Tyre – Zahrani* , a tough battle to break a monopoly!

The deep South, the stronghold of Speaker Nabih Berri and his party Amal. Despite Hezbollah pressure and influence, Speaker Berri has been able to cement his control over this area, while keeping it relatively liberal. Indeed, you can still have a drink on the seaside, while enjoying a swim in Tyre, as opposed to the rest of the south, which have fallen under Hezbollah more strict and conservative hegemony.

Historically, the region has been under the influence of a few feudal families like the As’ad and the Ousseiran, with a significant communist and leftist presence. With the advent of Moussa Sader and the civil war in 1975, these families lost their predominance to the new kids on the block: Hezbollah and Amal. It was in the late 80 and early 90’s that Hezbollah’s predominance grew, as they got rid of most of the communist and leftist opposition.

In 2009, Speaker Berri list won handily with an average of 90% of the votes cast. However, only 51% (125,000 out of 245,500)** of the registered voters participated, due mostly to the nature of the majoritarian law and the lack of viable opposition (14 March candidates did not run in that district).

It is not longer 2009, the law is proportional, and despite having the smallest number of running candidates in all districts (13 candidates in a district with 7 seats) and the smallest number of lists (just two). Speaker Berri and Hezbollah are faced with a well-rounded list, formed by Riad Assaad, a scion of the old family, and an young engineer with a good political and social presence in the area. He is allied with a few independents from different backgrounds (leftist, and some old communists), in addition to a christian from President Aoun’s FPM.

However, with a high threshold, estimated at 21 or 22,000, and a small and fractured Sunni and Christian minority (they both form less than 20% of registered and even less than that of participating voters) the opposing list is facing with an uphill fight. The battle will be fought around Riad Assaad list ability to break through the threshold to just win a seat. Meanwhile, speaker Berri’s strategy revolves on shoring up the Shia participation and vote, to consolidate his grip over Tyre, and ensure that the christian minority in Zahrani stays loyal to him, without drifting to any christian political party (Aoun’s FPM).

With an increased heated rhetoric and attacks against the opposing list, it seems al As’ad list is gaining momentum, and it might win that symbolic seat. Such a win would show that Hezbollah and Amal’s twin monopoly on Shia districts representation is degrading, and an alternative -albeit small- independent Shia movement is growing and taking shape.

*the disrict is officially called Tyre – saida villages, which includes Zahrani and is very confusing

** number are rounded for ease of reading

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