Across the Bay

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Quntar: Hezbollah's Version of Wiam Wahhab

Over at MESH, Michael Young explains the Druze politics, and Hezbollah's attempts to penetrate them, that lie behind the Quntar fiasco:

Jumblatt’s and Arslan’s rally for Quntar was motivated by the need to avoid Druze ill feeling by ignoring their coreligionist; but more importantly by a desire to defend their leadership over the Druze by containing Quntar, which they did by embracing him to better defuse him. Although Quntar presents no threat to their power base, he could emerge as a small headache. For example, he could conceivably be brought into parliament in next year’s elections in the Baabda constituency, where Hezbollah and the Aounists, if they decide to bother Jumblatt, have considerable electoral sway.

What is interesting in this context is that the Syrian intelligence services have set up a similar such figure in the Druze community. His name is Wiam Wahhab, and while his Druze support is negligible, he has retained public attention because he is one of Damascus’ megaphones in Lebanon. Wahhab’s rise had threatened Arslan much more than it did Jumblatt, though Arslan and Wahhab are both close to Syria. In a new reversal, Quntar’s release threatens Wahhab, while Arslan, thanks to his collaboration with Jumblatt, has re-entered the Druze political scene in relative force after a period of relative quiet. This was made possible because last May the Jumblattis and the Arslanists united in fighting Hezbollah.

A sign of Quntar’s limitations among the Druze was not recorded in this video. When the Hezbollah representative, Muhammad Fnaysh, made a speech, he was booed on several occasions; and when Quntar praised Syria in his statements, he was booed as well. The Abay gathering had little to do with Samir Quntar. It was about the traditional Druze leadership affirming itself against Hezbollah, against an interloper, by neutralizing what Jumblatt and Arslan fear may be a Hezbollah creation in their midst.

Read it all here.

Update: Apparently Hezbollah is reading Jumblat along similar lines. Here's an item from today's Al-Balad newspaper quoting a source close to Hezbollah:

A source close to Hezbollah saw that Jumblat's speech 'was not transparent talk and carries several faces and could be interpreted in different ways, and so Hezbollah is not at ease with it and does not trust it.' ُThe source attributed 'the reasons of Jumblat's courteousness to the resistance' to ensuring that 'no sharp contradictions appear within the single Druze house.'