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Lebanese head to the polls

Heads, Hezbollah wins. Tails, the other guys lose.

March 14 television ads show gunmen storming well-appointed flats during dinner, and fireballs hurtling into placid homes. The warning: Hezbollah’s allies will ruin your lives and bring on everlasting war.

Throngs of Christian voters pump their fists at the rallies, swearing to stand against an Islamic onslaught. When asked what they think will happen, though, grim reason prevails. “I’m afraid we will lose these elections, and even more of us Christians will leave Lebanon,” said Salim Halabi, 44, hoisting his daughter on his shoulders to watch Tueni speak.

Across town at a Hezbollah event, slightly calmer tempers prevail. The Party of God already acts like the sheriff in town, in part because it managed to bring the current ruling majority to its knees after a nearly two-year showdown, forcing its choice of president and winning veto power over all decisions in a 2008 cabinet reshuffle after Hezbollah-backed gunmen briefly took over West Beirut (Shi’ite gunmen carefully avoided Christian neighborhoods).

A few days before the election, Hezbollah is co-hosting a celebration with the Iranian embassy of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic revolutionary who overthrew the Shah and helped found Hezbollah. But the Shi’ite Islamists have taken care to invite onto a stage a Maronite Christian bishop and a Sunni imam, and to pay respects to the Lebanese president and prime minister, neither of whom is in Hezbollah’s camp.

Unapologetically, Hezbollah embraced its ties to Iran. “Hezbollah has taken everything it has from Iran, while Iran never asked for anything in return,” declared Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s number two. “Lebanon is defended only by the canon and the rockets and mighty hearts.”

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has already suggested that if the United States cuts off military aid to Lebanon, in the event of a Hezbollah election victory, Tehran would happily step in.