By Justin McCauley
December 6, 2016
Since the election of Michel Aoun to be president of Lebanon on November 1, a two-year political stalemate in Beirut has concluded. His election marks the culmination of a strategic effort that began over ten years ago, when out of the rubble of the Syrian withdrawal emerged a pragmatic alliance between Aoun’s nascent Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah. The marriage between the Maronite Aounists and Shi’ite Hezbollah was a shrewd move of political convenience, calculated to circumvent the rise of the Western- and Saudi-backed Saad Hariri and his 14 March Alliance.
But it was also a part of grand Iranian strategy. Aoun’s rise to the presidency is the latest in a series of master chess moves calculated to solidify Hezbollah’s control over Lebanon, and, more broadly, to strengthen Shi’ite Islamist power.
While Hezbollah – the Middle East’s most powerful popular Shi’ite movement – secures hard-won political power through the gaming of the Lebanese political system, its nearest Sunni counterpart, Daesh (“Islamic State”), is on the cusp of defeat at the hands of Iraqi and Kurdish forces, following several years of incompetent and barbarous millenarian governance in the areas under its control. All the while, policies from Sunni powers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Turkey have fanned the flames of nihilistic takfirism and inter-Sunni ethnic warfare.
It is legitimate to ask how the militant variants of Sunni and Shi’ite Islam have become so divergent.
*Justin McCauley is a UAE-based analyst at Gulf State Analytics.