Interview with Lebanese Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt

"Modernity Is Impossible within This Sectarian State"

As the leader of the Druze community and head of the Progessive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt has a decisive influence on Lebanon's complicated sectarian political system. In this interview with Naomi Conrad, the controversial politician talks about his country's ails from his point of view

Walid Jumblatt (photo: AP)
Switching alliances: During the 2009 parliamentary elections, Walid Jumblatt and his party were part of the Hariri alliance. Jumblatt is now siding with Hezbollah

​​Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon's Druze community, receives visitors in his Beirut palace, hidden away behind two armed checkpoints and iron gates. Offering his visitors Arabic coffee in his sumptuous reception room, he drinks mate, which he claims his Druze ancestors brought back from Argentina at the beginning of the 19th century. The politician and former militia leader during Lebanon's Civil War belongs to an aristocratic family has been ruling the Druze community in the Lebanese Chouf mountains for some 350 years.

Jumblatt is a controversial figure in Lebanese politics, the kingmaker in a highly sectarian system that relies on extremely volatile coalitions. Most recently, he switched sides to support the new Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who was nominated with the support of the political party and armed militia Hezbollah.

The cabinet of his predecessor Saad Hariri had been toppled after the resignation en masse of the Hezbollah's members. The main issue at stake was and remains the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which was set up by the UN after the assassination of Saad Hariri's father and former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri. It is widely assumed that the Tribunal will accuse some members of Hezbollah of being involved in the assassination.

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It seems that Lebanon is hurtling towards a major confrontation between the supporters of Saad Hariri one the one hand and Hezbollah and its supporters on the other. Is a clash inevitable?

Walid Jumblatt: No, there will be not clash. It's simple: some people just have to admit that sometimes you win, sometimes you loose. That's how the political process works. Najib Mikati will form a government that will be accepted by Parliament. It's simple.

Is it really that simple? What of the main issue that is at stake in the conflict: the Special Tribunal for Lebanon?

Walid Jumblatt (left) and Saad Hariri during a press conference in Beirut (photo: AP)
Walid Jumblatt is a controversial personality in Lebanese politics: he has often been the "king maker" in a complicated confessionalised system that typically produces highly fickle coalitions

​​Jumblatt: The Tribunal has dominated Lebanese politics from 2005 until now. It's been the major issue that needs to be resolved for Lebanon to move on. At first I supported the Tribunal. But then I realized that the Tribunal's whole credibility has been compromised. I mean, just look at the leaks published in Der Spiegel, Le Figaro, the issue of the false witnesses. Saad Hariri accepted the Saudi-Syrian deal (on the Special Tribunal, the details of which have been kept secret, the ed.), he said he accepted to move to open discussions leading to forgiveness and reconciliation. And then the deal was suddenly cancelled. Why? Because the United States did not support the deal.

Because…

Jumblatt: Listen, Saad Hariri should be convinced that actually the US is behind all of this. In 2006 Israel invaded Lebanon. Why? Because Israel and the US wanted to disarm Hezbollah. But they failed and now they want to take revenge.

There was a time when you spoke out against Hezbollah's weapons…

Jumblatt: We need Hezbollah's weapons to defend Lebanon, at least until we have a national army to defend ourselves against our enemies. The US' main obsession is with Hezbollah, it always has been. I am extremely concerned that Lebanon is being pushed against its interests into a Sunni-Shia conflict.

The opposition behind Saad Hariri is bringing up the specter of a new Civil War, claiming that Lebanon is heading that way.

Detlef Mehlis (photo: AP)
In 2005, the German lawyer Detlef Mehlis was appointed as the Commissioner of the UN International Independent Investigation Commission into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 other persons in Beirut

​​Jumblatt: I was in the Civil War, I fought in it. The members of March 14 who recall the Civil War didn't. So they don't have a right to talk about something they don't know. The Civil War cost Lebanon thousands of lives. They should keep quiet.

Is there a chance that we will witness another civil war in Lebanon?

Jumblatt: I am optimistic.

How would you describe the Lebanese state?

Jumblatt: Lebanon is a democracy based on an archaic sectarian system, corruption and money-laundering, it is most definitely not a meritocracy. And that is a major problem.

Can Lebanon be secularized?

Jumblatt: My father tried to secularize the country, but didn't succeed. Maybe one day there will be a revolution that will sweep away the whole corrupt political class. But at the moment, Lebanon is bound by its sectarian system and that is impossible to secularise without some big upheaval. It is tragic, but I think modernity is just not possible within this sectarian state.

And you are forced to work within this sectarian system that is ruled by political dynasties.

Jumblatt: My family has been responsible for the Druze community for some 350 years, we have always been in politics. I will train my son Taymore to take over from me when he returns from France next month where he is finishing his MA in political sciences. But he must also learn for himself, it will take time.

Could a woman take over as Druze leader?

Jumblatt: My grandmother ruled the Druze after her father died in 1917 until 1943. So, yes.

The Druze heartland is in the Chouf Mountains where you built up a nature reserve, the Cedar reserve. Is enough being done to protect the environment in Lebanon?

Jumblatt: I feel very strongly about protecting the environmental and cultural heritage of this country. Land is extremely important to the Druze, we have lived in this country for centuries. But the country is just too corrupt, entrepreneurs are too strong and protecting the environment and cultural heritage is extremely difficult. Just look at all the old houses, the cultural heritage that has been destroyed in Beirut. And is still being destroyed, and of course the environment too. Many Christian families are moving away and selling their land to property developers. You can try to complain about it, but no one will listen.

Are you proud to be Lebanese?

Jumblatt: I am proud to be an Arab, but I wouldn't call myself Lebanese. That word has far too many difficult connotations.

Interview: Naomi Conrad

© Qantara.de 2011

Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de

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