In the first election since the outbreak of the severe economic crisis in 2019, the powerful Hezbollah militia suffered a serious setback and in all likelihood lost the majority in parliament. Troubled times are now ahead for Lebanon. However, the outcome of the elections also offers opportunities.

To understand how this development came about, you have to go back to October 2019, when hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets. At the time, the protests were directed against Lebanon’s ruling elite, the economic crisis and rampant corruption. For years, the country’s economic model was artificially kept alive by a Ponzi scheme orchestrated by the political leadership. For years, the central bank procured foreign exchange on credit to keep the currency stable. Investors received absurdly high interest rates on their savings. But when the money didn’t come from abroad, the system collapsed.

Since then, the country’s economic collapse has been accelerating. The domestic currency has depreciated by around 90% against the US dollar in the last two and a half years, and a simple soldier now only earns 60 US dollars a month. In addition, as a result of the crisis, a large part of the private bank deposits of the Lebanese population have been frozen.

The savings and thus the financial basis for daily survival were lost. According to the United Nations, almost three quarters of the population live in poverty. The country’s energy supply, which is dependent on heavy and heating oil, has also been affected by the shortage of government US dollars. The majority of Lebanese households live up to 22 hours a day without a state power supply. And if that wasn’t enough, the largest non-nuclear explosion in history devastated large parts of the capital on August 4th, 2020.

Kristof Kleemann has headed the office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Beirut since March 2020.

So it is hardly surprising that the Lebanese people’s confidence in the political system has been severely damaged. The desire for political change was great, and in the course of the protests many new opposition parties emerged that wanted to send the established parties into the desert. But the hurdles to change in the multi-denominational Mediterranean state are high. This is due to the Lebanese electoral system, which favors the established parties due to high hurdles. In addition, the opposition parties did not succeed in drawing up joint lists for the elections.

But another factor weighs more heavily. The country has been held hostage for years by the Iran-financed terrorist militia Hezbollah. The so-called “Party of God” set up a state within a state with its own hospitals, schools and universities. In addition, they have their own combat troops and weapon systems, which are far superior to the Lebanese military. Funded through illegal deals and generous grants from Iran. Tehran has been trying to increase its influence in the region for years, be it in Syria, Iraq or Lebanon.

Outposts are intended to create a constant threat to Israel. This has worked particularly well in Lebanon for years. Since the 2006 war with Israel, the party has managed to infiltrate the state thanks to its alliance with President Aoun’s Christian party and its ability to enlist the Sunnis under former Prime Minister Hariri. This enabled Hezbollah to gain a foothold in state structures and thus implement its agenda in the country.

The result of the election, which seems to have broken the dominance of Hezbollah and its allies, is all the more surprising. The losses are less to be found among the terrorist militia itself than among their Christian and pro-Syrian allies. But at the moment it looks as if the Hezbollah alliance will lose its majority in the new parliament. The old Christian militia of the “Lebanese Forces” in particular benefited from this, as did independent candidates who have positioned themselves clearly against Hezbollah. The most symbolic of these is the electoral victory of candidates Élias Jaradé and Firas Hamdan in southern Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold, where since 1992 all seats have gone to the militia and their allies. However, the new protest parties have also achieved good results in other electoral districts, winning a total of 13 mandates. Given the difficult starting position, this is a real respectable success that the independents could build on in the years to come.

In the new Lebanese parliament there will probably be a stronger escalation between the camps. On one side is Hezbollah with its allies, on the other the Lebanese Forces and their allies. This split may not be helpful for a unified position on how to deal with the economic crisis in the country and the necessary aid package from the International Monetary Fund.

At the same time, however, it also opens up new opportunities, because in future Hezbollah will find it more difficult to maintain the system with which it has been infiltrating the state for years. This will also make it more difficult for Iran to assert its interests without resistance in the country. And finally, the Gulf States – above all Saudi Arabia – could become more actively involved in Lebanon again and thus avert the country’s economic collapse.

Above all, many young Lebanese have changed their minds about the election. For example, many of them were politically active for the first time and voted for parties beyond their religious affiliation. For the small country, whose problems are not least due to the deep division between Christians, Muslims and Druze, this is at least a glimmer of hope.