Walid Jumblatt: No to Assad, Yes to His Allies

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Jumblatt’s hostility to the Syrian regime in 2012 is no different from that of 2006. (Photo: Haytham Moussawi)

By: Nader Fawz

Published Friday, March 2, 2012

Walid Jumblatt has settled – for now – for a new political formula to address the Syrian Crisis: Berating the Syrian regime on one hand and backing a Lebanese government made up of Damascus’ closest allies.

Walid Jumblatt has severed his ties with Syria. In his latest swipe at the Syrian president, he called Bashar Assad “a tyrant who suffers from megalomania.”

But the Druze leader is at the same time an ally of those Lebanese political parties that support the regime in Damascus, therefore it is important for him to preserve stability in Lebanon so that people can go about their business.

For Jumblatt, this complex formula is easy to apply: No to the Syrian regime in Syria, yes to the Syrian regime in Lebanon.

Jumblatt’s hostility to the Syrian regime in 2012 is no different from that of 2006. His position is the same, it goes something like: “Unfortunately, some in the West now consider the security of the Syrian regime to be part of the security of Israel.”

Jumblatt does not spare the Arab states his criticism. They “are powerless and governed by cowardice, which prevents them from taking any step for the benefit of the Syrian people.” But what about his visit to Saudi Arabia?

The leader of the Progressive Socialist Party insists that he has not received any invitation to visit Saudi Arabia. This means that the relationship between them remains much as it did after the last phone call between Jumblatt and the Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.

Jumblatt says he does not want to talk about this issue, pointing out that the visits made by ministers from his party to the kingdom cannot be classified as attempts to mend the relationship. He points out that minister Ghazi Aridi went to Riyadh to participate in the Janadriyah festival, while minister Wael Abu Faour’s visit was in response to an invitation by his Saudi counterpart.

People who have visited Jumblatt’s residence in Beirut recently, say that he and the Saudi leadership have not reconciled yet. “The problem,” according to some of these sources, “is with the Saudi King himself, not with the officials or princes in his court.”

Jumblatt seems to understand why the Saudis are upset, but says: “We have to get over this matter,” because a lot of time has passed since he helped oust the leader of the Future Movement and Saudi Arabia’s man in Lebanon, Saad Hariri, from power.

He reiterates that he agreed to Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati becoming PM for security reasons. In an attempt to get things moving forward, Jumblatt suggests to his guests that “the Syrian problem is much bigger than the problem of Mikati’s premiership or the ousting of Hariri.”

What is certain is that reconciliation with Saudi Arabia will not come very soon. The same applies to his relationship with the March 14 movement.

The current opposition in Lebanon still cannot quite understand how Jumblatt can outdo them in his enmity toward Damascus while preserving his alliance with the Syrian regime’s allies in the Lebanese government.

Jumblatt, for his part, may call Assad a “megalomaniac,” but his view of most of the March 14 leadership is that they are nothing but “lunatics.” It can even be said that the intensity of Jumblatt’s disagreement with the regime in Syria is almost matched by that of his fallout with March 14.

He cannot understand their calls for him to withdraw from the government, which will surely destabilize the situation in Lebanon.

He insists that his presence in the opposing camp allows him to alert Hezbollah to the dangers of its position on Syria. One of his messages to the resistance is: “The Syrian people embraced you in 2006 because you stood up to Israel.” He combines that message with his regret that “the security of the Syrian regime is now part of the security of Israel.”

The March 14 members of parliament and their leaders do not spare Jumblatt. On Syria, he has taken the wind out of their sails. In politics, he has taken away their majority. And in power, he took away their rule.

The Lebanese opposition forces are now trying to find ways to isolate Jumblatt. They began working on this last week when they ignored his participation in a protest in solidarity with the Syrian people in downtown Beirut. No prominent opposition member gave any credence to his recently declared anti-regime positions in the media.

The majority of March 14 no longer trust Jumblatt. They chatter behind closed doors about how his political twists and turns are motivated by three crucial factors: his Druze base, his personal security, and money.

The more cynical amongst them believe that he is trying to reconnect with the Saudis in order to reopen the flow of funds that he once received from Riyadh. They suggest that his escalation toward Damascus has more to do with maintaining his support among Syria’s Druze than the regime’s undemocratic practices.

And they attribute his relationship with Hezbollah, particularly in preserving the current government, to his concern over his personal safety. They point out that there is practically no communication or agreement between the two sides outside Cabinet meetings.

Jumblatt criticizes everyone. He says that his “conscience is clear” because he can at least honestly express his positions and separate one issue from another. His conscience might be clear, but he is alone.

The parties in government are avoiding him and the March 14 forces do not trust him. Jumblatt needed someone to keep him company, so he received the radical Salafi Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir in Moukhtara last Saturday.

According to the Jumblatt’s Party, the meeting was to get to know one another, with Jumblatt confirming “his objective and logical position on events in Syria.” This led an official in the party to ask out loud: “What is a Salafi doing in Moukhtara?” A senior party member replied that “It is a wave that will pass, comrade.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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