Lebanese Druze Clergy to Jumblatt: Not in Our Name

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Although the divisions within the Druze religious establishment have long been superficial, today Jumblatt and the Druze clergy are on opposing sides of the Syrian crisis. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Firas Choufi

Published Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Walid Jumblatt’s relationship with the spiritual authorities within the Druze community is temperamental. The sheikhs are partners when they share Jumblatt’s view on a particular decision, and when the clerics defy the lord of Mukhtara, suddenly it is all about socialism and the separation of politics and religion.

Today, Jumblatt and the Druze clergy are on opposing sides of the Syrian crisis.

Divisions within the Druze religious establishment have long been superficial. Khater sheikhs in the community are those with high religious rank, serving as respected spiritual authorities that do not deal with politics. They restrict themselves to offering consultation and advice to politicians in order to steer them toward dialogue and a rational course of action.

As for the village sheikhs and councils, they tend to fall into one of the two major political camps within the Druze community depending on the distribution of families and affiliations in a particular village.

However, when it comes to major issues, it is in the interest of the community to unite in order to protect itself. What is happening in Syria is definitely a big issue, and Druze leaders consider this an exceedingly dangerous period.

For the Druze of Lebanon, Syria holds historical significance. One of the major Druze clerics in Lebanon remembers back in 1914, “when the Ottoman Sultan imposed a blockade on Mount Lebanon to starve the population before the country was overrun by locusts.”

He says that “the fields of Hawran [in Syria] fed the starving Druze and Maronites of Lebanon.” Afterward, the Great Syrian revolt, led by Druze notable Sultan Pasha al-Atrash, brought the Druze of Lebanon and Syria together against French colonialism.

In 1958, when communal tensions erupted in Lebanon, many Druze took refuge in Damascus and the villages of Sweida, and they did the same during the Lebanese Civil War. Today, “if an emergency arises, taking refuge in Syria is our only option.”

Across the entire Druze map, the clergy sees nothing to be gained in Lebanon or Syria should hostile rhetoric overtake the spirit of dialogue.

Jumblatt, according to a number of clerics, knows that his calls will do nothing to convince a single Druze to defect from the Syrian army or take up arms against it.

The pictures of Jumblatt that once adorned the walls of Druze homes in Salkhad, Shahba, Sahnaya, and Jermana have been taken down since 2005. Why has Jumblatt elevated his tone to this extent? The answer comes from Lebanon’s Hasbaya, al-Matn al-Ala, Aliya, and the Chouf: Jumblatt does what is in his interest.

Sheikh Ali Zeineddine, the president of the Irfan Foundation, a Druze NGO, says the following about the Druze leader: “When Jumblatt moved to the Syrian side and the resistance two years ago, the Syrians and Iranians did not trust this move, and he was not able to extract the same benefits that he was able to obtain before.”

Zeinnedine adds, “With the beginning of the Syrian crisis, he tried to prove to the Saudis that he had moved to the axis opposed to the Syrian regime, but they were not convinced. When he visited Qatar, he was unsuccessful. The Qataris wanted some signs of good intentions in the form of calls to the people of Sweida [advocating opposition] before they would pay him a single penny.”

As for the Saudis, the sheikh says, they “kept the doors shut until recently, and the goal of this rapid escalation on the part of Jumblatt is to prove that he has [changed sides] and that there is no turning back.”

Sheikh Amin Zuwayhad, the mayor of Hasbaya, says that “we have no right to interfere in Syria’s domestic affairs. The Druze of Sweida know what they are doing. The issue is no longer an issue of the regime. The Syrian geography and the breakup of the Levant are the targets and the Druze will not fuel the conflict.”

Some cleric polled by Al-Akhbar agreed, as one put it, that “Jumblatt’s latest stances are detrimental to the interests of the community. They make the Druze appear as a group that supports one side against another, while the reality is that they are soldiers in the army like members of the other communities in Syria.”

The cleric adds that the issue in Syria “holds many ambiguities about why it is not possible to be certain or take positions of this severity.”

The long-standing tradition of exchanged visits between the Druze sheikhs of Lebanon and Sweida continues even in the shadow of the great tension that followed the Syrian army’s withdrawal from Lebanon.

During a recent visit to Jabal al-Arab, Lebanese sheikhs declared their support for their Syrian counterparts’ “wise stance, especially the latest address issued by head cleric of the community in Syria Hamoud Hennawi calling the opposition and the regime to dialogue.”

Lebanese Democratic Party head and pro-regime Druze leader Talal Arslan has not escaped the harsh criticism garnered by Jumblatt. Although, a number of political clerics criticized Arslan for bringing some members of the Druze clergy to visit Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“The clergy does not need someone to lead them,” one cleric said. “They know the way to the presidential palace. Let those who work in politics do their work and let the clergy work among the people to calm tempers.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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