Fidaa Itani

Druze under fire

Walid Jumblatt seeks to keep the Druze community neutral in Syria, drawing the ire of belligerents who aim to drag them into the internecine fighting.

Syrian army soldier in Suweida. (AFP/Anwar Amro)

Many will be frustrated by Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt’s announcement that Al-Nusra Front is not a terrorist organization, especially those who have been working to drag the Druze leader into the Syrian war, force his sect to oppose the revolution, and coerce him into supporting Hezbollah’s unilateral actions.


Two weeks ago, Jumblatt said in a statement that his relations with Hezbollah were excellent. Some people interpreted Jumblatt’s stance as submission to the many demands made by both the party and the Syrian regime, as well as the demands of his Druze supporters.


They hoped he would cease his attempts to keep Druze in the Golan Heights and Suweida province from taking part in the fighting, and give his approval to the organized distribution of weapons by Hezbollah in Lebanese areas with large Syrian refugee populations. He was also expected step in line with Hezbollah’s stances on the presidential elections, delivering a blow to his former ally, Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri.


But the rapprochement ended where it began. The Druze had to remain neutral, it could not be ignored that they were just a small sect living in the midst of a Sunni ocean. Jumblatt is one of the people who have said in the past that while the sins of the area’s main sect can be forgotten, the errors of the smaller sects go unforgiven.


At every turn there is someone who either reminds Druze in Lebanon and Syria of the fact that their coreligionists in Israel enroll in the Israeli army, or brings up talk of establishing a Druze state. This lumps the sect together with all other minorities from Alawites to Christians, and leads some people to think that the only solution in the foreseeable future is a minority alliance against the confessional majority.


These people purposefully forget the number of tragedies that have befallen Lebanon as a result of similar ideas. They refuse to learn or to let anyone else learn from the harsh lesson of Lebanon’s past. What they want more than anything else is to incorporate Lebanon into Syria’s “fighting minority formation” alongside the regime.


“What Jumblatt said about our excellent relations with Hezbollah was governed by local political exigencies,” says a high ranking PSP official charged with keeping track of the Syrian revolution. “Personally speaking, I take a more radical position with regard to the Syrian regime,” he adds.


The young man, who is responsible for relations with the Druze community in Syria and coordination with Syrian rebels and activists, says there has been a failed attempt to force the Druze community into fighting other Syrians. However, he says, this has not been without cost or without exceptions. “Sometimes when rumors spread that Druze in the Golan have been attacked, we have to intervene quickly and directly to prevent Lebanese Druze crossing [the border] from Hasbaya.” Nevertheless, matters as a whole are still contained.


The young PSP official remembers the Druze rebel commander Khaldoun Zain Eddin who led a Free Syrian Army platoon in areas under regime control before he was killed in action, and accompanied Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Harmoush as one of the first defectors from the Syrian army.


“We had Kahldoun Zain Eddin, then he died. Now the important thing is to protect the Druze and make sure they don’t become embroiled [in the fighting.]” In fact, according to an FSA coordinator, pro-regime members of the Druze community sometimes block nearby FSA supply lines. This situation is dealt with immediately via calls from Lebanon and usually ends without bloodshed. Even the Al-Nusra Front has reached an agreement with areas bordering Daraa province to prevent clashes.


No matter how people who rally round the National Defense Army and other militias try to stir up sectarian feelings by publishing pictures of armed Druze men standing under five-colored banners, the result is always the same. People still say that the Druze participate less than other sects in the fighting in Syria. Syria’s Alawite and Shiite sects have been immersed completely, and most Christians and Kurds have been involved, but the funerals in Druze areas are for soldiers in the regime’s army or fighters in the National Defense Army. Almost no Druze fighters have died in armed groups belonging to the sect.


However, this neutral stance has caused feelings of animosity towards the Druze community to increase. Of course FSA forces want the Druze to join their fighters and give them access to Suweida province. At the same time the regime is pushing them to form regiments of Shabiha to confront Daraa’s rebels, and in Lebanon, Hezbollah is putting pressure on Walid Jumblatt to take a stance against the revolution. However, if regime supporters in Suweida province would not allow Wiam Wahhab to open offices in their areas, how could they be joined by a large number of Lebanese fighters?


“Historically, Hafez al-Assad divided the Druze [communities] on each side of the border. He was afraid the leadership of the Jumblatt clan would influence Druze in Syria,” says the PSP official. “The relationship only resumed a few years ago, and we don’t expect to gain any more influence than we have now,” adds the young man, who wishes the Druze could take a clearer stance against the regime.


However, logic dictates that we rely on numbers. While the Syrian regime has sacrificed many young Alawites, with some local sources putting the number killed at 70,000, Lebanon’s entire Druze community comes to no more than 200,000 individuals at best. Although a quarter of them could bear arms, they would be dead or wounded after two years fighting in Syria. The Syrian war has spared no-one, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands, so branding people as collaborators with Israel or threatening that the Al-Nusra Front is coming to slaughter minorities will be of no use.


Fidaa Itani tweets @Fidaaitani

A Syrian army soldier deployed in the Druze-majority Suweida province of Syria. (AFP/Anwar Amro)

Jumblatt is one of the people who have said in the past that while the sins of the area’s main sect can be forgotten, the errors of the smaller sects go unforgiven.

  • FaresNew

    Minister Wael Abu Faour tore up the application (for medical treatment) of a young Sunni girl - with cancer - from Northern Lebanon, most likely to please Hezbolah ... This act by a so called "socialist" minister is a shameful one... An innocent girl who has cancer will be deprived of her treatment just because Mr. Abou Faour (and his medieval Lord) can afford to do that... what an ugly and barbaric sectarian act from the minister of "social affairs".... Any talk of the "neutrality" of Jumblatt and his clan is a joke... I do ask Mr. Abu Faour to reconsider the application of this innocent girl: even though she is not a Druze of his tribal/sectarian clan, she still deserves a treatment , at least for human compassion reasons....

    October 15, 2014

  • KayStearns

    Really? Im surprised, first I hear of this...

    October 16, 2014

  • ZiadT

    Dear FARESNEW, Don't get me wrong I don't support any of the politicians in Lebanon and I agree they are all corrupt. But please explain to me how your hate riddled sectarian comments are related to this article and what is the point of you bringing up the case of a girl (who by the way I'm sad to hear about if what you say is true) to highlight as you described the so called "barbarity of the Druze tribal/sectarian clan"? If you have an intelligent response please provide one, otherwise I recommend you do something more useful and fruitful with your time than spreading hate about your fellow Lebanese. I recommend putting more efforts into helping this young girl from Tripoli... Or even doing something creative to generate jobs in Lebanon and specifically in Tripoli to get its many citizens out of the poverty and misery that has bestowed the city and is generating unprecedented backwardness and radical Islamists...

    October 16, 2014

  • FaresNew

    Yes, unfortunately her application for medical help was torn apart by the minister because it was submitted by the MP of Akkar. The little girl with cancer is in the middle of this as the only way for an application to reach the minister is through an MP. If you can help or reach the minister, please inform him not to practice "mass punishment". Thanks!

    October 16, 2014

  • FaresNew

    Personally, I wish I could help, but I'm neither from Tripoli nor am I from the "clan" and hence I cannot influence the ministry of "social affairs...Perhaps you can help by asking the "Lord of the clan" to approve the poor girl's application.... thank you.

    October 16, 2014