The Druze leadership in Mount Lebanon: Will Jumblatt endure?
4th Oct 2019 by Hadi Wahab
For centuries, the Druze minority have managed to endure the consecutive conflicts and conquests in the Levant. Alas, with the rise of sectarianism and seismic regional events today, they’re living in constant angst. The Lebanese Druze, once the “kingmakers”, as Mara E. Kremlin described them, are now unsettled by demographic changes and their leadership's tentative role in Lebanese affairs. Their most prominent leader, Walid Jumblatt, is experiencing a decline in power reminiscent of that of his belated father and key Druze figure, Kamal Jumblatt, in his struggle against Maronite leadership.
Beginning with Kamal
In 1952, Kamil Chamoun was elected president of Lebanon. The saying, "Kamil and Kamal [Jumblatt]" has always been invoked as a reflection of their alliance which brought Chamoun to power. This relationship between the Maronite and Druze leaders from Mount Lebanon brought temporary stability to Lebanon. During Chamoun’s tenure, however, their alliance was broken, creating a political rift that had ideological and geopolitical dimensions. But, then, the schism was not strictly Christian-Druze. It was a clash of two visions of Lebanon. Jumblatt was a leftist pan-Arab Nasserist, while Chamoun was a rightist pro-Western. Indeed, many Druze were pro-Chamoun, and, because of this, several intra-Druze fights erupted.
Amid the increased tension between Chamoun and Jumblatt, Chamoun worked to defeat Jumblatt in the 1957 parliamentary elections, through allying himself with other Druze political figures in al-Chouf district in Mount Lebanon, the birthplace of both leaders. To win the elections, Chamoun formed an electoral list with Kohtan Hmedeh, a less known Druze figure at the time. The list also included the Minister of Public Works and Transport, Na’im Moughabghab, who, appointed by Chamoun himself, led a campaign of services in Mount Lebanon prior to the elections.
Chamoun-Hmedeh-Moughabghab won the elections in al-Chouf district, setting a precedent against Jumblatt’s monopoly. It demonstrated that breaking Jumblatt’s grip on Druze affairs is possible. But, it depends on the modus operandi of each rival. Until this day, some notable Druze families are still referred to as "Chamouni", despite the fact that the Chamoun family’s role in politics have wined down since.
In 1958, the United Arab Republic was formed under Nasser’s leadership. The merge between Egypt and Syria galvanised Jumblatt and his leftist allies, who were refusing the extension of Chamoun’s term. The power struggle was taken to the streets, before Chamoun called for US intervention in Lebanon. Despite the prompt arrival of the US army in Beirut, Chamoun’s hope for another term was disappointed. Instead, Fouad Chehab, then Army-Chief who remained on the sidelines of the conflict, replaced Chamoun.
Today, history is repeating itself with Kamal Jumblatt’s son, Walid, who is being sidelined by President Michel Aoun. Their rivalry peaked when Jumblatt opposed the election of Aoun. Aoun, and his son-in-law and political heir, Gebran Bassil, campaigned with Talal Arslan, Jumblatt’s opponent in Al-Chouf district, during the May 2018 parliamentary elections.
Arslan’s father, Majid Arslan, was Chamoun’s close ally before and after 1957 elections. Much like his father’s rivalry with Kamal Jumblatt, Arslan has differences with Walid. But, some would describe it as the rivalry of “we agree to disagree”. Jumblatt would always reserve a seat for Arslan to be re-elected into parliament.
Yet, the results of the 2018 parliamentary elections put into question Jumblatt’s supremacy, and exposed his fragile grip on the Druze throne. Wiam Wahhab, a pro-Syrian regime and anti-Jumblatt former Minister, received a higher number of votes than Jumblatt’s nominee for the second Druze seat in al-Chouf district. However, the gerrymandering of the districts and voting thresholds came against Wahhab, who was 200 votes short from taking a seat. Also, the results of the two lists of the independent civil society show that, had they ran under one list, they would have secured one seat at the expense of Jumblatt.
Jumblatt is in effect floundering to overcome these results, in addition to two major complications. Firstly, he lost his geopolitical gamble against Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Jumblatt failed to mobilise the Syrian Druze community against the Syrian regime, strengthening, as a result, Arslan and Wahhab, his pro-Assad Lebanese rivals. Now that Assad has prevailed, it has become clear that had they went with Jumblatt’s gamble, their destiny would have been unknown.
Secondly, Jumblatt’s son and heir, Taymour, has been disappointing in public. Despite his selection in the 2018 parliamentary elections, he has continuously voiced his unwillingness to carry his family’s torch. Consequently, the Druze are becoming more divided, as Jumblatt’s power decline.
It is unknown whether Jumblatt will be able to reemerge and hold on to power. What is clear is that regional geopolitical alterations, demographical changes, unemployment, marginalisation, and gloomy economic prospects are raising serious concerns among Druze in Lebanon, adding more pressure on their leaders.
Hadi Wahab is a Lebanese PhD candidate at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. His research focuses on armed non-state actors in the Middle East, with particular interest in Hezbollah’s regional role. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit: Creative Commons CC