The Geopolitics of the Druze Communities: The Case of 2018 ISIS Attack on Suweida
1st Jul 2019 by Rami Abou Diab
In his enlightening documentary on the Druze, "Les Druzes" (1999), Paul-Jacques Callebaut says, "Beyond the closed borders of the 20th century, Druze solidarity still rules their hearts".
Druze solidarity stems from two different yet overlapping matters: religious identity and geopolitics. On the one hand, Druze spread across the world still see themselves as a homogenous communal unit which belongs to a larger ‘space’ than that of nation-state borders. Consequently, solidarity seems to be a natural reaction to challenges faced by some of them in specific settings and times. On the other hand, Druze solidarity comes as a natural response to geopolitical challenges that the small minority face in the Middle East.
This solidarity leads the Druze to be considered as a compact minority in the Middle East. Their main geopolitical aim is to maintain control of their lands through loyalty to their respective states conditioned upon the state’s recognition and protection of their particularism.
To make sense of this, I will examine Druze politics after the Islamic State’s (ISIS) attack on the Southwestern Syrian province of Suweida, on July 25, 2018, in which more than 200 people were killed. Suweida is not a stronghold of the Druze community in Syria. But it is still an important and symbolic region, since it is inhabited mostly by Druze families.
"Bani Maarouf, the blessed lineage”
This chant echoed in the mass funeral in Suweida, and was reiterated in numerous videos posted online by Druze people across the world.
From Suweida to Venezuela and the Netherlands, Druze people mourned and sung: "Bani Maarouf, the blessed lineage." What does this perceived communal homogeneity tell us about the Druze? And how does this perceived homogeneity manifest itself in a geopolitically troubled region?
Bani Maarouf literally means the people of goodness. The blessed lineage refers to the common roots (ancestry) of the Druze. This name reflects an emphasis on the principle of "Hifez el Ekhwen”: the protection of Druze brothers and sisters, and the belief in the transmigration of the souls. Many Druze communities prefer to be called Bani Maarouf. Jordanian Druze are mostly known as the Bani Maarouf tribe. Following this principle and belief, Druze generally believe that they belong to a space larger than the borders of their countries, especially when they are in danger. This is what Asher Kaufmann (2016) calls “the hybrid spatial scale’’ of the Druze during the Lebanese civil war.
Does this mean that they belong to the Arab and Muslim worlds, or only to the Druze regions of the Middle East? Druze in Israel do not share the same vision as Druze in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon regarding their Arab and Muslim roots. In Jordan, a young man during the solidarity gathering sang: “the Druze are the swords of Islam”. In Lebanon, the demonstration organised by the Druze Council began with the Quran’s Sūrat ar-Raḥmān. Meanwhile, in Israel, the demonstration organised at the shrine of Nabi Shuʿayb did not include any explicit Islamic references.
Yet, despite their political and ideological differences, Israeli and Lebanese Druze agreed that Russia was the only state capable of helping to free the hostages captured by IS. Why Russia?
Russia and the Druze
More than 30 Druze, mainly women and children, were kidnapped by ISIS. In the pursuit of a hostage exchange, the Sheikh's of Dignity — an independent body not notables and armed militia that defends the principle developed in 2015 that Druze men should not be obliged to join the Syrian Army — kidnapped Bedouin families.
Following successful Russian mediation, the Sheikh's of Dignity released the Bedouin hostages. The leader of this movement, Abu Hassan Yehya Al-Hajar, told the Russian military that Russia is the protector of minorities, and that the Druze are proud Syrians who refuse any partition plan.
The leaders of the Druze in Lebanon and Israel were also active. Mouafac Tarif, spiritual leader of the Druze in Israel, met Bogdanov in Moscow in September 2018. As for Taymour Jumblatt of Lebanon, he met Bogdanov in Moscow in August and November 2018. The captives were released the day after Taymour Jumblatt’s second visit to Russia. Russian Ambassador to Israel was present for the first time in the annual Druze pilgrimage to Nabi Shuʿayb shrine.
The Druze communities do not have a sponsoring state or a “tender mother”, like, for instance, French relations with the Maronites of Lebanon. However, they can benefit from Russia’s return to the Middle East.
The Druze communities seem to insist on their national loyalties to their respective states — Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel — despite co-ordinated transnational diplomacy, solidarity, and communitarian mobilisation with every local challenge
Despite national loyalty, the Druze communities believe that they belong to a space larger than the national borders. Their strong transnational solidarity is both, an effective response to geopolitical challenges faced by a small minority in a turbulent region, and a reaffirmation of their religious beliefs.
Rami Abou Diab holds a Master 2 in Public Law from Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and a Master 2 in Geopolitics and International Security from Institut Catholique de Paris. His thesis on Southern Syria was published by the Editions du Cygne in 2019.
Abou Diab is currently a PhD Candidate at the Institut Français de Géopolitique.