There’s really only one appropriate soundtrack for this development (Hint: not “Love Train”). An update on this story. “Hezbollah moves toward Lebanon government control,” by Zeina Karam for the Associated Press, January 24:
BEIRUT – Iranian-backed Hezbollah moved Monday into position to control the next Lebanese government when the Shiite militant group secured enough support in parliament to nominate the candidate for prime minister.
Protests by Hezbollah’s Sunni rivals erupted quickly and they declared a “day of rage” Tuesday against “Persian tutelage” over Lebanon — a reference to Hezbollah’s patrons in Iran. Monday’s protests were widespread, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or serious violence.
Nearly two weeks after Hezbollah brought down the unity-government led by Western-backed Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri, it lined up the needed backing of at least 65 of 128 parliament members to nominate billionaire Sunni businessman Najib Mikati to form the next government. Voting in parliament on the new candidate began Monday and was to conclude on Tuesday.
Hezbollah’s opponents say a government led by the militant group would be disastrous for Lebanon and lead to international isolation. The United States, which considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, has tried to move Lebanon firmly into a Western sphere.
A Hezbollah-led government would also raise tensions with Lebanon’s southern neighbor Israel, which fought a devastating 34-day war against Hezbollah in 2006 that left 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis dead.
By securing an ally at the helm of the government, Hezbollah has capped its steady rise from a resistance force against Israel in the early 1980s to Lebanon’s most powerful military and political force today. After the war with Israel, Hezbollah briefly took control of the streets of Beirut in 2008 sectarian clashes that killed 81 people and angered many who accused the group of breaking its promise never to use its arsenal against the Lebanese.
In 2009, the group joined the government with virtual veto power over all its decisions. Hezbollah brought that government down on Jan. 12 after Prime Minister Hariri refused the group’s demand to cease cooperation with a U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The tribunal is widely expected to indict Hezbollah members in the assassination, something that has raised fears of renewed violence in this tiny, volatile Mideast country.
The indictment could also implicate the highest levels of Iranian leadership, including the Ayatollah Khamenei.
Hezbollah chose a candidate for prime minister seen by many Lebanese as a neutral figure more focused on development and business rather than politics — as opposed to a staunchly pro-Syrian candidate, such as Omar Karami — even though the group has secured enough power to govern on its own.
Several hundred Hariri supporters protested Monday in the northern city of Tripoli, a predominantly Sunni area and a hotbed of fundamentalists. They chanted slogans against Mikati, a lawmaker from Tripoli.
The protesters waved pictures of Hariri and shouted: “Mikati you are not one of us, leave Tripoli and go away.” Some banners read: “The blood of Sunnis is boiling.”
In Tripoli, Hariri’s Future bloc declared a day of peaceful protests Tuesday — but called it a “day of rage” and played on the sectarian dimension of the conflict.