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Jumblatt, Walid (1949–) - PERSONAL HISTORY, BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS, PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:, INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS, CONTEMPORARIES, THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE, LEGACY

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Walid Jumblatt is a Lebanese politician who has played a major role in the politics of Lebanon since his father’s assassination in 1977, and became one of the most outspoken leaders in the anti-Syrian Cedar Revolution. He is also the most prominent Druze leader in all of Lebanon, and the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party of Lebanon. To underestimate the amount of stress and strife that he must deal with on a daily basis would be a disservice. Not one to mince words, Jumblatt has been a lightning rod of controversy, but also a pillar of strength for his community and for Lebanon as a whole.

PERSONAL HISTORY

The only son of Kamal Jumblatt, Jumblatt was born on 7 August 1949 in Beirut, Lebanon, to Kamal and his wife, May Arslan. May Arslan is the daughter of a prominent Lebanese Druze prince. Jumblatt’s parents separated soon after his birth, and only a year into their marriage. Kamal was the founder and leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP). His son, Walid, seemed to have little, if any political leanings or ambitions in his early life. He attended the American Institute in Beirut, an independent, nonsectarian institution of higher learning, functioning under a charter from the state of New York, and was schooled in France as well. He became fluent in Arabic, English, and French.

With the assassination of his father on 16 March 1977 and the resulting void in the Progressive Socialist Party, Jumblatt was essentially forced into the position of taking over his father’s role as the leader of the party. He was a political weakling, and not into the conformism associated with the party. He commonly wore jeans and a leather jacket, rode a motorcycle, and he married a non-Druze Jordanian woman, all of which put him on shaky footing for taking over this new role. These differences ultimately led to many diverse factions seeking to, and believing they did, control him and his small two hundred thousand-member community.

One such group, seeking to control and mold the newly dubbed leader of the PSP and Druze population was Syria. Jumblatt, soon after his father’s death, met with Syrian President HAFIZ AL-ASAD in Damascus. The conversation, as it has been reported, contained many veiled threats and demands. For a time, the veiled threats and the demands the Syrians made of Jumblatt seem to have worked. He seemed to support, for a time, the Syrian hegemony that threatened to undo Lebanon. Jumblatt needed Syrian backing due to oppositional rumblings within his party, and the community at large, over his new leadership position.

While dealing with Syria’s demands and capitulations, Jumblatt next had to deal with Israel’s. In June 1982, the Israeli army invaded and occupied Lebanon. In order to keep his small Druze community from becoming too embroiled in the conflict, Jumblatt tried to strike a deal to maintain Druze independence. Israel, however, allied itself with the Christian Lebanese Forces (CLF). The CLF moved into the heavily Druze area, threatening this small minority group. Jumblatt requested and received Syrian aid, running the CLF out of Druze areas, killing more than one thousand CLF members, and displacing many more. This Druze victory secured for Jumblatt the power and the respect to lead the PSP and the Druze community unchallenged.

The next major challenge to the Druze, the PSP, and Lebanon as a whole was the civil war lasting from 1975 until 1990. It destabilized the country and allowed the Syrians to gain a foothold in the embattled state. The Syrians originally entered Lebanon to put an end to the civil war, but seemingly forgot to remove their troops and their influence. Originally, Jumblatt supported this interference, assuming that Syria would help to end the war. However, Jumblatt was not prepared to allow Syria free rein over Lebanon.

In 2000, with the death of Asad, Jumblatt began to call for a withdrawal of Syrian personnel within Lebanon. Asad had set up Jumblatt within the government of Lebanon, giving him many government positions and ensuring his continued election and place in Parliament. When Asad died, his son, BASHAR AL-ASAD , took over and began to strip away the powers that Jumblatt, and other Lebanese political actors he viewed as a threat, had been given. The younger Asad’s government effectively took Jumblatt and any other dissenters out of the way, setting up the Lebanese government to Syria’s best advantage.

The events taking place after Bashar al-Asad’s ascendance to the presidency of Syria left Jumblatt little choice but to join the vocal opposition. He, along with such famous oppositionists as Lebanese prime minister RAFIQ HARIRI, began a verbal war on Syrian hegemony. In April 2001, in a clear warning to the leader, a package exploded in Bkheshtey, injuring the sister and niece of the Druze Member of Parliament (MP) Akram Chehayeb, who served as an aide to Jumblatt. Jumblatt condemned the attack, saying, “It is not through terrorism that we will reach dialogue.” This terrorist act had been a warning to fall in line or be eliminated. Jumblatt was not to be so easily tempered or quieted.

On 14 February 2005, Hariri was assassinated, leaving Jumblatt to step into an even more prominent role in the organized opposition to Syria. Jumblatt said that Hariri had foreseen this assassination, as Asad had purportedly outright threatened him in 2005. Hariri’s assassination was more than just a silencing of one man—it was meant to silence the opposition all together.

Jumblatt, as a result of the assassinations of his father, Hariri, and of many other dissenters within Lebanon, has admitted to a fear of his own assassination. In 2004, Syria had allegedly sent him another message by attempting to assassinate his friend and political ally, Marwan Hamadeh. Jumblatt stated in an interview with the Chicago Tribune on 10 August 2006 that he does not think about death, but that “when they will come, they will come.” This is a clear reference to his own continued status as an agitator and thorn in the Syrian’s side. He, however, seems to be following in the Jumblatt family footsteps, for his father once said, “The Jumblatts are usually killed—they don’t die in their beds.”

BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS

Name: Walid Jumblatt

Birth: 1949, Beirut, Lebanon

Family: Married

Nationality: Lebanese

Education: American Institute of Beirut

PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:

  • 1977: Replaces his assassinated father as head of the Druze community and the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party
  • 2000: Bashar al-Asad replaces his late father, Hafiz al-Asad, as president of Syria; Asad’s policies strain Jumblatt’s relationship with Syria
  • 2001: Attack on sister and niece of fellow Druze MP taken as a warning to Jumblatt and other opponents of Syria to fall in line
  • 2005: Rafiq Hariri assassinated (February 14); Jumblatt steps into more prominent role in anti-Syrian opposition as leader of the Cedar Revolution

In December 2005 Jumblatt again witnessed a politically charged, most likely Syrian-led, assassination, this time of GHASSAN JIBRAN TOUENI , the popular politician and journalist. In a 29 July 2006 article in the Wall Street Journal , Jumblatt was quoted as saying “I’m afraid that because of the chaos in Lebanon today, Syria might try to assassinate people here.”

INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS

Jumblatt was deeply influenced by the Lebanese Civil War and Lebanon’s loss of sovereignty to foreign nations, especially Syria and Israel. This prompted Jumblatt to build an anti-Syrian coalition and to try to move Syrian forces out of Lebanon.

With the assassination of prominent Lebanese leaders such as Hariri and Toueni, as well as others, things have greatly changed for Jumblatt. Among them, he has taken up almost permanent residence in Moukhtara, in a home that has often been called a mountain fortress. Also, where he once seemed deathly opposed to the United States and Israel, he now calls on them for help.

CONTEMPORARIES

Amine Pierre Gemayyel was born on 22 January 1942 in the Lebanese mountain village of Bikfaya. He is the son of the prominent Lebanese politician, founder of the Kataeb (or Phalange) Party Pierre Gemayyel. Amine Gemayyel became president of Lebanon after his younger brother, presidentelect Bashir, was assassinated in 1982. Whereas Bashir was regarded as a political radical linked to the killing of many Lebanese and Palestinian Muslims, Amine Gemayyel was considered more moderate. Always a consensus politician, he avoided, at least in his prepresidential years, alienating Muslim politicians as his brother had done. When Bashir was assassinated, therefore, Amine Gemayyel was regarded as a natural choice to bring together both the supporters of his slain brother and his Muslim opponents.

Gemayyel’s presidency proved extremely difficult because two-thirds of Lebanon was occupied by Syria and Israel and the rest controlled by local militias and private groups independent of government control. The new president lacked any real power. His government found itself largely unable to collect income tax; warlords controlling the seaports and major cities enriched themselves as the government accumulated a large amount of debt. Many have criticized Gemayyel for not moving decisively enough to assert the authority of the government, but others have pointed out that with most of the country under foreign occupation, there was little that he could do. In virtually impossible circumstances, he kept a semblance of constitutional order but was unable to appoint an acceptable prime minister or a replacement president before his departure in 1988. He could not please everyone or gain a consensus. Therefore, the political crisis developed into a war between the two most powerful Maronites, with MICHEL AOUN , general of the Lebanese army, on one side, and Samir Geagea and the Lebanese forces on the other. Although both the Gemayyel and Jumblatt families have fought bitterly for many years with high causalities on both sides, they joined other Lebanese political factions in a national reconciliation. As the fifteen-year-long civil war ended in 1990, they began to focus on rebuilding the country. Since the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri on 14 February 2005, Walid Jumblatt, Gemayyel, and the assassinated leader’s son Sa’d Hariri have created one national political bloc, known as the March 14 movement. This political bloc is named for the date of the massive protest against Syria’s presence in Lebanon that took place on 14 March 2005, one month after Hariri’s assassination. This anti-Syrian movement, which eventually resulted in the expulsion of Syrian troops from Lebanon, is also known as the Cedar Revolution. Gemayyel’s son, also named Pierre, the minister of technology and also a member of the March 14 movement, was assassinated on 21 November 2006. The leaders of the Cedar Revolution blamed Syria for the attack and its continued interference in Lebanese internal affairs.

In many people’s opinions Jumblatt called for a U.S.-led regime change in Syria. In a 2005 interview for the Washington Post , writer David Ignatius records Jumblatt as saying that the U.S. invasion of Iraq is similar to the falling of the Berlin Wall: “The U.S. came to Iraq in the name of majority rule. You can do the same thing in Syria.” This was taken by many to mean that he was calling for U.S.-backed regime change in Syria. In January 2007, Jumblatt met with President George W. Bush and the American Enterprise Institute. He spoke with Bush about aiding groups that are opposing Asad’s rule in Syria. Jumblatt also asserted his, and others’, belief that there will not be a stable Lebanon without regime change in Syria. Jumblatt was calling for U.S. involvement, as well as for a renewed and strengthened political and a diplomatic alliance with Lebanon’s prime minister, Fu’ad Siniora. This was necessary to bolster Siniora’s government, and to make it able to stand up against the Syrians continued hegemony. This is a huge change from 2003, when Jumblatt had his diplomatic visa revoked by the United States, for wishing out loud that Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. deputy secretary of defense, had been killed in a Baghdad rocket attack. This had nearly become a reality, as Wolfowitz did indeed survive an attempted attack on his hotel in Baghdad. Jumblatt went on to describe Wolfowitz as a virus. Jumblatt is not one to mince words; good, bad, or ugly, the people know exactly what he is thinking.

THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE

The world’s perspective of Jumblatt is diverse due to his controversial statements that have divided many Lebanese, but unified others. For example, given his outspoken ways, it should come as no surprise that in December 2006, at the funeral for Salman Seyour, Jumblatt called for Asad’s death. Seyour had been Jumblatt’s personal security chief. “No matter how long it takes, one of us will emerge and take revenge for all the martyrs starting from Kamal Jumblatt to Pierre Gemayyel who I hope is the last.” The reference to Pierre Gemayyel, the assassinated industry minister of Lebanon, is a reference more to the Gemayyel family. Three members of this family were assassinated. This relates well to Jumblatt’s own family, and harkens back to his father’s ominous statement about the family usually being killed.

Without Jumblatt, the opposition would most likely not have a front man, a man appearing so fearless that he seems to openly challenge Syria with no thought to his safety. He has, according to some, paved the way for scores of other prominent Lebanese Muslims to raise their voices alongside Christians in demanding that Syria allow Lebanon to govern itself. This man has watched scores of his fellow oppositionists be murdered cruelly in the public eye. He certainly knows that his time is coming, or that at the very least an attempt will be made. Yet, he has worked to try and keep his people safe, and on the winning side in the tangled web of foreign and domestic struggles that have engulfed Lebanon.

LEGACY

Although it is too early to determine how history will judge Jumblatt, one thing is clear: The Druze leader does not have the same stature as his late father Kamal. Jumblatt has made some controversial statements with regard to Syria’s leaders and their allies in Lebanon. Born in a country that has seen many wars, occupations, invasions, and political turmoil, Jumblatt will long be remembered as the Lebanese leader who championed Lebanese independence, equality, and social and political harmony. Since the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990, Jumblatt has faced difficulties maintaining unity within his own Druze community and proved to be less successful than his father in building consensus with the Lebanese confessional system. However, the current political division in Lebanon has led Jumblatt to become more concerned and vocal about Syria’s interference in his country. He has joined the anti-Syrian Cedar Revolution and has become its unofficial spokesman. Even with the polarization of that tiny but diverse nation, Jumblatt continues to be the voice of independence and unity in Lebanon. As of 2007, he has become the conscience of the country, pointing to the injustices that foreign occupation has done to his nation, but at the same time has earned the wrath of his strong neighbor Syria.

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