Walid Jumblatt: Can He Have His Baklawa and Eat it Too?

jumblatt_03232012In March 2010, he left a national dialogue session with other Lebanese politicians, because he was “sleepy and hungry.

In December 2010, responding to alleged statements attributed to him by Wikileaks, he proposed the use of “carrier pigeons or horseback mail, which is more secure.

I have wanted to write something focusing on Walid Jumblatt for quite sometime. He is by far my favorite Lebanese politician–mainly for his odd charm and refreshingly frank statements (see above). However, he also possesses a unique ability to maneuver through Lebanese politics enabling the Druze community that he represents–and his Progressive Socialist party–to punch above its demographic weight.

BBC describes him as “the country’s political weathervane—consistently emerging on the winning side through the twists and turns of the 1975-90 civil war and its troubled aftermath.”

Two years ago, Jumblatt left his alliance with the 14 March Forces, an alliance of anti-Syrian Lebanese parties. He claimed to remain independent and did not join the Hizballah led 8 March Forces, which tends to be pro-Syrian. Despite his avowed independence, it became clear which direction he was leaning after he visited Damascus to reconcile with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad in late 2009 and voted with 8 March to elect current PM Najib Mikati, ousting former PM and ally Sa’d al-Hariri in early 2011.

Most recently, he voiced his support for Syrian protesters and severed his relations with the Syrian government. However, rather than completely shift alliances once again, Jumblatt appears to be playing both sides – a point adeptly highlighted by Nader Fawz in a recent Al-Akhbar article entitled “Walid Jumblatt: No to Assad, Yes to His Allies.” Fawz also pointed out that Jumblatt’s former 14 March allies would not be willing to welcome him back, despite his new position against the Al-Asad government: “The current opposition [14 March] in Lebanon still cannot quite understand how Jumblatt can outdo them in his enmity towards Damascus while preserving his alliance with the Syrian regime’s allies [8 March] in the Lebanese government.”

His disavowal of the Syrian government risks alienating his current 8 March allies in Lebanon, especially Hizballah which continues to voice its support for the Syrian government. In the past, Jumblatt has managed to land on his feet by choosing the winning side, but in the event that the Syrian government does not fall, it is unlikely that Assad will be as forgiving this time around.   On the other hand, should the Syrian government fall, 14 March could gain the upper hand in Lebanon–in which case, Jumblatt may find it difficult to reconcile with his former allies who still view him warily. The question remains: Has Jumblatt shifted alliances one too many times?

Beth Rghebi

Elizabeth Rghebi holds a Master’s in Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies from Columbia University.  She graduated from Georgetown University in 2007 with a BA in Government and Arabic.  Her academic interests include contemporary Arab politics, especially in the Levant and North Africa, and the role of domestic and international media in Arab societies.  She is currently working on her Master’s thesis which will examine the state of journalism in Libya since the fall of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s government in 2011.