Amid the uprisings in the Arab world and the struggle that is going on, the formation of a new Lebanese government headed by Najib Mikati on June 13 following intense political infighting during the past five months was indeed good news. The victories of the people in Tunisia and Egypt in overthrowing autocratic regimes, while inspiring for other Arab masses, are yet faced with many challenges in the quest to establish functioning democratic political systems. However, Lebanon's experiences are definitely unique in form and process.  It has left behind a legacy of political strife and violence that persisted for more than three decades. Luckily, it is now showing signs of political maturity, moving toward a democratic system with its multi ethnic /religious society. 

Lebanon is a small nation with a fragmented socio-political structure and geographic and religious divides; consisting of 17 different ethnic groups and 21 different religious sects. This has made political consensus a very challenging task. In the past decades, internal political hostility has led to civil wars. The major civil war from 1975 to 1990 caused nearly 250,000 civilian fatalities. Added to that problem is foreign competition and intervention in the affairs of Lebanon that have negatively impacted peace and stability in the country. The main foreign stakeholders in Lebanon have been France, the former colonial power, the United States, the superpower whose main regional goal is to protect Israel's interests and security; and Syria, a neighbor of Lebanon that is sadly engulfed in turmoil these days.

The most blatant foreign intervention in Lebanon came in 1982 when Israel, with the green light from France and United States, invaded and occupied southern Lebanon. Israel's occupation of Lebanon in June 1982 prompted a reaction from Hezbollah, which was a breakaway faction from a Shiite resistance organization called "Amal" which came into existence in 1980 to expel foreign forces. Hezbollah succeeded in ousting Israel after 18 years, in 2000. Since then, it has become the most powerful and organized resistance force in Lebanon and the Middle East.

The 9/11 incidents changed the regional setting in the Middle East. Israel was quick to take advantage of the situation by imitating the US "War on Terror" and targeting Palestinians and Hezbollah.  In 2006, after the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, Israel found the opportune moment to once again invade Lebanon. Israel, confident that it could finish off Hezbollah once and for all, did not demand the release of its prisoners through diplomatic channels as it did in previous such cases. Later, it became evident that Israel's invasion was premeditated and enjoyed US backing.  The renowned American journalist, Seymour Hersh, revealed that the war was planned far before the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers, and in fact, the US leadership was convinced that a successful Israeli attack against Hezbollah would ease Israeli concerns and could serve as a prelude to a potential US preemptive attack against Iran. John Bolton, Washington's then envoy to the UN, made the US administration's position crystal clear when he stated that his country was using Israel's bombardment of Lebanon to pressure both Syria and Iran. Shimon Peres of Israel stated that “It would be catastrophic for the region if Iran succeeds in using Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah to expand its influence and establish Shiite hegemony."

Under those conditions, Israel, with US support, employed massive air power and destroyed civil infrastructure in Lebanon in an attempt to alienate Hezbollah from the country's population. Israeli attacks on Lebanon continued for about 34 days and several attempts to halt the war at the United Nations were blocked, mainly by the US, in order to give Israel the upper hand. Then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice justified the policy of giving Israel free hands to kill hundreds of Lebanese civilians by saying that, "I have no interest in diplomacy for the sake of returning Lebanon and Israel to the status quo ante. I think that would be a mistake." The statement was made while there was wide public dismay over Israel's bombardment of Lebanon in the Arab world, including in Egypt where the regime of Hosni Mubarak was callously supporting Israel against Hezbollah.

However, as the war progressed and Israel proved unable to sustain it and achieve a victory, the US initiated a serious effort to stop the fighting. Finally, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1701 on August 11, 2006. The war came to an end on August 14 with the dispatch of multilateral forces to monitor the ceasefire. One fall-out of Israel's attacks on Lebanon was a striking increase in the popularity of Hezbollah in the region and beyond. There were demonstrations throughout the Arab world in support of Hezbollah, including in regional countries where pro-American regime were in power, such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. 

Hezbollah became the most popular, effective and powerful force in the region, which was appreciated everywhere. Even then Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni confessed in a cabinet meeting that no army in the world would have succeeded in disarming Hezbollah by military means alone. Seyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's secretary general, immediately became a hero among people in Arab and Islamic countries. In regional politics, Hezbollah has long had power on the ground. In December 2008, Seyed Nasrallah galvanized a huge audience with his call for Egyptians to rise up in protest over Cairo's refusal to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Hezbollah's victory against the Israeli aggression against Lebanon in 2006 marked the first-ever defeat of Israel at the hands of an Arab country. That victory had a major psychological impact in the Arab world, which had until then been compelled to believe that Israel was invincible.

Meanwhile, in the internal political scene in Lebanon, opponents of Hezbollah continued their campaign against it. In a series of events that developed into a political crisis, the March 14 coalition of former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri supported the Special Tribunal for Lebanon which was geared toward indicting some members of Hezbollah for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik al-Hariri. Hezbollah denounced the Netherlands-based tribunal as a conspiracy by the US and Israel, and demanded that al-Hariri reject any of its findings even before they came out. Yet, al-Hariri refused to stop his cooperation with the tribunal and its investigations. After two months of unsuccessful diplomatic wrangling by Saudi Arabia, Syria, Qatar and Turkey, the dispute paralyzed the 14-month-old unity government. Hezbollah, which enjoyed the support of the required number of cabinet ministers to pull down the coalition government, decided to quit the government as al-Hariri was at the White House meeting with President Barack Obama. Thus, Hezbollah's gambit against its rival parties, which enjoyed significant support from Saudi Arabia, the US and France, finally led to the ouster of al-Hariri's government. In what seemed to be a formidable maneuver, Hezbollah succeeded in nominating Najib Mikati as the new prime minister. Upon his appointment, Mikati announced that he was forming his government with representatives of all political groups including the March 14 coalition. That seemed to be a shared policy with Hezbollah, since the head of Hezbollah's 12-member bloc in parliament said that "we did not give a list of conditions to Mikati…what we asked for is national partnership and a national salvation government in which everyone cooperates for the interest of the country."

Through the move, Hezbollah demonstrated that its first priority is the interests of the country. Moreover, although its participation in the new cabinet is at a minimal level, the movement now enjoys both strong military and political power in the country. Washington has in the past five years tried to move Lebanon firmly into a Western sphere of influence and put an end to Hezbollah's influence. However, Hezbollah, with its military and political might, has demonstrated to the pro-Western bloc that it is an indispensible force in the region. Commenting on the installation of the new government in Lebanon backed by Hezbollah, the Washington Post wrote that the ascendancy of Hezbollah is a setback for the United States, which has provided Lebanon with $720 million in military aid since 2006 and has tried in vain to move the country firmly into a Western sphere of influence as well as end Iranian and Syrian influence.
Despite some Western powers' dismay about Hezbollah's role in Lebanon, the new elected government demonstrated that Hezbollah had the political will and capacity to form a coalition government consisting of political parties made up of Sunnis, Christians, Shiites and Druze. After this achievement, one can hope that with Hezbollah at the helm, Lebanon can turn into an example of a modern multi-confessional democracy in the Middle East.