The group ‘is not the monster it is made out to be in Israel and the West'
By PATRICK MARTIN
A respected former Lebanese prime minister says the West has nothing to fear should the Hezbollah-led opposition win Sunday's national election.
For one thing, says Salim el-Hoss, prime minister from 1976 to 1980, from 1987 to 1990 and from 1998 to 2000, the Change and Reform bloc that includes Hezbollah will almost certainly have no more than a narrow majority with which to wield power. Because of Lebanon's consociational democratic system (which divides power among the country's religious communities in a way that keeps any one from gaining too much power), other factions would have more than the one-third of the 128 seats in the legislature required to veto legislation.
More importantly, says Mr. el-Hoss, a Sunni Muslim, “Hezbollah is not the monster it is made out to be in Israel and the West.”
“Nasrallah has made it clear that he does not wish for Hezbollah to take power,” Mr. el-Hoss added, pointing out that the Hezbollah leader has been content to let the party's Shia ally, Amal, hold the influential parliamentary Speaker's position and a greater number of cabinet posts than Hezbollah could have claimed.
“He has also put Michel Aoun forward as the leader of the opposition bloc.”
General Aoun, a former chief of Lebanon's military, entered into an agreement with Hezbollah in 2006 calling for his largely Christian Free Patriotic Movement to work with the Shia party. It was the first time such a move has been made across sectarian lines in Lebanon.
Gen. Aoun has also made unprecedented overtures to Syria, which not that long ago wanted him dead.
In 1989 he fought Syrian forces after attempting to take over Lebanon's Syrian-backed government. Gen. Aoun would ultimately lose that battle, but only after several months and more than 1,000 deaths. He took refuge in the French embassy, which negotiated a deal allowing him to go into exile in France; he returned to Lebanon only after Syrian forces had left 15 years later.
It is noteworthy that Mr. el-Hoss should sing Gen. Aoun's praises, given that he was the prime minister that the general attempted to overthrow.
“That's past,” said Mr. el-Hoss, now 80 and in poor health. “I've come to believe that reaching across sectarian lines is exactly what this country needs, and this man can pull it off.”
He points to the south of the country where Christian communities are interspersed among Shia towns and villages. “These days, there are no clashes between those communities,” Mr. el-Hoss said. “They used to happen on a daily basis.” He credits the alliance between Gen. Aoun and Hezbollah with achieving this calm.
Sheik Nasrallah, he says, stood up to an Israeli invasion in 2006 and was still standing after Israel retreated. “It's appropriate,” Mr. el-Hoss said, “that Hezbollah should have a role in determining the next government.”
Is he not concerned that Hezbollah would want to create an Islamic state?
“Nonsense,” the former prime minister said. “No one can make anything of the kind out of Lebanon. It's too hard to get people to agree.”
“Look,” he concluded, “Sunnis are the people most sensitive to any threats from Shiites. I'm Sunni, and I can assure you, there's nothing to worry about.”