Flickers of light from the Mideast

Good news from the Middle East seems a contradiction. That the smiles are being elicited by events in Iran and Lebanon is even more astounding.
Hezbollah in Lebanon has established itself as a powerful anti-Western, pro-Iran force. Following the fighting with Israel in 2006, observers predicted Hezbollah would become the dominant political power in the country.
Sunday’s election overturned that expectation. The U.S.-backed alliance appeared to retain control of the Lebanese Parliament in an election billed as a showdown between Tehran and Washington for influence in the Middle East. The result confounded pollsters who had seen the contest close, but leaning to the coalition led by Hezbollah. The election was all the more significant because 55 percent of the country’s registered voters turned out, a near record — and most voters told observers they cast ballots because they thought the future of their country was at stake and they wanted the United States on their side.
The winning coalition was made up of parties representing Sunni Muslims, Christians and Druze. It will now have the power to create the governmental administration and determine the nation’s course, at least for the time being.
The outcome weakened the position of Hezbollah’s allies and patrons, Iran and Syria. Iran had provided Hezbollah weapons and money during the battle with Israel.
On Friday, Iran will also hold its national elections. Campaigning there has been boisterous and round the clock. A June 8 dispatch read: “The leading candidates are accusing each other of corruption, bribery and torture. The wife of the strongest challenger to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threatened to sue him for defaming her. And every night, parts of the capital become a screaming, honking bacchanal, with thousands of young men dancing and brawling in the streets until dawn.”
More significant: the reform candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, has been drawing tens of thousands to his rallies and in informal polls (the only kind available to the foreign press) is leading Ahmandinejad — who is viciously anti-U.S. — 54 percent to 39 percent.
If the noisy attacks on President Ahmadinejad turn into votes for Moussavi on Friday and he is allowed to take office by the ruling ayatollahs, healing between Iran and the Western powers could begin — a change the Iranian people seem to be asking for.

LET’S NOT get carried away by these good omens. Lebanon is far from becoming a stable, pro-western democracy again. Iran will still be ruled by clerics who, at least for the present, remain determined to turn their country into a nuclear power. But if Ahmadinejad and his radical rhetoric leave the scene the chances for Iran to re-establish lines of communication with the U.S. and Western Europe will be better.
Perhaps there is no direct connection, but it is at least possible that President Obama’s let’s-work-together address to the world’s Muslims last week, which followed a world-wide moderation in tone in U.S. relations with other nations, changed some votes in Lebanon Sunday and is making the Iranian president’s rhetoric seem even more beyond the realm of reason to young Iranians hungry for peace and prosperity.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.