How many times did Walid Jumblatt change his mind? Even he lost count. The Lebanese have nicknamed him “the chameleon” and “the weathervane of Lebanese politics”, but even his fiercest adversaries admit that Jumblatt is a cunning politician and that he has managed to protect the Druze community over the decades. NOW Lebanon brings you some of the turning points in Walid Jumblatt’s political career:
Walid Jumblatt became the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party in 1977 following the assassination of his father, party founder Kamal Jumblatt. The elder Jumblatt, a notorious critic of Syria, was allegedly killed at the order of then-Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. Eager not to meet the same fate as his father, Walid Jumblatt reconciled with Assad after the traditional 40-day mourning period was over.
For 23 years, the Druze leader remained loyal to Damascus and an enemy to Israel and Lebanese Christian parties. Jumblatt was thus rewarded with ministerial portfolios after Syrian forces captured Beirut in October 1990.
June 10, 2000
Radical change. The death of Hafez al-Assad and the accession of his son, Bashar, awakened the anti-Syrian spirit in Jumblatt. He became a vocal opponent of the Syrian occupation. Surprise? Not at all. When the new Syrian president liquidated his political adversaries in Damascus, he liquidated Jumblatt’s allies and friends.
Jumblatt made another stunning reconciliation, this time with the Christians, his bitter enemies throughout the civil war. He made an electoral alliance with the Kataeb and National Bloc parties, forming the Mountain Union electoral list, and he negotiated a charter with Amin Gemayel. Over the next four years, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir visited the Chouf, and Walid Jumblatt met with Samir Geagea’s wife, Strida, while the Lebanese Forces leader was still in jail.
February 14, 2005
Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination rocked Lebanon, forever changing the county’s political landscape. Adapting to the changing tides, Jumblatt altered his political stance. Despite leading the opposition to the Syrians, he cut a deal with pro-Syrian Shia groups Hezbollah and Amal, as well as with the anti-Damascus Future Movement to protect its quota in parliamentary elections that summer. The deal only lasted for the summer, though, and Jumblatt turned around again and accused Hezbollah of supporting Syrian interests in Lebanon after the assassination of journalist and MP Gebran Tueni.
It was time for another major turning point. Faithfull at first to his anti-Syrian position adopted eight years earlier, Walid Jumblatt pressured the government to adopt the decree that made Hezbollah’s private telecommunications system illegal. The bill led to 10 days of fighting between the March 14 and March 8 forces in Beirut and the Chouf, following which Jumblatt’s attitude toward the Shia group became milder. After the signing of the Doha Accord, Jumblatt softened his objections to Hezbollah's arms. When Hezbollah hero Samir Kantar and other Lebanese detainees in Israel were released in July of 2008, the PSP issued a statement calling it "a historic victory" and urged the public to participate in celebrations.
Only months after the May events, Jumblatt reconciled with lifelong rival Talal Arslan, the March 8-allied head of the Druze Lebanese Democratic Party. But the reconciliation process was hindered by the assassination of Talal Arslan’s right-hand man, Saleh Aridi, one of the prominent figures in the negotiations between the two parties. Both leaders spoke about Druze unity at Aridi’s funeral.
Just before the parliamentary elections, a videotape of Walid Jumblatt insulting his Maronite and Sunni party allies in a conversation was leaked to the press and appeared on YouTube. Jumblatt later apologized to the Maronite community and announced his intention to visit the Patriarch. But the rumors about his distancing himself from March 14 did not cease.
June 18, 2009
Jumblatt met with Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah. The meeting was billed as a rapprochement between the two leaders’ parties after Jumblatt had softened his stance toward the March 8 coalition.
August 2, 2009
In his latest act of political re-posturing, Walid Jumblatt announced this Sunday that after four years, he will be distancing himself from March 14.