Walid Jumblatt Sets a New Course

By Qifa Nabki 

Lebanese political veteran and March 14 stalwart Walid Jumblatt gave an interview on July 27 2008 in which he departed strongly from the trenchant anti-Syrian critiques which have defined his rhetoric for over three years. While Jumblatt did not go so far as to say that he was leaving March 14th, he certainly seemed to be pushing the coalition into a different political direction, vis-a-vis its relationship with Syria and Hizbullah.

Many will likely interpret this move as the latest moult in a lifetime of shape-shifting by the canny and outspoken Jumblatt. As even his enemies admit, he is a political survivor, one not above surrendering key pieces of ideology in the service of maintaining his own position and influence. Following the showdown with Hizbullah in May of 2008 — which he lost badly — it took Jumblatt very little time to repent of his political blunders and wash his hands of any further confrontations with the Shiite militia. Now he appears to be setting a new course, perhaps in anticipation of the 2009 parliamentary elections which may require him to build alliances with certain opponents to remain politically viable. 

Here are selections from the interview (read the entire thing at NOW Lebanon):

Beirut is wounded, but it seems that my words fall on deaf ears. When I say Beirut is wounded, I am not requesting an apology from Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, but I am demanding a salutation [from him], since Beirut is neither for March 8, nor for March 14. Even when the Israelis occupied Beirut, they were kicked out. Beirut is political diversity, from Saeeb Salam to others. It is cultural diversity, from An-Nahar to As-Safir and Al-Moharrer. Beirut is the left [wing], which produced ideological innovation. Beirut refused sedition. So I am not demanding an apology but a salutation.
 
A group of Alawis is being recruited to strike Tripoli or to serve other purposes that do not meet with Arab constants, which is wrong. These constants are Arabism and Palestine, and we are responsible for forgetting Palestine and Arabism and for going too far. We forgot [Rafik] Hariri and focused on taking revenge under the slogan of justice, and this sequestered the March 14 group in an isolationist position. That was a fatal mistake. We lost great martyrs such as Hariri, who is an Arab man, and [Samir] Kassir and [George] Hawi, who are both Arab men. We fiercely attacked the Syrian regime and forgot our Arab discourse. When we as Sunnis and Shia and Druze relinquish Palestine, we become rival groups…
 
I do not regret it, but I was blamed for not talking about the Resistance by some allies and the supporters… The Resistance is continuity from Al-Qassem to Nasrallah and Kamal Jumblatt and a group of Mujahidin throughout history. When Sayyed Nasrallah speaks about his belonging to the Guardianship of the Jurist, if he means the jurisprudence aspect, this is his own business, but if he points to the political aspect, then he intersects with the talk of the Iranian vice president, who linked Lebanon's status with the Iranian nuclear file. This would be a predicament for him and for us. It is either a Lebanese resistance that would be integrated into Lebanon's interests, or it is an Iranian resistance, very far from Lebanon.
 
When I talked in Aabey [Samir Kantar's hometown in which he received a welcoming ceremony by the Progressive Socialist Party and Jumblatt], I heard that the Future Movement considered that I was trying to get closer to Hezbollah. But I want to say that I am carrying out self-criticism because the continuous bloody strikes made us relinquish our constants and led us to isolation. Isolation creates fundamentalist cases in the Sunni sect such as Shaker al-Abssi, and this is dangerous to the Shia…

Aabey was an important occasion to remind of the constants. When Sayyed Nasrallah salutes Beirut, he does not actually salute the March 14 group, but the old heritage and diversity instead. I am staying within March 14, but I want to remind them of Arabism and Palestine, which is more sacred than sanctity itself, and Kamal Jumblatt and Georges Hawi and Rafik Hariri were martyred for its sake. We will go to the election and we will see our commonalities with the March 8 group through dialogue. It is a victory to Lebanon when it receives the bodies of 200 Arab martyrs. I was blamed by some international socialist circles for receiving Kantar under the pretext that he is a criminal. I told them that the term "violence" applies to the Israelis in Qana 1 and 2 and Kfar Qassem. During our political clash, each of us had his own terms that rendered a consensus unfeasible, but a divorce is impossible, and we met in Doha…
 
I demand an explanation from Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah about his position toward the Taif Accord. A group of the Shia are Arabs and Lebanese and are repressed, and the circumstances were adequate to allow us to appoint Minister [Ibrahim] Shamseddine. I am not challenging Nabih Berri. We should have adopted the electoral law formulated by the Fouad Boutros Committee in Doha…
 
When I went to the United States, I asked them to issue sanctions against the Syrian regime and to change the regime, but Rice's answer was very diplomatic, as she said the behavior of the regime should be changed and not the regime itself. Thus, I understood that it is to no avail to keep insisting on the same demands. So, Lebanon should maintain a neutral stance. [USS] Cole is a big disaster which did not give Siniora any push.
 
We saw how much we benefited from the American advice and, yesterday, Cole. We begged Rice to translate her words about Shebaa into actions. If we find the adequate political formula that gives each group its rights away from threats, and if we were able to build a strong and capable state, President Sleiman could go to Syria tomorrow morning. There should be a formula that pleases all rivals and takes into account that the state should embrace everyone. The absence of the state allows for further chaos and what happens in Tripoli is an example. We should add the word resistance to the ministerial statement, but in a formula that ensures the role of the state…
 

We can balance between the Resistance and the state, as long as the final decision remains in the hands of the state. The other camp [the opposition] wants to maintain the previous ministerial statements [regarding the Resistance] and add UNSCR 1701 and the seven-point plan. There is a linguistic dispute, which I hope will remain in the framework of language. After the assassination of Gebran Tueni in 2005 and the Jerusalem ceremony [held by Hezbollah], Hezbollah affirmed its solidarity with the Syrian regime, and from that time we engaged in a verbal conflict with Hezbollah.
 
I negotiated with Talal Arslan, but the Shia sect is a partner in the country, and I should communicate with Berri alongside my friendship with him. Together, we both toppled the May 17 agreement, and I am proud of this. I maintained my contact with Berri because he represents a large portion of the Shia, and he is the speaker of the parliament, regardless of what is being said about the immobilization of the parliament. I understand that Berri did not want to ratify the international court so it does not target the Syrian regime, and Berri does not want to be accounted for weakening the Syrian regime. This forced him to shut down the parliament under many pretexts…
 

The purpose of my recent visit to Washington was the international court. France supported the international court despite the delay by the Security Council, but theoretically, the US supported us in the court… I was very critical of Washington's policy in Palestine and not in Iraq. I told Rice during my first meeting with her that they should recognize Hamas…

Comments (18)


1. offended said:

with all due respect QN, who cares? does any body with a grain of integrity trust that balding old senile fox anymore?

seriously, he needs to quit.

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July 29th, 2008, 7:04 pm

 

2. Qifa Nabki said:

Offended habibi,

Your point is, of course, well taken. But the reason I found it newsworthy is that Jumblatt is a bellwether of Lebanese politics. Does he possess any less integrity than 90% of the politicians on the scene? Not really… he’s just quicker at figuring out the angles.

So, if one wants to know which way the political winds are blowing for the time being, one could do worse than watching Jumblatt.

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July 29th, 2008, 7:09 pm

 

3. Observer said:

I read the interview and this is exactly what the Harvard Students who visited Lebanon came out from meeting with him. He is Cameleon Pretzel that is essentially talking non sense. Arabism, Palestine, Shia, Sunni, Druze, Iran, coalition, opposition have all been made into a vegetable lentil soup from the Chouf mountains.

The contortions that he goes through are simply nauseating.

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July 29th, 2008, 7:10 pm

 

4. Averroes said:

QN,

Thank you for the useful piece. Although I agree with Offended and Observer. He is finished as far as Syria is concerned, and I do not see him setting foot in Syria at all. since the rule is hereditary in out part of the world, it will be his son Timour, who will be at the spot light.

Yet, who knows … Aoun once used bullets and threatened to send missiles into Damascus, and soon he will be welcomed there!

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July 29th, 2008, 8:32 pm

 

5. Qifa Nabki said:

Averroes

Exactly.

If Aoun, who once tried to kill Hafiz al-Asad (ask Alex for the details) can find his way back into Syria’s good graces, I’m quite confident that Jumblatt will make himself useful again.

But who cares anyway? I’m less interested in Jumblatt himself than in the course he is trying to chart for the rest of his (current) allies.

As he insinuated quite bluntly: regime change is not the name of the game anymore. Let’s cut our losses and recognize that we achieved enough already (Syria is out of Lebanon and negotiating with Israel today, instead of handpicking our “elected” officials), and get on with the next challenges, whatever they may be.

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July 29th, 2008, 8:42 pm

 

6. Nidal said:

Alex,

Per QN’s reference, could you give us details (with sources if possible) about Aoun trying to fill Hafiz al-Asad? I didn’t know that he expressly tried to kill him.

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July 29th, 2008, 8:47 pm

 

7. Averroes said:

QN,

I certainly would like to see it happen. Hariri and the Saudis have climbed a very high tree. It would be amusing to watch them climb down. I wonder how they’re going to sell it to the angry masses.

Do you remember what the late Flemoun Wahbe used to say?

الجماهير الغفورة
(the forgiving masses)
بدل الجماهير الغفيرة
(instead of the numerous masses; a play on similar sounding words in Arabic)

So, on second thought. I think good marketing can sell anything to anyone.

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July 29th, 2008, 8:47 pm

 

8. Qifa Nabki said:

Averroes

It won’t be too hard. The masses in Lebanon are not angry so much as they are fed up with paralysis and chaos. As long as the Syrian hand is not heavy in Lebanese politics, the ordinary person will be happy enough to see economic growth, prosperity, and the gradual bolstering of the state at the expense of non-state actors and institutions.

Even in the darkest days, I think the average M14er was not advocating regime change as an end in itself so much as a means to a different end: namely, the protection of Lebanon from “regional” policies that were not in its own interests.

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July 29th, 2008, 8:54 pm

 

9. Alex said:

Nidal,

Unfortunately the link seems to have disappeared.

Here is the story (you’ll have to rely on my memory):

In 2003 or 2004 the American army captured Iraqi intelligence offices where they found documents including a letter from Aoun to Saddam (his anti-Assad ally at the time) asking him to buy a couple of missiles that he can manage to place in France near the French Swiss border close enough to hit Assad’s civilian plane.

Now … I am starting to think … could it be possible that the Americans wanted to make it difficult for Aoun to become a Syrian ally at the time they released this story?

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July 30th, 2008, 12:10 am

 

10. Nidal said:

Alex,

I was thinking that he might have threatened to kill him during his “War of Liberation” in 1989-90, not in 2003 or 2004. That’s news to me.

Assuming the story is true, did he write this letter before or after having successfully lobbied Congress to vote the “Syria Accountability and Lebanon Sovereignty Restoration Act” (in december 2003)?

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July 30th, 2008, 1:15 am

 

11. Joe M. said:

Qifa Nabki,

Do you think that it is possible that these types of actions will weaken Jumblatt’s hold on the position of representative of the Druze, and possibly strengthen the position of Talal Arslan? Especially considering that Arslan is now a minister?

Also, more generally, do you know whether Druze in Lebanon are generally sympathetic to Hizbullah? Was Jumblatt’s phase as the attack dog for M14 popular among the Druze?

Or maybe it just doesn’t matter because his position is too solid…

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July 30th, 2008, 3:03 am

 

12. alle said:

Nidal — I assume that’s what he meant. I don’t think Saddam was in a position to send missiles to anyone in 2003/2004. And even if he had been, Hafez al-Assad rarely left Qardaha after 2000…

Alexcould it be possible that the Americans wanted to make it difficult for Aoun to become a Syrian ally at the time they released this story?

In 2003-2004, I can’t imagine they were very worried about that. Or am I missing something?

Qifa Nabki & Joe M. — I’m not sure that Jumblatt is necessarily much better/faster at reading the political winds, I just think he has less room to indulge in ideology than most other zuama. The Druze community is too small and vulnerable to fight the tide, and Jumblat understands that; he always has to make his position valuable to someone, to maintain influence, since he isn’t a heavyweight in himself due to lack of numbers among his supporters. (Hence the point man function in M14.)

Anyway, I don’t believe in Talal Arslan ever emerging as a significant rival as long as Walid J. is alive, and barring civil war and such — a split Druze community would doom itself to political oblivion, and I think everyone gets that. Same with his son taking over: not while he’s a political nobody, unless absolutely necessary. What I think could ultimately weaken Jumblatt among his supporters is not that he will shift sides; that’s his expected MO. Rather, the problem would be if he sticks to the wrong side, or shifts too late (which he may have done this time) and thereby squanders influence and security for the whole community. Apart from that and dying, he seems secure enough with his core support.

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July 30th, 2008, 3:44 am

 

13. Alex said:

Alle and Nidal

Sorry for the confusing way I wrote about that story.

Hafez Assad passed away (from a natural cause) June 10th 2000… three month after Aoun wanted to assassinate him.

The alleged Aoun letter to Saddam took place just before the March 2000 Geneva Summit with President Clinton.

http://www.meib.org/articles/0004_me1.htm

The letter was discovered four years later in 2004 (if I remember correctly) by American troops in Iraq when they went through captured documents and files of Iraqi intelligence.

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July 30th, 2008, 5:17 am

 

14. why-discuss said:

Jumblatt is a survivor. The druze community in Lebanon is small, weak and divided. Jumblatt has always tried to be on the side of the winners and the strongest.
Bush leaving from the kitchen door, Hezbollah achieving its goals (among them liberating a Druze resistant) despite the US and Lebanese government antagonistic moves, the 14 Mars coalition having lost their credibility after the Doha agreement, Syria showing its resilience and political savvyness in dealing with Israel to liberate the Golan where there is a sizeable population of Druzes. It is clear that the wind is now blowing in favor of the Opposition and the Resistance.
The druze religion is not recognized by Iran as it is not part of Ahl Al Ketab, therefore Jumblatt can’t jump in Iran’s laps and he is taking an understanding stance on Nasrallah religious allegeance.
Hariri, another 14 March pillar, went to Najaf Iraq alst week to visit the secretive and influential Iranian Ayatollah Sistani. Maybe Hariri will visit Iran soon? Are we seeing a more pragmatic stance in lebanese leaders toward Iran and the US?

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July 30th, 2008, 11:17 am

 

15. alle said:

Alex — OK, that late? Thanks for telling us!

Why Discuss — I don’t think the Druze religion matters at all in that. Hizbullah is a special case, but Iran supports plenty of non-Twelver Shia groups for reasons of state interest. (Hamas, for one.)

About Samir Quntar, there was an interesting commentary on Jumblatt’s reaction to his release by Michael Young on the MESH blog.

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July 30th, 2008, 11:52 am

 

16. Qifa Nabki said:

Why-D

I think we are in fact seeing more pragmatism. But that’s helped along by the fact that the Iranians and Americans themselves are being more pragmatic in their dealings with each other.

Joe, I think Jumblatt’s position is secure for life. In a country that still worships za’aamah to a great extent, he is the senior za’im.

As for the Druze and Hizbullah… who knows? We are entering a ‘normal’ period again, to judge the staying power of various movements. It is not a state of war or a state of entrenched paralysis… it is a state in which people can make compromises, reach across the aisle, etc. And it is, importantly, a pre-election state. So I think that we are going to see limited flexibility by everyone. March 14 is already changing its tone; and Hizbullah is already speaking about “national defense strategies”… we’ll have to see whether there are any concrete changes.

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July 30th, 2008, 12:35 pm

 

17. why-discuss said:

ALLE

Iran does recognize only ahl al ketab( sunnis, shia, christians, jews, Zoroastrians and all relgions that have open books of worship ) They do not recognize secret religions ( Bahai, Druze and others). I think it matters a lot for Iran as they are highly suspicious of the Bahai in Iran, they tolerate them but would never give a Bahai ( or a druze, if they had any) any post of responsibility. Jumblatt knows that and would never approach Iran, even though he would really benefit from it.

QN

Hezboallah has always talked about National defense strategy, that was one of the key request to consider the fate of the weapons. 14 Mars is backing quietly on all their positions. Hariri visiting an iranian shia high ranking cleric is one more sign of the collape of the 14 Mars coalition whose ideology was based on focusing and demonizing Iran and Syria and not on any constructive idea of solving Lebanon problems.

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July 31st, 2008, 8:24 am

 

18. Logi said:

ARABISM = RACISM

The global virus of racist Arabism has claimed/claims millions of victims, it includes:

Kurds (under Saddam or Syria), Berbers, Jews (inside Israel – the genocide campaign since the massacre in 1929 by the Mufti Haj Amin Al Husseini until today, or in the Arab world or on ‘Arab street’ in Europe, etc.), Africans (genocide in Sudan, oppression in Egypt, Slavery in Mauritania, etc.)…

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October 11th, 2008, 9:20 pm

 

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