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How Iran's election – and three others – have reshaped Mideast

Briefing: With newly installed or reinstalled leaders in Iran, Lebanon,
Israel, and the US, the balance of power has shifted between a US-allied bloc and the 'axis of resistance.'

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 9, 2009

Why are these elections important?

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Iran: On June 12, incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated his main challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, by an official margin of 2 to 1 – a vote that has been bitterly, and sometimes violently, contested on Iran's streets. The turmoil has underscored deep rifts in Iranian society, raising questions about the Islamic republic's long-term viability.

Israel: In January elections, Ben­ja­min Netanyahu came to power as prime minister of a center-right coalition government. Arabs were less than pleased, believing Mr. Netanyahu's hard-line approach would slow progress toward peace with the Palestinians and Syria.

Lebanon: On June 7, the US-backed March 14 coalition narrowly beat the opposition, which is led by the militant group Hezbollah. That means March 14 will retain the upper hand in parliament – essentially preserving the status quo.

US: The 2008 election was widely anticipated in the Middle East, with many hoping for a new US approach that would restart the Arab-Israeli peace process, stabilize Iraq, and explore engagement with Iran.

How do they change the region?

The most significant change could come from Iran, which is a strong supporter of Hezbollah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas – both of which Israel sees as threats. Mr. Ahmadinejad has famously said the Jewish state would be "wiped off the map" – part of a hard-line foreign policy that has raised suspicions about the goal of Iran's nuclear program.

"The election in Iran is the most important," says Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Center of Lebanon at the American University of Beirut, "not because of the result, but because of the manipulation. Elections in the Middle East, other than in Israel, are not usually the mechanisms that make policy. They are interesting for reflecting the political culture in which they occur."

The results of the four elections shore up some US goals in the region, while complicating other initiatives.