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June 8, 2009 No.
2383

Walid Jumblatt in Closed-Door Meeting with Druze Sheikhs: :'We Have No Choice But to Coexist with the Shi'ites'

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt recently held a closed-door meeting with a small group of Druze sheikhs loyal to him; the transcript of the meeting was published in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar. In the meeting, Jumblatt conveyed a clear and unequivocal message, namely that in light of the growing power of the Shi'ites in Lebanon and the decline in the power of the Druze, the latter must accept the new reality, stop fighting the Shi'ites, and coexist with them.

In support of this position, Jumblatt cited the demographic and political changes in the country. He said that the Shi'ites are growing stronger, both in numbers and in power, while the Sunnis are "more dangerous" than the Shi'ites and the Christians are "dying out." He also explained that the reality, as well as the attitude towards the Shi'ites, are changing not only in Lebanon but throughout the world, as manifested by Britain's recent contacts with Hizbullah and the U.S.'s dialogue with Iran; consequently, the Druze too must be realistic and think of the future.

The sheikhs clearly had difficulty in accepting Jumblatt's position and the new path he urged them to take, but he repeatedly insisted that there was no other choice.

Jumblatt's statements are a reflection of the current demographic, sectarian and political situation in Lebanon: the waxing power of the Shi'ites, the apprehension this arouses in the other sects in the country, and their attempts to maneuver within this new reality and to deal with it. The Lebanese pro-Hizbullah daily Al-Akhbar, which published the transcript, stated that this document was destined to become a key page in Lebanese history, adding that the sentiments expressed by Jumblatt reflected not only the Druzes' fears, but the apprehensions felt by all sectors in Lebanon in light of the shifting situation in the country. Al-Akhbar added that Jumblatt's considerations were similar to the considerations that had motivated Maronite leader Michel Aoun, head of the large Christian party Free Patriotic Movement, to opt for a political alliance with Hizbullah in 2006.

Jumblatt's statements also shed light on his political course in the past year, which has been characterized by his drawing closer to the opposition, in particular to Hizbullah. This was manifested in meetings held by Jumblatt and his representatives with Hizbullah officials, and in his taking a more moderate and conciliatory tone regarding Hizbullah and its weapons. In recent months, it was even reported in the Lebanese media that Jumblatt means to leave the March 14 Forces and join the opposition. It should be noted that Jumblatt's rapprochement with the opposition became noticeable especially following the takeover of Beirut and of other areas of Lebanon by Hizbullah gunmen on May 7, 2008, which was accompanied by violent clashes between Druze and Shi'ites in the Mount Lebanon region.

Following are excerpts from the transcript of the meeting: [1]

"We [Druze] Must Live with the Shi'ites"; "[In] South Lebanon, They Are the Majority, and We Are in the Middle"

"Today, our alliance with the March 14 [Forces] and with some of the Christian leaders isn't very stable. That does not mean that we want to change things, but it does mean that we need to pay attention… Amir Talal [Arslan] [2] is now [allied] with Syria, while I am against Syria. But we must look to the future. Perhaps the opening provided by Amir Talal will help with Syria and help our people up there [i.e., the Druze in Syria]… Syria will continue to exist, and as for Israel, we shall never turn to it. We never turned to it in the past, and we will not turn to it [in the future]… I am sure that none of us believes that Israel will defend anyone [except for itself]. Israel has its own interests, and does not protect anybody [else]. Therefore, I am going to leave a [parliament] seat in 'Aley [province] for Amir Talal, [and refrain from running a candidate of my own there].

"As for our relations with the Shi'ites… we have extracted ourselves from a dead end, but the atmosphere is still not good, and I need your help. The atmosphere among the Druze is not good. There are still what I call areas of friction. We do not want the areas where we and the Shi'ites live together - such as Shuweifat, Dir Qoubal, and 'Aramoun - to remain areas of friction. In these places, the Druze attitude is still not good.

"The Shi'ite reality has imposed itself through [demography], through money, through [the relations with] Iran and [through the Lebanese Shi'ite diaspora in] Africa. [The Shi'ites] buy land and fill the empty spaces, because nature abhors a vacuum.

"On the coastal plain, there is competition between Sunnis and Shi'ites. There is a Sunni area and a Shi'ite area. But we [Druze] should live together with the Shi'ites. We must live with the Shi'ites… When [the Shi'ites] tried to come to the mountain [regions that are dominated by the Druze], everybody [there] blocked their way. But in the coastal plain we must live together.

"I still notice negative attitudes among some [Druze] circles, both political and religious, and we cannot go on like this. Because last time [there was friction between Shi'ites and Druze], we escaped only by a miracle. We were lucky, [really] lucky. I have seen the [Druze] youth and heard some of the sheikhs declare that they want to kill [Shi'ites] indiscriminately. [By doing this], we would launch a war which has a beginning but no end. I want to remind you that when we started the war against the Maronites in 1975, we finished it [only] in 1989, and in 1991 the Syrians came and put an end to the matter. That war cost us dearly.

"We have no interest in fighting the Shi'ites. To find a way to preserve our existence, we must find a way to hold dialogue with them. How to accomplish this at the present time, I do not know. I know that, at the moment, Syria does not permit Hassan Nasrallah to meet with me. I know this. But we must find ways, [with the help of Shi'ite leader] 'Abd Al-Amir Qabalan and others, [or] through [the leader of the Shi'ite Amal Party, parliament speaker] Nabih Berri. We must communicate.

"Today, Shi'ites constitute one-third of the country; there are 1,200,000 of them. As you know, from the southern border of Syria to South Lebanon, they are the majority, and we are in the middle."

"The Christians Will Never Come Back [to Power]... They Are Dying Out"

"The Christians will never come back [to power]. That's it. They are dying out. The Sunnis are [still] there, but the big Sunni sea is not close to us. It's up there in the north, in 'Akar. Therefore, I want you to help me in easing the hostility [between the Druze and the Shi'ites]. Now is not the time to remember our war with the Shi'ites in the days of Fakhr Al-Din [in the 16th and 17th centuries]… Once, there was a Druze emirate, but [now] it's gone. What can we do?... If we do not communicate with them somehow, what else can we do? Clash [with them]? And then what?... I need your help…"

A sheikh: "We have never attacked them."

Jumblatt: "That's not true. Let me tell you, dear sheikh, there was [a case in which] we attacked them. And I tell you that I expect you to provide guidance [to the public]. I will work with [my] party. I am complaining to you about the Progressive Party, of which I am the head. I am complaining about the sectarian hostility [in my party] against the Shi'ites. We cannot carry on this way. If there is some incident - started by us or by them - it must not take on the nature of a Druze-Shi'ite [conflict]."

"Sunni Fundamentalism is on the Rise, as Is Happening in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan"

"I'll say more than this. With the Shi'ites, you can find a way, even if partial, to deal with the problem, but with the Sunnis it's a different matter. At present, there is S'ad Al-Hariri and what is known as the moderate camp among the Sunnis. But as you know, a new climate is emerging, and as a result, Sunni fundamentalism is on the rise, as is happening in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Sheikh: "This is dangerous."

Jumblatt: Now tell me who is more dangerous. You know [the answer]."

Sheikhs: "Sunni fundamentalism is more dangerous."

Jumblatt: "Good, we should know where we are headed."

Responding to a question about whether establishing contact with the Shi'ites would not expose Druze figures to accusations of treason, Jumblatt replied: "Nobody will accuse anybody of treason. I am asking you to establish contact with the Shi'ites. I will go to Nabih Berri, but I want this atmosphere to percolate down to the people, even if all we ask [of them] is to reduce extremist behavior…

"There are areas that are no longer ours… but there are some areas that we share with the Shi'ites. How shall we continue? Shall each of us bear arms against the other, or shall we reach an understanding? You tell me, what should be done in areas like [these]?... I am willing to buy land there, but there are areas where the Druze and Shi'ite population is [completely] intermingled"…

"What should we do? We must strengthen [the Druze] presence where we live, and we must buy land where we are present. We must [improve] our economic position and strengthen our institutions. However, in those areas where the population is mixed, we must live with [the Shi'ites]. If you have another solution, [you are welcome to] tell me about it… There are mixed [areas], so tell me, what are we to do? Give me an alternative solution, other than coexistence in mutual understanding"…

A sheikh: "But are the Shi'ites ready to coexist with us?"

Jumblatt: "Before we put the question to them, I [need to] ask you if you are ready for coexistence."

Sheikhs: "It wasn't us who who started it. Politics is to blame. Before May 7, [2008], this level of hostility did not exist on our part. We are not the ones who created [the hostility]."

Jumblatt: "They are the ones who started it in Dir Qoubal. [3] Okay, [but] now can we put an end to it? Or do you want us to create a Druze Karbala? [4] The Sunnis have [already] invented [their own] new Karbala. There was the [original Shi'ite] Karbala of Hassan and Hussein, and now the Sunnis have created a new Karbala called May 7 [out of] the three people who were killed in Beirut. I ask you: shouldn't we Druze put an end to this matter? They have killed some of our people, and we have killed some of theirs. Shall we stop, or shall we continue the killing? That is the question"…

"On May 7, 2008, the Sunnis Brought in 1,000 Men from [the North]; They Did Not Last More than 15 Minutes [Against Hizbullah] - We Cannot Start a Religious, Psychological and Political War with the Shi'ites"

"[In 2007-2008, when we argued about who would replace Emil Lahoud as president]... I met with what's-his-name, [Maronite military leader] Samir Geagea. He wanted war. The Christians wanted us to start a war with the Shi'ites so that they could look on from the sidelines, and even some of the Sunnis wanted there to be a confrontation between the Shi'ites and ourselves. We saw the Sunnis in Beirut [on May 7, 2008]. They brought in 1,000 men from 'Akar, but they did not last more than 15 minutes [against Hizbullah]. We cannot [afford to] start a religious, psychological and political war with the Shi'ites. Look at those [fundamentalist Sunni Islamists] who shave their mustaches and grow their beards…"

Sheikhs: "They are more dangerous [than the Shi'ites]."

"Britain Has Launched [a Dialogue] with Hizbullah, and America with Iran... So Let's Be Realistic"

Jumblatt: "Islamic Beirut is all around us. What can we do? Up in the mountains, things are still under control, but on the coast, what can we do?"

A sheikh: "That's the reality. We should work to change it."

Jumblatt: "There will soon be elections, [but] they will bring no essential change. Our tragedy today is that Walid Jumblatt is unable to form a [candidate] list in the Shouf Mountains, because the fanatic separatism has come back, and those wretches [i.e. the Maronites] unfortunately remain wretched. If anyone knows the Maronites, it is we Druze and [especially] the Jumblatt family. Isn't that right?

"As for the Shi'ite issue, you need to understand the current situation: Britain has launched [a dialogue] with Hizbullah, and America has launched [one] with Iran, because they [both] need to confront the danger of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [Likewise, Saudi] King 'Abdallah has started negotiating with Syria. So let's be realistic...

"I wish [Amir Talal] had strength and supporters like mine. But we must support him, because he [provides] an opening [to Syria], and will help to protect the Druze in Syria. [Even] I am saying this - I, Walid Jumblatt, who is against the Syrian regime. We must think in a way that takes into consideration the interest of our people up there [in Syria]… So here's the question. Will we turn the page on May 7 or not?"

A sheikh: "True, but the Shi'ites must [also] understand this. They are making fierce attacks on our areas."

Jumblatt: "So what are we to do? [Even] in our own regions, our numbers are dwindling, while the Shi'ites and the Sunnis [are growing]. Look at the 'Aramoun and Bishamoun [areas]. Today there are Shi'ite and Sunni areas [in these areas]. What are we to do? We have no choice but to live together, because of the geographical [reality] and the expansion of the Shi'ites. The source of their power is not only Iran. [Look at] Beirut, which we call 'Sunni Beirut.' Nothing is left of [Sunni Beirut] except New Road. If we go to Al-Hamra Street, which use to belong to the Armenians and [Maronite] Christians, [we find that] it is now Shi'ite… [The Shi'ites] are buying land and real estate… They also have bases of influence and power in West Africa, from Nigeria to Sierra Leone, and they have a lot of money. They work there and have high incomes.

"Things are changing, even in Beirut... I am not looking for a magic solution. I am looking for a way to communicate [with the Shi'ites] and to reduce the hostility between us…"

Fighting the Shi'ites "Means Entering a Cycle of Bloodshed without End"

A sheikh: "…But the Shi'ites have a grand plan [to take over Lebanon]. It's not a temporary issue that can simply be bypassed. They have attacked our areas, and there is blood between us… Thank God, we have managed to confront them and break their skulls…"

Jumblatt: "So what now? Excuse me, is this a military matter or a political one? If it is merely a military [matter], it means that we are entering an endless cycle of bloodshed. It will destroy our areas, our economic standing, and our institutions. This whole campaign has no future.

"I fought in the war. I was with you. I secured the road from the Soviet Union through Syria, Hamana, and Al-Mukhtara to Beirut. [But] today, the equation has changed. We are in favor of protecting our honor, but at the same time handling matters with political prudence. There is a reality that must be faced, and it is an Islamic reality, both Sunni and Shi'ite. It is not only Shi'ite…

"Let me say something. We have fulfilled our obligation towards ourselves and [former Lebanese prime minister] Rafiq Al-Hariri. As for the international tribunal, nobody knows how it will rule, but we mustn't continue to make a bigger and fiercer issue [out of this]. The tribunal will rule whether [Syrian President] Bashar [Al-Assad] is responsible [for Al-Hariri's murder,] or else is innocent. This is for the tribunal to decide.

"Furthermore, what did Sa'd Al-Hariri say? He said: 'If the Syrian regime turns out to be innocent, I will be willing to apologize.' Okay, he is [Al-Hariri's son]. I for my part am not going to apologize. [As for the] issue of [my father] Kamal Jumblatt [who was assassinated by Syria] - I closed the book on it a long time ago. I went and shook the hand of [former Syrian president] Hafez Al-Assad for the sake... of the Arab identity of the Druze, and for the sake of our [continued] existence.

"Amir Talal is pursuing a wise policy and we have to help him, because by helping him we are helping ourselves. We should work to strengthen [him], so he will protect us. Even I [now] say this."

Endnotes:

[1] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 28, 2009.

[2] Talal Arslan, a Druze leader from the Lebanese opposition, was Jumblatt's rival until a few years ago. Following the violent clashes of May 2008 in Beirut, Jumblatt decided to reconcile with him in order to unite the ranks of the Lebanese Druze. As part of this move, he gave up a ministerial position in the cabinet reserved for one of his representatives in favor of one of Arslan's representatives, and promised to give up running a Druze parliamentary candidate in the Aley province in favor of an Arslan candidate. Arslan, for his part, has been mediating between Jumblatt and figures in the opposition, especially in Hizbullah, and, according to reports, he has also been mediating between Jumblatt and Syria.

[3] This probably refers to the Shi'ite attacks on the Druze in Dir Qoubal as part of the May 2008 Hizbullah takeover of Beirut and other areas of Lebanon.

[4] The Battle of Karbala (680 AD), in which Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson and the son of Caliph 'Ali bin 'Ali Talib, was murdered, is a seminal event in Shi'ite history and a symbol of martyrdom.