Jumblatt fears for Druze minority
BEIRUT - A new documentary has been released about Lebanese Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt, who was assassinated by the Syrian intelligence services in 1977.
The documentary was directed by Hady Zaccak and produced by Gisele Khoury, a journalist and wife of another victim of assassination, the writer Samir Kassir, in collaboration with Sahar Baasiri, a Lebanese columnist.
I was invited to a preview of the film held for Walid Jumblatt, the son of Kamal Jumblatt and paramount leader of Lebanon’s Druze community. Watching Jumblatt watching a film about his father brought on questions about what he must be thinking today, with Lebanon’s Druze a dwindling minority in a country of minorities, even as the Druze of Syria face existential threats.
The killing of at least 20 Druze villagers by al-Nusra Front in Qalb Lawzah, a village in Idlib province, on June 10th has heightened anxiety in the Syrian community. This came amid signs that the Syrian government was withdrawing its army from the major area of Druze concentration in the southern province of Sweida, to fall back on to more easily defensible lines.
The Druze of Sweida fear that their past collaboration with the regime of President Bashar Assad will provoke retaliation by the rebels, especially once the Syrian Army is no longer there to defend them. Since 2011, Walid Jumblatt has urged his Syrian co-religionists to participate in the Syrian uprising and avoid a situation such as the one that is unfolding.
On June 12th, Lebanon’s Druze Spiritual Council met in an emergency session to issue a call for reconciliation between the Druze and the Sunnis of Hawran in southern Syria. Jumblatt is worried not so much about a massacre of the Druze than a steady rise in skirmishing in Sweida. Less alarming to him are reports that the Islamic State might mount an offensive against the province. “They don’t have a presence there,” Jumblatt said.
Problems in Sweida could spur a migration of Druze in a number of possible directions: towards Jordan, the Golan Heights or even Lebanon. This Jumblatt cannot relish, given how Lebanon’s economic burdens since the Syrian war began have already harmed the local Druze population, which is largely rural.
Under Syria’s Ba’athist regime, Jumblatt explains, alternative Druze leaderships were decimated. As a result, the community there is without a leader. Jumblatt has tried to fill the gap but admits his influence in Syria is limited.
Perhaps, but at a moment when minorities throughout the region are facing trials, caught in a battle between Sunnis and Shia, the situation of the Druze also presents an opportunity for Jumblatt. As he begins to hand over duties to his eldest son, Taymur, Jumblatt can see benefits in expanding his influence to Druze communities outside Lebanon. Such broader representation could help consolidate the Jumblatt family’s political leadership at a time when Druze demographics in Lebanon are not reassuring.
Jumblatt’s priority has always been to protect the Druze and Jumblatti leadership over the Druze. That explains most of the principles he has followed since Kamal Jumblatt was assassinated: his rapid reconciliation with the regime of Hafez Assad, which killed his father; his conviction that the Druze can only survive within an Arab consensus, which means publicly adhering to Arab nationalist beliefs and never cutting themselves off from their Arab surroundings; and, as an extension, his insistence that the Druze must never enter into conflict with the Sunni community, the majority in the Arab world.
Jumblatt recalls that his father was killed after he had isolated himself by opposing Syrian entry into Lebanon in 1976, a deployment later legitimised by the Arab League. Though Kamal Jumblatt was far from being a fool, his fate taught his son a lesson that he would never forget.
In many respects a scene in the documentary well encapsulates the legacy of the two men. As he takes the film crew around the family palace at Mukhtara, Walid is asked whether his father got involved in renovating the beautiful but once neglected structure. He replies “No”, implying that Kamal Jumblatt usually had his mind on more important things, before adding that he himself had spent 35 years modernising Mukhtara. He could just as easily have been speaking about his efforts to expand and consolidate Jumblatti power after 1977.
Just as Kamal Jumblatt’s killing heralded a new stage in Lebanon defined by Syrian hegemony, a new period lies before us today. It is one in which the states formed after the first world war are disintegrating and the fate of minorities in the region is in doubt.
Perhaps that was going through Walid Jumblatt’s mind as he watched the documentary about his father. In those days the solution was simpler: to make peace with the murderers. Today there are no easy solutions. “The Middle East of Sykes-Picot is dead,” Jumblatt says. “Let’s preserve the Lebanon created by General Henri Gouraud.” How revealing that this avowed socialist should see hope in a state created by French imperialists.