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Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt speaks during a news conference at his residence in Beirut, Jan. 21, 2011. (photo by REUTERS/ Sharif Karim)

Jumblatt: no solution in Syria with Assad in power

Author: Ali Hashem

If there’s a name to be given to Walid Jumblatt, one of Lebanon’s veteran politicians and once a warlord during the 1975-90 civil war, he might be called the survivor. Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, is known in Lebanon for being the joker of politics — unpredictable, yet acceptable to his rivals, at least during the last half-decade.

SummaryPrint Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt talked about the Syrian war and the Lebanese soldiers abducted by Jabhat al-Nusra in an interview with Al-Monitor.
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He sits with both Future Movement leader Saad Hariri and Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah; he is against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but a good friend of the Russians; he doesn’t admire former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the US policies in the region, though he is ready to cross the Mediterranean and the English Channel to dine with former US Undersecretary Jeffrey Feltman in one of London’s spicy Indian restaurants.

“Anyone who claims to know what is going to happen in Syria errs, and lacks understanding of the consequences,” Jumblatt told Al-Monitor. “There is a regional, global struggle in Syria, and if the war continues this way, a real danger threatens the future of Syria as a united entity. Even now, this unity is under dire threat.”

On Dec. 6, Jumblatt told Mikhail Bogdanov, the Russian special presidential envoy to the Middle East, the same words: “Bogdanov is looking for a political solution for the crisis in Syria, I told him I am with a political solution that preserves the institutions of the Syrian government. Yet, there is no solution with Assad in power.” Jumblatt added, “There might be a transitional period agreed on with the opposition; there is no problem with that. I am not the decision-maker here, as it is all about a Russian attempt to stop the war.”

“I said two years ago in Moscow that the political solution needs the opposition’s approval. But when we say opposition, which opposition do we mean? There are many, so it is beyond me,” Jumblatt said.

Jumblatt’s view of what is going on in the region reflected a pessimistic mode. “The region is out of control,” he said. “No one can predict [the future], even the world powers, as they are only trying to do so — Russia is trying.”

The longtime member of parliament, seen by many in Lebanon as a political fortune-teller, said, “The system that was built in the region 100 years ago is collapsing; it was called Sykes-Picot. I don’t know who and what is going to replace it. Personally, I wish we could restore the past, where we had national and Arabic entities. The next period is full of strife, ethnic, sectarian and fragmentation strife. Everything is aimed at destroying Arab society, the Arab heritage and everything else.”

Al-Monitor asked Jumblatt whether the Syrian civil war could be compared to the one that raged in Lebanon decades ago. This question seemed to awaken the former ideologue warlord in Jumblatt. “The Lebanese civil war was about destroying Lebanon’s Arabic identity, but there was Syria, Syria the rock. Enemies of Syria tried to disengage Lebanon from its Arab identity through Israel, the Iraqi Baath Party and some Lebanese elements that I’d rather not name. There are no similarities with the war in Syria. Back then, there was Syria and the USSR,” he said.

The Druze leader did not seem happy with the status of his fellow Druze in Syria when Al-Monitor asked him about them. “Yes, they are in danger. I’m trying, and will continue to try. I warned them several times that they only have two choices: either join the revolution or isolate themselves. But this is not working,” he said.

Jumblatt didn’t want to go deeply into this issue or on other issues. He also preferred not to talk about his view on Hezbollah’s role in Syria, answering with two words: “Too late.” He refused to answer questions about the issue of the presidential vacuum in Lebanon and the Islamic State (IS).

Regarding the Lebanese soldiers who were abducted by Jabhat al-Nusra and IS, he said he fully supports the prisoner swap. “I said that I support the swap from the very beginning. They should go for it,” he said.

He seemed intimidated when Al-Monitor asked him about Jabhat al-Nusra, for Jumblatt has repeatedly said it isn’t a terrorist group. “So if I say now that al-Nusra is a terrorist group, what is going to change? Nothing will: A word, more or less, won’t change anything. If I said that it and IS are terrorists, that’s enough!” he replied.

“So you are now on Twitter,” Al-Monitor said to cool down the atmosphere, and he said, “Yes, true. At the end, it’s a tool to engage directly with people, but I am trying to manage my time.” Jumblatt joined Twitter on Oct. 27 and in less than two months gained 35,300 followers, making him one of the fastest growing accounts in Lebanon. He answers almost every question sent to him by tweeters, while his own tweets on political issues show a great amount of sarcasm, not to mention his famous “Hajj-Kerry” tweet on US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to ease Israel's restrictions over Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Are you going to verify your Twitter account and get the blue verified sign? Al-Monitor asked. “What’s verified?” he smiled and stood up. The interview, which follows, was over.

Al-Monitor:  How was your meeting with Mikhail Bogdanov, the Russian president’s special envoy to the Middle East?

Jumblatt:  Bogdanov is looking for a political solution for the crisis in Syria. I told him I am with a political solution that preserves the institutions of the Syrian government. Yet, there is no solution with Bashar al-Assad in power. There might be a transitional period agreed on with the opposition; there is no problem with that, I am not the decision-maker here, as it is all about a Russian attempt to stop the war. I said two years ago in Moscow that the political solution needs the opposition’s approval. But when we say opposition, which opposition do we mean? There are many, so it is beyond me.

Al-Monitor:  Where is Syria heading?

Jumblatt:  Anyone who claims to know what is going to happen in Syria errs, and lacks understanding of the consequences. There is a regional, global struggle in Syria, and if the war continues this way, a real danger threatens the future of Syria as a united entity. Even now, this unity is under dire threat.

Al-Monitor:  Days ago Israel launched a strike on Syria. Any thoughts why now?

Jumblatt:  I condemn the strike. Israel will always be Israel. I don’t have any clue why the operation occurred now, yet I condemn the strike. 

Al-Monitor:  Are you still in contact with Syrian Druze, and what’s their status today? Are they safe?

Jumblatt:  Yes, they are in danger. I’m trying, and will continue to try. I warned them several times that they only have two choices: either join the revolution or isolate themselves. But this is not working.

Al-Monitor:  What do you think of Hezbollah’s role in Syria?

Jumblatt:  Too late. I don’t want to go into this.

Al-Monitor:  Why are you saying it’s too late?

Jumblatt:  The region is out of control. No one can predict [the future], even the world powers, as they are only trying to do so — Russia is trying. The system that was built in the region 100 years ago is collapsing; it was called Sykes-Picot. I don’t know who and what is going to replace it. Personally, I wish we could restore the past, where we had national and Arabic entities. The next period is full of strife, ethnic, sectarian and fragmentation strife. Everything is aimed at destroying Arab society, the Arab heritage and everything else.

Al-Monitor:  Is there any way we can compare the Syrian civil war to the one that raged in Lebanon decades ago?

Jumblatt:  The Lebanese civil war was about destroying Lebanon’s Arabic identity, but there was Syria, Syria the rock. Enemies of Syria tried to disengage Lebanon from its Arab identity through Israel, the Iraqi Baath party and some Lebanese elements that I’d rather not name. There are no similarities with the war in Syria. Back then, there was Syria and the USSR.

Al-Monitor:  What do you think of the Islamic State (IS)?

Jumblatt:  Let’s stay in Lebanon.

Al-Monitor:  OK, back to Lebanon. How can the Lebanese government free the soldiers abducted by Jabhat al-Nusra and IS?

Jumblatt:  I said that I support a swap deal from the very beginning, that’s the only way. As for Saja Duleimi, they are going to free her because there are no charges against her.

Al-Monitor:  Weeks ago you said that Jabhat al-Nusra was not a terrorist group. Do you still think the same?

Jumblatt:  So if I say now that al-Nusra is a terrorist group, what is going to change? Nothing will, a word, more or less, won’t change anything. If I said that it and IS are terrorists, that’s enough!

Al-Monitor:  You are now using Twitter and as I can see, you’re the most engaging politician with the public.

Jumblatt:  Yes that’s great, at the end it’s a tool to engage directly with people, but I’m trying to manage my time.

Al-Monitor:  Will you verify your account, and add the blue verified badge?

Jumblatt:  What’s verified?

Read More: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/12/lebanon-walid-jumblatt-druze-syria-al-nusra.html

Ali Hashem
Columnist 

Ali Hashem is a journalist with a focus on Iran. He is the former Tehran bureau chief for the Arab news network Al Mayadeen, and a former reporter for Al Jazeera and the BBC. He writes extensively on Iran for Al-Monitor and Al Mayadeen and his articles have appeared in The Guardian, The Sunday Times, the Huffington Post, The National and Tokyo's Facta, among others. On Twitter: @alihashem_tv

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