By Joseph El-Khoury
Walid Joumblatt is the archetypal Lebanese politician. Born in an illustrious feudal dynasty, he also inherited a political mantle following the assassination of his father in 1977 in the form of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP). As is frequently the case in this scenario, the son of the ‘Mouallem’ had little to prove to his followers to gain their loyalty, which he has since retained. In addition, Joumblatt’s recognition has an international dimension, since his formation is an integral member of the Socialist International. The fact that socialism and progressive ideals are as alien to him as vodka to a Mollah do not seem to bother his International friends, who are happy to accept that the Druze sect is THE progressive element within Lebanon. Clearly Papandreou (Greek President of the Socialist International) and co are yet to visit Moukhtara, where the Beyk will have to work hard to convince them of the Lebanese flavour of socialism. But all the above confusion can be forgiven in the ill defined ideological spectrum of the Levant where brands and labels are often mere excuses to create a political party when one is needed. What is more worrying is the trend for the Beyk to change his mind again, and again....and again.
Walid Joumblatt changes him mind over crucial and essential matters. He does it unexpectedly, publicly and frequently offends. The task of damage limitation is then carried out by one his side-kicks (most recently Mr Rami Rayess), who will explain, justify and sometimes go as far as apologise. The Beyk’s status will remain undiminshed among his people, since Lebanon does not operate in an age of modern accountability. Objections to style or content will remain contained within the Druze family. The ‘cool’, liberal and cultured lord of the mountain can certainly engage you in stimulating debates, but in politics his behaviour is a reminder of the times when the fate of entire nations where decided according to the whims of Emperors and the mood swings of Monarchs. Mr Joumblatt might be an astute reader of regional and international shifts in the balance of power but his accumulation of faux pas over the past few months is quickly becoming indefensible. This might be a unusual opportunity to request from a politician that he refrains from speaking his mind.
Building on months of conflicting signals to his revolutionary partners (in reference to the so-called Cedar Revolution),his latest suggestion to revive the 2005 Sunni-Shiite-Druze alliance (also known as quadripartite alliance) has infuriated Christian politicians, who have basically been asked to tone down their infantile bickering while the grownups do business. The message could not have been heard louder within a Christian community paranoid over its fate and vulnerable to radicalisation. The sad fact is that Jumblatt is correct: In an ultra-sectarian Lebanon, the weakened Christians have a choice to either remain quiet or become pawns in a conflict opposing the Sunnis and Shiites, and in regional terms the Saudi-Egyptian axis vs. the Syro-Iranian one. Their prominence in the electoral period has quickly subsided since the nomination of Hariri to the post of prime Minister. In an interesting twist of events, and probably at the behest of his seasoned advisors, the latter is seeking to recreate the conditions that surrounded the golden age of his father’s reign on the Lebanese scene in the late 1990s. In this context a rapprochement with the Syrian regime is inevitable at the cost of breaking up the March 14th Alliance, which remains to be consumed in full. The Beyk finding himself in an uncomfortable position has found no better option than to recycle old tunes of Arab Nationalism and anti-Imperialism. His less than convincing turn-around has less to do with the Palestinian cause than to deflect attention from his own flirtations with pro-Americanism. Nonetheless his statements will offend and tempt the Christians into further isolationism.
At a time of an emerging Sami Gemayel, a steadfast Michel Aoun and a resurgent Samir Geagea, Walid Jumblatt can be credited with ensuring that the future of Maronite politics is anything but progressive.