Across the Bay

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Druze Prince

Here's a follow-up on Jonathan's "May surprise" premonition.

Jumblat is now reassuring his allies in the Christian opposition that he has not betrayed them. However, the reassurance comes hand in hand with a renewed bid by Jumblat to get rid of Lahoud, something he's been wanting to do since the beginning.

The removal of Lahoud is at the heart of the entire matter. Jumblat is operating on several levels. First, he wants to get rid of Lahoud and all that is associated with him. Second, he wants to have a say in who gets elected next. For a while he was courting, and puffing, Fares Boueiz. So, apparently this was a point of contention with the Patriarch, who, if you remember, refused to push for the ouster of Lahoud. It was at that time that Jumblat started intensifying his contacts with Hizbullah and Berri (and Aoun). That is perhaps what this satement implies:

Jumblat said he advocated a strong participation of the opposition in Premier Mikati's new government to be able to enforce its policies. "But I had been overruled like I was overruled on the question of promptly ousting President Lahoud," Jumblat lamented.

The move with Hizbullah, Berri and Aoun also operated on several levels. For one, there were electoral considerations, as Hizbullah and Aoun are not abject to running together, and their territory intersects with Jumblat's in Alley and Baabda. Besides, there were other considerations, as Berri and Hizbullah were gearing up to do away with the elections altogether, and extend the status quo indefinitely. Their concerns, while different, ultimately were about self-preservation. Hence, a deal was cut on the election law that would ensure they maintain monopoly among the Shiites, even as challengers arose from within that community. Furthermore, Hizbullah needed to be appeased as it was being cornered domestically, regionally and internationally. This explains Jumblat's resort to Arabist rhetoric and his rejection of UNSCR 1559 and his loyalty to the Taef Accord. To anyone who's been following the developments in Lebanon, it was a hollow and cost-free move, as the opposition's main demands were all being met through the implementation of 1559! The Syrians were on the way out, the security chiefs and Prosecutor General Adnan Addoum were falling one after the other, and Abdelhalim Mrad was defeated and Najib Miqati was appointed to head the government. So all in all, Jumblat got everything he wanted from 1559, and by adopting the Taef the other clauses of 1559 wouldn't go away, as the Taef also stresses the disarmament of all militias, foreign and domestic. So it wasn't much of a compromise. Jumblat knew that pressure on Hizbullah would continue anyway both domestically and internationally, so he didn't need to stick his neck out, and instead played politics to safeguard his and his community's turf.

However, this does not mean that he's appeasing the Syrians or their allies in Lebanon in the upcoming election. For one, he's gotten rid of rival Druze leader Talal Arslan, for whom Jumblat had always reserved a spot on his list. But since Arslan came out strongly in support of Syria, Jumblat got rid of him. He also got rid of Faisal Dawood in the Western Bekaa and asserted that he would continue to stand by his Christian allies in the election.

In essence, what Jumblat achieved is the perfect balance, maintaining ties with Berri and Hizbullah, but getting rid of all the pro-Syrian sycophants whose influence was created and inflated by Syria. They weren't about to be given a free ride now that their sponsors were out. Hence Jumblat's statement:

"Now look at what we're consequently facing. Opportunists who have long been Syrian lackeys, not allies but lackeys, are trying to out-auction under the pretext of defending suppressed Christian rights," Jumblat said, obviously referring to Lahoud and his son-in-law Elias Murr, the defense minister, although he declined to name names.

Murr is posing as a Christian defender, as evident in his push to have a Christian take over the security position vacated by the outgoing Jamil as-Sayyed who is Shiite.

In fact, I've heard chatter that the series of bombings that took place in the Matn-Keserwen area was related to this Lahoud-Murr posturing. Who knows if that true.

Part of this supposed solidarity with the Christians is Jumblat's push to free Samir Geagea. Saad Hariri, representing the Hariri family and the Hariri bloc -- the Sunni pillar in the Druze-Christian-Sunni opposition -- is also pushing for Geagea's release. Commentator Charles Ayyoub of Ad-Diyar maintained a very pessimisstic outlook and blasted Geagea's wife Sitrida for attempting to buy her husband's freedom at the expense of Lebanese Forces votes (on the lists of Jumblat and Hariri), which is a deal that Samir Geagea himself never took throughout his 11 years in jail, Ayyoub wrote.

Berri is resisting the move, and is coming under a lot of fire for this and his obvious drive at returning to office through the 2000 election law (which also gives him and Hizbullah the luxury of handpicking Christian representatives in the south and the Bekaa). Samir Qassir in that piece I linked to in my previous post slammed Berri hard, and called for the opposition to run with the Lebanese Shiite Gathering in the south to contest Berri's attempt at returning to office, "as if nothing has changed."

As for Lahoud, the Patriarch refrained from pushing him out for various reasons, right or wrong. One such reason was to keep him in order to push for the small district electoral law. But now that it seems that Lahoud is trying to cut a compromise deal with the ever-narcissitic Aoun, Jumblat wants to renew his drive to oust him. Other loyalist sycophants have now joined in calling for the return of Aoun and the freeing of Geagea from jail. Ad-Diyar's Antoun Mrad speculated that their motives were to try to capitalize on a LF-Aounists showdown, and the revival on intra-Christian rivalries.

I wonder what the deal is Jumblat's trying to cut with the Patriarch, who's still adamant about the small districts in the electoral law.

What will happen next, especially in light of Jumblat assertions of loyalty, remains to be seen. Yet, it's probably a good sign that Hariri and Jumblat are still trying to show solidarity with the Christian element in the opposition (although the actual workings are still unclear). One thing Lebanese politics are not is boring! So, who knows if Jonathan's instinct is right: look for an end-of-May surprise!

Update: Ziad Makhoul has a commentary on Lahoud and Berri in L'Orient-Le Jour.