years reaped about 10% of seats. The Saudi-allied Lebanese Forces also gained new seats, suggesting that many Lebanese voters support warmer ties with Riyadh in hopes it can help ease their economic woes. Still, only 41% of eligible voters turned up, reflecting widespread apathy and disdain for the political elite, who have enriched themselves for decades while large swaths of the population descended into poverty. The election was notably plagued by allegations of voter fraud. Things will get thorny this fall when President Michael Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, finishes his term. The presidency is a powerful post in Lebanon, charged with appointing the PM and leading the military. Hezbollah will push hard for a replacement who will safeguard their – and Iran’s – regional interests, likely impeding progress on political and economic reforms needed to unlock foreign loans.

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Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah hold flags during an election rally in Tyre, Lebanon.

Reuters

Can this election save Lebanon?

Corruption and mismanagement have become the hallmarks of Lebanese governance.

In 2019, the country’s ill-managed economy imploded thanks to a self-serving political elite, and in 2020, an explosion resulting from government negligence killed 230 people at a Beirut port. Subsequent attempts to stonewall the criminal investigation of the blast again exposed the greed and malice of those in charge.

In short, things need to change.

Voters will cast their ballots on May 15 in general elections for the first time since all hell broke loose three years ago. Is there any hope for a political turnaround, or will the country continue rolling over a cliff?

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U.S. President Joe Biden arrives for the G20 leaders summit in Rome, Italy October 30, 2021.

Brendan Smialowski/Pool via REUTERS

What We’re Watching: Biden in Europe, Gulf states vs Lebanon, elections in Nicaragua, South Africa & Virginia

Biden's Euro trip. President Joe Biden is on a crucial Euro trip. It began in Rome at the G-20 Summit, where his idea for a global minimum tax rate was broadly endorsed by the group. Biden also visited Pope Francis at the Vatican — a get-together that produced decidedly less scary photos than when his predecessor held a papal visit — and met with France's President Emmanuel Macron to try to smooth over strained relations after the AUKUS debacle, which he now says had been "clumsy." The US president had another face-to-face with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, just a week after Ankara threatened to expel the US ambassador. But there's a domestic component at play too: Biden was hoping to have passed two infrastructure bills, which include money for climate change, before he attended the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, which kicked off on Sunday. Failure to close the deal on Capitol Hill would deal Biden's credibility a heavy blow just at the moment he wants to reinforce the US commitment to climate change reduction goals at this week's summit and to claim, yet again, that America is indeed back! But Democrats continue to wrangle over both what's in the bills and how to pay for them. Meanwhile, only a third of Americans now say that the US is headed in the right direction. Biden was hoping to have the wind at his back as he sailed into Europe. Instead, he is facing a strong political headwind.

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What We're Watching: Gulf states unleash on Lebanon

Gulf states lash out at Lebanon. Cash-strapped Lebanon is grappling with yet another crisis after Saudi Arabia expelled its ambassador, a move promptly followed by the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait in solidarity with Riyadh. The trigger? A Lebanese minister had previously criticized the Saudis' involvement in the ongoing war in Yemen, suggesting that the coalition led by Riyadh was the aggressor in a conflict with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Indeed, this latest episode reveals that Lebanon — which has long been plagued by sectarian tensions — yet again finds itself in the crosshairs of the Iran-Saudi rivalry. (Saudi Arabia ceased giving aid to Beirut since the-Iran backed Hezbollah movement has gained increasing influence in Lebanese political and social life.) But since billionaire tycoon Najib Mikati was appointed Lebanon's PM in September, the US and France have been lobbying the Saudis to soften their hardline approach to Lebanon, which the Gulf views as an Iranian client state, and reinstate aid to the crisis-ridden country, where three-quarters of the population now live below the poverty line. The latest episode shows that despite speculation of a détente between Tehran and Riyadh, deep animosity persists.

What We're Watching: Bangladesh religious violence, Ecuadorian drug emergency, Lebanese to vote, Russia ditches NATO

Religious tension rising in Bangladesh: Clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh have surged over the past week, leaving at least four people dead. After an image was posted on Facebook showing the Quran at the feet of a statue at a Hindu temple, Muslims burned Hindu-owned homes and attacked their holy sites. Both sides have taken to the street in protest, with Hindus saying that they have been prevented from celebrating Durga Puja, the largest Hindu festival in the country. Such acts of sectarian violence are not uncommon in Bangladesh, a majority-Muslim country where Hindus account for nine percent of the population. Indeed, as Eurasia Group's Kevin Allison recently warned, unverified social media content stoking inter-ethnic conflict is a massive problem throughout South Asia, where for many people Facebook is synonymous with the internet.

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Is Hezbollah Losing Influence in Lebanon? Kim Ghattas on Lebanese Divisions & Unity | GZERO World

Is Hezbollah losing influence in Lebanon? Kim Ghattas on Lebanese divisions & unity

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. In this video, watch Ian Bremmer's conversation with Lebanese journalist and author Kim Ghattas on GZW talking about the future of Lebanese politics and sectarianism in the county after the after the blast. It was originally published on August 19, 2020.

In Lebanon, "a majority (are) united in wanting a different future, a future that is non-sectarian, that is non-corrupt, that provides prosperity, justice, dignity for people," journalist Kim Ghattas told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

In this interview, Ghattas discusses the opportunity that could arise from the tragedy of the Beirut explosion which killed 200 and injured thousands more. The Lebanese are "fed up" with the militant group Hezbollah, she tells Bremmer, and want to strive for a government that better resembles the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of its citizens.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Lebanon Post-Blast: Rage in the Streets of Beirut.

What's next for Lebanon?

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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What We're Watching: Sectarian clashes in Lebanon, Japan gets ready to vote

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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