Beirut -

Perhaps the completion of the parliamentary elections on their scheduled date on May 15, 2022, as an Arab and Western demand, came in the opinion of many, after major tensions and developments in Lebanon's relations with external powers in a country described as an arena that reduces the region's regional and international conflicts.

On the one hand, the rift in its relationship with Gulf states has reached an unprecedented level and has been linked to the extended influence of Iran through Hezbollah.

On the other hand, the French initiative, after the explosion of the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020, witnessed setbacks and stumbling blocks, as Washington escalated its position, and the previous administration imposed sanctions, most notably on former minister Gebran Bassil, an ally of Hezbollah, other former ministers, personalities and entities supported by Hezbollah.

Also months ago, Beirut's relationship with Damascus was relatively restored for the first time after the war in Syria in 2011, embodied by the signing of unfulfilled agreements for Lebanon to draw Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity through Syrian territory.

Al Jazeera Net poses 5 questions to read the elections' repercussions and their possible results on Lebanon's regional and western relations, with researchers and professors of political science and international relations Imad Salama and Ali Fadlallah, political writer Khaldoun Sharif, and journalist and political writer Hussein Ayoub.

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah during a visit to Lebanon to build confidence after the crisis of Qardahi's statements (Reuters)

How can the election results affect Lebanon's relations with the Gulf?

Al-Sharif believes that the recent return of the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to Beirut, after closing the door for nomination and registration of lists, means that it is not directly related to the elections file, because the Gulf parties do not currently put Lebanon on the list of their priorities as a result of regional pressures.

In his opinion, Yemen's file is ahead of Lebanon's, as well as Iraq.

Not to mention the Ukrainian war, which consumed a large part of the oil and gas file.

The writer said that "any intervention now, will not change the outcome, which has become almost inevitable in the composition of the electoral lists."

Salameh considers that the priority of the Gulf is to maintain Lebanon's stability due to its privacy and strategic location, and to "restore relations whose influence has undermined Iran's dynamism."

He believes that the 2018 elections constituted a turmoil in the Lebanese-Gulf relations, due to the fact that Hezbollah and its allies swept the elections, which was preceded by the presidential settlement that led to the election of Michel Aoun as President of the Republic in 2016.

For his part, Fadlallah finds that Saudi Arabia's position is pivotal in Lebanon, and it witnessed changes after the Taif Agreement (1990) and finally established a major rivalry against Hezbollah and its allies.

Among the problems raised in his opinion, especially after the return of the Saudi ambassador, is whether the election results will improve Lebanon's relations with the Gulf or make them more turbulent, in light of the high chances of Hezbollah and its allies in obtaining a parliamentary majority.

Ayoub talks about data about Saudi Arabia's return to Lebanon before the elections, as "it came with French coordination, because Lebanon is currently part of a Saudi-French file translated by a previous joint statement by them during French President Emmanuel Macron's visit to Riyadh."

This coordination was recently demonstrated by the announcement by the Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Al-Bukhari, of the signing of the agreement of the Saudi-French Fund to support the Lebanese people, which includes 35 projects in Lebanon related to the sectors of health, education and energy.

The April 15 elections are absent from Rafik Hariri and prominent Sunni leaders (Al-Jazeera)

How do the election results affect Lebanon's relationship with Europe, specifically France, whose initiative faltered?

President Emmanuel Macron's victory in the French presidential elections was a relief to most of the allied and antagonistic political forces, as he opened channels of communication with everyone, including Hezbollah.

Communicating with an influential European pole is a priority for the Lebanese forces, regardless of its results, and they are looking forward to restoring the momentum for this role, after Macron's initiative faltered.

Salameh considers that Europe's priority is for the elections to ensure Lebanon's stability, because "its concern about the displacement file is growing, and it fears that Europe will witness waves of Syrian displacement," as Europe, and specifically France, wants, in his opinion, to nurture the role and Christian presence in Lebanon.

Fadlallah reminds that Europe is not a single bloc in foreign policies, and that the French are trying to invest in Lebanon and take advantage of the margin given to them by Washington.

He said that France collided with itself in Lebanon despite its golden opportunity and its openness to all parties, including Hezbollah, due to its "failure in many arenas, based on wrong assessments and reports."

Here, Sharif believes that France has realized from its experience that Lebanon's affairs are very complex, and that civil society has not been able to prove itself, and has plunged into conflicts similar to those of political forces, with the difference that the latter has a more polarizing ability.

Ayoub says that France has become an incubator for all the contradictions of the Lebanese political class.

And because America does not have a strategy in Lebanon, in his opinion, the file will continue to be delegated to the French, and Macron, in his second and last term, will have Lebanese initiatives, perhaps the most prominent of which is the call for a national conference similar to the Taif Agreement or Doha (in 2008).


How are the parliamentary elections reflected on Lebanon's relationship with Washington?

Salameh believes that America's interests are well known in Lebanon, and what concerns it is that it not be disturbed by security at the border with Israel.

As for Hezbollah winning the parliamentary majority, this “means once again that America is reaping the fruits of its foreign policy mistakes, because its successive administrations are constantly swinging in their positions on the Syrian regime or Iran, which has led to the fragmentation of its March 14 allies, in return for Hezbollah’s progress.”

Ayoub considers that most of the outside world, including America, wants to hold Lebanon's elections in isolation from their results.

So, "If Hezbollah and its team lose, as happened in 2009, can the profit and defeat be constitutionally monetised, and if Hezbollah and its team win, how can this be monetized in Lebanon's equations?"

The writer said, "America with its foreign policies is currently captive to the discourse of Democrats who say the same thing and become captives of their slogans."

However, Fadlallah finds that the US involvement in Lebanon was enormous and public, and Washington "sought to invest in the popular movement."

However, in the past months, Washington has observed a relative retreat from Lebanon, and the researcher links it to estimates that the elections will bring a majority for Hezbollah.

However, this academic believes that Washington is very strong in Lebanon, and the results of the elections do not limit its role, and "it has many papers, such as economic and financial pressure, and some projects are stuck with it, such as Egyptian gas."

Al-Sharif believes that America's interest in Lebanon is aimed at stabilizing the borders with Israel, the maritime demarcation file, and supporting the Lebanese army.

As for America's relationship with Hezbollah, it "moves on the sands of its negotiations with Iran."

The writer said that attempts to reduce Hezbollah's influence failed, with Hariri's withdrawal, because Western powers lost the Sunni lever that could balance Shiite influence.

Legislative elections in Lebanon in numbers (Al-Jazeera)

How does Iran approach the parliamentary elections in Lebanon?

Al-Sharif and Salameh points out that the elections are an important station for Iran to establish its presence in Lebanon, as it renews the legitimacy of the influence of its ally, Hezbollah.

But Fadlallah says that Tehran is interfering in the strategic sense only, given its conflict in a number of arenas in the region.

"Iran does not need to interfere in the elections because its results will automatically establish that more than half of the Lebanese people are friends with it," he said.

Here, Ayoub comments that "most of the Lebanese live outside delusions that do not sleep or wake up unless they are obsessed with them."

He believes that Lebanon is no longer a priority.

It is noteworthy that in the 2005, 2009 and 2018 elections, the slogans of the International Tribunal and hostility to Syria and Hezbollah were a mainstay of the March 14 team.

As for today, only the hostility to Hezbollah remains from it.

On the other hand, the other party, Hezbollah and its allies, was raising slogans against Hariri, America and Saudi Arabia, while "Hariri became more acceptable on March 8, and Syria did not return the issue on March 14 and replaced it with a national council to resist the Iranian occupation."

Ayoub said, "Iran will not change its absolute mandate to Hezbollah. What it pleases, it pleases for itself."


How does the Syrian regime deal with the parliamentary elections?

Salameh believes that the elections, after the developments that cemented Lebanon's need for Syria with gas and electricity projects, will pave the way for a gradual return to Lebanese political life, through Syria's allies such as the Baath Party, the National Party, the Marada Movement and the Sunni figures supporting it.

He said that the regime "relies that the elections will give it a role it lost, and that it will gain Gulf, American and European support at the expense of Iran."

In turn, Fadlallah believes that the Syrian government is preoccupied with its own affairs, and its influence does not amount to a case of interference - as before - in Lebanon, considering that the projects that Lebanon expects to pass through Syria are linked to America's position on the regime, more than the latter's position on Lebanon.

Sharif says that Syria is experiencing greater crises than Lebanon.

Despite its efforts to restore its Arab role, "it is difficult to interfere in the elections and have a role, except with some small allied groups, where the Alawite voice will have a presence."

As for Ayoub, he considers that Syria is returning to Lebanon through the elections, not with seats, but with the disappearance of the rhetoric of incitement against it from the farthest corner of Akkar to the farthest corner.

"The 2018 elections took place on the impact of a presidential settlement that lasted for 3 years, and succeeded in isolating Lebanon as much as possible from the calculations and complications of the outside. Today, Lebanon cannot be isolated from what is happening around it," he said.

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