Wednesday, June 3, 2009

007. Lebanon: pivotal elections spotlight Christians

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 007 | Wed 03 Jun 2009

LEBANON: PIVOTAL ELECTIONS SPOTLIGHT CHRISTIANS

Lebanon will go to the polls on Sunday 7 June 09 for general elections that have both domestic and regional significance. There are 128 seats in the parliament and whilst Lebanon has a 'unity government', two main political coalitions dominate the electoral scene. The parliamentary majority is presently held by the 'March 14 Alliance' which comprises primarily Saad Hariri's (Sunni) Future Movement, Walid Jumblatt's (majority Druze) Progressive Socialist Party and various Christian groups including the Lebanese Forces and the Phalangists. It holds 70 seats and is backed by the US and the Egypt-Saudi-Jordan nexus. The opposition 'March 8 Alliance' comprises primarily Hassan Nasrallah's (Shi'a) Hezballah, Nabih Berri's (Shi'a) Amal party and the (predominantly Christian) Free Patriotic Movement of General Michel Aoun. It holds 58 seats and is backed by Iran, Syria and their allies.

The election results will reveal the degree to which revolutionary Shi'ite Iran is exerting influence in the region. Whilst it will be a close contest, opinion polls have the Hezballah-led March 8 Alliance in front. In the event of an election victory, Hezballah will doubtless opt for a 'unity government' so it can exercise its mandate to control Lebanon without the full burden of government or risk to Western aid. (This would hopefully prevent a Gaza-style descent into civil war and chaotic destitution.)

The Lebanese Parliament's 128 seats are based on geographic ridings that follow religious representation. Whilst at least 115 Shiite, Sunni, and Druze seats are already a foregone conclusion, Christians are deeply divided and therefore their vote is genuinely contested. Though many analysts believe this situation empowers the Christians, this author believes the Christians have been weakened by their fractures, swallowed up by alliances (despite perks) and endangered. Instead of standing as a united force to be reckoned with, the Christian community is torn between two diametrically opposing hostile forces.

The outcome of the election essentially rests with the Christian swing vote. Whilst such a situation might be empowering in the West, in a volatile, religious fault-line region on the verge of intra-Muslim (Sunni v Shi'ite) and Hezballah v Israel conflict, it is a daunting prospect: Christians will be held responsible for the result. To curtail election-related violence, Lebanese authorities will deploy 50,000 Lebanese soldiers and Interior Security Forces Units ahead of the elections 'especially in the regions populated with a Christian majority' (1). The potential for intra-Christian conflict -- which has a long history in Lebanon -- is very real.

Around 70 percent of Lebanon's Christians support Gen. Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) which signed a controversial Memorandum of Understanding allying itself to Hezballah in February 2006. On Saturday 30 May, the FPM held an election rally in the contested Christian Metn district. About an hour before the rally started, FPM security realised the Shi'ite youths the FPM had bussed up from Beirut's southern suburbs were chanting violent Islamist sectarian slogans. To avoid risking the Christian swing vote, they put the Shi'ite youths back onto the buses and sent them home (2). Some Christians are alarmed by the establishment of Hezballah outposts in the staunchly Christian heartland north of Beirut (3).

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* the eyes of every Lebanese follower of Jesus Christ to be fixed by faith on Christ their Saviour, rock and refuge; may Lebanese Christians put their faith in him -- not any man or party -- during these days of uncertainty and strife.

* God to preserve and build his Church in Lebanon, sanctifying her for her own sake, for Lebanon's sake, and for the glory of God; may faithfulness, humility, spiritual authority and blessed unity in the gospel of Jesus Christ be forged in this furnace of trial.

* Lebanon's descent from Mediterranean beauty to Middle Eastern maelstrom to be the catalyst for a nation-wide awakening.

'Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.' (Habakkuk 1:5 ESV) 'A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth. "O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy." ' (Habakkuk 3:1,2)

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ELECTIONS IN LEBANON SPOTLIGHT CHRISTIANS

Lebanon's pivotal elections on Sunday 7 June will reveal how much influence revolutionary Shi'ite Iran is exerting in the region. Parliamentary seats are based on geographic ridings that follow religious representation. Whilst the Shi'ite, Sunni and Druze seats are a foregone conclusion, the Christians are divided between the Sunni-led, US and Saudi-backed ruling 'March 14 Alliance' and the Shi'ite Hezballah-led, Syria and Iran-backed 'March 8 Alliance'. The majority of Christians support the Free Patriotic Movement which is allied to Hezballah. The elections could trigger violence, including intra-Christian conflict. Lebanese security forces are being deployed, especially to majority Christian areas. Whilst opinion polls have the March 8 Alliance in front, it will be a close contest. Please pray for the Church in Lebanon.

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Footnotes

(1) Sharp schism between Lebanese Christians ahead of parliamentary elections.
1 June 2009
http://www.alsumaria.tv/en/World-News/2-32579-Sharp-schism-between-Lebanese-Christians-ahead-of-parliamentary-elections.html

(2) Balancing act for Lebanon's opposition. By Mitchell Prothero. 31 May 2009.
http://www.thenational.ae/article/20090601/FOREIGN/705319829/1133

(3) Rival Lebanese Christian factions now hold political cards in Levant
By Anthony Elghossain. 11 May 2009.
http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=2&article_id=101802