Despite all their apparent shortcomings, Lebanon's political leaders know how to do one thing really well: Wait calmly as events unfold regionally. As long as no obvious winners or losers emerge in neighboring Syria, or the more distant Iran, Lebanon's leaders will keep their disagreements contained and will try to maintain the status quo, albeit amid the usual and endless bickering and attempts to undermine each other.
The country's political junkies have even coined a term for this state of affairs. When leaders are in their wait-and-see mode, they are usually said to be "lowering the tempo of the game." And lowering tempo they are.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt is hedging his bets. His cool political demeanor has defined most of Lebanese political life since the May 2008 Doha Conference. Today, Jumblatt fears that going back to the high-pitch politics of the days of the Independence Intifada might provoke what he calls the "Shiite sea" around him and result in a Hezbollah incursion into his turf in the Shouf and in Aley in southern Mount Lebanon.
Yet at the same time, Jumblatt makes sure to keep good relations with the Sunni majority in Saudi Arabia and in Lebanon, where he needs to ally with the Sunni-dominant March 14 bloc in parliament to make sure that an electoral law to his liking is approved. He also needs the Sunni voting bloc in the Shouf to secure his usual sweeping victory in his own district.
Between fearing thuggish Shiite behavior and Sunni demographic superiority, Jumblatt has patiently walked a fine line. (Indeed, if we had not watched Jumblatt in the past, we would have been surprised by his reconciliation with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.) His cool approach has contributed to significantly lowering tempers across Lebanon, and this balancing act will further influence Lebanon in the coming months.
If we weren't here in 2005 and 2009, we would have also been surprised by the political positioning of Speaker Nabih Berri, who is projecting the image of a moderate Shiite at odds with Damascus and Hezbollah, and whose life is presumably in danger because of his gradual overtures to March 14.
Watch Jumblatt and Berri veer closer to their electoral bases as the 2013 elections approach. Jumblatt will sound more March 14, Berri more March 8. Then on the morning after the elections, watch Jumblatt use his bloc to secure Berri the majority of votes he needs for a sixth term as speaker, much to the objection of most of Jumblatt's March 14 friends.
Why does Jumblatt insist on the reelection of Berri? The answer might be that he thinks Berri can use his influence with Hezbollah to keep them away from the Shouf and Aley as a way of returning the favor.
The same arrangement will apply to the premiership. Unless Najib Miqati, the incumbent, fails to stuff enough ballot boxes to guarantee his reelection in Tripoli, Jumblatt and Berri will probably reconstitute the majority needed for the renewal of Miqati's term.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah will be content to extend the status quo. Forget the shenanigans of the Moqdad clan and the abortive Assad-Samaha attempts at spreading terror in the north. Reading between the lines of the statements of its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in his interview with Al-Mayadeen TV, the group seems to be coming to terms with the idea that Bashar al-Assad will not be around for much longer, and that the party had better hunker down for now.
As for March 14—composed of Hariri's Future Movement, Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces and their junior Christian partners—extension of the status quo might be to their detriment because it leaves them out of power for a longer period.
But March 14 only has itself to blame. Over the past few years it has made itself irrelevant, waiting on the sidelines for too long, rarely being proactive, and always expecting that world or regional events might improve their lots.
March 14 has yet to realize that there is nothing more to Lebanese politics. It is what it is. No saviors will come from outside, and the only way for their return to center stage would be through reinventing themselves along the lines of the Arab Spring, as they accidently did once on March 14, 2005.
But without any new ideas from March 14—and given Jumblatt's persistent fear of Shiite power, coupled with Hezbollah's apprehension of the coming change in Syria that might produce an unfriendly Sunni-dominated government—things will remain the same until further notice.
In short, the parties that have the power to make things happen are apprehensive of the inevitable change in Syria and are therefore lying low, while the parties that are cheering for Syrian change have no influence over things in either Lebanon or Syria.
The world should not be expecting news from Lebanon in the near future, but, as the saying goes, no news is good news.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai