On June 7, voters in tiny Lebanon will go to the polls. On the surface, the result of the parliamentary elections might seem to make almost no difference at all. But in the peculiar Middle East laboratory that is Lebanon, the outcome of the vote will represent a barometric reading for the entire region. In the end, it may ultimately have serious repercussions that reach beyond the byzantine mechanics of Lebanese politics.
Some might consider the elections inconsequential, because the two main factions of Lebanese politics have essentially agreed to grant each other veto power over major decisions. The outcome of the upcoming voting will not change that. The agreement -- reached in Doha, Qatar last year -- brought Beirut out of political paralysis, as the bitter rivals grudgingly agreed to form a "unity government." This unity, between "partners" that despise one another, is technically set to continue even after voters choose a new parliament.
The June 7 contest is being fought between the two "March" movements. The anti-Syrian March 14 alliance currently holds a small parliamentary majority and enjoys support from the United States, France, Saudi Arabia and other pro-Western governments. Its ruling coalition is headed by Sunni Muslims of the Future movement, aligned behind Saad Hariri, the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Mass demonstrations by March 14 supporters helped push Syrian forces out of Lebanon in the wake of the 2005 Hariri murder, for which Damascus-controlled operatives headed the list of suspects.