Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Old, but valid analysis on Walid Jumblatt


Peter H brought to my attention an old Jumblatt analysis posted on another blog in March. It still remains extremely valid, given that little has changed since March, and Jumblatt still seems to be as frenetic as he was earlier in the year when the Opposition threatened to topple the government.

Jumblatt's power in Lebanon, and the weight of the Druze community in internal affairs, hangs by a thread. Bush's term will soon expire, the Democrats will most likely pursue a more pragmatic, diplomatic approach on the Lebanon front, possibly spelling an end to Walid Jumblatt.

The emergence of the Shi'ites in Lebanon has pushed the country into a transitional phase where the traditional balances of power will be forced to change. The Druze will be the first to lose out, as Lebanon's political landscape makes way for the inclusion of the country's largest, and most neglected, sect. If Hezbollah and its Christian allies succeed in reforming the political system so that it comes to reflect Lebanon's demographics, Jumblatt and the Druze will find themselves as irrelevant as the Greek Orthodox. A shadow amidst the larger sects of the country. For Jumblatt, he would risk another civil war to prevent this nightmare scenario, as is demonstrated in his firey speeches. What would be the next option for the Druze post-PSP? Secularism?

I'll take a trip down memory lane to the 1930s and 1940s when Lebanon's sects began aligning themselves under the French mandate. The Maronites, then the country's heavyweights, had lined up behind the right-wing doctrine of the Phalangist movement. The Sunnis weren't equally as united due to geographic differences, but in general supported left-wing pan-Arabist ideals. However, the economic status of the Sunnis as a result of preference under Ottoman rule gave them plenty of leverage in Lebanon's politics.
The smaller sects such as the Orthodox, Druze and Alawites, faced the possibility of being sidelined in this new entity. The Shia fell into the camp of the smaller, helpless sects, simply because their economic fortunes (or misfortunes) rendered them as the underclass of Lebanese society. The main rival to the Phalangists in those early days were not pan-Arabists, but in fact the SSNP, a secular pan-Syrian nationalist movement that drew its main popular base from the smaller sects that felt disenchanted. Large numbers of Orthodox, Alawites, Druze, and indeed Shi'ites, rallied behind the SSNP, under the banner of secularism and Syrian unity, to challenge the Maronite hegemony. Even Kamal Jumblatt, once upon a time, was a member of the SSNP.

It wasn't until the Jumblatti clan, with Syrian support, began to branch out on its own and re-establish its own political voice among the Druze, that this community really had an independent stance that could challenge its Maronite and Muslim rivals. Once the Jumblatt card disappears, and the Druze community rejoins the Orthodox and Alawites as the irrelevant sects that number 5 - 7% of the population, what path will this community choose to follow next?

Read the excerpt of the analysis below, for the full piece click here:


Jumblat is the leader of one of the smallest sects in Lebanon. As such, he potentially has the most to lose in post-Syrian Lebanon if things don’t go as he wishes. During the Syrian years, Jumblat enjoyed a power share that was largely disproportionate to the size of his sect. Lebanon’s sectarian divides were definitely the defining feature in the political organization of that period, but they were very carefully monitored and controlled by the Syrians. Rather than a full-blown tribal reality where the power of each sect is largely determined by demographics, the Syrians established a power balance where their allies enjoyed a larger share at the expense of other marginalized players. On one hand, the major Christian sectarian leaders were blocked from participation, and the nature of Christian representation in government and parliament was largely decided by the Syrians. On the other hand, Hezbollah had not yet become a player in the country’s highest institutions, and was content with its role of national resistance with guaranteed political cover supplied by the pro-Syrian government.

Walid Jumblat was one of the main beneficiaries of this political structure. He enjoyed a parliamentary bloc and a share in the successive Hariri governments that he could not have possibly dreamed of if widely neutralized portions of the Lebanese population were allowed to participate in policy making.

The Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon changed this reality. The old traditional Christian guard returned to the political scene. Hezbollah was now forced to take a more proactive stance in internal politics, now that support for their armed presence was no longer a given. All those new players were now going to actively pursue and demand their share. In fact, in practical terms, Jumblat might be the politician who in the long run is most likely to suffer the most due to the collapse of the old status-quo.

Jumblat immediately realized two things:
First, in a new reality where sectarianism was crystallized and intensified, any deal or coalition between the three major Lebanese players (Michel Aoun, Hezbollah, and Saad Hariri) would necessarily be at his expense (and also at the expense of his ex-enemy Samir Geagea, but that is a discussion for later).
Second, in the case that a clear regional power emerges as the ultimate victor on the Lebanese scene, Jumblat must be certain to be in a good position in order to reap the benefits and extract as much power and influence as possible, just like he did in the Syrian years.

Jumblat has subsequently drawn his post-Hariri strategy based on these two observations. On one hand, observing the sweeping neoconservative tidal wave in the region, he decided to completely throw in his lot in with the Bush project for the Middle East. On the other hand, with parliamentary elections approaching, he actively pursued isolating Michel Aoun from the March 14 coalition and blocking him from imposing his Christian nominees in the Chouf-Baabda area. This was achieved by receiving Hezbollah’s backing in Baabda in exchange for false guarantees and thus securing victory for weak, marginal and easily manipulated Christian mini-leaders against Aoun’s nominees.

Jumblat took a risk by completely throwing himself at the feet of the Bush administration and its allies. He has completely burnt his bridges with the Syrians, and his fate is all the more linked to the success or failure of the American policy in the region. Just as any deal between Hariri and Hezbollah would constitute a major blow to his ambitions, any form of dialogue between the current Syrian government and the White House would spell disaster for Jumblat. Jumblat’s worst nightmare is a d├ętente between Iran, Syria and the United States, where Hezbollah’s and Hariri’s respective sponsors push for an internal coalition that would irrevocably slash his own influence. As such a scenario is never completely dismissible, Jumblat is in a continuous state of frenzy, as if in a race against time.

The only way for Jumblat to guarantee that no such deal is ever reached is to altogether remove Hezbollah from the equation, either by another direct military strike, or by completely neutralizing Syria, thereby cutting them from their Iranian sponsors. Such cataclysmic events are not likely to happen anytime soon, and they are in any case completely and absolutely beyond Jumblat’s circle of influence (which extends just a little further than the Mount Lebanon area). He could also settle for a civil war where Shias and Sunnis slaughter each other in Beirut while he reigns supreme in his small kingdom in the mountains, but that is a path that Hezbollah are extremely reluctant to take.

This explains why Jumblat acts like a man with a serious nervous condition. He chose sides, and his side is not likely to achieve total victory anytime soon. In fact, his side might veer its policy in a more pragmatic direction sometime in the future (when it is the turn for a new American administration, or perhaps even sooner) without taking his fate into consideration.

Jumblat took a risk but it was a risk he was forced to take. In fact, Jumblat is aware that the extremism of his political position must be inversely proportional to his actual real political size on the Lebanese scene. He knows he has not much to offer to his backers. Walid Jumblat is not Saad Hariri; he is not the leader of a relatively large and imposing sect with deep-rooted connections to a key country in the region. He is not Hassan Nasrallah either; he cannot mobilize hundreds of thousands of supporters within hours, nor is he the head of a sophisticated military entity that has demonstrated its ability to thwart a huge, complex and highly orchestrated war designed to neutralize it and even immerge with political capital to spend.

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